Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In Happier News

Fresh off my previous rant, it's good to see some positive news.

Check it aaaaaaht

It'll be nice to have the Port Authority join the 21st century.  I look forward to more smart card machines than one can count!

“T” Gate

*Disclaimer*  I usually try and be pretty fair, using facts to support my arguments.  This is strictly my opinion.  If at any point you become offended, stop reading and close your browser window.  I’ll be back to the regular old stuff soon enough. 

Enough of this crap. 

It’s getting really ridiculous to see ATU 85 once again shoot the Port Authority, and in turn, themselves in the foot to prove a point.  What that point is, I’m not exactly sure. 

I do know what is being said, however.  The ATU 85 is saying that the Port Authority’s “T” schedules are impossible to follow without violating speed restrictions.  All of this supposedly came about after an external safety audit of PAT operations.

The Port Authority is coming back and saying that the speed limits have not changed in over 12 years. 

I can’t unequivocally say I know that this is the Union’s fault and not PAT’s.  However, judging from the contract “negotiations” of 2008 where the Union threatened to strike because of a minimal increase in healthcare costs, and a lot of the stupidity I have heard roll out of Pat McMahon’s mouth over the past few years, I’m siding with the Port Authority. 

Again, I’m not sure what the real point of ATU 85’s shenanigans are.  If their point is that the 15% service cuts are bad, then address that, pissing off commuters on the T is in no way that my feeble brain can comprehend productive.  All they are doing is adding a disgruntled third party.  A third party that can either support the Port Authority, and in turn ATU 85 or harm the Port Authority and in turn ATU 85. 

In fact, the biggest thing the Union can do to screw itself is to give the taxpayers the impression that they are overpaid and that they underperform.  Right now, it seems like they are right on track to screw themselves.  In the face of extreme budget uncertainty and while they are some of the highest paid transit operators in the Nation, the ATU 85 has decided to go toe to toe with the Port Authority by delaying trains…BRILLIANT!

As I said, I have no idea what this is really about, but I do know what this is accomplishing.  It’s further eroding the faith in public transportation and the Port Authority, by no fault of its own; and could ultimately lead to even GREATER layoffs and service cuts in the future.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Man

A little candor is refreshing every once in a while. 

Cheers to Ed Rendell!

Transportation Ignorance

I like to make fun of the Trib, but I have to hand it to them, they've been all over the transportation/infrastructure stuff!

Check out this article from yesterday's Trib

This article seems to provide a really good barometer of Pennsylvania's public opinion concerning our transportation and infrastructure situation. 

The bad news is everyone appears not to care.  At least not enough to address it.  My crack analysis shows that only a little more than a quarter of your average Pennsylvanian thinks that transportation and infrastructure should be a priority for our incoming state government.  The silver lining to that cloud is that we Pittsburghers seem much more keenly aware of the issues facing our Commonwealth when it comes to repairing our infrastructure and upgrading our transportation systems.  Given the general apathy, I'm sure the rallying cry for the next four years at least will be much the same as it has been: "Don't take my money to pay for your fancy shmancy public transportation" 

Given the low numbers, it's not suprising to see that a majority of those interviewed would not support higher costs to support infrastucture/transportation improvements.  Even less suprising is that those numbers are highest in rural areas. 

The biggest question I have is: why don't people care?  Eventhough Corbett has pledged up and down he will not raise taxes, he, and his appointed transition committee members seem keenly aware of the poor state of our infrastructure.  Why doesn't your average Pennsylvanian feel the same sense of urgency?  The news on the state of our infrastructure has not been kept in the dark.  Yet, most people are still concerned with lower taxes than a bridge collapsing, or getting cars off the roads. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Should we add railroads to the list of Passenger Rail enemies?

A lot of HSR stuff in the news.  It’s no secret that Obama’s vision for a national High Speed Rail network is under attack.  Many newly elected officials are far from passenger rail fans.  Everyone’s heard about what’s happened in New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Ohio.  Meanwhile, what should have been a milestone event in Illinois turns out to have simply added more fuel to the anti-rail fire. 

While I do not buy in wholesale to the premise of the article, it brings up some very practical and real issues with the implementation of the Obama Administration’s implementation of HSR and with expansion of our passenger rail network in general.  The biggest and most interesting, in my mind, is the buy-in of the host railroad.  The article surmises among other things that Union Pacific may have “driven a hard bargain” to Illinois and Missouri in exchange for their cooperation with the project.  To me, when they say “hard bargain” they mean $$$.  By money I have a feeling they mean state contribution for upgrades to infrastructure including track and signaling equipment.    

I understand Union Pacific, like all freight railroads want to protect their profitability.  They make their money by moving freight, after all.  However, it’s disconcerting to see they are willing to accept negative effects to our national transportation infrastructure so they don’t see a reduction in their margins. 

The freight railroads, for the most part know they have a captive audience.  Most operating rights of way in this country are private and are owned by corporations.  Any public agency or partnership that wishes to expand service must cooperate with the freight railroads and basically must submit to whatever conditions the carrier lays out, or risk outright refusal to cooperate.  There are legal means to get around this refusal, but a profitable freight railroad is much better equipped to handle a potentially protracted court battle than a coalition using funding which is tight to begin with.  Also, let’s face it, a lot of transportation projects, especially rail projects often face significant opposition, and a public legal battle would not help the situation. 

We’ve seen similar issues here in Pennsylvania.  Look no further than the Keystone Corridor which on paper extends from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.  In reality, the section from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh is little more than a line on a map.  Between Harrisburg and Philadelphia multiple electric powered trains per day whiz back and forth at maximum speeds up to 110 mph.  West of Harrisburg, a lone diesel powered daily train takes riders to Pittsburgh.  While the line from Philadelphia to Harrisburg sees only local freight service and is owned by the state, the line west of Harrisburg is one of two major rail arteries between New York and Chicago, and is owned by a private company (NS).  Even though there is room to expand (the line was once 3-4 tracks for its whole length, and is now 2-3) NS has gone on record saying that it will require significant investment from public sources for NS to buy in on any service expansion to Pittsburgh. 

Another example is the ongoing Commuter rail saga here in Pittsburgh.  This time last year, it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that Pittsburgh would be gaining two rail lines; one to New Kensington/Arnold via the AVR, and one to Greensburg via the NS.  By July however, NS’s tune apparently changed, as they became “highly unlikely to allow commuter trains on their tracks”.  As a result, we’ve gone from a dual line heavy commuter “system” to a single line light rail system.  While it’s impossible to know what changed, clearly something did. 

Freight railroad's lack of cooperation in allowing passenger operations on their rails is understandable but detrimental to our nation transportation network.  The only real way to get them to help is to force them to.  Unfortunately, that is a thorny subject.  A lot of people in this country don’t like when the Government tells companies what to do.  Additionally, just like every other lobby, there’s a lot of money behind the railroad lobby and any legislation forcing railroad compliance would have to fight not only political will, but good old fashioned money. 

I have to wonder what the answer is.  I for one don’t know.  It’s hard to see our national rail network ever expanding if railroads themselves will make it cost prohibitive.   

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mid-week Train Links

Here’s a couple of links I found today, both rail related.

First, in the total surprise department, the Trib issued a transportation (other than auto)  friendly column yesterday. 

Check it out here

Before you get too excited, links at the bottom of the page are a little less Bizzaro-Trib in nature.  After reading this article you can find out how “liberals” have been proven to be “stupid”. 

Enough attempted humor.  The article is dead on, and fits in well with what experts in transportation and infrastructure have been screaming into deaf ears.  Our transportation system is second rate and getting worse, because as we aren’t spending money to fix it and integrate it.  In this country, if it’s not about cars it’s a conspiracy against our Freedom, or some such nonsense.  While we are busy doing this:

See no evil

the rest of the world is improving its infrastructure, in this case its rail systems. 

SecondThis link comes from the Post Gazette.   Apparently the midst of a budget/funding crisis where the fare from every rider counts is the perfect time to practice Union tomfoolery. 

I am a pretty progressive person (especially when it comes to transportation, which should be no suprise) but there’s nothing like cutting off your nose to spite your face.  Apparently purposely screwing with people’s schedules and pissing off the riders is a great way to stick it to the man. 

What is this, kindergarten?  Grow up; you make a lot of money for what you do, and your employer is in a constant state of funding distress.  The last thing the Port Authority needs, and deserves is a black eye because some self-entitled workers want to stick it to them.