The Secrets of Successful Rail Passenger Service

ntbraymer

By Noel T. Braymer

Just getting and expanding rail passenger service can be a real hassle, at least in the United States. On many levels there always seems to be opposition. Much of the opposition to rail passenger service is over its costs to build and if enough people will ride it to be profitable. How can we get over most of this opposition? We need to make rail passenger service an intergral and essential part of the transportation system and not just a supplement to it.

If we look at many places such as in Europe or Asia; these places can’t function without passenger rail service. This is in large part because there is no room in cities to build more roads or parking to carry people to where they need to go. Much of the development of these cities in Europe and Asia and to the surrounding towns…

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Engineer noticed rail deformity, braked just before Amtrak crash in Kansas

The train was traveling about 75 mph just before it derailed, injuring at least 32 people.

CIMARRON, Kan. – An Amtrak train carrying 131 passengers derailed in rural Kansas early Monday, moments after an engineer noticed a significant bend in a rail and applied the emergency brakes, an official said.

At least 32 people were hurt, two of them critically, authorities said.

Hours later, investigators said they were checking whether a vehicle crash may have damaged the track before the accident.

The train known as the Southwest Chief was apparently traveling at about 75 mph when the engineer noticed the deformity in the rail and pulled the brakes, a U.S. official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because that person was not authorized to speak publicly about the federal investigation.

The train, which also had 14 crew members, was making a 43-hour journey from Los Angeles to Chicago when it derailed shortly after midnight along a straight stretch of tracks in flat farmland near Cimarron, a small community about 160 miles west of Wichita. Eight cars derailed, and four of them ended up on their sides.

Thirty-two people were taken to hospitals for treatment. Nearly all of them had been released by late morning, Amtrak said.

One crew member was treated at the scene.

The injured included two people who were airlifted to Amarillo, Texas, said Caytie Martin, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Texas Healthcare System. They were listed in critical condition.

Authorities were examining tire tracks leading to the rails. The damage did not appear to be intentional, Gray County sheriff’s Deputy J.G. Sharp said.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were also at the scene.

Daniel Aiken, of Lenexa, Kansas, said he heard screaming as he climbed out of an overturned car. He stopped to smell a fluid that was flowing through the car, fearful that it was fuel, but was reassured when he realized it was water.

“Once people realized the train wasn’t going to blow up, they calmed down,” he said.

Timothy Davidson, from Nashville, Tennessee, said he and several other passengers heard what he called “a lot of clacking for about 20 minutes” before the accident.

“The train didn’t sound right,” he said.

Derek Kemp, who is moving back to Kansas City, Missouri, from California, said he was in a bathroom when he felt the train suddenly tilt, sending him face-first into the bathroom door and across a hallway into a baggage area.

Kemp, who has fire and rescue training, quickly scrambled to help women and children off the train.

Dave Gibbs, a Colorado man who was headed to Lawrence, Kansas, for a possible chef’s job, said that the train “started rattling back and forth, and you could tell it was off the tracks.”

That shaking lasted five to seven seconds, he said, before the train began tipping, then coming to an abrupt stop that sent a woman tumbling onto him.

“I was waiting for the worst. I was afraid I was going to die,” recalled David Tisdale, who was New York-bound from his Arizona home.

Amtrak did not say how fast the train was traveling when it derailed, nor did it immediately respond to calls seeking further details. Visibility at the accident site was relatively clear at the time of the derailment.

Andy Williams, a spokesman for BNSF Railway, which owns the track, said the derailment was not caused by poorly maintained track. He said the track is inspected twice a week and meets Federal Railroad Administration guidelines.

Uninjured passengers were taken to the Cimarron community center to wait for Amtrak to make arrangements to transport them to their destinations.

Kelsey Wilson said she woke up when she felt the ride “getting really bumpy” and the train started to shake. Wilson, who was returning to Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, after spending spring break at home in Pueblo, Colorado, said her car disconnected from the one in front and that she hit her head as it overturned.

Wilson said she escaped through the top of the flipped car then slid down the side before she “passed out.” She was taken to a hospital and released with a neck brace.

The future of the Southwest Chief service – the only Amtrak route through Kansas, with stops at six cities – had turned uncertain in recent years.

Amtrak warned it might stop or reroute the line because of disputes over who would pay to install safety technology designed to prevent traffic accidents caused by human error. The disagreement centered on lines used to route trains through the Kansas City area.

But officials last year announced a deal in the dispute, which also had threatened to halt Amtrak’s River Runner service between Kansas City and St. Louis. Kansas and Colorado also moved in 2014 to secure a federal grant and allocate money for repairs on their sections of the Southwest Chief tracks.

This story has been altered to correct the name of the company that owns the tracks to BNSF Railway, instead of Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

Balsamo reported from Port Jefferson, N.Y. Associated Press writers Jim Suhr and Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo., also contributed to this report.

From the Portland Press Herald

Why 44 Percent of Top U.S. Executives Don’t Want to Hire You

In a survey of U.S. executives, 44 percent said Americans lack soft skills, which are poorly taught by traditional education. Other learning methods work better, luckily.

I went to business school mostly to learn business’s “hard” skills–ones we can quantify, like accounting and finance. I thought they would help me start and run businesses.

One of my life’s great lucky breaks was that business school also taught about soft skills, and that most business challenges were only superficially about money.

The challenges involving people, teams, motivation, and communication are deeper, harder, and more important than spreadsheets and technology.

But teaching about skills isn’t enough. Traditional business education’s lectures and case studies didn’t teach us to lead–to give experience practicing soft skills.

What concerns 44 percent of top U.S. executives.

An alumni newsletter referenced this report:

In a 2013 survey of top US executives by Adecco Staffing, 44 percent of respondents listed the lack of soft skills among applicants as their top concern, twice the level of the second highest category, technical skills.

Employers rank this shortcoming higher than technical inability. Not that the U.S. monopolizes it:

Across the Atlantic, a study by the Development Economics Research Group last year estimated that by 2025 the shortage of soft skills in the United Kingdom alone could cost as much as $22 billion (£13.9 billion) a year in foregone economic output.

If America’s business culture doesn’t impart soft skills and top business schools don’t teach how to practice them, what can we expect of our aspiring leaders?

The report noted:

While candidates may look good “on paper,” they don’t know how to effectively work within a team or in an office.

It suggests considering the whole package when hiring.

What about you?

Considering the whole package is nice advice for HR, but if you want to lead–to own projects, build teams, get promoted–your key issue is not how to evaluate resumes.

Your issue is how do I develop these skills?

No great leader or entrepreneur became great through reading books and listening to lectures–traditional education’s core.

Big breaks and long-term success both come from knowing how to work with and lead people.

We know how to teach soft skills.

Soft skills come from experience, not abstract learning.

I teach using project-based learning, where students create projects on issues that matter to them and the world, both in universities, which change slowly, and my independent online courses.

This student feedback from an undergraduate course I taught in entrepreneurship at NYU illustrates the difference and value:

As a senior, this was the first course that challenged me, asking me to think outside my comfort zones. Yet, it is also where I developed a strong network of supporters through group projects.

The feedback was anonymous, but since most of my students come from NYU-Stern, it suggests that a student could go seven semesters in a top-five business program before being personally challenged.

Yet the student also points out that the challenge leads to teamwork, mutual support, and getting things done. What you want. What 44 percent of top U.S. executives want.

If you’re looking to learn soft skills–to get hired, to own project, to lead–look to learn to practice them, not just to learn about them.

If you’re in a position to influence U.S. education, I recommend considering implementing active, experiential learning into your curriculum. Our future leaders demand it.

For MBTA and Amtrak, FAST Act a fast track to federal court

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is suing Amtrak in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts after the two companies failed to reach agreement on new, vastly increased access fees for MBTA commuter trains operating between Attleboro, Mass., at the Rhode Island border, and Providence, R.I., on the Northeast Corridor.

According to reports published by the Boston Herald and Politico, the Capitol Hill-based newsletter, the MBTA is asking a federal judge to throw out a claim that it owes Amtrak $28.8 million in annual fees. Amtrak, MBTA’s 26-page court filing says, is “claiming that it is both permitted and required … under a pair of federal statutes … [to] demand that MBTA pay it tens of millions of dollars each year for the very services that Amtrak is already obligated by the Attleboro Line Agreement to provide MBTA without charge.”

The existing Attleboro Line Agreement was struck by MBTA and Amtrak in 2003, when Amtrak ceased operating MBTA trains under contract and MBCR (Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad) took over. Keolis has been MBTA’s contract operator since July 2014. In 
exchange for allowing Amtrak to operate its intercity trains on the state-owned portion of the NEC between Attleboro and Boston’s South Station, Amtrak maintains portions of the right-of-way and 
provides access for MBTA trains operating between Attleboro and Providence, R.I.

According to the MBTA, Amtrak has cited language in the new FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act and PRIIA (Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008) that established a commission tasked with developing cost-sharing policies used to replace existing contracts between Amtrak and state commuter rail agencies. Amtrak reportedly has threatened to go to the Surface Transportation Board if the MBTA doesn’t fork over the near-$30 million.

The commission, the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure Operations and Advisory Commission, is named in MBTA’s suit along with Amtrak.

The MBTA argues that “federal law that Amtrak is invoking … is unconstitutional … Congress cannot by statute relieve federal agencies, such as Amtrak, from their contractual obligations without putting those agencies into breach of contract.” The MBTA is asking for declaratory judgments saying that the new cost-sharing policy violates the U.S. Constitution, and that Amtrak is in breach of contract with the MBTA.

According to the lawsuit, under FAST and PRIIA, Amtrak saves $56 million a year on the Northeast Corridor, while requiring Massachusetts (MBTA) to pay $28.8 million, New Jersey (NJ Transit) to pay $90 million, Pennsylvania (SEPTA) to pay $14 million and Maryland (MARC) pay $1 million.

The complete lawsuit, Civil Action No. 16-10120, “MASSACHUSETTS BAY TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY,Plaintiff, v. NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORP., d/b/a AMTRAK, and NORTHEAST CORRIDOR INFRASTRUCTURE AND OPERATIONS ADVISORY COMMISSION, Defendants,” can be downloaded in PDF form by clicking HERE.

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