M.E. Singer opinion from California Rail News
The premise of regionalization of passenger rail should be incorporated to ensure the viability of any national infrastructure program in the US. Although the California JPAs have created from scratch a spectacular inter-connecting regional program; the Northeast Corridor merely picked-up from where the Pennsylvania, New Haven, and New York Central left off, their remains a void of far too many unserved potential regional corridors.
However, unlike California and the NEC, their is little linkage between other regional states, despite their past history of being well served by a network of passenger rail operated by the private railroads. The issue today is how to incentivize the Class 1s, Amtrak, commuter, and the individual states to work together, as the markets are there, unserved by rail; forced to accept clogged interstates and expensive, infrequent air service–all inhibiting economic growth and tourism, due to a lack of mobility. The answer is not by operating but a daily long distance train, but frequently scheduled, convenient regional trains, capable of quick turnarounds, rather than languishing in yards all day.
Such markets just in the Midwest include: Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison; Chicago-Milwaukee-Green Bay; Summer seasonal services Chicago Wisconsin and Michigan; Chicago-Milwaukee via UP North Line thru Evanston-Waukegan-Racine; Chicago-Champaign-Springfield-Peoria; Chicago-Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh; Cincinatti-Columbus-Cleveland; Chicago-Quad Cities-Iowa City-Des Moines. Even The Milwaukee Road utilized its new bi-level commuter cars in the 1960s to operate weekends Chicago-Wisconsin Dells. Also, in conjunction with commuter lines, what about Special Trains for the vast number of football events throughout the Midwest? With two run-thru tracks at Chicago Union Station, the stub-end terminal concept should not prevent enhancing schedule convenience and true regional inter-connectivity by run thru services. (In 1972, even Amtrak operated two run thru schedules between Milwaukee-Chicago-St. Louis.)
The successful California JPA model appears to be the best formula to follow, given how the JPAs control marketing (routes, services, frequencies, fares, advertising), with Amtrak providing T&E crews, staffed depots, and maintenance. LOSSAN JPA has wisely extended schedules from San Diego to run thru LAUPT to serve San Luis Obispo; it is a matter of time before reaching San Jose. San Joaquin JPA acknowledges market potential to schedule day trips between Fresno-Sacramento. Capitol Corridor JPA provides true regional connecting service running from Sacramento thru Emeryville (Oakland) to San Jose, with plans for further route expansion.
What stops the continued growth of these JPAs is the acute shortage of equipment and the Amtrak cost methodology for state services. Given the near breakeven of LOSSAN, even under the current higher cost formulas, perhaps it is appropriate to consider full takeover of all passenger services; to serve as a Beta site for the other JPAs; eventually other regional/state consortiums?