Wednesday, April 26, 2017

1788 Amtrak's Terminal Disease

Ugly Dead Logo photos
New York’s Penn Station has one of those names that resonates in the hearts of railroad buffs and travelers all over.  But most don’t catch the irony in the name. The troubles of Amtrak in New York and elsewhere were born in a board room in Philadelphia, former headquarters of the formerly mighty Pennsylvania railroad.

And those troubles can be traced back to the 1950s when the “Pensy” started merger talks with the New York Central Railroad.

The Central needed a partner. But there was no Zoosk or OK Cupid or Farmer’s Only or even Our Time or Christian Mingle. So they had to court and be courted the old fashioned way.

Like most, the “merger” wasn’t a merger. The PRR took over the Central and turned it into a wreck that persists today.  A fine case of drag ‘em in and drag ‘em down.

And down they went.  Ask anyone what life on Philadelphia’s Paoli Local was like in the merger years. Or the poor beleaguered Long Island Railroad, a subsidiary.

And the New Haven?  It was almost “you can’t get there from here.”

Eventually, Conrail and Amtrak were created.  Eventually Central Green and Pennsylvania Red got to work together.  Sort of. They stopped losing track of freight cars and the financial losses thus spawned as perishables sat on tracks long enough to rot.

Bankruptcy became the only out after culture clashes, palace intrigues, passenger and freight customer rebellions and deteriorating track systems became standard.

The problems created 40 or 50 years ago remain with us today.  Amtrak has terminal cancer, has outlived its life expectancy by decades and needs hospice care.

Let’s stop for a moment and ask a question.  Have you taken a commercial flight lately?  If you have you know that until something saves the railroads or the Star Trek Transporter Room becomes a reality, we no longer have a national passenger system of worth in this country. (Thank you Bob Crandall, father of the modern hub and spoke system aka the off center center and the broken spokes.)

Will congress fund Amtrak adequately?  Of course not. It’s just those east coast librulz wanting their fancy dining cars.  Other than the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, Amtrak is a total mess and the Trump administration wants more cuts.

Amtrak’s new chief, Charles Moorman, a veteran rail freight guy, “takes responsibility” for the mess that today is Penn Station. A gallant gesture, also meaningless.  Accidents. Bad signals. Bad tracks. And that’s just what’s below ground.  

And this morning, Amtrak announced it’s considering long term track closings for repairs to avoid the recent accidents.

Oh, fine. Twelve hundred trains a day now squeezed into 21 tracks and they want to reduce the number of “movements?”

The station itself, relatively recently renovated, is a foot traffic nightmare and -- again -- a shelter for those homeless clever enough to find space that the cops don’t patrol.

It wasn’t enough that they’d awaken passengers sleeping in the waiting rooms, now they’ve removed the seats.

It’ll all be better in the new building… or so they say.

The Moynihan Station, slated to occupy the site of the main post office on the west side of 8th avenue will not be ready until Mario Cuomo’s great great great grandchildren are elected governor.  Or until someone comes up with that Star Trek transporter system.

The intercity buses are death traps, turning over on their backs like obedient cocker spaniels. The intercity planes are hell on wings.  And Amtrak has a terminal illness.

But the problem goes back to the corporate shenanigans that destroyed the railroads during the “courting” all those years ago.

Meantime, Grand Central Terminal is a museum, used by Westchester and Connecticut commuters of Metro North now that some genius has routed all the intercity traffic to Penn Station.  That’s resulted in  67 mostly unused tracks on the East Side and 21 overused tracks that serve the LIRR, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit on the west side.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

  1. Which has a deeper basement, Penn Station or Grand Central?
  2. Which terminal sees the most foot traffic each day and why?
  3. Who is Danny Simmons?
  4. Where is Paoli?
  5. What does Acela mean?
Bonus Questions:
  1. What does the late original Penn Station have in common with the late original Jimmy Hoffa?
  2. What was the real purpose of forming the MTA?
Questions 1-5 are worth 20 points each. Six and seven are worth ten points each.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2017

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