High Performance

FRA finalizes HSR rulemaking

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Nov. 21 issued a final rule establishing what it’s calling” modern, performance-based safety standards for railroad passenger equipment.” The rule, characterized as a “deregulatory action” under Executive Order (EO) 13771, “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs,” is expected to save more than $475 million in net regulatory costs.

Brightline goes Virginal. What next?

Everybody has been watching Brightline, the bold upstart operator of private-sector passenger trains in a nation where every other scheduled train is operated in the public sector, either by Amtrak or by a local transit authority. There has been a lot of news about Brightline lately, and this writer originally intended to focus on the customer experience and the railroad’s plans for the future.

Branson buys into Brightline

Florida’s Brightline private higher-speed passenger rail service has a new investor, Virgin Group, headed by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson. Virgin Group will make a minority investment in Brightline, which will be managed and operated by Brightline’s executive team and affiliates of Brightline parent Fortress Investment Group. Brightline will rename itself Virgin Trains USA in November and transition to Virgin Trains USA branding in 2019, “leveraging the Virgin brand and marketing expertise for existing and future developments.”

Amtrak touts performance, financial records

In the midst of controversy surrounding scale-backs in meal services; widely held beliefs that current management is targeting long-distance trains for elimination, or at the very least, truncation; and accusations of questionable accounting methods, Amtrak on Nov. 16 announced preliminary “record revenue and earnings” for its fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2018. “Strong management and improved product delivery and customer service led the company to its best operating performance in company history, despite challenges during the year,” Amtrak said.

A failure of public enterprise?

From the November 2018 issue of Railway Age: Were Amtrak a business school case study, it would be advertised as “The Failure of Public Enterprise”—users receiving services for which they don’t pay the full cost; taxpayers subsidizing the difference; a failure to follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), as if Bernie Madoff were Amtrak’s chief accountant, and conflict of interest collaboration with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to impede entry by more efficient private-sector competitors.

Amtrak’s Anderson not a random choice

Watching Washington, November 2018: When a 1978 labor dispute hobbled Northwest Airlines, North Dakota Gov. Arthur A. Link ventured to Minneapolis with a request of Chief Executive Donald Nyrop. Would Northwest—the lone east-west airline serving the state in the pre-deregulation era—withdraw an objection to competitor North Central temporarily providing the service?