Opinion

Impeachment Saved ICC/STB Independence

While talk of Presidential impeachment is difficult to avoid, probably few can recite how the impeachment of a federal judge in 1912 helped to secure the independence of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and its Surface Transportation Board (STB) successor.

STB: Heed Seriously the Yak Fat Ghost

On 74 acres in central Virginia, there graze for commercial production some two-dozen Himalayan yaks—a largely fat-free, shaggy, handlebar-horned and oft cantankerous animal first imported to North America during the 19th century. If the connection of yak and its fat to transportation economic regulation is not obvious, blame your youth, as more than half a century has passed since the Great Yak Fat Caper of 1965 entered railroad lore—a dirty-trickster’s fraud now indelibly stained on the Interstate Commerce Commission’s (ICC) reputation, and, by association, its Surface Transportation Board (STB) successor.

Amtrak Dining Cars as Profit Centers

One of the great hurrahs of Amtrak dining cars came in the late 1990s, when the transcontinental Sunset Limited diner featured 12 entrees on its dinner menu. Traditional white linen tablecloths draped the tables, along with china plates and stainless-steel cutlery. It was not unusual to have flowers on the table and lit candles at the dinner hour.

HS2 Advances BIM and GIS Integration

The United Kingdom Department for Transport has embarked on a world-leading infrastructure project. By the 2030s, London will connect to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester via a new rail line with 18 trains per hour traveling at speeds up to 225 mph. The line, High Speed 2 (HS2), builds upon the more-than 15-year success of HS1, which carries 20 million passengers per year through the Channel Tunnel between the U.K. and Continental Europe.

Amtrak vs. Freight Railroads: Shippers, You Are Impacted!

A headline story says that U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has introduced a bill that would allow Amtrak to sue the freight railroads for preventing Amtrak from meeting suitable on-time performance standards. The senator alleges, “By empowering Amtrak to hold the freight railroads accountable … we can improve Amtrak’s on-time performance and save taxpayer dollars. The people of Illinois—and Amtrak riders nationwide—deserve assurance that they can arrive at their destination in a safe and timely manner.”

STB Needs To Get Real

Dr. William Huneke, Consulting Economist, offered his opinion in the Railway Age report STB “Whack a Mole.” As he pointed out, the Surface Transportation Board in the past rarely had time or staff to do more than react to the latest rate case, stakeholder petition or Congressional request. He described a sense of Whack a Mole in the flurry of STB regulatory reform proposals, particularly STB’s tinkering with the industry cost of capital calculation.

Is the Alameda Corridor in Trouble?

There are reports that the Alameda Corridor, the heavily used, 20-mile-long, grade-separated railroad intermodal corridor connecting the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach with the BNSF and Union Pacific main lines, has been seeing year-over-year maritime container volume drops, with a resulting decrease in rail traffic. The Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority (ACTA) oversees the corridor, which was built through a public/private partnership (PPP) and opened in 2002. One outlook is that perhaps “if current trends continue, ACTA will experience significant cash flow deficits beginning in 2024 … growing in size out toward 2038.”

STB “Whack a Mole”

When I was working at the Surface Transportation Board, I often felt trapped in a game of “Whack a Mole.” That was because STB rarely had time or staff to do more than react to the latest rate case, stakeholder petition or Congressional request. There is a sense of Whack a Mole in some of the flurry of STB regulatory reform proposals, particularly STB’s tinkering with the industry Cost of Capital calculation.