As these things go, it's not a bad report. It touches on all the big issues; says all the right things; and almost pleads with Congress to do something, but not just anything, the right something re the approaching deadline.
We've all heard about the problems with the Congressional mandate; we've heard more times than necessary about the unfunded mandates, bandwidth availabilty, technical complexity; the sheer size of the general railway system to be equipped; the numbers of locomotives, switches, signals requiring modification; the numbers of employees to be trained; and of course the cost of acquiring spectrum, the cost of the technical complexities, the cost of modifying switches, locomotives, signals; the cost of hiring, training, testing, certifying the employees. All of it.
Once upon a time I was a trainmaster at a production yard-- a hump yard. Nothing was more important than that hump; than humping those cars. How important? I once stopped an arriving piggyback (back in the day) train on the main line, had the crew cut away their shiny new six-axle EMD locomotives and deliver them to the hump, because both hump sets (we called them "slugsets") had failed and the motor pit had no available replacements. Sure there was screaming from the Blue Room, from the movement office, and from the trainmaster at the piggyback yard, but push had come to shove, and when push comes to shove, the hump is more important. Ask any superintendent. Which they all did.
To hump those cars, we had to couple and move blocks of cars out of the classification yard and into the departure yards. We had to inspect those cars. We had to find and assign motive power to those cars to make them trains. We had to have a road crew to run those trains. And we had to dispatch those trains in order to make more room to set out more cars, so we could hump more so we could receive more so we would have motive power, crews, and cars to make another set of trains.
Well, piece of cake, right? This is always and forever the best of all possible worlds. What comes in must go out. Everything's in balance. The world is round. Harmony rules. I'd like to buy the world a Coke and then the lion will lie down with the lamb and enjoy the sunset, right?
Except it's never the best of all possible worlds. What comes in doesn't always go out in a timely manner. Everything's out of sync, all the time, because disharmony is the natural result of movement. The lion eats the lamb and then dies of scrapie. And Coke? Gag.
And if this really was the best of all possible worlds, who would need trainmasters anyway?
Timing is everything, but it's conspicuous in its absence. Interruption is the stuff of real life, and interrupting the hump was the stuff of real death.
In the midst of all that imminent and immanent chaos, the General Superintendent of Transportation had a brainstorm about a scheduling a piggyback train (this really was back in the day) originating in the Meadows yard to pick up the mixed freight classified for the train's same destination by the hump. Save a crew, save locomotives, save EOTs. Brilliant idea.
Except it required a hump crew to stop humping, couple onto the cars, drag them out of the hump's yard limits so the piggyback train crew could pick them up without claiming a penalty.
All in all, cost us about 90 minutes on a hump crew each night.
"Bad move, Ripley," as Burke said in Aliens, "It was a bad move."
Turned out to be exactly that, a bad move. So bad that the General Superintendent, concerned about the inability of the idiot trainmaster at this no-account pissant hump to execute this simple move, drove up from Philadelphia, showed up at the hump office and wanted to know what the problem was. Except...
Except he didn't want to know what the problem was. He wanted the problem to disappear. When I tried to explain the difficulties, he looked at me and said, simply, emphatically:
"That's all bullshit, Schanoes. Quit whimpering and do your job. Make the cars and make the train. Find a way."
When the RSIA 2008 became law, PTC became our job. It was, and is, just that simple. Find a way.
With that in mind let me offer the following hypothetical remarks from a someone, unlike me, who is cynical, jaded, and suspicious by nature:
Unfunded mandate: Congress, and the regulatory agencies impose unfunded mandates all the time. Drug and alcohol testing? Costs money, doesn't it? Unfunded mandate, yes? Locomotive engineer certification? Costs money, doesn't it? Unfunded mandate? Roadway worker protection training? Costs money, doesn't it? Unfunded mandate? Locomotives on the NEC required to be equipped with cab signal/automatic train control, or train stop apparatus? Costs money, doesn't it? Unfunded mandate? Mandatory minimum requirements for: class of track, brake inspections, reporting of accidents, etc. etc. etc.? Cost money, don't they? Unfunded mandates?
So quit whimpering....find a way.
Note, not a single Class 1 railroad has identified lack of funds as the reason for (anticipated) non-compliance with the mandatory installation date.
Commuter railroads have, but... pardon me if I don't take that to heart. What's the cost of PTC installation say to Metro-North and the LIRR? Less than $1 billion dollars? That's serious money, and a source of some concern or would be.... except we have yet to hear a complaint from the MTA about the cost and the delay to its in-house,(in)famous, non-mandated East Side Access project, originally spec'd to be in service in 2008, bringing thousands of Long Island commuters directly into GCT at a cost of $4.8 billion, and now "rescheduled" for "service" in 2023 with the cost exceeding $10 billion. Not a peep. Not a demand from anyone for heads rolling or unrolling.
So quit whimpering...find a way.
What way? Anybody here ever pay a phone bill, or take a taxi ride in NYC? Ever notice the surcharges? The MTA surcharge? The 911 surcharge? Anybody ever buy a plane ticket and check out those surcharges?
Let's just imagine that commuter railroad X sells on average the equivalent of 500,000 round trips per 7 day week. Too many? OK, let's make it 250,000 each week. Now we add a $1 surcharge to each round-trip-- and call it the unfunded mandate PTC funding surcharge. After a year we have $13 million in accumulated surcharge revenues. After 20 or 25 years, we've completely recouped the original investment in PTC, and we eliminate the surcharge, something that's never going to happen with the 911 or the MTA surcharge.
So...quit whimpering find a way.
Spectrum availability: This is interesting. All the Class 1s have obtained the necessary spectrum. Almost half the commuter/passenger railroads reporting have obtained the necessary spectrum. Why, for example, LIRR has acquired the necessary spectrum, but MNR, and NJT have not is not explained in the report, and I wonder if there is any explanation other than each railroad's prioritization of this matter.
But even more interesting is this: SCRRA (Metrolink commuter rail service in Southern California) has completed its installation and PTC and has started its revenue service demonstration. At a recent Congressional hearing, SCRRA stated that it had, after arduous and complicated negotiations, finally obtained the necessary 220 spectrum from a private supplier. Who is that private supplier? Why it's PTC 220 LLC, the company established by the Class 1s to manage the 220 spectrum purchased by these railroads prior to the passage of the RSIA 2008.
You see, purchase and use of the 220 MHz spectrum was a business decision, made by the major freight carriers for commercial, not safety, reasons. So all that stuff how Congress or FCC neglected to provide a "public safety spectrum" for a public safety project is all hogwash. 220 was selected by the Class 1s because they own it; they bought it for wireless data transmission for improving traffic management not train control.
That the Class 1s see 220 as a commercial opportunity is, after all, in keeping with the grandest traditions of US business, but puhlease-- stop the whimpering. Find a way.
Now those are just a few of the comments someone cynical and jaded and suspicious by nature might make. That someone is not me. I am a happy, smiling, optimistic grandfather with two beautiful granddaughters, ages 9 and 4, and a handsome 2 month old grandson. I know everything will be all right.
And that General Superintendent with the brilliant move? He was wrong. It wasn't bullshit. But he was right. It was my job to find a way. And I did.
August 10, 2015
Find A Way