Friday, February 07, 2014

A teachable moment

It's cold out there and if you have to stand out in the cold and wait for a train, it's problematic. And that's what's happening to rail passengers:
Crude oil rail shipments have exploded in recent years thanks to the North Dakota oil fields. Rail cars began moving oil from North Dakota in 2008, and now account for 71 percent of the crude transported from the Williston Oil Basin. Rail capacity this year is projected to hit 1.2 million barrels of oil a day — 38 times the volume handled six years ago.

The rash of associated delays on the Northstar Commuter Line this winter has forced some users to form impromptu car pools or drive solo to get to their jobs. Metro Transit handed out letters of apology Thursday, after one morning outbound train was canceled and passengers ended up taking a bus.

Heather Beyer showed up Thursday at the Elk River station in subzero weather to catch the 6:31 a.m. train only to find it delayed.

“They didn’t start announcing it until five to 10 minutes later and you are standing in this warming house that is not all that warm,” said Beyer, a Northstar rider since its 2009 inception. “We were just stuck waiting.”
So what do we learn from such things? Mostly, things that we should know, but pretend not to know. A few examples:

  • Trains don't always run on time, for a variety of reasons.
  • If you depend on trains as your mode of transportation, sometimes you won't get to your destination in a timely manner. Of course, this problem won't happen with light rail, because light rail never has any issues.
  • The primary business of those who own the rail lines is freight. Oil from Williston is more valuable to those who run the railroads than passenger trains. So while passenger trains are supposed to get priority; they don't.
  • Oil that could be shipped to refineries via a pipeline ends up on rails because we won't build the pipeline. See, if we build the pipeline, it could theoretically benefit some evil gazillionaires like the Koch Brothers. It's far better that it be shipped on the rail lines, which are under the purview of a noble gazillionaire, Warren Buffett, who primarily supports Good People for public office. And if you are sitting out in the cold waiting for a train that might not show up, your discomfort is a secondary consideration. We need to make sure that noble gazillionaires are the ones who move our oil, even if there are a few, ahem, problems.

4 comments:

R.A. Crankbait said...

Don't overlook that this is another anti-Bakken salvo from the Strib. If we didn't have all that nasty oil and profit-mongering clogging up our rail lines and harshing the mellow of our benighted utopia. Gaia forbid that putting a million people to work should get in the way of a handful of people getting to work.

Brad said...

I ride the Northstar and have always been of the understanding that freight/commerce rail has priority over commuter trains. I can understand (even accept) delays as a result. However, in this day of social media, Metro Transit's updates were incredibly ill timed.

On Monday, I went to catch my normal 7:06 am train in Ramsey. When it got to be about 7:10, I checked the MTC Twitter feed for an update. They posted there would be a 15-minute delay. OK, no biggie.

It then got to be 7:30, when I checked back in to Twitter.

No new update.

I checked in again at 7:36. I then read "20-30 minute delay." I ascertained that since it was a half hour late at that point.

Then at 7:51, an announcement came over the platform P.A. indicating a "45-minute delay" (Twitter had nothing). It was at that point when I realized that the folks at Metro Transit had a marvelous grasp of the obvious.

Mr. D said...

Crankbait,

Yes. Of course.

Brad,

Yep. And there are no real incentives to improve things.

Bike Bubba said...

I asked my grandmother, who is 94, about rail in the old days, and she noted it was nothing to write home about then, either. Only carrying the mail kept it going until Boeing, McDonell-Douglas, Lockheed, and the Interstate Highway system performed the coup de grace.

I tried to think of how you would make light rail work better, and the conclusion I came up with was to use a "doodlebug" configuration (engine on each carriage instead of locomotive) and widen the gauge so the carriage could be lightened.

In other words, to make it a bus. Oops.