Increasing our Pool of Rail Passenger Assets
One of the hindering factors in utilizing Amtrak for an evacuation response to Hurricane Katrina was the limited amount of service in the affected region and the extremely finite amount of equipment that is available. Trains can only be diverted if they exist in the first place. The southern states are lacking in passenger service, which means there is a significant shortage of equipment available in the time of an emergency.
There were several logistical resource demands that Amtrak could have supported before and after Hurricane Katrina struck land. The first being the mass evacuation of the elderly, rest home and bedridden patients, and community members who rely upon public transportation. After the hurricane struck, Amtrak could have been used to transport evacuees to other cities, and to transport National Guard troops and relief workers back into the disaster site. Amtrak sleepers could have been used to provide short term billeting for medical and other key personnel.
Passenger trains are National Assets that have been paid for with funds raised from American citizens. Our nation needs to increase the available amount of passenger equipment by increasing the size and service that Amtrak provides, or by encouraging private railroads to offer passenger service again through tax credits, or by subsidizing the operating expenses and capital outlay for new equipment.
Creating a Civilian Reserve Passenger car Fleet
An alternative to purchasing additional passenger equipment for Amtrak would be the creation of a Civilian Reserve Passenger car Fleet. The concept would be similar to the FAA's Civilian Reserve Air Fleet program (CRAF). Commercial aviation companies voluntarily list selected aircraft as being available in times of emergency in exchange for incentives. One incentive that commercial airliners receive from the FAA is non-premium insurance to airlines that participate in the CRAF program. The FAA Aviation Insurance Program provides products that address the insurance needs of the U.S. Domestic airline industry not adequately met by the commercial insurance market.
Using the CRAF program as a proven model, Amtrak in the event of a natural disaster, with approval from FEMA or the Department of Homeland Security, would be the lead agency with activation authority. Equipment owners would have 24 hours to have their equipment ready for pick up by the selected operator or have their crews ready to dispatch and operate their equipment in support of the emergency operation.
The CRAF program demonstrates that a system has been developed and is in successful operation. A similar system could be applied to tourist railroads and private car owners. Membership would be open to all Tourist railroads with equipment that meets current FRA standards and have been in operation for at least one year. The program would also offer membership to private car owners and 501 (c) 3 organizations with equipment that meets Amtrak standards. This would provide our nation a ready reserve pool of equipment to be used in the event of an emergency. The benefit would be a low cost to service ratio to the tax payer and the incentives would help tourist railroads to maintain their equipment and keep their personnel certification current, thus supporting the local tourist economy.
There are many tourist railroads operating around the nation using 1950's equipment that is still structurally sound. Other incentives could include subsidizing the cost of 40 year rebuilds and annual subsidy to maintain the equipment. The subsidy would be limited to equipment that could meet FRA standards. Examples of a few operations worthy of consideration would be the Royal Gorge Railroad, My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, and Rail Cruise America. There are other operations of this caliber, these are just a few.