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Getting Started and Negotiations 11 In summary, the examples suggest that a passenger rail service can be implemented in 3 to 5 years, from starting a feasibility study to operation, provided there are no significant problems. Of this 3 to 5 years, the feasibility study should take 9 to 18 months, depending on the complexity of the project, the level of information available from prior studies, and the extent to which a fea- sibility study becomes integrated with other implementation activities. If there are problems in any important area, such as resolving community objections, NEPA issues, difficulties in negotiating acceptable agreements with host railroads, or purchasing custom rather than off-the-shelf trains, then the implementation process can take much longer. 2.2 Planning and Preparation 2.2.1 Introduction This section covers agency activities that normally precede the initial approach to a prospective host railroad. The discussion assumes that the Guidebook user is not familiar with the railroad industry and is starting from a point where little substantive planning and analysis has been car- ried out. Guidebook users who are more familiar with railroads or are further along in the process may disregard this material as appropriate. Also, it is important to remember that developing a pas- senger rail service rarely follows a neat sequential plan. Rather, it is a messy process in which dif- ferent activities move at different rates, sometimes experiencing delays because a slow-moving process fails to yield timely information to enable another process to move forward. Whatever the sequence of individual activities, the planning and preparation stage precedes initial contacts with a prospective host railroad and typically will include the following activities: · Become informed about the railroad industry, both in the proposed service region and nationally. · Define the vision and purpose of the proposed service and how it fits with long-term state or regional transportation plans. · Determine whether the proposed service will be a commuter or Amtrak intercity operation. · Educate public officials and legislators regarding the passenger rail service plans and the rail- road industry in general. 2.2.2 Understanding the Railroad Industry The railroad industry can be very confusing for state and local officials unfamiliar with rail- roads. It is governed by its own administration within the U.S.DOT--the FRA--and a unique body of laws, regulations, practices, and institutional arrangements. The process of implement- ing a passenger rail project will encounter many of the requirements contained in these laws, regulations, and practices and will involve the responsible government offices and industry asso- ciations. A basic understanding of the railroad industry is essential for officials to plan and imple- ment a passenger rail project. Absent this understanding, time and effort can be wasted pursuing unrealistic plans, making relationships with host railroads more difficult than necessary and caus- ing failure to recognize and take advantage of opportunities. The principal areas where under- standing is helpful are: · The rail freight business. Freight railroads are private businesses that compete for their share of the national freight market and are important elements in the supply chains of U.S. industries (including power generation, agriculture, automobile manufacturing, etc.). Railroads also link U.S. ports with American shippers and recipients of internationally traded goods. Passenger rail is not a primary interest of freight railroad managers, who are mainly concerned that legal and contractual obligations to accommodate passenger service do not interfere with their freight business.