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Why do Amtrak trains have to be so slow?


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#21 Trogdor

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 09:57 AM

I feel like we're speaking different languages.


Perhaps. I'm using Merriam Webster's definition of hurry:

to move or act with haste


When you have the option/luxury of being able to take a seven-hour trip, when other modes can be done in about two hours, then there may be plenty of reasons for going that route, but being "in a hurry" is not one of them.
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#22 Guest_Guest_*

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 10:35 AM

For one, there should be an express train for every Amtrak line. Such an express line for the Texas Eagle, which travels from Chicago to Los Angeles, should stop only in Chicago, St. Louis, Little Rock, Dallas, Austin or San Antonio, El Paso, Tuscon, and Los Angeles.


I would agree with you 100%, except that such a train would certainly be strictly forbidden to stop in Austin or San Antonio, or anywhere in Texas for that matter. No compromise on that (wow, I sound like a Republican :giggle: )

Now, let's continue the discussion on how much you will support, politically and financially, this particular purposed train?

The issue for any express train, HS or other, is that everyone wants it to stop for them, and then not stop for others to save time.

#23 PaulM

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Posted 15 December 2012 - 01:08 AM


Basically, someone who is in a hurry to get from Tucson to Los Angeles won't be taking the train

I agree that not many people would take the train from Tuscon to Los Angeles

That's funny, I took the train to Los Angeles a lot when I lived in Tucson. Back then, it was an overnight run both ways, which was extremely convenient: sleep, shower, get dressed, have breakfast, and be ready to go early in the morning at your destination. *That* is the real strength of long-distance train travel: it combines lodging and transportation. No other mode of transportation can compete with this. I honestly don't understand why people are having such a difficult time grasping this concept.

I'd agree with you except that I'd also want supper and a night cap in the lounge.

#24 NETrainfan

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Posted 15 December 2012 - 09:51 AM

We need the express trains for commuters, but speeding up the LD trains doesn't seem necessary to us. Business commuters need the express trains (like the Acela on the NEC)- but it seems that most people traveling LD are taking the train because they prefer train travel to other modes-not because they are in a hurry.

Ridership is up, true? We think it would go way up if more people knew more about the LD trains and that an overnight coach seat is quite affordable.

We hope more funding for Amtrak will increase express trains for commuters and maintain and increase the number of LD trains.

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#25 jis

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Posted 15 December 2012 - 10:48 AM

For example, let's imagine that I live in Tucson and "in a hurry" for a morning meeting in Los Angeles. Let's further imagine that there's reliable overnight train service between the two cities. I could drive or fly the day before and stay in a hotel. In this case, the time spent driving or flying is wasteful, unproductive time. Moreover, the total time (driving or flying plus hotel) spent in getting to the meeting is longer than the train trip would have been, because the train combines these two things (travel & lodging).

Each to their own taste. In general I would not choose lodging on a rocking and rolling thing if I can arrange it so that I get to my destination and get lodging on solid earth. The ideal for me is a two hour journey in the morning, meet all day, then a two hour journey back home. If a train fits that form, as it does in quite a bit of the NEC, then it is train, otherwise it is plane for me. And for distances further afield it usually is plane, though there always are variations that come into play depending on the situation..

#26 tomfuller

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Posted 15 December 2012 - 10:51 AM

I have traveled many thousands of miles on many of the Amtrak LD routes. I always travel in coach. Several of my trips have been on Rail Passes.
My first rail trip was on a North America Rail Pass which sadly no longer exists.
The latest train I was ever on was the ViaRail Canadian. I slept on the floor of the Winnipeg station waiting for the train which showed up 16 hours late.
In Western Ontario there was an early snowstorm which took down wires to the signals. When this happens all trains stop or slow to about 10 mph.
I saw trhe signals get snowed in in Southern Oregon so we had to proceed slowly from K-Falls to Chemult.
There are many other reasons why the train dispatchers give orders to the engineers to go slower than the posted speed limit.
I have on occasion had the GPS working when trains are slightly exceeding the speed limit.
I have been on at least 3 Amtrak trains that arrived at my station more than 30 minutes early. These are usually on overnight trips when there is no freight traffic.
I still advocate for an earlier Empire Builder between MSP and SPK. If you had the shorter all coach EB "light" that left MSP at the same time as the regular EB left Chicago, I believe it could become profitable or at least break even.
Having the EB "light" leave SPK about 7 PM instead of the current 1:30AM would lure more passengers with destinations from MSP west.

#27 Guest_Nathanael_*

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Posted 16 December 2012 - 01:08 PM

Overnight lodging in a sleeper compartment in a train is faster and more convenient than taking a long, unpleasant series of cattle-car plane flights with connections in cattle-pen airports, staggering off ill and sore, and sleeping for 8 hours before taking a long trip from the airport to downtown. The same is true for most people who can sleep comfortably on a train.

It is a very specific niche: on in the evening, off in the morning. Upstate NY to Chicago, for instance, fits the niche. The plane options almost all involve changing planes. The nonstops are extremely expensive -- actually costing more than sleeper compartments -- and are already more than 2 hours in the air alone. The options involving changing planes are still expensive (though often cheaper than train travel), but are miserable affairs lasting over 4 hours -- and mostly land you in O'Hare, an hour away from Chicago. You'll probably have to stay overnight in Chicago if you do that. The train starts to look extremely attractive.


Taking a "on in the evening, off in the morning" train IS what you do if you're in a hurry, if your alternative is a 4-6 hour air trip, changing planes somewhere, plus a trip from O'Hare to downtown Chicago, plus a hotel room in Chicago.

For some reason, people who talk about "long distance trains" frequently confuse two different sorts of "long-distance train travel". I think it is important to keep them distinct. The "on in the evening, off in the morning" niche is quite attractive to a lot of people, at least when you don't have downtown airports and direct flights. On the other hand, the "double overnight" itineraries like Chicago-LA are never going to be attractive to time-sensitive passengers. There's a reason Amtrak can (and does) charge *more* for a NY-Chicago sleeper than for a Chicago-LA sleeper, even though the latter runs twice as far and certainly costs more to operate.

LA-Tucson "on in the evening, off in the morning" would be quite successful because it fits the niche, though not as perfectly as upstate NY-Chicago (since Tucson-LA has several cheap direct flights and the LA airport is better located than O'Hare).

#28 Trogdor

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Posted 16 December 2012 - 01:30 PM

Convenience of airport location is dependent, of course, on where your ultimate destination is, but as one who has routinely flown out of both LAX and O'Hare, and traveled to/from downtown in both cities, I don't see how anyone could make the argument that Los Angeles's airport is "better located than O'Hare." Not to mention the convenience of the Blue Line, which is 45 minutes from downtown (regardless of how congested the highways are; unlike LAX, which has no good local transit option). Also, when traffic isn't too bad (depends on time of day and day of week), road-based transport from O'Hare to downtown can be quicker than that.

Of course, someone "in a hurry" to get from Buffalo to Chicago would take a Southwest nonstop to Midway airport (30 minutes to downtown by train).

Of course, those "in a hurry" are less likely to be concerned about the relative cost of a sleeper vs. a plane ticket (and those "in a hurry" aren't going to take the five-hour connecting itinerary anyway).

Not sure how this turned into such a debate, since the point I made a long time ago was that taking out stops on a long distance train to make the trip faster is rarely going to generate higher ridership due to the shortened schedule. If the Lake Shore Limited took 11 hours to travel from Rochester to Chicago, it wouldn't really sell significantly more tickets than the 11h45 schedule it has now. Likewise, a 10 hour Tucson-Los Angeles schedule wouldn't suddenly see an increase in ridership just because the schedule went to 9.5 hours.

The time-sensitive folks already have a much faster option.
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#29 Guest_Guest_*

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Posted 19 February 2013 - 06:41 PM

The UK sleeper services are just as slow as long-distance Amtrak trains, at least according to the timetable. In some cases they are slower. London Euston to Glasgow Central is timetabled at 55 mph, Edinburgh 53 mph, Aberdeen 51 mph, Inverness 51 mph and Fort William 45 mph. The London Paddington to Penzance sleeper is timetabled at 38 mph, slower than the Cardinal. Part of the reason is the age of the rolling stock, part of the reason is avoiding the need to set off at 2 am and/or arrive at 4 am.

 

Having said that, the Chicago to New York and Washington services really need speeding up to achieve a maximum 12 hour journey time to New York and 10 hours to Washington. Even this is far from ideal (eastbound, it would mean an a 1900 departure for an 0800 arrival), and 9.5 hours to New York (dep 2030, arr 0700) and 8 hours to Washington (dep 2200, arr 0700) would be much more useful.



#30 none

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Posted 19 February 2013 - 06:58 PM

And if time is indeed the major, or only, consideration, then there is no tough decision: fly. If you can stand it.



#31 chakk

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 12:41 AM

Austin to Los Angeles on Interstate Highway 10 is 1,379 miles.  Austin to Los Angeles via Amtrak is 1505 miles.



#32 VentureForth

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 09:26 AM

19 Hrs vs 35 Hrs.  Let's add Greyhound which CAN'T make the trip in 19 hours.  Even the Express books 34 hours.  What's the point?


Edited by VentureForth, 20 February 2013 - 09:31 AM.

14,223 Amtrak Miles. Many more to go.
Completed Routes: Capitol Limited, Palmetto
Also Ridden: Carolinian, Crescent, Pacific Surfliner, Piedmont, Southwest Chief, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Texas Eagle


#33 tricia

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 11:11 AM



To me, the bigger issue with Amtrak long-distance trains is frequency of service. We need to have more trains between major city pairs, particularly when the trip can be made overnight (8-14 hours). That "fall asleep in city A, wake up in city B" model is the biggest selling point of train travel for me.

 

Me too, on that last point. As for the first, others on this forum have noted that running all or most of the LD lines twice a day, at roughly 12-hr intervals, would vastly improve Amtrak's usability for passengers at stations nearly everywhere.



#34 tricia

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 11:21 AM

Basically, someone who is in a hurry to get from Tucson to Los Angeles won't be taking the train

I agree that not many people would take the train from Tuscon to Los Angeles


That's funny, I took the train to Los Angeles a lot when I lived in Tucson. Back then, it was an overnight run both ways, which was extremely convenient: sleep, shower, get dressed, have breakfast, and be ready to go early in the morning at your destination. *That* is the real strength of long-distance train travel: it combines lodging and transportation. No other mode of transportation can compete with this. I honestly don't understand why people are having such a difficult time grasping this concept.

 

Just took the train from LA to Tucson myself earlier this month--not sure how many of us left the train there (since it's also a smoke stop), but I for sure wasn't the only one.



#35 WellTrained

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 12:22 PM

The first few posts explained the majority of the problem very well. But there's a major piece of history that also has to be taken into account. The result of this history is that US railroads are for the most part privately owned and operated. Yes, in a few areas the road itself is owned and operated by Amtrak, and in a few areas by state gov't - NC and NM come to mind (also MI?). And there is an increasing tendency for gov't to buy out the private company and run and maintain the road itself.  But the vast majority of the roads are still privately owned.

 

Contrast this with virtually every other country in the world, where the rail-road (infrastructure) is gov't owned and private companies pay to run trains on that road. The Eurozone is undergoing a revolution in rail operation, the whole point of which is to open access to all the gov't owned railroads to any and all train operators. So far, it's working beautifully. Operators, both freight and passenger, are competing with each other and, as best I can tell, prices are going down while service is going up. This is the way we do highways (with a few exceptions) and air routes and waterways in the US but not how we do railroads. And until this changes, we're stuck with slow infrequent passenger service no matter how much money we throw at it.

 

Yes, gov't can build brand-new high-speed lines. Buy the land, and build the track, and then either run or franchise the operations or just possibly allow multiple companies to compete, though this becomes harder and harder as speeds increase and the necessary technology gets more complicated. But, as others keep saying, HSR really only makes sense along the densely populated corridors, which still leaves a huge part of the country in need of much better passenger rail. And even in the corridors, it would be insane to build HSR w/o building on existing freight corridors. No, freight and HSR can’t share track but they can certainly share right-of-way and often the land adjoining the existing r-o-w’s would be cheaply acquired.

 

I’m not saying this will ever happen in the US – climate change may preclude any possibility of this before we come to our senses and start the process. I’m only saying it’s a necessary step if we ever are to have passenger rail like the rest of the developed world.

 

Flame away!


Phil S

 

US trains taken: Starlight, Zephyr (through both Wyo and Utah/Colorado), SW Chief, Sunset, Southern Crescent, Cardinal, Carolinian, NEC Boston to Washington (though not yet on Accela), EB, NorthCoastHiawatha, Desert Wind, DRG through Colorado, Silver Star (NYP/CRN), Night Owl, Capital Limited, Wolverine, Sounder, probably others.

 

Canada, Europe (including USSR), Mexico, Central America, Northern Africa,and Japan.  


#36 VentureForth

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 01:54 PM

One day when our fossil fuels are gone, and we aren't able to fly airplanes using solar power, we'll have to learn to provide a substantial infrastructure capable of ferrying hundreds of thousands of individuals across the country at hundreds of miles per hour.

 

WellTrained, you're essentially correct.  However, government will be hard pressed to fund any sort of National publically owned rail system while airlines continue to have the power to lobby against such a change.

 

The problems are that state government are thinking SO BIG that the goals are unattainable.  California's HSR, Texas' mega-super highway and rail project - well intentioned but scoped beyond practicallity.

 

Public vs Private has always been a ping pong match.  The British and Japanese have privatized their rail lines.  Worked incredible wonders in Japan; not so much in the UK.  India Rail is extremely efficient providing very affordable travel to the masses and comfortable long distance travel all while paying a living wage (for India) and managing to turn a profit.

 

The US is very unique in that there are huge population centers separated by huge vast expanses.  This makes the economic business model very difficult to make.


14,223 Amtrak Miles. Many more to go.
Completed Routes: Capitol Limited, Palmetto
Also Ridden: Carolinian, Crescent, Pacific Surfliner, Piedmont, Southwest Chief, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Texas Eagle


#37 dlagrua

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 03:47 PM

What bothers me is that Amtrak trains are slower today than they were back in the 1930's.  On the initial record breaking run of the Burlington Zephyr in 1934  the railroad was able to travel from Denver to Chicago in 13 hours. It was known as the "dawn to dusk" run. True that was a special publicity stunt but 77 years later we should be able to do better. Today with more modern equipment, Amtrak takes 20 hours to travel exactly the same distance.

Here is a look back

 

 

If you want to tour that train today it has been restored and now is on permanent exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.



#38 VentureForth

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 04:34 PM

Another pesky interruption is the fact that the train has to slow down, speed up, stop, discharge passengers and take on passengers along the way. All while dancing with the Freights.


Edited by VentureForth, 20 February 2013 - 04:34 PM.

14,223 Amtrak Miles. Many more to go.
Completed Routes: Capitol Limited, Palmetto
Also Ridden: Carolinian, Crescent, Pacific Surfliner, Piedmont, Southwest Chief, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Texas Eagle


#39 VentureForth

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 04:53 PM

What bothers me is that Amtrak trains are slower today than they were back in the 1930's.  On the initial record breaking run of the Burlington Zephyr in 1934  the railroad was able to travel from Denver to Chicago in 13 hours. It was known as the "dawn to dusk" run. True that was a special publicity stunt but 77 years later we should be able to do better. Today with more modern equipment, Amtrak takes 20 hours to travel exactly the same distance.

 

So, let's continue with the comparisons.  According to Wiki,

 

The Burlington's contemporary passenger trains plied the same distance in around 25 hours.

 

As for the preparations required, still something you won't see today:

 

The railroad spared no expense in planning the operations. All other trains along the Zephyr's route were diverted to sidings and the turnouts were spiked into the proper alignment for the Zephyr's run. Track and maintenance of way workers checked every single spike and bolt along the train's route to ensure that there would not be any problems, and temporary speed signs were installed along the route to warn the Zephyr's crew of curves that would be dangerous at high speeds.  On the day of the dash, every road grade crossing was manned by a flagman to stop automobile traffic ahead of the train and to ensure that the crossing was clear.

 

So, yes, context is everything.  It would take that level of effort again, and I'm certain that the modern equipment used would have no problem matching that speed under those conditions.


Edited by VentureForth, 20 February 2013 - 04:53 PM.

14,223 Amtrak Miles. Many more to go.
Completed Routes: Capitol Limited, Palmetto
Also Ridden: Carolinian, Crescent, Pacific Surfliner, Piedmont, Southwest Chief, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Texas Eagle


#40 xyzzy

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 05:33 PM

Passenger train speeds took a hit in 1947 when the ICC imposed the so-called 49/59/69/79 rule. Speeds were further reduced when railroads had to cut expenses and discontinued their all-stops locals, requiring their fastest trains to make more station stops. And finally, it didn't make economic sense to maintain lots of track to FRA Class IV or V standards just for freight. 

 

One fundamental difference between the US and Europe -- and I'm in Europe as I write this -- is the proportion of freight that moves by rail versus truck. You can ride the railways often in the UK, for example, without seeing a single goods train more often than once in a blue moon. Even at night. Or, the ones you do see have 30 cars or less. That's not how the US economy works. The raison d'être of railroads in the US is, and for the most part always has been, freight. In Europe for the most part it's passengers, although there are exceptions.





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