I'm not sure what to call the new thread.
(Former comment follows:)
Sorry, Nathanael, but I missed this post back in December.
It sparked some thoughts on mine, tho, when I did read it.
But to comment here would go completely off-Acela-topic.
Would you please post your comment to start a new thread?
(I could start one quoting you a lot, but that seems clumsy.)
Eh, just speed up the LDs until they're profitable. :-)
OK, OK, I kid, I kid. But I've been looking pretty deeply into these for a while. The Boardman presentation with direct costs was very illuminating. A lot of the "costs" we see are actually overhead which can only be covered by expanding operations. The more state-subsidized corridors there are to spread the overhead out across, the better that will get. Meanwhile, most of the eastern long-distance trains are within striking distance of profitability on a direct-costs basis; a few targeted speed improvements and better on-time performance would do the trick.
Only some of the trains require large operating subsidies (CZ, SL, SWC), and even there it's only parts of their routes (Denver-Chicago is pretty good financially, Denver-San Francisco is horrible). Amtrak rejected breaking up routes into connected corridors in the PIPs, but frankly I think it's not crazy to break the CZ at Denver -- except that it would reveal how bad the western half does and how well the eastern half does.
There's a very real sense in which the Amtrak federal operational subsidy, and many of the state operational subsidies (as opposed to the capital subsidies) are for a very specific list of line segments -- ones with particularly slow running. I mentioned the terrible speed of the Crescent south of Atlanta in another thread, and the terrible Indianapolis-Chicago speed is well known. The mountain crossing of the Coast Starlight and both mountain crossings of the California Zephyr have bad running times compared to alternatives, the SWC has awful running times over Raton, and the Sunset Limited has awful running times for most of its distance.
If I were master-planning for Amtrak, I would be tempted to sit down and find out what routes have geometric alignment suitable for continuous 80mph+ running between major cities, and then move heaven and earth to get those lines under passenger-operator control -- and focus all service on those lines. But I suppose in some sense they're doing exactly that in the attempt to get a "South of the Lake" route out of Chicago. Hasn't really succeeded yet.
Anyway, sparked a lot of interesting thoughts though.