I figure it's time to throw another point out there, in that I'm looking over the most recent Budget/Business Plan document and getting some interesting results. Per these numbers, the direct losses of the LD system come to about $120m/yr, dropping to $100m/yr over the next 5 years. Indirect/shared costs take another $500m/yr. Some of the indirect expenses do attach reasonably directly (stations come to mind) while some of those expenses simply don't belong there as part of any reasonable business calculation, either in part (policing, casualty/FELA, communication) or at all (data processing, probably adminstrative). Some of the expenses seem to have been just split evenly between the non-NEC business lines (MoW support...for FY14 you get $37.5m to LD trains, $38.3m to State trains, and $93.6m for the NEC). For example, I really don't see how you even end up offloading 20% of the MoW support to the LD trains...only 7 of them even touch Amtrak-owned tracks (one, the Cap, negligibly so...and I forget the actual ownership of the Empire route here) and none of them touch any significant part of NEC-North (19 r/t daily) while the remaining ones make up 5.5x daily round-trips out of 42 on the NEC-South (the Acela makes up about 16, the Regionals about 19, and you have two state trains as well)...which gets you to a whopping 9% of the route-miles on the NEC. Granted you have a few other Amtrak-owned segments out there, but given that one of the largest is in MI and that I believe NY is more or less billed straight for the Poughkeepsie-Schenectady line (of which the LSL makes up <10% of the traffic), I do not see how you get 22% of MoW allocation out of this. Doing the same for state trains is more complex since a lot of that can be put down to the VA Regionals in some fashion, not to mention the NY and MI situations.
You've spotted what I spotted. :-) The long-distance trains are getting unreasonable overhead allocation in several categories. A fair amount of the overhead really shouldn't be allocated to routes at all (like the data processing). From a business decisions perspective, it really only makes sense to look at the direct losses.
It's worth noting that the 2014 budget doesn't match up with the September 2014 results (they're better than budget). The budget predicted $1227.6 million in "direct and shared costs" for the long-distance division, while the September 2014 results show $1093.7 million. The budget predicted $507.0 million in ticket revenue; actual result was $510.7 million. I can't tell what the variance is on F&B revenue. (I will tell you right now that F&B revenue will be dropping in 2015 due to idiotic food service cuts; however, for the sleeper passengers, this will simply translate into higher ticket revenue.)
The breakdown of the direct losses is something I've been looking at for a while, ever since Boardman put that bar graph in his presentation. While it's hard to get exact numbers for any year except 2012 (sigh), it really looks like the following is true:
-- all the Florida trains are profitable
-- the Lake Shore Limited is roughly break-even
-- most of the other trains have operational subsidies of less than $10 million / year
-- The California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, and Sunset Limited require the bulk of the operational subsidy -- well over half of the entire long-distance division's subsidy in 2012. My calculations indicate that the percentage is even larger now.
I do think there is value in maintaining a connection between the east-of-the-Rockies network to the West Coast. The Empire Builder is the best connection financially. I think there's value in maintaining a second connection further south -- but it costs a *lot*. Maintaining three of them is really quite expensive. Expanding this type of service (with trains like the Desert Wind / Pioneer) should not be considered until service is expanded in the much more promising areas to the east.
My initial-action proposal would be the following:
-- daily Cardinal
-- run the Broadway Limited, probably on the "other schedule" from the LSL (evening departure from NY, morning arrival in NY, midday at Chicago)
-- add Wolverine runs which continue from Dearborn to Toledo to connect with the LSL (first priority), the Broadway Limited (second priority), and the CL
-- run a Denver Zephyr on the "other schedule" from the CZ (evening departure from Chicago, morning arrival). Extend up the Front Range to Fort Collins if & when BNSF & equipment allow.
-- run a day train to Minneapolis, and move the Empire Builder onto a night schedule from MSP-CHI (yes, I know, cascading effects all down the line)
-- run the Silver Palm to Florida. It may not be obvious how much connection value this has; this would have saved my bacon on a recent cancelled trip (I planned to get into Florida the night before, and the next run was 24 hours later and missed the event -- if the next run was *12* hours later I would have made it). It provides morning arrivals in Miami and evening departures.
I think most of this would actually be profitable (good for Amtrak's bottom line).
My current estimates say that making the Cardinal daily would be *profitable*, and would in fact swing the train from requiring a subsidy to generating money to cover overhead -- I'm not accounting for any ransom demands from CSX, of course, so it might not be that good, but it would be good.
Other major network improvements would probably require more money, probably mostly from states:
-- Iowa Interstate route across Iowa (CZ and Denver Zephyr should be rerouted here upon completion)
-- Daily Sunset/Eagle plan...
-- ... and Phoenix line restoration
-- SWC over the Transcon through Amarillo & Wichita, + Heartland Flyer extension to Wichita
-- Dallas/Houston service restoration
-- Mobile-New Orleans corridor service
-- Atlanta-Montgomery-Mobile-New Orleans section of the Crescent
-- Jacksonville-Atlanta train of some variety
-- some sort of service to Louisville & Nashville. Chicago-Indianapolis-Louisville-Nashville-Chattanooga-Atlanta-Jacksonville-Orlando would make sense if CSX would cooperate.
Yeah, I'm leaving out Las Vegas. The casinos can build their own high-speed line to Los Angeles and they probably will.
Florida needs a serious service improvement and restructuring but the core element it needs is the cancelled Tampa-Orlando high speed line, so there's not much point in trying to straighten things out there until that gets built.
At the moment, the state payment requirements are making things hard because some states are run by anti-rail nuts. However, the Class Is, those ungrateful recipients of corporate welfare, remain a larger obstruction; the way around this seems to be through the states purchasing ROW, which means that there was no real way around the state governments anyway.
Here's hoping that Hoosier State support starts to translate into a rail-curious Indiana state government. Next step is to somehow get the anti-rail nuts out of power in Ohio, and then we can start making real progress.