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750 Mile Rule: Federal vs. State/Local Amtrak Funding


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#21 WoodyinNYC

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Posted 05 May 2016 - 02:12 PM

... a deeply detailed audit, broke out the "indirect" costs, and gave a specific rationale as to why each line was being handled in a certain way (e.g. "Shared station expenses are being allocated slightly more heavily towards the LD trains than their passenger loads might indicate because of higher lounge use, redcap use, etc." or "Management overhead is split up on a per-business-line basis rather than a per-frequency basis").  ...

Good suggestions.

 

But Amtrak probably thinks that Critters of Congress already indulge in too datum much micromanaging, and this sort of info would just bring on more such. I think they're probably right.

 

However, just as we are exasperated by the opaque "Amtrak accounting", the Congress Critters are exasperated as well. That probably isn't helping things.



#22 Anderson

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Posted 05 May 2016 - 05:41 PM

I've got issues with both sides of that fight.  Yes, Congress micromanages things they probably shouldn't, but part of the problem with that micromanagement is that it's often based on bad data...but the bad data is Amtrak's own data, so in a sense Amtrak is in a hole of their own making on that front.  Of course, they made that hole due to calculations in another era that it was the "lesser of the evils" since the LD network serves far more states than does the NEC, for example.


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#23 WoodyinNYC

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Posted 05 May 2016 - 08:15 PM

 

... many of us are against the so called "750 mile" rule requiring state funding for service below that distance. ...

 

Amtrak should have the legal right (subject to contracts and negotiations with the sponsoring state agency, of course) to extend state trains beyond the point the state funds the service (for instance, extend the SB Saluki/NB Illini to Memphis).  This would technically make it an interstate train (outside Illinois borders), but its operation contingent on the original state service.  

This is a great idea.

 

Adding a day train to/from Memphis would gain at least 100,000 riders. (The two state-sponsored trains CHI-Carbondale carried 289,000 passengers in 2015, not counting the CONO, running overnight on this stretch.) The added revenue on the SB Saluki and the NB Illini would reduce their operating loss CHI-Carbondale. If Illinois would agree to lock in to paying the same subsidy as before, no more but no less, that could get the extension past the Illinois-Kentucky border, probably to the Tennessee border. In turn, that would make the subsidy required from Tennessee to be much less. Of course, Tennessee could very well refuse to pay any reduced amount. In that case, Amtrak would have to eat it. But it would be easier to eat if Illinois kept paying its share.

 

Extending one of the CHI-Carbondale runs to Memphis would require no more equipment. No idea where they could store the train at Memphis. Or if there would be crew hours problems. (Depart CHI at 8:15 am., arrive Memphis before 8 p.m., leave Memphis by 11 a.m., arrive CHI at 9:45 p.m.)

 

It frustrated me so much I toyed with a second frequency of the City of New Orleans extending all the way: CHI-Champaign-Carbondale-Memphis-Jackson-Hammond-New Orleans. But that does have big problems: It would need more equipment, probably including a sleeper.  Arrival in Jackson (the biggest intermediate station after Memphis) could be 2 a.m., arrival in Hammond (Baton Rouge) 4 a.m., into New Orleans around 6 a.m.  Maybe go slow on purpose to make Hammond at 5 a.m. and NOLA at 7 a.m.? (With a good connection to 3-days-a-week Sunset Ltd Lafayette-Houston-San Antonio train leaving about 9 a.m.)

 

Nah. Maybe next time. Right now I'd just like to see a day train CHI-Memphis. Under current rules that's not going to happen, but your little change could fix that problem.


Edited by WoodyinNYC, 05 May 2016 - 08:24 PM.


#24 Anderson

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Posted 07 May 2016 - 12:16 AM

Presuming the 100k rider figure were to be accurate (I'm not saying it isn't accurate but let's presume that it is), let's fiddle with some numbers:
-In FY15, ridership was 292,187 and revenue was $8.387m.  Thus per-passenger ticket revenue was $28.705.

-Total revenue (incl. cafe revenue and state subsidy) was $15.4m

-Total costs were $19.6m.  NB this included two round trips and I presume only one would be extended to Memphis (probably 391/392; you lose an equipment turn, but the other options involve awful-hour times for Memphis which would defeat the purpose of the exercise), so the cost per round trip was $9.8m.

 

I'm strictly spitballing here, but presuming you add 100k riders off of Memphis (and the two existing flag stops, and I would presume one or two additional stops, flag or otherwise), I'd put 40% of those as being to/from Chicago at an average fare of $80 ($3.2m in revenue) [1] with the remainder behaving as existing passengers at an average fare of $30 ($1.8m in revenue).  This would give $5.0m in new revenue plus whatever extra you might get from the cafe.  I might be able to kick out a slightly larger revenue figure with some massaging.  Note that this only increases the overall PPR to $34.13 (not an insane hike).  However, given that you're adding 4-5 hours of runtime to the train (nearly doubling it) and increasing mileage by about 220 (on a base of about 310) as well as adding a set of equipment (and possibly adding a car or two to each set) and adding crews?  I suspect your costs are going to jump by at least $6m (I'm presuming that there's at least some shared costs that won't increase, but this is close to doubling the needs/cost drivers of that train).

 

[1] $80/passenger is probably too low; coach fares on the CONO CHI-MEM run $105-202; however, assigning the endpoint market 40% of the new business probably skews a bit too high.

 

Edit: Just to be clear, I like the idea of enabling Amtrak to do something like this.  The issue is, of course, that if costs increase down the line Amtrak could have trouble getting the state to kick in to cover "their part" (since the state would likely say, in response, that the increases were probably on Amtrak's extension).  Amtrak could of course respond by .  I think you'd need a formula, probably which slightly advantages the state(s) already funding a route, to deal with that.


Edited by Anderson, 07 May 2016 - 12:29 AM.

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#25 neroden

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Posted 21 May 2016 - 03:44 PM

Honestly, the only way I'd be thoroughly convinced one way or another is if someone went in and did a deeply detailed audit, broke out the "indirect" costs, and gave a specific rationale as to why each line was being handled in a certain way (e.g. "Shared station expenses are being allocated slightly more heavily towards the LD trains than their passenger loads might indicate because of higher lounge use, redcap use, etc." or "Management overhead is split up on a per-business-line basis rather than a per-frequency basis").  At least then we could dicker over whether the allocation was reasonable (and/or ignore the allocation).


Yeah. At the moment, the allocations just look like complete garbage. And they're huge: they're bigger than the direct costs by quite a lot.
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#26 MARC Rider

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Posted 22 May 2016 - 08:42 PM

I think that many of us are against the so called "750 mile" rule requiring state funding for service below that distance. I can think of many < 750 mile routes that could be done if Amtrak did not need states to chip in.

 

On the other hand, there are some trains that I feel should require state support if the train(s) clearly serve a limited market as opposed to others that serve a larger percentage of the country.

 

Now which trains are "national" trains and which are "regional" is certainly up to debate and interpretation. If we can agree as to which are which, we can use federal money to serve national trains and state/local money to serve regional trains. But good luck with that.

 

Otherwise, maybe we have to say all trains must be funded by states they serve. Or you give Amtrak a blank check to start a short train in the middle of nowhere and use all of our money to pay for it.

 

Should we require all trains to be funded regionally or have no rules at all? Is there a compromise as to which trains are regional and which are national? I think the 750 number is very arbitrary. Maybe we can say a train that runs completely in one state is the responsibility of that state and local areas and that any interstate train can be funded nationally. Or 1-2 regionally and 3+ nationally (so if a train just touches the border of a neighboring state it still should be primarily the predominant state's responsibility). Can you think of a better "rule" to separate national vs. local?

 

You know, there seems to be no controversy about having the Federal government fund highways that only serve very localized interests.  Why should Federal funds be used for roads like the Capital Beltway in Washington, the Baltimore Beltway, and practically every metropolitan freeway across the country? Shouldn't the states and local governments pay for roads that are mainly being used by local commuters?

 

I wonder (and this is mere speculation on my part) if the 750 mile rule was, at some level, designed to ensure that passenger rail would not be a viable transport mode in this country.  After all, passenger rail is a most practical intercity transport mode for trips that take 4-5 hours or less.  This is about the minimum time it takes to fly anywhere, if you take getting to the airport, security lines, clearing the airport at the other end, etc.  And, of course, many airline city pairs require changing planes, so, most airplane trips take a lot more than 4-5 hours door to door.  Thus, in a rational world, the Amtrak national network should be a system of interconnected city pairs of 750 miles or less.  These corridors should have multiple daily trips to maximize their usefulness to travelers.  By sharing the overhead costs of multiple trips, costs per train in the corridors are much lower.  The costs for the long distance trains that travel through multiple corridors is also lower, perhaps to the point that the long distance trains that travel though multiple corridors have much better financial performance than they do now, and that outright subsidies would be needed only for the one that serve the more remote communities in the interior West.

 

And as it turns out, with the exception of California, New York, and Pennsylvania (and a couple of routes in Illinois), corridor services tend to serve multiple states:  The NEC, obviously, the whole point to the Virginia services is to connect Virginia with DC and the northeastern States.  The same is true for the Carolinian.  The Vermonter and Ethan Alan connect Vermont with New York and the NEC, Downeaster connects Maine and New Hampshire with Massachusetts.  Most of the Midwest corridors connect Chicago with points outside of Illinois.  This all seems like "interstate commerce,: if you ask me.  So why is Congress so insistent that States be forced to pay the lion's share for rail projects that have a good chance of being a practical transportation alternative when they have no problem doling out zillions for highway projects that have extremely local benefits?



#27 MARC Rider

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Posted 22 May 2016 - 08:51 PM

 

 

And as it turns out, with the exception of California, New York, and Pennsylvania (and a couple of routes in Illinois), corridor services tend to serve multiple states:  The NEC, obviously, the whole point to the Virginia services is to connect Virginia with DC and the northeastern States.  The same is true for the Carolinian.  The Vermonter and Ethan Alan connect Vermont with New York and the NEC, Downeaster connects Maine and New Hampshire with Massachusetts.  Most of the Midwest corridors connect Chicago with points outside of Illinois.  This all seems like "interstate commerce,: if you ask me.  So why is Congress so insistent that States be forced to pay the lion's share for rail projects that have a good chance of being a practical transportation alternative when they have no problem doling out zillions for highway projects that have extremely local benefits?

 

 

Actually, a good bit of Keystone traffic connects southeastern PA with New Jersey and New York.  And I myself have used Empire service to travel between New York and Maryland, though NEC connections.  Oh, yes, and the Cascades connect Washington and Oregon, and even the Heartland Flyer connects Texas and Oklahoma, and feeds an interstate train, the Texas Eagle.



#28 norfolkwesternhenry

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Posted 04 July 2016 - 10:08 AM

there are hundreds of <750 mile routes that should be served.
MSP-Rochester
MSP-Rochester-La Crosse-Madison-MKE-CHI
MSP-Duluth
(these are a few examples from my area, the twin cities)
BUT MN CHOOSES NOT TO FUND ANY RAIL AT ALL!!!!!!

Empire Builder MSP-CHI (2) CHI-MSP (2) MSP-PDX (1) MSP-CBS (5.5 H late) (1) MKE-MSP (1) MSP-SEA (1) Coast Starlate PDX-EMY (1.5H late) (1) California Zephyr DEN-SLC (1H late) (1) Hiawatha CHI-MKE (1) NE Regional WAS-BAL (1) WAS-NYP (1) Acela Express BAL-WAS (1) BOS-WAS (1) Late Shore (Limited service) CHI-BOS (On Time) (1) Capitol Limited WAS-CHI (1) Texas Eagle SAS-CHI (1.5 HR late, 1 HR late) (2) CHI-SAS (1) (55 min early) Wolverine DET-DER-ARB-CHI (35 Min late) (1) Cascades SEA-VAC (1)
Non-Amtrak: VIA: Corridor Service Q.C.-Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto-Windsor (1) Canadian: VAC-Winnipeg 4.5 H late (1) D. C. metro, Montreal Metro, Toronto subway, Portland streetcars, BART, Metra, NYC subway, Boston subway, Twin cities Blue/Green line
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No trees were killed to make this, but a number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

My apologies if I offend you, or seem stubborn, it's simply my nature. I am 14 after all, and my English isn't exactly perfect.


#29 Eric S

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Posted 04 July 2016 - 10:56 AM

I'm not sure it's quite right to say Minnesota doesn't fund any rail. The state has been a partner in building the Twin Cities area rail transit and has at least entertained the idea of partnering with Wisconsin to add a second train between Chicago and St. Paul (although it remains to be seen if either MN or WI will actually follow through).

 

EDIT: In other words, there are truly anti-rail states out there that will contribute no funds at all to either urban/regional rail transit or Amtrak/intercity rail transit and MN is not one of them.


Edited by Eric S, 04 July 2016 - 10:57 AM.


#30 CCC1007

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Posted 04 July 2016 - 10:56 AM

there are hundreds of <750 mile routes that should be served.
MSP-Rochester
MSP-Rochester-La Crosse-Madison-MKE-CHI
MSP-Duluth
(these are a few examples from my area, the twin cities)
BUT MN CHOOSES NOT TO FUND ANY RAIL AT ALL!!!!!!

MN is working to establish their own rail network within the state, on almost all of the listed routes. They like the north star line and want more, with dedicated tracks and multiple trips every day. Most will serve the St. Paul Union Depot, so keep your eyes open on that front.

#31 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 16 September 2016 - 04:24 PM

I'm thinking of a "fairer" way to assign fiscal responsibilities of Amtrak trains, present and future. I'm trying to think of allocations that would keep the federal allocation about the same (if they want to raise it I won't object).

 

My proposal:

Trains less than 750 miles: States are responsible for 50%, Federal is responsible for 50%

Trains 750 miles or more: States are responsible for 25%, Federal is responsible for 75%

 

The same rules apply for existing and proposed trains.

 

To determine a fair allocation among states for trains, you can allocate each state's responsibility either by the number of station stops or the number of train miles through the state (or a combination of both). I would exempt New York State from any train that only stops in NYP, Illinois from any train that only stops in CHI, and Washington DC from having to pay for any trains . The three stops (NYP, CHI, WAS) are popular transfer stops as well as popular travel destinations so they should be a federal responsibility. The states can negotiate with each other so one or two states don't kill a train.

 

I'm sure people are fearful states won't pay and trains will end. But after Congress stopped subsidizing trains less than 750 miles, I didn't hear of any of them that stopped running (there were rumors about the Keystones/Pennsylvanian and the Hoosier State needed Iowa Pacific to help but neither stopped running). And remember that the states would only have to pay 25%, not 100%. And in the past states who lost service were more likely to start state services (according to Wikipedia, the Pennsylvanian was a response to the National Limited being canceled). There is talk in Minnesota about a 2nd train between CHI and MSP. If you tell Minnesota you're going to take away the Empire Builder, I'd imagine the money required for the 1st train between CHI and MSP will get through their capital a lot faster (or they will pay for their share of the EB). States might wind up having to choose between paying for 25% of an LD train or 50% of a "state supported" train. What would be cheaper for Minnesota, 25% of their proportional costs of the EB or 50% of their proportional costs of a new CHI-MSP train?

 

I'm not sure how much Congress is expecting from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida for reinstating Gulf Coast service (all or a portion)? I think 25% would make the states more willing to pay. Maybe Pennsylvania will be willing to contribute 25% of the costs of the you know what (especially when they will only have to pay half of the Pennsylvanian/Keystone subsidies). Most states won't pay for service but maybe if you cut those price tags in half some of them might change their mind.

 

Maybe the %'s have to be adjusted but the goals should be to fairer distribute costs between states and Congress and the price tag to start/reinstate service would be lower for states and encourage them more to start new trains. The federal government would then pay more to help new/existing "state" services but less for LD trains.

 

I'm hoping this change in allocation would lead to more trains and that states will actually chip in for LD trains which will free up more money for more corridor trains to be (partially) funded by Congress.


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#32 Thirdrail7

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Posted 16 September 2016 - 10:14 PM

I'm thinking of a "fairer" way to assign fiscal responsibilities of Amtrak trains, present and future. I'm trying to think of allocations that would keep the federal allocation about the same (if they want to raise it I won't object).

 

My proposal:

Trains less than 750 miles: States are responsible for 50%, Federal is responsible for 50%

Trains 750 miles or more: States are responsible for 25%, Federal is responsible for 75%

 

The same rules apply for existing and proposed trains.

 

To determine a fair allocation among states for trains, you can allocate each state's responsibility either by the number of station stops or the number of train miles through the state (or a combination of both). I would exempt New York State from any train that only stops in NYP, Illinois from any train that only stops in CHI, and Washington DC from having to pay for any trains . The three stops (NYP, CHI, WAS) are popular transfer stops as well as popular travel destinations so they should be a federal responsibility. The states can negotiate with each other so one or two states don't kill a train.

 

 

Uh-huh...and here is the problem. What happens when a state has more route miles and stations stops but is actually delivers less riders than a state with less stops/riders?

 

In other words, the NEC passes through multiple states. Maryland has four major Amtrak stops (ABE,BAL,BWI and NCR), but most of the route through the state (90 miles) is expensive, high speed rail. Indeed, out of the 90 miles on this route, 80 miles of it are rated at or above 110mph.

 

How do you tell Maryland that they are responsible for maintaining all of that expensive track to feed riders to Washington DC, an area that is exempt? Even if you charged them, they have a grand total of 8 miles of route miles and 1 station. Out of the 8 miles, you have 1 and 1/2 miles of 125 mph track, 3 miles of 95 mph track, roughly 1 mile of 45mph track. The rest is 15mph track. Their costs wouldn't be that high.  How do you explain to Virginia, a state loaded with route miles and stations that they will have all of these costs to feed Washington DC? What happens when they say I'm not paying?

 

 

The same can be said for NY. They don't really have a lot of route miles. However, if they do have a lot of station stops if you include the Empire Service. However, their costs will be quite small compared to N.J. which has almost 57 expensive miles of multi tracked high speed rail.  Out of the 57 miles, roughly 51 miles are rated above 90mph. How do you tell  N.J. they will bear the costs of bringing millions of people into and exempt station?

 

These scenarios mirror the the questions asked when the Amtrak Reform Council issued their findings.  The solution was if a state didn't want to pick up the costs, the feds would do it....but the trains wouldn't service the state. The states (with Senator Biden leading the charge) basically said good luck with getting through our states without stopping because if you do that, there will only be small number of passengers riding to NY or WAS.

 

This scenario played out all over the country. States without rail service asked why their taxes should pay for anything? That is why this line of thinking ended. While I don't like the 750 mile rule and I find it arbitrary and random, your allocation of costs has already proved to be a recipe for disaster.


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#33 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 07:33 AM

I'm thinking the 750 is the magic number created because North Carolina was already funding the Carolinian at 704 miles and the next up was the Capitol Limited at 780 miles so it's real convenient to draw the line there. Is the Carolinian really any less of an LD train than the current LD trains? They're a day train? So is the Palmetto. Also, it is easy to tell North Carolina to pay for the Carolinian as they clearly are the #1 state that benefits. Then again, you can certainly say the same about the "Texas" Eagle. 

 

You can say that divvying up state's shares would be just as difficult for a LD train as it is for the NEC but several "state" trains serve many different states (Carolinian, Vermonter, even the Pennsylvanian serves three states). The Heartland Flyer and Vermonter are paid for by multiple states so figuring out some way to allocate state expenses for LD trains is certainly possible. 

 

Well currently the NEC is exempted from the 750 mile rule and requiring state funding so I'd probably still exempt it from state funding requirements as well even if the LD trains were not exempted. New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland can refuse to pay but is Amtrak going to just cancel NEC service? They're not that stupid. I know most of the other states don't like that the NEC is exempt, but like it or not if there's no NEC there's no Amtrak, period. You can't say the same about the Sunset Limited or Coast Starlight. I see no reason Amtrak shouldn't go to states and demand they pay for their LD trains the same way they demanded they pay for the "state" supported service. It's not like Amtrak has never demanded states pay for LD service or canceled them when they didn't (cough... Three Rivers). And where's that Gulf Coast train? They're waiting for the states to chip in aren't they? Amtrak has never had rules that required it to not demand states pay for specific trains. The 750 mile rule made it so they couldn't just pick and choose which "state" funded trains would be federally funded and which wouldn't be. Why not extend it to LD trains? 

 

And remember, I'm not saying the states should pay 100% of the LD expenses, just 25% (and that money can be used to cut the state requirements for the other trains to 50%). Under my plan, a state like California would have to chip in money for the SWC, CZ, CS, and SL but would see their Capitol Corridor, Pacific Surfliner, and San Joaquin bill cut in half. I think 100% and 0% is too extreme. 


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#34 jis

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 08:55 AM

I frankly don't think we should back off from the general principle that infrastructure and services supporting interstate commerce is primarily a federal responsibility. If any state funding should be involved it should not go beyond the 90-10 formula used for the interstate highway system. However, the problem even with that as Thirdrail has pointed out is 90-10 of what top line? Hence the 750 mile compromise. I don't think anyone has come up with a formula that works much better than that.

Of course the issues faced by the NEC Commission, while rooted in the same core issues, is possibly quite a bit more difficult to resolve because of the large number of trains operated by large number of entities requiring different qualities of track, the primary beneficiaries of which are not necessarily the places that the tracks pass through. Having been a past resident of NJ I can vouch for how hard it is to convince anyone in NJ that it is worthwhile for NJ to fund high speed tracks through NJ. The tunnel OTOH many understand benefits NJ more than anyone else.

#35 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 10:30 AM

In reality, most of the < 750 mile trains outside of the NEC already were state supported to some degree so it was easier for Congress to pressure the states to take over the costs. You had the case where the Pennsylvanian was in jeopardy but eventually PennDOT blinked and where the Hoosier State was in jeopardy but Indiana brought Iowa Pacific into the mix. On the other hand, if Amtrak made the same demands on most of the LD trains, how many states would willingly agree to pay? Is there any LD route that Amtrak/Congress can bully a state or states to take over the costs of it? I'm sure if they could they would've done so already. Why pay for a train when you can get someone else to?

 

So it becomes a question as to whether Amtrak/Congress really wants the route(s) or not? Right now the answer for all of the current LD routes is yes. Whenever they change their answer to no on a specific route or routes, they'll probably go to the states/localities involved and say "pay for it or lose it". And we know they've done it before. 

 

I'm not even sure the 750 mile rule is even necessary now. All of the current "state supported" routes are off the federal government's hands and it's not like Amtrak is starting any new trains now, whether it would be more than 750 miles or less than . 


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#36 west point

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 11:00 AM

Our posters here need to re read third rail a couple times.  Lets listen to all persons throughout the USA. This poster feels that this 750 mile amendment is an attempt by certain congress critters to continue to Balkanize the USA.  We already fought one civil war that tried separating us.   Of course the population differences and area differences can never be equalized.  To put it on the states is _________________. 



#37 WoodyinNYC

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 09:35 PM

It could be easier to work on the problem by talking about it differently.

 

Under current law and definitions, trains are long distance or state-supported because they are not long-enuff distance. (Not getting into local commuter systems.)

 

When Amtrak was formed, the system included the long distance routes. of course. It also included a bunch of shorter corridor trains that mostly overlay some LD routes. The NYC-Buffalo Empire Service, for example, and the St Louis-CHI Lincoln trains, and a few others. 

 

As years went by, various states made deals with Amtrak to start or expand corridor service, and at some point someone noticed, and began to agitate, that some corridor trains got a lot of federal Amtrak money and others didn't much or any help at all.

 

The PRIIA solution equalized things by treating all, or almost all (not the Palmetto. for example), the non-LD trains the same, by shifting 85% of the costs to the states, while Amtrak covers 15% of costs recognizing that the corridor are some part of the national system.

 

The either/or line was set somewhat arbitrarily at 750 miles.

 

With the passage of time, it's clear that the 750-mile limit has discouraged states from adding corridor service where they have to pay 85%, especially where states (like New Hampshire, Alabama, Mississippi, and others) will not agree to partner their fair share of the costs.

 

Most of us see the corridor trains as part of the national system, to some degree or another. The Cascades trains Eugene-Portland-Seattle-Vancouver, BC seem as much a part of Amtrak as the Coast Starlight on most of the same tracks.

 

But the degree any given corridor is actually part of the national system may differ considerably. The 750-mile breakpoint is too crude a measure.

 

Looking at the actual miles involved, it's clear that NY-Albany are NY State trains. Extend them to Buffalo, well, hmmn. Take them to Montreal or Toronto and why the hell are NY taxpayers covering 85% of those costs? Chicago to Milwaukee, yeah, that seems like something for Illinois and Wisconsin to handle. But CHI-St Paul with 418 miles? Or CHI-St Paul-Fargo with 662? Maybe CHI-St Paul isn't quite the same level of 'national system' as the Empire Builder is, but it seems at least halfway national. And CHI-Fargo -- a four-state corridor over 650 miles, that's national system.

 

It's the 750-mile limit that's most in need of changing. Leave NY-Albany and CHI-Milwaukee for the states. Set the cut-off limit for 15% federal cost-sharing at 200 miles. Then have the states pay 50% of routes between 201 and 400 miles, with the feds, that is, Amtrak, paying the other 50%. Make that 400-mile figure be the new maximum requiring state support. Any route of 400 miles or more will be part of the national system like any other LD train.

 

If we could get the 750-mile limit cut almost in half, and federal money to help support middle-distance trains, we'd see a clamor for more trains to expand the Amtrak system.



#38 neroden

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Posted 18 September 2016 - 11:23 PM

I think the key is entirely elsewhere, as I've mentioned before.  I think the keys are:

1 -- accept that the infrastructure is a government responsibility like roads.  Whether state or federal is not the biggest issue; the biggest issue is getting the governments to admit that they should own and maintain the tracks like they do the roads, out of property tax, sales tax, income tax.  Barely any roads make money and many roads serve only a couple of people.  *All* the tracks.  (The freights can pay access charges or lease 'em.)

2 -- Get away from bogus "cost allocation" accounting. Get the federal government to admit that they need to pay for Amtrak's central reservations system, Amtrak's accounting system, Amtrak's head office, Amtrak's backshops at Beech Grove, Bear, etc., and so on.  Just like they manage Air Traffic Control or pay for the NHTSA.  These central operations need to be unified and are a national (or even international) issue, so they are quintessentially federal.

 

At that point, the actual operations subsidies are so much smaller that it becomes much less of an issue to argue about.

 

I guess I'm arguing for a massive reframing of the debate.


Edited by neroden, 18 September 2016 - 11:24 PM.

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#39 jis

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Posted 19 September 2016 - 06:20 AM

Neroden, I completely agree with the way you frame it. That helps clarify what are the top lines that then may be split 90-10 or even 100-0 or 0-100 between the feds and the states.

#40 Anderson

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Posted 19 September 2016 - 10:42 AM

Part of the issue is that there were a hatful of "holdover" trains in MI, NY, PA, and VA that the states were getting for free.  In the case of VA, IIRC it was four of the five WAS-RVR trains; I believe in the case of NY it was basically the entire NYP-ALB-NFS set of trains.  I think there were some other cases of this floating around as well (one or two Surfliners may have qualified as "system" trains as well), and in yet other cases the contracts had wildly variable terms.

 

VA was a sort-of hilarious situation since IIRC either 3 or 4 of the 6 trains were in the black for Amtrak, basically rendering the contracts this wacky academic exercise...but in all of the cases, standardizing (or close to standardizing) the contracts was a matter of fairness (e.g. why should the Adirondack, Carolinian, and Wolverines all have different contract terms insofar as the service provided was the same?).

 

Now, the point was made that PA blinked.  The truth is a bit more complicated...IIRC both sides blinked: PA got a special deal because of plans to run through cars onto the Cap and because there is a lot of transfer business between those two at PGH which would be lost to the national system.  PA still had to fork over some cash, but I think they got a discount of a few million dollars per year.

 

Edit: Honestly, there probably should have been 2-3 tiers below the "national system".  Really short trains running either exclusively intrastate (Capitol Corridor, NYP-ALB) or barely interstate (Hiawatha) which more-or-less serve a commuter function probably should be down to the state(s) involved and/or treated generally the same way that "actual" commuter trains are.  Longer stuff (NYP-NFS comes to mind) I would be inclined to give something closer to a 50-50 split (and/or at least cover equipment charges, with some sort of credit to operations where the states have their own equipment).  One thing to remember, however, is that the closer analogy is tollways, not freeways.


Edited by Anderson, 19 September 2016 - 10:58 AM.

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