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What small changes would increase ridership exponentially?


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#1 Metra Electric Rider

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Posted 04 January 2017 - 02:40 PM

I've been catching up on my post readings after a break and a thought occurred to me; what small changes (relatively speaking) would increase overall Amtrak ridership exponentially? I'm thinking 'small' along the lines of say a Chicago-Cleveland day train or an additional MSP-Chicago train or the addition of an unserved city such as Columbus in addition to reliability and service quality.


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NSB- Bergensbanen, Kongsvingerbanen, Rørosbanen, Dovrebanen, Flåmsbana, Roa–Hønefossbanen

Amtrak - Floridian, San Francisco Zephyr, Southwest Limited, Illini, State House


#2 Hotblack Desiato

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Posted 04 January 2017 - 03:18 PM

Definition of exponential
  1. 1:  of or relating to an exponent

  2. 2:  involving a variable in an exponent <10x is an exponential expression>

  3. 3:  expressible or approximately expressible by an exponential function; especially  :  characterized by or being an extremely rapid increase (as in size or extent) <an exponentialgrowth rate>

 

 

So, if you think any changes will increase Amtrak ridership by an exponent, you're basically expecting ridership to be higher than the number of people who have ever lived since the dawn of humanity.

In a slightly less nit-picky sense, I don't see any additional service / new routes as a "small change" by any means, and certainly not in a way that would result in a significant (even if not exponential) ridership increase.



#3 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 04 January 2017 - 04:11 PM

The problem is anything small/short distance requires state funding.


Trains Traveled:
 
Broadway Limited (CHI-Harrisburg, PA) 
Three Rivers (Harrisburg, PA-CHI, Altoona, PA-CHI, PHL-CHI)
Capitol Limited (CHI-WAS)
Lake Short Limited (NYP-CHI)
Silver Meteor (PHL-ORL)
Southwest Chief (CHI-LAX)
California Zephyr (CHI-SLC, SLC-EMY)
City of New Orleans and/or Illini (CHI-Champaign, IL)

 

All I want for Amtrak is a direct train from Philly to Chicago in less than 24 hours 
 
 


#4 Metra Electric Rider

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Posted 04 January 2017 - 04:25 PM

The problem is anything small/short distance requires state funding.

 

I didn't specify funding - just what change would have an outsize increase on ridership.


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NSB- Bergensbanen, Kongsvingerbanen, Rørosbanen, Dovrebanen, Flåmsbana, Roa–Hønefossbanen

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#5 west point

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Posted 04 January 2017 - 09:19 PM

Having enough equipment to add that equipment to current trains and sell the seats .

#6 Fred Wis.

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Posted 05 January 2017 - 09:36 AM

Having enough equipment to add that equipment to current trains and sell the seats .

I have wondered about this idea. How often are long distance trains "sold out"? Or how often are sleepers "sold out"? Would adding one car to certain long distance trains help revenue? Or even seasonally as I think the Zepher does for the warm months?



#7 AFS1970

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Posted 05 January 2017 - 11:51 AM

I think the number one thing that would lead to increased ridership is speed. I know that there are lots of factors like tracks and freights, but speed is always going to be a factor in trip planning. I was looking into a recent trip from NYC to Chicago, driving was around 6 hours and the train for the time we were looking at was 12 hours. Given that circumstance the trains just can't compete.

 

As for adding sleeper cars, is it feasible to add cars only when demand calls for it? A group I am in online was planning a cross country trip, due to a train split the number of sleepers would be limited. When they went on sale a year in advance almost all were sold to this group. I think the few remaining ones went within a month. So for the rest of the year, unless there is a cancellation that train will be sold out of sleepers. It would seem that when there is a high demand, resources could be shifted to add more capacity to a train as long as it would be within engine capacity.


Edited by AFS1970, 05 January 2017 - 11:51 AM.


#8 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 05 January 2017 - 12:15 PM

I think the number one thing that would lead to increased ridership is speed. I know that there are lots of factors like tracks and freights, but speed is always going to be a factor in trip planning. I was looking into a recent trip from NYC to Chicago, driving was around 6 hours and the train for the time we were looking at was 12 hours. Given that circumstance the trains just can't compete.

 

How fast are you going making it between NYC and Chicago in 6 hours? Google Maps has it 789 miles. And 12 hours between the cities is a dream, especially considering there isn't a direct route between the cities like I-80. You either have to go up to Albany or down to Philly (assuming the Broadway Limited/Three Rivers still existed). Both routes are/were over 900 miles. That would be 75 mph. Maybe someday but we're not even close.


Trains Traveled:
 
Broadway Limited (CHI-Harrisburg, PA) 
Three Rivers (Harrisburg, PA-CHI, Altoona, PA-CHI, PHL-CHI)
Capitol Limited (CHI-WAS)
Lake Short Limited (NYP-CHI)
Silver Meteor (PHL-ORL)
Southwest Chief (CHI-LAX)
California Zephyr (CHI-SLC, SLC-EMY)
City of New Orleans and/or Illini (CHI-Champaign, IL)

 

All I want for Amtrak is a direct train from Philly to Chicago in less than 24 hours 
 
 


#9 WoodyinNYC

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Posted 05 January 2017 - 05:16 PM

Having enough equipment to add that equipment to current trains and sell the seats .

You got it. Equipment. Equipment. Equipment.

 

#1. We need to see an order for more Viewliners before the production line shuts down. Let's rush to order 100 more baggage cars.

 

The current Viewliner order is for 70 bag cars (delivered), 25 diners, 25 sleepers, and 10 bag-dorms. Last I saw it, the 130-car total will cost out at roughly $350 million including spare parts and stuff (the original bid was $300 million for cars only), each car on average about $2.7 million.

 

Diners cost the most, sleepers next, bag dorms less, and full bag cars the least. I'll wing it and say $2.4 million per baggage car (no cooking, no plumbing). So an order for 100 more should cost about $240 million, or more.

 

Amtrak will no doubt need more baggage cars, but not 100 more of them. Let's buy as many basic units as possible for the least Congressional appropriation. Later, as cash becomes available, install plumbing and modules to convert them into bag dorms (the cheapest -- half a car -- upgrade), and full sleepers if the budget permits.

 

I'd do without more diners. I'm one who has come to suspect that they will never cover their costs. If we get pleasantly surprised by good numbers for the 25 diners on order, then convert 5 or 10 of the extra bag cars to diners.

 

The urgent need is for sleepers. They sell out too often, leaving money on the table. The current order will add 25 sleepers, and 10 bag dorms (equivalent to 5 full sleepers). Amtrak has 50 Viewliner sleepers in the fleet, so the expansion underway will be a nice 60% increase, for a total of 80 cars. Good, very good. But the need will be for another 50 sleepers. Or more.

 

# 2. Hundreds of single-level coaches and other cars to replace the aging Eastern fleet on existing trains. And then to expand: The daily Cardinal. That third train East Coast-Chicago. The split of the Crescent at Birmingham heading off Jackson-Vicksburg-Monroe-Shreveport-Dallas-Ft Worth. The Trans-Dominion Express Norfolk-Richmond-Lynchburg-Roanoke-Bristol-Knoxville-Chattanooga-Birmingham-Mongomery-Mobile-New Orleans. The restored Sacajawea (a.k.a. North Coast Hiawatha). And more.

 

#3. Hundreds of bi-level cars for the Western long distance trains.

 

#4. Replace and expand the fleet of locomotives.

 

It's new equipment that will deliver the most bang for the buck.


Edited by WoodyinNYC, 05 January 2017 - 05:18 PM.


#10 west point

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Posted 05 January 2017 - 08:03 PM

[It's new equipment that will deliver the most bang for the buck.


If one Billion was allocated for new cars that would probably add 300 revenue cars and the rest non revenue. That would increase yearly ridership by at least 10M. #1B spread of 4 new routes would not increase ridership that much ? 4 new routes would need what in cars ? 16 train sets? = 80 mew cars to finance ? $249M ?

Edited by west point, 05 January 2017 - 08:13 PM.


#11 DesertDude

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Posted 05 January 2017 - 11:09 PM

I think the number one thing that would lead to increased ridership is speed. I know that there are lots of factors like tracks and freights, but speed is always going to be a factor in trip planning. I was looking into a recent trip from NYC to Chicago, driving was around 6 hours and the train for the time we were looking at was 12 hours. Given that circumstance the trains just can't compete.

 

The lack of speed might be more manageable for people if all trains had WiFi. I have a friend who's taking Amtrak for the first time this month (Zephyr from Denver to San Francisco), and I can already tell he's miffed that there's not going to be WiFi. Lack of WiFi isn't a problem for me or most rail fans, and I can already feel the "but he should disconnect from it all and enjoy the scenery!" comments coming. But sadly for so many people in the 21st century, lack of reliable internet for several hours is just not ok, and makes that trip from Denver to San Francisco not doable.

 

Edited to add: I'm 100% aware that the train ends in Emeryville, I was just reading my friend's texts which said SF.


Edited by DesertDude, 05 January 2017 - 11:13 PM.


#12 neroden

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Posted 06 January 2017 - 07:28 AM

On Time Performance. It's the big one, so I guess it isn't a small change. Basically, consistent arrival times will cause ridership to start booming and growing exponentially (after about a year, as people realize it's for real).

Edited by neroden, 06 January 2017 - 07:28 AM.

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#13 neroden

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Posted 06 January 2017 - 07:30 AM

I'd do without more diners. I'm one who has come to suspect that they will never cover their costs.

I'm pretty sure they do cover their costs... if the trains are long enough. If the trains are long enough it may also be necessary to have table cars.
I don't really see a role for that many more dining cars though (basically you only need more if you add more more-than-overnight Viewliner trains, which is going to take a long time -- or to cover wrecks. I'd get 5 more and it would probably cover Amtrak's potential needs for the next 2 decades). I'd rather see some Viewliner cafe/lounges, which could be used as table cars to expand the reach of the dining cars.

Edited by neroden, 06 January 2017 - 07:32 AM.

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#14 snvboy

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Posted 06 January 2017 - 10:16 AM

Considering the current dining cars sometimes struggle to get out their often crappy food, and that the largest cost is the labor, I think it's time for Amtrak to do on LD trains exactly what they do on Acela: airline style catering for the meals. I don't want to hijack this thread since I think this is both not a small change and not one that would drastically increase ridership, but I think it's a move that makes a lot of sense to address a very long list of issues and complaints with food service on Amtrak. 



#15 MARC Rider

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Posted 09 January 2017 - 05:37 PM


I think the number one thing that would lead to increased ridership is speed. I know that there are lots of factors like tracks and freights, but speed is always going to be a factor in trip planning. I was looking into a recent trip from NYC to Chicago, driving was around 6 hours and the train for the time we were looking at was 12 hours. Given that circumstance the trains just can't compete.

 
How fast are you going making it between NYC and Chicago in 6 hours? Google Maps has it 789 miles. And 12 hours between the cities is a dream, especially considering there isn't a direct route between the cities like I-80. You either have to go up to Albany or down to Philly (assuming the Broadway Limited/Three Rivers still existed). Both routes are/were over 900 miles. That would be 75 mph. Maybe someday but we're not even close.

You don't have to go near Philly if you're driving NYC, to CHI, I-80 across central PA works fine. But there are still a lot of curves, and the driving distance is a lot more than the airline distance.

By the way, I drive a lot from DC to Akron quite a bit, the distance is about 300 miles, the speed limits are 70 mph for most of the route, I, ahem, exceed that slightly if conditions permit, there's never ant traffic jams, and and, s till, I never exceed an average point to point speed of 50 mph. That's about the same as most of the Amtrak LD trains I ride, at least when they keep to schedule.

#16 WoodyinNYC

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Posted 10 January 2017 - 02:32 AM

 

It's new equipment that will deliver the most bang for the buck.


If one Billion was allocated for new cars that would probably add 300 revenue cars and the rest non revenue. That would increase yearly ridership by at least 10M. $1B spread of 4 new routes would not increase ridership that much ? 4 new routes would need what in cars ? 16 train sets? = 80 new cars to finance ? $249M ?

Maybe someone else can speak to the cost of a mini-order of 80 new cars. I want to see new cars ordered by the 100s.

 

Could 4 new routes increase ridership by at least 10 million? No way. Not with $1 [edited to match previous comment] Billion to start new trains.

 

Extending the City of New Orleans along the Gulf Coast is predicted to get 140,000 new riders, iirc. No telling what it will cost to make a deal with CSX. If we're lucky it will be the PTC and signaling and not much else.

 

More easy pickings: Take the Cardinal daily. Probably CSX will make it costly to do. But daily service would almost double the 3/7th train that carries 105,000 riders now.

 

The sad sack Hoosier State could find a purpose in life if it ran daily to complement the Cardinal's service. An Indiana State Highway Dept study a couple of years ago suggested that for $250 million the route could be made 29 minutes faster, with track upgrades in Indiana alone (ignoring potential time savings from pending CREATE projects in Chicagoland). Then a Hoosier State running with owning departures from Chicago AND Indianapolis could have ridership in the 80,000 range, instead of the measly 30,000 it got last year. 

 

Taking the Sunset Ltd daily west of San Antonio would again double ridership, according to the PRIIA study, so pick up a quick 100,000 new riders thru the desert.

 

The 2009 study concluded that the Sacajawea (a.k.a. the North Coast Hiawatha) could add a net 360,000 new riders at that time. It's performance, 58.0% firebox recovery, rivaled the best long distance train in the stable, the Empire Builder with 65.7% firebox recovery, and in 2009 51.8% for the LD trains as a group. (Updating a bit, last year FY 2016, the Builder carried 455,000 pax.)

 

Well, I may have spent your Billion before I even got into Montana and North Dakota with the Sacajawea. Keep in mind that the host railroad always finds problems in need of costly fixes. Opening or reopening stations, training new crews, etc. -- that stuff adds up.

 

For roughly $10+ Billion the Stimulus is getting us greatly improved routes Seattle-Portland, St Louis-Chicago, Dearborn-Ann Arbor-Kalamazoo-Chicago, Charlotte-Raleigh, NYC-Albany-Schenectady, and New Haven-Hartford-Springfield. It's all good, and I'm an optimist about there being a huge untapped demand for trains. But for the $10+ Billion from the Stimulus, I'm looking to see only about 500,000 more riders in FY 2018, maybe cracking a million more on board a few years out. 


Edited by WoodyinNYC, 26 January 2017 - 04:24 PM.


#17 neroden

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Posted 10 January 2017 - 11:14 AM

OK, If we had the money for expansion and I could make the choices personally, this is what I'd do. Yes, there's some regional bias here.

Daily Service:
(1) Daily Cardinal
(2) Daily Sunset

Water Level Route:
(1) TWO A DAY New York to Chicago (LSL route)
(2) South of the Lake, exclusive passenger tracks from Chicago to Porter
(3) New Station at Buffalo Central Terminal, with NFTA Metrorail expansion to BCT and the Airport
(4) New Station at Amsterdam NY, pull-off passenger tracks and high-level platforms both sides like Rochester
(5) New Station at Elyria, pull-off passenger tracks and high-level platforms both sides like Rochester

Twin Tiers:
(1) TWO A DAY Lackawanna Cutoff to Scranton
(2) Extend TWO A DAY service along the Cutoff from Scranton to Binghamton
(3) Extend from Binghamton to Syracuse via Cortland

Pennsyvlania:
(1) TWO A DAY Pittsburgh-Harrisburg-Philadelphia
(2) TWO A DAY NY-Allentown service, new tracks and station as needed
(3) TWO A DAY Philadelphia-Allentown service
(4) The expensive reroute of Pittsburgh-Harrisburg via State College with new tunnels (totally worth it)

Virginia/NC:
(1) Work necessary to reroute all southbound trains through Richmond Main Street, and suitable expansion and ADA access
(2) SEHSR Petersburg-Raleigh
(3) Charlotte station
(4) If they don't stop sabotaging the plans locally, Atlanta station

Gulf of Mexico:
(1) TWO A DAY on the Gulf Coast, as proposed: one from NOLA to Mobile, and the CONO from NOLA to Orlando
(2) Commuter service NOLA/Baton Rouge

Ohio River region:
(1) Change Hoosier State timing to form TWO A DAY with the Cardinal
(2) South Shore Line Dyer Extension, and reroute the Cardinal/Hoosier State onto it
(3) Speed up the Indiana - Chicago tracks
(4) Restore the Kentucky Cardinal
(5) Extend it to Chattanooga

Colorado:
(1) TWO A DAY Chicago-Denver (the Denver Zephyr)
(2) Commuter service Denver-Fort Collins via BNSF, extend to Cheyenne

Minnesota/Wisconsin:
(1) TWO A DAY Chicago-MSP
(2) Restore the Madison line as originally planned before the evil Scott Walker
(3) Commuter service MSP-Northfield

Michigan:
(1) Something connecting Dearborn to Toledo
(2) Grand Rapids-Lansing-Dearborn

You could add a section for Texas, though Texas has managed to shoot their own projects in the foot so many times recently that I didn't.
There's a lot you could add in Ohio but all of it is expensive and not very pinned-down yet.
Frankly, California and the PacNW have matters well in hand.
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#18 Longhai

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Posted 26 January 2017 - 11:08 AM

Not sure if it's the type of change you had in mind, but how about some advertisement?  

 

I have the impression that the majority of Americans do not know much about Amtrak, especially middle distance or LD.  They might have a vague idea there is a train system, but many if not most can't even tell you if it goes past their towns or not.  

 

Furthermore, those who know about Amtrak have the wrong assumption about the accommodations and comfort levels that middle distance and LD trains offer at even the base price.  Many just imagine it is a prolonged commuter rail, on which nobody wants to spend a long time or overnight.  

 

Speaking for myself, I only learned about LD train travel from traveling aboard (exchange programs) including some third world countries, and the experience was all extremely positive.  If it weren't for that experience, I would never have paid much attention to trains or Amtrak.  



#19 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 26 January 2017 - 03:09 PM

I think it depends on what counts as a small change. I highly doubt Woody's or Neroden's qualify ($10 billion?)

 

The Capitol Limited/Pennsylvanian through cars would be as small a change as you can get.

 

I would say Michigan to Toledo wouldn't require any new stations and about 50 miles of track rights. It opens up train service between Michigan and the NEC.

 

Hopefully the end game of the two would lead to ... well the regulars on AU know next.


Trains Traveled:
 
Broadway Limited (CHI-Harrisburg, PA) 
Three Rivers (Harrisburg, PA-CHI, Altoona, PA-CHI, PHL-CHI)
Capitol Limited (CHI-WAS)
Lake Short Limited (NYP-CHI)
Silver Meteor (PHL-ORL)
Southwest Chief (CHI-LAX)
California Zephyr (CHI-SLC, SLC-EMY)
City of New Orleans and/or Illini (CHI-Champaign, IL)

 

All I want for Amtrak is a direct train from Philly to Chicago in less than 24 hours 
 
 


#20 Gulfwind2

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Posted 26 January 2017 - 04:10 PM

I have sometimes wondered why Amtrak could never conceive a class of seating which you would consider as being underneath Amtrak's usual definition of coach class. If Amtrak could take a chair car from the Silver Meteor, for example, and reconfigure the seating in that car to have more of a motor coach feel- all the while charging substantially less fare per seat- this would certainly be a more efficient means of competing with carriers like Megabus between short distance markets. Of course this would not be a product that you would reasonably market to long distance travelers. But Amtrak should take note of the fact that companies like Megabus and Spirit Airlines are capturing a new breed of no-frills passenger. There should be some effort to play along on Amtrak's part, and of course the ridership would increase substantially.


"My heart is warm with friends I make, and better friends I'll not be knowing; Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going."- Edna St Vincent Millay

 

"What's the deal with airline food?"- Jerry Seinfeld

 

Want to solve the problem of passenger trains not having the infrastructure they need?

STEP 1. Let the Class I's pay into a USDOT-managed trust fund through 6.5% of their own revenues in order to construct a right-of-way parallel to the existing Class I right-of-way that can take Amtrak trains off the freight railroad's trackage in busy corridors.

STEP 2. Wait 10 years once enough funds are gathered.

STEP 3. Then watch. Investors are happy, passenger trains no longer have to fight freight for priority, speeds of 125mph + are now possible with no risk of freight collision, freight railroads have higher track capacity than before without having to conduct a single environmental impact study, and AU forums have far less to complain about.

 





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