OK, fantasy world time. Rather than have the host railroads set the schedules for trains, what if Amtrak were in charge. Assume that Amtrak can't add trains, increase frequency, reroute, or cut trains. What would be their "ideal" schedule to maximize R & R (or R & P(Profit) as some changes may require an extra train set but if they make enough money on top of it they still come out ahead)? My main objective would be to minimize the number of major markets stuck in the graveyard shift. The more passengers you can get out of CIN, IND, Greensboro, Charlotte, and SAS, among others, the better.
I will try to keep it to LD and trains that feed LD. I probably posted some of these previously but this can summarize them all.
Auto Train: Probably as close to perfect as you can get.
Silver Star/Silver Meteor: There is a considerable gap between the two in the NEC but the trains are too close together in MIA. I have heard some AU posters would want a train arrive in Florida early enough to make it to cruise lines. You can't leave much earlier from NYP (assume you still have the capacity limitations of the Gateway Tunnel). Two hours earlier would have it leave at 9:02am which might be OK and would get to ORL at 8:06am and MIA at 3:58pm. That probably wouldn't get there in time. If you could run the Meteor to arrive in ORL around 8am and skip TPA that would get you to MIA around 2pm (you could try 7am/1pm too). But if you have the SS leave at the same time as the SM now it gets to Raleigh during the graveyard shift. So assuming the SS has to leave NYP first, ideally I would want to move the SM later (after 5pm). A 3 hour shift (leaving NYP at 6:15pm) would allow New York and Philly passengers to leave after work and still be early enough for WAS. Then you get to ORL around 4pm and MIA around 10pm which would create some difference between the two and allow you to run using just 3 sets instead of 4. It also allows you to shift the CL back and still have enough time for the CL-SM connection (I'm not really worried about the CL-SS connection at this point).
Palmetto: Assuming its role as a day train, the NYP times aren't ideal. You can't really move back the southbound departure time but maybe you could leave Savannah an hour or two earlier to get to NYP well before midnight.
Lake Shore Limited/Capitol Limited: Ideally the LSL would leave CHI before the CL because it takes longer to get to its destination. If the CL leaves two hours later, it arrives in PGH at 7:05am rather than 5:05am (then you'd have to have the Pennsylvanian leave later eastbound) and if the SM is pushed back there isn't too much a reason not to push the CL back. I'd also move the westbound up an hour or two, once again getting to PGH and CHI earlier. I would say the PGH connections are backwards. There's a four hour gap going from the Pennsylvanian (a route with a pretty good OTP) and only a 2.5 hour gap from the CL (a route whose OTP isn't as good and missed the Pennsylvanian the last time I rode it). Assuming only two CHI-NEC trains serving northern Ohio it would be virtually impossible to serve CLE/TOL at good hours without sacrificing the connections with western trains. As for the LSL, you either have to leave late and arrive after the afternoon rush or around 6pm to make sure to get to NYP before 4pm although that would put BUF too early. You'd also like to leave westbound from NYP after 6pm but that jeopardizes the western connections.
Cardinal: Have the train leave CIN westbound for CHI early in the morning and leave CIN eastbound for the NEC at night (in other words, outside of the graveyard shift). This would eliminate the western connections but there are still two other trains for that purpose. I won't go further because I've beaten this issue to death and have posted a proposed schedule before.
Crescent: Ideally you would want to leave after 6pm and arrive by 8am but the Crescent is too long for that to be possible. I know people like to arrive in ATL before 8am. I'd consider a later southbound departure (4 hrs) to get to Greensboro/Charlotte after 6am and you'd still get to NOL around 11pm. Northbound you can leave NOL/ATL two hours later so you still leave ATL before midnight and make it to NYP around 4pm (I don't see the benefit of leaving ATL as early as you do now as it doesn't get you to WAS before the start of the work day anyway and you can't leave NOL much earlier than 7am.
City of New Orleans: Probably as good as it can be with only Carbondale among the major markets in the graveyard shift. Maybe you could move the northbound back an hour to have it reach Champaign/Urbana after 7am (doubt 9am vs. 10am into CHI makes much difference).
Texas Eagle: Also IMO ideally scheduled between CHI and SAS. You can probably push the southbound back an hour or two to give more time for LSL connections and make it to SAS not much later than 11pm. You'd probably want CHI-STL be overnight but that forces the train to arrive in and leave SAS during the graveyard shift.
Southwest Chief: Arrives in LA early enough and leaves after the evening rush hour so I think they're good where they are. The only improvement you could make to be to better serve Arizona but any changes would hurt the train in other areas.
California Zephyr: The 2pm westbound departure is not ideal for connections from the LSL/CL but does get you to DEN before the morning rush hour. Eastbound there is almost no leeway as you can't go much earlier out of Emeryville and later puts it too close for the LSL/CL connection.
Empire Builder: This is the one I thought could have some wiggle room. You could run overnight between CHI and MSP (Milwaukee would be during the graveyard shift but they have plenty of trains to/from CHI). Then Spokane wouldn't be in the graveyard shift either direction. I can see an 8 hour shift westbound (Milwaukee isn't that bad then). Ideally you'd leave CHI later but anything less than 8 hours puts MSP in the graveyard shift which you can't do. If you left MSP eastbound at midnight, you'd get to Milwaukee slightly after 6am and CHI before 8am. Any earlier and you get to CHI too early.
Coast Starlight: It isn't ideal between LAX and SJC/OAK/SAC (unless you like giving up an entire day to travel as opposed to sleeping through the night). But if you ran overnight between the two you put PDX in the graveyard shift both ways. I personally wouldn't care if Portland gets screwed (and you'd get to SEA earlier and leave later) but Portland is too big a market to lose. If you left PDX southbound before midnight, SAC is during the graveyard shift. Ideally you'd get to LAX earlier, leave LAX later to help San Diego (the CS-Surfliner connection gets you into SAN after 1am). But move the southbound up earlier and/or the northbound later and once again SAC is in the graveyard shift.
Sunset Limited:If you could leave NOL late at night instead of early in the morning you would add Crescent-SL and CONO-SL possibilities but you'd lose the SL-CS and TE-SL connections so you're there isn't any net gain (although the TE-SL isn't that good anyway and requires being parked in SAS about 5 hrs). If you could add through car service from DAL arriving in SAS in time for an afternoon westbound departure from SAS then you're giving up 1 connection to add 2 and it becomes more attractive and takes SAS out of the graveyard shift. I had also proposed schedules for the SL and through cars to keep DAL/FTW and AUS connections. You can't leave SAS westbound any earlier (unless you want to arrive in LAX around 3am) and the later you leave SAS the longer the gap between the TE and SL. Ideally you'd like the southbound TE to get to DAL/FTW before midnight and AUS/SAS the next morning but STL winds up in the graveyard shift.
Which LD train schedules are not ideal to you and could you make them better?