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Ideas for Additional "Night Owl" Train Service


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#41 fairviewroad

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Posted 16 March 2017 - 11:34 AM

You don't even need to make a significant dent in market share; You just need enough passengers to fill your 250 or so seats.

 
 
Filling those seats (and bunks) is not the problem. You could price everything at $10 and sell out the train every night. The challenge is doing it in a way that makes sense fiscally. Perhaps it can be done. I suspect it's a hard sell, but I would be happy to be proven wrong.
 
 



#42 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 16 March 2017 - 11:55 AM

 

You don't even need to make a significant dent in market share; You just need enough passengers to fill your 250 or so seats.

 
 
Filling those seats (and bunks) is not the problem. You could price everything at $10 and sell out the train every night. The challenge is doing it in a way that makes sense fiscally. Perhaps it can be done. I suspect it's a hard sell, but I would be happy to be proven wrong.

 

I would say to have a "cheaper" overnight train, you could go no sleeper (Night Owl works without sleepers) or have sleepers and no diner car (the Three Rivers to my knowledge never had one). Do diner cars pay for themselves? How about sleepers?


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 
 
 


#43 fairviewroad

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 11:12 AM

I don't know what types of car pays for itself, but one of the arguments on this thread is that some business travelers would prefer to spend the night in a sleeping car and arrive at their destination city in the morning, rather than flying in the night before and spending $300 (or whatever) on a hotel. If you remove the sleeping car from the equation, the target market really becomes leisure travelers, who would be more price-sensitive.



#44 WoodyinNYC

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 01:43 PM

 

 

You don't even need to make a significant dent in market share; You just need enough passengers to fill your 250 or so seats.

 
Filling those seats (and bunks) ... The challenge is doing it in a way that makes sense fiscally.

 

... you could go no sleeper (Night Owl works without sleepers) or have sleepers and no diner car (the Three Rivers to my knowledge never had one).

 

Do diner cars pay for themselves? How about sleepers?

Say, are you new around here? :) We've had exhaustive discussions on these matters. Diners make no money. Amtrak uses diners because of the hallowed railroad tradition to supply better food service for the passengers paying more to ride in sleepers on the overnight LD trains.

 

The sleeping cars apparently do make money. Neroden has made calculations that each additional Viewliner II sleeper will clear something like -- iirc -- a million a year, or half a million for sure (all that from my steadily declining memory). Meanwhile we wait and wait for the CAF order of 25 V II sleepers plus 10 bag dorms (equivalent to another 5 full sleepers). What will 30 more sleepers do for Amtrak?

 

The Silver Meteor, Silver Star, and Lake Shore Ltd are all at or close to the break-even point -- and the Crescent and our favorite, the Cardinal, are getting closer. Sharing $15 million a year, or more, in added revenue among the five single-level Eastern LD trains could bring them to break-even as a group. Then what would be the excuse to cut LD trains that are not losing money?


Edited by WoodyinNYC, 17 March 2017 - 01:46 PM.


#45 Alex

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 02:51 PM

Is there a link for this calculation somewhere?

#46 neroden

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 03:15 PM

Oh, God, I made that calculation so many years ago,... back when the Viewliners were ordered... that I would need to redo it with current numbers. Both costs and ticket prices have changed. Sorry, haven't the time right now.

It's buried deep in the Amtrak Unlimited Archives somewhere.


-----
The big political issue is those damn "fully allocated" costs. If you use true avoidable costs, most of the long-distance trains are profitable already. But when you "allocate" a portion of the costs from the central backshops, reservation system, etc. to them, then they look "unprofitable". This is bogus because if you cancelled these trains those costs would just get reallocated to Acela & Northeast Regional, making *them* look unprofitable.

What Amtrak needs is more train service to spread those fixed costs out over. And politically, Amtrak needs to report the "allocated" fixed costs and the real avoidable costs *separately*. Which they were tasked by law to do in 2008 but they have somehow not bothered to do.

Edited by neroden, 18 March 2017 - 03:17 PM.

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#47 neroden

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 03:21 PM

Yup, the typical hotel price is a key parameter.
 
I can believe many people would take the train overnight to NY specially from many places en route which has no convenient access to air service. But given the hotel prices around airports in the NY area, I doubt that many would from places that have conveniently scheduled air service for typical high density air corridor prices.
 
Still that makes considering the provision of overnight trains desirable, specially in areas where such conditions arise. But only after daytime demand has been adequately met.

Which it generally has in the Erie Canal Corridor of upstate NY, at least at current train speeds, with the Empire Service... but not in Ohio and Indiana. Which is why I like my idea so much. :-)
For marketing it to Amtrak it needs a better name than "TWO A DAY" though, I suspect.

Also to note, we were originally talking about a San Francisco to Los Angeles night train over the Coast Line. Again, that would work well for mid point locations to either end point area. But I suspect that ridership end to end will not be as robust as one would hope. Spirit of California, while it ran, suffered from that problem too. The rich connectivity with other services including California Amtrak Thruway also enhances the usefulness of such.

Ah, yes. I think California is a much less fertile area for overnight service.
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#48 Anderson

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Posted 24 March 2017 - 03:33 AM

Oh, God, I made that calculation so many years ago,... back when the Viewliners were ordered... that I would need to redo it with current numbers. Both costs and ticket prices have changed. Sorry, haven't the time right now.

It's buried deep in the Amtrak Unlimited Archives somewhere.


-----
The big political issue is those damn "fully allocated" costs. If you use true avoidable costs, most of the long-distance trains are profitable already. But when you "allocate" a portion of the costs from the central backshops, reservation system, etc. to them, then they look "unprofitable". This is bogus because if you cancelled these trains those costs would just get reallocated to Acela & Northeast Regional, making *them* look unprofitable.

What Amtrak needs is more train service to spread those fixed costs out over. And politically, Amtrak needs to report the "allocated" fixed costs and the real avoidable costs *separately*. Which they were tasked by law to do in 2008 but they have somehow not bothered to do.

Try the attached report on for size.  It's almost three years old but I got some very good numbers to work with at the time.  I think the average profit per car comes in a little below what you're estimating, but this was in a very specific context as well (VA-NYP/BOS service).  I think there's a good case that my collaborators and I also used almost farcially lowballed yield estimates.

Edit: Ok, so I apparently cannot upload .docx files, and a slapped-on copy-paste always looks like crap.  Short version: We looked at three options for service using Viewliners.  In general, on a load factor of about 60% you ended up with about $650-850k in net contribution on a service needing two "active" cars and possibly one spare.  This presumed that you could do a little better than the Capitol Limited in terms of pricing (and such prices were, and still are, not much higher than Regional Business Class and substantially better than Acela First...to say nothing of walk-up prices at airports).

Edit 2: @Philly Amtrak Fan, I think your definition of "works" in re 66/67 is fairly loose.  When the sleeper came off about fifteen years ago, revenue crashed so hard that my understanding is that the train was nearly lost.  Yes, the train does get business, but my understanding is that it's a stinker in many respects but survives in the context of Amtrak needing it as part of comprehensive-ish service.


Edited by Anderson, 24 March 2017 - 03:44 AM.

Capitol Limited (7), CA Zephyr (4) Lake Shore Limited (1), Acela (2), NE Regional (2), Sliver Meteor (4)

Upcoming: Silver Meteor (1), Lake Shore Limited (1), SW Chief (2), MO River Runner (1), Texas Eagle (1)

Possibly Upcoming: Either Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (2) or Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (1)

#49 maxbuskirk

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Posted 24 March 2017 - 09:30 PM

Should the sleeper return to 66/67?

I have ridden Cascades #516 (SEA-STW), Coast Starlight #14 (LAX-SLO), Southwest Chief #4 (LAX-CHI), Cardinal #50 (CHI-NYP), Northeast Regional #85 (NYP-WAS), Capitol Limited #30 (HFY-WAS), Coast Starlight #14 (LAX-PDX), and many Pacific Surfliners with Amtrak. I have seen, including the previous, California Zephyr #5 at SAC (with luck), what I guess to be Crescent #19 (at WAS) and Silver Meteor #97 (at WAS), and Empire Builder #28 at PDX. I have also ridden the Hokutosei in Japan, Ueno - Sapporo (now discontinued).


#50 neroden

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Posted 25 March 2017 - 01:02 AM

Should the sleeper return to 66/67?

Definitely.
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#51 Anderson

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Posted 26 March 2017 - 12:09 AM

 

Should the sleeper return to 66/67?

Definitely.

 

Definitely.  It was only cut when the Cardinal got switched to being a single-level train and needed two sleepers...and that was about the only place to get them.


Capitol Limited (7), CA Zephyr (4) Lake Shore Limited (1), Acela (2), NE Regional (2), Sliver Meteor (4)

Upcoming: Silver Meteor (1), Lake Shore Limited (1), SW Chief (2), MO River Runner (1), Texas Eagle (1)

Possibly Upcoming: Either Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (2) or Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (1)

#52 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 26 March 2017 - 06:30 AM

 

 

Should the sleeper return to 66/67?

Definitely.

 

Definitely.  It was only cut when the Cardinal got switched to being a single-level train and needed two sleepers...and that was about the only place to get them.

 

 

Yet another train that got screwed over by Byrd Crap. I used to say if you're wondering where your train is, it's in West Virginia right now. In this case, if you're wondering where your sleeper car is, it's in West Virginia right now. Considering how much Cardinal traffic is not overnight (CHI-IND, CVS-WAS/NYP), you can argue the Night Owl had more overnight passengers per train.


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 
 
 


#53 dlagrua

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Posted 26 March 2017 - 10:09 AM

Night trains were very popular for business travelers going between major cities back in the day. The issue is that not everyone along the route gets to board at 10 or 11PM. Some along the route would need to board at 3 or 4 AM. Way back when there were multiple departures of the same train each day this was not a problem but IMO today it would be. I believe that's one point that holds back the Cardinal from profitability on its long 28 hr trip NYP to CHI. It does leave in the morning but by nightfall you are not even out of WV.


Edited by dlagrua, 27 March 2017 - 02:18 PM.


#54 WoodyinNYC

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 03:43 AM

Let's get back to a useful discussion. Anderson found paperwork supporting an estimate that a single-level sleeper could be good for $650,000 to $850,000 contribution to Amtrak's operations.

 

Let me take the midpoint of that range, so $750,000 per single-level sleeper. From CAF we expect to get, eventually, 25 Viewliner II sleepers and 10 bag-dorms (half sleeper modules, half baggage space), for an equivalent of 30 new sleepers.

 

That should add one more sleeper to equip 4 Silver Meteor, 4 Silver Star, [correction: 4, not 6] Crescent, 3 Lake Shore Ltd, and  2 Cardinal consists now in use, for a total of [correction: 17, not 19]. Then 1 or 2 more to take the Cardinal daily with another consist. And 2 more for the 66/67. That leaves few spares on standby for protection, or to cover ongoing annual servicing. Maybe one of the trains will have to settle for adding a bag-dorm or two to each consist.

 

(I'd really love to see at least 5 more Viewliner sleepers tacked on to the production, er, run, but 10 more would be even better.)

 

With [correction: 20, not 22] added Viewliners in revenue service, each clearing roughly $750,000 a year, I'm hoping to see the Eastern trains as a group reducing their operating losses by some [correction: $15,000,000, not $16,500,000].

 

No point in killing off LD trains that are not even losing money.

 

[[Edit: Corrected overcount of Crescent consists. Thanks, jis.]]


Edited by WoodyinNYC, 27 March 2017 - 10:44 PM.


#55 jis

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 08:29 AM

Crescent has four consists, not 6. So total 17 not 19.

#56 Anderson

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 02:12 PM

@Woody:
First of all, you're off by a factor of two on net income: We projected $650-850k over a two-car service (so $325-425k/car), which (as part of the report) suggested that the investment would pay off in about six to eight years for the cars in use.  Granted, we intentionally made sure to be conservative with our estimates (I think we could have safely estimated closer to $500k/yr per car, particularly if we presumed some pax "cascading" upwards and freeing up space as well as some turnover at Washington).

With that said, you're over-simplifying a far more complex picture.  The net income situation which we projected had as much to do with controlled costs (we were looking at the Shoreliner, Palmetto-with-sleeper, and Three Rivers-with-sleeper as comparisons) as it did with revenue.  We were looking at trains with vaguely comparable runtimes and no dining car, and there isn't a "dead end" on the train revenue-wise nor lots of "away time" for the crews, etc.  For example, the Crescent and Silver Star both run around 30 hours each while the Meteor and Cardinal run 27 hours each.  The Shoreliner would run about 16 hours each; the only vaguely comparable run is the LSL, and even it runs close to 20 hours NYP-CHI/22 hours BOS-CHI.

I'm sort-of reverse-engineering the work we did here, but what I'm thinking is the following:
-I will presume that the added car will generate per-sleeper revenue at 80% of the prevailing rate on each train per the December 2016 Monthly Performance Report. This is to account for the fact that Q1 of Amtrak's fiscal year is usually quite strong as well as some downward pressure on overall fares from added capacity.
-I will presume that we're looking at a load factor of about 60% of space occupied in a Viewliner II, with 1.5 passengers per roomette and 2 per bedroom (so, 13.5 pax/sleeper).  I'm going to presume about 1.4 sales per space available as well, except in the case of the Star: In the case of the Star I am presuming 2.0 sales per space both due to what I've observed (lots of turnover at RVR) and in light of the fact that the Star is, through December, running at 85% of the Meteor's sleeper pax count despite running with around 70% of the space.

This would give us the following:
-Lake Shore Limited: FY17's PPR was $248, so we're looking at $198.40/passenger times 13.5 pax/sleeper times 1.4.  Revenue per frequency is thus $3750, or $2.737m/yr (or $912k/car).
-Crescent: FY17's PPR was $288, so we're looking at $230.40/passenger.  Per the above math this gives us $4355/frequency or $3.179m/yr (or $795k/car).  NB I think this may be a bit high due to extreme pricing pressure north of Atlanta.
-Silver Meteor: FY17's PPR was $317, so we're looking at $253.60/passenger.  Per the math above this gives $4793/frequency or $3.499m/yr (or $875k/car).
-Silver Star: Starting figure is $190, giving us $152/passenger.  Per the adjusted math above this gives $4104/frequency or $2.996m/yr (or $750k/car).
-Cardinal: Starting figure is $236, giving us $188.80.  Per the math above this gives us $3568/frequency; presuming that we're sticking with 3x weekly, this gives overall revenue of $1.116m (or $558k/car).  I suspect the Cardinal's space turnover may be a bit higher as well, but I also suspect that per-passenger revenue may take a little bit more of a hit due to pricing pressure.

So, across 17 sleepers we'd generate $13.527m in additional revenue on these figures (or about $796k/car).  Costs are a lot harder for me to estimate, and I'd have to treat all of the trains a little differently in theory...but the bottom line is that said costs won't be $0.  In our report, I think we came up with $300k/year in maintenance costs, but that was split over two cars, and there's also arguably adding an SCA to the mix.  I'm thinking we'd be looking at $400-500k/car in overall costs (depending on how much is actually incremental; again, we were having to look at work being done at BOS/NPN, not NYP/CHI/MIA which already do a lot of this work), so this would bring the total overall costs to around $6.8-8.5m.  This leaves a net of about $5-7m (or a little under what we came up with in our report on a per-car basis...but that's largely down to the Cardinal sandbagging the overall numbers, which in turn is down to its operational situation).  There's still the question of spares, etc., too.

 

Now, do I think there are ways to massage those estimates?  Of course I do: There's nothing saying that you have to run every car on every train, and a coordinated schedule of not running a few cars (say, in the middle of the week or in the deep off-season) could help trim expenses (if not improve overall revenue by allowing another few cars to be deployed overall).  The 80% figure is also strictly a spitball number since I'm working with a three-month period, etc.  Bumping that to 90%, increasing presumed turnover, or adjusting load factors could help.  On the other hand, we also might have a lousy estimate on costs and that could break either way.

Edit: One downside not considered above is the per-passenger cost of added OBS expenses.  I simply don't have a good way to estimate that sort of thing.  It's not likely to be that much, but it's also not $0.


Edited by Anderson, 27 March 2017 - 02:30 PM.

Capitol Limited (7), CA Zephyr (4) Lake Shore Limited (1), Acela (2), NE Regional (2), Sliver Meteor (4)

Upcoming: Silver Meteor (1), Lake Shore Limited (1), SW Chief (2), MO River Runner (1), Texas Eagle (1)

Possibly Upcoming: Either Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (2) or Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (1)

#57 west point

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 04:17 PM

Anderson -----Generally you have a pretty good handle on the costs and revenues. However
1. On all my travels on the Crescent south of ATL there never has been even one sleeper full of Passengers. Granted have never traveled on it during Thanksgiving, Christmas holiday, or Mardi Gras. Now did not ever check BHM <> ATL.
2. If Crescent could have 3-4 sleepers north of ATL and cut all but one that help on costs.
3. Several years ago someone calculated the per mile costs of a car to be about $4.00 + per mile. That believe came from the extra sleepers figures of PRIIA for Meteor ?
4. The extra costs of having to maneuver cut off cars probably be less in ATL than running them to NOL ?
5. There had been plans for Amtrak to assign one OBS per 2 V-2 sleepers and V-1s once they are modified to allow the non obs to call the OBS. Still the plans ? ?

#58 jis

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 04:30 PM

Atlanta is a hot mess right now, and there is absolutely no chance of dropping/picking up cars there on a regular basis until significant track work revision is done around Peachtree Station or the station is moved somewhere else.



#59 brianpmcdonnell17

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 08:02 PM

Atlanta is a hot mess right now, and there is absolutely no chance of dropping/picking up cars there on a regular basis until significant track work revision is done around Peachtree Station or the station is moved somewhere else.

Yeah, I think it would take a long time to make up the initial investment of building the facilities to drop cars, especially considering the only benefit would be lower operating costs. However, if Atlanta did ever get a new station with potentially more trains and a yard and servicing facility, then it would make sense to drop cars off of the Crescent.
Trains travelled: Capitol Limited WAS-CHI, Carolinian CLT-RGH, Coast Starlight SJC-LAX, Crescent BAL-ATL, Empire Builder MSP-CHI, Empire Service NYP-NFL, Lake Shore Limited BOS-ALB, Maple Leaf ALB-NYP, Northeast Regional FBG-RVR+WAS-BOS, Pacific Surfliner LAX-ANA, Silver Meteor ORL-NYP, Silver Star FTL-WAS, 2016 Autumn Express NYP-HAR-NYP<p>

Non Amtrak: Atlanta Streetcar, Caltrain, CTA, DC Streetcar, Long Island Railroad, MARC, MARTA, MBTA, Metra, Metrolink, METRO Transit Light Rail, Miami Metrorail, Muni Metro, New Jersey Transit, North Star, NYC Subway, PATH, SEPTA Subway, South Shore Line, Sunrail, TECO Streetcar, Tri-Rail, Washington Metro

#60 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 08:46 PM

The PRIIA for the Crescent suggests cut off cars but can't be implemented because of the hot mess there. 

 

Are there any places that cut off cars work and where are the cutoff points? Are there places cut off cares should be but can't be implemented (like Atlanta)?


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 
 
 





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