One suggestion: Cut 100% of all Long Distance trains.
Compromise: Cut 50% of the Long Distance trains.
A better suggestion: Add 14 new LD trains, for a 100% increase.
A better compromise: Add 7 new LD trains, for a 50% increase.
Let me put this in money terms. Amtrak's subsidy the last few years is around $1.4 million. So here's the conversation:
Amtrak: We want $1.4 billion.
Congress: We don't want to give you any money.
Amtrak: OK, let's compromise. How about $2 billion?
If you can get $2 billion out of Amtrak, more power to you. If you can get around the same Amtrak's been getting recently, I think most of us would be happy. If you can't get $1.4 billion, try to get $1 billion or $1.2 billion rather than say "$1.4 billion or nothing" or "$2 billion or nothing".
So assume Amtrak won't be able to afford to run its entire LD system. My proposal of a more affordable LD system:
Reduce the LD mileage requirement to 700 miles.
Reclassify the Carolinian (704 miles) as an LD train. This frees up money for NC DOT to spend to increase frequency of the Piedmont service without significantly increasing Amtrak's costs (95% of the Carolinian's fully allocated operating costs are covered by ticket revenue: https://www.fra.dot.gov/eLib/Details/L18616).
Introduce a new "day" train between Cincinnati and Minneapolis (737 miles, 319 CIN-CHI, 418 CHI-MSP). Or if Congress is firm on the 750 miles, extend to St. Cloud to put it over the top.
Extend the CONO to SAS via HOS (would we change the name?) or the TE to NOL via HOS. I wouldn't expect anyone to take the "longer" route between CHI-NOL or CHI-SAS but NOL-SAS would be covered and you would add the possibility of a one seat ride between CHI-HOS.
Cancel the Cardinal, Sunset Limited, and Empire Builder with portions covered by the CONO extension and the new CIN-MSP train. If the portions between CIN-IND and NOL-SAS can get daily service then Amtrak would have no non daily service.
If the entire LD system were shut down, 23 states would lose all of its Amtrak service including Texas, Florida, and Ohio. With my plan, only 4 states would lose all Amtrak service with the 37 most populous states (https://en.wikipedia...s_by_population) maintaining at least some Amtrak service. Of the 13 least populous states in the country, four (Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming, South Dakota) don't have any service right now, three (Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire) have only state supported service, and two (Rhode Island and Delaware) have federally funded NEC service but no LD trains.
Among the 382 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (https://en.wikipedia...atistical_Areas), only one MSA out of the 53 MSA's with 1 million or more people (Tucson) would lose Amtrak service and only three MSA's out of the 107 with 500,000 or more people would lose Amtrak service (Tucson, El Paso, and Spokane).
Only one of the 12 most populous states (Texas) would lose any service at all. Cross country service between the NEC and California (both LAX and the Bay Area) via CHI would remain intact and North-South service would remain between NEC-Florida, LAX-SEA/PDX, CHI-NOL/Texas. The most significant connection lost to me would be between Texas and California but the SL has really low ridership (NOL-SAS would remain intact).
Train miles saved:
828 miles of the Cardinal between NYP-CIN (340 miles, NYP-CVS, would still have other service, including the Crescent)
1422 miles of the Sunset Limited SAS-LAX
1787 miles of the Empire Builder MSP-SEA
376 miles of the Empire Builder SPK-PDX
Total savings of 4413 train miles.
12 stations on the Cardinal route can be closed.
13 stations on the Sunset Limited route can be closed.
33 stations on the Empire Builder route can be closed.
Total of 58 stations that Amtrak can close. Amtrak boasts more than 500 destinations. This would cut about 10% of the destinations but those 10% most likely amount to significantly less than 10% of the US population (the entire states of West Virginia, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota combined contain less than 2% of the total US population and Amtrak barely touches Idaho now). I would say only 5-7% of the country that currently has Amtrak would lose service.
My hope is that this will cut around 10% of the Amtrak subsidy (over $100 million savings) while losing a lot less than 10% of Amtrak's ridership/revenue. Amtrak currently brags it covers 94% of operating costs with ticket revenue. Hopefully these changes will bring that percentage to 96-97%. And there is nothing stopping states from picking up the tab for the missing service. SEA-SPK can be added to the Cascades service that Washington already pays for. It is not unprecedented for states to do so, after the National Limited was canceled Pennsylvania started the Pennsylvanian service and Missouri added KCY-STL service.
In terms of schedule...
I'd like to move CIN outside the graveyard shift. The westbound train would leave CIN at 5:41am, arrive in CHI 2:05pm, leave CHI at 3:15pm, and arrive in MSP at 11:03pm. The eastbound train would leave MSP 6:00am, arrive in CHI at 1:55pm, leave CHI at 2:45pm, and arrive in CIN at 12:17am.
I'd move the NOL-SAS portions closer to the CONO. Westbound leave NOL at 9:00pm, arriving in SAS at 12:05pm. Eastbound leave SAS at 6:25pm, arriving in NOL at 9:40am. This would allow a one seat ride between CHI and HOS with around a 5.5 hr gap in NOL going south and a 4.5 hr gap in NOL going north (the times in HOS would be 6:18/6:55am west and 11:10pm/12:10am east so you can't really cut the dwell times in NOL without screwing HOS). You would have a longer gap in SAS between the CONO extension and the TE but it currently requires an overnight stay now anyway. Ideally you'd move the NOL-SAS closer to the TE so you can close the service facilities in SAS but with HOS-SAS only being around 5 hours the times would be bad on one or both ends.
Even if the CIN-CHI, CHI-MSP, and NOL-SAS schedules couldn't be changed, at least service remains along those routes.
I'd be reluctant to cut any more trains than I have proposed. Will the cuts get a few more Congress critters to support Amtrak at a cheaper price than the current price?