Was Amtrak chartered as a common carrier with scheduled services or as a kiddie joyride train?
That's the ultimate question and it is one that a person must answer on their own. As such, I I will quote my statement to Neroden in the Train Jam thread:
Why does PhillyAmtrakFan have to subsidize riders in West Virginia? Why does Tennessee Traveler have to subsidize the costs of upgrading catenary in NJ that he'll likely not use? Why do I have to subsidize snowbirds moving their vehicles up and down the east coast to avoid the cold of winters in the NE and the heat of summer in the SE? Why is SarahZ subsidizing the Autumn Express?
This goes back to what is Amtrak? What can it do for people? What role does it serve for people? Is it essential travel or a joyride for gamers? it depends on your perspective but the gamers pay for the subsidy as well. So, if they decided to cash in once a year, I don't begrudge them. Who knows how much of that will become spill revenue? How many will ride again? How many will ride other routes, with their families? How much exposure is Amtrak getting from their twitter feed?
The parents of these children subsidize Amtrak too! So, if they decide to seek a return on their investment twice a year, I don't begrudge them.
If you insist on running a special train over a route with an owner that refuses to allow it (in addition to your usual schedule) then you should prevent any ticketing during the potential charter window until a specific travel date has been solidified. That way nobody has to risk being refused travel with a valid ticket for arbitrary reasons.
I will note that as unfortunate as it is, passengers are routinely displaced all year. A perfect example is what is occurring right now. CSX is performing track work that resulted in the cancellation of numerous trains to RVR, the Palmetto is completely cancelled between WAS-SAV and the Colonial runs an hour and thirty minutes earlier. All remaining trains through the area are subject to major delays. Although CSX made mention of the track work, there wasn't a date set until two weeks ago.
I can venture to say that CSX will perform work on the Peninsula Subdivision at some point between June and August. They pretty much do it every year necessitating bus operation and/or termination on the route. Same goes for NS and their track work between ATL-BHM. However, it is not confirmed UNTIL the hosts confirm it, which may not come until week before the date. Sometimes, it comes days before the date Yet, I can currently make reservations on various dates to NPN and from WAS-NOL during those periods.
These are examples of short notice. Should Amtrak block out the whole month until they know for certain the track work will occur and when to spare passengers the indignity of having their plans altered? Probably not. You may argue that the track work is outside of Amtrak's control and necessary while this trip is just a joyride. However, the special is something that will at least generate revenue whereas these track projects are a complete loss of ridership and revenue. As the mandate for Amtrak to decrease subsidies increases, there is something to be said for protecting a constant source of revenue. As I understand it, Amtrak may only run these specials if they cover their costs...or some state legislature demands it.
Are 500 heavily discounted group travel tickets worth more than blocking off weeks worth of scheduled services for months on end? I have no idea myself, but maybe that's the question Amtrak should be considering instead trying to eat their cake and have it too.
This trip has been running as a stand alone train for quite a few years so for all you know, Amtrak has done just that in the past and decided that with ridership dwindling, blowing out two trains instead of blocking out multiple spots is the best policy. I'm not sure what you mean by heavily discounted and I'm not going to ask you to prove your work but this train generates a great deal of revenue.
At the end of the day, you're entitled to your opinion and I agree with large aspects of it. What I DO find quite entertaining is the righteous indignation of some of the posters that rally against this train....yet line up to buy tickets for the Autumn Express trains, which usually doesn't even occur on a scheduled Amtrak route and interferes with as DA put it "revenue passengers who are trying to purchase and use your services today."
I think that a special a few times a year will not make or break the argument regarding Amtrak being a land cruise or an essential service. I could make the same argument for the Autumn Express excursions. Since the beginning, I haven't been a fan, and to say that people aren't inconvenienced when they (and the associated other specials) run is not true. Those cars could be used for scheduled trains. This year, ABE and NRK passengers had the rug pulled out from them on multiple weekends when they had to use the ACELA to compensate for the loss of Amfleets. Additional trains couldn't add equipment to combat sold out conditions all so a bunch of people can joyride through the bushes, looking at leaves surrounding some obscure track!
However, the goodwill and enthusiasm generated by the trains makes it worthwhile, particularly if they generate revenue and spill revenue. I beam when I read your posts and trip reports on the excursions.
We should do the same for these students.
If the train ceases to exist, so be it. However, if the students continue show up, and another train is not forthcoming, I think you should work with one of your repeat passengers.