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Bidding opens to outsource up to three Amtrak long distance trains


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#61 railiner

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Posted 14 July 2017 - 12:17 PM


 


Would contracting amtrak long distance trains out to a private railroad save money? if yes then how?

 
Save money for who?
 
A lot of this restructuring stuff is window dressing, it's about stealing from Peter to pay Paul.
 
So if somebody can make their own budget look good by offloading costs onto somebody else's budget, and if people are getting praise and bonuses for making their budget look good, then these things wil happen.
 
 
I could actually see the case for contracting out the operating crews, at least for large portions of the routes. Having to staff a bunch of crew change points with conductors and engineers, making sure to have an extra board deep enough to cover those who are sick/on vacation/etc., any overhead needed for having the specific locations up to the standards needed for an office, etc. all for a single train each way each day is pretty inefficient. Having the freights handle the staffing and location concerns could let their economies of scale in that area work to make that staffing less expensive while still ensuring proper staffing (it's a lot easier to account for sick/vacation leave and overhead expenses when it's spread across a hundred or more employees running numerous trains a day than it is to account for that for a dozen or so employees running one to two trains a day.)
 
I don't see the proposal up currently as having any bidders, though. From the sounds of it, they need both the trackage rights and the cars to make it happen. The Class I's don't have the cars to make it happen (nor do they want to deal with that) and any private railcar operator will likely have a difficult-to-impossible time working with the Class I's for trackage rights.

I could see contracting out the engineer position's back to the host railroad, but not the conductor's, who must be knowledgeable of all passenger related matters, besides the passenger cars.
One of the benefits of Amtrak taking over the conductor's years ago, was the elimination of the Chief of On Board Services position's, since now all conductor's were "passenger qualified", with the necessary knowledge to supervise OBS employees...

There is not much difference operating a passenger diesel from a freight, other than the Head End Power system, and somewhat higher speeds...
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#62 west point

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Posted 14 July 2017 - 01:29 PM

T&E crews for the freight RRs are going to be paid more than Amtrak employees.  Freight crews their runs are not as long and also the agreements have 2 operating persons in loco.    Amtrak only  requires 2 in loco for over 6 hours scheduled.  You would get back to having an OBS running the train ?

 

About a bidder using Amtrak equipment.  There is the lease issue of equipment.  Can FRA even require that to happen ?



#63 railiner

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Posted 14 July 2017 - 02:39 PM

You would get back to having an OBS running the train ?

OBS Chief never 'ran' the train....just directly supervised OBS employees, and handled certain passenger issues..  The conductor employed by the freight railroads in Amtrak service were still in charge of all...but sometimes, you might get an extra-board conductor, not that familiar with Amtrak rules, regulations, ticketing, etc....hence the Chief's placed on board, for several years, until Amtrak took over the T&E crews for their trains...


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#64 dlagrua

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Posted 15 July 2017 - 07:55 AM

IMO, the private railroads will avoid bidding on passenger rail. Back in the 1900-1950's era trains were the only efficient way to travel long distances. The bus could not compete as the national highway system was not complete. Then air travel came about and the traveling public deserted the trains and took to the air. The interstate highways were finished and car travel became more practical. The demand for train travel drastically declined.

Today train travel represents only 10% of total passenger travel. The number could be higher but the Amtrak skeletal network only serves but a fraction of what passenger rail once was. Point is that there are not enough train travelers today to make LD passenger rail profitable. Even in the Golden age of passenger rail (when the trains were always full) , the railroads only turned a 2% profit on the service.



#65 sldispatcher

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Posted 15 July 2017 - 11:19 AM

From my own perspective, some degree of privatization is probably the only way Amtrak can ever move to the next level of where we all want it to go.

 

1.  Amtrak gets kicked in the teeth repeatedly but doesn't always deserve it.  There are many hard working employees who want to see improvement just as much as the rest of us.

 

2.  Amtrak gets some things right and often.  But that is as much due to the folks in middle management and frontline taking care of business.

 

3.  There needs to be some liability reform (not just in passenger rail), to help keep costs in line.

 

4.  Employees need protections and fair wage security in any privatizing effort.  Period.

 

5.  Current Amtrak service on LD trains is subpar...and that is being kind.  But that is all they can do with the deck of cards that has been dealt to them.

 

6.  I've had enough of freight railroads whining.  They have too many wins/protections/help from the American people both historically and even in present day.  Either play along or face higher tax consequences (don't give them a tax break for offering passenger access.....tax them higher for denying it)...but protect them with some degree of liability reform

 

7.  Let companies who specialize in service provide it.  Amtrak does reasonably well, and if given the opportunity can excel, at doing the rolling stock and ground service portion of the trip.

 

8.  I think Amtrak can still handle appropriately 95% plus of the short distance trains..and transition at least dining and sleeping car soft and hard product service to a vendor who knows how to work that end.

 

9.  All large companies have waste.  Picking on Amtrak as thought it is meant to be run with perfect efficiency is not even realistic.  A 40 person company has waste and inefficiency.  It happens.  Congress can get over it.

 

My wish is for passenger rail to succeed regardless of political affiliation.  Some on here like to take frequent swipes without trying to understand where the underpinnings of those opinions come from.  If we really want to get mad, look back at the beginning of the interstate highway system.  That was the real lack of foresight when dedicated HSR could have been done in tandem.  Alas, it did not happen.

 

Oh well..rant over.



#66 neroden

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Posted 15 July 2017 - 12:47 PM

From my own perspective, some degree of privatization is probably the only way Amtrak can ever move to the next level of where we all want it to go.

This makes no sense whatsoever. The only way Amtrak can ever make it is a higher degree of NATIONALIZATION of the track

Let me quote you:
 

6.  I've had enough of freight railroads whining.  They have too many wins/protections/help from the American people both historically and even in present day.

Take their tracks away. That will force them to play nice. For the last 50 years it has been the ONLY thing which has forced them to play nice.

The freight railroads are very, very polite on lines where they are tenants. (This now includes the NEC, the Surfliner route, the Piedmont route, Empire Corridor as far as Albany, Michigan Corridor from Porter to Dearborn, and some other short segments.) They are mostly complete jackasses, often to the point of criminality, on the lines where they are landlords (though BNSF finally started playing nice when Matt Rose took over and it has stuck under Carl Ice).

Curiously they're usually quite happy to sell their tracks to governments (state, local, or national). Take advantage of that.

Edited by neroden, 15 July 2017 - 12:52 PM.

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#67 sldispatcher

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Posted 15 July 2017 - 07:09 PM

"This makes no sense whatsoever. The only way Amtrak can ever make it is a higher degree of NATIONALIZATION of the track"

 

 

Don't think anyone on here would ever accuse you of being subtle.  The point, which was lost on my wording, was that the OBS part of Amtrak would likely benefit from some privatization.  I did not specify that so that is my fault.  I am not a proponent of nationalizing the rail system as that would simply wind up in the hands of bureaucrats who would systematically treat the freight system in the same political atmosphere that Amtrak currently has to play in.  No thank you.  Bits and pieces I'm okay with.

 

So privatizing some of the OBS aspects may not make sense to YOU, but it does make sense to others. 

 

 




#68 Ryan

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Posted 15 July 2017 - 07:34 PM

Yes, because private corporations are so well know for taking such great care of their people.
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#69 dlagrua

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Posted 15 July 2017 - 08:44 PM

Yes, because private corporations are so well known for taking such great care of their people.

Its always been like that with the richest people and the biggest corporations. Look at robber barons like Carnegie, JP Morgan, Vanderbilt, Pullman & Rockefeller, They used the cheapest labor possible to provide the greatest profits for the Wall Street investors. Today corporations don't even keep the lower paying blue collar jobs here. They just outsource to China which leads me to my next point. Passenger rail cannot use cheap Asian slave labor It needs American workers.  That's why private corporations will never bid on LD routes.  They are waiting for the USA to legalize the importation of North Korean prison slave labor.



#70 Ryan

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Posted 15 July 2017 - 08:48 PM

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#71 neroden

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Posted 15 July 2017 - 08:48 PM

Don't think anyone on here would ever accuse you of being subtle.  The point, which was lost on my wording, was that the OBS part of Amtrak would likely benefit from some privatization.


Oh, OK. That makes more sense. Thank you for explaining.

I'll make the usual distinction between privatization which carries *revenue risk* -- where I think nobody will do it -- and contracting out, which is already done for the cafe on the Downeaster and is just fine. I don't think the OBS on Amtrak are really a problem center however so I think trying to contract it out would be a wasteful distraction at this time, but I'm not philosophically hostile to it on principle.

Nationalization of the tracks is really the only long-term option: literally every country in the world outside North America has done it. It's exactly equivalent to nationalization of the roads. It has its problems, but privatized roads just don't work, and privatized railroad tracks don't work either, which is why we have a frankly derelict freight system dominated by trucking. (Why did private track ownership work in the 19th century? It works financially during an industry boom/mania/startup period, only. There was also a turnpike boom and a canal mania, private roads and private canals, and both ended up nationalized afterwards. Airplanes seem to be financially even worse because they had public-funded airports from day one.)

Of course some of the freight operators understand this. They'd love to have the government maintaining the tracks the way it maintains the roads for the truckers. And I'm OK with that.

Edited by neroden, 15 July 2017 - 08:56 PM.

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#72 Triley

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Posted 15 July 2017 - 09:32 PM

 

 

 

Would contracting amtrak long distance trains out to a private railroad save money? if yes then how?

 
Save money for who?
 
A lot of this restructuring stuff is window dressing, it's about stealing from Peter to pay Paul.
 
So if somebody can make their own budget look good by offloading costs onto somebody else's budget, and if people are getting praise and bonuses for making their budget look good, then these things wil happen.
 
 
I could actually see the case for contracting out the operating crews, at least for large portions of the routes. Having to staff a bunch of crew change points with conductors and engineers, making sure to have an extra board deep enough to cover those who are sick/on vacation/etc., any overhead needed for having the specific locations up to the standards needed for an office, etc. all for a single train each way each day is pretty inefficient. Having the freights handle the staffing and location concerns could let their economies of scale in that area work to make that staffing less expensive while still ensuring proper staffing (it's a lot easier to account for sick/vacation leave and overhead expenses when it's spread across a hundred or more employees running numerous trains a day than it is to account for that for a dozen or so employees running one to two trains a day.)
 
I don't see the proposal up currently as having any bidders, though. From the sounds of it, they need both the trackage rights and the cars to make it happen. The Class I's don't have the cars to make it happen (nor do they want to deal with that) and any private railcar operator will likely have a difficult-to-impossible time working with the Class I's for trackage rights.

One of the benefits of Amtrak taking over the conductor's years ago, was the elimination of the Chief of On Board Services position's, since now all conductor's were "passenger qualified", with the necessary knowledge to supervise OBS employees...

 

 

Not really...  As far as being an LSA goes, the T&E crew knows maybe 10% of what goes in to working behind that counter.  It is my own domain, and that means that they are not allowed behind that counter unless I ask them to be.  Unless I have a serious issue with a passenger (harassment, drunk, etc.), they are not going to get involved with any of my issues, as they have no say in it, really. 

 

I still follow the direction of the Conductor as it is their train, but that really only applies in emergency situations, or things just as being ordered to open a door/drop the stairs at a low platform as needed.

 

If for example I cut someone off from liquor sales, they can not force me to serve them (in that case it's me who would be responsible if something happens when that passenger gets off the train and gets in to a car accident).  Or even if I come up with a stupid rule of not selling breakfast items past 11am (even though I may have them and won't need them for another trip) a conductor can not force me to serve them, though they could in theory go above my own head and go to my crew base or OBS manager.


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#73 sldispatcher

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Posted 16 July 2017 - 02:53 PM

Yes, contracting out is a much better term for what I'm referring.

 

Here is my real skinny on it.  I want national passenger rail to succeed beyond our wildest expectations.  But it takes political will to do it.  The average rider who buys the coach seat from Marshall, TX to Chicago...is going to have an extremely difficult time bringing political pressure to make SIGNIFICANT changes.  But you have the routes/onboard service that start getting the attention of the surburban moms OUTSIDE of the NEC and California, you are going to see a big difference in attention paid.

 

Something has got to give first in this 40 year stand off on passenger rail.  We've lost routes.  We've gained a few new cars.  We've lost service touches.  We've preserved some routes.

 

It is only my limited opinion, but if Amtrak wants to grow, Amtrak has to change first.  Writing a potential OBS contractual agreement that is guaranteed to fail is just asking to limit future growth.  Limit growth = limited political clout.  The current and future political landscape is not going to shift in any great numbers.  Heck, when democrats had the control to do almost anything they wanted with passenger rail, they did almost nothing compared to the rest of the so called "investments".  So for Amtrak supporters like us that lean different directions on both sides of the aisle, waiting on a political party to rescue, salvage, or improve passenger rail....I don't see it happening soon.  If Amtrak wants to truly grow and flourish, it is going to have to start within with a major willingness to look at doing things differently.  But that is strictly just my opinion from being both a business owner, and employee, and a customer of different sized companies.

 

I'm tired of building more and more roads to satisfy developers who won't stop buying land and building houses for which the infrastructure is not in place.

 

I'm tired of being in a third tier city and being captive to very high base fares for governmental airline travel.  (I often pay $500-$600 RT for what would easily be a less expensive overnight sleeper train ride --- but we don't have that service).

 

As a person that lives and breathes on the "other side of the aisle" from most on this forum, I can tell you that many, many conservatives are very pro-rail travel...but not with the effort that has been put forth now.  Reform is needed.

 

As long as we fight amongst ourselves as rail supporters (and this forum proves it regularly with the snarky comments and put downs), you can forget getting anywhere nationally.



#74 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 16 July 2017 - 04:14 PM

Amtrak needs its own tracks outside of the NEC. They can't run the times, frequencies or speeds they do on the NEC "renting" from the host railroads. Either buy from the railroads or build new tracks.


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#75 railiner

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Posted 16 July 2017 - 05:23 PM


 

 

 

Would contracting amtrak long distance trains out to a private railroad save money? if yes then how?

 
Save money for who?
 
A lot of this restructuring stuff is window dressing, it's about stealing from Peter to pay Paul.
 
So if somebody can make their own budget look good by offloading costs onto somebody else's budget, and if people are getting praise and bonuses for making their budget look good, then these things wil happen.
 
 
I could actually see the case for contracting out the operating crews, at least for large portions of the routes. Having to staff a bunch of crew change points with conductors and engineers, making sure to have an extra board deep enough to cover those who are sick/on vacation/etc., any overhead needed for having the specific locations up to the standards needed for an office, etc. all for a single train each way each day is pretty inefficient. Having the freights handle the staffing and location concerns could let their economies of scale in that area work to make that staffing less expensive while still ensuring proper staffing (it's a lot easier to account for sick/vacation leave and overhead expenses when it's spread across a hundred or more employees running numerous trains a day than it is to account for that for a dozen or so employees running one to two trains a day.)
 
I don't see the proposal up currently as having any bidders, though. From the sounds of it, they need both the trackage rights and the cars to make it happen. The Class I's don't have the cars to make it happen (nor do they want to deal with that) and any private railcar operator will likely have a difficult-to-impossible time working with the Class I's for trackage rights.
One of the benefits of Amtrak taking over the conductor's years ago, was the elimination of the Chief of On Board Services position's, since now all conductor's were "passenger qualified", with the necessary knowledge to supervise OBS employees...

 
 
Not really...  As far as being an LSA goes, the T&E crew knows maybe 10% of what goes in to working behind that counter.  It is my own domain, and that means that they are not allowed behind that counter unless I ask them to be.  Unless I have a serious issue with a passenger (harassment, drunk, etc.), they are not going to get involved with any of my issues, as they have no say in it, really. 
 
I still follow the direction of the Conductor as it is their train, but that really only applies in emergency situations, or things just as being ordered to open a door/drop the stairs at a low platform as needed.
 
If for example I cut someone off from liquor sales, they can not force me to serve them (in that case it's me who would be responsible if something happens when that passenger gets off the train and gets in to a car accident).  Or even if I come up with a stupid rule of not selling breakfast items past 11am (even though I may have them and won't need them for another trip) a conductor can not force me to serve them, though they could in theory go above my own head and go to my crew base or OBS manager.

Or.....they could take you out of service, for cause, and shut down your counter....
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#76 cirdan

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Posted 17 July 2017 - 04:42 AM

 

 

 

I don't see the proposal up currently as having any bidders, though. From the sounds of it, they need both the trackage rights and the cars to make it happen. The Class I's don't have the cars to make it happen (nor do they want to deal with that) and any private railcar operator will likely have a difficult-to-impossible time working with the Class I's for trackage rights.

 

 

Maybe they don't need to bring in their own cars or equipment. Amtrak could lease them the cars already on those services, at least initially, with maybe a clause in the contrcat that the contractor must bring in their own equipment within a reasonable horizon.

 

I can't see anybody accepting such terms by the way, at least not in the present climate. I'm just trying tpo come up with hypothetical schemes.



#77 Green Maned Lion

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Posted 17 July 2017 - 06:26 AM

For Amtrak to change it needs money. Have you ever seen how much money it costs to save a private business that screwed up? Bankruptcy financing is a huge deal.

Amtrak can change a little here or a little there, but the changes people talk about are almost always outside Amtrak's financial reality.
Travelled: Broadway Limited (1), Lake Shore Limited (6), Capitol Limited (7), Empire Builder (1), Southwest Chief (2), Sunset Limited (1), California Zephyr (3), Coast Starlight (2), Silver Meteor (5), Silver Star (5), Silver Palm (2), Crescent (1), Cardinal (4), Auto Train (4), Pennsylvanian (2), Palmetto (1), Acela Express (1), Empire Service (1), Northeast Regional (11), Keystone Service (1) --- Total Miles: 50,144 --- Total Trains: 61
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#78 DSS&A

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Posted 17 July 2017 - 11:37 AM

For a short time in the 1990s, the Federal Government allocated transit agencies to do a lease-lease back financial arrangement to lease their long term new equipment (passenger cars) to there organizations who paid BIG money to utilize the depreciation tax write-off. The Feds stopped it because they started loosing too much tax revenue.

A new version of this lease-lease back law could be enacted to help finance around 50-65 percent of new passenger cars and still not have the Feds "loose too much tax revenue". Amtrak could then use other financing to pay for the remaining costs. Bridges also have a long enough lifespan and a large enough cost for a lease-lease back depreciation write-off.

This type of financial arrangement would probably be received well by the current administration because it would get private capital funds to pay for new infrastructure.

#79 sldispatcher

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Posted 17 July 2017 - 04:58 PM

1 or 2 percent of this could have transformed Amtrak's Long Distance service for the next 30 or 40 years.

 

http://money.cnn.com...ulus/index.html

 

Trust me, I'd love to see AMTRAK get a dedicated 1/4 of 1 % of the gas tax for infrastructure and capital improvement projects.

 

 

DSS&A:  Great idea that would still work, but again, that would be thinking too far outside of the box.



#80 neroden

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Posted 18 July 2017 - 02:33 AM

A dedicated funding source, and a concerted program to purchase the tracks or build new tracks... well, that's all Amtrak really needs.  Everything else is minor.

 

This formula is, after all, what saved, expanded, and/or created every single urban rail system in the country.  This is the story of every successful subway, light rail, streetcar, or commuter rail line in the US and Canada.  Same formula should work for Amtrak.


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