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Grand Canyon Railway to discontinue Amtrak shuttle service


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#21 crescent-zephyr

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 11:06 AM

A bigger question.. can amtrak just eliminate the stop? Like is it that easy? Not logistically, obviously the train can just not stop, but eliminating a stop can be a bit complex correct? Could amtrak now be responsible for providing a new shuttle operator?

 

Obviously we will find out in time. 


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#22 Green Maned Lion

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 12:36 PM

Im sure Amtrak will have no trouble turning the stop into a flag stop and then ignoring it because nobody uses it.

That being said, I assume this must make sense for GCR. Im sure this decision was arrived at by something other than a game of darts.
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#23 crescent-zephyr

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 12:52 PM

It makes sense for them because they don't want people hanging out in the lobby. The van was available to all, not just customers of the hotel, so non-hotel guests (think... living on the road young adults etc.) were camping out in the lobby of the hotel. I saw this with my own eyes in the slow season, so I'm sure it was an issue.

 

This seems to be a growing problem with a certain class of people. I noticed lots of travelers sleeping and otherwise lounging in the Starbucks next to Sacramento's train station. It agitates the employees there to a point I make the extra walk to Old Town and have my breakfast at Steamers now (better breakfast options anyways). 


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#24 VentureForth

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 01:43 PM

I don't think abandoning a stop on private property with private access will be an issue. They aren't abandoning a rail line. At least they are honest. They want to put off the riff raff and let them loiter at businesses in Flagstaff instead. That's nice. I really wonder if this will affect Williams at all.

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#25 trainboy325

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 02:44 PM

We must remember that the current Grand Canyon Railway was founded by avid rail fans who invested a lot of money and took on very considerable financial risks in building a business model that took many years to become profitable. At that time, it was definitely prudent to reach out to all possible avenues of revenue (especially rail-fanning Amtrak passengers) to be part of their business plan. It also was the goal of the GCR's founders to "restore" the Williams connection with the Chief as Santa Fe did when they built their replacement depot at WMJ depot when the mainline reroute was completed between Williams Junction and Seligman.

 

However, Xanterra (the primary concessionaire at Grand Canyon NP on the South Rim) purchased the GCR about 10 years ago to build up their NPS concession holdings nationally. Since Xanterra is profit-driven from traditional state and park service income sources (lodges, restaurants, campgrounds, sightseeing tours, etc.) and providing a public service to many non-concession users, such as Amtrak passengers seeking an alternative to FLG, dropping the Williams Junction Amtrak service doesn't surprise me all that much. In the early days that Xanterra owned GCR, many of the managers and employees were kept to run the business under their ownership. However, over the years, I assume that many of those people have retired or moved on and many non-railfan focused managers now are operating GCR these days. Although dropping the service will be disappointing to those who use it, I honestly don't believe dropping WMJ shuttle service will have any negative impact on GCR ridership. Amtrak passengers who want to ride the GCR can easily book one of the many scheduled Amtrak thruway trips between FLG and WMA. The biggest setback will those who wish to travel to FLG from points east wanting to stay at GCR hotel the same evening. I don't believe a shuttle is scheduled to depart for WMA after the arrival of the westbound Chief. Therefore, those passengers will have to overnight in FLG or hire a taxi to take them on to the GCR hotel in WMA. Fortunately, the eastbound Chief connects to all shuttles going to WMA and GRB, so same day connections remain possible, albeit you probably can't count of taking the GCR train the same morning up to Grand Canyon. Those who booked a same day connection to the GCR from the eastbound Chief were probably so far and few between anyway. Most people I believe would want at least one night at the GCR hotel in WMA prior to starting the long day taking the train up and back to Grand Canyon plus the touring at the park when you are there. A same day connecting Amtrak passenger isn't the customer Xanterra is marketing for anyway, plus it's not advisable anyway to try and schedule any same day connection between a long-distance Amtrak train and something like a cruise, flight, or travel package on the GCR. However, if Xanterra or Amtrak were to request a late night shuttle departure from FLG to just WMA versus all the way to Grand Canyon for westbound Chief passengers with AZ Shuttle, then the loss of the WMJ shuttle for Amtrak GCR connecting passenger would be mute.  

 

In many cases, when a longtime Amtrak service ends, it has a long-term negative consequence on ridership and customer service marketing (the short-sighted idea that unstaffing Amtrak stations is good for business comes to mind right now). However, in this case, I believe the elimination of the WMJ shuttle will have little if any effect on GCR's ridership and Xanterra will continue to market its Grand Canyon products to Amtrak passengers using the full-service Flagstaff station as its connecting point. Simply put, FLG is a much better connection point to the Chief for GCR passengers in grand scheme of things. As a full service station, with ticketing and baggage, restrooms, plus a full-service regional visitor center on site. It is located downtown with multiple restaurants and shop all within short walking distance of the station. Unlike a lot of mid-sized cities, Flagstaff's downtown is very popular with locals and tourists alike. Plus, taxis and app-based rideshare services are available and many hotels in the area have guest shuttles that regularly travel to and from the station. Although the Hertz rental car desk is no longer there, renting a car in FLG remains relatively easy since most rental companies have offices in town not far from the station. By eliminating the GCR Amtrak by outsourcing to already established thruway services provided by from AZ Shuttle which will continue to stop and service the WMA bus stop, which is the same site of the GCR shuttle at the front of the GCR hotel, the GCR will remain directly accessible to Amtrak passengers using a 20 mile shuttle connection versus a 3 mile one. Although it is not the intention, by eliminating the GCR shuttle service from WMJ to FLG, Amtrak's schedule of connecting services with the Chief may better demonstrate the excellent connectivity to final destinations like the GCR, Grand Canyon NP, Sedona, Phoenix and PHX Airport traveling through FLG on-board Amtrak. In the end, Xanterra simply has removed the passenger service issues of late trains from their responsibility back onto Amtrak, where the FLG station agent can handle those issues more effectively, without eliminating their ability to market and sell packages providing a direct thruway shuttle connection from Amtrak to the Grand Canyon via the GCR.  


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#26 fairviewroad

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 02:52 PM

 In the end, Xanterra simply has removed the passenger service issues of late trains from their responsibility back onto Amtrak, where the FLG station agent can handle those issues more effectively, without eliminating their ability to market and sell packages providing a direct thruway shuttle connection from Amtrak to the Grand Canyon via the GCR.  

 

This (the entire post, that is) is a good, even-handed analysis. Yes, losing a station (as we are presuming is the case) is a sad thing. But in this case, the upsides seem to be somewhat even to the downsides (I realize that's objective).



#27 BCL

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 03:18 PM

However, Xanterra (the primary concessionaire at Grand Canyon NP on the South Rim) purchased the GCR about 10 years ago to build up their NPS concession holdings nationally. Since Xanterra is profit-driven from traditional state and park service income sources (lodges, restaurants, campgrounds, sightseeing tours, etc.) and providing a public service to many non-concession users, such as Amtrak passengers seeking an alternative to FLG, dropping the Williams Junction Amtrak service doesn't surprise me all that much.

 

What they operate within public lands and as their own property is treated differently to some extent.  The vast majority of what they operate in national parks is actually owned by the federal government but where the operations are contracted out to them.  So they might have less strength to a position that they should be able to keep out people who aren't their customers, as places like the El Tovar Hotel and the Old Faithful Inn are publicly owned buildings.  The federal government even spent a lot of money and several years doing earthquake retrofits of the Old Faithful Inn even though Xanterra is operating it.

 

They own the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, so they probably have a stronger position that they can keep people out who aren't customers/guests.  It's also kind of a quirk that they operations at Death Valley are fully their property.  Even when the federal government shut down, they were advertising that they were still open, and that the road was still open as a state highway.



#28 Cho Cho Charlie

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 04:12 PM

They own the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, so they probably have a stronger position that they can keep people out who aren't customers/guests.  It's also kind of a quirk that they operations at Death Valley are fully their property.  Even when the federal government shut down, they were advertising that they were still open, and that the road was still open as a state highway.


Didn't Amtrak itself have a similar problem? I think with 30th Street in Philly? Private bus lines were using the station, as their own passenger's waiting lounge, without paying Amtrak any usage fee. The debate was that 30th Street wait area was "public" and therefore should be available to anyone to come inside, sit, and wait.
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#29 jis

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 04:57 PM

We all know that just because a building is publicly owned, does not make all areas within it public. Otherwise the Pentagon would be an open house :P



#30 BCL

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 07:47 PM

We all know that just because a building is publicly owned, does not make all areas within it public. Otherwise the Pentagon would be an open house :P

 

Sure.  However, a national park lodge is by definition a public place and not an office building.  I don't know if the concessionaire would even bother if some Amtrak customer arrives at the Ahwahnee Hotel and waits in the Mural Room.  Heck - I was there once just charging up my phone.

 

Even in a non-secure federal office building, the right to enter specific offices is predicated on having legitimate business at said office.

 

I know someone who was a head coach at a service academy.  One his brilliant ideas was to hold a special service academy tournament held at the Pentagon Athletic Center every year.  Fans (mostly families of players) could get access, but they didn't allow any mobile phones or anything with a camera or that could transmit information.  Everyone went through security before entering.  They had an official photographer for the tournament, but those were the only photos allowed.  This was really just a recreational gym, and all the spectators watched from the balconies above the playing floor.  I just wished that I had maybe asked to go once while he was still coaching there.  Not that it's relevant to the discussion, but you mentioned the Pentagon.


Edited by BCL, 27 September 2017 - 07:48 PM.


#31 PVD

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 07:56 PM

You should have seen the lines for cars football at West Point in years following 9-11 


Edited by PVD, 27 September 2017 - 07:57 PM.


#32 FrensicPic

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 08:41 PM

FWIW, I tried several test bookings today, LAX > WMJ, for January, February and March, 2018. Still possible online. 

I re-read the article and it sounds like GCRY Hotel intends to go through with this (in other words, they didn't say they were just looking into it).

Will be interesting to see when WMJ drops off Amtrak's reservation system.


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#33 KmH

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Posted 27 September 2017 - 11:42 PM

 

 In the end, Xanterra simply has removed the passenger service issues of late trains from their responsibility back onto Amtrak, where the FLG station agent can handle those issues more effectively, without eliminating their ability to market and sell packages providing a direct thruway shuttle connection from Amtrak to the Grand Canyon via the GCR.  

 

This (the entire post, that is) is a good, even-handed analysis. Yes, losing a station (as we are presuming is the case) is a sad thing. But in this case, the upsides seem to be somewhat even to the downsides (I realize that's objective).

 

Williams Junction, where the Southwest Chief now stops, is not a station, just a stop:

https://www.google.c...!4d-112.1318239


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#34 fairviewroad

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Posted 28 September 2017 - 11:05 AM

FWIW, I tried several test bookings today, LAX > WMJ, for January, February and March, 2018. Still possible online. 

I re-read the article and it sounds like GCRY Hotel intends to go through with this (in other words, they didn't say they were just looking into it).

Will be interesting to see when WMJ drops off Amtrak's reservation system.

 

There's no particular rush to remove WMJ from the Amtrak website. If the service is actually canceled, most passengers with existing bookings could be easily accommodated via a Thruway bus or taxi from Flagstaff. 

 

 

 

 

 In the end, Xanterra simply has removed the passenger service issues of late trains from their responsibility back onto Amtrak, where the FLG station agent can handle those issues more effectively, without eliminating their ability to market and sell packages providing a direct thruway shuttle connection from Amtrak to the Grand Canyon via the GCR.  

 

This (the entire post, that is) is a good, even-handed analysis. Yes, losing a station (as we are presuming is the case) is a sad thing. But in this case, the upsides seem to be somewhat even to the downsides (I realize that's objective).

 

Williams Junction, where the Southwest Chief now stops, is not a station, just a stop:

https://www.google.c...!4d-112.1318239

 

 

While I appreciate your pedantry, WMJ is referred to as a station on both the Amtrak national timetable as well as on the Amtrak website.



#35 KmH

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Posted 28 September 2017 - 11:35 AM

Good on you cobber.

Other AU forum visitors not as well informed as you may not understand the distinction and expect a physical station building at the stop. 


1963U. S. Congress - underground trolley system • Disneyland train (1968/various other dates) • Old Tucson steam train (1969)

Amtrak: California Zephyr Coast Starlight •  Southwest ChiefSunset LimitedTexas Eagle • Illinois Zephyr

. . . . . . . Amtrak miles - 16,383, so far.

 

 

 

 

 


#36 BCL

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Posted 28 September 2017 - 02:07 PM

Good on you cobber.

Other AU forum visitors not as well informed as you may not understand the distinction and expect a physical station building at the stop. 

 

Really?  It's pretty easy to find out that there's no station building.  Amtrak has a very detailed description of WMJ, including that there is no direct access.  It's not even possible to book a direct trip to WMJ.

 

I don't consider the lack of a station building to mean that it's not a station.  It's a station by definition.



#37 neroden

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Posted 28 September 2017 - 02:39 PM

Amtrak passengers who want to ride the GCR can easily book one of the many scheduled Amtrak thruway trips between FLG and WMA.

 

Um, what scheduled Amtrak Thruway trips between FLG and WMA?  I mean, if there actually *are* "many scheduled Amtrak thruway trips", then yeah, they'll do OK, but as far as I am aware, there aren't. 

 

Arizona Shuttle's *two* trips per day stop at Williams *by prior appointment only*, don't wait for Amtrak, miss the connection to both Amtrak trains, requiring an OVERNIGHT in Flagstaff for those coming from the east, and miss the connection to the Grand Canyon Railway train TOO.

 

If Xanterra replaces the Williams Junction shuttle with a functioning shuttle to Flagstaff, that would probably work just fine. 

 

But the existing shuttle service from Flagstaff is not fit for purpose.  If they don't beef up the Flagstaff shuttle service, it is definitely going to hurt ridership *and* hotel patronage at Williams.

 

 

Since, like most of the US population, I happen to live east of the Grand Canyon, I think I may have to go on the GCR before January.  Darnit.  I already had too many trips scheduled this year.


Edited by neroden, 28 September 2017 - 02:43 PM.

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#38 fairviewroad

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Posted 28 September 2017 - 04:15 PM

 
Arizona Shuttle's *two* trips per day stop at Williams *by prior appointment only*, don't wait for Amtrak, miss the connection to both Amtrak trains, requiring an OVERNIGHT in Flagstaff for those coming from the east, and miss the connection to the Grand Canyon Railway train TOO.

I'm not sure I understand the problem.

 

If you are traveling to/from the east, the existing Southwest Chief stop at Williams Junction already requires an overnight if you want to connect to/from the Grand Canyon Railway. Changing the connection point to Flagstaff simply moves the location of your hotel room. In fact, for the return trip you would get to sleep in later in Flagstaff than you would if you caught the train in Williams.

 

Under its current schedule, the first Arizona Shuttle departure of the day from Flagstaff arrives in Williams in time to catch the Grand Canyon Railway. And the final Arizona Shuttle departure from Williams to Flagstaff departs well after the scheduled arrival of the Grand Canyon Railway back in Williams.

 

As far as "by prior appointment only" I believe that is called a reservation and most Amtrak LD travelers already utilize those. But in full disclosure, I have not used Arizona Shuttle so I can't vouch for its reliability.



#39 neroden

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Posted 28 September 2017 - 07:33 PM

OK, I guess Arizona Shuttle has fixed the scheduling problem; I must have been looking at an outdated schedule.

My other point is that Xanterra is moving hotel customers from their own hotel in Williams to unaffiliated hotels in Flagstaff, which seems commercially unsound.

Edited by neroden, 28 September 2017 - 07:39 PM.

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#40 greatcats

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Posted 28 September 2017 - 07:36 PM

Meriden - I see your point, but apparently Xanterra ( and I am a former employee) is finding the shuttle too troublesome to operate and staff, and the loss of a few hotel guests does not bother them.


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