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Southwest Chief reroute via Wichita and Amarillo?


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#1 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 02:37 PM

When I was on the LSL I met up with neroden and he mentioned an idea to reroute the SWC west of Kansas City via Wichita and Amarillo, TX. I forget all of the details (maybe he or anyone else can fill them in). It sounded like you can pick up a lot more population between Kansas City and Albuquerque and you would not lose time (Neroden said you can run the train faster along the specific route?) These are his words, not mine.

 

Certainly the idea of Wichita, one large area which does not have Amtrak right now, would be an upgrade to the SWC and if the Heartland Flyer ever does get extended north it can open up connections between the SWC and Texas. Neroden said he posted about this several years ago but I barely can search for my own old posts let alone his and I wouldn't know what key words to look for.

 

I would certainly be in favor as long as the timing remains close to the same as it is now and you know I am always about population, the more population we serve the better.


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#2 WICT106

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 02:51 PM

One issue that I see is that this re-route would end service to Raton, NM, with all of the Scouts that use that station.  That would result in less exposure to train travel, as for many Scouts, their first train trip is the one taken to Philmont.  These Scouts would then have no exposure to train travel at all. 

A second issue is wither or not there is any alternative transportation along the existing route, that could replace the SW Chief's service. 


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#3 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 03:36 PM

If you use the old ATSF San Francisco Chief route that would take care of KCY, Lawrence, Topeka, Newton, Wichita, and for sure Amarillo. The first current SWC stop listed after Newton is Gallup, NM. I believe neroden mentioned somehow backtracking somewhere to serve ABQ as no way would the SWC skip over them. 

 

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Edited by Philly Amtrak Fan, 13 January 2018 - 03:37 PM.

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#4 Palmetto

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 04:32 PM

What's really needed is a second train using the suggested route.  I know:  it takes money and equipment for that.  And BNSF wouldn't be all to pleased to have a passenger train on their very busy Southern Transcon line, either.



#5 Anthony V

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 06:08 PM

A reroute of the SWC is not going to happen because some of the funds for track upgrades on its current route have been secured and such work began a few years ago. Due to this, the Chief will stay on it's present route for the foreseeable future, so don't get your hopes up.



#6 neroden

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 02:13 AM

Yeah, I was mentioning this as an example of Amtrak wasting money on a genuinely inferior routing when a clearly better routing is available which would serve more people, attract more riders, get more income for Amtrak, be faster, and cost less -- simultaneously.

 

Those "track upgrades" are a one-time thing -- they don't come with maintenance funding, so the route will immediately start deteriorating again.  I'd feel differently if the states or localities had actually committed to long-term maintenance.  They didn't.

 

These would be the bypassed stations:

Newton (an exurb of Wichita, replaced with Wichita)

Hutchinson (also close enough to drive to Wichita -- closer than I am to Syracuse)

Dodge City

Garden City

Lamar

La Junta

Trinidad

Raton

Las Vegas

Lamy (everyone getting off here takes a connecting bus or car to Santa Fe; they can can take a connecting bus, car, or train from Albuquerque)

 

The stations which don't have obvious alternatives are...

 

Arrivals + depatures, yearly

Dodge City: 4895

Garden City: 7378

Lamar: 1879

La Junta: 7080

Trinidad: 5747 (but actually rising, unlike the others)

Raton: 16454 (the highest -- all boy scouts)

Las Vegas: 4851

 

Raton is all Boy Scouts.  The Boy Scouts going to Raton?  Fewer and fewer each year -- it's a declining business, though it's still a lot for now.

 

The population of the Amarillo metro area is roughly 263,000.  For comparison, Lynchburg, VA is 260,000, Champaign-Urbana is 238,000, and Erie PA is 276,000.  Erie gets  16,000 passengers per year with wee-hours scheduling.  Lynchburg gets 14,000 on the Crescent (again with poor scheduling) and 67000 on the Regionals (with good scheduling).     Amarillo would have good scheduling.  We can guess that Amarillo would at least replace the Raton passengers, but I would expect more.  Champaign-Urbana has multiple trains so not a good comparison point, but it has 37,289 passengers on the CONO alone.

 

Wichita has 644,000 population.  Similar-sized cities with one train per day include Toledo, Provo (5500 passengers, with awful timing), Lakeland (20,000 passengers), and Springfield MA (14,000 on the LSL, far more on the Regionals).  OK, I guess it's not so easy to predict ridership here! 

Newton gets 13,700 passengers most of whom are, anecdotally, from Wichita.  Hutchnison gets 4691.  I would expect Wichita to retain the sum of these two numbers, conservatively.

 

So I guess based on current numbers the current route may still have more ridership -- if we're pessimistic about the uptake in Amarillo and Wichita, and we don't add enough other stations, the reroute might reduce the passenger count.

 

It might be worth comparing the population of the minor cities on the San Francisco Chief route -- these are larger cities than the ones on the existing route:

Woodward, OK

Pampa, TX

Hereford, TX

Friona, TX

Clovis, NM

 

Also, people would drive from Lubbock.  Trinidad is currently getting people driving from Pueblo and even Colorado Springs.  Portales, NM is within driving distance of Clovis (and arguably Hereford and Friona are within driving distance of Clovis and Amarillo respectively).

If I were in a position to make a serious proposal, and I lived in that part of the country, I'd work up a business case, because I think it does turn out better -- partly because the trip is faster, partly because Amtrak doesn't have to maintain 500 miles of track, and partly because there is growth potential along the Amarillo route and not along the Raton route.

I have other priorities, though, living in upstate NY...

 

On reviewing this, I find that there's even lower-hanging fruit on the Southwest Chief route.  It passes through Emporia, KS without a station.  Every single city on the portion of the route from Newton to Lamy -- the portion I would prefer to reroute -- is either the same size as Emporia (Garden City and Dodge City) or much smaller than Emporia (the rest).


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#7 Palmetto

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 07:10 AM

As Anthony V pointed out, there was a reason the La Junta Subdivision was spruced up:  BNSF won't allow a passenger train on its Southern Transcon route.  Unfortunate, but that's the story.  If you recall, they also got the Southwest Chief off that route and asked Amtrak to move the train over to the less-used Mendota Sub between Chicago and Galesburg.  Unless there is a total collapse of freight traffic, I don't think we'll ever see a regular passenger train on the City of San Francisco route, even if money and equipment were available to do so.



#8 Anthony V

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 12:27 PM

The small towns you want the SWC to bypass don't have very many alternative transportation options other than driving, so if they lost the Chief, their economies would severely suffer because the train is their only affordable public transportation option, and is their only alternative to driving hundreds of miles to the nearest interstate highway or airport. Even in the towns that do have commercial air service, flights out of those towns are very expensive. Train service allows those in these small towns to ride to the nearest major city and fly out of the airport in that city with much lower airfares without having to drive hundreds of miles to get there.



#9 daybeers

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 12:42 PM

Neroden, how do you find the ridership for specific routes for stations? I only know how to find the total ridership for an entire route or the combined ridership of all trains serving a particular station.


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#10 CCC1007

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 12:49 PM

As Anthony V pointed out, there was a reason the La Junta Subdivision was spruced up:  BNSF won't allow a passenger train on its Southern Transcon route.  Unfortunate, but that's the story.  If you recall, they also got the Southwest Chief off that route and asked Amtrak to move the train over to the less-used Mendota Sub between Chicago and Galesburg.  Unless there is a total collapse of freight traffic, I don't think we'll ever see a regular passenger train on the City of San Francisco route, even if money and equipment were available to do so.

Not only did they ask, they built a connecting track in part to allow that type of move.

#11 neroden

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 03:54 PM

The small towns you want the SWC to bypass don't have very many alternative transportation options other than driving, so if they lost the Chief, their economies would severely suffer because the train is their only affordable public transportation option, and is their only alternative to driving hundreds of miles to the nearest interstate highway or airport. Even in the towns that do have commercial air service, flights out of those towns are very expensive. Train service allows those in these small towns to ride to the nearest major city and fly out of the airport in that city with much lower airfares without having to drive hundreds of miles to get there.

 

Well, to hell with them, bluntly.  What's so special about them that they get special treatment?

 

They're already depopulating.  There are plenty of other larger cities with no other transportation options other than driving, such as:

 

Woodward, OK

Pampa, TX

Hereford, TX

Friona, TX

Clovis, NM

 

In short, *you have not made an argument*.  The cities I listed are just as deserving as the ones on the existing route.

 

"Boy Scouts go to Raton so it punches above its weight" is a valid argument. 

"North Dakota High Line cities punch above their weight because the roads close in the winter, unlike in other areas" is a valid argument.

 

What you said is NOT an argument, because it doesn't explain why these particular cities should get better treatment than Ithaca, NY (population >100,000) or Emporia KS (actually *on* the existing line and with no station) which have the same problems with sky-high airfare and long drives.


Edited by neroden, 14 January 2018 - 04:00 PM.

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#12 neroden

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 03:59 PM

Neroden, how do you find the ridership for specific routes for stations? I only know how to find the total ridership for an entire route or the combined ridership of all trains serving a particular station.

Oh.  NARP provides the ridership statistics for stations, but quite conveniently, in *this year's reports*, they have also broken out what portion of that ridership is on the so-called "long distance" trains.  (Which is typically only one train.)  So I can get the LSL numbers for Springfield, MA.  But I can't break out ridership on the Vermonter vs. the Shuttles.


Edited by neroden, 14 January 2018 - 03:59 PM.

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#13 neroden

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 04:10 PM

As Anthony V pointed out, there was a reason the La Junta Subdivision was spruced up:  BNSF won't allow a passenger train on its Southern Transcon route.


They would allow it now. Management has changed twice since the last time they actually refused; they've been a lot more friendly since Matt Rose and then Carl Ice took over.

More importantly, they will soon have double-tracked the entire route. The technical reason for wanting the passenger trains off the route in the Southwest was the single-tracked sections between Wichita and Belen, which messed up capacity. They're nearly done double-tracking from Wichita to Belen; I think there's just a little bit in Oklahoma left, which is scheduled to get done this year or next.

I would expect a hard requirement for each station of platforms on both sides located on passenger sidings, which has become the normal request from CSX and NS. It avoids dispatching problems: no stopping on the mainline, no crossing opposing traffic.
 

Unfortunate, but that's the story.  If you recall, they also got the Southwest Chief off that route and asked Amtrak to move the train over to the less-used Mendota Sub between Chicago and Galesburg.

BNSF runs lots of freight on the Mendota Sub too. This was part of a deliberate traffic bifurcation strategy, with fast trains on the former BN route and slower trains on the former Santa Fe route. Of course the BN route had permanent and substantial passenger traffic because of Metra, and triple tracking as far as Aurora, so there were economies of scale involved; this benefited Amtrak in several ways. The approach from Joliet to Chicago was a delay nightmare due to all the diamonds, and the approach from Aurora to Chicago usually runs fast. The main disadvantage was the loss of Chillicothe as a station for Peoria; apart from that there's probably more population on the ex-BN route.

I should repeat that I'd be fine with the existing routing if the states and localities were actually paying the costs to keep it open. Which they are not. Bunch of cheapskates in rural Kansas and New Mexico. Paying to fix it up once, following which it will immmediately start deteriorating again, is NOT paying to keep it going. Vermont pays to maintain its tracks; so do Massachusetts and New York.

Edited by neroden, 14 January 2018 - 04:13 PM.

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#14 Pere Flyer

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 05:03 PM

Why not have a second frequency of SWC on the transcon?


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#15 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 05:53 PM

Why not have a second frequency of SWC on the transcon?


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Same reason as always... $$$$$$$$$$


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#16 railiner

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 12:27 AM

 

 

Unfortunate, but that's the story.  If you recall, they also got the Southwest Chief off that route and asked Amtrak to move the train over to the less-used Mendota Sub between Chicago and Galesburg.

BNSF runs lots of freight on the Mendota Sub too. This was part of a deliberate traffic bifurcation strategy, with fast trains on the former BN route and slower trains on the former Santa Fe route. Of course the BN route had permanent and substantial passenger traffic because of Metra, and triple tracking as far as Aurora, so there were economies of scale involved; this benefited Amtrak in several ways. The approach from Joliet to Chicago was a delay nightmare due to all the diamonds, and the approach from Aurora to Chicago usually runs fast. The main disadvantage was the loss of Chillicothe as a station for Peoria; apart from that there's probably more population on the ex-BN route.

.

 

Not to mention, the former BN route is 15 miles shorter to Galesburg from Chicago, than the ATSF route....and Amtrak was able to close GBA, a staffed station... ;)


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#17 cirdan

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 05:27 AM

 

In short, *you have not made an argument*.  The cities I listed are just as deserving as the ones on the existing route.

 

"Boy Scouts go to Raton so it punches above its weight" is a valid argument. 

"North Dakota High Line cities punch above their weight because the roads close in the winter, unlike in other areas" is a valid argument.

 

What you said is NOT an argument, because it doesn't explain why these particular cities should get better treatment than Ithaca, NY (population >100,000) or Emporia KS (actually *on* the existing line and with no station) which have the same problems with sky-high airfare and long drives.

 

 

I don't think you can make a rule and say, every city above a given size should get Amtrak service, or every city below a certain size should be denied it. The real situation is much more complex than that. People don't just ride a train for the sake of riding a train and you don't satisfy a need just by providing a train - any train. Rather, you have to look at what other cities people living in a given city actually need to travel to the most, and ask whether the proposed train makes any meaningful contribution towards that. 

 

Often travel patterns develop for a reason. Somebody may live or have parents in city A but go to college or have a job in city B, precisely because they can actually get from one of those cities to the other. So in other words people use a train and have become reliant on the train because the train has been there for long enough to support those patterns.

 

This isn't always the case of course, and ypu can't always just assume thinghs, but have to look at and survey the actual passengers and potential passengers. But saying the city has this number of inhabitants and is therefore more deserving of a train servive than a city with fewer inhabitants may be simplifying the situation too far.


Edited by cirdan, 15 January 2018 - 05:28 AM.


#18 Palmetto

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 06:53 AM

Don't get me wrong:  I'd like to see another train on the Transcon.  Neroden:  do you have inside info that BNSF is more willing now than in the past to let Amtrak onto the Transcon east of Dalies?  As it is, BTW, the Southwest Chief is on the Transcon for about 750 miles between Dalies and Los Angeles.



#19 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 07:34 AM

 

 

In short, *you have not made an argument*.  The cities I listed are just as deserving as the ones on the existing route.

 

"Boy Scouts go to Raton so it punches above its weight" is a valid argument. 

"North Dakota High Line cities punch above their weight because the roads close in the winter, unlike in other areas" is a valid argument.

 

What you said is NOT an argument, because it doesn't explain why these particular cities should get better treatment than Ithaca, NY (population >100,000) or Emporia KS (actually *on* the existing line and with no station) which have the same problems with sky-high airfare and long drives.

 

 

I don't think you can make a rule and say, every city above a given size should get Amtrak service, or every city below a certain size should be denied it. The real situation is much more complex than that. People don't just ride a train for the sake of riding a train and you don't satisfy a need just by providing a train - any train. Rather, you have to look at what other cities people living in a given city actually need to travel to the most, and ask whether the proposed train makes any meaningful contribution towards that. 

 

Often travel patterns develop for a reason. Somebody may live or have parents in city A but go to college or have a job in city B, precisely because they can actually get from one of those cities to the other. So in other words people use a train and have become reliant on the train because the train has been there for long enough to support those patterns.

 

This isn't always the case of course, and ypu can't always just assume thinghs, but have to look at and survey the actual passengers and potential passengers. But saying the city has this number of inhabitants and is therefore more deserving of a train servive than a city with fewer inhabitants may be simplifying the situation too far.

 

 

I think "deserving" is the wrong word but the question IMO is who can benefit Amtrak the most, who can contribute the most R&R. Agreed, it isn't always about the most population, some cities/towns do outperform their population, college towns do have a tendency to do so. On the other hand, it is hard to beat cities with large populations and it's pretty hard to justify Lamar.

 

To me, if the SWC reroute will increase R & R while not significantly affecting costs, runtime, or performance, I say do it. You shouldn't not do because damnit those 2,000 riders per year in Lamar we lose in Lamar are important! What about the riders in Wichita and Amarillo we would gain? If you think we won't have a net gain overall by doing this, of course we shouldn't do it. But if we would, why not?


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#20 Eric S

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 09:19 AM

The small towns you want the SWC to bypass don't have very many alternative transportation options other than driving, so if they lost the Chief, their economies would severely suffer because the train is their only affordable public transportation option, and is their only alternative to driving hundreds of miles to the nearest interstate highway or airport. Even in the towns that do have commercial air service, flights out of those towns are very expensive. Train service allows those in these small towns to ride to the nearest major city and fly out of the airport in that city with much lower airfares without having to drive hundreds of miles to get there.

 

How many of the communities that would lose intercity rail service (between Hutchinson and Lamy) do not have commercial air service or intercity bus service? Off the top of my head, Dodge City, Garden City, Hutchinson, Raton, and Trinidad do. Not sure about La Junta, Lamar, Lamy, and Las Vegas.






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