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Southwest Chief News & Future Operations


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#261 RPC

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Posted 29 June 2018 - 01:09 PM

I agree about the commitments. I think this is the larger issue--that something that Amtrak agreed to is now being reneged on, with the impression given (rightly or wrongly) that Amtrak's current leadership doesn't think that reneging on an agreement is a big deal. How can any state, railroad, or any other entity dealing with Amtrak currently feel that their negotiations/decisions will be done in good faith and promises kept?

<snip/>

I think this is an important point. If Amtrak had, for instance, honored their existing private car trips and charters while implementing the new rules for all future contracts they might have engendered less ill will. And in the case of the SWC, $3 million may be a small price to pay to convince three Congressional delegations that Amtrak is doing its best to find a solution.

 

More generally, I think Anderson needs to realize that getting a 10 year commitment for ANYTHING Amtrak related is a pipe dream. Amtrak has always been a scavenger (funding wise).

 

EDIT: spelling!


Edited by RPC, 29 June 2018 - 01:11 PM.

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#262 railiner

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Posted 29 June 2018 - 02:21 PM

I agree, too, about putting someone on the board who knows more about passenger railroading. However, I was a great fan of Wick Moorman, and still think he sounds like a terrific person, but I was disappointed that he seemed just fine with the appointment of the new CEO (and might even have had a hand in choosing him?) and praised him in the press. You don't have to be nasty about someone, but you can give a lukewarm endorsement so people realize this was not what you wanted. But his endorsement of the new CEO seemed quite enthusiastic, and I was disappointed about that.

Perhaps because he was so happy to get out of the job? ;)


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#263 jis

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Posted 29 June 2018 - 02:36 PM

More on the Southwest Chief saga. Requires Train login:

 

http://trn.trains.co...o-support-route

 

Has nice photo of Boardman (with no  mice, even though he tried to catch a few :P )from four years back.


Edited by jis, 29 June 2018 - 03:19 PM.


#264 Mystic River Dragon

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Posted 29 June 2018 - 02:40 PM

Darn--I can't log into Trains, and I really wanted to see the photo of Boardman with some pet mice. :P (Sorry, jis, I just had to get that in before you caught the typo! :giggle:)

 

Seriously, though, title sounds like BNSF is going to help? That would be wonderful.


Edited by Mystic River Dragon, 29 June 2018 - 02:40 PM.


#265 Seaboard92

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Posted 29 June 2018 - 03:15 PM

As the person who actually has talked to Mr. Moorman multiple times I can say that he is a great person. And talk in the PV industry says that he is very dissatisfied with the Anderson/Gardner regime. And I would honestly believe that.

The big issue with honoring commitments like this will be expanding state supported services. Especially if Amtrak makes an agreement for day two new round trips at ten million. Operates them for a few months then comes back and says. "You know that ten million we signed an agreement on awhile back well that wasn't enough. We need twenty million to maintain the service." By pulling out of the SWC deal Anderson has effectively eliminated any credibility Amtrak has in negotiations. Especially with states, and politicians. It was a bad gamble on his part.
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#266 jis

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Posted 29 June 2018 - 03:23 PM

I didn't realize Amtrak had much credibility left to squander away. Maybe that's why they don't care either way?

 

We heard this same song and dance about credibility and what not after the long running saga of the Turboliners, where Boardman was first on one side of the fence and then on the other side of it. That was fascinating.



#267 Thirdrail7

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Posted 29 June 2018 - 03:24 PM



I agree about the commitments. I think this is the larger issue--that something that Amtrak agreed to is now being reneged on, with the impression given (rightly or wrongly) that Amtrak's current leadership doesn't think that reneging on an agreement is a big deal. How can any state, railroad, or any other entity dealing with Amtrak currently feel that their negotiations/decisions will be done in good faith and promises kept?

 

 

 

 

This is indeed a problem and it also leads to things like this:

 



 

 

"Moran said he and other senators are trying to work with their staff and Amtrak staff on the next response. In the meantime, Moran has placed a hold on two nominations for new people on the Amtrak board."
 
"Moran and Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) have also placed language in an appropriations bill to require consultation with affected communities before Amtrak can make any changes to “terms of service.”"

 

 

Now, you have stipulations attached to your funding.  It is still cool to see bipartisan support. If only Pennsylvania and Ohio showed this much support, we may still have............ :ph34r:


Edited by Thirdrail7, 29 June 2018 - 03:25 PM.

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#268 cpotisch

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Posted 29 June 2018 - 03:31 PM

If only Pennsylvania and Ohio showed this much support, we may still have............ :ph34r:

Don't you say it! Don't you summon him!


Edited by cpotisch, 02 July 2018 - 02:05 PM.

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#269 Seaboard92

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Posted 29 June 2018 - 03:36 PM

Don't forget West Virginia is adding all sorts of stipulations as well to the Amtrak reauthorization and any bill with Amtrak involved. All of us at New River have worked far too hard to accomplish that.

Honestly what all of us rail advocates should be promoting is codifying protections for the National Network. Make it law that trains must run on certain routes as part of the law. Now of course there are occasions where that can be worked around. But that is for someone far more intelligent than me to work on.
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#270 jis

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Posted 29 June 2018 - 04:12 PM

Don't forget West Virginia is adding all sorts of stipulations as well to the Amtrak reauthorization and any bill with Amtrak involved. All of us at New River have worked far too hard to accomplish that.

Honestly what all of us rail advocates should be promoting is codifying protections for the National Network. Make it law that trains must run on certain routes as part of the law.

The original Railpax Act did specify end points between which trains must run, without specifying routing. Something like that is necessary, though I suspect the  reason that it has not happened yet is because it may not pass in Congress, at least not until enough member's oxen are gored.


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#271 keelhauled

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Posted 29 June 2018 - 04:37 PM

Honestly what all of us rail advocates should be promoting is codifying protections for the National Network. Make it law that trains must run on certain routes as part of the law.

Why? I used to lean towards this position, but have gotten steadily less wedded to it over the past few years.  Long distance trains as they exist now, and have existed for the past several decades, seem to me to be fundamentally flawed as a matter of public policy in most areas.  What is the justification for long distance trains?  Is it to provide basic transportation? If so, how do you justify the difference in service levels?  What gives Grand Junction, CO the right to a train and not Green River, WY?  Even within a route, the once daily schedules make trains largely irrelevant for about a third of stops--sometimes more in terms of population.  An ostensibly national system has broad gaps.
 
I used to compare it to something like the Coast Guard--despite the fact that there are no coasts in Kansas, say, Kansas taxpayers still fund it as having a safe marine industry is important to the national economy and flow of goods.  Even if Kansans have some degrees of separation to the Coast Guard directly, they still benefit by having access to goods imported through the nation's ports.  But there is no evidence that long distance trains have any kind of an impact to the national economy in that way.  If long distance trains are, as Senator Heinrich says, "vital to the economic well-being of our communities," you would expect to see that reflected statistically.  But if you look at the regions of the nation that are growing the fastest, there is no correlation to train service.

If you look at the fastest growing cities in the US, they in fact track mostly opposite to the amount of rail service.  Six of the 15 fastest growing cities have no rail service at all in their MSAs.  Two more have 3x weekly service.  Only three cities (two MSAs) have more than one train a day--and they are 2x daily.  Hardly a ringing endorsement of Amtrak in promoting economic growth.

 

Speaking in terms of publicly funded basic transportation, the only train that fulfills that role over any significant distance is the Empire Builder, where there is no Interstate access for almost the entire route across North Dakota and Montana.  Otherwise, with the exception of relatively short segments on the CZ in western CO and eastern UT and the SWC around southern CO, western KS, and most of MO, the routes roughly parallel Interstate highways. 

 

So where do trains make sense?  The research has kinda already been done.  Rail's advantages of high capacity in a narrow footprint when compared to highway right of ways, but low speed when compared to air travel, lends itself well to journeys of several hundred miles with strong O&D anchors at each end, especially where population growth has constrained highway expansion and increased demand for air travel.  Holistically, you would want to promote personal vehicle travel (make 'em self driving if you want it to sound sexier) in outlying areas to a rail corridor that services large cities with frequent service, thus reducing traffic in urban cores and freeing up airspace for long-haul flights that in many cases is being used for short-distance connecting service. 

 

I don't mean to say that long distance trains are incompatible, because much of the east would benefit from a system like that.  Northeast to Chicago and southern corridors make perfect sense as long distance trains that can turn over passenger space multiple times across individual markets, eg New York to Richmond, Richmond to Raleigh, Raleigh to Atlanta, to use a hypothetical new train on tracks that already see passenger service.

 

But the flyover states! you say. The money is all going to those rich people on the NEC!  Where is the equality?  But the general flow of money in the government is from the coast inwards.  There is already huge subsidization of the heartland in the form of highways, agricultural subsidies, health care, etc.  These are all paid for by the strength of the megaregions in which mass transit is a major factor in their economic output.  As a national policy, to maximize the impact of transportation funding, it should be directed at projects that will serve high passenger numbers in areas where existing infrastructure is constrained. 

 

There is zero reason for the Sunset Limited to exist.  At 3x/weekly, it is of no functional use in passenger movement between large cities (one of which it completely misses) and it is paralleled by I-10 the entire distance.  You want basic transportation in West Texas?  Stick a bus there.  Run it daily and it will be more useful than the SL has ever been.  Houston, Austin, and DFW are some of the fastest growing regions in the country.  Start trying to connect them, fling money at Texas Central if it helps get the project of the ground faster.  I have not quite reached Philly Amtrak Fan levels of antipathy towards certain routes, but I'm close.

 

In an attempt to drag this back to the Southwest Chief, the idea of splitting the route as it has been presented is about the only thing that could make the situation worse.  You don't improve equipment utilization, you will almost certainly see ridership drop, and you don't improve transportation options for a single person.  If you want to kill the train, do it right, kill the entire thing west of KC, rebuild the rolling stock to a whole pile of coaches, and run as many trains CHI-KC as you possibly can.  It's a perfect market, large cities at both ends, maybe a hair longer than the textbook corridor, but there's no direct interstate, so a train would be far and away the most timely form of ground transportation.

 

Unfortunately, as it stands now, that's legally impossible.  The whole transportation system is fundamentally flawed, and at odds with what I would consider good policy in many cases, but I don't think for a second that the answer is to stick our collective head in the ground and run trains the same way we did the better part of a century ago.  It's just not good public policy, both in terms of the use of taxpayer dollars and in terms of how to efficiently move people.


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#272 Seaboard92

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Posted 30 June 2018 - 07:59 AM

Here is the reason why the Southwest Chief is not the only train Anderson and Gardner have their eyes on. The pair of them have eyes for every train including the ones all of us use more often than the Southwest Chief.

However the Chief will set a bad precedent if we allow it to be bus bridged and discontinued. By allowing the Chief to succumb to that fate we are ourselves opening the door to truncating the Cardinal, the Empire Builder, Sunset Limited, Capitol Limited. And that is a dangerous precedent to set.

We are also setting the precedent that deals with Amtrak are not valued or honored. If you don't want to support the Chief that's on you. But when it's your train in the cross hairs don't be surprised when no one comes to your aid.

Me personally I've never ridden the Chief but it doesn't mean I'm not going to fight for it. I recognize one that by Truncating the Chief like that Anderson and Gardner could then harm my Silver Star because of the precedent. Or they could do serious irreparable damage to my two Portland Long Distance Trains.

And the precedent they are standing by backing out of the Tiger Grant will be harmful in getting new state supported services. So I say lets codify protections for the routes we have because they are essential to mobility in our country. And in the entire system not imploding on itself. Yes they might have limited use to the populous on the route. But they still can and do use it.

We've lost hundreds of trains in our country and the Chief could be the stepping stone to losing them all.
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#273 ParanoidAndroid

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Posted 30 June 2018 - 09:01 AM

The cynical part of me thinks that Amtrak is doomed to a big service cut every 20 years. First, 1979 with the Floridian, NC Hiawatha, Cardinal (before resuscitated), etc. Then 1997 with the Pioneer, Desert Wind, Broadway Limited, etc with the Three Rivers shortly after. I think we're due in for another one pretty soon... :P

Edited by ParanoidAndroid, 30 June 2018 - 09:02 AM.

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#274 brianpmcdonnell17

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Posted 30 June 2018 - 10:07 AM

The cynical part of me thinks that Amtrak is doomed to a big service cut every 20 years. First, 1979 with the Floridian, NC Hiawatha, Cardinal (before resuscitated), etc. Then 1997 with the Pioneer, Desert Wind, Broadway Limited, etc with the Three Rivers shortly after. I think we're due in for another one pretty soon... :P

2004-2005 also brought a few significant losses, including the Three Rivers, the Palmetto south of Savannah, and the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans.
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#275 cpotisch

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Posted 30 June 2018 - 10:10 AM

 

The cynical part of me thinks that Amtrak is doomed to a big service cut every 20 years. First, 1979 with the Floridian, NC Hiawatha, Cardinal (before resuscitated), etc. Then 1997 with the Pioneer, Desert Wind, Broadway Limited, etc with the Three Rivers shortly after. I think we're due in for another one pretty soon... :P

2004-2005 also brought a few significant losses, including the Three Rivers, the Palmetto south of Savannah, and the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans.

 

Well that last one can't really be blamed on Amtrak...


Edited by cpotisch, 30 June 2018 - 11:39 AM.

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#276 lordsigma

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Posted 30 June 2018 - 10:37 AM

If I had to predict what the national network would look like if Anderson got his way this is some thoughts (don't support this direction but just trying to look from his perspective):

 

1) SW Chief and Sunset probably gone or broken up with some corridors. He'd probably keep one Chicago to west coast through train pretty much intact maybe even with full dining service which would fulfill "some room for experiential trains" and give people that still want to go coast to coast an option. Having just one through train left would theoretically increase its utilization and make it less of a money loser. I'd say the likely candidate would probably be the California Zephyr being in the center. Maybe Empire Builder too if lucky. The Coast Starlight could serve to bring passengers to and from the CZ that would have previously taken the other trains.

 

2) Coast Starlight would probably remain.

 

3) Auto Train and Silver Meteor would probably remain. Northeast to Florida remains a good market.

 

4) Silver Star maybe trimmed to maybe a Florida corridor train and a Savannah to Rocky Mount NC corridor connecting to the Meteor.

 

5) Probably retain Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited...maybe Cardinal get axed.

 

6) Crescent, City of New Orleans, and Texas Eagle I am not sure about...



#277 Ryan

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Posted 30 June 2018 - 10:52 AM

The cynical part of me thinks that Amtrak is doomed to a big service cut every 20 years. First, 1979 with the Floridian, NC Hiawatha, Cardinal (before resuscitated), etc. Then 1997 with the Pioneer, Desert Wind, Broadway Limited, etc with the Three Rivers shortly after. I think we're due in for another one pretty soon... :P

2004-2005 also brought a few significant losses, including the Three Rivers, the Palmetto south of Savannah, and the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans.

Well that lost one can't really be blamed on Amtrak...

The fact that the train didn't return when the storm damage was repaired absolutely can be.
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#278 TiBike

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Posted 30 June 2018 - 11:16 AM

 

And the precedent they are standing by backing out of the Tiger Grant will be harmful in getting new state supported services. So I say lets codify protections for the routes we have because they are essential to mobility in our country. And in the entire system not imploding on itself. Yes they might have limited use to the populous on the route. But they still can and do use it.

 

You're going to have come up with a better argument for freezing the long distance network than "essential to mobility in our country". It's not. Last fiscal year, there were 4.6 million passengers on long distance trains, an increase of less than 1%. That's two days worth of airline passengers in 2017 (741.6 million, a 3% increase). And that's only 6 minutes worth of motor vehicle trips (of all kinds) in the U.S. (392 billion annually - 1.1 billion a day - in 2009).

 

As keelhauled well explains above, there are only a handful of portions of LD routes that are even arguably essential. Relatively few communities in the country have long distance train service – there are 19,000 incorporated cities in 3,000 counties in the U.S.

 

If Amtrak service is going to be judged on the basis of "essential to mobility", then you should be looking at chopping up long distance routes, not preserving them in amber. Consider "our" train – the Starlight. Caltrans has train and bus service along that route, from Redding all the way to LA, with more and better scheduled runs, better on time performance, newer and cleaner trains, a more consistent standard of onboard service and better food and drinks (and roll on bike service, for no additional charge, at every station, I must add :-). The Cascades between Eugene and Seattle is arguably better than the California service.

 

That leaves us with Eugene to Redding. You don't need an overnight train from Seattle to LA to provide essential mobility in Dunsmuir, Klamath Falls or Chemult. Particularly an overnight train that bypasses dozens of other communities along the corridor – where does their essential mobility come from? Not from the Starlight.

 

Amtrak is a passenger transportation company. Like any company (or public agency if you prefer), it has limited resources. Those resources should be put to use where they will generate the greatest value. Profit (or reduced loss) is one way to measure value. Another is the greatest good for the greatest number of people – serving the greatest number of people and producing the greatest overall economic impact.

 

There's a good argument to be made that rationally designed rail transportation can have a disproportionately greater economic benefit in rural communities than in already well served urban areas. So passenger rail can serve the greater good in rural areas, too. But it has to be rationally designed to maximise the benefit those communities receive. Simply being a random stop at random hours on a random schedule somewhere between Seattle and LA, or Chicago and LA, doesn't achieve that.


Edited by TiBike, 30 June 2018 - 11:27 AM.

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#279 bretton88

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Posted 30 June 2018 - 12:36 PM

 

And the precedent they are standing by backing out of the Tiger Grant will be harmful in getting new state supported services. So I say lets codify protections for the routes we have because they are essential to mobility in our country. And in the entire system not imploding on itself. Yes they might have limited use to the populous on the route. But they still can and do use it.

 
You're going to have come up with a better argument for freezing the long distance network than "essential to mobility in our country". It's not. Last fiscal year, there were 4.6 million passengers on long distance trains, an increase of less than 1%. That's two days worth of airline passengers in 2017 (741.6 million, a 3% increase). And that's only 6 minutes worth of motor vehicle trips (of all kinds) in the U.S. (392 billion annually - 1.1 billion a day - in 2009).
 
As keelhauled well explains above, there are only a handful of portions of LD routes that are even arguably essential. Relatively few communities in the country have long distance train service – there are 19,000 incorporated cities in 3,000 counties in the U.S.
 
If Amtrak service is going to be judged on the basis of "essential to mobility", then you should be looking at chopping up long distance routes, not preserving them in amber. Consider "our" train – the Starlight. Caltrans has train and bus service along that route, from Redding all the way to LA, with more and better scheduled runs, better on time performance, newer and cleaner trains, a more consistent standard of onboard service and better food and drinks (and roll on bike service, for no additional charge, at every station, I must add :-). The Cascades between Eugene and Seattle is arguably better than the California service.
 
That leaves us with Eugene to Redding. You don't need an overnight train from Seattle to LA to provide essential mobility in Dunsmuir, Klamath Falls or Chemult. Particularly an overnight train that bypasses dozens of other communities along the corridor – where does their essential mobility come from? Not from the Starlight.
 
Amtrak is a passenger transportation company. Like any company (or public agency if you prefer), it has limited resources. Those resources should be put to use where they will generate the greatest value. Profit (or reduced loss) is one way to measure value. Another is the greatest good for the greatest number of people – serving the greatest number of people and producing the greatest overall economic impact.
 
There's a good argument to be made that rationally designed rail transportation can have a disproportionately greater economic benefit in rural communities than in already well served urban areas. So passenger rail can serve the greater good in rural areas, too. But it has to be rationally designed to maximise the benefit those communities receive. Simply being a random stop at random hours on a random schedule somewhere between Seattle and LA, or Chicago and LA, doesn't achieve that.
Nice ideas, however the 750 mile PRIAA minimum is a problem. A lot of these corridors would have to be left up to the states with no guarantee they'll fund them. That's one of the problems Amtrak has to deal with, any train under 750 miles has to be left to the states.

If I won the lottery, I'd probably build a passenger from nowhere to nowhere.


#280 TiBike

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Posted 30 June 2018 - 02:42 PM

Nice ideas, however the 750 mile PRIAA minimum is a problem. A lot of these corridors would have to be left up to the states with no guarantee they'll fund them. That's one of the problems Amtrak has to deal with, any train under 750 miles has to be left to the states.

 

 

OK, there are problems to be solved. I can think of several possibilities:

 

1. Change the law.

 

2. Leave it up to the states – let them decide if Amtrak is important. Those that do, get.

 

3. Work with the states to, as Caltrans puts it, "[develop] contract language that insures consistency with PRIIA Section 209 requirements".

 

4. Recognise, as Amtrak has, that the law specifies "routes" (i.e. "between endpoints") of 750 miles and not "trains". That's how Amtrak can have trains that run between Portland and Spokane, Boston and Albany and San Antonio and New Orleans. By the way, the definition of "long distance routes" does not include "train" or "rail", in contrast to the definitions of other elements of the system. The law also allows Amtrak to contract with "motor carriers" over "routes".

 

I'm sure Amtrak has actual lawyers who can parse this far better than I can, accountants who can more creatively allocate costs, and planners who can think of more and better ideas. But it's a start. Problems are meant to be solved.


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