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Is a coast to coast train feasible?

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When writing about former routes, I encountered a proposal of the Capitol Limited and Southwest Chief being linked in Chicago. This would've given service from Los Angeles all the way to Washington on one train. I don't know if that ever was implemented or it was like the Skyline Connection of 2000?

 

The only coast to coast train was the Sunset Limited from LA to Orlando but that was lost since Katrina.

 

I know that delays are certainly common in LD trains and the longer the train the worse the delays will get. But could any coast to coast train be feasible? Would you rather LA to the Northeast (NYP or WAS) or to Florida (or both)?

 

The SC/CL would be the fastest way to get from the West to the East but the connection time between the SC and CL east would not be practical (3:15 to 6:40pm). A SC/LSL might be more feasible (3:15 to 9 :30pm) and would give LAX/NYP and LAX/BOS instead of LAX/WAS. I might be interested in SC/LSL and CZ/CL (or SC/CL and CZ/LSL). One baby step might be combining either the LSL or CL with the Texas Eagle and giving direct service from the East Coast to Dallas and San Antonio (and St. Louis).

 

The debate of longer LD trains and longer delays vs. having to connect (and possibly miss connections) will probably continue the rest of our lives. But after my experience with missing my connection, I would almost always trend to fewer connections required.

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When writing about former routes, I encountered a proposal of the Capitol Limited and Southwest Chief being linked in Chicago. This would've given service from Los Angeles all the way to Washington on one train. I don't know if that ever was implemented or it was like the Skyline Connection of 2000?

 

The only coast to coast train was the Sunset Limited from LA to Orlando but that was lost since Katrina.

 

I know that delays are certainly common in LD trains and the longer the train the worse the delays will get. But could any coast to coast train be feasible? Would you rather LA to the Northeast (NYP or WAS) or to Florida (or both)?

 

The SC/CL would be the fastest way to get from the West to the East but the connection time between the SC and CL east would not be practical (3:15 to 6:40pm). A SC/LSL might be more feasible (3:15 to 9 :30pm) and would give LAX/NYP and LAX/BOS instead of LAX/WAS. I might be interested in SC/LSL and CZ/CL (or SC/CL and CZ/LSL). One baby step might be combining either the LSL or CL with the Texas Eagle and giving direct service from the East Coast to Dallas and San Antonio (and St. Louis).

 

The debate of longer LD trains and longer delays vs. having to connect (and possibly miss connections) will probably continue the rest of our lives. But after my experience with missing my connection, I would almost always trend to fewer connections required.

 

 

What you read was utilized as run through equipment. In other words, the inbound Chief's equipment was utilized as the outbound Capitol Limited on the same day. This practice ended due to reliability issues. Passengers detrained at CHI while the equipment was serviced so it wasn't true coast to coast service.

 

 

As for using the eastern long distance fleet to run anywhere west, you'd need a lot more equipment to make this feasible. Remember, the Superliner fleet can't realistically operate on most sections of the NEC, so shipping the equipment that can across the country is not a good idea.

Edited by Thirdrail7

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The potential for incredible delays enroute is so great (see pre-Katrina Sunset Limited) that I don't think it's worth it. Better to make the connection experience in Chicago (or New Orleans, etc.) better and more pleasant than to combine a western and eastern long distance train.

 

(Don't forget that all long distance trains in the west use Superliner equipment and most long distance trains in the east do not.)

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I think I prefer doing connections/layovers to break up the trip.

 

I would assume any California to North East train would have a significant layover (4-5 hours) in Chicago to change crews, clean the train, restock food, etc. so you'd still be able to get off the train if you wish.

 

Can Superliners be used on the LSL? If not, you would have to change the corresponding western train to Viewliner. Hopefully the new Viewliners can change all differences in LD trains.

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I think I prefer doing connections/layovers to break up the trip.

I prefer connections as well. As much as I enjoy traveling I can only take so much continuous travel at any one time. Being stuck on the train for days on end saps my interest and energy. I schedule connections for long trips on aircraft as well. After ten hours or so I've had my fill and need to get off and explore something larger and more stationary than a train or plane. I suppose I might feel differently on a massive cruise ship but I've never been curious enough to book such a thing and so far as I am aware there is no coast-to-coast option in this context.

 

 

The potential for incredible delays enroute is so great (see pre-Katrina Sunset Limited) that I don't think it's worth it. Better to make the connection experience in Chicago (or New Orleans, etc.) better and more pleasant than to combine a western and eastern long distance train.

Agreed. And on that note CHI has a long way to go before it's anything I'd call pleasant. Hopefully the new lounges and other renovations will go a long way toward reaching that goal.

 

 

Hopefully the new Viewliners can change all differences in LD trains.

How do you figure?

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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I think I prefer doing connections/layovers to break up the trip.

I would assume any California to North East train would have a significant layover (4-5 hours) in Chicago to change crews, clean the train, restock food, etc. so you'd still be able to get off the train if you wish.

How is this different than what is done now with connections?

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I prefer connections as well. As much as I enjoy traveling I can only take so much continuous travel at any one time. Being stuck on the train continuously for days on end saps my energy. I schedule connections for long trips on aircraft as well. After ten hours or so I've had my fill and need to get off and explore something larger and more stationary than a train or plane. I suppose I might feel differently on a massive cruise ship but I've never been curious enough to book such a thing.

Though my longest trip on planes was recent (coast to coast) I already knew that I would not like being in the plane more than 4 hours and even that is pushing it. Which is why I went PHL to SJC via MSP & SLC. Plus I love take offs and landings.

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I think I prefer doing connections/layovers to break up the trip.

I would assume any California to North East train would have a significant layover (4-5 hours) in Chicago to change crews, clean the train, restock food, etc. so you'd still be able to get off the train if you wish.

How is this different than what is done now with connections?

 

 

You would be guaranteed to not miss your connection.

 

If Train A and Train B are connected, then you would never miss the connection between A and B but if A is delayed by more than the built in layover, B is delayed.

 

If Train A and Train B are not connected, you would not have the delays on Train B because of Train A but if you miss the connection you're really screwed.

 

I missed a connection but luckily there's tons of trains along the NEC. In most cases you're not as lucky. I remember the Empire Builder was not en route to get into Chicago until 10:00pm last Sunday so any of them having to go East were really screwed.

 

Six of one and half dozen of the other.

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I prefer connections as well. As much as I enjoy traveling I can only take so much continuous travel at any one time. Being stuck on the train continuously for days on end saps my energy. I schedule connections for long trips on aircraft as well. After ten hours or so I've had my fill and need to get off and explore something larger and more stationary than a train or plane. I suppose I might feel differently on a massive cruise ship but I've never been curious enough to book such a thing.

Though my longest trip on planes was recent (coast to coast) I already knew that I would not like being in the plane more than 4 hours and even that is pushing it. Which is why I went PHL to SJC via MSP & SLC. Plus I love take offs and landings.

 

 

I am totally scared of landings. The plane plummets to the ground at top speed, it's like going down on a roller coaster. Isn't that when most accidents happen? It's one thing to change trains but changing planes is a whole different matter.

 

I can see one connection but two?

Edited by Philly Amtrak Fan

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Can Superliners be used on the LSL? If not, you would have to change the corresponding western train to Viewliner. Hopefully the new Viewliners can change all differences in LD trains.

 

 

Superliner cannot be used on the LSL, at least not east/south of ALB. And cannot serve high level platforms at SYR and ALB (and coming at ROC). So really not the best idea east of BUF.

 

What do you mean about Viewliners changing differences?

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I am totally scared of landings. The plane plummets to the ground at top speed, it's like going down on a roller coaster. Isn't that when most accidents happen?

 

That's not quite how it works. :)

 

The plane decreases speed as it descends (when you "circle" the airport, that's what it's doing). You can actually feel the plane slow down quite a bit shortly before it starts final approach. To me, it always feels like we're stopping in mid-air because I can hear the engines change pitch. They make this low, growling noise. That's usually a good signal that you're about to land.

 

Then, the plane comes in fast, yes, but it's not nearly as fast as it's going while in the air. A 747's speed is about 150 mph when it comes in for a landing. When it's at cruising altitude, it's usually traveling between 480 - 560 mph. It feels like it's going "top speed" to you because your visual cues are messing with you. When you're high up in the air, the distance to the ground makes it look like you're barely moving, so when you start getting closer and closer to the ground, it appears that you're going faster.

 

Have you ever watched a bird land on a wire? They slow down, flap their wings a bit, and touch down. A plane does pretty much the same thing, only the flaps on the wings act as the flappy bit instead of the pilot actually flapping the wings. ;) Plus, the plane has brakes.

 

Yes, according to things I've read, most crashes occur during takeoff and landing, but many more people survive those crashes than you'd think. The survival rate, as of 2013, was 95.7%.

 

I'm sure saxman, other pilots, and others with more flight experience will weigh in with some corrections and clarifications, but that's how I've always experienced landings. I read a lot and watch a lot of videos because I love flying so much. :) I actually LOVE takeoffs and landings and think the part in the air is kind of boring, so I really don't mind connections. More fun stuff and less boring stuff. ;)

Edited by SarahZ

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When writing about former routes, I encountered a proposal of the Capitol Limited and Southwest Chief being linked in Chicago. This would've given service from Los Angeles all the way to Washington on one train. I don't know if that ever was implemented or it was like the Skyline Connection of 2000?

 

The only coast to coast train was the Sunset Limited from LA to Orlando but that was lost since Katrina.

 

I know that delays are certainly common in LD trains and the longer the train the worse the delays will get. But could any coast to coast train be feasible? Would you rather LA to the Northeast (NYP or WAS) or to Florida (or both)?

 

The SC/CL would be the fastest way to get from the West to the East but the connection time between the SC and CL east would not be practical (3:15 to 6:40pm). A SC/LSL might be more feasible (3:15 to 9 :30pm) and would give LAX/NYP and LAX/BOS instead of LAX/WAS. I might be interested in SC/LSL and CZ/CL (or SC/CL and CZ/LSL). One baby step might be combining either the LSL or CL with the Texas Eagle and giving direct service from the East Coast to Dallas and San Antonio (and St. Louis).

 

The debate of longer LD trains and longer delays vs. having to connect (and possibly miss connections) will probably continue the rest of our lives. But after my experience with missing my connection, I would almost always trend to fewer connections required.

 

 

What you read was utilized as run through equipment. In other words, the inbound Chief's equipment was utilized as the outbound Capitol Limited on the same day. This practice ended due to reliability issues. Passengers detrained at CHI while the equipment was serviced so it wasn't true coast to coast service.

 

 

As for using the eastern long distance fleet to run anywhere west, you'd need a lot more equipment to make this feasible. Remember, the Superliner fleet can't realistically operate on most sections of the NEC, so shipping the equipment that can across the country is not a good idea.

 

 

I found this recently.

 

http://www.trainweb.com/routes/route_15.html

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In the 1950s and early 1960s, the private railroads had numerous coast to coast Sleeping Cars that ran via New York Central, Pennsylvania and B&O from the east to Chicago and Santa Fe, C&NW-CMSP&P-UP and CRI&P-SP from Chicago to west coast points. In some cases the Sleeping Cars were switched from one station to another in Chicago. Fortunately, the timekeeping was much better than with Amtrak so the through service kept it schedule. There were many other through Sleeping cars from east coast points such as New York and Washington to Texas points such as Dallas, El Paso, Houston, San Antonio and even Mexico City that switched railroads at St. Louis Union Station. The Crescent - Sunset Limited also provided through Sleeping Car Service via the New Orleans gateway from New York to Los Angeles (without an overnight stay in New Orleans). But that was when passenger trains were operated for the convenience of the passenger and not the convenience of the railroad.

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That was also the time when railroads even by sleeper were the most affordable way to travel cross country. That is not the case anymore. I doubt that such a service could be sustained other than as a vanity service today.

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There's no point in running very long single routes; too few people will take them, and the people who do take them are travelling in a leisurely enough fashion that they'll probably appreciate the layover.

 

A single-overnight which drops you off in Chicago's West Loop or midtown Manhattan can be close enough in "daytime used" to flying; a double-overnight cannot.

 

I've actually suggested splitting the California Zephyr at Denver for this reason -- anyone going through would probably appreciate the layover -- but it doesn't make sense unless Denver becomes enough of a "hub" for trains running in all directions that Amtrak can justify a maintenance base.

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There's no point in running very long single routes; too few people will take them, and the people who do take them are travelling in a leisurely enough fashion that they'll probably appreciate the layover.

 

I've actually suggested splitting the California Zephyr at Denver for this reason -- anyone going through would probably appreciate the layover -- but it doesn't make sense unless Denver becomes enough of a "hub" for trains running in all directions that Amtrak can justify a maintenance base.

 

They won't appreciate the layover if they miss their connection like I did in WAS and have to go to a ticket counter in a crowded station and have to change plans. And that was with trains going north around every hour. Imagine getting stuck in CHI going east or west.

 

Maybe the CZ can build a 3 hour layover in DEN each way. This will give them around a two hour buffer each way for trains running late and if you are boarding at DEN you have that much less chance to wait for your train. I can see a similar situation in MSP for the EB (it's not halfway but halfway would be somewhere in the middle of nowhere and MSP seems to be one of the busiest intermediate points) or in KCY for the SWC.

 

I'm not as sure about the CZ but it's clear from the Crescent report that passengers travel much more between ATL and NYP than NOL and ATL. That would make sense for a split for that reason except that you have nowhere to store the trains in ATL and according to the Crescent PRIAA the train station in ATL is lousy and I would feel sorry for passengers having to transfer there.

 

So if they do get the SL back and running between NOL and ORL (or JAX), would you split it somewhere or let it run coast to coast like the old days? If you do split it, I actually think SAS is a more logical split than NOL because then you can minimize the TE delays. Unless you drastically change the SL schedule, the connection in NOL is overnight to the Crescent.
Edited by Philly Amtrak Fan

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Three hours can sometimes not even be enough to make up the lost time en route. There has to be a balance between having one seat rides (convenience and no worry of making a connection) and ability to keep reliability (if, for example, the Capitol Limited and Empire Builder are linked, a long delay in Montana destroys timekeeping all the way to WAS.)

 

Chicago is not a bad place to have transfers. Even those going through Chicago have different enough destinations that linking trains would only benefit a small percentage of passengers at the cost of even more unreliable timekeeping.

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Three hours can sometimes not even be enough to make up the lost time en route. There has to be a balance between having one seat rides (convenience and no worry of making a connection) and ability to keep reliability (if, for example, the Capitol Limited and Empire Builder are linked, a long delay in Montana destroys timekeeping all the way to WAS.)

 

Chicago is not a bad place to have transfers. Even those going through Chicago have different enough destinations that linking trains would only benefit a small percentage of passengers at the cost of even more unreliable timekeeping.

 

According to the Chicago Gateway report, 15,988 passengers from the Capitol Limited connected to the Southwest Chief and 15,212 connected to the California Zephyr. The total number of passengers in Chicago was 153,397. So roughly 10% of CL passengers continue on either the SWC or CZ.

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That equals about 44 a day, some coach and some sleeper, that connect from the CL to the SWC. The count is about equal to the CZ. That's not a small amount, but also a small percentage of the number of people who take those trains overall. Amtrak really doesn't have enough spare cars to have an extra coach and sleeper around if there's a misconnect or a close connection. You also don't really want to hold the train too long either, as then you cause delays for everyone on the connecting train, including those upline. You also can't just run without those cars most days, as that space would almost certainly be sold at some point down the line on the connecting train, and those passengers need their paid for accommodation.

 

The delay factor from holding a train (or having an extended train) is an important one. It's a lot harder to hold a railroad accountable for delays if they get the train into their territory late. I don't know of any routes that would share a host railroad both east and west of Chicago. As such, if a train was late east of Chicago, and that delay caused it to be late leaving Chicago, that train would almost certainly become more late as it went on.

 

I believe in the either the text or one of the videos to the Chicago Gateway study Amtrak mentioned that they're holding trains to make connections less often, as it is better to get the trains out on time and suffer through some misconnected passengers than to delay the train for everyone. With that reality, it's better to force the connection and work through misconnects than to strive for connections and delay many more other people in the process.

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I've actually suggested splitting the California Zephyr at Denver for this reason -- anyone going through would probably appreciate the layover -- but it doesn't make sense unless Denver becomes enough of a "hub" for trains running in all directions that Amtrak can justify a maintenance base.

 

I might consider that idea if (and big if) you bring back Denver-Los Angeles via Vegas (Desert Wind). Have a Chicago-Denver train and then have one going to San Fran and the other to Los Angeles. Add back Denver-Seattle (Pioneer) and you might be able to make Denver your hub as you suggested similar to Chicago. Have three trains leave DEN around the afternoon, one to the Bay, one to LA, and one to Seattle. The eastbound trains would then arrive in Denver around midday to allow the connection in Denver. You can also split the trains at SLC but the arrival times to/from DEN are lousy. What kind of hub would you have if only one train went in and one train left?

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If Denver were to become a hub, we can also do:

 

 

Denver to Albuquerque

Denver to Billings via Chyenne

Denver to Dallas via Amarillo

Denver to St. Louis via Kansas City

 

Denver to Chicago via Omaha

Denver to Los Angeles

Denver to Oakland

Denver to Seattle via Boise, and Portland

 

 

Now we going to need a bigger station.

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A 60-hour service LAX-WAS isn't quite as insane as it sounds: The scheduled runtime of the SWC is 43:00 LAX-CHI, and the Cap is 17:25 CHI-WAS, for a total of 60:25. The other way around you get 17:40 and 43:15, for 60:55. If cutting stops allows you to drop two hours from the overall timetable but you re-insert that time as a modest hold at CHI (cutting 38 intermediate stops and averaging 3 minutes each gives you 1:54 to work with) you actually get an in-theory-workable timetable with, quite possibly, only three hosts (CSX WAS-PGH, NS PGH-CHI, and BNSF CHI-LAX) excluding some localized commuter situations. I don't think an all-CSX routing WAS-CHI would be workable, or you could knock that down to two host railroads...which would probably help immensely with host issues.

 

So it is, in theory, doable (Amtrak has teased inter-operating the Chief and Cap on a few occasions, I believe). Whether practical for issues of knock-on delays is another issue entirely.

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