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CHamilton

Grand Canyon Railway to discontinue Amtrak shuttle service

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As someone who has used the shuttle and stayed at their hotel multiple times I can say that #1 I can understand the issue with guests lounging in the lobby waiting for the shuttle.

 

But #2, I was a guest of the hotel as well, and used the service. I don't find it more convenient to go to flagstaff, and think this "director" is very out of touch with his hotel guests.

 

I'm shocked they don't want to continue the service for their own hotel guests / train riders.

Edited by crescent-zephyr

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Is this a paid service? I am not familiar with the shuttle service.

Edited by zepherdude

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As I understand it, the hotel is under contract with Amtrak to provide the van ( or full size bus, if there is a large crowd) and to keep the Forest Service road plowed in the winter. The cost of the van service is included in the Amtrak ticket. I can see some of their points, but feel this is regressive. I have used the service before and I was not a hotel guest or Grand Canyon railway passenger. It is a good place to park One's car. ( the hotel that is, not the station stop location.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Amtrak Forum

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Probably means no more stop at WMJ. Can't help wonder if Amtrak was behind this.

 

We used it a few years ago SWC from Los Angeles, GCRY to the South Rim for a couple of nights and back Even though the arrival from LA was at "oh-dark-thirty", we had a good experience and I'd do it again. I'd prefer that to the Flagstaff option. I'd still do it if they (or someone) charged for the service.

 

In the article they state, "deal with wear and tear on the vehicles.” Three miles each way; two round trips a day. How much wear and tear is that? I'm sure those same vans get a lot more use by the hotel during the day!

 

FYI... According to NARP, WMJ had slightly more than 8,000 passenger arrivals/departures in 2016.

https://www.narprail.org/site/assets/files/2634/wmj.pdf

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The full size bus they were using a few years ago was one that I used to drive at Grand Canyon. It was pretty old. I agree that if this goes through it will probably end Amtrak service to Williams. I stopped there early this morning in the way from Flagstaff to LA.

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I heard that was going to happen while I was on the SWC this month. Another reason that was given is the SWC not being able to maintain any kind of 'on time' service.....this causes the hotel to be on call 7/24. No surprise here.

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January 10, 2012

Arrival at from Los Angeles at WMJ

6784106341_690a90feb2_z.jpgIMG_3947 by John, on Flickr

 

January 13, 2012. My wife and I were the only passengers headed back to LA.

The temperature was something below 20°F.

6784743919_ff71605f90_z.jpgIMG_5703 by John, on Flickr

Edited by FrensicPic

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I also used this service a few years back coming from the midwest, stayed at the hotel, took their train to the Grand Canyon and back the next day and then continued on to Los Angeles. I told a friend how much I enjoyed the trip and he was able to do a similar trip with his wife after that. I was planning on going back again someday. A shame.

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In the article they state, "deal with wear and tear on the vehicles.” Three miles each way; two round trips a day. How much wear and tear is that? I'm sure those same vans get a lot more use by the hotel during the day!

 

 

Short trips aren't known for being very good for engines. There's condensation after shutdown if the engine doesn't reach full operating temperature - especially when the outside temps are cold. Theoretically they could keep the engine running to allow for the engine to reach full operating temperatures, but then that would create other issues like wasting fuel as well as excessive idling being tough on an engine - although maybe not as bad with modern engines controls.

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In the article they state, "deal with wear and tear on the vehicles.” Three miles each way; two round trips a day. How much wear and tear is that? I'm sure those same vans get a lot more use by the hotel during the day!

 

 

Short trips aren't known for being very good for engines. There's condensation after shutdown if the engine doesn't reach full operating temperature - especially when the outside temps are cold. Theoretically they could keep the engine running to allow for the engine to reach full operating temperatures, but then that would create other issues like wasting fuel as well as excessive idling being tough on an engine - although maybe not as bad with modern engines controls.

 

Well yes, the kept the engine running for us while there at the platform!

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In the article they state, "deal with wear and tear on the vehicles.” Three miles each way; two round trips a day. How much wear and tear is that? I'm sure those same vans get a lot more use by the hotel during the day!

 

 

Short trips aren't known for being very good for engines. There's condensation after shutdown if the engine doesn't reach full operating temperature - especially when the outside temps are cold. Theoretically they could keep the engine running to allow for the engine to reach full operating temperatures, but then that would create other issues like wasting fuel as well as excessive idling being tough on an engine - although maybe not as bad with modern engines controls.

 

Well yes, the kept the engine running for us while there at the platform!

 

 

That's pretty typical to maintain the heat in winter. I mean - the driver probably isn't going to enjoy sitting in a cold bus waiting, and of course the passengers would sure appreciate it being warm.

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I'm sure the #1 problem is non-hotel guests hanging in the lobby waiting at such odd hours. As was said... non-guests sleeping on lobby couches and making hotel staff uncomfortable. I can see that being an issue. But I wish there was a way to keep the service and fix the problem.

 

When I arrived this past February at 4 something AM I asked about an early check-in (I was staying in the hotel the next 2 nights) and they let me check in no problem (I've never had a hotel deny me an early check in if they have the room available). I raved to my friends about the easy door to door service and how convenient it was.

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I'm sure the #1 problem is non-hotel guests hanging in the lobby waiting at such odd hours. As was said... non-guests sleeping on lobby couches and making hotel staff uncomfortable. I can see that being an issue. But I wish there was a way to keep the service and fix the problem.

 

When I arrived this past February at 4 something AM I asked about an early check-in (I was staying in the hotel the next 2 nights) and they let me check in no problem (I've never had a hotel deny me an early check in if they have the room available). I raved to my friends about the easy door to door service and how convenient it was.

In our trip a few years ago, we also got an early check-in. We weren't' going to ride the GCRY until the next day. Those going out on GCRY the same day are the ones in the lobby. On our return, we spent several hours in the lobby waiting for Amtrak's 10 pm or so westbound arrival/departure.

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Supposedly they're going to try to rely on the shuttles which run from Flagstaff to Williams.

 

I still suspect this is going to kill Grand Canyon Railway ridership, unless they contract with one of the Flagstaff-Williams shuttle operators to be on-call 24/7.

Edited by neroden

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Based on the article, I doubt they'll be picking people up when the train arrives in Flagstaff - it wouldn't resolve most of the issues they're claiming they want to resolve. People will instead wait at the Amtrak station in Flagstaff, from the sounds of it, until morning.

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So their plan is to kill their ridership? I checked: there is no van service from Flagstaff to Williams which arrives before the departure of the Grand Canyon Railway train. They'd have to specifically contract for one, in which case I don't see them saving money. If they don't specifically charter one, they're just setting fire to their ridership.

 

I guess I'd better take the Grand Canyon Railway before they shut down completely. Throwing away 11 passengers per day is significant to a tourist railway -- and probably even more significant for the hotel.

Edited by neroden

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So their plan is to kill their ridership? I checked: there is no van service from Flagstaff to Williams which arrives before the departure of the Grand Canyon Railway train. They'd have to specifically contract for one, in which case I don't see them saving money. If they don't specifically charter one, they're just setting fire to their ridership.

 

I guess I'd better take the Grand Canyon Railway before they shut down completely. Throwing away 11 passengers per day is significant to a tourist railway -- and probably even more significant for the hotel.

I would imagine more than 95 percent of their passengers arrive by car. The loss of eleven passengers per day won't even be a blip on their total ridership. Nevertheless, loss of the connection to Williams Jct. is a setback. Is the operation of the shuttle bus/van that expensive? Since a large percentage of the bus ridership will be riding the train and staying at the hotel, this seems like a foolish move on Grand Canyon Railway's part.

Edited by MikefromCrete

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It would be nice to know what numbers GCR is looking at in terms of actual usage and actual costs and revenues. I doubt that a huge proportion of the clientele of GCR actually arrives and departs by Amtrak. Indeed it is probably a rather small to negligible proportion. For example, I have never arrived or departed by Amtrak to ride the GCR. I have ridden it several times, and each time the train was fairly full.

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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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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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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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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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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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