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Grand Canyon Railway to discontinue Amtrak shuttle service

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Edited by BCL

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

Edited by PVD

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Williams+Junction/@35.2426383,-112.1317934,158m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x87329dd1effdff43:0xae3a956ea3b6b0a8!8m2!3d35.2425875!4d-112.1318239

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Williams+Junction/@35.2426383,-112.1317934,158m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x87329dd1effdff43:0xae3a956ea3b6b0a8!8m2!3d35.2425875!4d-112.1318239

 

 

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

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Good on you cobber.

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

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Good on you cobber.

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Edited by neroden

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

I'm not sure I understand the problem.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Edited by neroden

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

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Amtrak Forum

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

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Amtrak Forum

Yeah. I suspect that the real problem is that the number of hotel customers arriving and departing by Amtrak is not worth the bother.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Amtrak Forum

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It also sounds like a not-insignificant portion of people would stay in the lobby instead of renting a room, at least for one of the evenings/mornings. Moving it to Flagstaff means that they now are waiting in the Amtrak station instead and not spending hours in the lobby just hanging out.

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The business in question laid out a fairly reasonable and coherent explanation for why they're discontinuing this service. I didn't see anything controversial or implausible in their statement so I'm willing to take it at face value and assume that they've weighed their options and come to what they consider to be a reasonable path forward. Williams is an unusual stop focused on a rather niche passenger in a location with very limited services, so it doesn't seem that surprising that it might become more trouble than it's worth to a company that merely inherited it as part of a larger purchase.

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I can vouch for the fact that having waited for a 4 hour late Train 3 the other night, that the benches in Flagstaff station are very uncomfortable. The lobby of the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel is far more cushy! Otherwise, Flagstaff is a decent station. I haven't seen the numbers, but with the exception of tour groups, I don't believe the numbers of Amtrak passengers is very high at Williams. I have boarded the eastbound train at Williams with only one other passenger.

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The cost and responsibility for plowing the road to keep it open all year was probably not insignificant for small numbers of passengers.

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The cost and responsibility for plowing the road to keep it open all year was probably not insignificant for small numbers of passengers.

 

I wonder if they'd be open to making it a seasonal stop...that eliminates the plowing/shoveling issue, and taps into the summer tourist customer base. It wouldn't be the only Amtrak seasonal stop, so there's certainly precedence for it. (That said, from the company's rhetoric they sound like they just want to wash their hands of it entirely.)

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The cost and responsibility for plowing the road to keep it open all year was probably not insignificant for small numbers of passengers.

 

I wonder if they'd be open to making it a seasonal stop...that eliminates the plowing/shoveling issue, and taps into the summer tourist customer base. It wouldn't be the only Amtrak seasonal stop, so there's certainly precedence for it. (That said, from the company's rhetoric they sound like they just want to wash their hands of it entirely.)

 

I'm pretty sure that they could make up for whatever shortfall with more marketing.

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Now here's a possibly stupid question: How complicated and problematic would it be for the GCR to secure trackage rights over the BNSF "Peavine" from Williams to Williams Jct.? There is only one, maybe two road freights a day in each direction along there so surely there's capacity. I don't know what the track diagrams look like for William but if there were an extra track (already there or added) for the GCR train, people could wait on the train for their Amtrak connection.

 

To me, this whole thing seems like it ought to be a no brainer. But adding or alternating rail service patterns seems to be so complicated. It wasn't complicated decades ago when the railroads were still young. If they saw an opportunity,they just did it. I wish there were a way to unwind and eliminate some of our strict regulations and red tape.

 

regards,

fred m cain

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Lots of things are possible. The approx 6 mile roundtrip detour, while done in a few other places, would be time consuming. Under the present setup, a fence divides the tracks in downtown Williams and it would take another backup move to access the GCR platform, which if delayed would interfere with their operations. There is nothing wrong with the present shuttle arrangement other than the odd hours going east and the logistics to run it. Not likely to happen, I would think.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Amtrak Forum

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