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Fire Richard Anderson Campaign?

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25 minutes ago, TiBike said:

The SW Chief bus bridge was feasible as a means of providing whatever essential service was needed in the gap. That's my only point. That said, we don't know what the service would have looked like – maybe redesigned to be individually optimised for the two rail segments? – or what would have happened to ridership or profitability. Everyone here might have an opinion, but no one knows.

Which towns on Amtrak's long distance network are only accessible by "slow, windy roads that are dangerous in the harsh winters for a small sedan"? I'll bet you a beer that in any town you can point to, Amtrak long distance service accounts for less than 1% of the passenger trips in and out of the town limits every day. Some towns on the long distance network are relatively small and remote, but I can't think of a single one that would qualify as small and remote by rural development standards (that's really small and remote). Amtrak does not go to Ice Station Zebra.

But here's the thing: you live in Alta California, which is not exactly out of the way, remote, or lacking in transportation infrastructure. So I don't think you can really speak to how easy it would be for someone who does live in a tiny town without nearby airports or highways to lose their train service. That said, I guess I'm in the same pickle. ;)

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41 minutes ago, TiBike said:

The SW Chief bus bridge was feasible as a means of providing whatever essential service was needed in the gap. That's my only point. That said, we don't know what the service would have looked like – maybe redesigned to be individually optimised for the two rail segments? – or what would have happened to ridership or profitability. Everyone here might have an opinion, but no one knows.

The bus bridge would have lost anyone who can't spend hours a bus, anyone who wants through-service and doesn't want to transfer at all in the middle of their trip (let alone twice), anyone who likes comfortable travel in a sleeper, and more. I think it's safe to say that anyone who doesn't absolutely positively have to use land transport, would not take a two night trip with two transfers to and from two busses.

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12 minutes ago, cpotisch said:

The bus bridge would have lost anyone who can't spend hours a bus, anyone who wants through-service and doesn't want to transfer at all in the middle of their trip (let alone twice), anyone who likes comfortable travel in a sleeper, and more. I think it's safe to say that anyone who doesn't absolutely positively have to use land transport, would not take a two night trip with two transfers to and from two busses.

Exactly. It's one thing to look at BNSF's desire to no longer maintain the Raton route and find it makes more sense to push on BNSF for a reroute on the transcon instead of paying millions to maintain that portion of the route for two trains a day. That's a case where it could be argued that a reroute with connecting bus service for those going to/from bypassed stations makes the most sense. (And yes, I still think that if BNSF wants to abandon the Raton route that they should be obliged to offer similar speed/frequency on an alternate route at a similar price.)

It's quite another to look at the situation and push for an option that doesn't have any clear path to improved connectivity and actively harms connectivity for many passengers. After all, it doesn't seem like there'd be enough trainsets freed up to really do anything in terms of improved service (we'd gain back, at best, one to two trainsets.) It also doesn't do anything to improve connectivity (a single bus each day isn't any better than a single train each day, and there wasn't any mention I can recall of improved frequency with bus service.) However, it actively reduces ease of use for anyone traveling through the connecting points and would almost certainly have a negative impact on through ridership.

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But here's the thing: you live in Alta California, which is not exactly out of the way, remote, or lacking in transportation infrastructure. So I don't think you can really speak to how easy it would be for someone who does live in a tiny town without nearby airports or highways to lose their train service. That said, I guess I'm in the same pickle.

Yes. Until residents of small towns weigh in on their transportation needs, we’re only spouting opinions, statistics, and projections. Are there AUers who live in small-town areas who do/don’t have Amtrak service, and are there AUers who live in small-town areas without Interstates or U.S./state highways capable of bus travel?
As social justice advocates say, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

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11 hours ago, Pere Flyer said:


Yes. Until residents of small towns weigh in on their transportation needs, we’re only spouting opinions, statistics, and projections. Are there AUers who live in small-town areas who do/don’t have Amtrak service, and are there AUers who live in small-town areas without Interstates or U.S./state highways capable of bus travel?
As social justice advocates say, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

But yet small towns are why we have R’s in charge. Red states go out of their way not to improve infrastructure. Yes it’s a loaded generalized response but for the most part true. Hopefully Amtrak finally is a bipartisan issue at least  on the federal level (Senate and House).

Personally I’ve seen it both ways. In San Diego with great Amtrak service almost every 2 hours to LA. Now in Quad Cities, Iowa /Moline area where we have to drive 45 minutes to Galesburg to hop a train to Chicago. Iowa said no thanks to Amtrak service while the Moline to Chicago train is still a few years out.

One thing is for sure Amtrak is a HUGE boost to Galesburg and all the shops downtown.

Edited by Amtrakfflyer

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2 hours ago, cpotisch said:

The bus bridge would have lost anyone who can't spend hours a bus, anyone who wants through-service and doesn't want to transfer at all in the middle of their trip (let alone twice), anyone who likes comfortable travel in a sleeper, and more. I think it's safe to say that anyone who doesn't absolutely positively have to use land transport, would not take a two night trip with two transfers to and from two busses.

Yes wasn't part of the plan to remove sleepers, dining, and baggage from the whole service as part of this?

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4 hours ago, cpotisch said:

I think it's safe to say that anyone who doesn't absolutely positively have to use land transport, would not take a two night trip with two transfers to and from two busses.

Why, as a national transportation policy, should we be subsidizing anyone other than those people?  We already subsidize rural infrastructure and society to a huge extent through road spending, agricultural subsidies, healthcare spending, etc.  Why is it prudent spending to fling more money at long distance trains, which are completely redundant and in almost all cases nowhere near essential transportation? Insofar as the federal government has an obligation to ensure that a its citizens have access to mobility--which I do believe that it does--why should it be obligated to provide that service in the form of trains, when other modes of transport are more cost effective and in many cases more reliable?

The fundamental advantage of railroads is that they have an extremely high throughput capacity, at the cost of an extremely high physical investment.  The only way the investment can be justified is if the capacity is utilized, and there is no scenario in which long distance trains do that.  The capacity is paid for and used by private freight operators, in which case as we see happens across the country passenger trains become horribly tardy and of complete uselessness to anyone who wants reliable transportation, which I assume would be everybody.  Or, the investment is made publicly, but for the purpose of only an extremely limited use of the infrastructure, ie Raton Pass, in which case the subsidy per passenger becomes spectacularly, and I would argue unjustifiably, high.

I am speaking from the point of view of someone who has lived in rural Vermont, New York, and now Colorado, all of which have been served by single daily passenger trains, and all of which I used extremely infrequently in favor of either buses or personal vehicles.  Almost universally I found it more efficient to drive or use a bus to Northeast Corridor points for transportation within the region.  Trains are horrible as a feeder service.  Either you do it cheaply with one train a day, which appeals to a tiny subset of the market that can afford to have extremely flexible schedules, or you use multiple frequencies that cost more, carry few people at a time, and could be replaced at great savings by buses. 

Look at what happened to the Downeaster when it was extended to Brunswick--there are about 20 passengers on each train east of Brunswick (calculated from the three roundtrips daily that previously operated).  With 306 seats (4x 72 seat coaches and 18 BC seats), that is a 6.5% load factor.  6.5%!!!  They spent $35 million on the project, then another $9 million to get two more round trips to Brunswick this fall.  The entire train generated $8.6 million in revenue last year.  How can you possibly justify expenditures like that for so few people? 

Trains are just an awful fiscal decision for low density traffic.  So what is the point of long distance trains as a public service?  What is the justification for subsidizing the segment of travelers who are riding for the experience, or because they have time to kill and choose trains as personal preference?  Why are they not paying full freight?  And why is a train so critically important for the remainder of passengers, those who do require ground transportation for a certain city pair that the train serves, that we should pay for such an inefficient mode of transport? There is nothing inherent about long distance train service that supports towns and cities, certainly not more than an effective highway network, which the United States just so happens to already have across a much larger area of the country than the Amtrak network.

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Weighing in as someone whose home is very rural--a mile from the nearest neighbor, 1 1/2 hours drive to the nearest airport, 2 1/1 hours to the nearest Amtrak station....

What I want from rail is similar to what I want from air travel: Drive or catch a ride to the nearest station, leave the car there, and board a train that connects me with a national travel network. (I'd be thrilled if I could drive just 10 miles to the nearest rail line (in Hot Springs), park and catch a train, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for that. ^_^)

Something that's been missing from this thread: As fossil fuels become more scarce and expensive, train transport has the potential to become much more economically attractive than either air or car-or-truck. If we don't make it a national priority to hang on to at least the national rail infrastructure  we've currently got, we won't be able to increase frequencies and passenger loads as rail travel's fuel efficiencies become more compelling.

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9 hours ago, keelhauled said:

The fundamental advantage of railroads is that they have an extremely high throughput capacity, at the cost of an extremely high physical investment.  The only way the investment can be justified is if the capacity is utilized, and there is no scenario in which long distance trains do that.  The capacity is paid for and used by private freight operators, in which case as we see happens across the country passenger trains become horribly tardy and of complete uselessness to anyone who wants reliable transportation, which I assume would be everybody.  Or, the investment is made publicly, but for the purpose of only an extremely limited use of the infrastructure, ie Raton Pass, in which case the subsidy per passenger becomes spectacularly, and I would argue unjustifiably, high.

-- snip --

Trains are just an awful fiscal decision for low density traffic.  So what is the point of long distance trains as a public service?  What is the justification for subsidizing the segment of travelers who are riding for the experience, or because they have time to kill and choose trains as personal preference?  Why are they not paying full freight?  And why is a train so critically important for the remainder of passengers, those who do require ground transportation for a certain city pair that the train serves, that we should pay for such an inefficient mode of transport? There is nothing inherent about long distance train service that supports towns and cities, certainly not more than an effective highway network, which the United States just so happens to already have across a much larger area of the country than the Amtrak network.

Just so. Trains are good at transporting large numbers of people. Putting public train subsidies and limited private resources into low density service, while high density alternatives go unserved, is wasteful.

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Yesterday an article came to my attention from Railway Age by F.K. Plous.  The article is about a month and a half old.  I think I’d seen it before but I didn’t really read it until yesterday.  I would strongly encourage everyone on this group to read the article carefully and think this over.  Don’t form an immediate opinion on it until you’ve thought about it like I tried to.

Plous, I think, makes some good points.  I feel like he was able to put his finger on the problem(s) that Amtrak is having and has had all along.  He also comes up with an interesting solution.  He warns that it will not be easy but is nevertheless definitely possible and within reach.

According to what he is saying, NARP and its members (like me) have been pursuing exactly the wrong course all along by expending a lot of political and lobbying capital trying to “save” Amtrak one train at a time.  We need to come to grips with the fact that this strategy is not working.  We still have the same highly skeletonized and marginal system that we had nearly 50 years ago now (47 to be exact).  In my honest, humble, personal opinion it is time (actually way past time) to try something else – something that will work.

Please read and ponder:

https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/the-amtrak-era-is-over-its-time-for-a-replacement/

Or https://tinyurl.com/yckmfkek

 

Regards,

Fred M. Cain

Edited by fredmcain

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Is Corridor Capital looking to find someone to sell all those SantaFe Hi-Levels to? :D:hi:

Merely asserting multiple times that something will work does not make it any more so. No real path is prescribed about how tog et there from here. ;)

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Very interesting article. Points raised warrant some thought and discussion.

I believe the interstate highway system resulted from Eisenhower seeing the German Autobahn system. I know my Dad was very impressed with them and saw their strategic importance.

I agree that a higher level, strategic discussion is the only way to come to a reasonable conclusion. I also think that turning this into a political debate will result in failure. All sides need to be invested and pursuing one side for support would be a mistake.

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5 minutes ago, jis said:

Is Corridor Capital looking to find someone to sell all those SantaFe Hi-Levels to? :D:hi:

Merely asserting multiple times that something will work does not make it any more so. No real path is prescribed about how tog et there from here. ;)

JIS,

well, my take on it is that Plous was trying to tell us that Congress needs to pass a new transportation act similar to what created the FHA and the FAA and provide a funding well.  I agree with this.  As to which cars (like the Hi-Levels you cited) go where specifically, he didn't get into that.   Actually, completely doing away with Amtrak might not be necessary but perhaps it could be transitioned into a new role - I don't know.  Surely something to think about.  But I continue to believe - and will repeat - what we got now ain't workin'.  It's not for the future in my opinion.

 

Regards,

FMC

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8 hours ago, fredmcain said:

JIS,

well, my take on it is that Plous was trying to tell us that Congress needs to pass a new transportation act similar to what created the FHA and the FAA and provide a funding well.  I agree with this.  As to which cars (like the Hi-Levels you cited) go where specifically, he didn't get into that.   Actually, completely doing away with Amtrak might not be necessary but perhaps it could be transitioned into a new role - I don't know.  Surely something to think about.  But I continue to believe - and will repeat - what we got now ain't workin'.  It's not for the future in my opinion.

 

Regards,

FMC

I have never really understood this argument. Until the recent debacle with Anderson, no one was saying that what we have now isn't working. Amtrak was and is achieving record ridership year after year in spite of itself, and besides that everyone seemed to be relatively content with the system that has been around for 47 years. Think back to maybe 2011 or 2012 - who was thinking this way? Even as late as 2016, I don't remember any of these candid discussions on whether or not Amtrak in its current form is necessary or viable. In fact, any pressing issues back then involved funding, which has somehow recently stopped being as much of an issue with the massive appropriations Amtrak has gotten in the past couple years. Why is any of this even necessary to debate outside of the BS that Anderson and the board have been on about?

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21 hours ago, keelhauled said:
On 11/13/2018 at 6:07 PM, cpotisch said:

I think it's safe to say that anyone who doesn't absolutely positively have to use land transport, would not take a two night trip with two transfers to and from two busses.

Why, as a national transportation policy, should we be subsidizing anyone other than those people?

Because we shouldn't be at the point where we're cool with passenger rail being so bad that you only take it if you're completely forced to because you don't have any other options. There are dozens of countries with phenomenal train service (short distance and long distance), that are consistently reliable, punctual, comfortable, convent, frequent, etc. People don't take that because they're forced to - they take it because it's genuinely the best option.

Edited by cpotisch

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9 hours ago, JRR said:

Very interesting article. Points raised warrant some thought and discussion.

I believe the interstate highway system resulted from Eisenhower seeing the German Autobahn system. I know my Dad was very impressed with them and saw their strategic importance.

I agree that a higher level, strategic discussion is the only way to come to a reasonable conclusion. I also think that turning this into a political debate will result in failure. All sides need to be invested and pursuing one side for support would be a mistake.

Weren't the interstate highways also designed basically as "backup runways" if a plane needed to land and wasn't near an airport?

Edited by cpotisch

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8 minutes ago, RichieRich said:

Funny you remembered that from History (not taught in schools much any more) - but - YES!

Considering he's a kid in high school now....  ;)

Edited by AmtrakBlue

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On 11/13/2018 at 6:32 PM, Pere Flyer said:


Yes. Until residents of small towns weigh in on their transportation needs, we’re only spouting opinions, statistics, and projections. Are there AUers who live in small-town areas who do/don’t have Amtrak service, and are there AUers who live in small-town areas without Interstates or U.S./state highways capable of bus travel?
As social justice advocates say, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Ithaca counts as a small down and doesn't have Amtrak service (directly). 

There's a big difference between

(a) driving (or having someone else drive me) 2 hours to get to the Syracuse station and

(b) being forced to drive or fly a long distance at *both* ends or for the entire trip because the national network is *disconnected* and I can't get to my destination without driving a lot.   I chose not to go to conventions in Columbus Ohio which I would otherwise have gone to, several times, because I can't get there by train.  I will also probably never go to Phoenix again.  I skipped a wedding I was invited to because it was near Duluth.  You get the picture. 

Train service is more critical for a destination than an origin.  Ithaca is a bit of a destination and I'm quite sure the lack of train service hurts our economy, but it's tolerable for me coming *from* here.

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On 11/14/2018 at 12:05 AM, keelhauled said:

Look at what happened to the Downeaster when it was extended to Brunswick--there are about 20 passengers on each train east of Brunswick (calculated from the three roundtrips daily that previously operated).  With 306 seats (4x 72 seat coaches and 18 BC seats), that is a 6.5% load factor.  6.5%!!!  They spent $35 million on the project, then another $9 million to get two more round trips to Brunswick this fall.  The entire train generated $8.6 million in revenue last year.  How can you possibly justify expenditures like that for so few people? 

Trains are just an awful fiscal decision for low density traffic.  So what is the point of long distance trains as a public service?

 

The important long-distance trains ARE high-density service.  Or would be if they ran on time.

 

I'm going to challenge you here because you made a really bad assumption here. You just used the Downeaster extension to Brunswick -- a *corridor* train -- as an example of a low-ridership, low-density service to a low-density place.  And you're right!  But then you made the illogical, irrational, incorrect leap to attacking long-distance trains.

 

New York-Albany-Utica-Syracuse-Rochester-Buffalo-Cleveland-Toledo-Elkhart-South Bend-Chicago is a service which - - if running on time -- attracts a large number of passengers and can support multiple *long* trains per day.  That's a "long distance" train.  When the LSL has managed to run close to on time for enough months, with decent on-board services, it has been *stuffed* at *high ticket prices* and has been *profitable before fixed costs*.  (Amtrak's terrible, no-good, very bad accounting has disguised these facts.)  Ever watched the LSL boarding at Syracuse?  It takes a while because there are so many people getting on and off, even with all the doors opened...

Similar results can be found on the NY-Florida trains (also "long distance"), and NY-Charlotte-Atlanta (also "long distance"), and the LA-SF-Portland-Seattle train (also "long distance"), and the Chicago-Omaha-Denver-Ski Areas-Salt Lake City train, and so on.  These are all trains with high load factors, at least when they've been running on time. 

 

They aren't the Downeaster to Brunswick or the Vermonter to St. Albans or the proposed Regional to Bristol -- those are the actual low-density routes.  (Vermonter would probably be OK if they could get it back to Montreal.  The Adirondack is super low density except for going to Montreal.)

Interestingly, states seem to like to subsidize the low-density "geographic coverage" routes like the Adirondack and Vermonter. 

 

But the nation should make sure that the high-density "spine" routes like the Lake Shore Limited and Southwest Chief are retained (and start running on time).

 

Edited by neroden

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12 hours ago, Amtrak706 said:

I have never really understood this argument. Until the recent debacle with Anderson, no one was saying that what we have now isn't working. Amtrak was and is achieving record ridership year after year in spite of itself, and besides that everyone seemed to be relatively content with the system that has been around for 47 years. Think back to maybe 2011 or 2012 - who was thinking this way? Even as late as 2016, I don't remember any of these candid discussions on whether or not Amtrak in its current form is necessary or viable. In fact, any pressing issues back then involved funding, which has somehow recently stopped being as much of an issue with the massive appropriations Amtrak has gotten in the past couple years. Why is any of this even necessary to debate outside of the BS that Anderson and the board have been on about?

Well, maybe we weren't screaming for something like that back in 2012 but perhaps we should've been.  There are a lot of people (myself included) who would like to see the intercity passenger train system expanded in America.  That is where Amtrak has been a hopeless failure and after 47 years I've given up.  If not after 47 years, how long?  How many lifetimes will it take for Amtrak to provide Cincy-Columbus-Cleveland service or Chicago-Sioux Falls, or, or, well, I could go on and on?  Those couple of "good" years you cited could also be a couple of anomalies.  It seems like every few years there's another "crisis" where RPA pulls out all stops to save a train or a diner.  So far they've been pretty good at that but expansion?  HA! 

So, yeah, I have to agree with Plous.

Regards,

Fred M. Cain

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The fundamental political problems have been:

-- anti-passenger-rail-expansion forces have controlled at least one house of Congress or the Presidency for most of the time since the mid-1990s.  During the brief respite in 2009, everyone was very distracted by the Great Recession -- and we still got PRIIA, which was very very helpful.  Anyway, except for that brief period, this has stymied any federal support for passenger rail.

-- State support has been... on a state-by-state basis.  Any project running through multiple states has been stymied by ONE anti-rail Governor or state legislative house along the way.  Including Ohio governors stymieing multiple projects, Indiana legislature stymieing projects, *one house* of the Iowa legislature stymieing a project primarily benefitting Iowa, one Goveror of Illinois causing trouble even though the entire state legislature told him to get on with building the tracks, etc.  Even privately funded projects have had roadblocks repeatedly thrown at them by anti-rail politicians, in California, Texas, and Florida. 

-- The major freight railroads are still usually unduly and illegally hostile to Amtrak; this may change, but after 40 years I think it is clear that the solution is for the backer of the passenger operator to own the track (whether that's Amtrak or the state government or what).

Amtrak has been booming in ridership and revenue and finally addressing its deferred maintenance problems -- mostly thanks to PRIIA, but also thanks to the supportive state governments.  You're not going to get an improvement by some thoughtless institutional structure change.  A thoughtful change, like Illinois or Michigan or Amtrak purchasing a passenger-dedicated route from Chicago to Michigan City, would be helpful. 

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