A Modest Proposal

Discussion in 'Amtrak’s Future: Member Ideas and Discussion' started by Tokkyu40, Nov 7, 2014.

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  1. Nov 7, 2014 #1

    Tokkyu40

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    Tokkyu40

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    Here's an idea for some long term changes at Amtrak. Let's bounce them around and see what happens.

    First, lets pretend that we can actually get the rolling stock just to meet the current demand. The next step in increasing demand would be to make the trains faster. The Sunset runs from LA to San Antonio in a theoretical 30 hours. If the trains ran at a reliable 110mph it should be possible to bring the time below 20 hours, making the trip practical as transportation instead of a destination in itself.

    To facilitate this, Amtrak would need more reliable rail access. I would recommend partnerships with state DOTs to buy surplus and abandoned tracks in viable transportation corridors. The Wellton Cutoff would provide an easy run into Phoenix from Yuma.

    Daily service would be nice, but it would be better to have double service at 8 to 12 hour intervals to provide daylight service where the trains currently run at night. Splitting the Eagle and the Sunset would provide that without officially adding new trains. This opens the market to new passengers. The Eagle could diverge at El Paso and head up through Pecos, Odessa and Abilene to Ft Worth, opening a completely new market.

    Longer routes join more city pairs, providing a greater market base. Transfers depress demand by lowering the convenience. Trains that meet end-to-end could be paired on each other's routes at complementary schedules to double the frequency and reduce transfers. The Texas Eagle could run to New York while the North Shore Limited could continue to Los Angeles. Ditto for the Sunset Limited and the Crescent. This is a return to tradition, since SP's Sunset previously offered through sleepers to New England via Southern's Crescent.
    The Sunset route should add stops at Marfa, Uvalde and Hondo, which are large enough to support a stop, if not a full station.

    This would run 4 trains a day between El Paso and Los Angeles, boosting service considerably in the high traffic Tucson - Los Angeles corridor. Further service would be run by the Arizona DOT between Tucson and Yuma.

    A similar arrangement between the Empire Builder and the Capitol Limited would provide Cleveland, Ohio's second busiest station, with four daily trains. Two of them when people are awake to catch a train!

    Any thoughts or comments?
     
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  2. Nov 7, 2014 #2

    John Bobinyec

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    Why not pretend that the Interstate Highway System was never built and that the government didn't set up and run the airports and air traffic control system?

    What is the purpose of such daydreaming?

    jb
     
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  3. Nov 7, 2014 #3

    Ryan

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    Yeah, there's nothing modest about this proposal.

    They're pretty sound ideas for a fantasyland-US where passenger rail is funded as a service like the other modes.

    Sadly, we don't live in that fantasyland, and we're not likely to any time soon.
     
  4. Nov 7, 2014 #4

    jis

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    Time for wet dreams eh? :p

    One downside of longer itineraries is that they are inevitably less reliable

    It took many decades and many billions before the north end of the NEC could be made reliable enough to make almost hourly through service between NEC South and NEC North viable. Even then there are cases where an extra section has to be run out of New York, to fill in for an inordinately delayed incoming train. Just because it looks good on paper does not mean it is easy or even possible to do in reality.
     
  5. Nov 7, 2014 #5

    the_traveler

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    If trains ran from LA to NYC, that would mean it would have to be single level trains all the way. (Superliners are too tall to run to NYP.)
     
  6. Nov 7, 2014 #6

    John Bobinyec

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    Why can't we just pretend that there are no height restrictions?

    This reminds me of a game called "Cranko" on M*A*S*H where you make up your own rules as you go along.

    jb
     
  7. Nov 7, 2014 #7

    jis

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    He is just talking of a few through cars I hope, and that can be arranged as an add on to an otherwise Superliner train provided it has a Transition car. That is how they ran the Super Chief and El Capitan as a combined train in the latter days just before Amtrak.
    Handling of "through and sectional carriages" (as they are called in India) was very common in the US, and is now a more or less, lost art. There are only three remaining examples of such - Sunset/Texas Eagle, Empire Builder, Lake Shore limited. In addition there are some examples on the Empire Corridor with Albany cutoff cars, and on the CZ with the Denver cutoff car.
     
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  8. Nov 7, 2014 #8

    Paulus

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    This is a joke, right? Marfa's population is only 1,981.

    Anyhow, actual modest proposals:

    1) Add another car or two to the Pennsylvanian and Carolinian (and the Palmetto since it swaps equipment with the Pennsylvanian).

    2) Increase capacity on the long distance trains by increasing the seating density in coach. Leave one car per trainset as is and sell it as a business class (with minor additional amenities) for a surcharge.

    3) Trial at seat meal service for corridor and long distance business classes that have an attendant. This should increase F&B orders and business class sales.

    4) Add more Thruway connections, especially to popular tourist destinations. Discontinue if they're not profitable (on a basis of crediting them with all rail ticket revenue from connection against costs of running that bus) after a few years grace period.

    5) Convince DOT to require a detailed timetable of how any new service will increase to a minimum of 10 daily round trips in order to be eligible for any grants and to prioritize grant allocation on the basis of adding additional frequencies. Quoth the FRA back in 1978:

     
  9. Nov 7, 2014 #9

    TVRM610

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    Who rides the Sunset Limited as a destination? Maybe a few people ride the Starlight, Builder, and Zephyr as a "destination" or at least for the novelty of taking the train. But when I ride Amtrak I mostly see people using it for transportation.

    I DO think it would be smart for Amtrak / states etc. to invest in higher speeds where they can, and where it would benefit the most trains. For example.. the Charlotte to Greensboro section on NS... the Crescent, Carolinian, and Piedmont trains would all benefit from faster running... the existing NS tracks are in great shape through there.. would 90-110 be possible?

    Same thing for the tracks from Richmond to Raleigh - Carolinian, Star, Meteor, Palmetto, that's 8 trains a day that would all benefit from a little high speed running. (would auto train benefit from this? not sure if it has it's own set limit)

    I'm hoping when (if?) the PTC signaling system ever gets fully in place things like this would be possible... since the PTC was one of the major expenses... now it would just be paying the host railroad for extra maintenance, re-timing the signals, and of course any required work to get the tracks up to requirements of class 5 or class 6.

    This to me is more realistic... spending money for a route that sees only 2 passenger trains a day is hard to justify,
     
  10. Nov 7, 2014 #10

    jis

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    I don't think either the Palmetto or the Meteor would necessarily move to the Petersburg - Raleigh direct line. The Auto Train most certainly won't move there. OTOH, a Piedmont might get extended to Selma to connect with the Palmetto if needed. I suspect such would happen if and when NCDOT gets serious about service to Goldsboro.
     
  11. Nov 7, 2014 #11

    jphjaxfl

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    A modest proposal would be to have the Cardinal and Sunset run daily so no long distance trains would be less than daily. Amtrak said that was one their missions in 1971....still not accomplished.
     
  12. Nov 7, 2014 #12

    John Bobinyec

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    Why do you think the Auto Train won't move over? It has a flexible schedule. It would help free up some capacity on the A-Line.

    jb
     
  13. Nov 7, 2014 #13

    VentureForth

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    There certainly needs to be better connectivity from the Silvers (particularly to/from the South) to Central North Carolina.
     
  14. Nov 7, 2014 #14

    jis

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    Because it will blow Auto Train's schedule completely. Unless major work is done to upgrade Raleigh to Savannah it will always remain a sloooow route. Besides, since it does not stop anywhere and it travels at the same speed as any hotshot freight, it is generally much less disruptive of CSX's normal operation. That is the reason that it already does so well on OTP.
     
  15. Nov 7, 2014 #15

    WoodyinNYC

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    The Sunset Limited is the one long distance train with

    perhaps the greatest room for improvement.

    First, take it daily. Daily trains outperform the 3/7 trains

    always, every time. (And btw, a daily Sunset could even

    modestly help the performance of the Crescent south

    of Atlanta. A transfer would require overnighting in

    New Orleans to catch those morning departures, but

    some passengers would gladly do it on Bourbon St.,

    or in hotels with a day or two of sightseeing, or perhaps

    staying in thru sleepers.)

    Second, overlay with corridor services. Of course, under

    current law, that means the individual states have to do

    the heavy lifting, usually needing cooperation from another

    state. It's a formula for failure, and it's failed. Since PRIIA

    was enacted, the number of new bi-state corridors added

    to the system is … how many again?

    But in this thread we're allowed counterfactual imaginings.

    So I want to see a corridor San Antonio-Houston-Beaumont-

    Lake Charles-Lafayette-New Orleans. (It might extend to, or

    meet with, a corridor New Orleans-Biloxi-Mobile.) However,

    it now takes 9+ hours to get from New Orleans to Houston,

    another 5+ hours to get to from Houston to San Antonio after

    midnight, at about 45 mph average speed. So considerable

    upgrades would be needed.

    Another corridor is Tucson-Phoenix-L.A. Potentially this route

    is a candidate for true HSR, with 180 mph speeds on an all-new

    dedicated route. But in the decades while we wait for that to

    happen, speeds up to 110 mph like the Midwestern routes,

    would transform the corridor. Of course, the route into and thru

    Phoenix will have to be rebuilt someday, and not cheap. But

    perhaps much of the work needed for 110 mph would later

    serve tracks for 180 mph.

    A second daily train, end to end, would serve as one more

    frequency in two long corridors on the Sunset's route. Then the

    middle Tucson-El Paso-San Antonio segment would be fed by

    more traffic at either end. El Paso shouldn't get the brush-off, in

    any case. Combined metro area is over a million in population,

    it's the home of Fort Bliss, the largest Army base in the US, with

    the Desert Warfare Training Center, not likely to shrink any time

    soon. So better connections to San Antonio (Fort Sam Houston),

    Temple (Fort Hood), Houston, and Southern California would

    attract plenty soldiers and family.

    But the current 3/7 train is hopeless without major changes.

    Ah, minor changes. Someone wants more Thruway Bus feeders.

    A daily Sunset could get some -- from south of San Antonio, from

    Midland-Odessa, from Albuquerque. And as for a stop in Marfa,

    LOL, it's an artists colony and tourist center, so it's likely to way

    outperform its population. Anyway, this train has half a dozen

    flag stops on the timetable, what's one or three more?
     
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  16. Nov 7, 2014 #16

    ScottRu

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    Wow, the knee jerk response seems to be "What can I point out that is wrong with these ideas?" That's a sure fire way to defeat creativity.

    I think there's much to be gained by pie-in-the-sky thinking. That's probably how most of the great advances in society begin.

    My own wish (understanding the problem with height and bridges and tunnels, etc.) would be to have more of the LD trains commence in Boston at trusty old South Station. While my better half and I continue to use the trains, it is always an added inconvenience to take the Regional to Penn Station and wait for the "real" LD train to leave.

    Kudos to Tokkyu40 for throwing out some fresh ideas.
     
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  17. Nov 7, 2014 #17

    Devil's Advocate

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    It may seem like a knee jerk response but in reality the OP's defeat was already in the books days ago. We may not have the passenger rail network we need but we're about to find out how much of a passenger rail network we deserve. Good luck finding traction for discussing route extensions and increased frequencies in an era where we're likely to be forced to decide which routes and frequencies need to be abandoned in order to hopefully save others. At this point we don't even know if anyone still considers saving Amtrak to be worth the threat a filibuster or veto. The time for fantasizing about improvements and expansions was back in 2009. 2015 will be a whole new ball game with new players and new rules.
     
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  18. Nov 7, 2014 #18

    twinvaly07

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    To John Bobinyec and RyanS: The man is trying to advance some possible proposals. He is not holding himself out as an expert on equipment or scheduling. It is most assuredly not your "right" to shoot him down with your infantile and neo-acerbic wit. And kudos to WoodyinNYC. You answered factually and thoughtfully.
     
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  19. Nov 7, 2014 #19

    WoodyinNYC

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    TVRM610
    I DO think it would be smart for Amtrak / states etc. to invest

    in higher speeds where they can, and where it would benefit

    the most trains. For example.. the Charlotte to Greensboro

    section on NS... the Crescent, Carolinian, and Piedmont trains

    would all benefit from faster running... the existing NS tracks

    are in great shape through there.. would 90-110 be possible?

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Actually, they've been following your good advice for some time now.

    The Stimulus provided $520 million to NC for upgrades Raleigh-

    Charlotte, and the bulk of that is being spent Greensboro-Charlotte,

    with many grade crossings closed, and others replaced by grade-

    separated crossings. The goal is to cut 15 to 30 minutes out of

    the run time, and add a fourth Piedmont in a couple of years.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Same thing for the tracks from Richmond to Raleigh - Carolinian,

    Star, Meteor, Palmetto, that's 8 trains a day that would all benefit

    from a little high speed running. ... spending money for a route

    that sees only 2 passenger trains a day is hard to justify

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    I don't know of much serious spending on routes with only one

    round-trip a day. The Vermonter route is getting money to cut

    an hour or so out of the schedule, AND to extend the train from

    Saint Empty, VT, all the way into Montreal. Guess you could count

    the current Norfolk train, but it's going to go to three frequencies

    when the upgrades permit. If you've heard that a lot of money is

    being wasted on routes with very few trains, you may need to

    change your radio dial. LOL.

    Between Richmond and Raleigh, the on-going work is to re-open

    an abandoned direct route that will short cut and save about an

    hour, and carry an additional 6 or 8 daily roundtrips. They're

    finishing up the environmental studies and other required crossing

    of t(s) and dotting of i(s). The rebuilt section from south of Petersburg

    to Raleigh could get going in a couple of years if they get a Billion

    or so to work with. Rebuilding the tangle from Petersburg thru

    Richmond to north of Staples Mill station will probably cost more,

    but would add the 3 Norfolk trains to your list of trains benefitting.

    Between D.C. and Richmond, already 4 Amtrak LD trains (counting

    the Carolinian) and five, iirc, Regionals extending off the NEC. So,

    can you spare another Billion for a new Long Bridge over the Potomac,

    because it has no more slots for passenger trains. Then another Billion

    could probably be well spent to bring that segment up to 110 mph.

    Sadly, the worthy Richmond route projects didn't get much when

    Stimulus money fell like manna from Heaven. The state got funds

    where it had plans ready, shovel ready, as they said, but it's still

    working on planning for the Long Bridge and upgrading tracks D.C.

    to Main Street station in Richmond.

    As you will appreciate, without another Stimulus windfall, the plans

    now are based on "incremental" improvements, meaning, whatever

    VA and NC can provide, plus any funds sneaked past the haters in

    Congress.

    For a few years to come, forward movement will be slow, needed work

    will be routed onto sidings where we'll watch the world go by, and

    indeed, there may even be reverse moves. Expect delays.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Sorry that I lost the Quote feature here. Responding to TVRM610.
     
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  20. Nov 7, 2014 #20

    zephyr17

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    I have an equally modest proposal.

    Resurrect John S. Reed and make zombie Reed the president of Amtrak with an unlimited checkbook. Then you'd have a real railroader with an understanding of passenger trains with the money to buy equipment and enough money to make it worth the railroads' while to not fight passenger train access.

    It's about as realistic.
     
  21. Nov 7, 2014 #21

    Anderson

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    As I've said elsewhere, the stimulus was mishandled with an unwillingness to cut some of the red tape to work with states which did not have everything ready to go. The definition of "shove;l ready" is definitely at least somewhat flexible if you build exemptions in somewhere to the years of studies that are usually required. Engineering can't be cut, but intermediate studies can.

    On the point of multi-state corridors being proposed post-PRIIA, it's not like we were looking at scads of them before. Work is still progressing on the Cascades (WA/OR) and the VA/NC stuff happened years ago. The Vermonter might also generously be called a multi-state corridor, though the picture there is a bit complicated. Beyond that, I don't think there were too many multi-state corridors under serious consideration, though the KS/OK/TX stuff comes to mind. Basically...it's not like PRIIA brought a huge amount of progress to a screeching halt. The biggest argument you can make is that it stalled out some stuff in the Midwest (where WI, IN, and IA are being headachey). Even there, you've got a lot of stuff tangled up in goofy politics (and who knows what's going to happen in IL, since the new Governor seems open to working on train stuff in at least some form).
     
  22. Nov 7, 2014 #22

    twa904

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    A Modest Proposal --- Congress should establish a national infrastructure bank. Allow $200B to be

    borrowed from the govt at low interest rates and $800B to be raised from private sources. Revenue from user fees could be used pay back the govt and replenish the fund.
     
  23. Nov 7, 2014 #23

    D.P. Roberts

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    In summary... Amtrak is the rail system we deserve, but not the one we need right now.
     
  24. Nov 7, 2014 #24

    Orie

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    I think improving speeds is the "modest-est" part, although that would still take tons of money. But it would be nice to see done in sections, at least through states that support rail infrastructure.

    I do have a question though.... are the height restrictions for northeast trains solely because of NYP? Or are there other parts of the NEC that have the same lower height.
     
  25. Nov 7, 2014 #25

    Anderson

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    Mostly. There are clearance issues in Baltimore as well, though that could be dealt with in the near-er term. However, NYP presents most of the real engineering issues if I'm not mistaken.
     

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