A proposal to restructure Amtrak

Discussion in 'Amtrak’s Future: Member Ideas and Discussion' started by Tarm, Jul 5, 2017.

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  1. Jul 5, 2017 #1

    Tarm

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    Tarm

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    The US federal government is running a 500 billion dollar a year annual budget deficit. The national debt is approaching 20 trillion dollars. Discretionary spending is getting squeezed by rising entitlements. I fear that one day Congress will decide that Amtrak is something the nation can no longer afford.

    Passenger rail is a niche product. It best serves the 100 mile to 400 mile trip segment. For shorter trips the flexibility of automobiles comes into play and for longer trips the speed of aircraft wins out. To be successful each transportation method must fit its market.

    Amtrak is spread too thin. It has attempted to do too much for too long with too few resources and now loses a billion dollars a year. It cannot generate its own capital for infrastructure investments or rolling stock replacement.

    AMTRAK SIMPLY CANNOT AFFORD TO RUN A NATIONAL SYSTEM.

    Looking objectively at a map of the United States there are four areas where there is sufficient population density to support passenger rail.

    1.The eastern seaboard, from Maine to Florida.

    2.The upper Midwest, a 300 mile radius around Chicago.

    3.The Pacific Northwest.

    4.Southern California.

    My proposal would be to maintain and/or expand the corridor service in those four areas and retain four LD trains for connections among those four areas.

    Specifically discontinue the Sunset Limited. Truncate the Empire Builder at St Paul, the SWC at Kansas City, the Texas Eagle at St. Louis, the CONO at Memphis and the Cardinal/Hoosier State a Cincinnati. All five of these former LD trains would have their frequencies doubled (or more) and become part of Midwest corridor trains. Motor coach service would be provided on the discontinued lines to maintain essential rural transportation. Retain the LSL and CL to connect east coast passengers to the Midwest corridors. Maintain the Silver Service and Autotrain but truncate the SC at Atlanta. The CS would be retained to connect Southern California to the PNW and the CZ would connect the Midwest to the West Coast. Texas can do what it wants.

    This restructuring will reduce total route miles but maintain train miles. It should increase passenger miles while still allowing train travel from one corridor area to another. It should eliminate the need for an annual operating subsidy and preserve Amtrak in the face of future budget cuts. I feel it is better to be proactive and reactive.

    I await your slings and arrows.

    Tarm
     
  2. Jul 5, 2017 #2

    Ryan

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    No. Just no.
     
  3. Jul 5, 2017 #3

    CCC1007

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    See previous proposals from Philly Amtrak Fan, and the reactions from those proposals.
     
  4. Jul 5, 2017 #4

    FrensicPic

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    Don't know about #1 and 2 but, the Pacific Northwest and Southern California have the Cascades and the Pacific Surfliner which are predominately state-supported and would probably survive. There are other areas with state-supported, Amtrak operated rail as well.
     
  5. Jul 5, 2017 #5

    jis

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    Since I don't agree with the premise I also don't agree with the conclusion. ;)
     
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  6. Jul 5, 2017 #6

    Eric S

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    Even if I accept the notion that the annual federal budget deficit and cumulative federal debt necessitate major Amtrak route changes, I don't believe it's been demonstrated that the proposed changes will eliminate Amtrak's operating losses nor that the political reality will allow the changes proposed to actually take place.

    In short - what Ryan and Jis wrote.
     
  7. Jul 5, 2017 #7

    Bob Dylan

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    Do you work for the Heritage Foundation or another Right Wing Fantasy Operation?

    To expand on Ryan's Post, Not just No, but HELL NO!!!
     
  8. Jul 5, 2017 #8

    Thirdrail7

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    The CHI hub service is ringed with state supported routes. This proposal is really unworthy of slings, arrows or refutation.
     
  9. Jul 5, 2017 #9

    WICT106

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    To reiterate what previous posters have stated: No. The long distance, intercity trains serve as placeholders for any future service, as well as serving locations and markets that are not well served by other modes of transportation. The long distance, intercity trains also serve a political purpose, in that they are the return in exchange for taking federal taxpayer dollars to support the NEC. You want "Feddybucks" for the NEC ? Then, places such as ND and WI and NE get their train (s) as well -- even if it is only one train per day each way.
     
  10. Jul 5, 2017 #10

    jis

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    One thing that people forget is that most of the allocated cost is not going to go away just because you got rid of a bunch of trains. the absolute amount will go down only slightly, maybe 10-15%. The rest will simply get allocated to fewer trains raising their net costs, and making them progressively less viable financially too. Actually truncating the run of those long distance trains will not reduce the allocated costs at all, and there will be not enough savings to be able to double their frequency, even if you could somehow shuffle the equipment. So what you will get is one train running a shorter distance each day and not serving beyond the point where its run is truncated off.

    As Woody says, what Amtrak needs is more Amtrak to become more viable. not less. So IMHO this whole idea is patently wrong headed and not worthy of further serious consideration.
     
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  11. Jul 5, 2017 #11

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    And Las Vegas, Nashville, and Columbus get their train(s). Oh wait. The #1 double standard of Amtrak is either "Amtrak serves/needs to serve everybody" or "Amtrak service is a right". Both statements are Byrd Crap.
     
  12. Jul 5, 2017 #12

    A Voice

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    Your premise is flawed, as JIs already noted above, and thus leads to an erroneous conclusion. But I am particularly interested in how you think Amtrak is not currently fulfilling its market; Most passengers - including long-distance routes - already travel less than 400 to 600 miles or so. For many markets Amtrak serves, air travel is not even a direct competitor.

    Source please?
     
  13. Jul 5, 2017 #13

    A Voice

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    Who said "Amtrak needs to serve everyone"? What other passenger transportation companies do you know of which do this?

    Of course, that in no way means the Amtrak route system is not much too skeletal, and careful expansion is objectively both desirable and economically defensible. But because "everyone" is an impractical (impossible) standard to achieve, we shouldn't be concerned with service to untapped markets?
     
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  14. Jul 5, 2017 #14

    jis

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    And we keep singin' the usual useless strawman arguments which serve no purpose except to distract from serious discussions.
     
  15. Jul 5, 2017 #15

    Ryan

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    I don't think that you'll find anyone here arguing that they shouldn't have a train, provided that it doesn't involve just stealing from someone else that already has service.
     
  16. Jul 5, 2017 #16

    WestBerkeleyFlats

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    This proposal makes perfect. I'd get rid of the CZ as well. Such a system reorganization should have been implemented 40 years ago. Amtrak is public transportation, not a land cruise for retirees or a commuter service for rural residents. No more sleepers, no more dining service.
     
  17. Jul 5, 2017 #17

    Ryan

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    You are aware that members of the public live in all of those places, right?
     
  18. Jul 5, 2017 #18

    ehbowen

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    Hey, they can drive anywhere they need to go. If they can't drive, they can walk. If they can't walk, they can die.

    [/sarcasm off]
     
  19. Jul 6, 2017 #19

    neroden

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    I've calculated this. Cancelling all the long-distance trains would make Amtrak LOSE MORE MONEY, between 15 and 30 million dollars. 1/3 of the LD trains are profitable and another 1/3 are roughly breakeven; all statements to the contrary are due to the misuse of "allocated costs".
    Cancelling only the ones which are actually money-losing would save... wait for it... about $64 million per year, max. (And it's been dropping most years as more people take the train.) Peanuts basically. The big cost for Amtrak is in the fixed costs, which don't change no matter how many trains you run...

    Yep. That's what I say too. Same fixed costs, but more trains making profits, means a lower need for federal money.
    Now, if you're worried about the federal budget, there is literally only ONE thing in the federal budget which is large enough to look at: the US's bloated, worthless military spending. The US spends more than the next dozen countries put together on the military, and what do we get for that? We lose every war we get into. It's now running on the order of a TRILLION dollars a year. If you want to straighten out the budget, that is literally the only thing that matters; nothing else amounts to a hill of beans.
     
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  20. Jul 6, 2017 #20

    neroden

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    So just for fun I'll respond to the specific proposal:

    The Empire Builder is crazy popular. It's one of the ones which is breakeven. Based on a lowball estimate of overhead costs, the EB cost about $1.3 million to run as of last year. Those North Dakota and Montana towns punch above their population, as does eastern Washington state. Motor coaches DO NOT WORK on this route because the (two-lane, non-expressway) road is often closed in the winter... which is probably why these cities take the train so much.

    The Southwest Chief (yes, one of the 5 "money losing" trains) is so popular that it raised state funds to stay on a frankly inferior route. It's untouchable.

    The Texas Eagle (yes, one of the 5 "money losing" trains) was already revived once due to support from localities in Texas and has ridiculously strong support in rural Missouri.

    The CONO -- again essentially breakeven -- is extremely popular in Mississippi, which believe it or not provides reliable Amtrak votes. So is the Crescent, which is definitively profitable at this point. New Orleans access is a big deal (well, until it sinks under the waves).

    The Cardinal (yes, one of the 5 "money losing" trains) would be profitable if it were daily. It should be daily. The eastern end is very heavily used -- you'd probably be surprised how many people go from Cincy to DC.

    I'll admit there really is no constituency fighting for the Sunset Limited, and it does cost more (net of revenue) than any other Amtrak train. It suffers from:

    (a) not being daily

    (b) not serving Phoenix properly

    © the extremely long distance from LA to Tucson

    (d) the long distance from Tucson to El Paso

    (e) the extraordinarily long distance from El Paso to San Antonio

    (f) no intermediate stops between San Antonio and Houston

    (g) not going in the right directions for nearly all traffic from Houston

    It's an OK route from Houston to New Orleans. Though that entire route is probably going to be destroyed by sea level rise, along with most of the cities along the route, now that I think about it. I could see an argument for getting rid of service to New Orleans on all three routes which serve it, in favor of Baton Rouge, just to get above water level.
     
  21. Jul 6, 2017 #21

    Chessie

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    How about spare .1% of the defense budget?
     
  22. Jul 6, 2017 #22

    Tarm

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    Nope. Just a guy that loves trains and tries to see the world the way it is and not the way I want it to be.
     
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  23. Jul 6, 2017 #23

    Tarm

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    State supported trains do not add to Amtrak's losses and since states are required to balance their budgets I feel that is responsible governmental spending. If more states stepped up to cover more interstate routes Amtrak would not have to losses it now has.
     
  24. Jul 6, 2017 #24

    Tarm

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    Tarm

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    The only route to be dropped is the SL all the others are to be restructured. What is better, a single LD train departing at 2 PM and going a 1000 miles or four corridor type trains departing at 7 AM, 10 AM, 2 PM, 5PM and going 250 miles? Which schedule has economies of scale? Which provides the better service? Do you believe there is untapped demand for fast frequent rail service as I do?
     
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  25. Jul 6, 2017 #25

    Tarm

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    Okay, let's take some trips. (Train fares are from Amtrak website, air fares for 7/25 from Expedia for one way adult ticket.)

    1. Short trip, Chicago to Milwaukee, 86 miles.

    Train: Arrive at station 15 minutes early, travel 1 hr 20 min, depart station 5 min, total travel time 1 hr 40 min, fare $25.

    Plane: Arrive at airport 2 hr early(from Delta Airlines website), travel time 47 min, depart airport 15 min, total travel time 3 hr 2 min, fare $131.

    Train wins. Faster, cheaper.

    2. Medium trip, Chicago to St. Louis, 284 miles.

    Train: Arrive at station 15 minutes early, travel time 5 hr 20 min, depart station 5 min, total travel time 5 hr 40 min, fare $27.

    Plane: Arrive at airport 2 hours early, travel time 1 hr 5 min, depart airport 15 min, total travel time 3 hr 20 min, fare $151.

    Plane faster but train cheaper. To save the 2 hours 20 min by air cost an additional fare of $124 or $53 per hour of travel time. Most people do not value their time that high.

    3. Long trip, Chicago to Denver, 1038 miles.

    Train: Arrive at station 30 min early (LD train),travel time 18 hr 15 min, depart station 5 min, total travel time 18 hr 50 min, fare $121.

    Plane: Arrive at airport 2 hr early, travel time 2 hr 40 min, depart airport 15 min, total travel time 4 hr 55 min, fare $142.

    Plane faster but train cheaper. To save 13 hr 55 min of travel time cost an addition air fare of $21 or $1.50 per hour of travel time. No one is that cheap.

    So I hold to my belief that train travel works best in the 100 to 400 mile range.
     
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