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 6, 2017 #26

    Tarm

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    Thank you, WBF. At least I'm not the only voice in the wilderness.
     
  2. Jul 6, 2017 #27

    Tarm

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    Yep, like me. I live in Northern Wisconsin, 3 hours from the nearest Amtrak station.
     
  3. Jul 6, 2017 #28

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    Well that's rather easy to guesstimate.

    https://www.narprail.org/site/assets/files/1816/cin.pdf

    11,862 total passengers in 2016, WAS is 602 miles away, 16.4% of passengers traveled between CIN and WAS (WAS is 2nd behind CHI as CIN's #1 destination). So that rounds to 1945 passengers. Technically BAL is also in the 600-699 mile range so some of those 1945 are traveling to BAL although more than half of them are going to WAS. I'd ballpark it somewhere in the neighborhood of 1500 (about 3/4 WAS and 1/4 BAL). I don't know if that number is surprising or not.
     
  4. Jul 6, 2017 #29

    jis

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    Your premise that stopping one LD train will make enough money available to start a four train per day corridor is erroneous. It won't.
     
  5. Jul 6, 2017 #30

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    Well let's consider costs alone and ignore political/philosophical issues...

    The EB requires 6 sets to run (http://discuss.amtraktrains.com/index.php?/topic/32610-line-numbersconsist-listings/). Running CHI-MSP would require 2 sets. So based on equipment alone, one EB = three CHI-MSP (and you wouldn't even need the sleepers for CHI-MSP unless you ran an overnight between the two cities).

    EB: 2205 miles (I'll ignore the PDX branch). CHI-MSP: 418 miles. In terms of train miles (fuel), one EB = five CHI-MSP.

    EB from CHI to SEA: 46 hr, 10 min. EB from CHI to MSP: 7 hr, 48 min. In terms of travel time (labor), one EB = almost six CHI-MSP

    You don't run the EB between MSP and SPK (assume you can keep service in WA/OR) and you can close about 20 stations and not have to pay the host railroads for 1,451 miles and 29 hr, 20 min. of travel time. The only $ question would be how much it would cost for Amtrak to acquire track usage for the additional CHI-MSP runs and in terms of miles and hours we are talking 1/5 the amount of miles/hours per trip. Is the CHI-MSP track more valuable for freight than MSP-SPK? How much more?

    From a cost perspective, if you can't run 3-4 trains between CHI-MSP for the cost to run one EB, I must be missing something here.
     
  6. Jul 6, 2017 #31

    Bob Dylan

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    Very Interesting.Your ideas area wrong as other members are pointing out with facts, but you're certainly entitled to them.
    And did you support killing the Madison Train, and also Vote for the Con Man Governor that Wisconsin has?
     
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  7. Jul 6, 2017 #32

    keelhauled

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    This right here is why I spend considerably less time on AU than I used. Why must people (collectively) feel the need to insert pointed political jabs and questions into a discussion that has nothing to do with it. This is a perfectly reasonable conversation about Amtrak's purpose and future, what does it possibly gain to drag the guy's personal political beliefs into it. All that ever happens is the discussion devolves into mud slinging that is tangential at best to the original topic.
     
  8. Jul 6, 2017 #33

    GBNorman

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    Wow, did this topic ever ignite a firestorm.

    As I have noted at the two other sites at which I regularly participate, joining up for the roads was a "Faustian pact with the Devil" - especially since post-Staggers where rates and services were deregulated, the trains would have been gone - simple as that.

    Where the roads badly miscalculated was they did not foresee the grass root political support the trains, economics notwithstanding, would generate. While the 1979 Carter Cuts were thought to be the beginning of the end, such did not become the case (the Clinton cuts simply got rid of the 1980's excesses where it seemed that a new route was being added once a month). I'm sure that when Amtrak ordered new Superliner equipment, those walls at CUS heard "we're stuck with 'em now".

    I would guess the roads have become Kubler-Ross Phase V - Acceptance about it all. They are hardly about to encourage expansion, frequencies and/or routes, but then they are not about to pull stunts such as "embargoes", random "safety inspections" (lest we forget that even as the SP "melted down" leading up to the UP merger, the "Sunset" somehow got through), or "pop quizzes" on Amtrak Conductors and Engineers focusing on the most obscure Rule in the Book.

    So there we have it, the existing LD's are here to stay. They are the catalyst for obtaining Federal level funding for essentially a regional operation - the NEC. Amtrak is inexpensive and popular - what every politician dreams of - pork on sale!
     
  9. Jul 6, 2017 #34

    A Voice

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    Nice strawman argument. Anecdotal examples prove absolutely nothing, but more importantly, you are still proceeding from a false assumption; Neither cost nor travel time are necessarily the primary factors in choice of mode of transportation. Indeed, the primary competition for passenger rail - corridor, regional, and long-distance - is not the airplane but the automobile (which would be a more valid comparison).

    Secondly, Amtrak's real market and true potential lies in travel to and from intermediate points, smaller communities (which combined form a larger market base) that lack frequent and inexpensive air service - if they even have air service at all. Passengers travelling from Chicago to Denver may well fly, which is fine, because the one train a day can easily be filled with people going other places. In fact, when you suggest passenger rail is well suited to moderate distance travel of 400 miles or thereabout, you are actually on the right track (pardon the pun), for this is exactly how the long-distance trains - the ones you propose eliminating - are being used. Chicago to Denver (or to California) aren't the primary markets; Rather, passengers are travelling from Chicago to Osceola, Burlington to Omaha, Lincoln to Denver, and so on.

    Finally, how do you define the "best serves the 100 mile to 400 mile trip segment" claim. What are you basing this conclusion on? What do the financial numbers look like for several short-distance trains versus one long-distance service? This isn't as simple as it appears, and depends greatly on what the true purpose is for passenger rail in general or Amtrak in particular (provide a rural public transportation service, ostensibly for-profit, mass transit, etc.).

    Many, many problems in society and the world (even far removed from passenger rail) would vanish tomorrow were most people not so ambivalent and irresolute, and actually did something to change things rather than just take the attitude "well, that's the way the world is today".

    Amtrak's proposed federal budget includes money for operating state supported services.
     
  10. Jul 6, 2017 #35

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    No one is disputing that belief, I think most if not all of us agree with you. That is the saddest part of the 750 mile rule, you might actually gain significant ridership with increasing potential 100-400 mile trips like LAX-Vegas, DAL-HOS, or CLE-CIN or a second PHL-PGH or CIN-CHI (I'll say CHI-MSP too even though it's 418 miles, LAX-SJC is 423 miles), etc. but the federal government said they won't spend money for it (they would say go ask your state(s) for it).
     
  11. Jul 6, 2017 #36

    TiBike

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    The justification for subsidies is that trains provide a necessary transportation service. Corridor trains do a good job of that. By comparison, long distance trains don't.

    The Capitol Corridor and Surfliner have excellent on time performance, clean cars, decent food (and good beer) in the cafe, and invariably courteous, hardworking staff. The Coast Starlight does not.

    California would be better served by a state-run Coast Daylight between LA and San Jose, and a daytime extension of the Capitol Corridor north of Sacramento. Same for a Capitol Corridor extension past Auburn to Reno, versus the Zephyr, and, I would guess, for a Cascades extension to Klamath Falls.

    Long distance trains are great if you're not particular about when you depart or arrive, and you're willing to put up with service that can go from excellent to miserable and surly in an instant. But that's not the way to provide basic, reliable transportation.
     
  12. Jul 6, 2017 #37

    Thirdrail7

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    That is inherently untrue. Every coach or resource you divert to state supported services takes away from Amtrak's network. Do you realize how long some of the trains were before Amtrak started providing additional equipment to state supported services? If they were running with their own cars (Such as MARC or CDOT) that is one thing. However, the diverted equipment could be used to run additional trains and add to existing services.

    That's all well and good but to make the argument, you would have to know which points on the trains you want to cut bring in the most revenue and account for the most ridership. What are the top city pairs of revenue and ridership on the CONO as an example?
     
  13. Jul 6, 2017 #38

    Thirdrail7

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    You are missing something and that is the costs you never include in your proposals. In other words, while you say you can cut the railroad miles, you have no idea what each railroad charges for various sections? Do you REALLY think CSX charges the same amount of money for their lighter used "S"Line as their congested, heavily used "A" line?" Additionally, a lot of the legacy trains are bound by operating agreements that cap costs. When additional service is negotiated, costs balloon, which is why new service is harder to come by.

    Let's also expand on the operations. How many more crews will it take to run corridor service? How many additional mechanical crews will you need for turnaround inspections? How many additional facilities are needed because people fail to remember the operational difference and financial difference between long distance trains. Operationally, the Pennsylvanian and the Vermonter are considered long distance trains which means they must have the support of mechanical at its outlying point.

    It is often cheaper to keep the train moving to one location than to have numerous outlying and turnaround points in the middle of nowhere.

    I'm always amused at people that are in favor of keeping the NEC since it moves a lot of people. It indeed moves the most people but it also carried the most costs. It takes BILLIONS to run the corridor every year without covering its costs. How many Lond Distance trains and corridor trains could Amtrak have run for the $500 million it just spent on upgrading 22 miles of catenary? How many additional trains could Amtrak finance in the rest of the country if they weren't spending a ton of money upgrading NYP which is a project that helps LIRR and NJT more than Amtrak?

    The corridor is a multi billion dollar money pit that still has a 38 billion dollar backlog. Yet, they are spending billion to get a second set of high speed trains since the first set will barely make 20 years. Meanwhile, the Superliners, Amfleets and Diesels will have to keep on plugging away, 20, 30 and 40 years later.
     
  14. Jul 6, 2017 #39

    west point

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    This is an interesting idea of how the LD trains have taken a hit. Seem to recall in the past that the single level LD trains had a lot of Amfleet-1s mainly for shorter haul passengers. Do not recall but believe that more Amfleet-2s were planned for LD trains than were bought ?
     
  15. Jul 6, 2017 #40

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    Who's NOT in favor of keeping the NEC?

    Go ask NS. Go ask CSX. Go ask UP. What would they give us for $500 million? How many more trains would they let us run? Where? At what times? At what speeds? Let's make a deal. Are the host railroads just going to let us "take over" their railroads and actually put passenger service first? They might as well just sell us the tracks then (which we'd all love of course).You make it seem like begging the host railroads for any new service or even rescheduled service to better serve major markets is like pulling teeth (or at least any service additions/changes I would want). If I'm Congress, why shouldn't I spend money on my own tracks that I have more control over vs. paying "more rent" to CSX and getting little if anything of value for it? Why shouldn't I spend money on trainsets that I can use on my own tracks vs. extra trainsets that I have to beg UP to let me run at all?

    Amtrak will always be second class as renters on host railroads. If they want to duplicate the "success" of the NEC, they have to own or have more control of the rails outside of the NEC.
     
  16. Jul 7, 2017 #41

    Tarm

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    I supported the Madison train. To this day I am angry at Gov. Doyle. True, Walker had just won election but Doyle was still in office. The fed's had approved the grant and Doyle could have signed the contracts to get construction started. Instead he wimped out and punted to Walker who kill it. A POX ON BOTH THEIR HOUSES.
     
  17. Jul 7, 2017 #42

    Tarm

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    A Voice said: Amtrak's proposed federal budget includes money for operating state supported services.

    You are right. I stand corrected. But it is better to run a service and get reimbursed for some of the losses than none.
     
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  18. Jul 7, 2017 #43

    Tarm

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  19. Jul 7, 2017 #44

    Tarm

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    I will conclude my replies on this subject with a summary.

    1. I fear that Amtrak's future funding is at risk.

    2. The responsible action by Amtrak to deal with this risk is to lower it's need for an operational subsidy.

    3. The best way to achieve that and still provide the greatest good to the greatest number is to restructure single frequency LD type trains to multiple frequency corridor type trains.

    You may agree or disagree with me but that is why we have this discussion forum.

    I wish all of you a good day.

    Tarm
     
  20. Jul 8, 2017 #45

    neroden

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    One of the *several* things you are missing is freight railroad demands. They really, really, really dislike giving up additional slots. The operations costs are part of it. More is the capital demands.

    I'd say, at an guess, that CP would require full double tracking of the entire route from St. Paul to Chicago, and triple tracking in several places. At that point it makes more sense to buy the track so that Amtrak can *secure* the benefits of double tracking *permanently*. After certain cheaty-cheaty behavior by CSX and UP in the past, where they took government money to upgrade tracks for passenger service and then used the capacity for freight service and hosed the passengers, this is the only sane thing to do.

    Do you really think that cutting service on a line which BREAKS EVEN is going to pay for BUYING THE ENTIRE ROUTE FROM MSP TO CHI AND DOUBLE TRACKING IT? If so, you are wrong.

    I have emphasized over and over again the importance of the passenger rail operator controlling the tracks. Would I be willing to give up a long-distance train service if it meant that Amtrak got its own, wholly-owned tracks from Chicago to Porter, Indiana (where the Amtrak-owned Michigan line branches off)? Well, yeah, actually, I would. That would have huge massive long-term payback. In addition to the Michigan services, the LSL and CL would start running more reliably on time.

    But those two things aren't even the same order of magnitude. Cancelling the Sunset Limited gets you, about $14 million dollars per year. (Less for all the others.) Buying South of the Lake costs $510 million dollars. In 2002 dollars. You'd have to cancel the Sunset Limited for 37 years to accumulate enough money, if there's no inflation since 2002, which there is. So this is nonsense.
     
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  21. Jul 8, 2017 #46

    neroden

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    False. Ask anyone on the "High Line" section of the Empire Builder, where the alternative is driving for hundreds of miles on two-lane roads. (The airplane service is minimal and ultra-expensive.) That long distance train sure provides a necessary transportation service.

    Of course, as I've said, the Empire Builder breaks even.

    One point which is repeatedly missed by almost everyone is that the subsidies for Amtrak are essentially *system* subsidies at this point -- they pay for the national reservations system, the central backshops at Beech Grove, the Amtrak Police, etc. etc. They pay for overhead.

    Just like paying for the state police to patrol the roadways, or paying for the snowplows to clear the roads in the winter, or paying for Air Traffic Control.

    The individual routes are largely profitable. Many people, including Tarm, are still acting as if they aren't. This is, to put it bluntly "seeing the world as they want to see it, and not as it actually is".
     
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  22. Jul 8, 2017 #47

    neroden

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    The Coast Starlight is, of course, breaking even.

    And California is free to pay for these at any time. If you think the Feds will pay for them, where have you *been*?
    A crucial point: All of these would require MORE subsidy than the Coast Starlight. I think many people here do not understand how badly the corridor trains do financially. It's a little hard to tell now that they don't report the numbers "before state subsidy". Back when they did, it was obvious.

    In general, the long-distance trains have *much better* underlying (pre-subsidy, pre-overhead) financial performance than the corridor trains. This was readily apparent from all the reports until a couple of years ago when the PRIIA cost-sharing rules kicked in and numbers stopped being coherently reported; but it's probably possible to back-calculate the numbers to show that this is still true. This has ALWAYS been true -- the longer-distance runs were more profitable for the entire history of railroading back to the 1830s.

    (Obviously, the idiotic three-a-week trains are an exception, but that's because they're three-a-week. Daily or nothing, I say.)
     
  23. Jul 8, 2017 #48

    neroden

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    This is one example of the many, many economies of scale in railroading. It is really a "go big or go home" business. This was understood very early and resulted in both expansion mania and merger mania in the 19th century. It is still true today.
    Everything which is "wrong" with the long distance trains could be fixed by running them twice as often. (Well, 7/3 as often in the case of the three-a-week trains.)
     
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  24. Jul 8, 2017 #49

    neroden

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    It absolutely is. Long record of that. Even the commuter rail agencies complain. A lot. CSX was so obstructionist about expanded service on the Framingham/Worcester line that it involved Massachusetts's US senators, who started threatening to *change federal law* specifically to make it easier for Massachusetts to seize CSX tracks by eminent domain! (CSX eventually backed down.)

    There was a three month delay of work at St. Paul Union Depot due to difficulty getting Union Pacific to sign over a sliver of land which it owned from a precedessor and wasn't even *using*. San Diego Trolley had the same delay with Union Pacific; UP doesn't even have any tracks in the *county* but they couldn't get them to hand over old pieces of property (adjacent to the existing lines) which they needed for substations.

    I strongly believe the solution is to buy the tracks. Ontario's "Metrolinx" agrees and has bought everything it can; it is building its own parallel lines for the parts where it can't. VIA Rail in Canada agrees and is snapping up track where it can, and campaigning to have its own passenger corridor funded. Metrolink in LA agrees and has commented repeatedly that they wish they'd been able to buy more track cheaply. UTA in Utah agrees and built its own entire track parallel to the UP track for their commuter rail service. So did Denver. After much pressure, New York finally purchased (OK, leased, but indefinitely) the Albany-Poughkeepsie line from CSX. Michigan agrees, and purchased the Michigan line from NS when NS deliberately degraded service. New Mexico agrees, and bought track from BNSF around Albuquerque. *Wick Moorman* agrees and suggested that passenger operators should own the tracks and freight operators should be guests.
     
  25. Jul 8, 2017 #50

    neroden

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    Always has been.

    Certainly true.

    Absolutely incorrect. Several people have explained to you a substantial number of different reasons why you're wrong. If you choose to stick your fingers in your ears and go "nyah nyah nyah", well, we can't do anything about that.
     
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