Amtrak funding and committment to restore Gulf coast service

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by DSS&A, Jun 9, 2019.

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  1. Jun 11, 2019 #26

    Ryan

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    If you substitute "social programs" with "taking my tax dollars to help lazy people", the argument becomes more recognizable.
     
  2. Jun 11, 2019 #27

    Gary Behling

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    One thing that people must get clear--- quit taking the phrase "Social Program" as some sort of smear. Many Social Programs are good. Social Security, Medicare or anything that benefits society as a whole. If people want to call Amtrak funding a social program, fine. What kind of program is highway funding? Be ready to hit back with proper retorts
     
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  3. Jun 12, 2019 #28

    Ryan

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    When people stop using it as a smear, I’ll stop taking it that way.
     
  4. Jun 12, 2019 #29

    AmtrakBlue

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    Social Security & Medicare is money that WE, not the govt, paid for our use only. The govt has been stealing our “retirement savings” to pay for things others use. Those things should be paid for with taxes.
     
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  5. Jun 12, 2019 #30

    WalterIII

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    Well, back to the issue at hand, it is good to see something happening on the Gulf Coast! I will for the most part stay away from politics, but will take a shot, or two, at John Mica, and even praise him, a little!

    I spent 32 years with a Class 1 railway, retired (early) in March 2017, and am now having fun and consulting! Long time Amtrak/VIA and predecessors rider continent wide, and somewhat familiar (in detail) with certain rail networks in the east, and in particular, the southeast!

    I actually completed a round trip on the Sunset from Jacksonville to New Orleans (on a pair of office cars on the rear) in the late 1990's, and tried to make another one in 2005 from Orlando as a fare paying passenger. However, we got bused from Sanford, FL to NOLA due to a water main break washing out the "A" line near DeLand, FL. That last bus-rail trip was all the way to LAX and on to Seattle and occurred about 6 weeks before Katrina. NOLA to LAX we were 18 hours late (we were about 5 hours late out of NOLA), and LAX to Seattle, well, we never got there by rail. They turned the Coast Starlight at Portland and bused us to Seattle, arrived about 9 hours late. Still, apart from the two overnight bus rides, it was a fun trip, got to see Mt Shasta at high noon! UP was in "melt down" out west that summer (the second melt down after the UP-SP merger) in large part due to a former CSX manager (who shall not be named here) who was "running" UP's western operation that summer, into the ground.

    So, I know a little about the Sunset route; here are some comments and observations on the Gulf Coast portion of the route:

    1. As noted, good to see something happening

    2. Service options - several years ago there was a study on restoring service NOLA to ORL that you have probably seen. As I recall three options were reviewed and posted at Amtrak's website.
    - restoring the original tri-weekly Sunset
    - extending the City of New Orleans, or part of it, to Orlando on a daily basis
    - a separate stand alone daily day train

    The Sunset restoration option had the old ongoing problems: tri-weekly service, and a 3 night transcon train over three major class 1 carriers (UP-BNSF-CSXT) that was never on time.

    The best option in terms of total ridership and revenue, and most expensive to implement (equipment) was extending the City of New Orleans. This option not only restored service on a schedule similar to the Sunset but would also boost ridership on the CHI-NOLA portion as well on a train which has capacity. Last option I heard for this was for a coach, coach baggage, lounge and sleeper to continue past NOLA to ORL. But, it would be more expensive to run and restore, and who knows if there are enough cars. Orlando would be the destination because of maintaining Superliners at Sanford; also going all the way to Miami would have required another set of cars, or more.

    The stand alone train day train studied (NOLA-ORL) would not have connected same day at NOLA with anything. Evidently a stand alone is what they are looking at doing, but over just part of the route. I think I saw they were looking at two round trips a day, and I expect it would have connections with the three other trains serving NOLA. Of course it does not get to Florida, but would serve what's left of the gulf coast casinos!

    All three options had that 750 mile issue for funding (states have to cover the cost) even though the route was a part of the national network at one time. NOLA - JAX is 616 rail miles; NOLA-ORL is 758, NOLA-Sanford 739; they focused on the "new" route portion of 616 miles being what counts.

    Warning
    - John Mica critique and praise follows: I suspect the 750 mile limit was picked (and certainly approved by) John Mica, Federal District 7 Representative (Central Florida / Sanford area) from 1993 to 2017, and was picked specifically with the Sunset restoration in mind. A complicated man, he often praised Amtrak's Auto Train service and showed up for the opening of the new terminal there a few years ago (the funding for which he voted against) and had no issue with securing over $1 billion in Federal funding for SunRail Commuter service. But he had his sights on the Sunset Limited every day he was in office - it was his poster child of everything wrong with Amtrak and he wanted the train gone (even though it served his district) and it would never come back while he was in DC and in the majority. He was always quick to call Amtrak a "Soviet Style" company, which he did for years, and harped on the subsidized "luxury meal service" (yes, we can thank him for the Silver Starve, idle $3+ million Viewliner II diners we all waited some 20-30 years to enjoy, the mandate to "break even on food" by 2020 and the possible demise of decent food service in general). On the plus side for John, at the end of April I rode the SunRail service he did support from Poinciana to DeLand and back. Excellent service, and ridership is picking up, passengers I talked to loved it. Service to Poinciana only started at the beginning of the year and the large park and ride lot there was 70% full; should be extended to Lakeland and Tampa.

    OK - done with politics and back to the Gulf Coast route!

    3. Florida problems - as you may know in order to restore passenger service on the Panhandle someone will have to pay for the installation of PTC between Baldwin, FL (just west of Jacksonville) to about Pensacola (not sure of the exact point, it could be as far west as Flomaton, AL or as close as Tallahassee). CSX just sold the line from just west of Baldwin to just east of Pensacola to a short line operator, RailUSA, LLC, to be known as the Florida Gulf and Atlantic Railroad (FGA). That adds a level of complication, but as a short line they might be able to get and exemption for PTC.

    4. Equipment - given timing, your speculation on using Horizon cars displaced from the mid-west is probably right on the mark.

    5. Other routes - I noticed the mention of the Capitol Limited - Silver Star route. Before the Capitol went Superliner there was for a while a through Chicago - Miami coach for a year or more using that connection. As for Chicago-Atlanta-Miami there was a study of that route in the 1990's and the cost of start up was over $400 million (about half for the equipment, half for track/signal/station work). I suspect that would be close to a $ 1 billion now. Point being, once you lose it, well, it's next to impossible to get it back. As for the old Floridian route, forget it.

    Wrapping up, as for Alabama, well......perhaps they will see the light! For the past few years all of the communities from New Orleans to Jacksonville wanted to see restoration of service. Even Pensacola is for it now, they got rid of the mayor they had a few years ago who proclaimed he would not let any Amtrak train stop in his city because in his view it was a "communist company". That's for real, you just cannot make this up!

    At least something is advancing.

    Walter
     
  6. Jun 12, 2019 #31

    Gary Behling

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    Walter,
    I realize this is an Amtrak forum and day-dreaming and talking about the old days of luxury trains is more fun, but maybe one shouldn't be so quick to leave politics behind. I know you want to see all these improvements made with no money in Amtrak's budget to do it, but seriously, if you REALLY want positive change in Amtrak, we have to prepare the groundwork first. Politics is that groundwork.
     
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  7. Jun 12, 2019 #32

    jis

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    SunRail first needs to complete its original route upto Deland and start running on weekends, and build and operate a link to Orlando International Airport before trying to go to Tampa. They can barely keep the current compact of counties together what with Volusia threatening to walk away if the Deland segment is not built soon. They have also talked about Daytona on occasions, and this is a county that is already part of the compact. Adding a few more counties to the compact is going to be a formidable task to say the least.

    I also don't understand why people keep talking of "daylight service" between New Orleans and Orlando. A journey that takes 16-18 hours cannot be a daylight service while avoiding somewhat unpalatable times at at least one end. The only way for it to connect to anything at one or both ends to take advantage of the network effect is to make it an overnight journey. And that is exactly what is proposed by the Southern Rail Commission which owns the planning process.
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2019
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  8. Jun 13, 2019 #33

    railbuck

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    Straight South from Philadelphia would involve a very long bridge from the Outer Banks to the Bahamas. Chicago to Cleveland or Charleston and then straight South would hit Florida, but lacks infrastructure.

    If a train were to be routed Chicago to Charlottesville to Greensboro to Cary to Miami, the track distance would be virtually the same (if my calculations are correct) as the connection through WAS; using the current timetable it would take about 5 hours longer (though 2 hours shorter when the wait between 30 and 97 is factored in). Track work would be needed at Charlottesville, IIRC; not sure about the other connections.

    Anyone adventurous enough to try that route on 50, 19, 80, and 91 would arrive in Miami over 71 hours after leaving Chicago, spending only 45-1/2 hours of that time on the trains.
     
  9. Jun 13, 2019 #34

    brianpmcdonnell17

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    Greensboro and Cary would also need major track work for a train to operate that route. In Cary, the routes from Charlotte and Miami approach nearly parallel to one another facing the same direction. Also, while you would gain Indianapolis and Cincinnati, you would lose Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Richmond in addition to taking significantly longer as you stated.
     
  10. Jun 13, 2019 #35

    tricia

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    In my dreams, Amtrak runs a train from Chicago to Florida, stopping in Asheville NC along the way. If not Asheville, at least Knoxville or Chattanooga. :cool:
     
  11. Jun 13, 2019 #36

    Amtrakfflyer

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    It definitely is one of the many holes in the network
     
  12. Jun 13, 2019 #37

    Ziv

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    If there were a train from Chicago to Florida, are the Smokey Mountains the main problem with geographical features? It looks like the Chattahoochee National Park and the Nantahala National Forest would force any trains to go either west of them through Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta and Macon (via Tallahassee?) or east of them through Knoxville, Asheville and either Augusta or Columbia and then on to Savannah?
    Either way, it looks like it would be a great train ride. Judging from the sedate speed of the Cap Limited from southern Pennsylvania through Harpers Ferry, this might not be the speediest part of the trip from Chicago to Florida.
    Not sure what the ridership would be like. I imagine there are people on this site that did similar trips in the pre-Amtrak days.
     
  13. Jun 13, 2019 #38

    JustOnce

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    I ran the numbers a while back comparing the schedule for the old Floridian route vs. a Capitol Limited+Silver Meteor routing. Assuming a direct, no-waiting connection to the Meteor, the schedule would be around 39 hours, while the Floridian took 40 hours (really slow track).

    The route might be slightly faster if they ran it along the B&O between Chicago and Pittsburgh since that routing is more southerly than the NS Chicago Line (NYC Water Level Route). I know that line is PTC-equipped but I'm not sure what the track speeds are.

    Besides CSX won't let Amtrak anywhere near that line, the main CHI-NYC (NJ) intermodal route. Even if they did, I bet Amtrak would constantly get stuck behind trains outlawed, waiting to enter the yard, or waiting to recrew at Willard and North Baltimore yards.
     
  14. Jun 13, 2019 #39

    crescent-zephyr

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    It seems like Chicago - Cincinnati and straight down the NS line through Chattanooga and Atlanta would be a fairly quick route chi-Florida. But that’s for a brand new train route.... not happening soon I know.
     
  15. Jun 13, 2019 #40

    Seaboard92

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    For a Chicago-Florida route there are several choices.

    TS=Current Timetable Speed.

    The best. Chicago-Indy (Hoosier State Route)-Louisville (TS 40 MPH IND-LVL)-Nashville (TS 50-60 range LVl-BNA)-Chattanooga-Atlanta (TS 50-60 Range BNA-ATL)-Macon-Jacksonville (TS 50-60 ATL-JAX)-Miami.

    The second Best route
    Chicago-Indy-Cincinnati (Cardinal Route)-Knoxville (TS 50-60 CIN-KVL)-Chattanooga-Atlanta (TS 50-60 KVL-ATL)-Macon-Jacksonville (TS 50-60 ATL-JAX)-Miami.

    Remember a key thing about a long haul service it’s more of a marathon so average speeds are fairly low and most routes are under 50 mph on average. While short haul corridors are more of sprints.
     
  16. Jun 13, 2019 #41

    tricia

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    Any of these would vastly improve connectivity from the Southeast to western trains.
     
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  17. Jun 13, 2019 #42

    west point

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    The mid west to Florida direct ? Any direct route is going to be slower than desired. It is all about geography. The glacier age caused mountains to be formed in a north east south west direction. Getting across that many mountains and valleys is difficult that are as close as 15 miles peak to peak. For example the land NW of Chattanooga is over 1000 feet higher than CHA.
     
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  18. Jun 18, 2019 at 2:42 PM #43

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    From the Routes and Schedule Committee Report of RPA at Rail Nation DC, they calculated from 35 1/2 hours to 38 hours and 35 minutes using a routing serving Chicago, Indy, Louisville, and Atlanta. They found a slightly faster routing at 33 1/2 hrs to 36 hrs, 5 min but it served Evansville instead of Indianapolis and Louisville.

    https://www.railpassengers.org/site...es_schedules_commitee_-_wednesday_morning.pdf
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2019 at 2:49 PM
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