Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by frequentflyer, Jul 25, 2019.
The app still lists all Acela trains as "Acela Express".
Yeah, I get that - By shifting those endpoints by a little bit, you can swing those times to favor one mode over another. At the end of the day, the fastest travel mode is deeply personal.
Will this non-stop be a scaled down Acela train set, to support the lower passenger loads? Will this extra train (if it is), affect the financial success of the multi-stop Acelas? Is the actual intent of this "experiment" to test whether it draws passengers away from the DC-NYC air route?. IMO, NYC-DC commuters are not going to adjust their working schedules/patterns to take this non-stop. I give it 1 Year, unless they add PHL.
(1) Yes, it is an additional train.
(2) The train won't be scaled down. The sets are effectively fixed sets. Breaking up a set would require dedicating one of the sets to this service (and then you'd have a spare Acela car to do...something...with).
I think the test is more complicated than what you described. Yes, most of the ridership will be coming from planes (there's currently about 130-200 seats/hour on the DCA-LGA run between AA and DL; EWR and JFK add some to the mix as well) but there are also questions of induced availability and other dynamics (e.g. Is ridership being lost for want of available peak-hour seats? Does the faster timetable help? To what extent do added frequencies induce ridership?).
There's likely to be some poking at pricing, etc. to see what the market will carry, but it is entirely possible that the limited express/Nozomi-style run (to the regular service's Hikari-style operation) will generate a reasonable load factor at a reasonable price point (especially if Amtrak nudges the neighboring trains up a bucket).
This does, by the way, seem to be what Amtrak is doing: On Sept. 23, the limited express has BC seats available for $130 NYP-WAS (the Saver fare). The 0600 out of NYP has no Saver fare but does have a $173 (low bucket) seat available while the 0700 and 0800 already locked to high bucket ($309 NYP-WAS). The dynamic is weaker NB, but the nonstop is still the only train with a $130 BC fare (and paid F is going for $276 vs $455 on the neighboring trains). Also, the nonstop's award pricing is, at the moment, behaving like a normal train (so pricing at 34.5 points/dollar off of the non-saver BC fare and off of the paid First fare); whether this is a bug, a promotional move, or a semi-permanent "nudge" is, of course, to be determined.
By the way, my guess on the 2:29 timetable is that if Amtrak can get the NJ work done in line with the rollout of the new trainsets they might well roll out such a run as a kick-off (since they could honestly claim that it is the fastest-ever timetabled train between New York and Washington even if it only snipes the Penn Central by a minute, and if I'm working on a longer-term strategy that's what I would do).
So, I've been poking at this and really the question is whether Amtrak is looking to expand the offerings here, potentially add a stop or two at each end for the "prevailing" direction, etc. Prevailing air fares on the DCA-LGA route, same-day round-trip, are $971 in the next seven days, $701 at 8-14 days, $551 at 15-21 days, and $331 from then onwards. Going to a one-or-two night stay does some "damage control", particularly starting at two weeks out (and with two airlines running the route there's room to do some "nesting" across AA vs DL), but the close-in Y fares are still far above the Acela. Pricing is a bit better at JFK, but frequencies are also thinner (and for reasons known only to God, folks from New York apparently prefer LGA to JFK).
As such, if they can get to the point that they can maintain a 2:30 timetable (+/-5 minutes), possibly with a sole intermediate stop (BAL would be my first choice as long as it remains in a slow patch) I would be not at all surprised if Amtrak could actually make a serious go of finally starting to drive the air shuttles under (they've already seriously dented them, to the point that AA abandoned hourly service while both AA and DL are using Embraers instead of 737s or A320-family planes; I honestly don't think the air shuttles can take another hit on that scale).
By the way, I'm going to pretend I'm Richard Anderson for a moment (which is a horrifying thought). If I'm in his shoes, I might actually chose to run the expresses at, if not a loss, then at a very marginal direct operating profit in a serious attempt to damage the air shuttles badly enough to try and force a frequency collapse or knock one of the airlines out of the shuttle part of that market (as opposed to with connecting traffic...which really makes more sense to run through airports without the relevant congestion problems). At that point I can turn around and try to jack my fares. It is a brutally predatory move, it is an aggressive gambit, but I think it has room to succeed (particularly, as indicated, if BAL/BWI were to be thrown in without having to add time to the run...but at least in the short term I think part of the pitch will be "look at the shiny nonstop").
2 hours and 35 minutes? Sorry, I am underwhelmed...
With the millions (billion's?) they have spent improving the NEC over the last forty plus years since the original nonstop MU Metroliner's did it in 2 hours and 30 minutes (I rode it, and it actually arrived a minute early)...
Based on past results, I feel it should be served with a reduced set but that's logistically impossible. This route would be better served by using a Sprinter and two or three coaches configured for business class and a lounge car and run under the Acela name since 125-mph operation is probably fine given the short available stretch of 135-mph track. However, that would dilute or at least add confusion to the Acela brand which Amtrak has done a great job of cultivating (and fortunately [IMHO] will continue to do so by naming the new sets 'Acela 21').
Are Acela stops really that short that only save 20 minutes here? I'd think that eliminating station dwell and eliminating the time needed to slow down and speed up would save more time.
Even were I not not an unrepentant Foamer - predjudiced towards Amtrak in the first place - I would still go with the Acela vice the hassles of air travel - TSA, Airports in general, airport location, TSA, uncomfortable accommodations, higher susceptibility to weather delays, and the higher survival rates in case of an unpleasantness.
And you don't have to disrobe and take off your shoes to board a train.
Seems to me that downtown to downtown would be preferable, presents less traffic issues, and the stations are generally better connected to other mass transit.
Now if Amtrak doesn't set the price point at some ridiculous level...
It's interesting, the WSJ article on this doesn't even mention air travel, although it does quote Roger Harris as saying, "we believe the new product and new schedule will create demand." I assume that's where the demand would come from.
But it more focuses on Amtrak trying to decide what to do with the additional stock it will have in the near future. It says, "when the new fleet of Acela train sets is fully delivered, Amtrak will have 40% more trains to work with, offering greater flexibility to run limited stop service." That made me think of Metro-North, which is where I grew up, and has express trains at rush hour that stop at 3 or 4 different stops on one of various sections of the line.
Regarding demand from people already taking Acelas, I assume based on the many DC/NY people I follow on Twitter who seem over the top delighted, it will be great if it works with your schedule. I don't think it's just the 15 minutes, although honestly, that's close to what Acela yields you over the NER now and people go for that. And if you're a person like me who takes the Regionals, this saves you enough time to maybe make the cost worth it, especially at the current Saver fare. But there's also the annoyance factor of having to get up for people getting off as well as people getting on and asking you to move all your stuff to sit next to you (I am not a person who does this but plenty do, as we know). Just knowing when you snag a pair to yourself that it's yours for the whole trip is worth a premium, if they decide to charge it.
Idiot airline mentality.
This wastes one of the primary economies-of-scale advantages of railroads. It can basically only do one thing: reduce revenue.
Now, there is a lot of logic to a superexpress which only stopped at Philladelphia, but there frankly isn't enough NY-DC traffic to justify a nonstop. It may be the most popular city pair, but not by enough. NY-Philladelphia is #3 and Philadelphia-DC is #6 (while #2,#4,and #5 are variants of NY-Boston). So NY-Philadelphia-DC probably works. NY-DC will be underutilized.
Anyone flying out of Newark Airport would avoid this nonstop due to the backtrack to NY Penn; they'd want Newark-DC. So you can forget those.
It really is a pity that they're skipping Philadelphia. PHL-NYP is actually already as fast as any of the airlines, if you're going to Center City Philadelphia. PHL-DC would require some speedups to drive the airlines out of business, but it should be doable. Both are more marginal businesses for the airlines already, and Amtrak should be able to crush them without affecting their NY-DC traffic significantly. Assuming Amtrak is capable of loading and unloading a train efficiently, which they do seem to have weird problems with (they need to learn from the subways!)
Based on traffic patterns, if I were to only have one intermediate stop, it would definitely be Philadelphia, not Baltimore. I know trains have to slow down for both of them already (and can speed through the other intermediate stations), but the travel patterns point *strongly* towards a Philladelphia stop.
I disagree on EWR. If (airline-wise) you're tied to United or based out of Jersey City/Hoboken the backtracking isn't necessarily an issue. The question of why a given airport is being used is rarely so cut and dried...but I doubt that United is solely drawing pax from that far over.
I think itll be successful.
Air traffic is at all time high. However, there has been zero increase in capacity in NYC airspace. That means delays.
Amtrak doesnt do well in storms (worse than it should), but it does better than airlines. Newark was reporting 7 hour delays earlier this week. The 3pm flights weren't leaving until 10pm. Many were simply cancelled.
TSA has gotten better for frequent travelers. With pre-check, you can be inside in 5 minutes. However, LGA is a cluster and will remain a cluster until 2022. Getting in and out in a cab can add 20 minutes, at all hours.
NYP is getting better. The new bathrooms are nice. The 7th Avenue side is getting redone as theye xpand the building above it. A new entrance to LIRR will reduce sidewalk congestion. The new terminal across 8th will be great, and I believe it will be delivered on time.
Nor do I (and the frequent travelers that will patronize this train) to board an aircraft.
Last Sunday evening I walked into BWI, dropped my checked bag at the counter, stood in a ~10 person deep line at security, dropped my bag on the belt to go through the scanner, walked through a metal detector, picked up my bag and was at the gate in about 15 minutes. I fly roughly 1-2 times/month, and the routine is a typical one. Easy as pie with none of the alleged groping, stripping, or other unpleasantness that people that claim never to fly routinely complain about.
I’m a little confused why some people think passengers with flights out of EWR is a target market for this nonstop run.
I agree. A very significant proportion of people flying to EWR from the catchment area for Washington Union Station are doing so for connecting flights, and those people are not going to change over to Acelas of any sort - no through ticketing, no through checked baggage etc. etc.). Those who are flying to EWR to go to Manhattan would be the target audience of the faster Acela service, though I am not sure 20 minute speedup will attract their attention that much.
But the fact of the matter is that the Acela capacity around that time slot is pretty saturated even if you don't worry about airline passengers. Maybe there is latent demand anyway to fill significant part of another train. The question is whether the existing latent demand has enough through WAS - NYP passengers or not. Or whether they will need to add at least a Philly stop like in the past capture enough of the latent demand.
Precheck is great.
Unless its 8pm, the precheck line is closed, and your sent through the big line with the masses, which means laptop out and more sensitive metal detectors
At Amsterdam Schiphol, there was of course no pre-check, but no one had to take anything out of their bag, or disrobe or any such. Everyone had to go through millimeter scanner. No magnetometer in sight anywhere. The flow was very smooth, orderly and quick. Just a data point from outside the US.
Yep, Paidcheck is great...until it's not. Arbitrary lane closures and newbie confusion mean it's not always as fast and smooth as you'd think. When the Paidcheck lane is closed it's back to unpacking your private liquids and personal electronics into a series of grubby bins, clean socks on sticky floors, and millimeter wave scanners that seem to result in a contraband pat-down around 90% of the time (for me).
Yeah...I'd at least like to see a requirement that, if the precheck lane is closed then precheck benefits still have to be extended (I know some airports give you a card when you enter the security line to hand over and not have to do all of the who-struck-John). It was maddening as hell when, at Virgin America's terminal at LAX, precheck would be closed (or when I showed up at IAD one evening and they didn't have precheck open since most of the flights were in an international evening flight bank with non-participating airlines).
(This isn't to say that I have less contempt for the TSA even with said thing; if anything, I have greater contempt for having gone through the Nexus screening process and I still occasionally don't get what I paid for.)
That would be a little risky for the TSA if some people in the "regular line" are treated differently than all the others in the same line, just because they are Precheck, card or no card. That might cause an "insurrection" if some passengers see others sailing through when they don't. At least, if it's a separate line, there's some distinction and everyone in one particular line is treated the same way...
Per-person Paidcheck Lite cards have been in circulation for at least a few years now. I've only experienced the worn shoes and metal detector benefit but that sill saves me from the disgusting floors and unwanted pat-down experience after the wave scanner puts a contraband target somewhere on my person. I think the main reason the card doesn't provide luggage benefits is because the TSA can't be bothered to keep carry-on luggage in sync with the progress of the passenger who brought it. Whenever the TSA asks me if my luggage has ever been out of my sight or in the possession of a stranger I try to explain that the only time this ever happens is when it's in their possession.
I'm going to throw out another possibility regarding the 2007-08 experiment with the one-stop service: It was cut from the timetable about three weeks after Bear Stearns collapsed. It seems quite possible that expense account travel was already taking a hit prior to then (the YoY drop in Acela traffic was about 12.5% from FY08-FY09, versus 8.2% on the Regionals), and if the train was something of a marginal operation beforehand this probably tipped it over the edge into getting axed even if only by virtue of the writing appearing on the wall. Sadly, I do not have the monthly reports from this era so I cannot confirm.
Does Amtrak believe they are currently losing revenue by one small section of a route selling out is preventing end to end passengers purchasing tickets resulting in a coach being 60% full for 80% of the trip and 100% capacity for 20% where as a none stop service could run at 90% capacity for 100% of the trip?
Now that you mention it, I think there might actually be an issue with NYP-PHL crowding out NYP-WAS traffic. Ditto "overlap" traffic from BOS, etc. to Newark (knocking out NYP-WAS/NYP-PHL traffic due to a painfully short overlap).
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