Amtrak Virginia

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by Just-Thinking-51, Apr 30, 2019.

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  1. Apr 30, 2019 #1

    Just-Thinking-51

    Just-Thinking-51

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  2. Apr 30, 2019 #2

    jis

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    Yes, Rafi has been seen around here at AU in the past. He is a good friend of several of us here. IIRC he was involved in the design and deployment of the iPhone App that is used by the Amtrak Conductors to collect/scan tickets on board, before he moved on to other adventures.
     
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  3. Apr 30, 2019 #3

    VAtrainfan

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    I think he makes a good point about the timing of trains. Getting people from VA to DC and the NEC was where we needed to start, and realigning and adding a frequency to the Hampton Roads trains helps. But he's right, you can't get from anywhere east of I-95 to anywhere west of I-95 (or vice-versa) without either going to DC or using the once-daily RVR-CVS Thruway bus that serves only to get Cardinal/Crescent riders to Richmond but isn't timed to connect to any of the Hampton Roads trains in either direction.

    I think a serious study needs to be done on the potential ridership and infrastructure viability of running either Amtrak or VRE trains on the I-64 corridor CVS-NPN with a Thruway to NFK. This would serve a big chunk of cross-state traffic and if timed correctly could get Hampton Roads passengers to the Cardinal, Crescent, and western NER without going to WAS, and riders on both ends of the state to the Silvers, Carolinian and Palmetto without either going to WAS or waiting for hours and hours at (or driving to) RVR or PTB. Right now, NPN-CVS is bookable but takes 13 hours and requires riding the bus to Norfolk, riding the NER to Alexandria, waiting for nearly 6 hours, and then riding the NER to Charlottesville. And costs $99. I'd put money on them currently selling exactly zero tickets on that itinerary.
     
  4. Apr 30, 2019 #4

    Anderson

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    I'll have to talk with him in two weeks. I don't know if he's on here, but he's on the VHSR council.

    The one thing I will say is that he's really got off on the wrong track as to the utility of those trains to the state. They don't "whisk...money out of the state", they enable people to live further out from DC and leave money in the state and make it more viable for companies to consider having satellite offices in Richmond, Fredericksburg, etc. The alternative to some of that money getting "whisked out" is that people move elsewhere and all of their money gets whisked out.

    And at VHSR we're nagging DRPT about the Thruway situation. If nothing else, the morning Thruway out of NPN (to NFK) needs to be reversed and sent to meet the train in question at RVR. That would give you a bus through at least WBG as well (and possibly RVM, too) at a decent hour in the morning, and dollars to donuts they might find enough demand to need to lay on a second bus many days...so once the I-64 construction is done, I see no reason you couldn't cut some travel time down there.
     
  5. May 1, 2019 #5

    Just-Thinking-51

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    Seem to be low hanging fruit. Of course the bus company might have to rearrange a lot of thing to do this. Might be better to ask the DRPT when there contract with bus service ends. Then get the DRPT rebid it out in a reversed fashion. Bus maintenance, and driver homes would be the issues.
     
  6. May 1, 2019 #6

    sttom

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    He makes a good point, a train line that flows in one direction is kind of useless, well has one use. When new state supported routes start, Amtrak should push harder to get 4 round trips per day with departures spread out through the day in both directions. If expanding corridor trains are going to be Amtrak's push, they need to be planned well at the beginning rather than a few long distance commuter trains.
     
  7. May 1, 2019 #7

    DCAKen

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    I heard on the local news this morning that Virginia is planning a 15% discount on fares inside the state or from Virginia to DC to help spur ridership. They estimated this subsidy would be about $700,000 a year.
     
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  8. May 2, 2019 #8

    Thirdrail7

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    Are there viable rail corridors for the routes he suggests? IS there enough money to be made for the reverse commute to cover the costs?
     
  9. May 2, 2019 #9

    sttom

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    He thinks there is. It would stand to reason that some people would want to get to Richmond or Charlottesville. If the traffic on the interstates are anything to go by, the answer is yes.
     
  10. May 2, 2019 #10

    Palmland

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    I’m not at all sure it could be justified with the relatively low populations, but it would be feasible to run a Newport News train to Richmond then on the Buckingham Branch Railroad to Charlottesville and on the NS to Lynchburg. There is a head on connection for all railroads and the servicing facility exists at Lynchburg.

    Unfortunately the BB is a relatively slow curvy line and James River Bus lines can do it significantly faster. I would rather see the state give priority to a morning service from WAS - CVS with an evening return. And maybe that’s the plan for the second Roanoke train.
     
  11. May 2, 2019 #11

    Anderson

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    (1) The tracks are there (even if the configuration in Richmond is a bit of a headache). If you look at a map of the railroads in Richmond, coming up the Peninsula you have two ways you could, in theory, get out to Charlottesville. One is to hit RVM, then go north up the old C&O mainline, cross the RF&P at Doswell, and proceed. The other is to hit RVM, proceed as the Regionals do to RVR and then past Ashland, and then split off of the RF&P at Doswell. The main issues are that (1) the tracks from RVM to Doswell (and indeed, further west) are in lousy shape; and (2) following them skips RVR (and the relevant parking lot and interchange station)...but going via RVR means you have to deal with Acca Yard and probably build in a connecting track at Doswell, and deal with the other bad track across Richmond.

    (2) As to the traffic question/"viability", that's going to be complicated and a lot is going to depend on how you arrange things. I think there's enough traffic to justify a service here if you're willing to invest in getting a decent operating speed on the route (in 1971 the route took 3:20 to run, including a few extra miles of routing into downtown Newport News that are no longer in passenger use), but that won't be cheap. [So, to belatedly agree with Palmland, yes a bus would probably work better in the short run for patching that hole. The issue there is that right now, I don't think you can sell an RVR-CVS stand-alone bus ticket.]

    (3) It is worth noting that at least on the Richmond-Washington[-New York/Boston] routing, the departures break down to roughly as follows:
    -0430 (Meteor-MIA)
    -0600 (Regional-RVR)
    -0700 (Regional-NPN)
    -0800 (Regional-NFK)
    -1100 (Regional-NFK)
    -1200 (Star-MIA)
    -1400 (Carolinian-CLT)
    -1700 (Palmetto-SAV)
    -1900 (Regional-NPN)

    I think that's a decent distribution. SB the distribution is a bit more problematic (you have a Regional stacked right on top of the Star, for example).

    As to future plans, those have always been rather nebulous, but my understanding is that (loosely) there are plans for roughly eight more trains in the long run: Four from Hampton Roads and four from North Carolina (SEHSR). The exact distribution of those is TBD, of course, but my read is that the VA-originating trains would skew somewhat earlier in the day and the NC-originating trains somewhat later due to the simple problem of start times: An 0600 train out of RGH (the plan is to have one such train) isn't going to be getting into Richmond before roughly 0830, and even at a full build-out the first CLT train of the day is probably looking at getting into Richmond around 1030 or 1100. This isn't to say that if Norfolk gets 6x daily trains there won't almost inherently be one or two new trains scattered later in the day...but the general skew is going to be for the NC trains to fill those slots.

    Something else worth noting: It is quite possible that the SB SEHSR trains would be originating in DC, not New York, so the chances of those fleshing out some SB slots in the morning are pretty good as well.

    Mind you, this doesn't get to issues with the Piedmont line (Charlottesville, etc.)...but that line is also badly in need of a comprehensive build-out plan.

    (4) So, onto that corridor! My understanding is that yes, the plan for the second Lynchburg train is to run it as a reverse-peak train (i.e. south in the morning/north in the afternoon). There's a pair of Regionals that fits this nicely. NS is just being a PITA on this front.
     
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  12. May 3, 2019 #12

    City of Miami

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    I'm on 171 right now. Been dragging fanny since WAS. 1 excuse after another. Slow running now just north of CVS.
     
  13. May 3, 2019 #13

    Seaboard92

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    Of course if you want a really backward route. Go NPN-RVR-PTB-LYH-CVS-WAS. It would take a lot longer but would be interesting.

    It would be better to run NFK-LYH-CVS-WAS and time a connection in ptb.
     
  14. May 3, 2019 #14

    Thirdrail7

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    The funny thing is we're all guessing destinations. From his article:

    That's all well and good but what is the priority? Which areas should be tackled first? Should a train to say Luray (an important tourist area) come before adding another train to NFK?

    As for cross-state trains, is this necessarily an Amtrak function? Perhaps a VRE type of operator could tackle this and meet up with Amtrak at a point.

    I would be helpful if the author if the article posted his vision for where he thinks tourism will be bolstered. After all, it has his state (with CSX's nudging) that willingly stabbed Williamsburg (in my opinion).
     
  15. May 3, 2019 #15

    Anderson

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    Oh, believe me...folks are not happy on the Peninsula. I think it is fair to fault the state for not letting NPN have an 0620 departure (corresponding to the 0800-ish train out of RVR) and making NFK take the 0500 departure in exchange for getting the 0900-ish departure. I realize why letting NPN have the two "daytime" departures while NFK would get two early morning departures would be unworkable...but then again, I don't know if the issue there was CSX instead of VA. For the record, Williamsburg/Newport News were asked whether they wanted to keep the 0900 departure or the 1720 departure, and they did willingly choose the latter.

    As to the cross-state issue, I think the problem there is that technically such a route is too long to be a commuter route (NPN-RVR-CVS is about 170 miles, IIRC). Now, you could run that as an intercity route but use a third-party operator...the issue is that you're not dealing with a sole host, so bringing someone else in for a non-commuter run is going to get dicey. Moreover, I think that "Amtrak" is probably, in context, being used as shorthand for "passenger rail that is not commuter rail".
     
  16. May 3, 2019 #16

    MARC Rider

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    While it's true that Amtrak operates intrastate trains in California for local transportation authorities, I believe it directly runs the intrastate trains in New York and Illinois (with state funding, of course.) I see no reason why an intrastate intercity train or corridor couldn't be an Amtrak function, especially if it has connectivity into the national system.
     
  17. May 3, 2019 #17

    Thirdrail7

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    Amtrak runs plenty of intrastate service for plenty of states. While that is true, I see no reason why a state can't take it upon themselves to create their own services as they desire (such as state commuter agency). Additionally, VRE was formed by the counties involved in their operation.

    There is nothing stopping interested parties from forming a service and contracting the operation to Amtrak or some other entity and I hope the author of the article endorses that idea.
     
  18. May 3, 2019 #18

    sttom

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    Last edited: May 3, 2019
  19. May 3, 2019 #19

    Anderson

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    @sttom There are a lot of complications in California (referendum laws, etc.) which make getting things done there a potential mess. Considering the situations in different states, I'm not sure that a "non-local" model would have seen better (or worse) Amtrak service. The Surfliners have been steadily expanded over the years, as have the San Joaquins. The gaps in the system (Tehachapi Pass, etc.) seem to be down as much to Class I resistance (considering the traffic situation, I can't even call the Tehachapi situation "intransigence") as anything else. Probably the only categorical failure has been the lack of either keeping the Spirit of California or running a Coast Daylight from LA to the Bay Area/Sacramento...and the former failure, at least, is explicitly a "Sacramento problem"...though to be fair, I can also accept the idea that CAHSR has been an unintentional distraction in many respects.

    To be clear, I do think it would be desirable to rework some of the operational models (particularly in the LA area, where you have a lot of very long commuter runs) but it isn't like the LA area isn't pouring money into transit at a rate that far exceeds most of the rest of the country. I can at least accept the idea that what's happening in CA is the best that can be managed under current circumstances.

    As to Virginia, the point that VRE is basically a creature of the counties in question is a valid one, and the idea of getting (say) Charles City County or New Kent County to "buy in" on a cross-state commuter train doesn't strike me as terribly likely unless you can bundle it with a serious prospect of development in the counties in question (something that is not, FWIW, absurd if you can also get Richmond to start growing).
     
  20. May 4, 2019 #20

    sttom

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    The initiative system is not remotely a problem when it comes to transit projects, the fact that the people who wrote the state constitution prioritized customization and local control over efficiency is the problem. Its not just transit in this state that is stupidly run, but most everything is because every agency can be customized at a level that no other state would allow.

    For an example, BART is its own district which gives it some degree of independence from the counties it operates in. Metrolink is a joint powers agency like what runs the Amtrak lines. Which means they are run to some degree like a confederation of agencies and have to deal with various inter county rivalries. From what I have gathered from people who deal with Metrolink, the Amtrak JPAs have slightly more oversight than Metrolink or CalTrain do. But this local control has led to Metrolink largely not having day time service, scattered if any weekend service and effectively being what the writer of the Virginia article is talking about.

    But that doesn't answer the question, why shouldn't Amtrak operate in-state lines? The benefits of having the line be run by Amtrak seems to far outweigh the cons if the state owns the equipment. Those benefits being easier transfers, some latitude in fare setting and the ability to distribute costs and Amtrak gets inflated rider numbers and money. Nearly a third of Amtrak's ridership is just from California and most of that is the state supported lines. Why should Amtrak operate under a "no in-state routes" on top of federal lines needing to be 750 miles?

    As for the California failing, if the state was more on top of keeping the trains running rather than the usual "kick it off the the locals" tradition we have, maybe we could have gotten trains over Tehachapi Pass or to other places where the local transit agencies don't always have rail as a top priority.
     
  21. May 4, 2019 #21

    Thirdrail7

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    I missed this since it was buried in the misquote. Asking if Amtrak should or should not run intrastate trains is the ultimate question. I can see pros and cons for both sides of the coin.

    Amtrak wasn't really meant to be a "commuter" service. Unfortunately, a lot of people think of commuter service when they think of intrastate, which means it is a local responsibility. That way, they can tailor their needs to their costs. However, some states are vast. A local agency attempting to control a large amount of territory is possible but it would help if federal funding was also available. The problem is the reluctance of other states to pay for what they consider a "local" problem. The answer to that was PRIIA and I haven't seen any rush (or high level lobbying) to overturn it. With such a law in place and the author of the article being involved with railroads, I'm wondering why he didn't mention overhauling PRIIA or advocate for additional agencies entering the market.

    On the flip side, Amtrak doesn't have a bottomless pool of finances or equipment. Every piece of equipment you send to one area comes from another area. It is no surprise to me that Amtrak says they are losing ridership on long distance trains. You cut capacity on them and diverted them to state supported services. Even corridor trains have been cut in size as service expanded over the last 30 years.

    So, an argument may be made that providing intrastate service (such as the Downeasters, Keystones and Empire services) diverts resources from Amtrak's short distance intercity trains (such as the Heartland Flyer, Hoosier State, the Ethan Allen and NEC) and long distance intercity services ( such as the Cardinal, Empire Builder, Crescent and City of New Orleans). Those trains used to have much bigger consists that were often filled to capacity. Over the years they have been whittled down as service expanded and equipment was lost. The economies of scale are lost on a train that went from 3 sleepers and 5 coaches to 2 sleepers and 3 coaches.

    So, for me, it hasn't been should Amtrak operate intrastate trains but CAN they operate intrastate, interstate and long distance trains without destroying one service to aid another.

    I'm not sure they are doing that great of a job as of now. The additional equipment that states are ordering should help the cause.
     
  22. May 4, 2019 #22

    sttom

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    I would expect that overtime Amtrak should try to implement a rule where they will only lease state supported services for a set number of years while they await their own equipment...but given the present circumstances that could take ten years....

    The other issue is not being able to get money at anywhere near the same capacity as other forms of transportation. But federal money to trains on a more regular basis is a non starter here cause reasons.
     
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  23. May 4, 2019 #23

    west point

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    The loss of equipment to provide enough service during peak travel hurts the off peak demand as well. Congress needs to step up disallow any more retirements, require present equipment to be on trains with proper fares to fill the trains, additional equipment paid for by congress with penalties for late delivery. Of course Congress will need to change the law so freight RRs can no longer delay present trains or future ones as well.
     
  24. May 5, 2019 #24

    sttom

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    To branch off the point above, this is why I would also say that scrapping the Amfleet cars after they are replaced. Even if they are only kept around for surge capacity or for states to have an easier time starting lines it would be worth while to do so.
     
  25. May 5, 2019 #25

    NES28

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    State-supported intrastate trains are one of the primary things that Amtrak does, and they have made clear that they would like to do more. These are the the "Section 209" services. Pricing is fairly standardized. States like NC and CA save a lot of money by providing their own rolling stock, most often purchased with FRA grants. The upcoming Midwest/Calif. cars will achieve this goal. Virginia intrastate trains in/out of Richmond would not carry a lot of riders. They would be good candidates for operation with DMUs (which Amtrak has expressed interest in), with a 2 person crew. Track upgrades would be required to achieve competitive speeds. The big problem will be to get the freight rails to commit to reasonable on-time performance.
     

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