Fewer sleepers on California Zephyr?

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by McMike, Jul 23, 2019.

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  1. Jul 23, 2019 #1

    McMike

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    This year we noted there were only two sleeper cars instead of three, and they were not fully booked. We wondered if this is due to a natural decline in demand, or a reaction to efforts by Amtrak itself to suppress demand.

    Obviously, this slashes sleeper ridership by at least a third, as well as reduced diner meals usage - there was almost no waiting list for any meal seating.
     
  2. Jul 23, 2019 #2

    Agent

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    The California Zephyr is running with three sleeping cars right now.
     
  3. Jul 23, 2019 #3

    McMike

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    That's cool, maybe it was just my trip.

    fwiw there was a third sleeper car, but my son said it was just used by staff?
     
  4. Jul 23, 2019 #4

    chakk

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    There is always a dorm sleeper on the CZ at the front of the train, and the 10 roomettes on the upper level of that car will be booked to passengers after the other two sleepers are fully booked. So if you say the other two sleepers were not full, then it would be logical for your son to observe only crew using the dorm sleeper.
     
  5. Jul 23, 2019 #5

    McMike

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    That's good to know. We value our annual trip on the Zephyr, and are feeling a little paranoid about the future at the moment.

    I still wonder why the sleepers weren't sold out. We've been on several years and it's always been maxed. This was the case both ways this year.
     
  6. Jul 23, 2019 #6

    Rasputin

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    I think the flooding this year has caused the Zephyr to be cancelled or delayed more than usual and that may have suppressed demand.
     
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  7. Jul 23, 2019 #7

    McMike

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    Yeah, it's been an awful month in July too, and we traveled right in the middle of it.
     
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  8. Jul 23, 2019 #8

    F900ElCapitan

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    Just out of curiosity, when were you onboard? The third sleeper is a seasonal addiction, and was added around June 1st and will end sometime in October if they hold to last years schedule. Amtrak also does this on the Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, and maybe others. In the very slow times the SWC will run with the transition sleeper, one full sleeper, diner, SSL, and two coaches.
     
  9. Jul 23, 2019 #9

    F900ElCapitan

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    Welcome to the forum McMike. ;)
     
  10. Jul 23, 2019 #10

    McMike

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    Last week. We've traveled June or July for nine years and this is the first time it wasn't packed.
     
  11. Jul 23, 2019 #11

    McMike

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    Specifically #6 of 7/11/19 that was turned around to start in Reno, and then hit a pedestrian in Denver. And #5 of 7/19/19 that was comparatively uneventful, albeit still 4 hours late.
     
  12. Jul 23, 2019 #12

    lordsigma

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    I wouldn’t worry too much. From comments of the current top management the Zephyr doesn’t appear to have a target on its back - I would be more worried if I was an annual Southwest Chief or Sunset Limited rider. In fact the current CEO recently stated in relation to the present long distance trains, and I may be slightly off but you’ll get the point “there are some trains we should always run” and the Builder, Zephyr, and Coast Starlight were listed.
     
  13. Jul 23, 2019 #13

    dogbert617

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    I'd still argue to Mr. Anderson, that there are other good routes that should continue to be run and not be cut either. I.e. Southwest Chief(videos I've seen go to show the scenery on this route is great, and to me this one albeit it having less ridership vs. Builder, Zephyr, Starlight etc), which without a doubt shouldn't be cut just because of the positive train control issue through western Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. Though it seems like from one letter I read that Anderson wrote back to someone(who operates private cars and was affected by Anderson's rule changes over when private cars can be ran on Amtrak), that it's the portion south of Trinidad, CO and north of Albuquerque, NM, that has the most pressing need for PTC to be installed. I would also guess Anderson wouldn't cut Silver Meteor and Silver Star and Auto Train, since all 3 trains have a lot of ridership(moreso Auto Train and Meteor, I'll admit). And I still think Anderson is crazy to downgrade those 2 trains to contemporary dining(unless Amtrak really works to improve this on Cap and Lake Shore, plus ensures that this improves on other trains they're about to add it to), but that's just me.

    Back to the original poster, for sure the upcoming dining car cuts on eastern long distance trains are making me greatly concerned about the future of dining cars on all western trains. I hope it isn't Amtrak's secret goal to cut dining car trains on even western trains in 2020, but part of me worries this may occur. Congress always tries to do the weird rule about requiring Amtrak to cut costs on food and beverage service, and I worry some sneaky provision as a part of Amtrak's funding will lead to the end of traditional dining car service on all trains as we know it, in favor of contemporary dining. I really hope I'm proven wrong, and Amtrak doesn't cut full dining cars(or the level of food service, since to me the existing dining car service is fine on long distance trains) from trains further.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2019
  14. Jul 23, 2019 #14

    McMike

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    Yeah, death by a thousand cuts.

    I have to confess I have mixed feelings about the private coaches. We had to drop one off at Denver once, and it added like 30 or more minutes to our stop, if memory serves. I love seeing them, and riding in one was on my bucket list. But there has got to be a better way. It occurred to me at the time that they might want to limit them to the entire route only, rather than dropped off/picked up in the middle.
     
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  15. Jul 23, 2019 #15

    dogbert617

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    That is probably why Richard Anderson, put restrictions as to when private cars could be added to run for a certain part(or all?) of a long distance train. I know on another thread here I asked what exactly the new rules are as to when private cars could be added/cut on long distance trains, but sadly noone ever answered that question I had.

    It's funny that may be one of the EXTREMELY rare times I could find some minor agreement with Anderson on something, since yep adding or cutting too many private cars could really add to delays regular riders face with when their trains will arrive at stations later on the route.
     
  16. Jul 23, 2019 #16

    F900ElCapitan

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    So doing a little YouTube research turns up a couple of videos showing 3 full sleepers on 6&5 on the dates given. I did see one 5 go through SAC with 2 sleepers (I don’t remember the exact date), but it appears one was setout as it had 3 sleepers through Fort Morgan.

    Here’s #6 going through Fort Morgan very early on the 13th, which is quite timetable late (as you describe) since it should have been through the evening of the 12th.


    And here’s #5 arriving Fort Morgan on the 20th
     
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  17. Jul 23, 2019 #17

    McMike

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    Thanks. Yes, I should have clarified, I misspoke in my OP. The first sleeper was empty except for staff. The other two had a handful of empty berths. And what was notable was there was almost no wait list for meals. Ordinarily there is a substantial wait list to work through for every meal.

    There is a plausible explanation that people canceled or didn't book due to the high number of train delays this year. On the other hand, many travelers I would assume make their summer plans for rail travel in winter and book in the spring (at least those planing on cross country sleeper berth travel).

    For the last eight years, the #5 & 6 have been reliably fully booked in June and July when we travel. This was a substantial difference, on the order of 40% or 50% less full than normal - in both directions across a week. That will significantly impact ridership, revenues, and diner usage if it reflects a trend.

    As I mentioned above, we are feeling a little paranoid re Amtrak. I have some familiarity with the type of shenanigans that can be used to create self-fulfilling data points about business operations. So it is plausible that Amtrak management's efforts (and non-efforts) are showing up in usage.

    If I was trying to kill long distance rail service, I would want to drive down usage statistics to reverse long term increasing trends (an inconvenient data point that contradicts my story). I would also need to drive down the revenues from sleepers and diners, to justify reductions in those high-touch services. A precipitous drop in overall revenues and cash flow would be handy as well.

    The season's floods, storms, heat and accidents is creating a perfect storm to help make the case that Amtrak's CEO wants to make. Taking his foot off the gas on marketing and service, plus a price mismatch w/r/t alternatives could really put the hurt on revenue and ridership.
     
  18. Jul 23, 2019 #18

    cruisegary

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    Tell me more about #6 on 7/11.

    We are taking this train from CA to Denver the middle of August. While checking past stats, I noticed that train seemed to start in Reno. What did they do with the folks that had planned to board in CA?
     
  19. Jul 23, 2019 #19

    McMike

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    Yuppers. the westbound #5 trip encountered flash floods, and ended up 20+ hours late. When that happens, they eventually turn it around mid-route and bus everyone in/out beyond that point. That #6 train started in Reno, with passengers that bused up from Emeryville etc. That same train then hit a cow (I'm told) and later hit a pedestrian. We arrived in Chicago 10 hours late.

    Riding cross country on the Zephyr is a crap shoot. Especially in the summer. Flooding and heat wreaks havoc. I always advise people to never have a tight or critical connection at the end, and come with the right attitude and plenty of snacks, and then they'll be fine. We have arrived within an hour the majority of time, and within four hours for the rest. But we have two of 18 trips that completely blew up. (Which is not unlike my track record with air travel fwiw)
     
  20. Jul 23, 2019 #20

    Rasputin

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    Understatement of the year, except unfortunately it is not confined to the Zephyr.
     
  21. Jul 23, 2019 #21

    Skyline

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    It is good you included the last sentence about air travel. All modes of transportation have their bad days, not just trains. I think I've had more aggravating long distance auto trips than anything else BTW.
     
  22. Jul 23, 2019 #22

    McMike

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    Oh, I've had some doozie airplane trips; they all stunk worse than the 17 hour late Amtrak debacle we one year with river flooding, broken locomotive, and crews timing out in the middle of nowhere.

    And often even the long drive home from the train station can be plenty frustrating indeed, with traffic, construction, accidents, and morons.

    I'm sure this comes up in the "what to do" threads, but aside from giving Amtrak equal footing (or even preference) in use of rails, I would do something about the crew timing out system. It's simply silly to stop in the middle of nowhere and wait for a crew to get driven out, and is of course a major part of the cascading death spiral for late trains.

    "But the freight companies own the rails..." arghh.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2019
  23. Jul 24, 2019 #23

    F900ElCapitan

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    I understand you now. I thought you were saying the train only had two full sleepers and then the transition sleeper, where the crew normally take the forward half of the car to sleep. I suspect there are a number of people (there are some on this forum) who want to ride certain sections of the trip on the train no matter what, and I’m sure the Sierra’s are one of those sections. So learning of the short turn in Reno, I’d bet good money many cancelled their trip, of which I’d bet Amtrak is willing to do for few reasons, including not having to provide as many busses.

    It’s definitely been a rough year for Amtrak, lots of snow this winter, floods, heat, tons of needed track repairs, lots of locomotive failures...it all adds up.
     
  24. Jul 26, 2019 #24

    PaulM

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    "it's the portion south of Trinidad, CO and north of Albuquerque, NM, that has the most pressing need for PTC to be installed."

    I think this needs a qualifier. There isn't any freight traffic between Trinidad and Albuquerque; so that couldn't cause a need for PTC. There are a handful of NM Railrunner commuter trains between Albuquerque and somewhere between Albuquerque and Lamy. This may trigger a legal requirement; but I sure wouldn't call it pressing.

    PS. What ever happened to the quote button.
     
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  25. Jul 26, 2019 #25

    Rasputin

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    One would think that there would be hardly any need for PTC between Trinidad and Albuquerque. But then there is the mysterious incident near Lamy several years ago when, as I understand it, 3 and 4 almost had a head-on because the engineer on one of the trains fell asleep and did not wake up until the headlight of the opposing train was in view.
     
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