Is RPA Advocating for the Rail Passenger, Amtrak or both?

Discussion in 'Rail Advocacy Forum' started by dlagrua, Jun 3, 2019.

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  1. Jun 3, 2019 #1

    dlagrua

    dlagrua

    dlagrua

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    On a trip to Chicago on the CL, (5/14/19) we had the pleasure of sitting with Jonsie Stone and Jim Mathews of the Rail Passengers Association and enjoying some great conversation. We found them to be extremely nice people and their knowledge of passenger rail and working within the political system is quite amazing. I am convinced that RPA under Jim's leadership is working in the best interest of the rail passenger. What is surprising though is that I read that the association has been given a contract by Amtrak to act as one of their marketing venues. This is probably why Jim was diplomatic in defending Richard Anderson when I brought up the now dead SW Chief bus bridge proposal and our discussion about the terrible box meals.
    As our only voice in Washington on the advocacy of passenger rail; RPA is a beneficial association and everyone should be encouraged to join. Their existence apparently depends on representing the passenger and Amtrak itself so while still working for improved passenger rail, their public statements must be guarded. Such is life in the political world.
     
  2. Jun 3, 2019 #2

    dogbert617

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    dogbert617

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    Did you mention anything about other controversial moves Anderson has done, such as eliminate Pacific Parlour Cars on Starlight? And supposedly, the rumor I've heard that the Great Dome Car may not last much longer in service?

    Sigh, I see Jim Mathews' perspective, that he doesn't want to annoy Richard Anderson with any comments he makes. I just wish Anderson wouldn't propose things as stupid as doing the bus bridge in the middle of the SW Chief route, over instead(if it can't use that KS/CO/NM section anymore) rerouting the train through Wichita and Amarillo. Or say (as the rumor I once heard), doing the same 'contemporary' dining car food downgrade on the Capitol and Lake Shore to all other long distance trains. :(
     
  3. Jun 6, 2019 #3

    dlagrua

    dlagrua

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    I am always careful when I quote people but will say that Jim Mathews did state that Richard Anderson does not want to discontinue the long distance routes. The 'bus bridge" proposal was apparently a ploy to see if congress would kick in more money to keep the route going. As for the dining service, I gathered that the plan is to serve Cardinal style preheated meals on the Eastern Routes to Chicago as soon as the large convection ovens are installed on Viewliner and CL diners. I do not believe that the diner service on the LD routes West is in jeopardy right now. Didn't get to discuss the Parlor and Dome cars but gather that Amtrak does not wish to bear the cost of refurbishment.
     
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  4. Jun 6, 2019 #4

    bretton88

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    bretton88

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    Amtrak has said they do see a difference between the one night Eastern trains and the 2 night Western trains. So what occurs in the East may not occur in the West.
     
  5. Jun 26, 2019 #5

    dogbert617

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    Thanks, for all this inside info. Maybe full dining car service isn't in jeopardy on certain routes(i.e. Sunset Limited), unlike the speculation I sometimes read on this board. Also glad to hear the bus bridge was only a ploy for increased SWC funding, and not to eliminate service in NM/CO/KS. I wish there was a way that Amtrak could figure out for funding refurbishment of the Pacific Parlour Cars, and also the dome car too.
     
  6. Jun 27, 2019 #6

    Devil's Advocate

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    &
    Yes, when it comes to defending passenger rail from a myriad of threats what really matters is that nobody annoys Richard Anderson with criticism or contrary opinions.

    &
    No, we wouldn't want to do anything that might ruffle Anderson's feathers as we watch him risk our national network by bluffing his way through a game of chicken with Amtrak's chief benefactor.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2019
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  7. Jun 27, 2019 #7

    jis

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    I somehow suspect that Andreson's feathers don't feel anything that we say or do here. OTOH, getting Congress to act on putting language in relevant bills to force Anderson to act differently at least gets us what we want. Jim is very good at that and is in a position from where he and his staff can make that happen more effectively than any of us on AU can achieve. In Washington it is all a political game, and to be effective you have to play along to some extent. But there is plenty that is getting done now in terms of forcing changes on Amtrak. How Anderson feels about it is somewhat irrelevant, since no one is really asking for his permission.

    Here is some relevant material from RPA:
     
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  8. Jun 28, 2019 #8

    acelafan

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    In the hearing on June 26, Anderson said something about the Hoosier state and "running with extra empty cars to fix the problem". I didn't understand his answer. It was in reference from a Senator's question about "short shunting", I think. Did anyone catch that exchange and know what he meant? I guess it's moot anyways since the Hoosier is no more and the Cardinal wasn't mentioned as having this particular problem.
     
  9. Jun 29, 2019 #9

    jis

    jis

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    Some railroads have inferior track circuits that cannot detect a train with less than 6 cars or some such. CN is the biggest culprit. The workaround that, which was characterized correctly as "Goofy" by Anderson, is to run a bunch of additional empty cars in a train to trigger the inferior track circuits. As mentioned in the hearing, the worst affected is the Saluki.

    The real fix is to replace the broken track circuits with world class 21st century track circuits that can detect a single locomotive.

    BTW, if you have not seen the hearing, it is worth taking a look through it. There were some very revealing discussions and disclosures. It is available in the archive at:

    https://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/hearings?ID=9D28DFD1-2E72-4460-B7AD-46DC06C21477
     
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  10. Jul 19, 2019 #10

    neroden

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    Honestly, I think Anderson is well-meaning, which is why it's sad that RPA and Jim Matthews have to use Congress to tie his hands. The problem, in my opinion, is that Anderson believes Amtrak's phony accounting. This means he's making bad business decisions, because if the phony accounting were real, they would be good business decisions.

    I find it quite incredible that he is so resistant to the idea that Amtrak's accounting is bogus; clearly he has not spent much time looking at corporate or government accounting in general, and none at all looking at Amtrak's specifically! The RPA handed him, on a silver platter, an audit of the route-level accounting (which is NOT subjected to GAAP standards and is NOT audited by Amtrak's accounting firm). He should have thanked them and set to fixing the accounting, but instead he irrationally defended the faked accounting.

    I really do think that, presented with the actual financial profiles for trains such as the Lake Shore Limited, Silver Meteor, and Southwest Chief, Mr. Anderson would be making different business decisions. As far as I can tell he doesn't have that information -- it's not getting to him, except when RPA shoves it at him, and he doesn't want to hear it from RPA for whatever reason. He threw away the very substantial coach-passenger income in the LSL dining car based on, apparently, stereotypes and speculations, even though the data was not only available but actually published. RPA has genuinely been trying to help him out by getting real data to him, but he isn't listening.

    In the areas where he is actually working from good data -- such as on-time performance, or dealing with the defective track circuits on CN and parts of CSX -- Mr. Anderson seems to be doing OK.
     
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  11. Jul 19, 2019 #11

    neroden

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    Thinking about it... I need to talk to Jim. What we need to do is to write up a set of leading questions and find a friendly Congressmember to ask Anderson and Coscia those questions. Here's my first draft:

    (1) Congress mandated that Amtrak report avoidable costs for each train route; this has been law since 2008. Why has Amtrak not followed the law?
    (2) What are the short-term avoidable costs for each National Network train, and what are the profits or losses on each train based on those avoidable costs (without any allocations of unavoidable overhead costs)?
    (3) Do you understand the economic concept of "marginal cost", which is similar to the Congressionally mandated avoidable cost reporting?
    (4) RPA has documented clearly-improper cost allocations, such as allocating tie replacement on the Michigan Line to the Lake Shore Limited, which does not run on the Michigan line. What are you doing to fix these improper cost allocations in your accounting system?
    (5) What is your actual policy for allocating unavoidable overhead costs to trains? If it is based on train-miles, why do the Lake Shore Limited and Empire Builder appear to have been allocated twice as much overhead as they should be allocated, as documented by RPA?
    (6) Route-level and business-line-level accounting are not mandated by GAAP and are not audited by Amtrak's outside auditor. RPA has documented severe deficiencies in this accounting. What are you doing to obtain audits on these accounting procedures so that they will be accurate and meaningful?
    (7) You removed a station agent from Cincinnati based on low station usage during a period when the station was relocated for renovation, which was not reflective of the higher regular usage. Do you have a procedure for determining whether the ridership data you are looking at is from typical or ongoing ridership, versus being due to unusual interruptions in service? If not, why not?
    (8) How do you expect to make sound business decisions when your route accounting data is clearly inaccurate and misleading? When will you have accurate data to supply to this Congress?
    (9) How do you expect to make sound business decisions without marginal cost / avoidable cost data? If you agree that you need marginal cost / avoidable costs data to make sound business decisions, when will you have marginal cost / avoidable cost data?


    These are questions which are not exactly designed to get answers, but to give Mr. Anderson a wake-up call. I have probably been a little too redundant, but it's a first draft... anyone should feel free to help polish it. My plan is to try to figure out how to get a Congressman to ask these questions.
     
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  12. Jul 19, 2019 #12

    acelafan

    acelafan

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    Anderson may be well-meaning but I don't like the LD cut plans in favor of corridor service. Can you imagine trying to run a Charlotte-Atlanta-Birmingham corridor under NS? Instead of 2 trains 3 hours late you'd have a dozen. Also, unless the hosts get a massive amount of funding they won't allow more Amtrak trains in my opinion. So that seems like a big stumbling block.

    Corridor services are a good idea but I don't think they should be at the expense of the LD routes. We need both services for a balanced transportation system in this country. But I know, no money from Congress at the present time to fund such things.
     
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  13. Jul 19, 2019 #13

    Devil's Advocate

    Devil's Advocate

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    I'm having a hard time following this line of reasoning, but maybe it follows that old saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions.

    Accurate data and good intentions isn't enough fix Amtrak's OTP. What is required is an approved measurement and corrective action agreement with reasonable protections and enough teeth to see them realized.
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2019
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