Observations from the Piedmont Corridor

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by SubwayNut, Jul 22, 2014.

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  1. Jul 22, 2014 #1

    SubwayNut

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    SubwayNut

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    Last week I finally headed down to North Carolina to do the Piedmont Corridor, the only Amtrak route that uses its own unique equipment that I hadn't ridden (the only routes I'm now missing are the Blue Water, Silver Meteor and Silver Star). Another Train Ride loving friend (who doesn't post on this board) joined me on one of my S+ companion coupon for the trip so I had to book the trip as a pure round-trip (on the way down we got off in Cary instead of Charlotte) and give up on making a few of the stops I was planning to make (such as Selma-Smithfield for an hour from the Palmetto to the Carolinian). I also managed to visit every Piedmont Station. My Full Trip Report is now up on my website. Individual Piedmont Station pages I'm currently working on.

    Anyway (enough of an advert for my website), the reason I've started this topic is for a couple of observations I thought those on the forum would find interesting and warrant further discussion.

    One minor observation we made was how inefficient the crew was on the Piedmont, although the trains each had three coaches only two were open for passengers on my mid week trips. At each stop the crew would only open up one vestibule, not two even though each station except Raleigh has modern low-level platforms that don't require stools. It also seemed that everyone wanted help getting on and off.

    In addition at all the 'unstaffed by Amtrak employees' minor local stops we stopped at, Kannapolis, Salisbury, High Point, and Burlington had gated off platforms that required showing your tickets to an NC Station Host to gain access onto the platform. These are none-Amtrak ushers. In Kannapolis, the 'host' was the opposite of gracious giving us the response of How Dare you interrupt my television watching of Mattlock in my office.

    Also, we spent an afternoon in the Peidmont Triad. My original plan was to transfer between Greensboro and High Point just using PART (a regional express bus network). I discovered the WNS (Winston Salem Amtrak station code) and that the Winston-Salem Connector Bus (operated by PART as well) was available as a throughway add-on for no additional change, except requiring paper tickets and since it was a 6000 series connection assumed it would give us each an extra 100 AGR Points. When we arrived in Cary the evening before I stopped at a quick-track machine to pick up tomorrows tickets and was in for a surprise for the throughway ticket, having no value:

    [​IMG]

    We decided to head out to Winston-Salem anyway (paying an extra $2.40, using the PART express bus nextwork) and visit all 3 cities in triad (and went to a decent Crab Shack restaurant for a late lunch/early dinner) during our afternoon. I did flash our tickets to the PART throughway driver. He simply said the only reason the tickets exist is so you can read the fine print:

    [​IMG]

    Anyone know of any other useless Amtrak Throughway Connection tickets that just tell you to pay the fare to the driver?

    Finally, A discussion on North Carolina's Piedmont Service isn't complete without mentioning the onboard Vending Machines along with Coffee and Bottled Water "included in your Piedmont fare" in the Lounge Car. I found the vending machines to be a decent happy medium between not paying a food service employee and having no food service at all. For those coke lovers out there the vending machines had both Coke and Pepsi and soda cans were only a dollar (Normally a can of soda from the cafe car on other Amtrak routes is $2.25).

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    Not to give the John Mica's of the world the idea the automat cars are viable on long-distance Amtrak trains, I wonder if putting 2 vending machines (one for drinks and one for snacks) by taking out maybe four sets of seats on a few Horizon Cars for the Hiawatha Service and in the cab cars for the foodless Shuttle Trains and Keystone Service would be a sustainable idea. Don't know where they could go for the Food-less Empire Service trains since these consists are through-routed and pooled with the two extended trains to Niagara Falls and the Ethan Allen Express.
     
  2. Jul 22, 2014 #2

    William W.

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    I really do like the idea of putting vending machines onto trains that don't already have food service. It seems like a quick and relatively inexpensive fix to something that can be somewhat inconvenient. To me, a vending machine is better than no food service at all. This is especially true on longer routes, such as the Hoosier State, and the Keystone.

    Is there a reason why Amtrak doesn't consider this? My first instinct would be to suspect that the union has been able to block their deployment, but I have no facts to back that up. It seems to me that whatever income they would get from adding vending machines would be better than nothing.

    I'm definitely not a fan of replacing real cafe service with vending, however (I believe that this has been suggested by some).
     
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  3. Jul 22, 2014 #3

    Notelvis

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    Nice report and I enjoyed your blogs.

    North Carolina has done a remarkable job with station renovations and has spent the better part of the last decade with incremental trackwork projects...... restoring the double track between High Point and Greensboro for instance. The latest projects are causing some delays as you experienced.

    On a future trip plan to check out the Rocky Mount station. It and Greensboro are real gems. High Point too for that matter. Sometimes I'll make points runs using the Piedmont service trains because I love those huge windows.

    Like just about everything on Amtrak, the quality of your travel experience on the NCDOT hinges on a number of variables. Will you get a jewel of a station host or a self-proclaimed gate guard? How efficient is the onboard crew? Sadly, they seem to be doing a much poorer job with this the last couple of years and I don't know why the insistence on opening just one vestibule at even the busier stops.

    But.......unlike many other areas in rural America, we have trains and we have some attempt at making them 'intermodal user friendly'....... lots of room for improvement, yes, but at least North Carolina is making some effort.
     
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  4. Jul 22, 2014 #4

    rrdude

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    I'm no fan of vending machines, especially on trains. However, there is the issue of security and temperatures when the train is NOT running.

    I'm faily confident that the security concerns in Raleigh and Charlotte, are not near what they are in NY's infamous Sunnyside Yards. I've reported to work in Sunnyside in the past, to find the lounge and diner stripped BARE. I mean BARE. Broken locks, windows, etc, and anything and everything that wasn't bolted down, and some things that WERE, were missing.

    So in "captive" markets such as the Piedmont's run, vending machines can, and apparently do, work well.

    Keystones? Dunno, dealing with NY again.

    Hiawatha? Well, you are talking about Chicago coach yards there, and they have seen their share of "unexplained losses" from stock on board too....
     
  5. Jul 22, 2014 #5

    John Bobinyec

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    Vending Machines

    Losing power is not a problem because all of the items are non-perishable.

    Efficiency

    I've been puzzling over this for quite a while (I ride the Piedmonts a couple of times a month). The consists are 1 food service/baggage car followed by at least 2 coaches. The consists are varied, according to the projected need for the next day - cars can be added or removed (overnight). All doors are manually opened and closed.

    There is 1 conductor and 1 assistant conductor for two or three coaches. If there are more than three coaches, there will most likely be an additional assistant conductor.

    So most trains have three or four cars with 2 "conductors". At the larger stations, one of them goes forward and handles the baggage. That leaves only one to open the door. Since the doors are manually operated, and as was pointed out, many people need assistance, it only makes sense to open only one door. If two were to be opened, most people will have boarded or detrained from the first door that is opened and not wait for the second door. And if two are opened, the train can't depart until both are closed. Also, since the people are not really commuters, meaning all traveling at the same time and in the same direction, every stop but the first and last have people detraining as well as boarding. Know what happens if no one directs traffic? The folks start boarding before the other folks can detrain, jamming up the aisles and doorways.

    Those of us who grew up with trains where the doors are left open (old E.L. M.U.s) or with more modern automatic doors find the practice a bit strange. But if you think about it, it makes more sense.

    jb
     
  6. Jul 23, 2014 #6

    William W.

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    On what trains are the doors automatic (besides the Acela)? The doors always have to be opened manually on the NE Regional, but I've only taken it south of D.C., so maybe the automatic opening is exclusive to the NEC?
     
  7. Jul 23, 2014 #7

    the_traveler

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    The doors on the Regionals open automatically, but south of WAS there are no high level platforms. Thus the steps/stairs must be used, and those must be manually opened.
     
  8. Jul 23, 2014 #8

    Green Maned Lion

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    Amfleet Is, Surfliners, California cars, and Acelas have auto doors.
     
  9. Jul 23, 2014 #9

    neroden

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    This doesn't excuse the same practice on trains which have significantly more assistant conductors and coach attendants.
     
  10. Jul 23, 2014 #10

    MikefromCrete

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    Leave the door open and Rep. Mica will be hauling vending machines on to the LD trains.
     
  11. Jul 23, 2014 #11

    VentureForth

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    There is absolutely nothing wrong with vending machines on LD trains. I would LOVE them! Neither the Cafe nor the Diner are open 24 hours. Sometimes you want a snack after hours.

    I would really like to see perishables and microwaves available for passenger consumption, but that would step on those union toes.

    I miss these:
    [​IMG]

    And these:
    [​IMG]

    A Japanese "Taco" is NOT the same as an American (Mexican?) Taco. :D
     
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  12. Jul 23, 2014 #12

    jis

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    NJT has auto (remotely operable) doors that are usable both on high and low level platforms. The conductors have to go through the train aligning the traps in the right way for the upcoming station. But this can be done while the train is in motion. It took installation of a redesigned door and trap to make it work. This will be hard to retrofit into Amtrak equipment, but could be done if there was a pressing need.
     
  13. Jul 23, 2014 #13

    VentureForth

    VentureForth

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    I see you got to meet HER. She can be nice enough, but she is like the station masters of English lore. Well, without the jovial part. I got chastised by her for not checking in with her before queuing up to take the train all the way to Salisbury with my 8 year old.

    I'm not a fan of gating the way they do it. Padlock the platform until the train is pulling in. The guy in Salisbury does it, too, but much more congenial.

    This is pretty familiar on LD trains outside the NEC.
     
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  14. Jul 23, 2014 #14

    John Bobinyec

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    I understand that Norfolk Southern has a requirement that passengers are not to be on the platform - except to board or detrain. So, the platforms are essentially gated. The interesting one, in my opinion, is Greensboro. To get out to the platforms you need to go through an underground tunnel. Guarding the tunnel is a set of locked doors. So if you arrive late, you'll not be able to enter the tunnel because the agents will be out working the train. I expect the new Raleigh station will have some sort of similar arrangement.

    jb
     
  15. Jul 23, 2014 #15

    MikefromCrete

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    Once started, the vending machines would replace cafe and dining cars rather quickly.
     
  16. Jul 23, 2014 #16

    Bob Dylan

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    Excellent point about vending machines on the Empire Service and NEC Trains and the train yards!

    What works fine in North Carolina won't fly in the NE and Urban settings where the thieves, whether Amtrak employed or Free Lance, have stealing and vandilism down to a science!

    I'm old enough to remember the infamous SP Automat Cars ( which still had an attendant to "make change" and they expected a tip for this !) Which replaced the Cafes and even Diners till the Government forced them put them back on including the Sleepers on the Sunset Ltd!!!!

    Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it!!!( and the choices will no doubt be crappy and expensive!!!)
     
  17. Jul 23, 2014 #17

    VentureForth

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    I don't doubt the lack of security in some of the overnight yards. It's a shame, really, that there are so many hooligans around causing the rest of society pain.

    Alright - so perhaps not quite like the images I posted, but 24 hour vending machine if for nothing else than snacks and sodas would be welcome on ANY long distance train. The lines in the Cafe (because the attendant has to nuke 1/2 of the sales in the convection oven) and the running out food in the Diner (and Cafe, again) would seem to indicate that there is room for additional food options.

    If I want a bag of chips at 3 AM crossing the Ozarks, a demand (and revenue generated) isn't being met.

    Amtrak is FULL of lost revenue opportunities and all we seem to be able to do is complain about Mica.
     
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  18. Jul 23, 2014 #18

    MattW

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    NS needs to get over themselves. They obviously don't have a problem with the VRE commuter stations, and I think they own the track under several other commuter lines. I'm not even sure why they have that power on the Piedmonts since that's actually owned by the state and leased by NS. This nationwide-obsession with platform "security" has got to end somewhere!
     
  19. Jul 23, 2014 #19

    John Bobinyec

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    I'm thinking it's more of a liability issue since we all know that if somebody gets injured by an NS train, NS is going to get sued - no matter whose fault it is.

    jb
     
  20. Jul 23, 2014 #20

    MattW

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    So why don't they have the issue elsewhere then? Plus, I thought the railroad had "hole harmless" agreements with the passenger railroads making it impossible to sue them?
     
  21. Jul 23, 2014 #21

    William W.

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    I'm surprised that no one has tried to mettle with the VRE. Idiots often get hit by it, especially when they think it is OK to cross the tracks to the other platform.
     
  22. Jul 23, 2014 #22

    VentureForth

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    Perhaps it is a State of North Carolina rule - something to placate Amtrak's reduction in liability acceptance.

    Though Raleigh and East don't have gated platforms - perhaps they are CSX?
     
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  23. Jul 23, 2014 #23

    John Bobinyec

    John Bobinyec

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    Raleigh is NS.

    jb
     
  24. Jul 23, 2014 #24

    jis

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    Raleigh to Selma is NS. Cary to Savannah is CSX. Raleigh to Cary is joint NS-CSX, though possibly dispatched by NS (not sure about that) as far as I can tell from the maps.
     
  25. Jul 23, 2014 #25

    John Bobinyec

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    Cary (Fetner) to Raleigh (Boylan) is dispatched by CSX from Florence, SC.

    jb
     

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