Senate hearing on "Amtrak: Next Steps for Passenger Rail"

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by TiBike, Jun 29, 2019.

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  1. Jul 1, 2019 #26

    Amtrakfflyer

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    “Anderson really doesn't seem to do his homework, does he?”

    That’s an interesting point on many levels. This is a “retirement gig” for him, he has no vested long term interest. He’s just “working” for a yearly bonus.
     
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  2. Jul 2, 2019 #27

    TiBike

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    Some people, yes. They're the ones in the 70% that haven't stopped taking 600+ mile trips. Yet.

    Thanks for confirming: there's no prospect of meaningful reduction in trip times.

    That's not what I meant. The longer the trip, the more opportunities for delays, and for delays to cascade. The best southbound OTP I get on the Starlight is when it's stubbed at Oakland.

    That said, five minutes shouldn't be a big deal for a long distance trip, while it might be unacceptable for a commuter and should be treated as such. But even relatively short delays – half hour, say – can be problematic for local connections and/or trip utility.

    Amtrak's OTP solution so far has been to degrade service: more padding (longer trips), killing useful connections (try booking all-rail travel from Salinas to Surf, despite nominally having 55 minutes to walk across the platform from the Starlight to the Surfliner at SLO), and skipping stations altogether (try connecting from the Starlight to BART since Richmond was eliminated).
     
  3. Jul 2, 2019 #28

    lordsigma

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    Starlight’s on his list of favorites so that’s probably not going anywhere.
     
  4. Jul 2, 2019 #29

    jis

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    I just wonder how prevalent this lack of knowledge about the organization that he manages is, even after more than a year at the job, and how it leads to poor leadership and decision making.

    He is clearly a transactional manager rather than a visionary, at least as evidenced so far. Even with that style as long as he can force the Congresscritters to clearly articulate their vision - which really ought to align with our vision, of what Amtrak should be, that would be a big win IMHO. The Authorization Bill provides a great opportunity for that. It would be a disaster if it is built only along the thinking of short term transactional managers like Anderson alone.
     
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  5. Jul 2, 2019 #30

    TiBike

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    "Visionary" is a tall word I'd apply to few executives. But Anderson has a vision of what he thinks Amtrak should be, and he's moving the company in that direction. "Transformational" better describes the goal he's articulated, although he hasn't achieved it yet. There's nothing short term or transactional about it. He's laid out a roadmap that will radically and permanently change Amtrak.

    Anderson was not asking senators for guidance at that hearing. He was lecturing, charming, negotiating, posturing and even, once or twice, daring them to change the law. I couldn't see what was on the laminated page of laws he waved during the hearing and claimed to always have with him, but I'll bet it started with "Amtrak...shall be operated and managed as a for-profit corporation".

    The request Amtrak has in front of congress is for authority to shift money from long distance routes to corridors. If congress says no, Amtrak can still restructure long distance service. Anderson's statement that the company will be at breakeven on an operating basis in 12 months shows intent and determination to do so. Congress can change the law and block it, but that wasn't the mood at the hearing. Southwest Chief bargaining aside, the committee members' concerns aligned with Anderson's vision.
     
  6. Jul 2, 2019 #31

    jis

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    We'll see what happens, won't we? ;)

    Repeating things over and over here won't change a thing.
     
  7. Jul 3, 2019 #32

    bretton88

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    So I finally watched the hearing. I think I tend to agree with TiBike that change is coming in the next reauthorization. Amtrak is finally getting it's vision articulated to Congress about where it's going. If Amtrak hadn't made such a PR disaster of the SWC plan Congress would probably have been receptive to this change even earlier. There will be negotiations still, sure, but we can now see where things are painting towards, unless Amtrak creates another PR disaster.
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2019
  8. Jul 3, 2019 #33

    Amtrakfflyer

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    Having the chair of the Senate committee a conservative from Mississippi doesn’t help the case for the National network either.

    I still think by a voice vote at the end the entire Senate will fund the network. Time will tell, we have to keep up the fight. With conservatives like Moran in our corner I think we still have a Senate majority willing to fund the network. Plus the House already has given its blessing so that has to be reconciled as well. Long way to go.
     
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  9. Jul 3, 2019 #34

    bretton88

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    It's more than funding the network. It's finding money for the superliners replacement too. Amtrak is simply saying the status quo of limping the Western LD network along can't last forever. I feel like the end goal is to get Congress to finally make that decision. If Congress comes through with that funding, that at minimum implies a new mandate to operate the Western LD trains, albeit with optimizations. Anderson even pointed that out in the hearing, that they will run the LD trains if they get the equipment funded. If Congress does not provide the funding, that implies an ok to tear apart the LD trains. I suspect Congress will choose the first option not the second. I think we can all agree the status quo can't last much longer.
     
  10. Jul 3, 2019 #35

    bretton88

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    There's also some confusion about the funding issue on here. What the House has approved is simply the FY2020 funding, there won't be any major policy changes in there. The reauthorization of Amtrak is a completely different deal and that's what Amtrak is really looking at and where any major policy changes and guidance will be.
     
  11. Jul 4, 2019 #36

    me_little_me

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    Checked baggage is more than a minor issue to families, the elderly, handicapped and those who need to take sufficient luggage to be useful at the other end. Nothing to keep passengers from bringing baggage on a train? Only if your bags are small and your strength is big. I've had to help elderly (and I'm in my 70s) because the crew rarely does - even if it is slowing down passenger loading making the train later and later.
    They're not trying to fix food service - unless you count fixing the problem they caused themselves. They're cutting food service. They don't load enough food. They don't refill en route.
    Quality for the money IS important.
     
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  12. Jul 4, 2019 #37

    lordsigma

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    I am open to viewing what their proposal is and will try to go into it with an open mind. I do have some concerns, but I could support changes that make sense and don’t leave communities in the dust. I think certain senators likely have a similar view. If the changes make sense for growing ridership while preserving a basic level of service to the communities serviced they may accept some of the changes. I don’t see a change or recommendation on the scale of a wholesale eliminAtion of all long distance routes. Rather, I suspect a route by route market by market analysis and recommendation. Some trains will likely receive a recommendation to continue in their present form (builder, zephyr, and starlight seem good candidates for that given their direct mention by Anderson) and concentrating premium food and beverage and sleeper efforts on those trains. Others may receive a recommendation to restructure how the route is services - split into multiple trains with maybe some bussing in certain cases. Crescent given it’s horrible OTP but still decent ridership seems guaranteed to get a break up recommendation - perhaps truncate it to Atlanta - New York or split into two trains at Atlanta. Some may receive an abandonment recommendation - sunset limited is the only one that comes to mind that may get a suggestion like that. But it’s all just talk and theories until we see the eagerly awaited recommendations by Amtrak.
     
  13. Jul 5, 2019 #38

    NativeSon5859

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    Crescent won’t be cut entirely south of Atlanta.

    ATL-NOL is one of the top 3 biggest city pairs on the entire route. Problem is, besides BHM, nothing between ATL and NOL generates much traffic at all. That’s why there’s no need for the full size consist year-round. Too bad it can’t be rerouted via MGM and MOB...
     
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  14. Jul 5, 2019 #39

    jis

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    Unlike in previous reauthorizations, this time Amtrak reauthorization will be as a part of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill, a Title (I think Title 6 unless something changes) in it, and not a separate self standing bill. It is hard to predict how that will affect things.

    The last reauthorization was a hybrid. The Amtrak Reauthorization was adopted as a separate bill but was never taken up by the House separately. Eventually it was incorporated in toto as a Title in the FAST Act which was the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act, and adopted as such and sent to the President for his signature.
     
  15. Jul 6, 2019 #40

    lordsigma

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    Crescent is a train where something else may make sense...Seems like running a New York - Atlanta train and a Atlanta - New Orleans train could make some sense. Atlanta seems like a location which could use some more focus. I wouldn't mind seeing more than one daily New York - Atlanta round trip eventually. In a split train, one of the trains would likely still be overnight and require sleeper service.
     
  16. Jul 10, 2019 #41

    dogbert617

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    That'd actually be an interesting idea, to reroute it via Montgomery and Mobile. Or at the minimum, for the creation of another train that'd run between Birmingham-Montgomery-Mobile-Biloxi-New Orleans to occur, since I doubt Meridian(with the money I read they spent to rehab their station) would support a reroute of Amtrak service. Too bad I suspect Alabama state lawmakers probably wouldn't jump on board, supporting such an idea. Sigh, their current governor Ivey is even hesitant to support restoring Mobile-New Orleans service. *angry* Not sure what is making it tough for her to back restoring MOB-NOL service, when you look at all the support from southern AL lawmakers and people down there to bring service back. Ugh....

    As for splitting up long distance trains into 2 different LD routes, I guess I could see why some may support that. If say, that would improve on time performance. Still I think it makes things easier to have 1 LD train serve a whole route, and it'd be annoying as crap for sleeper customers to have them transfer between 2 different trains in the middle of the route. Also, Anderson is crazy to be talking like Amtrak(even the long distance trains) should be making a profit, a year from now. When those trains were clearly NOT meant to be profitable, and of course will have to be subsidized to some extent.

    I still hope the SW Chief will run after September 30th, when the authorization is approved for 2019-20. My gut feeling is that Congress and Senate supports the national network enough, that the SWC will(crossing fingers) still run the whole route for another year. Since I do want to ride that train, in case the worst case scenario occurs and it is cut in the middle with a stupid bus bridge idea. Hopefully that NEVER occurs, though.
     
  17. Jul 10, 2019 #42

    ohle

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    That was one of the stupidest, non-researched ideas anyone at Amtrak ever conceived.
    Clearly, Anderson has little understanding of passenger rail and that irrational decision showed he knows little about travel in general, and next to nothing about why people travel by train.

    People would want to de-board a train midway on the trip and ride a cramped bus OVERNIGHT?
    Does Anderson really believe the highways are safer than train travel?
    FYI, the biggest transportation-related fatalities are on the highways. No other mode even comes close.

    If he's so "business-minded," one need remind him the Southwest Chief is one of Amtrak's most successful trains, LD or short distance. It is competitive with -- and exceeds -- almost all other Amtrak services.

    The Southwest Chief carries more passenger miles (length of trip) than any other Amtrak short-distance train outside of the Northeast Corridor and California's Pacific Surfliner trains.

    At 63%, the train's load factor (percent of full seats) is higher than the 58% average for the long-distance trains and is higher than the Northeast Corridor's 57% average and the state corridor routes' 40%.

    Among Amtrak's 15 long-distance trains, the Southwest Chief is:
    -7th in terms of ridership
    -4th in ticket revenue
    -2nd in seat miles
    -2nd in passenger miles

    Clearly, Anderson knows little about train travel and has no idea the value the LD trains provide Amtrak and the nation overall.
     
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  18. Jul 10, 2019 #43

    Ziv

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    I think a DC to Atlanta train and an Atlanta to New Orleans train in addition to the Cresecent rather than replacing it would be optimal. If there were funding and rolling stock available, that is.
     
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  19. Jul 10, 2019 #44

    Ziv

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  20. Jul 10, 2019 #45

    ohle

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    Yes, a daytime train from ATL to DC is needed, as is ATL-FL and ATL-CHI service.
    ATL is one of the country's largest metro areas (I believe it's 6th largest Metropolitan Statistical Area), and is growing like wildfire.
    Only one single train a day is an insult to such a populous area.
    Same with Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Cincy, etc.
     
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  21. Jul 11, 2019 #46

    jis

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    Since Anderson proudly waves his one sheet plastic laminated set of alleged Amtrak laws, it is worth looking deeper into what the law actually is, and which part is Anderson;s construct upon it.

    An interesting take on the issue of "for profit corporation" from Jim Matthews of RPA:

    https://www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/no-amtrak-does-not-have-to-make-a-profit/

    Digging through 49 CFR 700.2 one discovers that indeed "Amtrak" is supposed to be "run as a for profit corporation". There is an interesting note further down in there that states that Congress requires Amtrak to cover at least 50% of its operating cost through ticket revenues (which it does). Nowhere is it stated as a matter of law that Amtrak must cover 100% of its operating cost, by whatever means.

    Interestingly, if one considers the so called "federal subsidy" as "contract cost" paid by the federal government to Amtrak to run a "designated national passenger rail system" for the federal government, then of course Amtrak covers 100% of its operating cost year after year. Afterall that is how all the payments from the states are accounted for in claiming that the state supported operations are generally profitable.

    While we can quibble about the grammatical and mental gymnastics about how one can run a "for profit corporation" without striving to be profitable by any legal means, that might be completely missing the broader question of what value does it bring to society and what broader purpose does it serve and what are we willing to pay for that "contract".

    While one may agree or disagree with Jim's position, he certainly raises some good points to ponder.
     
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  22. Jul 11, 2019 #47

    TiBike

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    Matthew's argument is well summed up in his closing line: "Don’t focus on profits. Focus on value".

    Fair enough. The question is whether maintaining a system based on 50 year old rail passenger travel patterns and service models provides greater value than a system designed to meet current market needs. It doesn't. Amtrak's long distance trains fail as a mass market transportation service, while its corridors – NEC and state supported – largely succeed.

    What Anderson is proposing – focus on delivering short/mid distance transportation service and run long distance trains as an entertainment service, priced appropriately – will deliver far greater value to taxpayers in general, and the vast majority of rail passengers in particular.
     
  23. Jul 11, 2019 #48

    tricia

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    Perhaps Amtrak's failures are more attributable to things being done badly (poor OTP, a skeletal route map, not enough trains to provide reasonable calling times and connections in most places, and so on) than to "50 year old rail passenger travel patterns."
     
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  24. Jul 11, 2019 #49

    Amtrakfflyer

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    Add corridors in ADDITION to the network we already have to get the most bang for our buck. That approach would get almost no pushback, except for the few Heritage group types out there.

    Again this is where Anderson is too narrow minded to see the value of the network as a skeleton to build upon. Hopefully Congress can see it.
     
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  25. Jul 11, 2019 #50

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    To do that, they'd have to change PRIIA to allow federal funding for corridor service. Maybe that is Anderson's goal. Anderson can always go to the states to start/add additional corridor service or for Indiana to save the Hoosier State, for the most part they're saying no.
     

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