Way to cut down losses on long distance trains

Discussion in 'Amtrak’s Future: Member Ideas and Discussion' started by MIRAILFAN, Dec 12, 2019.

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  1. Dec 13, 2019 #26

    jiml

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    Air Canada offers a variation on this on domestic (Canada and US) flights in coach.
     
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  2. Dec 13, 2019 #27

    sttom

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    As far as food goes it would make more sense, at least on shorter routes to be more like an airline and pre make the food in a kitchen. My only question is would their be any union rules against Amtrak contracting out to Aramark or would they still need to pre make the food in an Amtrak run kitchen somewhere? If this were the case, Amtrak would need a larger output to get to make the economies of scale worth it, which could mean adding this sort of food to business class on regional trains. Which could make business class more attractive if you have some selection of a hot meal.

    As for a budget option for sleepers, a slumber coach in the traditional sense is only really doable where Viewliners are used. When some of the Superliner coaches get released from corridor service, if Amtrak were smart, it would try out an open section/single roomette car on some long distance trains. We won't really know if people will or will not buy them if we don't try them out. It's been how long since we've had them in the US? I know Via still has them and they sell, the US and Canada aren't that culturally different.
     
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  3. Dec 13, 2019 #28

    crescent-zephyr

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    A single roomette or an open section takes up virtually the same space as a roomette. It makes no sense. The slumbercoach design worked because it jammed more roomettes into the same space with the duplex design. I don't think that type of design could be built today.
     
  4. Dec 13, 2019 #29

    sttom

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    I've mentioned this a few times, but a Superliner variant of a slumber coach would likely be harder to make than a Viewliners variant. I was mentioning the prospect of a section/single roomette car for Superliners. As for the space, charge more for the single room vs just the bed. It's not like bedrooms don't cost more than roomettes presently.
     
  5. Dec 13, 2019 #30

    jis

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    So a single Roomette would be exactly a double Roomette with the upper berth removed? And of course they will cost exactly as much as the double Roomette. So what exactly would be the point of unnecessarily creating another inventory type?
     
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  6. Dec 13, 2019 #31

    sttom

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    The point would be to test a single, no frills room option. I'm not an engineer, so I'm not sure what would be easier, buying roomette shells and making a few of them into singles or doing a 2x2 version of Jet Blue's Mint cabin. That would be the more efficient option when it comes to space, I'm just not sure which would be the easy option. All I know is it doesn't make people here happy
     
  7. Dec 13, 2019 #32

    MARC Rider

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    I'm kind of amused that a lot of the discussion of my comment has focused on the food service. In my mind, this is secondary to the points I was making. Based on ridership and revenue statistics provided by RPA, The vast majority of the passengers on "long distance" trains are making short trips. On the other hand, the sleeper passengers making longer trips do generate a heck of a lot of revenue because their trips are longer and the average fares they pay are higher (but not as high was I would have guessed.)

    In terms of profitability, what a decision-maker would need to know would be the actual direct costs (without allocations for overhead) of providing sleeper service. If the costs are higher than the additional revenue, then all the extra revenue from the sleepers is worthless, as far as profitability is concerned. The main reason you would want to offer food service would be as an amenity to attract people to travel on a long trip that might go over meal times.

    Another strategy that Amtrak could take to increase revenue on the "long distance" trains would be to increase their business class offerings. Again, most business class passengers take short trips, just like the coach passengers, but the revenue yield per mile (about 25 cents per mile) is closer to that of the sleepers. (Revenue yield for coach is about 15 cents per mile.) If you can induce 500,000 of the current 3 million annual coach passengers to switch to business class, that will yield (500,000 x 400 miles avg x $0.25 per mile) or about 50 million dollars in revenue. These 500,000 passenger would yield 30 million in revenue if they stayed in coach. Thus Amtrak makes 20 million dollars in additional revenue at a cost much lower than providing additional sleeping car capacity and all the associated amenities. The question would be the cost of the amenities they would need to add in order to induce additional business class travel.

    Amenities cost money, and, if the airline industry is any indication, the traveling public is willing to forgo a lot of amenities in service if they can pay less.

    If I were in charge, I'd try to increase both sleeper and business class travel, assuming, of course, that the additional costs to provide sleeper class are a good bit less than the increased revenue brought by the new sleeper passengers.

    The problem with analyzing what's going on with Amtrak is that the company does not seem to be providing accurate estimates of the actual additional direct costs of the "amenities" that would help public discussion of the issue. Heck, I suspect even top internal management isn't getting accurate estimates of costs, which may explain why Mr. Anderson, in particular, is so down on the national network.
     
  8. Dec 13, 2019 #33

    jis

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    You can do so today with no new hardware. This is just pointless make work when a set of designated current roomette could just be sold as a no frills single.
     
  9. Dec 13, 2019 #34

    sttom

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    Isn't there a general shortage of sleeping cars or did I miss the end of it?

    I'm saying to use the Superliner cars currently used on corridor service as an experiment post delivery of the Siemens cars. I'm also partially spit balling ideas, but I'll make sure to have sources cited, fully thought out ideas next time.
     
  10. Dec 14, 2019 #35

    crescent-zephyr

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    What frills? On the silver star you don’t get any food. I guess they could take away the coffee that is sometimes available?
     
  11. Dec 14, 2019 #36

    Anderson

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    I've got three theories:
    (1) There may have been an administrative hassle on board (separating sleeper pax from sleeper plus pax), and food waste/variable diner demand may also have been an issue (remember, this is why Amtrak went to including the meals to begin with).
    (2) The margins might have been hard to price right (especially since at the time, I think VIA generally had three fare price sets for sleepers...full flex, semi-flex, and not-really-flex) and it seems quite possible that the pricing levels could "crash" into one another if not managed well.
    (3) It might have been seen as "diluting" the product and/or created some branding confusion on a few of the trains ("Why can't I get plain old sleeper on the Canadian?").

    (1) and (2) should have technical solutions. (3) is a plain business decision, and it's a valid and reasonable one either way.
     
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  12. Dec 14, 2019 #37

    Anderson

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    Blame it on the "crisis du jour". If you'd done this back during the SWC fight, we'd probably be shouting over routes instead.

    One thing I'd be interested in would be to compare Coach, BC, and sleeper ridership on trains that (1) have all three and (2) aren't the Auto Train. I think both BC ridership distances are sandbagged (by not being present on the Transcons) and numbers by only being present on a handful of trains. This is not to say that adding it to some of those trains would be particularly useful. It is merely an observation related to evaluating them.
     
  13. Dec 14, 2019 #38

    ehbowen

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    I think that IF the Business Class service had decent amenities (comfortable seating, complimentary beverages, possibly a snack box) it would do well on daytime legs on the western Transcons, such as CHI-KCY on the Southwest Chief and CHI-MSP on the Empire Builder. Outside of those daytime legs I think not so much, although for those (few) travelers headed to middle-of-the-night destinations such as Newton, KS it might be an attractive alternative to a Roomette. Possibly too attractive...we don't want to cannibalize our sleeper business, now, do we?
     
  14. Dec 14, 2019 #39

    cocojacoby

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    A Delta One setup would have to be much cheaper than a roomette. More like BC price point. This should be tried on the "Night Owl" and should prove successful.

    We've discussed this in more detail on other threads. I even drew up a floor plan.

    https://news.delta.com/worlds-first-all-suite-business-class-introduced-delta-one
     

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  15. Dec 14, 2019 #40

    railiner

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    Why couldn’t it? Especially in Viewliner’s which have ample floor to ceiling height.
    And no need to include plumbing facilities, as the old design’s did. I do believe that all necessary bedding should be provided, however.

    Or... they could experiment with a three tier sleeper with no bedding provided, I think India has something like that, not sure. It would probably only appeal to “backpacking” students, but it would provide a flat bed to sleep on...
     
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  16. Dec 14, 2019 #41

    sttom

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    Like I've mentioned a few times, a budget sleeper/better business class would be a market share grower. At this point, what separates business class from coach on the national trains? Some drinks and leather seats, maybe a snack? I can get that in coach minus the leather seats. Or buy food before getting on the train. Long distance business would need to be an upgrade, not a gimmick.
     
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  17. Dec 14, 2019 #42

    ehbowen

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    Agreed, but what can you do for that upgrade? More seat pitch? Won't sell unless you compress regular coach to airline dimensions (better shut up about that right now!). Lie flat seats? As has been pointed out, it's not feasible to create a lie-flat product within the ten foot width of a rail car which is more space-efficient than a Roomette...unless you go to a European-style couchette. You might buy it, but no one else will. Shared sleeping accommodations in the USA have flown as well as lead balloons. So, realistically, the only 'upgrade' you can offer for LD business class is a more private/quiet seating area, better seats (especially width), and food/drink.
     
  18. Dec 14, 2019 #43

    Anderson

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    It looks like, depending on the details, you could have somewhere in the range of 34-36 pax per car. I do question the width assumptions, but the key is "question". A 757 cabin (which has the "fake Delta One" 2-2 configuration) has a cabin width of 11'6". A Viewliner, as a whole, is 10'6" on the outside...

    ...but you can make a 2-1 configuration work (based on my experience on the Spirit of Queensland); the question is whether "staggered 2-2" can work as well.

    Edit: My best guess would be 35 pax on your above-suggested configuration, adding one seat in place of the shower room and leaving a wider aisle there to facilitate wheelchair access. That's better than the theoretical cap of a Viewliner I (30) or Viewliner II (28), and well above the practical cap (in the ballpark of 20-22).
     
  19. Dec 14, 2019 #44

    crescent-zephyr

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    I’m guessing current laws wouldn’t permit the step up... it went into the aisle and it would cause problems during an emergency evacuation.
     
  20. Dec 14, 2019 #45

    sttom

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    At one point I did a rough drawing of "how many Jet Blue Mint style seats could you cram into the seating space of an Amfleet 1 coach". My answer was 34 in total assuming the seats would be ~7 feet in length. I'm not sure what that would be in the upper level of a Superliner, but I'd imagine slightly more than 34.
     
  21. Dec 14, 2019 #46

    crescent-zephyr

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    But you could make an all roomette viewliner that would sleep close to that?

    Imho a proper LD business class is 2-1 reserved seating with blankets/ pillows and complimentary soft drinks and food.
     
  22. Dec 14, 2019 #47

    Anderson

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    I'm working off that diagram above. If you go for a 2-1 layout (a la the Spirit of Queensland), you're probably looking at a capacity of about 31 (10 rows of 3 plus an additional seat on one side, bathrooms on the other, and the eleventh row row as a single for ADA access). Now, a "hard 31" is still better than a "soft 28", and that would seem to lend itself to a pricing differential of perhaps 2-2.5:1 (I'd probably look at fiddling with pricing between the singles, the windows, and the aisles).

    Edit: An all-roomette Viewliner, presuming the ADA concern again, would probably be sleeping about 36-40 depending on the exact specs. Consider that I think you have 11 "slots" that can be allocated to either two roomettes, one bedroom, etc. So you can do 10-6, 4-6-4 with two restrooms, etc. The current Viewliner is basically a 14-3 (losing one "slot" to an ADA bedroom) with one of the 14 given to the shower and the other to the attendant.

    In an all-roomette layout, that would offer 22 roomettes (44 berths). However, you need to "save" one roomette for the attendant. You probably lose another one for ADA access, and then one or two more for restrooms and/or a shower (depending on your spec).

    The rub is that you'd very rarely be at capacity since a decent number of pax will be solo travelers. I generally presume a 50/50 split between solo pax and people traveling together, but we can discuss that at length.
     
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2019
  23. Dec 14, 2019 #48

    crescent-zephyr

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    I feel like the current Amtrak sleepers check all the boxes for those wanting a lie-flat sleeping car experience.

    I do think there is room for a business class product, but honestly Amtrak has already proven that people will pay more for just the label of business class and maybe a bottle of water.

    The roomette is a budget sleeper, imho.

    As I said, a proper business class is 2-1 reserved seated and food and beverage service.

    Ideally.... the business class product could be used to justify the dining car, as that could be added to the BC amenities.
     
  24. Dec 15, 2019 #49

    Anderson

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    @crescent-zephyr I think you've hit on something (possibly by accident, and it's what bugs me about Regional BC going reserved):

    If it's 2-2 seating, the seating arrangement is a nothing-burger. I get the seat I get, just don't overbook me and stop being pretentious twats about it. Also, playing "Musical Chairs" at WAS is hardly the worst thing in the world so I'm even more frustrated on that side of things.

    If it's 2-1 seating, then it actually matters what I'm getting (since about 1/3 of the seats are singles, etc.).
     
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  25. Dec 15, 2019 #50

    sttom

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    A lot of people would beg to differ on the first point. Amtrak also had a fairly decent record of running trains with slumber coaches back in the day.

    On the second point, I have also mentioned that business class should be 2+1 system wide. Right now, on some routes, it's just long distance coach with some drinks.

    On that note, it's not like Amtrak couldn't have two variants of business class, one for long distance and one for corridor service. They already do for coach. Corridor coach is 39 inch pitch and long distance coach is 50 inches. Having long distance business class be a lie flat option isn't a bad thing.
     

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