An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby Arborwayfan » Tue Mar 13, 2012 12:57 pm

Railfans, some of them with computer skills, could create a website to do unified trip planning, even if pax still had to buy tix directly from each agency. There must be loads of us out there with an arcane but easy route that we know that doesn't show in any timetable (like my Champaign to South Bend example from my earlier post). The easiest level would be for enthusiasts in each region to come up with a guide to interline trips, put it online, and try to get the agencies to link to it and to keep printed copies in their stations. A variation on that would be, for example, to try to get, for example, the agency that prints and distributes the schematic map of Illinois trains to add Metra services to that map and include them in the sample trips they use as advertising; that stuff gets distributed in stations and on trains. Midwest High-Speed Rail might be interested in the idea. The next level would be a clickable map of the US that would let you see the various interline connections from particular Amtrak routes, and click through to the schedules and fares for each segment, maybe with some explanations of how to take particular trips. The next level up would be a planner that would take in the endpoints and spit out the itinerary, complete with links to the different operators so you could look up the schedules. Next above that would be a planner that could create your itinerary complete with times and maybe even fares taken from the operators' websites. (I think that last one is possible, a la Kayak.com, but probably involves a lot of updating and maintenance even after the enormous task of writing the software, finding all the links, etc.) If somebody made one of these websites, NARP might be willing to host it, or to pester Amtrak to host it, or at least link to it.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby Hawaiitiki » Tue Mar 13, 2012 1:18 pm

I've said it on RR.net before. The Northeast states waste soooo much money at the executive levels of their transit organizations. There is no good fiscal reason why there should be a separate/independent organizations(and executive officers) running the railroads for Boston, New Haven, 3 different in/around NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore/DC, and Northern Virginia. Taking cross-booking up a notch, a "Port Authority type" agency funded by all affected states should be created to manage, buy equipment in volume, standardize the network, and of course enable booking from the smallest of commuter towns in Mass to Washington DC Union Station. I'm registered Democrat but I wholeheartedly believe there would so much for the rail-rider to gain consolidating the bus and rail operations of MBTA, NJT, MetroNorth, LIRR, SEPTA, MARC, and VRE.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel?

Postby amtrakowitz » Tue Mar 13, 2012 3:47 pm

Hawaiitiki wrote:I've said it on RR.net before. The Northeast states waste soooo much money at the executive levels of their transit organizations. There is no good fiscal reason why there should be a separate/independent organizations (and executive officers) running the railroads for Boston, New Haven, 3 different in/around NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore/DC, and Northern Virginia. Taking cross-booking up a notch, a "Port Authority type" agency funded by all affected states should be created to manage, buy equipment in volume, standardize the network, and of course enable booking from the smallest of commuter towns in Mass to Washington DC Union Station. I'm registered Democrat but I wholeheartedly believe there would so much for the rail-rider to gain consolidating the bus and rail operations of MBTA, NJT, Metro-North, LIRR, SEPTA, MARC, and VRE

No. Bigger bureaucracies invariably lead to more fiscal waste, less service and higher fares. More government interference is not the cure for the current problems, especially since it has been the cause of said problems.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby amm in ny » Tue Mar 13, 2012 3:53 pm

Hawaiitiki wrote:There is no good fiscal reason why there should be a separate/independent organizations(and executive officers) running the railroads for Boston, New Haven, 3 different in/around NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore/DC, and Northern Virginia. Taking cross-booking up a notch, a "Port Authority type" agency funded by all affected states should be created to manage, buy equipment in volume, standardize the network, and of course enable booking from the smallest of commuter towns in Mass to Washington DC Union Station. I'm registered Democrat but I wholeheartedly believe there would so much for the rail-rider to gain consolidating the bus and rail operations of MBTA, NJT, MetroNorth, LIRR, SEPTA, MARC, and VRE.

There may be no good fiscal reason, but there are some very obvious political reasons.

With the exception of Metro North and LIRR, which _are_ part of the same agency (MTA) and do share purchasing, each of these agencies answers to and is subsidized by a different state. If a single agency were handling all the operations in all those states, each state would be arguing that it is paying more than its fair share of the common costs. Even within a state, you have municipal governments (counties, cities, etc.) complaining that they are not getting a full $1.00 of "value" for each dollar they are paying in.

Comparisons with Europe, especially continental Europe, aren't especially apt, since all of the countries I know anything about have had a long tradition (at least a century) of highly centralized government and nationalized railroads. Even so, in Germany, at least, each metropolitan area has its own transportation authority, not all that different from what Boston or Chicago have.

There is one obvious improvement that could be made which wouldn't involve "solving" the political problems: if the various agencies would work together to produce common requirements and designs for purchases, especially railroad equipment, they could save a lot of money on design, tooling, and debugging costs. Cf.: the PCC streetcar design. Note that Metro North and LIRR already do this, with their M series of MU cars.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby SouthernRailway » Tue Mar 13, 2012 7:03 pm

Jeff Smith wrote:I guess what I mean is single itinerary flying. If Delta is your only choice on one end, and United on the other, and you got to one or the other's sites, you get a ticket all the way through, don't you? Ditto on any of the travel sites like Travelocity.


If you use the United website, no, you won't be able to get a Delta ticket, and vice-versa. You'll be able to get a ticket only for another airline in the same alliance (for United, it's US Airways, Singapore, Air Canada, Lufthansa, etc.). Further, you have to check in at the check-in counter or kiosk (or website) of the airline operating the fight. So if I use usairways.com to book a multi-segment trip, and most of the trip is on US Airways but one of the segments is on United, I'll usually have to check in separately, at a United counter/kiosk/website, for the United segment. And at LaGuardia, I'd have to change terminals to go from a US Airways flight to a United flight, requiring going through security all over again, etc.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel?

Postby Hawaiitiki » Tue Mar 13, 2012 7:32 pm

amtrakowitz wrote:
Hawaiitiki wrote:I've said it on RR.net before. The Northeast states waste soooo much money at the executive levels of their transit organizations. There is no good fiscal reason why there should be a separate/independent organizations (and executive officers) running the railroads for Boston, New Haven, 3 different in/around NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore/DC, and Northern Virginia. Taking cross-booking up a notch, a "Port Authority type" agency funded by all affected states should be created to manage, buy equipment in volume, standardize the network, and of course enable booking from the smallest of commuter towns in Mass to Washington DC Union Station. I'm registered Democrat but I wholeheartedly believe there would so much for the rail-rider to gain consolidating the bus and rail operations of MBTA, NJT, Metro-North, LIRR, SEPTA, MARC, and VRE

No. Bigger bureaucracies invariably lead to more fiscal waste, less service and higher fares. More government interference is not the cure for the current problems, especially since it has been the cause of said problems.


You're assuming corruption, but in a fully functioning capitalist society I'm pretty sure making 7 public agencies into a streamlined 1, if done properly, would eventually bring less fiscal waste, ring in more standardized scheduling & equipment, and cause less government interference. Sure, Northeast State governments would complain that their money isn't being spent properly, but they do that now regarding their federal taxes being airmailed to the Deep South. If a locally elected politician is properly doing the job they were elected to do, funds in the long run would be evenly allocated relative to regional populations and tax-contributions. This would still be a Public agency.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby keyboardkat » Tue Mar 13, 2012 7:53 pm

When my dad was in the service in WWII, he lived in Jamaica, NY. He was able to go to Jamaica Station and buy a through ticket to Trenton. Since the PRR owned the LIRR anyway, it was no big deal. But back in the days of skiffle, you could by through tickets requiring a trip on several corporately unrelated lines. Why can't we do this today? Why can't I go to a manned LIRR station and buy a through ticket, LIRR to NY, then Amtrak, say, to Harrisburg? Whatever the reasons, political, technological, those reasons should fall. This needs to become a reality somehow, and different states' fiefdoms, for example, should be subservient to getting this done.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby Patrick Boylan » Tue Mar 13, 2012 9:24 pm

Does anyone else notice here that we seem to have some sort of magic dividing line that says if it's rail we should integrate it because 'the airlines do it", but we seem not to see any need to integrate, or provide through ticketing, if the other legs of the multi leg trip involve some other public transit besides rail?
Why is the goal here supposed to let us be able to get a Long Island ticket agent or machine sell us a Babylon-Alexandria LIRR-Amtrak-VRE ticket? In my perfect through ticket universe I want to be able to get a single ticket good for the corner bus, or LRV, to get me to the Babylon train station, and then good for whatever public transit is supposed to take me from Alexandria train station to my hotel.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel?

Postby hammersklavier » Tue Mar 13, 2012 11:00 pm

amtrakowitz wrote:
Hawaiitiki wrote:I've said it on RR.net before. The Northeast states waste soooo much money at the executive levels of their transit organizations. There is no good fiscal reason why there should be a separate/independent organizations (and executive officers) running the railroads for Boston, New Haven, 3 different in/around NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore/DC, and Northern Virginia. Taking cross-booking up a notch, a "Port Authority type" agency funded by all affected states should be created to manage, buy equipment in volume, standardize the network, and of course enable booking from the smallest of commuter towns in Mass to Washington DC Union Station. I'm registered Democrat but I wholeheartedly believe there would so much for the rail-rider to gain consolidating the bus and rail operations of MBTA, NJT, Metro-North, LIRR, SEPTA, MARC, and VRE

No. Bigger bureaucracies invariably lead to more fiscal waste, less service and higher fares. More government interference is not the cure for the current problems, especially since it has been the cause of said problems.

That's a Reaganite worldview. If we instead assume an entrepreneurial government worldview and allow the operator the leeway to operate as it sees fit, i.e. how Deutschland treats DB or how Conrail was operated until it finally started showing a profit, the result may well be different.

By the way--another great example is Paris. The Métro and RER (commuter network) systems are run by different operators, but the ticketing is, again, wholly integrated. I think the situation is the same between the Underground and the various franchises in London.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby workextra » Tue Mar 13, 2012 11:37 pm

A big issue with this would be servicing a through ticket. Though This can be rectified in different ways I do see this as complication. Ideally you'd need one type of format for all train tickets nationally. For this topic we could say base it off the current Amtrak ticket format.
One ticket type would make it cost effective and one universal format across the board for the different railroads crews. Each ticket would have to have specific canceling point Based on route traveled. Fares would be based on mileage. The fares essentially are split between the various carriers based on the mileage of the ride used on each carrier. The carrier with the longest portion of a said trip would get the larger share of the fare.
The Fare splitting terms would need to be discussed amongst the carriers, This is where the serious problems start. On the other side of things, A more expensive problem would be making the passenger be able to obtain this Amtrak format ticket at their respective commuter rail station, On Long Island alone That's at least 100 or so quick track Ticket machines and That won't ever cover every station, Most of the more important ones though.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel?

Postby amtrakowitz » Thu Mar 15, 2012 1:23 am

Hawaiitiki wrote:
amtrakowitz wrote:
Hawaiitiki wrote:I've said it on RR.net before. The Northeast states waste soooo much money at the executive levels of their transit organizations. There is no good fiscal reason why there should be a separate/independent organizations (and executive officers) running the railroads for Boston, New Haven, 3 different in/around NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore/DC, and Northern Virginia. Taking cross-booking up a notch, a "Port Authority type" agency funded by all affected states should be created to manage, buy equipment in volume, standardize the network, and of course enable booking from the smallest of commuter towns in Mass to Washington DC Union Station. I'm registered Democrat but I wholeheartedly believe there would so much for the rail-rider to gain consolidating the bus and rail operations of MBTA, NJT, Metro-North, LIRR, SEPTA, MARC, and VRE

No. Bigger bureaucracies invariably lead to more fiscal waste, less service and higher fares. More government interference is not the cure for the current problems, especially since it has been the cause of said problems.

You're assuming corruption, but in a fully functioning capitalist society I'm pretty sure making 7 public agencies into a streamlined 1, if done properly, would eventually bring less fiscal waste, ring in more standardized scheduling & equipment, and cause less government interference. Sure, Northeast State governments would complain that their money isn't being spent properly, but they do that now regarding their federal taxes being airmailed to the Deep South. If a locally elected politician is properly doing the job they were elected to do, funds in the long run would be evenly allocated relative to regional populations and tax-contributions. This would still be a Public agency

Circular reasoning. The cure to the problem is more of the problem? More centralization has never solved anything and it's always caused more problems. No larger government bureaucracy ever experienced less government interference. You're picturing the destruction of capitalism, not its upholding.
hammersklavier wrote:That's a Reaganite worldview. If we instead assume an entrepreneurial government worldview and allow the operator the leeway to operate as it sees fit, i.e. how Deutschland treats DB or how Conrail was operated until it finally started showing a profit, the result may well be different

What's with the prejudiced comment ("Reaganite worldview")?

You don't understand Germany, if that's the area you're coming from—nor Deutsche Bahn, which is still quite dependent on government cheese, only this time from all over the EU. Right now, DB is engaging in a "blitz" of sorts of purchasing railroad (and bus) companies around Europe, and heavy criticism is being levied to the effect where DB is being accused of bleeding the non-German concerns they own dry, sucking whatever profits can be made out of them and subsidizing their German operations with the revenue. This isn't helping matters on their domestic front, with many passengers extremely dissatisfied with DB's operations and (ironically) regarding DB having an "international" focus as a conflict of interest that takes the company's focus off the domestic operations in question. The unions constantly wielding the Damocles sword of wildcat strikes don't help the situation.

Nor do you understand Conrail, which was one of the USA's worst government programs and resulted in the destruction of a huge swath of the Northeast's rail network. The damage that Conrail did cannot be mitigated by NS and CSX being private concerns now; Conrail was grossly anti-competition, and sliced the rail networks to shreds to prevent any resurgence of rail transportation on the lines they closed—and the way CSX and NS operate now, they have no incentive to recapitalize the closed lines to expand local rail transportation.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby Kilgore Trout » Thu Mar 15, 2012 8:50 pm

Arborwayfan wrote:Railfans, some of them with computer skills, could create a website to do unified trip planning, even if pax still had to buy tix directly from each agency. There must be loads of us out there with an arcane but easy route that we know that doesn't show in any timetable (like my Champaign to South Bend example from my earlier post). The easiest level would be for enthusiasts in each region to come up with a guide to interline trips, put it online, and try to get the agencies to link to it and to keep printed copies in their stations. A variation on that would be, for example, to try to get, for example, the agency that prints and distributes the schematic map of Illinois trains to add Metra services to that map and include them in the sample trips they use as advertising; that stuff gets distributed in stations and on trains. Midwest High-Speed Rail might be interested in the idea. The next level would be a clickable map of the US that would let you see the various interline connections from particular Amtrak routes, and click through to the schedules and fares for each segment, maybe with some explanations of how to take particular trips. The next level up would be a planner that would take in the endpoints and spit out the itinerary, complete with links to the different operators so you could look up the schedules. Next above that would be a planner that could create your itinerary complete with times and maybe even fares taken from the operators' websites. (I think that last one is possible, a la Kayak.com, but probably involves a lot of updating and maintenance even after the enormous task of writing the software, finding all the links, etc.) If somebody made one of these websites, NARP might be willing to host it, or to pester Amtrak to host it, or at least link to it.


This exists: HopStop. Sometimes it can get a little bit confused, but it can certainly route between agencies and even private operators.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby kaitoku » Thu Mar 15, 2012 10:08 pm

A problem is that American passenger railways and transit are all highly politicized and controlled by politicians and bureaucrats, akin to third world operations- what you get are turf wars and scrambling for funds that vary with the election cycle and the ideology of the current regime, both in the executive branch and legislative (state and national). In a perfect world, rail passenger transport would be a profit-driven business with an eye on operations towards satisfying the customer- that, not more government, would lead to measures like cross-agency ticketing, smart cards, etc.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby Patrick Boylan » Fri Mar 16, 2012 4:49 am

What are the measures like cross-agency ticketing, smart cards, etc... that rail passenger transport lead to during the hundred years or so when it was a profit-driven business, and did it at the time have an eye on operations towards satisfying the customer?
I assume that trains that ran on more than one connecting railroad probably had thru tickets, for example I expect the Pennsylvania RR agent in New York could sell you a ticket to New Orleans or Florida, but would the Pennsy's Harrisburg agent sell you a ticket to the New York Central's Poughkeepsie station? Or was the situation more like the examples posted above where allied airlines cross-ticket, but competitors do not? In that case it seems non-competitive government can have a slight advantage over private enterprise, all other things being equal shouldn't 2 government agencies or 2 divisions of the same bloated bureaucracy tend to cooperate?
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby mmi16 » Fri Mar 16, 2012 10:03 am

Every 'animal' wants to mark out it's OWN TERRITORY. Amtrak is no different. States have a lot of the same problems when it comes to the 'EZ Pass' or other named electronic toll collection systems. While some level of 'interoperability' has developed among some states, there is not universal operability among all states using such type systems.
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