An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby Patrick Boylan » Fri Mar 16, 2012 10:14 am

As Bill Clinton says, it depends on your definition of 'some'. About 6 years ago I got EZpass in Delaware. I live in New Jersey, and have used the EZpass in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.
I think I remember 1 toll bridge that didn't accept the Ezpass, and I'm pretty sure that bridge didn't accept any electronic payment system.

These 7 states are adequate interoperability for me. Can one find 3 or more government transit agencies in that region whose fare systems offer anything like that interoperability?
Don't we have plenty of cases where, monthly passes, a fairly recent innovation, aside, the same agency regularly cross honors a train fare on its buses and vice versa?
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel?

Postby amtrakowitz » Fri Mar 16, 2012 1:59 pm

Patrick Boylan wrote: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?

Yes, travel agents sold through tickets, quite often for several railroads. And given today's situation, "non-competitive government" isn't even offering anything like what competitive private business used to offer.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby ExCon90 » Mon Mar 19, 2012 3:55 pm

Not just travel agents; under ICC regulation each railroad was required to sell through tickets from any station to any other station in the U. S., regardless of the number of railroads in the route. The B&M ticket agent at Salem, Mass., was required to sell a ticket to Salem, Ore., via any route shown in the applicable tariff. If he didn't have the tariff at his station, and he probably didn't, he'd call the rate room in Boston and they'd look it up for him. Up until the 1950s or so, the railroads were famous for incredibly long tickets, on green paper, with a perforated coupon for each railroad in the route, going and coming (if the routing was going to be B&M-Troy-NYC-Chicago-C&NW-Omaha-UP-Ogden-SP, the agent would choose a strip of blanks having 10 coupons--or maybe 12 if the Parmalee Transfer coupon between Chicago stations was included in the series). Each time the passenger entered upon another railroad the conductor would lift that coupon and turn it in to the ticket receiver where he left the train, and in due course the coupon would find its way to the Auditor of Passenger Receipts, who would see that his railroad got its share of the revenue from the Boston & Maine. After the airlines introduced the coupon booklet with carbon coupons, the railroads adopted that, and the accordion-pleated tickets were gone. The problem with doing that today would be keeping the fares current. "Back in the day," under ICC regulation, a fare could not be changed without amending the tariff, a process which required the change to be published not less than 30 days before taking effect. Today, with fares able to be changed virtually overnight, it would be very difficult to keep current with the fares charged by other properties. Another complication is that under ICC regulation there was no such thing as peak/off-peak, day-of-week, advance-purchase, or anything else tainted by innovation.
I think the primary obstacle to setting up a universal scheme for selling through tickets is that any manager proposing it to his higher management would have to show how the scheme would save more than it would cost to implement. As a rule, if you can't show how much you're going to save the company, don't bother going upstairs with it. The principal benefit here would of course be customer convenience, which is extremely difficult to quantify.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby markhb » Wed Mar 21, 2012 11:43 pm

In 2000, I ran into a situation where I and my family had missed the first leg of our flight home at the end of our vacation, and the ticket counter agent actually hand-wrote us tickets on another airline to a fourth city so we could make a connection from there. I don't believe we were charged extra, either. Unless things have greatly changed in this regard post-9/11(or post-2008), I believe the airlines will still honor each other's tickets, particularly in emergency situations.

I was going to suggest that if one really wanted to have tickets in-hand for all travel legs, including commuter rail, before starting their trip, they could always try working with a travel agent. Even though the commuter operators probably aren't in the CRS's (since out-of-towners are such a minuscule part of their business that it isn't worth the expense), a good agent should be able to prepurchase the necessary ducats for you.

Incidentally, E-ZPass is now accepted by virtually all toll facilities from Maine to Illinois and southern Virginia. The most-conspicuous gap I can think of was that the Pell Bridge in Newport, RI didn't accept ETC until a few years ago; they now do accept E-ZPass.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby mtuandrew » Thu Mar 22, 2012 2:39 am

Unlike in past years, it's remarkably easy to do the work of ExCon's hypothetical B&M agent. Granted, you're the one looking up travel options between Salem, MA and Salem, OR, but you have at your disposal the internet with several air-oriented travel websites, plus the Amtrak, Greyhound, and other bus company sites. And, nearly everyone has an all-in-one payment card provided by Visa, Mastercard or American Express.

That said, I'm surprised none of the major travel sites, or a third party like Google, has taken the next step: full comparison of ALL travel modes between point A and point B. I'm picturing a site that, if someone did want to travel from Salem to Salem, would give them the price breakdown of car rental + gas, Amtrak, Greyhound, other bus, public transportation, and least expensive airfare. After that, it would give the options of booking the trip by shortest time, least cost, best time-money value, or customized as the buyer prefers. Then, the site would be able to order all of the necessary tickets through the actual transportation providers, and assemble an itinerary.

As an example, it could order an MBCR pass from Salem to BON, thence the T to KBOS, airfare from KBOS to KMDW on a discount carrier, CTA fare from KMDW through downtown to KORD, airfare on a legacy carrier from KORD to KSEA, fare on Sound Transit from KSEA to International/Chinatown Station, and finally a ticket aboard an Amtrak Cascades Service train to SLM. Or, maybe it would book a SuperShuttle from Salem to BOS, a Megabus ticket from BOS to Secaucus, NJT fare to KEWR, then book a nonstop KEWR-KPDX flight and arrange for a car rental at KPDX for the drive to Salem. Such a site obviously couldn't guarantee connections, but if it could re-book a customer mid-trip without penalty (say, if Amtrak was having wire problems and held up NJT), that would be almost as good.

It sounds like a horrific amount of information for one company, but in reality it isn't so much. The most difficult travel option, the airlines, already book most of their travel through third-party sites like Expedia and Travelocity, and I'd expect a site like this to piggyback off their existing efforts as does the site Kayak. Likewise for Amtrak, Megabus and Greyhound, which all offer online booking on their websites. Commuter agencies have a large number of routes, but a fixed set of prices and a fixed schedule - that's relatively simple to feed into the equation. Finally, non-scheduled providers like livery services and car rental companies have no set rate, but would probably be willing to negotiate below-retail prices in exchange for guaranteed business.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel?

Postby NRGeep » Thu Mar 22, 2012 8:54 pm

amtrakowitz wrote:
Hawaiitiki wrote:
amtrakowitz wrote:
Hawaiitiki wrote:
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.


No doubt Conrail abandoned a huge amount of trackage, though they did not seem to stand in the way of short lines or other lines who deemed them worthy of being taken over. Am I missing something?
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby Forest Glen » Fri Mar 23, 2012 9:15 am

I like a system that SEPTA has. The Independence Pass allows you to use the subway or Regional Rail for an unlimited amount of times within a single day. If you take a train to Jersey, you pay an additional fee. I think this would be too complicated to implement in the MTA, but this is ideal.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel?

Postby ExCon90 » Fri Mar 23, 2012 2:49 pm

NRGeep wrote:
amtrakowitz wrote:
Hawaiitiki wrote:
amtrakowitz wrote:
Hawaiitiki wrote:
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.


No doubt Conrail abandoned a huge amount of trackage, though they did not seem to stand in the way of short lines or other lines who deemed them worthy of being taken over. Am I missing something?

It needs to be understood that at the outset Conrail consisted only of trackage and facilities conveyed to it by USRA, and nothing else. What was not conveyed to Conrail by the Feds remained with the bankrupt estates, which were not obliged to operate it (since USRA had found such trackage unnecessary for a viable rail network in the Northeast -- that's why it wasn't included in Conrail). Any destruction of "a huge swath of the Northeast's rail network" had taken place over decades before Conrail was formed, and in fact deterioration of that network to the point of being unable to function was the reason Conrail was created.

Not sure what this has to do with through passenger ticketing.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel?

Postby amtrakowitz » Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:37 am

NRGeep wrote:
amtrakowitz wrote:
Hawaiitiki wrote:
amtrakowitz wrote:
Hawaiitiki wrote:
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.

No doubt Conrail abandoned a huge amount of trackage, though they did not seem to stand in the way of short lines or other lines who deemed them worthy of being taken over. Am I missing something?

They did indeed stand in the way. One of the biggest examples was the Lackawanna Cutoff, which they deliberately sold off to a non-rail developer out of fear of being "competed" against (AIUT). The DL&W main line from Scranton to the Cutoff, abandoned at the same time, did not meet the same fate due to not being sold off in the same fashion, and is now currently active for freight, having been rebuilt by county rail authorities although at least a decade or more later after abandonment. As far as the potential for passenger utility goes, that was one of the largest "balkanizations" apart from what was done to other main lines such as those of the CNJ, LVRR, even parts of the PRR and B&O.
ExCon90 wrote:It needs to be understood that at the outset Conrail consisted only of trackage and facilities conveyed to it by USRA, and nothing else. What was not conveyed to Conrail by the Feds remained with the bankrupt estates, which were not obliged to operate it (since USRA had found such trackage unnecessary for a viable rail network in the Northeast -- that's why it wasn't included in Conrail). Any destruction of "a huge swath of the Northeast's rail network" had taken place over decades before Conrail was formed, and in fact deterioration of that network to the point of being unable to function was the reason Conrail was created

No, I was talking about Conrail's abandonments particularly, and those were not small.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby mmi16 » Thu Mar 29, 2012 10:02 pm

The pre-ConRail Northeast rail network served a industrial base that no longer existed at the time ConRail was formed - that was why all the pre-ConRail Northeast carriers were in bankruptcy in the first place. Having routes without supporting traffic is a sure way to stay in the red.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby Arborwayfan » Fri Mar 30, 2012 11:02 pm

This exists: HopStop. Sometimes it can get a little bit confused, but it can certainly route between agencies and even private operators.



This is neat. I do see what you mean by confused, though. It sent me Roslindale, Mass., to Salt Lake City via NYC, Albany, Cleveland, Chicago, with changes of bus or train at all those places. It seems to pick the next available service in roughly the right direction, instead of the most logical. Maybe the programmers will keep working on it. It's impressive.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby amtrakowitz » Sat Mar 31, 2012 6:22 pm

mmi16 wrote:The pre-ConRail Northeast rail network served a industrial base that no longer existed at the time ConRail was formed - that was why all the pre-ConRail Northeast carriers were in bankruptcy in the first place. Having routes without supporting traffic is a sure way to stay in the red

If that were the truth, then trucks would have had a dearth of freight business also.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby neroden » Sun Apr 01, 2012 11:02 pm

People who were there at the time said that Conrail got its managers from Penn Central. The agenda was specifically to reduce the redundancy in the system -- which was undeniably necessary -- but the choice of which lines to retain was questionable. Some have said that they appeared to have been genuinely biased against the ex-Erie Lackawanna lines, as they seem to have been shut down even when they were arguably the better of two parallel routes, with the worse route retained.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel?

Postby amtrakowitz » Mon Apr 02, 2012 7:49 pm

neroden wrote:People who were there at the time said that Conrail got its managers from Penn Central. The agenda was specifically to reduce the redundancy in the system — which was undeniably necessary — but the choice of which lines to retain was questionable. Some have said that they appeared to have been genuinely biased against the ex-Erie Lackawanna lines, as they seem to have been shut down even when they were arguably the better of two parallel routes, with the worse route retained.

The definition of "redundancy" is questionable. I myself have not heard of too many highways being closed due to being "redundant" (parts of the old US 66 being one of the rare exceptions). There have been more airports so shut down, but then someone from the private sector makes use of them, either for its original purpose or not.
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Re: An Indictment of American Rail Travel??

Postby ExCon90 » Tue Apr 03, 2012 1:49 pm

amtrakowitz wrote:
mmi16 wrote:The pre-ConRail Northeast rail network served a industrial base that no longer existed at the time ConRail was formed - that was why all the pre-ConRail Northeast carriers were in bankruptcy in the first place. Having routes without supporting traffic is a sure way to stay in the red

If that were the truth, then trucks would have had a dearth of freight business also.

Trucks that experienced a dearth of freight business simply picked up and went to where the business was -- trucks are not restricted to specific highways, whereas railroads are confined to where the tracks are. A lot of freight business in the postwar years went to where the tracks weren't.
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