Amtrak Ranked with Airlines

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Amtrak Ranked with Airlines

Postby gokeefe » Sun Oct 22, 2017 12:20 pm

Over the years there have been a lot of threads that discuss comparisons of Amtrak with legacy era service (one of the best, written by Noel Weaver is here). Other discussions sometimes off-topic, have considered the comparison of Amtrak to the airline industry as a whole using a traditional modal division between air and rail.

When I was writing some of the posts in the recent topic regarding the likely end to the operating deficit the thought occurred to me that in reality Amtrak is treated by a lot of business travelers in the Northeast as simply an "airline that runs trains". This seems to be particularly true where the Acela is concerned in the sense that these travelers are choosing not between "air" or "rail" but rather "Amtrak" and "everyone else". It appears that for many business travelers their comparisons are mode neutral and service sensitive.

So if Amtrak is "just another carrier" how do they rank when compared to other airlines individually as opposed to the airline industry as a whole?

This wiki seemed like a good starting point for some comparative analysis. I think the results are actually very revealing and to me they say a lot about Amtrak's importance as a U.S. passenger carrier.

Rank by Passengers Carried (2016)*

When ranked by passengers carried in FY 2016 Amtrak is in the top ten of North American carriers with 31,274,790 total passengers. This level of ridership places Amtrak at #8 behind Jet Blue Airways at #7 (38,263,104) but ahead of Canada's West Jet (estimated 22,000,000). Amtrak also outranked Spirit Airlines at #10 (21,618,039).

It's worth noting that U.S. airlines do not currently anticipate the level of expansion that is likely to take place at Amtrak over the next few years. Depending on the number of new passengers added as a result of changes to Northeast Corridor operations and other state supported services based in California and Chicago it seems possible that Amtrak may surpass Jet Blue as the #7 carrier in North America.

*Due to different reporting cycles Amtrak's ridership is reported from FY 2016 (October 2015-September 2016) while the airline statistics are reported on the calendar year (January-December). For the purposes of this comparison the resulting differences in performance are not considered statistically significant.

Conclusions

Conventional comparative analysis in most media reporting of Amtrak that conglomerates airline passenger counts as an industry against Amtrak's totals as a carrier greatly understate the significance of Amtrak's current travel market share. Amtrak offers very similar services as the airlines and is price and time competitive on many itineraries especially when taking into account requisite airport security delays, parking fees and checked baggage fees.

Ranking Amtrak as a carrier as opposed to a mode provides real insight to understand the comparative significance of Amtrak's services and also its relative economic importance. Ranking Amtrak against an entire industry, of which it is effectively part of, gives an imbalanced picture of Amtrak's significance as a passenger carrier for intercity travel and overstates relative market share of airlines by treating all aviation passengers as if they were all flying the same airline. This is especially unreasonable because some airline passengers will choose the same carrier every time because of their participation in passenger loyalty programs for frequent fliers. This means that individual carriers are often limited in how much further they can grow in specific markets and that some passengers are simply beyond their reach. It also makes the carrier comparison with Amtrak that much more significant because it accounts for the weight that some travelers place on brand loyalty.
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Re: Amtrak Ranked with Airlines

Postby ryanov » Sun Oct 22, 2017 12:44 pm

Another interesting connection that I didn't see you mention: Amtrak is now being run by former Delta CEO Richard Anderson.

Delta became my preferred airline during his tenure (first airline I've had status with, currently gold). I'm looking forward to any positive changes he's able to make (though we all know Amtrak has constraints that airlines have not).
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Re: Amtrak Ranked with Airlines

Postby gokeefe » Sun Oct 22, 2017 1:38 pm

ryanov wrote:Delta became my preferred airline during his tenure (first airline I've had status with, currently gold). I'm looking forward to any positive changes he's able to make (though we all know Amtrak has constraints that airlines have not).


So far it seems one of the very first has been supporting senior management who decided that they would keep the Quik-Trak kiosks which were scheduled to be phased out until very recently. It is now anticipated that Amtrak instead will likely deploy either a major update ("refresh") or entirely new systems. I am somewhat reluctant to bring it up in this topic for fear of a "derailment" but nonetheless the decision seems to have been influenced (in my opinion only) by Anderson's airline background.
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Re: Amtrak Ranked with Airlines

Postby Alex M » Tue Oct 24, 2017 9:48 pm

It would be interested how the presence of other passenger rail operators such as Texas Central or Brightline would add to the mix, even if they are regional and not national.
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Re: Amtrak Ranked with Airlines

Postby bratkinson » Wed Oct 25, 2017 10:44 am

I think that Amtrak for business travelers falls largely in the 1-3 hour trip category. Over night travel is no longer an option except for die hard railfans as I used to fly out and return via Amtrak when I had a job that required 2-3 trips per month. Ranking them strictly by total passenger count skews the numbers as leisure travelers are counted for both rail and air, but the percentages of leisure travelers on rail likely exceeds that of the airlines when the LD trains are added in.

Acela Express basically competes with the shuttle airlines in the WAS-BOS corridor. Given the need to arrive at the airport 60-90 minutes early these days vs 5 minutes for Amtrak is a big factor in my estimation. The legroom advantage over air cannot be overstated. I'm thinking Amtrak should launch an all out TV ad campaign along the NEC, mostly in the news hour, citing the many advantages of Acela vs the air shuttles. Along the NEC, one cannot forget those that live in Trenton NJ, for example and fly out of DCA (WAS), BWI or EWR, or simply want to travel in better comfort than either NJT or MARC for an occasional business trip. Nor can one ignore the fact that 'the company' is paying for the trip, so saving a couple dollars for travel is oftentimes not a significant consideration.

Then we get to Amtrak short-haul operations such as CHI-MKE. CHI-SPI and CHI-KAL (DET is too far to 'commute', in my opinion). On those routes, it seems to be mostly endpoint travel for business travelers, and Amtrak certainly beats driving in terms of comfort and travel time. Adding the Milwaukee Airport (MKA) station was a great way to provide convenient parking for MKE-CHI travelers as well as an oftentimes lower cost from <somewhere> to CHI via MKE. Having decent frequency of 4-7 trips each way also helps build commuter traffic. Also, I don't know what parking in downtown Chicago is these days, but I recall 30 years ago it was like $25/day. Just saving the parking fee is nearly the cost of a one way ticket between those cities.

Then we get to Amtrak California. Anyone that enjoys driving in/to/from LA area must have a loose screw or two. Last time I drove in LA, 40 years ago, it was slow going, even on Sunday afternoons! Given the train frequencies run by Amtrak California, and the number of significant traffic-generating stops along each route, I'd have to say it's a big time winner for all who use it. And I recall an earthquake out there 20-25 years ago that literally overwhelmed the trains until the freeway was repaired. And according to the 'experts', a bigger one is not too far away.

So is Amtrak a major competitor for business travel? Most assuredly along key routes with comfort, speed and services that beat both the airline and automobile competition.
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Re: Amtrak Ranked with Airlines

Postby deathtopumpkins » Wed Oct 25, 2017 11:32 am

bratkinson wrote:I'm thinking Amtrak should launch an all out TV ad campaign along the NEC, mostly in the news hour, citing the many advantages of Acela vs the air shuttles.


Amtrak already runs TV ads along the NEC for the Acela. They have for years.
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Re: Amtrak Ranked with Airlines

Postby east point » Wed Oct 25, 2017 12:05 pm

What advertising is done is mostly customer maintenance. There is just not enough capacity available to meet possible demand from an all out campaign. Maybe better ads would be thanking for the loyalty of passengers ?.
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Re: Amtrak Ranked with Airlines

Postby gokeefe » Wed Oct 25, 2017 9:14 pm

Or just buy billboard ads at airports (which they do!). :-D

In terms of % of leisure travelers I would be curious to see how things match up. I guess its fair enough to say that the Long Distance services don't see a lot of business travel. But then again ... just exactly how much business travel is there to Newton, KS? Fair enough to say that the large urban destinations (Salt Lake City, Denver, Seattle, Portland, OR) see plenty of it but many of the smaller stops don't.

Point being I'm not all that sure that air travel to these places would see too much of a difference in trip purpose.
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Re: Amtrak Ranked with Airlines

Postby spatcher » Thu Nov 02, 2017 4:22 pm

gokeefe wrote:It's worth noting that U.S. airlines do not currently anticipate the level of expansion that is likely to take place at Amtrak over the next few years. Depending on the number of new passengers added as a result of changes to Northeast Corridor operations and other state supported services based in California and Chicago it seems possible that Amtrak may surpass Jet Blue as the #7 carrier in North America.



That would require quite a jump in capacity to not only match what JetBlue currently flys, let alone what they are adding in the next couple of years.

https://www.fool.com/investing/2017/04/29/jetblues-airbus-order-deferrals-are-a-smart-move.aspx

"The net result is that JetBlue is well positioned to grow capacity at an average annual rate of about 6%-8% through 2020 even with its reduced order book."
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Re: Amtrak Ranked with Airlines

Postby jamesinclair » Fri Nov 03, 2017 11:07 am

Amtrak needs to figure out how to get listed on places like https://www.google.com/flights/

If I search NYC (all) to Philadelphia (all) Amtrak doesnt show up.

However it does show United/Amtrak as an option if you search for a longer trip (ie, Miami to PHL)

Amtrak already shares data with Google - but only if you toggle searches via the transit option in google maps.
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Re: Amtrak Ranked with Airlines

Postby bretton88 » Sun Nov 05, 2017 2:58 pm

jamesinclair wrote:Amtrak needs to figure out how to get listed on places like https://www.google.com/flights/

If I search NYC (all) to Philadelphia (all) Amtrak doesnt show up.

However it does show United/Amtrak as an option if you search for a longer trip (ie, Miami to PHL)

Amtrak already shares data with Google - but only if you toggle searches via the transit option in google maps.


Interesting that they aren't listed on google flights, because they do appear on sites like Hipmunk (who even lists the LDs!!) and Kayak.
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