Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby electricron » Sun Jan 21, 2018 10:41 pm

Florida has right to work and right to unionize rights within their state constitution.
http://statelaws.findlaw.com/florida-la ... -laws.html
FEC and Brightline, or any other company within the state, may have workers working in the same shop doing the same job as members of a union or not. Wages and benefits are often negotiated with unions, and only union members get to vote to approve contract. Never-the-less, non-union members receive the same wages and benefit. In some states unions are required to represent non-union members in disputes, and in other states they aren’t. But even if they aren’t, unions often represent non-union members with disputes if it is in the best interests of their members.

Right to work laws doesn’t necessarily mean union busting more so than right to unionize means employees will.
I’ll admit I don’t know whether FEC or Brightline is unionized or not, but the concept any shop must be all or not is wrong.
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby Noel Weaver » Sun Jan 21, 2018 11:10 pm

Brightline is a new company so whether their employees will be union or not is THEIR choice. I don't know whether any of their people are union or not but I suspect that their engineers might be. I was a union member and worker for over 40 years in the railroad industry. I saw the reference to "SCAB" on here. Just because a company is non union does not make it or its employees scabs or a scab outfit. Scabs are people who work for a company currently on strike by crossing pickets lines. The lsat strike that involved railroad and union workers was the infamous Florida East Coast strike that ran from 1963 to the mid 1970's with a lot of violence, damage and very hard feelings. I doubt if any union will want a confrontation with Brightline at least for the start. As for the Florida East Coast these days nearly all of their employees are represented by a union and they have a contract. To the best of my knowledge labor relations on the Florida East Coast are excellent and I think both the management and the unions want to keep it that way. One need look no further than Canada to see multitasking on passenger trains. Via has no more conductors, train attendants handle the transportation and a second engineer handles switches and other operating matters. I don't think Via has suffered in any way because of this operation. While on Brightline I did not see any examples of goofing off on the part of their employees and on my rides on Amtrak over a long period of time I have witnessed this more than once. I don't want to get in to a dispute here, most Amtrak employees are good and do a decent job but the bad apples stick out like a sore thumb and I have seen my share of them.
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby bulk88 » Mon Jan 22, 2018 2:53 pm

SouthernRailway wrote:Sounds like Amtrak needs to form some subsidiaries and let those subsidiaries do whatever they want to be creative in finding was to add and improve service and financing sources, free from whatever shackles are holding Amtrak back. The explanations above are helpful in that I see why Amtrak hasn't done something as dramatic as Brightline, but it's infuriating that so many parts of the US could have great rail service, but don't, due to Amtrak's inertia or whatever the reason is.

Wouldn’t Amtrak senior management be so sick of having to beg for money from Congress that they would do anything to find new revenue sources?

Thank goodness for the private sector.

If Amtrak got into real estate development, or built shopping malls, or invested in tech startups, or bought and renovated marine cargo facilities, or started building freight cars for export at Beech Grove, or started underwriting mortgages for intercity bus operators (Greyhound), or heck, Amtrak buys some regional jets and operates as a United Express or American Eagle contractor. Immediately, it will be questioned, why taxpayer subsidies to Amtrak are becoming a piggy bank for "private enterprise".

IMO Brightline's real purpose was to get capacity expansion permits/EIS/etc for the FEC FREIGHT business that the government would never have otherwise granted. Somewhere in the mix I think is real estate PPP/PILOT/etc. "As of right" real estate development is dead in the USA unless it is a single family detached housing, so the FEC Miami real estate developments and their variances go down smoother if the train is a perk extracted by the zoning board.

A less realistic endgame is Brightline gets FL or USDOT via FL operating subsidies, or someone above Amtrak demands Amtrak reroute silver service from CSX to FEC in the name of efficiency.
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby east point » Mon Jan 22, 2018 5:17 pm

bulk88 wrote:[, or someone above Amtrak demands Amtrak reroute silver service from CSX to FEC in the name of efficiency.


That would ignore the very large passenger turn overs on present silver service trains. Have observed over 100 on and off at Orlando on multiple trains. Makes station dwell time understandable.
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby chrsjrcj » Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:23 pm

bulk88 wrote:
SouthernRailway wrote:Sounds like Amtrak needs to form some subsidiaries and let those subsidiaries do whatever they want to be creative in finding was to add and improve service and financing sources, free from whatever shackles are holding Amtrak back. The explanations above are helpful in that I see why Amtrak hasn't done something as dramatic as Brightline, but it's infuriating that so many parts of the US could have great rail service, but don't, due to Amtrak's inertia or whatever the reason is.

Wouldn’t Amtrak senior management be so sick of having to beg for money from Congress that they would do anything to find new revenue sources?

Thank goodness for the private sector.

If Amtrak got into real estate development, or built shopping malls, or invested in tech startups, or bought and renovated marine cargo facilities, or started building freight cars for export at Beech Grove, or started underwriting mortgages for intercity bus operators (Greyhound), or heck, Amtrak buys some regional jets and operates as a United Express or American Eagle contractor. Immediately, it will be questioned, why taxpayer subsidies to Amtrak are becoming a piggy bank for "private enterprise".

IMO Brightline's real purpose was to get capacity expansion permits/EIS/etc for the FEC FREIGHT business that the government would never have otherwise granted. Somewhere in the mix I think is real estate PPP/PILOT/etc. "As of right" real estate development is dead in the USA unless it is a single family detached housing, so the FEC Miami real estate developments and their variances go down smoother if the train is a perk extracted by the zoning board.

A less realistic endgame is Brightline gets FL or USDOT via FL operating subsidies, or someone above Amtrak demands Amtrak reroute silver service from CSX to FEC in the name of efficiency.


FEC ran more trains on less capacity 10 years ago. If they wanted to run more trains, they could simply do so. Why would their former parent company (mind you the FEC and Brightline are no longer under the same umbrella) spend $3 bn on passanger rail to expand capacity for freight. If they really wanted to go that route, why spend so much on state of the art stations and trains?

As far as the real estate angle, Miami Central is not one of its kind in Miami. Mixed use high rises are going up everywhere in Miami. FEC Industries (the real estate arm that owns Brightline) could've just as easily built Miami Central without the train. They ultimately see the value added with Brightline to outweigh the capital cost of building the railroad.

I strongly believe that a Miami to Orlando train will make an operating profit, and not only does Brightline's own study show this, but an entirely separate study done by FDOT showing a similar service to Brightline says this as well.
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby Tadman » Mon Jan 22, 2018 8:07 pm

You make a great point, one I've been trying to make myself.

If this were some kind of weasel job - more capacity, real estate only, foist off on Amtrak/FLDot... the list goes on.

They would've bought a few 1950's trains from Iowa Pacific for peanuts and set up gravel parking lots for all but a few showpiece stations. Total investment maybe $2-5m for a couple E8's and ten cars. Look how excited everybody got over the Hoosier State and that was three cars, three utterly shot geeps, and nothing else. If this were for Mickey Mouse tourists or a ploy to sell real estate, they'd have dropped the Iowa Pacific fleet in and run 2x/day.
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Mon Jan 22, 2018 8:29 pm

bulk88 wrote:IMO Brightline's real purpose was to get capacity expansion permits/EIS/etc for the FEC FREIGHT business that the government would never have otherwise granted.

Mr. Bulk, over at the AAF topic on the FEC Forum, my long standing skepticism of AAF is noted. Like you, I'm not sure what their end game is. I thought it was a ploy to fatten the steer for a sale of the railroad to the State, but evidently I am mistaken on that point.
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby Noel Weaver » Mon Jan 22, 2018 9:46 pm

Please remember that no private enterprise has tested the waters on intercity rail transportation in a long, long time. If Brightline was not doing it now, probably anything meaningful would be a long, long way in the future if ever. I don't think Brightline needs much to do with Amtrak in this respect as they are two different carriers with pruposes that are not that all different but apply in a different way. Amtrak is more or less stuck with much of what they actually run now. Their state supported trains are probably their most important asset, mostly corridor type services providing successful passenger train services where there is both support and need. Brightline is doing to do the same here in Florida where they have both need and support. The difference is that Brightline expects to make a profit doing so and I think they have an excellent changce to do it in that respect. As was pointed out earlier the Florida East Coast had and still has a more than adequate physical plant for their present operations, they were handling more traffic 15 years ago with the same trackage that they have today except for South Florida. The gain for the railroad is in getting what is needed for a physical plant with their present freight operations plus multiple passenger trains all day in both directions at frequent intervals and that is what they now have in this part of their operation.
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby Arborwayfan » Tue Jan 23, 2018 4:25 am

Back when traction and railroad companies were also real-estate developers, they were owned by people who had set up the combination to make relatively short-term profits. Individual speculators bought lots of land and built railroads or street railways to allow them to sell the land. Maybe they hoped that selling the land would provide enough pax to make a profit on transportation, but the point was to sell the land. Selling the land might take half a lifetime, and that was plenty for the speculators. We dont know what would have happened in the US without cars, but if we look and see that the only profitable passenger train systems -- profitable after paying all costs, unsubidized by government or freight -- are now in Tokyo (and in special places like Mt. Washington) even with the high cost of car use in eg Europe, I think we could guess that even without cars the prospect for making a lot of money on such lines over the long term was never very good.

Amtrak doesnt have speculator owners who want to get rich building suburbs. Amtrak is also most present in places where building new suburbs is least likely. If 20 years ago the Denver transit authority (or Amtrak, or some speculator) have bought half of Aurora and built TOD with great transit and somehow lured non-car-loving-folks to live there, they would have been trying to replicate the old transit suburbanization profit model. There arent too many places where thats thinkable now. And selling a little expensive downtown real estate, or renting it out, is not the same thing.
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby Backshophoss » Tue Jan 23, 2018 4:40 am

Amtrak and Brightline(AAF) are two totally different business models,lets just leave that way!!
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby Patrick Boylan » Tue Jan 23, 2018 5:19 am

Arborwayfan wrote:Back when traction and railroad companies were also real-estate developers, they were owned by people who had set up the combination to make relatively short-term profits ... Selling the land might take half a lifetime, and that was plenty for the speculators.

I don't consider half a lifetime to be short term.
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Tue Jan 23, 2018 10:05 am

Mr. Boylan, real estate developers DO have half a.lifetime of patience. Lest we forget, FEC ended passenger service early during 1963, and the non-descript station was razed shortly thereafter. Thus, the parcels on which Miami Central is abuilding, sat vacant or underutilized, unless you call a parking lot and a strip shopping center whose tenants were bail bondsmen and lawyers they feed off.

Within my neck of the woods, this parcel sat undeveloped for as long as I've been here, as in 1979. Now a Ford dealership is there.
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby jamesinclair » Tue Jan 23, 2018 10:40 am

SouthernRailway wrote:As conservative as I am on economic issues

So there must be a decent business plan there somewhere that involves profit, somehow.

Question: why isn't Amtrak doing what Brightline is?


Youve got your answers right here. Public agencies are not allowed to do this.

People become very upset when a public agency starts to compete with the private sector (look at the restrictions on Amtrak buses). And if they do something profitable, you get immediate calls to spin it off the the private sector "who can do it better"

It's even a challenge for public transit agencies to do retail at their stations for the same reason. "We're paying you to move passengers not manage a store"

Amtrak should do it, but politically they can't.
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby electricron » Tue Jan 23, 2018 10:42 am

Every privately funded corporation in the world has a primary product or service it wants to sell to customers. It's usually involves more than just making a profit for its founder. Ford Motor Company wants to build and sell their product, a car, to their customers. To do so, they must buy and sell real estate. But buying and selling real estate isn't their primary purpose.
Amtrak's primary purpose is to provide inter city passenger train services in America. To do so, it too must buy and sell real estate much like Ford Motor Company. But that's not their primary purpose.
Fortress Corporation primary mission is to make profits in the real estate business. To do so, they have discovered it helps running both inter city and intra city passenger trains in some places, and running freight trains in other places. It's their "secret formula" to make higher profits. But running freight trains and passenger trains is not their corporation's primary purpose. Never-the-less, it is the primary purpose of two of the companies under their corporate umbrella.

Amtrak and Brightline are owned and ran for different primary purposes and goals. While both may run inter city passenger trains seeking a profit; exactly the same product, their primary purposes are different.
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Re: Why isn't Amtrak copying Brightline?

Postby adamj023 » Sat Jan 27, 2018 6:28 pm

quad50cal wrote:
SouthernRailway wrote:Question: why isn't Amtrak doing what Brightline is? Brightline's management has mentioned other corridors where Brightline might replicate its South Florida project. Why isn't Amtrak beating Brightline to the punch and doing a combination of real estate development plus frequent train operations in other parts of the country? Couldn't places where Amtrak already has some service, such as the Pacific Northwest, California and elsewhere, be places where Amtrak could do that? In short, if the Brightline business plan will result in profits (somehow), why isn't Amtrak racing to do the same thing?


These real estate projects can cost much more than building the rail infrastructure. The Hudson Yards development in NY will cost north of 20 billion - more than the cost of the Gateway project. That's why Amtrak and similar agencies simply auction off the rights. They could never afford to build the developments themselves, but they will certainly be happy to gain what they see as free money. In the case of Hudson Yards, the MTA received 1 billion dollars without expending any effort.


Private firms built the initial railway system in the USA. Amtrak hasn’t been able to do anything comparable to the days of private passenger railroads. Was watching a TV Show on one of the NYC local educational channels and they had a program on about the railroads in the USA. Penn Station is a shell of what was remaining from the original atation just to name the station with the most passengers on Amtrak.

Brightline is private sector and supposedly faster trains. And South Florida has seen population growth. But unfortunately the size and scale of the project is minor and rail is really not a great technology for travel. Brightline is double tracking and improving the FEC tracks and the like so it will make some capital improvements that were desirable although a lot more FEC work needs to be done to make it truly a viable commuter rail line.

Airplanes make much more sense for travel on long distances. Northeastern corridor and even Auto Train serve an important niche for Amtrak since airplanes can’t carry on cars like Amtrak does to shortern the drive for passngers who need their cars with them. But to be honest, going long distances on Amtrak is not good value, has old equipment and safety hazards that can be dangerous or slow down the trains.

Taxpayers should not be picking up costs for long haul non profitable trains and instead should be reinvesting in profitsble areas.

In the 1800 and early 1900s, the railroads were really necessary for the country as a whole. Fast forward to today, and rail does serve a purposes for shorter distances, but airplane should be evolving even further especially for the longer haul.

Brightline is not anything Amtrak should or can do.
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