A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

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A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby WesternNation » Thu Sep 06, 2018 4:37 pm

With all of the hub-bub on what going to be happening with Amtrak's long-distance trains, it's very easy to be worried as to what the future of Amtrak will be. Personally, I believe that things will turn out for the better and Anderson just isn't communicating his agenda for some reason. Call me an optimist. Although I disagree with the dining car decision, the excursion halt makes some sense. Amtrak needs to prove that they can do their "core competency" (moving passengers on the advertised) without derailment or other problem that would bring negative press. It's bad enough that scheduled trains were involved in fatal accidents. Imagine what the headlines would be if it was an excursion train. The Republican-chartered train is a good example. Although it wasn't a derailment and was nowhere near Amtrak's fault, the general public still saw it as another Amtrak-involved fatal accident, furthering the perception that Amtrak is not a safe form of travel. I believe that Anderson is attempting to cover Amtrak's @$$ here, until this accident streak is in the rear-view mirror with the public. If I am wrong, and this is a permanent thing, then I will be sure to write to my representatives to make my feelings known. I am aware that people's companies and livelihoods are on the line here. I do not wish them ill. But this decision was probably for the best, at least temporarily.

Now, to my real point. It has been circulating for some time that Anderson is planning on ditching the long-distance trains in favor of a massively-expanded corridor network. While I do support such a network, I do not believe it should be made at the expense of the long-distance trains. I rode around the country on three of them last summer: the Southwest Chief, the Coast Starlight and the Empire Builder. I loved the experience. It let me see areas of the country that I had looked at but never really seen. The LD trains also provided an important service to those smaller towns, connecting them with the outside world.

However, after watching a docuseries called "Keeping Britain On Track", I realized that there is a way to have our cake and eat it too. Right now, passenger service in the UK is made up of two types of services: fast service and stopping service. Fast service is like the Acela, making stops in larger cities while the stopping services (the NE Regionals) take care of the smaller stops. Amtrak can apply this to the national network as well, with Anderson's proposed corridor network acting as a "stopping service" while the LD trains act as the "fast service". This allows for reduced running times for LD trains (making them a more attractive option when comparing to cars and buses), while still keeping the experience of actually seeing the country. Connections can be made in major cities for passengers wanting to continue down the line.

An example of this would be the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited stopping in Toledo and Cleveland, bypassing the smaller stations. Those smaller stations will have corridor service, with the ability to connect to the long-distance trains in Toledo.

There are problems with this operational scheme. The big one is equipment. Running both a massive corridor network and a LD network will put a massive strain on the available equipment pool for Amtrak. We've seen recently that Amtrak is having equipment troubles as it is. A second big issue is manpower. It's going to take a lot of people to crew, clean, and maintain these trains. The third is the host railroads. They already don't like Amtrak leeching their network capacity. Something like this is probably going to piss them off even more. A lot of these problems can be solved with increased funding, diverted from military spending or other bloated programs. The freight railroad issue will involve a lot of negotiation. But I think that it can work if all parties involved allow it to. Amtrak needs to grow and tap into markets where it has the most potential. Cutting services only alienates the public.

If you've made it this far: thanks for reading.

-WN
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby tomj » Thu Sep 06, 2018 5:19 pm

Although I would like better corridor service in the US, I personally think Amtrak should have some sort of overnight seats on the regional trains being proposed. (Sorry if I'm missing something, I haven't been keeping up with everything due to work). This is going to be more what my idea as to what Amtrak should be. As for overnight trains, I do think open sections should be brought back, as well as something akin to Delta One Business class on Delta Airlines. I know the common idea is that the slumber coaches should be brought back, but as someone too young to remember the pre Amtrak railways (Amtrak was almost my present age when I was born) and from what I've seen of the slumber coach and what I have experienced on long haul flights is that the slumber coach wouldn't be the greatest thing ever. As for getting more ridership on Amtrak, Amtrak does need money, but if they are going to have expanded corridor service and have it be successful, they need to attract younger riders like myself as well as business travelers that would otherwise fly. And from what I have gathered having a lie flat business section and open section sleeper could bring enough people to ride the rails again instead of deal with airlines for relatively short trips.

Not to mention in areas where there isn't a long distance train, like the San Joaquin corridor, there could be local trains that are coach only and limited stop trains that have business class or overnight seats making fewer stops or going farther than the local trains do. It would be hard to impose a "LD are all limited stop and Corridor services makes all the stops" template on the the whole country. Like along the Capitol Corridor, there are two LD trains in each direction during the day, but a limited stop train or two a day would be welcomed to some people. Along with lower tier overnight trains to other parts of California or our neighboring states. So a blanket policy wouldn't work everywhere. It would really depend on the needs of the local market.

Not to mention that the US does need to upgrade its rail network. Getting railways to 110 mph for passenger trains would cost less that getting our highways up to just below deficient. If you assume $5 million per mile to upgrade a double track mainline, $25 billion can upgrade nearly 5,000 miles of track. Having our bigger cities connected with regional services that have some semblance of affordable overnight service Amtrak could have a place in the future. As for keeping the long distance trains around I see why they exist, but for distance, I think the regional service should be the express service in the rural areas and the long distance trains should make all the stop. Even when connecting major urban clusters together, if successful, there would be more regional trains than long distance ones. And not every town with a station would need to be served by a regional train.

As for some areas needing more, I think its time the states ponied up the money and started running trains independently of Amtrak. This would basically be a state wide commuter rail network. I rode some trains that fit this description in Poland and some of them travel up to two hours from their first station. That is something we should investigate in the US.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby electricron » Fri Sep 07, 2018 12:42 am

tomj wrote:Although I would like better corridor service in the US, I personally think Amtrak should have some sort of overnight seats on the regional trains being proposed. (Sorry if I'm missing something, I haven't been keeping up with everything due to work). This is going to be more what my idea as to what Amtrak should be. As for overnight trains, I do think open sections should be brought back, as well as something akin to Delta One Business class on Delta Airlines. I know the common idea is that the slumber coaches should be brought back, but as someone too young to remember the pre Amtrak railways (Amtrak was almost my present age when I was born) and from what I've seen of the slumber coach and what I have experienced on long haul flights is that the slumber coach wouldn't be the greatest thing ever. As for getting more ridership on Amtrak, Amtrak does need money, but if they are going to have expanded corridor service and have it be successful, they need to attract younger riders like myself as well as business travelers that would otherwise fly. And from what I have gathered having a lie flat business section and open section sleeper could bring enough people to ride the rails again instead of deal with airlines for relatively short trips.

Business travelers don't take trains off the NEC because Amtrak's trains are too slow. If they will not ride in long distance sleepers, they are not going to ride in lay flat seats. And don't forget, standard coach seats are already available for those who wish to ride a train in open seats.
All smart business travelers already fly - it's faster, they receive frequent flyer discounts and benefits, and both general aviation and commercial services are available to them. Golly, can you imagine Trump ever taking a train to D.C. when he can afford his own plane?
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby electricron » Fri Sep 07, 2018 1:15 am

tomj wrote:As for some areas needing more, I think its time the states ponied up the money and started running trains independently of Amtrak. This would basically be a state wide commuter rail network. I rode some trains that fit this description in Poland and some of them travel up to two hours from their first station. That is something we should investigate in the US.

Colorado tried to resume Ski Trains operations without Amtrak, and it failed because the UP wouldn't allow anyone else to run passenger trains on it's rails besides Amtrak. So Amtrak does that now. Indiana had Iowa Pacific supply the rolling stock for a year, but it was Amtrak's employees running the trains. Amtrak runs all the trains on the west and east coast and in the midwest running on freight railroads corridors. The only intercity passenger trains I'm aware of that don't use Amtrak to run their trains are the Piedmont trains in North Carolina, mainly because the State of North Carolina owns the tracks these trains run on and Brightline trains in Florida which run on tracks owned by FEC, under the same corporate umbrella as Brightline.

I see States subsidizing more trains in the future, I see private enterprise running new trains on brand new dedicated corridors, but I still see Amtrak running all the trains on freight railroad corridors for a long while. Amtrak's insurance limitations within federal law makes them the choice for freight railroad companies to allow running on their tracks.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby tomj » Fri Sep 07, 2018 8:58 am

electricron wrote:Business travelers don't take trains off the NEC because Amtrak's trains are too slow. If they will not ride in long distance sleepers, they are not going to ride in lay flat seats. And don't forget, standard coach seats are already available for those who wish to ride a train in open seats.
All smart business travelers already fly - it's faster, they receive frequent flyer discounts and benefits, and both general aviation and commercial services are available to them. Golly, can you imagine Trump ever taking a train to D.C. when he can afford his own plane?



So lets let Amtrak die cause why bother attract more riders?

If Amtrak did expand Corridor service, regional coach isn't comfortable to sleep in. I've tried, its better than airline economy, but not by much. As for having a lower tier of sleeper service, I'm not referring to the transcontinental trains, but having their own routes. Like having an extra Oakland to Portland service or other such services. Nay saying recommendations is just going to land Amtrak in the trash bin of history.

Also not to mention I recommended upgrading the railways they would be using which would attract more riders. Amtrak isn't going to survive trying to attract people who have to ride the train or people old enough to remember the glory days or at least waning days of Pullman. Not to mention people here fall over themselves at the mention of the glorious slumbercoach, I'm just saying there are other viable options, but I'm the bad guy.

As for states running their own services, there are plenty of commuter rail services in the US. And if the railways want to hinder that, they aren't shy to a bit of bribery. Not to mention there are plenty of commuter services in the country already. I'm just recommending a larger and more useful network. Since the states will already have to buy the equipment, pay for infrastructure repairs and promotional material, Amtrak would just be the contracted operator. Which is something they have done in the past anyways not to mention the states could potentially contract out to the freight railways. Again, saying something is hard isn't an excuse to not try.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby east point » Fri Sep 07, 2018 1:07 pm

electricron wrote:
tomj wrote: The only intercity passenger trains I'm aware of that don't use Amtrak to run their trains are the Piedmont trains in North Carolina, mainly because the State of North Carolina owns the tracks these trains run on and Brightline trains in Florida which run on tracks owned by FEC, under the same corporate umbrella as Brightline.




Sorry but believe that Amtrak provides C&E Piedmont crew based in RGH ? AS to OBS someone else will have to enlighten us.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby matthewsaggie » Sun Sep 09, 2018 9:23 pm

Amtrak provides engineers and conductors for the Piedmont's. There are no OBS staff on these trains. NC owns the equipment and contracts with private sector for their maintenance. (Was Herzog, but not sure if that is still the case). Amtrak provides both the staff and the equipment for the Carolinian.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby SouthernRailway » Mon Sep 10, 2018 4:30 am

Didn’t the US used to have plenty of lines with some limited-stop trains and other all-stops trains on the same line? The current Crescent route used to, at least until the 1950s or 1960s: the Crescent and a few other trains stopped at only a few stations, while other long-distance trains stopped at all stations. That setup works if you have lots of riders and lots of trains Ina route.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby mtuandrew » Mon Sep 10, 2018 5:06 am

SR: it certainly did, but now Amtrak only has access to one slot/direction/day on most mains. Besides, today’s limited-stop mid-long distance trains have wings and TSA lines.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby tomj » Mon Sep 10, 2018 7:02 pm

mtuandrew wrote:SR: it certainly did, but now Amtrak only has access to one slot/direction/day on most mains. Besides, today’s limited-stop mid-long distance trains have wings and TSA lines.


My point of idea would be to allow people the ability to choose not to fly or offer better service in areas where flying isn't convenient. For example, I live in Northern California. Flying between the cities in the Central Valley and the Bay Area or Sacramento is generally more expensive than taking Amtrak. My suggestion would be to upgrade the tracks and offer more frequent service and some limited stop trains along the line. I know the HSR project is doing its thing, but it is still decades away and will likely only make 3 stops in the valley when things are all said and done.

Not to mention I'm sure there are other parts of the US where an upgraded rail corridor would be a better option compared to flying or driving. I'm saying it should be investigated instead of dismissed under the hurried and defeatist sounding "well air planes idiot!" If there were even longer Amtrak corridor services, there are trips I would take on the train opposed to flying. Even going to Reno, which I could fly to, would be approximately the same amount of time to fly as take Amtrak. Assuming the 5 hours from Oakland to Reno run time was a doable estimate. I would have to spend 3.5 hours getting to the nearest airport, go through security and recollecting my bags at minimum to fly to Reno. Where as the train was planned to only take 4 hours from my nearest station.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby mtuandrew » Mon Sep 10, 2018 8:18 pm

TomJ: oh, don’t get me wrong, I think that would be great! Amtrak California could fill a lot of gaps in your state, especially north and east of the Bay and to Nevada. Other states will have a harder time convincing freight lines to allow access (read: aren’t able to pay as much), but even still places like Virginia and Michigan have created pretty robust networks that access most of the people in their states, largely on freight rails.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby tomj » Mon Sep 10, 2018 10:52 pm

Well if the states are willing to pony up a few million to expand the capacity along some corridors, they could have improved services as well. Not to mention there are a lot of rail lines in this country. Its more about political pressure at this point that it is about lack of money.

As mentioned above, I wouldn't be opposed to a state system instead of just Amtrak.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby n2cbo » Mon Sep 10, 2018 11:14 pm

electricron wrote:Business travelers don't take trains off the NEC because Amtrak's trains are too slow.


Actually, I took the train from New York to Seattle (via Chicago) for a business trip. I had to work on a presentation that I had to give to the Boeing Corporation for AT&T. If I worked on it in the office, I would have been interrupted every 20 minutes or so. This way, I had a bedroom where I could work on the presentation on my laptop using the "desk" that was in the room, and not be disturbed. I ended up giving a "Killer" Presentation and helped close a multi-million dollar account partly because I was able to be relaxed and not constantly interrupted. I would do it again in a heartbeat!
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby dowlingm » Tue Sep 11, 2018 1:26 pm

electricron wrote:Colorado tried to resume Ski Trains operations without Amtrak, and it failed because the UP wouldn't allow anyone else to run passenger trains on it's rails besides Amtrak.
The fact that it is not possible for an otherwise qualified railroad company and a willing customer to get track time "because we say so" is in my view really holding back American railroading. Meanwhile the EU is managing interoperation and open access services among different countries, languages and railroading norms.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby SouthernRailway » Tue Sep 11, 2018 1:43 pm

dowlingm wrote:
electricron wrote:Colorado tried to resume Ski Trains operations without Amtrak, and it failed because the UP wouldn't allow anyone else to run passenger trains on it's rails besides Amtrak.
The fact that it is not possible for an otherwise qualified railroad company and a willing customer to get track time "because we say so" is in my view really holding back American railroading. Meanwhile the EU is managing interoperation and open access services among different countries, languages and railroading norms.


You're right, although in Europe, do EU open-access requirements apply to privately owned tracks? Or just state-owned ones?

I think I'd rather keep privately-owned railroads in the US even if the downside is that they can't be forced to let others run on their tracks.
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