A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

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

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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby electricron » Tue Sep 11, 2018 4:53 pm

matthewsaggie wrote: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.

Well, that makes it even worse for intercity passenger trains, with just Brightline running on FEC tracks.
Sort of reinforces the ideas I was trying to express earlier.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby electricron » Tue Sep 11, 2018 5:29 pm

SouthernRailway wrote:
dowlingm wrote: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.


The privately run railroads in America 891% more tone-kilometers of goods than do the EU railroads.
That’s an old 2010 stat I found at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of ... eight_rail
Rank Country Billion tonne-km
1 China 2,696
2 United States 2,326
3 Russia 2,306
4 India 666
5 Canada 352
6 Brazil 267
— European Union 261
7 Ukraine 237
8 Kazakhstan 236
9 Australia 198
10 South Africa 135

Math = 2326 / 261 x 100 = 891%
That’s almost 9 times more goods, one country (USA) vs all28 countries in the EU.
I have no idea what the respective track milages are, but I believe that’s a significant difference.

I suggest just because US railroads don’t move many intercity passengers that it is a failure. Likewise I suggest UE railroads don’t move as many goods that it is a failure as well. But what is obvious is that these railroads have been built and maintained for different purposes, and that they perform well at them.

Can you imagine nine times more freight trains on EU railroads “not” causing long delays to passenger trains? I can’t.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby mtuandrew » Tue Sep 11, 2018 8:09 pm

I’m hopeful that once PTC has proven itself as a safety enhancement tool, private industry and government will join forces to use it as a capacity-enhancement tool. I-ETMS and similar interoperable systems could allow 80+ mph passenger operations mixed with 50 mph intermodal and 30 mph local freight, unlike ABS, CTC, or forms of track warrant like Form D.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby bdawe » Wed Sep 12, 2018 8:19 am

The EU doesn't move as much freight as the US in part because the EU is passenger focused but, a great deal of the difference has to be chalked up to

[*] somewhat less coal intensive economies
[*] much more comprehensive river and canal and coastal waterway systems that make the heavy-freight hauling function of US railroads less necessary
[*] less integrated railway standards, making run through harder at the distances where rail is most economical.

Even then, some places like Sweden or Switzerland manage comparable freight mode shares
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby WesternNation » Wed Sep 12, 2018 9:17 am

I'm wary of state-run organizations doing inter-city rail in place of or even in addition to Amtrak for a number of reasons:

1) Capacity. Freight railroads are already looking at capacity problems, and it's frequently Amtrak that draws the short straw. I feel that capacity will eventually open up when the economy moves away from coal, but who knows when that will be. Amtrak has their foot in the door with host companies already. Most states do not, at least not for passenger rail.

2) Cost. If the states wanted to forego using existing infrastructure and build a network on their own, that would be an even bigger problem. Look at California HSR. It's way over budget, won't be ready until the mid-2020s, and is widely considered a boondoggle from what I've read online. State DOTs would have to pay for track, signalling, stations, equipment, shops, people, etc. That would put a strain on anyone's budget, and the hefty price tag probably wouldn't sit well with voters.

3) Capability. I question whether the states are able to sustain, let alone build, such a system. You need people to run a railway. Maintenance staff, train crews, OBS personnel. At the same time, you need to keep the railway in good working order. Do the states have the money to do that?

I believe that setting up routes the same way that Michigan did is the way to go. If I recall correctly, Amtrak is contracted with the State of Michigan to run the Michigan Service trains. It's more of a partnership at this point, with MDOT picking up the KAL-DER section of the Michigan Line from NS in order to raise speeds. Personally, I think that it would be far easier to do that instead of building a separate system or having the states start running their own trains independently of Amtrak. Capacity could still be an issue, depending on routing, train frequency, etc.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby electricron » Wed Sep 12, 2018 9:37 am

WesternNation wrote:I'm wary of state-run organizations doing inter-city rail in place of or even in addition to Amtrak for a number of reasons:

1) Capacity. Freight railroads are already looking at capacity problems, and it's frequently Amtrak that draws the short straw. I feel that capacity will eventually open up when the economy moves away from coal, but who knows when that will be. Amtrak has their foot in the door with host companies already. Most states do not, at least not for passenger rail.

2) Cost. If the states wanted to forego using existing infrastructure and build a network on their own, that would be an even bigger problem. Look at California HSR. It's way over budget, won't be ready until the mid-2020s, and is widely considered a boondoggle from what I've read online. State DOTs would have to pay for track, signalling, stations, equipment, shops, people, etc. That would put a strain on anyone's budget, and the hefty price tag probably wouldn't sit well with voters.

3) Capability. I question whether the states are able to sustain, let alone build, such a system. You need people to run a railway. Maintenance staff, train crews, OBS personnel. At the same time, you need to keep the railway in good working order. Do the states have the money to do that?

I believe that setting up routes the same way that Michigan did is the way to go. If I recall correctly, Amtrak is contracted with the State of Michigan to run the Michigan Service trains. It's more of a partnership at this point, with MDOT picking up the KAL-DER section of the Michigan Line from NS in order to raise speeds. Personally, I think that it would be far easier to do that instead of building a separate system or having the states start running their own trains independently of Amtrak. Capacity could still be an issue, depending on routing, train frequency, etc.

I'll agree Michigan was wise to use Amtrak because it doesn't have a transit agency running trains. But Illinois could rely upon METRA to do its intercity trains. It operates 11 different lines, has 242 stations on a system length over 485 miles of track, and has around 150 locomotives in its fleet. Adding a few more locomotives and coaches to its fleet for intercity service shouldn't be difficult - all it would take is money to buy the new and different rolling stock.
There are other states that have large commuter rail operators that could easily replace Amtrak. But there are many more states that do not, like Michigan, where employing Amtrak to do the job is reasonable.
What I'm trying to suggest is that there could be more than one solution, just Amtrak.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby dowlingm » Wed Sep 12, 2018 10:19 am

I don't find the freight-is-different-in-Europe argument persuasive simply because of the difference of freight/passenger ratios; clearly this will be true in some parts of North America and not others. Also, this discussion could also be held about third-party operators for freight forwarders wishing access to existing infrastructure. In any event, railfreight is also growing in the EU as a priority due to the Channel Tunnel, increased trans-Alpine capacity and the advent of China-Russia-Europe freight flows.

I don't find the "what if there isn't capacity" argument persuasive either - clearly if the infrastructure is maxed at present then a third party can't expect to get on, as long as games aren't being played by incumbents by taking trackage out of service when an open access request comes in the door.

My principal issue here is with situations where Amtrak or an owner-operator is in situ and the customer agency wishes to have a qualified third party come in and operate the service. At present, the rail operator (or, according to some here, the operator's union) can simply say no. That to me is a waste of national infrastructure, regardless of ownership. It is virtually unknown in modern road, air or sea operations. It is not just unfeasible to build parallel rail infrastructures in much of North America, as might have occurred in the 1800s and early 1900s, it is downright wasteful even if it was, given that many alignments have been singled or otherwise downgraded from the ROWs of previous years.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby WesternNation » Thu Sep 13, 2018 8:11 am

electricron wrote:
WesternNation wrote:I'm wary of state-run organizations doing inter-city rail in place of or even in addition to Amtrak for a number of reasons:

1) Capacity. Freight railroads are already looking at capacity problems, and it's frequently Amtrak that draws the short straw. I feel that capacity will eventually open up when the economy moves away from coal, but who knows when that will be. Amtrak has their foot in the door with host companies already. Most states do not, at least not for passenger rail.

2) Cost. If the states wanted to forego using existing infrastructure and build a network on their own, that would be an even bigger problem. Look at California HSR. It's way over budget, won't be ready until the mid-2020s, and is widely considered a boondoggle from what I've read online. State DOTs would have to pay for track, signalling, stations, equipment, shops, people, etc. That would put a strain on anyone's budget, and the hefty price tag probably wouldn't sit well with voters.

3) Capability. I question whether the states are able to sustain, let alone build, such a system. You need people to run a railway. Maintenance staff, train crews, OBS personnel. At the same time, you need to keep the railway in good working order. Do the states have the money to do that?

I believe that setting up routes the same way that Michigan did is the way to go. If I recall correctly, Amtrak is contracted with the State of Michigan to run the Michigan Service trains. It's more of a partnership at this point, with MDOT picking up the KAL-DER section of the Michigan Line from NS in order to raise speeds. Personally, I think that it would be far easier to do that instead of building a separate system or having the states start running their own trains independently of Amtrak. Capacity could still be an issue, depending on routing, train frequency, etc.

I'll agree Michigan was wise to use Amtrak because it doesn't have a transit agency running trains. But Illinois could rely upon METRA to do its intercity trains. It operates 11 different lines, has 242 stations on a system length over 485 miles of track, and has around 150 locomotives in its fleet. Adding a few more locomotives and coaches to its fleet for intercity service shouldn't be difficult - all it would take is money to buy the new and different rolling stock.
There are other states that have large commuter rail operators that could easily replace Amtrak. But there are many more states that do not, like Michigan, where employing Amtrak to do the job is reasonable.
What I'm trying to suggest is that there could be more than one solution, just Amtrak.


From what I've heard as of late, public confidence in Metra is eroding rapidly. Signal failures, late trains, etc.

Also, supposedly Metra is planning on moving the Southwest Service to LaSalle Street, which would allow Amtrak to expand in CUS. I'd like to see some new corridor service like Chicago-KC or Chicago-MSP.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Fri Sep 14, 2018 6:52 am

bdawe wrote:The EU doesn't move as much freight as the US in part because the EU is passenger focused but, a great deal of the difference has to be chalked up to

[*] somewhat less coal intensive economies
[*] much more comprehensive river and canal and coastal waterway systems that make the heavy-freight hauling function of US railroads less necessary
[*] less integrated railway standards, making run through harder at the distances where rail is most economical.

Even then, some places like Sweden or Switzerland manage comparable freight mode shares


Mr. Dawe presents a good summary as to why the EU roads simply do not have the volume of freight as found in the US. In the case of energy, hydro electric provides much more of the capacity than it does "over here".

While hardly about to say it to various "railwaymen" I've casually met on my journeys "over there", freight traffic is simply a joke. True, freight trains move at speeds approaching non-HSR passenger, but 25 cars is a normal sized train. Now the cars are a bit advanced over the "40 & 8" varietal, but it's one 45' (2 TEU) container per car. Hopper cars for handling bulk commodities are half sized.

Waterways, as Mr. Dawe notes, have a far greater "piece of the action" than here. While in common with the rest of the world, rivers flow to the sea, but there are segments of major navigable rivers such as the Donau/Danube for East-West movements. On my trip this past August, I did see the Donau at Linz. It was "rush hour on the River".
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby electricron » Fri Sep 14, 2018 9:50 am

Gilbert B Norman wrote:Mr. Dawe presents a good summary as to why the EU roads simply do not have the volume of freight as found in the US. In the case of energy, hydro electric provides much more of the capacity than it does "over here".

While hardly about to say it to various "railwaymen" I've casually met on my journeys "over there", freight traffic is simply a joke. True, freight trains move at speeds approaching non-HSR passenger, but 25 cars is a normal sized train. Now the cars are a bit advanced over the "40 & 8" varietal, but it's one 45' (2 TEU) container per car. Hopper cars for handling bulk commodities are half sized.

Waterways, as Mr. Dawe notes, have a far greater "piece of the action" than here. While in common with the rest of the world, rivers flow to the sea, but there are segments of major navigable rivers such as the Donau/Danube for East-West movements. On my trip this past August, I did see the Donau at Linz. It was "rush hour on the River".


Yes, waterways do have at least 50% market share in Europe for goods transport, there really isn't that many long hauls by trains, which is where trains shine best in America. Trucks rule the short hauls everywhere it seems.

The main waterway between the east and west coast of America involves sailing thru the Panama Canal or sailing all the way around South America if your ship is too large. Railroads compete in the land bridge, coast to coast goods market in America, they don't in Europe (east to west nor north to south).

Another statistic that bears into this issue is distances from ports seaside. Take Kansas City for an example, the Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers are navigable by barges. It's 844 miles (1359 kilometers) by highway from the seaport, New Orleans, capable of hosting the world's largest ships - where goods can change from large ships to barges or vice versa. In most EU countries, almost every city is well within that 844 miles from a sea port.

Never-the-less, if there were nine times more freight trains on EU railroads, there would be major delays to their passenger train operations caused by them. Golly, you probably wouldn't need that many freight trains to cause major delays. But that number of freight trains are running on American railroads.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby mtuandrew » Fri Sep 14, 2018 2:18 pm

So, we’re back to helping American railroad companies increase their capacity and speeds, purchasing and leasing their lines where both parties are amenable, and building new where justified by the ROI or quantitative public benefit. I think this is a good path forward, as long as Amtrak provides good leadership in corridor growth. (They should continue LD service too, at or above today’s service levels, especially on mains with existing intermodal traffic that roughly maintains the same average speed as passenger traffic.)
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby bdawe » Fri Sep 14, 2018 2:46 pm

I suspect that if European railroads moved 9x as many freight trains that they would have built the capacity handle 9x as many freight trains in addition to their passenger network
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby tomj » Wed Sep 19, 2018 11:13 pm

You also have to take into account that inter operation is happening due to the EU and the EU is dumping money into countries that have less developed rail networks. Mandating inter operation would be nice for people shipping freight, but its not going to help Amtrak. It will burden the railways because, despite how many rail lines run between cities, a lot of them don't have the capacity to run more trains or run them faster. So unless the federal government is willing to turn the rails into a turnpike system, I don't see railways sharing their tracks more than they already do.

But that is fairly off topic from how can Amtrak be improved?
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby george matthews » Fri Sep 21, 2018 11:07 am

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

What "privately owned tracks"? There aren't any. Only in the US is that concept - foolishly in my opinion. Railway tracks are like roads and ought to be owned by the governments.

I have travelled on several routes in the US. What is my impression? Passenger traffic simply isn't serious. It's no surprise that it needs to be subsidised. What is the main lack? It lacks SPEED. Few European lines are so consistently slow as American lines.
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Re: A Thought On The Future of Amtrak

Postby east point » Fri Sep 21, 2018 2:01 pm

isn't the Chunnel privately owned ?
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