Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

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Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby b&m 1566 » Sat Feb 23, 2008 5:14 pm

Is the Downeaster's days numbered?


The future of the Downeaster is up in the air.
The trains ridership and revenue are up but it operates at a loss. A federal grant worth $6 million will disappear after June 2009 and the service is now depending on receiving between $7 and $8 million annual aid from the state of Maine to continue the service beyond July 2009.
Some of the state’s lawmakers and Gov. John Baldacci have expressed support for the project but Maine’s budget is currently facing a shortfall and additional money could be hard to find.
Commuters – as opposed to visitors or tourist – make up 33% of the Downeaster’s ridership, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the NNEPRA but that figure is based upon the number of passengers who purchase regular passed rather than single one-way or round-trip tickets.
The total ridership on the Downeaster in December was 34,240. Of that number, 24,081 or approximately 70% took the train during the weekdays when commuters are more likely to travel.
Additionally, the service’s most popular trains are the weekday 680 train, which departs Portland at 5:55 AM and the 685 train, which departs Boston at 5:00 PM. During December the 680 train averaged 199 passengers and the 685 train averaged 234 passengers.
To date in the 2008 fiscal year, which ends June 30, ridership on the Downeaster is up by 25% compared with the same period in the previous year, according to Amtrak. Revenue has grown by 27.7% to $943,521.
Still, the revenue covers only about 55% of the Downeaster’s cost, Quinn said, and the net loss runs about $12.80 per rider ship. So the train depends on subsidies and needs the additional money from Maine to stay in business. Massachusetts and New Hampshire don’t contribute subsidies to the service.
Quinn said if Maine legislators fail to pass the grant for this year’s budget she will have a very small window of opportunity to try again next January before the money runs out.

Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts, Inc., The Callboy February 2008 edition, by Jesse Noyes, p19
Last edited by b&m 1566 on Mon Aug 18, 2008 9:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby cpf354 » Sat Feb 23, 2008 10:42 pm

They'll probably come up with something, but whether they can maintain the current schedule is questionable. Eliminating some of the less patronized off-peak trips would save a lot of money.
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Postby jscola30 » Sun Feb 24, 2008 12:08 am

Is there a reason MA and NH don't contribute subsidies?
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Postby Dick H » Sun Feb 24, 2008 10:30 am

Massachusetts already has its hands full, transportation-wise, with paying for the MBTA and the payment on bonds for their share of the BIG DIG and the maintenance on those tunnels and the older Sumner and Callahan tunnels.

New Hampshire has no general income or general sales taxes, so overall state revenue is quite limited and the courts have ruled that the state gasoline tax cannot be used for other than highway costs. As far as paying toward the operation of the Downeaster is concerned, the three communities that have stations, Dover, Durham-UNH and Exeter do pay the costs associated with the stations, including maintenance, liablity insurance and the like.

But the state pays nothing. One reason is that the Association of General Contractors is one of the most powerful lobby groups in the state. In effect, this is the Highway construction lobby and they shift into overdrive anytime there is mention of the state doing any funding for rail related projects.

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Postby Cowford » Sun Feb 24, 2008 12:50 pm

You can't blame NH for not ponying up any operating subsidies. Considering that the NH stations are paid for locally, there is negligible incremental operating cost associated with NH service. In fact, if looked at on purely an incremental basis (i.e., the train has to run between Portland and Boston anyway), the NH riders- which constitute nearly 50% of the passenger count- ARE subsidizing the train through their fares.

The state that benefits the most is MA... (1) Downeaster service uses existing rail infrastructure in the state, so the incremental revenue the service generates (for MBTA) is largely gravy, (2) the train enables commuting from out-of-state, so MA can collect income tax from out-of-staters, and (3) judging from their press releases, the train's marketers focus on the benefits of ME/NH residents going to MA for tourism, not the other way-round. From a marketing perspective, it makes perfect sense... from that of a Maine taxpayer, it's kinda wacky!
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Postby toolmaker » Sun Feb 24, 2008 4:14 pm

So, why doesn't Amtrak increase it's rates to cover the cost of the operation?
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Postby gprimr1 » Sun Feb 24, 2008 5:24 pm

Because no transportation system in the world can operate without subsidy; highway, rail, air, nothing can pay for itself in transportation.
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Postby djlong » Sun Feb 24, 2008 7:58 pm

For those who don't know - though it's been mentioned in other threads- the attitude towards rail in NH has changed. We actually now HAVE a Rail Authority in New Hampshire - just signed into law by the governor recently and their #1 task is working on the restoration of commuter rail to Manchester. Originally it was only Nashua, but the inclusion of Manchester and the willingness of MHT airport to be involved got the politicians thinking that it was more likely to actually *happen* if they got up to the state's biggest city.

Things take time, but times ARE changing in New Hampshire.
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Postby TomNelligan » Sun Feb 24, 2008 9:27 pm

toolmaker wrote:So, why doesn't Amtrak increase it's rates to cover the cost of the operation?


Amtrak doesn't set the fares; NNEPRA does. Amtrak just runs the trains under contract in return for state payments.

As to why they're fairly low, that's to encourage ridership. That's a public policy decision, which as it happens is contary to the way Amtrak treats the Northeast Corridor, where maximizing revenue is deemed more important than maximizing ridership.
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THE REAL QUESTION IS:

Postby henry6 » Mon Feb 25, 2008 10:12 am

The real question is: whatever the amount of the loss, how much more effective could that money be used if applied elsewhere? Number of people moved for cost per person per mile per hour, however you want to tally it, considering fuel costs, infrastructure costs, enviornmental issues, etc. will probably favor the rail solution. Oh, do not apply return on investment because there is no such question applied to air or highway solutions.
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Postby Dick H » Mon Feb 25, 2008 9:21 pm

For list members that can get WMUR-TV9 in Manchester, NH, there will be a segment on the Downeaster on the February 26th programs at 7:30PM.

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Postby NEWanderer » Tue Feb 26, 2008 9:39 am

Cowford wrote:You can't blame NH for not ponying up any operating subsidies. Considering that the NH stations are paid for locally, there is negligible incremental operating cost associated with NH service. In fact, if looked at on purely an incremental basis (i.e., the train has to run between Portland and Boston anyway), the NH riders- which constitute nearly 50% of the passenger count- ARE subsidizing the train through their fares.

!


Maintaing the Main Line West in Class IV condition in the state of NH is not free and not paid for by the property owner.

As for my opinion, the problem with the Downeaster is the luggage limit. I wonder When I'm headed out on long trips I take MBTA commuter trains to North Station and Orange and the Blue Line to Logan. It works well and it's much cheaper than parking at Logan.
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Postby Jonny Bolt » Tue Feb 26, 2008 9:49 am

Dick H wrote:For list members that can get WMUR-TV9 in Manchester, NH, there will be a segment on the Downeaster on the February 26th programs at 7:30PM.

Dick


Thank you for posting that! Will be checking it out.

The money that comes federally is already so low, I am not surprised to hear this. 400 MPH trains in Europe, and we can't even get a train to Manch-Angeles here. LMAO
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Ayuh.

Postby ferroequinarchaeologist » Tue Feb 26, 2008 10:50 am

>>Things take time, but times ARE changing in New Hampshire.

That's true. At last year's town meeting, we did away with the appointment of fence viewers, a position that has existed since 1767.

But seriously, folks (as the old time comedians used to say) I see most of the commuter rail discussions focusing on engineering, economics, or both. Nobody seems to appreciate that the determining factor will be neither of these. The history of rail (and highway) has always been dependent on politics. Politics determines where the rails go, who builds the ROW, who builds the trains, who operates them, how often and where they stop, and how they are subsidized. It is only through extensive lobbying by organizations such as those behind the Downeaster that any commuter rail effort can be realized.

Please don't try to convince me that the Downeaster is Inter-city, not commuter rail; the only runs that are heavily patronized are the early morning and evening commuters; on the others, it's often a stretch to get the passengers to outnumber the crew.

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Postby Dick H » Tue Feb 26, 2008 12:15 pm

That comment that it's often a stretch to get the passengers to outnumber the crew on other than the early morning and early evening trains is ridiculous, which implies that no-one is riding eight of the ten Downeaster trains each day. This is the same old baloney that GWB and his previous Secretary of Transportation, Leon Minetta, were putting out for the first six years of his reign and his current Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters, continues to put out. She recently re-wrote a transportation commission report to remove all references to passenger rail, even though the initial report had been approved on a 9-3 vote.

Many runs of the mid-day trains have decent passenger counts and even the late evening trains get many passengers back home after a day
in Portland or an evening in Boston.

Along with the passengers to/from Boston, there is increasing use of the Downeaster for transportation to/from the other stations on the line.
An objective observation of the passengers will note many carrying luggage. Many passengers travel to Boston for sporting, cutural and other public events and there are many day travelers to Maine during the warmer weather months. Most of these passengers use other than the early morning and evening return trains.

The Downeaster service makes top utilitization of just two train sets and gets good to excellent cooperation from Guilford/PanAm and the MBTA keeping the trains on time. I see it as both an inter-city and commuter operation. I don't really see what the issue on that is.

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