Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby artman » Wed Jan 31, 2018 9:31 am

Cowford wrote:Good news article in the Portland Press Herald. The Metro Breeze bus route was extended from Portland to Brunswick five months ago; the associated increase in ridership already exceeds Downeaster's BRU ridership! 14 round trips on weekdays, $3/each way, ~1 hr travel time, 13 intermediate stops... best of all the subsidy:

...The program is partially grant-funded and requires the town of Brunswick to pay $50,000 for the first year of service and $60,000 for the second. Bowdoin College will also pay $10,000 toward the Brunswick route for two years...


https://www.pressherald.com/2018/01/29/ ... ridership/


Whoever said that folks wouldn't ride the bus?


Why do you hate trains so much, Cowford?
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Arlington » Wed Jan 31, 2018 9:39 am

I don't think it fair to call it "hate." Cowford makes the excellent point that if you are in favor of tourism, access to jobs and education, reducing congestion and pollution (are we all?), that buses very often are a much more cost-effective way of delivering on all those stated goals/benefits.

If you have a "why do you love trains?" answer that includes any of the public-policy goals, above, Cowford (and I) would ask you to consider why we spend such relatively large amounts on DE extensions and reap so relatively little per dollar

What if, for example, instead of spending all that money on the BRU exetension (remind me how many millions that cost for so few passengers?), the money had been spend instead upgrading POR-BON for PTC? What if instead of adding a 3rd trainset to cover the long-and-empty trackage northeast of POR, that third trainset had served to increase the DE to maybe 8 r/t day (or at least maximizing a 6 r/t (no PTC) schedule of an early morning and PM rush train out of BON)

I personally love trains and want to see them win on these public policy measures.

To say that any mode wins just by running is, essentially, the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Trains can win in POR-BON but (as seen above) but have no particular winning advantage from POR to BRU or Rockland. Why do self-described train lovers like to throw trains into markets where they are losers by almost any traditional measure of a public good: costing more and carrying fewer people (than buses would)?

To Freeport, Brunswick, and Rockland, the train loses on trip time, frequency, ridership, ticket cost and public cost. What defense can you offer for the train when it is so obviously a loser on all the measures by which people traditionally judge transportation? (It often comes down to "the café is nice" and "business class is comfy" but the reality is that by any measure "the people" have voted on these and have chosen the bus, not the DE)
Last edited by Arlington on Wed Jan 31, 2018 10:32 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby artman » Wed Jan 31, 2018 10:12 am

Fair enough. But, the criticism far predates any talk of the BRU extension. It goes all the way back to the beginning of the DE service, itself. In fact, if you look at the very first page of this thread, you will see the wet blanket first make its appearance. The outright nay-saying begins on Page 2.

if I were not a fan of say, buses (or the Baltimore Orioles, for argument sake) I just cannot imagine going over to 'fan' pages of those things and tossing wet blankets on their products just to keep them from getting too excited about their passion. It would seem like a waste of my time and an affront to those fans.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby gokeefe » Wed Jan 31, 2018 4:37 pm

Cowford wrote:Whoever said that folks wouldn't ride the bus?


For my own part I honestly can't recall if I did or didn't.

That being said its worth noting that even during the period of operation for the new bus the Downeaster has still seen significant increases in ridership from Brunswick. 200 per day (total for all trains) sounds about right for the train based on current reports. My question would be is this a sign of modal shift from cars or is this service stealing ridership from Concord Coach? I'm having a hard time imagining all of this is entirely new travel.

70 years ago local coach only trains on the Maine Central would have been devastated by the introduction of this option. Right now the Breeze bus is at worst benign and potentially beneficial as a complementary mode. It might even be helping to fill in the infamous "last mile".
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Cowford » Wed Jan 31, 2018 7:22 pm

That being said its worth noting that even during the period of operation for the new bus the Downeaster has still seen significant increases in ridership from Brunswick. 200 per day (total for all trains) sounds about right for the train based on current reports. My question would be is this a sign of modal shift from cars or is this service stealing ridership from Concord Coach? I'm having a hard time imagining all of this is entirely new travel.


George, I wasn't implicating you, but the many others who have defended the service by saying a bus isn't attractive to riders.

Unfortunately, NNEPRA doesn't release ridership numbers by station, so my only resource is ATK annual stats... In Amtrak's last fiscal year that ended Sept 30, the station averaged 80 riders. 200 sounds a little rosy; no DE station has grown so much, so quickly.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby David Benton » Wed Jan 31, 2018 7:38 pm

The more public transport options there are , the more people are likely to use it. Train one way , bus return , or V.V. Therefore the bus is just as likely to benefit the train as compete with it . Its the car that is the main competition, or someone deciding not to do a leisure trip at all.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Cowford » Wed Jan 31, 2018 8:00 pm

Fair enough. But, the criticism far predates any talk of the BRU extension. It goes all the way back to the beginning of the DE service, itself. In fact, if you look at the very first page of this thread, you will see the wet blanket first make its appearance. The outright nay-saying begins on Page 2.


Artman, you shouldn't have directed me to page 1. It's a reminder that in 2008, the service was running a farebox recovery rate of 55%, and annual deficit of $7-8 million. 10 years and, what, ~$60-80 million? in capital later, NNEPRA's goal is a farebox recovery rate of 46% and deficit of $11.3 million.

Arlington summed up my defense quite well. I've no beef with trains, only a desire to see public policy shaped based on fact, not emotion... and public funds expended based on intellectually honest analysis and critique. Sorry, NNEPRA gets under my skin because it's almost always rainbows and lollipops presented to the public. Yet I compliment NNEPRA on these pages on occasion, call them out when I think they are not being forthright, and offer what I believe is constructive criticism, even if sometimes harshly stated. A few examples:

Most recently, I've tried to bring up the fact that they have a big issue in that short haul west end riders may be choking out higher revenue Maine-based riders. Last I checked, their pricing strategy encourages this. (Example: Offering a premium service to Haverhill-Boston commuters for little to no premium price.)

Or how about the cafe car? Awful idea. 1) The train runs up against capacity issues, yet the cafe car has just 18 seats. 2) People may enjoy first class, but the yield per passenger is no greater than a coach rider, and killing it is not going to force those riders elsewhere, 3) running such a car is neither environmentally friendly nor economically efficient. 4) the cafe loses money and could easily be replaced by a money-making cart service (that would also probably be appreciated by those that have difficulty walking).

Am I anti-train for bringing up these points?
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby gokeefe » Thu Feb 01, 2018 10:02 am

A couple of quick notes. The farebox recovery goal is 50% for their current FY. I think that will make that goal. The cafe car is within a few % of fully recovering it's costs and continues to be a source of support to ridership traveling to sports events.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Suburban Station » Thu Feb 01, 2018 10:54 am

If I'm not mistaken NNEPRA also submitted a project for ARRA that would have cut travel time to Boston but the FRA chose the extension instead. I would agree that reducing trip time on the trunk should have been the first order of business but the FRA did not always choose the right projects
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Cowford » Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:30 pm

Screenshot_2018-02-01-12-25-12-1.png
George, even the Board docs say 46%
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Cosakita18 » Thu Feb 01, 2018 4:42 pm

Or how about the cafe car? Awful idea. 1) The train runs up against capacity issues, yet the cafe car has just 18 seats. running such a car is neither environmentally friendly nor economically efficient. 4) the cafe loses money and could easily be replaced by a money-making cart service (that would also probably be appreciated by those that have difficulty walking).


Not only is the cafe car cramped, but sometimes lines can get ridiculious and the single cafe attedant can quickly become overwhelmed. One busy weekends I've seen 30-40 passengers standng in a line that streched all the way through the seating area and into the next coach. I would love to see a traveling cart that stocks light refreshments...it beats standing in the cafe line for 10-15 minutes.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Hux » Thu Feb 01, 2018 5:46 pm

Not only is the cafe car cramped, but sometimes lines can get ridiculious and the single cafe attedant can quickly become overwhelmed. One busy weekends I've seen 30-40 passengers standng in a line that streched all the way through the seating area and into the next coach. I would love to see a traveling cart that stocks light refreshments...it beats standing in the cafe line for 10-15 minutes.


A cart would be nice but two people working the "bar" would be better on the sold out trips.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby BandA » Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:32 am

Could additional car(s) be added to the Downeaster without adding additional engines or conductors? I assume the cafe car counts the same as any other coach for conductor staffing, so replacing the cafe with a coach would theoretically improve crew costs per passenger, although that would be sad.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Arlington » Fri Feb 02, 2018 11:43 am

Hux wrote:A cart would be nice but two people working the "bar" would be better on the sold out trips.

I think the problem is that sold out trips are relatively rare (mostly the daily 5pm) and that if you had to expand food-service throughput, a second (or even third) cart is a more flexible option than trying to swap whole coaches.

Permanently swapping out the café in favor of a coach filled with seating would be (admittedly bus-like AND) better in two ways:
1) At uncrowded times, the café is likely losing money anyway on low volume and fixed labor, and a coach would lose less; Refreshments would be provided by a cart (that might take the space of 2 revenue seats)

2) At crowded times, a coach would generate significantly more ridership and would likely be very profitable. These are the same runs on which, today, the Café likely makes good money but can generate long lines. Coach seating generates revenue without long lines. Extra people ride and pay.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby electricron » Fri Feb 02, 2018 3:30 pm

Arlington wrote:
Hux wrote:A cart would be nice but two people working the "bar" would be better on the sold out trips.

I think the problem is that sold out trips are relatively rare (mostly the daily 5pm) and that if you had to expand food-service throughput, a second (or even third) cart is a more flexible option than trying to swap whole coaches.

Permanently swapping out the café in favor of a coach filled with seating would be (admittedly bus-like AND) better in two ways:
1) At uncrowded times, the café is likely losing money anyway on low volume and fixed labor, and a coach would lose less; Refreshments would be provided by a cart (that might take the space of 2 revenue seats)

2) At crowded times, a coach would generate significantly more ridership and would likely be very profitable. These are the same runs on which, today, the Café likely makes good money but can generate long lines. Coach seating generates revenue without long lines. Extra people ride and pay.


Even a better idea, install vending machines. Snacks and drinks only require two machines, and the storage is built in.
NCRR and Amtrak use vending machines on the Piedmont trains, proving this concept works for regional trains.
Although I’m not sure how they handle alcoholic beverages, but who wants to sit by drunks on a train anyways?
.
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