Vincent wrote:Looking around the country, Amtrak has different challenges in different regions. In the Midwest there are numerous bottlenecks around the major population centers that can make the first and last few miles of every trip maddeningly slow. Also, the trackage between major cities is overused and badly in need of modernization. California (and the entire west coast) is challenged by geography. The cost of building HSR through mountainous terrain is huge and technically challenging but necessary to achieve the required speeds for competitive service.
neroden wrote:The trains are far too slow and seriously delayed by freight in the Midwest. Remember that Chicago is the nation's freight hub and other Midwestern cities are pretty freight-heavy too. Also remember that Chicago is hugely congested for freight.
In contrast, most of the California passenger corridors are *separate* from the main California freight corridors, or are in broad corridors with lots of tracks. The busiest California corridor -- San Diego-Los Angeles -- has only minimal freight and is owned by passenger operators.
neroden wrote:Uh, no. Detroit, Toledo, Indianapolis, Cleveland. Trouble is, due to Indiana dragging its feet, the latter three of those have only overnight service. Detroit still generates a *lot* of passengers -- unfortunately a bunch of them want to go east, which they can't. (Detroit-Toledo would be a huge benefit.)
The Midwest plans are very modest but would quite clearly give huge returns. The explosion in ridership on Illinois trains with small increases in frequency, speed, and reliability are a good example. The fact that the same plans would improve the schedule speed of most of the LD trains on the system too is an added bonus.
walnut wrote:It is sort of amazing that all of the talk about the NEC misses a very obvious point: namely, that market share for the NEC should include so-called "commuter" trains.
Does the 16% market share only mean Amtrak and does it only mean between certain points? If so, the NEC clearly has a higher share of corridor traffic, because the vast majority of trips are on commuter trains.
Why this matters: the maximum load point on Amtrak NEC trains is between New York and Philadelphia, which is just about 90 miles long. The trip takes a little over an hour, and in the future it will take less than an hour. That is, for all intents and purposes, a commuter trip.
The way to dramatically increase market share in the Northeast is to integrate all train operations into one federation, and manage accordingly. This means that the train schedules, capacities, fares, and stopping patterns are all rationalized not based on the politics of individual state agencies, but rather the actual travel market.
Under that method, you wouldn't necessarily need to drop billions into infrastructure (although New York Penn and approaches is the real bottleneck). But you would need to change the Amtrak and commuter business models.
Rationalize fares at $0.22/mile for coach, and $0.40 for first class.
Divide schedules into:
Local -- mostly all stops on a set route
Zonal Express -- express for a while, then local stops.
Intercity -- no stops outside major cities
(and possibly regional - but not necessarily).
The above schedules would then be synchronized at transfer points, for moving between trains. Thus, you could travel between any two stations in the Northeast in the minimum amount of time by switching between intercity and local trains.
Intercity trains must then run at least every half hour for about 14 to 16 hours per day. With the reduced fares and no stops, ridership will grow rapidly, so trains will need to be long, and possibly double-deck. In other words, the "next generation corridor equipment" is critical, because it supports (or prevents) the new business model.
Now, would the above model satisfy Amtrak's goal to minimize federal subsidies? It depends on how you do your accounting. Are we minimizing subsidy per passenger, or to the corporation? Are we counting local subsidies? The real answer is that we can move many more people by rail than we do today (perhaps at least twice as many) although it will require new equipment, some infrastructure upgrades, and a total rethink of New York City terminal operations. But per passenger subsidies would probably come down, although total subsidy might be slightly higher (if you include the capital). But most of this money will be spent anyway, so the per passenger figure is the "ruling grade" in defining the public interest, in my opinion.
Amtrak comes out way ahead, because they operate the "intercity" trains. Because they will run so fast and because they now do more "work" due to lower fares and coordinated transfers, their overall operating economics may improve. It transitions from a "cream the market" transportation model to a "mass market" model based on larger volume. And it might just scale.
Batman2 wrote:I like how you're thinking, but I think that if there's any problem it's your assertion that commuter service and Amtrak in the northeast should be rationalized. I actually don't think this is the proper approach, especially given the problems that would be included for local mass transit. Is DC Metrorail considered part of this arrangement? Would the New York Subway be Amtrak-managed? both of these are important considerations.
Batman2 wrote:One big reason for not integrating the service along the NEC spine is that it would lead to long-term problems; capacity concerns are made worse when we talk about increasing intercity service. Case in point: Washington Union Station. Union Station is probably the "lightweight" of the major NEC stations. It only has roughly 10 through tracks, and for NEC service it's essentially a 12-track terminal. Compare that to Penn Station's 21 through tracks, and 30th Street Station's 12 (can someone verify that please?) through tracks. Logistically, your idea calls for a greater emphasis on running intercity trains, but something has to give in the system; Union Station is already near capacity and MARC has to double-stack their trains during most of the day (though arguably this is due to Amtrak not letting them use more platforms, so even though some Amtrak platforms are under-utilized, MARC's are over-utilized). In all honesty, though, Union Station is pushing near its capacity, and it doesn't currently have the space needed for extra Regional trains.
Batman2 wrote:Another difficulty is that equipment options are different throughout the corridor; the tunnels near Penn Station limit double-deck operations, but this isn't a constraint anywhere else in the NEC. Unifying service would likely mean unifying equipment on the NEC, but in many cases this would lead to less capacity.
Batman2 wrote:Further, all of the commuter rail lines are only part of other systems. Would we be unifying Amtrak and, say, NJT's NEC Line, or would we be combining Amtrak and NJT as a whole?
Finally, I think some cooperation already does exist. MARC has an agreement with Amtrak whereby MARC monthly tcket holders can use some Regional trains. I think there are a few similar agreements in place for other commuter rail agencies.
What I think really needs to be done is for there to be a unified online trip planning system. Essentially Google Earth so that you can plan an entire trip from anyplace within a mile or two of a train/subway station to any other point in the NEC system. Essentially do what they did with Metra, CTA and Amtrak with Chicago and Milwaukee in terms of Google Earth.
walnut wrote:No-- local transit is integrated in some sense, but not in the same way that railroads that share track must be integrated.
walnut wrote:Well, the question of capacity has to be considered with regards to operating plan and management. At the extreme end of efficiency, the Japanese can unload 1,000 passengers from a bullet train, clean the entire train, and reload in something like ten minutes. Boom, it's back out on the road. I don't think we need to approach quite that level of competence to wring way more capacity out of many of our facilities. But I do think that Penn Station is a challenge, mostly because of the design of the platforms and concourse, not the number of tracks. It might even make sense, if the station is rebuilt, to have *fewer* through tracks with better ability to handle crowds. Combined with through-running commuter trains, this might be able to move more people than today.
walnut wrote:We can, in fact, fit multi-level equipment through Penn Station, as NJT does today. However, I agree that it would be better to have a unified, larger clearance envelope. But it isn't necessary. We can assign equipment in a rational way based on needs, and furthermore we can design the system for longer trains to add capacity.
walnut wrote:I totally agree about trip planning, and I would add we need unified ticketing. You should be able to get tickets from A to B regardless of the carriers involved. With regards to "unification" I would not suggest that we "unify" the systems. Instead, I recommended a "federation" which is a cooperative arrangements with some legal connections among independent companies (sort of like the old Trailways network). The federation model is in place in some European countries, where intercity, regional, and local services are integrated (shared ticketing, timetables, and marketing) but remain separate companies.
Batman2 wrote:I don't think we'll see a completely unified fare system any time soon. The more likely scenario is that a "unified" ticket would be available for purchase on a round-trip only basis, i.e. you buy a ticket from A to B online for a round-trip and on the train show that ticket to conductors. It would be a limited option and would most likely have at least some extra fee attached. I just don't see all of the agencies coming together and agreeing to a universal fare.
walnut wrote:With that said, Amtrak's recent PRIAA report for Cornwells Heights service notes that Amtrak's withdrawal of service from that station was accompanied by a proportional increase in SEPTA R7 ridership to Trenton, suggesting that part of Amtrak's Clockers traffic may have shifted to SEPTA/NJT. This just states the case more plainly -- rail customers are customers of the corridor, not the particular railroad.
walnut wrote:Amtrak maintains that it is not very interested in "commuter" traffic, because of its intercity mission and the inherently poor economics (such as oversupply of "wasted" capacity during off-peak periods). Yet, again, these are all just government railroads, operating a set amount of service. If they could simply cooperate on a common method for allocating resources with the passengers' needs as the primary concern, then service would greatly improve and ridership would spike. Do they have all the resources they need? Perhaps not. But they would actually stand a better chance of getting those resources by acting in concert instead of living in their various silos.
jstolberg wrote:I thought I'd graph the ridership on Amtrak's top routes for some perspective.
Starting with the Northeast Corridor
Then the next 5 most popular corridors
And finally, the 5 most popular long distance trains
neroden wrote:I think those graphs show, yet again, that "quality pays off".
The spike in the Coast Starlight is probably due to (1) restoring fairly reliable, decent-speed running, and (2) recovering from the severing of the route last year. It would be more accurate to say that something was *suppressing* ridership from 2005-2008, and it's easy enough to point to a pile of now-gone problems which would do so.
The corridor numbers show what an opportunity for expansion there is in the Midwest.....