Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Discussion relating to the operations of MTA MetroNorth Railroad including west of Hudson operations and discussion of CtDOT sponsored rail operations such as Shore Line East and the Springfield to New Haven Hartford Line

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Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby SouthernRailway » Sun Mar 03, 2019 3:10 pm

I took Brightline in Florida yesterday and was blown away: it's a premium service, with "Select" (i.e., first class) service offering in-station lounges and premium service onboard, with free-flowing drinks and food and spacious seating. It's like having an airline lounge membership and flying first class. Yet the train runs for only about 70 miles and about an hour and 15 minutes each way. My "Select" car was pretty full--and "Select" seemed to do more business than standard class. This indicates a demand for premium service even for short-haul trips.

So, a question:

Given the wealthy customer base in many counties around NYC, why aren't Metro-North and CtDOT passenger rail (and the LIRR and NJ Transit) offering a premium class of service, with nicer in-station reserved areas and better on-board service? I'd pay for that, and my Brightline trip indicated that there is a demand for it. Surely a premium class of service could be priced so that the per-passenger subsidy is lower than regular class, or eliminated.

Perhaps the New Haven Line at rush hour doesn't have space for another class of service with lower-density seating, but other lines do, or they would if single-level cars were replaced with bi-levels. And Grand Central certainly has space for an in-station lounge or the like.
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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby DutchRailnut » Sun Mar 03, 2019 4:08 pm

simply cause it would cost fortune just to keep a dedicated fleet and switching cost to get those cars on certain trains, just like Bar cars some things are just a thing of past .
If Conductors are in charge, why are they promoted to be Engineer???

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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby SouthernRailway » Sun Mar 03, 2019 4:26 pm

DutchRailnut wrote:[...] redacted


Have you taken Brightline? If not, I suggest that you do.

Fortress Investment Group (a top-tier investment fund) and Richard Branson are building a premium rail service from scratch in Florida, using billions of dollars. This is a far greater investment than my proposal: simply having one car on a train have more spacious seating and perhaps better on-board service, and a better waiting area inside certain stations. So if my idea is "goofy", what's theirs, and why are they getting billions of dollars for their plan?

European commuter trains often have two classes, too.

In my view, it's completely crazy NOT for Metro-North NOT to be acknowledging that is has a wealthy customer base and NOT to be increasing its revenues due to segmented pricing that acknowledges that wealth. I'm not wealthy, but I'd gladly pay a premium to have a nicer seat and a glass of wine on a trip from GCT to Yonkers.

[...] redacted
Last edited by nomis on Mon Mar 04, 2019 3:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: quote redacted by mod
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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby DutchRailnut » Sun Mar 03, 2019 4:31 pm

brightline is profit based company, metro north is a state agency who has to comply with service to all and not favor one group over another.
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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby SouthernRailway » Sun Mar 03, 2019 5:00 pm

DutchRailnut wrote:brightline is profit based company, metro north is a state agency who has to comply with service to all and not favor one group over another.


Well, it already favors certain groups over others. For example, it charges peak and off-peak ticket pricing, so people who work 9-5 (more middle income) pay more than people who work later (more wealthy).

Amtrak, and particularly state-supported lines, are also basically government operations, yet they have different classes of service.

Seems to me like the reason for not having first class on commuter trains is generally because of overcrowding. But perhaps limiting first-class service to off-hours, or perhaps only on certain lines, or once new equipment is ordered, or even having only very small first-class sections, would avoid that issue.
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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby Rockingham Racer » Sun Mar 03, 2019 5:21 pm

Before Metro North, I remember seeing premium cars roll by JO tower in Woodlawn. All on their way to Fairfield County on the NYNHH railroad. And usually, the shades were down on them. A few lines had them in Chicago, as well, and I believe the last one ran only a few years ago.
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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby andegold » Sun Mar 03, 2019 8:39 pm

NJT had a commuter club on the NJCL. I don't know enough about it say any more than that it existed and doesn't' anymore. Back when Amtrak ran the Clockers there was the Century Club. It was well patronized but not well enough. About two years before Amtrak turned the slots over to NJT they were actively courting new members because their budget was not being made. I would have spent the money, I felt it was worth it but the schedule didn't work for me. I could probably have managed to be on the same train every morning but my evening schedule is just too erratic. Running this type of service on a single train schedule just won't work. Nobody works that regular a schedule anymore and the logistics for the railroad just aren't worth it. What's the next option? Maybe all new cab cars (for motor hauled trains) could be half premium class. Then the service could be offered on all trains. This might work on MNCR since they never turn their trains. Does LIRR turn theirs? NJT trains on the NEC, at least, can arrive in any direction. How would you know where to stand on the platform? It would be a disaster. The only people who would like it would be the crew as they would have a car of safe refuge to escape the masses. Of course, just like in the days of the Century Club, they would be harassed to no end as to why the SRO masses couldn't get into that empty car. Until there is enough track and platform capacity and enough equipment to run trains as frequently as necessary to create no more than an 80% load factor across the board they just can't do it.
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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby SouthernRailway » Sun Mar 03, 2019 8:51 pm

Rockingham Racer and andegold, thanks and you make excellent points.

Indeed, Brightline seems to have the Select car in the same place on all trains--there are signs on the platform marked "Select", and very friendly personnel guide you to the car. So that would be a problem to solve locally.

At least one thing that Brightline does--having personnel on the platforms wave at your train as you're pulling out of the station--would be nice to have!
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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby jlichyen » Sun Mar 03, 2019 9:43 pm

Most Japanese suburban railroads have a special "Green Car" first-class car or two with reservation-only seats.

I believe some of them have onboard food & drink service like the shinkansen, but the main differentiation is the fact that you're guaranteed a seat, as many regional rail trains in Japan have subway-like seating to fit more people standing.
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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby EuroStar » Mon Mar 04, 2019 9:51 am

andegold wrote:Until there is enough track and platform capacity and enough equipment to run trains as frequently as necessary to create no more than an 80% load factor across the board they just can't do it.

And here is the answer. The commuter railroads are state run/supported and as a result need to accommodate the demands of an army of elected officials. There will always be a few politicos that would like to know why their constituents need to be standing while there is a premium class car with empty seats. As long as there are standees, public commuter railroads will prefer to stay away from the idea of offering premium class for fear of pissing off some well connected local politician. A place where crowding is non-existent might be able to get away with it (Nashville, Denver, Salt Lake City might work, but there the demand for the premium class is questionable). Other amenities such as bar cars might work much better because they are open to everyone on the train, not just some passengers paying extra, so the political aspect vanishes, but the economics of bar cars are not favourable, because of the labour costs and the limited time of the day during which the demand exists. Premium class might work ok on a train that serves a major airport on a line that is not too crowded, but no good example come to my mind right now. Maybe Philly, but the ride is too short for the premium class to make sense there.
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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby nomis » Mon Mar 04, 2019 10:41 am

Mod Note: Thinking of ideas is not a goofy perogrative. Here at RR.net, we are a collectivethe analyzing strenghts and weaknesses, opportunities and threats in this field: some are industry insiders, others are observers and intelectuals, and others are sometimes rabid in nature about some topics. A general topic of understanding how the Brightline model of operations could be able to be tweaked to fit Metro North is not a goofy idea.
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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby talltim » Mon Mar 04, 2019 10:49 am

1st class exists on many, but not all commuter trains in the UK. There doesn't seem to be any particular logic as to which lines get it.
However, due to the pressures of fitting more passengers in, the quantity of of the provision has reduced over the years. Also the quality has gone down, to, in certain case, exactly the same facilities as standard class, with the only advantage being a (more) guaranteed seat and not having people standing with their behinds in your face.

With regards to placing the premium product in the same place on the platform, take the way is is worked on the class 700 EMU as an example. It has a 1st class sections at both ends, but only the section at the front of the train is used, the section at the rear is declassified. When the train reverses the 1st class swaps ends. (this only works if the train only reverses at the ends of the service, not en-route)
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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby Rockingham Racer » Mon Mar 04, 2019 11:17 am

First class exists on the Paris subway, as well. It's usually one half of one car in the middle of the train.
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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby Tadman » Mon Mar 04, 2019 1:55 pm

Is it goofy if the fares in the 1st class car actually cover operating costs and perhaps subsidize a small piece of the 2nd class car?

How do we define "favoring" people? Isn't the quiet car favoring people who want a quiet atmosphere? What about a dark car, a blue car, a hot car... For that matter, the 3+2 seating in many cars favors the guys on the 2 side.

Why don't they charge extras for sitting on the 2 side or the quiet car?

And why does the state favor drivers, giving them a free road, while passenger train riders need to pay part of their fare?

These are all reasonable questions to ask when thinking about the big picture of commuter trains. Right now, the basic model is straight out of 1970: government subsidizes a rush-hour-centric commuter train operation from the suburbs. Take away the subsidy, and the model is straight out of 1900. What else operates just like 1900?

Heck, if the states of NY and CT pay for Metro North and Long Island, why isn't there a through-ticketing system across MTA trains, busses, ferry, subway, etc?

Because "that'll never work" or "we never used to do it that way".
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Re: Why no premium class of service on commuter trains?

Postby eolesen » Mon Mar 04, 2019 1:57 pm

There's still a private car club running in Chicago. There's a membership model to pay for upkeep of the car, and Metra also charges for passage (either on a monthly, ten ride or one-way cash fare).

https://www.flickr.com/photos/19531332@N03/41388661445

I'm sure this model could work in a few places, but the demand is usually only in weekday markets during peak hours, and only valuable when either the distances > 30 miles or the ride is 45+ minutes. Most commuter agencies don't want to have to have subfleets and consists which can't be rerouted as needed.

I know I'd pay for it on my line in Chicago if only to have a guaranteed seat with a working power plug and reliable wifi.
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