Amtrak Expansion Plan

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Rockingham Racer
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by Rockingham Racer » Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:00 pm

I think it's a foregone conclusion that Amtrak will add service, corridors--call them what you will--only when states put up the money for them. Texas? Forget about it.

mtuandrew
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by mtuandrew » Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:07 pm

Rockingham Racer wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:00 pm
I think it's a foregone conclusion that Amtrak will add service, corridors--call them what you will--only when states put up the money for them. Texas? Forget about it.
Amtrak could lower the PRIIA rate and entice non-traditional states to fund service expansion. Indiana might bite again (possibly), Ohio might bite, but Texas feels to me a stronger possibility. Unlike those two states, Texas already partly finds a corridor.

gokeefe
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by gokeefe » Tue Sep 10, 2019 11:12 pm

I think using the word "support" is a complete misread of his own statements. Anderson's interest in expansion is focused on corridors. He made it very clear in the article linked recently that Amtrak follows the law and fulfills their statutory mandate.

He is using that kind of language to make it absolutely clear to Congress that they have won the fight and they don't need to worry about him going after the Southwest Chief or any of the other major money losers again.

These routes are still operating because that's what Congress has told Amtrak to do. Anderson clearly would still like to cut several of them but he now knows he most certainly cannot.

In the meantime he's cutting where he can and foodservice reductions are one of the few areas that he could safely address with the support of Congress.

I think he's very sharp and is going about these changes in a very intelligent way. The level of nuance and grasp of fine detail seems very promising to me. The most recent example being enhancements to the Auto Train dining service and sleeper amenities. He knows the company has a winner on that route and is going to make it perform even better.
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Paul1705
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by Paul1705 » Sat Sep 21, 2019 10:51 pm

gokeefe wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 11:12 pm
I think using the word "support" is a complete misread of his own statements. Anderson's interest in expansion is focused on corridors. He made it very clear in the article linked recently that Amtrak follows the law and fulfills their statutory mandate.

He is using that kind of language to make it absolutely clear to Congress that they have won the fight and they don't need to worry about him going after the Southwest Chief or any of the other major money losers again.

These routes are still operating because that's what Congress has told Amtrak to do. Anderson clearly would still like to cut several of them but he now knows he most certainly cannot.

In the meantime he's cutting where he can and foodservice reductions are one of the few areas that he could safely address with the support of Congress.

I think he's very sharp and is going about these changes in a very intelligent way. The level of nuance and grasp of fine detail seems very promising to me. The most recent example being enhancements to the Auto Train dining service and sleeper amenities. He knows the company has a winner on that route and is going to make it perform even better.
I hope this is on topic, but I've always been struck by how much Congressional support Amtrak has enjoyed for decades when most states have never had more than a token amount of service. Is it mostly symbolic? I'm guessing that many of their constituents in Tulsa or Columbus or wherever might like the idea of Amtrak service if they thought about it - but that's probably not often. Is it that the supporters of trains are more vocal while the indifferent majority are just that - indifferent?

Philly Amtrak Fan
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by Philly Amtrak Fan » Sun Sep 22, 2019 5:50 am

Paul1705 wrote:
Sat Sep 21, 2019 10:51 pm

I hope this is on topic, but I've always been struck by how much Congressional support Amtrak has enjoyed for decades when most states have never had more than a token amount of service. Is it mostly symbolic? I'm guessing that many of their constituents in Tulsa or Columbus or wherever might like the idea of Amtrak service if they thought about it - but that's probably not often. Is it that the supporters of trains are more vocal while the indifferent majority are just that - indifferent?
You hit the nail on the head. It's hard for people to really want what they've never had (in the case of Tulsa) or haven't had since 1979 (in the case of Columbus). Sure other Congressmen may discuss Amtrak and expansion and it will sound like a great idea ... until the price tag is shown. Then there's the big cities like my Philly. Sure, the Acela/NER are important to them. But the Silver Service? I may want to use it to go to Florida but the average Philadelphia area resident likely won't and the Philadelphia/Pennsylvania Congressmen has many more issues on their mind than those trains or the Three Rivers back in the 2000's. On the other hand, the Montana Congressional representation will fight hard for the Empire Builder and in the Senate there are enough irrelevant states so they get what they want (plus back in the 1990's/2000's it didn't hurt that one of theirs was the Senate Majority leader). The idea of getting rid of the trains in the irrelevant states and serving the Tulsa's and Columbus's with the same appropriation will never fly because the Montana's and West Virginia's will fight tooth and nail to prevent it from happening, thus the status quo will remain (and if there are cuts, they will probably be in the trains where people want to go but hey you'll always be able to go to Shelby, MT!)

electricron
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by electricron » Sun Sep 22, 2019 7:42 am

Philly Amtrak Fan wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 5:50 am
You hit the nail on the head. It's hard for people to really want what they've never had (in the case of Tulsa) or haven't had since 1979 (in the case of Columbus). Sure other Congressmen may discuss Amtrak and expansion and it will sound like a great idea ... until the price tag is shown. Then there's the big cities like my Philly. Sure, the Acela/NER are important to them. But the Silver Service? I may want to use it to go to Florida but the average Philadelphia area resident likely won't and the Philadelphia/Pennsylvania Congressmen has many more issues on their mind than those trains or the Three Rivers back in the 2000's. On the other hand, the Montana Congressional representation will fight hard for the Empire Builder and in the Senate there are enough irrelevant states so they get what they want (plus back in the 1990's/2000's it didn't hurt that one of theirs was the Senate Majority leader). The idea of getting rid of the trains in the irrelevant states and serving the Tulsa's and Columbus's with the same appropriation will never fly because the Montana's and West Virginia's will fight tooth and nail to prevent it from happening, thus the status quo will remain (and if there are cuts, they will probably be in the trains where people want to go but hey you'll always be able to go to Shelby, MT!)
As long as Amtrak relies upon federal subsidies every year you should expect politics to effect where the trains go every day. Some might not even think Shelby, MT ranks high enough in traffic to have a federally funded highway running through it. But they pay federal taxes just like everyone else and expect services in return. I'm positively sure the taxpayers in Tulsa, OK and Columbus, OH feel the same way too.

You want to get rid of long distance Amtrak trains, your first step should be to eliminate politics entering into the debate by eliminating all federal subsidies going to Amtrak. Once Amtrak is standing upon it own two feet financially, then they can determine exactly where they wish to provide services where demand for it is high enough to earn a profit. You know that old capitalist quote of supply meeting demand might actually be true. As long as government subsidies occur, demand for services will always overcome Amtrak's ability to supply it.

mtuandrew
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by mtuandrew » Sun Sep 22, 2019 11:55 am

Not every Senate Majority Leader was able to entice Amtrak - Sen. Daschle (D-SD) never did get passenger service to Sioux Falls or Aberdeen or Pierre, nor do I know if he ever tried. Nor did House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) successfully push (or push at all?) for expanded Amtrak service on the 3-C Route or a daily Cardinal. They had other priorities, largely about cutting the Federal budget. Should Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) retain her position and Sen. Schumer (D-NY) get a promotion to Majority Leader, I expect that those two states, their respective regions, and the nation as a whole would receive more passenger rail funding.

I’m not sure that USDOT has delivered this kind of report in recent years, but I think we as a country need a “How We Move” report on current passenger and freight transport modes. That would entail a broad survey (ideally at least 100,000 participants across all 50 states, DC, PR, and possibly the territories) of trip length, purpose, mode and transfers, and cargo carried (from a backpack to a barge to a pipeline) over at least a year, and how much congestion, poor infrastructure and delay affects their trips. We haven’t had such a full review ever in my understanding, and electric cars, ride-share, and telecommuting weren’t fully-viable factors until the 2010s. Some of the answers will make you say “well, duh”, but I suspect it would surprise many industry groups and lead to investment in places no one expected.

For rail, that may well mean reactivating abandoned routes and rerouting & adding passenger trains. It could also mean shuttering or downgrading some lines and highways and airports, but I find that less likely. Can’t mess with the political and industrial calculus THAT much.

gokeefe
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by gokeefe » Sun Sep 22, 2019 2:44 pm

Paul1705 wrote:
Sat Sep 21, 2019 10:51 pm
I hope this is on topic, but I've always been struck by how much Congressional support Amtrak has enjoyed for decades when most states have never had more than a token amount of service. Is it mostly symbolic? I'm guessing that many of their constituents in Tulsa or Columbus or wherever might like the idea of Amtrak service if they thought about it - but that's probably not often. Is it that the supporters of trains are more vocal while the indifferent majority are just that - indifferent?
It's partly that nobody wants to be the politician responsible for "taking away our train". This is especially true now that Amtrak has been able to operate for so long without completely losing all ridership. Furthermore recent growth has proven the value of the service to the most rural locations (especially on the Empire Builder).

Consider this ... Amtrak's nearly 50 year operating history is equal in length to the private railroads from 1971 to 1923. That's a very significant span of time which includes the post WWI and post WWII passenger peaks.

Another 20 years and Amtrak will have operated for as long as the private railroads did in the entirety of the 20th century.
gokeefe

Paul1705
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by Paul1705 » Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:35 pm

electricron wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 7:42 am
Philly Amtrak Fan wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 5:50 am
You hit the nail on the head. It's hard for people to really want what they've never had (in the case of Tulsa) or haven't had since 1979 (in the case of Columbus). Sure other Congressmen may discuss Amtrak and expansion and it will sound like a great idea ... until the price tag is shown. Then there's the big cities like my Philly. Sure, the Acela/NER are important to them. But the Silver Service? I may want to use it to go to Florida but the average Philadelphia area resident likely won't and the Philadelphia/Pennsylvania Congressmen has many more issues on their mind than those trains or the Three Rivers back in the 2000's. On the other hand, the Montana Congressional representation will fight hard for the Empire Builder and in the Senate there are enough irrelevant states so they get what they want (plus back in the 1990's/2000's it didn't hurt that one of theirs was the Senate Majority leader). The idea of getting rid of the trains in the irrelevant states and serving the Tulsa's and Columbus's with the same appropriation will never fly because the Montana's and West Virginia's will fight tooth and nail to prevent it from happening, thus the status quo will remain (and if there are cuts, they will probably be in the trains where people want to go but hey you'll always be able to go to Shelby, MT!)
As long as Amtrak relies upon federal subsidies every year you should expect politics to effect where the trains go every day. Some might not even think Shelby, MT ranks high enough in traffic to have a federally funded highway running through it. But they pay federal taxes just like everyone else and expect services in return. I'm positively sure the taxpayers in Tulsa, OK and Columbus, OH feel the same way too.

You want to get rid of long distance Amtrak trains, your first step should be to eliminate politics entering into the debate by eliminating all federal subsidies going to Amtrak. Once Amtrak is standing upon it own two feet financially, then they can determine exactly where they wish to provide services where demand for it is high enough to earn a profit. You know that old capitalist quote of supply meeting demand might actually be true. As long as government subsidies occur, demand for services will always overcome Amtrak's ability to supply it.
Regarding the Empire Builder, Cardinal, etc.: I think the Congressional role in Amtrak has mostly been defensive or reactive. They have been able to retain various trains (or influence the original routes in 1971) but they haven't been willing to fund significant expansion.

There have been various "emerging corridors" concepts since the 1970s and occasional proposals to restore cuts made in 1979 or the 1990s, but there has been little Federal funding for them. (Maybe the Obama administration stimulus funds were the most I know of.) A plan for more short-haul routes inevitably favors some states over others. The default position increasingly is to let the states choose to fund expansion if they are willing to do it.

Probably many Americans - including our Columbus and Tulsa residents - think Amtrak is sort of a nice idea but it's not high on their list of priorities. Outside of the Northeast, I guess that many have only a vague idea of where the network operates and what the frequencies are on most of the routes.

As for getting Amtrak away from all Federal subsidies and politics: that's more than I can get into here.

gokeefe
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by gokeefe » Mon Sep 23, 2019 10:19 pm

Amtrak does in fact provide a small subsidy (even under the new PRIIA formula) to state supported routes. It is very reasonable to debate exactly how much this pittance is but they claim it's there and based on what I've seen I think this is very likely true.

That being said ... Under the previous program (403b) Amtrak was most definitely providing a significant (greater than 10%) subsidy to state supported services. I suspect that fact was part of the reason that Amtrak tended to resist even 403b expansions (because they couldn't afford it).

The new formula has actually opened the door to greater expansion by making Amtrak far more amenable to operating these trains since their losses have been minimized to an acceptable level.
gokeefe

Paul1705
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by Paul1705 » Thu Sep 26, 2019 8:10 pm

gokeefe wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 2:44 pm
Paul1705 wrote:
Sat Sep 21, 2019 10:51 pm
I hope this is on topic, but I've always been struck by how much Congressional support Amtrak has enjoyed for decades when most states have never had more than a token amount of service. Is it mostly symbolic? I'm guessing that many of their constituents in Tulsa or Columbus or wherever might like the idea of Amtrak service if they thought about it - but that's probably not often. Is it that the supporters of trains are more vocal while the indifferent majority are just that - indifferent?
It's partly that nobody wants to be the politician responsible for "taking away our train". This is especially true now that Amtrak has been able to operate for so long without completely losing all ridership. Furthermore recent growth has proven the value of the service to the most rural locations (especially on the Empire Builder).

Consider this ... Amtrak's nearly 50 year operating history is equal in length to the private railroads from 1971 to 1923. That's a very significant span of time which includes the post WWI and post WWII passenger peaks.

Another 20 years and Amtrak will have operated for as long as the private railroads did in the entirety of the 20th century.
That is indeed a long period of time. But, even though no one expected to get back to the peaks of 1917 or 1945, Amtrak has not become a significant transportation alternative outside of the Northeast.

There were some periods of what I would call plausible optimism. One was in the 1970s when Amtrak survived the first few years and placed the Amfleet and Superliner orders. Another might have been the attempt at the mail and express business in the 1990s (profitability was even hinted at) and then again during the Obama administration.

gokeefe
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by gokeefe » Thu Sep 26, 2019 9:34 pm

Paul1705 wrote:
Thu Sep 26, 2019 8:10 pm
That is indeed a long period of time. But, even though no one expected to get back to the peaks of 1917 or 1945, Amtrak has not become a significant transportation alternative outside of the Northeast.
To an extent that's raising the bar beyond reason. I would note first the market share that Amtrak has clawed back from the airlines in the Northeast. Intercity rail was well on its way to total failure, even on the Northeast Corridor in 1971.

Second the peaks of 1917 and 1945 would have to be separated between locals and Intercity service. Amtrak operates the latter while the state agencies now operate the former.

Assuming we could derive separated figures I think we would find that on a ridership basis Amtrak has surpassed the former Southern Pacific operations in California, Great Northern operations in Oregon/Washington, Milwaukee Road in Illinois/Wisconsin, Southern Railroad in North Carolina, multiple railroads in Virginia, and the Boston & Maine in New Hampshire and Maine.

It also appears likely that based on current plans for the Downeaster that the extension of the fifth roundtrip to Brunswick will likely result in ridership levels on the former Maine Central at or close to their post WWII peak for that particular segment.

Based on this trend and current financial performance it is my considered opinion that the company has never been in better shape than it is today.
gokeefe

charlesriverbranch
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by charlesriverbranch » Thu Sep 26, 2019 10:01 pm

Crossing into the city of Claremont, NH from neighboring Newport, you see a sign at the city line that says: "An Amtrak Served Community". They are clearly proud of this, even though they only get one northbound and one southbound train a day, but Claremont's one of the only places in NH that has service (the others are Exeter, Durham, and Dover, on the seacoast).

I'd love to see service from Boston to Nashua, Manchester, Concord, and Lebanon, but that'll never happen.

gokeefe
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by gokeefe » Thu Sep 26, 2019 10:32 pm

Manchester should be outraged that Amtrak will be serving Rockland (if only seasonally) long before they ever get to the most populous city in Northern New England.
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ExCon90
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Post by ExCon90 » Fri Sep 27, 2019 2:04 pm

As to Mr. gokeefe's post above, Amtrak's services in California do indeed far outpace both those of SP and ATSF put together. At no time in history was there as much service between the East Bay and Sacramento and between LA and San Diego as there is today (clockers?! on the Surf Line?!), nor was there ever a joint through service from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara to San Diego, or San Jose to Sacramento, for that matter. I did find a printed timetable from the 1950's, I think, jointly published by ATSF and SP showing all internal services of both lines, including a consolidated schedule of both lines' services in the San Joaquin Valley, showing the Golden Gates and the San Joaquin Daylight in the same timetable, with all stations shown in order (similar to what the PRR and the Reading published from Philadelphia to Reading) but of course showing only the relatively few existing trains. I don't know how long that lasted.

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