Amtrak Expansion Plan

Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby Tadman » Thu Feb 21, 2019 5:27 pm

east point wrote:Tadman. Where do you get your figures. Amtrak once posted ( now deleted ) that 38 - 40% of revenue passengers MILES were on LD trains. IMO that overturns many of the reasons to get rid of LD trains. Actually LD trains get much more RPMs per day than the SD , regional trains.


That’s in comparison to airlines private automobiles, and buses. What we’re trying to do is establish how affective the long-distance train is in comparison to other modes of transport. The less than 1% number is well accepted fact. At that point we have to ask ourselves why bother spending money and rolling stock resources on trains that don’t make much of a dent in the marketplace. Everyone of those dollars and train cars could be spent taking cars off the road and pollution out of the air in a far more effective way in Regional service.
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby njt/mnrrbuff » Thu Feb 21, 2019 5:37 pm

Remember that there are many long distance routes that aren't time competitive with driving. For example, taking the Coast Starlight. Many people who use long distance trains aren't in a hurry to get to their final destinations. Of course, many people who live in the LA area and have to go to Portland or Seattle are going to prefer to fly. There are plenty of circuitous parts of the right of way that the Coast Starlight uses, especially way in Northern California through the mountains. Many people will continue to ride these long distance trains but just not when they need to travel quickly between two regions that are 500 to 1000 miles a part. Even taking a trip on the Pacific Surfliner northward from LA to Santa Barbara is slower than driving. I have done that trip many times but not recently.
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby StLouSteve » Thu Feb 21, 2019 6:26 pm

A few thoughts…Amtrak should not have to be held to a fiscal yardstick. If we can pass a tax cut that hugely benefits the wealthy with no concern whatsoever for what it does to the deficit, then it makes no sense to hold Amtrak accountable when Amtrak’s impact is no more than a pimple on the overall body of the Federal budget.

Amtrak is a service. Should we only hook up utilities to those customers that are easy to serve in city centers or is there something to be said for a universal system?

Fiscal analysis also completely ignores other factors that any 21st Century transportation system should take into consideration: air pollution, urban sprawl, carbon footprints, disability access, etc. The airline numbers cited previously make no allowance for the fact that almost every airline customer has to begin and end their journey on a highway paid for and maintained at considerable cost. The airline numbers also make no accounting for the extreme amount of climate damage, noise, pollution, fuel economy and land use that the airlines require.

Adding regional capacity is a worthwhile goal (including expanding service to rail/airport stations) and likely should have been done a long time ago, but we absolutely need to maintain our bare bones long-distance rail network.
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby Greg Moore » Thu Feb 21, 2019 6:48 pm

Tadman wrote:Why either/or?

Resources. Utilization. Common sense.

The long distance trains carry less than a percent of intercity traffic. They are fun to ride but virtually useless. They exist today to placate congress members from non-corridor states to keep corridor trains funded.

Given the negligible impact on the economy, environment, or transportation needs, why keep runnng them? For every dollar or wheel turning in long distance service, that’s one less dollar or wheel turning in corridor service that positively impacts the economy, environment, and transportation. Further, on truly valuable tourism routes like the Zephyr, that’s taking economic opportunity away from tour operators that could do a much better job of running a tour train like the Mountaineer.

Honestly where is the win by keeping long distance trains running?


You answered your own question in your 2nd paragraph: They exist today to placate congress members from non-corridor states to keep corridor trains funded.

One may not like the economic reality, but it exists and can't be ignored.
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby njt/mnrrbuff » Thu Feb 21, 2019 7:36 pm

It would have been nice for there to have been more corridor routes from the start. Had it not been for the governor of Ohio who axed the 3C Corridor or the governor of Wisconsin who shelved the high speed rail to Madison, people would have been able to travel more places by train. It would be nice for the Hiawatha to go more places, not just up and down from Chicago to Milwaukee several times a day. I know that there are negotiations to run a state sponsored corridor train between Chicago and the Twin Cities, which I think is an excellent idea especially with the Empire Builder showing chronic tardiness. When the Empire Builder is running on time, it gets to Saint Paul during the morning rush hour and not everyone wants to get up early for that train.
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby Tadman » Thu Feb 21, 2019 7:54 pm

StLouSteve wrote:A few thoughts…Amtrak should not have to be held to a fiscal yardstick. If we can pass a tax cut that hugely benefits the wealthy with no concern whatsoever for what it does to the deficit, then it makes no sense to hold Amtrak accountable when Amtrak’s impact is no more than a pimple on the overall body of the Federal budget.

Amtrak is a service. Should we only hook up utilities to those customers that are easy to serve in city centers or is there something to be said for a universal system?

Fiscal analysis also completely ignores other factors that any 21st Century transportation system should take into consideration: air pollution, urban sprawl, carbon footprints, disability access, etc. The airline numbers cited previously make no allowance for the fact that almost every airline customer has to begin and end their journey on a highway paid for and maintained at considerable cost. The airline numbers also make no accounting for the extreme amount of climate damage, noise, pollution, fuel economy and land use that the airlines require.

Adding regional capacity is a worthwhile goal (including expanding service to rail/airport stations) and likely should have been done a long time ago, but we absolutely need to maintain our bare bones long-distance rail network.


This analysis is quite myopic. First, absolutely everything is held up to a fiscal yardstick, or you get Argentina with catastrophic surges in the economy which contribute to poverty and joblessness. I love to visit Argentina but it is one tremendously messed up country. It is almost impossible to get a mortgage on a house or a loan to start a business. The average car even in big cities is a 20-year old beater. Populism has not resulted in a better standard of living, but it has taken a country from 8th wealthiest to

This analysis also assumes that there is an alternative to the airline or car for long distance. That ship sailed in 1967. The existence of 1/day long distance trains that might hold 300 people does not mean that (a) we have hope for a great migration from air to rail; (b) that the rail option is that much better with regard to the environment or land usage. The railroads have an awful record as polluters. Quite a few yards are superfund sites. The fact stands that long distance trains carry less than one percent of intercity travelers and have no capacity to grow, in terms of seats, stations, or track.


I can't be more clear: this is a "get on or get left behind" moment. Amtrak has a chance to be very relevant and carry millions more passengers per year by focusing on corridors. That means millions more cars off the road, ergo less carbon in the air and far (17x) safer travel. The 1971 route map is no longer an option and the mentality is contributing to pollution, gridlock, and auto accidents by shifting resources away from regional travel.

Also, running subsidized long distance trains hurts tour operators. Why do we want to use government money when privateers could run tour trains? Rocky Mountaineer does it so well on their own. So does Grand Canyon and Royal Gorge. And Alaska. Their common business model: Don't compete against Amtrak. Don't run a hotel on wheels. Don't shackle yourself to a transportation mindset and timetable.
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby Tadman » Thu Feb 21, 2019 8:29 pm

Greg Moore wrote:
You answered your own question in your 2nd paragraph: They exist today to placate congress members from non-corridor states to keep corridor trains funded.

One may not like the economic reality, but it exists and can't be ignored.


Right but that's an artificial construct, which can become quickly very dangerous. See deregulation in rail or airlines - the swift removal of an artificial construct put a few carriers under that counted on bridge traffic.

Consider this: what if Trump struck a deal where the wall was funded in return for ten years of NEC funding. What if a few states got new military bases in exchange for NEC funding? All it takes is thinking just a few inches outside of the box and the whole system is in peril.

More likely, what if PRIIA is scrapped and a federal corridor system serves enough states to gain the votes to support the entire operation? The LD system goes away overnight.
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby east point » Thu Feb 21, 2019 9:02 pm

Tadman: excuse that I did not read your post properly. Yes Amtrak does only carry 1% of all LD travel. But the question remains how many would it carry if it was possible? 40% of LD train travel and 60 % for Amtrak SD travel makes us wonder where the actual number of persons would use Amtrak if more service was available. As was shown on the PRIIA studies most passengers travel shorter distances on LD trains. However by breaking them up we will loos all those passengers that would have traveled between breaks. A fort Morgan - Helper Utah will drop Amtrak for example.

Once Amtrak proposes a break such as the CAL Z at Denver will it provide the number of thru passenger on the train in the past? I doubt it!

We still believe mirror schedules on most LD routes are needed. However Crescent south of ATL, DAL - STL, Starlight Sacramento north, are a few that mirror schedules are not needed.
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby StLouSteve » Thu Feb 21, 2019 9:17 pm


This analysis is quite myopic. First, absolutely everything is held up to a fiscal yardstick, or you get Argentina with catastrophic surges in the economy which contribute to poverty and joblessness. I love to visit Argentina but it is one tremendously messed up country. It is almost impossible to get a mortgage on a house or a loan to start a business. The average car even in big cities is a 20-year old beater.

. . . .
Also, running subsidized long distance trains hurts tour operators. Why do we want to use government money when privateers could run tour trains? Rocky Mountaineer does it so well on their own. So does Grand Canyon and Royal Gorge. And Alaska. Their common business model: Don't compete against Amtrak. Don't run a hotel on wheels. Don't shackle yourself to a transportation mindset and timetable.






I can’t cry for Argentina because I am not that familiar with their situation (and I think we are getting a bit away from the topic at hand).

I do know that the recent adventures (wars) that we have engaged in the Mideast have not been held to any type of fiscal yardstick nor has there been any attempt to pay for them through taxes or otherwise so I get a little upset when public transportation is suddenly subjected to microscopic fiscal analysis (e.g. studies of food costs in Amcafes).

I think it is naive (myopic?) to think that once long-distance trains are gone, private tour companies will pick up the slack. The class ones will not allow them anywhere near their tracks. (Grand Canyon has their own right of way and Alaska RR is Federally owned). I can recall how quickly Penn Central sabotaged the Post Road connection out of Albany as soon as Boston passenger trains were dropped and how expensive it was to put that short section of track back.

The belief that LD trains are merely the province of the well healed taking vacations paid for by others is also far from accurate. Most LD passengers are in coach (not sleepers) and represent a broad cross section of American population using the train as basic transportation. That there aren’t more of them when compared to the overall transport pie is a function of lack of capacity, rather than lack of demand.

Again, I’m not arguing against the need or desire for more frequent regional service, but it should not come at the cost of the LD trains we already have as the two services complement each other.
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby NIMBYkiller » Thu Feb 21, 2019 9:51 pm

Again, why not first look into which LDs could have adjustments made so as to fit with the expanded corridor service while still providing a social benefit to rural communities? From there we can discuss the pros and cons of keeping the remaining LDs and whether there are more viable alternatives that could be integrated into an overall network.
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby Greg Moore » Thu Feb 21, 2019 10:07 pm

Tadman wrote:
This analysis is quite myopic. First, absolutely everything is held up to a fiscal yardstick,
<snipped stuff for brevity>

Also, running subsidized long distance trains hurts tour operators. Why do we want to use government money when privateers could run tour trains? Rocky Mountaineer does it so well on their own. So does Grand Canyon and Royal Gorge. And Alaska. Their common business model: Don't compete against Amtrak. Don't run a hotel on wheels. Don't shackle yourself to a transportation mindset and timetable.


Oh bull. I find "everything is held up to a fiscal yardstick to be an answer folks give when they want to support THEIR goals while disparaging others.
Congress added what $80B to defense last year w/o raising revenues. In fact we're hitting deficits over $1T (as my dinner mate in the Boston dining car just commented on how large that number is.) WHere's the fiscal yardstick on that?
Or if you truly believe we need so much defense, where's the fiscal yardstick when it comes to the National Park Service, or the NEA or similar?

The fact is, great nations do great things at times without looking solely at the fiscal yard stick.
As for Grand Canyon railway, my recolleciton is they've gone through bankruptcy once or twice and as for Alaska, I believe their operations are a loss leader tied into the them cruise ships.

I also think you underestimate the value that people put on actually USING at least some of the LD network for business and non-leisure. I can assure you many of the folks I meet on the Crescent, at least to the ATL segment are not for the land cruise fun of it (not much to see at night in the winter let me tell you) and they absolutely DO want the diner. (Quite a few number of coach passengers at the 8:00 PM and later seating this time around.)

As for your earlier comment about LD being an artificial construct, of course they are. And you can wish all you want about funding the wall or militay bases (despite us actually net closing them) but that's not the reality. One might as well say, "and then magic happens."

So if we have to toss a few hundred million a year into LD trains in order to get a ton of cash for corridors, hell that's an easy fiscal yardstick. I'll take that any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

I'll also point out in several cases, your corridors are going to overlap your LD network. So something like a day train WAS-ATL in addition to the Crescent, means spreading out your fixed costs, not lumping them into just one train.

So, rail against LD trains all you want, call it an artificial construct, but there's no indication that artificial construct is going away any time soon. So might as well leverage it.
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby mtuandrew » Thu Feb 21, 2019 10:29 pm

Man, if I didn’t know better, I’d say most of you don’t like the LD trains.

So how are we going to get corridor service over indifferent-to-hostile hosts? We would have had four trains a day between the NEC and the Midwest, for instance, except that Conrail (and then NS and CSX) have pocket-vetoed any of those proposals.
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby CarterB » Thu Feb 21, 2019 10:37 pm

AOC and Bernie have the plan down pat.....do away with airplanes and have high speed rail to Europe, Asia and Hawaii. And free tickets to everyone making less than $100K a year. Tax anyone with a savings account, or everyone with worth over $250K at a 70-90percent rate. All trains to also have free food in the diners, open to all.
Bring back the Slumbercoaches!!
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby charlesriverbranch » Thu Feb 21, 2019 10:58 pm

Tadman wrote:What we’re trying to do is establish how affective the long-distance train is in comparison to other modes of transport. The less than 1% number is well accepted fact.


If so, it's because there aren't enough trains running.

Frankly, I think Amtrak was a bad idea; the correct thing to do was to subsidize, whether directly or indirectly, the trains Amtrak's predecessor railroads were running. Passengers had a great deal more choices before 1967, when the Post Office was effectively subsidizing a lot of trains. Amtrak's post-1971 skeletal network can't possibly compensate for the loss of those trains.

Delta Dick demonstrates the flaws in Amtrak's monopoly. Amtrak has no incentive to do anything but cut costs; in particular, why should Amtrak trouble itself to deliver better customer service when it knows that travelers, if they want to go by train, have no other choice?

If we want more trains, and to encourage more people to use them, then it seems to me we need to create financial incentives for railroads to run more trains and build the infrastructure needed to support them.

Do you want Boston - Montreal service? Don't hold your breath waiting for Amtrak to provide it; provide incentives for either states or private entities to rebuild the tracks that were torn up in the 1970's, and remove regulatory barriers that, for instance, force U.S. passenger rail operators to reinvent the wheel instead of running proven European or Japanese trains.

People want to travel by train. In most cases, they can't, because there is no train going where they want to go, or if there is, it's not at a convenient time. But if the right incentives are put in place, those trains will run.
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Re: Amtrak Expansion Plan

Postby njt/mnrrbuff » Fri Feb 22, 2019 7:21 am

Good reasons about people not wanting to travel by train. Let me also add being a lot slower than driving and sometimes having to drive a long distance to the closest depot. I know that this is probably a Virgin thing but if that train ever starts running to Vegas Nevada, it would start out in Victorville. People who live in LA are going to be very reluctant to drive all the way to Victorville to get the train. Any intercity rail company that has a route that stops 70 to 80 miles from a major city’s downtown area isn’t making the right choice. Yes new sets of tracks would have to be built between LA and the base of the Mojave Desert. After clearing Victorville, there would be many dead straight sections across the desert
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