Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

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Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby JoeG » Fri Jul 13, 2018 2:37 pm

Mr Anderson has taken some actions that have disappointed me, such as drastically reducing food service on some ld trains even as long-awaited single level diners have arrived. Of course, Congress has mandated that Amtrak stop losing money on food service, so he may have felt he had no choice. His ban on train charters and private car work seems more puzzling, since Amtrak can charge as much as it likes for these moves and work. People who own railroad cars will pay whatever to run them. You'd think that would be a profit center.

On the other hand, Amtrak amenities and services have been deteriorating for years. Dining car meals aren't what they used to be. Sleeper rates have skyrocketed. Starting with Superliners, and continuing with the new single level sleepers, in-room bathrooms are being phased out. To those of us of a certain age, these in-room bathrooms are an important amenity. Other amenities have likewise been dropped over the decades.

Of course, the terrible timekeeping of many LD trains makes things worse, and Amtrak seems unwilling or unable to negotiate better timekeeping with the Class I's.

Canada has taken one path. It has one transcontinental train that has beautifully restored cars, wonderful service, including sumptuous diners. But the fares for this luxury service are out of sight, and other trains have been drastically cut. And even for the luxury service, the timekeeping is terrible.
Canada also has shorter-distance corridors where it provides good service.

Amtrak seems committed to various corridors, especially those where the states contribute. But what of its LD trains? Will they shortly disappear, as the Amtrak creators assumed? Maybe 40 years later than they predicted, but has the hour of their demise finally arrived? Or might some trains remain as luxury-priced, luxury-serviced "getting there is half the fun" vacation trips? Not that past attempts to resurrect luxury train services in the US have succeeded....

Not long ago I thought that Amtrak's LD trains would plod along indefinitely, their equipment aging, their service decaying. Now I honestly don't know what the future will bring. Any ideas?
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby charlesriverbranch » Fri Jul 13, 2018 3:31 pm

If Amtrak's board believed in customer service, they wouldn't have hired a CEO from the airline industry,
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby SouthernRailway » Fri Jul 13, 2018 3:53 pm

charlesriverbranch wrote:If Amtrak's board believed in customer service, they wouldn't have hired a CEO from the airline industry,


Anderson is just one CEO, for only a few years. Amtrak's LD trains have survived a lot more than that.

To the point quoted above, I find airline customer service significantly better than Amtrak. Acela first class was the only instance that I find them equal. The thing I like about airlines is that service is consistent, and anything is available and potentially comfortable/pleasant if you either fly enough on the airline or are willing to pay for it. Amtrak service is inconsistent.
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby mtuandrew » Fri Jul 13, 2018 4:31 pm

If they are to have a future, and I think they should, Amtrak needs to maintain better timekeeping with the Class 1s. Unfortunately Omaha, Ft. Worth, Calgary, Montreal, Jacksonville, Kansas City, and Norfolk don’t speak community benefit; they speak money. It might be worth it to raise Amtrak’s per-mile rates, get reliable timekeeping in return, and be able to put reserve equipment on the road to make money.
Last edited by mtuandrew on Fri Jul 13, 2018 6:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby JoeG » Fri Jul 13, 2018 6:08 pm

One problem Amtrak seems to have is a lack of extra equipment. I don't know if this is simply a result of decades of financial starvation, or if bad management is involved. Late trains have domino effects where the trains they turn for are delayed. Bad order cars cause long delays. If a train breaks down, there seems to be little or no rescue equipment or crews enroute. Back in the day, railroads seem to have had lots of extra rolling stock, for peak demands or for breakdowns. Does Amtrak have no spares, or do current rules require expensive and frequent inspections, etc that make it too expensive to maintain spares? Problem is, if a train breaks down, it seems to take at least several hours for it to get moving again. My impression is that even bus companies do better than that.
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby east point » Fri Jul 13, 2018 9:09 pm

As for shortage of equipment it was even worse at start of 2009. The 60 some rebuilds of out of service AM-1s immediately increased ridership.
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby mtuandrew » Fri Jul 13, 2018 9:26 pm

Amtrak has spares enough to throw together at least one full LD from NYP, CHI, and perhaps other terminals, and sometimes two full LD trainsets, and a number of Regional cars at bases where Amtrak runs short-distance trains. If they had assurance that each train would make schedule within half an hour, most of those cars could spend their time on the road - or actively getting rebuilt at Beech Grove & Bear, or being repurposed for new routes or different types of service (e.g. a Slumbercoach concept.)
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby eolesen » Fri Jul 13, 2018 11:12 pm

charlesriverbranch wrote:If Amtrak's board believed in customer service, they wouldn't have hired a CEO from the airline industry,


And yet, Delta continually tops the charts for service and profitability among US carriers.

Feel free to continue to knock airlines as a benchmark or competitor, but do remember that each of the Big Four airlines carries more passengers before lunchtime each day than Amtrak does all day. I think they’ve learned something about setvice, pricing, technology and marketing.
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby R36 Combine Coach » Sat Jul 14, 2018 12:38 am

JoeG wrote: Or might some trains remain as luxury-priced, luxury-serviced "getting there is half the fun" vacation trips?
That would be The Canadian, a flagship transcontinental luxury service. I see the Builder as (somewhat) an American version of the flagship Canadian, running across national parks and scenic portions of the Northwest and with a heritage back to 1929.
Since my friend continues to chain smoke nonstop, she is probably an Alco.
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Sat Jul 14, 2018 7:23 am

LD trains simply have no economic and very little social impact in twenty first century USA.

Our economy is presently at full employment; will there be "pain" from displacement for some Amtrak employees?, yes but "C'est la Vie". Is there legislated or collectively bargained relief for those adversely affected employees? YES. Is there assistance for displaced employees such as Station Agents who would need to relocate to exercise their seniority? Pretty sure there would be under New York Dock.

Will the "little old lady" from Williston have to find another way to get to the Specialist physician in Minneapolis she needs to see? Yes. If there is enough social outcry for relief in these situations, the "pain" could be alleviated for far less than the $400M I hold leaves the cookie jar in support of the LD's by means of establishing subsidized bus routes along those of the discontinued trains. Lest we not forget, there is NO Amtrak station inaccessible by highway.

Will those who find the journey part, if not most, of the travel experience be adversely affected with their pastime eliminated? Yes; "sorry 'bout that". After all, does Delta Airlines operate "nostalgia flights" with DC-6's, "Stews"; young and unmarried serving First Class meals (complete with the complimentary pack of three cigarettes to give me a headache) with TSA formalities being waived? "Uh, not exactly" (I can't think of when I last flew Delta; they don't hub in Chicago. Oh I guess I could when I go to Atlanta, but then "I know my way around United's Terminals 1 and 2 at ORD; darned if I even know what Delta uses - and I could care less).

Now the "wild card"; uh those 535 of "our finest men, and so we elect them again and again" who dwell "under the Dome"? At present, I think the sentiment has been developed that they want to see and fund rail passenger service infrastructure that is relevant to 21st century needs - and around here we all know what that is - and what it aint'. However, we all know how the climate in that building can change "just like that", but at the moment, get that Purchase Order in with Procurement for some fifty Adios drumheads (and just think of the buck that could be turned auctioning them off after the deed is done).
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby R&DB » Sat Jul 14, 2018 9:34 am

LD trains probably only have a future if they are re-invented. People take the train by choice. The future of LD trains is dependent upon enough people making that choice and making the operation efficient enough to turn a profit. ( Or at least break even.) The luxury route is possibly one way to go with appropriate pricing. All comparisons to air or bus travel should be ignored. Air is about speed and bus is about price. Quality of service should be paramount and should exceed 1st class air. Coach is still necessary for the shorter haul passengers on the LD trains.
Dining should be full service and purchased with the ticket whether sleeper or coach. Menu selections should be available with ticket purchase. (Giving commissary better info on what to load on board) Special food instructions (vegetarian, kosher, halal, allergies) should be selected with ticket purchase. All diner meals should be cooked to order. Cafe/lounge fare should be purchased on-board.
Another consideration is On-Time performance. This must be addressed with the host railroads. Congress mandated that passenger trains have dispatch priority over freight trains in the original Amtrak legislation. The Class 1s have been ignoring this for decades and it needs to be enforced. Where necessary perhaps Amtrak could invest in infrastructure improvements on the host roads where chronic choke points exist. Or perhaps tax incentives to the hosts to alleviate the infrastructure caused delays. The Class 1s seem to be able to get time-sensitive stuff through on time but don't see people in the same way. If this is a monetary decision maybe there needs to be a way to make passenger traffic more profitable to the host roads.
The more scenic routes should have suitable equipment for viewing.
All in all, transforming the LD trains into luxury cruise lines on rails, priced accordingly, may be the only solution to saving them. The only other solution is to do the same thing but privatize it.
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby JoeG » Sat Jul 14, 2018 10:28 am

In the Amtrak era, several operators have tried luxury "cruise trains." They all failed. It would be neat to see one succeed, but I don't know what a company, or Amtrak, would have to do to succeed at this. I am assuming that the expensive Canadian service is profitable, but I don't know that. The Alaska RR seems to make money with its partnership with cruise lines but that isn't really a long distance service.
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby ryanov » Sat Jul 14, 2018 11:07 am

Another topic where people who formerly rode trains around don't care to fight for them in this era, similar to all of the other "gifts" from previous generations. "I got mine, sorry about yours." Amtrak's funding is a pittance per capita, and provides a valuable service to many, is safer than highway travel, and so on and so forth. There are monied interests that want trains eliminated, and apparently a large percentage of the railroad.net audience is happy to help them do their bidding. I guess this site never billed itself as pro-railroad, so maybe that was my mistake.
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby SouthernRailway » Sat Jul 14, 2018 12:16 pm

ryanov wrote: There are monied interests that want trains eliminated, and apparently a large percentage of the railroad.net audience is happy to help them do their bidding. I guess this site never billed itself as pro-railroad, so maybe that was my mistake.


Sounds like you get your railroad news from Alex Jones at Infowars. "Monied interests" opposing trains sounds like a conspiracy theory.

Of course most everyone on this site is interested in railroads and is "pro-railroad" in that most everyone likes trains and wants more of them.

Some of us, such as me, would prefer to free Amtrak and other passenger rail from the shackles of government, and don't see a need to use money inefficiently. That doesn't make me or others anti-rail at all; I'm as pro-passenger train as anyone else. I just think that if there were a way to free Amtrak and other passenger rail systems from the annual need to beg for funds from an often-hostile government, they'd be better off, in part because they wouldn't be micro-managed by "deplorables" who have no idea how railroads work. I haven't found a way to do that, but to the extent that running Amtrak more efficiently reduces the need for tax dollars, without cutting into the number and frequencies of trains or the basic service I get, fine. So to the extent that I can still get a hot dinner on my Amtrak long-distance trips, if it costs zero in tax dollars, great!
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Re: Do Amtrak LD trains have a future?

Postby adamj023 » Sat Jul 14, 2018 12:20 pm

Amtrak should look at acquiring the new Train and Airplane hybrid vehicles.

They can use airplane for the long haul then use the railroad for the shorter haul routes where airplane doe not make sense.

Anderson now has train and airplane experience and woild be a CEO capable of pulling this together. Several companies are now marketing available train and airplane hybrids.

Monied interests have always been involved with Railroads. The railroads were extremely profitable back in the old days and widely used.

After deregulation of the airline industry, the airlines eventually changed over to profitability after multiple bankruptcies.
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