• Amtrak Service Upstate

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New York State.
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New York State.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by Schooltrain
The Sunday Post Standard carried an article that does not bode especially well for Amtrak service west of Albany. I've attached a link below. The gist of the piece is that a Congressman from Oklahoma (Ernest Istook) chairs a House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees the Amtrak budget. As one might guess, Mr. Istook is not particularly enthusiastic about maintaining rail passenger service since the only service in his state is a north-south spur from Fort Worth up to Oklahoma City. (I would guess the service was probably added in an effort to enlist his support.)

Probably a letter of support to any of our local Representatives and both Senators would be appropriate if we wish to see even the current level of service maintained along the Water Level Route.

LINK: http://www.syracuse.com/search/index.ss ... g#continue
Last edited by Schooltrain on Wed May 26, 2004 6:59 am, edited 2 times in total.

  by SimTrains
I don't know, I'm all for more trains through this area, but $1.8 billion from taxpayers in the 2005 fiscal year?????? When a company is doing sooooo bad that on top of the revenue they make, they also need $1.8 billion of our tax money, maybe it is time to let it go. Or, do we really need 4 eastbound and 4 westbound trains a day? Why not 2 in each direction, with double the coaches?

If this were any other company in the U.S., the government would just laugh at a request for $1.8 billion. I don't claim to have all the answers, but what they have going right now just isn't working.

  by Otto Vondrak
SimTrains- it's quite obvious you don't understand much about how Amtrak, or any other passenger operation in America works. They are all subsidized, and none of them turn a profit. Ever since the demise of Railway Mail and Express, this is the way it goes. Subsidize it, or forget it.


  by thannon
Speaking as a taxpayer and a railfan nowhere near Amtrak service....I wouldn't miss it.

Personally, I'd rather see the money put into freight ROW- then again; no one asked me.

Tom H>

  by SimTrains
Maybe I don't understand it, but what I do understand is that that $1.8 billion can be put to much better use!!!!!!!!!
  by bwparker1
SimTrains wrote:Maybe I don't understand it, but what I do understand is that that $1.8 billion can be put to much better use!!!!!!!!!
I have to add my 2 cents. $1.8 billion is a drop in the bucket when compared to highway and airport subsidizing. That's right, they're subsidized in the same manner as Amtrak or Amshack, whatever you prefer. I think the house just passed a Highway funding bill that approved over $630 Billion dollars for road spending. I won't go on the record to say that that amount it is just for one fiscal year or for multiple, but it pales in comparison with how much blood and wasted time is shed in congress and committees over whether Amtrak should get 1.8 Billion vs. 900 million, whether AMtrak is a good use of tax payer dollars, etc. $2.00 a gallon and up gas is here to stay, and as hard science makes headway into the shortsighted minds of our current politicians, (regardless of party) Rail and public transportation efforts will make better economic sense. I'm not proclaiming that they'll ever make a profit, but I'd rather see us develop high density transportation corridors with tax dollars than widen and widen and build and build highways into oblivion. Here in State College, they are trying complete a brand new 4 lane highway, cut and blasted into raw earth, one of the last capital projects of its type for probably quite awhile. In the same manner as the big dig, the cost overuns are enormous, into the 10's of millions of dollars each year and they just discovered an acid rock drainage problem that is compounding that spending and ruining the drinking water supply. Sorry to rant, I'll get off my soapbox but it frusterates me when the general population and politicians a) have no long range vision to the future needs of transportation in our country keeping in mind that fossil fuels are quickly being exausted and b) those interested in railroading see 1.8 billion of taxpayer money towards Amtrak as wasted fiscal spending. We have to support rails, profitable or not, because they built our country and will have a more active role as our country grows and non-renewable fuels dwindle.

  by Schooltrain
Speaking as a taxpayer and a railfan nowhere near Amtrak service....I wouldn't miss it.
I suppose this is the reverse of NIMBY. Since it's not in my backyard, I don't want it. I would dare say it would be an interesting world if we all got to pick and choose where our individual tax dollars went. For instance, should people without kids not pay school taxes? The fact of the matter is that we all derive benefit from Amtrak, whether we ever ride it or not. Every rail car full of passengers that pulls into any city served by Amtrak represents multiple private vehicles not clogging the roads and not guzzling gasoline.

Brian is right when he says $1.8 billion is a drop in the bucket in the Federal budget. Consider that thus far we have spent 87 times that amount prosecuting just the war in Iraq. New York State alone spends $14 billion for school aid and the Federal tab for No Child Left Behind, with only partial funding, is something like $67 billion. I mention these as examples of totally separate kinds of activities, each of which benefits us, no matter how indirectly, in one way or another.

The fact is that with the advent of the automobile and "free", i.e. government subsidized, highways rail passenger service ceased to be a money making venture. The boom of prosperity after World War II only hastened the process. Thus, the glory roads of old (PRR, NYC, DLW, Erie, etc.) were only too glad to unload every unprofitable route that the ICC would allow. Those routes that did produce revenue, or that the ICC forced their continued service, saw an ever declining level of service. As the government continued to tear up inner cities for arterial highways and pave over rural America in the name of Interstate Defense highways, we turned our back on rail passenger service until all that was left by 1970 was an enfeebled relic of the past. I read once that when Amtrak placed its first order for new passenger coaches, it was the first such order placed by a U.S. carrier since 1954.

Like Brian, I, too, will stop the rant and get off the soapbox. I think it's of considerable significance that 1970, Amtrak's birth year, was the last year that the U.S. produced more oil than we consumed. That was the year the Texas Railway Commission took all limits off oil production as the wells in that state began to play out. I can't help but think that $2 gasoline will look very affordable if/when OPEC and other oil producers ever do another embargo against the U.S. If you were old enough to drive in 1973-74 or in 1980, you remember the lines, rationing and flight to mass transit that occurred. $1.8 billion to maintain service across the entire country seems like a reasonable price to help maintain some independence from foreign oil.

Thanks for listening. :)
  by RailBus63
My two cents, for what it's worth ...

I'm not opposed to spending the money for Amtrak - as others have noted, all passenger services are subsidized. I do believe, however, that we can and should be getting more for our money.

The Empire Service is a case in point - the focus and the money go almost entirely towards the Albany-NYC corridor. The service west of Schnectady is an afterthought, and the schedules are geared for those going to and from NYC. Want to ride Amtrak from Syracuse to Buffalo or Niagara Falls for a day trip? Forget it. And the transit times are ridiculous. Nine hours to go from Syracuse to Boston? I have family in both Boston and Toronto, but I refuse to double my transit time by taking Amtrak (not to mention the idea of having to rely on The Late Shore Limited).

We should have a true regional rail system that allows travelers to get from the upstate cities to someplace other than NYC. As a start, the existing service could be restructured using Albany-Rensselaer as the center of a hub-and-spoke route map. With a relatively minimal investment the service could be rescheduled and expanded on the Albany-Springfield-Worcester-Boston route, which would tap into a market that is grossly underserved by Amtrak today. Service on the Albany-Utica-Syracuse-Rochester-Buffalo-Toronto corridor could be revised to allow more travel options for those who are going somewhere other than NYC. Connections should also be strengthened and promoted with bus companies all along the routes to encorage greater use of the combined bus/rail system - this should be the logical starting point for those who advocate new rail service to Binghamton, Watertown, etc.

None of this is new, by the way. An article in Trains magazine back in 1986 proposed a nationwide hub-and-spoke system for Amtrak. It is unfortunate that even though Amtrak has had to repeatedly fight for its life over the years, it is still largely built around the same type of failed route system that it inherited 33 years ago. We need to try some new ideas.

Jim D.
  by march hare
First, the basic fact of life: Passenger trains don't make money. Don't now, won't in the future, and many didn't in the past--many of the trains of yesteryear were marginally profitable at best, with much of the profit coming from mail and express service. Jim Hill of the Great Northern said passenger trains were like a man's nipple--neither useful nor decorative. (I disagree with at least half of that--which half varies from day to day)

BTW, the same was true of Greyhound up until they disintegrated a few years ago. From a financial stanpoint, many bus runs were a package express truck with seats on the roof. Greyhound package express paid the bills. Fed Ex and UPS did as much to bring the dog down as their union did.

Expanding on the facts of life--nobody else makes money on passenger trains either. Not the Japanese, not the French, not the Germans. At best, they cover out of pocket expenses with fare receipts. None of them cover capital improvements from fares. They view passenger subsidies the way we view the fire department--an essential public service. The level of service (how many firehouses can we afford?) is a valid point for debate, but the notion that the operation should be profitable is considered nutty.

And passenger rail isn't very heavily subsidized here. Amtrak tickets include a lower per-passenger subsidy than practically anywhere else in the world.

To a point, I think the europeans are right. In the heavily populated parts of the US, I think passenger rail should be subsidized, fairly heavily. At a minimum, that would include the NE Corridor with all its branches, the clusters around Chicago, LA and Seattle/Portland, maybe some developing ones in FL and TX.

Beyond that,m it's all politics. You get a budget through the Senate by getting 51 votes (25.5 states worth of senators). The clusters I just mentioned only get you 19 states. In the real world where nobody gets exactly what they want, that means you cajole, wheedle, flatter and bribe (er, uhh, legally of course) a few others to get over the top.

1.8 billion bucks sounds like a lot until you compare it to other things the government does. That money would buy you maybe two new airline terminals--not new airports, mind you, just a couple of glitzy new buildings. It would pay for about a week in Iraq, if Bush's figures are to be believed. More like three days if you bleieve the GAO. It pales by comparison with what we gave the airline industry (GAVE, not loaned) after 9/11.

Looked at another way, it is about six dollars per American citizen. A big Mac value meal for two, but only with regular fries. A pack of cigarettes, maybe. A new faceplate for your cell phone.

Closer to home, comparing the Empire corridor west of Albany to south of Albany, look at some demographics and history. Amtrak has tried in the past too build ridership west of Albany with westbounds in the AM. Nobody came. NYC could never get anybody to ride on that timing, either--look at an old timetable. South of Albany, the train is in many ways the best way to travel between the state capital and the state's largest city. It's fast, and somebody else parks it for you when you get off. And the ride's really cool, too.

Not so west of Albany. Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo added together are less than two million people. And even at 100 mph, it's a long way to Buffalo. That is never going to support the level of service between NYC and Albany.

The comparison of Syracuse-Boston times is not really germane. The long transit time there is largely due to having to use the B&A to get over the Berkshires--a twisty, underengineered, RR if there ever was one. You can round trip Beantown in a car from Albany in the length of time the fastest passenger schedules ever made it one way.

  by Otto Vondrak
SimTrains- I think your view of the world and how Amtrak should operate is fairly narrow.

Everyone else- This topic is better suited for the Amtrak forum, since it appears we are debating the merits of Amtrak, and not of service in New York State.