• Do Long-Distance trains need sleepers?

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

Moderators: GirlOnTheTrain, mtuandrew, Tadman

  by Arborwayfan
If all the sleepers came off the long-distance trains, would those trains start losing more money, or less? What if the diners came off, too, since part of sleeper revenue is supposed to pay for food and diner costs?

Ridership: Even though many people on here (and many many more people who aren't railfans) would never take an overnight train ride in coach, people do. A typical LD train must have two or three times as many people in coach as in sleeper. (Picture the CZ with 3 coaches and 2 sleepers plus some spaces sold in the transition sleeper: each coach holds around 80, each sleeper holds around 45 if it's full, but there are usually some roommettes and/or bedrooms with just one passenger.) I have trouble imagining that many of the coach passengers would stop riding coach if the sleepers went away. A few could be hoping for a cheap onboard upgrade, which used to be common and is now really rare; a few could be riding coach one way and sleeper the other and be unwilling to ride coach both ways. But by and large coach pax are coach pax, willing to ride coach. Some might stop riding if there were no diner; plenty of coach pax eat in the diner some of the time. But dropping diners did not seem to dent even sleeper ridership, so that number is probably small.

Costs and Revenue: Do sleepers subsidize coach? I know the accounting is complicated and kind of arbitrary, but it seems like sleepers don't even come close to covering all diner costs associated with sleeper pax, let alone the whole cost of the diner, and certainly no extra revenue for the coaches.

Politics: Are there a lot of people who ride sleepers regularly and lobby their congresspersons effectively in a way that coach passengers don't? Could sleeper passengers be what keeps Nebraska's delegation etc voting for Amtrak?

So what about it: What if Amtrak pulled the sleepers off one or two single-level LD routes and reassigned them to the NEC overnight trains, no food, charge what the market will bear? What if Amtrak pulled the sleepers off one or two Superliner LD routes and used them for a train SF or Oakland and LA or a similar overnight run between a couple other Western cities the right distance apart? Beds are down when you board and down when you get off; cleanup is handled at the terminals. No food. Would the overnight sleepers be able to break even, possibly including paying higher rates to the host RRs because they were new trains?

And, main question in this thread, would the trains that lost their sleepers do better or worse financially?
  by gprimr1
You'd need to do some analysis on how much traffic is operating from Boston to Washington and back. I think it would be tough to sell a premium sleeper service for the three-hour service from Washington to New York.

For Boston to Washington, if there was demand, it would be worth looking into. You could look into launching something like the "Red Arrow" or "The Grand Express" two higher end trains that run between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Both depart between 10pm and Midnight and arrive in the morning. This though might be problematic for businessmen as a lot of people I know in my age group don't stay up past 10 pm. The Red Arrow departs at 11:55 pm and arrives at 8am. The distance between Boston and Washington and Moscow and St. Petersburg is only 2 miles different.

I'm not sure how doing away with sleepers and dining would work on the multi-day trains. That idea sounds more like how trains run in Japan, but you have transfers were you can buy food.

I would say Amtrak should look into getting some of the all sleeper trains that Russian Railways has. The open dorm format could give more people access to sleepers, but since there aren't private rooms, it's cheaper.
  by John_Perkowski
I’ve ridden, in the 90s and beyond, Omaha to Reno and Kansas City to LA


Are we very clear?
  by Arborwayfan
Col. Perkowski, we are very clear, but that's not the question. I'm not asking if sleeping-car passengers would ride coach instead. I'm asking if the coach passengers, who obviously exist and who probably don't care if there are sleepers on their train, provide enough revenue that a train without sleepers (and their costs and revenues) would need a lower operating subsidy or the same one or a higher one. And, I guess, indirectly, if the sleepers are there on the train because sleeper passengers pay enough to make the train lose less money or for some other reason.
  by gprimr1
I can categorically say I would not spend 2.5 days in coach riding from Chicago to the West Coast.
  by Greg Moore
I wonder how complicated things would be.
For example for I've done something like a dozen or more roundtrips on the Crescent to Atlanta. Being a cheap cuss. I'd take coach down, but pay to eat in the diner, and then sleeper back.

Take away the sleeper, I'm not riding coach down, since I'm not going to ride coach back.
Take away the diner, I'm not riding in either direction.

And, with the current policy on at least some of the single-level LD trains of "only sleepers can use the diner.. err sorry 1st class lounge" I won't take coach. For example, with my son at University of Buffalo, I had looked forward to at least a trip or two (not sure which direction) out there and I'd have taken coach, as long as I could eat in the diner. But their "improved" dining plan nixed that. (and yes, when I complained to Amtrak, I got a reply talking about their improved experience. Not sure how saying, "screw you, you can't eat in the diner" is supposed to improve things).

So, I'd say... yes, they do. And generally, diners. (I think trains like 66/67 can in fact do fine w/o a diner though).
  by David Benton
I would say its 50 -50 . Sleepers cost alot more but have a lot more costs too. I think sleeper are about 30 % of riders on average , weighted towards the longer distances. But then only 5 % of all riders are end to end on the longer LD trains.
I eould take the middle ground , and operate sleepers on nite sections only( where it enables a same day turn ). That way you get more sleepers avaliable on the nite sections , as a positive , vs the negative of passengers travelling more than a nite having to change seats/ trains. But nowadays most people are used to changing planes unless they are travelling hub to hub .
The number of passengers that are travelling more than one nite , that will only travel if in a sleeper , is probably in single digit %'s , vs more sleepers available per nite (mainly on Eastern routes ), could be a net positive.
  by SouthernRailway
I checked ticket prices for an upcoming trip that I am taking: $380 for a roomette for 1 (around $560 for 2) versus $120 and more for a coach seat.

So the price per square inch of space per mile seems pretty similar.

I’m guessing that sleeping cars have a higher occupancy or passengers with longer trips (the latter is definitely true and the former might be true) and are more profitable that way.

With the Flexible Dining changes, food service can’t cost that much, particularly as breakfast is straight out of a gas station along a highway.
  by bdawe
Sleeper trains are an international practice, not just an amtrak peculiarity, so I would be very hesitant to say that they should dropped, but they could probably be run more efficiently
  by west point
Someone should take the average revenue on one sleeper and one coach both full. Then compare those two. Figure about an arbitrary 10% more operating costs on a sleeper. Take the number of coach passengers possible in both an Amfleet-1 and -2. Compare that with a number of possible passenger in a sleeper. Then also reduce the number by 1/2 roomettes with only one person, Then figure 10% more needed for number of sleeper passengers. Good luck with the fuzzy math.

Now remember that almost all sleepers are even full or very near as oppose to coaches. The only route that does not have full sleepers is the Crescent south of Atlanta. We have no idea how many passengers do not travel on Amtrak because they cannot get sleeper space. As well how any persons take coach because they cannot get a sleeper.
  by SouthernRailway
west point wrote: Sat May 23, 2020 12:14 pm(comparison metrics)
Perfect post and exactly right.
Last edited by mtuandrew on Mon May 25, 2020 4:03 pm, edited 1 time in total. Reason: Shortened quote
  by mtuandrew
We know the vast majority of people who take overnight buses don’t have sleeper compartments. Same for redeye flights. It stands to reason they would do the same on trains. However - you’d artificially limit your price point. You’d also tarnish the intangible image of Amtrak as a more “refined” form of transport than Greyhound, able to charge higher rates; in short I think you’d start having trouble filling LD coach seats at the highest & most profitable buckets. Perhaps you could counteract that by offering parlor 1+ 1 seating (the Capitol Limited seems like the obvious choice here, or a new Broadway Limited) and running a concerted advertising campaign to promote the change.

If you’re talking about shortening LDs so they run exclusively in the daytime (the Palmetto/Pennsylvanian model) that’s a different story.
  by SouthernRailway
Great points, mtuandrew. Planes do have lie-flat seats, with partitions between them, and some airlines (Singapore for one) do have private rooms, FYI. So they offer sleeping space. I agree with you- and as other modes of transportation offer sleeping space at a price higher than coach, Amtrak should continue to.
Last edited by mtuandrew on Mon May 25, 2020 4:06 pm, edited 1 time in total. Reason: eliminated quote
  by mtuandrew
Once the new LDSL coaches come through, I hope Amtrak heeds our advice and offers something akin to a 32-seat Parlor or even a 48-seat 2+1 car. It wouldn’t be my first choice for sleeping arrangements (especially 2+1), but it certainly wouldn’t be my last. And if you’re wondering, I’d rather have the seat width & a private row than the absurdly long seat pitch and a shared row.

To Arborway’s original point - under Amtrak’s current route structure, yes we need sleepers. However, I don’t think we need duplicate trains with sleepers. One of the Silver Service trains could get parlor seating or Slumbercoaches or all Roomettes + one Special Room; a new Broadway could be parlor-seating-only; the Portland section of the Builder and the ATL-NOL Crescent could skew heavy toward parlor seats.
Last edited by mtuandrew on Mon May 25, 2020 4:07 pm, edited 1 time in total. Reason: Eliminated quote
  by Alphaboi
I don't think Amtrak should ditch their current sleepers; they need to add more sleepers they can be sold st a lower price point. Something economical for solo travelers. Open sections or couchette cars would work much better than parlor or 2:1 seating for overnight travel. Couchettes would also be a great option for families and small groups. Have a bistro car with a la carte food in addition (or instead) instead of a full service diner .

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