• Amtrak Expansion Plan

  • 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

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  by Tadman
 
I think we're still missing the forest for the trees. All this talk of building more tracks. Amtrak can't even figure out how to pay market rates for the slots they have, let alone money to build another track!

Think of it this way: Private car rates are something like $3/mile. So let's pretend the average LD train is 3 coach, 3 sleeper, 3 non-rev, 2 engine. 11 units, $3/mile, 800 miles Chicago to New York, you get a track slot for $26,400. (We know this isn't exact, but let's just play with some numbers). We know Amtrak pays so far under market rate that the class 1's don't care to lift a finger. Figure Amtrak maybe pays $15,000. If the frequency per day is 1x each way, Amtrak shorts the class 1's $20,000/day or $7.3m/year per route.

So now Amtrak has decided they want to run on time, come heck or high water. They can either find $7.3m/year extra to pay market rate, $10m+ extra to pay above market to ensure priority, or they can find $1m/mile ($800m to New York) to lay track.The payoff in that situation is 80 years.

The correct answer, as we can see, is to pay at/above market rate. Carriers like Norfolk Southern and CSX exist for one reason: to be paid to move flanged wheels down the railway and make a profit better than cost of capital. That's it and that's all. Nothing more or less. Ergo, a giant step to getting priorty is to pay for it on the tracks that exist.

Consider this: how big of a customer would Amtrak be in the hierarchy of a Class 1 if they paid market rate? Where would Amtrak's annual billings stand up against Ford, GM, US Steel, Maersk, COSCO, et al? Probably pretty well.

Here's another parallel: pretend you ride the subway every day, 45 minutes to work. It's rush hour and you have to stand most days. Do you (a) pay NYCTA or CTA $1m to buy you a new railcar; (b) give some guys $20 to get up and give you his seat?
  by Arborwayfan
 
I think I agree with Tadman. Find the operating cash to pay for guaranteed OT performance. Since the schedules mostly assume that Amtrak trains move from A to B as fast as they can, limited only by acceleration and speed limit, pay the hosts enough to get them to do that. Part of the additional cost would be paid by additional passengers or the same number of passengers willing to pay higher fares. The beauty of the solution is that it leaves the RRs to decide where to get the capacity. Do they slow their other trains down or move them to different times of day? Do they arrange an intermodal to run as the first section of an Amtrak train at a speed that keeps it just 10 minutes or so behind the Amtrak, putting two in one slot and incidentally given them an incentive to keep the Amtrak train on time? Do they invest in new sidings or signalling systems? Amtrak wouldn't have to care.

Obstacle to this: for some reason, probably connected to elected official's desire to associate their name with a big construction project, it is a lot easier to get capital money than operating money. So you get the spectacle of the state and nation paying for specific track and signal upgrades but Amtrak still being delayed or not being allowed to go faster. Think Chicago-StLouis. If the railroad were getting twice as much per train, but would lose half of it for each late train and/or for not having the speeds that were promised, all those trains would be on time on 90 or 100 mph schedules. Instead, the RR got the benefit and still claims not to be able to deliver.
  by gokeefe
 
I would hazard a guess the on a per mile basis Amtrak is paying one tenth of the private car rate +/- 20% of that one tenth.
  by troffey
 
Which, if I remember how to to do math, means $0.24-$0.36 a mile?
  by STrRedWolf
 
Tadman wrote: Thu May 14, 2020 12:03 pm Double track is not necessarily a good use of funds. It costs a lot to lay and a lot to maintain. As signal systems advance, the busiest mains have gone from 4 to 3 to 2 tracks. The same trend has seen average mains go from 2 to 1 track with generous passing sidings.

Sometimes double track just isn't necessary on a route. Consider the route to Grand Rapids or Detroit. There is and probably never will be enough trains to necessitate double track on either route, despite the fact that the Detroit line is a rising star in the system.

I would much rather see that money used to create passing sidings at good locations and perhaps some key stations.
What happens when a train breaks down in single track territory?

What happens when that train that breaks down needs a rescue engine?

What if that rescue engine is several hours away?

And what if an Amtrak consist with passengers is stuck until that train is rescued and clears the way?

Now tell me how much delay is caused by a third party train breaking down in single track territory.

Double tracking is good because it reduces that delay. It does not eliminate it (hazmat consists and trespasser strikes require shutting it all down) but it definitely shortens it.

Now, you want Amtrak to pay market rates? Fine. Market rate on minimum double-track milage. Otherwise cut rate. Want the extra cash? Build the second track. Don't want to run it? Too bad, you're in a contract to carry Amtrak.
  by David Benton
 
Only figures I recall is that Amtrak pays around$ 1 per train mile , and it was in relation to Amtrak charging $ 1 per car mile for freight on the NEC. God knows how long ago that was , but there was a discussion one here comparing the 2 rates.
  by west point
 
2 Main Tracks not double track operating current of traffic is the way to go. Our posters here forget that one main track often has to be placed out of service for planned maintenance. Sometimes unplanned maintenance. Some examples are the present restrictions cancelling the Palmetto on the CSX "A" line for maintenance this week and other weeks . Also the 5 week JAN - FEB every year of Crescent disruptions south of Atlanta. With 2 MT Amtrak can always pass the maintenance locations with minimal delays. Yes there will be some absolute work windows when cross overs have to be fixed such as has happened on the surf line between LAX and San Diego.

IMHO those routes that end up with at least 2 trains opposite approximately 12 hours apart really need the 2 MT . That way both trains can almost always operate. Maintenance windows on one track will cause some delays for freight trains but not that great. Granted on certain routes a 3rd main track or at least long sidings are needed. I am thinking of the Empire corridor Albany - Toledo and also the south of the lake 3rd main track, CHI = MKE, For 2 MT thinking of Michigan trains, CHI - STL, CHI - Carbondale / Memphis, FtWorth = SAS. South Florida as well.

An example of the benefits of 2 MT can be found on the Crescent route CLT - Greensboro . In the past the Crescent often took delays between those 2 stations. Now it is all 2 MT. Tonight #19 gained almost 42 minutes. I will acknowledge that the temporary closing of the Linwood hump with fewer NS freights going there may have something to do with the make up time keeping ?

For routes with only one Amtrak train per day first the day time portions need the 2 MT sections as work at night by any freight RR is not very often happening unless it is a several day absolute work window.
  by eolesen
 
Track isn't free. It has to be inspected and maintained... As long as there's a detour available to keep freight moving, there's really not much of a justification to have it just because it looks cool...
  by Tadman
 
STrRedWolf wrote: Thu May 14, 2020 5:58 pm What happens when a train breaks down in single track territory?

What happens when that train that breaks down needs a rescue engine?

What if that rescue engine is several hours away?

And what if an Amtrak consist with passengers is stuck until that train is rescued and clears the way?

Now tell me how much delay is caused by a third party train breaking down in single track territory.

Double tracking is good because it reduces that delay. It does not eliminate it (hazmat consists and trespasser strikes require shutting it all down) but it definitely shortens it.

Now, you want Amtrak to pay market rates? Fine. Market rate on minimum double-track milage. Otherwise cut rate. Want the extra cash? Build the second track. Don't want to run it? Too bad, you're in a contract to carry Amtrak.
These are all really nice what ifs, and I'm sure if we had a million monkeys in a room with typewriters we could get a thesis on railroad what-ifs. But the railroads have plenty of accountants and engineers, and they run those scenarios all the time. The numbers indicate that single track CTC is far more economical. If double track and protects every 20 miles made sense, they'd do it. And the ultimatum you present is a false one. If Amtrak were to offer that ultimatum to the Class 1's, they'd find a way to challenge the basic Amtrak model. Keep in mind, the 1971 legislation is long gone and deregulation has happened. Every day, the legal requirement to run passenger trains gets weaker and weaker.

Also, consider the other countries. In Great Britain, you get off the main trunks like WCML or ECML (HS1, GWR, etc...) and it's often single track. Same thing in Spain, Sweden, etc... Even in the heyday of passenger trains in North America, the amount of single track was copious. The Great Northern, Northern Pacific, Canadian Pacific, et al... ran the Builder, Star, NCL, and Canadian all on hundreds of miles of single track. SP's Daylight was once one of the most profitable passenger trains and it ran on single track.

It boils down to a state of good repair (which we all know isn't there) and paying market rates (which we all know isn't happening).
  by gokeefe
 

Tadman wrote:Keep in mind, the 1971 legislation is long gone and deregulation has happened. Every day, the legal requirement to run passenger trains gets weaker and weaker.
I'm not convinced this is true but would want to make a very close read of the decision in AAR v. USDOT to be sure. Amtrak has guaranteed statutory protections which allow them to compel access via proceedings at the STB.

While I would agree of course that the RPSA mandate has expired it has been supplanted by a new scheme that provides an elective option to a government corporation. What the residual rights (if any) are beyond that could be subject to significant debate. At a minimum there is a fair amount of public interest still preserved through the current scheme which as I recall applies to any U.S. common carrier.



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  by Tadman
 
There was a court case a few years ago that really took the teeth out of the enforcement mechanism. I don't remember exactly what it was, but it hurt.

If the law were so in Amtrak's favor, why haven't they gone to court and kicked some a$*? Because it's not. No business worth their salt waives their rights like that for 50 years just to be nice guys.

There's also the issue of preferred stock, held by the same Class 1's. A few years ago they made noise about a shareholder lawsuit. Assuming the teeth to the schedule enforcement are back, the Class 1's could make a lot of noise otherwise. This might include shareholder rights lawsuits, and it might also include Class 1 inspectors showing up at Amtrak terminals with a microscope.

Remember what Amtrak did to Iowa Pacific when they didn't want IP to run the Hoosier State? CN could do that tomorrow to Amtrak.
  by gokeefe
 
I'm of two minds about the shareholder stock. While I agree there is potential for the railroads to have an interesting case in court I don't think they would like the answer they got.

Why? Because there is a chance that the courts might rule that their continued ownership of these shares implies a continued participation in the operation of passenger rail service and consequently also means there is a fiduciary responsibility on the part of the railroads not to defraud their own shareholders of honest services. This would mean that by intentionally providing poor service to Amtrak the the railroads were hurting their own shareholders.

Basically the risk is that the courts will say they can't have it both ways. If they're out of passenger trains and the Amtrak stock is a form of token compensation then fine. If they're still in through their "ownership" of Amtrak stock then the entire scheme is a fraud perpetrated by the railroads, their shareholders and the United States.

The courts could declare the arrangement an unconstitutional taking by the government breakup the company and leave the railroads on the hook for every penny the government has ever spent on the entire operation. I would imagine there is close to $100B in accumulated cash liabilities. If you include appreciation in the fair market value of the real estate holdings we could be talking closer to $500B.

Somebody would have to go resurrect the corporate carcass of PennCentral to receive everything ("Here's the keys to your brand new trainsets, enjoy!"). I guess it would be champagne all around at American Premier Underwriters.

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  by Tadman
 
gokeefe wrote: Thu May 28, 2020 9:52 pm I'm of two minds about the shareholder stock. While I agree there is potential for the railroads to have an interesting case in court I don't think they would like the answer they got.

Why? Because there is a chance that the courts might rule that their continued ownership of these shares implies a continued participation in the operation of passenger rail service and consequently also means there is a fiduciary responsibility on the part of the railroads not to defraud their own shareholders of honest services. This would mean that by intentionally providing poor service to Amtrak the the railroads were hurting their own shareholders.
This analysis is interesting but oversimplified. Each party could argue exigencies for a decade, literally. That might affect Amtrak's ability to borrow money against new rolling stock and/or expand service. It could also upset some state sponsors. Guaranteed Nebraska has far more interest in keeping UP happy than Amtrak or the feds. Same with Texas and BNSF.

It's not necessarily about the verdict as much as it is about the decade-long fight. And the political will to continue it from Washington. What if President Trump gets up on the wrong side of the bed and decides to "make a deal" with a Class 1? We'll drop Amtrak if you go Soo-Line style and carry passsengers in a caboose 1x/day? Or carry passengers yard-to-yard in a filthy and unlit Budd car, Georgia Railroad style. Because that deal has literally been made before in both cases. We could overnight see one 45yo amfleet on the end of a junk freight covering each long distance route.
gokeefe wrote: Thu May 28, 2020 9:52 pm The courts could declare the arrangement an unconstitutional taking by the government breakup the company and leave the railroads on the hook for every penny the government has ever spent on the entire operation. I would imagine there is close to $100B in accumulated cash liabilities. If you include appreciation in the fair market value of the real estate holdings we could be talking closer to $500B.
This analysis, on the other hand, is not realistic. You can't just hand back liability like that unless the founding carriers signed an agreement to indemnify the other party. Not only would it be bad in this case, it would set a nasty precedent for future cases.

In some cases, the railroad has gone through bankruptcy, shedding obligations. In other cases, non-signatory roads are now part of signatory roads. In a third set of cases, some roads joined later. How do they reconcile how much liability goes through each carrier depending on when/how it joined or didn't?
  by gokeefe
 
Ok I'll go with that. In essence if the courts voided the legality of Amtrak it would amount to "government error in your favor".

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  by gokeefe
 

Tadman wrote:What if President Trump gets up on the wrong side of the bed and decides to "make a deal" with a Class 1? We'll drop Amtrak if you go Soo-Line style and carry passsengers in a caboose 1x/day? Or carry passengers yard-to-yard in a filthy and unlit Budd car, Georgia Railroad style. Because that deal has literally been made before in both cases. We could overnight see one 45yo amfleet on the end of a junk freight covering each long distance route.
It's not quite that simple. Amtrak is a Congressionally mandated program. Presidential authority over the railroad is actually limited through the corporation which has a Board of presidential appointees on fixed terms (as I recall).

So not only is the spending required by law but because of the corporate structure the entire company is actually insulated from direct interference by the White House. Pretty surprising in many ways. Of course a phone call here and there is going to be answered and followed as requested but at the end of the day Amtrak has a very high degree of autonomy (by design I'm sure) from the rest of the government.

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