• 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 SouthernRailway
 
Couldn’t Congress authorize funds, but Trump could refuse to spend them?

I recall that during the Bush II years, (a Republican) Congress authorized some pretty massive grants for Amtrak, but the funds were never actually given to Amtrak. I don’t think W interfered, but I thought that simply authorizing funding doesn’t mean that the funds then appear: there are more steps needed.

I’m fuzzy on the details.
  by David Benton
 
I think Mr Perkowski often gives us the answer to that one .
218 + 51+1 . all 3 need to approve ???.
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
SouthernRailway wrote: Fri May 29, 2020 8:55 pm Couldn’t Congress authorize funds, but Trump could refuse to spend them?
Impoundment of funds goes back as far as Jefferson, and has been a doctrine with which Presidents have only had "mixed" success. But try they do, and Nixon tried the "impound" gambit; and one of the several agencies he tried it on was Amtrak.

But the Supremes had other ideas; handing down a Decision that if Congress has appropriated funds, you direct them to the agency to which they were appropriated. Today, there is enacted legislation severely limiting a President's power to "pull this stunt".
  by Literalman
 
"simply authorizing funding doesn’t mean that the funds then appear": correct—authorization is a necessary first step; then the funds must actually be appropriated. Then they have to be spent, and an obstructionist administration could decline to spend the appropriated funds, though I don't know what would happen to the money; I don't think it legally can be spent on anything except what it's appropriated for.
  by gokeefe
 
That's called impoundment and is addressed above.

The other point I was making with regard to the separate corporate structure is that it denies line item budget control over the company to the Executive Branch.

The grant is directed by Congress and the Treasury sends the funds to Amtrak and the has no say in expenditure.

It's a really good example of how to setup a "true" independent agency.

Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk

  by Jeff Smith
 
I propose we expand Amtrak to Juneau, AK. Enough with the "whither" Amtrak! :P
  by Tadman
 
Jeff Smith wrote: Mon Jun 01, 2020 7:45 am I propose we expand Amtrak to Juneau, AK. Enough with the "whither" Amtrak! :P
Noooooo! Alaska Railroad is a great operation. The feds pulled out thirty years ago (or more) and it's been uphill since then. I rode to Seward and back a few years ago and found the service and people absolutely amazing.

ARR is often (but not always) profitable even with passenger trains. Although those passenger trains are "tourist trains", often the riders are en-route to a tourist destination. I think that's a grey area. It's not a dinner train, it's not a museum, and they don't necessarily turn back after a few hours with all passengers on board. But most riders are vacationers.

It leads to an important point. The railroad is bite-sized by comparison to Amtrak or Class 1 freights. Management has a very visceral connection to the operations, between being nearby and under a mandate to actually make money. Management also knows that poor service will lead to stupendous loss of ridership, as most passengers are discretionary spenders. Management actively works to make things better every day.

I don't know 100% that privatisation is the answer, but the argument could be made that one organization headquartered out of Washington might not be the best tool for running corridor service on the west coast or long distance trains to Houston. We've all heard those stories of Wayne Johnston looking out his office to see if the Panama departed on time.

Perhaps the answer is of Amtrak being a overarching organization and operator of last resort. Local or regional agencies would take a much more active role in the day-to-day operation and delivery of service. For example, the Cascades already have their own branding, menu, equipment, etc... so why are the operation issues left to Amtrak in Washington? Hiring, promotions, employee manual, standards of service, etc... all come from Washington. If there was a "CEO of Cascades" or "CEO of PNW" under the mandate to increase ridership and increase farebox recovery, with more autonomy such as creating standards of service and overseeing hiring/HR, it seems like that person would be better equipped to manage/improve the offering.

Consider this similar to the military model: When there is a push for a new technology or capability, the different branches compete. The different locations compete. The defense contractors compete with each other. The contractors also somewhat compete with the different branches to see how far they can place people up the food chain. At one time, the Army made most of their own weapons in places like Albany and Rock Island. That's changed and now not only does General Dyanamics make things, they provide on-site support. We make a lot of jokes about $400 toilet seats, and I have first-hand experience with that garbage. But overall there is a sense that our military is effective and takes pride in competing for different initiatives.
  by mtuandrew
 
Interesting point re: regional executives, Tad. Last time I looked, Amtrak groups business units by type - LD, State-supported, NEC,
Commuter, Repair Service & Storage, Property Management and something like Miscellaneous Income come to mind. Would it help to have those business units to manage the types of trains, but regional trainmasters and customer quality managers based in NYP, Florida or somewhere else in the South, Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles to ensure service goes off without a hitch?
  by Tadman
 
You make a good point. They've always had some scheme of regional management. But that regional manager has never been more than a vassal to Washington, and perhaps that's the difference. I struggle with the same question.

But if we made Cascades or Wolverine into a fully independent business, completely controlled by the state or region, the context is different. Imagine if David Gunn was tapped to become the CEO of Wolverine Trains, LLC. The current federal funding would remain the same. But he could then review all facets of the operation. Routes, funding, schedules, menus, rolling stock, engines...

We often have a discussion here about "what is business class" or "should we use geeps with HEP or monocoque specialty engines?" and the real answer is that each region and service has its own right answer. We also have discussions about the Northwest Indiana quagmire, and we know there are multiple passenger mains. We know Amtrak and NICTD do not play well together. We talk a lot about the failure to get PTC and HrSR running effectively east of Kalamazoo. These are problems that an independent CEO and organization answering to Michigan could evaluate with a regional or local perspective.

Consider similar issues out west: Respected memeber Erik Halstead has noted that load imbalances make the Eugene and Vancouver "branches" of Cascades awkward to coordinate with the main trunk. There was a terrible crash a few years back in Washington, and lots of people suggested that the training regimen played a part. The F59 wore out and ran years past design life, breaking down and blocking the main. The Talgo was an interesting idea but has, right or wrong, been blamed for crash integrity issues and is maintenance intensive. It only saves 15 minute over the Starlight with Superliners. These are all also local issues. A Cascades CEO and organization, independent of Washington and directly responsible for people and rolling stock could make changes much quicker and with a better focus on regional issues.

For example, in two weeks, the Cascades Organization could lease a few secondhand cars and try out Eugene shuttles rather than full Talgo runs. They could work with laser focus between US and Canadian customs people to improve border crossing times. They could work with BC ferries, WS ferries, and Alaska ferries to better coordinate services. They could literally camp out in Vancouver and try to address that traffic jam at the bridge. They could lease motors from WCE or Sounder to cover for a few F59 in the shop until the new power arrives. You would never see Joe Boardman standing in the rain by the Vancouver bridge. If there was a power shortage, Amtrak's people would just send something from Beech or Chicago that is equally rode hard.

All of these suggestions are something Joe Boardman could do, but a guy like that is busy with so many other problems. He only has so much bandwidth. Do the Washington DC dog & pony show. PR and Marketing for the whole country. Deal with whatever rolling stock fiasco is happening now. Deal with an cantankerous Norfolk Southern. Fight a PR war with Bennitt Levin. On and on and on. Wolverine and Cascades, among many regional services, are so far from the mind in Washington (and Beech Grove, and LaGrange, and Erie, and Sacramento, and Bear, and Wilmington...).

Turn the question around: Why doesn't Amtrak run every commuter service? They are completely competent to run those trains safely, and have in many services. But the locals want what the locals want, so they run their own agency. Running Metra from Washington would be a disaster. They'd hardly get a schedule change in, while the NEC operations would be the golden children.
  by Tadman
 
And George, it seems like you're a big NNERPA fan. They've done good stuff. Imagine if they were not tethered to Amtrak. NNERPA becomes Downeaster-Rails LLC. Now they can lease sets from MBTA, Amtrak, Via, whatever. A few years ago when Maine Eastern was still running, they could've worked with that crew and had a seamless service. We all discuss the failings of Iowa Pacific, and mostly forget Maine Eastern was an okay player. Now you don't have to worry about who food is contracted out to. Operation could be contracted out to PAR or whoever operates MBTA, as they already know PAR and work with them. Maintenance could go to MBTA, Amtrak, M&E, Via in Montreal, PAR, CMQ has a giant shop in Derby...
  by Jeff Smith
 
<Sigh> lol. I wasn't serious about Juneau, you know :wink:. I just wanted to get us back into the expansion topic, not the whither / operations discussion, although worthwhile. Perhaps someone would like to split the thread? I'm sure we've had this discussion elsewhere!
  by Tadman
 
But you brought up a really good point! We have a successful arguably-profitable government operation that we should learn from!
  by Pensyfan19
 
Tadman wrote: Mon Jun 01, 2020 12:08 pm And George, it seems like you're a big NNERPA fan. They've done good stuff. Imagine if they were not tethered to Amtrak. NNERPA becomes Downeaster-Rails LLC. Now they can lease sets from MBTA, Amtrak, Via, whatever. A few years ago when Maine Eastern was still running, they could've worked with that crew and had a seamless service. We all discuss the failings of Iowa Pacific, and mostly forget Maine Eastern was an okay player. Now you don't have to worry about who food is contracted out to. Operation could be contracted out to PAR or whoever operates MBTA, as they already know PAR and work with them. Maintenance could go to MBTA, Amtrak, M&E, Via in Montreal, PAR, CMQ has a giant shop in Derby...
Well since this is an expansion plan, could it be possible for Downeaster-Rails LLC to run services beyond Portland, such as going to Bangor or even Halifax, NS to connect with Via Rail (or at least up to any point along Via's route where Amtrak could connect) or even service from Boston to Berlin, NH?
  by gokeefe
 

Tadman wrote:And George, it seems like you're a big NNERPA fan. They've done good stuff. Imagine if they were not tethered to Amtrak. NNERPA becomes Downeaster-Rails LLC.
Yes I most certainly am. I would note that the scenario you describe is what I have effectively seen in action with the Downeaster. NNEPRA gets from Amtrak what they've contracted for. Plain and simple. They are most definitely in charge not Amtrak. There's a respectful chain of command of course but that helps and doesn't hinder.

You would be very surprised at how little is decided by Washington. I've never once heard even a hint of that come up aside from the funding formula.

I know they have their issues and disagreements but the service that you see right now has been shaped by the State of Maine with the primary limitations being that NNEPRA doesn't own equipment and Amtrak has to work within the limitations of the host railroad (MBTA tends to have more boundaries/rules than Pan Am).

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  by bostontrainguy
 
gokeefe wrote: Mon Jun 01, 2020 6:03 pm
Tadman wrote:And George, it seems like you're a big NNERPA fan. They've done good stuff. Imagine if they were not tethered to Amtrak. NNERPA becomes Downeaster-Rails LLC.
Yes I most certainly am.
Funny but the old joke up here was "You can't ride a train in Maine unless you are a potato!"
:wink:
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