• 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
 
So it seems like there are a number of best practices moving forward.

One is from the WSDOT forumula - get your own brand and get out of the Amtrak brand. The Amtrak brand is pretty bad away from the coasts.

Two is from NNERPA - have a local management with high degree of autonomy in the driver seat. Amtrak management doesn't care about Michigan or Maine. They care about NEC, then getting votes in flyover states, then whatever else they are being paid to do.

Three is from California and NCDOT - have your own rolling stock that meets your needs. Not only does this help the local operation, it advances the state of the art nationally in passenger stock without making one big bet. The Surfliner is a great piece of equipment for regional service. The Talgo is market neutral. Imagine if they had bought 400 Talgo cars rather than 6 sets. Once you have that local management and a dedicated fleet, the local management can show up occasionally to the layup yard and make sure the dedicated equipment is clean and presentable. A guy like Graham Claytor or Joe Boardman is never going to cruise by the Pontiac layup to check on the Wolverine. But the CEO of Wolverine Rails LLC, sitting in his or her office at the Cadillac building, can pop over for five minutes and do some MWA.

Four is from Michigan - make iterative and meaningful physical plant improvements. The connector in Detroit near the station between GTW and NS/Amtrak was a small project but cut 10+ minutes off the schedule. We learned a lot of lessons (I hope) from the NWI third main farce. Perhaps a local Wolverine-Rails LLC owned by Michigan DOT and managed by a few former railroaders and hospitality folks would've had a better shot at working with NICTD without the Washington/Amtrak relationship baggage.

Five is from Indiana - if you're going to privatise a service or contract it out, pick a partner that hasn't burned a lot of bridges. Bring all the parties to the table well ahead of time and get agreement. This is contracting 101. When we do a join project, I sit down with our partners and make sure our scopes line up, but don't overlap. I make sure they understand our wiring diagrams. I don't think anybody did that with Iowa Pacific. An Amtrak-unfriendly contractor showed up out of the blue with questionable and unknown equipment on day one. Of course it didn't work. I still don't know why they didn't at least borrow an employee from NICTD to examine those passenger cars in advance.

Six is also from Indiana. Consider how low-drag your stations can go. I know we like palaces here, but are the necessary? South Shore trains terminate at a 10-track underground station in Chicago and South Bend Airport. Bigger intermediate stops have indoor waiting, ticket machines, and clean bathrooms. Smaller stops have a shelter and wheelchair lift. The state of repair and cleanliness is pretty good.
  by gokeefe
 
I have to say that the level of attention I have personally received in a previous role never made me think they didn't care. And that was at the corporate headquarters in Washington.

Just thought it was worth noting with regards to thought about whether or not they care. I am certain they do and not just because they're told to.

Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk

  by miamicanes
 
IMHO, Brightline and Amtrak aren't really competitors, so much as future code-sharing partners. Brightline is obviously going to vaporize Amtrak's market share for rail travel between Miami and Orlando, but I think it opens up an even bigger OPPORTUNITY for Amtrak.

Let's assume for a moment that it's a few years in the future, and Virgin/Brightline is either running (or under construction and inevitable) between Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville.

Amtrak could not only replace its lost Miami-Orlando passengers, but gain even MORE passengers, by splitting the NY-Florida trains in Jacksonville (it goes without saying Amtrak would share Jacksonville's Brightline station). One end continues to Miami along FEC (adding St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Melbourne, Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, and Port St. Lucie). The other end continues to Orlando along the present route, then continues to Tampa switching over to Brightline's new tracks (owned by FDOT), so it can run at 125mph and never have to deal with CSX's Lakeland BS ever again. If it can still use Tampa Union Station, great. If not, well, it's a small sacrifice for better service into Tampa.

However, since the Tampa-bound half no longer has to bother doubling back and continuing to Miami (since almost NOBODY would actually TAKE Amtrak between Miami and Orlando, even if fares were almost free), it can do something even better... make its way from Tampa's station to CSX, then head south to two NEW stations:

1. Rubonia (near Palmetto, where the tracks cross under I-275). This is a perfect location for a station serving the vast area that's near I-75, as well as passengers from St. Petersburg who'd rather drive a few miles farthter and take advantage of abundant free parking and a less (ahem) "urban" parking lot.

2. Sarasota Airport (the tracks LITERALLY run alongside the terminal).

Sarasota-Bradenton is a market that can't be accommodated TODAY, because it's just too far of a detour for trains running between Miami and Jacksonville via Auburndale, but it's a total no-brainer for trains that are making a dead-end trip southwest from Jacksonville anyway. Worst-case, it might require negotiating track rights from Seminole Gulf Railroad, and maybe rebuilding a few miles of track (or just limping at 30mph the last 5-10 miles into the final station).

The only real losers from this plan are Winter Haven, Sebring, and Okeechobee.

Okechobee would lose Amtrak entirely... but it only has a few hundred passengers per year anyway, most of whom are actually to/from Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, or Port St. Lucie. The few remaining passengers can drive 30 miles to Fort Pierce.

For Winter Haven and Sebring, look a few miles west to the future toll road that's going to eventually get built parallel to US-27 between I-4 and I-75 (near Fort Myers). If FDOT built the new road with retained-earth foundation and bridges wide enough to accommodate a pair of new HSR tracks, it wouldn't add much to the new road's construction cost, and would provide an easy way to extend Sunrail from Orlando to Sebring without paying another dime to CSX. CSX has already proven that it'll just rip Florida off if we try to buy any more track from them, and it's a waste of time to even bother trying. Let CSX rot in hell.

As an alternative to extending Sunrail, FDOT could offer to let Brightline have exclusive use of the new tracks, in return for paying the marginal cost for the tracks & running them all the way to Fort Myers. This lets Sunrail off the hook, and gives a cheap & easy initial HSR route into SW Florida. Once again, it's something that wouldn't make sense to build at this stage as a separate project on its own, but becomes sane if it's built simultaneously with the new road and is purely a much smaller marginal cost. It also synergizes nicely with Amtrak. Amtrak will never (again?) run to Fort Myers or Naples, but someone taking Amtrak from New York to Florida could use Brightline for the last ~2-3 hour stretch into SW Florida.

Getting back to Amtrak... with the trains split/combined in Jacksonville, Amtrak would potentially gain almost a dozen brand new destinations in Florida. Nobody would use Amtrak for travel within Florida, but Amtrak would deliver lots of rail-friendly visitors directly to Brightline's doorsteps, who'd almost certainly use Brightline to hit additional cities within Florida while they're here.

Amtrak could also use Brightline as a code-sharing partner, to deal with situations when a train to/from New York isn't fully sold out, but the segment to Miami or Tampa is. If someone else wanted to travel along the sold-out leg, they could take Amtrak between NY and Jacksonville, with a cross-platform transfer to/from Brightline (with the whole ticketing process made seamless and effortless).

I'm sure Virgin/Brightline would consider running trains between Florida and New York if Amtrak literally ended long distance trains between them (or cut back service so badly, it might as well have), but I think that they're perfectly content to leave that particular market to Amtrak. If Amtrak does NOTHING in response to Brightline, it'll beat them to a pulp in Florida... but if Amtrak is smart, and treats forced-change as a new business opportunity, I think BOTH can synergistically prosper in Florida.

If a future infrastructure bill allows the tracks between DC and Jacksonville to be sufficiently improved to allow 80mph average speeds (mostly, by double-tracking enough to eliminate siding delays), Amtrak could further build on Brightline's synergy by shifting the overnight trains to later departure times & adding a new day train or two. Or even partnering with Brightline to run those day trains for them (using Brightline trainsets, but Amtrak power cars along the NEC). This would spare Amtrak from having to acquire additional rolling stock, and would spare Brightline from having to invest in sleeping cars in order to expand into long distance between Florida and New York.
Last edited by mtuandrew on Wed Jul 08, 2020 5:55 am, edited 1 time in total. Reason: edited for profanity
  by Jeff Smith
 
Amtrak over the FEC has been looked at previously, but with the birth of the "All Aboard Florida" concept years ago has gone far by the wayside. FEC/Brightline/Virgin simply won't go for it when their plans will eventually include Jacksonville, at some point after Tampa is done. Now, how do they extend to Jacksonville? That's a question for the Virgin forum.

I do like the idea for Tampa for Amtrak, and extension. I think I've postulated that earlier here somewhere. I think it's more likely they just terminate the Star there.

As for the Meteor, I think that's a likely candidate for truncation at Jacksonville. It arrives at a reasonable hour in the morning; it departs at a reasonable hour in the early evening. Switch it to terminate at Jacksonville Union Station (now a convention center), and it can connect to Virgin there for the remainder of the trip to either Orlando or Miami. Both the Star and Meteor are daylight trains in Florida, so Virgin needn't provide sleeper accommodations (although a first class cabin for the longer duration may be nice).
  by mtuandrew
 
miamicanes: that is an excellent plan. Plus, it allows (forces) Amtrak to close Hialeah as a passenger terminal once and for all - it would be the end of the AmShack era. The facility could still be a car and locomotive shop, though even that could eventually move to Sanford and share real estate with Auto Train.

And I don't think Amtrak has ever offered to cut service entirely between ORL and MIA, Jeff. If allowed a rail monopoly between Orlando and Miami, it might be incentive enough for FEC and Brightline to allow one or two daily Amtrak turns JAX-MIA.
  by Jeff Smith
 
I'm sure Amtrak hasn't offered; I just think it's logical that they could truncate the Meteor at Jax once Brightline..., er, cough, Virgin, arrives there. Then they'll have both routes covered: JAX-ORL and potentially JAX-MIA (with a gap on the FEC from somewhere around Daytona and south where it departs the FEC to ORL to be added as well). Adjust the crew bases, and they can extend the Palmetto to Jax, too.

I do think a switch of the Star to any line in the I-4 corridor that Virgin builds is a great idea.
  by STrRedWolf
 
The question I have is... is the BrightLine sort of a "commuter plus" train line?

That said, having a local regional passenger line going up Florida (and maybe west?) sounds more like a good idea. I would think in the not too distant future, the Pensacola/Tallahassee/Jacksonville section of the Sunset Limited could be covered by the Brightline instead of Amtrak.
  by bostontrainguy
 
I have taken the Silver Service many times in the past (BOS - Miami, Tampa, and Orlando) and I just want to say that settling into your private room for the majority of your trip is a very special and pleasant experience. Now we did have to change in NYP and it was a bit of a hassle and certainly continuing on to Boston would have been so much better. We even had to bring our luggage to South Station the night before and pick it up the next day. But now you want us to change twice . . . also again in Jacksonville? And do we have to carry our own luggage again? Umm . . . . maybe we should just fly.

Silver Service has many seniors who would not appreciate the change of trains and many tourists with lots of luggage. There is no reason that both services could not coexist. They serve very different markets.
  by miamicanes
 
@BostonTrainGuy: that's the whole point of splitting/joining trains in Jacksonville. From the standpoint of someone on the train, it would be like having sleeper cars set out or dropped off along the way. The only difference is, both halves of the train would travel beyond Jacksonville, instead of half remaining there.

The only time you'd HAVE to switch (in Jacksonville) between a room and coach, or between Amtrak and Brightline, is if all the rooms were sold out for the half between Jacksonville and your final destination (or origin) in Florida, but available between New York and Jacksonville.

My hunch is that this would generally be less of a problem than it would be today, because with a few Amtrak trains and hourly Brightline trains, it becomes a lot more practical to stop over in a city like Melbourne (15 minutes to Kennedy Space Center via Uber), Daytona Beach, St. Augustine, or Jacksonville along the way & spend a half day there.

Let's hypothetically suppose you're traveling from New York to Miami, the rooms on the half heading to Miami are sold out, but you can get a room in the half heading to Tampa. On one hand, having to give up the room in Jacksonville and move to coach in the other half of the train would suck. On the other hand, you could turn it into an opportunity to spend a day in St. Augustine.

As a practical matter, if you were getting off in St. Augustine, they'd kick you out of your room by Jacksonville *anyway* to make sure you were ready to get off when the train arrived there. Spend the day with your luggage stored at the station (and checked baggage automatically transferred to the 8pm Brightline train to Miami, or whenever you decided to continue heading to Miami), and you've turned it into a side trip that you otherwise wouldn't have taken.

Ditto, in the other direction. On the way home, you could take Brightline to Melbourne in the morning, leave your stuff at the station, take Uber to Kennedy Space Center, spend the day there, then head back to the station in time to board the northbound overnight train back to New York.

I suspect a LOT of people would start taking half-day stopovers in Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Daytona, and Melbourne, which might mean that with some good planning, you could vacate your room on the "Tampa" end of the train at Jacksonville, head to the dining car, eat breakfast on the "Miami" end of the train, then move into another room on the Miami end vacated by someone else who got off in St. Augustine or Daytona for a stopover, even though THEY'RE ultimately going to Miami, too (later that day, via Brightline). Still a bit of a hassle, but totally do-able with a little logistical flexibility by Amtrak. Today, they would have remained in the room all the way to Miami, because same-day stopovers aren't really practical. Brightline solves that logistics problem.
  by mtuandrew
 
STrRedWolf wrote: Wed Jul 08, 2020 1:06 pm The question I have is... is the BrightLine sort of a "commuter plus" train line?

That said, having a local regional passenger line going up Florida (and maybe west?) sounds more like a good idea. I would think in the not too distant future, the Pensacola/Tallahassee/Jacksonville section of the Sunset Limited could be covered by the Brightline instead of Amtrak.
It is a straight-up Euro-style express regional. They definitely handle commuters and supercommuters, but in the same way that Amtrak handles supercommuters from Richmond to Washington. Most daily travelers either drive to commuter termini, to Metro Park-and-Rides, or all the way to their destination.

Also, I’m pretty sure that Brightline is never going to cover that line segment. It’s just too low on potential ridership for such a premium brand, and diminishes their brand image besides - like if in addition to shops in Washington and New York, Cartier opened similarly-appointed shops in Hagerstown, Cumberland, and Morgantown. Jacksonville-Tallahassee might be able to support a couple trains a day, but it definitely isn’t a “premium” sort of city pair from what I understand.
  by bostontrainguy
 
miamicanes wrote: Thu Jul 09, 2020 3:11 am I suspect a LOT of people would start taking half-day stopovers in Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Daytona, and Melbourne, which might mean that with some good planning, you could vacate your room on the "Tampa" end of the train at Jacksonville, head to the dining car, eat breakfast on the "Miami" end of the train, then move into another room on the Miami end vacated by someone else who got off in St. Augustine or Daytona for a stopover, even though THEY'RE ultimately going to Miami, too (later that day, via Brightline). Still a bit of a hassle, but totally do-able with a little logistical flexibility by Amtrak. Today, they would have remained in the room all the way to Miami, because same-day stopovers aren't really practical. Brightline solves that logistics problem.
I can tell you my personal experience and that is when we vacationed in Florida we just wanted to get to Miami or Tampa as quickly as possible to board our cruiseship. Also we wanted to get to Orlando as soon as possible to get over to Walt Disney World or Universal to unpack, settle into our hotel room and then prepare for the early following day. Florida is a huge state and it takes a very long time to get anywhere. I don't think there is a large amount of people who would want to make those half-day stopovers when doing a destination vacation. You want to get to your destination to rest up for a very busy week ahead which has already cost you more than your budget allows.
  by miamicanes
 
Amtrak is the only viable option for passenger rail to Pensacola that doesn't require building a brand new rail corridor from scratch. Even if Brightline were eager to do it (they're not), they'd never be able to reach a mutually acceptable deal with CSX to operate passenger trains over CSX tracks.

Tallahassee is a definite future possibility... but only if FDOT pays to build the track & hands it to Brightline on a silver platter. Once Brightline has been running between Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville & making lots of people happy for a few years, it might be negotiable... but until then, I think it has zero chance of happening.

IMHO, the best option for the Panhandle would be a brand new Amtrak train (let's call it "the Gulf Floridian") that initially ran from New Orleans to Orlando as a continuing service for the City of New Orleans (so someone who boards it in Chicago would stay on the same train all the way to Florida).

Now, fast forward a few years. Brightline goes to Tampa and Jacksonville. Amtrak modifies the Silver Star and Silver Meteor as described earlier (splitting/combining in Jacksonville, eliminating direct service on both trains between Miami and Orlando), then extends the Gulf Floridian from Orlando to Tampa and Miami (via Winter Haven, Sebring, and Okeechobee) along the Silver Star's former route.

Yay, happy compromise. Florida's "Uncoast" retains its Amtrak train service (at least, until Florida builds Heartland Parkway with HSR down the middle for Brightline to use when it's done), and someone heading to Florida from Chicago gets single-seat (room) convenience to all the stations in Florida that exist today (plus St. Augustine, Daytona, Melbourne, Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, and Port St. Lucie via cross-platform transfer to Brightline at Jacksonville).

Personally, I really wish the "corridor" people would stop fetishizing maps with disconnected corridor segments, and instead pivot the conversation to regional HSR corridors, with Acela-inspired long-distance trains that run between corridor trains at equally high speeds where they can, and slowly limp along the freight tracks connecting those HSR corridors where they must. The conversation doesn't HAVE to be either/or.

There's nothing that says you can't have a train with diesel engines that can do 80mph without breaking a sweat, and 125mph running at full-throttle out in the hinterlands... then raise a catenary, turn off the diesel engines, and use overhead power to show what the electric motors are REALLY capable of achieving when they're free to suck down as much power as they want.
  by Rockingham Racer
 
Just as an FYI: CSX sold its track west of Baldwin to a short line.
  by Tadman
 
I was just in Pensacola, the majority of the traffic to town is beach-goers and they're not from downstate, they're from Atlanta, Birmingham, etc... The best hope for rail in Pensacola is probably a Tampa-like trolley from the airport to downtown. That said, the beach is on an island and they just built a new bridge, who knows if a streetcar or light rail would fit. Also worth considering that most families drive a minivan or SUV from _____ place 4-8 hours away full of their gear. That's going to be a hard habit to break.

This isn't a place like Maine, Long Island or Southwest Michigan where a major city is 1-2 hours away and there are plenty of semi-permanent residences with a spare car, it's a pure vacation town.
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