• Can we get the freight railroads to operate passenger trains again?

  • 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 R36 Combine Coach
 
Passenger carriers running freight might make better sense. LIRR did it until 1997 and CTA did into the 1970s.
NYCT still has a freight subsidiary (SBK), though now used for in-house moves. PANYNJ operates a carfloat ferry
and Ontario Northland (a government agency) has its own freight business alongside bus service and mixed trains.
  by David Benton
 
Reading Trains Magazine blogs (Fred Frailey etc) , several posters are Class One freight customers , and most comment on the terrible customer service. I'm not sure how you'd expect the Freights to give good passenger service to passengers.
  by mtuandrew
 
Tadman wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 11:07 am It's not always that easy, the government agencies that run these services are notorious for not playing ball. In order to sell Airtrain tickets or Flyaway tickets, the agency that runs the service has to want to sell them to the broker.

Typical excuses include
- It's not possible
- We tried that in 1994 and it didn't work
- Nobody wants to do that

Services like Expedia and Travelocity are very good at picking up ancillary sales to the plane tickets. You can bet if LA County Airport Authority played ball, Expedia would sell Flyaway tickets. Given that Flyaway services LAUPT, Amtrak should sell them, too. Imagine buying a $40 San Diegans ticket, a $20 Flyaway ticket, and a $700 round trip to Chicago on United all from Amtrak.com. Amtrak could make some serious scrilla!

And let's be real, it's not a question of competing with the Chief. The chief has a forgettable sliver of that market.
Fair points. I wasn’t clear though - I meant that Tadman Travels would solely operate a fee-for-service mirror. For a given door-to-door itinerary would give you a choice of first- and last-mile options (Lyft, Uber, a small selection of cab companies, transit) and a selection of line-haul carriers (bus, train, and air.) I, the end user, would select my route preferences, put in my credit card info, and click “Submit”; your site/app would access ALL the providers, book my tickets, and collate the emails & boarding passes into one document. All for a $5 fee. (Who needs an interline ticket with dozens of coupons?)
  by Tadman
 
David Benton wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 5:48 pm Reading Trains Magazine blogs (Fred Frailey etc) , several posters are Class One freight customers , and most comment on the terrible customer service. I'm not sure how you'd expect the Freights to give good passenger service to passengers.
This is terrible confirmation bias. They choose these folks because bad service is interesting and salient. There are plenty of customers getting good and very good service. If service is truly that bad, the merchandise shippers can easily take a walk and go to truck, as can intermodal like JB Hunt.
  by David Benton
 
These are people posting of their own free will , nobody chooses them . And that is the point they are making , most shippers are paying more to ship by road or freight forwarders , because of the terrible customer service they get from Class ones .
  by wigwagfan
 
I've said years ago that the federal government role in Amtrak should be coach cars only. Everything else is privatized.

Why not create a system where the freight railroads agree to "operate" (i.e. provide the locomotive, Engineer and Conductor) for the passenger train; the coaches are funded by Amtrak which also sells the coach tickets, and the remaining cars are privatized to whomever wants? If four companies want to stick a dining car, let there be four dining cars. If 20 companies want to run sleeper cars, so be it - let there be 20 companies' sleeping cars. The host railroad is only obligated to provide sufficient motive power and the two required crew members, and is allowed to charge a haulage fee (car/mile) for the private cars. In exchange the freights will either be eligible for certain funding/grants or certain government business (much like the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program).

Win-Win-Win. Freight railroads get more control over passenger train operations. Basic intercity transport is continued. Luxury train service is now possible by private companies providing better customer service. Customers have better choices and more options. The only losers are those who want the status quo to remain.
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
wigwagfan wrote: Fri Jun 26, 2020 12:22 am Win-Win-Win. Freight railroads get more control over passenger train operations. Basic intercity transport is continued. Luxury train service is now possible by private companies providing better customer service. Customers have better choices and more options. The only losers are those who want the status quo to remain.
Mr. Halstead, we both know, along with many others around here, that private sector passemger rail - especially that operated in conjunction with Amtrak, has been a BUST!

So far as Anschutz and GCRY goes, who knows if the rail operations actually make $$$. But they hold the concession to operate Grand Canyon NP Food and Lodging facilities, and the RR could be a "feed" for that - especially if vehicle parking on site is "limited".

Brightline/Virgin, whenever it resumes (and no "told you so" on my part if it doesn't) has a like "play" in mind - a "loss leading feed" for FECI real estate located about the South end stations (can't do much at MCO in the way of high rises) and maybe for "Richie's Love Tub Petri Dishes" should those ever come to pass.
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Fri Jun 26, 2020 11:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
  by mtuandrew
 
I see where you’re going, Mr. Halstead, but isn’t that akin to Spirit Airlines being forced to provide a chunk of space on their airplanes for Delta to install first-class chairs? That is, it’s an overly complex solution to a problem that has a few obvious & easier solutions:
-Amtrak continues structurally as-is, but with a directed improvement program for its first-class off-Corridor service (and a customer service improvement program generally)
-Amtrak T&E gets contracted out, keeps OBS in-house
-Amtrak OBS gets contracted out (coach, sleeper, and dining), keeps T&E in-house
-everything gets contracted out and Amtrak becomes a national funding source and ticket clearinghouse.

Lexus is balanced by Toyota, Marriott W Hotels by Fairfield Inn & Suites; it’s difficult for a luxury brand to survive without something aimed at the masses. Better to have one operating company per train (I would prefer that to be Amtrak, though others here have different opinions.)

To riff off your plan though, Amtrak could and should hire a hotel chain to improve and rebrand its sleeper service. “Pullman Limited Service, a joint brand of Amtrak and Marriott” has potential.
  by eolesen
 
mtuandrew wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:25 pm
Tadman wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 11:07 am It's not always that easy, the government agencies that run these services are notorious for not playing ball. In order to sell Airtrain tickets or Flyaway tickets, the agency that runs the service has to want to sell them to the broker.

Typical excuses include
- It's not possible
- We tried that in 1994 and it didn't work
- Nobody wants to do that

Services like Expedia and Travelocity are very good at picking up ancillary sales to the plane tickets. You can bet if LA County Airport Authority played ball, Expedia would sell Flyaway tickets. Given that Flyaway services LAUPT, Amtrak should sell them, too. Imagine buying a $40 San Diegans ticket, a $20 Flyaway ticket, and a $700 round trip to Chicago on United all from Amtrak.com. Amtrak could make some serious scrilla!

And let's be real, it's not a question of competing with the Chief. The chief has a forgettable sliver of that market.
Fair points. I wasn’t clear though - I meant that Tadman Travels would solely operate a fee-for-service mirror. For a given door-to-door itinerary would give you a choice of first- and last-mile options (Lyft, Uber, a small selection of cab companies, transit) and a selection of line-haul carriers (bus, train, and air.) I, the end user, would select my route preferences, put in my credit card info, and click “Submit”; your site/app would access ALL the providers, book my tickets, and collate the emails & boarding passes into one document. All for a $5 fee. (Who needs an interline ticket with dozens of coupons?)
The technology already exists for this -- the same ability Expedia has to sell ancillaries exists at *most* major airlines who are working with what's referred to as New Distribution Capability (NDC), which has been in various levels of development for the past ten years. Airlines have been offering joint air-hotel-ground transfer packages since I started working in the airlines back in 1986, but it was always limited to whoever that airline had a deal with and following their unique way of tying the purchases together. Now that there are published travel industry standards, it's "only" a matter of getting those third parties who handle digital ticketing for the major transit agencies to plug their systems into the merchandising platforms at Expedia or individual airlines.
  by STrRedWolf
 
mtuandrew wrote: Fri Jun 26, 2020 9:23 am Lexus is balanced by Toyota, Marriott W Hotels by Fairfield Inn & Suites; it’s difficult for a luxury brand to survive without something aimed at the masses. Better to have one operating company per train (I would prefer that to be Amtrak, though others here have different opinions.)

To riff off your plan though, Amtrak could and should hire a hotel chain to improve and rebrand its sleeper service. “Pullman Limited Service, a joint brand of Amtrak and Marriott” has potential.
Okay, I'll bite, namely because I have this similar idea in the novel that just finished up on my Patreon. Two levels of service on every line: luxury and economy.

Luxury is the Pullman-level service: Elegant trains, expert staff, full diner, no coach. It's a mobile hotel, basically, out of North by Northwest (or maybe a full Milwaukee Road set with the dome lounge). You have full porters, conductors, kitchen staff, etc. You get this for the full experience but boy do you pay for it. (Any further and it would actually become a mobile hotel, a la the Anthrotracks concept in 2019)

Economy is what Amtrak is running right this second: Industrial-design trains operated like airplanes, prepackaged meals, optional sleeper service at various levels. You have coach, business, roomette, and full sleeper. You have an extended cafe but you're encouraged to eat at your seat. You get a conductor who also is a steward/stewardess. It does the job and gets you there. It's cheap, it looks cheap, but you asked for cheap, so you get cheap.

As you know, Amtrak can do Economy. It can't do Luxury by itself -- it needs to be partnered with someone else. Someone that can do the hotel side while it concentrates on the train side. Mariott, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Wyndham. I doubt anyone else has a big of a reach or could tie into a good set of hotel chains (combo hotel and travel, anyone?).

No, not Virgin Group. They do hotels and trains. Effectively, Virgin is a competitor if it ever thought it was a good idea... but I doubt they have the reach.

The thing is... would hotel staff need to be rail trained? I can probably safely assume yes... which means who pays for that... and the equipment... and track usage...
  by mtuandrew
 
STrRedWolf: Ed Ellis tried that model with Pullman Rail Journeys - it sort of? worked, until it went out of business. Since it was never set up as an integral part of Amtrak operations, one needed to first find out about them from a non-Amtrak source, decide that you wanted to ride in a rolling monument to the Prohibition Era, and then book your ticket through PRJ rather than Amtrak. I’ve never seen anything negative about their on-board service (when it ran anyway), but to say it had a niche audience is putting it lightly.

A full cooperative effort between carrier and hotel host would be necessary, and that push can really only come from either Amtrak or a hotel chain with enough horsepower to get Amtrak to listen.
  by STrRedWolf
 
Lets indulge in that fantasy where Amtrak gets that push, shacks up with a hotel, and finds that cash to do it.

The website would need an overhaul to plug in the new trains. The hotel's marketing is needed to pull it off right. Ticketing would have subtle reminders of "Are you going on vacation? This train offers basic amenities only. For a better experience, try this train..." and "This train is for those wanting the best traveling experience. Find out more..." Ticket agents would need training on if folks are on the vacation side or not. These issues... are nothing new. They are but shallow hills.

The only issue is the host railroads, but then if you're charging an arm and a leg for the luxury train, why not kick some of it back to them? That'll make 'em happy that they're being paid market rate (or even more). The only thing is... what is market rate (and it's not what Amtrak's paying now)?
  by bostontrainguy
 
STrRedWolf wrote: Sat Jun 27, 2020 7:34 am The only issue is the host railroads, but then if you're charging an arm and a leg for the luxury train, why not kick some of it back to them? That'll make 'em happy that they're being paid market rate (or even more). The only thing is... what is market rate (and it's not what Amtrak's paying now)?
Why? The host railroad is paid to haul the Amtrak passenger train. What difference does it make if there are a few cars operated by a hotel firm? It's just like hauling a few private cars isn't it?
  by mtuandrew
 
bostontrainguy wrote: Sat Jun 27, 2020 10:23 amWhy? The host railroad is paid to haul the Amtrak passenger train. What difference does it make if there are a few cars operated by a hotel firm? It's just like hauling a few private cars isn't it?
As long as the hotel arrives when and where it’s supposed to be. That’s the whole original premise of this thread, that by paying freight roads to operate Amtrak (or their own passenger trains) off the corridor(s) the roads would be incentivized to keep them on time. It’s possible Amtrak could solve timekeeping issues with more money. It’s also possible the issue is general hostility because of perceived incompatibility with freight ops, which can’t be resolved by either more money or by having freight roads operate passenger service for their own account.
  by bostontrainguy
 
mtuandrew wrote: Sat Jun 27, 2020 10:50 am
bostontrainguy wrote: Sat Jun 27, 2020 10:23 amWhy? The host railroad is paid to haul the Amtrak passenger train. What difference does it make if there are a few cars operated by a hotel firm? It's just like hauling a few private cars isn't it?
As long as the hotel arrives when and where it’s supposed to be. That’s the whole original premise of this thread, that by paying freight roads to operate Amtrak (or their own passenger trains) off the corridor(s) the roads would be incentivized to keep them on time.
No. I started this thread. My original premise was asking if Amtrak and the host railroads could come together to form a new partnership to operate a modern version of a mixed train where the host railroad would generate revenue from priority express freight and Amtrak would generate revenue from passenger fares and subsidies. I am suggesting a completely new symbiotic relationship where both parties mutually benefit. A win-win where everyone wants to succeed.
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