• Amtrak Empire Service (New York State)

  • 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 Rhinecliff
 
I think Mr. Weaver has a point about one thing: Amtrak does not appear to be willing or able to provide the quality of service that some New Yorkers (me included) want. Therefore, I agree that the burden is on us New Yorkers to do something about it. Of course, at this point, I can no longer support the notion that New York should simply throw more money in Amtrak's direction.

Amtrak's move to further downgrade the quality of our rail service just to save, allegedly, $1 million a year comes at a time when New York has just invested over $100 million in Amtrak's dillapitated Turboliners, and for this investment New York is receiving nothing. The Turbos sit parked in Delaware. The Turbo debacle has to go down as one of the greatest taxpayor fleecings of all time -- bar none.

Amtrak has also recently invested hundreds of millions in station facilities for Amtrak throughout our State. Indeed, the State invested over $50 million dollars in the Albany station -- just so that it could have things like modern commissary facilities.

So, while I, for one, would be perfectly happy to see New York step up to the plate with financial support for a service that is more to New York's liking, I am not sure that I would choose Amtrak to provide the service. I think the time has come for New York to think seriously about taking over Amtrak's services.

Indeed, I am beginning to wonder whether the neocons have a point. For example, if private operators were serving the Empire Corridor, would Amtrak really be thinking about dicontinuing food and beverage service on its trains serving the same route?

Finally, I think the manner in which Amtrak made this announcement reveals the extent of the mediocraty of Amtrak's beltway management. I could not help but to notice Mr. Black's statement to the effect that fewer people are patronizing Amtrak's cafe cars.

Gee. I wonder why. In this respect, I think we are extremely fortunate to have Mr. Railjunkie participating on our forum. I have no doubt that he could provide us with some meaningful insight into this phenominan -- assuming it is even occurring. Afterall, last I heard, New Yorkers are not drinking any less coffee in the morning. Nor are they drinking any less bottled water, beer, wine, and cocktails on the way home in the evening.

Might it have something to do with Amtrak's inability to stock its cafe cars sufficiently and in a timely manner? Indeed, it is hard to sell menu items that are not available. Or, could it be due to downgrades in the product offerings? What ever happened to the Green Mountain coffee with free refills? What ever happened to the single malt offering?

  by JoeG
 
Over the years I've noticed how often Amtrak cafe cars are out of items, even at the beginning of their runs. One time last year, I splurged on Acela Express first class NYP-BOS--the 8:03 AM train. It was out of one of the two listed hot entrees leaving NYP. Presumably they could have restocked at NYP, but they didn't, couldn't, wouldn't--whatever. (Train was on time, so they would have had the time to restock.) If you are going to run food cars, most of the expense is in labor, but if you don't stock the car, you won't get any revenue. I don't know if a private operator would do any better, but this has always been a sore point with me. Last few airline trips I took, they didn't serve meals, but when they did, seems like they usually had all the entrees.

  by Rhinecliff
 
Exactly. For far too many years, Amtrak has operated its cafe cars with far too many menu items unavailable. And Mr. JoeG is absolutelly correct in noting that this problem often occurs right out of the originating station. So it is not just a situation where things "sell out."

Mr. Norman's pointed questions are also very well taken. I must confess that I was curious when Amtrak contracted out its commisary operations. Although I was sorry see Amtrak's employees loose the work, I wondered whether a private commisary would do a better job of stocking the trains. I also wondered what would happen to the quality of the menu items.

My observatins, which are unscientific, have been that the quality of the menu items has remained about the same -- up a little at times, and now decidedly down a little (i.e., no green mountain; no single malt). But the one thing that remains constant has been the insufficiently stocked cafe cars. That problem has continued unabated.

In the words of Gilbert & Sullivan: "And I don't know why".

  by drewh
 
I agree with JoeG from experience. Last year I had a first class Acela from WAS-MET, late afternoon WAS departure - I think around 5pm.

By the time we got to New Carollton, they were out of red wine. 1 bottle for the entire trip to NYP, and first class was pretty full. 5 passengers got 1 glass each. Now keep in mind this is first class and drinks are included, not something extra to purchase.

I walked back to the cafe car and bought my own, because even asking the first class attendants, I was told that wasn't possible. The cafe attendant said the first class attendants have the ability to go back and sign items out - so much for their initiative.

I called Amtraks complaint line, and got a refund for the 1st class to business class fare differential.

I've been on many other corridor trains, close to NYP going south, or from WAS going north, where they are out of many items. How difficult can it be to stock a train for a 3 hour run?? Especially now that they are all reserved. I would say that Amtrak must have some policy about the amount of F&B brought aboard, in order to show cost cuts.

etc

  by Noel Weaver
 
California runs a class operation with Amtrak, so do Washington/Oregon
and Michigan among other states.
New York has upgraded tracks, signals and stations and supports one
round trip between Albany and Montreal. The basic passenger service trains between New York and Albany are operated by and paid for by Amtrak without additional state support.
Meantime, New York wasted millions on a fleet of trains that were way
over age and odd ball equipment to say the least. They were/are
expensive to operate and maintain. Amtrak finally pulled the plug on the
turbo trains because of a number of problems with them and their high
cost of operation. I personally think Amtrak did the right thing to lay these trains up.
If an operator (Metro-North or otherwise) other than Amtrak is involved in
the operation of service between New York and Albany, New York's costs
will go up quickly and severely. In addition, there is NO gurantee that
service will be improved, running times cut or that food will be available.
New York - Albany is an ideal corridor, Amtrak is the ideal operator for
this corridor.
Noel Weaver
Last edited by Noel Weaver on Fri May 20, 2005 2:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by Jishnu
 
Noel Weaver wrote:California runs a class operation with Amtrak, so do Washington/Oregon
and Michigan among other states.
New York has upgraded tracks, signals and stations and supports one
round trip between Albany and Montreal. The basic passenger service
between New York and Albany are operated by and paid for by Amtrak
without additional state support.
I have always wondered why New York state gets a free ride from Amtrak for the purely intra-state service, while every other state has to pay something to Amtrak or just take the service over to run similar service that runs purely within a single state.

I believe if New York state takes over the Empire Service from Amtrak it will end up paying much more. That is the reason that they are unlikely to do so

  by Gilbert B Norman
 
Your point, Mr. Jishnu, in essence is the Administration's proposal with regard to rail passenger services, be they operated by Amtrak or several successor agencies.

Your point is indeed well taken, but if a 31 member New York congressional delegation has the clout to get Feddybucks to fund an intrastate regional operation well, "why buy the cow if the milk is free?". I'm certain it is a source of contention that the 55 member California delegation cannot secure greater Federal support for their as nearly extensive intrastate system. The likely reason is that the "35' are an integeral part of a 92 Member delegation from nine states that comprise the Northeast Corridor. a delegation that size has a way of getting what they want. The old game of "logrolling' figures in as well. That is described as "you vote for my pet, and I'll vote for yours".

Oh well, I think most here probably had learned by age five that "life isn't fair".
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Fri May 20, 2005 3:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

  by Rhinecliff
 
I hear what Messrs. Weaver and Jishnu are saying. But it is by no means clear to me that New York is saving money by having Amtrak operate its trains. One thing, however, is clear to me: I want food and beverage service on my trains.

First, New York's joint venture with Amtrak for service improvements has been an utter disaster, with New York spending hundreds of millions spent for trains that are not in use at all. To be sure, New York bears a good deal of blame for concocting such a hair brained idea, but Amtrak also agreed to the deal, and Amtrak has allegedly failed to come through with its promised portions of the program.

Second, Empire Corridor passengers pay just about the highest fares on the regular system. Indeed, our regular regular fare, on a per mile basis, between ALB and NYP comes surprisingly close to the Acela Express fare between NYP and BOS -- especially when one facters in the extremely generous promotions Amtrak has been offering in connection with the Acela Express throught its Guest Rewards program.

To be sure, Amtrak enjoys considerably more favorable (from management's persective) labor agreements with its employees than does the Metro-North. But, not having looked at the cost structure, it is at least possible that the Metro-North could provide the service to New York at an overall lower cost to New York than Amtrak is doing.

One thing is undeniable: Under the current scheme, New York has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Turbos, and it is reciving literally no service at all for its investment. Somehow I think things might have been different had the MetroNorth been the partner -- if for no other reason than perhaps the MetroNorth would have told New York to come to its senses before starting the project.

  by hsr_fan
 
Rhinecliff wrote:One thing is undeniable: Under the current scheme, New York has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Turbos, and it is reciving literally no service at all for its investment.
Tens of millions, not hundreds, I would hope! If they spent hundreds of millions, then they'd better d*** well have more to show for it than three completed Turboliner sets! But I fully agree with your assessment.

  by wigwagfan
 
As a left-coaster who is completely unfamiliar with the Empire Service or its amenities, I'd like to offer both a comparison to what I am familiar with, and a few questions.

The Amtrak Cascades, "our" hometown corridor, uses the Talgo trainset, which is a more-or-less fixed trainset of "business class" coaches (which gives you a two-by-one seating arrangement, the ability to board your car in Portland or Seattle about 10-15 minutes early, and a $3.00 off coupon for use in the cafe/lounge car, for about 50% more fare), "coach class" coaches (two-by-two seating), a cafe car (with a few counter seats) and a table car.

From Seattle to Eugene (including the very heavily travelled Seattle-Portland segment), the table car is only a lounge car, there is no food service. The cafe car is operated by one person, and most of the items are from local Seattle restaurants - i.e. Ivar's clam chowder, Harry's soups and sandwiches, some bakery cookies, as well as the typical soda, candy, hot dog, and pastries.

The two trains that travel north of Seattle offer a dining car service in the table car, with a somewhat limited menu compared to the long haul trains - but still it's sit-down service. (I've never travelled north of Seattle so I can't speak much for this.)

On my last trip on the Cascades, I travelled south of Portland, and discovered that the cafe car is closed south of Albany. On my trip, the lounge car attendant thought we were past Salem, and made an early announcement that the clam chowder would be free (or she'd have to throw it out). Before the Salem stop she made a second announcement that the free clam chowder would still be offered to Albany. However, south of Portland the ridership drops off tremendously.

That said - why does the Empire Service food service cost so much to operate? How many people staff the cafe car, and what kind of service is there?

Secondly - how many people make a decision to ride the train based on the availability of food service? I can understand a 6, 8, 10 hour ride, where you gotta eat sometime, but a 2-3 hour ride? One could just grab something at a vending machine in the station, or go to a restaurant upon arrival. Amtrak - if they own the stations - could lease out part of the station to a food service provider.

  by David Benton
 
I dont know if the station vendors are individual businesses , or part of a chain . If a chain , then perhaps amtrak could do a deal with them , whereby they provide the same food at the stations , and on the trains by trolley service . This would eliminate having to set up a seperate food commisssary , should help spread staff costs , and eliminate the need for cafe car .

  by Noel Weaver
 
For one thing, New York State service with the exception of the Adirondack
between Albany and Montreal does not contribute to the operation of the
trains themselves.
New York took turbo trains which were too old and too expensive to
operate and put a huge amount of money into trying to fix them up for
further operation. In truth, this was a project to make work at Super
Steel and the state would have been better off doing what California did
and buy new cars and engines if needed.
High fares, sure but the state does not offer any major support for the
existing trains and Amtrak wants as much return as possible on this
service. If the state feels that the fares are too high, then they need to
kick in some funds for the operation of this busy corridor.
Amtrak probably has the fares set to get as much revenue from this
service as they possibly can.
I truly think New York State is getting a pretty good deal with the service
on this run, lots of trains at decent times, good running times and at least
between Albany and New York pretty good on time performance too.
Please note that I stated between Albany and New York, smart people out
of Albany take trains that originate there if at all possible.
Noel Weaver

  by JoeG
 
If the MTA were to run the Albany-NYP service, the costs would probably go up. The NYMTA/Metro North runs a very nice railroad, but at high cost. Not only does the RR pay better than Amtrak, but the MTA itself has a lot of boondoggles and corrupt practices. As for the Turbos, you have to realize that the NY State government is probably the least democratic in the country. Although NY has the usual State Senate and State Assembly, the state is really run by 3 guys: the governor, the head of the Assembly, and the head of the Senate. The head of the Senate is Joe Bruno, who has Super Steel as a constituent. Rebuilding the Turbos put work in his area. 'Nuff said.

etc

  by Noel Weaver
 
JoeG wrote:If the MTA were to run the Albany-NYP service, the costs would probably go up. The NYMTA/Metro North runs a very nice railroad, but at high cost. Not only does the RR pay better than Amtrak, but the MTA itself has a lot of boondoggles and corrupt practices. As for the Turbos, you have to realize that the NY State government is probably the least democratic in the country. Although NY has the usual State Senate and State Assembly, the state is really run by 3 guys: the governor, the head of the Assembly, and the head of the Senate. The head of the Senate is Joe Bruno, who has Super Steel as a constituent. Rebuilding the Turbos put work in his area. 'Nuff said.
Absolutely so, and when the dam things did not and do not work out, they
all get quite upset. The turbo trains that is.
That is the trouble with politics on the railroad.
Noel Weaver

  by Rhinecliff
 
I thank Mr. hsr_fan for the clarification regarding the magnitude of New York's investment in the Turbo rebuild program.

I did some quick research, and it seems the project was originally budgeted at approximately $51 million. Cost overruns reportedly brought the project to approximately $74.5 million, and then close to $94 million (which included plans to purchase spare parts).

What I could not discern was how much of these budgeted funds New York has already spent. But, as Mr. hsr_fan observed, the number easily exceed tens of millions. Indeed, there are Comptroller reports stating things to the effect: "3 years and $51 million later only two train sets have been rebuilt"

Thus, I think it is safe to estimate the amount already spent by New York to be somewhere between $51 million and $74.5 million -- all for nothing.

I agree with others above who have commented on New York's foolishness for investing this money. But I am not willing to let Amtrak off the hook. Amtrak was the owner of this equipment. If Amtrak thought it was too old and inefficient to rebuild, Amtrak should have put on the brakes.

I keep coming back to the same place: Unlike the experience of other states, the partnership between Amtrak and New York has been an utter failure. Amtrak's most recent self-abusive threat to discontinue food and beverage service is just further in a long series of proof.
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