• North Coast Hiawatha Study

  • 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 wigwagfan
 
mtuandrew wrote:I find it very suspicious that BNSF requires $546.6 million - over half of the proposed cost - to run an additional train daily each way. Aren't there enough alternate freight routes that they can use from St. Paul to the MRL at Jones Junction, and from Spokane to Seattle?
Well, we could eliminate those costs...but since this trackage hasn't been used by passenger trains, it hasn't been maintained to passenger train (FRA Class 4) standards. So if you don't mind a top speed of 60 MPH or lower, then yes - we could cut a lot of those costs.

My question is: What is with running a second train into Spokane at O-dark-thirty? Come on, if Spokane is going to have two trains, can't ONE of them be a daytime train? Maybe run the train out of Seattle very late - around 10:00 PM or so (let the passengers board the train around 8:30 or so) so that it'll at least arrive in Spokane around 6:00 or 7:00 AM.

Secondly: Why not a Portland section? Certainly it would be nice for Pasco residents to have a more convenient train into Spokane.
  by mtuandrew
 
wigwagfan wrote:Well, we could eliminate those costs...but since this trackage hasn't been used by passenger trains, it hasn't been maintained to passenger train (FRA Class 4) standards. So if you don't mind a top speed of 60 MPH or lower, then yes - we could cut a lot of those costs.

My question is: What is with running a second train into Spokane at O-dark-thirty? Come on, if Spokane is going to have two trains, can't ONE of them be a daytime train? Maybe run the train out of Seattle very late - around 10:00 PM or so (let the passengers board the train around 8:30 or so) so that it'll at least arrive in Spokane around 6:00 or 7:00 AM.

Secondly: Why not a Portland section? Certainly it would be nice for Pasco residents to have a more convenient train into Spokane.
According to the study, the entirety of the new passenger track will still have that 60 mph limit, except for the Stampede Sub's 49 mph limit. The majority of that $546.6 million goes to new sidings, as the BNSF claims they can't otherwise accommodate the NCH despite only having 20 trains daily through North Dakota and only 2-3 on the Stampede Sub. Why can't they divert a few of them to the ex-Milwaukee or the ex-GN?

As for timing, I think the NCH schedule is great for MSP-CHI traffic :-D Departures two hours earlier on both ends would allow for slightly more sane boarding times in Spokane, though. No opinion on Pasco-Portland service - there's the Builder already, but another train might be useful.
Last edited by mtuandrew on Sun Oct 18, 2009 9:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
While at first glance, I would be quick to place my $2 on that proverbial "snowball in hades', there is always the chance that Sen. Baucus (D-MT) will deliver to 1600 what the President wants to sign regarding Health Care. Sen Baucus has in the past been involved with railroad affairs; when the MILW shut down Lines West circa 1979, he set forth a "directed service' initiative which i guess resulted in a short 'stay of execution' for the inevitable.

Well maybe if Sen. Baucus has a passenger train "chip' to cash in, a restored Hiawatha could be a go, otherwise I think it chugged its last along the Yellowstone and Clark Fork thirty years ago.
  by Vincent
 
The NCH proposal seems to be designed to placate the URPA lobbyists. I think there might be some possible corridors along the route, but a full service long distance train from Chicago to Seattle seems a bit too much. Another section from Chicago to MSP with a possible extension to Bismarck might be a good idea. Billings to Missoula and possibly Spokane might also work. There also is the chance that Washington State might someday fund service over Stampede Pass to connect Seattle with Ellensburg, Yakima and the Tri-Cities. The cost of running a full service LD operation is quoted at about $45 per mile, most shorter distance, state supported trains cost about $30 per mile, so I would suggest that instead of proposing one LD train from Seattle to Chicago, Amtrak should look at the 3 shorter distance trains I mentioned above and time them to optimize ridership and maximize revenue. As wigwagfan said, there really isn't a need for another train from Seattle to Spokane that arrives after midnight, but daylight service might work.
  by Tadman
 
I second the idea of another MSP-CHI service. A reliable 79mph train on this route makes sense.
  by neroden
 
mtuandrew wrote:I find it very suspicious that BNSF requires $546.6 million - over half of the proposed cost - to run an additional train daily each way. Aren't there enough alternate freight routes that they can use from St. Paul to the MRL at Jones Junction,
For passengers, this is the only route which hits both Fargo and Bismarck, and therefore the only reasonable one.

For freight, there might be alternative routes (there's a BNSF route through South Dakota and a combination of shortlines in North Dakota which avoids Fargo by going well south of it) but I assume they would require large upgrades for BNSF to consider switching to them, and they'd also be generally unusable for traffic headed to northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Canada, which really needs to go via Fargo.
  by neroden
 
As a comment on the train in general, I would personally ride it to Bismarck, where I have a friend.

One of the stronger motivations for this train is the impossibility of getting between Montana and North Dakota by means other than car, which means that three corridor trains would be much less popular than a connected train.

I do wonder why it's being proposed on essentially the same schedule as the Empire Builder, which seems bizarre. Shouldn't it be 12 hours off? OK, that would be a little odd in Chicago, so maybe a 10 PM departure westbound and a 6 AM arrival eastbound. Wouldn't that serve Minneapolis, Fargo, and Spokane better, as well as (!) everywhere in North Dakota? Alternatively, if the priority is daytime service in Billings and Missoula, run the NCH on the proposed schedule and put the Empire Builder 12 hours off!

It makes no sense to run them both on the same schedule over this route. The pair of trains on opposing schedules would be much more successful than a pair on the same schedule, and would probably lead to more new passengers due to twice as many departure times (for those willing to drive to the "other set" of stations half the time). It would also provide a nice long (=reliable, tourist-friendly) connection for Eastern trains at Chicago eastbound, and a "cleanup" train to the west for people whose eastern train came in late to Chicago westbound.

You'd think it would even help with BNSF's scheduling, since they wouldn't be accomodating two passenger trains going the same direction on parallel lines at close to the same time....
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
Oh well, in the "Blue Moon" chance that this additional rail service is the chip that Sen. Baucus (D-MT) will cash in @ 1600 after whatever health care reform is enacted, and Mr. Roden's thoughts prevail, may as well name it The Mainstreeter.

After all, it would serve Helena, and not Butte.
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Tue Oct 20, 2009 1:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by delvyrails
 
I don't have a timetable at hand, but there was a time when Amtrak operated both EB and NCH on opposed schedules. One of the trains operated overnight between Chicago and Twin Cities, with a daytime schedule in Washington state.
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
Circa 1977 Mr. Pawson.

I rode the Pioneer Limited, whoops Empire Builder, November that year CHI to MSP; I'll even acknowledge that consist was classier than any the MILW ever had.
  by mtuandrew
 
neroden wrote:
mtuandrew wrote:I find it very suspicious that BNSF requires $546.6 million - over half of the proposed cost - to run an additional train daily each way. Aren't there enough alternate freight routes that they can use from St. Paul to the MRL at Jones Junction,
For passengers, this is the only route which hits both Fargo and Bismarck, and therefore the only reasonable one.

For freight, there might be alternative routes (there's a BNSF route through South Dakota and a combination of shortlines in North Dakota which avoids Fargo by going well south of it) but I assume they would require large upgrades for BNSF to consider switching to them, and they'd also be generally unusable for traffic headed to northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Canada, which really needs to go via Fargo.
I agree on the passenger aspect, though it would be nice to serve South Dakota on the Route of the Olympian Hiawatha (if only for the potential Congresscritters.) My quandary is that BNSF has four freight routes through the Dakotas and Nebraska, and I can't quite understand what BNSF would want to route on the NP through North Dakota. The only commodities produced in quantity in Wyoming are coal, oil, gas and mineral products, and the only place they can go on the NP that they COULDN'T easily go by another route is Duluth. Anything else (minus seasonal grain trains, a mixed freight serving central North Dakota and detours) could be fairly easily diverted to the ex-MILW through South Dakota, the CB&Q through Wyoming, or the GN high line across northern North Dakota.

Whatever the case, $546.6 million still seems like a lot of money to avoid slogging behind freight trains. Perhaps your idea of moving the train to a different time slot would free up some of that congestion and save the Feds money in the end? I like BNSF, but this seems like they're going well above and beyond operational necessity.


Mr. Norman: Good call on Mainstreeter vs. North Coast Limited... er, Hiawatha.
  by kmillard
 
Question; Didn't the former North Coast Mainstreeter or whatever it was operate via Stampede pass before??? What would it cost to upgrade the ventilation on the Cascade tunnel???

The history of the North Coast Limited is certainly a highly respected one in Montana and North Dakota. We're talking about a train with a 70-year history starting in 1901 through A-Day 1971 and was considered by many to possibly be the finest, best operated train in America (with proper respect to the Empire Builder, Super Chief, Twentieth Century Limited, Panama Limited, and Broadway Limited. during it's years of NP and BN operation. It had only one fatality associated with it's 70-year operation giving it an impeccable safety record. The name of 70 years is the longest running train name in the US after "Sunset Limited." ("California Zephyr" had it's 60-year anniversary this year, but it has a 12-year hiatus from 1971 to 1983 while the D&RGW operated it's own "Rio Grande Zephyr.")

Seems to me that if Amtrak was to add any service ANYWHERE, it should start off where there's been a history of successful passenger operations in the past and where Amtrak themselves once served. While corridors are certainly where it's at in terms of where Amtrak's bread is going to be buttered, it also seems that Amtrak has hamstrung itself politically with its skeletal national system and its time to add some meat added to the bones.
  by Station Aficionado
 
kmillard wrote:While corridors are certainly where it's at in terms of where Amtrak's bread is going to be buttered, it also seems that Amtrak has hamstrung itself politically with its skeletal national system and its time to add some meat added to the bones.
Valid point, but the proposed NCH will not add much in political support over what already exists--Montana and N. Dak. each have one congressman, and they and the senators from those two states are already very pro-Amtrak.

While I'm not sure if it's worthwhile (depending on what the "real" start-up costs are), it is the only one of the three studied LD routes that seems to me to serve significant transportation purposes (add'l CHI-MSP frequency, add'l SEA-SPK service albeit at bad hours, service to communities with limited options for those unable or disinclined to drive long distances, possibly providing a car-free way to get to Yellowstone).
  by kmillard
 
I'm not saying this should be the only trains added. Besides, Montana and North Dakota are "Red" states which traditionally have voted for the Republican Presidential candidate and Baucus, Conrad, Tester, and Dorgan can be vulnerable in their re-election bids if they become referrendums on Barak Obama. The reality is the Democrats are hardly going to have a fillibuster-proof majority in the Senate after November 2010 (They only have that in name only now) and in all liklihood will lose control of the House. Even Harry Reid is looking very vulnerable in Nevada for 2010.

I believe there should also be a revival of the Pioneer and Desert Wind along with a re-instatement of Gulf Coast service.

From this study, it appears this revived "North Coast Mainstreeter" would perform quite admirably especially in comparison to other Amtrak LD trains with roughly 1000 riders a day (combined) and a higher than average farebox recovery of 58% to 52%. In fact, with 153 passenger miles per train mile, thats a superior projection to a restored Sunset between New Orleans and Orlando or a restored Pioneer. I just don't get why it would take Amtrak 4 to 5 YEARS from the time funding is available to add a single train. To me that's just godawful inefficiency and ineptitude.

I think it's time to open up bidding for service contracts to other service providers such as Royal Caribbean or Virgin and make this competitive rather than just let Amtrak assume that they get to run this service by default. If they have to be the horses @a$$e$ in the transport industry and can't get things done efficiently, then it's high time we find someone who will.
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