• 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 Station Aficionado
 
jstolberg wrote:On October 31st I suggested a long feeder bus through southern Montana connecting to the Empire Builder at Williston, ND. Setting up that bus route would require negotiating a contract with a local bus company (probably Rimrock Stages), adding the bus to the reservations system, printing a few schedules and making a press announcement. It could all be done in a matter of weeks, not years. And the bus would start making money from day one. Amtrak and Rimrock could split the profits on the bus leg and Amtrak would benefit from 30 or more passengers filling the seats and roomettes from Williston to points east (at least on off-peak days when the Empire Builder isn't already full). During peak times, Rimrock would still make money on local travel between Williston and I-90.

Williston is a booming town. Amtrak boardings there surged 22% last year despite the flooding that shut down the Empire Builder for much of the summer. The oil business is booming in the area and many workers are making 6 figure salaries on a schedule that has them working 20 days on and 10 days off. That means many of them are traveling between their home state and work twice every 30 days from a city whose airport has 6 flights per day. If they don't take the train east, they might take a bus west.

This is a slam dunk. It won't take millions to start up. It won't take 4 years or more to implement. It doesn't require an Environmental Impact Study. It doesn't require that Amtrak buy any new equipment or train any new employees. It doesn't require congressional approval. It doesn't require an operating subsidy. It will make money for Amtrak the first month and every month.

Start the bus service now. Then after it gets established, Montana and North Dakota can lobby to get a rail service going.
Interesting idea (I think I missed your earlier post). It would be a long ride. If a bus were to start in Missoula (I think the logical stops would be Missoula, either Helena or Butte, Bozeman an Billings), it would be 10-11 hrs to reach Williston (about 5 hrs from Billings), assuming good weather. If you wanted a bus connection (ie, to connect to the WB Builder to go to Seattle/Portland) in the other direction, you could run Billings-Missoula-Whitefish in about 8 hrs. Those runs (just to connect with a train) might be a bit too long on a bus for a lot of people, but at the very least there could be Missoula-Whitefish and Billings-Williston connections. As you suggest, setting up bus connections ought to be pretty quick and cheap.
  by jstolberg
 
Station Aficionado wrote:Interesting idea (I think I missed your earlier post). It would be a long ride. If a bus were to start in Missoula (I think the logical stops would be Missoula, either Helena or Butte, Bozeman an Billings), it would be 10-11 hrs to reach Williston (about 5 hrs from Billings), assuming good weather. If you wanted a bus connection (ie, to connect to the WB Builder to go to Seattle/Portland) in the other direction, you could run Billings-Missoula-Whitefish in about 8 hrs. Those runs (just to connect with a train) might be a bit too long on a bus for a lot of people, but at the very least there could be Missoula-Whitefish and Billings-Williston connections. As you suggest, setting up bus connections ought to be pretty quick and cheap.
The original post is just one page back, but I'll repost my draft schedule here.
Image
John Stolberg
  by Tadman
 
Over the last two years there's been chatter about starting a new North Coast Hiawatha. I've been pretty strongly against such because it's not a very populated area. But yesterday I saw a map, and at least across North Dakota and Montana, the southerly ex-NP route hits four significant population centers while the northerly ex-GN route hits none between Grand Forks (ND-MN border) and Spokane.

I still don't advocate a revival of the NCH in addition to the Builder, and in fact I advocate for replacing the Builder with a SEA-SPK 1/day and a CHI-MSP 3/day. That said, if the LD is to remain, how about a reroute over the NP from MSP to Sandpoint? You'd at least hit a lot more population centers.
  by TomNelligan
 
I can't comment knowledgeably about the local markets for rail travel in North Dakota and Montana, but from a scenery standpoint the climb westbound out of Butte on the Northern Pacific route was spectacular, especially when viewed from a traditional Budd dome car. I'd love to have a chance to ride it again.
  by CarterB
 
Other than Billings, Butte and Bismarck and Fargo, what ridership would/could increase compared to those who go to/from Glacier Park, Minot, Havre and Whitefish?
  by M&Eman
 
The Builder works BECAUSE it's out of the way. There is no highway paralleling the route of the Builder, meaning that for many of these small and mid-size towns, the train is the best way in and out. The southerly route parallels I-90, so there are already fast intercity busses as well as air service (due to larger population centers) in those places. Getting rid of Amtrak's most successful LD train makes absolutely no sense.
  by Tadman
 
The highway argument is an interesting one, I hadn't thought of that.

As to labeling it the most successful intercity train, by what measurement is that based on? I'm not arguing with you, just curious.
  by CarterB
 
Don't have the ridership stats at hand, but the Builder is normally sold out months in advance both ways. The WOOF's love that train also. Book the Bedrooms solid.
  by byte
 
Amtrak contracted out a university to do some work on the 2009 NCH I know this because I was one of the people working on said study! This was the end result: http://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/492/133/Nor ... eStudy.pdf

Can't remember exactly why it didn't get off the ground (it was finished after I graduated) but I think it was due to the high cost of infrastructure upgrades over track which doesn't currently see passenger rail service. My exact role in the project was helping put the hypothetical schedule together, and calculating how long it would take the train to traverse the new routing west of Fargo (including station stops, acceleration, deceleration, etc). From what I remember, the speeds over the MRL were going to be really slow, unless you threw a ton of money into the infrastructure.
  by Station Aficionado
 
TomNelligan wrote:I can't comment knowledgeably about the local markets for rail travel in North Dakota and Montana, but from a scenery standpoint the climb westbound out of Butte on the Northern Pacific route was spectacular, especially when viewed from a traditional Budd dome car. I'd love to have a chance to ride it again.
Perhaps you're thinking of Homestake Pass east of Butte, Mr. Nelligan? I don't think the line west of Butte does all that much climbing all the way to Missoula. In any event, the NP is severed east of Butte (tracks in place, but long out of service), so any reborn NCL would have to go via Helena.
  by Station Aficionado
 
M&Eman wrote:The Builder works BECAUSE it's out of the way. There is no highway paralleling the route of the Builder, meaning that for many of these small and mid-size towns, the train is the best way in and out. The southerly route parallels I-90, so there are already fast intercity busses as well as air service (due to larger population centers) in those places. Getting rid of Amtrak's most successful LD train makes absolutely no sense.
I think that was the rationale when Amtrak started. Route 2, which does parallel the EB route has been considerably improved over the years, but the train still gets great ridership. Part of the explanation is that there's an aging population along the route, and there are not a lot of other non-driving alternatives (at least on the Montana part of the route).
  by Station Aficionado
 
Tadman wrote:Over the last two years there's been chatter about starting a new North Coast Hiawatha. I've been pretty strongly against such because it's not a very populated area. But yesterday I saw a map, and at least across North Dakota and Montana, the southerly ex-NP route hits four significant population centers while the northerly ex-GN route hits none between Grand Forks (ND-MN border) and Spokane.

I still don't advocate a revival of the NCH in addition to the Builder, and in fact I advocate for replacing the Builder with a SEA-SPK 1/day and a CHI-MSP 3/day. That said, if the LD is to remain, how about a reroute over the NP from MSP to Sandpoint? You'd at least hit a lot more population centers.
But remember that Whitefish produces the highest ridership for the train of any stop between St. Paul and Seattle/Portland, higher even than Spokane.

If one were beginning Amtrak from scratch, I'd tend to agree with you. But the costs now would be too high. As I've learned from other threads, it would be no simple matter to move the train, particularly to route that hasn't had service in 30+ years. And, as I understand it, there is the problem of a pretty constant stream of coal trains from Billings eastward on former NP. I highly doubt BNSF would look kindly on the move.
  by jp1822
 
Why ruin a good thing with the Empire Builder. In terms of ridership, it is near the top of Amtrak's long distance trains. AND if additional capacity was added, as this train continually runs sold out, I think you would find that more passengers would be on the Empire Builder. This train gets spectacular patronage in the Glacier Natioal Park area.

That being said, there is erit to the NCH route, as it would hit some large population centers. It has also been suggested that Montana run a state-supported train across the southern tier.

Scenery across the NCH route I think was superior than that of the Empire Builder. Glacier National Park has nice scenery for the EB but it is relatively short lived even eastbound.
  by Vincent
 
I think the reason Amtrak has the Empire Builder instead of the North Coast Limited is that although the EB doesn't hit the largest population centers in Montana, the overall track profile of the Hi Line is lower in elevation, a few miles shorter and has fewer ups and downs to contend with. BN stopped running its freight trains over most of the NCL trackage because the Hi Line was an easier route from the Pacific Northwest to the midwest and Amtrak was left no choice. It's been said the Montana Rail Link would be open to passenger service on its tracks, but there would need to be a source of money for the rehabilitation of those tracks and signals before Amtrak (or someone else) carries any passengers between Billings and Missoula.

Also, remember that although Billings is the largest population center in Montana, its total population (according to the census bureau's MSA stats) is about 160,000 people, #249 in the USA. For comparison, Bend OR is #248 and Janesville WI is #250. Missoula is ranked #332 and Bozeman, Helena, Butte don't even make the list. So while a passenger train on the North Coast line might pick up some additional passengers in MT, the service would still require a hefty subsidy.
  by Noel Weaver
 
It appears to me that the type of passenger who rides the EB is leasure, tourists, folks with no other transportation options and others enroute to the parks and resorts along the way. I have ridden practically all of the present route as well as some of the NP route and both are scenic but Whitefish alone has huge ridership and this should not be put aside which it would with a reroute. My vote is to leave what's working well alone.
Noel Weaver
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