• 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 dgvrengineer
 
The Western Star did not go to Great Falls as far as I can remember. There was a connecting train to and from Havre and Great Falls(#3 & 4) to the Western Star. It also did not have a Portland section and only ran to Seattle on the GN route. There was a SP&S connection in Spokane but required a 5 hour layover at least in 1966. The only other variation from the Empire Builder route was the eastbound Star ran via St.Cloud and Alexandria while the westbound train ran the EB route via Wilmer and Morris in Minnesota. That routing did change as GN & then BN discontinued trains.
  by eolesen
 
I've only seen discussion of a second Twin Cities to Chicago on the same routing as the EB.

Twin Cities to St. Cloud is supposed to be served by Northstar commuter service, but the existing ridership has so underperformed projections that the State can't get FTA grants to fund the extension beyond Big Lake, and it's unlikely that the MN legislature would agree to fund it without FTA grants.
  by John_Perkowski
 
Has anyone recently done a proper passenger traffic demand study to see if a second daily service between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest is justified?
  by Arborwayfan
 
No idea. If they did, I hope they would look at all the station pairs, not just the endpoints. The Builder is probably fine for the end-to-end trade, but some of the possible shorter trips would probably become a lot more attractive to potential pax if there was a second frequency (either because the new frequency would put the trip in daytime, or because two trains would make it more flexible). This would only happen with a second frequency on the same route, which is of course not where this thread started -- that was people on the old NP route wanting a train of their own again -- but it is where a lot of the comments have gone.

And, as you say, a study of the markets for the various possible times and places to add a train would give useful information.
  by gokeefe
 
They don't break out the $159M figure for operations. Looks to me like they're assuming purchase of equipment. Otherwise $159M for operations alone (with leased equipment for example) is totally unsustainable. This would be true even if you spread that figure out over five years (and maybe even 10). Farebox recovery could be less than 10%.
  by mtuandrew
 
Mr. Olesen: Northstar is finally doing better, but still underused. Would have been better to start with service to Hinckley or Red Wing in my opinion, but Northstar was also a political venture to get votes in Central Minnesota (which didn’t work all that well.) I think a second frequency CHI-MSP-STC-FAR (stand-alone or as part of a train to the Pacific) wouldn’t have the same issues, with a bigger anchor at the far end.
  by ryanch
 
The cost figures given in an article mentioned above (in the last day or two) were for service strictly within Montana.

I think that's instructive. I can't conceive that this will be resurrected as an LD.

If anything happens, it will develop as corridors are added over time until most or all of the route is restored -- a 2nd frequency Chgo-Twin Cities, a corridor in Montana scheduled to link up with the Empire Builder, etc.

It's very hard to see any purpose to running a 2nd frequency across North Dakota given current economics. In a setting where a significant majority of voters understand climate change, things could be very different.
  by mtuandrew
 
Here’s a population density map of Montana - you’d hit at probably 75% of the state’s population with a leaf-shaped loop. The stem of the leaf would be Spokane-Sandpoint, and the loop would be Sandpoint-Shelby-Great Falls-Laurel-Helena-Missoula-Sandpoint.

But lord would that be a mostly-empty train.
  by Westernstar1
 
I agree, Mr. Mtuandrew, that the Sandpoint loop would not get much of a ridership, But, interesting.

The link to the Montana population density map, I think, does show a real need for passenger train service from Billings-Livingston-Bozeman-Butte-Helena-Missoula. Even if the train didn't connect with Spokane. If nothing else, it would be a great train ride just for the scenery. A stop at Livingston could reinstate a northern gateway to the northern entrance of Yellowstone Park.

One of my favorite movies is "A River Runs Through It". The movie was set in Missoula and the Blackfoot River from the time of WWI through the 1920's. However, the actual movie filming was done near Livingston, Bozeman, and the Upper Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Boulder rivers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uu-RxCqop98

WS
  by gokeefe
 
ryanch wrote: Thu Jan 16, 2020 1:31 pmIt's very hard to see any purpose to running a 2nd frequency across North Dakota given current economics. In a setting where a significant majority of voters understand climate change, things could be very different.
I think the recent ridership surge to Williston has changed the economics somewhat. Furthermore, unlike virtually all other transcontinental or transcoastal LD services the Empire Builder route serves communities that have a genuine need for rail passenger service due to weather conditions in the winter. Rail itself as a mode for passenger service is the benefit and not just economic development, service to "no flys" or rural areas.

That is a unique situation that in my opinion would in fact justify additional service. It doesn't hurt at all that there are major metropolitan areas towards the ends of the corridor that could benefit from a second daily frequency as well. I know LDs aren't the best way to accomplish that but they provide a good foundation for additional future service.

We will know things are getting serious when someone official floats the Western Star or it's modern day equivalent as a proposed service. Until then I think it's mostly pie in the sky. Nice to think about but permanently unfeasible.

Now ... Try branching service off of a corridor with "two a day each way"? ... Well then you might be on to something.
  by mtuandrew
 
gokeefe wrote: Thu Jan 16, 2020 9:45 pmNow ... Try branching service off of a corridor with "two a day each way"? ... Well then you might be on to something.
I’m not one for complex service arrangements. Having said that — it’s hard to justify two long-distance (i.e. Federally-funded) services to North Dakota when South Dakota has zero Amtrak services and a similar population. You could make a case for a Builder section CHI-MSP that then served Minneapolis Target Field, Willmar, Pipestone, Sioux Falls, Sioux City, and terminated at OMA. (The Target Field stop would likely “subsidize” most of the ridership to South Dakota — meaning it would make the ridership numbers look good enough to justify the train.)
  by Tadman
 
gokeefe wrote: Thu Jan 16, 2020 9:45 pm Furthermore, unlike virtually all other transcontinental or transcoastal LD services the Empire Builder route serves communities that have a genuine need for rail passenger service due to weather conditions in the winter.
I just can't buy this anymore.

First, Amtrak sees plenty of cancellations on this line when snow gets crazy, because BNSF backs up and tells Amtrak to quit for a week. It happened recently.

Second, the idea that Amtrak is a lifeline just doesn't hold water. How do people get to the train station? Maybe it's ok to drive 10 miles to the station but not 200 to Helena or Billings, but what about the thousands of people that live 50-100 miles off the mainline? Somehow they find it safe to drive that 100 miles in snow to the train but not Billings or Helena?

This idea worked when cars had bad tires, carburetors, and people didn't have internet. But today the needs to travel are less and the ability is far better.
  by Ridgefielder
 
Tadman wrote: Fri Jan 17, 2020 10:57 am
gokeefe wrote: Thu Jan 16, 2020 9:45 pm Furthermore, unlike virtually all other transcontinental or transcoastal LD services the Empire Builder route serves communities that have a genuine need for rail passenger service due to weather conditions in the winter.
I just can't buy this anymore.

First, Amtrak sees plenty of cancellations on this line when snow gets crazy, because BNSF backs up and tells Amtrak to quit for a week. It happened recently.

Second, the idea that Amtrak is a lifeline just doesn't hold water. How do people get to the train station? Maybe it's ok to drive 10 miles to the station but not 200 to Helena or Billings, but what about the thousands of people that live 50-100 miles off the mainline? Somehow they find it safe to drive that 100 miles in snow to the train but not Billings or Helena?

This idea worked when cars had bad tires, carburetors, and people didn't have internet. But today the needs to travel are less and the ability is far better.
Disagree.

First, we're not talking about serving the farmers 100 mi off the main line. We're talking about the people in Williston (pop. 30k) trying to get to Fargo or the Twin Cities.

Second, nobody finds it "safe" to drive 100 mi in bad weather there-- fuel injection or no. Here for instance is today's forecast for NE North Dakota:
...BLIZZARD WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 2 AM TO 6 PM CST
SATURDAY...

* WHAT...Blizzard conditions expected.
Total snow accumulations of 1 to 3 inches. Winds gusting as
high as 50 mph.

* WHERE...Portions of northwest Minnesota and northeast and
southeast North Dakota.

* WHEN...For the Blizzard Warning, from 2 AM to 6 PM CST
Saturday. For the Winter Weather Advisory, until 2 AM CST
Saturday.

* IMPACTS...Travel could be very difficult. Widespread blowing
snow could significantly reduce visibility. The hazardous
conditions could impact the evening commute. Gusty winds could
bring down tree branches. The dangerously cold wind chills as
low as 35 below zero could cause frostbite on exposed skin in
as little as 10 minutes.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

Travel should be restricted to emergencies only. If you must
travel, have a winter survival kit with you. If you get stranded,
stay with your vehicle.
People die in this. Every winter. And as you can see from the above, it doesn't take *crazy* snow. It just takes a few inches with a 50kt wind behind it to make the roads deadly-- white-out conditions and drifts across everything. That's why, once you get out onto the open prairie west of the Twin Cities, the interstate highway on-ramps have gates that the Highway Patrol can swing shut to close the road when they hear that weather is moving in.
  by mtuandrew
 
Ridgefielder: yep, it’s a rare winter that I-94 isn’t closed west of St. Cloud at least once. But does Amtrak run in that weather? I don’t think it does, at least not in entirely-impassable weather (how do employees get to work? How do you get to a siding to fix a switch heater? Who comes to help a train with a medical emergency aboard?) Amtrak’s weather immunity is only as good as its host road and its own equipment.

That isn’t to say that small towns have an outsize amount of ridership, they do, but it isn’t just because of weather.
  by eolesen
 
Any condition closing I-94 is going to shut down the BNSF....
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