I still don't understand this. Why didn't Amtrak study the "12 hours off" schedule option as well? It seems like the obvious choice. How much extra work could it have been?
That's a good question. The study should have done a lot of things it didn't.
The reason the proposed schedule shows going across Montana during the daytime is that Montana Senator Jon Tester is the one who got the study added to the bill, and Montanans are the main push for the train, so you can bet they'd want the train to run through there at decent hours.
Rather than publish a schedule 12 hours later or whatever (not hard to do, just add or subtract the same number of hours at each stop), what I think should have been done is show the relative costs if the train ran on a slower schedule. The amount of work that was put into this appears to be nearly zero. Except for the routing through Helena instead of Butte, scheduled running times are nearly the same as when the last trains operated. Given that most of the money required for the new service is for track infrastructure improvements, why not investigate a cost with a much slower schedule?
Interestingly, the cost for the new service includes six sets of equipment, but the rotation shown for the proposed schedule does it with five! Existing bus service along the route is just as fast or faster than when a passenger train last ran. West of Billings, Montana, the bus is much faster. Most of the stops have air service, and many have air service to multiple hubs. So, obviously, the train isn't going to be able to compete with the other modes anyway with regard to speed. Why not show a train on a schedule 6 or 8 hours longer than the Empire Builder? Many people choose to ride passenger train due to comfort and convenience, without regard to speed. It might have even kept the cost below the billion dollar mark.
One of the things that proves that this study was made without much effort was the stations. Basically, uniform station costs were assigned for everyplace, and the same station stops as in the past were projected (except Helena for Butte).
Why would the train stop at Paradise (about 200 people) instead of Plains or Thompson Falls? Why would there need to be stop at East Auburn, Washington when the new Sounder station in downtown Auburn would do very nicely? Since none of the stations are currently able to handle a passenger train, they were starting at scratch, so their copying previous stops without any variation to me only shows laziness.
The only reason I mention this is because so little effort was put into defining actual costs of different scenarios, I believe the whole study is of little value. I think the service has a zero percent chance of happening, but with a little more effort, maybe options with less sticker shock might have made the expenditure look a bit more palatable than it does right now.