Blogs

  • Blog Post: Lessons from Indiana’s experiment with intercity passenger train competition

    Corrected on October 7, 2014 Thanks to the power granted to the states to oversee the provision of short-distance (750 total route miles or fewer) intercity passenger train service by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, several states are investigating the possibility of contracting...
  • Blog Post: From lines on a map to more punctual trains

    Before returning to Washington, DC after meeting with regional transportation leaders around the southwestern US, FRA Administrator Joe Szabo stopped in Salt Lake City to address the annual fall meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP, for which I serve on the national advisory...
  • Blog Post: Amtrak food service doesn’t make money on its own. But that’s not its purpose.

    On-board food & beverage (F&B) service is expensive to provide, particularly in terms of labor, and dining cars on the long-distance trains (source of over 90% of Amtrak’s F&B losses) will probably never completely cover their costs through direct revenue. But diners are an essential...
  • Blog Post: Amtrak's Autumn Express: Rare mileage in hot demand

    On Sunday, I was aboard only the fourth special rare-mileage trip that Amtrak has operated and offered to the public on its own (as opposed to operating charter trips for which tickets are sold by another entity, usually a railroad historical society), each of which sold out quickly — three sold...
  • Blog Post: Amtrak loses patience (finally)

    About time, I say. During an interview with D.J. Stadtler, Amtrak’s VP operations, for a story to appear in the January issue of Trains, I asked why Amtrak hadn’t taken Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation to court over their mishandling of the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited...
  • Blog Post: Of dome cars and sentiment

    [caption image="/cfs-file.ashx/__key/communityserver-blogs-components-weblogfiles/00-00-00-07-48/1200.fromdome.jpeg" position="right"]As seen from dome car 'Ocean View,' Amtrak 'Lincoln Service' train No. 303 rolls south through Illinois. (Photo by David Lassen.)[/caption][caption image="/cfs-file.ashx...
  • Blog Post: Realizing trains’ natural advantage in serving passengers with disabilities

    Note: This is an update of a report I authored for the February 2013 issue of the National Association of Railroad Passengers’ NARP News , while I was employed by the Association. Americans with physical disabilities face challenges in getting from A to B from a combination of factors that people...
  • Blog Post: Justices hear arguments in case that could shift US passenger train landscape

    The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in a case that could have a lasting impact on Amtrak’s status and the shape of the passenger rail industry in this country. The main question in the case, about which I wrote in October , is whether Section 207 of the Passenger Rail Investment...
  • Blog Post: What's become of Amtrak's Performance Improvement Plans?

    The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) required Amtrak to complete Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) for each of its 15 long-distance routes in order to “to achieve financial and operating improvements,” in the words of the legislation. Each plan was to address...
  • Blog Post: 2014’s biggest US passenger train developments

    Revised January 6, 2015 at 12:00 Noon As 2014 winds to a close, let’s take a look back at some of the year’s big stories in the world of American passenger trains. This is not an exhaustive list, but it shows that overall, this has been a year of progress, but only the tepid, very gradual...
  • Blog Post: Amtrak's Business Class too often isn't worth the extra fare

    Let’s pretend that you have little or no experience with train travel in the United States and you’re booking a trip on Amtrak’s website. You’re given a choice between “Reserved Coach” and “Business Class” (for $20 to $50 on top of the base fare). What...
  • Blog Post: Serendipity on board the Silver Star

    [caption image="/cfs-file.ashx/__key/communityserver-blogs-components-weblogfiles/00-00-00-07-48/7573.HollywoodFla.jpg" position="right"]Amtrak shares a station with commuter agency TriRail in Hollywood. Photo by Brian Schmidt[/caption] I'm typing this from on board Amtrak train No. 92, the northbound...
  • Blog Post: How do you predict how many will ride a train?

    Deciding whether or not to introduce a new passenger train service or make changes to existing service comes down to one question: how many (more) people will ride the trains after the changes are made? This is true for both government transportation agencies and private companies. Ridership forecasting...
  • Blog Post: Gazing out the Carolinian window, admiring nature's engineers

    Written February 13, 2014 I’m back aboard Amtrak’s southbound Carolinian , headed to see family and friends in Greensboro, NC, where I grew up. I went for Business Class , as usual. I’m such a regular on this train that the Business Class attendant, who works the southbound on Fridays...
  • Blog Post: A wish list for the next generation of single-level intercity coaches

    25 new baggage cars delivered to Amtrak in November are currently undergoing testing in hopes of being added to passenger train consists in place of 50-plus-year-old Heritage baggage cars this year. Soon, new sleepers, diners and bag-dorm cars should be delivered and put into service. This will hopefully...
  • Blog Post: Breaking down Wednesday’s House floor action on passenger train policy

    Early Wednesday afternoon, the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives passed a bill that would authorize Amtrak and intercity passenger rail programs to be funded at fiscal 2015 levels through fiscal 2020. While the bill , dubbed the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA...
  • Blog Post: What the Supreme Court has, and has not, ruled about Amtrak

    I am nestled into a Roomette aboard the northbound Silver Meteor , hustling up the Northeast Corridor to New York after spending a few days in South Florida. This trip comes amidst a momentous week for passenger trains in America, with the same day bringing news of a key Supreme Court ruling regarding...
  • Blog Post: Two weeks of Wisconsin train watching

    Thursday marked my 14th consecutive day photographing at least one train. The rules were simple: It had to be a genuine, full-size train. No display equipment, no cars on sidings or in yards, and no models. To share my achievement, here are 10 favorite photos from the past two weeks: The westbound...
  • Blog Post: Cascades trains south of Portland could end if budget plan is approved

    Revised Friday 3/27/2015 at 4:15 PM EDT - reaction from State Sen. Richard Devlin added at bottom. Amidst all the media attention on Indiana and Illinois , it is easy to overlook other state-supported Amtrak routes that could be in jeopardy. One state where you would least expect short-distance corridor...
  • Blog Post: The greatest advantage of Amtrak's new baggage cars: bike racks

    The “Viewliner II” series of baggage cars, built by CAF USA, are starting to enter revenue service. I have seen reports that they have already taken the place of Heritage baggage cars (many of which were built in the 1950s and 1960s as coaches, then retrofitted into baggage cars) on the Silver...
  • Blog Post: Food service on Amtrak (ouch!!)

    As an experiment, Amtrak is eliminating the dining car on the New York-Miami Silver Star from July 1 until January 2016. Free meals for sleeping car passengers will cease, but fares for sleeping car space will be lower. I’m all for the test. I’ll tell you what would make it a worthwhile endeavor...
  • Blog Post: Amtrak: Want to shrink your operating deficit? Don’t devalue your product.

    I’ve said this a few times at Observation Tower, and it is once again evident: when it comes to increasing revenue and improving the customer experience, Amtrak management thinks reductively. This is true systemwide, but particularly when it comes to the long-distance trains, which could benefit...
  • Blog Post: Why you often don't pay a premium to ride Acela

    As much as I love the long-distance trains, because of where I live and where the people I most often visit live, the bulk of my train travel is along the Northeast Corridor, particularly Washington, DC to New York, and occasionally to Boston. Being somewhat price sensitive (though not enough so that...
  • Blog Post: Rules written in blood

    The rules by which trains operate on American railroads were written in blood. As the rail network developed in the 19th century, every accident was a lesson learned -- and brought a new rule to prevent it from happening again. Today the General Code of Operating Rules is a 167-page collection of lessons...
  • Blog Post: Derailment should spur concerted bipartisan effort to make train travel safer, better

    The hearts of everyone in the railroad industry and who cares about passenger trains are heavy with the losses suffered in last week’s tragedy in Philadelphia. I started writing this from aboard an Acela Express traveling from Boston to New York on Friday. I was headed to Philadelphia for my cousin’s...