Big, Bad, New Fred Frailey

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Big, Bad, New Fred Frailey
Posted by Convicted One on Saturday, July 07, 2018 6:26 PM

Reading his August, 2018 opinion piece, at first I thought he was crazy. But the more I think about it, the more he makes sense. What he's really talking about is to operate the long distance trains more like tourist railroads.

And, IMO, Amtrak has cut back it's offerings to the point that they really don't serve the needs of most people who NEED to get from point A to Point B efficiently, so they have made themselves into a boutique business of sorts already, so why not?

Cutting the Lake Shore Limited back to Buffalo surprised me a little, has demand for Chicago-NYC routing dwindled so badly that the New York segment is un needed?  I read elsewhere in the August issue that the Albany-NYC segment is annulled already for infrastructure work, so is it possible this segment might never be added back in? 

Enjoyed Bob Johnston's article this month as well. I'd really like to see Trains magazine delve  deeper in to the counterpoints he presents to Amtraks flippant assertions about non-performance....particularly pressing for a fleshing out of Amtrak's covert "fully allocated cost" accounting methods.  

I do miss Don Philips' "bare knucks" style of investigative reporting, he would be the perfect instrument to persue this latter area.

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Posted by SD70Dude on Monday, July 09, 2018 12:43 AM

I have not yet gotten the August issue, but one must be careful what you wish for.

You could end up with VIA's current Canadian situation, which despite being a beautiful train (inside and out) is unaffordable for the average joe and runs only twice a week during the off-season.  And of course still fails to earn a profit.

Maybe this is just the fence and greener grass thing, but as a Canadian I would much prefer having a Empire Builder-style train up here instead.  At least then the local population would still remember that a passenger train actually runs out here.

Greetings from Alberta

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Posted by Miningman on Monday, July 09, 2018 1:21 AM

Exactly Dude ...would love to say if Amtrak or his wallet Uncle Sam does not want the Empire Builder any longer then it would be a golden opportunity for VIA to buy the equipment but of course they are not in the ordinary people business any longer when it comes to this sort of service. Also they are not that smart. 

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Posted by oltmannd on Monday, July 09, 2018 12:32 PM

Convicted One
Reading his August, 2018 opinion piece, at first I thought he was crazy. But the more I think about it, the more he makes sense. What he's really talking about is to operate the long distance trains more like tourist railroads. And, IMO, Amtrak has cut back it's offerings to the point that they really don't serve the needs of most people who NEED to get from point A to Point B efficiently, so they have made themselves into a boutique business of sorts already, so why not?

Welcome to the "we need a better Amtrak" club!

Taking the existing routes and trying to fit the trains and schedules to the places people are when they are awake is a noble task, too long ignored by Amtrak.

The club needs as many members as it can find.  It might be the only hope for keeping a national Amtrak....

-Don (Random stuff, mostly about trains - what else? http://blerfblog.blogspot.com/

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Monday, July 09, 2018 1:07 PM

Fred's column about two months ago had a good idea (but some folks on here would disagree because they want to return to the 1950s):

"Adopt a dining car menu like Amtrak offers its first-class customers on Acela—precooked and prepackaged food that is heated and served on board. These meals taste at least as good as what comes from today’s dining cars and usually better. Amtrak recently rotated between three such menus on Acela. Breakfast options included tomato confit omelet, steak and eggs, a fruit plate or a continental plate, along with granola bars and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. Recent lunch and dinner offerings included Brazilian cod filet, Moroccan beef brisket, double fried chicken, and shrimp biryani, plus rolls and dessert. There is no cooking onboard and no wasted food. A single attendant could serve about one plate per minute, working small microwave and convection ovens."

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Posted by MidlandMike on Monday, July 09, 2018 8:57 PM

Convicted One

Reading his August, 2018 opinion piece, at first I thought he was crazy. But the more I think about it, the more he makes sense. What he's really talking about is to operate the long distance trains more like tourist railroads.

...

 

I read the article, and Fred's blog on same, and nowhere do I get the impression that he wants to operate the LD trains like tour trains.

While many of Amtrak's trains probably have a corresponding train that was operated in the 50s, there are many more trains that operated in the 50s that ATK could not include because of their limited budget.  There were daylight trains to Cleveland in the 50s, but ATK is limited to one train per day on LD routes, so cities in the middle wind up as mid-night stops.  Cleveland could have daytime service to Chicago, but Ohio and Indiana would have to pay for any losses.  Many posters seemed to have missed that Fred suspended the 750 mile rule for his imaginary exercise.

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Posted by oltmannd on Monday, July 09, 2018 9:03 PM

MidlandMike
Many posters seemed to have missed that Fred suspended the 750 mile rule for his imaginary exercise.

You can get around it by just splitting the schedule.  Day train from Chicago to Cleveland.  Looooong dwell in Cleveland with thru pax going to hotels (included in fare), then the next AM continue on to New York. Doesn't even have to be the same equipment, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  

-Don (Random stuff, mostly about trains - what else? http://blerfblog.blogspot.com/

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Posted by oltmannd on Monday, July 09, 2018 9:08 PM

oltmannd

 

 
MidlandMike
Many posters seemed to have missed that Fred suspended the 750 mile rule for his imaginary exercise.

 

You can get around it by just splitting the schedule.  Day train from Chicago to Cleveland.  Looooong dwell in Cleveland with thru pax going to hotels (included in fare), then the next AM continue on to New York. Doesn't even have to be the same equipment, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  

 

But, in fairness, the LSL and the Autotrain and perhaps the Meteor are best left as overnight trains.

-Don (Random stuff, mostly about trains - what else? http://blerfblog.blogspot.com/

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Posted by Convicted One on Monday, July 09, 2018 10:41 PM

MidlandMike
nowhere do I get the impression that he wants to operate the LD trains like tour trains.

Converting the City of New Orleans  into a  two consecutive day trip to permit passengers a night to disemnbark in Memphis for ribs and blues? Breaking other long distance routes into daylight only segments, permitting sightseers more opportunities to gawk?

Sounds  "touristy" to me.  

Keep in mind that    I qualified in my original post about not meeting the needs of passengers whose first priority is just to get from point A to point B.  Adding these additional amusement stops only delays the trip even further.

So, really the service they'd be selling is  more geared to those more interested in a "train experience" than they are in getting to their destination efficiently.

So, why not rebrand that way? Perhaps they could even take some tips from major league baseball? Add a few Ferris Wheels, swimming pools, synchronized fountains, even have special promotions such as "mullet night", etc.

Have a little something for everyone.Mischief

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Posted by Convicted One on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 7:51 PM

That's really not as outlandish as it might at first sound. Grand Rapids & Indiana rr (The Fishing Line) used to publish guides to Northern Michigan fishing hotspots and the mighty PRR had a fishing bureau to keep tabs on "when they were biting", to use as advertising hoping to entice St Louis and East coast fishing enthusiasts to schedule a trip. Sleeper services available  between Mackinaw City and Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, St Louis, and Columbus OH "in season".

I'm sure that wasn't an isolated instance. Several railroads were also in the "resort" business. 

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Posted by MidlandMike on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 8:17 PM

As a railfan I love the idea of traveling in daylight and stoping overnight, provided the hotel is just across the concourse like CP hotels.  Nevertheless, I would do it only once.  Most travelers don't want the expense in time and hotel bill.  I don't want to cancel LD trains.  I hope the states step up to add corridor service.  Tennessee might approach Illinois about extending a Carbondale train to Memphis.

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Posted by SD70Dude on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 12:34 AM

Some years ago VIA converted the Jasper-Prince Rupert train from a continuous run with sleepers to a daylight coach-only tourist train with a stopover in Prince George, through passengers are expected to arrange their own hotel.  The change was not a success, and nowadays that train regularly runs almost empty.

Greetings from Alberta

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Posted by Deggesty on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 7:57 AM

When I rode it  in October four years ago (Tourist westbound, coach eastbound) the tourist car was better than half full, and the coach had a fair load also. I think that most of the westbound tourist passengers also continued on to Port Hardy the day after arriving in Prince Rupert, for I saw several on board the ferry. There were sevral local coach passenger eastbound.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 10:31 AM

Convicted One
I qualified in my original post about not meeting the needs of passengers whose first priority is just to get from point A to point B.  Adding these additional amusement stops only delays the trip even further. So, really the service they'd be selling is  more geared to those more interested in a "train experience" than they are in getting to their destination efficiently.

If people want to get from CHI to LA efficiently, you seriously think many of them would opt for a 43 hour ride costing $142 to 670 [based on the SWC on July 25? 
Most folks would fly, 4.5 hours, $137 to 198, and have a lot more time at their destination. 

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Posted by Deggesty on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 11:12 AM

It is true that not many people really prefer the civilized comfort of travel by train to the hassled, cramped travel by air, and make allowance for the increased travel time in their plans.

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Posted by zugmann on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 7:06 PM

Deggesty
It is true that not many people really prefer the civilized comfort of travel by train to the hassled, cramped travel by air, and make allowance for the increased travel time in their plans.

Most of us don't have the ability to allocate the extra time.

 The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by Deggesty on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 8:06 PM

That's true, Zug. Generally, the people I have met when traveling in sleepers\ are older, perhaps retired people. But, I have noticed many younger people traveling coach when I was able to walk through the trains without difficulty.

Johnny

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Posted by Miningman on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 8:26 PM

Downtown to downtown, overnight, supper at home with your family, good nights sleep and breakfast in the Diner was the model of efficiency  with zero wasted time. It also gave one time to prepare and be social. 

Nothing came close. 

Long distance different but hey, it's the journey that's half the experience.

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Posted by Convicted One on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 8:39 PM

Deggesty
prefer the civilized comfort of travel by train

Regarding that, for someone traveling 3 days  in coach, do they have any access to a shower without having to pay for a roomette for one night?

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Posted by Convicted One on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 8:53 PM

charlie hebdo
If people want to get from CHI to LA efficiently, you seriously think many of them would opt for a 43 hour ride costing $142 to 670 [based on the SWC on July 25?

Most likely not, but in some instances I've heard about people traveling by Amtrak coach  cheaper than they could get airfare.

Even coach on Amtrak has got to seem like the Taj Mahal compared to Greyhound? 

My last experience with Amtrak, I was trying to arrange a trip from Los Angeles to Northern Indiana. The killer was that they wanted to drop me off in the middle of a corn field during the wee hours of the morning.  No one that I knew was thrilled with the idea of having to make a 100 mile round trip at that time  of the morning to pick me up, and the extra cost to have a cab on standby was ridiculous.

 

All of this current discussion, IMO, is moot. I really don't think the people running Amtrak have much interest in growing the business.  

They're stuck on the "if every fare operates at a net loss, let's save some money by shedding passengers" POV

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Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 9:10 PM

charlie hebdo

 

If people want to get from CHI to LA efficiently, you seriously think many of them would opt for a 43 hour ride costing $142 to 670 [based on the SWC on July 25? 
Most folks would fly, 4.5 hours, $137 to 198, and have a lot more time at their destination. 

 

And yet they will get a trainload of people to ride the SWC.

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, July 12, 2018 9:45 AM

MidlandMike
And yet they will get a trainload of people to ride the SWC.

But the airlines in that example.  are nominally profitable.  How many would ride the SWC if it were priced to cover all its marginal and a fair pro rata share of its fixed costs?  Would it be enough to guarantee existing levels of capacity and service indefinitely going forward?

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, July 12, 2018 12:57 PM

MidlandMike

 

 
charlie hebdo

 

If people want to get from CHI to LA efficiently, you seriously think many of them would opt for a 43 hour ride costing $142 to 670 [based on the SWC on July 25? 
Most folks would fly, 4.5 hours, $137 to 198, and have a lot more time at their destination. 

 

 

 

And yet they will get a trainload of people to ride the SWC.

 

My post was concerning the premise of efficient point to point transportation, as opposed to a land cruise or a "rail experience" (Anderson's term).  What percent of the trainloads consist of repeat passengers?  

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, July 12, 2018 1:00 PM

Overmod

 

 
MidlandMike
And yet they will get a trainload of people to ride the SWC.

 

But the airlines in that example.  are nominally profitable.  How many would ride the SWC if it were priced to cover all its marginal and a fair pro rata share of its fixed costs?  Would it be enough to guarantee existing levels of capacity and service indefinitely going forward?

 

My recollection of Amtrak monthly reports is that the SWC doesn't come close to covering its operating costs (above the rail) let alone a fair fixed cost share.

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Posted by oltmannd on Thursday, July 12, 2018 1:44 PM

MidlandMike

 

 
charlie hebdo

 

If people want to get from CHI to LA efficiently, you seriously think many of them would opt for a 43 hour ride costing $142 to 670 [based on the SWC on July 25? 
Most folks would fly, 4.5 hours, $137 to 198, and have a lot more time at their destination. 

 

 

 

And yet they will get a trainload of people to ride the SWC.

 

Except they don't.  Plenty of space still available between KC and Albequerque for tomorrow's train.  At least 7 roomettes and a boat load of coach seats.

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Posted by PJS1 on Thursday, July 12, 2018 7:27 PM

charlie hebdo
 My recollection of Amtrak monthly reports is that the SWC doesn't come close to covering its operating costs (above the rail) let alone a fair fixed cost share. 

In 2017 the Southwest Chief had an Adjusted Operating Loss of $54.1 million or an average of $149.04 per passenger. 

Amtrak does not tell us how much capital (fixed) expense is attributable to the SWC.  It could increase the operating loss by 10 to 12 percent, but this is just an education guess at best. 

In the long run all costs are variable.  

Rio Grande Valley, CFI,CFII

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Posted by MidlandMike on Thursday, July 12, 2018 7:37 PM

oltmannd

 

 
MidlandMike

 

 
charlie hebdo

 

If people want to get from CHI to LA efficiently, you seriously think many of them would opt for a 43 hour ride costing $142 to 670 [based on the SWC on July 25? 
Most folks would fly, 4.5 hours, $137 to 198, and have a lot more time at their destination. 

 

 

 

And yet they will get a trainload of people to ride the SWC.

 

 

 

Except they don't.  Plenty of space still available between KC and Albequerque for tomorrow's train.  At least 7 roomettes and a boat load of coach seats.

 

You picked probably the lightest traveled segment between KC and ABQ.  I checked tomorrow and the day after from ABQ to LAX, and there is only one roomette left both days.  A multi-stop trip can't reasonably expect to be full between every stop.

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Posted by MidlandMike on Thursday, July 12, 2018 7:57 PM

charlie hebdo

 

 
MidlandMike

 

 
charlie hebdo

 

If people want to get from CHI to LA efficiently, you seriously think many of them would opt for a 43 hour ride costing $142 to 670 [based on the SWC on July 25? 
Most folks would fly, 4.5 hours, $137 to 198, and have a lot more time at their destination. 

 

 

 

And yet they will get a trainload of people to ride the SWC.

 

 

 

My post was concerning the premise of efficient point to point transportation, as opposed to a land cruise or a "rail experience" (Anderson's term).  What percent of the trainloads consist of repeat passengers?  

 

I can't argue about the obvious time efficiency, but not everyone can or wants to fly.  As far as repeat customers, there are people in these forums that take the train a lot more than myself, so I can't guess a prcentage.  As long as the train has a reasonable load factor, I don't see that those other things matter.

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Posted by Enzoamps on Thursday, July 12, 2018 8:29 PM

The idea of a resort trip, a day ride, then a hotel and then another day ride sounds nice for someone wanting a rail getaway.  But when I catch the Capitol in Toledo, the waiting room is full, and most passengers are older or families with young kids and the occasional college student.  Very few of them are sitting around awaiting a glorious rail tour.  We could add special trains to destinations, but that does not satisfy the cross country market for riders like me, or those families.

Imagine a mother with three kids, 4-5-6 years old, in an airplane.  On the train they can go to the club car and look out the large windows, get food, or even see a movie.  They can get up from their seats and fidget.  They can even sleep.  And they don't usually have to worry about sitting together or being bumped.  No extra fees through the nose for aisle seats.

I read the editotial a couple days ago, and don't have it handy.  But wasn't the suggestion made to split the Capitol in two at Pittsburgh, sending one to Washington, and the other across to Phila and New York?  In other words he was not suggesting NO Chicago to NY trains.  I know when I go to Trenton, I go all the way in to Washington and then up the NEC rather than get off at Pittsburgh for a long layover in the middle of the night for a coach train to Phila.  But if a reasonable connection could be made, I might change.  On the other hand the Capitol is comfortable, and I can get a room, where the Pitt-Phila train is coach.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, July 12, 2018 10:41 PM

MidlandMike

 

 
charlie hebdo

 

 
MidlandMike

 

 
charlie hebdo

 

If people want to get from CHI to LA efficiently, you seriously think many of them would opt for a 43 hour ride costing $142 to 670 [based on the SWC on July 25? 
Most folks would fly, 4.5 hours, $137 to 198, and have a lot more time at their destination. 

 

 

 

And yet they will get a trainload of people to ride the SWC.

 

 

 

My post was concerning the premise of efficient point to point transportation, as opposed to a land cruise or a "rail experience" (Anderson's term).  What percent of the trainloads consist of repeat passengers?  

 

 

 

I can't argue about the obvious time efficiency, but not everyone can or wants to fly.  As far as repeat customers, there are people in these forums that take the train a lot more than myself, so I can't guess a prcentage.  As long as the train has a reasonable load factor, I don't see that those other things matter.

 

Keep in mind the high loss mentioned by PJS1 and the increase in ticket prices to cover that mentioned by Overmod.  Subsidizing rail transportation is sensible; subsidizing rail cruises is not.

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