"Has Amtrak Declared War?"

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"Has Amtrak Declared War?"
Posted by Victrola1 on Tuesday, July 7, 2020 9:26 AM

First in a series.

Amtrak declared war on its riders by imposing, effective Oct. 1, 2020 (the first day of it 2021 fiscal year), service cuts on long-distance (LD) trains so severe that the national passenger train network, as we have known it for nearly 50 years, will cease to exist. It could become as irrelevant as Canada’s two famous long-distance trains, the Canadian and the Ocean, that once brought people from Toronto to the western provinces and from Montreal to Atlantic Canada. At the present time, neither of those trains are running.

https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/intercity/first-in-a-series-has-amtrak-declared-war/

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Posted by runnerdude48 on Tuesday, July 7, 2020 10:48 AM

This is an interesting article that everyone should read.  I totally disagree with the author.  Amtrak's only future lies with getting rid of the LD trains and building (as he indicates) disjointed urban corridors.  Amtrak's era ended 60 - 70 years ago.  It's a new time now and LD trains have outlived their usefulness by many years.  The only current LD train that makes any sense is Auto Train.  Although I haven't ridden it in its current incarnation, it appears to provide a reasonable amount of valuable service.  And, if you could get the government out of the equation it might even be profitable or at least cover its cost.  Let the NEC be spun off to a consortium of the states it serves and the states that want trains can pay for them.  Any LD trains that have a tourist or scenic value can be run but at fares that cover their costs with no or little government financial involvement.  Lets get a modern passenger rail system that fits the 21st century rather than the mid-20th century.

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, July 7, 2020 10:51 AM

Amtrak has a Congressional mandate imposed on it that says it must not lose money by... well, next year.  To my knowledge that has not been relaxed by the present Congress, whether or not there has been some relief for employee compensation or overhead salary costs.

Meanwhile actual traffic has the double whammy of lower travel combined with social-distancing space loss per car.

I see no more "war" involved in the train cutbacks than in other ways Amtrak has had to 'reach profitability' under the mandate... whether or not I agree with the cutbacks even if they are 'crazy like a fox' methods to try to force concessions out of Congresspeople.

I presume, with little actual demonstration to the contrary, that Amtrak would return service to pre-'pandemic' levels once the COVID-19 situation has resolved itself.  All these years there have been repeated things that were supposed to spell the death of the passenger train, some of which were more serious than temporary and likely demand-driven reductions.

And yes, all it would likely take to restore the trains is an agreement by Congress that the mandate's terms don't encompass 'minimum' service frequency when there is insufficient aggregate demand to make that service marginally (in the economist's sense) profitable.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Tuesday, July 7, 2020 4:51 PM

I see no "war" on LD services,  just sensible, probably temporary adjustments to greatly reduced demand.

When/before *normal* LD services resume, consideration should be given to some fundamental changes,  IMO. 

1. F&B must break even.  Charges should cover costs. 

2. Sleepers should cover all marginal costs above the subsidized coach fares. No more *free lunch* (or breakfast or dinner).

3. Since some on here insist that LD trains serve areas or clientele not otherwise served by planes,  mandate that those western states provide the subsidy to cover costs, just as Midwestern states subsize Amtrak corridor services in those states. If those states' residents see no value,  then discontinue. 

 

 

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Posted by Victrola1 on Thursday, July 16, 2020 5:31 PM

Second in a Series: Cutting Service Actually Costs More......

 

https://www.railwayage.com/news/second-in-a-series-cutting-service-actually-costs-more/

The saga continues. 

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Posted by daveklepper on Friday, July 17, 2020 3:35 AM

1.  I agree that the extra cost of sleeper service should be reflected in ticket prices, and the occopancy rate of many of the sleeper services idicates that should be possible.

2.  The recent huge proliferation of the number of all-night Pizzarias in most USA cities (and in Jerusalem!) indicates one 7/24 full-service restaurant should be a success, and an Amtrak station location, if not in a "combat zone." would encourage train travel.

3.  Amtrak's Trhuway bus connections do bring LDT to most of the cities listed without Amtrak service.

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, July 17, 2020 9:58 AM

daveklepper
3.  Amtrak's Thruway bus connections do bring LDT to most of the cities listed without Amtrak service.

Aside from being indistinguishable from other commodity bus service, Thruway falls ridiculously short of any amenities mentioned so far for LD trains as something worth preserving.

My one experience with this was discovering that the 'last train of the day' from San Diego to LA was actually a bus.  I would not have taken this by choice had somebody paid me to do so; charging Amtrak rail price for it was adding injury to the considerable discomfort.

In any case, 'bus service providers' such as Stagecoach are infinitely better set up to provide 'subsidized' network transportation service than "Amtrak", with little if any practical co-branding advantage to putting the Amtrak name on the service collateral or the vehicles.  If I am to be stuck in a short-track seat, lurching through repeated detours to get to dubious parts of various towns, I expect to pay an order of magnitude less for the 'privilege'.

Meanwhile there is quite an underground duplication of NEC service, such as bus service with fairly good WiFi between Silver Spring and 'the street a couple of blocks from Penn Station' for a flat $30.  With no stops en route this was roughly time-comparable to Amtrak regional, which wouldn't even get me over the  local-service 'coverage gap' between MARC and SEPTA for over twice the cost.  It would not be difficult to augment the amenities for this service to provide most of what "profitable" Amtrak alternatives would furnish at relatively little absolute marginal cost.

This is not to say the idea is a replacement for either Acela or rail service in the Corridor, of course, but a great deal of carefully-directed improvement of both onboard amenities and the 'marketed perception' of their worth is in order even there...

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, July 17, 2020 10:42 AM

The difference between Megabus-tyoe services and Greyhound/Trailways is huge.   

My worst experience was on Greyhound,  Springfield MO to Atlanta, change in Memphis, which tied with a journey through hell,  St. Louis to Springfield MO.  Bus broke down at Ft. Leonard Wood,  leaving all passengers to stand out unsheltered in a summer t-storm late a night for over an hour. 

Years ago,  the old Greyhound Chicago terminal was on Randolph in the Loop,  very safe neighborhood.  But inside was rather unpleasant,  to put it gently.  Lots of drug dealers and pimps trying to entice out of town young girls to hire on along with pickpockets and panhandlers galore.  

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, July 19, 2020 8:54 AM

Do I have to show why privitization of the NEC and elimination of the LDTs just won't work and would result in terrific economic loss, possibly a disastorous loss, to the USA, or do others have the total understanding that permits a thorough and reasonable response to that idea?

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, July 19, 2020 10:09 PM

daveklepper
Do I have to show why privatization of the NEC and elimination of the LDTs just won't work and would result in terrific economic loss, possibly a disastrous loss, to the USA, or do others have the total understanding that permits a thorough and reasonable response to that idea?

The problem is that there is little thorough or reasonable response to keeping LD service merely to accommodate a relatively few individuals going between destinations that won't support unsubsidized LD bus service, plus elitist sleeper riders who don't pay the full cost of their 'experience'.  There are plenty of informed conversations we can have on how to keep fair or even extraordinary LD service where demand warrants ... or where it could be logically developed ... but to frame the discussion in a way that starts by dismissing anti-LD discussion as inherently 'non-thorough' or 'unreasonable' is very poor rhetoric, and precisely the kind of dismissive behavior many people here disparage when, say, it is encountered concerning autonomous vehicles.

My daughter informed me about 4:00 this afternoon that she heard the Trump administration was looking to 'privatize' the USPS.  Presumably this would involve an effort very, very similar to Amtrak-under-the-Congressional-mandate, with the NEC premium services correlating to first-class and express mail and some of the 'money-losing' services resembling the non-corridor LD services and issues.  You have very much the same kind of political wrangling over less-profitable areas of 'national' Post Office services that you do with national rail coverage, and many of the same arguments about who supports who ... and more importantly, whether there are alternatives to Government subsidy that might get the unprofitable parts covered.  (I would argue there are not, but that is a discussion to be had, not dismissed out of hand as ridiculous on some doctrinaire ground or other).

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Monday, July 20, 2020 4:48 PM

daveklepper

Do I have to show why privitization of the NEC and elimination of the LDTs just won't work and would result in terrific economic loss, possibly a disastorous loss, to the USA, or do others have the total understanding that permits a thorough and reasonable response to that idea?

 

Most folks interested in a modern passenger rail system are NOT calling for privatization if the NEC,  just changing our way of viewing LD rail. 

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Posted by MidlandMike on Monday, July 20, 2020 8:55 PM

Overmod
The problem is that there is little thorough or reasonable response to keeping LD service merely to accommodate a relatively few individuals going between destinations that won't support unsubsidized LD bus service, plus elitist sleeper riders who don't pay the full cost of their 'experience'.  There are plenty of informed conversations we can have on how to keep fair or even extraordinary LD service where demand warrants ... or where it could be logically developed ... but to frame the discussion in a way that starts by dismissing anti-LD discussion as inherently 'non-thorough' or 'unreasonable' is very poor rhetoric, and precisely the kind of dismissive behavior many people here disparage when, say, it is encountered concerning autonomous vehicles.

All of Amtrak's types of trains are subsidized.  Why do you dismiss LD passengers (who account for 40%+ of ATK's passenger-miles) and especially "elitist" sleeping car passengers (I traveled almost all of ATK's LD routes, and most sleeper passengers seem to be average people who spent extra money to avoid the discomfort of sitting up all night).

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Monday, July 20, 2020 10:15 PM

Subsidies are designed to serve people,  ie,  taxpayers, not miles. LD passengers are a small percentage of Amtrak riders.  Most use the NEC and state-subsidized corridors, but a major chunk of Amtrak's operating losses are from the LD services. 

I'm not interested in rail passenger service turning a profit,  but the subsidy should benefit the most people. 

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Tuesday, July 21, 2020 4:26 PM

If our Amtrak LD trains were not running at near capacity on one or more segments then IMO the LD trains might be irrevelant,  Since the rebuilding of Amfleet-1s in 2009 - 2012 the number of servicable revenue cars has done nothing but go down..  Even in these present times the Crescent has a close to full of sleepers for the next 7 days.  Coach is not as much.  Before Covid-19 the bookings for this year were up quite a  bit from 2019.

Now if Amtrak had 11 -12 revenue car capabilities on routes and could not sell that capacity then LD might be irrevelant.

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Posted by MidlandMike on Tuesday, July 21, 2020 9:15 PM

charlie hebdo

Subsidies are designed to serve people,  ie,  taxpayers, not miles. LD passengers are a small percentage of Amtrak riders.  Most use the NEC and state-subsidized corridors, but a major chunk of Amtrak's operating losses are from the LD services. 

I'm not interested in rail passenger service turning a profit,  but the subsidy should benefit the most people. 

 

What is it about "passenger"-miles that isn't about people?  Who travels those miles.  Amtrak is a service industry, and passenger-miles is the only metric that accurately captures that.  Are people who travel a short distance more deserving than people who have to travel a long distance?  Passengers on corridors are more likely to be frequent travelers, so tickets sold does not equal individuals served.  Are frequent travelers overusing their share?  Counting only tickets sold, and equating them with taxpayers, sounds like a political contrivance to count votes.  If tickets sold is your only criteria, then commuter lines are the only service that makes sense, and all of Amtrak is too trivial to continue.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Wednesday, July 22, 2020 9:02 AM

Reductio ad absurdem. By your *logic* votes from people with great wealth should count for more than votes from middle class folks. Or maybe the only ones that count.  A *multiplier effect* because they are more important.  

Seriously,  heavily patronized routes are obviously providing much more of an essential service than most of our LD routes. 

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Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, July 22, 2020 10:39 PM

charlie hebdo

Reductio ad absurdem. By your *logic* votes from people with great wealth should count for more than votes from middle class folks. Or maybe the only ones that count.  A *multiplier effect* because they are more important.  

Seriously,  heavily patronized routes are obviously providing much more of an essential service than most of our LD routes. 

 

You are going have to be more specific on how you jumped to that conclusion, which is certainly not something I would logically conclude.

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