AMTRAK, LONG-DISTANCE TRAINS, AND CONGRESSIONAL FUNDING

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AMTRAK, LONG-DISTANCE TRAINS, AND CONGRESSIONAL FUNDING

  • Well, if I may share another two cents. Congress determined that we should have a national passenger rail system. What we have now is marginal, at best. Creating a truly national system requires intelligent growth of routes, but not necessarily sticking to the greatest financial drains.  Surely, for example, we can agree that there is demand for Houston-Dallas service, and trains extending to Corpus Chirsti, the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Abilene, Lubbock, and Amarillo. More service tends to spread the overhead, increase ridership, and improve feasibility of all the routes. Right now we are stuck in second gear. Congress should begin growing the system or enable Amtrak to do so. It is urgent that somehow we build up the national passenger rail system or lose even the appearance of a "national" system. And, once it's gone ...

     

  • Sam1
    As soon as someone can tell me why Midland, Lubbock, and McAllen, Texas, amongst others, don't have passenger rail, I'll buy the equity argument.  

    I picked up the equity argument from the Brookings Institution report, Sam.  And I agree.  Some places get more equity than others.  But it seems to me that this is also a new day for Amtrak.  New trains may come along but in order for them to do so there will have to be state funding.  

    John

  • South Texas
    Surely, for example, we can agree that there is demand for Houston-Dallas service, and trains extending to Corpus Chirsti, the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Abilene, Lubbock, and Amarillo. More service tends to spread the overhead, increase ridership, and improve feasibility of all the routes. Right now we are stuck in second gear. Congress should begin growing the system or enable Amtrak to do so. It is urgent that somehow we build up the national passenger rail system or lose even the appearance of a "national" system. And, once it's gone ...

    Since the routes you mention are all in TX (not exactly a poor state) why doesn't your TXDOT come up with funding for the "state-sponsored" routes?  Several states, such as Illinois and NC, notably, have done so to add or expand services.

  • John WR

    oltmannd
    We'd be better off with two ATL to NYP trains than one NOL to NYP train.

      The Carolianian.   It could be extended to Atlanta.   From New York to Atlanta is about 859 miles, long enough so the train would qualify for Federal funding.    

    John

    Agree that the Carolinian te is better for the daytime as it serves much larger population centers .  however there are several problems. 
    1.  Route NYP - ATL is 962 miles at present by way of Raleigh.
    2. Present schedules would require an ATl departure of 2:00 AM and arrival ATL 1:00 AM.  Since NC presently supports the train I do not believe they would agree to different times as the WASH times are very desireable.. ?  That would require another train set for the ATL turn.
    3.  Of course might be able to extend beyound ATL.
    4.  Once the Raleigh - Petersburg HrSR is implemented approximately 1:30 reduction of travel  time will be possible.
    5.  A WASH - ATL train over this route would be a good day train that could use one of the Piedmont's time slots ? 
  • I redid the chart for clarity. Note 2012 numbers are my estimate for Direct Cost, based on two years fuel increases and cost inflation. Click on the chart to get it full size.
    It seems that the point might be conceded that there is a need for expansion but there still has to be a limit. One proxy of financial efficiency is typically if the train is moving more than 200 passengers on average.
    Financially, the first test might be for the Long Distance route’s financial Short-Term Avoidable Operating Loss to be equal to or less than the financial Non-User Automobile Accident Costs ($0.036/VM) on an average per equivalent passenger mile. As it stands now, those that are using the Long Distance routes have already self-selected to not use another common carrier, so their most likely alternative is an automobile. However, they might only drive during the daytime, in shorter segments, take on more financial risk of accidents, or put up with a loss of productive time. In other words, the alternative for those users would increase their disutility of time.
    My point is on a short-term basis this type of shift is comparable and imminent if the route is eliminated. Since our largest driver of deficit spending is health cost increases, it is also relevant to the financial health of the nation. In the cases where this number is too high the route should be evaluated under different options of volume expansion along the demand curve with the second test and then rechecked under the first test.
    Financially, the interlocking second test for capacity expansion and new routes (Conventional or High Speed) might be for the Long Distance route’s financial Long-Term Avoidable Operating Loss to be equal to or less than the historical financial Non-User Automobile Rural Interstate Accident Cost & Capital Cross-Subsidy ($0.125/VM) on an average per equivalent passenger mile. This is a rearward looking metric as we know interest rates and the data from the records the FHWA keeps. As such it somewhat handicaps new routes and infrastructure, as the forward looking highway costs are about twice the historical average based on some of the major new alignment projects I work on.  
  • V.Payne
    Financially, the first test might be for the Long Distance route’s financial Short-Term Avoidable Operating Loss to be equal to or less than the financial Non-User Automobile Accident Costs ($0.036/VM) on an average per equivalent passenger mile. As it stands now, those that are using the Long Distance routes have already self-selected to not use another common carrier, so their most likely alternative is an automobile. However, they might only drive during the daytime, in shorter segments, take on more financial risk of accidents, or put up with a loss of productive time. In other words, the alternative for those users would increase their disutility of time.

    I have to ask, and no insult is intended, as you obviously are very knowledgeable.  However, do you seriously think that is the sort of argument that will convince anyone to increase/improve passenger rail services in the US, whether LD or corridors?

  • schlimm

    V.Payne
    Financially, the first test might be for the Long Distance route’s financial Short-Term Avoidable Operating Loss to be equal to or less than the financial Non-User Automobile Accident Costs ($0.036/VM) on an average per equivalent passenger mile. As it stands now, those that are using the Long Distance routes have already self-selected to not use another common carrier, so their most likely alternative is an automobile. However, they might only drive during the daytime, in shorter segments, take on more financial risk of accidents, or put up with a loss of productive time. In other words, the alternative for those users would increase their disutility of time.

    I have to ask, and no insult is intended, as you obviously are very knowledgeable.  However, do you seriously think that is the sort of argument that will convince anyone to increase/improve passenger rail services in the US, whether LD or corridors?

    Good point!  

    Another question pertains to the PRIIA exercises for the long distance trains. If the studies are as sound as we are to believe, how come none of the key recommendations, as far as I know, have been implemented? 

    As per the company's 2012 Annual Report, Amtrak will spend money when there is a high probability of a payoff.  It spent millions in 2012 to upgrade its reservations, ticketing, and customer service capabilities. E-ticketing and scanning, WiFi upgrades, etc. are some of the technological improvements made by the company. This suggests that Amtrak can get the funds it needs, within reason, for worthwhile spends.

    According to the authors of the Crescent, etc. study, implementation of their recommendations for the Crescent would have generated 69,500 new riders (train and Thruway bus), on an investment of $1.4 million, and generate a return of $3.7 million.  Unfortunately, the study does not have a robust section on methodology, thereby leaving one wondering what methods (regression analysis, moving averages, etc.) were used to generate the numbers. In any case, if the numbers were properly supported, Jamie Dimon (Chase Chairman) would love to have that kind of return.

    If executive management and the board were comfortable with the pro-forma numbers, they could have taken their case to the market place and obtained the money to fund the improvements.  As noted Amtrak does not need to go to Congress for every equipment acquisition. My guess is that management and the board did not find the output compelling. 

  • There was congressional testimony in 2011 that basically said the PRIIA improvements are on hold as even though the per mile loss numbers improved with the recommendations you had to spend a little bit more, so here we are back were we were debating if it is the sense of Congress to have the system. BTW the first test is a pretty good argument for keeping services.

  • Texas and Oklahoma jointly fund the Heartland Flyer and are currently studying extending it south to Austin, San Antonio, and Laredo, and north to Tulsa and Kansas City. The Texas Eagle has way over a 750 mile route already and is being looked at for extension to Corpus Christi and the Valley, sponsor unknown. A potential route from Houston to Dallas, Abilene, Lubbock, Amarillo, and Denver (dubbed Cannon Ball Express) would also be way over 750 miles in length. Plus, there are several non-Amtrak studies underway. Trust me, the TxDOT Rail Division has the potential to act (Congress cooperating or not). 

  • South Texas

    Texas and Oklahoma jointly fund the Heartland Flyer and are currently studying extending it south to Austin, San Antonio, and Laredo, and north to Tulsa and Kansas City. The Texas Eagle has way over a 750 mile route already and is being looked at for extension to Corpus Christi and the Valley, sponsor unknown. A potential route from Houston to Dallas, Abilene, Lubbock, Amarillo, and Denver (dubbed Cannon Ball Express) would also be way over 750 miles in length. Plus, there are several non-Amtrak studies underway. Trust me, the TxDOT Rail Division has the potential to act (Congress cooperating or not).

    TXDOT is dependent on legislative authorization for its budget. The Texas Legislature has not authorized an increase in the fuel taxes, which are TXDOT's major source of revenue, since the early 90s.  As a result the state has had to turn to toll roads to build some of the new roadways the state needs because of its significant population growth. Accordingly, it is a stretch to believe that the tight fisted Texas Legislature will fund any additional passenger rail operations in the near future?

    I try to stay abreast of passenger rail developments in Texas. I have never heard any serious proposals by a person or group to extend the Texas Eagle to Corpus Christi and the Valley.  What is the source for this information?

  • For what it is worth, most of the points I am making about leverage mostly concern me in regards to the roadway system, my day job. Some others are beginning to see the financial problems, sometimes with slightly different solutions, but this was true even in the 1950's we just hadn't tried it yet so they could be dismissed. This engineer's entire blog is more or less devoted to the design problems and assumptions behind them in the local and state road system, as well as financial leverage.

    http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2013/1/4/the-next-generation-dot.html

    I believe the future years will be different for financial reasons, not so much environmental reasons. It really would be quite sad to see us throw away the intercity rail system when on even a long-term avoidable cost measure it is quite frugal in comparison, we just don't realize it, and is really the only middle-class alternative to driving.

  • V.Payne

     It really would be quite sad to see us throw away the intercity rail system when on even a long-term avoidable cost measure it is quite frugal in comparison, we just don't realize it, and is really the only middle-class alternative to driving.

    I "buy into" the transportation right-of-way preservation argument, and that is why I supported the Madison train, even though the economic argument in the right-here-and-now might be weaker than the Milwaukee-Chicago train.  Once the land is developed, it is nigh impossible to put anything through -- road, train, monorail, Hyperloop, what have you.

    Only middle-class alternative to driving?  That would have to be aviation.  Seriously.  Suppose I am invited to a family member's wedding in Florida?  One definition of middle-class is needing to meet the demands of employment to support oneself, and there is no way I could get the time off to take a train trip, even if Chicago-Florida had more direct train service.

    I don't travel all that much in my job, but I have colleagues that do, and someone discussed taking the Lake Shore Limited to Boston (is it?) for work-related travel, but by and large, we don't get to take more than the bare minimum time off from work, are required to travel the cheapest way possible, and at least back-in-the-day, it meant Super Saver coach with Saturday night stay and time spent away from family.  Business Class -- make me laugh . . .

    People complain about how terrible air travel is, but for any serious sort of distance in the U.S., and the comparisons to rural interstates are a defense of long-distance, not corridor trains, air transportation is the low-cost mode (even to driving, when all costs are factored in).  Air transportation is the middle-class common carrier transportation mode, we hate it, but long-distance train travel isn't even an option for many of us.

    If GM "killed the electric car", what am I doing standing next to an EV-1, a half a block from the WSOR tracks?
  • Assuming one is making a trip that is compatible with driving on a dis-utility of time basis, it does seem like the only alternative to driving if price + quality is a concern, as motorcoaches have about half the seating personal space. Seems like roughly speaking that is for trips between 180 to 750 miles off the high-frequency rail corridors, depending upon your choice of accommodations. The consumer is behaving as such:

    Average Travel Distance: (Crescent)
    Coach Passengers ............... 526 miles
    Sleeper Passengers..............755 miles
    Total (Average)........................ 552 miles

    Here is the 4Q 2012 average consumer airfares, without fees and access costs to get to the airport. On average the stage length that makes sense is above the coach trip lengths it would seem. Yes, I fly over 750 miles or so depending on the route.

  • V.Payne

    Assuming one is making a trip that is compatible with driving on a dis-utility of time basis, it does seem like the only alternative to driving if price + quality is a concern, as motorcoaches have about half the seating personal space. Seems like roughly speaking that is for trips between 180 to 750 miles off the high-frequency rail corridors, depending upon your choice of accommodations. The consumer is behaving as such:

    Average Travel Distance: (Crescent)
    Coach Passengers ............... 526 miles
    Sleeper Passengers..............755 miles
    Total (Average)........................ 552 miles

    Here is the 4Q 2012 average consumer airfares, without fees and access costs to get to the airport. On average the stage length that makes sense is above the coach trip lengths it would seem. Yes, I fly over 750 miles or so depending on the route.

    Neat graph.  What is its source?

  • V.Payne
    Assuming one is making a trip that is compatible with driving on a dis-utility of time basis, it does seem like the only alternative to driving if price + quality is a concern, as motorcoaches have about half the seating personal space. Seems like roughly speaking that is for trips between 180 to 750 miles off the high-frequency rail corridors, depending upon your choice of accommodations.

    I wonder what is the rest of your thought in these fragments?