Silver Star Dining Car Service is Gone Permanently

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Silver Star Dining Car Service is Gone Permanently
Posted by Railvt on Thursday, January 28, 2016 2:57 PM

Amtrak on-board employees at the Miami crew base were advised last week that the SILVER STAR diner is gone for good. Presumeably the downgrade to a snack-only menu for a 31 hour run has been judged by the Boardman management to be a complete success. Time will tell if this is a precursor of similar actoins system-wide, but obviously this is not good.

A query a few minutes ago of availability from Miami to New York in the Amtrak computer for May 12 (after diner service was supposed originally to be back) continues to show the crossed fork pictogram for diner service on the SILVER STAR, but an overly says "no diner". If you click on the "no diner" overlay you get the original downgrade press-release, claiming diner service is only gone to April 30--but this is just a typically careless Amtrak data-entry screw-up.

Worse no sleeper service is shown either on the SILVER STAR (!) and this continues for all dates after 4/30/16. Hopefully the complete removal of sleepers on trains 91/92 from the Amtrak computer is temporary, while fares are adjusted downward to reflect only snack food--but nothing on the Amtrak website explains this. Please God they are not also cancelling sleeper service outright on the STAR?

Patronage on the SILVER STARs has declined since the "experiment" began. December FY16 ridership was 6.8% below FY15 for the same month. Revenue on the STAR in the same period declined 16.4% (sleeper revenue is the cause of the apparent disparity here--as even Amtrak recognized the need to cut sleeper fares if no real food was included. Thus ridership could decline much less than income, as most lost business was in the premium fare sleepers).

This pattern has been reflected continuously since the downgrade began, although not every month was the same. For example September ridership was 5.4% down from the same month in 2014, while same month revenue dropped 7.1%. Overall in FY2015 the SILVER STAR lost 5.5% of its ridership and 4.2% of its revenue--but full diner service was in place on the route for the first quarter of FY15.

Yet apparently the Bordman management group thinks taking the declining trend on 91/92 is better than doing even a partial upgrade of food service on this train (pre-plated entrees as on the ACELA EXPRESS and CARDINAL trains is the obvious answer). This may be because bad as the patronage losses on the STAR have been they aren't as bad as Amtrak projected in its "Budget" for the route. The patronage left on 91/92--while lower by 6.8% compared to December 2014 is still 6.2% ahead of Amtrak's (deliberately pessimistic?) budget for December of 2015 on the train. Revenue while down 16.4% is still 6.3% better than the (absurdly low) income Amtrak budgeted.

Thus the Boardman management can go crawling back to the House Transportation Committee and it's chief Amtrak-hater Congressman John Mica and say "You were right--we can downgrade service just like you wanted and only lose those passengers who wanted a comfortable trip! Congressman we're on-track to eliminate food service losses by eliminating any vestige of actual food service. Aren't we good boys now?"

This is a very sad moment.

If there is a shred of hope it may be in the provision in the recently passed Amtrak Congressional Reauthorization to experimentally privitize up to three long-haul Amtrak routes. When Amtrak started in 1971 the Seaboard Coast Line came very close to staying out. SCL President Rice was quoted shortly before Amtrak day that the SILVER METEOR, WEST COAST CHAMPION and FLORIDA SPECIAL trains were still profitable and that SCL was going in mostly to avoid having to run hopeless connecting services like Florence-Augusta, Waycross-Montgomery and the stub of the CITY OF MIAMI from Miami to Albany, GA until 1976.

Under the Amtrak law if a carrier stayed out of joining Amtrak in 1971 there could be no "train-offs" of its surviving services until 5 years passed. That is why the Southern's secondary passenger services from Washington to Atlanta (and a second DC-Lynchburg) and Salisbury-Asheville ran as fleetmates to the flagship SOUTHERN CRESCENT that the Southern Ry meant to retain until 1976.

Iowa Pacific/Pullman Rail perhaps? The New York-Florida route was so strong in 1970 that it remained unmatched for sleeper demand in the entire country. Even Amtrak routinely ran 5 sleepers and 1-2 slumbercoaches on the SILVER METEOR as late as 1989. Even if Amtrak retained the staffing of engineers and conductors on the Florida trains, here could be the perfect market to test a concession for First Class service (sleepers, food/beverages) on something like the HOOSIER STATE model.

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Posted by Deggesty on Thursday, January 28, 2016 3:17 PM

I am truly sorry to learn of the decision to abandon all pretense of meal service on an overnight train. It is true that, years ago, there were many successful coach-only overnight trains--but there were also trains with sleepers which ran at approximately the same time.

I am sure that the "Augusta" in "...the stub of the CITY OF MIAMI from Miami to Augusta, GA until 1976." is simply an error for "Albany." I went through Albany both ways on the City of Miami, and never through Augusta. 

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Posted by Railvt on Thursday, January 28, 2016 3:30 PM

Deggesty
I am sure that the "Augusta" in "...the stub of the CITY OF MIAMI from Miami to Augusta, GA until 1976." is simply an error for "Albany." I went through Albany both ways on the City of Miami, and never through Augusta.

 

You are of course correct on this. As a regular rider of the CITY OF MIAMI I should have known better. I'll correct the main post above.

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Posted by nyc#25 on Thursday, January 28, 2016 4:24 PM

Why did they order 25 new diners?  How will they be deployed?

I would guess the "Star" would have had 3 or 4 to cover the

service which won't be needed now.

 

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Posted by dakotafred on Thursday, January 28, 2016 5:31 PM

nyc#25

Why did they order 25 new diners?  How will they be deployed?

I would guess the "Star" would have had 3 or 4 to cover the

service which won't be needed now.

 

 

The diners (and sleepers) were ordered before a few influentials in Congress began throwing their ignorant hissies about the cost of food service. Notice we haven't taken Delivery 1 of either class, yet. (But lots of baggage cars for bicycles.)

Thank you to Railvt for his good report and insightful views. What a display of bad faith by Amtrak! Boardman must think the point is to run trains, no matter how degraded. He's wrong. The moment the LD trains cease being real trains, they can junk them all, as far as I'm concerned. The experience will be all gone.

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Posted by conrailman on Thursday, January 28, 2016 11:46 PM

They will put These New Diner Cars on other LD trains and New trains, if Amtrak had some brains in D.C. Bring Back 40 &41 Broadway Limited.

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Friday, January 29, 2016 6:51 AM

Postings on other threads suggest that Iowa Pacific is withdrawing its Chicago-New Orleans weekly operation so I don't think that they're ready to take on a daily sleeping car operation on the "Silver Star".

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Posted by schlimm on Friday, January 29, 2016 9:54 AM

I gather that whether Amtrak or private, sleeping cars are expensive to operate.  To breakeven, much less turn a profit, requires a pricing structure that few care to pay.

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Posted by bill613a on Friday, January 29, 2016 11:21 AM

The Florence-Augusta connection was gone by the time Amtrak took over on 5/1/71.

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Posted by Railvt on Friday, January 29, 2016 1:16 PM

We will never know if a private operator could "make money" running an Amtrak long-haul route until someone gets a chance to try. Worldwide "privitized" services tend to pay off only when the appropriate government guarantees an essential level of subsidy and the new operator's profitability is a function of their ability to increase patronage and revenue above the assured level. In the total absense of a base support guarantee it is indeed most unlikely anyone would come to play.

Below are some thoughts of mine on the Iowa Pacific/Pullman Rail situation reposted from the January 4 "Trains Newswire" article on the suspension of Pullman Rail service on the CITY OF NEW ORLEANS. Suffice it to say IP/PR continue to provide the equipment/on-board services on the HOOSIER STATE on a partneship basis with Amtrak on precisely the guaranteed support level model noted above. Only a longer trial will show if the Indianapolis "subsidy" was enough and if here (unlike on the CITY OF NEW ORLEANS and on the earlier failed IP attempt to revive the Winter Park, Colorady SKI TRAIN) an IP/PR/Amtrak partnership can actually work.

My comments reflect my 32 year full-time job running a rail specialist travel agency/tour company. I retired from active management last October, 2015.

"I question if there is/was ever a real regular market in the USA for a super-deluxe land-cruise train running entirely on its own dedicated, fast schedule, on the model of something like the 20th Century Limited, in the Amtrak era. We had a much easier time selling the AMERICAN ORIENT EXPRESS/GRAND LUXE EXPRESS (AOE/GLE) on its longer trips, when being on the train itself was as much the object of the journey as getting somewhere, than we did when those trains tried to mimic the great limiteds of the 1950s.

So I admit my support for the IP/Pullman Rail concept seems odd. But key is that they have not tried to run completely apart from service that Amtrak was going to run anyway as part of its network mandate. The tragedy is that Amtrak seems no more ready to partner in a mutually constructive now way than it was with the GLE company at the very end of its history, when it too tried to operate a sanely priced winter/off-season service on the back of the CZ, SW CHIEF and the SILVER STAR.

Part of the problem with the earlier land-cruise train model was (unavoidably high) pricing. A dedicated land-cruise train is forced to charge high rates to cover its fixed costs. My sources in AOE/GLE management claimed they needed 85 passengers on each week's agenda just to break even--not the easiest task to meet year round if your typical per day, per person fare exceeded $800 per day and if passengers typically had to buy 5-7 days service at minimum. And when these trains went to operating as rolling land-cruises they also had to price in off train bus charters, park fees, some off-train meals and admissions.

For better or worse Iowa Pacific/Pullman Rail's operation on the CITY OF NEW ORLEANS escapes some of these traps. They no longer go down on Friday and back the next day. Their Thursday south--Sunday north pattern allows for a decent weekend stay in the Crescent City (New Orleans). And the mid-afternoon southbound arrival allows for the the fun of experiencing on-board the best part of a day (in the light of day), for riders to enjoy the luxuries they paid-for in the added fare for IP's service.

Ironically one of their biggest problems may have been Amtrak's refusal to allow them to sell to/from virtually all intermediate stations (at least at correspondingly adjusted prices)--a requirement justified by Amtrak on platform length/double stop issues--true perhaps at Fulton, KY, but hardly at Memphis! The CITY OF NEW ORLEANS route is never particularly spectacular, but it does serve two of America's great tourist Meccas--New Orleans and Memphis--except IP/Pullman Rail was prohibited from packaging options to Memphis and/or ideas like day "parlor car" rides between Memphis and New Orleans--a way to fill otherwise empty rooms.

And in any event Pullman Rail was filling its all too limited capacity even with all its Amtrak imposed capacity/marketing constraints, because the biggest area where it broke the AOE/GLE template was in charging accessible fares. IP prices are higher than Amtrak's (at least than Amtrak's lowest bracket rates, but not those charged for most space on heavily booked days), but passengers didn't have to spend $5,000+ either to take a round-trip from Chicago to New Orleans with IP/Pullman Rail. By offering actual section berths, by pricing enough entry level space to allow the average middle class rider to sample the product, the IP/Pullman Rail option was open to a much broader universe than could be drawn by the AOE/GLE.

Ironically the Chicago-New Orleans route wasn't even particularly scenic. Pullman Rail could never negotiate routine access to the really desirable Amtrak routes from a beauty-en route standpoint, yet it was clearly building support even on the back of the fairly forlorn CITY OF NEW ORLEANS. That is one of Amtrak's weakest long-distance routes. Few other Amtrak services could more have benefited from a true partnership than it--yet Amtrak once again seems to prefer no risk to cooperation and is willing to lose thousands of dollars in assured revenue each week rather than to partner and mutually grow. Alas."

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Posted by schlimm on Friday, January 29, 2016 1:25 PM

Railvt
While the Boardman group manipulates its cost structure to claim that sleepers lose money, they are unable to really document this.

Can you document that contention?   Otherwise, some useful information and opinions.  BTW, many/most sleeper services (CNL) are being abandoned in Europe as we speak.

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Posted by Railvt on Friday, January 29, 2016 2:35 PM

No one can "prove" anything about Amtrak costs/profits/losses, given the nature of the carrier's cost allocations. But a simple review of fares charges shows at least that the fixed costs of long-haul services are better met by a passenger paying $600-1000 in a sleeper than one paying $200 in coach--even if "free meals" are provided in the sleeper. In any service there is a cost that must be met to break-even/cover at least day to day operations. Every fare collected goes towards this need. Of course Amtrak provides sleeper riders with a higher level of service--an attendent, linens, meals and fewer places per car, but fares charged are often three times that in coach.

This is a topic debated throughout Amtrak history. Are NEC costs shifted to the national network? How do you divide up administration? Etc., etc. What we do know is the overall yearly Amtrak total loss. What we do not know is how it should be allocated/charged. That's precisely why an experiment with another provider for select services is one John Mica/House Transportation Committee idea that I am not opposed to.

Re German Rail sleepers--the fate of that network and its costs are being vigorously debated there. DB admitted that at least some of the overnight trains covered at least their out of pocket costs. Things have gotten horribly complex all over Europe with separation of passenger operations from track access costs.

Further complicating the matter is the requirement for national railways like DB to allow independents onto their networks. While DB plans to withdraw sleepers, the Austrian Railways plan to continue running cross-border overnight trains in Germany, Switzerland and Italy. The Russian Railways now runs a regular sleeper train from Moscow to Paris and another to the French Riviera, although both are weekly offerings most of the year. It's very much a debate there as it is here.

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Posted by schlimm on Friday, January 29, 2016 4:06 PM

Yes.  Then you should not make such a statement as 'Boardman group claims...cannot document' as you did the same thing.

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Posted by Railvt on Friday, January 29, 2016 4:33 PM

On this we will haved to agree to disagree. Somehow the original follow-up post that we are debating has vanished--so this whole argument is now probably impenetrable to most readers. But in short summary I believe Amtrak misallocates NEC expenses to long-haul trains, either does not understand or no longer correctly credits sleeper revenues and therefore is unable to justify its fear of true First Class service. I further feel Amtrak has consistently failed to see its best and only clearly profitable service on the national network trains. It is indeed an old arguement.

You clearly do not agree and feel I have no basis for my views. My explanation at least survives above. I have no idea where the rest of the post went. A Trains mystery?

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Posted by dakotafred on Friday, January 29, 2016 5:00 PM

Railvt

On this we will haved to agree to disagree. Somehow the original post that we are debating has vanished ...

 

Carl: Not from my lineup, assuming you're talking about the post that broke the news of Amtrak's plans for the Star.

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Posted by bartman-tn on Friday, January 29, 2016 5:22 PM

The below is from an Office of Inspector General Report - March 27, 2013. It is about Amtrak's cost accounting. This is the most detailed report that I have seen. Several since have commented about there not being any improvements in assigning costs based upon data instead of just random management assignment. This report pretty clearly states that Amtrak does not release cost assignments based upon where costs actually take place, but instead they are assigned where management wants them to be assigned.

"For several years, Amtrak management, Congress, and other stakeholders expressed concerns about weaknesses in Amtrak’s cost accounting system, the Route Profitability System (RPS). Specifically, they raised concerns over the system’s weaknesses in transparency, timeliness, system maintenance, and cost allocation. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that Amtrak’s reliance on cost allocation rather than cost assignment and RPS’s lack of transparency contributed to unreliable financial performance reporting. In response to these problems, Congress required the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to develop and Amtrak to implement a modern cost accounting and reporting system."

The below is about the new system.

"Furthermore, while it assigns about 90 percent of its revenues, Amtrak assigns only 20 percent of its costs and allocates the rest. While all cost accounting systems rely on cost allocation to a degree, it is generally preferable to assign as many costs as practical and allocate the remainder on some reasonable and consistent basis. Amtrak is unable to assign a greater percentage of its costs or allocate costs more precisely because Amtrak does not collect sufficiently detailed cost data. For example, Amtrak does not measure and record each train journey’s fuel consumption, but rather relies on a formula that estimates a journey’s fuel consumption....In addition, Amtrak’s heavy reliance on cost allocation reduces the precision of its performance reporting. Finally, Amtrak developed APT (Amtrak’s Performance Tracking) and SAP around its current business practices, but it did not assess those business practices to identify changes that would allow more precise tracking and financial performance reporting."

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Posted by schlimm on Saturday, January 30, 2016 6:44 AM

We have known that for three years.  That in no way supports the contention that Boardman is essentially "cooking the books" to show fictional sleeper losses or improper allocation of costs away from the NEC and onto LD services.  Amtrak may be doing that, of course.  But there is no proof, so far.

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Posted by Wizlish on Saturday, January 30, 2016 8:38 AM

schlimm
That in no way supports the contention that Boardman is essentially "cooking the books" to show fictional sleeper losses or improper allocation of costs away from the NEC and onto LD services.

What I wonder is if there is some political 'spin' within Amtrak that either deprecates or attempts to shy away from an 'elitist' view of LD services.  That would explain elimination of 'expensive dining-car service for the rich', and perhaps also an avoidance of emphasis on relative or marginal profitability from sleeper accommodations.

This would seem to fit with the general emphasis that Amtrak provides pure transportation service -- travel between two points for people who don't or won't use a different mode -- without looking too carefully into what people actually want in order for them to choose the train.

I also wonder if such a mindset would extend to 'structuring' the accounting or reporting in some ways to further the political aspects in this particular respect.

I (naively in this context) concur that something other than food is being cooked when the intermediate option of Cardinal-style meal service is not provided as an option for the Star ... or, apparently, even considered seriously...

 

(Now in the meantime, I still wonder if this is an evolving ploy to get rid of the current Amtrak dining-service infrastructure, including its union participation and current commissary requirements, perhaps to give a free-er hand with reintroduction of different dining arrangements once it can be 'objectively shown' (by complaints or even passengers 'voting with their feet') that dining service is indeed needed on that flagship train.    But I don't want to introduce paranoia into this (or the other) thread...)

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Posted by dakotafred on Saturday, January 30, 2016 5:17 PM

Paranoia is always an option when you have reason to think an organization or individual isn't being upfront with you. It's frequently right on target, too. (It could surely have been used to good purpose by the poor, incompetently served people of Flint, Mich., a couple of years ago.)

I'd be interested in hearing from ACY on this latest development.

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Posted by MidlandMike on Saturday, January 30, 2016 8:27 PM

As patronage declined on this train, did it rise on the other Florida trains?

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Posted by V.Payne on Monday, February 01, 2016 9:07 PM

NRPC was given 7 years to report Short and Long Term Avoidable Operating Costs as required by the PRIIA act of 2008, but were never able to report so to the FRA site as required. IF they cannot actually do this calculation then they are essentially flying blind as to any service offering, not just sleepers and diners. Can you imagine a business who sells to the public not knowing how much it costs to run a existing or new product line atop their existing operations?

There was evidence submitted in a German parliament hearing that the DB was not counting say commuter seat tickets on the overnight trains along with other gimmicks and DB itself admits the trains even still covered their variable costs, just not their fully allocated costs, much as it is here.

From the IRJ

"The focus in recent years on cost reduction appears to have left DB with a much poorer overnight product... the service level onboard was deliberately run down, for example the removal of restaurant cars from trains with journeys of over 12 hours, and there was a complete failure to add value or create any kind of premium service... This led to a spiral of losses as revenues stagnated..."

Another piece of the puzzle is that DB has hired management consultants. There are a few open access night train operators in europe, Thello and Berlin Night Express. SJ reports a 65% increase in night train traffic where some capital investments have been made.

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Posted by schlimm on Monday, February 01, 2016 10:14 PM

V.Payne
There was evidence submitted in a German parliament hearing that the DB was not counting say commuter seat tickets on the overnight trains along with other gimmicks

 

WHERE DOES IT SAY THAT?  COMMUTERS WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO USE THOSE TICKETS ON OVERNIGHT TRAINS.

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Posted by CMStPnP on Monday, February 01, 2016 11:19 PM

schlimm
WHERE DOES IT SAY THAT?  COMMUTERS WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO USE THOSE TICKETS ON OVERNIGHT TRAINS.

When I was living in Europe in the mid-1980's you could not use a Commuter ticket to travel on a IC train.    The tickets were different in size as well as labeling.    Also commuter tickets were machine dispensed and validated before you boarded the train.    IC, I remember having to buy at a ticket office.

I suspect the sleeper service, which was doing well in the 1980's has something to do with deep discount airline service and much improved mass transit access to airports across Europe.     Easier to take a train to the airport and board a plane and resume the travel on the train.........then it is to get a sleeper.

Additionally, I seem to remember in the 1980's at least you had to either call to reserve a sleeper or make the arrangements via travel agent or face to face with a DB counter person..........could not buy via ticket kiosk.    The sleeper fares in Europe in some cases had more than one tier and before the EU completed it's union you had to pay specific tarrifs to cross a country or use a specific railway line (to pay off some infrastructure improvement).     Not at all like Amtrak where the Sleeper fare was a simple add-on.     I also remember on DB paying a premium to have a 2-4 person/bed 1st class sleeper all to myself instead of having to share it.    Amtrak doesn't have the intelligence to try that and if they did our culture would probably rebel against it.

I suspect if they improved the sleeper amenities in Europe along with streamlining /standardizing the sale of sleeper accomodations they might fare a little better in Europe with sleeping car service but I am not sure it will make a comeback with the improved airport access / discount airlines in Europe now.

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Posted by Enzoamps on Tuesday, February 02, 2016 1:44 AM

What am I missing?  A sleeper with 16 roomettes and five rooms at $600-1000 is maybe $15-20,000?  80-100 $200 coach seats is about the same amount.  The sleeper has more labor involved, plus the "free" meals.  How would the sleepers be beetter for the bottom line?  Disclaimer: I am a regular sleeper traveller, I like them.

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Posted by dakotafred on Tuesday, February 02, 2016 6:38 AM

Enzoamps

What am I missing?  A sleeper with 16 roomettes and five rooms at $600-1000 is maybe $15-20,000?  80-100 $200 coach seats is about the same amount.  The sleeper has more labor involved, plus the "free" meals.  How would the sleepers be beetter for the bottom line?  Disclaimer: I am a regular sleeper traveller, I like them.

 

"More labor" in the sleepers translates to, I suspect, only marginally (if any) more payroll than in coach and a LOT more work, including making and unmaking beds for 2-3 dozen people, serving the occasional meal, keeping the bathrooms decent and babysitting that bell for special requests. All this for a single attendant per car.

He or she is a bargain, the wages covered by what should be a small percentage of sleeper fares. If Accounting isn't recovering that cost, somebody there has HUA.

I've never counted and can't recall, offhand, what I've read on here. But the coaches, often half-full, require how many conductors/assistant conductors to, basically, scan tickets, sometimes assign seating and board/detrain passengers? Other than those, few personal services.

I'd run the cost effectiveness of that sleeping-car attendant against coach personnel any day. 

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Posted by schlimm on Tuesday, February 02, 2016 7:42 AM

CMStPnP
When I was living in Europe in the mid-1980's you could not use a Commuter ticket to travel on a IC train.    The tickets were different in size as well as labeling.    Also commuter tickets were machine dispensed and validated before you boarded the train.    IC, I remember having to buy at a ticket office.

CMStPnP: Much has changed in 30 years.  Night trains do not accept riders for short rides.  Passengers who are regular commuters use passes.  Most folks reserve online and show the conductor or collector on a tablet along with Bahn discount card and pay with credit card.  In short, commuters could not use CNL to commute and their commuter pass would be useless.

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Posted by schlimm on Tuesday, February 02, 2016 7:44 AM

CMStPnP
Additionally, I seem to remember in the 1980's at least you had to either call to reserve a sleeper or make the arrangements via travel agent or face to face with a DB counter person..........could not buy via ticket kiosk.    The sleeper fares in Europe in some cases had more than one tier and before the EU completed it's union you had to pay specific tarrifs to cross a country or use a specific railway line (to pay off some infrastructure improvement).     Not at all like Amtrak where the Sleeper fare was a simple add-on.  

Very different now.  All can be done online.

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Tuesday, February 02, 2016 9:58 AM

Conductors and assistant conductors/brakemen are operating personnel who have a fair amount of other duties and responsibilites beyond collecting tickets.  The conductor is also responsible for tickets in the first-class cars.

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Posted by Railvt on Tuesday, February 02, 2016 10:32 AM

The ratio between coach and sleeper obviously varies based on train and car types, but it is not 2/1. A Superliner coach in straight coach configuration seats 62 upstairs and 12 more on the lower level, for a total of 74. As a coach/baggagfe car only the upper 62 seats are present (about 1/3rd of the fleet). A Superliner sleeper has a capacity of 28 in roometes, 10 in bedrooms, 2 in the handicap room, and 4 in the Family Room--but only two of those berths are full-length adult beds--the other two are for kids--so count it as a capacity of 3 total--thus a sold-out Superliner sleeper can move 43--as opposed to 62 or 74 in coach.

The Eastern ratio varies a bit less. An Amfleet II coach seats 59, while a Viewliner sleeper has 28 places in roomettes, 4 in Bedrooms and a final 2 in the handicap bedroom--for a total of 34.

The math below is a bit of a slog, but I think it will explain why I believe sleepers are Amtrak's best product.

Where the sleepers really shine from a revenue standpoint is in Amtrak's ability to charge much more than double the coach fare for the sleeper. As an example, on June 17 the current Chicago-Seattle coach fare is $178 for an adult. In the sleepers Amtrak is charging the $178 base rail fare, plus $368 for a roomette total for the room and $1704 for a bedroom. The handicap room and the family room are already full on this date and thus we do not know what Amtrak charged for them--so we will not be able to review their costs, but just looking at roometttes/bedrooms the revenue possibility begins to come into focus.

If Amtrak sells out the 14 roomettes at $368 per room it will generate $5152 in add-on revenue (and closer to departure roomettes could actually sell for as much as three times this price based on yield management). This is on top of the $178 per person coach fare. The 5 bedrooms will generate add-on revenue of $8520.

The 74 passengers in a coach would generate $178x74=a total of $13172 for Amtrak. If the sleeper sells 28 in the roomettes and 10 more in the bedrooms it will produce an underlying rail fare of $178 x 38= $6764, plus room charges of 28 x $368 in roomettes=$5152, plus 5 x $1704 in bedrooms=$8520 for a total of $6764+5152+8520= $20436.00 for only 38 sleeper passengers (again we ignored the handicap and family rooms) compared to 74 in the coach and we ignored another crucial benefit of First Class--the ability to significantly compound the returns even more than in coach if the room splits enroute.

Looked at as yield per person the CHI/SEA sleeper for 38 riders generates $537.78 per person, ($20436/38) compared to $178 per person in coach! Yes, Amtrak has to provide 5 meals, a porter and linens in the sleeper between Chicago and Seattle, but gets over 300% more per sleeper rider. The sleeper user is vastly more beneficial to Amtrak.

Now we'll look at the revenue return if the coach seat or sleeper room can be sold twice enroute. On the EMPIRE BUILDER there is a very substantial turn-over for riders enroute between Chicago and the west coast at Glacier, Belton and/or Whitefish. On our example day  of 6/17, if the room splits at Whitefish Amtrak is charging $170 in coach CHI/WFH (only $8 less than all the way to Seattle), with the roomette adding $355 per room (only $13 less than all the way to Seattle) with the bedroom adding $1315. The space virtually always refills from west of there to Seattle.

So the 14 roomettes CHI/WFH can produce an added $355 x 14= $4970 and the 5 bedrooms an added 5 x $1315=$6575, or a total for the segment of $4970+6575=$11545 for room charges alone. Add in 38 rail fares  x $170=$6470 and the sleeper generates $18005 for 38 riders, compared to $170x74=$12580 for the 74 in a coach. Per rider the sleeper produces net revenue of $18005/38 = $473.82 per person, compared to $170 in coach. Now we'll add the incremental pay-off west of Whitefish to Seattle.

On 6/18 (the same train as 6/17 from Chicago) the coach fare WFH/SEA is another $92. A roomette adds (a bargain) $109 per room and a bedroom another $721 per room.

If all 74 coach seats fill Amtrak gets $74x92=$6808. If all 38 potential riders fill the 14 roomettes and 5 bedrooms the return explodes. Amtrak gets 38 rail fares in the sleeper x 92=$3496, plus 14 roomettes x $109=$1526 (and this figure is actually probably very low, as the roomette price will likely climb as the train fills-up), plus 5 x $721 for bedrooms=$3605. The 38 sleeper riders generate a total of $3496+1526+3605=$8627, compared to $6808 for 74 riders in coach! Per person each sleeper passenger generates $227, compared to $92 per rider in coach.

If the sleeper fills on both segments (and this very typically does occur) the coach could produce 74 x $262=$19388. The sleeper with 38 riders can generate $18005 CHI/WFH, plus $8627 WFH/SEA=$26632 and again that is for 38 riders, not 74. Per rider a sleeper gives Amtrak revenue of ($26632/38=) $700.84, compared to $262 in coach.

But the Boardman management claims the sleepers are not profitable!? I sold Amtrak travel full-time for 32 years. I virtually never was unable to get a coach seat. Very frequently all space in sleepers was sold-out. As noted above Amtrak costing formulsa are not capable even of properly allocating fuel expense! Alas.

Carl Fowler

  • Member since
    September, 2010
  • 1,636 posts
Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Tuesday, February 02, 2016 2:11 PM

Remember that the #1 Roomette is assigned to the attendant and therefore only 13 are available for sale. Otherwise, I agree with your logic.

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