Consensus on Amtrak

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Consensus on Amtrak
Posted by oltmannd on Thursday, May 17, 2018 6:38 PM

It looks like Trains Nation is starting to sing from the same hymnal:

Frailey

http://cs.trains.com/trn/b/fred-frailey/archive/2018/05/05/my-big-bad-new-amtrak.aspx

 

Hamlin

http://cs.trains.com/trn/b/observation-tower/archive/2018/05/16/tale-of-two-trains-and-some-thoughts-about-amtrak-39-s-future.aspx

 

Hankey

http://cs.trains.com/trn/b/observation-tower/archive/2018/05/16/fred-goes-macro-i-go-micro.aspx

 

 

All make comments that indicate a need for Amtrak to get on top of it's business.

Hooray!  Just doing today what you did yesterday is a dead end strategy. The 1950's streamliner schedules died in the 1950s.  I think the only one not in the loop on this is the Rail Passengers Association (https://www.railpassengers.org/) who seem solidly welded to the dying status quo.  Time to push them, and Amtrak off dead center.

 

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, May 18, 2018 8:23 AM

oltmannd
Hooray!  Just doing today what you did yesterday is a dead end strategy. The 1950's streamliner schedules died in the 1950s.  I think the only one not in the loop on this is the Rail Passengers Association (https://www.railpassengers.org/) who seem solidly welded to the dying status quo.  Time to push them, and Amtrak off dead center.

So push them over the cliff and out of existance?  Yep!  That may save you your two cents in taxes.

         

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Posted by PNWRMNM on Friday, May 18, 2018 8:43 AM

How about fess up that outside the NEC, ATK serves no purpose other than as a welfare and make work program.

Elimate ATK and any statutory requirement that railroads offer or support passenger service. Only in America do you see private railroads supporting a government rail service through theft of rail capacity. ATK is an obscene, and well disguised, tax on the freight carriers. It needs to go for that reason alone.

Give the NEC to the states it serves and let them do with it what they will. It is a regional issue, not national.

The only reason the LD trains were included in ATK was to buy political support in congress. Passenger trains have been dead for decades.

 

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Posted by oltmannd on Friday, May 18, 2018 9:10 AM

PNWRMNM
How about fess up that outside the NEC, ATK serves no purpose other than as a welfare and make work program.

Okay, but a political necessity....apparently.

PNWRMNM
Give the NEC to the states it serves and let them do with it what they will. It is a regional issue, not national.

I would argue against this point.  When a region involves about 40% of the nations population, it stops becoming regional.  Also, anything involving the most important city in the western hemisphere in terms of finance and prestige, deserves some national support.  

Calling it regional when it involves people living in 13 states and then expecting reasonable, continuous cooperation from is impractical.

Sort of like saying the farm bill is a regional issue and dumping it on the Ag states.

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Posted by oltmannd on Friday, May 18, 2018 9:10 AM

BaltACD

 

 
oltmannd
Hooray!  Just doing today what you did yesterday is a dead end strategy. The 1950's streamliner schedules died in the 1950s.  I think the only one not in the loop on this is the Rail Passengers Association (https://www.railpassengers.org/) who seem solidly welded to the dying status quo.  Time to push them, and Amtrak off dead center.

 

So push them over the cliff and out of existance?  Yep!  That may save you your two cents in taxes.

 

I just want to slap them and yell "Pay attention!"

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

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Posted by PJS1 on Friday, May 18, 2018 9:39 AM

BaltACD
  

So push them over the cliff and out of existance?  Yep!  That may save you your two cents in taxes. 

A little bit more than two cents. 

The average cost for the roughly 99 million federal tax filers in 2016 with a tax liability - approximately 34 percent of filers did not pay any federal income tax - was $18.47.  Just a drop in the bucket to be sure!  Iff their federal income taxes were reduced by $18.47, it probably would not register with most federal tax payers.  But this is not the point.

Why should any commercial enterprise, especially after more than 45 years of direct government support, continue to get more than $1.5 billion a year in federal subsidies?

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Posted by oltmannd on Friday, May 18, 2018 9:55 AM

PJS1
Why should any commercial enterprise, especially after more than 45 years of direct government support, continue to get more than $1.5 billion a year in federal subsidies?

There are lots of "whys". 

Why should the feds fund Atanta's HOT lanes? (that don't cover their incremental operating cost)

Why should the feds fund a truck-only highway (not a toll road) from Atlanta to Macon?

 

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Posted by PJS1 on Friday, May 18, 2018 10:10 AM

oltmannd
 PJS1 Why should any commercial enterprise, especially after more than 45 years of direct government support, continue to get more than $1.5 billion a year in federal subsidies?  

There are lots of "whys". 

Why should the feds fund Atanta's HOT lanes? (that don't cover their incremental operating cost)

Why should the feds fund a truck-only highway (not a toll road) from Atlanta to Macon? 

These are infrastructure as opposed to operating expenditures.  The users should pay for them.  And they do.  But they have nothing to do with the subsidies paid directly to Amtrak to keep it running. 

As far as I know Amtrak is the only common carrier that gets a direct handout from federal and state governments.  

America's highway users ultimately do pay for them.  Whether a class of user pays its fair share is another matter.  There is, for example, compelling evidence that the heaviest trucks do not pay their fair share of the highways given the damage that they do to them.

Whether goods are shipped by truck, rail, pipeline, water, etc., the cost of shipping is passed through to the customer in the price of the goods.  The people who buy the goods are paying proportionally for the highways and the cost of operating over them. 

You are correct to challenge Amtrak to do it better, faster, cheaper.  I would take it one step further.  Privatization!

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Posted by daveklepper on Friday, May 18, 2018 10:30 AM

My understanding is there has been transfer of funds from the Federal Govt. Treasury to Interstate Highway Maintenance because in some cases highway use taxes were not sufficient.

Police highway patrol is not funded by specific highway taxes in many cases but is funded as part of general police funding from general state taxationl

Interstate hihgways do not pay real estate taxes.  Amtrak does pay some taxes to communities where it owns the tracks, and all freight railrioads that own their rights-of-way pay real estate taxes.  And on their other owned facilities as well.

Regional airport are subsidized from the Federal Treasury on a special program,

All forms of transportation in the USA are subsidized, not just Amtrak, except a large fraction of freight railroading.

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Posted by VOLKER LANDWEHR on Friday, May 18, 2018 2:05 PM

PNWRMNM
Only in America do you see private railroads supporting a government rail service through theft of rail capacity.

At least in 1970 the Amtrak deal must have looked good to the passenger railroads of the time.

Not participating would have meant four more years of passenger traffic according to the 1970 status with the following ICC abandonment procedure and eventual law suits. Fixed in the Amtrak-law.

The loss in passenger traffic was $449.5 million in 1970. So the railroads saved $1.8 billion by being able to cancel passenger traffic immediately without the ICC procedure. And the get access charges. Stealing?
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Posted by CMStPnP on Friday, May 18, 2018 8:04 PM

I don't get the "stealing" capacity bit because 80-90% of Amtrak LD trains run over tracks that are operating far below capacity as far as # trains per hour.     True the freight railroads do not want to shift their schedules around to better accomdate Amtrak BUT rarely true that Amtrak is using up anything close to the last bit of track capacity.

I've read other posts about how this line is filled up or that line is filled up, only to read the specific freight railroad is attempting to solicit more traffic for the filled up line.

It maybe true there are short stretches of Class 1 track near capacity in or near the major city centers but out in the country where most of Amtrak does it's LD running..........not so much.

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Posted by ruderunner on Saturday, May 19, 2018 7:17 PM

VOLKER LANDWEHR

 

 
PNWRMNM
Only in America do you see private railroads supporting a government rail service through theft of rail capacity.

 

At least in 1970 the Amtrak deal must have looked good to the passenger railroads of the time.

Not participating would have meant four more years of passenger traffic according to the 1970 status with the following ICC abandonment procedure and eventual law suits. Fixed in the Amtrak-law.

The loss in passenger traffic was $449.5 million in 1970. So the railroads saved $1.8 billion by being able to cancel passenger traffic immediately without the ICC procedure. And the get access charges. Stealing?
Regards, Volker

 

 

It seems to me that you are under the impression that the passenger losses would stay the same for the period from 1970-75. And that the losses would go to zero in 1975.

Two problems, . one, the losses would have likely increased due to lost revenue ad passengers fled the trains. This had been happening for twenty years prior. Heck the PC was losing a million dollars a day in 1970. Much of it due to passenger trains.

Second problem is the assumption that the ICC would have allowed the cancellation of all the trains in 1975. Considering their behavior prior, that's unlikely.

Add in the assertion that Amtrak is paying roughly 20% of what it should for track access and it's no surprise the class ones feel ripped off.

Modeling the Cleveland and Pittsburgh during the PennCentral era starting on the Cleveland lakefront and ending in Mingo junction

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Saturday, May 19, 2018 8:41 PM

ruderunner
Add in the assertion that Amtrak is paying roughly 20% of what it should for track access and it's no surprise the class ones feel ripp

What is the source for this 20%?  Is that an average?  Surely some freight lines are far from capacity. Most long distance lines have only two Amtrak trains per day, some even less, such as the Cardinal.  Should not the access fee be based on the marginal costs and any lost revenue-making capacity for running X number of Amtrak trains?

 

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Posted by ruderunner on Sunday, May 20, 2018 6:17 AM

charlie, the assertion was made in another thread or blog recently. It was based on speculation about what a class one can make from a train slot vs what Amtrak pays for the slot. There was quite a discrepancy though believable since Amtrak doesn't pay for infrastructure. I'll emphasize speculation as the actual numbers are locked away in private accounting paperwork.

To answer your last question, why yes I believe it should be paid that way but iirc the original charter doesn't allow it.  Basically it was "we'll take away the losses but not allow you to make money on the service."

Modeling the Cleveland and Pittsburgh during the PennCentral era starting on the Cleveland lakefront and ending in Mingo junction

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Posted by VOLKER LANDWEHR on Sunday, May 20, 2018 9:24 AM

ruderunner
It seems to me that you are under the impression that the passenger losses would stay the same for the period from 1970-75. And that the losses would go to zero in 1975.

Yes and no. Yes, I took four times the loss of 1970 as minimum as there are no  numbers for the later years. No, I mentioned the ICC procedure and following possible law suits. I was looking for the minimum provable number against the accusation of stealing.
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Posted by VOLKER LANDWEHR on Sunday, May 20, 2018 9:42 AM

ruderunner
charlie, the assertion was made in another thread or blog recently. It was based on speculation about what a class one can make from a train slot vs what Amtrak pays for the slot. There was quite a discrepancy though believable since Amtrak doesn't pay for infrastructure.

In a Fred Frailey blog someone calculated that Amtrak should pay $187.50 for a train mile. I still find this ridiculous. My answer in this blog:

Take a corridor of 500 miles with 3 trains each way as example.

The daily costs would be 3*2*500*187.50 = $562,500/day.

With estimated cost for one mile of new track of $2.0 million the cost would be 1,000 million.

These would be saved in 1,000,000,000/562,500 = 1778 days equals short of 5 years. Build the track, don't discuss with the hosts.

I think slots are not a suitable calculation base. Make the trains ever longer and you get fewer slots. The slot is not what creates the costs but the wear caused by tonnage.

In Germany an ICE high-speed train pays about $18** per train mile. This is calculated on base of infrastructure costs, new-building, maintenance, dispatching etc., i.e. costs produced by the train,not what DB might have earned with the slot.

** They pay less, but I included the governmental subsidies for infrastructure.

I haven't found enough numbers on UP's website to do some calculation just 898.7 billion gross-ton-miles,and total infrastructure cash flow $3.086 billion of which about $300 million are locomotives and rolling stock.
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Posted by CMStPnP on Sunday, May 20, 2018 2:35 PM

VOLKER LANDWEHR
n Germany an ICE high-speed train pays about $18** per train mile.

Find out if DB pays property taxes on railroad infrastructure and improved buildings on railroad land because Class I railroads in the United States do.

Rather humorous story down here in Texas and it's true.   M-K-T went across it's system partially demolishing some passenger depots in the 1950's and 1960's to cut their depot square footage down and save on property taxes in relation to their passenger service cutting costs measures.    Can't imagine that happening in Germany without it becomming a National Issue.    M-K-T was a financial basket case but it makes me wonder how many other railroads did the same thing to cut costs in the ending days of passenger service.      I noticed the new depots that the Santa Fe erected in the North Dallas area in the 1950's and 1960's.    Denton, White Rock, etc on their new Texas Chief cutoff were relatively small depots square footage wise even though the number of passengers they handled exceeded the square footage quite a bit   (White Rock for example).     Wonder if that was deliberate to keep costs low.

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Posted by VOLKER LANDWEHR on Sunday, May 20, 2018 3:59 PM

CMStPnP
Find out if DB pays property taxes on railroad infrastructure and improved buildings on railroad land because Class I railroads in the United States do.

DB pays property taxes but not on station and ROW. But that wouldn't explain the factor of 10 between what some people deem fair for Amtrak to pay ($187.50) and DB's cost ($18).

I find valuating the slots improper as long as there are only two slots per track and hour. Calculate the costs Amtrak really causes. That won't necessarily be $18. With that number I only wanted to show how weird (at least from my point of view) the $187.50 per train mile are.
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Posted by CMStPnP on Sunday, May 20, 2018 9:49 PM

VOLKER LANDWEHR
DB pays property taxes but not on station and ROW. But that wouldn't explain the factor of 10 between what some people deem fair for Amtrak to pay ($187.50) and DB's cost ($18).

It would not be factor of 10 but property taxes in the United States are pretty steep, I pay about $5000 a year on 1/3 an acre (suburb of Dallas).     Midwest (suburb of Milwaukee, WI) they pay about $6500 a year on 1/3 an acre.     In some small towns the railroads property tax bill supports a large chunk of the towns budget.

I think your right though, some folks are exaggerating the costs.    The cost per mile of just one passenger car behind an Amtrak train was a little over $1 a mile last I checked which was a while ago.   I am sure it has gone up a bit but probably still under $2 a mile.    So if that is the case you can multiply by number of cars on an Amtrak train and subtract the built in margin for hauling a private car of say 20% and you would get pretty close to an accurate figure for a full passenger train.   You would have to add terminal and switching charges in, so to be safe I would add about $2-3k overhead on top.    Try that and see how close you get to the DB figure.     Going to bet it is fairly close because the standard of living between the United States and Germany is pretty close, though I think the United States is still ahead a little.

The President Bush Campaign Train that ran across Michigan on CSX in 1992 cost $25-30,000 to run.     However that was three trains not one per Secret Service stipulations.    Not sure what the mileage was on that sucker.    But you can also take that and divide by three to get the cost of one train roughly and then divide by the mileage ran.    Also the POTUS trains require CSX to stop all traffic.   Not sure if CSX charged for that or swept it under the table.

You can get a rough comparison to Airline costs by going to the Southwest Airlines Website and clicking the CHARTER link and they provide sample costs for two airline routes generically.    Again you would need to subtract about 20% off those figures for margin.    Generally with jets the larger the jet the higher the fees.  Southwests price is for a 737 and just peanuts and soda for refreshments.   

You can charter a business size lear jet in the United States for about $2000 to $2500 an hour..........going off on a tangent here though.

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Posted by CMStPnP on Monday, May 21, 2018 1:25 AM

BTW, I believe I got the price per car per mile charge from the AAPRCO Charter guide if memory serves me correctly.    They have an extra per locomotive charge per mile too I think.

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Monday, May 21, 2018 6:41 AM

PJS1

You are correct to challenge Amtrak to do it better, faster, cheaper.  I would take it one step further.  Privatization!

 
Privatization obviously was not working prior to April 30, 1971 or the Rail Passenger Service Act would not have been enacted.
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Posted by ruderunner on Monday, May 21, 2018 11:46 AM

to a point you're correct. But the railroads were required to keep running many money losing trains that everyone knew were losers.

Had the government not been involved, there may have only been 3 trains in the country.

Modeling the Cleveland and Pittsburgh during the PennCentral era starting on the Cleveland lakefront and ending in Mingo junction

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Posted by BaltACD on Monday, May 21, 2018 1:28 PM

If anyone, anyone at all, THOUGHT they could make money privatizing Amtrak's operation they would have made themselves known long, long ago, or even today.  

The sounds of silence are deafening.

         

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Posted by daveklepper on Tuesday, May 22, 2018 1:51 AM

I think certain markets can be profitable.  I do believe that once all the track impovements are in place and paid for, requiring only normal maintenance, for 125 mph operation over much of the route, that UP could make money and do a terrific public relations job by taking over the Chicago - St. Lous - Kansas City corridor market, with hourly service on the ex-GM&O Chicago - St. Louis, and every other , for every two hours service, St. Louis - KC.   Even though the route is longer, overall Chicago - KC time would be shorter than the Zephyr via Galesberg, but the market would be primarily Chi - StL and StL - KC plus intermediate important stations at Joliette, Bloomington, Sringfield, Independence, and one or two more.  Normal, IL should be a stop before and after college vacation times.   I think the buseinss is there and the opportunity is there.

The operation would be like Brightline but in Armor Yellow and Brown.

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Posted by daveklepper on Tuesday, May 22, 2018 2:02 AM

Correction.   The Texas Eagle, not the Southwest Chief, apologies.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Tuesday, May 22, 2018 7:01 AM

BaltACD

If anyone, anyone at all, THOUGHT they could make money privatizing Amtrak's operation they would have made themselves known long, long ago, or even today.  

The sounds of silence are deafening.

 

True, very true.   Private concerns could possibly make money on fast, frequent services on logical, under-500-mile routes that contain multiple large population centers.  Maybe.

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Posted by PJS1 on Thursday, May 24, 2018 4:50 PM

CSSHEGEWISCH
 PJS1 You are correct to challenge Amtrak to do it better, faster, cheaper.  I would take it one step further.  Privatization.   
Privatization obviously was not working prior to April 30, 1971 or the Rail Passenger Service Act would not have been enacted. 

 
If Amtrak were privatized, the only portion of its system that likely would survive is the NEC. 
 
Hopefully, Texas Central and Brightline, which are essentially investor sponsored passenger rail programs, will survive and pave the way for more models like them.
 
Why should the governement be involved in running intercity passenger trains?  It does not operate a commercial airline or an intercity bus company.  It has, rightly so, stood by when numerous airlines collapsed and Trailways, among others, went out of business or at least gave up their national network.  

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Posted by MidlandMike on Thursday, May 24, 2018 8:52 PM

While airlines collapsed, the national air network stayed intact.  While Trailways may be gone, Greyhound still has a nationwide network, and there are other intercity bus companies.  If Amtrak goes, so goes the passenger rail network.  A few states may contract out some disjointed corridors, while the individual state legislatures only need to elect a majority one time who might kill thier trains.

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Posted by oltmannd on Friday, May 25, 2018 4:20 PM

PJS1
If Amtrak were privatized, the only portion of its system that likely would survive is the NEC.   

..and the NEC extensions:  Empire Service, Keystone Service, Downeaster,  Richmond/Norfolk/Newport News and Roanoke, too.

I think California would keep their piece going (less the Starlight and Zephyr).  I think Washington would keep the Cascades going - probably Oregon, too.  Maybe even a stub of the Empire Builder out the Columbia River Gorge.  Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan would likely keep the Chicago Hub going (less LD trains).

Also, NC Piedmonts and the Carolinian.

The states are already picking up most of the tab of the operation of these trains.  The lack of national Amtrak won't be a deal breaker.

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

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Posted by PJS1 on Friday, May 25, 2018 5:08 PM

oltmannd
 PJS1 If Amtrak were privatized, the only portion of its system that likely would survive is the NEC.   

..and the NEC extensions:  Empire Service, Keystone Service, Downeaster,  Richmond/Norfolk/Newport News and Roanoke, too.

I think California would keep their piece going (less the Starlight and Zephyr).  I think Washington would keep the Cascades going - probably Oregon, too.  Maybe even a stub of the Empire Builder out the Columbia River Gorge.  Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan would likely keep the Chicago Hub going (less LD trains).

Also, NC Piedmonts and the Carolinian.

The states are already picking up most of the tab of the operation of these trains.  The lack of national Amtrak won't be a deal breaker. 

Here is a pretty good look at what the future could bring on a wider scale:

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/25/wall-street-exec-backs-train-service-for-mini-trips.html

This is the quote that grabbed my attention.  It is a good definition of where passenger trains make sense. 

"....... Wesley Edens, told CNBC that the railway is perfect for those trips that are "too long to drive, too short to fly." '  

Some of our readers may bridle at the views of a Wall Street Executive, but I believe his message has value. 

Under the right conditsion investors could fill a hole that is not covered by Amtrak and/or the states because they don't have the political support and/or the money.

Rio Grande Valley, CFI,CFII

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