Auto Train review from Motor Week perspective

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  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: US
  • 18,533 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, December 18, 2019 11:19 AM

charlie hebdo 
charlie hebdo

Rather than combine/disconnect sections at Lorton, which seems beyond Amtrak's skill set,  run two separate trains.  Depending on its origin point,  the northern train would draw from NYC metro area + Boston and otherwise areas. That seems like enough demand base to warrant a second train.  Two somewhat shorter trains are easier to operate than one very long one. 

As to equipment,  auto-train runs at a surplus above operating costs so get the equipment one way or another.  Some of the western LD routes are likely to be cut.  

Again, running the train father north would require to have Amtrak have at least 3 sets of equipment to cover the schedule vs the 2 sets the current train needs.  Assuming the train would be the same size as the current train, that is an extra 150 cars for 3 sets of equipment.  Would Amtrak be able to charge enough of a premium on a New York train to cover that cost?  I doubt it. 

Not a northern section joining in Lorton but two separate trains.   

I understand that.  The current schedule for the Lorton train permits 7 hours on either end to turn the equipment.  Amtrak can turn the equipment in that time, so the inbound equipment can be used for the outbound.  Only two sets of equipment are needed to maintain the current schedule.  To operate farther north would take longer, around 4 hours added each way.  That would give Amtrak only 3 hours on either end to turn the equipment, which I don't think is possible. Therefore in order to maintain the schedule, at least one extra set of equipment would have to be maintained to provide on time service.  That would raise the cost quite a bit.   

Furthermore using single level auto racks cuts the auto hauling capacity by 2/3rd.  On a train that is limited by rule to 50 cars, that would be a huge cut in revenue. 

The current Auto Train makes money because it has decent asset utilization, lowering costs.  I don't think Amtrak can charge enough of a premium on a northern train, to offset the increase cost of the additional equipment required to meet the schedule, along with the decrease in revenue from hauling less people.

One drawback of running only two sets of equipment on Auto Train - if a set gets seriously delayed - four hours or more.  Future departures of that set of equipment will continue to originate late until that set of equipment can be run, serviced and turned to be ready for On Time departures again.  The other option, and it has been used, is to cancel a trip for BOTH sides of the operation so a On Time starting point can be generated for both sets of equipment.  Neither option benefits Amtrak's customer service image.

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