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A Shorter Eagle

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A Shorter Eagle
Posted by JPS1 on Tuesday, October 13, 2020 9:50 AM
I rode the shortened Texas Eagle from Austin to Dallas and back last week.  The train consisted of a P42 locomotive and four Superliner cars, i.e. sleeper, diner, and two coaches. 
 
On Number 22 I had an economy room.  Only two other rooms were occupied.  I did not count the number of people in the coaches, but there did not appear to be many.  The train was showing 15 percent occupancy on Amtrak.com the morning of departure.  On Number 21 I had a lower level economy room.  The family room at the end of the car was occupied by two people; on the upper level two of the economy rooms and two of the bedrooms were occupied.  The toilets in both cars were squeaky clean. 
 
I ate lunch in the diner.  I was the only one in the car going and coming.  It was rather weird.  But the service was great.  I had pasta and meatballs on both occasions.  They were passible.  Amtrak made them somewhat more enjoyable by throwing in a free glass of Chardonnay. 
 
In addition to the engineer, the crew consisted of a conductor, assistant conductor, sleeping car attendant, dining car server, and an attendant for the portion of the dining car that had been set up for coach passengers to buy drinks and eats.  It takes the place of the lounge car.  Coach passengers were not allowed to sit in the dining section of the car. 
 
The crew on No. 22 was surprisingly upbeat given that several of them said they were facing furlough when they got back to their Chicago base. 
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Posted by Gramp on Tuesday, October 13, 2020 12:09 PM

Gee, that's sad. Sounds like you almost had your own private train though. Like some flights back in the 70's when they were regulated. 

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Posted by CMStPnP on Tuesday, October 13, 2020 2:39 PM

I actually am for the new consist and I think that is a more efficient way to run the Texas Eagle, I never use the other cars.    Well the Lounge Car I use as a backup if I do not like the meal choices offered but I never sit in the upper portion of the Lounge Car on the Texas Eagle as there is nothing to really see......Cafe part of the Dining Car should be sufficient.      Also, shorter train I believe is easier on supervisory portion of the crew to traverse and supervise.     Now I am curious on how that short type of train works on some of these older signalling systems that seemed to have issues before........or if that has been fixed now.

I think second generation LD equipment they need to be designed better to be more flexible as far as interior configurations and customization to specific market conditions.   I think a decent engineer could design such a car, just that the railroad industry has never done it before on the passenger side.    Rather interesting we had a range of sleeper configurations before Amtrak and after Amtrak we are down to one for bi-level and one for single level.    Is that really how markets work?

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Tuesday, October 13, 2020 10:08 PM

You guys got me curious about the Eagle, so I looked at the schedule. I was very surprised that Austin-Dallas is like 6 hours, when Google Maps tells me I can drive that in 3.5 hrs. Even accounting for the intermediate station stops, that seems like a huge difference. Why such a disparity?

And CMPStP&P, you mentioned there's nothing to look at, and I believe you've said that before. You mean all the way from San Antonio to Chicago there's nothing to look at!? I mean maybe it's not dramatic like the Rockies, but I would have thought there's lots of interesting scenes along the way, like Americana and of course railroad stuff. Is it really that boring?

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Posted by CMStPnP on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 10:02 AM

Lithonia Operator

You guys got me curious about the Eagle, so I looked at the schedule. I was very surprised that Austin-Dallas is like 6 hours, when Google Maps tells me I can drive that in 3.5 hrs. Even accounting for the intermediate station stops, that seems like a huge difference. Why such a disparity?

And CMPStP&P, you mentioned there's nothing to look at, and I believe you've said that before. You mean all the way from San Antonio to Chicago there's nothing to look at!? I mean maybe it's not dramatic like the Rockies, but I would have thought there's lots of interesting scenes along the way, like Americana and of course railroad stuff. Is it really that boring?

Ha-ha, JPS rides it South of Dallas, I will probably only do it once to get the mileage.   I drive that route when I take it because of what you pointed out.   Yes so San Antonio to my driveway in NW Dallas suburb is about 4 to 4.5 hours driving the Texas Speed Limit.    San Antonio is a lot more temperate in Winter than Dallas plus it is much cheaper cost of living.    So excellent escape from the Winter that if you budget right......actually cheaper than living in Dallas.    Not that you need an escape from the 8-10 week Dallas Winter but some folks like the option.    San Anotino is much more Mexican in culture and food than is Dallas but I love that about it.

The topography from Dallas to Austin is flat as a pancake with few if any trees over some stretches.....I've only done that driving.    Topography gets a little interesting between Austin and San Antonio but for the most part the railroads did a good job avoiding challenging features.     The scenic part of the Texas Eagle is limited to between St. Louis and into Ark but that is covered in both directions at night time......you can see from the light of the train that there are bluffs along the tracks but that is it.    St. Louis - crossing into Illinios and all the way to Chicago the topography is flat as a pancake and again over some stretches....very few trees mostly farms.    East from Dallas to Texarkana - Flat as a pancake but once you hit East Texas your in the Piney Woods at least and it is heavily wooded on both sides of the track with at times tall pine trees.     Had the line been built later in the Century without regard to property lines it would be a good candiate for 250 mph or above along most of the route.    Instead and beacause of the merge tiny railroads into larger railroads history, the line has ridiculous rail alignments in places.    In places where it is flat as a pancake there are sharp curves, probably to avoid property lines when it was built or to make sure the line hit the maximum amount of settlements between points A and B.      Why the Union Pacific doesn't spend more money and fix that....is anyones guess.    In parts of Texas you can see some past realighnment efforts that MOPAC or TEX PAC did.    And in Texas there are very long straight sections of Track but not always.

So bottom line, unless flat as a pancake farm or ranch country captures your interest over a prolonged period of time, the scenery is probably amongst the most boring of any Amtrak LD trains.

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 10:31 AM

When the train is actually running (as opposed to being stopped at a station, or for signals) what is the top speed, 79 mph? And of that time running what perscetage do you think is done at top speed? You seem to be saying that those tight curves have to be slowed down for. And what about small towns that are not stops? Does the Eagle have to slow down because of local ordinances?

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Posted by CMStPnP on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 10:54 AM

Lithonia Operator
When the train is actually running (as opposed to being stopped at a station, or for signals) what is the top speed, 79 mph? And of that time running what perscetage do you think is done at top speed? You seem to be saying that those tight curves have to be slowed down for. And what about smal towns that are not stops? Does the Eagle have to slow down because of local ordinances?

Yes they have to slow for some of the curves.   I have not noticed speed limits via towns that are not rail junctions.    Towns that are rail junctions, yes the speed limit drops noticeably in some cases down to 30-40 mph.    UP knows the curves are an issue in places.    I would think if they spend maybe $4-5 Billion they could have a much faster railroad via former MoPac and TexPac.   They almost had a deal with TX Dot for Texas to build them a new mainline but 20 miles west of current route between San Antonio and Austin.   It would have avoided the curvy mainline they have now that tries to hit a lot of communities.    The new mainline would have been very straight.    The new mainline would be in exchange for Texas taking over the curvy one for passenger trains.   It fell through or was tabled.

Yes most of the Amtrak trip is 79 mph (caveat here) and smooth.   There are rough patches when your sleeping between St. Louis and the Texas Border.......not sure what the deal is with Arkansas and Southern Missouri track.     It is smooth ride North of St Louis and for a bit North of Texarkana down to Dallas.    They can hit 79 mph when not behind an intermodal or freight train which sometimes happens and then the Amtrak is lucky to see 60 mph (that is the caveat on speed)..........sometimes I have been onboard doing 20-30 mph with a train in front.    On Holidays when there are hardly any frieght trains it is 79 mph most of the way and then we have the issue of schedule padding and we have to pause at St. Louis for 2-3 hours,  hour at Little Rock instead of 30 min and hour at Texarkana instead of 30 min, 45-60 min at Dallas............etc..   Depending on how clear the tracks are, sitting at stations and waiting for the schedule to catch up to the fast train can tax your patience but I would rather have that happen then be late hours and hours on arrival time.    My estimate is without the frieght train interference  you could shave off 4-6 hours between Dallas and Chicago.

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Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 8:46 PM

CMStPnP
There are rough patches when your sleeping between St. Louis and the Texas Border.......not sure what the deal is with Arkansas and Southern Missouri track. 

The ATK route thru Missouri is mostly on a secondary line.  The main freight line follows the east side of the Mississippi thru Illinois then into extreme southern Missouri.  At that point the main line becomes paired one-way traffic (ex-MOP and Cotton Belt) except that the Eagle sticks to the one-way ex-MOP in both directions, so maybe a lot of going into sidings.

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Posted by CMStPnP on Thursday, October 15, 2020 4:11 AM

MidlandMike
The ATK route thru Missouri is mostly on a secondary line.  The main freight line follows the east side of the Mississippi thru Illinois then into extreme southern Missouri.  At that point the main line becomes paired one-way traffic (ex-MOP and Cotton Belt) except that the Eagle sticks to the one-way ex-MOP in both directions, so maybe a lot of going into sidings.

Ahh, that explains the rougher track over that segment.   Yeah so I woke up arround 2:00 a.m. on more than one trip just before or after Little Rock Ark and the track was pretty crappy and the car was shaking quite a bit.   It's kind of humorous because most passengers that are asleep.........never feel that section of track, they just sleep through it.   No complaints prior to the pandemic when they had dining car service in the morning.

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Posted by JPS1 on Thursday, October 15, 2020 9:35 AM

Lithonia Operator
 I was very surprised that Austin-Dallas is like 6 hours, when Google Maps tells me I can drive that in 3.5 hrs. Even accounting for the intermediate station stops, that seems like a huge difference. Why such a disparity? 

Part of the reason is the Eagle does not go directly from Austin to Dallas.  From Austin it runs north to Round Rock, where it turns east to Taylor, after which it heads north northwest to Temple, McGregor, Cleburne, and Fort Worth, where it again turns east for the run to Dallas. 
 
According to Google Maps, the highway distance from Austin to Dallas via I-35 is 195 miles.  The rail distance is approximately 240 miles.  The difference and five stops account for some of the time difference.
 
Another factor is the speed limit on most of I-35 – 75mph, which is just 4 mph less than the Eagle’s top speed.  According to DPS, approximately 70 to 80 percent of motorists on I-35 exceed the posted speed limits by 7 to 10 percent.    
 
From Austin to Taylor the Eagle runs 79 miles per hour in spots, but it has to slow for the curve in Round Rock as well as a speed restriction through Hutto.  From Taylor to Temple the Eagle rarely if ever gets above 65 mph.  I have ridden it many times.  And I have paced the train on numerous occasions as it runs parallel to Texas 95; it never got above 65 mph. 
 
From Temple to Fort Worth the Eagle hits 79 mph for a good bit of the run, but it is rare not to have meets with one or two freight trains, which kills the average speed.  On my last trip we had to stop twice for freights.
 
Fort Worth is a 22-minute fuel and service stop for No. 22; for No.21 it can be as long as an hour, thirty-five minutes if it departs Dallas on time. 
 
From Austin to Taylor the view is mostly urban sprawl.  From Taylor to Temple and Temple to McGregor the Eagle passes through some of the richest ranch and farm land in Texas.  The sweeping vistas are inspiring.    
 

From McGregor to Cleburne the train passes through the edge of the Texas Hill Country.  It is undulating country with lots of trees and hills in spots.  The route crosses the Brazos River, which is the 11th longest river in the United States and one of Texas’ main drainages.  From Cleburne to Fort Worth and Fort Worth to Dallas it is mostly more urban sprawl.    

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Thursday, October 15, 2020 11:49 AM

Thanks for that extensive explanation, JPS1.

Regarding scenery, a lot of is that most people like something different. Being from New England, I find expansive farm land and ranches to be fascinating. And I find agriculture-related buildings and devices very interesing. Grain elevators in particular strike some chord for me.

If you don't mind my asking, why do you get a bedroom for a 6-hour daytime trip? Is it simply because you are a railfan and that's your preference (as it would be mine, if I were not on a budget), or is because of social separation during the pandemic? Feel free not to answer.

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, October 15, 2020 12:17 PM

Lithonia Operator
If you don't mind my asking, why do you get a bedroom for a 6-hour daytime trip?

Interesting question...

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Posted by JPS1 on Thursday, October 15, 2020 1:31 PM

Lithonia Operator
 If you don't mind my asking, why do you get a bedroom for a 6-hour daytime trip? 

 It was an economy room.  On my most recent trip I booked rooms because of the pandemic.

Since retiring 15 years ago and moving to central Texas from Dallas, I have taken the Eagle from Austin or Taylor to Dallas an average of 6 or 7 times a year. 
 
I like riding trains.  I have ridden over every mile of Amtrak’s system with the exception of Sacramento to Portland and Chicago to New Orleans.  Some of the mileage was racked up when the routes were operated by the private carriers, i.e. Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard Airline, etc. 
 
If my stocks are doing well, I book an economy room; if they are not doing so well, coach works for me.  Sometimes I go one way in an economy room and return coach class or the other way around. 
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Posted by RailSpike on Friday, October 16, 2020 1:46 PM

"Passible" is the way you described the food.  Passible is not really acceptable when there are good microwavable entrees available from numerous suppliers.  I don't ride Amtrak for the food but there is no excuse for the quality of the food currently served.  They obviously don't care because I've seen reviews from "passible" down to "terrible".  Just another nail in the coffin.

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Friday, October 16, 2020 3:50 PM

Well, here's a guy who hated Amtrak's coffee, so he stopped to grab some at a convenience store on the way to the depot. The time was tight, but he figured "that train's always late ..."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qAjZZ5RCoo

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Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, October 17, 2020 9:01 AM

Lithonia Operator
Well, here's a guy who hated Amtrak's coffee, so he stopped to grab some at a convenience store on the way to the depot. The time was tight, but he figured "that train's always late ..."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qAjZZ5RCoo

Makes a cynic wonder how the Amtrak Conductor reported the delay!

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Saturday, October 17, 2020 1:58 PM

To me that conductor was a pr!©k. It sure looks to me like he saw the guy running to make the train. They could have waited two friggin minutes. How about good PR vs. bad PR, for Pete's sake.

Now, Coffeeguy pulled a really dumb stunt, no question, for which I guess the conductor felt he should be "punished." But if the conductor had stooped to being human initially, the guy would have been on the train. It's not like a subway, where the guy can wait 15 mins for the next one. I'm assuming the guy had a ticket.

What happens if you ran for a train, and made it just in time, but to do that you had to bypass the ticket booth. Will the Amtrak conductor sell you a ticket onboard? Will he do it politely, skipping the lecture? There are lots of stations without a ticket agent (Yemassee SC comes to mind); to board there, do you HAVE TO buy a ticket online?

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Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Sunday, October 18, 2020 5:45 PM

I wonder how far he could have hung on as the train accelerated to 79mph. And if there are any wayside clearance things that could knock him off. Not where I would try to ride. Stupid.

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Posted by JPS1 on Sunday, October 18, 2020 6:39 PM

Electroliner 1935
 I wonder how far he could have hung on as the train accelerated to 79mph. And if there are any wayside clearance things that could knock him off. Not where I would try to ride. Stupid. 

Yes, stupid.  I am 81.  I have concluded there is no shortabe of stupid people in the world.  Come to think of it, I have done some pretty stupid things myself, but I am not going to tell you about them.  

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Posted by CMStPnP on Monday, October 19, 2020 4:07 AM

I already forwarded some of these threads to the Michelin restaurant rating agency so they could better screen their voting pool.  :)

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Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Monday, October 19, 2020 7:00 PM

JPS1
 
Electroliner 1935
 I wonder how far he could have hung on as the train accelerated to 79mph. And if there are any wayside clearance things that could knock him off. Not where I would try to ride. Stupid.

Yes, stupid.  I am 81.  I have concluded there is no shortabe of stupid people in the world.  Come to think of it, I have done some pretty stupid things myself, but I am not going to tell you about them. [quote user="JPS1"]

JPS1
 Yes, stupid.  I am 81.  I have concluded there is no shortabe of stupid people in the world.  Come to think of it, I have done some pretty stupid things myself, but I am not going to tell you about them.  

Haven't we all, and likewise,I have done some pretty stupid things myself, but I am not going to tell you about them. I still wonder if there are cases out there where some idiot did "suceed" in hanging on the outside of a train between stations and survive. And how many documented cases of people getting on the outside of a passenger train and NOT surviving it?

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Tuesday, October 20, 2020 7:27 AM

On some TV show I saw a video of a guy somewhere in Europe who somehow managed to be on a step on the outside of a passenger car, without anyone knowing he was there. He shot and narrated the cellphone video himself, kinda thinking has was going to die there. It was very cold, the train was going like 80 mph, and IIRC he was there for about an hour and a half before somone finally heard him, and the train stopped. I don't think the place where he was stuck exists on American coaches, or is that large. Not that it was "large" at all, but just big enough. Scary, sobering to see.

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Posted by JPS1 on Wednesday, October 21, 2020 5:35 PM

This is sort of related to the Texas Eagle, so I will post it here.

I just returned from four days in Alpine, TX, which is a crew change point for the Sun Set Limited. 

I saw the westbound limited on Tuesday.  It had two P42 locomotives, a New Orleans Sleeper, a Chicago Sleeper (to or from the Texas Eagle at San Antonio), a Sightseer Lounge car, and four coaches.  One of the coaches was the through coach from or to the Texas Eagle.    

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, October 23, 2020 2:26 PM
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Posted by Overmod on Friday, October 23, 2020 3:34 PM

charlie hebdo
https://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local/article/Amtrak-has-expansion-within-the-San-15668010.php

This raises a question to me: if Amtrak is pitching triangular traffic from San Antonio to Dallas and Houston (the two ends of the Texas Central first stage) then how does Austin get its Houston connection?  Seems to me that the Amtrak service should be exactly what was called for a week or so ago: a 125mph (perhaps even 110mph to start) regional service down the I35 corridor.  If there are to be two 'legs' to Houston, make one of them -- the one perhaps better benefiting from high patronage of high speed -- the extension of TC from Houston, and the other at regional speed.  

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Saturday, October 24, 2020 8:48 AM

Overmod

 

 
charlie hebdo
https://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local/article/Amtrak-has-expansion-within-the-San-15668010.php

 

This raises a question to me: if Amtrak is pitching triangular traffic from San Antonio to Dallas and Houston (the two ends of the Texas Central first stage) then how does Austin get its Houston connection?  Seems to me that the Amtrak service should be exactly what was called for a week or so ago: a 125mph (perhaps even 110mph to start) regional service down the I35 corridor.  If there are to be two 'legs' to Houston, make one of them -- the one perhaps better benefiting from high patronage of high speed -- the extension of TC from Houston, and the other at regional speed.  

 

 

Right.  The article (I hope not the actual planning)  seems a bit vague, even questionable.  Except for totally new ROW,  stage increases in speed seems sensible,  starting at 110.

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Posted by JPS1 on Saturday, October 24, 2020 12:03 PM
Amtrak will not be a player in the Dallas to Houston leg of the Texas Triangle. 
 
Texas Central has received regulatory permissions for its high-speed line from Dallas to north Houston.  Some of the land pieces are missing and financing is still being worked out, but it looks like it will be a go. 
 
For the other two legs of the triangle, i.e. DFW to San Antonio and SAN to Houston, existing rail routes could be upgraded to 110 to 125 mph standards w/o having to take any private property or run trains on an elevated structure. 
 
And then there is the proposed Texas T-bone network, which would run from Dallas to Fort Worth and from there to San Antonio via Waco, Temple, Georgetown, Austin, and San Marcos.  The line splits at Temple and runs to College Station and Houston. 
 
There is no viable rail line between Austin and Houston.  The Austin and Western runs to Giddings, TX.  There is an active rail line from Hempstead, TX to Houston – I believe it is BNSF, but there is no line between the two.  A new line would have to be constructed.  The Austin and Western line between east Austin and Giddings would require a serious upgrade. 
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Posted by CMStPnP on Saturday, October 24, 2020 4:00 PM

JPS1
Amtrak will not be a player in the Dallas to Houston leg of the Texas Triangle. 

Not so sure.    If Austin METRO (via the freight shortline it runs over) or the state ever connects the long abandoned line between Austin and Houston,  I would presume Amtrak would only need to start service on Austin to Houston segment to have a Dallas to Houston routing.   I thought I read somewhere they were buying or laying down more of that line not too long ago in the direction of Houston or a connection to Houston.......I could be wrong though.    Old study link below:

https://ftp.dot.state.tx.us/pub/txdot-info/rail/austin_houston_final.pdf

 Virgin Trains mention Houston - Austin - San Antonio routings, very interesting that a year later Amtrak brings up the routing (that mentioned in a previous post):

https://austin.culturemap.com/news/travel/02-01-19-richard-branson-backed-startup-virgin-trains-austin-san-antonio-houston/

 Not sure why JPS1 keeps saying that Austin to Houston is not viable.    This state has put down long sections of rehabbed or new track.    Look at the Dallas to Fort Worth rehab and improvement of the former Rock Island.    Look at TexRail on Cotton Belt + DART Silver Line.    It is not a huge obstacle if Texas has to lay new track.......we seem to have the money.     Personally, I never thought I would see Texas fund startup or subsidy of the Heartland Flyer under a Republican Governor either but it happened.

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Posted by JPS1 on Saturday, October 24, 2020 7:36 PM

CMStPnP
 Not sure why JPS1 keeps saying that Austin to Houston is not viable. 

It is not viable now because there is no usable track between Giddings and Hempstead, which would be the most direct route.  The corridor would be commercially viable if track were laid down between these two points and the track from east Austin to Giddings was upgraded.  Whether sufficient numbers of people would use it to make it viable is problematic.    

Given the likelihood that Texas Central is going to be built, I don't see how Amtrak or any other carrier could offer a competitive service service between Dallas and Houston.  Running via Austin or Temple or Waco, while offering service from or to intermediate points, would not be competitive end point to end point.  

Someday, I think, we will see improved passenger rail service between DFW and San Antonio, as well as from Austin to Houston, and San Antonio to Houston.  I don't believe it will be Amtrak.  

There is a huge barrier to better intercity passenger rail in Texas.  Cars and pick-ups!  Most of the Texans that I know don't want better passenger trains or buses.  They want better roadways.  And this is not likely to change in the near future.  

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Posted by CMStPnP on Sunday, October 25, 2020 11:32 AM

JPS1
Whether sufficient numbers of people would use it to make it viable is problematic.    

They paid for a study and it keeps being mentioned, why is it problematic for you?     You can't use the Dallas to Houston line to shorten the Austin to Houston commute by much because Austin is more WEST then NORTH of Houston for starters.    So I do see the line as capable of attracting riders and I don't believe it has to be high speed either.   Freeway distance between AUSTIN and HOUSTON is  165 miles.    So approx 2.5 to 3 hour rail trip using Chicago to Milwaukee speeds on it's 95 mile corridor of 79 mph.

JPS1
Most of the Texans that I know don't want better passenger trains

You chose the wrong neighborhood to live in I guess or else they already have DART light rail.   I keep hearing over and over again....when are we getting DART light rail?   Not only that but I am asked a lot about Amtrak and it's accomodations / speed to Chicago.....mostly small families.    The line to DFW is going to be used by more than a few because folks are tired of the car service and shuttles and paying the $$$ for them.     Milwaukee is just the reverse and see Light Rail up there as a government boondoggle but mostly because of a local talking head:  Charlie Sykes (he kept saying again and again the light rail vehicles in Milwaukee would get stuck repeatedly in the snow......not sure where he got that from).

 

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