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Amtrak's FY 2008 Key Performance Numbers

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Posted by oltmannd on Monday, February 23, 2009 8:21 PM

Gee, I though all those Marines were just going to move over to that other place.  Those guys don't have bullets?

It used to be "guns and butter".  How about "bullets and bullet trains?"

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

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Posted by Paul Milenkovic on Monday, February 23, 2009 12:05 PM

I agree, to continue to persue this perticular tangent is not inteligent.

(C'mon Don, you have a dry sense of humor, how about backing me up on this one?)

Of course the argument is that the Marine would not need the body armor if that Marine was not sent on overseas deployment to a part of the world where they want us to leave.

But guess what, the political pendulum swings.  It swung in the direction of more military intervention overseas and in the direction of reduced taxes on the wealthy following the theory of trickle-down economics.  It has swung in the direction of reducing overseas military action and in the direction of increasing taxes on the wealthy following the theory of percolate-up economics.  Sure enough as the seasons, over time the pendulum will swing once more in the other direction.

The one thing that doesn't swing is Amtrak -- that remains on a constantly declining trajectory.  The advocacy community needs a whole 'nother approach from the blame-the-concrete-lobby-and-lazy-'Mercuns-who-won't-get-their-backsides-out-of-cars-and-what-about-Aunt-Millie-who-is-on-respiratory-meds-and-cannot-fly.  Making more effective use of the subsidy money than running the Sunset would be a good starting point to turning this around.

If GM "killed the electric car", what am I doing standing next to an EV-1, a half a block from the WSOR tracks?

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Monday, February 23, 2009 11:27 AM

If we continue to persue this perticular tangent, the thread will get locked.

Dave

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Posted by oltmannd on Monday, February 23, 2009 11:16 AM

If I remember right, the Federal budget historically runs about 20% of GDP.  Roughly 1/3 is interest on the debt, 1/3 entitlement spending (SS & Medicare, etc.) and 1/3 discretionary.  Of the discretionary, the military spending is typically about half, but has had a declining share over the past 20 years.

The trend has been that entitlements and debt service will swamp everything else, including the military, if we don't do something different.

I have no problem with sensible spending on intercity passenger service, but I don't think it's any fairer to suggest that we should shift discretionary spending from the military to Amtrak any more that it would be fair to suggest that we deny a Marine body armor so that Mr. and Mrs. Upper Middle Class can take the kiddies on an taxpayer subsidized Superliner Sleeper vacation.

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

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Posted by Paul Milenkovic on Monday, February 23, 2009 10:50 AM

Phoebe Vet

Sam:

As you can undoubtedly tell from our several conversations, I am not a fan of pure number crunching.  I firmly believe that there comes a time when inteligence must trump pure numeral logic.  Perhaps it is best described by the old evaluation of which is better, a watch that loses an hour a week or one that doesn't work at all.  By pure number crunching, it is the one that doesn't work at all, because it is right twice a day whereas the one that loses an hour a week ... well, you get the picture.

Europeans pay more of a tax burden than we do, but on the other hand, they get free medical care, and free college.  We could lower our own tax burden a lot if we stopped putting such a huge portion of our assets into our military, and stopped sticking our nose into the business of other countries.  France is building a 300 mile per hour train, we are building the largest most expensive ever aircraft carrier, the USS George Herbert Walker Bush.  Germany and it's neighbors are building a multi country ICE high speed rail network.  We are building 5 state of the art military bases and the largest in the world secure "embassey" in Iraq.  Who is it that has the wrong fiscal priorities.

I too offer mega DITOS that we are spending too much on the embassey in Iraq and that the time has come when inteligence must trump pure numeral logic. 

If GM "killed the electric car", what am I doing standing next to an EV-1, a half a block from the WSOR tracks?

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Posted by oltmannd on Monday, February 23, 2009 10:09 AM

I think load factor is a fine measure, but it is not reasonable to compare load factors to airlines.  It is reasonable to compare Amtrak routes, however.  Load factors less than 50% generally mean you are dragging around extra equipment to little effect other than to wear it out and burn fuel. 

If you are dragging coaches all the way from New Orleans just to fill them up at Lynchburg and Charlotteville, that's not a very efficient use of scarce equipment....

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

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Posted by Dakguy201 on Monday, February 23, 2009 9:51 AM

I'm not comfortable with using load factor as an significant indicator of performance.  To illustrate why, let's take a Lincoln service example.  If I take the train from Chicago to Springfield, and my seat remains empty to St. Louis the load factor for that seat was 65%.  I think most of us would judge that the train doing at least an adequate job with that load factor.  However, suppose everybody on the train followed my example.  It still has the 65% load factor, but there is a major problem.

Amtrak does a better job than most publicly assisted entities at routinely publishing a lot of data relating to it operations.   Nevertheless, without the ability to data mine their ticketing computers, our comments on load factors are suspect.  

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Posted by oltmannd on Monday, February 23, 2009 8:31 AM

The "economy of scale" argument makes it's appearance regularly around here.  Illinois doubled freqency on two of it's routes a year or so ago.  The data on Amtrak's web site should provide some insight into whether the "economy of scale" argument holds any water.

Anyone want to take a crack at it?

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

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Posted by Anonymous on Monday, February 23, 2009 4:20 AM

Phoebe Vet

Sam:

I guess I phrased it carelessly.  I did not intend to say the numbers are irrelevant.  I meant to say that they should not be the sole determining factor in the decision making process.  For example, when a train makes 10 stops over the course of it's trip, it is not reasonable to expect that every seat will be full for the entire trip, nor is it reasonable to expect that the correct number of seats can be assigned to every train.  There will seldom be a train that meets the pure number derived goal of at or near capacity unless you sometimes have to leave people behind.  Nor should capacity utilization be determined by how many passengers ride from origin to final destination without considering the utilization among intermediate stops.  To use a train that is important to me, Many of the intermediate stops on the Piedmont's route are not served by scheduled air service.

I am well aware that those benefits the europeans enjoy are paid for by their taxes, but I believe that the community as a whole benefits when everyone who is capable can go to college, not just those who can afford it, and that the community as a whole is served when health care is not a sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the huge number of Americans who cannot afford health insurance.  I believe that mass transit falls into that catagory as well.  Our taxes pay for many things we do not personally use, and I'm fine with that.

 

Presenting the results of Amtrak's operations is not a value statement.  It is a results statement.  If society wants to hoist passenger railroad trains, or anything else for that matter, it has the right to do so.  But those who sponsor it and support it should be aware of the costs. 

Amtrak has 26 State Supported and Other Short Distance Corridor Trains.  Included in these is the Piedmont, which has an average load factor of 43.2 per cent.  Interestingly, the average load factor for these short distance trains is 43.9 per cent.  Although they may from time to time be chockers, with these relatively low numbers, it does not happen very often.  Collectively these trains lost $117.5 million in FY 2008 before interest and depreciation.  Only three of them covered their operating expenses.

If I lived in North Carolina, I would support passenger rail service between Charlotte and Raleigh.  But I would insist that it cover its operating costs, and I would further make sure that the taxpayers knew how much they are paying for it.

I am amazed at the number of  passenger rail supporters who don't know how much trains cost or how dismally they perform in the market place, which is the best method for allocating scarce economic resources, especially for commercial activities.  I am also amazed at the number of people, including those at NARP, who cherry pick the positive numbers, i.e. increase in number of riders, revenues, etc. without presenting both sides of the ledger.  Which I have done consistently!

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Posted by SRen on Sunday, February 22, 2009 5:33 PM


Mega Ditos for Phoebe Vet!!!

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Saturday, February 21, 2009 2:41 PM

Sam:

I guess I phrased it carelessly.  I did not intend to say the numbers are irrelevant.  I meant to say that they should not be the sole determining factor in the decision making process.  For example, when a train makes 10 stops over the course of it's trip, it is not reasonable to expect that every seat will be full for the entire trip, nor is it reasonable to expect that the correct number of seats can be assigned to every train.  There will seldom be a train that meets the pure number derived goal of at or near capacity unless you sometimes have to leave people behind.  Nor should capacity utilization be determined by how many passengers ride from origin to final destination without considering the utilization among intermediate stops.  To use a train that is important to me, Many of the intermediate stops on the Piedmont's route are not served by scheduled air service.

I am well aware that those benefits the europeans enjoy are paid for by their taxes, but I believe that the community as a whole benefits when everyone who is capable can go to college, not just those who can afford it, and that the community as a whole is served when health care is not a sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the huge number of Americans who cannot afford health insurance.  I believe that mass transit falls into that catagory as well.  Our taxes pay for many things we do not personally use, and I'm fine with that.

Dave

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Posted by Anonymous on Saturday, February 21, 2009 2:29 PM

Amtrak's accounting, financial, and operating data can be found on Amtrak's website.  To suggest that they are misleading is wrong.  They are crystal clear to people who know how to read them.

The bulk of Amtrak's fixed costs are confined largely to its portion of the NEC, as well as the Keystone Corridor, New Haven to Springfield, and Porter to Kalamazoo lines.  It also has fixed costs associated with its equipment; however, most of it is leased, and it has fixed costs embedded in the stations and other improved property that it owns. 

Amtrak could cancel the leases in a heartbeat.  Disposing of the railway and other property would be a bit more challenging, but it could be done.  All costs are ultimately variable, and they can be shed.  Just ask Circuit City.

If you think that the numbers presented are distorted, please show us the contrary numbers.   I have not seen any.    

The Balance Sheet long ago lost its luster.  The most important accounting statement is the State of Cash Flows.   For Amtrak, as well as most other passenger rail operators, it is not a pretty story.  Amtrak's cash flow statement shows that more than one dollar of subsidy is required for every two dollars of revenue.

The cost to fly from LA to New Orleans is just one segment of the Sunset route.  As I stated in my post, it would cost Amtrak, i.e. the taxpayers, considerably less to discontinue the Sunset Limited and fly the wannabe passengers between practically any paired combination of cities on the route. 

If you think that I am bashing Amtrak that is your prerogative.  If you do, clearly you have not read all of my posts.  In any case, presenting the whole picture, i.e. what works and what doesn't, is telling it like it is.  And I will continue to do so.

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Posted by Anonymous on Saturday, February 21, 2009 2:13 PM
Phoebe Vet

Sam:

As you can undoubtedly tell from our several conversations, I am not a fan of pure number crunching.  I firmly believe that there comes a time when inteligence must trump pure numeral logic.  Perhaps it is best described by the old evaluation of which is better, a watch that loses an hour a week or one that doesn't work at all.  By pure number crunching, it is the one that doesn't work at all, because it is right twice a day whereas the one that loses an hour a week ... well, you get the picture.

Europeans pay more of a tax burden than we do, but on the other hand, they get free medical care, and free college.  We could lower our own tax burden a lot if we stopped putting such a huge portion of our assets into our military, and stopped sticking our nose into the business of other countries.  France is building a 300 mile per hour train, we are building the largest most expensive ever aircraft carrier, the USS George Herbert Walker Bush.  Germany and it's neighbors are building a multi country ICE high speed rail network.  We are building 5 state of the art military bases and the largest in the world secure "embassey" in Iraq.  Who is it that has the wrong fiscal priorities.

Accounting, financial, and operating data, whether it is describing the current situation or projecting the results of a planned activity, is the most logical way I know of to frame the viability of a commercial operation.  Accounting data is the language of business.  Even Amtrak crunches the numbers as you put it.

Clearly, societies make value judgments that transcend the numbers.  They engage in a variety of activities that don't produce a profit or breakeven.  It is important, however, for the leaders to know how much an activity costs and what is driving the costs.  I cannot think of a single government activity that does not have a budget and does not know how much it spends or what gives rise to the revenues.

If society wants to hoist a passenger rail system that does not cover its costs, it can do so.  I have no quarrel with that.  It is a value judgment.  But putting its collective head in the sand, i.e. I don't want to know what my favorite activities costs, is irresponsible.  I don't know of any society that does not want to know how much an activity costs.

Europeans don't get free medical care and free college.  They pay for them through their taxes.  Thus every taxpayer, irrespective of the extent to which he or she uses the services, pays for them.  In this county we have decided to have a closer connection between who uses them and who pays for them. There is no such thing as a free lunch.  Someone must pick up the tab. 

The same thing applies to a commercial activity that does not cover its costs.  If the users don't pay for it, someone else has to pick-up the check.  In the case of Amtrak, it is the large number of taxpayers who do not or cannot use the trains for a variety of reasons.      

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Saturday, February 21, 2009 10:53 AM

Sam:

As you can undoubtedly tell from our several conversations, I am not a fan of pure number crunching.  I firmly believe that there comes a time when inteligence must trump pure numeral logic.  Perhaps it is best described by the old evaluation of which is better, a watch that loses an hour a week or one that doesn't work at all.  By pure number crunching, it is the one that doesn't work at all, because it is right twice a day whereas the one that loses an hour a week ... well, you get the picture.

Europeans pay more of a tax burden than we do, but on the other hand, they get free medical care, and free college.  We could lower our own tax burden a lot if we stopped putting such a huge portion of our assets into our military, and stopped sticking our nose into the business of other countries.  France is building a 300 mile per hour train, we are building the largest most expensive ever aircraft carrier, the USS George Herbert Walker Bush.  Germany and it's neighbors are building a multi country ICE high speed rail network.  We are building 5 state of the art military bases and the largest in the world secure "embassey" in Iraq.  Who is it that has the wrong fiscal priorities.

Dave

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Posted by Anonymous on Saturday, February 21, 2009 8:37 AM

cordon

Smile

While I appreciate the cost numbers well, I can't say that I have as good a feeling about the small perceived benefits of passenger rail, or about whether or not we have included all the costs involved in the other modes of transportation.

And I can't personally come to grips with the fact that so many nations have taken major steps to advance their passenger rail systems, even in the face of the comparitive cost analyses that we have seen here.  They must be including in their decision process something that we are missing in North America.

Clearly, "the marketplace" is not the whole answer.  It can be part of the answer, for sure, but we have just seen in the last few years what damage the marketplace can do when left to itself.

I wish I could say more, but I can't.  Except to say that I have this odd feeling that we are neglecting a resource that has the potential to contribute positively a great deal more to our transportation needs than it does now.

Smile   Smile

The tax burden for a typical family in the U.S. averages between 38 and 42 per cent of family income.  This includes all taxes including corporate pass throughs.  The tax burden for a typical family in most of the European countries, which hoist the state of art passenger rail systems that many of the people who post to Trains forums advocate, is between 44 and 52 per cent.  This is one of the reasons that they can afford to build the high speed rail systems like those in France and Germany.

I would be surprised if a typical Texas family or American family for that matter would agree to a sharp increase in taxes to support a high speed rail system, although it does not seem to have phased those in high tax California that authorized the issuance of $10 billion of bonds to start a high speed rail system. 

 

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Posted by HarveyK400 on Saturday, February 21, 2009 12:55 AM

The point of allowing freight trains to go faster to [aviod] slowing following trains is a valid consideration.  Operating people like a one-speed railroad.  Passenger trains, especially fast ones, catch up quickly.

Easing curves to increase speed is very costly and often yields little benefit which is why it isn't done often and hasn't been done until now.  The choice is between curve easement or the need for more frequent high-maintenance crossovers to speed service.

40-mph is reasonably practical for freight trains for curves as sharp as 4-deg with 3-in SE (super-elevation) where e (equilibrium) = 4.48 in.  60-mph for a 1.5-deg curve is allowable with 3-in SE where e = 5.04-in; but wear may be an issue.  A 1-deg curve would only require 2.5-in SE where e = 2.52-in. 

A conventional passenger train needs 2.75-in SE where e = 5.67-in for a 1-deg curve (5,730-ft radius) to allow 90-mph.  A tilting passenger train could be allowed 110-mph and still be comfortable for a 1-deg curve with 2.5-in SE where e = 8.47-in.

A conventional train would need a 0.33-deg curve (17,200-ft radius) with at least 2.25-in SE where e = 5.25-in, e = 0.84-in for 60-mph freight trains.  A tilting train would need at least a 0.6-deg curve (9,550-ft radius) with 2.5-in SE where e = 9.45-in, e = 1.51-in for 60-mph freight trains, and e = 3.04-in for 90-mph Roadrailer.  Well and spine type intermodal cars can leave a lot of room between containers or trailers to increase air resistence.

As I've stated before with the cost of full grade separation, the limit of 150-mph should be exploited to the fullest to realize the greatest benefit.  Curves should be eased where ever possible to achieve at least this level of service in conjunction with the grade separation work.

Since 220-mph service would be segregated from freight and possibly other passenger such as long-distance, alignment is independent from freight.  Even so, costs for grade separation and right-of-way can be reduced running separate services parallel one another.  Parallel tracks for multiple services are quite common in Europe.  The density of train traffic and difference in speed made traffic segregation practical in the US as well in the cases of the NYC and PRR.  If the shoe fits, wear it; but the opposite is true as well.

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Posted by cordon on Friday, February 20, 2009 9:23 PM

Smile

While I appreciate the cost numbers well, I can't say that I have as good a feeling about the small perceived benefits of passenger rail, or about whether or not we have included all the costs involved in the other modes of transportation.

And I can't personally come to grips with the fact that so many nations have taken major steps to advance their passenger rail systems, even in the face of the comparitive cost analyses that we have seen here.  They must be including in their decision process something that we are missing in North America.

Clearly, "the marketplace" is not the whole answer.  It can be part of the answer, for sure, but we have just seen in the last few years what damage the marketplace can do when left to itself.

I wish I could say more, but I can't.  Except to say that I have this odd feeling that we are neglecting a resource that has the potential to contribute positively a great deal more to our transportation needs than it does now.

Smile   Smile

 

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Posted by passengerfan on Friday, February 20, 2009 6:55 PM

I have listed my arguments for the California HSR on several occasions. The foremost reason to get it started now is the depressed real estate market. Just this week they have revised the estimate to purchase the necessary right of way from $16 billion to eight billion. It is also understood that much of the right of way has already been purchased or is already owned by the State of California.

To expand SFO or LAX is out of the question as SFO has San Francisco Bay on the one hand and the enviromentalists will never permit additional dumping in the bay. LAX is also hampered by its boundaries. Ontario, Long Beach, Burbank and John Wayne are already operating at capacity as is Oakland and San Jose.

To add one lane in each direction to I-5 would cost more than the entire HSR proposal. The same would be true to add the additional lane to 99 in each direction. To upgrade 101 to freeway standards would be even more costly. The cost to upgrade the UP coastline to 90 mph running would also be cost prohibitive and would not serve the 1/2 the market that will be served by thye HSR proposal.

A 220 mph HSR system should serve California well for the next 100 years. The jobs that would be generated by construction is estimated at between 100,000 and 140,000. What better way to stimulate the economy in California.

Al - in - Stockton 

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Friday, February 20, 2009 6:25 PM

HarveyK400
Attention needs to be paid to the costs and benefits of rail passenger services to minimize charges like "pork" and waste.  Sam1 makes good financial points that should be heeded to minimize openings for criticism and opposition even in one project that, by association, could hinder or block other projects. 

 

I've often wondered if to get the best bang for the buck a metric to be applied is Passenger minues saved/cost --or cost/Passenger minutes saved be applied to stimulus projects. This  metric of course can only be applied to  ridership on current routes as future route or additional train passenger ridership projections are known for being inaccurate.  ) It appears that NC DOT has used this measurement on its CLT - Raleigh route. Of course the devil is in the details. Curves are the item that always comes to mind. easing curves or grades allows freight traffic to go faster thereby not slowing following trains on tracks that are congested. Not having to superelevate must reduce maintenance on the structure with freights not wearing the inside rail as much and Passenger the outside rail. Perhaps MUDCHICKEN and RWM can give us estimates on additional maintenance for each degree of curvature on different  amounts of gross ton miles and axel loading.

Applying the above cost benefit ratio can take in Drawbridge openings, congestion, torn down CAT ( NE corridor NYP - WASH ), platform length double boardings, missing sidings, signaling and PTC, broken rolling equipment, power shortages, equipment turns, station tracks, adding and deleting equipment at intermediate stops, etc. Now the above items address both capital needs and operating practices and probably need to be in separate pots.

One of the biggest arguments will be the additional number of passengers and minutes saved once NYP - Wash goes to 2 hrs. Do you count average non train times. (ie going/coming to the pentagon, downtown DC, Maryland, Newark, NYC, Long Island, Conn, Westchester, etc.). Fewer bus trips, car trips, airline (AMTRAK already carries more than the shuttles and Delta shuttle is going from 150+ seat MD-88s to 70 seat regional jets. This metric of course has a bias away from the long distance trains because most  LD routes have too much freight traffic to get the speed much above intermodal speeds on each seqment of a route.  

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Posted by SRen on Friday, February 20, 2009 6:22 PM

 Paul

I consider myself to be a cheerleader for passenger rail service in this nation.  Sam looks at "the numbers" from a perpetually pessimistic viewpoint which I like to refer as "the little train that can't and never will syndrome".  Her "out-of-the-box" solution for Amtrak is to cut it up into isolated segments under the belief that the parts are worth more than the whole.  This attitude which is typical of accountants and other "bean counters" always causes more harm than good.  Want an example, look up "Beeching Ax", Great Britain's attempt at "saving" its railroad network by eliminating service and cutting routes.

I on the other hand prefer to look at the same statistics from a more positive "out of the box" viewpoint.  Despite the lack of financial and political support Amtrak has received since its inception, the carrier is still attracting more riders every year.  Just imagine what Amtrak could do if it was given a real chance to succeed!

As for the tone of my language, just remember that I am passionate about the potential of passenger railroading in the United States.  I make it a point to be confrontational toward people who wield the same old tired arguments by bashing Amtrak on a forum that is by its very nature should be home turf to passenger rail advocates.

SER

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Posted by HarveyK400 on Friday, February 20, 2009 3:05 PM

I think SER and other advocates need to realize that at least 40% of the population wants Pres. Obama to fail or stumble badly with some ill-conceived and indefensible program.  Attention needs to be paid to the costs and benefits of rail passenger services to minimize charges like "pork" and waste.  Sam1 makes good financial points that should be heeded to minimize openings for criticism and opposition even in one project that, by association, could hinder or block other projects. 

Big-ticket proposals such as the California and Southeast Corridors will take long-term implementation if they are viable.  California banked on benefits to the state's economy to justify construction beyond ticket revenue recovery and took a lot of criticism for years before HSR could be pushed through.

The US may be forty years behind in HSR; but this is not a good time to catch up.  What can be done is to make cost-effective improvements with stimulus money that comes with the cost of increased national debt, hopefully the lesser of two evils.  I'm not sure where only $8 billion will go; but a relatively small fraction seems destined to the long-awaited NEC electrification upgrade and to Chicago - Saint Louis ATC.  The $8 billion is a quarter of what California alone will need for HSR; but contributes to construction engineering, property acquisition and perhaps some "spade-ready" construction. 


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Posted by Paul Milenkovic on Friday, February 20, 2009 12:31 PM

Words such as "poisoning the debate", "misleading information", "confusing (the) less informed", and "deceptively interpret" are a tad intemperate for my tastes.  What's next, "corrupting the youth of Athens", and will that be followed by the sentence from the Greek elders to drink hemlock?

The thing that is bothering me is that the passenger train advocacy community has developed a strong party line that a person better not deviate from.  Suggesting giving up the LD trains in exchange for putting more resources into corridors is heresy.  Preferring regional to Federal funding constitutes Internet trolling.  And questioning any of the assumptions widely held by the advocacy community amounts to treason.

The NARP party line hasn't gotten us very far in the past 40 years, I welcome dissenting viewpoints, and as a matter of fact I think long and hard about these matters and find merit in discussion that what has been done isn't working and out-of-the-box ideas are needed.

 

If GM "killed the electric car", what am I doing standing next to an EV-1, a half a block from the WSOR tracks?

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Posted by SRen on Friday, February 20, 2009 11:31 AM

 The reason why I don't like your postings is because you are poisoning the debate with misleading information and confusing less informed readers of this forum.   I don't deny that your raw data is accurate, what I have a problem with is how you deceptively interpret the data to bolster your anti-passenger rail viewpoint.

Want an example?  How about this; in your last posting to me you threw out the statistic that Amtrak provided only 4/10 of one percent of transportation in the United States as evidence that people are "voting with their pocket books" by not choosing to ride trains and Amtrak is a waste of taxpayer money.  Like most things you write, this statement makes sense until anyone who can think for themselves and knows anything about Amtrak's situation gives it a moments thought:

  1. A better way to determine whether people are voting with their "pocket books" to ride trains is to look at Amtrak's yearly ridership totals.  According to the articles I just googled, ticket sales have been increasing significantly over the last few years, this trend is continuing even as gas prices have declined.  (It's interesting how a more relevant statistic blows you out of the water Sam).
  2. Outside the corridors found in the  northeast, upper mid west, and California; Amtrak's service on most of its routes are limited to just one train a day in each direction.  It does not take a rocket scientist to see that in the limited number of markets where Amtrak even has competitive service, the dearth of train frequency guarantees the carrier's low impact on the amount of transportation provided.
  3. Because Amtrak is locked into a bear bones hub and spoke system radiating out of Chicago there are a lot of markets that Amtrak serves but can not realistically compete.  The Twin Cities to Kansas City market is a good example, Amtrak serves both cities albeit by a circuitous route via Chicago.  If Amtrak provided service over Union Pacific's Spine Line between those cities, the carrier would be relevant in that market.  The same could be said for many city pairs across the nation.
  4. There are huge swaths of the nation that Amtrak does not serve at all.  Try getting to Green Bay Wisconsin, Phoenix Arizona, Nashville Tennessee, Lexington Kentucky, or even Las Vegas (LAS VEGAS!!!???) Nevada by train and you will end up having to take alternative transportation for part of your journey.

At best you are being intellectually dishonest and worst down right manipulative and coniving when it comes to your "truth telling" based on raw data interpretation.

Oh by the way since you are a CPA I want to go back to number 2 to make another point.  I have already asked you about this issue in past postings and you always conveniently ignore it.  Amtrak has a lot of fixed costs that can not be avoided no matter how little service it provides.  When it comes to Amtrak's current economic situation I always think of the little old lady that drives her car only on Sundays who thinks she is being thrifty by driving so little.  In reality the old lady ends up spending more money per mile than her neighbor who drives 100 miles every day.  Amtrak's costs per passenger mile and impact on travel in the United States would improve considerably if it could increase the number of trains traveling over its long distance routes.  Amtrak should be running two or three trains a day running eight to twelve hours apart in order to:

  • Realize Economy of Scale:  Meaning Amtrak would get a lot more value for its fixed costs.
  • Provide a more marketable service:  Specifically better options for arival and departure times. (Too many of Amtrak's stations are served by solitary trains that arrive too late at night or too early in the morning to be of much use for potential customers).

Sam I could go on about your other shaky suppositions including:

  • The Public made their decision about passenger trains in the 1960s and nothing has changed since.
  • Balance sheets are the end all-be all  measure of performance and value for everything.
  • We should rely mostly on Regional funding for passenger rail.
  • That Amtrak would be better off buying airplane tickets to Los Angeles for people boarding the Sunset Limited in New Orleans when you know full well that most people who board long distance trains don't ride all the way to the final destination!!!
  • That everything you have been writing is an unbiased interpretation of the facts.
  • That you actually like trains.

Fortunately I have other things I would like to get done today, so I will have to sign off for now.

SER

  • Member since
    January 2001
  • From: Atlanta
  • 11,799 posts
Posted by oltmannd on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 8:01 PM

Good post!  Well, with one small exception....Wink

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

  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 305,206 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 5:48 PM

SRen

 Sam, why do you keep doing this?  Yes we know you don't like tax dollars supporting passenger trains and you keep citing figures about how they don't pay their way.  I have lost track of how many posts you have made that argue the same points over and over again and we all know what your opinions are based on your interpretation of the statistics.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of Americans want national long distance rail passenger service and commuter trains, tax costs be damned. 

Here is an idea for you Sam, instead of waisting your energy on fighting the existance of the passenger  trains most tax payers want, why don't you try to figure out how much tax money is wasted in the Pentagon's budget!   Unlike wastefull military spending taxpayers are getting something they can actually use when tax dollars go to passenger trains !

I happen to like trains, and I like talking about them, which is what the Trains Forums are all about.

I just returned from a trip to San Francisco via Denver and the California Zephyr.  Last year I took four trips on Amtrak.  Most of them were on relatively short distance trains, e.g. NEC and California corridors, where trains have the best chance of eventually covering their operating costs.

I also like truth telling.  My postings reflect Amtrak's FY 2008 numbers.  They are verifiable, which I suspect some of the readers of this forum have done.  Audited operating and financial data do not lie.  Some readers of this forum don't like the outcomes, but I have never seen anyone challenge the numbers.  They have, however, challenged the causes and effects, which is perfectly legitimate. 

I support trains where the cost of expanding the highways and the airways is cost prohibitive.  I would like to see all transport in the U.S. be market supported, i.e. fares and fuel taxes cover the total costs, or they go out of existence, because markets albeit imperfect tend to weed out incompetency and inefficiency.  Unfortunately, given the political environment in the U.S., as well as most other OECD countries, it is not likely to happen. 

Some taxpayer assistance for corridor trains is warranted, including federal and state partnership spends.  However, corridor trains are regional solutions as opposed to national solutions.  Therefore, I would flip the formula recommend by some who have posted to this forum.  Instead of having the feds shoulder 80 per cent of the spend, with the states picking up 20 per cent, I would turn it the other way.  The goal, however, should be to keep the tax spend as low as possible.  As I have discussed in other posts, the NEC and State Supported and Other Short Distance Corridor trains cover their operating expenses or come close to doing so.

Whether Americans want long distance trains is suspect.  Less than 4/10s of one per cent of intercity travelers use them.  The best determinate is not what people say.  It is how they vote with their feet or pocketbook.  And the vote is clear.  Most Americans had walked away from the long distance trains by the middle 1960s. 

The numbers for the long distance trains are devastating.  They require the greatest per passenger and per passenger mile subsidy of any mode of transport.  The amounts spent by other governments or departments of the U.S. government on rail transport or other programs are irrelevant.  The question is where is passenger rail in the U.S. justified, and how should it be supported.     

Most surveys tend to be superficial.  Ask a person whether they would like to have more trains, and they are likely to say yes.  Explain to them the cost, including how their tax bill will be affected, and many change their view.  NARP claims that surveys show that Americans want more trains.  When I asked them for the methodologies used for the surveys, they did not respond, even though at the time I was a member of NARP.

I am a retired CPA with degrees in accounting and finance.  I know how to read a financial statement.  I also hold a master's degree in Personnel Psychology and Organizational Development.  I know how to interpret opinion surveys.  In fact, I constructed them for a time in my varied career.

I intend to keep riding trains.  And I intend to keep discussing the cost of them vs. alternative modes of transport.  Sorry if you don't like the outcomes.  If you don't like what I post, skip'em.

  • Member since
    July 2004
  • 2,741 posts
Posted by Paul Milenkovic on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 12:51 PM

SRen

 Sam, why do you keep doing this?  Yes we know you don't like tax dollars supporting passenger trains and you keep citing figures about how they don't pay their way.  I have lost track of how many posts you have made that argue the same points over and over again and we all know what your opinions are based on your interpretation of the statistics.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of Americans want national long distance rail passenger service and commuter trains, tax costs be damned. 

Here is an idea for you Sam, instead of waisting your energy on fighting the existance of the passenger  trains most tax payers want, why don't you try to figure out how much tax money is wasted in the Pentagon's budget!   Unlike wastefull military spending taxpayers are getting something they can actually use when tax dollars go to passenger trains !

People on the forum can speak for themselves, but why do other people on the forum keep expressing the view that there is majority-of-the-electorate support for trains without any regard for how much money is needed?  Why do people persist with the argument "all the other modes get subsidized, and with much more money" when the problem is that trains require a much higher rate of subsidy per passenger mile, and this higher rate appears to persist even if you funded trains at a much higher level as is the European experience.

If there is such broad based support in the electorate for trains without regard for the amount of money, you would see much higher political support.  I don't see the political support as evidenced by the recent Stimulus Bill -- money for trains, yes, but nowhere near the levels many in the advocacy community support.  And given the swing of the political pendulum, you can't blame the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy because the governing party supports trimming the military, addressing Global Warming, building infrastructure, and addressing Energy Independence through energy efficiency.  If you get this kind of luke-warm support for trains under these circumstances, I don't see this broad-based public support for trains under current circumstances.

Just about everyone on this forum supports trains, but there is a spectrum of opinion as to whether we should keep trains as they are and simply increase the amount of appropriation or whether the mix of trains between corridor and LD needs to change for trains to be an effective enough use of tax dollars that the broaded public, outside of the advocacy community, is going to want more trains.

If GM "killed the electric car", what am I doing standing next to an EV-1, a half a block from the WSOR tracks?

  • Member since
    October 2006
  • 48 posts
Posted by SRen on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 12:36 PM

 Sam, why do you keep doing this?  Yes we know you don't like tax dollars supporting passenger trains and you keep citing figures about how they don't pay their way.  I have lost track of how many posts you have made that argue the same points over and over again and we all know what your opinions are based on your interpretation of the statistics.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of Americans want national long distance rail passenger service and commuter trains, tax costs be damned. 

Here is an idea for you Sam, instead of waisting your energy on fighting the existance of the passenger  trains most tax payers want, why don't you try to figure out how much tax money is wasted in the Pentagon's budget!   Unlike wastefull military spending taxpayers are getting something they can actually use when tax dollars go to passenger trains !

  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 305,206 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, January 29, 2009 10:45 PM

I don't know why they have not been releasing the monthly operating reports as per their stated schedule, i.e. six weeks after the close of the month.  It may have something to do with the unsettledness that frequently accompanies a change of leadership.

  • Member since
    December 2007
  • From: Georgia USA SW of Atlanta
  • 11,012 posts
Posted by blue streak 1 on Sunday, January 25, 2009 2:33 PM

SAM:  Do you know what is the delay on posting AMTRAK performance figures?  October and November should already be posted and have not.

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