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 Post subject: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Sun May 26, 2013 9:16 pm 

Joined: Fri Mar 03, 2006 1:45 am
Posts: 311
Location: Alaska
I'm sure this has been examined and debated by people authorized to make such decisions, but is there a clear reason why train service is not expanded from Florida to Chicago or mid-Atlantic coast to the West? Those are major travel corridors for the country, and I have been asked often by neighbors or non-railfan coworkers why they can't take a train anywhere remotely close to their residence without riding a bus for most of the trip before making a rail connection.

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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Sun May 26, 2013 11:12 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 9:56 am
Posts: 596
Location: Rochester, NY
The reason is simple..money.
most Amtrak routes are not profitable..
Amtrak is subsidized by the US government, (meaning US taxpayers)
most people (taxpayers and Govt) dont even want the Amtrak trains that already exist..they lose money, and Amtrak has to fight for every dime it gets..
adding even *more* routes simply isnt going to happen, when the routes that already exist are barely hanging on..

For most people, the question isnt: "why arent there more Amtrak routes?"..
The question is: "why are there as many as there are?"

90% of American taxpayers, and most of the US govt, would probably prefer to see less Amtrak routes..not more..

Scot


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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Sun May 26, 2013 11:46 pm 

Joined: Thu Nov 22, 2007 5:46 am
Posts: 2447
Location: S.F. Bay Area
Sounds like a great topic for "railfanning". The biggest hole in the system is the I-75 corridor, Chicago to Florida, which was an original route for the Auto Train. I'm not sure why that route was never developed as part of Amtrak, I think Amtrak tried and just couldn't develop the ridership. Part of it is that historically, Florida was a vacation spot for the east coast in the golden age of rail, but not the midwest. By the time midwesterners took a shine on Florida, the interstate freeway system was in, and they just drove the Oldsmobile down I-75.

As for developing it today, the laws which compelled the railroads to accept Amtrak traffic are now gone. So any new service has to be negotiated with the reticent freight railroad who can shut down the service by highballing the price. The routes they now have benefit from the inertia of already being contracted... but Amtrak has to negotiate anew any service extensions they might want. Even trying to push the Sunset Limited to daily was prohibitive.

So I don't see any new routes happening until America has some sort of epiphany regarding intercity rail, like the freights seeing the sheer madness of turning away business on their own oversaturated rail whilst forcing high speed projects to build their rails which will be under-used. Huh???

And Scotty... you complain about Amtrak losing money as if it's supposed to make money. Your basis for this belief is clearly not based on globetrotting, since every transportation operation in the civilized world enjoys massive subsidy from the government, and certainly every passenger rail operation by a wide margin. When you look at farebox recovery ratio (what percentage of costs are actually paid by the passenger) a great many systems worldwide are well under 50%... Amtrak has always done astoundingly well by comparison, the closest figure I've seen recently is 71% today. We get a lot more bang for our buck than the average civilized nation. Of course, our bucks are so trifling that we get little bang.

35% farebox recovery https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2l7fNx4YHY
71% farebox recovery https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7O8wQOnhe8
100% farebox recovery https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilJAczgfmHk


Last edited by robertmacdowell on Mon May 27, 2013 12:08 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 12:05 am 

Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2005 9:34 pm
Posts: 1885
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Routes like the National Limited and the Floridian are less competitive with market alternatives. They both served markets that are more auto oriented, or served by low cost airports, and in both cases lower population.

The surviving services are anchored at each end by large cities, and with few exceptions are a single night trip. In the case of the City of New Orleans, if the schedule is right, two sets of equipment can cover the service, turning same day in both destinations. The Floridian was a 38 hour trip, which required about four sets of equipment to support.

The New York trains serve a population that is adverse to autos. Likewise the California trains. The Zephyr is predominantly a scenery train with a number of remote markets.

The National Limited and the Floridian were neither particularly "scenic" nor remote markets. Finally, neither had any political allies in congress.

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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 12:42 am 
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Posts: 1903
Location: Pac NW, via North Florida
Florida was a destination by rail when you had no other choice. The interstate system was late to come to Florida (for example, I-10 was still being built into the 70s) and now, it's easier to fly into Orlando or Miami, especially when you think most people coming into Florida come from much further away than 2-3 states. There's not much tourist-wise between the beaches of the Gulf and the Atlantic Coast south of jacksonville (yeah, there's Saint Augustine, but not nearly as many go there as in generations past), so that's a long haul just to look at flat pine barrens and swamps. I know, because I was born and raised in that state and my parents still live in my childhood home in Leon County. Disney and Kennedy Space center is a really long haul through a bunch of nothing between...
The Sunset Limited died east of New Orleans for several reasons, and Katrina only played a small part. The main East of there is mostly single-track and looks like a heavy branch line and doesn't have any of the signalling upgrades mandated by Amtrak and the FRA. Nor does it look it's going to get that anytime soon. My wife and I visited my parents in the fall of 2011 for a week and our hotel was right alongside of the old SAL main. I heard ONE train the entire time. Weed were growing over the tracks, as well. Things looked better when we went through there last September on our cross-country road trip, but I wouldn't bet Amtrak any time soon.
Even at the best of times, few took the service seriously. The train stopped in Tallahassee, for example, around 1 AM if memory serves. And the station is [u][/u]not in the best part of town! They also had no employees to speak of, with one 'hired volunteer' to man the station in the middle of the night (assuming it was even on time, delays of several hours were common). I don't recall rider stats, but few got on or off. Thogu both Florida State University and Florida A&M campuses each start just blocks from the station in each direction, hardly anyone from either school ever got on/off there. There was a huge fanfare when Amtrak service returned to North Florida, but ridership dropped off the face of the Earth right afterward. Frankly, I didn't blame Amtrak when they suspended the service indefinitely. The station still sits in Tallahassee, signage and all, just waiting for the day when people forget what a money pit that route really was...

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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 8:30 am 

Joined: Fri Aug 27, 2004 4:02 pm
Posts: 973
Location: Back in NE Ohio
robertmacdowell wrote:
When you look at farebox recovery ratio (what percentage of costs are actually paid by the passenger) a great many systems worldwide are well under 50%... Amtrak has always done astoundingly well by comparison, the closest figure I've seen recently is 71% today. We get a lot more bang for our buck than the average civilized nation. Of course, our bucks are so trifling that we get little bang.


The latest figure for 2012 was 88% fare box recovery, the highest of any Western nation. If you read Don Phillip's last column in Trains, you know that Amtrak has been cooking the books for years to make Acela look much better than it actually is, by allocating all the costs they can to the long-distance trains that operate in the NEC, and all of the "profits" to the Acela side of the ledger. Actually, LD trains proportionately recover more of their costs per passenger mile than any other type of train on Amtrak. If Amtrak could double the trains on their LD routes, they would come close to breaking even through the economies of scale - better utilization of the fixed costs of every route, higher ridership through serving every community at some point in daylight, etc. No, it would not cost double to do that.

As for CHI-FLA, there was the Floridian for several years when Amtrak first started. It suffered from running over railroads with some of the worst track on the system, had a lot of operational problems, and never developed a constituency, either in Congress, or internally, so it went bye-bye fairly early on. Attempts to revive the route over the years have never gotten off the ground, although it is a major gap in the system, no doubt.

Actually, a majority of Americans would now like to see MORE rail passenger service alternatives, especially the under 40 crowd. They are nowhere near as automobile-oriented as most on this forum, they would rather let someone else do the driving so they can text or whatever. There are numerous surveys to back this up. Boomers like me are also realizing, having dealt with aging parents, that they are going to be needing alternatives to driving as well, so they are also surveying as increasingly more favorable to passenger rail.


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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 10:20 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
Posts: 5252
Location: southeastern USA
Airlines are highly subsidized - our local airport tries to keep costs low for airlines by diverting the rents from the vendors in the terminal to the airlines themselves, not to mention the federal government covering the cost of the air traffic control system, etc........I've never actually seen a real accounting of the amount of all subsidies put in place to allow airlines to compete with Trailways and Greyhound instead of each other. We also have a proposal to widen an interstate highway that is certainly in need of it by building special express toll lanes to recover the costs directly, which doesn't seem like a bad idea to me, but it has many people up in arms. Oddly enough, it's the same bunch of citizens that is vociferously opposed to government in any form, including taxation to cover the real costs of providing public goods like highway systems. If you don't want your taxes to build it and you don't want users to pay for what they use.....then how should it get built?

AMTRAK is a relative bargain even as the insufficient system that it is.

dave

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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 11:14 am 

Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 3:41 am
Posts: 3032
Location: Inwood, W.Va.
Alas, this is an old story. . . take note at 13:40:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElyERLwsV0c


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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 11:14 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 8354
Location: Baltimore, MD
In decades of following Amtrak, I've found that the vast--VAST--majority of complaints about route insuffiencies can easily be boiled down to one simple query: "Why won't you run a train from where *I* live to where *I* wanna go?"

This mentality has led some in the high-speed rail "cult" to propose utterly mind-boggling ideas as to where HSR should be built. I believe I've seen rantings by HSR proponents insisting that HSR should be constructed between Nashville and Dallas, Indianapolis and Kansas City (bypassing St. Louis, oddly), and Omaha and St. Paul. I'm willing to bet San Antonio-El Paso-Phoenix has been proposed.......


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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 1:29 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 9:56 am
Posts: 596
Location: Rochester, NY
robertmacdowell wrote:

And Scotty... you complain about Amtrak losing money as if it's supposed to make money. Your basis for this belief is clearly not based on globetrotting, since every transportation operation in the civilized world enjoys massive subsidy from the government, and certainly every passenger rail operation by a wide margin.


I was not "complaining" about anything..I was simply stating facts, as they relate to the original question..I made no judgement call about whether making money is necessary or not..

and I dont see what other nation's rail networks have to do with anything..that's pretty much irrelevant to the topic.

Scot


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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 1:52 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 8:51 pm
Posts: 1483
Location: Southern California
Dave wrote:
Airlines are highly subsidized - our local airport tries to keep costs low for airlines by diverting the rents from the vendors in the terminal to the airlines themselves, not to mention the federal government covering the cost of the air traffic control system, etc.
George Hilton, the railfan and economist, wrote about this back in the 1970s in an article. The article was in a short lived magazine (four quarterly issues) about the airline industry that Klambach published. The article (entitled something like why airports are crowded and airplanes are empty) noted that at that time airports figured all of the facility rentals before figuring the landing fees. Thus with low fees many airlines (at that time) could operate with almost empty flights. Hilton argued that the landing fees should be priced by demand and value to pay the airport costs then add in the facility rentals. Of course the ticket price would have to reflect the real value of the service.

As an additional note, by the 1980s Greyhound and Continental complained that Amtrak was taking their business -- It sure seemed to me that the bus business went to the airlines.

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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 2:12 pm 

Joined: Sun May 15, 2005 2:22 pm
Posts: 1214
The amount of subsidy alone is meaningless. What has to be factored is how much of the subsidy is returned to the payers by their use of what they are subsidizing.


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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 3:42 pm 

Joined: Wed Oct 22, 2008 8:18 pm
Posts: 2076
I think its a matter of fiscal responsibility. Taxpayers may complain, but how much money went into the wars vs NASA and Amtrak, its pittance compared to that.

The railroads harbored the passenger train because its a necessity. But economic problems caused the railroads to discontinue passenger service. The Government to the rescue. Theres been some talk to privatize the passenger service.

Many major cities the streetcar companies were all privately owned companies.
Now like the CTA its public operated. Tax supported. You need those services for your communities. Same for Amtrak. if someone comes out and says shut down amtrak there will be outright protests. People travel, spend the bucks and use rail, and thats what businesses like. Drop all your rail passenger services and clog our highways. Aint gonna happen.

For high speed rail there was some talk on a radio show about it and there are various reasons FOR it and the various whys to pull traffic from the airlines and the advantage of it, it had to do with a lot of the semantics at an airport, and the purpose of a specific rider type trying to use an airline vs the high speed rail.

A businessman may be trying to go to Chicago and st louis only to find problems at the airport, hitting the high speed would solve a lot of issues.

Somewhere along the way we will have more people, and more cars and no more room on the highways.

hit the rail, bub.


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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 7:32 pm 

Joined: Thu Aug 21, 2008 8:29 pm
Posts: 318
If you know any people outside the railfan community who have ever ridden an Amtrak train you will find that they were generally horrified. They cannot fathom "why it takes so long" nor why "at one point we just sat there without moving for like 45 minutes". They are also shocked at how worn and marginal the cars are...how rough and cloddy the track is...how "ghetto" the crew acts...how terrible the food was...I can go on.

Railfans always look for the silver lining when they ride trains...they excuse a lot because the like train travel. But long distance trains are just a novelty at this point. A yuppy can drive to Florida in their Ford Explorer...listen to NPR the whole way...stop in Atlanta for a yogurt and green tea...and never have a bad moment. Or they can ride in a obsolete, noisy, marginal contraption with 97 people who were too poor to afford to fly. You see how this is going to play out.

Now...watch 300 railfans say "I think the food is pretty good".

T7


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 Post subject: Re: Amtrak - Geographical Service Gaps by Rail, Why?
PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 8:27 pm 

Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 3:41 am
Posts: 3032
Location: Inwood, W.Va.
With all proper and due respect to Termite 7, the general public, or at least the segment that does take trains, isn't quite as unforgiving as he suggests, at least if one judges from the commentary that comes from newspaper stories and other media, like these:

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012 ... nia-zephyr

http://www.airlinereporter.com/2012/06/ ... n-airline/

http://www.epinions.com/review/16614978 ... 24164?sb=1

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g1 ... ravel.html

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_R ... ntana.html

One thing that stands out is that the bunch writing the reviews for "Trip Adviser" and the like "sound" older to my readings, as retired people with time and money to spend, if not always too much. They seem to realize the service isn't all it could be, but overall, they don't think it's horrible, either (of course, there are always crabs, read those same sources for reviews of Cass to see what I mean). They both pine for the old stuff we like so well, and also desire the modern counterparts, exemplified not only by the high-speed systems of Europe and Asia, but the conventional services as well. They like not having to drive in strange places, and I can't say I blame them, especially if you are having to navigate a 12 lane or more highway you haven't seen before with traffic that is either going at a maniacal pace or creeping slowly enough to make walking speedy by comparison. (I've done that around Washington, DC, more than once, and had enough bad experiences that I will never drive there again.)

Only a couple of bad reviews, but they are there. . .

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_R ... ml#REVIEWS

Creaky, clanky, bureaucratic, dinosauric Amtrak has had its passenger counts going up for something like 9 or 10 years now, and reportedly has something like a 75% share of the air-rail travel market in the Northeast Corridor. Although the review writers noted above seem to "read" older, a lot of the train travel market, and the public transportation market, is being driven by young people who aren't thrilled with driving. Seems they like being able to use electronic gizmos while traveling, something you can't do in a car, and car travel itself is now a hassle, as I've noted above. It's no longer the "freedom" thing it used to be.

If our nearly third world Amtrak can get patronage like it is, what could it do with a little bit of strategic expansion and upgrading?

Hmmm, a bit of dreaming here, what about an Amtrak "Heritage" service level, featuring something like the Pullman Experience operation, perhaps even with steam and heavyweight, open-window cars on some daylight trains, something like Canadian National's operations with the 6060 in the years just before VIA?

A bit on the "bad reviews" of Cass, and a potential "problem" for anyone running coal-burning steam--I've been told that Cass, for a while, quit running their "cinder cars," the open flats with just handrails and benches. Seems they got complaints from people who had clothes with all those oily spots and even holes burned through from the cinders the Shays spit out. I was told one irate lady buttonholed the park superintendent there, and exclaimed to him, "You've ruined my clothes! You've ruined my clothes! Your brochure says you run a steam train. It doesn't say you run a coal train!"

Ah, people. . .


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