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Passenger Trains > Amtrak's Gardner Speaks with Railway Age


Date: 03/13/19 08:28
Amtrak's Gardner Speaks with Railway Age
Author: bh35226




Date: 03/13/19 08:34
Re: Amtrak's Gardner Speaks with Railway Age
Author: joemvcnj




Date: 03/13/19 11:35
Re: Amtrak's Gardner Speaks with Railway Age
Author: Railvt

Here are some contrarian thoughts from a writer who supported his family selling Amtrak travel and tours for over 30 years, on the Anderson/Gardner/Coscia "plan" for Amtrak's Reauthorization. The Richard Anderson-led Amtrak management team proposes significant reductions in the carrier's intercity/long-distance network in favor of putative new corridor trains.  This concept is carried to an even more destructive conclusion in the newly released Trump FY 2020 Budget, which calls for resorting to something like last year's (abortive) SOUTHWEST CHIEF "bustitution" plan over thousands of route miles.

Somehow new state-supported short-haul corridors are supposed to emerge, but would in reality create what I call Balkan Track--a train here and a train there--but little that ever meets-up! 

As the Rail Passengers Association's President Jim Matthews has already stated, what Amtrak is offering in terms of a restructured network with more frequent corridor trains at "better" times (in lieu of the present inter-state national long-haul trains) is a false choice--a national network or enhanced corridors. Perhaps one of the best ways to attack this is to point out that the demise of the National Network destroys Amtrak as a hub/spoke carrier. Whether Amtrak likes it or not, its long-distance riders need trains that will serve multiple markets and that means more than just in a tightly closed mileage-based corridor.

For example, before Amtrak began to so closely restrict coach bookings on the CZ, there was a proven local trip market for 100+ riders per day from Denver to Glenwood Springs, CO. But that would hardly support a multi-frequency corridor. How many riders would also want to go Denver to Provo, or Glenwood Springs to Reno? Or more dramatically Glenwood Springs to Cleveland? It is the very existence of the interconnected national network that makes such trips possible. The Anderson/Gardner model would preclude far more trip options than it would serve. If "New Corridor" trains from Glenwood to Denver, Denver to Omaha and Omaha to Chicago required constant changes, (and more likely overnights in hotels enroute), such a network would immediately fail.

For example, a rider from Hastings, NB would have to overnight in Omaha to proceed to Chicago. If the gap from Denver to Omaha could only be bridged, as under the even worse Trump plan, with a 538-mile bus ride (probably overnight) ridership would be virtually nil. The collapse of Greyhound as a national bus system in Canada and its contraction in many regions of the US, shows that users have already voted on this outcome.

By contrast Amtrak was gaining ridership system-wide until the Anderson team began to deeply cut on-board services (see "New and Contemporary Dining" and the decline of LAKESHORE/CAP ridership) and train consists. The TEXAS EAGLE, for example, is now running with only two coaches over the full route and frequently turning away Dallas-Chicago riders because seats are filled with St. Louis-Chicago short-haul corridor passengers. This sets-up a self-fulfilling prophesy scenario, not unlike the conduct of the SP in the 1960s--refuse to offer capacity to meet the demand on offer and then decry declining ridership before seeking to cancel a train. And of course degrade on-board service. Boxed meals in the diner compete for horrid acclaim with the SP's Automat Car fare. 

This is simply a formula for failure and Amtrak's Anderson management team certainly knows it. Crucial to the viability of the airlines' use of hubs (Anderson's heritage at Delta) is the ease of direct and reasonably close connections and in general the avoidance of the need for more than one change. Chicago (and to a lesser degree Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and New York/Washington) play this role for Amtrak as well. It is also vital to note that none of Anderson's new corridors could run without full state support/subsidy arrangements. This will be particularly unlikely if, as with Denver-Omaha-Chicago, multi-state compacts will be required. Anderson knows this as well.

And there will be no chance these corridors could be fully Federally funded without a similar relief for all the other currently operated under 750 miles state supported routes. 

Passenger rail advocates must frame the discussion focused on the need to retain the nationally funded interstate network and to budget/appropriate money for the new equipment it needs. These trains may only carry 15% of total ridership, (yet over 4,500,00 riders despite all), but in terms of passenger miles they generate vastly more business and this must be emphasized. Amtrak no longer reports this ridership matrix routinely. Most importantly the national network trains provide very substantial connecting business to corridor services like Chicago to Detroit, which will inevitably be lost under the Anderson and Trump scenarios. 

We must come out very strongly against this even as a trial balloon. Amtrak can not be allowed to define the debate as being about how much to cut the already skeletal national network in favor of new corridors that will likely never run. The long-distance trains are the sole reason Amtrak still exists as a national service. They are well-used--not "empty trains to nowhere". Amtrak's true supporters need to be sure this is the key Congressional message. Most tellingly the "new Amtrak" of disconnected corridors and bus links would provide true rail service to a minority of states and would be patently unable to win a vote for funding in the Congress. Nor should it! 

Carl Fowler
Rail Passengers Association
Vice Chair
President (Retired) Rail Travel Center/Rail Travel Adventures
(Opinions expressed are my own and have neither been discussed yet, nor approved, by the RPA)



Date: 03/13/19 12:18
Re: Amtrak's Gardner Speaks with Railway Age
Author: twropr

The short-haul trains that are successful are those that have been promoted/sponsored by the state DOTs, such as in NC or VA.
I do not have much confidence in Amtrak's ability to place corridor services in states that do not have rail passenger experts in place, such as GA.
Amtrak's money would be well spent increasing incentives to host roads to the point where the dispatcher has a real incentive to run Amtrak on time, and to keep the equipment in a good state of repair and return the quality of dining services to what it was before Anderson.
Andy



Date: 03/13/19 12:25
Re: Amtrak's Gardner Speaks with Railway Age
Author: PRSL-recall

Thanks again Carl! When would you recommend personal communications be directed to Congress in reference to Re-Authorization?
Also just one comment here. I believe 100% in your presentation. Much of this has has already reached the ears of Messrs. Anderson, Gardner and Coscia. You know the response that has come back which is basically "Change the Subject"! You can almost see their fingers in their ears.  To me it underscores, as a management team that is reluctant to listen to Congress, that it's time for overturned management -  however that is to be accomplished. Perhaps our collective communications following your suggestions on Re-Authorization will convince them that we aren't listening. 



Date: 03/14/19 04:45
Re: Amtrak's Gardner Speaks with Railway Age
Author: joemvcnj

If Gardiner's corridor talk were not snow job, they'd be cultivating corridors on the LD trains with cut coaches over their busier portions, and we'd be able to reserve seats on trains 807/8, 805/6, 803/4, and 821/2 to St Paul, Denver, KC, and St Louis.  



Date: 03/14/19 10:24
Re: Amtrak's Gardner Speaks with Railway Age
Author: keelhauled

joemvcnj Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> If Gardiner's corridor talk were not snow job,
> they'd be cultivating corridors on the LD trains
> with cut coaches over their busier portions, and
> we'd be able to reserve seats on trains 807/8,
> 805/6, 803/4, and 821/2 to St Paul, Denver, KC,
> and St Louis.  

The disastrous OTP of long distance trains means that trying to sell them as suitable for short distance corridor trips would just poison the well for any dedicated future service.  Perhaps it already has, IDK, but having no reputation is much easier to overcome than a bad one, which is all they would get from pretending that a single daily, often hours late train is viable as a corridor service.



Date: 03/14/19 11:16
Re: Amtrak's Gardner Speaks with Railway Age
Author: PRSL-recall

keelhauled Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> The disastrous OTP of long distance trains means
> that trying to sell them as suitable for short
> distance corridor trips would just poison the well
> for any dedicated future service.  Perhaps it
> already has, IDK, but having no reputation is much
> easier to overcome than a bad one, which is all
> they would get from pretending that a single
> daily, often hours late train is viable as a
> corridor service.

This is certainly an excellent point, no question. For example I suppose I'd probably think twice before booking #448 to get from Albany to Boston. However this subject is very ably addressed by jb1822 in his 21:28 post of yesterday in the thread Some thoughts on what might feature in the Amtrak reauthorization.
Of course this will certainly need the cooperation of which he speaks. With who is on top of Amtrak now it appears hopeless. First thing needed in any of this is to get them out in whatever way possible. They appear to be hopeless. Can you imagine the arrogance they likely carry with them to freight leaders?  Carl's (RAILVT) post starting that thread also has great stuff. 



Date: 03/14/19 13:44
Re: Amtrak's Gardner Speaks with Railway Age
Author: joemvcnj

keelhauled Wrote:

> The disastrous OTP of long distance trains means
> that trying to sell them as suitable for short
> distance corridor trips would just poison the well
> for any dedicated future service.  Perhaps it
> already has, IDK, but having no reputation is much
> easier to overcome than a bad one, which is all
> they would get from pretending that a single
> daily, often hours late train is viable as a corridor service.

Which leads to what has Amtrak/Gardener done to improve LD OTP, whether it be pow-pow with host railroads, rescheduling, initial terminal delays ? Absolutely nothing that I can see, other than the near banning of PV movements, which evidently hasn't accomplished much of any improvement. If they wanted corridor growth, it has to be in a step-wise fashion, even if it means holding their nose. We know the route segments that are the most troublesome. Segmenting the Zephyr in Denver January - March would be a start. Could have been helpful with separate storms in the Sierras and now across the prairies. Winter happens every year. 

 



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