Home Open Account Help 232 users online

Passenger Trains > Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?


Date: 10/05/19 22:53
Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?
Author: GenePoon

Has Amtrak placed itself in jeopardy?
International Railway Journal
Sep 2, 2019
Written by David Briginshaw

AMTRAK was set up in 1971 as a quasi-public corporation to save the
US inter-city passenger industry from extinction following two
decades of accelerating decline. Many of the surviving medium and
long-distance passenger services were incorporated into a new
national network which largely survives today.

From the outset, Amtrak has been a political football at the mercy of
battles in Congress over its annual funding budget which has brought
it close to the brink on a few occasions. Despite its roller-coaster
hand-to-mouth existence, Amtrak has survived and nearly 50 years
later is on course to breakeven next year.

Amtrak’s survival is due to the strong support it receives from
pro-rail Congressmen and women and their voters across the country
who benefit from Amtrak services. The fact that Amtrak trains operate
in nearly every state of the contiguous United States is vital to its
continued existence. Unfortunately, Amtrak’s CEO Mr Richard Anderson
does not appear to realise this. He appears determined to eliminate
many of the long-distance trains which serve the communities of
Amtrak supporters as he believes these trains are too costly to
operate.

Shorter distances

Anderson’s objective is to develop shorter services linking city
pairs at the expense of the long-distance network. His view, rightly,
is that the USA is a very different country today compared with the
situation in 1971, and that people want fast and frequent trains
running relatively short distances.

While this may be so, the message does not appear to have filtered
down from the Amtrak boardroom and is not backed up by Amtrak’s own
statistics. In July, the Hoosier State service linking Indianapolis,
the university city of Lafayette, and Chicago, which operated on the
four days of the week when the long-distance Cardinal train does not
run, was axed because neither the state of Indiana nor Amtrak were
willing to continue funding it. The 314km route is just the sort of
service which Anderson says he wants to develop, and yet it has been
allowed to die.

The fact that Amtrak trains operate in nearly every state of the
contiguous United States is vital to its continued existence.

Clearly Amtrak does not have the funds or the determination to
operate a service like the Hoosier State, let alone maintain the
Northeast Corridor – Amtrak’s cash cow – in a state of good repair,
or fund the replacement of much of its fleet which is now an average
of 33 years old, and yet Anderson says he wants to invest billions in
developing short-distance inter-city services.

As four-time Class 1 freight railway CEO Hunter Harrison once said:
“Railroads only make money when cars are moving.” This also applies
to passenger trains. The longer the trip, the greater the efficiency.
Unfortunately for Amtrak, the punctuality of long-distance passenger
trains is woeful as they are at the mercy of the increasingly busy
freight railways which own most of the tracks over which Amtrak
trains run. In theory, the gradual expansion of Precision Scheduled
Railroading by the Class 1 freight railways, should be helping to
improve passenger train punctuality, although there is little
evidence of this so far.

Nevertheless, long-distance trains are often over subscribed while
the load factor on shorter distance trains is a lot lower.

Cost cutting

Anderson has been engaged in a cost cutting exercise in his quest to
achieve breakeven next year. While laudable, as all businesses should
endeavour to minimise their costs, this is sometimes being done at
the expense of providing good passenger service, for example by
cutting back onboard catering.

Amtrak would do well to concentrate on improving the quality of its
services to maximise the yield per passenger. There are plenty of
Americans who would be willing to pay a high price for superior
service to travel on one of Amtrak’s services crossing the
spectacular Rockies for example. Other initiatives could include
adding extra coaches to over-subscribed trains to meet demand and
increasing frequency where possible.

Asset utilisation is often poor. For example, the morning train from
Seattle to Vancouver, BC, sits in Vancouver for six hours before
heading south again. The same train could be used for three or even
four trips per day instead of two without any additional capital
cost.

The development of new services is falling to the private sector
rather than Amtrak. Virgin Trains USA is now operating an almost
hourly-interval service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm
Beach, a frequency almost unknown outside of the Northeast Corridor.
The company will extend the service north to Orlando and eventually
west to Tampa and has taken over the project to build a high-speed
line from Victorville, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Meanwhile, Texas Central Railway is pushing ahead with its plans to
build a high-speed line connecting Houston and Dallas, a corridor
which Amtrak withdrew from a few years ago. Indeed, Houston is the
fourth biggest US city but is only served by the thrice-weekly New
Orleans – Los Angeles Sunset Limited.

While Amtrak’s ambition to develop inter-city services maybe
laudable, it simply does not have access to the sort of funds needed
to do so. There is no sign that Congress or president Trump are
willing to change the annual funding battle needed simply to keep
Amtrak going let alone expand its services. Amtrak must maintain a
national network to maintain the political support it needs for its
survival.

https://www.railjournal.com/opinion/has-amtrak-placed-itself-in-jeopardy



Date: 10/06/19 00:28
Re: Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?
Author: SanDiegan

Spot on, except for the bit about the NEC being a “cash cow.” Why does the press keep buying this fallacy ?

Posted from iPhone



Date: 10/06/19 00:41
Re: Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?
Author: GenePoon

More like a "Cash Hog."  SLURP, SLURP.



Date: 10/06/19 01:05
Re: Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?
Author: ClubCar

GenePoon Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> More like a "Cash Hog."  SLURP, SLURP.
But mile per mile, it carries a lot of passengers through a lot of the eastern states.
John in White Marsh, Maryland



Date: 10/06/19 04:50
Re: Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?
Author: joemvcnj

Too bad the topic of the fraudulent accounting didn't come up, though NARP has put that White Paper on a dusty bookshelf as it would displease Mr. Anderson. 



Date: 10/06/19 04:52
Re: Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?
Author: co614

He lost me in the 2nd. paragraph. Amtrak will NEVER "break even" no matter what accounting system you choose to use. Just pure nonsense.

   Ross Rowland 



Date: 10/06/19 05:18
Re: Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?
Author: dcfbalcoS1

       As a government operation or program, AMtrak was never intended to or capable of making a profit. For it to make a profit has been an obvious lie used by polititions nearly since it started. Like so many other things going on here in the USA, when there is inconsistancy day to day and different rules to work by everything goes to crap. 



Date: 10/06/19 06:48
Re: Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?
Author: Englewood

"As four-time Class 1 freight railway CEO Hunter Harrison once said:"
Good luck being taken seriously when you include a quote from the above personality.
Especially in an article about what should be a service oriented railroad.

"Nevertheless, long-distance trains are often over subscribed while....."
I assume "over subscribed" is a way of saying "sold out" without making yourself look
"uneducated".   Long distance trains sold out due to, among other things, artificially short
consists brought about by cost cutting measures.

"Anderson’s objective is to develop shorter services linking city
pairs at the expense of the long-distance network. His view, rightly,
is that the USA is a very different country today compared with the
situation in 1971"

Anyone old enough to read in 1970 or old enough now to do any research will
find that the original promise of Railpax was to develop high speed 300-500 mile
city pairs while maintaining a few long distance "cruise" trains.  None of which has happened.
Billions sunk into Chi-Stl for a 79 mph railroad with fixed consist trains and similar nonsense in
Michigan.






 



Date: 10/06/19 08:13
Re: Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?
Author: Jishnu

"Amtrak would do well to concentrate on improving the quality of its
services to maximise the yield per passenger. There are plenty of
Americans who would be willing to pay a high price for superior
service to travel on one of Amtrak’s services crossing the
spectacular Rockies for example. "

Never mind that all of this has been tried and failed repeatedly.

The highest yield per passenger meanwhile appears to be on the Northeast Corridor. Go figure...
 



Date: 10/06/19 09:11
Re: Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?
Author: jp1822

Jishnu Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> "Amtrak would do well to concentrate on improving
> the quality of its
> services to maximise the yield per passenger.
> There are plenty of
> Americans who would be willing to pay a high price
> for superior
> service to travel on one of Amtrak’s services
> crossing the
> spectacular Rockies for example. "
>
> Never mind that all of this has been tried and
> failed repeatedly.
>
> The highest yield per passenger meanwhile appears
> to be on the Northeast Corridor. Go figure...
>  

And all were saddled with Amtrak fees, labor, and other costs that made it a costly endeavor, 



Date: 10/06/19 14:37
Re: Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?
Author: Hartington

Let me add a UK viewpoint. I accept the experience cannot be directly compared but.......

"Fast and frequent" - the Hoosier train is neither. I live 120 miles from London near a station serving a town with a 4000 population (but it serves a much bigger, sparsley populated [by UK standards] area). We get 8 trains (starting further west) a day to and from London - they take between 90 and 120 minutes (stop patterns vary). We also get another 8 trains each way on a cross country line from the south coast to Bristol. Even that level of service is pretty low; London/Birmngham has a train every 20 minutes from Euston plus at least one more, slower and cheaper from Euston, plus a nearly as quick and noticeably better value train at least once an hour from Marylebone. None of these is true high speed the maximum any of them run at is 125mph and speed limits en route are often lower. The result? Trains very rarely run anthing like empty. Economics? Well, there is an awful lot of government money goes in. Fares? Vary enormously; our press regularly compares the lowest air fare with the fare you buy at the last momet on the train which is ridiculously high. If you book in advance it's like the airlines - a few very cheap fares at times nobody wants and acceptable fares through the rest of the day. Under 30 yrs old? Over 65? Part of a party of 4? Family together? all get 33.33% discount (subject to restrictions).

There's another factor. The cost of motoring. Not just the cost of buying, insuring and buying (expensive) fuel but also the cost of getting your licence. You have to pass a theory (written) test, visual awareness test and then the driving test. That's priced young people on to trains.

Then there's the crowded state of our roads - imagine a big east coast city in the US where the use of public transit is a standard part of life. That applies to almost all the UK.

Here's a more relevant comparison. I've just arrived last night in Los Angeles on the Starlight from San Jose. Two hours late. If the train from Inverness to Kings X was that late as often as Amtrak there would be an outcry in the UK but you just shrug and accept it. The things is though the Starlight turns overnight. The Inverness train will arrive in Kings X in the mid evening and go back to somewhere like Leeds in about 30 minutes. If it does happen to suffer a major delay they swap sets around.

The thing about the long distance trains in the USA that I've always struggled with (going back to before Amtrak) is local service. On the Empire Builder a few days ago I met someone going from Essex MT to Spokane arriving 0140AM and no choice because that's THE train. 300 miles in 5 hours which isn't too bad but the timings are horrible. But don't get me wrong - frequent trains from Essex to Spokane would be a financial disaster!

You (the USA as a whole) need to take a close look at your transportation needs. Trains, buses, highways, rivers and planes, passenger and freight and come up witha sensible plan. Forcing families to drive because they can't book seats together on a plane is madness. Stop treating long distance trains as if they were still run by the Santa Fe or the Southern and work out what you really need (not want). It could be that a series of daytime trains with long distance passengers spendig nights in hotels whilst providing local service at times people can live with is the way to go. Tighten the law to penalise the track owner if a passenger train is delayed at any point en route - give them an incentive to run the trains on time but if the track owner can show the passenger train caused the delay then penalise the passenger operator (and note I'm not saying just Amtrak).

Think out of the box!



Date: 10/06/19 16:39
Re: Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?
Author: joemvcnj

The only train I can see segmenting is the Cal Zephyr at Denver and only during January - March, because Denver is a large tunrover point of passengers, and there is invariably a blizzard in the Sierras or Great Plains causing multi-hour delays.

But just to do it to avoid middle of the night service won't work, would kill far more business than it creates, add days to running time. and would be very costly to run. The equipment utilization would be horrid. To daylight Spokane, Pasco and Ephrata, the Empire Builder would put people up in hotels in Whitefish, which has all of one motel downtown, but now heads through  with 200 -  300 people on board. It won't work. That and just about every other train is not VIA Rail's Skeena. 



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/06/19 16:40 by joemvcnj.



Date: 10/06/19 18:02
Re: Has Amtrak Placed Itself in Jeopardy?
Author: JohnM

Hopefully the writer can get his piece published in the mainstream media.  



[ Share Thread on Facebook ] [ Search ] [ Start a New Thread ] [ Back to Thread List ] [ <Newer ] [ Older> ] 
Page created in 0.1542 seconds