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Date: 02/10/20 12:00
Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: Lurch_in_ABQ

https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/two-tickets-to-pittsburgh/
 
"How can the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania be freed from Amtrak’s abusive monopoly on intercity passenger rail service?............"



Date: 02/10/20 12:28
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: jcaestecker

Those possible solutions and recommendations make sense for Pennsylvania.  They are alsoa too sensible and humbling for Amtrak'd Board and management to consider.

-John



Date: 02/10/20 12:41
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: joemvcnj

He has a similar article in the latest PTJ. 

I don't agree with him about disregarding the transfer business at Pittsburgh and therefore rescheduling. While it is only 10% of Pennsylvanian business as he states, a convenient transfer or thru cars are needed to justify 2 frequencies, and recognizing markets from midwest points. 16 years of just 1 train should have proven this. I don't see much of a market for a quasi commuter train from Johnstown.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/10/20 12:46 by joemvcnj.



Date: 02/10/20 13:00
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: sums007

joemvcnj Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> He has a similar article in the latest PTJ. 
>
> I don't agree with him about disregarding the
> transfer business at Pittsburgh and therefore
> rescheduling. While it is only 10% of
> Pennsylvanian business as he states, a convenient
> transfer or thru cars are needed to justify 2
> frequencies, and recognizing markets from midwest
> points. 16 years of just 1 train should have
> proven this. I don't see much of a market for a
> quasi commuter train from Johnstown.

Through passengers at Pittsburg will probably increase with the onset of through cars, like they did with the Broadway Limited's Washington section at Harrisburg in former days.  But increasing passenger numbers on LD trains is not on the current management's radar screen



Date: 02/10/20 13:07
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: joemvcnj

sums007 Wrote:

> Through passengers at Pittsburgh will probably
> increase with the onset of through cars, like they
> did with the Broadway Limited's Washington section
> at Harrisburg in former days.  But increasing
> passenger numbers on LD trains is not on the
> current management's radar screen.

The point is to justify 2 frequencies to Pittsburgh from New York or Philly, not just from Johnstown. Imagine the possibilities of new markets from west of Philly opened up besides Chicago: Oberlin U at Elyria, Notre Dame at South Bend,  the Michigan bus connections at Toledo, such as MSU at East Lansing.



Date: 02/10/20 16:03
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: BigSkyBlue

Appropriate picture of Mr. Anderson in the article.  BSB



Date: 02/10/20 17:57
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: abyler

jcaestecker Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Those possible solutions and recommendations make
> sense for Pennsylvania.  They are alsoa too

The facts aren't even correct, starting with who owns the Harrisburg Line, which isn't the USDOT.  Check the property records.  Amtrak owns the Corridor and the Harrisburg and Springfield brnaches 100%. They are secured by a mortgage owed to the FRA by Amtrak due in 1000 years in AD 2975. In essence, the FRA loaned Amtrak $85 million to purchase the NEC properties from the Penn Central Estate, with real title vested in Amtrak.

https://www.gao.gov/assets/140/132329.pdf

Is Pennsylvania's $57 million a deal or not?

SEPTA pays around $150,000 per track mile for annual infrastructure maintenance (track, signals, catenary, substations). The Keystone line would essentially double the track and catenary miles SEPTA has to maintain, leading to what one would expect is a doubling of SEPTA annual maintenance costs of around $30 million.  There's no reason to think this wouldn't double, the line oeprates at a much higher speed than anything else SEPTA operates and would require SEPTA acquire equipment to handle concrete ties.

Then we have propulsion power. SEPTA pays around $1.10 per vehicle mile for power from the same sources Amtrak has and using the same transmission infrastructure. The Keystones require $6 million of power at that rate, the Paoli line requires $4 millon.  SEPTA also pays $2.25 per vehicle mile for vehicle maintenance. For the Keystones, this implies annual maintenance costs of $15 million.  We also need to pay for train operations. SEPTA costs $150 per vehicle hour for T&E crews and management. That's another $15 million in operating costs for the Keystones.  Overhead cost is another $4 million a year in costs at SEPTA rates. There's 5 staffed stations to pay for. This is cerainly another couple million per year.  Train operations for the Pennsylvnian off the Keystone line is another $4 million and $3 million in vehicle maintenance and $1 million in overhead.

We are up to $80 million in operating and maintenance costs if we do it ourself.  Doesn't seem like a deal considering ticket revenue is under $20 million.  Over $60M is > $57M



Date: 02/10/20 18:03
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: joemvcnj

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Posted from Android



Date: 02/10/20 18:13
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: abyler

joemvcnj Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I don't agree with him about disregarding the
> transfer business at Pittsburgh and therefore
> rescheduling. While it is only 10% of
> Pennsylvanian business as he states, a convenient
> transfer or thru cars are needed to justify 2
> frequencies, and recognizing markets from midwest

Absolutely not. Pennsylvania in general and Pittsburgh in particular can easily support 2 frequencies and almost certainly support 5 frequencies like ran in 1970.  Buffalo and Rochester support 4 frequencies today without any trouble at all and are smaller than Pittsburgh.

> points. 16 years of just 1 train should have
> proven this. I don't see much of a market for a

Actually, the in 1995-1996 after the Broadway became the Three Rivers and only went to Pittsburgh, ridership increased 30% in just a single year on the two trains because more space was opened up for Pennsylvania riders instead of long distance riders.  The long distance market suppresses local ridership by sucking up capacity.

> quasi commuter train from Johnstown.

There isn't much of a market for a single commuter style train.

> The point is to justify 2 frequencies to
> Pittsburgh from New York or Philly, not just from

5 frequencies.

> Johnstown. Imagine the possibilities of new
> markets from west of Philly opened up besides
> Chicago: Oberlin U at Elyria, Notre Dame at South
> Bend,  the Michigan bus connections at Toledo,
> such as MSU at East Lansing.

College ridership is a 3 or 4 times a year trip. You need the daily demand, The college traffic is gravy.



Date: 02/10/20 18:55
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: MEKoch

Hooray for Bennett Levin, even I don't totally agree with his analysis. Taking on the dead Amtrak senior management and the board of directors is wonderful.  Putting a BIG foot in the backside of Amtrak is very needed.  I hope the State of Pennsylvania raises enough hell on Capitol Hill, that the two senators and representatives start a big fire to scorch the dead management at Amtrak.  



Date: 02/10/20 19:30
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: RuleG

If Bennett Levin communicated his proposal to upper level SEPTA management, his essay shows no evidence of that communication or SEPTA's reaction.  SEPTA has plenty on its hands operating, maintaining and upgrading its extensive bus, light rail, rail rapid transit and commuter rail network.  Levin's proposal involves a major expansion of SEPTA's rail network, but he has provided no evidence that SEPTA management or its board seek such an expansion.

Levin states "SEPTA is one of the best-managed regional/commuter rail operators in the nation."  On what basis does he make that claim?  I'm not saying that to be snarky.  Every time I visit Philadelphia, I try to include a ride on a SEPTA regional rail line.  My experiences have almost always been positive.  However, I've read so much other negative commentary about SEPTA (maybe it's from people who would write caustic comments about any transit system).



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/11/20 16:24 by RuleG.



Date: 02/11/20 03:16
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: KimHeusel

I have to say that I enjoyed reading Mr. Levin's editorial as well as the accompanying discussion here on TO. While there is some dispute about some of the issues, I agree that Amtrak's management and board need to be filled by more people with actual railroad experience.

Kim Heusel



Date: 02/11/20 04:30
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: abyler

RuleG Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> reaction.  SEPTA has plenty on its hands
> operating, maintaining and upgrading its extensive
> bus, light rail, rail rapid transit and commuter
> rail network.  Levin's proposal involves a major

Its the same non-starter of a proposal of Metro North running the Empire line or Metra taking over Amtrak Illinois.  On paper and to an untrained layman, it all sounds great. "They run trains 40 miles out of the city, why not just have them keep on going for another 300 miles?"

Maryland took over some B&O Line trains from Amtrak, how is that service to Cumberland doing?  New Jersey took over the Clockers, how is that integrated local service from New York to Philly doing?  Oh that's right, they discontinued that imemdiately.

> expansion of SEPTA's rail network, but he has
> provided no evidence that SEPTA management or its
> board seeks such an expansion.

SEPTA has been prodded over the years to run the Keystone Line, to run trains to Scranton, etc.  People bring up the Pottsville and Newark NJ trains, forgetting that they were actually operated by Conrail and that all SEPTA did was print timetables and perform oversight.  These suggestions mostly come from people with no experience in a wide region line operation, who don't understand what is required to operate a farflung integrated operation to a timetable.

I see this like saying "PennDOT operates and maintains highways statewide" But PennDOT is actually operated by district, and District 6 in the Delawre Valley doesn't try to execute operations in Allegheny County.

> Levin states "SEPTA is one of the best-managed
> regional/commuter rail operators in the nation." 
> On what basis does he make that claim?  I'm not
> saying that to be snarky.  Every time I visit

SEPTA is very efficient and well integrated, and has managed to execute complex projects reasonably well.  It has a good planning and finance department with a good sense of their own costs of marginal operation and issues in scheduling.  It makes reasonable initiatives to be responsive to ridership changes.  It also made it past the 2013 retirement cliff without service nd safety collapsing, unlike Metro North and NJT.  And it actually operates itself, unlike MBTA.

> Philadelphia, I try to include a ride on a SEPTA
> regional rail line.  My experiences have almost
> always been positive.  However, I've read so much
> other negative commentary about SEPTA (maybe it's
> from people who would write caustic comments about
> any transit system).

Its from people who (1) don't ride SEPTA, (2) also don't ride any other transit systems either, and thus (3) have no basis of comparison or even a baseline to measure from.  But Philadelphia is a fun punching bag for people from somewhere else.



Date: 02/11/20 06:12
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: Dcmcrider

I agree that Levin mis-stated the details of the NEC and Harrisburg Line ownership, but he's not wrong that USDOT has outsize influence over the ultimate disposition of these properties. The 1000-year mortgage and promissory note have provisions for a balloon payment at the end of the mortgage. Amtrak cannot retire this debt, even if it had the means, absent DOT's cooperation. Otherwise it has to pay ruinous amounts of interest. The sum owed is now in the billions--the mortgage covers both the purchase and subsequent improvements under the NECI

The government could terminate the mortgage at any time, demand payment (which of course perpetually cash-starved Amtrak could realistically only expect to get from the feds) and assume title to the property. 

The note's terms are described in the GAO linked above (pp. 8-13).

P. 13:

The terms of this transaction, however, make it apparent that issuing the promissory note was done solely to secure the United States' investment and not to recognize a debt that Amtrak was realistically expected to repay. These terms include:

-no periodic payments (the note is due in one lump sum at maturity),


-interest due if the note is prepaid or accelerated, and

-a due date in 1,000 years (2975 AD).


As of September 30, 1980, the note was valued at $628.7 million. Ultimately, given current and possible future authorized amounta, the note could be as much as or greater than $2.6 billion, once the NEC improvement program is completed.

(See appendix II for detailed NEC funding information.)

A mortgage was executed in conjunction with the promissory note in order to secure the Government's investment in the NEC. The mortgage gives the United States a security interest in all of Amtrak's property obtained as a result of the NEC purchase agreement. The mortgage lien covers not only the specified mortgaged property but also after-acquired property.

Interestingly, the mortgage also covers the Michigan Line, PC's Chicago Union Station Co. half-interest, etc. It encompasses all the properties Amtrak picked up via the 4R Act "fire sale" Penn Central bankruptcy re-organization.


Paul Wilson
Arlington, VA



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 02/11/20 06:28 by Dcmcrider.



Date: 02/11/20 06:48
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: joemvcnj

As much as like to see Amtrak get kicked where the sun doesn't shine, this method does not look like it would do it. No proposals for 2 complete Philly - Pittsburgh frequencies, Chicago or not; just an un-useful commuter train to Johnstown. SEPTA would likely cut back some Harrisburg runs to Lancaster to cover funding shortfalls and mis-calcs. 

SEPTA runs no diesel services since Center City Tunnel in the early 1980's. A more natural expansion of SEPTA is for NJT to contract out the Atlantic City to SEPTA as it is physically isolated from the rest of NJT, necessitating expensive deadhead shop moves to Kearny, and would facilitate a Philly airport extension. but there is zero impetus to do even that. 



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/11/20 07:00 by joemvcnj.



Date: 02/11/20 07:31
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: tmurray

It's insane to think SEPTA (South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) would run to western PA.  It's more insane to imagine riding that equipment for more than an hour...without a bathroom - something all SEPTA trains lack.



Date: 02/11/20 07:35
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: joemvcnj

I'd assume SEPTA would lease the current Amtrak Keystone service cars plus spares. There was a temporary commuter train during highway construction to either Pitcairn or Greensburg in 1981 for PATransit, operated by Conrail. They used Conrail's ex Autotrain U-Boats at each end of the train and about 10 surplus western 44-seat leg-rest coaches from Amtrak. Not efficient. The Amtrak Fort Pitt to Altoona was also running, but had poor patronage. 



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/11/20 07:40 by joemvcnj.



Date: 02/11/20 07:52
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: randgust

As a Pennsylvanian, I've grown up being completly skeptical of all things passenger rail related; during my entire lifetime I've never seen it really done right anywhere except the Corridor and possibly Harrisburg-east.  And the reputation of SEPTA statewide is hard to overcome for it's impact on the state budget in the past.    Here in the western part of the state it's been completely neglected; last real alternatives were when the "Three Rivers" mail/express/mixed train operated.

Then I spent time in California- Sacramento - San Francisco - Capital corridor.  Wow, was that an eye-opener on a state that is the definition of car-wedded.   Lots of service, nice trains, stations busy, lots of ridership, and interfacing well with freight traffic and run on time.   Huh.   It can be done.   

While skepticism is deserved it shouldn't necessarily be inevitable.  I was in California in the 70's and 80's and the transformation from that rail-hating era is remarkable.  I do think that it helps to have spent time out of the northeast and to look around; if Bennett just gets people thinking again I'm all for it.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/11/20 07:54 by randgust.



Date: 02/11/20 07:55
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: Typhoon

Sour grapes from someone who is upset that Amtrak won't let him play with his toys anymore.



Date: 02/11/20 08:25
Re: Bennett Levin "Two Tickets to Pittsburgh"
Author: co614

Not sour grapes at all but a well constructed, comprehensive proposal that is gaining a lot of interest and support in Harrisburg and could well come to fruition. If you haven't done so please read the entire 137 slide proposal.  

   Mr. Levin is a very knowledgeable guy and Pa. is lucky to have him as an advocate. 

   IMHO-Ross Rowland 



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