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Passenger Trains > CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles


Date: 11/20/22 09:00
CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles
Author: GenePoon

CT Examiner
— Jim Cameron, 11.20.2022


This week will be the busiest of the year for Amtrak as hundreds of thousands of Americans depend on the nation’s passenger railroad to get them to and from their Thanksgiving plans.

If you don’t have train reservations by now, good luck. Every seat on every train will probably be taken, especially in the heavily traveled Northeast corridor and the New Haven to Springfield (and points north) service. You should anticipate delays and maybe even standing-room-only conditions. (By the way… only folding bicycles are allowed on Amtrak this holiday week.)

The question is why. Why can’t Amtrak add more cars to its trains to carry the extra loads, earn some badly needed revenue and help people make their holiday journey? The answer: bad management.

When COVID hit, Metro-North decided to not lay off engineers and conductors, a costly but prescient decision. But when ridership returned, they were ready, adding trains and serving passengers. Capacity wasn’t a problem and won’t be going forward.

Amtrak, on the other hand, contracted quickly despite receiving $3.7 billion from Congress to minimize disruptions. Long distance trains, which once ran daily, were cut to three times a week. Trains between Washington and Boston, including the money-making (SIC) Acela, saw revenue drop 98%.

The railroad’s workforce was cut 20% with 500 veteran employees leaping at buyout offers, taking with them experience and institutional knowledge hard to replace. That made it even more difficult to maintain Amtrak’s 40+ year-old railcars and 20-year-old locomotives, many of which are still “shopped”.

Meanwhile, Amtrak’s management was pocketing $2.3 million in bonuses in 2021 for cost reduction efforts. Critics are now implying the bosses were slow to restore service to protect their own bonus checks, the riders be damned.

By the time COVID vaccines arrived andridership demand returned, the damage was done. Long distance Superliner cars, diners and sleeping cars, are still awaiting repairs because Amtrak can’t find skilled workers or even would-be apprentices. The railroad is on a hiring blitz but they can’t compete with private industry.

One insider tells Trains Magazine Amtrak is seeing a 50% cancellation rate even for interviews. And hiring, then training, an electrician to work on railcars built in the 1980’s is quite different than the skills those wiring-jockeys might use in building a new house.

Staff shortages for on-board personnel mean that Café Cars may not be in service or sleeping cars can’t be used, despite demand. That means fares will remain high. Like Uber, Amtrak operates on a “surge pricing” model: the higher the demand, the higher the fares. At last check, one-way from NY to Boston on the days before and after Thanksgiving was $309… in coach!

Train watchers in the Connecticut River Valley have seen ridership there soar in recent months. But while CTRail (run by the CDOT) will be adding more trains (no reservations necessary) next week, Amtrak (which runs half of all trains), will not. They just don’t have the cars.

https://ctexaminer.com/2022/11/20/talking-transportation-amtrak-struggles/



Date: 11/20/22 09:04
Re: CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles
Author: joemvcnj

Good one. 



Date: 11/20/22 10:36
Re: CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles
Author: Passfanatic

Amtrak is still short on equipment and crew. The railroad can't just hire any random crew members. They have to be willing to retain crew who is able to do the job as proficiently and safely as possible. Yes, even during times other than the Thanksgiving time period, the Amtrak trains that run on the SPG Line get very crowded. Lots of people commute to Hartford and New Haven on the 400 series trains which operates with two to three car consists. The Amfleet Is and Ex-Metroliner Cab Cars won't be with us forever, as with the P42s. Beginning in the middle of 2026, I believe, Amtrak will probably start to phase in some of their Siemens Venture Intercity Trainsets on runs in the Northeast. Who knows, we could possibly start seeing them assigned to the Northeast Regionals that run to Springfield plus the Vermonter. I'm sure that Ctrail will add more trains before Amtrak does. With the M8s assigned to the Shore Line, that opens up more equipment opportunities for the Hartford Line service. It is time to replace the locomotive hauled coaches and cab cars that run on the Hartford Line trains, especially the MBB Cars. I could see the Mafersa cars holding on some more but I know that CDOT is looking at replacement options for the Mafersa and MBB Cars.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/20/22 10:39 by Passfanatic.



Date: 11/20/22 11:07
Re: CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles
Author: cchan006

GenePoon Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> ...The answer: bad management.
>
> When COVID hit, Metro-North decided to not lay off
> engineers and conductors, a costly but prescient
> decision. But when ridership returned, they were
> ready, adding trains and serving passengers.
> Capacity wasn’t a problem and won’t be going
> forward.

Yup. That's what you get when then Vice President, current CEO was busy boasting about his political accomplishments in his bio, and I know I pointed out this malaise already several years ago.

A more famous figure has had decades full of bad decisions. Won't mention who because dumb rantings will start, but it's obvious. Seems these severe underachiever types have addiction to politics.

Congrats to Metro North management for knowing their purpose, and thinking long term.
 



Date: 11/20/22 12:01
Re: CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles
Author: Tominde

Ctexaminer pretty much naled it.  Send a copy to your Congessional delegation.



Date: 11/20/22 13:54
Re: CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles
Author: lordsigma

This being my local line I have some disagreement with some of the points here. Certainly like anyone I wish Amtrak didn’t lay people off generally and feel they shot themselves in the foot nationally but that’s not the really the reason they don’t add trains on the Springfield line. They have never added trains. occasionally they’d sub a Mafersa set for one of the Amtrak sets to add seats and then do some shifting so that one of the shuttle sets had a third car but they never added trains (however when Amtrak did this some of their ticketed passengers started complaining about getting commuter equipment so they stopped this practice) pre pandemic and probably feel they run a sufficient amount of trains for the intercity business they’re looking for. The line does have a bit of an atypical operating model with open seats on the Amtrak train covering some of CTrail’s commuter customers. Most of the year the model works fine as there are usually plenty of open seats on the Amtrak trains except for certain peak times like thanksgiving when Amtrak’s own intercity ridership increases substantially and it understandably prioritizing those riders over people with CTrail tickets. I don’t really think it’s an issue that it’s up to CTDOT to run it’s own extras during that period to ensure it’s passengers have seats when the Amtraks are full with its own customers and don’t really see this as an issue in this particular case - this is just general belly aching over something which to me is a non issue. I’d love to see more trains on the line regularly and I think eventually we will but I think They’re complaining about something that isn’t really broke.



Date: 11/20/22 14:08
Re: CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles
Author: ronald321

Finally, people are beginning to write about why Amtrak management is so awful.

Their bonuses are based on cost cutting - not on  increasing ridership, or revenue.

Repairing stored cars is a "cost" -- so Gardner is rewarded for not repairing them.

Restoring full dining service will increase costs -- so trains continue to be downgraded.

Admitting coach passengers back into the dinner would increase cost - this would make it hard for Gardner 
to get a bonus,

I wish I were joking -- but, if Gardner were to improve Amtrak service, it would cost him hundreds of thousands
of dollars--PERSONALLY!

Solution?  award Gardner a bonus for revenue and ridership growth --- NOT COST CUTTING



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/20/22 14:10 by ronald321.



Date: 11/20/22 14:09
Re: CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles
Author: lordsigma

It should be noted I am commenting specifically to my local line - obviously there are certainly legitimate complaints to be made nationally.



Date: 11/20/22 14:52
Re: CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles
Author: joemvcnj

Having so abused the bonus system, I think the practice should be banned. They can polish up their Monster.com resumes if they don't like those apples.



Date: 11/20/22 17:13
Re: CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles
Author: ProAmtrak

Metro North was very smart, I bet some arilines did this too, but sorry, until things get back to normal for Amtrak, I'm still having my viewpoint on their treatment on LD Trains, they need an overhaul on Amamangment because as long as this trend continues, it'll just get worse!



Date: 11/20/22 18:52
Re: CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles
Author: lordsigma

ProAmtrak Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Metro North was very smart, I bet some arilines
> did this too, but sorry, until things get back to
> normal for Amtrak, I'm still having my viewpoint
> on their treatment on LD Trains, they need an
> overhaul on Amamangment because as long as this
> trend continues, it'll just get worse!

Most of the airlines did exactly the same thing Amtrak did when they did it. The relief funding in the CARES act expired at the end of FY20 (the airlines had similar rescue funding to Amtrak) and that’s when everyone started cutting.

I have seen a number of people incorrectly state that Amtrak defied congressional intent with their furloughs which is COMPLETELY incorrect. The CARES act was only for fiscal year 2020 and the funding was exhausted and congress didn’t pass further funding for FY21 when Amtrak told them they needed further relief to avoid furloughs and route reductions - Amtrak I suppose could have rolled the dice and waited to see what happened after the election (perhaps go tri weekly but hold on to most employees) but they chose to do what the airlines did instead of apparently what metro north did.


Technically though for Amtrak to avoid the furloughs they probably would have had to temporarily dip into funds in capital improvement accounts to hold the workforce - Amtrak’s position was they felt they could not legally use Capital money for operational subsidies absent congressional action and Flynn himself outright discouraged congress from allowing that. Basically they were saying either let us cut or give us the additional operational subsidies to avoid it. Congress choosing to do nothing essentially was a tacit approval of Amtrak’s moves in my opinion so while I blame Amtrak I also blame the crazy politics of that year.

Amtrak management’s main motivation for better or worse seemed to be to do whatever it had to do to keep its capital accounts for NEC and other projects intact and prevent any of that money from being used for operational issues.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/20/22 18:58 by lordsigma.



Date: 11/20/22 19:08
Re: CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles
Author: ProAmtrak

And that's the thing, they didn't care about the ridership comeback on the LD Network and decided to go 3 days a week, sorry but until they actually get the LD Network back to normal, I'm still gonna be critical on how they treat it, having extra cars on the Chief and Zephyr is great, but it's not normal yet!



Date: 11/21/22 03:50
Re: CT Examiner: Talking transportation: Amtrak Struggles
Author: joemvcnj

I have yet to hear an accounting of how much going to tri-weekly saved them. I suspect nothing and they are too cowardly to admit it. 

In the mid 1990's, when they went to less than daily service on some routes per Mercer and a hostile Congress, it turned out to be budget negative - revenue dropped faster than operating costs. Some operating costs, such as crew deadheading and hotels, actually escalate. Amtrak is so addicted to their flawed APT accounting model, they are too incompetent to think outside of the box. Anderson was stupid enough to refer to NARP's White Paper analysis of APT call them "fans". Never mind the three authors are from the private sector with advanced degrees and experience in economics and investment banking.  

Of course, fully allocated costs are not used to determine the NEC is profitable, which most of us know is ridiculous, only avoidable costs. Yet they use fully allocated costs to make decisions everywhere else. 



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