$66 billion for Amtrak

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This is an example of the silliness of TV news...
I chose CNN simply because it confirms the bill is now law and does not employ a pay wall which I believe annoys some members. If there is some other source with an article written in a style you prefer, or there is some other aspect of the bill you would rather discuss in detail, then I'm all ears. 🤷‍♂️
 
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lrh442

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In this article Andrew Seldon makes a persuasive argument in favor of incremental expansion of LD routes instead of Amtrak's ConnectUs corridor proposal.

U.S., Andrew Selden and Amtrak: Spend Less, Get More; Use $66 Billion Wisely For Network Growth Avoiding Mistakes Of The Past And Squandering It On Random Political Demands – Corridor Rail Development

The middle part of the article gets a little bogged down, IMO, but keep reading because in the latter half of it Andrew makes specific (and compelling) suggestions for modest extensions or changes to the LD network that would leverage the "network effect" to result in higher return-on-investment than ConnectUs.

One particularly illuminating point: Compared to LD routes, short-haul corridors must have frequent and fast service to attract riders. However, on tracks shared with freight the increased frequency and speed necessary for corridor passenger service quickly drive up infrastructure and operating costs. Examples abound of the extortion-like charges asked for by the freights to accommodate Amtrak expansion.
 

jis

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Now here, from Railway Age, is the most detailed analysis I have yet seen on the infrastructure bill as relating to rail, Amtrak and transit. It is a good read.
Good old David explains the Authorization part of the bill well, but that is not the $66 Billion part. He appears to gross over the 10 year grant part which is the $66 Billion Part. If you go back and read the article published by RPA a little ways up thread, you'll see what I mean.

If you add the grant part and the Authorizations for the next five years, the FRA part adds up to a little north of $101 Billion as described in the RPA publication.
 

MARC Rider

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Good old David explains the Authorization part of the bill well, but that is not the $66 Billion part. He appears to gross over the 10 year grant part which is the $66 Billion Part. If you go back and read the article published by RPA a little ways up thread, you'll see what I mean.

If you add the grant part and the Authorizations for the next five years, the FRA part adds up to a little north of $101 Billion as described in the RPA publication.
How much of this stuff is actual appropriations as opposed to authorizations?
 

jis

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How much of this stuff is actual appropriations as opposed to authorizations?
The $66 billion is appropriation to be spent over ten years. And there is in addition some $35 or so Billion that is Authorization over next five years. That is the FRA part. There is a separate FTA part that David Allen alludes to as 20% of the Highway funds, and that too is broken up between appropriation for ten years and authorization for next five years. And then of course the rail mode then gets broken up within it between commuter rail and light rail etc. Some day soon I will read the entire bill and figure it out, or maybe Sean-Jean Gails of RPA will spell it out soon.

Incidentally, the massive proposal described in this article below will be partly funded by both the FRA and FTA part of the Infrastructure bill, but will require additional matching contributions from the states at some level to add upto the full amount needed.

 
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sttom

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That article still plays into the dumb "long distance vs short haul" debate we keep pointlessly having. Amtrak is a long way from being a functional transportation system and adding a few long distance trains could go a long way, but the story can't just stop there. The average person isn't going to see as much use in a train that runs from Tampa to Toronto as it would from a train making four round trips per day from Tampa to Jacksonville. Should their be a third Silver, probably. But there also needs local services as well. They also benefit from network effects along with the long distance trains. Most of Amtrak's corridor routes run what 5 round trips per day at the high end excluding the Surfliner and Capitols? That's not particularly useful over short distances like Eugene to Portland which should probably have hourly service now let alone in 2055 or whatever ODOT's plan is. And all of the new corridors are going to be in a similar boat. They should be starting off at 5 round trips per day, not promising that when I'm old enough to get social security. As for the Capitols, the way we plan them says a lot and this is just a California gripe. They essentially just stop short of places where they'd be useful and that has to do with the states neglect and that being substituted for local stupidity. We'll maybe be getting extra service east of Sacramento in a year or two and service south of San Jose around the same time when that should have happened 15 years ago. And this is beyond them missing other markets entirely like San Jose - Stockton - Sacramento which has been entirely ceded to a commuter operation. Service north of Sacramento and a north/south connection to LA which will probably never happen. If the Capitols on their own ran to Salinas and Reno with 4 round trips per day, Amtrak would get 3-8 trips out of me every year more than they already do. The Zephyr or Starlight running twice while good isn't going to have the same effects as more frequent local service. And the only way to really have that conversation is to be honest about long distance, medium distance and short distance trains all fitting different needs and situations instead of making it an either/or and you hate the others no matter which one you pick.
 
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AmtrakMaineiac

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While the article makes some good points and the proposed LD trains may have merit, I find the focus on ROI misguided. The role of Amtrak is to provide useful travel alternatives and for most people that is going to be frequent short and medium haul services, even if these services are more expensive to get up and running.
 

sttom

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While the article makes some good points and the proposed LD trains may have merit, I find the focus on ROI misguided. The role of Amtrak is to provide useful travel alternatives and for most people that is going to be frequent short and medium haul services, even if these services are more expensive to get up and running.
I was also thinking that about ROI. Not to mention you need to compare ROI to some other alternative. Which for Amtrak is highways and airports. If we did an honest inventory of highways and their associated costs, they'd probably get a negative ROI. Especially when you factor in the Mortgage Interest Deduction or that the suburban sprawl around them can't even generate enough tax revenue to pay their own way as far as infrastructure goes. Airports can break even, but their benefits beyond the airport are defuse. Whereas a train station with reasonably frequent service (4 round trips daily according to APTA at minimum) turns a station into a hub which actually manages to attract economic activity. Just based on APTA's studies of commuter rail lines, rail returns $4.50 for every dollar spent over 20 years. Highways have given us suburbs that don't generate enough tax revenue to fix their own sewers.
 
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lrh442

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Most would agree that short corridor services need a minimum of 5 frequencies a day to be useful. But, show me a corridor where the freights would allow that, let alone hourly frequencies. Just look at the hissy fit CSX is throwing over a 2x daily frequency along the Gulf Coast. Yes, we need more corridor routes outside the NEC, but those will come at an astronomical cost thanks to resistance from the freights. My takeaway from the Selden article was that ConnectUs needs to have a better balance between LD and corridors. If the primary focus of ConnectUs remains on corridors the $66B will be quickly swallowed up with little to show for it.

ROI is a good metric for evaluating where to invest, but Amtrak needs to think more broadly of the definition of "Return". Return can be dollars, but it can also be (should be) passenger miles, passengers carried, etc. Corridors will likely have a higher return (e.g. passenger trips), but also a higher investment required (infrastructure required by freights). LD expansion will likely have a lower return, but at a lower cost. In this context ROI can be a helpful measure to allocate scarce resources.
 

Willbridge

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huh? I'm confused, I though CSX repaired the tracks/bridges right after Katrina and it has been open since then but Amtrak used a excuses to say no money to restore it? 🤷‍♂️
CSX selling off to a shortline and now this piece on the infrastructure act suggests to me that the Gulf Coast is quietly being written off by Important People, other than some Venice-like islands.

Read this article carefully. The Texas copy editor followed tradition and focuses on the local angle. But, in old-time American journalism the real story is there in paragraphs further down. Some of the most vocal climate deniers are backing what amounts to an orderly retreat from rising sea levels.


This suggests to me that an Atlanta <> Fort Worth link would have more value than New Orleans <> Jacksonville, even though I'm sure that I would have enjoyed a once in a lifetime trip along the Gulf Coast.
 

sttom

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The main issue on the Gulf is CSX not wanting to deal with Amtrak and that is par for the course when it comes to them. Most of the other railroads will drag their feet until someone agrees to go halvsies on improvements they'd do anyways and whatever else the passenger trains would need. Even if you rebuilt every mile Amtrak could conceivably use to double track, class 4 and with PTC the cost would still work out to $3 million per mile. The only real issue that could come up is land acquisition if its necessary. Even now, the Gulf Coast start up costs are going to be around $600,000 per mile, even if you need to double it to get up to 5 round trips per day, that still not a lot of money. You can barely repave one lane mile of highway for $1.2 million. Not to mention, the railroads will demand money for upgrades for long distance trains. The article in question just states that doing LD only will be cheaper and yield more ridership per dollar, but there isn't any proof other than the insinuation that the existing routes aren't doing well compared to the NEC. There is no reason to assume that the railroads would accept less per mile in upgrades to expand the capacity of the long distance trains. If 2 round trips per day costs $600,000 per mile, then adding the same capacity across the LD routes would cost $11 billion. Its still cheaper than the $25 billion Amtrak wants for short and medium distance trains, but you'd need to quadruple long distance ridership to make it worth it compared to the 2035 plan of growing network wide ridership by 50%.

As mentioned, there are also network effects on a less national scale. As mentioned, I would ride Amtrak more if the local network was useful and didn't require a bus connection to go further than hour away from me. The article even mentions that having a dense network helps you, he even freaking mentions highways! The issue with transportation is that people generally only travel up to 300 miles away from home. The maximum length of the Capitol Corridor would be around 330 miles. Which would connect various cities, towns and suburbs together who's people have reasons to travel between the various towns. More frequent service would be beneficial to us. Another thing with long distance services is what level of service are we talking? If we go to 3 round trips daily on most of the routes, that could mean that trains are running evenly throughout the day. Which won't necessarily lend itself to shorter trips. A second convenient run would make it possible to make a day trip in either direction, but you'd have very little flexibility in terms of when you can travel. Which would overall hurt potential ridership.
 

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Sorry, I totally disagree. If I was an employee responsible for a disaster that Amtrak has done - failing to maintain cars in a ready state; failing to keep enough people employed with the Covid funds they got; failure to recognize the upward trend in travel in time - I would be fired in an instant much less if I had been employed as long as he has. Flynn has had sufficient time to do things right. He FAILED TO DO SO. Had Amtrak made brilliant decisions, he would have been suitably honored even if he perosonally disagreed with them and was proven wrong. So he has to take responsibility both for the failures of his company and his inability to lead them to success. He has been President since April of 2020.
Have you come in from outside and tried to manage an organization you didn't understand? It can take a year just to get a handle on what's going on inside the organization at all. Some never figure it out, but you have to give them a chance to find their footing. I'm very willing to shower negativity on Mr. Anderson, who never figured anything out and left a disaster for Mr. Flynn to deal with. I am very suspicious of Mr Gardner, who I believe was in charge when Mr Anderson was leaving and Mr Flynn was arriving, and based on other things we know I simply don't trust him to make competent decisions at all. But I can't really blame Mr. Flynn for not immediately figuring out that Mr Gardner is trouble and not immediately realizing that he shouldn't listen to Mr Gardner.
 

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neroden:
Let me say "you do not live here I do" If you knew how fast Marcopa is growing and the 4 lane road going to PHX is overloaded. You would understand the need for a light rail line.
An electric rail line running 30 miles through the Gila River Indian Reservation? Oh-kay. If you can manage to get local AND NATIVE AMERICAN support for that billion dollar project, good luck!
 

neroden

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Now here, from Railway Age, is the most detailed analysis I have yet seen on the infrastructure bill as relating to rail, Amtrak and transit. It is a good read.
It's a good analysis. But he made a legal analysis mistake.

He discusses how the "national network" was defined in the 2008 law as the routes in operation in 2008, and assumes that only those can be fully federally funded, but that's not quite right... when I last went through it, I found that through a complicated set of provisions, the national network also includes (and Amtrak can also directly federally fund) all the designated high speed rail corridors (which are mostly vaporware at this point). So when a train is studied for restoration *and* happens to also be one of the designated high-speed rail corridors, the definition of national network is not a problem. There are several such cases in the Eastern and Central time zones.
 

George Harris

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This suggests to me that an Atlanta <> Fort Worth link would have more value than New Orleans <> Jacksonville, even though I'm sure that I would have enjoyed a once in a lifetime trip along the Gulf Coast.
??I-14 has nothing to do with writing off the Gulf Coast, read I-10 corridor. It has a lot to do with putting together an east-west interstate link that avoids involving major cities like I-20 does. This more of a relief of I-20 than anything else. Reading the article, it does not appear to be approached with much enthusiasm. It is like we will do this segment by segment as we get around to it when the existing roads along this route get congested.
 

GoAmtrak

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There is so much non-transportation fluff and pork in this "infrastructure" bill that it could probably be at least cut in half without reducing any real transit-related funding.
To be save, just vote Democrats over Republicans ;)

You can see how few has happened concerning passenger railway in states where Republicans are in power (Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Wyoming and so on) while for example in Vermont which is quite rural, some pleasant efforts have been made to expand passenger railway service. Vermont is dominated by Democrats like perhaps no other rural state in the US.
 

Tlcooper93

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To be save, just vote Democrats over Republicans ;)

You can see how few has happened concerning passenger railway in states where Republicans are in power (Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Wyoming and so on) while for example in Vermont which is quite rural, some pleasant efforts have been made to expand passenger railway service. Vermont is dominated by Democrats like perhaps no other rural state in the US.
this is a pretty simplistic take on politics in trains that doesn’t accurately reflect reality.

In my opinion, some of the far left politicians, who support true HSR, are doing more to hurt rail in this country than help it. They were the ones (among others) who nearly tanked the most recent bill.

There have been times in the past where red states have been quite rail friendly. Moreover, I don’t think republicans are inherently against rail.
 

jis

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There have been times in the past where red states have been quite rail friendly. Moreover, I don’t think republicans are inherently against rail.
These days, sometimes it seems to me that if the Democrats were vocally against passenger rail, the Republicans would be wildly in favor of passenger rail :D
 

George Harris

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To be save, just vote Democrats over Republicans ;)
If you like talk instead of action. Remember the largest cuts over the entire life of Amtrak were under a Democratic president. Much as Trump was an obnoxious personality, he at least got things done, many of which never got any press. For example, he got more done to clean up superfund pollution sites than was done over the previous 3 presidential terms. Frankly, our current guy in office is a bumbling stumbling international embarrassment to this country. Then there are several other unrelated party platform issue that ensure I will never vote Democrat unless the alternative is a pure communist. There is also the joke running around, "my father had not voted for a Democrat since Kennedy until Biden, but by then he had been in the ground for 10 years." I can live with "mean tweets" if that is what it takes to make things happen. Reading through some of the things being proposed, a lot of this money is going to studies and some of the provisions are requiring things already being done. More looks than action, AGAIN. It is Texas that will probably have a high speed railway running before that in California has all sections under construction or even alignment and right of way settled. I would say excuse me for the politicing, but I won't.
 

sttom

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Since when are Democrats good for Amtrak outside the NEC? The biggest cuts Amtrak faced were under Carter and Clinton, not to mention the loss of 403 funds under Obama. Even in solidly blue no matter who California, much of our current Amtrak service was created by vote initiative in the 90s and that state decided that rail wasn't a state issue about a decade later. Republicans did expand services in Virginia and North Carolina and still are. As much as the Republicans sabre rattle about privatization, they never work up the nerve to follow through. If you can explain to Republicans that trains are cheaper for the public than highways, you can win them over.
 

me_little_me

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Have you come in from outside and tried to manage an organization you didn't understand? It can take a year just to get a handle on what's going on inside the organization at all. Some never figure it out, but you have to give them a chance to find their footing. I'm very willing to shower negativity on Mr. Anderson, who never figured anything out and left a disaster for Mr. Flynn to deal with. I am very suspicious of Mr Gardner, who I believe was in charge when Mr Anderson was leaving and Mr Flynn was arriving, and based on other things we know I simply don't trust him to make competent decisions at all. But I can't really blame Mr. Flynn for not immediately figuring out that Mr Gardner is trouble and not immediately realizing that he shouldn't listen to Mr Gardner.
No, I have not "come in from outside and tried to manage an organization you didn't understand". I'm not stupid enough to do that. If you don't understand the business, you shouldn't take over running it. You learn it first. THEN you try and run it.

If Mr. Flynn had done his homework and read about and understood Amtrak's issues, things might have been different. A bored executive who retired from his last position and thought he could do anything.
 
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