Amtrak from a conservative point of view

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JayPea

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Great article! Of course that's because I agreed with it! :lol: Most of the comments to the article, however, IMHO, were off base.
 

NW cannonball

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I mostly agree with the article.

Where I get lost is the political terms "conservative" vs "liberal" vs "libertarian" vs "progressive". None of these mean what I thought they meant years ago when I was growing up.

All those "political" words try to co-opt people into some boughten party platform package written by "who knows who with money for ads"

A lot of us citizens like many different types of rail transport - commuter, corridor, LD.
 

John Bobinyec

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The railroads will fight bitterly against letting other passenger-train operators besides Amtrak run over their tracks because they fear that would lead to “open access” for competing freight-train operators as well. But a few years ago, when an old colleague of ours, the late Paul Weyrich, served on a high-level commission examining the future of transportation, several railroad presidents told him privately that if they could bid for part of Amtrak’s subsidy, they would consider again running their own passenger trains.
What?????????????????

jb
 

Notelvis

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The railroads will fight bitterly against letting other passenger-train operators besides Amtrak run over their tracks because they fear that would lead to “open access” for competing freight-train operators as well. But a few years ago, when an old colleague of ours, the late Paul Weyrich, served on a high-level commission examining the future of transportation, several railroad presidents told him privately that if they could bid for part of Amtrak’s subsidy, they would consider again running their own passenger trains.
What?????????????????

jb
That's an interesting notion - the railroads running passenger trains (or at least the LD trains) under their own auspices with Federal Subsidy or possibly some very attractive tax incentives. I would imagine that Amtrak would still exist for the NEC and probably some other corridor operations (Michigan for instance) around the country.

Just imagine Chicago Union Station under this scenario - the tuscan red Norfolk Southern 'Broadway Limited' boarding between the stainless steel BNSF 'Southwest Chief' and the yellow UP 'Texas Eagle'. I wonder if Chessie would get a cameo spot inside the 'C' of CSX?

Yeah.......this is fantasy but isn't it fun to dream a little?
 

Ryan

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That's not surprising, nobody would say no to collecting that sweet subsidy money.

The million dollar question is can they make more effective use of that money zthan Amtrak does, and make enough profit to make it worth their while (and worth sending our tax money to help pad their bottom lines)? I doubt it.
 

cirdan

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That's not surprising, nobody would say no to collecting that sweet subsidy money.

The million dollar question is can they make more effective use of that money zthan Amtrak does, and make enough profit to make it worth their while (and worth sending our tax money to help pad their bottom lines)? I doubt it.
Isn't this basically what happened in the UK? I do think that bringing in entreprenuerial managers rather than dead wood civil service types can bring in new ways of thinking that can lead to greater efficiency. The Uk system also means that the operating company has to bid and agree beforehand how much subsidy they want and then they have to live with that money. This makes longer term planning easier as the risk is removed from the government and tranferred to private companies. If things go well said companies end up with windfall profits they can keep. If things go downhill they need to dig into their own pockets. In fact this has led to most companies lowballing their projections and almost all have overperformed in terms of new business attracted, even if they have underperformed in other aspects for which they may face financial penalty.

It is often said that despite the efficiency gains, overall costs are up due to the complexities of interfacing between the different bodies, all the metrics etc. But maybe government is happy to pay more in return for offloading the risk. Think of it as an insurance.
 
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Chaz

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To Jim Hudson: On the AU forum app I often can't open pages mentioned here (e.g. The article from The American Conservative) so I go to Google, put in the key words voila I can read them. This seems to be a IPad (mobile?) error--not the poster's fault.

It's as irritating as having to look up station abbreviations etc (since this is not a tech site I'd think the 1st mention in a post should be spelled out) on Google but it usually works! I've been called lazy for complaining but seems to me the poster is lazy and inconsiderate. A new TO. (Train Orders) thread -- SW Chief Woes -- has a member asking what 4 abbreviations meant (they were stations).
 
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dlagrua

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The article makes many valid points but do our lawmakers read these things?

In the case of LD Amtrak, it travels on tracks largely owned and maintained by private industry. Isn't that a Conservative position? Its highly unlikely that Amtrak trains are only filled with Liberals.
 

George K

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sleeping car passengers account for just 15 percent of long-distance passengers but contribute 36 percent of total revenue. Amtrak’s average yield per mile for coach passengers is 14.2 cents; for sleeping car passengers, 27.2 cents.
Wow.

I wonder if that disparity includes the cost of F&B.

I also wonder what percentage of travelers (coach and sleeper) are using AGR.
 

Ryan

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I do think that bringing in entreprenuerial managers rather than dead wood civil service types can bring in new ways of thinking that can lead to greater efficiency.
And there's no reason that Amtrak can't do that themselves and use the money saved to increase service instead of padding a private corporation's bottom line.
 

Lonestar648

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Great article! The problem is Congressional oversight and interference. Amtrak needs good managers but who wants to deal with Congress day after day when they are trying everything possible to make you fail. Thus the available pool of managers, CEO's, etc. are not what Amtrak really needs. Look at any successful business, it is the management team! Think what could be with really good management and no Congressional restrictions on everything management wants to do to increase revenue.
 

jis

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I do think that bringing in entreprenuerial managers rather than dead wood civil service types can bring in new ways of thinking that can lead to greater efficiency.
And there's no reason that Amtrak can't do that themselves and use the money saved to increase service instead of padding a private corporation's bottom line.
Man you sure are an optimist regarding what can or cannot be achieved within the current structure. Just because there is no reason something cannot be done that we can clearly identify does not mean that there are not bureaucratic or other systemic hurdles that keep such things from being done. If they can be done, why have they not been done in the last 44 years under both friendly and unfriendly administrations. It is not like all administrations have been hostile to Amtrak all the time.

Frankly, I am not convinced that just because we have not identified any reason for such being unachievable under the present structure, implies that there are no reasons. It is just that we may not have identified and characterized the reasons that do exist yet.
 

Cho Cho Charlie

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Amtrak makes a lot more money from sleeping cars than from coaches: by its own calculations, sleeping car passengers account for just 15 percent of long-distance passengers but contribute 36 percent of total revenue. Amtrak’s average yield per mile for coach passengers is 14.2 cents; for sleeping car passengers, 27.2 cents. As Jim Loomison wrote in a Consumer Traveler story last year: “Here’s the unvarnished truth, put in the simplest possible terms by a respected authority on passenger rail: ‘If the dining cars go, the sleepers go. If the sleepers go, the big revenue goes. If the big revenue goes, Amtrak goes’.”
I guess they aren't really happy with Amtrak's experiment on the Silvers. Neither am I.
 

Bob Dylan

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Got it to open! Using Chrome, voila!( on Android device)

Overall this is very informative and balanced article! We need lots more like it in the media!

I especially liked the comments about the dining cars and the Congressional interference in management and the idiotic mandate for Amtrak to eliminate losses on Food and Beverages.

We'll be the ones complaining about $25 Amburgers and $12 Beers in the Cafes when the Diners are gone! ( and then the Sleepers, and as the article says, then Amtrak!)

I disagree with a few of the statements, including if the Class Is or Private operators were to run LD Trains they could do it for less than Amtrak.(since for profit companies have to make a profit)

Also that Amtrak runs Trains on tracks ownend by others at hardlly any cost.

Wonder how many of our Congress critters and elected officials ( or staffs actually) and those running for office read this and took note?
 
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oregon pioneer

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Wonder how many of our Congress critters and elected officials ( or staffs actually) and those running for office read this and took note?
I believe it would not hurt to send a link to our congress-droid, with a detailed personal note about how we feel about what the article says Mail is usually read first by aides, I believe, so if they think it of interest they will present it to the elected person.
 

trainviews

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The present model of running LD passenger trains on the rails of totally uninterested freight railroads is fundamentally flawed. More than 30 years of history shows that it will never achieve any sort of reliability, preventing the trains from being an attractive alternative for large segments of the market.

This could be solved in a number of ways:

1) Seize them: A public take over of the infrastructure. I don't see any political will for that anytime in the next millenia, and it would quite possibly be unconstittutional too.

2) Buy them off: User fees/incentives high enough that the host RR's actually put priority in the passenger trains. This seems to be feasible in high density corridors like the Capitol Corridor in California, but for the LD's it would further tank their economy, possibly beyond the realistic.

3) Whip them: Strengthen the must carry mandate and the penalties for neglecting the passenger trains drastically. Aside from lack of political will you might run into the constitution again here.

4) Make it their responsibility: Outsourcing LD's to the relevant host railroad, whose profits will then be dependent on how efficiently they can run the trains.

Now, I'm not a subscriber of the religion that says that private enterprise is always more efficient than public (just compare the bloated, overpriced American health care system to anywhere sane. While most European systems have their own issues there's no discussion that they all give a lot more bang for the buck). But nor am I a subscriber of the opposite.

And excactly in the case of the LD's it would be an enormous advantage to get a closer link between the operator and the infrastructure owner and dispatcher. The trains would simply run better...

Disclaimer: This is of course easier said than done. Many of the LD's run over several hosts, the coherence of the wider system needs to be assured and not least it needs more than rumors in a news paper article to see if any of the freight RR's are actually interested.
 
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jis

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I think if people would stop slamming what was done in the UK and what is being done in EU as a knee-jerk reaction and try to study and understand what works and what does not in separating train operating companies (e.g. Amtrak in the case of LD trains, Commuter railroads in case of the NEC), and infrastructure (e.g. host railroads in case of LD service and Amtrak in case of the NEC), and try to devise something that works the best for us, we might actually make tangible progress towards something that works. One of our core problems is completely haphazard regulatory and governance environment as far as passenger train operations of all sorts are concerned. That is what needs to be fixed first before anything will even remotely start working well. I think we have things to learn about what to do and what not to do from the European experience.
 

Bob Dylan

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Not to mention India who has a fantastic Passenger Rail System despite the Red Tape that is SOP in third world countries!
 

jis

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Actually the Indian Railways is most fantastic for the tourists. It can be a royal pain in the butt for the poor locals who have to survive its malarkey every day of their lives. Yeah some things work really well, like the reservation system. But there are many things about it that leaves much to be desired, and any progress is slower than molasses. Suffice it to say that IR does an amazing job given the resources that are available to them, and they have made some shrewd but also much maligned choices, like aggressive electrification.

Also one of the things it contracts out in a big way is catering on trains. There are only a subset of trains now that are departmentally catered, that too through IRCTC, a subsidiary, and not IR itself. The trend in IR is also to progressively contract out most functions that are easy to contract out. The pressure is on for them to meet their dividend promises every year rather than only in some years. By law they are required to be a money making outfit overall in order to meet their dividend obligations to the federal government. They do not have the endless largess of the government to backstop losses in day to day operations.

The new infrastructure construction projects are partitioned into two types. The first is those that can be commercially justified and those remain the responsibility of IR. The second kind, those for strategic or social needs are separately funded through several special accounts through ministries other than the Railway Ministry. Needless to say, the Kashmir Rail Link falls entirely in the second category as do many extensions to serve hard to reach state capitals in the Northeast. Konkan Railway was developed by an entirely separate corporation and essentially IR leases the property from them for running trains.
 
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