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Sidney

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Very fortunate to have found two roomettes on the EB and Zephyr at low bucket,a little over $500 from Chicago to Seattle and Sacramento to Chicago in February and March used in conjunction with a rail pass. I see roomettes for $700 plus on the full length of the Coast Starlight Southwest Chief and the Silvers. As I have said here before I have never or will ever pay more than low bucket. Bob Dylan,you are right it is gouging. If people would not pay those outrageous prices Amtrak would charge a more reasonable fare. A Facebook poster said she paid $935 for a one person roomette from Chicago to Flagstaff. Unbelievable
 

zephyr17

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If people would not pay those outrageous prices Amtrak would charge a more reasonable fare.
Well, Amtrak charges what they can for a product where supply outstrips demand. "Reasonable" is what a willing buyer will pay.

Price is how markets ration scarce goods.

The ultimate solution lies in increasing supply to better meet demand, not changing people's behavior, because that does not ever work.

The fact you you or I will not pay those prices (I'll go up to middle bucket for a trip I want. I won't pay the top two buckets) doesn't change anything as far as Amtrak is concerned as long as someone will.

The current situation is a combination of very short supply coupled with Amtrak improving their yield management practices to better take advantage of the short supply to improve yield.

A good first step would be to bring all stored Superliner sleepers needing inspection back online, so the inventory comes back to what it was pre-COVID. That was still insufficient, but better than now.
 
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Winecliff Station

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Until people stop paying (admittedly including myself being a won’t fly) - not sure how much change will occur. Obviously Amtrak roomettes will never be competitive with domestic coach especially low cost carriers like Southwest but they ought to be competitive with domestic FC. Thankfully for me I managed to grab a few lower buckets for some of my trips this year - but I’m guessing I got lucky.
I think demand for roomettes increased noticeably during Covid, but the fares didn’t seem to recover once the mask mandate was lifted, as I’d hoped. I’m not saying the pandemic is the reason for the new higher buckets but it wouldn’t surprise me.
 

Bonser

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Well, Amtrak charges what they can for a product where supply outstrips demand. "Reasonable" is what a willing buyer will pay.

Price is how markets ration scarce goods.

The ultimate solution lies in increasing supply to better meet demand, not changing people's behavior, because that does not ever work.

The fact you you or I will not pay those prices (I'll go up to middle bucket for a trip I want. I won't pay the top two buckets) doesn't change anything as far as Amtrak is concerned as long as someone will.

The current situation is a combination of very short supply coupled with Amtrak improving their yield management practices to better take advantage of the short supply to improve yield.

A good first step would be to bring all stored Superliner sleepers needing inspection back online, so the inventory comes back to what it was pre-COVID. That was still insufficient, but better than now.
Zephyr, thanks for the concise summation. Short and on point but also sad.
 

jis

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From various conversations I had over the last week in the rail advocacy community, i got some distinct impressions which I will share with you. Be mindful that these are my reading between the lines and may be not what the speakers intended to communicate, but some of it was stated pretty explicitly.

One thing that is clear is that Amtrak (in the stated position of Larry Chestler) believes that fares for Sleepers should be set on a "whatever the market will bear" basis since it is a premium service. So I would not expect Sleeper fares to go down anytime soon.

I get the impression that there is low capability and desire to bring non-revenue cars out of mothballs, and postpone such at least until after all revenue cars that are usable can be brought out to service. This implies that trains that don't have Diners or Lounges will not be getting them for a couple of years yet, since that is how long they project it will take them to bring all revenue cars into service.

On the plus side there is generally a stronger commitment to try to handle IRROPS better and provide more alternate transport when things go wrong. While they say that they are including customer communication, I am yet to see a discernible improvement. I still cannot figure out why they cannot consistently provide all information in a consolidated and distilled way instead of people having to plow through Twitter and SMS and what not. Providing information to passengers on a train stuck for hours has not improved much either.

One of the lessons that became obvious in the Michigan incident was that in case of a failure there was no designated person with authority to do the needful to recover from it as quickly as possible, and there is no framework for a contingency recovery plan that can help choreograph a recovery even if there was anyone responsible. Allegedly that outage has been addressed. But of course the proof of the pudding is in eating it. This is an example IMHO of numerous situations where the Anderson inspired dismantling of the old institutional knowledge is now coming back to haunt Amtrak.
 
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uncleboots

Train Attendant
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Apr 27, 2009
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60
Question regarding fare adjustments for trips with two segments on one itinerary:

I just booked EMY-CHI-BOS on CZ + LSL in a roomette. EMY-CHI was in the second highest fare bucket (was watching it like a hawk and it finally dropped from the highest) and I got the last CHI-BOS room in the second lowest fare bucket.

On the itinerary confirmation email after booking, I see one base fare and one roomette fare for the entire trip EMY-BOS, not two separate roomette fares.

My question is, if the roomette fare for EMY-CHI drops further, will I be able to get the fare difference refunded? Or will the lack of CHI-BOS availability in the original fare bucket prevent any adjustment?
Yes I’ve done it several times

They did change my room number both times
 
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amtrakpass

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Sorry to see there doesn't seem to be any hope of more reasonable sleeper fares in the near future. I wouldn't mind so much if it was only the last few rooms that were charged the high fares. What bothers me is that I have been on many trains in which the sleepers were very under sold and yet the prices were still super high. Why not sell 70 percent or so at the lower fare. At least then the trains would have a better chance at being sold at all
And yes these trips were of the whole route, so it wasn't like vacant rooms were being held for shorter trips.
Maybe I am wrong but if a roomette is more than double what a hotel is in a major city downtown or a bedroom is higher than monthly rent for an apartment there is something wrong with their algorithims
 

zephyr17

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Sorry to see there doesn't seem to be any hope of more reasonable sleeper fares in the near future. I wouldn't mind so much if it was only the last few rooms that were charged the high fares. What bothers me is that I have been on many trains in which the sleepers were very under sold and yet the prices were still super high. Why not sell 70 percent or so at the lower fare. At least then the trains would have a better chance at being sold at all
And yes these trips were of the whole route, so it wasn't like vacant rooms were being held for shorter trips.
Maybe I am wrong but if a roomette is more than double what a hotel is in a major city downtown or a bedroom is higher than monthly rent for an apartment there is something wrong with their algorithims
I totally agree, yield management is only working when they are selling the inventory with only a few unsold accommodations (selling out totally may mean they could squeeze more out money). Sleeper rooms are a perishable commodity, a room going out unsold is revenue forever lost.

My latest experience, early November New York to Everett, WA via the Lake Shore and the Builder had pretty solid ridership, with most accommodations occupied at least part way. I have not experienced a train with a 70% sleeper vacancy rate, but agree that would be a failure of yield management.

A roomette price at double a big city hotel rate or equivalent to monthly rent is unreasonable only if it does not sell at that price.
 

jis

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The problem at present is that the net Sleeper revenues are currently beating the 2019 numbers with quite acceptable net occupancy, even with the reduced capacity apparently. So where is the incentive to bring the fares down?

The argument to be made is not based on willingness to pay and completely unfettered yield management, but based on what a taxpayer subsidized outfit should be charging for a service that general revenues is paying for partially. Amtrak really has no hope of becoming subsidy free anytime soon, so they have to figure out a way of being more equitable in terms of the fares they charge people who are already paying partly for the service whether they use it or not instead of being completely predatory. Of course the counterpoint to that is (as articulated by Chestler) that fine, that consideration should go into the fares charged Coach passengers. Sleeper is a luxury service so there should be relative freedom to milk it for all it is worth to support lower fares for basic service. The counterpoint to that is fine, do so, but first actually make it a luxury service, which arguably currently it is not, what with equipment falling apart, Flex Meals and understaffing on the OBS side of things. And so the beat goes on.....
 

amtrakpass

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I think most folks would also be ok with a truly premium service class charging high fares if there also was a true economy sleeper class which at least gave a traveler the opportunity to sleep in a bed. But they do not seem interested in maximizing ridership, as much as some kind of in house cost-benefit metric. It seems like Amtrak does not understand their mission as a goverment agency is to serve the general public more than themselves.
 

Ryan

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It seems like Amtrak does not understand their mission as a goverment agency is to serve the general public more than themselves.
Amtrak's mission is to be operated as a business, the protestations of RPA not withstanding. If we want them to have a different mission, it's up to us to make that happen via legislation and funding. Until that happens, expect more of the same.

Put yourself in Amtrak's shoes - why put out the $$ for a truly premium class of service when you have a sufficient number of people willing to pay premium-class dollars for the existing mediocre level of service? Make your service too premium-class and you end up with the inevitable wanking we've seen in the past about subsidies for land cruises.
 

fdaley

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In a somewhat normal marketplace, Mr. Chestler would discover that the lack of "non-revenue" cars actually has an effect on revenue, because too few people would tolerate paying sky-high fares to spend 30 hours on a train with no dining service and no place other than one's room from which to see the scenery. But in the Amtrak marketplace, the supply of space is so constricted that they apparently can still find enough people who are willing to pay their premium fares for substandard service.

It's a sorry way to run a railroad, and I fear it will ultimately prove very destructive while feeding the public perception that Amtrak's long-distance trains are sustained only for a diehard group of train buffs. Politically, it would be much smarter to try to serve a much wider public. That would mean getting lots more cars into service, which would result in lower prices and having to actually provide good on-board service to attract and retain riders.

In 40 years I have never witnessed a time when the political support for expanding Amtrak was as strong as it is today, and I also have never seen a time when Amtrak had a leadership team that seemed so poorly suited to take advantage of the opportunity.
 

jis

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Amtrak's mission is to be operated as a business, the protestations of RPA not withstanding. If we want them to have a different mission, it's up to us to make that happen via legislation and funding. Until that happens, expect more of the same.
The changing of mission by legislation has sort of happened in the Authorization Bill
Put yourself in Amtrak's shoes - why put out the $$ for a truly premium class of service when you have a sufficient number of people willing to pay premium-class dollars for the existing mediocre level of service? Make your service too premium-class and you end up with the inevitable wanking we've seen in the past about subsidies for land cruises.
That is indeed the crux of the issue and that partly derives from the original sin of the completely muddled setup of Railpax pretending to say that it is something that it never really was. The ambiguity was necessary to get enough relevant people on board that train while each imagined what they wanted to imagine Amtrak to be, and then when they discovered it wasn't being at war with it at every possible chance.
 

zephyr17

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That is indeed the crux of the issue and that partly derives from the original sin of the completely muddled setup of Railpax pretending to say that it is something that it never really was. The ambiguity was necessary to get enough relevant people on board that train while each imagined what they wanted to imagine Amtrak to be, and then when they discovered it wasn't being at war with it at every possible chance.
I agree it was muddled, but, despite lip service at the time to the contrary, it was deliberately intended to fail. That was an open secret even then. It was intended to give intercity passenger service a decent burial with one last attempt the politicians could point to as having tried.

Pretty much everybody then thought it would last for around 5-10 years (with consensus being closer to 5). I don't think anybody thought it really would still be around by 1981, let alone 2023 (especially railroad management who probably would have preferred to wait out the ICC's 5 year moratorium on discontinuances imposed on non-joining railroads had they known they'd still be hosting Amtrak 52 years later). What saved it was pretty much the initial 1973 gas crisis, and the subsequent ones throughout the 70s that demonstrated the necessity of the NEC. And the rest of the country had to have something so there could be national funding of the NEC.
 

jis

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I agree it was muddled, but, despite lip service at the time to the contrary, it was deliberately intended to fail. That was an open secret even then. It was intended to give intercity passenger service a decent burial with one last attempt the politicians could point to as having tried.

Pretty much everybody then thought it would last for around 5-10 years (with consensus being closer to 5). I don't think anybody thought it really would still be around by 1981, let alone 2023 (especially railroad management who probably would have preferred to wait out the ICC's 5 year moratorium on discontinuances imposed on non-joining railroads had they known they'd still be hosting Amtrak 52 years later). What saved it was pretty much the initial 1973 gas crisis, and the subsequent ones throughout the 70s that demonstrated the necessity of the NEC. And the rest of the country had to have something so there could be national funding of the NEC.
And ever since then everyone that was frustrated by it not failing has been mind numbing regularity trying to come up with ways to make it fail as a matter dogma. ;)
 

Ryan

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The changing of mission by legislation has sort of happened in the Authorization Bill
Is this from the Authorization Bill? The bit about competitive fares is better, but if they're selling at the current fare levels, I'm on board with getting what the market will bear.

49 USC §24101 said:

Findings, mission, and goals​

(a) Findings.-
(1) Public convenience and necessity require that Amtrak, to the extent its budget allows, provide modern, cost-efficient, and energy-efficient intercity rail passenger transportation throughout the United States.
(2) Rail passenger transportation can help alleviate overcrowding of airways and airports and on highways.
(3) A traveler in the United States should have the greatest possible choice of transportation most convenient to the needs of the traveler.
(4) A greater degree of cooperation is necessary among Amtrak, other rail carriers, State, regional, and local governments, the private sector, labor organizations, and suppliers of services and equipment in order to meet the intercity passenger rail needs of the United States.
(5) Modern and efficient intercity passenger and commuter rail passenger transportation is important to the viability and well-being of major urban and rural areas and to the energy conservation and self-sufficiency goals of the United States.
(6) As a rail passenger transportation entity, Amtrak should be available to operate commuter rail passenger transportation through its subsidiary, Amtrak Commuter, under contract with commuter authorities that do not provide the transportation themselves as part of the governmental function of the State.
(7) The Northeast Corridor is a valuable resource of the United States used by intercity and commuter rail passenger transportation and freight transportation.
(8) Greater coordination between intercity and commuter rail passenger transportation is required.
(9) Long-distance routes are valuable resources of the United States that are used by rural and urban communities.
(b) Mission.-The mission of Amtrak is to provide efficient and effective intercity passenger rail mobility consisting of high quality service that is trip-time competitive with other intercity travel options and that is consistent with the goals set forth in subsection (c).
(c) Goals.-Amtrak shall-
(1) use its best business judgment in acting to maximize the benefits of Federal investments, including-
(A) offering competitive fares;
(B) increasing revenue from the transportation of mail and express;
(C) offering food service that meets the needs of its customers;
(D) improving its contracts with rail carriers over whose tracks Amtrak operates;
(E) controlling or reducing management and operating costs; and
(F) providing economic benefits to the communities it serves;
 

jis

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I think it should be specified that the competitive fares should be relative to the competitive modes on the route or some such. It is somewhat absurd for the Rail fare to be $1800 when First Class airfare is $800, just to pick random numbers for illustrative purposes.
 

zephyr17

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Bottom line, Amtrak is managed (arguably incompetently at times) by business-oriented people, not railfans. Unfortunately for us.
I actually don't have an issue with the high sleeper fares as long as they can fill them up at those fares. That's a market at work and is Econ 101.

What I do have a problem with is pulling cars with sold inventory, Flex dining, inability to maintain the fleet, lack of amenities on some trains (Eagle and Capitol), inconsistent and wildly varying onboard service including crews making up their own "policies". None of those things have much to do with having a railfan orientation, they are brand maintenance issues that business-oriented people should be cognizant of.
 

amtrakpass

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The idea that everyone who suggests amtrak reforms or improvements is a railfan who doesn't understand business seems to be a recurring theme among those who defend Amtrak's current malaise when in many cases that is not the case. I like history also but for context I think it is helpful to remember the current leadership including Gardner and workers of Amtrak in the vast majority of cases are those who started their careers in the 2000's or at the most of 1990's. If you had started in the 80's or before you will be retired or about to. Just like any issue you can trace a line of some current issues to inherited things. But by and large the current issues with Amtrak are modern day issues and not very related to Amtrak on day 1 in the early 1970's when they were still using the heritage carriers crews in most cases
 
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PaTrainFan

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I actually don't have an issue with the high sleeper fares as long as they can fill them up at those fares. That's a market at work and is Econ 101.

What I do have a problem with is pulling cars with sold inventory, Flex dining, inability to maintain the fleet, lack of amenities on some trains (Eagle and Capitol), inconsistent and wildly varying onboard service including crews making up their own "policies". None of those things have much to do with having a railfan orientation, they are brand maintenance issues that business-oriented people should be cognizant of.
I do agree. The "premium" fares can be stomached for premium service. As it stands now, Amtrak is nowhere near premium with failing equipment, volatile consists, unreliable service and suboptimal amenities on many trains, especially in the east. Even with that they are somehow selling out most of their sleeper service.
 
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