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Amtrak's vision is shortsighted

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Joined
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Amtrak's vision is shortsighted

By James "J.R." Cumby

Director, Yardmaster Department

One would think Amtrak management would focus on its own failures as documented by DOT's inspector general.

Indeed, a congressional committee in March focused on Amtrak's failure to have a mission statement, its lack of financial disclosures to the public, absence of a cost-control strategy, rampant deferred maintenance, inefficient operations and a route system that ignores passenger demands. Incredibly, Amtrak management is blind to its own failures and prefers to whack jobs that have everything to do with efficient operations, passenger safety and national security.

Blanking yardmaster positions in high-density Northeast Corridor yards is much like eliminating traffic cops at rush hour. Seeking to eliminate the position of assistant conductor is much like eliminating sentries around sensitive military installations.

The more the management revolving door at Amtrak spins, the more Amtrak itself twists in the wind without moving an inch forward.

Freight railroads continue to delay Amtrak trains even though the law demands Amtrak be given priority handling. What does Amtrak management do? Nothing, as all we hear from Amtrak management is it wants to eliminate more yardmasters and lop off assistant conductors.

As employee morale deteriorates to levels so low that many don't care if the system survives, Amtrak management still buries its head in the sand, playing the same long-disgraced tune of eliminate employees and all will take care of itself.

What a disgrace.

April 5, 2006
 

amatuer

Train Attendant
Joined
Mar 23, 2006
Messages
28
I don't understand. Maybe it's managements position to assure failure. Why would you cut your best selling point (services) in order to survive. Let's be clear, I would venture to say that the majority of ridership on LD trains are recreational, for the love and nostalgia of "riding the rails". It certainly can't be because its a cheap (and quick) way to get from A to B. And I'd venture to say the a good majority of those riders don't particularly care if the train is on time or not (w/i reason). Hey, more time on a train! (I'm not talking about commuters here). Thats why people and businesses fly. Its cheap and it's fast. And look at the path the airlines are on. Why not give every cents worth to those who appreciate it the most (recreational riders) and would-be repeat customers, thru exceptional service. It's a proven and highly successful advertising tool - word of mouth. I have my own small business in the construction field, and I get 75% of my clients thru word of mouth. Good - make that exceptional! - work, fair price and a good experience (as far as remodeling goes). I truly believe that the barrier to Amtraks success goes beyond mid management. Have you seen any advertising about LD train travel beyond rail websites? The travel agencies don't push it, the magazines and newspapers don't present any (besides an occasional AAA piece). Thats just as well. But can you imagine exceptional first class service, nostalgic dinners, traveling 2 days thru this countries best scenic avenues at a fair and reasonable cost. Believe me, you wont have to spend advertising dollars. Since we've scheduled our trip on the EB, we've told several people about it and the response has been between wonderment and curiousity. I can assure you when we get back and hopefully relay the enjoyment that we experienced, these people will be scheduling for themselves.

Geez, the more I think about it, it might be best if Amtrak only does "just survive" because once it does become popular, there goes the available and reasonable fares. Forget everything I just wrote!
 
Joined
Mar 6, 2006
Messages
1
The current congress-mandated service reduction in long-distance train food service is a great example of short-sightedness. The money saved will not make a significant difference for Amtrak. However, Amtrak risks losing long-term patronage from travelers for whom good food service on a long-distance train is a major consideration for taking the train. We all need to continue supporting National Association of Railroad Passengers in its professional efforts to give Amtrak the resources it needs.
 

x-press

Service Attendant
Joined
Feb 8, 2006
Messages
169
amatuer said:
Let's be clear, I would venture to say that the majority of ridership on LD trains are recreational, for the love and nostalgia of "riding the rails". It certainly can't be because its a cheap (and quick) way to get from A to B.
If that's true, then why are we supporting federal subsidies for it? I disagree with the statement, but if it's true, then Mineta/Vranich/Bush were right all along.

JPS
 

Trogdor

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x-press said:
amatuer said:
Let's be clear, I would venture to say that the majority of ridership on LD trains are recreational, for the love and nostalgia of "riding the rails". It certainly can't be because its a cheap (and quick) way to get from A to B.
If that's true, then why are we supporting federal subsidies for it? I disagree with the statement, but if it's true, then Mineta/Vranich/Bush were right all along.

JPS
That's not true, at least in my experience. To say that the "majority" of LD ridership essentially amounts to railfans (i.e. those interested in "the love and nostalgia of 'riding the rails'") is absolutely false. Whenever I ride, I mostly see people looking for a convenient and economical (i.e. low-cost) way to travel. Amtrak coach fares are generally much lower than comparable airline fares, and competitive with Greyhound. Amtrak has a comfort and amenities advantage over Greyhound.

Those traveling in sleeper are from a wide cross-section of American life, including families trying it out for the first time, people in small towns along the route that don't have other common carrier passenger service, people that can't or don't want to fly, people that prefer to relax over a one- or two-day trip rather than stuff themselves in a metal tube for five hours, and, yes, the occasional railfan.

If it was about subsidizing "nostalgia" and "love for trains," I'd be among the first to say that American Orient Express ought to take over the operation, running a handful of trains every couple of weeks. But my personal experience contradicts the lies that have been told by the anti-rail types for so long.
 

haolerider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 21, 2004
Messages
1,437
"rmadisonwi" is absolutely correct.

All you have to do is go to an Amtrak station and while you might see a "railfan" or someone looking for nostalgia, they are in the distinct minority. The bulk of the passengers are going to visit friends and family; students going back and forth from home to college/universities; families on "fun trips" with their children and as was previously described - people looking to avoid the frustrations and issues with air travel. Each train has its distinct flavor, based on geographic and distance factors.

I am sure Amtrak has demographic profiles of long distance train riders versus the NEC riders. If anyone has access to this, it would be interesting to see on this forum.
 

x-press

Service Attendant
Joined
Feb 8, 2006
Messages
169
I couldn't agree more.

It saddens and frustrates me when I see supposed rail advocates suggesting that ld trains are just a nostalgic cruise trip, and that people "don't care" when the train runs late. Heck, I AM a railfan and I get frustrated when the trip runs excessively late.

Want a nostalgic trip to nowhere? Take a merry-go-round.
 

Bill Haithcoat

Conductor
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atlanta, georgia
With a lot of years experience, I cannot agree more with the last three posters. (and I DO want the train to be on time).

Very seldom do I meet anybody who is a railfan to the extent that most of us on this forum are.

Instead, just quiet unassuming poeple, who find the train convenient, or cheap or going where they want to go. Sure, they enjoy it or they would not keep doing it---but they are not out there "taking consists" or anything like that.

Bad mistake to think the train is full of people just riding to be riding---as I am. Not my experience at all. Come to think of it, I can probablly almost count on my two hands the number of fellow railfans I have run into on commercial long distance rail ( as opposed to , say, excursions).
 

GG-1

Conductor
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Feb 1, 2004
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Aloha

I echo everything Bill said in his last post.

The number ONE reason I get of the plane on the west coast and ride a train is the pleasure of meeting people, finding out about their lives, homes, travels while getting someware I need to be in a reasonable time.

Another reason I ride the rails is so what if I can get from my end of our country to the other end in 10 hours and all I see is a bunch of clouds. How many of fliers get to know anything about there traveling companions. And at 30,000 feet plus how much of america can you see if it is clear.

Lastly even traveling in packed uncomfortable seats the Airlines claim they loose money, so if we want to support travel why not support confortable travel.

Mahalo for letting me on the soap box for a few comments. :D
 

amatuer

Train Attendant
Joined
Mar 23, 2006
Messages
28
I stand corrected and humbled. Its been my experience, tho moderate, that people ride because they like LD rail travel. It isn't because they need to but want to. Thats a different and limited clientele. I didn't mean to overstate "railfan" and obviously a poor choice of words, but if LD is to remain, they need to cater to those who do "choose" to take the train, so they continue to "choose" that route. Subsidizing? Heck, we've been subsiding Airlines for over twenty years and no one peeps. Anyone out there that thinks that LD passenger travel is ever going to be profitable? Sustainable and perhaps break-even at best. My point I wanted to make in my first post (failing miserably) was if you continue to cut services and worse, maintenance, LD will be like the "frontiers" these trains pass thru. In the past. Once you lose your repeat customers, any business is out of business.
 

AmtrakWPK

Conductor
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In the (approximately) 25-30 trips we've taken on Silver Service or Sunset Limited, railfans have been the VERY rare exceptions. The OVERWHELMING majority of folks on those trains have been ordinary people traveling from "Point A" to "Point B", period. Frequently in family groups. lots and lots of times with very small children. WAY less than 1% seem to be railfans, INCLUDING us. Some are leisure travelers. So what? Does that mean they are less deserving of a decent, affordable, reliable (ok, not on time, but eventually, you do get there) means of transportation? Would the merchants, the theme parks, or the relatives they are traveling toward, consider them less deserving, less needy of a means to "get there"?

I would also put the majority of those passengers into the "low-budget traveler" category, since they were in coach. The sleeper pax we've met in the diner or in the Sunset observation/lounge car have mostly NOT been the "low-budget traveler" category (yeah, ok, DUH!!!), but they have also uniformly NOT been railfans. All those folks are using Amtrak for TRANSPORTATION (another "Well, DUH!!") They are not Congress-men/women, Senators, or Administration High-Muckety-Mucks, because all of THOSE folks have very expensive, fast transportation that WE taxpayers foot the bill for, so THEY have no need whatsoever of Amtrak, hence the Administration's desire to kill it so they'll have more of our tax money to give away to their rich friends, campaign donors, and lobbyists. As more and more Greyhound routes are cancelled, Amtrak becomes more and more necessary, more and more important, more and more crucial, for all those people about whom the Administration obviously cares less and less. Go figure.
 

x-press

Service Attendant
Joined
Feb 8, 2006
Messages
169
amatuer said:
I stand corrected and humbled . . . My point I wanted to make in my first post (failing miserably) was if you continue to cut services and worse, maintenance, LD will be like the "frontiers" these trains pass thru. In the past.
No hard feelings, friend. I'm glad this is a place where we can have discussions under (usually) civil terms.

I guess this comes down to a question of degree.

I certainly agree that Amtrak shouldn't dream of cutting maintenance (they should probably increase it), and I also don't think that Amtrak travel should ever become like a bus or airplane on rails . . . still, they've got a LONG way to go before that happens.

I disagree with the claims that Amtrak's routes and services are "based on the 1950's." I WISH they were based on the 1950's, trains in those waning days of long distance travel were some of the nicest ever . . . I DO think they're outdated in general, though. Rather than being based on the railroad-centered 1940's or 50's, they seem based on the 1980's, before low cost air carriers and deregulation. Amtrak is living in a Southwest Airlines world, and not just in regards to air travel. The people of this country have demanded (for better or worse) low-cost, no-frills transportation. I don't like it; airline seats look like they're designed for the "Yoda" star wars character, airline food is a memory, and long distance auto travel is a nightmare around major cities due to the number of people on the roads.

Still, Amtrak has to change with the times and cut costs.

JPS
 

amatuer

Train Attendant
Joined
Mar 23, 2006
Messages
28
I believe that Amtrak has an oppurtune time in this climate of fuel increases, the aggravation of air travel and the peoples desire to "slow down" to increase its ridership on the LD's (for whatever the reason that they travel be it family trips, leisure, enthusiasts and even business?). And I'm afraid that they are going to miss it by cutting back on services. More so on staffing vs for instance, the prepackaged dining controversy (which I think if done properly, can succeed). Understandably, costs may be cut and fares increased. But either way, if you don't have an enthusiastic and efficient service staff (and quantity is vital to its quality) then ridership will suffer. The perverbial "cutting off your nose to spite your face". The climate is ripe to increase Amtraks role in certainly leisure travel and to cut staffing AND increase fares (which you know is just around the bend) is suicide. I can only speak from a small service businessmans view and I'm sure that is a much more complicated

issue than I view it, but service based businesses, large or small, are all based on one simple thing - service. And if it is to succeed, good service.
 

jphjaxfl

Conductor
Joined
Nov 24, 2005
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Jacksonville, FL
The morale of Amtrak employees is a serious concern, but very understandable. How many of us would like to work for an organization that we didn't know whether it or our jobs would exist in the future? Congress and other government officials should have set up long term permanant funding for Amtrak years ago. Service standards for Amtrak and the host freight railroads should have been developed. The funding should have included incentives for host freight railroad that would allow Amtrak to operate up to its standards. Additional capacity should have been built as needed with costs shared by Amtrak and the host railroad. There seems to be no problem adding capacity to highways or additional runways at airports. Amtrak's performance in meeting its service standards should have been subject to continuing review as well as that of all employees. If standards aren't met, Amtrak management would have to be replaced. If employees don't meet the standards of their position, they should be replaced. The fact that Amtrak has had inadequate, indefinite funding and limited service standards makes it difficult to make the needed changes after what will be 35 years on May 1.
 

saxman

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Because Amtrak has an imcompotent board trying to shut it down.
 
R

railrookie

Guest
Typing this from Hastings Ne. which is 110 miles away from my home in Lincoln Ne., I just had my friends show me where the Amtrak station is so I can come here and visit and take the train. The reason I took my first trip on Amtrak last month is TOTAL frustration with the airlines. I have had back to back trips from ****, if it wasn't for a positive attitude that I generally carry with me most of the time, I would have had two ruined trips. I too, agree that this is such a good oppurtunity for Amtrak to make some considerable strides, unfortunately, so many people hardly knows that they exist. With a paltry budget, when was the last time you saw a national advertising campaign for Amtrak? I mean, a few good commercials during the Super Bowl may wake a few people up like me who are so, SO fed up with flying. I absolutely loved the "relaxation" that I got from my trip on the California Zephyr. It was my favorite part of a 12 day trip to CA.
 

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