BNSF and Amtrak Long Distance

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Cal

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So I've heard that BNSF treats the Southwest Chief very well. What about the California Zephyr and Empire Builder?
 

saxman

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Speaking in very general terms over past couple of decades, BNSF has generally treated Amtrak well. It always seemed like BNSF would get Amtrak over its rails in a timely fashion while UP just didn't care. In the aughts, I remember that Sunset Limited being constantly hours and hours late. Same with the Coast Starlight. Things got bad, but things seemed to get better. The the meltdown of BNSF during the North Dakota oil boom happened. So many trains, too little track, and the Builder was constantly late too, making UP lines look good. The Zephyr runs on BNSF between Chicago and Denver, switching to UP west of there.
 

jis

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I think on the whole even now the SF part of BNSF treats Amtrak much better than the BN part of BNSF, Most of the fiascos recently have all been on the BN side.

But then again BNSF did play hard ball on the Southwest Chief route to extract funding from the states and Amtrak to fix up the Raton Sub and La Junta Subs.
 

Cal

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I think on the whole even now the SF part of BNSF treats Amtrak much better than the BN part of BNSF, Most of the fiascos recently have all been on the BN side.

But then again BNSF did play hard ball on the Southwest Chief route to extract funding from the states and Amtrak to fix up the Raton Sub and La Junta Subs.
Speaking in very general terms over past couple of decades, BNSF has generally treated Amtrak well. It always seemed like BNSF would get Amtrak over its rails in a timely fashion while UP just didn't care.
Alright. I was just wondering! Thank you.
 
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Broadening the question a bit, is there any real difference between host railroads in general? Do some play more hard ball than others?
 

crescent-zephyr

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Broadening the question a bit, is there any real difference between host railroads in general? Do some play more hard ball than others?
On the eastern side, Norfolk Southern used to be much better than CSX. Unfortunately nobody seems to remember how to run a railroad these days. :-/
 

Cal

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Broadening the question a bit, is there any real difference between host railroads in general? Do some play more hard ball than others?
From what I can tell, BNSF allows Amtrak to continue their schedule well. While UP, CSX, and NS will always put their trains first.

Also Union Pacific was apparently not willing to negotiate when Amtrak wanted to make the Sunset Limited daily, demanding a very large sum of money for track upgrades.
 
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Willbridge

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I think on the whole even now the SF part of BNSF treats Amtrak much better than the BN part of BNSF, Most of the fiascos recently have all been on the BN side.

But then again BNSF did play hard ball on the Southwest Chief route to extract funding from the states and Amtrak to fix up the Raton Sub and La Junta Subs.
While it was hardball we (ColoRail) could understand it given the changes in traffic and completion of the double-tracking of the Texas/Oklahoma line. The trade-off is better performance by Trains 3/4 by having few conflicts and then being on double-track with fast intermodal trains for many more miles.

In a better world the La Junta Sub would go back to 90 mph speeds. This 1999 sign indicates that passenger trains should slow to 80 mph through Las Animas. The current leader of Amtrak wanted to replace this segment with a bus on the two-lane highway in the right of the picture.

1999 Las Animas 80.jpg
 

me_little_me

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Broadening the question a bit, is there any real difference between host railroads in general? Do some play more hard ball than others?
Amtrak has, in the past, released grade ratings for each of the Class 1s ranging from A to F. INS was an F last time.

Right from Amtrak's web site:

Amtrak Class 1 Grades
 

Cal

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LOL they gave a report card.

Surprised to see CSX above BNSF.
 

jis

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Amtrak has, in the past, released grade ratings for each of the Class 1s ranging from A to F. NS was an F last time.

Right from Amtrak's web site:

Amtrak Class 1 Grades
Yeah NS's Water Level Route has been a standing disaster for a couple of years or more now. The famous Elkhart Black Hole. The South Chicago Crawl and such. They have somehow even managed to screw around with the Crescent route which at one time used to be their shining performer.

CSX has been doing relatively well with the Silver Service/Auto Train route of late.
 

Devil's Advocate

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But then again BNSF did play hard ball on the Southwest Chief route to extract funding from the states and Amtrak to fix up the Raton Sub and La Junta Subs.
If they refused a Transcon switch I would agree it was a hardball move, but they didn't seem to have a problem with that, which paints it as more of a standard negotiating tactic. Amtrak passengers want to keep the Raton route for obvious reasons, but from BNSF's perspective a viable path to major stops was good enough. I think Amtrak had a reasonable chance of prevailing on the merits before their own brass started offering bus bridges as a solution.
 

Mark Meyer

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But then again BNSF did play hard ball on the Southwest Chief route to extract funding from the states and Amtrak to fix up the Raton Sub and La Junta Subs.
Not true. At all. If the Southwest Chief did not exist, BNSF would be quite content (given the amount of traffic thereon) with the La Junta subdivision being good for 40 MPH (west of Newton), and the Raton and Glorieta subdivisions being abandoned, except access from La Junta to Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site.

Remember, BNSF approached Amtrak as early as 1996 about moving the Southwest Chief to the Amarillo route at minimal cost to Amtrak, which would have been compensated by operating on route with a maximum grade of 1% westbound and 1.25% eastbound instead of 3.5%. Of course, all the other players (Amtrak, the communities along the route, NARP and railfans) balked at the idea.

In 2002, BNSF made a similar proposal. By then, the end of the York Canyon coal mine - the last remaining customer accessed by the route between Trinidad and Lamy - was in sight, and BNSF made necessary changes and upgrades to effectively create a double track situation between Pueblo and Amarillo, with southward (or heavier) trains operating via the ex-ATSF route through Boise City and northward trains via the slightly steeper ex-BN route via Texline. This would eliminate the possibility of any need to operate freight trains between Trinidad and Lamy, which were scarce anyway considering the restrictive grades of Raton and Glorieta passes. Again, all the other parties squawked, and the train wasn't rerouted to the superior, stable route through Amarillo. For its part, Amtrak was mostly caving to political pressure from advocates and online communities.

Since then, keeping the train operating on the current route has required a hodgepodge of funding (into the scores of millions of dollars) from various government entities, BNSF and Amtrak, which could certainly have used the money elsewhere.

So yes, in the most recent challenge to the Southwest Chief route, BNSF has stated that the Amarillo routing is not in play; basically that the other parties had had their chance and had to live with the situation. So, instead of having nearly 20 years of stable service to cities like Wichita, Woodward, Amarillo, and Clovis on route with a low-cost operating profile, Amtrak is stuck with a perpetual money pit where it runs the only trains for over 200 miles on route with the steepest grades in America - and one which will never again see revenue freight service.

Things change over time, such as in 1993/1994 when the Southwest Chief ditched its routing via Pasadena to the current trek via Fullerton and in 1996 when Chillicothe and Streator lost their Amtrak service when the Southwest Chief began running via Princeton and Mendota. Both of these changes were done to conform to operational reality and/or to save money. The same should have been done and changed to operate via Amarillo.

Too late now. But BNSF wasn't playing hard ball. It was the only one playing "reality."
 

MARC Rider

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LOL they gave a report card.

Surprised to see CSX above BNSF.
Yeah, I am too. I mean CSX is so bad that they once delayed multiple Amtrak trains running on Amtrak-owned tracks. :) (A CSX freight train derailed in the Bronx last September, messing up the train I was about to take home.)
 

jis

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Too late now. But BNSF wasn't playing hard ball. It was the only one playing "reality."
Well, just because one has to play hardball to drill the reality into the heads of those that want something for nothing, does not make it "not hardball". Personally I was OK with BNSF playing what I still consider hardball, notwithstanding the thoughts you shared. I had a problem with Amtrak trying to fold without coming up with alternatives, or maybe it was Amtrak's way of playing hardball to bring the state politicians to heel. There was a lot of hardball being played by a lot of parties in that exercise. Whatever happened, it seems to have worked for the time being.

Yeah, I am too. I mean CSX is so bad that they once delayed multiple Amtrak trains running on Amtrak-owned tracks. :) (A CSX freight train derailed in the Bronx last September, messing up the train I was about to take home.)
I think CSX is getting good marks for its handling of the Washington - Richmond corridor and the improved handling of the Atlantic Coast Service. It's handling of the LSL is still not exactly spectacular yet, but NS gives them ample cover to hide under I suppose :)
 

TheTuck

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Amtrak needs to be done with its report cards and blaming host railroads for its LDT problems. The argument doesn't carry much weight to begin with and it only makes them less willing to cooperate. Yes the host RR's have a legal obligation to give Amtrak priority, but the bad blood Amtrak has created makes them less willing to negotiate in the future.
 

jis

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Amtrak needs to be done with its report cards and blaming host railroads for its LDT problems. The argument doesn't carry much weight to begin with and it only makes them less willing to cooperate. Yes the host RR's have a legal obligation to give Amtrak priority, but the bad blood Amtrak has created makes them less willing to negotiate in the future.
I categorically disagree with discontinuing the report cards. As long as the report cards reflect facts of what happened I don’t see any reason why they should be hidden away to assuage the feeling of oh so touchy host railroads. This is not a romantic novel. It is a matter of contract, and measure of contract compliance is how one evaluates the status of a contract. It is not like they have been great negotiating partners when these reports were not published.
 
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jiml

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I categorically disagree with discontinuing the report cards. As long as the report cards reflect facts of what happened I don;t see any reason why they should be hidden away to assuage the feeling of oh so touchy host railroads. This is not a romantic novel. It is a matter of contract, and measure of contract compliance is how one evaluates the status of a contract. It is not like they have been great negotiating partners when these reports were not published.
Report cards work two ways. I imagine CP was fairly pleased with their result.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Amtrak needs to be done with its report cards and blaming host railroads for its LDT problems.
So far as I am aware hosts are only blamed when factors under their control are the sole/primary issue.

The argument doesn't carry much weight to begin with and it only makes them less willing to cooperate.
The ratings were in response to uncooperative hosts and furious passengers blaming Amtrak for freight interference.

Yes the host RR's have a legal obligation to give Amtrak priority, but the bad blood Amtrak has created makes them less willing to negotiate in the future.
The negotiations already took place. Now it's up to the freight hosts to honor the terms.
 

TheTuck

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I agree the host railroads should be held accountable for their dispatching performance. I just dont agree with the report card method and think it should be handled in more professional avenues. Amtrak is more likely to get the desired result by not stooping to such lows which only make themselves look childish and out of touch. Respect is earned, not demanded.
 

Charles785

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I, too, would like to see passenger rail established again for Wichita, but not at the expense of losing the current heritage route that has long served Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City, Garden City, Lamar, La Junta, Trinidad, Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy, and Albuquerque.

Best way to add Wichita back to the system would be to extend the Heartland Flyer north from Oklahoma City to Wichita and up to Newton to feed the current route of the Southwest Chief.
 

me_little_me

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I agree the host railroads should be held accountable for their dispatching performance. I just dont agree with the report card method and think it should be handled in more professional avenues. Amtrak is more likely to get the desired result by not stooping to such lows which only make themselves look childish and out of touch. Respect is earned, not demanded.
It has nothing to do with respect and everything to do with what the railroads and their predecessors agreed to do so Amtrak's answer should be "We'll show you respect when you respect your agreements".
 

west point

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Report cards? Any bets that UPS , FED EX< and other shippers do not keep them and wave them in the face of RRs especially when handling get poor ?
 

railiner

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This "report card" to me, is so reminiscent of how the NJT and LIRR are so quick to announce to the media that their particular delays were of Amtrak's doing, whenever the opportunity presented itself...😉
 
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