Do we need "Long Distance " trains?

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caravanman

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Is it possible, given the distances between larger cities, to devise a train system something like this... Folk get on one train in the morning, travel all day, with appropriate intermediate station stops, and arrive somewhere to spend the night in a hotel. The train set can return to the original city next day providing the oposite service.
The passenger boards another train next morning, and travels onward again, repeating untill arriving at their destination.
No need for elaborate meal arrangements, nor sleeping cars...
Overall, the individal's journey will take longer, as one is not travelling at night, but it seems to offer a sensible alternative to silly sleeper car prices, and yeuky food? Are city pairs just too near or too far apart to make this workable?
 
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Is it possible, given the distances between larger cities, to devise a train system something like this... Folk get on one train in the morning, travel all day, with appropriate intermediate station stops, and arrive somewhere to spend the night in a hotel. The train set can return to the original city next day providing the oposite service.
The passenger boards another train next morning, and travels onward again, repeating untill arriving at their destination.
No need for elaborate meal arrangements, nor sleeping cars...
Overall, the individal's journey will take longer, as one is not travelling at night, but it seems to offer a sensible alternative to silly sleeper car prices, and yeuky food? Are city pairs just too near or too far apart to make this workable?
This is somewhat like the model that Rocky Mountaineer follows. Works fine for a tourist train, but it would not work too well for those wanting to go longer distances, or worse, those wanting to go a shorter distance, but accross the layover point(s) from one segment to another. Would make the trip much longer, and costlier for those...
And not offering decent meals on board, would not make it especially attractive to tourists, either....
 

Trogdor

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It would seem that if you are traveling all day, you would need food. Traveling during the night would favor sleepers but could do without food. The two aren’t really linked, except in how Amtrak does it.

One thing this arrangement doesn’t do is account for short-distance passengers that are traveling through an arbitrary break point. If the Empire Builder hypothetically overnighted in Minneapolis, then someone traveling from Red Wing to St. Cloud couldn’t use it without turning a 2 hour trip into a 12 hour trip.
 
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VIA does this with the Skeena train between Jasper, AB and Prince Rupert, BC. While primarily a tourist operation (with corresponding service) during peak season, it does provide regional transportation the rest of the year and the route involves an overnight break at passengers' expense mid-way. They once studied doing this with some eastern long-distance routes as well.

There is certainly precedent for this in Europe and there are a few Amtrak routes that it might work on, although the suggestion might not be popular around here. ;)
 
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And for through travelers, the loss of the time the present train gains them because it continues while they sleep makes it less advantageous vs a car.

Also, not everyone is enamored of lots of days on a train. Travelers who dislike or can't travel by bus, car or air (vs railfans) are interested in getting places not just seeing scenery or racking up train miles.

The suggestion about replacing LD with intercity pairs sounds like Anderson's ideas.

On the other hand, long distance trains AUGMENTED by intercity daylight trains would be a benefit especially on routes that could justify multiple trains or for sections that are transversed only at night or trains going to "destination" cities. So, e.g., as I mentioned in another thread, a morning train from Atlanta to say, Raleigh, would allow passengers boarding/disembarking from cities between to have daytime, not just a middle-of-the-night transportation. This would be even more critical if large cities such as Cincinnati had daytime service to the Chicago hub as well as being a hub itself for other cities along the Cardinal route that only have late-night service now.
 

jis

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Is it possible, given the distances between larger cities, to devise a train system something like this... Folk get on one train in the morning, travel all day, with appropriate intermediate station stops, and arrive somewhere to spend the night in a hotel. The train set can return to the original city next day providing the oposite service.
This would definitely move us closer to the wagon stages of the horse and buggy days. 🤪
 

caravanman

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I don't suggest that there be no catering onboard the train, but a simple catering operation on a daytime train seems much easier to achieve well. rather than the current Amtrak catering fiasco.
Do folk who travel very long distances (more than 12 hours aboard) by train expect a fast service? I am not sure they do.
There is never going to be one ideal solution, but trains arriving and departing only in the middle of the night is hardly good.
I am a fan of the long distance trains, just feel than the way the USA views train travel is a bit old fashioned.
I can see that halting overnight and expecting folk to go to a hotel would not be great for bargain basement travellers like myself who try to manage to sleep in the cheap coach seats overnight!
So, my question remains... Are there sensible city pairs that would facilitate such an arrangement, or are distances too awkward?
 

jis

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So, my question remains... Are there sensible city pairs that would facilitate such an arrangement, or are distances too awkward?
You mean city pairs that are currently served by LD trains and not served by a daylight train I suppose? Afterall there is a whole host of Regional trains that are more or less pure daylight running that serve various city pairs already.

I suppose examples that you are looking for would be something like:

Washington DC - Atlanta
Chicago - Denver
Chicago - St. Paul
Chicago - Kansas City (via BNSF Fort Madison)
Chicago - Memphis
New Orleans - Houston
New Orleans - Memphis
Los Angeles - Phoenix/Tucson
Los Angeles - Emeryville (via Coast Line)
Seattle/Portland - Spokane

etc.

My take on this is that all of them are candidates for a second frequency served in daylight rather than cannibalizing the existing LD service.

The US in general needs more train service, not less, or more inconvenient ones.

I think the catering issue is a red herring. Just because you get a sleeping berth or stay on the train overnight, does not mean you have to have a full court Diner service. OTOH just because it is a day train does not mean you must not have a full Diner service. The level of Diner/Cafe service is a decision that is independent of whether the train runs overnight or not.

Afterall the Night Owl AFAIR never had Diner service, and arguably none of the LD trains currently have Diner service. They just have slightly upgraded cafe food for Sleeper passengers. This shows that any level of service that is chosen as the service goal is deliverable, and arguably the current misadventure has failed in its goal miserably, so might as well give it up and make the customers happy.
 
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Is it possible, given the distances between larger cities, to devise a train system something like this... Folk get on one train in the morning, travel all day, with appropriate intermediate station stops, and arrive somewhere to spend the night in a hotel. The train set can return to the original city next day providing the oposite service.
The passenger boards another train next morning, and travels onward again, repeating until arriving at their destination.
No need for elaborate meal arrangements, nor sleeping cars...
Overall, the individal's journey will take longer, as one is not travelling at night, but it seems to offer a sensible alternative to silly sleeper car prices, and yeuky food? Are city pairs just too near or too far apart to make this workable?
The total travel time would certainly take longer, on the other hand, you'd get to see the entire route in daylight, and it would eliminate serving potentially important station stops at inconvenient hours. (Hello Cleveland! Hello Salt Lake City! Hello San Antonio!) I guess if you were really worried about travel time, you'd be flying, anyway, so maybe it doesn't matter.

A few practical issues:
  • How long is the total travel time for each segment? I would supposed you would max it at 12 hours.
  • What are the break-point cities? Take Washington-Chicago - It's about 11 hours WAS - Cleveland, where I suppose the overnight stop would be, and then from Cleveland, it's about 6-7 hours to Chicago. Do we have people overnight in Chicago, or keep the train going and have the overnight in, say Galesburg? Then, where's the next overnight break? Also, they would need to be selected so as to minimize the number of people who might want to take shorter trips traveling through the overnight stop without having to stay overnight. (Say, someone who wants to travel from Pittsburgh to Toledo, which really should be a day trip.) Obviously, there should be additional trains at different schedules to accommodate such travelers.
  • You would want the hotels for the overnighters to be close to the train station to reduce problems of re-assembling people in the morning to catch the onward train. I'm not sure how the Rocky Mountaineer of Skeena do it, but then their overnight stops might be in smaller towns than Cleveland or Chicago.
  • You also need to make sure that there are decent places to eat at the overnight stops. And on-board, with a 12-hour ride, at least some of the passenger are going to want to have lunch, so some sort of provision needs to be made for that. Of course, just like the current long-distance service, most passengers will be making shorter trips.
You might actually need more equipment to do this, though you would eliminate much of the cost of on-board service. It might work, goven that most passengers on long-distance trains don't travel long distances, but you'd have to select the terminating points carefully.
 

jis

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Why is it that people who claim to be passenger rail enthusiasts spend such an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to make the service worse? Seems like some kind of a Stockholm Syndrome or something, possibly worthy of a learned psychological study. ;)
 

Qapla

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I guess if you were really worried about travel time, you'd be flying, anyway

If I want to go to NY from JAX, I can catch the train and ride overnight in a coach seat. I would be on the train (sleeping) while the train takes me to my destination. The trip would be time well spent since I am using my daylight hours for what I want/need to do in NY instead of looking out the window of the train while using the time I had planned to use in NY because the train does not run while I sleep.

So, while travel time is a factor (and there are those of us who do not fly) doing so through the night is a perfectly acceptable use of this travel time so the daylight hours are spent at my destination - not making my trip longer than it has to be and forcing me to rent a room for the night when I can sleep on the train without additional cost.
 
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This is a horrible idea for travelers that are not end to end travelers.

Let’s say the train schedule requires an overnight in Denver. If I want to go from Fort Morgan to Granby I have to overnight on an otherwise 5.5 hour trip. Hard pass, thank you.

Also, the trend in Europe is for MORE overnight service, not less.
 
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Is it possible, given the distances between larger cities, to devise a train system something like this... Folk get on one train in the morning, travel all day, with appropriate intermediate station stops, and arrive somewhere to spend the night in a hotel. The train set can return to the original city next day providing the oposite service.
The passenger boards another train next morning, and travels onward again, repeating untill arriving at their destination.
No need for elaborate meal arrangements, nor sleeping cars...
Overall, the individal's journey will take longer, as one is not travelling at night, but it seems to offer a sensible alternative to silly sleeper car prices, and yeuky food? Are city pairs just too near or too far apart to make this workable?
Canada already has this idea with it's Rocky Pioneer... passengers detrain mid way and stay the night in a hotel. But this is strictly a tourist train and I don't think the idea would go over well in the USA for LD service. Especially when coach passengers can take advantage of stretching out on the larger seats and saving money for an overnight hotel bill.


 

jebr

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The biggest problem (as others have stated) is that it causes huge headaches for certain intermediate markets. A lot of passengers don't travel end-to-end, but probably travel through an intermediate market or two. As someone who (before moving) would travel semi-regularly from St. Cloud to Winona, a break in MSP would make that trip unworkable and have pushed me to take the car. LD train service works by having tons of intermediate markets that can be done on the same train, and breaking up that train would sever the practicality of many of those intermediate markets.
 
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  • You would want the hotels for the overnighters to be close to the train station to reduce problems of re-assembling people in the morning to catch the onward train. I'm not sure how the Rocky Mountaineer of Skeena do it, but then their overnight stops might be in smaller towns than Cleveland or Chicago.
  • You also need to make sure that there are decent places to eat at the overnight stops. And on-board, with a 12-hour ride, at least some of the passenger are going to want to have lunch, so some sort of provision needs to be made for that. Of course, just like the current long-distance service, most passengers will be making shorter trips.
No comparison to the Rocky Mountaineer. They sell packages, not transportation so everyone in the same class stays at the same hotel and is transported back and forth to/from the train and those things are included in the package price. Amtrak, as transportation, takes you to the city and you are on your own until the next day's train. Amtrak might offer packages (ala Amtrakvacations.com) that include hotel, etc but that's not their job nor should they be in that business. Leave that to the tourist companies and take a cut of the extra $ if any. For Amtrak passengers, the choice of hotels might be based on price and convenience or might even be just a hostel or overnight with friends.

Lunch and snacks would likely be the least of the food provided or available. Unless Amtrak really can improve on-time performance on freight-owned tracks, even 12 hours can be a big problem. Look at the Crescent as if it were just a daytime train between ATL and NOL (it is a 12 hours daylight train). It is often late so if it is, there has to be sufficient food to provide a light dinner and, since it leaves both ATL and NOL pretty early, it needs to have some sort of breakfast for purchase.

Twelve hour trips can be burdens for families with small children and the non-railfan who thinks of it as transportation, not a land cruise so such trips should be the outer limit. Moreover, such trains should have first class or business class service and comfort for those willing to pay for it.
 

sttom

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Another reason why this is bad is dealing with starting and ending points. As mentioned, Salt Lake City has really bad arrival times as it is (mostly to maximize day light hours in the Rockies). How would the schedule in Emeryville be changed so that there is a better than dark o’clock arrival in Salt Lake? I’d bet a schedule that would ruin the travel value between the Bay Area and the Sierras more than it already is. And I’m willing to be the value of that connection is worth more than the Reno to Salt Lake part of the route.

Speaking of scheduling the train to maximize the best scenery, who the hell wants to see all of the Midwest corn during the day? Trains in the past were literally scheduled to avoid the corn. A day time connection would be nice, but no one wants to go out of their way to see East Nowhere, Nebraska and it’s mighty fields of corn. No offense to Nebraska.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Speaking of scheduling the train to maximize the best scenery, who the hell wants to see all of the Midwest corn during the day?

I loved waking up and seeing the fields of corn in Illinois on the City of New Orleans.

The only time I’ve been tired of scenery on a train is riding the Canadian in the winter when everything is snow. Fields of snow, lakes frozen over and covered in snow. It‘s pretty boring for the first 2 days out of Toronto. Still relaxing though!
 

Cal

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I loved waking up and seeing the fields of corn in Illinois on the City of New Orleans.

The only time I’ve been tired of scenery on a train is riding the Canadian in the winter when everything is snow. Fields of snow, lakes frozen over and covered in snow. It‘s pretty boring for the first 2 days out of Toronto. Still relaxing though!
Same! I live in the city, I see city only. I absolutely love seeing the fields!
 
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I like to settle in, relax. If I wanted to go on one night stands I’d travel with my son bands. 25 shows in 30 days. No thank you.
Don’t most “bands on the run” (pun intended 😉), travel overnight on their “entertainer” coaches between gigs?
 
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