Does Amtrak Have a "Last Mile" problem on corridor routes?

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

Matthew H Fish

Train Attendant
Joined
May 28, 2019
Messages
91
This is a post that is mostly about Amtrak's corridor routes, although some of the same principals apply on long-distance routes.


Three days ago, I took my first trip on an Amtrak train since before the pandemic. I have ridden on Amtrak buses since then, but this was my first trip on an Amtrak train, from Eugene, Oregon to Albany, Oregon, on the Amtrak Cascades corridor service. And it was really good: the station was clean and pleasant, the train left on time, was a smooth and pretty ride. There was one delay, but the train still went from the Eugene station to the Albany station probably faster than a car would make the same trip (on a Friday afternoon). I was a little disappointed that the mask guidelines weren't being enforced, but that is another topic.

But what I really want to talk about is the last-mile problem. Or, the last dozen-mile problem. Because I live in Corvallis, Oregon, not Albany. Corvallis is a city of about 60,000, a dozen miles from Albany. So to get from Corvallis to Eugene in the morning, I took a Greyhound bus (50 minutes), because I would have had to take the local bus to Albany, and that would mean getting up a lot earlier. And to get back, I took the train to Eugene to Albany...and then took the local bus home. With my schedule, it worked (and I am used to riding buses), but it was still a more complicated trip. If my train had been delayed, I likely would have had to have waited a lot longer.

A lot of cities in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle, Portland, Eugene) have really good public transit. Many others have okay to poor public transit, with limited hours. If you want to get to a medium-sized city (anywhere from 10,000 to 75,000) to a place that the Amtrak Cascades runs, you have to plan carefully. If you live within walking distance of a station, taking the Amtrak Cascades is probably easier, cheaper and faster than taking a car. But if you live in a suburb that is even 5 miles away, suddenly you are pouring over local bus schedules trying to MacGuyver out the last leg of your trip.

This is kind of a Pacific NW centric post, perhaps on the NEC, where you have a lot of commuter rail and the like, the problem isn't the same. But for a lot of the other corridor service (California, Chicago to Michigan), I think this is a big problem. Heavy rail city-to-city doesn't make a lot of sense, practically, when you have to hire a cab to go the last 5 or 10 miles. Or of course people can park at the station, but if someone is already going to drive to the station, it makes less sense to stop and take a train from there.

So I guess my point is, that while Amtrak actually has really good service point-to-point along its corridor routes, the problem comes from the fact that for all the people in the suburbs and exurbs beyond walking distance of a station, the trip can get twice as long and expensive to close those last few miles.
 

chrsjrcj

OBS Chief
Joined
Mar 24, 2011
Messages
894
Location
Fort Lauderdale, FL
That can be true of an airport as well.

The problem is the development pattern in many (most) US Cities, especially those in the south and sunbelt region, have been built around the car. That will have to change if we really want to reduce fossil fuel dependency, and an infrastructure bill that spends money on highway infrastructure is not the way to solve this issue.

An actual Federal housing policy that requires more dense walkable cities, especially around transit and Amtrak stations, would also be beneficial.
 

PerRock

Conductor
Joined
Sep 16, 2006
Messages
1,934
Location
Ann Arbor, MI
In general most of America has very poor public transit options. Usually if a community has a bus service, they'll have that service serve the station (it might not be there at the station, but a short walk away).

For example, most stations on the Wolveriene in Michigan have local bus services that serve the station, however if you live in a neighboring town that local bus service isn't going to serve you. It isn't until Dearborn that you can start connecting via the SMART buses to neighboring cities within metropolitan Detroit. If I wanted to get from my house to the Detroit station (ignoring the two closer stations) it would take me 4 different bus services, and a minimum of 6 different buses (more if I'm not traveling at peak times)...

peter
 

Matthew H Fish

Train Attendant
Joined
May 28, 2019
Messages
91
I agree that the problem is with city planning, and cultural attitudes.

I guess my point is that Amtrak itself is kind of at a point of diminishing returns for what they can do on that corridor itself. With the exception of the pause of about 5-10 minutes while waiting for another train to pass, the ride was smooth, fast, comfortable and without delay. I can't think of anything that Amtrak can do, from their end, to make the ride smoother.

Especially important, because with the big infrastructure bill---big capital improvements in the line won't matter if people then have to take a taxi ten miles home.
 

Eric S

Engineer
Joined
Dec 19, 2009
Messages
2,601
Location
Milwaukee
I have long thought that a significant expansion of dedicated Thruway bus services, connecting with both long distance and corridor trains, should be a priority, perhaps even more so now as a method of rebuilding traffic lost over the last year or two.

Having dedicated buses linking Corvallis with all/most Amtrak trains at Albany certainly seems that it would be worthwhile.
 

sttom

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
763
The main problem with transportation to and from trains stations is the quality of the local transit. One of the things I wished would be brought up is pushing a consistent levels of service for public transit. This would require the states taking public transit as seriously as education (yeah I know this varies too) in the sense that they have a mandatory tax to fund it and expectations out of the service being funded. There is no reason why any arterial road in even the most car centric suburb can't have a bus running at least every 30 minutes between 7am and 10pm daily. My local bus network has 5 lines that run on 2 hour frequencies on weekdays and only one route on weekends. And to add insult to injury, the ever 2 hours routes aren't even coordinated to provide consistent travel times between themselves where they do overlap.

When I lived in Reno on the other hand, all but 3 of the 28 or so routes ran at least every hour with most running at least every 30 minutes. Of the 2 routes that didn't run at least hourly, 1 ran near a bunch of schools so I guess it was a flight risk, 1 ran in the extremities of the city, and one was the route to Carson City. Now if Nevada can set up it's transportation system where even it can maintain this pathetic level of service, there is no reason everywhere else can't.

I'm not sure how this could be done. It's not like most states really care about public transit funding and it's not like the feds will withhold highway funds for public transit. Which touches on a topic that really irks me about some of my fellow lefties which is that they ignore that the state governments exist. It really would take a state to do this, since most of them could restructure how transit is administered and adjust taxes to fund them. Again, it's a mostly thing, most can do this, some can't.

As far as Oregon goes, they really need to get the trains running 8 round trips per day way early than 2040 or whenever they're planning on getting around to it.
 

me_little_me

Engineer
AU Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
4,491
Look at Charlotte, a major city with 3 Piedmonts, the Carolinian and the Crescent.

The bus doesn't stop at the station - it's quite a bit of a walk to get to it since it is on the main road outside the rather large parking lot.

There is a Light Rail station nearby but there is no way to get to it although it is just across the tracks . One has to go a long way to get across the tracks and come back to the light rail station. Not one train has a shuttle that meets it to get you there.

This is in a state that supports Amtrak and in the largest city in that state. It has both Light rail and bus service. Some day the Amtrak station is supposed to be moved downtown but no shuttle service or bus at the station until then?
 

TC_NYC

Service Attendant
AU Supporter
Joined
Nov 1, 2015
Messages
111
Location
Tri-Cities, Washington
I would actually say last-mile transit to Amtrak stations has never been easier. I'm about 10 miles from my Amtrak station that has a good sized parking lot that's free, but even if it didn't have parking the rideshare apps (Uber/Lyft) have never made it easier. Throughway routes should be focused on reaching cities that are 45+ minutes away from a station that aren't served, like a throughway from say Portland, OR to Newport, OR which is a couple of hours away and would be a very expensive uber ride.
 

SanDiegan

Service Attendant
Joined
Aug 1, 2014
Messages
158
Location
Southern California
I live 5 miles from the nearest Amtrak Station. I drive to the station Park & Ride or take an Uber. The local public transit bus service would be too slow and inconvenient. I agree that there should be far more emphasis on dedicated Amtrak Thruway Bus Service (California model) to connect corridor trains with offline communities. The JPA's operating the Capitols, Pacific Surfliners and San Joaquins do not understand the importance of the Thruway buses and the network has declined since they took over operations from Caltrans (which had a statewide bus coordinator).
 

Siegmund

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 19, 2018
Messages
309
Location
northwestern Montana
Definitely not an issue unique to the PNW. There are some cities all over the country with bad last-mile problems --- especially so if you want to build new stations rather than restore abandoned inner-city stations --- and others that do really well. It's a rare situation where Amtrak has much say in the matter. So much depends on where the tracks happen to be and what local transportation is provided.

Funny you should mention Corvallis. I used to have to fly there on business -- which always meant flying into Eugene and renting a car. Albany is much closer than Eugene... but, as you noted, the bus leaves something to be desired, and getting a car at the Albany station (at least in the pre-Uber era) would have been an impossibility.

Amtrak could do a lot better at coordinating ground transportation. Some of my worst train-trip experiences did not happen on the train at all --- things like getting to Seattle on a late-arriving Coast Starlight on my way to Vancouver, and having to take a cab all the way out to Seatac to pick up a late night rental car because whichever company Amtrak affiliated with at that time closed its city office early.

Unfortunately its recent attitude has been more "it's up to the community to provide both the station and all the ground connections, and you better do a good job if you want our train to keep stopping," rather than feeling much like a partnership.
 

daybeers

Conductor
Joined
Jan 6, 2016
Messages
1,121
Location
HFD/POU
Rideshare is not a transportation solution in the vast majority of situations. Just because transit isn't there doesn't mean it needs to be that lifeline. The pay for the drivers is unusable and it increases traffic and emissions substantially.

Well-integrated public transit to intercity rail is absolutely necessary in order to make living on this planet when today's babies are old a viable endeavor.
 

joelkfla

OBS Chief
Joined
Oct 16, 2018
Messages
936
Location
12 miles from Walt Disney World
Rideshare is not a transportation solution in the vast majority of situations. Just because transit isn't there doesn't mean it needs to be that lifeline. The pay for the drivers is unusable and it increases traffic and emissions substantially.

Well-integrated public transit to intercity rail is absolutely necessary in order to make living on this planet when today's babies are old a viable endeavor.
Is it time to revive the autonomous self-routing PRT dream? Despite dozens of system designs being proposed, and several being marketed, nobody ever got further than the 3-station installation at Heathrow.

I don't count the WVU demonstration project, because it's really just a trunk line with skippable stations, and operates as a scheduled service much of the time. A true PRT would have the ability to navigate over a route network to reach a destination on demand.
 

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,796
Location
Ithaca, NY
Yes, local connectivity is always a problem. In Syracuse, NY there are exceptionally good linkages with the very extensive local transit system (which extends to neighboring towns) *and* Greyhound *and* Trailways and you *still* can't connect from Amtrak to Ithaca without getting a taxi, a limo, or a ride from a friend.

Minneapolis-St. Paul was terrible for local connections when it stopped at Transfer Road, but is better now that it's at Union Depot; timing still means it arrives when a lot of local services are not operating. Cleveland has similar problems.
 

Alice

Conductor
Joined
Mar 6, 2007
Messages
1,048
Location
California
I don't think Amtrak is capable of any "last mile" solutions, comments aimed at local transit officials might work better.

However, at least out here in California, more bike lockers at stations, more bike friendly trains and Ambuses, and parking for shared e-bikes would be welcome.
 

me_little_me

Engineer
AU Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
4,491
Amtrak may not be responsible for local connections but they sure can do a lot that an individual could not do as easily or with as much success:
  • They could post nearest locations of local transit on a map in the building/on the platform.
  • They could pressure local government to provide and update local/regional bus schedules and availability of paratransit information.
  • They could post names, estimated rates for common connections and phone numbers of local taxi services and advise those companies that they need to update the information and, if found to be inaccurate, that company would be removed from the list. This would encourage the companies to keep it updated.
  • They could pressure local transit to provide better connections to station, meet trains, and routing directly to the station instead of a block or two away.
  • The can pressure local Chambers of Commerce to post maps of local area, highlighting specific information desirable to Amtrak travelers such as hotels, nearby restaurants, intercity bus stations, etc. as well as requesting they put in brochure rack of local travel-oriented businesses and attractions and have the CofC keep them updated.
  • They could request local police stop by when trains arrive so visitors are comfortable about their safety.
  • They could request the local police put in an emergency box like those found on college campuses that activate a blue light and signal local police department.
 

Ziv

OBS Chief
Joined
Oct 25, 2011
Messages
867
I think the problem with The Boring Company's product is that it is "Teslas in Tunnels". Teslas make a poor substitute for a regular subway consist. And the original idea of using elevators to get the Teslas down to the tunnel was even worse.
The good thing about the TBC is that they can bore a 14' diameter tunnel that ends up as a 12' diameter finished tunnel very quickly and cheaply by todays regular tunnel construction standards. And there are modern subway consists that would fit into a 12' bore tunnel, if only just. There are at least two lines in the London Underground that have old narrow bore tunnels and they both have gotten new Trainsets in the past 12 years. I think the Circle and District lines use the Movia EMU (2009 stock) and it is 9'5" tall with a almost circular shape with the top 1/4 of the train sloping in towards the center (like an AmCan but more so) to allow it to fit into a smaller diameter tunnel. The cars are so compact that the doors actually curve in for the top foot or two.
If a city had Musk build a pair (or more) of 12' tunnels for a fixed price and then bought off the shelf Movia 2009 stock Trainsets they could have a rather good start on a Metro system relatively quickly and cheaply. But they need to dump the Teslas in Tunnels idea.

I think a fully developed PRT would have much shorter headway, higher frequency, and shorter dwell time than Teslas in Tunnels. And you don't need a ton of capacity for last-mile transportation.
 

Attachments

MARC Rider

Engineer
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
3,665
Location
Baltimore. MD
I think the problem with The Boring Company's product is that it is "Teslas in Tunnels". Teslas make a poor substitute for a regular subway consist. And the original idea of using elevators to get the Teslas down to the tunnel was even worse.
The good thing about the TBC is that they can bore a 14' diameter tunnel that ends up as a 12' diameter finished tunnel very quickly and cheaply by todays regular tunnel construction standards. And there are modern subway consists that would fit into a 12' bore tunnel, if only just. There are at least two lines in the London Underground that have old narrow bore tunnels and they both have gotten new Trainsets in the past 12 years. I think the Circle and District lines use the Movia EMU (2009 stock) and it is 9'5" tall with a almost circular shape with the top 1/4 of the train sloping in towards the center (like an AmCan but more so) to allow it to fit into a smaller diameter tunnel. The cars are so compact that the doors actually curve in for the top foot or two.
If a city had Musk build a pair (or more) of 12' tunnels for a fixed price and then bought off the shelf Movia 2009 stock Trainsets they could have a rather good start on a Metro system relatively quickly and cheaply. But they need to dump the Teslas in Tunnels idea.
It might also be worthwhile to keep pressing The Boring Company to improve its technology so they could offer standard size rail tunnels more cheaply than current technologies.
 

jis

Engineer
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
29,392
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
There are at least two lines in the London Underground that have old narrow bore tunnels and they both have gotten new Trainsets in the past 12 years.
Three lines Piccadilly, Northern and Central have 12' dia stock.

AFAIR so are Victoria, Jubilee and Bakerloo, although Victoria and Jubilee Line tunnels are 12.5' dia to reduce air resistance again AFAIR
I think the Circle and District lines use the Movia EMU (2009 stock) and it is 9'5" tall with a almost circular shape with the top 1/4 of the train sloping in towards the center (like an AmCan but more so) to allow it to fit into a smaller diameter tunnel. The cars are so compact that the doors actually curve in for the top foot or two.
Surely you did not mean to District and Circle Line. They are sub surface cut and cover lines which originally operated by steam engines. They are basically of main line loading gauge. You may be thinking of Piccadilly Line or some such which has recently got or is in the process of getting new rolling stock among the Tube lines.

Movia come in both main line and tube loading gauges. There really is no stock off the shelf 12' Movia. Movia is more of a modular architecture than any specifc train set other than of course any following the architecture, which has little to do with the size of carriage. They are special orders from Transport for London. But I am sure Alstom (Bombardier) will be happy to deliver any number for the right price.
 
Last edited:

toddinde

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Apr 23, 2015
Messages
324
Location
Sierra Vista, AZ
This is a post that is mostly about Amtrak's corridor routes, although some of the same principals apply on long-distance routes.


Three days ago, I took my first trip on an Amtrak train since before the pandemic. I have ridden on Amtrak buses since then, but this was my first trip on an Amtrak train, from Eugene, Oregon to Albany, Oregon, on the Amtrak Cascades corridor service. And it was really good: the station was clean and pleasant, the train left on time, was a smooth and pretty ride. There was one delay, but the train still went from the Eugene station to the Albany station probably faster than a car would make the same trip (on a Friday afternoon). I was a little disappointed that the mask guidelines weren't being enforced, but that is another topic.

But what I really want to talk about is the last-mile problem. Or, the last dozen-mile problem. Because I live in Corvallis, Oregon, not Albany. Corvallis is a city of about 60,000, a dozen miles from Albany. So to get from Corvallis to Eugene in the morning, I took a Greyhound bus (50 minutes), because I would have had to take the local bus to Albany, and that would mean getting up a lot earlier. And to get back, I took the train to Eugene to Albany...and then took the local bus home. With my schedule, it worked (and I am used to riding buses), but it was still a more complicated trip. If my train had been delayed, I likely would have had to have waited a lot longer.

A lot of cities in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle, Portland, Eugene) have really good public transit. Many others have okay to poor public transit, with limited hours. If you want to get to a medium-sized city (anywhere from 10,000 to 75,000) to a place that the Amtrak Cascades runs, you have to plan carefully. If you live within walking distance of a station, taking the Amtrak Cascades is probably easier, cheaper and faster than taking a car. But if you live in a suburb that is even 5 miles away, suddenly you are pouring over local bus schedules trying to MacGuyver out the last leg of your trip.

This is kind of a Pacific NW centric post, perhaps on the NEC, where you have a lot of commuter rail and the like, the problem isn't the same. But for a lot of the other corridor service (California, Chicago to Michigan), I think this is a big problem. Heavy rail city-to-city doesn't make a lot of sense, practically, when you have to hire a cab to go the last 5 or 10 miles. Or of course people can park at the station, but if someone is already going to drive to the station, it makes less sense to stop and take a train from there.

So I guess my point is, that while Amtrak actually has really good service point-to-point along its corridor routes, the problem comes from the fact that for all the people in the suburbs and exurbs beyond walking distance of a station, the trip can get twice as long and expensive to close those last few miles.
The last mile problem is not real. Air travel has always had a last mile problem, but nobody talks about it, and it doesn’t diminish the popularity of air travel. In this day and age, with Uber, Lyft and rental cars, it’s really a non issue.
 

toddinde

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Apr 23, 2015
Messages
324
Location
Sierra Vista, AZ
Dont
I agree that the problem is with city planning, and cultural attitudes.

I guess my point is that Amtrak itself is kind of at a point of diminishing returns for what they can do on that corridor itself. With the exception of the pause of about 5-10 minutes while waiting for another train to pass, the ride was smooth, fast, comfortable and without delay. I can't think of anything that Amtrak can do, from their end, to make the ride smoother.

Especially important, because with the big infrastructure bill---big capital improvements in the line won't matter if people then have to take a taxi ten miles home.
Don’t they have to do that at the airport? There are lots of options. People have spouses and friends who drive them. There’s Uber and Lyft. There are cabs. There’s public transit. Park at the station. I’m just not seeing the issue.
 

Ziv

OBS Chief
Joined
Oct 25, 2011
Messages
867
Sorry for posting incorrect info about the London Underground, Jis. I am not that familiar with London's rolling stock. I lived there a couple months and have traveled through several times but I don't have all the lines memorized and definitely don't know all the rolling stock.
I don't think the lines I was thinking of included Picadilly, because I thought Picadilly still had the old rolling stock. I didn't know they were getting new cars. But maybe the new Picadilly rolling stock would work well.
I was trying to remember the narrow bore Underground Lines that had relatively new rolling stock that was 9'5" tall and would probably fit in a 12' TBC tunnel. The picture I posted before is of rolling stock similar to what I remember and is at Euston Tube Station so maybe it is Northern rolling stock? My idea was for a medium sized city to be able to build an underground system using existing rolling stock that would fit inside a 12' TBC tunnel without alterations and to do so at a reasonable price due to the cheaper/faster process that TBC uses. I think both Bombardier and Alstom have built rolling stock that would fit the bill and are in current production or are part of a family of train cars that are in current production.
I think my enthusiasm for new ideas sometimes exceeds my knowledge of the material needed to achieve those ideas.
😆

On edit:
I just read about the new New Tube for London train sets Jis mentioned that Siemens will be building for the Picadilly Line. Potentially driverless too, which would be a very nice option.



Three lines Piccadilly, Northern and Central have 12' dia stock.

AFAIR so are Victoria, Jubilee and Bakerloo, although Victoria and Jubilee Line tunnels are 12.5' dia to reduce air resistance again AFAIR

Surely you did not mean to District and Circle Line. They are sub surface cut and cover lines which originally operated by steam engines. They are basically of main line loading gauge. You may be thinking of Piccadilly Line or some such which has recently got or is in the process of getting new rolling stock among the Tube lines.

Movia come in both main line and tube loading gauges. There really is no stock off the shelf 12' Movia. Movia is more of a modular architecture than any specifc train set other than of course any following the architecture, which has little to do with the size of carriage. They are special orders from Transport for London. But I am sure Alstom (Bombardier) will be happy to deliver any number for the right price.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: jis

Trogdor

Engineer
Joined
Aug 3, 2004
Messages
5,789
Location
Here
The last mile problem is not real. Air travel has always had a last mile problem, but nobody talks about it, and it doesn’t diminish the popularity of air travel. In this day and age, with Uber, Lyft and rental cars, it’s really a non issue.
It absolutely is an issue. Rail can only compete with air travel on convenience. At the distance where rail can compete with air on “speed,” it is also competing with other forms of transportation (namely, the automobile). If you make getting to where you’re going a hassle, then all the advantage in the world that rail travel brings evaporates quite quickly.

If you’re going to have to rent a car just to get to your destination, you might as well have driven the whole way. If it’s too far to drive, then (depending on origin and destination) flying will virtually always win on speed. Air travel’s last-mile problem is real, but easily mitigated by the fact that you’ve just gotten somewhere far faster than any alternative could.

One of the supposed key benefits of rail travel is that it drops you off in city centers (i.e. closer to where you are coming from or going to). If it can’t do that, and getting to your actual destination is complicated and/or expensive, then a benefit like that goes away.
 
Top