Empire Builder 2022 Outrageous Bedroom Fares

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Nick Farr

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If Amtrak didn’t provide a public service that would be the end of it. But most people here want to see Amtrak provide a service to as many people as reasonably possible, myself included. If rates stay extremely high it’s time to take a serious look at increasing supply.
Here's where I'm conflicted. Rail transportation itself is the public service.

If we're talking about sleeper accommodations, I'm not sure where they fit in the matter of Amtrak as a public service. If Amtrak finds a market for a premium service at what we consider to be extraordinarily high fares, then I'm not sure where their public service mission calls upon them to lower that price--especially if they're being told to become a break-even concern. Of course, if they set a high price and they go dramatically unsold, then that's a violation of the public interest.

Then again, without Congressional intervention, we probably aren't going to see new bi-level cars before 2030. Maybe ÖBB could sell us sleeper cars they plan to retire!
 

Larry H.

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Who came up with the idea that wishing to have a bed to sleep in and some privacy was Luxurious service? Most all the Pullman ads from the streamliner era showed them as a place for granny and the kids to arrive rested and safe. Sure it was a step above coach in cost but nothing like the differences now and worse we have many in congress who think its something we shouldn't be pushing for. I wonder how many of them would ride three days in a coach and then say a place to lay down and sleep away from crowds was some outrageous privilege. As above I feel the public is already paying for the trains to operate, why do we think we have to charge such high fares on top of that. We pay for the highways but there isn't a premium charge to drive somewhere on them.
 

Nick Farr

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It's privately funded and operated. They got some tax relief on the bonds, but I'm pretty sure there is no taxpayer money involved.
They got a lot of prime real estate to develop which bondholders found interesting. They just had to build a rail service in order to develop it.

Also, at around 80 miles, it's a commuter rail service with intercity stop frequency. So--perhaps in that sense it's a new product.

I still hold that what is riding on the rails is not unique to the US in some new fundamental way as when the Auto Train, Pullman Cars or even the Vista Dome were introduced. Then again, just having a conference room on Brightline would probably fit my definition of a new product.

When/if they serve beyond the Miami Metropolitan Area, we can call it intercity rail. And to be clear: I do hope they make it all the way to Tampa and beyond and bring about a lot of new investment and interest in intercity-esque passenger rail.
 
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Nick Farr

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Who came up with the idea that wishing to have a bed to sleep in and some privacy was Luxurious service?
Actually, it was Pullman. The entire pitch of the service was “luxury for the middle class” and the “height of luxury” for the wealthy.

We pay for the highways but there isn't a premium charge to drive somewhere on them.
There is no premium charge to go from one place to another on Amtrak, either.

However, driving on the highways in a Winnebago is definitely going to involve paying more per mile than a Wrangler.
 

John Bredin

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Sure it was a step above coach in cost but nothing like the differences now
🤔Isn't that the point of the number-crunching with old fare tables and inflation calculators earlier in this thread? That you're right the coach-sleeper fare difference is bigger now, but it's because the sleeper fares then and now are roughly equivalent but the coach fares are cheaper now.

Which makes sense if Amtrak is setting coach fares on a public-service model unlike the old for-profit railroads but setting sleeper fares on a profit-seeking model like the old railroads. Which in turn makes sense politically until enough members of Congress can be convinced to agree with you that sleepers are a necessity and not a luxury. Until then, lower-fare sleepers would be fodder for anti-Amtrak political screeds on publicly subsidizing luxury service.
 

Tom Booth

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Who came up with the idea that wishing to have a bed to sleep in and some privacy was Luxurious service? Most all the Pullman ads from the streamliner era showed them as a place for granny and the kids to arrive rested and safe. Sure it was a step above coach in cost but nothing like the differences now and worse we have many in congress who think its something we shouldn't be pushing for. I wonder how many of them would ride three days in a coach and then say a place to lay down and sleep away from crowds was some outrageous privilege. As above I feel the public is already paying for the trains to operate, why do we think we have to charge such high fares on top of that. We pay for the highways but there isn't a premium charge to drive somewhere on them.
On many highways there is a premium charge. They're called toll roads and the tolls continue long after public bonds have been paid off.
 

jruff001

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Oddly, people attach different values to things and are willing to spend their money in different ways.
Yep. People seem to think if sleeping car fares were "affordable" (whatever that means), they would actually be available for booking when people actually want to book. I for one am glad sleeping cars are (relatively) expensive and use yield management and have different buckets. That way there are rooms available for me when I am ready to book them, rather then all being hoovered up at cheap fares the moment they appear in the reservation systems 11 months in advance of departure.

Also puts more $ in Amtrak's pockets, which is a good thing (even though many people here disagree with that, which I find strange from a group of people who supposedly want Amtrak to succeed).
 

toddinde

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Thanks joelkfla for that info. It is true I cannot remember traveling in a drawing room on the Southern, only the Santa Fe Super Chief--but is still was a fabulous
sleeping car space. I know it is 50+ years later, but can you imagine those fares compared to today??
You might be surprised at how expensive rail fares were “back in the day.” Use an inflation calculator, and you’ll find Amtrak fares are usually lower.
 

toddinde

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This is from the 1965 Burlington timetable:
View attachment 24141

View attachment 24142
Their accommodations fare was higher for 2 passengers than for 1, but only the Drawing Room & Bedroom Suites required additional rail fares. D&RG was the same.

Southern RR (below) does not show a difference for 1 to 2 passengers, but does require 2 rail fares for a Bedroom Suite. (Looks like they didn't offer Drawing Rooms.)
View attachment 24144

View attachment 24143

Timetable images copied from streamlinermemories.info
I believe the railroads always required the minimum rail fares for an accommodation. That wasn’t something new in the ‘70s. It’s a relic from the Pullman days when the railroad got the rail fare and Pullman the space charge. Railroads had skin in the game in seeing that single travelers weren’t taking up a drawing room.
 

toddinde

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I always liked riding the Crescent in a SlumberCoach Roomette, both Sourhern and Amtrak versions ,between Washington and Atlanta on my many trips to/from while visiting my dad.

It is still the best Sleeper Deal I've ever found on US LD Trains.
Southern didn’t have Slumbercoaches.
 
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0831 Bedroom "C", SEA 8/23 to CHI 8/25, price $1807 (seniors). Not a good experience. Older car, A/C stuck on max, no control of it, freezing in Bedroom. Waste removal system failed last day, had to go to next car. Food was good, decent selection, prepared & served well, friendly staff. Real flowers.IMG_0099.jpeg
 
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joelkfla

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They got a lot of prime real estate to develop which bondholders found interesting. They just had to build a rail service in order to develop it.

Also, at around 80 miles, it's a commuter rail service with intercity stop frequency. So--perhaps in that sense it's a new product.

I still hold that what is riding on the rails is not unique to the US in some new fundamental way as when the Auto Train, Pullman Cars or even the Vista Dome were introduced. Then again, just having a conference room on Brightline would probably fit my definition of a new product.

When/if they serve beyond the Miami Metropolitan Area, we can call it intercity rail. And to be clear: I do hope they make it all the way to Tampa and beyond and bring about a lot of new investment and interest in intercity-esque passenger rail.
I'm not disputing that Brightline's business plan revolves around RE development, but I don't have a problem with that.

You can reasonably say that the completed portion is in the distance range of commuter rail, but the character of their service is way above commuter rail. And service to Orlando is a when, not an if. The construction is over 60% complete, and all leases, government approvals, etc. have been completed. Tampa may or may not happen; WDW is further along but not yet a sure thing.
 
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Nick Farr

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I'm not disputing that Brightline's business plan revolves around RE development, but I don't have a problem with that.
Neither do I, I hope they succeed in Florida and go on to build between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and many other places. I hope other real estate developers copy their idea throughout the country. Whether Brightline, development the Los Angeles Metro has done, or the High Line, developing dormant rail properties is on the upswing. Granted, it's the cheapest way to acquire new land in urban metros. It's also probably the only way we'll get new passenger rail in this country.

You can reasonably say that the completed portion is in the distance range of commuter rail, but the character of their service is way above commuter rail.
When it's operating. That's the part that scares me. The disadvantage to not being a public service or really regulated as far as service frequency is that they can shut down whenever they want and keep the RE holdings.

I think it's premature to say that Orlando is a "when" given that the service itself is not even operating.

While I hope this doesn't happen, a downturn in the economy or a variety of other factors could kill/delay the expansion or the project itself.
 

Maglev

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I've been watching Empire Builder fares for travel dates in November over the past couple months. It started out with Roomettes for $437, Bedrooms for about $1,500, and the Family Bedroom for $817 (SEA-MSP). When I actually bought my ticket, Roomettes had gone up to $602, and so I sprang for the Family Bedroom (but couldn't afford a Bedroom). Recently, Bedrooms went up to about $2,200. Today, Bedrooms are unavailable. The Family Bedroom on nearby dates is going for about $1,700, but Roomettes are still at $602.
 

niemi24s

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Nothing unusual about any of those fares. The ratios between high and low bucket fares on the EB range from 2.0 to 1 for Roomettes, 2.2 to 1 for Family Bedrooms and 2.6 to 1 for Bedrooms.

FWIW, the low bucket Bedroom fare for your trip is $1193 and the $817 you paid for a Family Bedroom is also its low bucket. For the EB, the most expensive Bedroom fare is 4.2 times the cheapest Roomette fare. The most expensive Family Bedroom fare is 3.4 times the cheapest Roomette fare.

On the other hand, you may find some date(s) where the top two Roomette fare buckets exceed the low bucket fares for a Family Bedroom or a Bedroom.

Ya gotta just love dem buckets!! :)
 
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I took the EB in April. Had a fabulous trip. Looked into doing it again next April and the prices are a full thousand dollars more! I'm sure playing with dates might help but wow! To me besides the difference in years the only change is the food! I did not eat any flex meals on my trip, except for the tasty warm rolls! I dont eat frozen meals at home and didn't want to on vacation! Lol I ate enough in the 8 days in Seattle to make up for it! I hate to fly but could round trip 5 times for current prices on the EB. Sad, because it was an incredible trip.
 

Sidney

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I took the EB in April. Had a fabulous trip. Looked into doing it again next April and the prices are a full thousand dollars more! I'm sure playing with dates might help but wow! To me besides the difference in years the only change is the food! I did not eat any flex meals on my trip, except for the tasty warm rolls! I dont eat frozen meals at home and didn't want to on vacation! Lol I ate enough in the 8 days in Seattle to make up for it! I hate to fly but could round trip 5 times for current prices on the EB. Sad, because it was an incredible trip.
Very glad I booked a roomette at $505 from Chi to Sea last March for early next month. When the railpass was $299 I booked my trip around that. I m on my pass now. My original itinerary included the CONO and the Crescent today and Tuesday. Ida stopped that portion.
 

jimdex

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That would be a very efficient way of killing off what is left of the dining cars.
I still think people should pay separately for sleeping car service and dining car meals. If the only way to fund diners is to force people to pay for meals they don't want, then maybe the diners really should be killed off, but I don't think that is what would happen. If fewer sleeping car passengers ate in the diners, that would presumably create room for coach passengers to use the diners again, and that would be a good thing. It would be nice to see some full accounting of dining car and sleeping car finances, but I suspect that when you transfer sleeping car revenues to the dining car account to pay for "complimentary" meals, both diners and sleepers end up losing money. That doesn't look good politically, because it makes both services like taxpayer-funded subsidies for the wealthy (especially when coach passengers are excluded from the diner). My guess is that if you end the cash transfer, the sleeper accounts would show a clear profit, and that's important if we want sleeping car service to continue. Diners would continue to show a loss, I assume, but that would be easier to justify politically, especially if the dining cars were for coach passengers too, because people have to eat.
 

zephyr17

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Well, the whole reason they went to effectively bundling meals into the sleeping car fares in the 1980s when meals were made "complimentary" was to boost dining car booked revenue.

So that ship sailed a long time ago.
 

niemi24s

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I took the EB in April. Had a fabulous trip. Looked into doing it again next April and the prices are a full thousand dollars more! I'm sure playing with dates might help but wow!
No reason to be amazed by that. Current Family Bedroom and Bedroom fares on the EB have ranges of $1038 and $1407, respectively. The range for Roomettes is a meager $547.

Even 5½ years ago, the range for Bedrooms was $1142.

BTW, welcome to the Forum! :)
 
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jimdex

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Well, the whole reason they went to effectively bundling meals into the sleeping car fares in the 1980s when meals were made "complimentary" was to boost dining car booked revenue.
I am aware of that. I thought it was a bad idea at the time, and I still do.
 

lordsigma

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One thing driving sleeper prices may be the pandemic. For those a little more concerned about COVID that can afford the high bucket fares and are too afraid to get on a flight right now - Amtrak sleepers provide a completely private room experience that's just not possible on an airline and saves you from having to drive yourself. It certainly gives you a more secure feeling than sitting inches away from a stranger on a flight - yes I understand that if everyone is masked flights have a good track record with their air filtration, but getting packed in a small space with a bunch of strangers just feels freaky in a global pandemic regardless of the science of the HVAC system.
 
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