Feasibility of LD Trains with Sleeping Cars Only

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Eric in East County

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Would it be feasible to have long distance trains made up entirely of sleeping cars with all passengers either in bedrooms or roomettes? This idea would certainly appeal to those who are leery of spending two or more days in an open coach. Could a full sleeper hold about as many people as a half-filled coach? We’ll be interested to read the comments this thread is sure to generate.

Eric & Pat
 

Cal

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Believe me, I am no expert on economics or logistics. But heres my opinion...

Feasible? Yes, before COVID many sleepers were full on trips. So I'm sure it's feasible.

Should they do it? No. Amtrak gets a good amount of ridership from coach, maybe not end to end, but it's still ridership. And it doesn't cost them that much more to add a coach car (or two).

I believe statistics have it that most people in coach don't ride for more than a few hundred miles. That just means that the people who are travelling overnight tend to get a sleeper anyway.

I think it'd just be better to add more sleepers than to take away the option of coach.
 

Eric in East County

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We rather suspect that more people would ride the train if they could be sure of obtaining sleeping car accommodations - either a bedroom or roomette. Adding more sleepers to a LD train would certainly fill this need. Back during the “golden era” of rail passenger service, during the peak travel times, the railroads would schedule extra sections (i.e. addition complete trains) for their more popular runs. During peak travel periods, would it be feasible to have, for example, two Southwest Chiefs, one of them made up of all sleepers, depart from Los Angeles or Chicago within a few minutes of each other?
 

railiner

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Back in the era when railroad travel was the primary means of long haul travel, there were many all-sleeper trains. But the last of them ended in 1967 and 1968...The Broadway Limited, the Super Chief, and the Panama Limited. They were all combined with coach trains after that.
 

railiner

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We rather suspect that more people would ride the train if they could be sure of obtaining sleeping car accommodations - either a bedroom or roomette. Adding more sleepers to a LD train would certainly fill this need. Back during the “golden era” of rail passenger service, during the peak travel times, the railroads would schedule extra sections (i.e. addition complete trains) for their more popular runs. During peak travel periods, would it be feasible to have, for example, two Southwest Chiefs, one of them made up of all sleepers, depart from Los Angeles or Chicago within a few minutes of each other?
That was how the Santa Fe did it, in the final years before Amtrak. The Super Chief and the El Capitan were combined into one long train, but were separated during summer time and holiday periods....
 

Qapla

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With the price of a sleeper at current rates - having all sleeper trains would preclude quite a number of people who presently do sleep in coach ... I know that the Silvers have no problem filling a coach with people who sleep on the trip.
 

sttom

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I think they could make an all sleeper train work, but it would take some planning. All sleeper trains did run in the days before Amtrak, The Super Chief was an all Pullman train and it was successful. While technically combined with the El Capitan, it was still "technically" separate despite being one long train. El Capitan passenger didn't have access to the first class parts of the train.

For Amtrak to make them work, they would need to be supplements to their existing services, not replace them. Coach seats are a form of transportation in many parts of the country that lack other options. Getting rid of them would cut off people who don't have a lot of money from traveling.

As a supplement, they could work, but and there are a few that I can see. The first one being is they probably would run without a subsidy since Congress wouldn't see them as a valuable form of transportation for the tax paying public. I would bet that Congress would approve funding for 3 trains per day on all of the 24+ hour routes before they would pay a subsidy to run a revived Super Chief. So they would be more expensive than a standard train. Which would mean they would have to up the service standards or have a coach car or two with no access to the Diner or Sightseer Lounge. No idea which way Amtrak leadership would go on that bargain, I could see either.

The second thing would be they would need to be timed to arrive in major cities at good hours and/or see the most scenic parts of the route during the day. Which will depend on the route. You can see the Rockies during the day, but a good arrival time in Salt Lake? That is a tall order. Its one thing to have a train timed to go from Oakland to Vegas overnight, its another to find something most passengers would want to see and build the schedule around that.

The third thing is would all routes get one of these trains, with a side note of would they be full routes or just the bits that could sustain tourist traffic? For example, I could see a coach train running any major length of the Coast Starlight route working more so than a tourist sleeper, but I could see the Zephyr or Chief sustaining some over some segments. Like to the national parks or ski areas long their routes. Just my 2 cents.
 

Eric in East County

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On the other hand, there are many people who don’t like to fly and who have the necessary financial means to afford sleeping car accommodations even at their current prices. If they wait to make their sleeping car reservations until a month or so before they want to travel, can they be sure of getting the accommodations they want, especially during the peak travel times?
 

Amtrakfflyer

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Look to Australia with the Ghan and LD trains there. Shortly after coaches were removed the train went down to a 1 day a week schedule and failed to be a viable transportation option. It’s now just a tourist land cruise. Good luck getting funding for that especially seeing how some members of the GOP are anti Amtrak again.
As someone else said coaches get a lot of ridership and cost very little in incremental costs so they should stay. That being said the sleepers going forward could be a goldmine if Amtrak knew how to treat a first class customer and had a decent marketing program.
 

Cal

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Look to Australia with the Ghan and LD trains there. Shortly after coaches were removed the train went down to a 1 day a week schedule and failed to be a viable transportation option. It’s now just a tourist land cruise. Good luck getting funding for that especially seeing how some members of the GOP are anti Amtrak again.
As someone else said coaches get a lot of ridership and cost very little in incremental costs so they should stay. That being said the sleepers going forward could be a goldmine if Amtrak knew how to treat a first class customer and had a decent marketing program.
Those Australian trains used to be a transportation option????? I had no idea.
 

me_little_me

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If Amtrak is to claim any form of public necessity, then there is no way an all-sleeper train can be justified unless it was completely self-sufficient and that probably includes capital expenditures. On the other hand, if a private company provided the cars and service and paid Amtrak for the motive power, that might work as it could become a way for Amtrak to make a profit on the engine and station fees. Of course, that is assuming that the Class 1s would even go along with it as they would want big $$$.
 

Eric in East County

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It is our understanding that “social distancing” is also a public necessity. Increasing the number of sleeper cars in an existing train or running extra sections with just sleeping cars would certainly help to achieve this end. The availability of more sleeping cars could also be looked upon as an accommodation for seniors who require additional protection when traveling. Judging from some of the comments people have posted as to why, out of health concerns, they now prefer to book a private bedroom indicates to us that traveling long distance in a bedroom can no longer be considered as some sort of status symbol for the rich.
 

Cal

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It is our understanding that “social distancing” is also a public necessity. Increasing the number of sleeper cars in an existing train or running extra sections with just sleeping cars would certainly help to achieve this end. The availability of more sleeping cars could also be looked upon as an accommodation for seniors who require additional protection when traveling. Judging from some of the comments people have posted as to why, out of health concerns, they now prefer to book a private bedroom indicates to us that traveling long distance in a bedroom can no longer be considered as some sort of status symbol for the rich.
That's more of a reason to have MORE sleepers, not a sleeper-only train.
 

Eric in East County

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More sleepers and/or a return to LD trains departing daily rather than 3 times a week would certainly make these facilities more readily available. If there is an increased demand for bedrooms and roomettes, Amtrak should arrange to accommodate those requests by providing more sleepers.
 

me_little_me

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If Amtrak were to ever launch a sleeper only train it would be villified by the anti faction as subsidizing elitist travel.
Yeah, especially the ones that use the "pay lanes" on the highways to avoid being slowed down by the riff-raff in the other lanes (not referring to HOV lanes but the ones for those that pay).
 

MARC Rider

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Amtrak gets taxpayer support for long distance trains primarily in order to serve rural areas underserved by other modes of transportation. Most of these people are traveling in coach and aren't making long trips. There is also a public interest in providing mobility for people who can't or won't fly, often for medical reasons, and people who can't or won't drive, and getting cars off the road is in the public interest, anyway.

Premium class service, like sleepers, is a luxury add-on that makes financial sense for Amtrak, as they do yield much higher revenue per passenger mile than coach, and could thus cross-subsidize the costs of providing the public-interest coach service. An all-sleeper train, however, has a much more limited clientele than a full-service train, and it might be argued that there's really no public interest in taxpayer support for such a luxury good.

As an add-on, sleeper service is justified, because it helps the train's bottom line, but I think there's no place for an all-sleeper train in a taxpayer-supported service.
 

McIntyre2K7

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I guess a sleeper train could work in the right circumstances. Maybe they test out a new train but with 4 different tiers. The first being coach, the second being 2 or 4 person couchettes, the third being roomettes and the last being bedrooms.

I have no idea what routes or timetables would be best for it either. I'm guessing Orlando to Chicago with stops in Atlanta/Nashville/Louisville.
 

Willbridge

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As I routinely ride coaches (and dislike Superliner roomettes) I've got an instant dislike for this idea unless it's done in the style of the "Golden Era" when all-First Class trains with full service were accompanied by all-Coach trains with full service. That isn't going to happen so the next question is: how many Amtrak trains are at their maximum train-length? Throughout my five decades of following Amtrak, train lengths have been limited by perennial car shortages, not by trains that were too long to add more sleepers.

The only Superliner train that has had a problem with train lengths was Trains 5/6 when the Desert Wind and Pioneer were combined with it. Amtrak recognized that and proposed a separate train via the UP Overland Route with a deviation to Denver and Fort Morgan. Of course, the politics changed and they solved the problem in the modern way, with an axe.

Perhaps the single level Florida trains were too long?

As for what has to be done if all-sleeper trains are run, check Train 11, the Beaver.

1946 04 14 Shasta tt 001.jpg

1946 04 14 Shasta tt 002.jpg
 
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Cal

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As I routinely ride coaches (and dislike Superliner roomettes) I've got an instant dislike for this idea unless it's done in the style of the "Golden Era" when all-First Class trains with full service were accompanied by all-Coach trains with full service. That isn't going to happen so the next question is: how many Amtrak trains are at their maximum train-length? Throughout my five decades of following Amtrak, train lengths have been limited by perennial car shortages, not by trains that were too long to add more sleepers.

The only Superliner train that has had a problem with train lengths was Trains 5/6 when the Desert Wind and Pioneer were combined with it. Amtrak recognized that and proposed a separate train via the UP Overland Route with a deviation to Denver and Fort Morgan. Of course, the politics changed and they solved the problem in the modern way, with an axe.
And of course, the Coast Starlight due to Oakland.
 

railiner

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Amtrak gets taxpayer support for long distance trains primarily in order to serve rural areas underserved by other modes of transportation. Most of these people are traveling in coach and aren't making long trips. There is also a public interest in providing mobility for people who can't or won't fly, often for medical reasons, and people who can't or won't drive, and getting cars off the road is in the public interest, anyway.

Premium class service, like sleepers, is a luxury add-on that makes financial sense for Amtrak, as they do yield much higher revenue per passenger mile than coach, and could thus cross-subsidize the costs of providing the public-interest coach service. An all-sleeper train, however, has a much more limited clientele than a full-service train, and it might be argued that there's really no public interest in taxpayer support for such a luxury good.

As an add-on, sleeper service is justified, because it helps the train's bottom line, but I think there's no place for an all-sleeper train in a taxpayer-supported service.
Best answer.
 

railiner

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If Amtrak is to claim any form of public necessity, then there is no way an all-sleeper train can be justified unless it was completely self-sufficient and that probably includes capital expenditures. On the other hand, if a private company provided the cars and service and paid Amtrak for the motive power, that might work as it could become a way for Amtrak to make a profit on the engine and station fees. Of course, that is assuming that the Class 1s would even go along with it as they would want big $$$.
American European Express....'nuff said?;)
 

neroden

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Would it be feasible to have long distance trains made up entirely of sleeping cars with all passengers either in bedrooms or roomettes? This idea would certainly appeal to those who are leery of spending two or more days in an open coach. Could a full sleeper hold about as many people as a half-filled coach? We’ll be interested to read the comments this thread is sure to generate.

Eric & Pat
Coach cars, even half-full, hold slightly more people than a full sleeper. Depending on prices the sleepers may be more profitable for Amtrak (we dug into this a while back; the sleepers are definitely more profitable than the coaches on the Lake Shore Limited, probably not on the Silver Service). They're appealing to different markets so the optimal "price discrimination" strategy for maximizing customers and profit is generally to offer both.

Historically every all-sleeper train was matched with a coach train running around the same time. So this tells you how it really worked: demand had gotten so high that putting the correct number of sleepers and coaches on one train made the train too long. If we keep supplying more sleepers and coaches to meet demand and find ourselves exceeding the maximum train length on a route, then we can start thinking about this.
 
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