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Willbridge

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
356
$205 billion is nearly sufficient (at least in my book) but we still need a source of reoccurring funding like the highways get. We need to work on expanding less high profile corridors like most of the state supported services. We need a feeder system of trains before we can really work on high speed rail. The reason is, most people still live in suburbs and most suburban cities won't be getting a high speed stop. This hurts rail and will further divide the country. ...

And this plan has done more to annoy me than make me feel hopeful for the future because its just more par for the course. Its more going straight for the dessert of public transit (high speed rail) without the meat and veggies being done (local Amtrak service and non rail public transit). And on top of that, they want to use a magical funding mechanism that will likely end up with the public getting bilked on the finances for an expensive train that most people won't be able to afford to ride or even live near where it stops. Oh yeah and it will be private, Amtrak is hardly to be mentioned in any of these plans.

What I posted in the Future Ideas part of the forum would be a better place to start. Which is to start by providing funding for Amtrak state corridors, interstate corridors and new equipment. I'm not being self centered, but I am starting with where we are and trying to be cognizant of that. Not just assuming that we can some how P3 our way to where Europe's rail systems are, which is way more than high speed trains. And we don't have the conventional trains to do the thankless work of carrying people from one town to a town 50 miles away. I get that members of Congress don't care about people like me who don't live in a major urban center, but transit advocacy needs to not forget that either and fall on their face for literally anything that comes along.
I just ran across a note regarding the former "403b" state:federal funding split. It shows that from 1971 till 1981, the state or local sponsor of trains added to the Amtrak network had to pay 50% of the cost. In 1981 that was revised to 45% of the first year being a state responsibility, and 65%
thereafter. Then with the PRIIA it became 100% state. This info may not be stated correctly, but in the 1975 Oregon project that was funded, but not approved by the new governor, 50% was the split and Amtrak agreed to credit us with the revenue from tickets sold from points south of Portland to points north of Portland up to and including Seattle and vice versa.

For comparison, in that era, Federal-Aid Primary Highways (typically the old US-highways) were 40% state funded. A permanent federal funding source combined with a 40% state contribution would result in improved service on the existing state routes and some well-considered new routes.
 

Willbridge

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
356
I would like to see federal funds going to rail service and infrastructure, but that is going to take a huge fight. Best case scenario we could get something through in 2021, but if the past is any indicator of the future, it would be an insufficient amount of money compared to the money we throw away keeping the highways in a state of tolerable disrepair.

To even get rail back to being a functional form of transportation we'd need to treat it like the interstate highways. Which got an inflation adjusted $260 billion to start construction and effectively a blank check ever since. I don't see Amtrak getting that much of a cash infusion and reoccurring source of funding, no matter what the strings may be. Any number followed by "billion" is enough to scare the public into being against something or at the very least mobilizing a small number of noisy "concerned citizens" that will really people against it.

And to poke us a bit, our most far reaching plans or ideas are to get the long distance trains up to twice per day and maybe some 500 ish mile quasi corridor trains running. To get rail to be useful, we frankly need more than that and I don't think any advocacy group is up for that.

This isn't to mention that people's memories are short. The public at large will likely forget about the Coronavirus long before we could convince Congress to put rail in the same position as the highways or even the first mile of track is built.
It was interesting to see your reference to 500 miles. In the Denver Post on May 28th, Matt Clement of Arrivalist is quoted as saying that Americans used to consider 300 miles the point at which flying made more sense than driving, but that point has moved up to 500 miles. I lived in Oregon when I-5 was completed and Medford<>Portland air service took a beating. In Colorado, I witnessed Denver<>Grand Junction air service curtailed after I-70 was sort of completed.

I'm wondering now if cheap gasoline is also influencing distance behavior. So I looked back into history a bit and there also seems to be a relationship with how far one can drive with a single intermediate refueling. Since most Americans only consider out-of-pocket expenses for driving, fuel prices may be encouraging this expanding mileage trend. The Portland<>Seattle pool line slogan in the 1950's was "costs less than a tank of gas" - $4.95 round-trip. That approach needs to be considered in selling rail service, as well as the high speeds and premium services.
 

jiml

Conductor
Joined
Feb 27, 2019
Messages
1,103
It was interesting to see your reference to 500 miles. In the Denver Post on May 28th, Matt Clement of Arrivalist is quoted as saying that Americans used to consider 300 miles the point at which flying made more sense than driving, but that point has moved up to 500 miles.
I think this is fairly accurate most places. Time in the air has not changed; what has is the time at either end of the flight. If you can go downtown-to-downtown on a train in less time then it makes sense.
 

sttom

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
477
I just ran across a note regarding the former "403b" state:federal funding split. It shows that from 1971 till 1981, the state or local sponsor of trains added to the Amtrak network had to pay 50% of the cost. In 1981 that was revised to 45% of the first year being a state responsibility, and 65%
thereafter. Then with the PRIIA it became 100% state. This info may not be stated correctly, but in the 1975 Oregon project that was funded, but not approved by the new governor, 50% was the split and Amtrak agreed to credit us with the revenue from tickets sold from points south of Portland to points north of Portland up to and including Seattle and vice versa.

For comparison, in that era, Federal-Aid Primary Highways (typically the old US-highways) were 40% state funded. A permanent federal funding source combined with a 40% state contribution would result in improved service on the existing state routes and some well-considered new routes.
Personally I would recommend that if we were to get a subsidy for local services out of the federal government, that taking a $10 billion and apportioning between the states based on population would be easier. And having the stipulation that if the states aren't willing to plan trains they don't have to pay for, then Amtrak can. Of course capital funds would be needed as well.

It was interesting to see your reference to 500 miles. In the Denver Post on May 28th, Matt Clement of Arrivalist is quoted as saying that Americans used to consider 300 miles the point at which flying made more sense than driving, but that point has moved up to 500 miles. I lived in Oregon when I-5 was completed and Medford<>Portland air service took a beating. In Colorado, I witnessed Denver<>Grand Junction air service curtailed after I-70 was sort of completed.

I'm wondering now if cheap gasoline is also influencing distance behavior. So I looked back into history a bit and there also seems to be a relationship with how far one can drive with a single intermediate refueling. Since most Americans only consider out-of-pocket expenses for driving, fuel prices may be encouraging this expanding mileage trend. The Portland<>Seattle pool line slogan in the 1950's was "costs less than a tank of gas" - $4.95 round-trip. That approach needs to be considered in selling rail service, as well as the high speeds and premium services.
I only used the 500 miles as a round number since that is about how long the NEC is.

As for advertising, I think showing ticket prices would also help in some cases. But, tickets aren't necessarily cheaper than driving. When it comes to the state services, I am not sure who plans the fares, Amtrak or the state sponsoring the service, but I would advocate for a different system such as the Polish Railways regressive fare structure. Which incentivizes longer trips. At least I would advocate using this type of structure on "state" trains.
 

Willbridge

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
356
Personally I would recommend that if we were to get a subsidy for local services out of the federal government, that taking a $10 billion and apportioning between the states based on population would be easier. And having the stipulation that if the states aren't willing to plan trains they don't have to pay for, then Amtrak can. Of course capital funds would be needed as well.


I only used the 500 miles as a round number since that is about how long the NEC is.

As for advertising, I think showing ticket prices would also help in some cases. But, tickets aren't necessarily cheaper than driving. When it comes to the state services, I am not sure who plans the fares, Amtrak or the state sponsoring the service, but I would advocate for a different system such as the Polish Railways regressive fare structure. Which incentivizes longer trips. At least I would advocate using this type of structure on "state" trains.
Ticket prices were the right thing on the PDX<>SEA Pool line, as until Amtrak came along they were low in relation to driving. Instead of high speed trains, it was long, low fare trains. I knew quite a few students who made excursions to Seattle that were induced trips as a result of the low fares (which were matched head on by GL and TW buses). What lately are referred to as "experiential" trains didn't usually talk fares, but did sometimes refer to air travel as competition ("You can't see America from a bank of clouds.") ("It's great, great, great to go Great Northern in a Great Northern Great Dome car" sung by Rocky the Goat on radio.)

The issue of who sets fares on state trains is an interesting one. Amtrak used the Coast Starlight tariff on the second Willamette Valley project in the early '80's -- designed to keep seats open for long hauls --and that contributed to failure. There were some shining moments when a newspaper coupon let customers make round-trips for the regular one-way fare plus one dollar. Ridership skyrocketed and then the program ended. The State of Oregon printed thousands of counterfeit coupons and conductors happily accepted them until the accounting people at Amtrak noticed that they had not been printed in a newspaper. That ended the promotion and ridership plunged. The service was discontinued.

It used to be that Amtrak had to hold a rate umbrella over the parallel bus lines, but now there are few bus services directly competing and their fares are steep enough for curbside operators to come in under them, leaving Amtrak as the only service at some intermediate points. And there's no direct relation to air fares as competition on most routes. That the states don't demand more experiments with fares in this era when alternative modes are not able to ask for rate protection puzzles me.
 

basketmaker

Train Attendant
Joined
Apr 19, 2018
Messages
95
I thought that the whole thing about Hyperloop comes about because Elon figures he is good at building rockets that fly in space. So why not figure out how to repurpose them on ground? To do so first you have to create a space like environment on ground, ergo tubes with space-like vacuum in them. How to keep things in the space like vacuum without bumping into the sides, ergo levitation from all walls. And voila - Hyperloop! :D

For those that are humor challenged, this was meant to be a joke. Not serious. ;)
I remember at the transportation exhibition "EXPO '72" (1972) basically what you described. A 2,500 mile underground bore (vacuum sealed) from New York to Los Angeles proposal. Making for a 15 minute trip! Planned to travel approx. 10,000 miles per hour. Even back then I couldn't imagine (financially and logistically) what it would take to drill a seamless hole from one coast to the other. And the amount of maintenance to keep it operating. I guess you could call it a real "Pipe Dream".
 

sttom

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
477
It used to be that Amtrak had to hold a rate umbrella over the parallel bus lines, but now there are few bus services directly competing and their fares are steep enough for curbside operators to come in under them, leaving Amtrak as the only service at some intermediate points. And there's no direct relation to air fares as competition on most routes. That the states don't demand more experiments with fares in this era when alternative modes are not able to ask for rate protection puzzles me.
One of the things I thought about as far as fares are concerned is to adjust the state corridor fares to a regressive per mile fare. Basically the mileage charge gets lower as the trip gets longer. The best estimate I can get for a per mile charge for Amtrak is 17 cents per passenger mile. I would experiment with a fare rate of 22 cents for 1 mile to 49 miles, 17 cents for 50 miles to 149 miles, and 10 cents for over 150 miles. Fifty miles is what the Bureau of Transportation Statistics considers the farthest range for a commute. So I am not against hitting someone making a commute length trip with a slightly higher fare.

Other promotions I would bring back is the 10% discount some railways gave to passengers if they reserved a round trip. Its not a big discount, but a discount would make people feel like they got a good deal which could become a selling point. I would also make the student fare easier to get. In marketing, its better to keep a customer once they've been using your services for a while. And students tend to be on a budget and offering them an easy to get discount will drive up ridership. And if they are happy with the service, they will come back later in life. But this would be a sharp departure from Amtrak's current mentality, which is finding new suckers to sell substandard services to, or at least that's how Amtrak's attitude over the last few years seems to be.
 

Willbridge

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
356
One of the things I thought about as far as fares are concerned is to adjust the state corridor fares to a regressive per mile fare. Basically the mileage charge gets lower as the trip gets longer. The best estimate I can get for a per mile charge for Amtrak is 17 cents per passenger mile. I would experiment with a fare rate of 22 cents for 1 mile to 49 miles, 17 cents for 50 miles to 149 miles, and 10 cents for over 150 miles. Fifty miles is what the Bureau of Transportation Statistics considers the farthest range for a commute. So I am not against hitting someone making a commute length trip with a slightly higher fare.

Other promotions I would bring back is the 10% discount some railways gave to passengers if they reserved a round trip. Its not a big discount, but a discount would make people feel like they got a good deal which could become a selling point. I would also make the student fare easier to get. In marketing, its better to keep a customer once they've been using your services for a while. And students tend to be on a budget and offering them an easy to get discount will drive up ridership. And if they are happy with the service, they will come back later in life. But this would be a sharp departure from Amtrak's current mentality, which is finding new suckers to sell substandard services to, or at least that's how Amtrak's attitude over the last few years seems to be.
Right on track.

One way to telescope fares by distance is to sell a flat-rate discount ticket over an entire route. That's the old-time railway excursion fare, or short-limit fare, where the basic tariff remains as a back-up. I always am quoting the PDX<>SEA Pool, which I grew up with, but that's how that $4.95 round-trip worked. The round-trip had to be completed in a few days, while a regular priced ticket could be used say to go to college in September and home on Thanksgiving weekend.

A round-trip discount is especially attractive when service is infrequent. Otherwise some passengers will search for deals with another carrier for their return.

In 1974-76 I was treasurer (i.e., marketing director de facto) of the Portland-Salem commuter club while I worked at OreDOT. In the summer of 1975, when we had data from 1974, we slashed monthly membership costs for June-July-August. There was no summer drop-off in memberships that year and then we jacked up fares in September and still had a seasonal increase. What we had done was to bust up carpools during the summer vacation and the new customers discovered how great it was commuting in a highway coach with a professional driver. At its peak we had three highway coaches, up from none in 1973 when we filed my hypothetical concept memo because no one was interested.

The NP and SP&S had a half-price student fare in the mid-till-Menk 1960's. It wasn't valid on the NCL, or the PDX<>SEA Pool, but was good on everything else. It was too successful in drawing customers, just like the airlines' half-price student and military fares that instigated the NP experiment. Unlike the airlines, there was no "space available" cut-off. My brother rode the Mainstreeter heading back to college in NYC from Portland after Christmas break and across Montana there were kids sitting on their suitcases in the aisles. Not only was it not "space available" but there was no black-out period.
 

sttom

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
477
Another idea could be to make discounts contingent signing up for Guest Rewards. If they travel enough, they might get a discount on an upgrade, which works in the favor of Amtrak getting more long time riders. This also requires them to have more useful lines. At least useful in the sense that you can take a day trip somewhere that doesn't require an overnight stay. But getting Congress, Amtrak's leadership and well people who pay attention to this to change their minds on local services and federal funding. And I don't hold out the hope that this will change dramatically anytime soon. Given how the last few elections have gone, my generation getting even moderate things we want is on the "when Hell freezes" list of concerns.
 

Devil's Advocate

Conductor
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
11,345
Another idea could be to make discounts contingent signing up for Guest Rewards. If they travel enough, they might get a discount on an upgrade, which works in the favor of Amtrak getting more long time riders.
Discounts are often intended to attract new and infrequent customers. Making these people jump through tedious account setups is a good way to dissuade fence sitters from completing the purchase.
 

sttom

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
477
Discounts are often intended to attract new and infrequent customers. Making these people jump through tedious account setups is a good way to dissuade fence sitters from completing the purchase.
Even if you don't require people to sign up, Amtrak still needs figure out some way of gaining customer loyalty. I've been on Amtrak 4 times in the last year, I've never gotten pushed to sign up for Guest Rewards or even download the app. I've flown on Southwest once this year and not only do you need to download the app to use the WiFi, but doing so activates your account with a tab for your loyalty points. Which makes me think that customer loyalty isn't even remotely a priority for Amtrak's leadership and that's a big problem.
 

Devil's Advocate

Conductor
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
11,345
Even if you don't require people to sign up, Amtrak still needs figure out some way of gaining customer loyalty. I've been on Amtrak 4 times in the last year, I've never gotten pushed to sign up for Guest Rewards or even download the app. I've flown on Southwest once this year and not only do you need to download the app to use the WiFi, but doing so activates your account with a tab for your loyalty points. Which makes me think that customer loyalty isn't even remotely a priority for Amtrak's leadership and that's a big problem.
I agree that customer loyalty, especially the part about listening and responding to requests and complaints from routine riders, appears to be largely ignored. No message I've sent has ever received a useful reply. At best I receive a boilerplate response that mostly/entirely ignores any points being made. When I call it's never clear what if anything is being done with my complaint or suggestion. The discounts which are offered to me almost never apply to where and how I actually travel on Amtrak. In the past we had National Train Day and other outreach programs that seemed more inline with building and maintaining a national brand while promoting loyalty through shared goals and interests. There are reports about special invite groups that previously worked with volunteers to document and resolve issues, but those have since been disbanded. Today It's not as clear to me what Amtrak actually wants to be or who they want to be a part of it.
 
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MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
1,923
I remember at the transportation exhibition "EXPO '72" (1972) basically what you described. A 2,500 mile underground bore (vacuum sealed) from New York to Los Angeles proposal. Making for a 15 minute trip! Planned to travel approx. 10,000 miles per hour. Even back then I couldn't imagine (financially and logistically) what it would take to drill a seamless hole from one coast to the other. And the amount of maintenance to keep it operating. I guess you could call it a real "Pipe Dream".
10,000 mph! Yeah right. And do all the passengers need to get astronaut training and a complete physical exam before each trip in order to be able to handles the acceleration and deceleration?

Some people are really obsessed with going fast. What's wrong with being able to cross the continent in 6 hours?
 

ehbowen

Conductor
Joined
Mar 22, 2011
Messages
2,306
10,000 mph! Yeah right. And do all the passengers need to get astronaut training and a complete physical exam before each trip in order to be able to handles the acceleration and deceleration?

Some people are really obsessed with going fast. What's wrong with being able to cross the continent in 6 hours?
"Scotty, Energize!"
 
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