It’s Time For America To Get Serious About Fixing The Trains

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lyke99

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I couldn't agree more with many of the points in the article. With the long lead times needed to build passenger equipment, it is time to get serious about expansion, not contraction.

Meanwhile, through a series of leadership teams, Amtrak thinks it will cut its way to prosperity (profitability?) and anything not on the Northeast Corridor or state-sponsored is on the list of possible cuts. Long distance trains give many members of Congress a reason to support Amtrak - don't want to run for reelection as the person who voted to end some the federal largesse coming your state or district's way. Yet Amtrak looks to the national network/long distance trains as a place to cut every time. Think about all the little perks that came with a sleeping car space or business class seat a decade ago that are no longer there.
 

Mailliw

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Maybe we should split Amtrak into 2 entities; one to service the Norteast Corridor and one to handle the state supported routes and long distance.
 

sttom

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Yes we should be investing in Amtrak, but we need to rethink how we view trains. Amtrak needs to be viewed as more than long distance trains with some state corridors thrown in. The federal government needs to see itself as needing the long distance network, a interstate corridor network, various state networks and possibly lifeline rural service. We also need to accept that this can't be done on a shoe string budget. Serving people who need convenient transportation isn't cheap and generally can't be done with a profit without massive subsidies. Airlines, tucking companies and bus companies all pay a pitence for the public infrastructure they use. They'd be in a harder situation without subsidies.
Maybe we should split Amtrak into 2 entities; one to service the Norteast Corridor and one to handle the state supported routes and long distance.
The problem with doing this is it would make rail politically unviable in this country. The northeast already gets pretty much whatever it wants while the rest of us have to fight to preserve the scraps we get. Having 1 national operator is the only way to make sure Congress stays united to the extent it does over rail funding. The GOP also tried to do that under Bush and it still failed.
 

railiner

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The way I see it, this thread, and the other similar ones....are "preaching to the choir" here on this forum of Amtrak supporter's. I believe all of us would like to see a great national system. Unfortunately, this does not translate to the rest of the population. Sure...ask anyone if passenger trains should be improved and expanded, and they will generally agree enthusiastically. But when it comes time to practice what they agree to....well....I'm not so sure most won't find it more to their suit to still drive or fly, as usual...
 

AmtrakFlyer

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It’s time to cut the bureaucracy and contract a couple long distance trains out to a private operator or the host railroad. Amtrak’s management is corrupt to the core.

Money speaks and ends all. Everyone wants to say it’s not possible. It is with some strong handed tactics/incentives/political pressure/liability reform and $$$. Siemens coaches, sleepers, 25 year interest free loans for rolling stock, Tax breaks. I don’t know, but I know it’s possible.

Take Amtrak’s own accounting numbers and give that amount with additional bonuses for ridership and on time performances. If Amtrak can’t make the SWC work with 50 or 100 million (whatever the latest number they pulled out of their caboose) take it from them and give it to someone else.

I know lines were out for bid 3-5 years ago but I don’t think it was taken seriously with the elements needed to make it feasible.

Ed Ellis came so close to making Amtrak’s least desirable line a success with the Hoosier State. He was underfunded and out lawyered by Indiana. For a train buff he gave it a great run. Imagine what someone like Brightline or BNSF could do though.
 
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sttom

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The problem with private operators is they don't want to serve segments of society that aren't profitable to serve. Which is generally the people who actually need a coach seat from point A to point B. Those segments are generally inconvenient or expensive to serve. I sincerely doubt private operators don't want Amtrak because they don't trust the financial numbers, but more because they don't want to have to make a useful transit network anymore than those that currently run Amtrak do. And that's the rub, the board is frankly unfit for the job, their only saving grace is Congress doesn't want to treat Amtrak the way a county would treat its bus system. Which is accepting that some services will never be profitable or "cost efficient" to run, but the people served need the transit.
 
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At the moment there isn't going to be much appetite for "new thinking" - governments at the city and state level are financially stressed (NYC is talking about potentially laying off 22,000 workers). I think we should be worried about keeping what we have and start planning on where we can go.
 

AmtrakFlyer

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Does it work to “some” extent in Europe? Most long distance trains are franchised there. If anything I think our capitalism system here would make it even more appealing. Private companies love to make money off government contracts.

There’s companies out there that would run it at cost plus 10-20 percent just like in Europe. Whats easier, gutting and firing Amtrak’s board and management or finding someone to run the trains who wants to. Both are long shots at this point but either could happen. We will have to wait til after the election and post covid realistically though.
 
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sttom

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In the UK at least, most of the franchise holders are subsidiaries of the state owned railways in the rest of Europe. I wouldn't not want US tax dollars to pad the bottom line of DB or SNCF. And I doubt most politicians would be so willing to privatize Amtrak that they'd willingly subsidize foreign operators.
 
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The tracks are mostly owned by governments (even if indirectly now per EU agreements/directives) rather than private entities in Europe. We have something similar where local commuter agencies are farmed out to say Keolis or the like.
 

NSC1109

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Does it work to “some” extent in Europe? Most long distance trains are franchised there. If anything I think our capitalism system here would make it even more appealing. Private companies love to make money off government contracts.

There’s companies out there that would run it at cost plus 10-20 percent just like in Europe. Whats easier, gutting and firing Amtrak’s board and management or finding someone to run the trains who wants to. Both are long shots at this point but either could happen. We will have to wait til after the election and post covid realistically though.
yeah they’re franchised, and the local populace in the UK are still pissed because it’s a poorly run system.

You can blame management all you want but I can tell you this: until Amtrak is treated like the PUBLIC FREAKING SERVICE THAT IT IS, then your problems are not going to be fixed. You can’t farm out the LD services to private entities or the host railroads because they don’t want it. That’s the entire reason why Amtrak was formed in the ‘70s. Privately run intercity passenger rain in this country is done. It’s over. Amtrak is what we have now, and we have to take the proper steps to ensure that it’s run as well as it can be.

David Gunn fought the attempts to split Amtrak up because he knew it would fail. He was promptly fired for it. If he was still around, then maybe things would’ve been better.

Someone needs to tell the board to stay away from the airlines and use someone with ACTUAL RAILROAD KNOWLEDGE.
 

Dakota 400

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Amtrak is like many other public services in this country. Many want the service and see such service as being important to their quality of life. But, it takes money to provide these services. When it comes to the question of "are you willing to pay more for such service(s)? The answer is: "if that means I have to pay more taxes, then, no, I am not willing to do that". We have been for far too long trying to run the country "on the cheap". Until that mindset changes in the American people, not much is going to improve.
 

tricia

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Amtrak is like many other public services in this country. Many want the service and see such service as being important to their quality of life. But, it takes money to provide these services. When it comes to the question of "are you willing to pay more for such service(s)? The answer is: "if that means I have to pay more taxes, then, no, I am not willing to do that". We have been for far too long trying to run the country "on the cheap". Until that mindset changes in the American people, not much is going to improve.
Most of us are underpaid and pay heavy "payroll" taxes that are treated as general revenues--and capped so that the wealthy pay a lower percentage of tax than most workers. Until the wealthy pay their fair share, not much is going to improve.
 

sttom

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Amtrak is like many other public services in this country. Many want the service and see such service as being important to their quality of life. But, it takes money to provide these services. When it comes to the question of "are you willing to pay more for such service(s)? The answer is: "if that means I have to pay more taxes, then, no, I am not willing to do that". We have been for far too long trying to run the country "on the cheap". Until that mindset changes in the American people, not much is going to improve.
We've increases spending year over year and Congress hasn't worried about the deficit at all. They only pretend to worry when we demand nice things like a halfway functioning train system or health care or education. And even if we did have to pay a tax, a 5¢ per gallon surcharge on fuel production would raise over $7 billion if it was just applied to gasoline. We could have a halfway decent rail system if that was Amtrak's guaranteed budget every year.
Someone needs to tell the board to stay away from the airlines and use someone with ACTUAL RAILROAD KNOWLEDGE.
Personally I think the whole board needs to go and the CEO/president replaced with someone that has run a decent passenger operation, even if it's a small tourist railroad in the back country.

The rest of the board should have a diversity of experience collectively and be required to put their investments into a blind trust while serving. People with railroad experience is needed on the board, but so is people with transit experience, whether it's an airline or bus company. Since transporting people is a bit different than transporting a unit train of soy beans. Other voices that would be necessary are people from the hospitality or tourism industry and people with marketing or product design back grounds.

Amtrak's board's problem is that it's run by people cashing in at the government's expenses and some of them aren't experiences in running a business let alone any industry that is tangentially related to Amtrak. Wasn't one of the nominees a couple years ago an organizer for the Republicans party or something equally unqualified? Even out of the recent nominees, Sarah Feinberg is the only one that I would trust to not do a completely awful job.
 

MARC Rider

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Yes we should be investing in Amtrak, but we need to rethink how we view trains. Amtrak needs to be viewed as more than long distance trains with some state corridors thrown in.
Well, yeah,, of course. Amtrak (or passenger rail in general) needs to be seen as an interconnecting system of corridor service with long distance trains added to connect rural areas with the major cities and serve the 10% of the population who can't or won't fly or don't live in areas with decent airline service.

But the corridor service should really be the major emphasis,as that's where passenger rail makes the most sense as a transportation mode.
 

MARC Rider

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The northeast already gets pretty much whatever it wants while the rest of us have to fight to preserve the scraps we get.
Is that really true? Doesn't look like the funding to replace the North River Tunnels (arguably the single most significant piece of passenger rail infrastructure in the country) is forthcoming any time soon. Not to mention other stuff like the Susquehanna River Bridge at Havre de Grace or the B&P tunnel in Baltimore. And the Northeast Corridor is probably the only place in the country where passenger rail actually has a significant market share. Whatever we do to "fix the trains" needs to be done in a way that the percentage of the population riding trains increases all over the country.
 

MARC Rider

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It’s time to cut the bureaucracy and contract a couple long distance trains out to a private operator or the host railroad. Amtrak’s management is corrupt to the core.
Oh, and private businesses aren't corrupt, too?

Ed Ellis came so close to making Amtrak’s least desirable line a success with the Hoosier State. He was underfunded and out lawyered by Indiana. For a train buff he gave it a great run. Imagine what someone like Brightline or BNSF could do though.
How close did Iowa Pacific really come to making the Hoosier State a "success?" In any event, I-P was merely a provider of equipment and on board service. Amtrak actually ran the train. I think that the reason that the Hoosier State tanked was that the people running the State of Iowa just plain didn't want to support passenger rail with tax dollars -- no way, nohow. And the voters didn't contradict them. It's either that support of passenger rail conflicts with their political ideology, or passenger rail is for effete eastern New York types, or that they believe that passenger rail is old-fashioned and outmoded, or whatever it is that makes a lot of political leaders opposed to spending money on passenger rail when they'll spend zillions on freeways, no matter how much they talk about "fiscal responsibility."
 

MARC Rider

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Does it work to “some” extent in Europe? Most long distance trains are franchised there. If anything I think our capitalism system here would make it even more appealing. Private companies love to make money off government contracts.
I think what they call "long distance" trains in Europe, we would call corridor service. Very few run overnight. In fact, didn't a lot of the European sleeper trains get axed a few years ago? And there are almost no trains outside of Russia that have a 2-night or longer run.

As a veteran of managing government contracts, I would say that it is possibly true that some private operator might be interested. However, if you made it a fixed price contract, the bidders would probably pad the hell out of it to cover for contingencies. If you made it a cost-plus contract, they'd pad it with every kind of weird cost you could think of, and it would be hard for the agency letting out the contract to be able to plan for contingencies that would result in wild cost overruns. And how would you handle something like the Covid-19 pandemic where the ridership and revenue crater? Let the contractor go out of business? Or just pay them to run empty trains? I don't think that financially it would be much different from the current model of a government-owned corporation getting funding from Congress, except that you'd need a whole humongous bureaucracy somewhere in Amtrak or DOT to manage the contracts.
 

MARC Rider

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In the UK at least, most of the franchise holders are subsidiaries of the state owned railways in the rest of Europe. I wouldn't not want US tax dollars to pad the bottom line of DB or SNCF. And I doubt most politicians would be so willing to privatize Amtrak that they'd willingly subsidize foreign operators.
Well, VRE and MBTA Commuter Rail are both operated by Keolis, which is owned by SNCF (70%) and some sort of Quebec public sector pension fund (30%). The taxpayers of Virginia and Massachusetts seem to be OK with it.
 

Amtrakfflyer

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Everyone has good points. What we can probably almost all agree on is Amtrak’s management needs to be replaced. They are the number one problem that needs to be solved moving forward.
 

cocojacoby

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May 13, 2014
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Host railroads? Think back 60 years ago! Why do you think Amtrak was formed?
I just started a new thread "Time to Change the Paradigm" after thinking about your question. I think things may have changed a bit in 60 years and there might just be different ways to do things now.
 

railiner

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I just started a new thread "Time to Change the Paradigm" after thinking about your question. I think things may have changed a bit in 60 years and there might just be different ways to do things now.
That may be so...but freight railroads will not get back into passenger business...that you can be sure of.
 
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