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

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Tom in PA

Train Attendant
Joined
Dec 16, 2018
Messages
15
A Republican administration has no interest in supporting a passenger railroad network. The airline owners have direct access to Congress and the White House and they want Amtrak gone.
Those that "manage" Amtrak are appointed by the administration.
Until this is changed, plan on declining service.
A galvanized public could change that.
 

AFS1970

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 3, 2016
Messages
47
Not trying to get to political but Amtrak (or those that are in control of it) needs to decide if it wants to be private/capitalist or public/socialized. We have seen for years that trying to blend the two doesn't yield the best result.

Living in the northeast, I find it laughable to say the NEC gets whatever it wants, as we have worse cars and thus worse seats than other parts of the country. My first trip outside of the NEC was a big surprise when I sat in a bigger more comfortable seat, much more like business class than anything I had seen in coach.

I agree on overnight trains, I traveled from NYC to Toronto (and back) and was surprised it was a day time trip that basically took the entire day. Overnight would have made for a much better trip. The food service was non existent, but I probably wouldn't have been hungry while I was sleeping.
 
Joined
Apr 6, 2015
Messages
11
In the private vs. public debate, we should remember that one reason why privatization “saves money“ is that the salaries of government employees are generally much higher than those of private employees and are determined by collective bargaining agreements that include strong health and pension benefits. This keeps more wealth in the pockets of employees, whereas private companies generally offer less in terms of pay, benefits and job security to line employees and much more pay to administrative and executive employees. Elected officials also benefit directly from privatization through campaign contributions, however, which is why privatization is such a boondoggle.

That said, I’ve generally been dissatisfied by the service I receive from public agencies in the US. The SSA is an inefficient quagmire of bureaucracy. The TSA takes forever, CBP has insane lines and gruff staff, and the USPS has a line every time I go and closes at 5p on weekdays whereas Fedex closes at 8p. I can also ship from Fedex Office, which rarely has a line. UPS Stores are even more efficient. They’re also much nicer places to be in, with no homeless asking for change. So basically, a public system offers service, but it is often inferior to that of private companies.

My guess is that privatizing rail lines would create better service, but only if there were competition. With slow passenger service being mainly unprofitable in the US, sole-bidder service would likely be just as bad as that provided by private prisons. Overall, I don’t see debating public vs. private rail service to be of much value. There would likely never be a privatization of Amtrak that would offer incremental value to passengers or to employees. Many members of Congress do want HSR and support Amtrak, but as others have said, we’ll need to replace the old fogies before there is sufficient interest.
 

the_traveler

Conductor
Joined
Nov 14, 2007
Messages
25,988
Why stop at privatizing railroads? Let’s also privatize airlines and buses!

You say they already are? How much does Greyhound pay to drive on I-80 or I-5? How much does Megabus pay to drive on I-95 or I-20? How much did American Airlines pay to build and operate O’Hare or Little Rock airport? How much does Delta Airlines pay for Air Traffic Control? How much does FedEx pay for both ATC and roads?

As far as I know, they are Government owned and paid for. Yet private companies use them for free. But Amtrak - no way! 😱 It must pay for them - plus make a profit! Give Amtrak a subsidy!😱 We can’t do that!:rolleyes:
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
1,946
Based on my experience managing government contracts, there are a few things to consider about "outsourcing" or "privatizing." There are two kinds of "privatization." In the first, Amtrak or other passenger rail service is financed entirely by private capital and run without any sort of government subsidy. That's what Brightline/Virgin and Texas Central are trying to do. That's also the way passenger rail was operated in the US before May 1, 1971. It was a total abject failure in the old days, which is why Amtrak was created. It's still an open question as to whether Brightline/Virign and Texas Central will succeed or fail and be swept up into Amtrak.

The other kind of privatization should better be called "outsourcing." I saw oodles of this during my government career. That's when the government decides to use their tax dollar to contract out a function rather than operate it themselves. The first one I saw were for janitorial services at government building. It sort of makes sense in that context. The U.S. Geological Survey, for example, does not specialize in janitorial services, so why have to deal with the details of managing such services? It also saves money in that case, because the outsourced cleaners are not government employees, and are thus compensated less. However, outsourcing is not necessarily a cheaper way to do things. You not only have the actual cost for the service, you have the government agency's overhead,AND you have the contractor's overhead, AND the contractor is, of course, entitled to some profit on the job.

The other advantage of outsourcing is if the agency only needs the service intermittently, of course, hiring an outside contractor makes sense. At the USGS, we would sometimes need to install observation wells, collect core samples, etc. But maybe we'd only need to do it once a year or so. There are lots of water-well drillers and geotechnical firms that can provide off-the-shelf services that end up being cheaper than our office having to maintain and operate a drill rig. On the other hand, if we were to have enough work to keep the drill rig in more or less constant operation, it would probably be cheaper for our agency to do it in-house.

At EPA, there's a National Vehicle Emissions Lab in Ann Arbor. It's owned by EPA, but it's operated by contractors. Thus, when we needed to have them help us with doing various field emissions testing we were doing for our program at headquarters, we would have been forced to go through the full government contracting process. That was if they could do what we wanted, which they couldn't, as they supported other kinds of things. So we ended up using a different contractor. Believe me, for what they charged, we could have done the work a lot cheaper if we had in-house laboratory and shop capability. But with government agencies, the politics is such that there are personnel ceilings, and the only way to get the work done is to hire a contractor. Thus, the number of "government employees" is limited, but all those people working for the contractor are really doing government work. And it's not cheap. On my last contract, we were paying $100/hr for engineering techs. Of course, those engineering techs weren't being paid $100/hr, and if done in house, they'd be GS-7s to GS-9s and probably making more like $20 - $30/hr.

What this means for passenger rail is this: Passenger rail is a vital service that's inherently non-profitable, and our political leaders have decided that it's worth supporting with taxpayer dollars. Because of that support, whether the actual service is run by a government agency ("Ministry of Railroads?"), a government owned, independently managed corporation (Amtrak), or contracted out to private companies, in no sense can that service be considered "privatized." Some think that contracting out the service will result in economies and improvements, but it's not clear that's the case. These contractors have no "skin in the game," as they say, and will tend to do little more than meet the minimum terms of the contract as cheaply as possible. Thus, any such arrangement will require an army of government paper pushers who are vitally necessary to keep the contractors in line. If Amtrak is retained as a vehicle to pass the money on to the contractors who run the service, then not only will Amtrak need an army of paper pushers to keep an eye on the contractors, but the DOT will need to keep an army of paper pushers to keep an eye on Amtrak. I cannot see how such a system can cost less money or provide better service than the current arrangement.
 

the_traveler

Conductor
Joined
Nov 14, 2007
Messages
25,988
My guess is that privatizing rail lines would create better service, but only if there were competition.
I can fly from Albany to Harrisburg on American, Delta and United Airlines. To me that’s competitive.

On all, I would have at least 1 (and maybe both) flight(s) on smaller commuter jets without any service. (I might get a beverage if I’m lucky.)

So where is this ”better service” you speak of?🤔
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
1,946
That said, I’ve generally been dissatisfied by the service I receive from public agencies in the US. The SSA is an inefficient quagmire of bureaucracy. The TSA takes forever, CBP has insane lines and gruff staff, and the USPS has a line every time I go and closes at 5p on weekdays whereas Fedex closes at 8p. I can also ship from Fedex Office, which rarely has a line. UPS Stores are even more efficient. They’re also much nicer places to be in, with no homeless asking for change. So basically, a public system offers service, but it is often inferior to that of private companies.
If government service is bad, that's because we haven't invested as much in the agencies as we used to. When I moved to Maryland in 1979, I was astounded at how fast and efficiently the Motor Vehicle Administration processed my new driver's license. Of course, having an out-of-state license, all I need to do was pass a written test (on a computer). But they had me in and out in less than an hour with my new photo-Id license in hand. Of course, since then, MVA has become a joke if you go in person. But if you just mail in your renewals in a timely manner, they're pretty efficient and reliable.

The Post Office isn't all that bad. I've been to Fedex and UPS stores with lines just as long as at the Post Office. And, of course, the Post Office is a bit like Amtrak. They have to deliver mail everywhere, even to places that aren't profitable to serve. In fact, Fedex uses the Post Office to Deliver stuff to some of those places. That's what a Fedex driver once told me. You don't think that Fedex maintains fleets of trucks and delivery infrastructure in all of the remote hinterlands of this large and, in places, sparsely populated country? If Congress was willing to fund them properly, service at post offices would be fine.

On the other hand, I can't begin to enumerate all of the business establishments I've patronized, all fully funded by private capital and totally free of socialist taint :) where the service was just as lousy as at the worst government agency one could think of. Oh, you say, they have competition. Not necessarily, given the consolidation in so many industries, and even where there are alternatives, the service at the competition is just as bad.
 

the_traveler

Conductor
Joined
Nov 14, 2007
Messages
25,988
I get any shipments sent by (whatever company) that is sent by SmartPost. It may be shipped by UPS/DHL/FedEx/etc from (where ever) to CT or MA, but is then transferred to the Post Office for delivery. Even Amazon, even though they make their own deliveries to my sister in RI or my friend in NJ, mine are sent directly from the distribution center in CT right to the Post Office for delivery.
 

keelhauled

OBS Chief
Joined
Oct 3, 2014
Messages
861
Why stop at privatizing railroads? Let’s also privatize airlines and buses!

You say they already are? How much does Greyhound pay to drive on I-80 or I-5? How much does Megabus pay to drive on I-95 or I-20?
At a minimum, $.24/gallon of diesel, plus applicable state fuel taxes. Assuming locomotives used dyed off road diesel (I am not sure that they do), Amtrak does not pay this cost.

How much did American Airlines pay to build and operate O’Hare or Little Rock airport? How much does Delta Airlines pay for Air Traffic Control? How much does FedEx pay for both ATC and roads?
On a general scale, the FAA's trust fund that pays for the operation of ATC and similar is partially financed through taxes on aviation fuel purchases. Since you mentioned O'Hare, the city of Chicago is in the process of investing about $8.5 billion in the airport. This expenditure is paid for by bonds that will be backed by increased access fees paid by airlines.
 

the_traveler

Conductor
Joined
Nov 14, 2007
Messages
25,988
And if the airlines pay the fee, do they pay it from their profits or do they add a “user fee” to the ticket price of each and every ticket that you and I buy?

As far as I know, every ticket (including “free” frequent flyer awards) has an extra charge for TSA - but there is no way you can fly if you don’t go thru it. The airlines don’t pay that charge from their profits!

And Amtrak and any other freight railroad does not pay taxes on the diesel fuel they buy? :rolleyes:
 

west point

Conductor
Joined
Jun 9, 2015
Messages
2,111
IMHO fixing Amtrak trains will take a number of fixes.
1. The big problem especially short term will be Covid-19. However we can expect that it will fade rather fast by 5 years time. This belief comes from the reason that scientists have had any luck to develop a vaccine for its 2 cousins SARS and MERS. Acquired immunity so far has not appeared to be long lasting by the number of persons having relapses. .
2. Track speeds for passenger trains need improving where possible to either 90 MPH (class 5 ) or 110 (class ).. That will allow passenger trains to more quickly pass slower freight trains. That also allow for passenger trains to stay on time more often.
3. Two main track (MT) required above a certain level of total freight and passenger trains. If passenger trains trigger requirement including item #2 then all signal, track structures and ROW improvements exempt from any property tax increases.
4. If 2 MT not needed then sidings at least longer than the freight RR's longest anticipated freight train length or twice that length. These sidings should be no further apart than 10 minutes time for the slowest freight on all single track sections. Siding speeds same as main track.
5. Amtrak locos mean time between failures be at least better than a certain metric. If MTBF fall below that figure Amtrak will have to add another loco to all trains. A dedicated maintenance fund be enough to maintain that MTBF metric. Loco suppliers required to provide enough spare parts to help maintain that metric for at least 20 years. Those parts available to all maintenance locations on 6 hors or less notice. Certain high demand parts will be on site.
Now let us look at the European overnight experiences before Covid-19.
6. After cutting sleeper service demand started to rise faster than new equipment became available. What if anything happened to the older equipment for cancelled services is unknown. Because of Covid-19 some planned overnight sleeper services have been postponed.
7. It may be that many persons traveling over night distances between cities would prefer to get a sleeper rather than be exposed to possible Covid-19 carriers on an airplane. I can see BOS- WASH:, NEC - ATL / CLT,: NEC- Buffalo / Cleveland/ Toledo/ Detroit,: CHI - Cincinnati / Memphis / MSP / DEN / Kansas City / Omaha / Pittsburg / CLE / Detroit; : ' New Orleans - JAX,/ Florida / Atlanta / Memphis / Houston / SAS ": LAX - SFO, / OAK / SAC / Salt Lake city: All these and more that can be carried from 2000 - 0800 or less. That would also give persons traveling lesser station a room to occupy isolated.
8. Amtrak will need to order hundreds of sleepers from all USA builders with stringent penalties for late delivers.
9. Funds need allocating with provisions to carry over to additional years if not spent in current years .
 
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
8
I can fly from Albany to Harrisburg on American, Delta and United Airlines. To me that’s competitive.

On all, I would have at least 1 (and maybe both) flight(s) on smaller commuter jets without any service. (I might get a beverage if I’m lucky.)

So where is this ”better service” you speak of?🤔
Are you suggesting Amtrak would provide a free beverage or meal ALB-NYP-MDT?

An ALB-MDT itinerary on an airline would involve two very short flights with a connection at a hub. There would be opportunities at any of the three airports (ALB, the connection point, or MDT) to purchase food & drink. Just like you could do on Amtrak, although airport concession food these days is way better than what you would find on Amtrak's Empire or Keystone services these days, IMO.
 

sttom

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
478
A Republican administration has no interest in supporting a passenger railroad network. The airline owners have direct access to Congress and the White House and they want Amtrak gone.
Those that "manage" Amtrak are appointed by the administration.
Until this is changed, plan on declining service.
A galvanized public could change that.
There was over 900 million airline passengers in 2019, compared to ~30 million Amtrak passengers in the same time. The airlines don't see rail as a threat to their bottom line. Trains are only competitive for trips up to 4 hours, or at conventional speeds, about 250 miles. Airlines tend to make the most money off of the routes that connect major hubs or fly cross country. Airlines don't want to serve "smaller" markets that Amtrak generally serves. Such as, one of the Big 3 wanting to serve the San Francisco to East Coast routes instead of any route out of Oakland.
 

the_traveler

Conductor
Joined
Nov 14, 2007
Messages
25,988
Are you suggesting Amtrak would provide a free beverage or meal ALB-NYP-MDT?

An ALB-MDT itinerary on an airline would involve two very short flights with a connection at a hub. There would be opportunities at any of the three airports (ALB, the connection point, or MDT) to purchase food & drink. Just like you could do on Amtrak, although airport concession food these days is way better than what you would find on Amtrak's Empire or Keystone services these days, IMO.
I was only replying to the “better service” comment made.

Here’s another example:

I flew from Atlanta to Detroit on Delta Airlines on a 757. (Note that these 2 airports are 2 of the major US hubs for Delta.) I received a beverage - and this was in First Class! Because the flight (from GA to MI) is under 900 miles, DL does not offer a meal or anything to buy! They just load beverages!

So again - where is the “better service”?’
 
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
8
I dunno. What free beverage would Amtrak offer you from Atlanta to Detroit, and could they get you there in two hours (or in any length of time nonstop)?
 

the_traveler

Conductor
Joined
Nov 14, 2007
Messages
25,988
How about Washington Union Station to Rockville, MD. You can take Amtrak or MARC (I believe both non-stop) and you can even take the Metro (the Metro stop Is right next to the train stop).

I call 3 possibilities competition. Do any of them offer you a beverage?🤔
 

Big Green Chauvanist

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2009
Messages
105
I agree on overnight trains, I traveled from NYC to Toronto (and back) and was surprised it was a day time trip that basically took the entire day. Overnight would have made for a much better trip. The food service was non existent, but I probably wouldn't have been hungry while I was sleeping.
You make a point and overnight suits you. But there are those who cannot afford sleeping accommodations or who can't sleep sitting or who, like me, enjoy looking out the window and watching the country pass by. For a daytime trip, no need for sleeping accommodations--and you get to sleep in a real bed the night before and the night after the trip.
 
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