Management issues of State funded services

Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.

GDRRiley

OBS Chief
Joined
Sep 16, 2022
Messages
714
Location
SF bay/LA
So at first blush it would seem that AManagement does not just become dysfunctional when LD service is involved. They are equal opportunity dysfunctional even for corridor services. This does not bode well for national passenger service either of the LD or the Corridor variety I am afraid, outside of the NEC and attachments apparently.
Amtraks general poor performance is why California is considering splitting from them.

I wonder if CalDOT/Amtrak are waiting for the cab cars to get full sets to run in California. Since they are fully semi-permanently coupled sets, absent the cab car there would not be a car at that end with an H coupler, which would be somewhat inconvenient to say the least.
The plan I listed above from Caltrans has them starting without cab cars and using NPCU
While things might have changed since that November report, California not running its cars while Illinois does sounds (IMH layman's O) less like Amtrak holding them up and more like CalDOT holding them up. Which may be for good reason, we don't know.
No caltrans is waiting on amtrak.
 
My understanding is that SJJPA (the manager of the San Joaquins) is actively looking to move away from Amtrak. My understanding is that they want contract with Herzog Rail to do the maintenance on the Venture cars in Stockton and Oakland instead of contracting with Amtrak. I’m not surprised Amtrak is dragging their heels.

https://www.trains.com/trn/news-rev...y-but-debut-on-san-joaquins-remains-in-limbo/
Also, we as railfans, love this fantasy of adding cars during peak periods… but it’s been several years since I’ve seen the San Joaquins attempt that. If it’s really that important to add a car, an hour in the yard is workable.
 
Last edited:
That's why I posted a serenity prayer for rail supporters upthread. 🙂 We haven't  had an Amtrak with proper funding and a new fleet of cars in that time. We  still don't have a fully staffed Amtrak. Or one with a modern reservation system.*

I would suggest we can't yet tell the difference between crisis management (rushing around putting out "fires" from inadequate resources) and bad management (has sufficient resources, still screws up).


*I get that buying and installing a modern reservation system that rids us of Arrow's limitations once and for all is a matter of both money and the logistics of the transition (still gotta sell tickets in the interim). But the transition ain't gonna get easier by waiting. I don't think Amtrak should be buying a new reservation system now, but it should be shopping for one now.
 
My understanding is that SJJPA (the manager of the San Joaquins) is actively looking to move away from Amtrak. My understanding is that they want contract with Herzog Rail to do the maintenance on the Venture cars in Stockton and Oakland instead of contracting with Amtrak. I’m not surprised Amtrak is dragging their heels.
Would it still carry the Amtrak brand name and be seen as an Amtrak train? Or would it turn into a Brightline type of thing, isolated from the rest?
 
My understanding is that SJJPA (the manager of the San Joaquins) is actively looking to move away from Amtrak. My understanding is that they want contract with Herzog Rail to do the maintenance on the Venture cars in Stockton and Oakland instead of contracting with Amtrak. I’m not surprised Amtrak is dragging their heels.
Thats a California wide thing not just that JPA. The states is getting tired of amtrak and so is looking at a few options. While unlikely the state could split then join all the operations into a single division under Caltrans and then do it themselves. Whats far more likely is bidding to run all of amtrak California.
Which given it will need a new name I'd propose taking Caltrain and folding them into BART
 
Thats a California wide thing not just that JPA. The states is getting tired of amtrak and so is looking at a few options. While unlikely the state could split then join all the operations into a single division under Caltrans and then do it themselves. Whats far more likely is bidding to run all of amtrak California.
Amtrak better get its act together. Losing this would be a huge embarrassment and financial disaster which could lead to other defectors.
 
That's what we're worried about. It is isn't the trainsets themselves. It is Amtrak's competence. What have they done in the last two decades to inspire confidence that they'll do things properly?
I think Amtrak has tacitly acknowledged this issue. These contracts with Siemens come with a TSSSA (Technical Support & Spares Supply Agreement) at added cost to Amtrak. The idea is that with someone from Siemens (technical support) hovering over the shoulder of the Amtrak crews, they'll be forced to do things properly.
Would it still carry the Amtrak brand name and be seen as an Amtrak train? Or would it turn into a Brightline type of thing, isolated from the rest?
With no connection to Amtrak, it would almost certainly not carry the Amtrak brand or be seen as an Amtrak train. The one exception might be Amtrak doing ticketing services for the route and allowing trips to be cross ticketed.
Thats a California wide thing not just that JPA. The states is getting tired of amtrak and so is looking at a few options. While unlikely the state could split then join all the operations into a single division under Caltrans and then do it themselves. Whats far more likely is bidding to run all of amtrak California.
Which given it will need a new name I'd propose taking Caltrain and folding them into BART
It's a California-wide thing, but the San Joaquin JPA is the most willing and able to break away. Very little (if any) infrastructure along the line is owned by Amtrak, the equipment is entirely owned by Caltrans, there's a maintenance facility along the route with the capacity to take on the work, and the staff of the SJJPA seems motivated to take on the job. The next domino most likely to fall would be the Capitol Corridor, but that would involve figuring out a sharing agreement for the Oakland Yard. It's owned by Caltrans, but operated by Amtrak. If both the San Joaquins and Capitol Corridor shift to other operators, there would need to be a sharing agreement. The Pacific Surfliner would be the hardest to break off. Some of the equipment is owned by Amtrak, some of the stations on the line are owned by Amtrak, the maintenance yard is owned by Amtrak, and all other maintenance yards along the route are at capacity.
Maybe they can contract everything out to DeutschBahn.
The most likely contract operator is Herzog Transit Services, which operates the ACE commuter rail line. ACE and the SJJPA share staff so there's a strong existing relationship. Herzog is also the operator of the ACE Yard in Stockton, which would become the primary maintenance facility for the San Joaquins.
Amtrak better get its act together. Losing this would be a huge embarrassment and financial disaster which could lead to other defectors.
Agreed. This is largely a situation of Amtrak's own making. The SJJPA has given plenty of warning (even Congressional testimony) that they were unhappy with Amtrak's opaque accounting. These State-supportive services generate a lot of revenue for Amtrak, and they also create a larger pool to split up overhead expenses. Amtrak is accused of using its opaque cost allocation to spread the expenses from one business line (NEC) unfairly across its other business lines that get more taxpayer support. Even if that's not true, each state-supported route that defects will mean that the remaining routes will need to carry more of the fixed overhead on their books. In other words, with each route that defects, the cost to run the remaining routes (state-supported, long-distance, NEC) will increase. It could quickly become a vicious cycle, especially if Amtrak doesn't have the ability to cut costs quickly.
 
Could be the best thing to happen to Amtrak if California defects. It will cause a cataclysmic shake up in DC. And competition is always good.

To bring this back to Siemens, the smartest thing the states did was buy their own equipment, so they are not beholden to anyone.
 
Maybe they can contract everything out to DeutschBahn.
Handing over California's passenger rail system (or any state's routes) to Deutsche Bahn may not be the quick and easy panacea it appears to be at first glance, as evidenced by the disastrous performance of DB-owned Arriva Trains North in operating UK's Northern Rail.

Northern was a bit of a mess when Arriva took it over. They then proceeded to make a much larger muck of things by the time they were forced to give up the franchise well ahead of the contracted termination date, only the fourth time in the history UK's privatized passenger rail program, which began in 1996.

I am not suggesting that Caltrans shouldn't consider finding an operator other than Amtrak for their trains, just that some of the reputation gained by a company like DB may be a function of what the German government requires them to, things they be more than willing to toss aside in another country with looser regulations in order to increase profit margins.

Proceed with caution.
 
Proceed with caution.
I am not sure how this plays in, but only Amtrak has guaranteed access to any line that hosted passenger service in 1970 that hosted passenger service at low cost, avoidable cost based rates. You could probably outsource everything but actually operating the trains (T&E crews) and keep Amtrak’s low access costs, but my reading is if another operator came in you'd lose it.

While the guaranteed access has been exercised lightly in recent years to establish new service (New Orleans-Mobile being an exception), it is key to maintaining existing services as well. Railroads would have the right with another operator to flatly deny access or charge whatever they please to provide access.

This may not affect existing California service that much, I know that California already pays UP additional over Amtrak rates to ensure priority handling on the Capitol Corridor. For the Pacific Surfliners, the line is owned by commuter agencies (SCRRA and NCTD) between Moorpark and San Diego, plus between Moorpark and SLO, Caltrans has been paying UP for infrastructure improvements such as CTC. I don't know if California has been sweetening the pot for priority handling on BNSF for the San Joaquins.

In any case, it is a major factor in any discussion on potentially changing operators for corridor services. I know that Washington is pretty fed up with Amtrak, too, on both accounting issues like California, as well as major foot dragging by Amtrak on restoring pre-COVID service levels. But every foot of Washington's state supported corridor services is over BNSF, except the relatively short Point Defiance Bypass between Tacoma and Nisqually.
 
Last edited:
With no connection to Amtrak, it would almost certainly not carry the Amtrak brand or be seen as an Amtrak train. The one exception might be Amtrak doing ticketing services for the route and allowing trips to be cross ticketed.
Given the states plans for Cal-ITP I have a feeling the state would do its own ticketing. Caltrain brand could be free if BART and Caltrain merged which has been pushed some
It's a California-wide thing, but the San Joaquin JPA is the most willing and able to break away. Very little (if any) infrastructure along the line is owned by Amtrak, the equipment is entirely owned by Caltrans, there's a maintenance facility along the route with the capacity to take on the work, and the staff of the SJJPA seems motivated to take on the job. The next domino most likely to fall would be the Capitol Corridor, but that would involve figuring out a sharing agreement for the Oakland Yard. It's owned by Caltrans, but operated by Amtrak. If both the San Joaquins and Capitol Corridor shift to other operators, there would need to be a sharing agreement. The Pacific Surfliner would be the hardest to break off. Some of the equipment is owned by Amtrak, some of the stations on the line are owned by Amtrak, the maintenance yard is owned by Amtrak, and all other maintenance yards along the route are at capacity.
Amtrak owns nothing in california other than the LA shops. Pacific surfliner is building a new OMF in san diego and a light OMF in San Luis Obispo, Theres also a new OMF planned in OC plus the coaster one has capacity.
The most likely contract operator is Herzog Transit Services, which operates the ACE commuter rail line. ACE and the SJJPA share staff so there's a strong existing relationship. Herzog is also the operator of the ACE Yard in Stockton, which would become the primary maintenance facility for the San Joaquins.
They seem most likely for San Joaquin if thats all that goes but we could see a lot more fall.
I'd like to see the whole statewide commuter railroads and Amtrak California get put together and have ops bid for that if we don't do the smart thing and just make caltrans rail department have an ops side and hire our own crews. Given the states trackage in sothern california which should only grow doing track upkeep and small upgrades in house should be on the table.
Agreed. This is largely a situation of Amtrak's own making. The SJJPA has given plenty of warning (even Congressional testimony) that they were unhappy with Amtrak's opaque accounting. These State-supportive services generate a lot of revenue for Amtrak, and they also create a larger pool to split up overhead expenses. Amtrak is accused of using its opaque cost allocation to spread the expenses from one business line (NEC) unfairly across its other business lines that get more taxpayer support. Even if that's not true, each state-supported route that defects will mean that the remaining routes will need to carry more of the fixed overhead on their books. In other words, with each route that defects, the cost to run the remaining routes (state-supported, long-distance, NEC) will increase. It could quickly become a vicious cycle, especially if Amtrak doesn't have the ability to cut costs quickly.
Yep the states really not happy and believes it can get a much better deal with private operations. I can't see many others choising to leave. California is in a strong position to do what it wants.
I don’t know how well it translates to rail, but the recent history of international corporations such as Stagecoach, FirstGroup, and others management of North American bus carriers leaves me very unimpressed…🤷‍♂️
California does all the planning ect, the operator just runs the trains and does upkeep if thats not contracted out to someone else.
 
This may not affect existing California service that much, I know that California already pays UP additional over Amtrak rates to ensure priority handling on the Capitol Corridor. For the Pacific Surfliners, the line is owned by commuter agencies (SCRRA and NCTD) between Moorpark and San Diego, plus between Moorpark and SLO, Caltrans has been paying UP for infrastructure improvements such as CTC.
They pay for Pacific surfliner as well on UP track. We are even paying a higher cost per train to account for the fact the coast line is being maintained to class 4 which UP would not be doing without the state and so that the millions we put into rebuild track aren't wasted.
I don't know if California has been sweetening the pot for priority handling on BNSF for the San Joaquins.
I don't know, for sure though we've put a lot of money into the BNSF line over the years. We have 10-11RT slots which we can start using once some projects finish up
 
I'd like to see the whole statewide commuter railroads and Amtrak California get put together and have ops bid for that if we don't do the smart thing and just make caltrans rail department have an ops side and hire our own crews.
This has no chance of happening. It’s rare for any government agency to “spin up” a rail operations group. There’s just so much cost involved. Plus, the prevailing theory is that with several private operators active in the market, they drive prices lower.

As for the tie up between BART, Caltrain, the state-supported Amtrak routes, and maybe others… it’s a great idea, but it has little chance without voters forcing it to happen. There’s too many officials with their own little railroad kingdoms…that they won’t want to give up.
 
Wasn’t one of the provisions inserted into the infrastructure bill that Amtrak has to be more open about their state supported accounting? I believe MDOT already expects a reduced bill for train service starting in 2024.
 
This has no chance of happening. It’s rare for any government agency to “spin up” a rail operations group. There’s just so much cost involved. Plus, the prevailing theory is that with several private operators active in the market, they drive prices lower.
I disagree the state totally could and I could see publicly that more popular then farming the whole thing out to contractors
As for the tie up between BART, Caltrain, the state-supported Amtrak routes, and maybe others… it’s a great idea, but it has little chance without voters forcing it to happen. There’s too many officials with their own little railroad kingdoms…that they won’t want to give up.
BART and caltrain merging would make sense. I wasn't arguing for bart to get tied into amtrak california instead having metrolink,smart, coaster, sprinter and amtrak CA come together.
 
I do find it funny that California is leading the charge here, the same state concerned about Amtrak pricing for services but seemingly unconcerned about how over budget and delayed CAHSR and Caltrain electrification is. Both these projects I support fully 100% but their mismanagement has hurt the advancement of rail in this country.
 
I do find it funny that California is leading the charge here, the same state concerned about Amtrak pricing for services but seemingly unconcerned about how over budget and delayed CAHSR and Caltrain electrification is. Both these projects I support fully 100% but their mismanagement has hurt the advancement of rail in this country.
I think it's the Joint Power Authority that's "leading the charge," not the State of California and certainly whatever Agency or authority is running CAHSR or the Caltrain electrification. From what I understand, when it comes to transit, California is an agglomeration of feudal fiefdoms, so a screw up in one place, doesn't necessarily reflect on the competence of management somwhere else.
 
I do find it funny that California is leading the charge here, the same state concerned about Amtrak pricing for services but seemingly unconcerned about how over budget and delayed CAHSR and Caltrain electrification is. Both these projects I support fully 100% but their mismanagement has hurt the advancement of rail in this country.
CAHSR has been working hard to lower costs on future stages. they completely changed how they do bidding and construction to lower costs and reduce change orders.
Caltrian is over budget because they've been failing upwards and made a ton of poor choices. The whole OCS system is overbuilt and not standardized well. theres dozens of pole types, spacing closer than it needs to be and much more.

The state wants to get operations cost lower which isn't the same as capital spending.
 
Yes and some host railroads will only deal with Amtrak for passenger service on certain lines.
This will get sticky if a (fairly big) state such as CA starts throwing its weight around, especially where there are already commuter operations in play. It's one thing for (say) CSX to kick up a fit in upstate New York or NS in Michigan and entirely another for UP to try to resist on the Coast Line. If they're under the same operator, explaining why they'd take a train from Metrolink to Ventura but not to Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo would...well, the hearings would be fascinating to watch if nothing else. Vigorously resisting service expansion might be another story, of course, but I suspect that madness (or at least an eminent domain proceeding) lies that way.

Edit: This is less likely for some other states, but CA is probably big enough to support such an effort in a pinch.
 
Amtrak better get its act together. Losing this would be a huge embarrassment and financial disaster which could lead to other defectors.
It could just as well backfire.

The Hoosier State debacle showed that private companies do not necessarily do a better job than Amtrak.

It would be hugely embarrassing for all those who criticize Amtrak, if after a few months California had to crawl back to Amtrak on their knees asking for forgiveness.
 
I am not suggesting that Caltrans shouldn't consider finding an operator other than Amtrak for their trains, just that some of the reputation gained by a company like DB may be a function of what the German government requires them to, things they be more than willing to toss aside in another country with looser regulations in order to increase profit margins.
DB's record and reputation even inside Germany has deteriorated a lot over the last few years. With under investment in infrastructure, understaffing, poor customer service and poor accountability being among the factors that lead to poor performance. This has been aggravated by poor leadership and DB being used as a playball by the government.
 
Back
Top