Manager of Valley's San Joaquin trains may ditch Amtrak as operator

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TiBike

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I would hope that what basically translates into an intrastate short distance service offers better transportation than a long-distance train that operates once a day.
Fair point, I was stating the obvious. That said, it's certainly intrastate and not long distance by federal standards, but it's not all that short. The San Joaquins service spans from Redding to LA, and Oakland to Las Vegas. Those are 500+ mile routes. It feeds, and sometimes directly supplements, four long distance Amtrak trains. It also adds a bit to Amtrak's operational economies of scale, although I'd guess nowhere near what the Capitol Corridor and Surfliner add. OTOH, if the Valley Rail plan moves ahead, economies of scale and network connectivity argue for a single SJJPA operator.

People made the same foolish statements about MARC, MBTA, VRE and MetroLink.
I can't speak to what goes on out east, except to assume it's way different, particularly given Amtrak's ownership of the NEC. But we will see what happens with Metrolink. Bids closed last month on the new operating and maintenance contract(s).
 
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neroden

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The problem is, as many of us have been saying for years, and as I have personally told people in Amtrak's government relations department, that Amtrak's "allocated costs" are bogus. Rail Passengers Association's White Paper goes into some detail on this. If Amtrak published avoidable costs (which they are required by law to do and refuse to do), and made the details of overhead allocation clear, then states and agencies would be more willing to work with them. As it is, states and agencies believe they are being overcharged. Advocates believe the long-distance trains are being overcharged too. The NEC is probably being undercharged, but there is no way to be sure without honest, transparent accounting, which Amtrak keeps refusing to do.
 

ehbowen

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Back to the MBTA for a moment. Amtrak lost that contract several years ago. Didn't seem to bother them one bit. Is there anything in the wind now that would cause Amtrak to react differently if they lose the San Joaquins contract.
Yeah. What are they going to do now when the Coast Starlight misses a connection? :p:confused::D
 

Anderson

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So, Amtrak has had a real problem with non-competitive overhead rates. It is part of why, despite presumably being well-positioned to run various commuter routes, they have pretty consistently lost the contracts to do so wherever states could dump them (often in contentious fights...VA had to go through a lawsuit over access to Union Station in DC while Connecticut got into a back-room showdown with Amtrak over the Hartford Line...Amtrak didn't want to host a third-party operator NHV-SPG, but Connecticut prevailed when they pointed out that Amtrak needed to use MNRR's tracks NHV-NRO).

The San Joaquins are, IIRC, coach-only (something of a rarity in the system) and they're relatively simple to manage. Were I in Amtrak's shoes, however, I'd be very wary: "Successfully" losing the San Joaquin contract could easily lead to a domino effect, and there have been rumbles of discontent.

Realistically, with Amtrak now (probably) turning a profit I think they need to consider reducing/reworking the overhead adders on the state-supported trains to get closer to an actual "cost plus" basis. Those are a real bone of contention (e.g. Amtrak billing states for marketing/advertising on a generic basis even if the state is doing all of their marketing on their own), and that's before you get to the lack of transparency involved (which compounds complaints about "just" being overbilled).
 
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jis

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In the same vein, NYSDOT threatened to fire Amtrak and shut down Empire Service before Amtrak came to heel with NY Empire Service related issues. I am not aware of any additional threats regarding usage of MNRR tracks in that case, but it did get really testy for a few days back then.

As a wag jokingly said Amtrak's billing for services is like the Medical Bill that you get charging $108 for two crackers and a thimble full of coffee, all in the garb of some impressive sounding item like "recovery sustenance" in the post procedure recovery room. Nobody can explain what the $106 over cost is used for by whom. o_O

That is the reason no one except Amtrak like PRIIA Section 209. It just perpetuates the opaque nonsense in the name of uniformity, even though every state with current or past state funded services, except Indiana has signed off on the various formulae.
 
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Anderson

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In the same vein, NYSDOT threatened to fire Amtrak and shut down Empire Service before Amtrak came to heel with NY Empire Service related issues. I am not aware of any additional threats regarding usage of MNRR tracks in that case, but it did get really testy for a few days back then.

As a wag jokingly said Amtrak's billing for services is like the Medical Bill that you get charging $108 for two crackers and a thimble full of coffee, all in the garb of some impressive sounding item like "recovery sustenance" in the post procedure recovery room. Nobody can explain what the $106 over cost is used for by whom. o_O

That is the reason no one except Amtrak like PRIIA Section 209. It just perpetuates the opaque nonsense in the name of uniformity, even though every state with current or past state funded services, except Indiana has signed off on the various formulae.
I admit that I'm a bit surprised that a few of the bigger states (New York, California, Illinois, and Michigan come to mind) didn't publicly push on the formulas. Instead, "a miracle occurs" and everyone signs onto a proposed formula.
 

neroden

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The formula was changed at least once before the states agreed to it... To charge them less. IIRC, PA led the complaints. It remains opaque. NY, MI, and IL had somewhat distracted governments at the time, so I am not surprised they accepted the half measures. I am a bit surprised that MA and CA, which are usually very on the ball about the details of rail service, did not make a bigger fuss.
 

Anderson

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The formula was changed at least once before the states agreed to it... To charge them less. IIRC, PA led the complaints. It remains opaque. NY, MI, and IL had somewhat distracted governments at the time, so I am not surprised they accepted the half measures. I am a bit surprised that MA and CA, which are usually very on the ball about the details of rail service, did not make a bigger fuss.
MA only had the Downeaster and, sort-of, the Shuttles and Vermonter. All of those involve other states (the Northern New England folks for the Downeaster, Vermont for...er...the Vermonter, and CT for both the Vermonter and the Shuttles). So their non-objection doesn't shock me.

California is more confusing, but given the general trend of their equipment situation my best guess is that they were part of the initial pushback but also decided that in a pinch they could throw Amtrak overboard.
 

rickycourtney

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The San Joaquin (and Capitol Corridor) is uniquely positioned amongst the state-supported routes to ditch Amtrak:
  • The state of California owns all of the locomotives, nearly all of the railcars (except for some non-critical cars, namely three Horizon dinettes, three NPCUs, and four Superliners).
  • The state of California owns the Oakland Maintenance Facility and ACE/Herzog has already pitched taking over some of the maintenance contract from Amtrak at their new Stockton facility.
  • The stations are not owned by Amtrak, but instead by the state, local governments, or the railroad.
  • California has an existing ecosystem of contract railroad operators. Herzog runs ACE and Caltrain, while Bombardier runs Coaster and Sprinter.
That would allow for a pretty clean break from Amtrak without having to build a lot of new infrastructure or purchase new equipment.
 

Willbridge

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The formula was changed at least once before the states agreed to it... To charge them less. IIRC, PA led the complaints. It remains opaque. NY, MI, and IL had somewhat distracted governments at the time, so I am not surprised they accepted the half measures. I am a bit surprised that MA and CA, which are usually very on the ball about the details of rail service, did not make a bigger fuss.
In the 1970's not only did Amtrak have to match state funding, but it also had to report finances on the ICC form. We (state people) knew some of the fallacies then, but didn't know that things would get so muddied. In 1975 Amtrak even agreed to credit us with the new PDX-SEA revenue generated from the Willamette Valley extension.
 

daybeers

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While it may be benefitial to the overall service, the state, and may even cost less, I'm afraid of the affects it will have on Amtrak. California is its second largest market. We're looking at tens of millions, right?
 

seat38a

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While it may be benefitial to the overall service, the state, and may even cost less, I'm afraid of the affects it will have on Amtrak. California is its second largest market. We're looking at tens of millions, right?
Loosing any of the State Supported services will most definitely hurt Amtrak LD and probably make Amtrak LD riders life a lot worse. If you'r complaining about loosing checked luggage now, just wait until Amtrak stops operating all of California State Supported Trains and see how miserable it can be. Based on signage in the Metropolitan Lounge at LAUS, even the lounge has California money in it. No Amtrak California, no checked luggage, no lounges, no seamless connection to A LOT of destinations for Amtrak LD passengers.
 

MikefromCrete

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I think you're overstating the impact of one or all of the California routes being turned over to another operator. The greatest danger to the LD trains is Amtrak itself.
 

jamess

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If the San Joaquin service leaves Amtrak, why wouldnt Capitol Corridor follow? The trains also interline with SJ and Ace, and many of the riders are commuters.

Honestly, having Caltrain+ACE+San Joaquin+Capitols+HSR under one "Calrail" umbrella would make more sense for the passenger facing operation. One website, one fare card, one set of standards.

This can all be tied into the idea of making San Jose into a "grand central station" of the west.
 

seat38a

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I think you're overstating the impact of one or all of the California routes being turned over to another operator. The greatest danger to the LD trains is Amtrak itself.
Amtrak stops operating all of California State Supported Trains
I'm not talking about San Joaquin alone. I'm taking about loosing ALL of Amtrak California (San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor, and Pacific Surfliner) to another operator. So for example, without the Surfliner, do you think it would be easy for Amtrak LD passengers to get to anywhere south of LA in Orange County and San Diego? Why would any of the JPA keep checked luggage at that point?
 

jis

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I think it is jumping the gun to believe that just because there is another operator it would be impossible to incorporate some sort of through ticketing. It might have to wait for Amtrak to finish throwing a tantrum. Afterall Amtrak has already entered into such an agreement with Texas Central.

As for checked luggage, if the JPA does not want it then they could pull that facility even today, since those services are funded by the JPA on Amtrak California trains. And if the JPA wants it, why would they stop doing it just because there is a different operator? Who knows? (Idle speculation) Maybe Virgin Trains might enter into that business. They run a fine checked baggage service in Florida.

But again, one also needs to remember that JPA would not be funding stuff that is only for Amtrak LD passengers, who are even today a minority of passengers using Amtrak California service. They would fund a facility because their main customer body wants or needs it.
 

TiBike

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What you might lose is station agents and Amtrak-style checked baggage – i.e. hand it to a station agent and forget about it until you get where you're going, even if it involves a transfer to a long distance train. There's no need for station agents if the California trains dropped Amtrak's ticketing system and switched to something fully modern, and handled checked baggage like they handle bikes on the San Joaquins – walk into the baggage section of the coach/bag, hang your bike or shelve your luggage, and walk into the coach section. When you get to your destination, get off the train and walk back to the baggage section and pick up your stuff, and transfer it or carry it yourself. No different than a thruway bus.

Amtrak's work rules, procedures and IT limitations wouldn't apply either. Tickets could be bought for cash onboard, for example.

It's not just the three trains. Amtrak would also lose the extensive network of California buses. How long would a station like Salinas stay staffed if all it served was two Starlights a day? What would Amtrak do when the Starlight is 4 hours late, which is completely common? Now, they transfer passengers to a thruway/Surfliner route. Would they still do that if they weren't keeping the revenue?

Losing Amtrak's organisational load – the cost and the limitations it imposes – could lead to better service in California. Amtrak would either have to shed that load or pay the full cost itself. Which option, do you think, Amtrak would pick?
 

Thirdrail7

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Losing Amtrak's organisational load – the cost and the limitations it imposes – could lead to better service in California. Amtrak would either have to shed that load or pay the full cost itself. Which option, do you think, Amtrak would pick?
It's not just the three trains. Amtrak would also lose the extensive network of California buses. How long would a station like Salinas stay staffed if all it served was two Starlights a day? What would Amtrak do when the Starlight is 4 hours late, which is completely common? Now, they transfer passengers to a thruway/Surfliner route. Would they still do that if they weren't keeping the revenue?
And considering the current CEO isn't a fan of the long-distance network, the Coast Starlate could go right along with it.

Then, the costs for everything in California would be be the state's responsibility....which is what PRIIA was designed to do...and what Anderson wants to do, and the many other people want..for Amtrak to reduce their presence and have the states pay for more.

Meanwhile, California will STILL pay for the NEC.

It sounds like a win-win that plays right into the plan. Way to embrace it.
 

TiBike

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California is a net exporter of cash to the federal government. That's not going to change, and it doesn't really matter where the money goes. We're shifting more tax dollars towards mass transit (and bike infrastructure, BTW), and that won't change either. If the Starlight goes away, it'll be California's choice whether or not to replace it, perhaps with a Coast Daylight and an extended Cap Corridor or SJ run to Redding or beyond. Both of which would be scheduled to maximise service to people along those specific routes and would have a better chance of running on time. If we don't do that, we only have ourselves to blame.

Sign me up.
 

Thirdrail7

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California is a net exporter of cash to the federal government. That's not going to change, and it doesn't really matter where the money goes
If it doesn't matter where the money goes, then it shouldn't really matter to you who operates your trains or how much it costs.

Ummm...thanks for chiming in though.


PS: Keep exporting money to the NEC please. I'd prefer not to pay anymore than I have to, particularly if you're so willing to export money since you don't believe it will change.

PRIIA was made with your types in mind: the indifferent. I guess that is how they will attempt to get away with it.
 
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