Markets along existing Amtrak routes with untapped ridership potential

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

Trollopian

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Sep 19, 2014
Messages
255
Location
Washington, DC and Pittsburgh, PA
Including Cincinnati in your thought, the train times are really discouraging to some, I suspect.

Yes. My sister's family lives in Cincinnati; I could board the Cardinal in DC, but nobody wants to pick me up at Union Terminal (or listen to me slam the Uber door) at 2 a.m. Or 3:30 a.m. for the return trip. So I've never taken it.

Between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, approximately 300 miles, there is no train. None. Except a long switchback via Chicago or Washington.
 

moselman66

Train Attendant
Joined
May 28, 2021
Messages
27
Location
Milwaukee
To me the lowest-hanging fruit is to add frequency to comparably short segments currently covered by LD. I don't think either of these categories are low-hanging fruit:

--Trying to convince more people to take most existing trains. It's always hard to get people to change their travel habits, and enough people perceive the train as old, slow, unreliable, inconvenient...often based anecdote...that it's probably a tough sell.

--New routes. In addition to the regular barriers (freight line cooperation, equipment, operational funding, etc.) the basic existing infrastructure is often inadequate and the "we haven't had trains in 50 years, why would we bring that back now?" opposition is strong.

The best shots at comparably-easy success is to bring state-supported service to large city pairs which currently have just LD service. A few reasons for this:
--There is already precedence for Amtrak service in the community and an existing customer base, though smaller than it could/should be
--The new service is likely to be much more reliable and will benefit from the "newness" factor
--The LD service is often poorly timed, routinely runs very late and/or at peak times sold out
--The infrastructure already exists, and though there may well be case-by-case incremental improvements needed the basics are there

Here are some of the situations with the best potential for 1...or possibly even 2 or 3...trips to be added on top of the existing LD service:

Atlanta-Charlotte
Chicago-Kansas City
Chicago-Cleveland, possibly extended to BUF and/or PIT
Chicago-Minneapolis (already in the works)
Los Angeles-Tucson


A couple more with potential but perhaps not a slam dunk based on other factors such as market size/weak intermediate points or speed
Chicago-Memphis
Chicago-Omaha
Fort Worth-Austin
Orlando-Jacksonville
Orlando-Tampa
Those last two or three in particular might be best served with a comparably frequent service like 4-6x/day...they are short enough that just overlaying one or two trains on the existing LD wouldn't really serve the market very well. Same with something like Austin-San Antonio.


Among the markets which just seem dangerously slow to be successful for a short-haul train to supplement the existing LD are these:
Houston-New Orleans
Houston-San Antonio
Pittsburgh-Washington
Dallas-Little Rock
Atlanta-Birmingham
Reno-Emeryville/SF
Los Angeles-Emeryville/SF
New Orleans - Memphis
Chicago-Indianapolis

That last one is especially painful. The drive from Indy to Chicago is three hours, and the train is roughly five. Make the train do it in something like 3:45 and a handful of daily trips would generate 400k riders without much effort. But that is decidedly not low-hanging fruit. And particularly given that a lot of Indy's wealthier travel-inclined demographics are found in the northern suburbs (Carmel, Noblesville, Fishers, etc.) backtracking to downtown Indy to catch a five-hour train to Chicago is just not appealing. As I type this (mid-day) Google Maps has the drive from Carmel to Chicago Union Station at 2:53, while the drive from Carmel to Indy Amtrak is 0:31. You can be well on your way to Chicago in the same time it takes to get to the IND station from much of Indy's affluent northern suburbs. And even for those in greater Indy who won't make the drive for whatever reason, the bus roughly as convenient and substantially faster than the train.

To be clear I did not scrutinize the "low-hanging fruit" against state political nor host railroad challenges. They are real but also sometimes hard to predict in terms of how tough they are to overcome. Any of these routes could have the practical brick wall of "you'll never get a cent out of the State of X" or "Railroad Y is already oversaturated between Dumptown and Stumpville Junction and will never allow another passenger train" concerns. But any expansion will have barriers, and I think these are as ripe as any to be low-hanging fruit if those barriers can be scaled.
 
Last edited:

west point

Engineer
Joined
Jun 9, 2015
Messages
3,325
Location
SW ATL airport
After posting on another thread, I realized longer trains at present are not possible.

Background. The P-40s and some P-42s were delivered with HEP output limited to 600 kW. Now were later P-42s delivered with higher outputs have no idea. 6 P-40s were modified with 1000 kW inverters for Auto train. So, until enough ALCs are available for any route Amtrak cannot really add length beyond 11 -13 cars depending on each type of car's HEP draw. (Diners much higher) The primary example today is the Empire Builder. I would expect Amtrak would need at least 12 operable ALCs + spare at SEA and CHI to guarantee longer trains.

That is 2 ALCs each EB train set with 1000 kW HEP in case one ALC should fail.

These limitations also apply to any other route's train. The Super star's length probably cannot be more for the same limitations. My proposal of combining Crescent and FTW - Meridian train will not work behind P-42s providing HEP. Then we have Cal Z, CNO at certain times, Palmetto, Carolinian, LSL west of Albany, both Silvers, maybe Starlight. Those car numbers also apply to private cars on train.

Now the question comes to mind how was the combined CZ, Pioneer, and Desert wind worked. Only thought was some F-40s had 1000 Kw HEP?

In reference to previous post. Amtrak can reach untapped potential adding cars to the posted trains when enough engineers, conductors, and OBS are in revenue service. As well get OOS cars into revenue service along with enough ALCs44s in revenue service. What are the delivery dates of ALCs and how long to get them in revenue service after that?
 
Joined
Mar 5, 2014
Messages
3,513
Yes. My sister's family lives in Cincinnati; I could board the Cardinal in DC, but nobody wants to pick me up at Union Terminal (or listen to me slam the Uber door) at 2 a.m. Or 3:30 a.m. for the return trip. So I've never taken it.

That's my situation. I live in Dayton. The one time that I rode on the Cardinal, I asked a friend to take me to Cincinnati and bring me home. She is a really good friend, but, on the ride home, she made it very clear that she would not be interested in doing so again.

I have looked at using a car service to/from Cincinnati, but, that's not inexpensive.
 

rs9

Train Attendant
Joined
Dec 26, 2021
Messages
82
Location
Chicago
I think Amtrak could be a lot more creative with stimulating markets. It's one thing to have an unserved market, another for people to change their behavior.

Here's an example that comes to mind: Amtrak football special at Madison, Wis., 1975. — Amtrak: History of America’s Railroad

One of the challenges for Amtrak's urban hubs is the lack of connectivity at outlying stations. For example, most Chicago residents would have little reason to travel to/from MDT (Mendota, Illinois). Within a 20 mile radius is one of the most visited state parks in the state, Starved Rock...but no reasonable way from station to state park. A ticket package including round trip tickets and a shuttle would not only give people a reason not to drive but also a reason to take Amtrak, which I think would be a step toward changing attitudes/behaviors to train travel.
 

Northwestern

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 3, 2022
Messages
103
Location
Santa Rosa
An interesting post, with a lot of good suggestions. I've heard some good things about the FrontRunner commuter train, Provo to Ogen. It would be great if the Runner could make a good connection with the Calif. Zephyr, but I think the Zephyr arrival schedules, into Salt Lake City, would need to change.

As far as areas for untapped ridership potential, Marin and Sonoma counties, in Northern Calif, might be a possibility.

We now have a commuter train called SMART (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit), which travels from Larkspur (in Marin county) north to Santa Rosa, CA. (in Sonoma county). SMART will eventually expand to Cloverdale, CA which is the northernmost town in Sonoma county. The only way to use a SMART train to make a linkage to Amtrak is to take a SMART train to the ferry, in Larkspur, to San Francisco and a further connection to Emeryville and the Zephyr station.

There has been a proposal to extend the SMART train from the Novato Hamilton station to Suisun/Fairfield, along highway 37. I'm not sure, but I think there are already tracks in place for such an expansion, although work on the tracks would probably be needed. Suisun/Fairfield is a station stop for the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train. Also, the Cap. Corridor train stops in Davis and Sacramento, with the ability to connect up with the Coast Starlight. The proposed SMART train expansion east, if it comes about, could bring in a lot of potential Amtrak riders from the North Bay area.
 
Last edited:

west point

Engineer
Joined
Jun 9, 2015
Messages
3,325
Location
SW ATL airport
Amtrak needs a 2 pronged approach.
1. The first depends on the Gulf coast stand off As well as any court cases arising. If it goes Amtrak's way then Amtrak can start immediately propose more Regional trains and start shortly. If congress will pass some kind of short term ADA requirement exemptions then the services can start much faster.
2. Continue getting more out of service (OOS) cars back in service. Add those cars to the HEP limits of each route now in service. Those routes will then see a closer to operating expenses vs. operating costs.
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2021
Messages
676
Location
Lubec, ME
To me the lowest-hanging fruit is to add frequency to comparably short segments currently covered by LD. I don't think either of these categories are low-hanging fruit:

--Trying to convince more people to take most existing trains. It's always hard to get people to change their travel habits, and enough people perceive the train as old, slow, unreliable, inconvenient...often based anecdote...that it's probably a tough sell.

--New routes. In addition to the regular barriers (freight line cooperation, equipment, operational funding, etc.) the basic existing infrastructure is often inadequate and the "we haven't had trains in 50 years, why would we bring that back now?" opposition is strong.

The best shots at comparably-easy success is to bring state-supported service to large city pairs which currently have just LD service. A few reasons for this:
--There is already precedence for Amtrak service in the community and an existing customer base, though smaller than it could/should be
--The new service is likely to be much more reliable and will benefit from the "newness" factor
--The LD service is often poorly timed, routinely runs very late and/or at peak times sold out
--The infrastructure already exists, and though there may well be case-by-case incremental improvements needed the basics are there

Here are some of the situations with the best potential for 1...or possibly even 2 or 3...trips to be added on top of the existing LD service:

Atlanta-Charlotte
Chicago-Kansas City
Chicago-Cleveland, possibly extended to BUF and/or PIT
Chicago-Minneapolis (already in the works)
Los Angeles-Tucson


A couple more with potential but perhaps not a slam dunk based on other factors such as market size/weak intermediate points or speed
Chicago-Memphis
Chicago-Omaha
Fort Worth-Austin
Orlando-Jacksonville
Orlando-Tampa
Those last two or three in particular might be best served with a comparably frequent service like 4-6x/day...they are short enough that just overlaying one or two trains on the existing LD wouldn't really serve the market very well. Same with something like Austin-San Antonio.


Among the markets which just seem dangerously slow to be successful for a short-haul train to supplement the existing LD are these:
Houston-New Orleans
Houston-San Antonio
Pittsburgh-Washington
Dallas-Little Rock
Atlanta-Birmingham
Reno-Emeryville/SF
Los Angeles-Emeryville/SF
New Orleans - Memphis
Chicago-Indianapolis

That last one is especially painful. The drive from Indy to Chicago is three hours, and the train is roughly five. Make the train do it in something like 3:45 and a handful of daily trips would generate 400k riders without much effort. But that is decidedly not low-hanging fruit. And particularly given that a lot of Indy's wealthier travel-inclined demographics are found in the northern suburbs (Carmel, Noblesville, Fishers, etc.) backtracking to downtown Indy to catch a five-hour train to Chicago is just not appealing. As I type this (mid-day) Google Maps has the drive from Carmel to Chicago Union Station at 2:53, while the drive from Carmel to Indy Amtrak is 0:31. You can be well on your way to Chicago in the same time it takes to get to the IND station from much of Indy's affluent northern suburbs. And even for those in greater Indy who won't make the drive for whatever reason, the bus roughly as convenient and substantially faster than the train.

To be clear I did not scrutinize the "low-hanging fruit" against state political nor host railroad challenges. They are real but also sometimes hard to predict in terms of how tough they are to overcome. Any of these routes could have the practical brick wall of "you'll never get a cent out of the State of X" or "Railroad Y is already oversaturated between Dumptown and Stumpville Junction and will never allow another passenger train" concerns. But any expansion will have barriers, and I think these are as ripe as any to be low-hanging fruit if those barriers can be scaled.
Sounds good. I would add Boston - Springfield MA - Albany / Rensselaer to the "low hanging fruit" list, with additional local stops added such as Palmer, and timed to connect with the Vermonter.

Situations like Indy - Chicago not being useful for the Northern suburbs could be resolved by adding a suburban stop, perhaps near where the line crosses I-74 for a park and ride location.
 

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Administator
Moderator
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
32,221
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
D/Hs no problem just shut the cars completely down. Do not know about PVs HEP draw if using HEP.
At least the ones that I have seen deadheads on the Super Star have lights and HVAC on. So no they do not have everything shut down.

In any case 15 fully powered by HEP cars are not uncommon. I think you may need to check your figures about P42 HEP capacity again. They are 800kW capable of powering upto 16 Superliners.
 

lrh442

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 2, 2018
Messages
46
Chicago - Kansas City is a strong city-pair on the SW Chief that could support a second daily frequency.
Travel time is very competitive with driving (7hrs 10 minutes vs 7hrs 47 minutes driving with no stops), and timekeeping, on this segment, is pretty good
I am astonished to find that the travel time on the SWC is actually faster than the Super Chief in 1963! The Super Chief carded at 7 hrs 35 minutes, both east and westbound, whereas Amtrak's SWC does it in 7hrs 10 minutes westbound and 7hrs 20 minutes eastbound.
 

Devil's Advocate

‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
13,225
Location
Texas
Yes. My sister's family lives in Cincinnati; I could board the Cardinal in DC, but nobody wants to pick me up at Union Terminal (or listen to me slam the Uber door) at 2 a.m. Or 3:30 a.m. for the return trip. So I've never taken it.
We have similar calling times where I live. Which is why we really need two trains spread twelve hours apart. The cure for Amtrak is more Amtrak, as they say.

That's my situation. I live in Dayton. The one time that I rode on the Cardinal, I asked a friend to take me to Cincinnati and bring me home. She is a really good friend, but, on the ride home, she made it very clear that she would not be interested in doing so again. I have looked at using a car service to/from Cincinnati, but, that's not inexpensive.
Amtrak has always had a pervasive problem with last mile connections and it is getting even worse over time. Outside of Amtrak almost nothing connects smoothly and efficiently in our country except for planes and vehicles.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
4,609
Location
Baltimore. MD
Amtrak has always had a pervasive problem with last mile connections and it is getting even worse over time. Outside of Amtrak almost nothing connects smoothly and efficiently in our country except for planes and vehicles.
That should be amended to say "Amtrak has a . . . problem with last mile connections at the smaller/less busy stations." I have has no trouble getting a cab or Uber at places like Chicago, New York or Baltimore, or even Savannah, GA. On the other hand, forget about Huntingdon, PA unless you have a friend to pick you up.

But connections at airports don't always work well. Just the week before last I flew into Charleston, SC, and not only were no rental cars available at the airport location (and I wasn't the only person with this problem), but when I went to the taxi stand to get a cab ($17) to take me to the off-site rental location, there weren't even any cabs! Well, one finally came along after 5 or 10 minutes, but I had to share it, and that didn't even reduce the cab fare. When I returned the car, the ride sharing company was estimating a 40 minute wait for someone to take me to the airport (a 5 minute drive), and after 10 minutes, they had still not located a driver. The folks at the rental car company then tried calling a local taxi company and couldn't get anyone to answer. Even though they're not allowed to drive people to the airport, they did for me (probably to get me out of their hair.) Basically ,our transportation system depends almost exclusively on private automobiles, and if you can't drive one, or don't have one and don't have someone else to drive you, you're screwed.
 

Devil's Advocate

‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
13,225
Location
Texas
That should be amended to say "Amtrak has a . . . problem with last mile connections at the smaller/less busy stations." I have has no trouble getting a cab or Uber at places like Chicago, New York or Baltimore, or even Savannah, GA. On the other hand, forget about Huntingdon, PA unless you have a friend to pick you up.
Amtrak serves 500+ stations, the majority of which offer no last mile connections to a local service. If you travel in coach from DAL to SAS the last ten minutes of your trip can double or triple the total cost because there are no practical connections in a metro of two million. Being able to work around a lack of connections by ordering a $50 ride on a $500 phone does not change this fact. If Amtrak is supposed to function as basic transportation it needs last mile connections at prices the whole train can afford.

Basically ,our transportation system depends almost exclusively on private automobiles, and if you can't drive one, or don't have one and don't have someone else to drive you, you're screwed.
I can agree with this. No matter how Americans may choose to travel in almost all cases a vehicle is expected to be at least part of the equation. There have been many times where it felt like American planners went out of their way to prevent trains, planes, trams, buses, and shuttles from connecting in a practical and efficient manner. Several years later I found out it was at least partly intentional.

 
Last edited:

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Administator
Moderator
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
32,221
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
MODERATOR'S NOTE: A number of posts which were exclusively about transit connectivity to airports and little to do with Amtrak, have been moved to their own thread:


Please post about transit to airports in this new thread and reserve this thread for discussing market opportunities for along existing Amtrak routes.

Thank you for your understanding, cooperation and participation.
 
Top