"Montana rail authority buoyed by bipartisan Senate letter calling for Amtrak route study"

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Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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Another "study," without any actual trains. Such disappointment.
The biggest disappointment was that there was a 180° turn part way through the process. C. B. and I both have journalism backgrounds that lead to a certain amount of cynicism. We knew there were many obstacles ahead, but Amtrak seemed open-minded about the ideas and so we pitched in. Part-way through, the staff person in charge -- who had lived and worked in Portland prior to joining Amtrak -- was relocated and everything tightened up. C.B. had to resort to FOIA actions to try to get info.

And the last straw was that comments were solicited only from NARP in Washington, without opportunities for our more detailed response to things such as the proposed 14-hour layover for eastbound passengers through SLC. [NARP did relay some of our work.] Or their dismissal of the former C&S line through the university towns of Fort Collins (CSU) and Boulder (CU) and Front Range foothills protected open spaces, with access to downtown Cheyenne. Comments and offers of support from municipal governments were excluded from the report. The UP first draft demands for extensive capital projects were not critiqued. And so forth...

Instead of coming up with an honest and comprehensive report that would have shown this to be a costly project that might or might not garner congressional support it was made out to be ridiculously expensive.

A copy is attached.
 

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WWW

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Re: Mitt Romney support - WYS has seasonal service as well as Jackson (hole) and the southern tier (Northcoast Limited) route would serve
those areas better than the EB skirting the Canadian border and SLC Utah (CZ).

Just a thought the NCL service could operate maybe 3 days a week and the EB the other 4 - with this mix trains should be full or near full capacity.

And then there is that Pioneer route SLC - SEA ?

Re: additional train between MSP and CHI timed between the #7 & #8 EB not all stops the same - some skipped - possible routing thru Madison*** ---
Origin at Duluth or St. Cloud ?
*** What is this a train that does not serve a capitol city ?

As for the speed time difference the train being at a disadvantage the fares are certainly way less expensive than the air fare and the TSA check-in
obstacle !

Airline routes are set up as linear-hub and spoke - - - trains with multiple stops serving a common hub at the end or beginning of travel.

No wrong answers - just better possible solutions - now if partisan political heads can get together and make it happen - jobs - convenience
to travelers - community development ?
 

neroden

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That C&S (now BNSF) route has been the obvious prime Colorado passenger route forever. Keeps getting sabotaged, despite being independently proposed to different levels of government over and over.
 

Willbridge

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That C&S (now BNSF) route has been the obvious prime Colorado passenger route forever. Keeps getting sabotaged, despite being independently proposed to different levels of government over and over.
It's now included in the Front Range Authority's corridor planning, which is included in Amtrak's Connect US proposal. Local funding will require a vote, so lots of ways this might be funded or killed. In a first, Wyoming has a non-voting participation in the planning study. That's a step in the right direction.
 

neroden

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Here's hoping. In addition to the Pioneer proposal, I remember an RTD plan and a Fort Collins city plan and a Loveland plan... I am pretty sure Ft Collins, Loveland, Longmont, & Boulder local governments will provide some funding support, but I do not think they can swing it by themselves. State government funding, not so sure -- that has been the previous holdup. That and exorbitant price quotes from BNSF (where, again, state government has the power to make a track purchase offer which BNSF cannot refuse and get the price down).
 

Barb Stout

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Re: additional train between MSP and CHI timed between the #7 & #8 EB not all stops the same - some skipped - possible routing thru Madison*** ---
Origin at Duluth or St. Cloud ?
*** What is this a train that does not serve a capitol city ?
Because I can think of several states with capitols without train service right off the top of my head, I was thinking it might even be a majority, so I decided to do a count. Bottom line is there are 18 capitols (maybe more-I can't really decipher east coast stuff well)) without Amtrak train service, so not as many as I thought, but it's more than 1/3 of the states.
Amtrak train?
AlabamaMontgomeryno
AlaskaJuneauno
ArizonaPhoenixno
ArkansasLittle Rockyes
CaliforniaSacramentoyes
ColoradoDenveryes
ConnecticutHartfordno?
DelawareDoverno?
FloridaTallahasseeno
GeorgiaAtlantayes
HawaiiHonoluluno
IdahoBoiseno
IllinoisSpringfieldyes
IndianaIndianapolisyes
IowaDes Moinesno
KansasTopekayes
KentuckyFrankfurtno
LouisianaBaton Rougeno
MaineAugustano
MarylandAnnapolisno?
MassachusettsBostonyes
MichiganLansingyes
MinnesotaSt. Paulyes
MississippiJacksonyes
MissouriJefferson Cityyes
MontanaHelenano
NebraskaLincolnyes
NevadaCarson Cityno
New HampshireConcordno
New JerseyTrentonyes
New MexicoSanta Feno
New YorkAlbanyyes
North CarolinaRaleighyes
North DakotaBismarckno
OhioColumbusno
OklahomaOklahoma Cityyes
OregonSalemyes
PennsylvaniaHarrisburgyes
Rhode IslandProvidenceyes
South CarolinaColumbiayes
South DakoaPierreno
TennesseeNashvilleno
TexasAustinyes
UtahSalt Lake Cityyes
VermontMontpelieryes
VirginiaRichmondyes
WashingtonOlympiayes?
West VirginiaCharlestonyes
WisconsinMadisonno
WyomingCheyenneno
no count
18​
yes count
26​
 
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Because I can think of several states with capitols without train service right off the top of my head, I was thinking it might even be a majority, so I decided to do a count. Bottom line is there are 18 capitols (maybe more-I can't really decipher east coast stuff well)) without Amtrak train service, so not as many as I thought, but it's more than 1/3 of the states.
Amtrak train?
AlabamaMontgomeryno
AlaskaJuneauno
ArizonaPhoenixno
ArkansasLittle Rockyes
CaliforniaSacramentoyes
ColoradoDenveryes
ConnecticutHartfordno?
DelawareDoverno?
FloridaTallahasseeno
GeorgiaAtlantayes
HawaiiHonoluluno
IdahoBoiseno
IllinoisSpringfieldyes
IndianaIndianapolisyes
IowaDes Moinesno
KansasTopekayes
KentuckyFrankfurtno
LouisianaBaton Rougeno
MaineAugustano
MarylandAnnapolisno?
MassachusettsBostonyes
MichiganLansingyes
MinnesotaSt. Paulyes
MississippiJacksonyes
MissouriJefferson Cityyes
MontanaHelenano
NebraskaLincolnyes
NevadaCarson Cityno
New HampshireConcordno
New JerseyTrentonyes
New MexicoSanta Feno
New YorkAlbanyyes
North CarolinaRaleighyes
North DakotaBismarckno
OhioColumbusno
OklahomaOklahoma Cityyes
OregonSalemyes
PennsylvaniaHarrisburgyes
Rhode IslandProvidenceyes
South CarolinaColumbiayes
South DakoaPierreno
TennesseeNashvilleno
TexasAustinyes
UtahSalt Lake Cityyes
VermontMontpelieryes
VirginiaRichmondyes
WashingtonOlympiayes?
West VirginiaCharlestonyes
WisconsinMadisonno
WyomingCheyenneno
no count
18​
yes count
26​
Amtrak serves Hartford, Conn. (Vermonter and Springfield shuttles.)
Amtrak does not serve Annapolis, unless you consider that Annapolis is part of the Baltimore Metropolitan Statistical Area, and Baltimore is, indeed, served by Amtrak.
Also, Lamy, NM is included within the planning area for the Santa Fe Metropolitan Planning Organization, so one could argue that Santa Fe is served by Amtrak.
 

Amtrak25

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I think political support in Wyoming for a Pioneer would range from infinitesimal to none. Their Congressional delegation through the decades has never failed to vote to kill Amtrak at every hostile amendment opportunity.

I would not run it as part of the California Zephyr system since LD trains are too unreliable. It would seldom get out of Salt Lake on time, and SLC would still be stuck with middle of the night times for Amtrak. I would run it SLC - Portland, daytime SLC-Boise, overnight Boise-Portland, and use Baby Builder’s equipment. Portland equipment cycle would be trains 27-26-25-28 - eight train sets. Feeder buses for 25 and 26 at Pocatello for Idaho Falls and West Yellowstone. When Amtrak killed the Pioneer, there were 3 Greyhound frequencies along its route. Today there is one, ironically on the Pioneer's old schedule, but not a safe connection to the California Zephyr. Of course, Amtrak would have to hire a rocket scientist to figure out how to wash the windows in Portland.

The 2nd St Paul frequency expected in a couple of years could lend itself toward extension to Seattle, and I'd run it via Yakima. Helena, as opposed to Butte, goes without saying. There should be Thruway buses to Butte and Great Falls, which is not something Jefferson Lines would be interested in doing on its own dime.
 

jis

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Fortunately the Pioneer in its original form had nothing to do with Wtoming, so we can safely leave Wyoming out of it and simplify things. It is not as if Wyoming provided a huge number of riders anyway. The original Pioneer was a Salt lake City - Seattle train with cross platform connection at Ogden with the San Francisco Zephyr.
 

Amtrak25

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When I rode the Pioneer in 1996, Rawlins was the only stop with significant usage between Denver and Ogden. Ogden easily filled a Thruway bus for Salt Lake City.

Looking at a NARP newletter from 1979:
PM/TM: Empire Builder was 137.8, North Coast Hiawatha was 110.2, Pioneer was 96.3
Loss per Passenger Mile: Empire Builder was 6.5 cents, North Coast Hiawatha was 8.1 cents, Pioneer was 11.1 cents.

Pioneer's revenue consist back then was one 10-6 sleeper, two 60 seat Amfleet-1, one 84 seat Amfleet-1 from the Seattle base.

Chicago-St Paul portion of NCH included the North Star, making its metric worse. Pioneer was saved over the NCH due to the weaker Cardinal being saved by Senate language, Regional Balance criteria (each quadrant of the US would to get a LD train) regardless of minimum 150 PM/TM criteria, and a significant portion of a train's route is covered by another route. EB took over the NCH route segments St Paul-Fargo and Spokane-Yakima-Seattle.
 

jis

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Maybe time to consider the Great Basin Limited LAX - LAS - SLC - OGD - BOI - PDX - SEA :D

But I guess we should gently steer this thread back to Montana.

Ultimately everything will depend on local political support. Those days of the Feds barging in a foisting a train on a route that the local people are unwilling to support to the best of their ability with local station funding and patronage of the service are probably behind us.

To that extent the Montana Rail Authority is taking the right approach. Build local grassroots support and then launch the effort from there.
 

Amtrakfflyer

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Isn’t that what is happening at least to some extent with the Mobile service? Of all the places Amtrak could start service AL doesn’t seem to want it.

Ultimately everything will depend on local political support. Those days of the Feds barging in a foisting a train on a route that the local people are unwilling to support to the best of their ability with local station funding and patronage of the service are probably behind us.

To that extent the Montana Rail Authority is taking the right approach. Build local grassroots support and then launch the effort from there.
 

jis

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Isn’t that what is happening at least to some extent with the Mobile service? Of all the places Amtrak could start service AL doesn’t seem to want it.
AL State has been a problem, many localities in Alabama have been supportive. That is why it is happening. Without that support it would not have happened.

In general there has to be some strong proponent en route. Yes sometimes it could be a Senator too, but has to be from the area to push for the service. without that there is little chance of maintaining a sustainable service.
 

WWW

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Maybe time to consider the Great Basin Limited LAX - LAS - SLC - OGD - BOI - PDX - SEA :D

But I guess we should gently steer this thread back to Montana.

Ultimately everything will depend on local political support. Those days of the Feds barging in a foisting a train on a route that the local people are unwilling to support to the best of their ability with local station funding and patronage of the service are probably behind us.

To that extent the Montana Rail Authority is taking the right approach. Build local grassroots support and then launch the effort from there.
Maybe easier with the airlines cutting service to small communities - flying those unprofitable barbi*** jets.
*** barbi jets - CRJs with less than 70 psgr capacity
 

Amtrak25

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AL State has been a problem, many localities in Alabama have been supportive. That is why it is happening. Without that support it would not have happened.

In general there has to be some strong proponent en route. Yes sometimes it could be a Senator too, but has to be from the area to push for the service. without that there is little chance of maintaining a sustainable service.
Mobile service has morphed into a STB test case to challenge Class I's for admittance, despite extortion demands and hysterical rhetoric. It is also would be a PRIIA-209 service. North Coast Hiawatha and Pioneer would not be, of course absent from Connect US, but seem to have better grass roots support, but the little known section of law 49 U.S. Code § 24102 Section (C) -

long-distance routes of more than 750 miles between endpoints operated by Amtrak as of the date of enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008;

must be repealed since Amtrak's interpretation is that it freezes the LD network to be as it was in 2008, forever.


So between lack of 100% state commitments to future corridors and Amtrak's institutional contempt of the national network, being that the CEO/President likely had a big hand in writing PRIIA as a Congressional staffer, I expect nothing to happen anywhere.
 

Mark Meyer

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Conspicuously absent is a signature from Rosendale, Montana's other senator. Those of us in his adopted home state hear from him so rarely I sometimes think his body is kept in cold storage in DC, and thawed and defibrillated when a party-line vote is needed.
Montana's "other senator" is Daines. Rosendale is Montana's lone representative in House. Regardless, your appraisal of him is correct.
 

Mark Meyer

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Just a thought the NCL service could operate maybe 3 days a week and the EB the other 4 - with this mix trains should be full or near full capacity.
This was actually done twice (1977 Empire Builder/North Coast Hiawatha, and 1995 Empire Builder/Pioneer), and it didn't work. In 1995 due to budget restraints, the Empire Builder was operated four days per week and the Pioneer three. When the Empire Builder's frequency was cut by 43%, its ridership dropped by about the same amount. Amtrak thought passengers would adjust their travel plans to accommodate the days the train operated, but they didn't. It also didn't help that the Empire Builder as a daily train was sold out many days during the summer and Christmas holiday season, so cutting service simply reduced ridership during its busiest seasons. More often than not, the Empire Builder has been the most-ridden Amtrak long distance train (when daily) starting in the 1980s, so it's ridiculous to propose reducing service on a train that is a success, at least by Amtrak standards. And, true passenger train advocates never propose cutting service on one route to provide service on another. The North Coast Hiawatha restoration is a long shot as it is; spending hundreds of millions on track and stations for a tri-weekly service would be even more difficult to sell.

We don't know what kind of schedule a North Coast Hiawatha would be on because its proponents won't say because they know if its running time is similar to that in 1979 (or 1971) the cost for infrastructure would skyrocket, and if little was invested in infrastructure and stations, ridership would never develop. Therefore, it's logical to assume a running time between 3 and 6 hours longer than the Empire Builder, which makes the 4 day/3 day scenario even more ridiculous (and would likely require an extra set of equipment, and therefore extra expense).

So very many reasons NOT to do this.

--Mark Meyer
 

neroden

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Mobile service has morphed into a STB test case to challenge Class I's for admittance, despite extortion demands and hysterical rhetoric. It is also would be a PRIIA-209 service. North Coast Hiawatha and Pioneer would not be, of course absent from Connect US, but seem to have better grass roots support, but the little known section of law 49 U.S. Code § 24102 Section (C) -

long-distance routes of more than 750 miles between endpoints operated by Amtrak as of the date of enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008;

must be repealed since Amtrak's interpretation is that it freezes the LD network to be as it was in 2008, forever.


So between lack of 100% state commitments to future corridors and Amtrak's institutional contempt of the national network, being that the CEO/President likely had a big hand in writing PRIIA as a Congressional staffer, I expect nothing to happen anywhere.
'Amtrak's interpretation' is nonsense, and the NCH runs between the same endpoints as the EB so it is included by the law's text. Whether we have to get the incoming board to fire Gardner, well, we shall see. Maybe not.
 

neroden

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Fixing up the tracks on the NCH for speedy running is a triviality; it is just money, and one time money with ribbon cuttings, every politico's favorite. Getting the right political support is everything. And yes of course it would have to be daily.
 

toddinde

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This was actually done twice (1977 Empire Builder/North Coast Hiawatha, and 1995 Empire Builder/Pioneer), and it didn't work. In 1995 due to budget restraints, the Empire Builder was operated four days per week and the Pioneer three. When the Empire Builder's frequency was cut by 43%, its ridership dropped by about the same amount. Amtrak thought passengers would adjust their travel plans to accommodate the days the train operated, but they didn't. It also didn't help that the Empire Builder as a daily train was sold out many days during the summer and Christmas holiday season, so cutting service simply reduced ridership during its busiest seasons. More often than not, the Empire Builder has been the most-ridden Amtrak long distance train (when daily) starting in the 1980s, so it's ridiculous to propose reducing service on a train that is a success, at least by Amtrak standards. And, true passenger train advocates never propose cutting service on one route to provide service on another. The North Coast Hiawatha restoration is a long shot as it is; spending hundreds of millions on track and stations for a tri-weekly service would be even more difficult to sell.

We don't know what kind of schedule a North Coast Hiawatha would be on because its proponents won't say because they know if its running time is similar to that in 1979 (or 1971) the cost for infrastructure would skyrocket, and if little was invested in infrastructure and stations, ridership would never develop. Therefore, it's logical to assume a running time between 3 and 6 hours longer than the Empire Builder, which makes the 4 day/3 day scenario even more ridiculous (and would likely require an extra set of equipment, and therefore extra expense).

So very many reasons NOT to do this.

--Mark Meyer
That was done, I remember it, and it’s a guaranteed way to make both the EB and the NCH unsuccessful. Anything less than daily is a total waste and costs more to operate. There is no way there is a business case for the 4/3 on two routes. You increase your fixed costs and decrease your utilization of those fixed costs. The Empire Builder is Amtrak’s most successful train. The North Coast Hiawatha would be as well. The southern Montana communities have grown while bus and air service has declined, and the appeal of rail has increased. The local business between those communities would be tremendous. Fixed costs on long distance routes are very manageable in comparison to expensive corridors. The market penetration in smaller communities is huge. The NCH would be a winner. But first, all tri-weekly trains need to run daily.
 

Amtrak25

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I would take opportunities as they come. If the planets line up for the NCH, go for it. There is no point in saying never mind, not until the Cardinal and Sunset are daily, which they have been for 40 and 50 years.
 
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Mark Meyer

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I would take opportunities as they come. If the planets line up for the NCH, go for it. There is no point in saying never mind, not until the Cardinal and Sunset are daily, which they have been for 40 and 50 years.
The point is that the cost of "planet alignment" for a North Coast Hiawatha would be much higher than operating the Sunset and Cardinal daily. The whole Amtrak long distance system is fragile. It's much more cost effective to add service on existing routes than to spend a billion on a new one which needs a lot of station and mechanical facilities. Adding frequencies on New York-Florida, New York-Chicago, and Seattle-Los Angeles routes (and others) would greatly increase ridership and show how long distance trains can perform with multiple frequencies. Without fixing all that ails Amtrak once and for all (instead of stringing it along for 50 years), adding another long distance route would simply be building on a house of cards. Exceptions to this are routes like the Lone Star, which would become a San Antonio or Fort Worth-to-Chicago train adding only 200 new miles between Oklahoma City and Newton and an overnight Montrealer, using existing station facilities. And both of these examples incorporate rewarding states for putting their money where their respective mouths were in funding state-supported trains and infrastructure, unlike the state of Montana that has never done anything financially to support passenger trains. In fact, the BSPRA distinctly says that the train they want would be federally funded.
 

Amtrak25

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I don't agree with your logic. We added the Lake Shore Ltd, Pioneer, Desert Wind, and Montrealer in the 1970's, and Capitol Ltd in the 1980's, all 100% federally supported, despite the Sunset Ltd being tri-weekly. Too bad for the Sunset Ltd but one thing has nothing to do with the other. The expansion world didn't not stop because those in Congress who brought these trains to fruition couldn't care less about the Sunset Ltd or that there was no longer a Florida Special. The Cardinal was also something of a basket case even when it was daily until 1982, which is why it went tri-weekly, and the Sunset no longer serves Phoenix. The only reason there is still a Cardinal and not a Broadway Ltd or Three Rivers is due to politics. Vermont is not going to subsidize an overnight Montrealer, nor will any other LD route get frequency expansion from any state funding. If these Senators can get the funding and make it happen, let them have at it.
 
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Mark Meyer

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I don't agree with your logic. We added the Lake Shore Ltd, Pioneer, Desert Wind, and Montrealer in the 1970's, and Capitol Ltd in the 1980's, all 100% federally supported, despite the Sunset Ltd being tri-weekly. Too bad for the Sunset Ltd but one thing has nothing to do with the other. The expansion world didn't not stop because those in Congress who brought these trains to fruition couldn't care less about the Sunset Ltd or that there was no longer a Florida Special. The Cardinal was also something of a basket case even when it was daily until 1982, which is why it went tri-weekly, and the Sunset no longer serves Phoenix. The only reason there is still a Cardinal and not a Broadway Ltd or Three Rivers is due to politics. Vermont is not going to subsidize an overnight Montrealer, nor will any other LD route get frequency expansion from any state funding. If these Senators can get the funding and make it happen, let them have at it.
Well, you missed my point, which was simply that we get more bang for the buck adding service on existing infrastructure, and that states with a record of long term support for passenger trains should be rewarded in favor of those who have chosen to do nothing. And frankly, I'm not understanding your point.

With regard to the Sunset, it would be infinitely cheaper to upgrade the 136 miles of track from Phoenix to Wellton to get the train back in to Phoenix, and make other infrastructure upgrades than to start a North Coast Hiawatha if for no other reason that the only station which would be added would be Phoenix. Also, Los Angeles to Phoenix to Tucson was indicated as an emerging rail corridor, so the upgrades would not only be a Sunset Limited. Yes, the Cardinal's route is a hodgepodge of "also ran" routes that managed to survive, but Chicago-Lafayette-Indianapolis-Cincinnati is another worthwhile corridor that needs attention, albeit more than Los Angeles-Tucson and not on the current route of the Cardinal. And yes, bringing back the Broadway Limited would be more cost effective than a Pioneer or North Coast Hiawatha. And in reference to the Cardinal and Sunset in general, the least-efficient long distance service you can have is one that operates less-than-daily.

And, I never suggested that Vermont would pay for a Montrealer. Rather, it should be a non-state supported long distance service, as it once was, as was the North Coast Hiawatha. The difference is that Vermont stepped in when bad B&M track caused a cessation of service in the 1980s, and stepped in again (with money) in the 1990s when Amtrak pulled the plug on the Montrealer. As a result, the infrastructure (track, stations) is in place, at least south of St. Albans. My point simply remains is that states like Vermont, California, Oklahoma, and North Carolina which have supported passenger trains for many years and are responsible for intact infrastructure should considered for new service in preference to states which have done nothing. Since doubling the service more than doubles the ridership, and therefore the revenue, extending the state-supported Vermonter to Montreal and adding a Montrealer (as an example) would have minimal infrastructure needs other than those in Canada (which would be tricky), but would likely also reduce the amount of state support necessary by Vermont for the Vermonter simply because of increased patronage with more travel options with more than one train.

And then after you create situations like this all over the country on existing routes, or add shorter-distance routes, adding the longer long-distance services will be an easier sell because of established success. The BSPRA can spin the numbers all they want with their study that excludes infrastructure and operations needs on hundreds of miles of track currently without service, but when a legitimate study determines a price tag of $1 billion or more (as was the case with the 2009 study), sticker shock will be a real thing.
 
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