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

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neroden

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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.
True -- but you overestimate the cost of adding service to the NCH. And you underestimate the degree to which it would be adding service on existing routes. First of all, it would share all facilities from Seattle (or Portland, whichever is chosen) to Sandpoint ID and from Minneapolis/St Paul to Chicago. And also at Fargo. (And depending on the chosen Minnesota route, also from Fargo to Minneapolis/St Paul.)

Most of the stations on the line still exist, and basically require the usual "patch up the crumbling platform and add a ramp". Some would require "pour a new platform". Very few would be staffed. Station buildings are generally the responsibility of the cities these days anyway; many still exist and some would probably be revived, but it's not a necessary component of the project (see: Texarkana).

As far as I can tell there would be zero new mechanical facilities needed. Three or four new crewbases with the Willmar route, one fewer if the existing St Cloud route is used.

A number of new stations: the maximal list west of St Paul and east of Sandpoint would be
Minneapolis (at existing Northstar station)
Willmar
Morris
Breckenridge
Fargo (at existing Amtrak station)
Valley City
Jamestown
Bismarck
Mandan
Dickinson
Glendive
Miles City
Forsyth
Billings
Livingston
Bozeman
Helena
Missoula
Paradise

This is probably overkill. Ignoring the already-existing stations, a more reasonable startup list would be:
Willmar
Morris
Breckenridge
Jamestown
Bismarck OR Mandan (they're in the same metro area, very close)
Dickinson
Glendive
Miles City
Billings
Bozeman
Helena
Missoula


This many stations should be $24-$60 million. Peanuts. The track & signal upgrades would swamp this.

The three Minnesota stations could be skipped in favor of the existing route via St Cloud if Minnesota support was lacking or CP didn't play ball.

I firmly believe that it would be critical to schedule the NCH in a different timeslot from the Empire Builder from Chicago to Fargo and Sandpoint to Seattle (or Portland, whichever is chosen) in order to create a second frequency. This would be a critical component of the plan.

This would be the Silver Star/Silver Meteor of the North. That's the idea.

Frankly, I think it's going to be easier to get the "new to Amtrak" track upgraded and agreement to run one train a day on it -- than it will be to get host railroad agreement on the parts where this will be the second daily Amtrak train. I expect the demands for double and triple tracking from Chicago to Fargo to be high, and likewise from Sandpoint to Seattle (or Portland) -- while I expect the plain track from Fargo to Sandpoint via Helena to be much less contentious. Why? Less freight traffic on the latter.
 

Mark Meyer

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True -- but you overestimate the cost of adding service to the NCH. And you underestimate the degree to which it would be adding service on existing routes. First of all, it would share all facilities from Seattle (or Portland, whichever is chosen) to Sandpoint ID and from Minneapolis/St Paul to Chicago. And also at Fargo. (And depending on the chosen Minnesota route, also from Fargo to Minneapolis/St Paul.)

Obviously, you have not even availed yourself to the information on this that is available online.

The 2009 North Coast Hiawatha study and the BSPRA study both indicate the route to be via Staples and Yakima. Due to high traffic and limited ability to add trackage on route via Wenatchee (Cascade Tunnel), the route across Washington definitely will be via Yakima. Therefore, common stations with the Empire Builder would be Fargo and east, Sandpoint, Spokane, Pasco, and Seattle. The 2009 study pegged the cost at $1.0432 billion, with station costs at $17.6 million for 17 “new” stations. Subsequent other studies including one from the State of Washington have identified additional stations. The 2009 study understated costs in three specific areas: Station cost, not stating the cost of a signaled main line track at Laurel Yard as identified in the study (page 32), and that infrastructure cost between Auburn and Pasco reflected train frequency during the Great Recession (2009) and reduced freight traffic, the opposite of what is true today.


Most of the stations on the line still exist, and basically require the usual "patch up the crumbling platform and add a ramp". Some would require "pour a new platform". Very few would be staffed. Station buildings are generally the responsibility of the cities these days anyway; many still exist and some would probably be revived, but it's not a necessary component of the project (see: Texarkana).
This is a vast oversimplification of reality. Except where shared with the Empire Builder, ALL (not some) would require an ADA-compliant platform. For reference, the State of Washington in 2009 opened two new stations, one at Leavenworth for a cost of $1 million, and also at Stanwood for $5 million. The Stanwood station required additional track and signal work. Neither facility has an indoor shelter or restrooms. In 2020, Amtrak completed a new platform (long enough for an entire train) at Shelby, Montana for a cost of nearly $1 million. The “Feasibility of an East-West Intercity Passenger Rail System for Washington State” study done by the state of Washington pegged the station cost of just six stations in 2020 (Auburn, Cle Elum, Ellensburg, Yakima, Toppenish, and Pasco) at $107,834,770. Several stops proposed by the State of Washington and the BSPRA have no station structure at all. Jamestown, ND no longer exists, and Miles City and Bozeman have deteriorated to the point new structures would be warranted. Other locations have been repurposed, so the cost is highly variable. Suffice it to say that in Montana and North Dakota, a heated indoor facility would be a must. Whether a station is the responsibility of a city or other entity is completely irrelevant; regardless of who owns or maintains it, that cost is included. For 20 or so new stops, $300 million or more would be a lowball amount.



As far as I can tell there would be zero new mechanical facilities needed. Three or four new crewbases with the Willmar route, one fewer if the existing St Cloud route is used.
Currently the Empire Builder has inspection points at Minot and Spokane. Potable water is available there and at Havre.



Minot is 940 miles from Chicago (inspection points at least every 1,000 miles), so on the North Coast Hiawatha route the next logical mechanical inspection point would be Mandan, where BNSF trains are also inspected. But Mandan is over 1,000 miles from Spokane, so a second inspection point would be required, such as Missoula. In addition to a facility to accommodate carmen and their equipment, watering facilities would need to be added.



This many stations should be $24-$60 million. Peanuts. The track & signal upgrades would swamp this.

$24-$60 million would be peanuts. But that’s been disproven. Track and signal infrastructure would undoubtedly be much more. Traffic patterns have changed dramatically from the 2009 study.


The three Minnesota stations could be skipped in favor of the existing route via St Cloud if Minnesota support was lacking or CP didn't play ball.
This is in reference to neroden’s post:

“This is probably overkill. Ignoring the already-existing stations, a more reasonable startup list would be:

Willmar
Morris
Breckenridge…”
Though we know that the proposals don’t include a routing via Willmar, it’s interesting that neroden evidently thinks that route belongs to CP. It is BNSF.


Frankly, I think it's going to be easier to get the "new to Amtrak" track upgraded and agreement to run one train a day on it -- than it will be to get host railroad agreement on the parts where this will be the second daily Amtrak train. I expect the demands for double and triple tracking from Chicago to Fargo to be high, and likewise from Sandpoint to Seattle (or Portland) –

Well, the infrastructure funding is largely in place for the Chicago-St. Paul segment (Press Releases • All Aboard Minnesota)

The remainder remains to be seen.


while I expect the plain track from Fargo to Sandpoint via Helena to be much less contentious. Why? Less freight traffic on the latter.

Plain track?



Anyway, less freight traffic is irrelevant. The route also has less capacity, and steeper grades (even in North Dakota), but most notably west of Livingston, Montana where there are five major grades. With many heavy unit trains and two intact helper districts on Montana Rail Link, operating a passenger train – even with less traffic than the Empire Builder route to the north – is more challenging, and potentially more expensive when maintaining fluidity.
 

Siegmund

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The news is not all bad, re the trackage situation.

MRL has been investing heavily ever since its creation. There is more Class 4 track now on the NCH route than at just about any time since 1979. Places described as 40 or 45mph track in previous studies are now running freight at 60. As for the traffic -- last I heard MRL was down substantially from its peak a decade ago, when the rumors about doing things like needing to reopen Homestake were at the largest number of foam-frothed mouths.

Even the 2009 study did not see many capacity issues, just talked about needing to install switch machines on a bunch of manual sidings in North Dakota. (Contrast that with both the Sunset route and the Empire Builder route, where adding extra frequencies are very likely to result in demands for several additional sidings.)

The one thing almost all of us can agree on is that service needs to be daily to be worth anything at all. Not just from the cost perspective, but from the standpoint of being usable transportation.
 

WWW

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Willmar
Morris
Breckenridge…”
Though we know that the proposals don’t include a routing via Willmar, it’s interesting that neroden evidently thinks that route belongs to CP. It is BNSF.
Maybe he is thinking of the CP route west of the cities paralleling Hy 55 - Buffalo - Maple Lake - Annadale - Paynesville - Glenwood - Elbow Lake
crossing the SD border at Hankinson and angling northwesterly to Bismarck ND.

So to think the EB (BNSF) runs on the northside of I94 while the CP route runs on the southside of I94 -
The EB BNSF route runs just south of the Canadian border miles away from the Interstate.

I am still puzzled by the NorthCoast Hiawatha having NorthCoast which I thought was a Northern Pacific trade name North Coast Limited and
seeing how three railroads ran west coast service north of the Union Pacific Colorado - Wyoming - Utah routing.
BNSF (Great Northern) merged NP into its fold long before the SF merge
CP rail merged the Milwaukee Road
 

Amtrak25

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Mark Meyer is assuming these Senators should take a holistic view of the entire Amtrak system and do what is most economically efficient. But that is not how route additions have ever worked. They want their train and couldn't care less about the Sunset Ltd, Cardinal, or "emerging corridors". Even Stephen Gardener's beloved Charlotte-Atlanta would cost several times what a NCH would cost while there is no way the states of NC, SC, and GA will cough up a dime. For that matter, most of Connect US is fantasy, a hoax to overcharge states to cross-subsidize the NEC.

Other than coming up with 5 train sets, ADA compliant station platforms (probably can be done with some FTA and CMAQ grants as "inter-modal facilities"), re-time some grade crossings, the costs can be minimized as some of it as always is ransom. Let's just watch these Senators commit to putting their money where their mouth is, or is it just 2022-electioneering to flip the Senate.
 

Siegmund

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They want their train and couldn't care less about the Sunset Ltd, Cardinal, or "emerging corridors".
If all of the senators do that, we may get a national network. This sort of letter is the closest thing to multi-state cooperation in support of Amtrak (or just about anything else, in this part of the country) we've seen in a while.

Let's just watch these Senators commit to putting their money where their mouth is, or is it just 2022-electioneering to flip the Senate.
Re the 2022 election: of these 8, only Crapo, Hoeven, and Wyden are up for reelection in 2022. All three of those are rated as solidly safe seats for their respective parties. So too are the seats in UT and WA that are up for election but didn't sign on to this letter. No seats in WY or MN are up.

If anyone is in the mood to do some lobbying this year, I suppose I should post in the Sunset Limited to Phoenix thread that Kelly is up for election in a close race in AZ.
 

jis

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Re the 2022 election: of these 8, only Crapo, Hoeven, and Wyden are up for reelection in 2022. All three of those are rated as solidly safe seats for their respective parties. So too are the seats in UT and WA that are up for election but didn't sign on to this letter. No seats in WY or MN are up.

If anyone is in the mood to do some lobbying this year, I suppose I should post in the Sunset Limited to Phoenix thread that Kelly is up for election in a close race in AZ.
The more appropriate forum to post advocacy related stuff is this one:

 

Mark Meyer

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I am still puzzled by the NorthCoast Hiawatha having NorthCoast which I thought was a Northern Pacific trade name North Coast Limited and
seeing how three railroads ran west coast service north of the Union Pacific Colorado - Wyoming - Utah routing.
BNSF (Great Northern) merged NP into its fold long before the SF merge
CP rail merged the Milwaukee Road
The North Coast Hiawatha name was first used with the timetable issued November 14, 1971. It was a combination of the North Coast Limited name and the Hiawatha, a nod to the fact the the train used the Milwaukee Road from Chicago to St. Paul. Same for "San Francisco Zephyr" between Chicago and Oakland, using the Denver Zephyr route from Chicago to Denver, and then the City of San Francisco route from Cheyenne to Oakland.

CP owned the Soo Line, which purchased the Milwaukee Road in 1985 (as in not a merger).
 
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Mark Meyer

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Mark Meyer is assuming these Senators should take a holistic view of the entire Amtrak system and do what is most economically efficient. But that is not how route additions have ever worked. They want their train and couldn't care less about the Sunset Ltd, Cardinal, or "emerging corridors".
Perhaps. But we haven't had a long distance train added in decades. Nor have we seen such a huge amount of funding for Amtrak. So anything that has happened in the past is not relevant to this time.

Other than coming up with 5 train sets, ADA compliant station platforms (probably can be done with some FTA and CMAQ grants as "inter-modal facilities"), re-time some grade crossings, the costs can be minimized as some of it as always is ransom. Let's just watch these Senators commit to putting their money where their mouth is, or is it just 2022-electioneering to flip the Senate.
I doubt that this is that much of a concern among voters. And sure, you can do the service on the cheap, but if at least some attempt to compensate the railroads for operating the train is not made, you'll have a service so slow, it won't attract any riders. Rights now, the best we can hope for for a Billings to Seattle trip is 24 hours, and it can be driven in 14 or less, and the bus takes 18. You get what you pay for.
 

Mark Meyer

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MRL has been investing heavily ever since its creation. There is more Class 4 track now on the NCH route than at just about any time since 1979. Places described as 40 or 45mph track in previous studies are now running freight at 60. As for the traffic -- last I heard MRL was down substantially from its peak a decade ago, when the rumors about doing things like needing to reopen Homestake were at the largest number of foam-frothed mouths.
Where 60 MPH is allowed now, was pretty much the case in 1979. There are numerous areas of speed restrictions, and the Missoula-to-Paradise segment is especially problematic: There are two routes, and both have issues and neither is fast. All in all, the whole railroad is in good shape, but the 2.2% grade for westward trains west of Helena limits the train count to about 25 per day. Couple this with Winston Hill (13 miles of 1% for westward trains) and the 1.8% grade of Bozeman Pass, and there are numerous situations where unit trains take hours to crest the grade - a distance where a passenger train would only take minutes. Plus the time to cut in and cut out the helper. That's going to be the issue.

Regardless of what you last heard, it doesn't matter if traffic on the MRL is down - there's no indication that it will stay that way in perpetuity. Actually, the MRL has one of the most stable traffic flows of anywhere in the country, because as part of the sale/lease agreement with BN in 1987, MRL is guaranteed a certain level of traffic, even if (and this has happened on numerous occasions) it means pulling trains off the Hi-Line (Empire Builder route) onto the route through Southern Montana which is longer, slower, steeper and more expensive. All the coal traffic on the route (which is not part of the quota) is stable for the foreseeable future. The coal plant at Centralia, WA is scheduled to close by 2025, but all the other coal traffic (the other 90% or so) is export coal to Asia.

Even the 2009 study did not see many capacity issues, just talked about needing to install switch machines on a bunch of manual sidings in North Dakota.
Just like your "traffic is down" statement: That was in 2009 during the Great Recession. And it didn't stay down.

A bigger problem is in Washington State between Auburn and Pasco where the freight traffic flow - except for a local train - is all eastward, and where BNSF is operating "combo" trains, such as grain empties, combining two trains. That's 220+ cars and about 14,000 feet of train and only one place between Auburn and Pasco where an eastward passenger train could overtake or a westward passenger train could meet without stopping for the freight to pass.
 

neroden

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I was thinking of the need for CP permission to traverse Minneapolis (yeah, the situation right downtown in Minneapolis is rather cramped), which came up during Northstar station construction. There can be some real weirdness within metro areas; the move of the Empire Builder to St Paul Union Depot was delayed by ***Union Pacific***. What, you didn't think it ran on UP track? It doesn't, but there's a tiny piece of UP-owned property in the area which had to be rearranged, and it caused, IIRC, a year's delay. Even weirder are the multi-year delays to San Diego Trolley projects caused by the need to acquire UP land. UP didn't even remember that it owned land in the area, but the property records showed that it did.

The 2009 study was a documented sandbag, with deliberately inflated costs. As you noted, with examples, it costs $1 to $5 million per station for a platform, so with 12 new stations, that's $12 to $60 million. My numbers are correct; studies which showed higher numbers were deliberately sandbagging and gold-plating. I'm not particularly interested in looking at numbers from a blatantly fraudulent study.

Going via Yakima would, indeed, add a lot of extra unnecessary costs. I was assuming a logical routing where the NCH gets either the Portland branch or the Seattle branch of the existing Empire Builder, which would no longer do switching in Spokane. As should any reasonable, non-sandbagged, non-gold-plated study.

Mark, you appear to be blinded by the dishonest, sandbagged 2009 study, which deliberately inflated costs in order to make the project appear uneconomic. Try looking at reality instead, when it comes to station selection and costs.

Thanks for the information on inspection point requirements. Seems like Mandan and Missoula will do fine. Costs are minimal.

On another point, the thermal coal export business is dead within the next 10 years; this is something I follow as an investor. Asian countries are without, exception, planning to end coal imports. So that traffic will go away; it is not stable. Even metallurgical coal demand is going to drop (steel processes are switching). (On top of that, there is no social license to export coal through Washington or Oregon ports -- each train leads to a protest -- so as the demand dwindles, those are going to be the first to close. Exports through, say, Prince Rupert might last a bit longer.)
 
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Amtrak25

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In St Paul, is it that a ex-Chicago Great Western track that Amtrak has to waddle across to get to SPUD, hence UP gunked up the whole works, and now requires someone in Omaha wake up to let Amtrak in and out of there each time ?

I like the Yakima routing as it also includes Ellensburg and Pasco, which can get a Thruway bus for not that far a trip to Portland, and more political support from central Washington State. Then both the Empire Builder and NCH can serve both Seattle and Portland, and not pick a winner and loser for each.
 
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neroden

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In St Paul, is that a ex-Chicago Great Western track that Amtrak has to waddle across to get to SPUD, hence UP gunked up the whole works, and now requires someone in Omaha wake up to let Amtrak in and out of there each time ?
Sooo, the Regional Railroad Authority which owns St. Paul Union Depot ended up buying the few hundred feet of ex-CGW trackbed (mostly with no track!) in order to lay their track which connected the platform track at Union Station directly to the CP track to the west of Union Station. So UP is out of it now, but the fragment of track they ran across had to be *purchased*.
 

Amtrak25

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I didn't know the Regional Railroad Authority existed. In the way the Minnesota Commercial could switch cars at Midway Station, be nice if Regional Railroad Authority had a switcher loco that could cut/add Chicago cut cars and PV's.
 

neroden

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I didn't know the Regional Railroad Authority existed. In the way the Minnesota Commercial could switch cars at Midway Station, be nice if Regional Railroad Authority had a switcher loco that could cut/add Chicago cut cars and PV's.
Yeah, I don't think they have the budget for it!

 

Mark Meyer

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I was thinking of the need for CP permission to traverse Minneapolis (yeah, the situation right downtown in Minneapolis is rather cramped), which came up during Northstar station construction. There can be some real weirdness within metro areas; the move of the Empire Builder to St Paul Union Depot was delayed by ***Union Pacific***. What, you didn't think it ran on UP track? It doesn't, but there's a tiny piece of UP-owned property in the area which had to be rearranged, and it caused, IIRC, a year's delay. Even weirder are the multi-year delays to San Diego Trolley projects caused by the need to acquire UP land. UP didn't even remember that it owned land in the area, but the property records showed that it did.
Nope: Nothing to do with CP in Minneapolis, and the former Milwaukee Road main line through the city is truncated. Since 1978, Amtrak trains westward from St. Paul leave CP (ex-MILW/Soo) track at Merriam Park in St. Paul, and use the Minnesota Commercial Railroad past the Midway Amtrak Station to BN/BNSF at either St. Anthony or Park Jct.

The 2009 study was a documented sandbag, with deliberately inflated costs. As you noted, with examples, it costs $1 to $5 million per station for a platform, so with 12 new stations, that's $12 to $60 million. My numbers are correct; studies which showed higher numbers were deliberately sandbagging and gold-plating. I'm not particularly interested in looking at numbers from a blatantly fraudulent study.
No, you're just cherrypicking and even then you get it wrong. The 2009 study projected 17 new stations, and the BSPRA 31. Both the Leavenworth and Stanwood examples would need to be adjusted up for inflation, the point of mentioning that they were only platforms is that any stations in Montana or North Dakota would require a heated shelter of some kind which would increase costs dramatically. But in a nutshell, what you're saying is that even though the study by the state of Washington in 2020 estimated a station cost of about $107 million for six stations, you think 12 or more would be less. Good for you.

Going via Yakima would, indeed, add a lot of extra unnecessary costs. I was assuming a logical routing where the NCH gets either the Portland branch or the Seattle branch of the existing Empire Builder, which would no longer do switching in Spokane. As should any reasonable, non-sandbagged, non-gold-plated study.
This is ridiculous. The routing through Yakima is simply part of the route being considered, and is part of long-term planning by the state of Washington. And it's especially ridiculous that you earlier would consider a routing from the Twin Cities to Fargo as something that should be considered, but not via Yakima, Running the Empire Builder to only Seattle or Portland because a North Coast Hiawatha would need to the sole service on the other leg is a non-starter, simply because it is a degrading of service along the Empire Builder route. Won't happen

Mark, you appear to be blinded by the dishonest, sandbagged 2009 study, which deliberately inflated costs in order to make the project appear uneconomic. Try looking at reality instead, when it comes to station selection and costs.
Ah...no. The station costs in the 2009 were NOT inflated - they were deliberately underestimated, and indicated as such. The cost of the main line through Laurel Yard was also specifically indicated as not taken into consideration, and therefore it too was underestimated. The cost of track capacity enhancements in Washington State also appear to be underestimated because of reduced freight traffic, which is not the case today. So, no, there is no indication that the report was deliberately inflated.

On another point, the thermal coal export business is dead within the next 10 years; this is something I follow as an investor. Asian countries are without, exception, planning to end coal imports. So that traffic will go away; it is not stable. Even metallurgical coal demand is going to drop (steel processes are switching).
Wow. So there's no coal business in 10 years. The goal is start the passenger train before then. So, reality dictates with the traffic as it is, with the distinct possibility of additional non-coal traffic in the future.

(On top of that, there is no social license to export coal through Washington or Oregon ports -- each train leads to a protest -- so as the demand dwindles, those are going to be the first to close. Exports through, say, Prince Rupert might last a bit longer.)
There is no coal currently shipped by rail to export through ports in either Oregon or Washington. But there are one or two trains daily operating on MRL/BNSF to Roberts Bank, BC that go to export. There have been no protests over any coal trains going to ports in Washington and Oregon because there are no coal trains going to ports in Washington and Oregon because there are no port facilities in Washington and Oregon handling coal. The obvious conclusion is that you didn't know that these coal trains don't use Washington or Oregon ports..... (Protests have, on occasion, stopped Roberts Bank coal trains and unit crude trains.)
 

neroden

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Good to know the details about the declining coal exports. It remains true that coal is an irrelevance. Your other tendentious arguing is repetitive, incorrect, and consists mainly of Appeals to Authority fallacies based on already-debunked studies, so I won't dignify it with a response.

Your own citations for actual station costs show that stations are $1 - $5 million. You are denying your own actual citations now? Interesting behavior, but not worth engaging with.
 

Mark Meyer

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Good to know the details about the declining coal exports. It remains true that coal is an irrelevance.
No, it's not true that coal is an "irrelevance." It is very relevant because the trains still run. And as long as they do, MRL and BNSF will demand that available capacity includes the reality that these trains continue to operate. Especially since there is zero indication that proponents of the passenger train are unlikely to want to wait until all the coal traffic is gone.

Your other tendentious arguing is repetitive, incorrect, and consists mainly of Appeals to Authority fallacies based on already-debunked studies, so I won't dignify it with a response.
That's too bad. I was hoping you'd elaborate more about those non-existent coal ports in Oregon and Washington. These previous studies were done at the behest of entities like Amtrak, the State of Washington, and the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, an arm of Montana State government. Unlike you who have no standing to dictate routes and stations, these entities do have standing and have dictated the parameters of the studies.

Your own citations for actual station costs show that stations are $1 - $5 million. You are denying your own actual citations now? Interesting behavior, but not worth engaging with.
No, I stand by my figures. I also stand by (and repeat that) the remainder of my comment about how those amounts need to be adjusted up for inflation, and how they are only for platforms. That works in Western Washington, but won't in Montana and North Dakota with -40 windchill. Clearly a heated structure will be required. And in larger communities, such as Bismarck, Billings, Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula, even more substantial facilities would be necessary to accommodate amenities like checked baggage, a ticket office, and restrooms. That's why the Washington State study estimated $107 million + just for six station facilities. The remaining stations across Washington, Montana, and North Dakota will undoubtedly and logically cost a correspondingly greater amount.
 
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neroden

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Given how long it takes to establish passenger train service -- do the projects *ever* get done on the most optimistic schedules? -- I'm not going to worry about the dying coal business, which by your account is pretty small already (a few trains a day? this is not the Joint Line through Colorado). The coal business is collapsing at accelerating speed.

Your insistence on gold-plating the stations is unreasonable. Even if previous studies called for gold-plated stations, I don't think the local advocates are going to insist on gold-plated stations during initial construction. Have you seen the intercity bus stops in Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota, again with -40 windchill? Many are simply signs at the side of the road. Some don't even have SIGNS. People wait in their cars.

I lived in Minnesota and have friends in North Dakota. They're not going to demand gold-plated stations.

An accessible platform and parking is acceptable for initial service. People will obviously advocate for fancier stations later, but nobody is going to reject the service because the stations aren't gold-plated.
 

Amtrakfflyer

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Honestly does anyone expect anything (positive)to happen with Gardner in charge? I see lots of consultants and studies, but if the drive and desire isn’t there it will just be more money wasted. We’re in a new age where it’s ok to thumb your nose at Congress (to some extent) and Gardner as a political creature is very cognizant of that and smart enough to play them. Maybe the new Board if and when it’s seated will change the companies trajectory or maybe it will just be a replay of what’s going on at USPS. Competence and desire to succeed starts from the top of any company.
 
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Mark Meyer

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59
Given how long it takes to establish passenger train service -- do the projects *ever* get done on the most optimistic schedules? -- I'm not going to worry about the dying coal business, which by your account is pretty small already (a few trains a day? this is not the Joint Line through Colorado). The coal business is collapsing at accelerating speed.
That's not the point. The point is that the railroads will certainly ask for infrastructure to accommodate existing traffic and projected growth. No one knows the specific rate of domestic coal demand decline, and that of export demand is even more difficult to predict. Therefore, the traffic as is has to be considered. And since the coal traffic is relatively minimal compared to the other traffic, that's all the more reason to expect that overall traffic will remain constant or grow.

Your insistence on gold-plating the stations is unreasonable. Even if previous studies called for gold-plated stations, I don't think the local advocates are going to insist on gold-plated stations during initial construction. Have you seen the intercity bus stops in Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota, again with -40 windchill? Many are simply signs at the side of the road. Some don't even have SIGNS. People wait in their cars.
I actually have been at many of the bus stops in Montana and North Dakota and just about all of them are in businesses such as convenience stores, restaurants and hotels. (The primary carrier is Jefferson Lines and their website indicates the stops.) People with access to cars can wait in their cars, but those without cannot. And many of the proposed stops have no taxi service, and railroad stations are not always close to businesses or businesses open at train time to provide shelter. Basic amenities are critical to attracting ridership. Lighting, heat, and restrooms are hardly considered gold-plated. It's 2022, not 1922.

I lived in Minnesota and have friends in North Dakota. They're not going to demand gold-plated stations.
They will expect basic amenities. And I lived in Montana for 32 years, and have boarded the train in places like Devils Lake (-47 windchill) and Cut Bank without a car to wait in. Sometimes in the winter (like all the time), the train is late.
 

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
9,213
Location
Ithaca, NY
I actually have been at many of the bus stops in Montana and North Dakota and just about all of them are in businesses such as convenience stores, restaurants and hotels.
I've dropped someone off at a Jefferson Lines bus stop at a deserted corner with literally nothing but a boarded-up building.

So, "just about all" isn't all.

Now, that's not ideal. It is, however, what people in North Dakota are used to. They do not expect your gold-plated version of "basic amenities". Maybe Montanans demand more, I don't know. North Dakotans don't.

The weather is just as awful in Pennsylvania, albeit in different ways, and I invite you to check out the status of a bunch of the Pennsylvanian stations. Example: Latrobe, PA - Amtrak Station (LAB) | Amtrak

You're demanding gold-plating, a much higher standard than existing stations have, or nothing. It's not reasonable and it's a way of calling for no service at all, which is what you did. It's an old tactic to oppose rail service. You tipped your hand, you've been consistent, you're using a standard anti-rail-service playbook, and maybe if you want to be taken seriously, you shouldn't.

Frankly, you appear to be arguing in bad faith. Your own station construction data gives one set of prices; you reject that and make up much higher prices based on handwaving. You appear to have started with the premise that the route is a bad idea, and in order to back that incorrect premise, you have attempted to make up whatever bogus non-factually-based numbers you can to make it seem overly expensive, and disregarding all actual hard data. This is, of course, the standard technique used in sandbagging studies, such as the 2009 bogus "study" on this line or the bogus "study" of East-West Rail done by Massachusetts more recently -- it's textbook.

I have a bad habit of discussing as if I am dealing with a good faith argument long beyond the point where it's clear I'm not dealing with a good faith argument. I will stop now.
 
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Mark Meyer

Train Attendant
Joined
Apr 24, 2019
Messages
59
I've dropped someone off at a Jefferson Lines bus stop at a deserted corner with literally nothing but a boarded-up building.
So what? Their website strongly suggests that the preference is to stop at some kind of a business. And if they really thought they could get away with an equal amount of patronage stopping along the side of a road (such as the exit from an Interstate Highway), why did they not do that?

By the way, in the scenario of "dropping someone off at a Jefferson Lines bus stop at a deserted corner with literally nothing but a boarded-up building:" Would you have just let the person in subzero cold if it was winter and the bus had not arrived? This is actually a real concern. Prior to destaffing the station at Grand Forks, ND (and just having a caretaker open and close the facility), Amtrak was having a tough time hiring someone to replace a retried employee. A couple of times in mid-winter, Amtrak simply did not have an employee to open the station, and it remained closed at train time. The result: On at least two occasions I recall, the train had to remain at the station for 30-60 minutes until a taxi could come and pick up passengers who expected to detrain and wait in the station for their ride later in the morning (the station at Grand Forks is out of town, not close to any other businesses, with middle-of-the-night train times). The one occasion I remember vividly, the train was there about an hour and the wind chill was -55.

So, "just about all" isn't all.
Nor is it many, and your claim isn't supported by what Jafferson Lines is advertising to its customers.

Now, that's not ideal. It is, however, what people in North Dakota are used to.
That can't be what they're used to because that's not what they have.

The weather is just as awful in Pennsylvania, albeit in different ways, and I invite you to check out the status of a bunch of the Pennsylvanian stations. Example: Latrobe, PA - Amtrak Station (LAB) | Amtrak
Not a good example. The station in Latrobe is right downtown with numerous businesses (including a pharmacy and dollar store) less than a block away. The community has taxi service. The average temperature (not the average high) in January is 30. Valley City, ND, on the other hand, has no taxi, no businesses within walking distance, and an average January temperature of 10. Just as awful?

You're demanding gold-plating, a much higher standard than existing stations have, or nothing. It's not reasonable and it's a way of calling for no service at all, which is what you did. It's an old tactic to oppose rail service. You tipped your hand, you've been consistent, you're using a standard anti-rail-service playbook, and maybe if you want to be taken seriously, you shouldn't.
Not true. I'm simply basing it on what Amtrak stations in the same climate offer now. And it's not just me: In a Guest Opinion in the Glendive Ranger Review newspaper December 19, 2021, Jason Stuart, Vice Chairman of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority and Executive Director of the Dawson County Economic Development Council stated: “The restoration of passenger rail service will be a major economic boon to our community, providing increased economic activity for our hotels, retail stores, restaurants and tourism sites. It will help create new opportunities for new businesses to open and flourish. It will create new jobs for ticket agents, baggage handlers, depot staff and other support services. " It seems logical that if the Vice Chairman of the group pushing to reinstate the service thinks that stations should be staffed and have checked baggage, that is the general consensus of organization. Especially considering that Glendive would be one of the lesser-used stations.

And it should be noted in Mr. Stuart's quote, that one of the benefits of restored passenger service is tourism; therefore people using the train for such a purpose are unlikely to be able to "wait in their car" as you suggested earlier. That is, the point of the train is NOT having to have their car at the end of the journey.

Frankly, you appear to be arguing in bad faith. Your own station construction data gives one set of prices; you reject that and make up much higher prices based on handwaving. You appear to have started with the premise that the route is a bad idea, and in order to back that incorrect premise, you have attempted to make up whatever bogus non-factually-based numbers you can to make it seem overly expensive, and disregarding all actual hard data. This is, of course, the standard technique used in sandbagging studies, such as the 2009 bogus "study" on this line or the bogus "study" of East-West Rail done by Massachusetts more recently -- it's textbook.
To the contrary. I offer actual costs of actual projects and actual studies. You have done nothing but to proclaim they're "gold-plated" which is apparently anything beyond a platform. And you haven't offered any numbers AT ALL. And for the record, I don't think the "route is a bad idea," but I do expect those promoting the service to include the cost of mandatory infrastructure, such as new trackage and mechanical and crew facilities. And the BSPRA hasn't even "gold-plated" the stations in their study, they've simply ignored that aspect for the most part, which is disingenuous. I understand their current focus on winning local and political support for the route, but at some point they will need to answer the questions about how much it will cost and how they arrived at those figures. Staffed station or dirt platform? It really doesn't matter, as long as they're transparent on their vision.
 
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