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October and November 2016 Monthly Performance Reports

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lo2e

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October: https://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/439/580/Amtrak-Monthly-Performance-Report-October-2016.pdf

November: https://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/1023/896/Amtrak-Monthly-Performance-Report-November-2016.pdf

Interestingly, the monthly reports for the long distance routes now break down sleeper passengers and revenue and coach/business passengers and revenue. Glad I don't have to do it myself anymore! (Hello Amtrak, it appears somebody's been paying attention to my posts :) ).

Hey Amtrak, since you appear to be paying attention, how about fixing the budget numbers for ridership and revenue so they don't look so ridiculous? Please? Pretty please? :help:

Also changed for FY17 are the "performance indicators" charts near the end of the documents, and starting with the November ridership and revenue chart, they completely changed the formatting on it to group the corridor routes and long distance routes by section of the country and have also included "ticket revenue per passenger". All good changes, I think, except the long distance routes are a little bit weirdly grouped, calling for example the Lake Shore Limited a "Central Route" :blink: .

I'd say October was a pretty mediocre month overall. NE Regionals were up in ridership, Acela was down (pretty significantly) in ridership, everything in the Southeast was pretty awful (due to Hurricane Matthew). There were a LOT of significant amounts of delays throughout the system in October.

November was pretty strong overall, the Southeast did significantly better than they did in October except for Auto Train, the Lincoln Service was quite a nice surprise (possibly just a bounce back from an awful FY16), and Capitol Corridor and Cascades did quite well.

There's still something amiss with some of the Chicago-based corridors, not many of them seem to be doing well on a regular basis. November was slightly better for some of them, but the Illini/Saluki for example has been a regular disappointment.
 

Don Newcomb

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1. I think any airline CEO who had a ~50% ridership (seat occupancy) number would probably kill himself.

2. Do they break out anywhere the costs associated with electrically powered trains vs diesel. It looks to me like power and fuel and all lumped together. They have a number for 2 diesel gallons per core mile but does that mean that diesel trains average 2 gpm or that all trains, including electric, average 2 gpm?
 

A Voice

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1. I think any airline CEO who had a ~50% ridership (seat occupancy) number would probably kill himself.
How many airlines do you know which make dozens of stops at intermediate points between origin and destination?
 

neroden

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The Chicago Cubs effect is visible in the Lincoln Service AND on the Texas Eagle.

Further thoughts as I notice them:

-- the LSL has finally recovered from the NS Autorouter disaster and is bouncing back strongly

-- the Auto Train has had some serious drops. The reports of declining customer service may have some effect?

OTP:

-- CP continues to provide outstanding on time performance. I wonder why? After that, it's BNSF, UP, NS, CSX, and CN in that order (CN is the worst).

-- But note that NS has more freight-train-interference delays than CSX (CSX has more slow orders).

-- CN is causing insane amounts of FTI delays on the Wolverine and Adirondack, which barely even use its track.

-- Metro-North still doesn't seem to be able to dispatch properly

-- NM Railrunner is suffering from slow orders

-- NS is *still* having trouble in the South of the Lake area

November's report introduces a ticket revenue per rider calculation.

On the whole all the long-distance trains are stable or up, with two exceptions: the Auto Train and the CONO. Hopefully the Auto Train situation can be reversed if it is due to poor customer service.

What's wrong with the poor old CONO? Well, the Illini/Saluki are way down too, which is a hint. Could be bad dispatching by CN. Could be depopulation of the cities along the route. Could be something else. Anyway, the CONO needs help
 

neroden

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1. I think any airline CEO who had a ~50% ridership (seat occupancy) number would probably kill himself.
And any group trying to manage roads which got ~50% ridership (seat occupancy) in automobiles would be ecstatic, since 25% is typical. Learn the difference between different modes of transportation.
As you were already informed, the situation where trains stop at many many stops along the way means that ~50% is actually extremely good. On a peak trip, the train is typically chock full at some point in the middle of the trip, the peak point. Anyone on the train at that point who isn't going to the west end ends up reducing the seat occupancy west of there, and vice versa east of there. If you're really lucky someone else will take the seat for a short hop on either end -- but basically 75% is the top you can plausibly get on a single *trip*

And obviously, some days will have less travel than others, but you still run a whole train. Overall, 33% is good, 50% is great.
 

cirdan

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1. I think any airline CEO who had a ~50% ridership (seat occupancy) number would probably kill himself.
Uber on the other hand has below 50%, and that's supposed to be a great success.

Apples and oranges.
 

lo2e

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Possible theory on the CONO, maybe fare prices are too high for the route? If you look at niemi24s's chart here - http://discuss.amtraktrains.com/index.php?/topic/69668-comparison-of-fare-costs-per-mile-per-hour/- CONO has the highest low bucket cents per mile coach fare and one of the highest (top 10 or so) low bucket roomette cents per mile fare, so perhaps the clientele isn't feeling like they're getting a good value for the money? In both October and November, CONO lost both sleeper and coach riders year over year (the worst was November sleeper passengers, -7.7% year over year). Just one theory, there may be other reasons lurking out there somewhere.

Another new thing in the reports under long distance is the number of vehicles carried by Auto Train and revenue per vehicle. YTD vehicles carried is down 12% and vehicle revenue is down 13% year over year.

I'm REALLY confused by page A-3.1 in the November report. It says: "There were losses on the New Haven-Springfield, Downeaster, Lincoln Service, Cascades, Washington-Newport News, Carolinian, and Piedmont routes due to track work in November", but both Lincoln Service and Cascades not just went up in ridership, but WAY up (the others did all go down). Then on the same page "The Palmetto, Silver Star, and Texas Eagle had losses due to track work" but all three of those trains had big gains as well. If I'm misinterpreting those quotes, let me know, but it doesn't make much sense to me at the moment.

One other (semi-random) thought - is the revenue/expense of AGR reflected anywhere in the report? While I know AGR is technically an entirely separate entity, surely there is some effect, even if it's a very minor one, on Amtrak's bottom line income or expenses. Do AGR redemption passengers appear in the ridership numbers or is it only "cash" passengers? I'm curious.
 

Don Newcomb

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1. I think any airline CEO who had a ~50% ridership (seat occupancy) number would probably kill himself.
How many airlines do you know which make dozens of stops at intermediate points between origin and destination?
I understand that some folks on this board can't handle any criticism of Amtrak but let's talk business here. The airlines go out of their way to make sure seats are filled. So do cruise ships. They even overbook and gladly pay big penalties for doing so because it makes money. The last time I flew a half-full plane was sometime in the early '90s. These days if flights aren't filled, the airline either has a "fire sale" on seats or cancels the flight to save the fuel and pays whatever penalties are required. Amtrak probably can't just cancel trains but they can do more by way of promotion and pricing to keep them full. An occupied seat is at least some income and in coach may also generate income in the lounge and dining cars. An empty seat is a lost opportunity. How many people would suddenly get interested in traveling if they got an e-mail telling them that fares between their favorite destinations had been slashed on particular (otherwise "off") days?
 

A Voice

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1. I think any airline CEO who had a ~50% ridership (seat occupancy) number would probably kill himself.
How many airlines do you know which make dozens of stops at intermediate points between origin and destination?
I understand that some folks on this board can't handle any criticism of Amtrak but let's talk business here. The airlines go out of their way to make sure seats are filled. So do cruise ships. They even overbook and gladly pay big penalties for doing so because it makes money. The last time I flew a half-full plane was sometime in the early '90s. These days if flights aren't filled, the airline either has a "fire sale" on seats or cancels the flight to save the fuel and pays whatever penalties are required. Amtrak probably can't just cancel trains but they can do more by way of promotion and pricing to keep them full. An occupied seat is at least some income and in coach may also generate income in the lounge and dining cars. An empty seat is a lost opportunity. How many people would suddenly get interested in traveling if they got an e-mail telling them that fares between their favorite destinations had been slashed on particular (otherwise "off") days?
This has absolutely nothing to do with being defensive of Amtrak. Indeed, passenger rail's biggest supporters are also often its harshest critics. Rather, seat occupancy reflects the nature of the service (put simply, a function of seat miles).

I don't have time to fully explain right now, but suffice it to say it is very easy, relatively speaking, to fill every empty seat on a journey just between point A and point B (most flights and cruises). For most trains and buses, its more complicated, where you have passengers getting on and off at every intermediate stop; A train may well be sold-out for some segment(s) of the trip but have plenty of empty seats for other legs. That's unavoidable.
 

priller

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-- the Auto Train has had some serious drops. The reports of declining customer service may have some effect?
That is absolutely what I'm hearing. It's a self-inflicted wound. I live in a 55+ community, in the area of the Lorton station, with a lot of AT riders. Numerous people I talk to are telling me "never again", and these were regular riders. The service cuts of 2014 combined with rising prices have turned people off.

Also, there seems to be an issue with very rough track. In 2016, I know of two couples who cancelled their return trip and drove back because the trip was so jarring. Both couples had taken the AT in the past, so something has changed in some stretch.
 

neroden

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Possible theory on the CONO, maybe fare prices are too high for the route? If you look at niemi24s's chart here - http://discuss.amtraktrains.com/index.php?/topic/69668-comparison-of-fare-costs-per-mile-per-hour/- CONO has the highest low bucket cents per mile coach fare and one of the highest (top 10 or so) low bucket roomette cents per mile fare, so perhaps the clientele isn't feeling like they're getting a good value for the money? In both October and November, CONO lost both sleeper and coach riders year over year (the worst was November sleeper passengers, -7.7% year over year). Just one theory, there may be other reasons lurking out there somewhere.
Hmm, good theory. It may need to cut fares.

I'm REALLY confused by page A-3.1 in the November report. It says: "There were losses on the New Haven-Springfield, Downeaster, Lincoln Service, Cascades, Washington-Newport News, Carolinian, and Piedmont routes due to track work in November", but both Lincoln Service and Cascades not just went up in ridership, but WAY up (the others did all go down). Then on the same page "The Palmetto, Silver Star, and Texas Eagle had losses due to track work" but all three of those trains had big gains as well. If I'm misinterpreting those quotes, let me know, but it doesn't make much sense to me at the moment.
I think they're just tracking which trains should *expect* losses due to track work. Lincoln Service outperformed anyway because the Chicago Cubs won the World Series (I witnessed that phenomenon myself on the Texas Eagle...) Not sure why Cascades boomed despite track work, but go Cascades!
 

neroden

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-- the Auto Train has had some serious drops. The reports of declining customer service may have some effect?
That is absolutely what I'm hearing. It's a self-inflicted wound. I live in a 55+ community, in the area of the Lorton station, with a lot of AT riders. Numerous people I talk to are telling me "never again", and these were regular riders. The service cuts of 2014 combined with rising prices have turned people off.

Also, there seems to be an issue with very rough track. In 2016, I know of two couples who cancelled their return trip and drove back because the trip was so jarring. Both couples had taken the AT in the past, so something has changed in some stretch.
Drat. Well, at least that makes it clear what needs to be fixed. Anyone got a line to Wick Moorman?

I do have to say, whatever *moron* approved the service cuts in 2014, which have hurt revenue more than they've cut costs, is not the same person who made all the sensible improvements to the system back in 2008...
 
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NativeSon5859

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Regarding CONO... perhaps the fares as well as the decline in service on the train have chased some potential riders away. Also, the track conditions south of Memphis are the worst I can remember. I can see that being a turn off, especially to new riders. That being said, the last time I took it southbound in coach, about a month ago, it was a mostly full train all the way to NOL, at least in the coaches. However I'm finding myself looking at other options now when planning a trip. Next month I'm taking the Crescent to D.C connecting to the CL just to avoid the sleeper service of the CONO.
 

neroden

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For the CONO, I thought of the appalling lack of food service and the terrible track south of Memphis, but the Illini/Saluki (which don't go south of Carbondale and never had good food service) are way down in ridership too.
 

lo2e

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With AT also, in the last couple years at least there have been significant amounts of delays and outright cancellations. I could easily imagine people in the "older" demographic (which seems to be a target demographic for the service) being disenfranchised by a 1am or 2am departure like 52 had the other day, and then needing to drive in the dark to get to their final destination because of a significant delay in arrival. I know several seniors that don't drive in the dark any more if they don't have to.

Granted the delays and cancellations could be weather-related or just the victim of a domino effect if something on CSX's rails goes bust somewhere along the way, but the clientele doesn't really care about what the reason is, they just know they had a bad experience with it.
 

Don Newcomb

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I don't have time to fully explain right now, but suffice it to say it is very easy, relatively speaking, to fill every empty seat on a journey just between point A and point B (most flights and cruises). For most trains and buses, its more complicated, where you have passengers getting on and off at every intermediate stop; A train may well be sold-out for some segment(s) of the trip but have plenty of empty seats for other legs. That's unavoidable.
It seems to be a pretty simple concept that if the unfilled seats could be filled at whatever price it would still be "found money" for Amtrak. Yes, there's a certain liability cost below which you can't go. (e.g. It costs more than $1 to sell a $1 ticket and the chance that the $1 passenger will sue you for $1M exceeds any benefit.) And while Southwest Airlines does not make "dozens" of stops along a route, they do make quite a few and manage to keep their planes pretty full.

I'm trying to remember the trains I've ridden around the world and the only one I can recall being below 50% occupied was the Ofoten Line from Narvik to Kiruna.

Several factors affect ridership: price, advertising, parking and intermodal access at stations (Atlanta comes to mind), schedules, etc. Of these, price and advertising are the only two which management can change immediately. Schedules take some time. Parking, etc. are long-term. Just imagine the difference to the bottom line if, all other things remaining the same, seat occupancy went from 50% to 55%

Are there numbers for how Amtrak's seat occupancy rate compares with passenger rail in other countries? (e.g Europe as a whole? Japan? Canada?)
 

jis

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Hey, in India on the Mumbai and Kolkata Suburban Service during rush hours occupancy is like 800% or more, specially near the terminal stations :) But when taken overall throughout the day and night and over the entire route system including away from the metropolis terminals, it falls down to under 100% That is because when you run a clock-face service or something close to it throughout the day, which makes the overall service more usable, there are many trains in off-peak hours that are relatively empty. but that does not mean discontinuing them improves service for anyone.

Rolled up occupancy numbers over large swaths of times and routes is a relatively meaningless for the purposes of planning anything. They are mainly used by armchair philosophers to pontificate. :p

Ones personal experience riding a few trains here and there means not much in such analysis either.
 

neroden

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I'm trying to remember the trains I've ridden around the world and the only one I can recall being below 50% occupied was the Ofoten Line from Narvik to Kiruna.
Bluntly, Don, you're being *dumb*. Stop being stupid and listen to us. Yes, everyone who rides trains mostly experiences the full trains, because *you're riding on the more popular segments in more popular times*. You'd have to make a systematic effort to ride the trains from end to end in off-peak times at unpopular times of year to *see* why the overall seat occupancy is below 50%.
I've actually *done* this on some subway systems, because I'm enough of a hobbyist to go out and ride subway lines end to end at 4 AM or midnight on weekends, but you probably haven't.

Hey, a recent example. The Kansas City Streetcar is *booming*, usually standing-room only during the day, sometimes passing people up downtown because it's so full.

But at the end of the line, it's half full, because half the people have *gotten off* at stations somewhat before the end of the line.

And when I got on the very last trip of the day very late at night (becuase I was arriving from Amtrak), it was just our party from Amtrak on the train. This brings the average seat occupancy down, y'know.
 
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Don Newcomb

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Bluntly, Don, you're being *dumb*. Stop being stupid and listen to us. Yes, everyone who rides trains mostly experiences the full trains, because *you're riding on the more popular segments in more popular times*. You'd have to make a systematic effort to ride the trains from end to end in off-peak times at unpopular times of year to *see* why the overall seat occupancy is below 50%.

I've actually *done* this on some subway systems, because I'm enough of a hobbyist to go out and ride subway lines end to end at 4 AM or midnight on weekends, but you probably haven't......
OK. So tell me then, what if any metrics would you look at to help improve the bottom line? Hmmm? I'll admit that it's easier to add an extra car to a train than to stretch a jet and the fuel costs are not the be-all and end-all of rail transport, so maybe it's not occupancy. But what is it? Is it to be found in the financial report? If I were a stockholder (and I suppose I am), are there any key metrics I should look at? Clearly, having a train 100% full for 10% of it's run but 10% full for the other 90% is not going to be a money maker. Unless Amtrak is run simply as a social welfare project, it need to improve its financial performance. Not to drag this into a political discussion, the Republicans are in control now and sharpening their axes.
 

jis

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The rolled up metrics that are most important are CASM and RASM. Not seat occupancy per se. You can have high seat occupancy for zero fare which will put you out of business very quickly. There is much cross elasticity between occupancy and fare charged and overall P&L that is complex. Typically in rail application 60-70% is considered very good to excellent overall occupancy while optimizing for best P/L. But details vary a lot from route to route and is very sensitive to details of boarding patterns.
 

jis

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Controlling expense without losing riders is challenging in an environment where reduction in labor cost is difficult and capital to replace worn out equipment is institutionally hard to come by. Revenue management is certainly something that management can control and that is what yield management and fare buckets are all about, but even there Congress interferes in Amtrak's freedom of action.

But as I mentioned before modeling all these factors into an operational model is a complex task, and validating such models are quite non trivial.
 
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