Priorities for expanding the national network

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MARC Rider

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As anyone who reads my posts knows, I believe that the highest priority for intercity passenger rail is serving the most people who are going to ride less than 500 miles, and most of them are probably going to riding about 200 miles or less. Thus, frequent corridor trains serving large population concentrations, or perhaps feeding people in from outlying areas into major metropolitan centers. Nonetheless, there's also an important role for the less frequent national network trains that travel longer distances and serve rural populations that don't have alternative public transportation. The main point of these trains to to serve rural areas, serve people who can't fly (say, for medical reasons), who can't (or won't) drive, and finally, to allow those of us who just like taking long train rides to continue to be able to do so.

Given that Amtrak is funded by the taxpayers, most of the attention of management and rail passenger advocates should be focused on expanding corridor services, as that provides most of the potential for increasing the importance of passenger rail as part of the overall transportation system. However, there is definitely a need to fill in some of the gaps in the long-distance national network. Here are a few of my ideas about what I think are the higher priority needs for expanded long distance service. These aren't in a particular order of priority, but it might be find to order them so in the discussion.

  • Second frequencies. A few of the long distance corridors are already heavily used, but under current schedules, many large intermediate cities are served at inconvenient hours by the single daily train. Thus, a second frequency would allow such service. This has the advantage of requiring fewer capital improvements, but additional equipment and the concurrence of the host railroads would still be necessary. The main corridors where this would work best are for the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol (to allow service to Ohio and Pittsburgh at reasonable hours) and the Silver Services (to allow service to points in North and South Carolina at reasonable hours.) Also, perhaps a second train over the California Zephyr route that connects Emeryville with Salt Lake City, leaving and arriving Salt Lake City at a reasonable hour. Also, a day train between Washington and Atlanta, running through Raleigh and Charlotte.
  • Kentucky and Tennessee. There is an empty zone not served by passenger rail in the trans-Appalachian southeast, and area that contains two very large cities, Nashville and Louisville. It certainly makes sense to connect this region to the national passenger rail network. If only one train is possible, I'm not sure whether it would be best to connect the area with the Northeast (NEC), the midwest (Chicago), or to New Orleans, Atlanta and Florida. I am also not very familiar with the configuration of the existing rail network in terms of what routing sis possible for different services.
  • Phoenix. And a daily Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle. It's sort of silly that one of the larger metropolitan areas in the country only has train service at the far fringe of its urban sprawl. This would require restoring some trackage and such.
  • Northeast - St. Louis/Kansas City. This would connect to the Southwest Chief in Kansas City, allowing an alternate cross-county routing avoiding Chicago. Unfortunately, the rails between Pittsburgh and Columbus are long gone, so it seems like the best way to route this one would be via Pittsburgh, Akron, and Indianapolis. It could also follow the route of the Cardinal to Indianapolis, but this would exclude the Pittsburgh and Akron intermediate markets, which are probably larger than the Charleston, WV and Charlottesville, VA markets. On the other hand, it would be a very scenic ride.
 

Qapla

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under current schedules, many large intermediate cities are served at inconvenient hours by the single daily train. Thus, a second frequency would allow such service.
That is not always the case ... take the Silvers. When they were both running daily their run times were not that different from the time they left Jacksonville, Florida and headed to NY. They both ended up at many of those in between stops at off hours. Same thing with the return trip.

While two trains a day should be better, scheduling needs to be improved to achieve a better time-offset for the in between stops.
 

MARC Rider

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That is not always the case ... take the Silvers. When they were both running daily their run times were not that different from the time they left Jacksonville, Florida and headed to NY. They both ended up at many of those in between stops at off hours. Same thing with the return trip.

While two trains a day should be better, scheduling needs to be improved to achieve a better time-offset for the in between stops.
I would consider the 2 Silvers to be almost two different routes, as the Star serves Raleigh and Columbia, Whereas the Meteor serves Fayetteville, Florence and Charleston. Thus, I would look into time-offset second trains for each of these routes. The other thing might be to run one of each of the two trains with Tampa sections that meet up with the mainline train in Orlando rather than take the whole train on a detour to Tampa they way the Star does now.
 
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Qapla

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No arguments from me on these ideas ...

On the other hand ... if they could renegotiate the agreement, and both trains were twice daily - have the Star go through Waldo and Ocala directly to Tampa and terminate it there. Then use your idea of a short section to run from Tampa to Orlando to meet the Meteor. They already physically turn the train in Tampa ... they would just need a way to service it there.
 
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As a medium term project I'd love to see the Pittsburgh to Columbus line rehabbed. There is 99% of a route. Unfortunately it is shortline/regional railroad standard and would need a fair bit of work to bring it up to modern passengers standard.
 

Cal

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I think that the Atlanta train could work, it would be the same way as the Palmetto.

Second frequencies, possibly. I don't know if the full demand is there, or the funding. Of course it will help, but I think we should optimize current routes first.

Of course the Eagle should go daily, and connect with Phoenix. Totally agree. Will need more political support though.

Not commenting on the others because I do not know enough.
 

Mailliw

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Second frequencies (with a 6-12 hr offset) on long distance routes would be nice, but like you said it'll require more equipment. Particularly sleeping cars; even with the VIIs I don't think there's enough inventory to add second frequencies for both the Silvers and LSL. Amtrak would also have to figure out what they want to replace the Superliners with.
 

Cal

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Second frequencies (with a 6-12 hr offset) on long distance routes would be nice, but like you said it'll require more equipment. Particularly sleeping cars; even with the VIIs I don't think there's enough inventory to add second frequencies for both the Silvers and LSL. Amtrak would also have to figure out what they want to replace the Superliners with.
Yep. And I don't except a superliner replacement for a while.
 

Willbridge

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As anyone who reads my posts knows, I believe that the highest priority for intercity passenger rail is serving the most people who are going to ride less than 500 miles, and most of them are probably going to riding about 200 miles or less. Thus, frequent corridor trains serving large population concentrations, or perhaps feeding people in from outlying areas into major metropolitan centers. Nonetheless, there's also an important role for the less frequent national network trains that travel longer distances and serve rural populations that don't have alternative public transportation. The main point of these trains to to serve rural areas, serve people who can't fly (say, for medical reasons), who can't (or won't) drive, and finally, to allow those of us who just like taking long train rides to continue to be able to do so.

Given that Amtrak is funded by the taxpayers, most of the attention of management and rail passenger advocates should be focused on expanding corridor services, as that provides most of the potential for increasing the importance of passenger rail as part of the overall transportation system. However, there is definitely a need to fill in some of the gaps in the long-distance national network. Here are a few of my ideas about what I think are the higher priority needs for expanded long distance service. These aren't in a particular order of priority, but it might be find to order them so in the discussion.

  • Second frequencies. A few of the long distance corridors are already heavily used, but under current schedules, many large intermediate cities are served at inconvenient hours by the single daily train. Thus, a second frequency would allow such service. This has the advantage of requiring fewer capital improvements, but additional equipment and the concurrence of the host railroads would still be necessary. The main corridors where this would work best are for the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol (to allow service to Ohio and Pittsburgh at reasonable hours) and the Silver Services (to allow service to points in North and South Carolina at reasonable hours.) Also, perhaps a second train over the California Zephyr route that connects Emeryville with Salt Lake City, leaving and arriving Salt Lake City at a reasonable hour. Also, a day train between Washington and Atlanta, running through Raleigh and Charlotte.
  • Kentucky and Tennessee. There is an empty zone not served by passenger rail in the trans-Appalachian southeast, and area that contains two very large cities, Nashville and Louisville. It certainly makes sense to connect this region to the national passenger rail network. If only one train is possible, I'm not sure whether it would be best to connect the area with the Northeast (NEC), the midwest (Chicago), or to New Orleans, Atlanta and Florida. I am also not very familiar with the configuration of the existing rail network in terms of what routing sis possible for different services.
  • Phoenix. And a daily Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle. It's sort of silly that one of the larger metropolitan areas in the country only has train service at the far fringe of its urban sprawl. This would require restoring some trackage and such.
  • Northeast - St. Louis/Kansas City. This would connect to the Southwest Chief in Kansas City, allowing an alternate cross-county routing avoiding Chicago. Unfortunately, the rails between Pittsburgh and Columbus are long gone, so it seems like the best way to route this one would be via Pittsburgh, Akron, and Indianapolis. It could also follow the route of the Cardinal to Indianapolis, but this would exclude the Pittsburgh and Akron intermediate markets, which are probably larger than the Charleston, WV and Charlottesville, VA markets. On the other hand, it would be a very scenic ride.
As I've mentioned in other posts there are many places where rather than replicating the national network trains a second train with coaches and business class would make sense. They could be painted orange and called the Daylights.

Regarding SLC, one solution would be to go back to the way that the Burlington ran things. Eastbound, the CZ would run three hours later, westbound it would stay as is.
A new train, the DZ, would depart Denver at about 4 p.m. and arrive Chicago at 9:45 a.m. Westbound it would depart Chicago at 5:45 p.m. and arrive Denver at 9:35 a.m. This misses some connections in Chicago but also creates new connections in California and in Chicago.
 

me_little_me

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As I've mentioned in other posts there are many places where rather than replicating the national network trains a second train with coaches and business class would make sense. They could be painted orange and called the Daylights.
I agree that would be a good solution to help increase business. For example, a morning train from Atlanta to Charlotte and at least Raleigh or Richmond would provide daytime service between these cities as well as allowing someone to stay overnight then catch a morning train from Raleigh to WAS or NYP (given that was added also). In fact if a Charlotte or Raleigh to WAS high speed train existed, Atlanta could provide rail feeder for that train until high speed were extended.

Similarly, this would be a good choice for other cities as well as providing feeder trains. For example, a feeder train from the proposed Nashville-Atlanta route could potentially be eventually combined with the added Atlanta-Raleigh route to become a sleeper train from Nashville to DC or NYP.
 

MARC Rider

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Something I found very useful was this nice zoomable GIS map if the North American Class 1 railroad system:

Freight Rail Map of Class I Carriers in North America - ACW Railway Company

It gives an idea of what sorts of routes are physically possible. The main problem with this map is that it doesn't include the short lines, which might make additional passenger routes available. However, an examination of the map does show the shortcomings of our national rail infrastructure, especially as compared to our highway system.
 

Cal

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Something I found very useful was this nice zoomable GIS map if the North American Class 1 railroad system:

Freight Rail Map of Class I Carriers in North America - ACW Railway Company

It gives an idea of what sorts of routes are physically possible. The main problem with this map is that it doesn't include the short lines, which might make additional passenger routes available. However, an examination of the map does show the shortcomings of our national rail infrastructure, especially as compared to our highway system.
Hm yea. But I bet a good chunk of the routes are not suitable for service, such as the Pheonix west line
 

Qapla

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It's interesting that, looking at that map, it does not appear that any tracks run into NYC - since they didn't include Amtrak owned tracks although, the CSX map includes tracks in that area
 

bms

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As a medium term project I'd love to see the Pittsburgh to Columbus line rehabbed. There is 99% of a route. Unfortunately it is shortline/regional railroad standard and would need a fair bit of work to bring it up to modern passengers standard.
I totally agree with you, but I spent months on a business idea to do this and literally got laughed at. If I were to go into this business, I would look for an area with existing demand.
 

Ryan

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Something I found very useful was this nice zoomable GIS map if the North American Class 1 railroad system:

Freight Rail Map of Class I Carriers in North America - ACW Railway Company

It gives an idea of what sorts of routes are physically possible. The main problem with this map is that it doesn't include the short lines, which might make additional passenger routes available. However, an examination of the map does show the shortcomings of our national rail infrastructure, especially as compared to our highway system.
Cool map. I see much wasted time in my future.
 

west point

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ATL - Raleigh and Richmond lost daytime service when SAL cancelled its day train. The silver comet maintained SAL night service for an additional time until it was cancelled. A new day train certainly would serve important cities of Greenville, SC, CLT, Greensboro, Raleigh, Richmond . Though the capitol of SC Columbia was not served by SAL or can it be served by the day train from Atlanta except if it ran thru August. That would probably add 3 hours to the direct NS route to CLT..

ATL - Nashville should be a day train that connects with the Crescent at ATL. Gives many new connections for passengers on both routes.
 

neroden

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Agreed with all of the above. There's enough demand for a second frequency Denver-Chicago, Minneapolis-Chicago, Denver - Ski Areas.

The second-largest metro area with no Amtrak service is Columbus, Ohio, so the 3C route should be a priority (after getting those second frequencies on the LSL/CL and the daily Cardinal).

At that point the Midwest starts looking like an actual train network.
 

railiner

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Here's a question for those proposing a second train over a popular route...
Would it be better to run the second train on the same route, with the benefit of more flexibility for intermediate point passengers, as well as 'economy of scale' using the same stations and other facilities; or would it be better to run a new route, tapping into new intermediate point markets?

For example, a second daily Chicago<>Denver train...same route as current, or via UP? Or, second Chicago<>St. Paul, via current or via BNSF?

There are pluses and minuses for both, of course, but one added bonus for running a new route, would be that in the case of a disruption, having regular service by an alternative route, would make detouring that way much easier...
 
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jiml

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Here's a question for those proposing a second train over a popular route...
Would it be better to run the second train on the same route, with the benefit of more flexibility for intermediate point passengers, as well as 'economy of scale' using the same stations and other facilities; or would it be better to run a new route, tapping into new intermediate point markets?

For example, a second daily Chicago<>Denver train...same route as current, or via UP? Or, second Chicago<>St. Paul, via current or via BNSF?

There are pluses and minuses for both, of course, but one added bonus for running a new route, would be that in the case of a disruption, having regular service by an alternative route, would make detouring that way much easier...
This is a fascinating question - possibly worth its own thread. There are arguments to be made on both sides. Where an alternate train runs say 12 hours offset from the current schedule it can serve intermediate points at better hours, but your point about serving different markets enroute makes just as much sense - especially if the routes are separated by a distance one could drive in an hour or so (like your examples). There's also the possibility that adding a train to a route without passenger service would be an easier sell to a host vs. doubling frequency with an existing one.
 

jis

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Here's a question for those proposing a second train over a popular route...
Would it be better to run the second train on the same route, with the benefit of more flexibility for intermediate point passengers, as well as 'economy of scale' using the same stations and other facilities; or would it be better to run a new route, tapping into new intermediate point markets?

For example, a second daily Chicago<>Denver train...same route as current, or via UP? Or, second Chicago<>St. Paul, via current or via BNSF?

There are pluses and minuses for both, of course, but one added bonus for running a new route, would be that in the case of a disruption, having regular service by an alternative route, would make detouring that way much easier...
The stark economic reality is that adding a train to an existing route is possibly an order of magnitude less expensive since the passenger infrastructure is already in place, when compared to trying to open up a new route. So the tendency will be to opt for a second train on an existing route rather than trying to open a new route, unless someone as a matter of policy provides a stash of extra cash to make it happen.
 

Skyline

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ATL - Raleigh and Richmond lost daytime service when SAL cancelled its day train. The silver comet maintained SAL night service for an additional time until it was cancelled. A new day train certainly would serve important cities of Greenville, SC, CLT, Greensboro, Raleigh, Richmond . Though the capitol of SC Columbia was not served by SAL or can it be served by the day train from Atlanta except if it ran thru August. That would probably add 3 hours to the direct NS route to CLT..

ATL - Nashville should be a day train that connects with the Crescent at ATL. Gives many new connections for passengers on both routes.

Atlanta > Memphis would potentially allow transfers to/from the CONO as well. Not holding my breath, but could a train that connected the entire state east-west garner support from Tennessee?
 

railiner

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unless someone as a matter of policy provides a stash of extra cash to make it happen.
As in someone, like all the proposed stop cities on the new route, that haven't had regularly passenger trains in 50 years?
For example, Sterling, Julesburg, North Platte, Grand Island, Columbus, Fremont, Ames, Marshalltown, Cedar Rapids ,Cllinton,, Dixon, Rochelle, and Dekalb between Denver and Chicago, or Winona, LaCrosse, (East) Dubuque, Savanna, Oregon, Rochelle, and Naperville between St. Paul and Chicago. The latter route would miss Milwaukee, so the river running would be scenic, but lose too much traffic potential.
I think many of the small cities starving for a passenger train might raise funds for at least a basic shelter type station...
 
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