Priorities for expanding the national network

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neroden

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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?
Economies of scale, usually. I've studied railroading economics a lot, and you ALWAYS go with the economies of scale. ALWAYS. They're spectacularly important.

Because of economies of scale, adding a second train per day to the same route probably *reduces* the budget you have to ask for from Congress. Asking a second route probably *increases* the budget you have to ask for from Congress. Which should you do first? The one which gives you increased ridership and lower costs, obviously. After you've done that, you have more political power and more money to work with, and THEN you can start talking about added routes.

There might be an exception: If there's a shortage of passenger demand on one route, and you really can't fill a second train, THEN consider a second route. For instance, I seriously doubt the level of total demand on the "High Line" through North Dakota and Montana. Running the second train on the higher-population route through Bismarck and Missoula makes sense. This is akin to the reason why the Silver Star and Silver Meteor follow the same route *most* of the way but take two different routes through the lower-ridership sections of North Carolina and South Carolina.

Another example of the same exception, because the current route of the CZ is a bad compromise: new CZ service should go via Wyoming. Green River - Provo service is pretty questionable in terms of ridership demand, though I wouldn't support cutting it entirely. Denver-Salt Lake is actually faster via Wyoming *and* reaches more population centers. The current route is mostly there to serve the ski areas, and they don't get much business from the west side. Adding additional frequencies should probably come in the form of separate Denver - ski area trains, and Denver-Salt Lake service via Wyoming. (We can debate whether to go via Greeley, or via Fort Collins, which is slower but has even more ridership.)

Both of these are cases where the current route is in some sense "wrong" and should be the secondary route. I wouldn't support cutting it, but future investment should go to the correct route. Another case is the Southwest Chief: added service must be via Wichita and Amarillo, which should be the primary route anyway.

In the case of the BNSF route across Iowa towards Denver, I would actually support cutting it in favor of what is now the Iowa Interstate Route -- if Iowa ever got serious about passenger service. The current route is minimal in terms of riders served. Anyone using the current route can drive to Council Bluffs, Des Moines, and Iowa City, which have far more online population -- *and* the Iowa Interstate route is more direct.

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?
Two trains a day should take the same route in both cases. Take the economies of scale. Use the highest population route.

Even when there are two or three high-population routes, such as from Cleveland to Chicago, it's better to go with one route to start with because you can concentrate track upgrades on that route. That allows you to speed up the trains on that route, giving shorter journey times. That increases ridership and revenue again.... once you have 12 trains a day running at high speed on the "primary" route from Cleveland to Chicago, then it's time to think about adding secondary routes.

Think about it this way: did it make more sense to beef up and speed up the NEC, or to instead run additional trains on the Inland Route, the CNJ, the Reading, the B&O, the Erie, etc? I think the answer is obvious. One way gets you a high-speed corridor, the other gets two low-speed corridors at twice the price.
 

neroden

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We can discuss the threshold at which it starts to make sense to build secondary routes. I say it's 12 trains each way every day on the primary route, as a starting position. :)
 

jis

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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?
Atlanta - Memphis will most likely not be done the roundabout way via Nashville. It will more likely use the more direct route Atlanta - Birmingham - Memphis, if it comes to pass that is
 

me_little_me

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Biggest bang for the buck, along with the ever-important "whose districts does it go through", who supports us most, and "where can we Amtrak executives look the best" - are the defining criteria for new service.

How dare anyone call my cynical!
 

Barb Stout

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Both of these are cases where the current route is in some sense "wrong" and should be the secondary route. I wouldn't support cutting it, but future investment should go to the correct route. Another case is the Southwest Chief: added service must be via Wichita and Amarillo, which should be the primary route anyway.
So what stops/route between Amarillo and Albuquerque?
 

sttom

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I've posted these maps before, this is what I would advocate for network expansion. As for which ones would be more "important", I personally think playing that game is a fools errand. Amtrak's leadership wants to grow the system, advocates want the system to grow, we want the system to grow, the public wants the system to grow, and many state and local leaders want more trains, the issues is Congress being.....Congress. Amtrak should plan a useful system, run the costs and ridership projections and tell Congress what they would get out of it. Meaning how it would help with pollution, how it would stimulate the economy, how it would help local economies, how it will reduce highway and airport maintenance and put off capital funds (and therefore future maintenance costs) of expanding highways and airports and ask them how much they'd be willing to put up of the cost.

On the Long Distance Front, I would add 19 additional long distance route. Mostly to serve more places than the existing system does. I would shoot for twice per day on all of them, even ones where there will be overlap between two routes.

On the Interstate front, my map adds 40 routes and reclassifies 3 of the existing routes. Service levels would vary and I would add a few overnight trains not shown on the map (like Denver - Chicago, Denver - DFW, trains into Canada). I would say that each route should have a minimum of 2 trips per day starting out and up to 4 trips per day. I would base the difference on potential demand, length of the route in both time and distance, and if there is an existing connection. I would do minimum 1 day time trip and 1 overnight trip on most routes, but some routes like Chicago to Cleveland or Cincinnati routes 3-4 day time trips since if upgraded, they wouldn't really be long enough to justify an overnight trip. On the 2 trips per day route, the day time run would be to serve people in the middle and the overnight would be to primarily serve the end to end customers. Or at least I would market these services this way. These routes would serve 43 of the lower 48 states. The only states that wouldn't get new services would be Washington, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island.

I would then do the same for "state" services. States also need to have more local services to better connect themselves and people to the interstate and long distance trains and people traveling on the other classes of service to areas within the state. These plans can be used to get money out of Congress or the states or both is an open ended question as far as I am concerned.

If Amtrak leadership is going to talk about expanding "corridor" services. They need a plan of rolling expansion over a 15 to 20 year time frame that significantly expands service across the country. Congress isn't going to take a plan seriously that will maybe net a couple long distance trains and funding to states who write blank checks for highways and won't spend one red cent on any other form of transportation. Everyone in government and on K Street love infrastructure spending and the jobs that come along with it. Amtrak can capitalize on that if they come up with an ambitious plan.

On the market and product side of expanding service, whether or not a secondary route or adding to an existing route makes sense, it will depend on more than just economies of scale. You may get better economies of scale adding a second, third or fourth run on a route, but which route would make sense to have 4 trips per day, the Palmetto or the Empire Builder? It may be cheaper in some sense to run the Builder 4 times per day instead of restoring the North Coast Limited to twice per day, but in the second case, opening a new market would make more sense than trying to further penetrate a small market.

Which means investigating a proposed route would mean looking into more than whether or not they serve the same end points. For example, I would advocate for a route between San Jose and Sacramento via Livermore Valley and Stockton. The question would be is this a duplicative route or a route that opens a new market? Considering the second route would serve areas that don't have service beyond peak hours commuter trains, this would be additional service on a presently underserved route. But some would say its a duplication just because the routes would share end points, nevermind that Livermore to anywhere the Capitol Corridor currently runs would be as hard to drive to as just going straight to Sacramento or Stockton.

Then there is what the railroads are willing to put up with, how big is the market, how much service is needed to saturate the market, are there parallel rail lines, what can be done with the existing space/infrastructure, the expectations of potential riders and so on. If there are parallel lines, it would probably make more sense to move the freight mostly onto one line and the passenger trains mostly onto the other line as much as possible. Like Neroden said, its better to have one good line than two halfassed ones for the same amount of money.
 

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Cal

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Love your map! It would be amazing to have those type of services. it still screws South Dakota though
 

sttom

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Love your map! It would be amazing to have those type of services. it still screws South Dakota though
The problem with South Dakota is that it's rail network is sparse to begin with. So there aren't that many routes to run local trains on and not a lot of people to serve. As it is, the one line I would suggest which would connect Sioux Falls to Sturgis over the old Milwaukee Road would require a bunch of track reactivation. South Dakota just never had a good rail network and it doesn't help that their main railroad went belly up and a good chunk of that railroad was abandoned.
 

MARC Rider

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We can discuss the threshold at which it starts to make sense to build secondary routes. I say it's 12 trains each way every day on the primary route, as a starting position. :)
Ooooh, that means that Amtrak can start planning a revival of the Royal Blue Route between Washington and New York? :) My mom used to ride it when she was a kid (circa 1940), and she said that even though it was slower than the PRR (and required a bus/ferry transfer from Jersey City), the service was much better than the Pennsy. The revived Royal Blue could stop in Mt. Royal Station in Baltimore, with a nice connection to light rail, and I think now because of the Aldene Connection, they could run straight into NYP instead of having to terminate in Jersey City. They could also revive the Wall Street and Crusader between Philly and New York.
 

Cal

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The problem with South Dakota is that it's rail network is sparse to begin with. So there aren't that many routes to run local trains on and not a lot of people to serve. As it is, the one line I would suggest which would connect Sioux Falls to Sturgis over the old Milwaukee Road would require a bunch of track reactivation. South Dakota just never had a good rail network and it doesn't help that their main railroad went belly up and a good chunk of that railroad was abandoned.
Ah, alright
 

Willbridge

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Economies of scale, usually. I've studied railroading economics a lot, and you ALWAYS go with the economies of scale. ALWAYS. They're spectacularly important.

Because of economies of scale, adding a second train per day to the same route probably *reduces* the budget you have to ask for from Congress. Asking a second route probably *increases* the budget you have to ask for from Congress. Which should you do first? The one which gives you increased ridership and lower costs, obviously. After you've done that, you have more political power and more money to work with, and THEN you can start talking about added routes.

...................

Another example of the same exception, because the current route of the CZ is a bad compromise: new CZ service should go via Wyoming. Green River - Provo service is pretty questionable in terms of ridership demand, though I wouldn't support cutting it entirely. Denver-Salt Lake is actually faster via Wyoming *and* reaches more population centers. The current route is mostly there to serve the ski areas, and they don't get much business from the west side. Adding additional frequencies should probably come in the form of separate Denver - ski area trains, and Denver-Salt Lake service via Wyoming. (We can debate whether to go via Greeley, or via Fort Collins, which is slower but has even more ridership.)

Both of these are cases where the current route is in some sense "wrong" and should be the secondary route. I wouldn't support cutting it, but future investment should go to the correct route. Another case is the Southwest Chief: added service must be via Wichita and Amarillo, which should be the primary route anyway.

In the case of the BNSF route across Iowa towards Denver, I would actually support cutting it in favor of what is now the Iowa Interstate Route -- if Iowa ever got serious about passenger service. The current route is minimal in terms of riders served. Anyone using the current route can drive to Council Bluffs, Des Moines, and Iowa City, which have far more online population -- *and* the Iowa Interstate route is more direct.

Two trains a day should take the same route in both cases. Take the economies of scale. Use the highest population route.

....................................
A few comments regarding routes that I'm familiar with.

Denver -- Salt Lake City ridership is stronger via GJC than via Wyoming. That was true in the 1960's, it proved true when the CZ was rerouted (see attached letter from a man who had the numbers), and the Pioneer, which had survived previous attempts to kill it was finally done in by adding the miles across Wyoming. The attached letter refers to a BBC/PBS documentary bad-mouthing the San Francisco Zephyr equipment and route.

While working on the 2008/9 Pioneer "study "with C.B. Hall for the Washington, Oregon and Colorado rail passenger associations we surprised ourselves by arriving at the conclusion that an overnight schedule on the Wyoming line made sense, running CHY<>DEN on the BNSF. It has civilized times at major cities and people in the smaller intermediate points could get into the major cities for medical and other appointments without spending extra nights in hotels.

There are visuals of the alternatives in YouTube:



Newton -- Belen population is close enough on either route for other factors to be considered. The biggest one is the Front Range population that it almost taps now. People drive to it, talk relatives into driving them to it, ride (pandemic excepted) buses to it, etc. In addition to the potential for a re-route via Walsenburg that would click with Pueblo making an even shorter drive or bus ride, there is a potential for a Denver or Colorado Springs section of the SWC. Also of note, Amtrak does well with state capitols that it serves, and the Texas panhandle route skips ABQ.

Denver -- Chicago on the BNSF serves a number of points that are not on the Interstate highway system. As with the Empire Builder, there is almost no bus service on the parallel highways, in an area with seasonal driving difficulties. And as with Denver - Salt Lake City, the Q clobbered the UP in the 1950's and 1960's when customers had a choice.

It's a losing game politically to take away an established service that has merits in order to try something new that may not be any better.

1983 08 22 BBC-PBS panned Zephyr wi old film 001 (2).jpg
 

fdaley

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Ooooh, that means that Amtrak can start planning a revival of the Royal Blue Route between Washington and New York? :) My mom used to ride it when she was a kid (circa 1940), and she said that even though it was slower than the PRR (and required a bus/ferry transfer from Jersey City), the service was much better than the Pennsy. The revived Royal Blue could stop in Mt. Royal Station in Baltimore, with a nice connection to light rail, and I think now because of the Aldene Connection, they could run straight into NYP instead of having to terminate in Jersey City. They could also revive the Wall Street and Crusader between Philly and New York.
My father-in-law had fond recollections of taking the B&O route from New York to Washington in the '30s and '40s, and he too felt the service was much better than on the PRR. Alas, I'd say it's a safe bet we will not see that route revived for through passenger trains.
 

20th Century Rider

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Reinstate better connectivity for STL which prior to Amtrak was a major hub... important for the Midwest and intermediate cities. Routing... STL to IND through Ohio... to PIT... then to PHIL to NYP.

The Central had a route similar to this.
 

railiner

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A few comments regarding routes that I'm familiar with.

Denver -- Salt Lake City ridership is stronger via GJC than via Wyoming.
I agree with this, if you are measuring total ridership on the train (through passengers, many of whom are aboard for the scenic view); but if you isolated the intermediate stations boarding, I wonder how they might match up?
Serving Greeley (or Boulder-Longmont-Loveland- Fort Collins), Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Rock Springs, Green River, Evanston, and Ogden, I suspect might eclipse the current CZ intermediate points, if you take out Fraser and run a separate Ski Train for Winter Park riders. I don't have historic records to support my
opinion, so it is just that...
 

John Santos

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We can discuss the threshold at which it starts to make sense to build secondary routes. I say it's 12 trains each way every day on the primary route, as a starting position. :)
Would that mean it makes sense to implement the Inland route between Boston and New Haven? BOS-Worcester-Springfield-Hartford-New Haven or directly from Worcester to Hartford or Worcester south to New London? Should any of these possible routes be electrified so trains can continue to or from the NEC without changing engines? BTW, the MBTA has been studying or considering (which I think means writing the idea on a sheet of paper and storing that paper behind a filing cabinet in a locked closet in a disused basement of an abandoned building on Alpha Centauri) electrifying its commuter rail lines, including the line between Boston and Worcester currently used by the LSL.
 

Exvalley

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Thanks for posting that map. I found an interesting possibility in the northeast for a Boston to Montreal train.

The route would be as follows: Boston - Portland, Maine - Berlin, NH - Sherbrooke, Quebec - Montreal.

There aren't many population centers on the route, but Sherbrooke is a city of approximately 170,000 people, which is nothing to sneeze at. It would be even better if they could route the train through Granby, Quebec on its way from Sherbrook to Montreal.
 

20th Century Rider

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Would that mean it makes sense to implement the Inland route between Boston and New Haven? BOS-Worcester-Springfield-Hartford-New Haven or directly from Worcester to Hartford or Worcester south to New London? Should any of these possible routes be electrified so trains can continue to or from the NEC without changing engines? BTW, the MBTA has been studying or considering (which I think means writing the idea on a sheet of paper and storing that paper behind a filing cabinet in a locked closet in a disused basement of an abandoned building on Alpha Centauri) electrifying its commuter rail lines, including the line between Boston and Worcester currently used by the LSL.
Yes Yes Yes!!! Build upon the NEC that runs through one of the greatest megalopolis conglomerations in the world. This would include an inland / alternative route between NYP and BOS.

And let's make more dreams come true... direct service to Maine without having the hassle of transferring to North Station in BOS. Let's dream a little more and resurrect that beautiful Erie Lackawanna route between Newark through Northern Pennsylvania to Binghamton NY extending through to Buffalo.

This is a heavily populated and congested area that traverses hilly terrain... perfect location for rail access with trackage infrastructure already in place.

What da ya think about that!

Bring Back the Lacawanna Route.png
 

20th Century Rider

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My father-in-law had fond recollections of taking the B&O route from New York to Washington in the '30s and '40s, and he too felt the service was much better than on the PRR. Alas, I'd say it's a safe bet we will not see that route revived for through passenger trains.
Yes... this could work today due to density of population in the area and congested toll roads. Perhaps the service could be extended further south as well. While such elegance may not be cost effective today... certainly any alternative and expansion along the NEC could be a success story waiting to happen!

BTW So sorry to make mouths water that B&O dinner menu!!!😁


Royal Blue 1.png


Royal Blue 2.png
 

jiml

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Let's dream a little more and resurrect that beautiful Erie Lackawanna route between Newark through Northern Pennsylvania to Binghamton NY extending through to Buffalo.

This is a heavily populated and congested area that traverses hilly terrain... perfect location for rail access with trackage infrastructure already in place.

What da ya think about that!
That's actually an idea that's gained some traction of late. There are a number of articles and YouTube videos on the subject. It makes perfect sense and cutting off that corner through Albany should theoretically be a boon for long-distance trains, e.g. to Chicago. With adequate service between NYC and Albany, why not run the NY leg of the LSL via the diagonal route and join it with the Boston section at Buffalo instead of Albany? (or don't join the two at all and offset them as separate trains - doubling service between Buffalo and points west?) Of course another completely new train is an even better idea.
 

jis

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It makes perfect sense and cutting off that corner through Albany should theoretically be a boon for long-distance trains, e.g. to Chicago. With adequate service between NYC and Albany, why not run the NY leg of the LSL via the diagonal route and join it with the Boston section at Buffalo instead of Albany? (or don't join the two at all and offset them as separate trains - doubling service between Buffalo and points west?) Of course another completely new train is an even better idea.
I am not sure that it makes sense to divert the only through NY Chicago train via the E-L mainly because it would significantly degrade the service. Even in the heyday of railroads it was a hopelessly slower route on which E-L was unable to really sustain a service in competition with the Water Level Route. Also the population centers are mostly along the Water Level Route. The Southern Tier, while pretty, is comparatively devoid of population in comparison with the Water Level Route.

In some sense it would probably make more sense, after the mircale of rebuilding the Lackawanna Cutoff in NJ is completed and service is established to Bingo, as is the intention of NYSDOT, it would make sense to rebuild the Bingo - Syracuse connection and run a regional service from NY to Syracuse that way
 

Mailliw

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Thanks for posting that map. I found an interesting possibility in the northeast for a Boston to Montreal train.

The route would be as follows: Boston - Portland, Maine - Berlin, NH - Sherbrooke, Quebec - Montreal.

There aren't many population centers on the route, but Sherbrooke is a city of approximately 170,000 people, which is nothing to sneeze at. It would be even better if they could route the train through Granby, Quebec on its way from Sherbrook to Montreal.
A Boston to Montreal train makes sense, but any stops between Montreal and the border would render the future preclearance facility in Montreal useless.
 

20th Century Rider

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I am not sure that it makes sense to divert the only through NY Chicago train via the E-L mainly because it would significantly degrade the service. Even in the heyday of railroads it was a hopelessly slower route on which E-L was unable to really sustain a service in competition with the Water Level Route. Also the population centers are mostly along the Water Level Route. The Southern Tier, while pretty, is comparatively devoid of population in comparison with the Water Level Route.

In some sense it would probably make more sense, after the mircale of rebuilding the Lackawanna Cutoff in NJ is completed and service is established to Bingo, as is the intention of NYSDOT, it would make sense to rebuild the Bingo - Syracuse connection and run a regional service from NY to Syracuse that way
The idea is to supplement the water level route and provide service for additional communities in northern Pennsylvania and Southern New York State... as I think you are saying... perhaps joining up with the LS in Syracuse...?

It's certainly nice to dream about extending and regenerating such rail service. With environmental issues and traffic congestion along with growing population density perhaps the time is soon to come. ;)
 

jis

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The idea is to supplement the water level route and provide service for additional communities in northern Pennsylvania and Southern New York State... as I think you are saying... perhaps joining up with the LS in Syracuse...?

It's certainly nice to dream about extending and regenerating such rail service. With environmental issues and traffic congestion along with growing population density perhaps the time is soon to come. ;)
Actually I am OK with running additional Regional trains either to Syracuse or even to Buffalo via Elmira and all that. Just leave the LSL out of it and let it run the Water Level Route.

Similarly you could run a train from Washington DC on the route Philadelphia - Harrisburg - Wilkes-Barre - Scranton, and then on to Bingo and to Syracuse or Buffalo.

Of course, getting those Southern Tier trains into Depew (necessary for connecting to the LSL) or Exchange Street may take some doing too. At Syracuse they would get in facing towards New York, but that is OK since it terminates there.
 

railiner

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In some sense it would probably make more sense, after the mircale of rebuilding the Lackawanna Cutoff in NJ is completed and service is established to Bingo, as is the intention of NYSDOT, it would make sense to rebuild the Bingo - Syracuse connection and run a regional service from NY to Syracuse that way
Are you saying the NYSDOT is supporting the former Lackawanna route? Not disputing that, but I would think that they would more likely support upgrading the former Erie route through Port Jervis to Binghamton, since it is mostly within NY...
 
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