Railway Age column on splitting Amtrak to two operations

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TWA904

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I posted a thread suggesting this same idea a few weeks back under the Amtrak Future Forum and got slammed for it.
I really like the idea.
 

dlagrua

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The idea is a sound one and will get us past the voodoo accounting methods used by Amtrak that show that the LD routes lose money. It will get the shared burden expenses of the NEC trains away from the LD costs. I also find it odd that many of these routes are heavily traveled and are always sold out which goes against the loss claims being presented by Anderson and Gardner.
 

Larry H.

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I didn't see a thing he wrote that isn't right on. For way too long the western trains have been down graded and years back discontinued. Not foreseeing a time when rail would again be a choice that many would make. Boarding in Chicago its apparent that lots of people want to travel by rail. However the end points are so restricted that it prevents real growth. Another issue I have brought up now and then is the issue of running far to few sleepers. The company complains that no one wants to ride long distance and yet the sleepers are often sold out for long stretches of time. And worse the cost has risen to extreme levels for many people to afford. Trains used to run 5 sleepers and often they were pretty full, now one or maybe two is usually the consist while turning away lots of passengers. Killing the diners is exactly on. Its designed to get people to to not ride and I think it is working. Having a separate system that would be devoted to improving and increasing routes is a great idea. Unfortunately somehow I think I can hear the congress saying no to the cost. Same people who can pass out 50 billion like its candy always want to punish rail with constantly trying to cut out cost and many of those cost are important to passenger experiences.
 

John Bobinyec

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I must admit that I have always been opposed to splitting Amtrak up, but I've changed my mind. Amtrak runs itself as if it were two corporations already. I don't see why it couldn't fully be separated.

jb
 

lordsigma

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Only thing I don’t agree with is I don’t think the builder is a target for discontinuance.
 
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F900ElCapitan

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I think the best way to sell this would be to keep the current management (and personal levels) in it’s respective part of the division. It would need to be sold as not doubling up on upper management and creating a new cost center. This would be only until proven growth and proper maintenance is showing good financial results and that added management would help. But yes, I too think this could be a beneficial direction for both entities.
 

Qapla

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One thing left "in the air" is how the east coast trains that operate below WDC would access NYP ... these trains share the NEC

St Louis or Kansas City would seem like a good location for a headquarters ... they are centrally located in the US and have passenger service

Of course, if they put it in Jacksonville, they could put me on the board .......
 

John Bobinyec

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No problem with the long distance trains accessing NYP. The new long distance corporation would have the same access to "host railroads" that Amtrak does now, and the ACELA RR would just be another host railroad.

By the way, the article suggests Trans America Rail as a name. I hope that it would be something else, since "TAR" might be problematic.

jb
 

jiml

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One thing left "in the air" is how the east coast trains that operate below WDC would access NYP ... these trains share the NEC
Maybe under a split operation long-distance trains would terminate when they reached the NEC and passengers would simply connect (airline style). Florida trains, the Crescent and the Cardinal could end in Washington, with no change to the LSL or Capitol, which don't actually run in the NEC. This could also allow some conversions to bi-level equipment, if and when it became available. Precedent is already there for the Cardinal in the past.
 

lordsigma

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I think the best way to sell this would be to keep the current management (and personal levels) in it’s respective part of the division. It would need to be sold as not doubling up on upper management and creating a new cost center. This would be only until proven growth and proper maintenance is showing good financial results and that added management would help. But yes, I too think this could be a beneficial direction for both entities.
I find the concept intriguing but I also agree with this. The biggest issue with such an arrangement is the additional overhead of having two companies. Plus I think maintaining through ticketed and guaranteed connections between the long distance network, state corridors, and northeast corridor is important.
 

MARC Rider

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While I get what he's saying, the author of the article sets up Amtrak as simply at NEC vs. Long-Distance. He seems to be ignoring all of the corridor service operating out of Chicago, and, surprisingly for a transportation professional from California, the corridor service on the west coast.

There may be some benefits to the idea, but perhaps one doesn't need to separate into two completely independent entities. What seems to be necessary is more transparency in the accounting and a political commitment to the concept of a national passenger train network. Actually, the opinions of Amtrak's management about a national train network are irrelevant if that's something that they are tasked to do by Congress.

However, on the one hand, when it comes to maximizing the public benefits of passenger rail (which is why it's worth spending public money on it), such as reducing auto traffic, reducing emissions, maximizing personal mobility without sprawl, etc., improving and increasing corridor service is probably a higher priority that the western long-distance trains. On the other hand, some of the more rural states and communities along the long distance routes find such service useful, and sending funds to those areas is a good political compromise in exchange for the rural legislators funding corridors that mainly serve large urban areas.

However, an Amtrak that only had corridor service would still be a "National" rail passenger system as long as the corridors were spread out over large areas of the country.
 

MARC Rider

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One thing left "in the air" is how the east coast trains that operate below WDC would access NYP ... these trains share the NEC

St Louis or Kansas City would seem like a good location for a headquarters ... they are centrally located in the US and have passenger service

Of course, if they put it in Jacksonville, they could put me on the board .......
In ye Olde Days of yore, the east coast long distance trains were operated quite successfully on three separate private railroads: The Pennsylvania from New York to Washington, the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac, from Washington to Richmond, and the Atlantic Coast Line or Seaboard Air Line from Richmond to Florida.
 

jis

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The split that makes more sense is restoring Amtrak to its original role as a pure passenger train operating company, and hiving off the infrastructure construction and maintenance part which was foisted upon it in 1976 as a separate government run outfit akin to the way the highway system infrastructure is managed. Then one could still talk about whether the Northeast BU should be separated out as a distinct company or not. The bigger problem at present is the accounting hanky-panky that Amtrak inherited from the PC mess and which perpetuates itself to this day in terms of bizarre cross chargings.

The infrastructure company would sell train operating slots to any takers including Amtrak. In addition to running trains Amtrak could provide a unified reservation system for a fee to any takers in addition to its own use to improve the customer experience providing seamless ticketing and reservation across all participating operators.

Alternatively that could also be hived off as a separate company, like some airlines have done.
 
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railiner

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I don’t like the proposed split, as the author recommends.
The way I see it is, what makes the NEC “different” from the rest of the system?
Why is it “understood” that the 456 mile line is fully federally funded, while other less than 750 mile corridors have to get state support?
The difference is of course, Amtrak owns almost the entire NEC infrastructure, except the small state owned portions.
Elsewhere, they operate mostly on “host” railroads.

I propose instead, that the NEC infrastructure is separated into a new corporation, that would be owned and funded by a consortium of the states it runs through, plus a fair share of federal support, modeled perhaps by Interstate Highway funding, plus fair user fees by all the different trains that operate over it.

The existing Amtrak would then continue running the trains over the NEC, as well as the national network, and receive the synergy benefits of a unified network.
Further, the trains they ran in the NEC, would all be subject to the same state supported funding requirements as the rest of the under 750 mile trains are.

I think that would be the fair way to do it...
 
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railiner

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I will say that in the early years of Amtrak NEC ownership, the NEC was run almost like a completely separate railroad.

That ended under WG Claytor...
There is a story that Claytor was riding a train from New York to Washington, and he was chit chatting with some of the employees working the train.
He supposedly asked one of the old-timers about how he liked working for Amtrak.
The old-timer scowled and replied:
“I don’t work for Amtrak...I work for the Northeast Corridor Region” (old PC or CR name for it).

Supposedly, this upset Claytor so much, that when he returned to his office, he set about “busting up” the NEC management, and scattered them about the system, integrating them with the national system.
 

NorthShore

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One thing left "in the air" is how the east coast trains that operate below WDC would access NYP ... these trains share the NEC

St Louis or Kansas City would seem like a good location for a headquarters ... they are centrally located in the US and have passenger service

Of course, if they put it in Jacksonville, they could put me on the board .......
If they put it in Chicago, perhaps Chicago and Illinois based Congressmen would actually understand and support the importance of long distance rail service in relation to the local economy.
 

jis

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If they put it in Chicago, perhaps Chicago and Illinois based Congressmen would actually understand and support the importance of long distance rail service in relation to the local economy.
The logical place to put it is indeed Chicago, since it is the center of LD related activity.
 

railiner

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Maybe... but Amtrak will forever be a political football, hence having HQ where the government is, is a major consideration .... or perhaps just a lobbying office?
 

NorthShore

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Maybe... but Amtrak will forever be a political football, hence having HQ where the government is, is a major consideration .... or perhaps just a lobbying office?
I went to high school across the street from a federal department building. Many people couldn't understand why it was in Chicago rather than Washington. But the significance of this city in relation to the railroad industry made it, indeed, a most appropriate place for the Railroad Retirement Board.
 

Larry H.

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The logical place to put it is indeed Chicago, since it is the center of LD related activity.
Perhaps but the only reason it is the hub of activity is that there aren't any others. And people saying keep it together, how long and how much have we lost under the current system. No, the management has almost never proven they have the interest at heart for the western half of the nation. The sad state of the equipment, poor food service, high cost to ride and limited access to adding cars where needed and when needed is proof to me that what we have now no longer seems to work well.
 

Radvlad

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After reading the article (thanks for the link!!) I believe it makes total sense. It’s very apparent, to me at least, that if Amtrak (or Anderson) could get rid of everything other than the NE corridor, they would. In a heart beat.

Unfortunately, the US of A is a huge country. People outside the NE corridor should have the same right to travel by rail. Not everyone can drive, many people can’t fly. In a country this size it is the government’s job to make sure these tax paying citizens have safe and affordable transportation options. So split up Amtrak. Keep the short haul in the NE and create a long haul division. Keep the Chicago base but create a second long haul base (Dallas for example). Charge fares that cover the costs of doing business as much as possible, while using the airlines play book of charging extra for bags, food, entertainment, etc for coach passengers. I mean fair prices, 5 bucks foe a reheated cheeseburger is fair, $10 not so much.

Make the sleeper fares resemble what you get when you fly first class or business. Better accommodations, better lounge access (real lounges, not pretend lounges) good meals and complimentary beverages. If airplanes can have wi-fi then why can’t trains? Tweet the system until it becomes cost neutral. It doesn’t have to be profitable, it just needs to not lose money. Aviation receives government assistance from the federal government, rail travel should be afforded the same assistance when and where necessary.

This post is totally my own thought and I’d imagine most people will disagree with me but it just seems Amtrak could be so much better and get to a point where we can all stop worrying about losing this train or this service. Anderson ran a full service airline, I want to see him 4un a full service rail system. If you provide a good product people will be more willing to pay for it.

Sorry - last rant but, why for the love of God does Amtrack not use airline type beverage carts for coach? These carts could sell soft drinks, juice, alcoholic beverages as well as small snack items. Give the crew a percentage of the profit to help motivate the sales.

You could even offer BOB (buy on board) warm snacks and sandwiches and have them delivered from the cafe car.

Would any of these ideas work? If not, why? Looking for meaningful answers, if I’m just being dumb find a nice way to tell me :D
 

jis

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Perhaps but the only reason it is the hub of activity is that there aren't any others.
I would humbly point out that even when there were many other hubs, Chicago was still the largest of them all, in times pre-dating Amtrak. It is not like it became important because some other major super hub which was more important melted away or something. ;)
 
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