Restore Passenger Service to Southern Montana?

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MARC Rider

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It would be interesting to know what the local politics are that the state legislature won't support a study bill and endorse the concept, even when there's no funding involved.

"
Advocates have also made several tries at the state Legislature, not to seek funding but rather to ask the governing body to support the idea. While there was no fiscal attachment, the Legislature has refused to support it.

“That failed every single time with the exception of this last legislative session when Andrea Olsen carried a study bill to look at passenger transportation in Montana,” Strohmaier said. “That actually passed, but the interim committee a few months ago torpedoed that study, using some of the same tired arguments. The Legislature has proven to be utterly ineffectual at having any kind of vision.”
 

F900ElCapitan

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So are they proposing running a whole new train? Moving the Empire Builder to this route? Splitting and combining with the Empire Builder?

Although this would be a really nice train to ride, where are they going to get the cars to run the train with? Amtrak is pretty much tapped out for extra cars in the summers already.
 

Qapla

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A little off-topic but, Missoula is one of the police departments currently featured on LivePD


Now, back to the originally scheduled topic
 

jis

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So are they proposing running a whole new train? Moving the Empire Builder to this route? Splitting and combining with the Empire Builder?
I have no idea what these advocates think, but an exercise identifying and prioritizing currently unserved LD routes that is being carried out by a Committee at RPA assumes new trains with new equipment for the purposes of costing out proposals. It is unrealistic to think that Amtrak will add any new LD trains with its current equipment pool, beyond minor modifications and extensions.
Although this would be a really nice train to ride, where are they going to get the cars to run the train with? Amtrak is pretty much tapped out for extra cars in the summers already.
Won't happen without additional equipment.
 
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F900ElCapitan

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I have no idea what these advocates think, but an exercise identifying and prioritizing currently unserved LD routes that is being carried out by a Committee at RPA assumes new trains with new equipment for the purposes of costing out proposals. It is unrealistic to think that Amtrak will add any new LD trains with its current equipment pool, beyond minor modifications and extensions.

Won't happen without additional equipment.
Exactly! Unfortunately the article lacked a lot of details and left a lot of questions for anyone with a bit of knowledge about Amtrak’s current situations. So I don’t see this going anywhere until Amtrak can get Superliner replacement equipment on board that is above and beyond 1-to-1 replacement. I really hope the current pro-rail sentiment holds until an actual order and then maybe Amtrak will be able to order a much better number of cars.

Of course this is all predicated on not a lot changing on the HSR front, which may free up a fair amount of Superliners.
 

sttom

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So are they proposing running a whole new train? Moving the Empire Builder to this route? Splitting and combining with the Empire Builder?
From what the article said the people advocating for more train service want to bring back the North Coast Hiawatha. So it would be separate train. As for splitting it, who knows. They haven't even done a study yet. Adding it as a separate train when the equipment is available would add a second Chicago-MSP train which Minnesota wants.

As for the equipment, not sure where they would get it. For how many long distance trains we need, we'd need to at least double the number of Superliners or more.
 

MARC Rider

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From what the article said the people advocating for more train service want to bring back the North Coast Hiawatha. So it would be separate train. As for splitting it, who knows. They haven't even done a study yet. Adding it as a separate train when the equipment is available would add a second Chicago-MSP train which Minnesota wants.

As for the equipment, not sure where they would get it. For how many long distance trains we need, we'd need to at least double the number of Superliners or more.
You know, it's not like it's engraved on tablets that the equipment for this second train needs to be Superliners. If there's political support for this service, that will have to include support for new equipment, and single-level equipment might be cheaper. Anyway, there's a bunch of new Viewliner 2 diners are are being used as axle count cars :) that could be dedicated to this service, right? And whenever they get around to replacing the Amfleets, the old Amfleets could be converted to long-distance coaches. OK, sleeping cars are a problem, but maybe the train could be run as a coach only train, like the old El Capitan, perhaps with a business class section to collect some premium gravy revenue. Most of the demand will be for shorter trips that don't require a full overnight, and people who want to ride the full trip and want a bit of quiet can enjoy the premium business class seats.

This could also be used as an experiment to see if they can run a full dining service in a way that would make enough revenue to cover their costs. If they could find some dome cars or fabricate some from some old Amfleets, that might be another draw for the through passengers, but I expect that the main political support would come from Minnesota, which wants another Chicago-Twin Cities train and southern Montana, which would like rail service to link it's larger cities and towns together, and don't care as much about the tourists, except that premium service adds revenue gravy.
 

jis

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Do we know for sure that Amtrak plans to replace Superliners by in kind bi-level equipment? Or are they doing an open RFP asking vendors to propose solutions for meeting specific requirements? At least I don't know for sure.
 

MARC Rider

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You know, it's not like it's engraved on tablets handed down by the Deity that the equipment for this second train needs to be Superliners. If there's political support for this service, that will have to include support for new equipment, and single-level equipment might be cheaper. Anyway, there's a bunch of new Viewliner 2 diners are are being used as axle count cars :) that could be dedicated to this service, right? And whenever they get around to replacing the Amfleets, the old Amfleets could be converted to long-distance coaches. OK, sleeping cars are a problem, but maybe the train could be run as a coach only train, like the old El Capitan, perhaps with a business class section to collect some premium gravy revenue. Most of the demand will be for shorter trips that don't require a full overnight, and people who want to ride the full trip and want a bit of quiet can enjoy the premium business class seats.

This could also be used as an experiment to see if they can run a full dining service in a way that would make enough revenue to cover their costs. If they could find some dome cars or fabricate some from some old Amfleets, that might be another draw for the through passengers, but I expect that the main political support would come from Minnesota, which wants another Chicago-Twin Cities train and southern Montana, which would like rail service to link it's larger cities and towns together, and don't care as much about the tourists, except that premium service adds revenue gravy.
 

Amtrakfflyer

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I hope the contract for the Superliner replacement/fleet addition/refurbishment is put on hold until Amtrak has semi competent forward thinking adult supervision at the helm. Right now we just have to hope maintenance isn’t being deferred on the Superliners and LD locomotives in the name of breaking even. That’s one easy way to sabotage the network.
 

sttom

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You know, it's not like it's engraved on tablets that the equipment for this second train needs to be Superliners. If there's political support for this service, that will have to include support for new equipment, and single-level equipment might be cheaper. Anyway, there's a bunch of new Viewliner 2 diners are are being used as axle count cars :) that could be dedicated to this service, right? And whenever they get around to replacing the Amfleets, the old Amfleets could be converted to long-distance coaches. OK, sleeping cars are a problem, but maybe the train could be run as a coach only train, like the old El Capitan, perhaps with a business class section to collect some premium gravy revenue. Most of the demand will be for shorter trips that don't require a full overnight, and people who want to ride the full trip and want a bit of quiet can enjoy the premium business class seats.

This could also be used as an experiment to see if they can run a full dining service in a way that would make enough revenue to cover their costs. If they could find some dome cars or fabricate some from some old Amfleets, that might be another draw for the through passengers, but I expect that the main political support would come from Minnesota, which wants another Chicago-Twin Cities train and southern Montana, which would like rail service to link it's larger cities and towns together, and don't care as much about the tourists, except that premium service adds revenue gravy.
As for Superliners and their costs, the Viewliner order boiled down to ~$2.8 million per car and the bi level order (before it was borked) was ~$2.8 million per car when adjusted for inflation. Also it's about 2 Superliners per 3 Viewliners (or equivalents) when it comes to capacity. So to replace all the Superliners with Viewliners or equivalents, you'd need 720 cars. Which may or may not be worth it. Assuming the cost per Superliner 3 isn't more than 50% over the inflation adjusted Viewliner price, the capacity and smaller fleet might be worth it.

As for reusing the Amfleets post replacement, I think it would be a good idea to keep using them. It's not ever day Amtrak gets spare equipment. And at one point I heard they put roomette modules into an Amfleet car. They could jury rig some of them into sleepers and use them as a stop gap measure.
 

west point

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If I was part of Minnesota politics I would not support this train as the second train to CHI. The inability of that route to provide a reliable on time departure from MSP really downgrades its worth. Every proposal has an early departure from MSP. The only way to allow this route to be the second would be for a make up train to leave on time. Suspect that this route would call for cut off cars at MXP anyway ? Have not even studied what times an early MSP departure would mean for all town and cities along the route.
 

sttom

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If I was part of Minnesota politics I would not support this train as the second train to CHI. The inability of that route to provide a reliable on time departure from MSP really downgrades its worth. Every proposal has an early departure from MSP. The only way to allow this route to be the second would be for a make up train to leave on time. Suspect that this route would call for cut off cars at MXP anyway ? Have not even studied what times an early MSP departure would mean for all town and cities along the route.
On the June 1977 schedule the eastbound departure from MSP was 11:35 am and the westbound departure was 8:40 pm (8:05 arrival). The westbound train would get to Missoula at 9:20 pm and the eastbound arrived at 7:20 am. My bigger concern would be that the trip time is approximately 11 hours. Even if you shift the schedule 2 hours earlier, the travel time is still 11 hours.
 

NeueAmtrakCalifornia

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If Amtrak is ever going to bring back the North Coast Hiawatha (or an equivalent), they're gonna have to bring back the Stampede Pass route (heard BNSF reactivated it) as the Stevens Pass route is congested.
 
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zephyr17

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If Amtrak is ever going to bring back the North Coast Hiawatha (or an equivalent), they're gonna have to bring back the Stampede Pass route (heard BNSF reactivated it) as the Stevens Pass route is congested.
Stampede has been back in service for years.
 

PRR 60

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From just east of Billings to Sandpoint ID, the southern route is on Montana Rail Link (MRL) - a Class 2. As far as I know, Amtrak has no operations on MRL. Lines that do not have to deal with Amtrak can run trains however they want: direction and times. Throw Amtrak into that mix, running at times and in directions that may foul the flow, and the need for new sidings and other capacity enhancements crops up. Not sure about the track class of the line, but if it is less than practical for passenger service, the upgrade costs could be substantial.

Then there is the issue of Positive Train Control. Does the existing MRL route have it (BNSF does east of Billings through Dickinson and Bismarck)? It might due to the volume and nature of the traffic. But, if not, then adding Amtrak would require adding PTC and that cost would have to be paid by whoever is funding the passenger start up, not MRL.

All these issues show how it is easier to maintain passenger service on a railroad than it is to restart it once it has been gone for years.
 

NeueAmtrakCalifornia

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Then there is the issue of Positive Train Control. Does the existing MRL route have it (BNSF does east of Billings through Dickinson and Bismarck)? It might due to the volume and nature of the traffic. But, if not, then adding Amtrak would require adding PTC and that cost would have to be paid by whoever is funding the passenger start up, not MRL.
Not currently but MRL is planning on implementing PTC on their tracks https://www.krtv.com/news/montana-and-regional-news/2019/06/29/montana-rail-link-plans-to-adopt-positive-train-control-to-increase-safety/
 

Siegmund

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It would be interesting to know what the local politics are that the state legislature won't support a study bill and endorse the concept, even when there's no funding involved.
The Montana state legislature bears a certain amount of resemblence to the current U.S. Senate. If the idea comes from our Democratic governor's office, or from the university town of Missoula, it's likely to be dead on arrival rather than considered on its own merits.
 

Siegmund

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So are they proposing running a whole new train? Moving the Empire Builder to this route? Splitting and combining with the Empire Builder?
The discussion in the popular press is all framed as bringing back the North Coast Hiawatha (and the use of the 'Hiawatha' name has caused some local confusion causing people to think it was a proposal to relay track on the Hiawatha Trail across St. Paul Pass.)

Two feasibility studies ago, Amtrak reported on restoring the whole NCH (with prohibitively high costs, of course.) The last time around, in 2010, because the project was at Montana's request rather than Congress's, the proposal was for either a day train Billings-Missoula or a Montana-only loop, Williston-Sidney-Glendive then along the NCH route to Sandpoint. Link to the 2010 study:
https://www.mdt.mt.gov/publications/docs/brochures/railways/amtrak_railstudy.pdf

It makes a whole lot more economic sense as a long distance route than as a local connector. A day train to Sandpoint or Spokane and then sitting until 1AM to board the Builder is not going to be appealing.

Every now and then I've kicked around the notion of Denver-Casper-Thermopolis-Billings (well, Laurel)-Missoula-Seattle in my head instead of restoring the NCH, but I don't think that has ever been officially studied. Nor has restoring the Midwest-Denver-Laurel-Great Falls-Shelby-then-continue-on-the-Builder-route service that ended in the late 50s or early 60s.
 

Palmetto

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Time for Amtrak to start using it (it'd be up to BNSF). I can see it work for a future intercity train serving Ellensburg, Yakima, the Tri-Cities and Spokane in addition to neo-NCH.
The State of Washington has a plan to use it for a Seattle to Spokane train. No one is talking about where the money is going to come from to run the train, though.
 

F900ElCapitan

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The discussion in the popular press is all framed as bringing back the North Coast Hiawatha (and the use of the 'Hiawatha' name has caused some local confusion causing people to think it was a proposal to relay track on the Hiawatha Trail across St. Paul Pass.)

Two feasibility studies ago, Amtrak reported on restoring the whole NCH (with prohibitively high costs, of course.) The last time around, in 2010, because the project was at Montana's request rather than Congress's, the proposal was for either a day train Billings-Missoula or a Montana-only loop, Williston-Sidney-Glendive then along the NCH route to Sandpoint. Link to the 2010 study:
https://www.mdt.mt.gov/publications/docs/brochures/railways/amtrak_railstudy.pdf

It makes a whole lot more economic sense as a long distance route than as a local connector. A day train to Sandpoint or Spokane and then sitting until 1AM to board the Builder is not going to be appealing.

Every now and then I've kicked around the notion of Denver-Casper-Thermopolis-Billings (well, Laurel)-Missoula-Seattle in my head instead of restoring the NCH, but I don't think that has ever been officially studied. Nor has restoring the Midwest-Denver-Laurel-Great Falls-Shelby-then-continue-on-the-Builder-route service that ended in the late 50s or early 60s.
Thanks for the info. I guess it’s just too preliminary to determine. But I still don’t see an adequate initial rolling stock plan. There definitely isn’t enough Superliner equipment to fulfill this train and talk of extending it to Seattle via Stampede Pass only exacerbates the issue. I’m also not sure if waiting for replaced Amfleet equipment is viable. The cars being replaced first are 40-50 years old, I think it’ll be difficult to pull together even enough of that equipment to pull this off as a Seattle train would need at least 3 sets of equipment and would lack sleepers.
 

Willbridge

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It'll take a while, but there's a fairly determined effort to restore passenger service between Pasco/Tri-Cities and Seattle. It happens that the times for Trains 27/28 connect well for a morning train to Puget points and an evening return. There are other alternatives involving Spokane.

The NP daylight Spokane - Seattle train was mainly for access to intermediate points. The GN Cascadian was the preferred daylight SEA-SPK train. The one daily SEA-SPK bus available as an Amtrak Thruway service runs in the Cascadian's slot.

The map linked below shows the existing and proposed lines.

https://www.aawa.us/about/
 

NeueAmtrakCalifornia

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It'll take a while, but there's a fairly determined effort to restore passenger service between Pasco/Tri-Cities and Seattle. It happens that the times for Trains 27/28 connect well for a morning train to Puget points and an evening return. There are other alternatives involving Spokane.
The only other alternative for Seattle-Spokane train is the GN Stevens Pass line, and that route is at capacity (it's why BNSF reactivated the NP Stampede Pass line), being that there's numerous single-track sections. Perhaps one way to alleviate capacity constraints is to construct a second (actually third) Cascade Tunnel, one that can reliably carry double-stacks.

Alternatively, a new dedicated passenger line built off from the Stampede Pass rail and following I-90 could be built, connecting Ellensburg to the GN route at the east of Quincy. If not then it can continue following I-90 before connecting to the SP&S line that Amtrak uses for the Empire Builder Portland trains at Ritzville. https://www.cascadiahighspeedrail.com/new-stampede-pass-route.html
 
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