Short Consists of Long Distance Trains

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amtrakpass

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Here is a link to a recent article on the current short consists of long distance trains. Even if you disagree with the author it is good food for thought I believe.

 

jiml

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It's an interesting theory - almost "conspiracy-like", and I'm not defending Amtrak's recent decisions, however the article completely discounts the widely-discussed reports of both equipment shortages (due to deferred maintenance) and staffing issues. I think most educated observers would allow a few more months of recovery (barring a significant fourth wave of the pandemic) before jumping on this bandwagon. 🤔
 

Just-Thinking-51

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Seem to be a bit out of date, and or cherry picking.

I agree that shorten trains are a problem.

The lack of ability to meet the surge is a management problem, it just a problem that a lot of companies are having at the same time.

The conspiracy theory does apply, but the “just overwhelming on things to do.” Also is valid.
 

Cal

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It's an interesting theory - almost "conspiracy-like", and I'm not defending Amtrak's recent decisions, however the article completely discounts the widely-discussed reports of both equipment shortages (due to deferred maintenance) and staffing issues. I think most educated observers would allow a few more months of recovery (barring a significant fourth wave of the pandemic) before jumping on this bandwagon. 🤔
I agree, they're ignoring several things that Amtrak is doing to improve the sleeper experience such as traditional dining (which they brought back in a considerably better form than Pre-Covid) and refurbishing cars, albeit superficially.

Edit: However they have a point about the baggage car, they should be running it at the front.
 

Just-Thinking-51

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Are we sure the baggage car was not a one off deadhead movement. I have not seen a the SWC for a bit, but thought it lost the baggage car for some time now.
 

Cal

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Are we sure the baggage car was not a one off deadhead movement. I have not seen a the SWC for a bit, but thought it lost the baggage car for some time now.
Nope, it's been running with a baggage car for at least a month, AFAIK it's always been on the back.
 

amtrakpass

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As for me I would not use as harsh a language as the author but I do think it is plain that Amtrak as a company on the whole is not very interested in growing Long distance ridership and the shortened consists are one of the primary limiting factors. Yes a few things are being done, but the very limited number of coaches, removal of ssl lounges on some trains, high sleeper prices, prevention of coach passengers using the diner etc.... all point to discouraging high ridership in the coaches especially. On the other hand I don't think the motives are particularly nefarious. I personally know a guy who worked for Amtrak in the Nec. Good railroad guy, also had no idea what was going on anywhere else in the company around the country. He would make fun of 448-449 actually even though he had never taken a ride on them. This happens in most large companies where some business unit's are the favored, and some are disparaged. But it seems to be a little more so with Amtrak and after meeting my friend I realized it was not just tied to the whoever the CEO was but is ingrained somewhat in the company culture.
 

enviro5609

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The important factor for me that cuts strongly towards this being an equipment and staffing issue was the abrupt resumption of daily long distance service.

During the modified schedule (and correct me if I'm wrong) most trains still had their full consists. Staff were furloughed as there were less weekly trains, and cars were put into storage. But the actual consists were the same size on the days the train still ran.

Hoping into the time machine to late winter/early spring, the Biden stimulus and congressional mandate to resume service happened very quickly. Even the existence of the third stimulus package was in doubt up until the Senate special elections in December of 2020.

If your staff has been furloughed and cannot be 100% recalled, and your cars are in storage, the only way to resume daily service asap is to run the consists shortened. It takes more time to come out of a furlough/service reduction that it does to go into one. And it certainly takes longer than the lead time given to Amtrak by Congress.

All of that is to say, the likeliest, and simplest, explanation, is that Amtrak was unprepared to resume full daily service, and did not have the staff or rolling stock to do so without cutting consist size.
 

amtrakpass

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I do ask those who believe it is an equipment and staffing issue, when do you think this will no longer be a valid reason? This winter? Next Spring? Next summer? even longer? It is good to give people the benefit of the doubt, but in my mind there does have to be an end point and Amtrak should be held accountable eventually.
 

enviro5609

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I do ask those who believe it is an equipment and staffing issue, when do you think this will no longer be a valid reason? This winter? Next Spring? Next summer? even longer? It is good to give people the benefit of the doubt, but in my mind there does have to be an end point and Amtrak should be held accountable eventually.
From what I've seen on a few Amtrak Facebook groups (including from people who claim to be in the known or Amtrak employees) there are job postings up now, but the process is slow. Amtrak is having difficulty attracting qualified applicants, and this is not a uniquely Amtrak problem. Assuming hiring works out (and exceeds attrition) there should be a gradual resumption of more complete consists and dining services by the end of next summer. For example, the Texas Eagle may get traditional dining back this fall, but the lounge and additional coaches/sleepers may take longer.

I would agree that it would be nice if Amtrak acted more like a corporation in this respect, and give regular updates and set expectations/forecast guidance. They are leaving money on the table, and the difficulties in recalling furloughed employees or onboarding new ones is exactly the kind of thing that would be discussed at a quarterly earnings conference call, for instance. While the difficulties are understandable, they are not insurmountable. So what the plan?
 

joelkfla

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As for me I would not use as harsh a language as the author but I do think it is plain that Amtrak as a company on the whole is not very interested in growing Long distance ridership and the shortened consists are one of the primary limiting factors. Yes a few things are being done, but the very limited number of coaches, removal of ssl lounges on some trains, high sleeper prices, prevention of coach passengers using the diner etc.... all point to discouraging high ridership in the coaches especially. On the other hand I don't think the motives are particularly nefarious. I personally know a guy who worked for Amtrak in the Nec. Good railroad guy, also had no idea what was going on anywhere else in the company around the country. He would make fun of 448-449 actually even though he had never taken a ride on them. This happens in most large companies where some business unit's are the favored, and some are disparaged. But it seems to be a little more so with Amtrak and after meeting my friend I realized it was not just tied to the whoever the CEO was but is ingrained somewhat in the company culture.
A lot of us non-foamers don't have train numbers memorized. I realize there are web sites that list them, but it would be a lot easier if you referred to trains by their name. Thx.
 

amtrakpass

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Thanks for the thoughtful replies. One question I was thinking of is does anyone know what the actual agreement is for the number of attendants required per coach and/or per sleeper/ lounge car? Also can Amtrak just run the cars anyway without attendants if they are short staff? I know some railroads have a penalty claim for short crew but some also get by with paying very few claims for anything these days.
Lastly, I do know it is tough for the whole service industry finding staff these days, so I do sympathize with that. However I do think Amtrak's hiring process is too laborious and intensive for some jobs when some attendant jobs might be much easier to fill if people could just try it out or do it as a temp for a summer or winter season without making it a full time career. I know the same can't be done for the operating crafts but to me the
skills in customer service are easily transferable from other parts of the service industry and might not need an super intense hiring process
 

Qapla

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There are many good points made for and against the authors conclusions ... one thing that stands out though, it does not take any additional rolling stock or trained employees to assemble the consist in a more rational, pleasing arrangement. Placing the sleepers directly behind the engine does seem to be self-defeating and would not cost any additional money to correct.
 

jis

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There are many good points made for and against the authors conclusions ... one thing that stands out though, it does not take any additional rolling stock or trained employees to assemble the consist in a more rational, pleasing arrangement. Placing the sleepers directly behind the engine does seem to be self-defeating and would not cost any additional money to correct.
The usual problem of course is that there is no universal agreement on what is the most pleasing arrangement and it is quite impossible to satisfy everyone's idea of "pleasing". 🤷‍♂️
 

Tlcooper93

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A lot of us non-foamers don't have train numbers memorized. I realize there are web sites that list them, but it would be a lot easier if you referred to trains by their name. Thx.
Not a foamer, but have decided to commit a few important route numbers to memory; its not so difficult to do.

Here is a link to a recent article on the current short consists of long distance trains. Even if you disagree with the author it is good food for thought I believe.

This was a fun read, but really doesn't hold up to reality; Amtrak has always been bad at accountability, and the reason for doing something questionable may change over time. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that Amtrak isnt interested in expanding their LD operations. That said, there is also evidence (as many have pointed out) to suggest that they want to keep what they currently have.
 
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lrh442

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Absent any explanation from Amtrak management on why consists are short I think the sabotage theory is plausible. They have a track record on this (SW Chief). It's not like we have to make outlandish leaps of logic to think that Amtrak wants to do away with the LD trains. It's more than benign neglect or simple incompetence, IMO.

Or, as Maya Angelou famously said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."
 

jis

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There was actually about a decade or a bit more when Amtrak was explicitly barred from adding any LD train without getting permission from Congress. Fortunately that piece of idiocy was gotten rid of, but the mindset developed in that period seems to have lingered on.

There was a time when Amtrak used to quite freely experiment with adding LD service. But they were much less religious about gold plating each train with Sleepers and Diners and Lounges and the works. The Pioneer for example started as a Coach and Cafe train from Salt Lake City to Seattle with cro0ss platform connection with the San Francisco Zephyr at Ogden.

Unfortunately, sicne one can find an example of almost any behavior - good or bad - in the past in Amtrak history, it is hard to cherry pick one and use that to claim that a conspiracy theory is plausible because Amtrak did that. The only theory consistently plausible about Amtrak seems to be random Brownian motion affected by who was appointed CEO and how the winds blew in Congress five years back. :D
 

lrh442

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Unfortunately, sicne one can find an example of almost any behavior - good or bad - in the past in Amtrak history, it is hard to cherry pick one and use that to claim that a conspiracy theory is plausible because Amtrak did that.
I put little stock into what Amtrak may or may not have done decades ago. What Steven Gardner has done (or tried to do) over the last 5 years is imminently relevant, though. No need to cherry pick anything when there is a body of recent work that has a clear bias against the LD trains.
 

jis

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I put little stock into what Amtrak may or may not have done decades ago. What Steven Gardner has done (or tried to do) over the last 5 years is imminently relevant, though. No need to cherry pick anything when there is a body of recent work that has a clear bias against the LD trains.
Good. So do you suppose this is going to get fixed soon, now that there is an Amtrak friendly administration? Do you think Steven Gardner is a rogue acting on his own or do you suppose he is jsut the tip of the iceberg? What explanatory value is there is just repeating Steven Gardner's name regularly?
 

lrh442

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Good. So do you suppose this is going to get fixed soon, now that there is an Amtrak friendly administration? Do you think Steven Gardner is a rogue acting on his own or do you suppose he is jsut the tip of the iceberg? What explanatory value is there is just repeating Steven Gardner's name regularly?
So do you suppose this is going to get fixed soon, now that there is an Amtrak friendly administration? - If by "this" you mean short consists, the good news is that we won't have to wait much longer to find out if it's a staffing issue or something deeper.

Do you think Steven Gardner is a rogue acting on his own or do you suppose he is just the tip of the iceberg? - Gardner has a a strong viewpoint on what Amtrak should be and there seems to be little resistance from within the company to his vision. He seems to bend only reluctantly to the will of Congress.

What explanatory value is there is just repeating Steven Gardner's name regularly? - This is a forum for passenger rail enthusiasts, and my post assumes most readers have a rudimentary knowledge of the Gardner (He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?)/Anderson years and don't require citations for every observation. I know you are more knowledgeable than most, so I assume your question is a friendly polemic designed to enliven the thread, rather than an attempt to stifle conversation by requiring chapter and verse citations. ;)
 

jis

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The only interesting addition to all this is that Congress is not a monolithic thing. Unfortunately it is also the will of another part of Congress and their lackeys that got the likes of Gardner to be where they are. As the saying goes - “There are wheels within wheels”. They went so far as to undermine Boardman to remove dining service from the Star and the LSL claiming that Diners could not be serviced to keep them on line while the Viewliners were delayed. It was the then CFO in that case.
 

Amtrakfflyer

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I think Gardner and company are intentionally holding back the network trains to suppress ridership and increase loses until a time when there is another anti Amtrak administration and/or Congress. The poor numbers will foster managements goal of reducing the network at that time. Anderson’s in your face tantrums didn’t work so they are playing the long game now. Unfortunately we may see that anti Amtrak political environment sooner than later. I’ve talked to staffers who witnessed the shouting match (SWC) and to a person they all paint Gardner as the one behind Anderson’s idiotic agenda.

If nothing else look at the Texas Eagle traveling through deep red states with no political pushback. They have decimated that train and it’s not temporary due to lack of labor/lounges/fresh food/etc. It’s cut because they want to depress ridership.
 
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Cal

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The only interesting addition to all this is that Congress is not a monolithic thing. Unfortunately it is also the will of another part of Congress and their lackeys that got the likes of Gardner to be where they are. As the saying goes - “There are wheels within wheels”. They went so far as to undermine Boardman to remove dining service from the Star and the LSL claiming that Diners could not be serviced to keep them on line while the Viewliners were delayed. It was the then CFO in that case.
I’m confused, so Boardman didn’t want to downgrade dining on any trains?
 
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