Short Consists of Long Distance Trains

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Nick Farr

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389,995 + 353,466 = 743,461 / 12 = 61,955
(not sure whether those numbers are directly comparable)
Are they each total ridership numbers, or is one counting every passenger between city pairs ignoring any intermediate stops.
 

Barb Stout

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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.
I'm not sure if there was a change since the last time I took a sleeper on the SWC back in 2019, but at that time the sleepers were not right behind the locomotives. Although I wasn't paying strict attention when I boarded, I think they were near the back because at the station I use (ABQ), the sleeping car passengers were told to wait at the south side of the station in Albuquerque and the coach people were on the north side. The east-bound train which I was taking, first heads north before veering east somewhere around Lamy. Also, any time I have been in sleepers on the SWC, I have not heard train horns or smelled fuel fumes (I sure have smelled other things, if you know what I mean), so I would say if it's true that the sleepers are now at the front, then perhaps the consists are inconsistent. (Pun intended)
 

me_little_me

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Let's never forget that Amtrak's primary customer on the LD trains is congress.

Amtrak has exceptional individuals working for it, but as an organization, the LD passengers are treated somewhere between an inconvenience and and an afterthought.
While management may treat congress as their customer, it is NOT true that Congress IS their customer.

The people that pay for travel are customers.

The American people who are expecting Amtrak to provide service by subsidizing it are customers. Congress is just allocating the money paid by the American people just like a Home Owners Association board allocates the money for maintenance paid by the owners of the association.
 

me_little_me

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To the best of my knowledge, no one in mechanical was furloughed. Amtrak parked the "excess" cars, literally let them bake in the sun with no preventative maintenance for months while all the mechanical folks spread the remaining work around. Not surprisingly, the stuff still running didn't get any additional attention or care.

When new cars are delivered to Hialeah, they aren't immediately ready for service. Acceptance testing, additional field modifications, WiFi installation, etc. needed to be completed before going into service. This has been mentioned here before.

Amtrak sure did explain the change. It's because millennials asked for crap food. :rolleyes:

I think this is a case of IT mis-management. There is supposed to be some new, fantastic schedule/route tool on Amtrak.com that generates PDFs on the fly with the latest and greatest schedule information. It's probably a combination of killing the old schedules too early and the new tool getting delayed.

Is this deliberate and intentional? I don't think so. Is it incredibly short-sighted mis-management combined with media relations/marketing spin? Yup.
Item #1: If they furloughed nobody, then the running cars shoul have been given lots of additional maintenance since there were so few of them being used or those sitting should have been maintained and upgraded.

#2. I specifically stated "after acceptance". Those cars have just been sitting for many many months with no plans in place to put them in service and even now, have not been put in service. If there are problems, Amtrak should be open about it. If not, suggesting that it is deliberate (and therefore possibly sabotage) is not unreasonable.

As I clearly stated: "Sabotage is believable because Amtrak made it believable".

BTW, I did not suggest I believed it but it is not unreasonable to believe it.
 

Nick Farr

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The people that pay for travel are customers.
So by that logic, Congress (via federal subsidies) pays for the travel on most LD lines. How much is debatable depending on the accounting, but they're clearly the single biggest and most important customer.

There's a reason that the Auto Train was mostly untouched as a product during COVID and that's because it's mostly self-sustaining. All the other LD services suffered.

Amtrak doesn't run the LD services because of its paying customers. It runs them because Congress says so. If Congress stops funding those lines, they go away.

The whole reason for 3x/week service was to get more funding. Once they got more funding, service was restored.
 

Willbridge

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Are they each total ridership numbers, or is one counting every passenger between city pairs ignoring any intermediate stops.
I think these are all passengers except that NEC riders may not be included on the Savannah run. When I get time I'll look up some more recent years. The year that I picked included the transition from steam to electric heat, although it's hard to find a year that was 'normal'.
 

Ryan

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I think like all things, it depends on the route/person.
On my CZ trip, I didn’t enter the SSL the entire first day/night. After Denver however, I spent a considerable amount of time there.

Subsequently though, I found the dining car (which was often empty due to COVID) to be a nice alternative to the overcrowded SSL. I could see out both sides easily, get some work done at a spacious table, and enjoy the scenery just as much.

On a non-scenic route, i really don’t have too much interest in a SSL.
Indeed.

I paid for a private room, why would I go and hang out with strangers?
 
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basketmaker

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Author makes a lot of sense! The tail-end Baggage car always stumped me since 9 out of 10 of the consists (SWC and CZ) I have watched over the last year or so on Virtual Railfan at GBB still tote the Coach-Baggage at least on the SWC in addition to the dedicated Baggage. Only noticed once that the Coach-Baggage was actually used and that was when about 40+ Boy Scouts came back to GBB with all their gear. And for the most part they actually did the unload. The SWC Baggage at the rear and the fumes/noise for the leading Sleeper is an issue. I have done both a few times and the noise hasn't been an issue personally but the fumes were. Same with the PDX-SPK leg of the EB when the Lounge was in the lead. Twice I had to leave the Lounge because the fumes were too much. And I worked airport tarmacs around jet exhaust for a living for 40+ years. The Baggage car should be behind the power as a buffer.

The author of the article never even raised the issues of the freight railroads intentionally delaying Amtrak. That torques me more than anything. I see the CZ from my bedroom in/out of Denver. And more times than not #5 is thrown in the Barr Lake siding (a mile from me) only to wait for a 75+ car slow coal drag or long manifest to get by. Yet it appears that Amtrak does little about this. Other than posting an "Amtrak Alert" blaming freight. And I know it is not an isolated incident only with BNSF.
 

zephyr17

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Amtrak really has not had the authority to do anything about mishandling by the freight railroads, despite its statutory priority. It cannot bring suit itself, the DOJ has to do it. The regulatory authorities (STB) did not have the tools, either.

PRIIA in 2008 conferred authority on the STB to regulate passenger delay. It has been held up in court, the legislation amended to take Amtrak out of the role of formulating standards when that was challenged and went to the Supreme Court and lost. The railroads continued to fight it, taking the amended legislation to the Supreme Court again, which didn't hear it. The implementing regulations and standards finally started being implemented in December 2020, the railroads finally losing after fighting it tooth and nail for 12 years.

There is also now an effort in Congress to amend the law to allow Amtrak the ability to file suit itself without needing the DOJ to take the case. Whether that is successful, who can say? Suffice to say the railroads are fighting it.
 

Willbridge

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"From out of the pages of yesteryear!" (Rail Travel News) Riders

NEW YORK - FLORIDA -- November 1981 = 42,410 // December 1981 = 55,642
NEW YORK - SAVANNAH --November 1981 = 10,466 // December 1981 = 14,496

In February '82 the typical consist of the Silver Meteor southbound from Washington, DC was 16 cars to 18 cars, including three sleepers and a Slumbercoach..
NEW YORK - FLORIDA -- November 1986 = 59,688 // December 1986 = 69,728
NEW YORK - SAVANNAH --November 1986 = 11,164 // December 1986 = 13,094

A footnote mentions low gas prices then in effect. (Denver and Calgary had lots of vacant office space at that time.)

A consist for the Silver Meteor at Orlando on Feb. 15, 1987 shows four sleepers and a Slumbercoach. A consist for the Silver Star at Jacksonville on Feb. 8th shows three sleepers in service.
 

Willbridge

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NEW YORK - FLORIDA -- November 1986 = 59,688 // December 1986 = 69,728
NEW YORK - SAVANNAH --November 1986 = 11,164 // December 1986 = 13,094

A footnote mentions low gas prices then in effect. (Denver and Calgary had lots of vacant office space at that time.)

A consist for the Silver Meteor at Orlando on Feb. 15, 1987 shows four sleepers and a Slumbercoach. A consist for the Silver Star at Jacksonville on Feb. 8th shows three sleepers in service.
NEW YORK - FLORIDA -- November 1996 = 57,587 // December 1996 = missing

The Royal Palm began service on Nov. 10th. Between Amtrak's erratic release of ridership stats and RTN's erratic publication dates and the news hole required to cover the major service cuts about to occur, I haven't found Dec '96.
 

neroden

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There's a reason that the Auto Train was mostly untouched as a product during COVID and that's because it's mostly self-sustaining. All the other LD services suffered.
Many of the other LD services are also self-sustaining (specifically: every reputable outside analysis says the Lake Shore Limited, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Palmetto and Coast Starlight are), but this is obscured by Amtrak's deliberately fraudulent "allocations" accounting system (which was instituted decades back for various political reasons which are no longer relevant, but is still staggering on like a zombie).

The incompetence is quite serious: people near the top of Amtrak management, and in Congress, believe the fake numbers unless there's pushback against them, and make business decisions based on the fake numbers. Managing based on fake numbers is how the Rock Island Railroad abandoned the profitable part of their system and kept the unprofitable part -- it really is a bad thing to manage based on false numbers.

----
On the original topic of short consists, every rumor I've heard is that it's short-staffing. Some rather thoughtless actions were taken by Mr. Anderson, and more thoughtless actions were taken during the pandemic, and as a result a lot of people retired or were laid off and didn't come back... and it turns out it's not so easy to replace them.
 

Willbridge

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NEW YORK - FLORIDA -- November 1996 = 57,587 // December 1996 = missing

The Royal Palm began service on Nov. 10th. Between Amtrak's erratic release of ridership stats and RTN's erratic publication dates and the news hole required to cover the major service cuts about to occur, I haven't found Dec '96.
Here's February 2001:
SILVER STAR = 17,992
SILVER METEOR = 18,013
SILVER PALM = 14,728

NEW YORK - FLORIDA -- 50,733

I also am missing some issues in this era. The time required by "my own" railroad (Denver's transit system) became overwhelming, so I can't blame the lack of continuous stats on any one thing.

Another hazard is thumbing through the back issues. Did you know that the Desert Wind once detoured via the Tennessee Pass line?
 

Nick Farr

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Many of the other LD services are also self-sustaining (specifically: every reputable outside analysis says the Lake Shore Limited, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Palmetto and Coast Starlight are),
Can you cite at least one reputable outside analysis that backs this up? The only analyses people cite are articles that do a worse job of error-prone cherry-picking to suit their point than what's presented in Amtrak's "materially good enough" Audited Financial Statements. Just because Amtrak lies doesn't somehow make these services self-sustaining.

Yes, I'm sure you could find one or two quarters where each of these services eeked out a profit. However, on the whole, they have all relied on a subsidy just like all of Amtrak's services.

If they were >100% farebox recovery services, then they wouldn't need a subsidy, wouldn't have been cut and would likely be run by private entities.
 

PaTrainFan

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Many of the other LD services are also self-sustaining (specifically: every reputable outside analysis says the Lake Shore Limited, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Palmetto and Coast Starlight are), but this is obscured by Amtrak's deliberately fraudulent "allocations" accounting system (which was instituted decades back for various political reasons which are no longer relevant, but is still staggering on like a zombie).

The incompetence is quite serious: people near the top of Amtrak management, and in Congress, believe the fake numbers unless there's pushback against them, and make business decisions based on the fake numbers. Managing based on fake numbers is how the Rock Island Railroad abandoned the profitable part of their system and kept the unprofitable part -- it really is a bad thing to manage based on false numbers.
Has RPA made any headway with a more receptive Congress on recognizing this as a flawed metric? I am guessing Amtrak management has no desire to change their thinking but this might have to be anotehr case of Amtrak forcing them to rethink.
 

Just-Thinking-51

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Smiling Joe Boardman once upon a time had a PowerPoint presentation that show profitable for some of this routes in question.

As for why Amtrak is the only operator might due with operations authorization, equipment, and liability protection.
 

Amtrakfflyer

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As I alluded to earlier in this thread looking back I think Boardman did a lot better job then he was given credit for at the time. He knew how to play the political game and knew railroading.

Plus from all accounts he was just a nice guy. I enjoyed reading the story, it might have been on here or Trainswire where he was out to eat near WUS at a diner with an Amtrak polo shirt on. A customer started talking Amtrak with him, not knowing he was the CEO. Long story short they hit it off and Boardman took him back to the station and gave him a VIP tour of the facilities.


Smiling Joe Boardman once upon a time had a PowerPoint presentation that show profitable for some of this routes in question.

As for why Amtrak is the only operator might due with operations authorization, equipment, and liability protection.
 

west point

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IMO there are some LD routes that can break even. But it requires those trains to carry a large amount of passengers. Look at the Palmetto which comes close to breaking even with just 8 or 9 cars south of WASH. If all silvers were up to 16 cars then just having 3 non revenue cars and 13 revenue cars on overnight trains..
My candidates are Silvers, Crescent ATL - NEC (requires dropping cars at ATL ) LSL, Empire Builder, Cal Z.

Now to operate any of these trains at this capacity requires many changes that Amtrak being hide bound would find hard to implement.
1. Proper planning of station stops is at the top. Conductors will have to be trained for quicker stops may require different boarding procedures..
2. Agents at stations as well will need training..
3. Stations will need boarding locations automated by way the train make up is is for that train. This will require engineers to have initial stop locations marked and noted to engineer where to stop for each trip.
4. Diners will need to be run 24/7 that will need more personnel. No blocking off any seating.
5. New intermediate catering locations for additional food and other supplies will be required.
6. A baggage man or some OBS might be needed to speed up station stops.
6. One benefit will be an a
 

Cal

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My candidates are Silvers, Crescent ATL - NEC (requires dropping cars at ATL ) LSL, Empire Builder, Cal Z.
I would think that all LD trains have the potential to make a profit. I mean the Sunset hits six population centers and can be relatively fast if it loses it's padding.
 

neroden

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Can you cite at least one reputable outside analysis that backs this up?
Sure, check anything which doesn't include "allocated costs". They're marginal-cost profitable and even Amtrak has admitted this when pressed on it.

Boardman stated outright that cancelling the Silver Star or Silver Meteor would ***increase Amtrak's need for Congressional funding***. If cancelling a train increases Amtrak's need for funding, *THAT TRAIN IS PROFITABLE*.

If they were >100% farebox recovery services, then they wouldn't need a subsidy, wouldn't have been cut and would likely be run by private entities.
Absolute ignorant nonsense.

You don't seem to understand business. There's overhead to cover.

NO SINGLE TRAIN, including the Auto Train, can cover the overhead of running a passenger rail system by itself. The only way to cover overhead is to have a *large system* so that you can have economies of scale. (This is also part of why all the freight railroads are trending towards giant monopolies.)

That doesn't change the fact that each individual train is profitable -- it covers its marginal costs.

They're just not profitable enough to cover the overhead of having a central reservations system, a heavy maintenance backshop, a headquarters building, accountants, work gangs, etc. But each train is profitable.

I know this is confusing to people who don't actually understand business, but you can have each individual product be profitable and have the business as a whole not be profitable due to not having enough economies of scale.

"Allocating" the overhead is a nonsense move -- it creates gibberish. Because the company as a whole is not profitable, if you allocate all the overhead to one product, you can claim that the LSL is unprofitable and the NEC is profitable, but this is nonsense; you could allocate the overhead the other way and claim that the LSL is profitable and the NEC is unprofitable, and it would be just as accurate -- both are inaccurate.

The fact is that each individual train is profitable and covers its own marginal costs (with a few exceptions, notably the Sunset Limited) but the overall business is not profitable.

The correct accounting system separates the marginal costs (which each individual service should cover from fares, in a for-profit business) from the fixed overhead costs (which should not be allocated to any service; instead one should try to have ENOUGH services to cover them when you add up all the profits from individual services). This is not what Amtrak is reporting, even though they have been *legally required to report it since 2008*.

Overhead in railroads is massive, really massive, and one has to have huge economies of scale to even start to come close to covering it. And to swing back to the original topic, one way of getting economies of scale is to *run longer trains*.
 
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daybeers

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29(11) has two sleepers, a Cross Country Cafe, coach/bag, and coach. No SSL. Knew that would happen, but the rest of the passengers didn't. I'll be calling Amtrak for at least a partial voucher, maybe I should tell my car too?

The CL is a great route that needs some schedule help, at least one more frequency, and a real baggage car that they spent so much on so they can have two or three coaches and at least three sleepers.
 
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Nick Farr

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Sure, check anything which doesn't include "allocated costs".
Can you provide an actual link to a document that provides actual numbers?

I don't think you understand how money or profit works.

How is Amtrak profitable when it sucks up billions of dollars from Congress, collects millions in fares, doesn't build new facilities and still loses money? Where is all that money going?

They're marginal-cost profitable and even Amtrak has admitted this when pressed on it.
Please cite anything that says this. And by cite I mean provide a link to a document, page, testimony, financials, anything.

And even then, do you know what every "marginal-cost profitable" business that can't pay its overhead costs is? Unprofitable, if not broke.

NO SINGLE TRAIN, including the Auto Train, can cover the overhead of running a passenger rail system by itself.
Actually, the AT is a great example of a train that has been profitable running completely independently. It has its own resources for everything. It was a perfectly designed business.

The only way to cover overhead is to have a *large system* so that you can have economies of scale. (This is also part of why all the freight railroads are trending towards giant monopolies.)
Amtrak is not Walmart. It's not a business selling discounted widgets with low margins that makes up for it in bulk.

Freight rail and passenger rail are also two completely different businesses. The economies of scale in freight railroads have to do with physics. You can ship bulk products and containers for pennies on the dollar across the continent compared with other methods of transport. It just takes a lot longer.

The monopoly pressure on freight railroads has more to do with competition and access to networks. The economies of scale come into play with maintaining the rails themselves--something Amtrak doesn't do across it's LD network.

I know this is confusing to people who don't actually understand business, but you can have each individual product be profitable and have the business as a whole not be profitable due to not having enough economies of scale.
I know this is confusing to people who don't understand accounting, but gross profit (before fixed expenses) is not the same as net profit (after fixed expenses) and it really doesn't matter if you can't cover your fixed expenses.

If a single Starbucks doesn't cover it's expenses because it doesn't sell enough product, they close it.

If a coffee shop loses money on every product it sells except for it's $100 single cup of Panamanian Geisha, and they sell enough of that single product to covers all the expenses and have profit left over--they stay open.

The fact is that each individual train is profitable and covers its own marginal costs (with a few exceptions, notably the Sunset Limited) but the overall business is not profitable.
The fact is Amtrak collects billions of dollars in subsidies and still loses money.

The subsidies for the LD network cover more than half of all the costs of the LD network which is *far less resource intense* than the NEC, since Amtrak isn't running rails on the LD services and they're using far more outdated equipment that's essentially fully depreciated.

And nothing I'm going to say or cite will change your mind.
 

jis

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Oddly enough, though we (mostly rightly) dump on Amtrak about allocating costs, to some extent it is an unintended consequence of the Congress first requiring Amtrak to do overhead allocation on a per train basis and then not funding Amtrak enough so as to reduce the proportion that is accountd for as overhead. There is a lot in what Amtrak calls overhead that for example, no self respecting airline with a proper accounting system would call overhead. They are able to allocate at source rather than post facto as random proportions. It again has to do with the inadequacy of Amtrak's cost/expenditure tracking IT system and supporting infrastructure, something that we inevitably circle back to all the time.
 

Nick Farr

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I would think that all LD trains have the potential to make a profit.
The point of running the LD trains is not to make a profit and never has been. Amtrak was brought into existence by the US government to relieve railroads of their obligations to run these money-losing services.

To say the LD trains should be profitable is kind of like saying the Interstate Highway System or the United States Postal Service should run at a profit. Sure, both of these things could (and in certain situations have) run at a profit. However, trying to make these services run at a profit runs counter to why they exist in the first place: to provide essential infrastructure on which the rest of the economy and country moves.

Could the LD services be run better? Yes, absolutely. Frankly, it's amazing that they still have customers given how old the equipment is and how inconsistent the service is.

The core problem behind everything in the LD network is how they're running basically the same product basically the same way as Amtrak inherited it in the 1970s. The LD network has been neglected and it shows in everything from the random crumbs you find underneath every seat in the sleepers to the surly way you're treated by every other on board staff member. Yet, we still ride the trains because in spite of Amtrak, we enjoy (or depend on) the experience.

The core reason we cannot run longer consists of LD trains is there simply isn't enough equipment in good operation to extend the consists.
 

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It's interesting how many people complain about the subsidy Amtrak gets ... when, in reality, ALL businesses get subsidy. The road system at the Federal, State, County and City level is all maintained by tax dollars. If we did not have the road system we have, most stores and other businesses we have today would not have the customer base they have.

The difference is, since the "free use" of the road system is not labeled as a subsidy, people don't view it as such.

Had the term "subsidy" not been used - who knows, we may still have longer consists and better passenger service just like the massive and impressive Interstate Highway System that survives on subsidies - even they don't use that term for roads.
 
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