The future of Amtrak and the long distance trains

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Green Maned Lion

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I apologize in advance for the political nature of this post. I will try to confine my politics to the needed amount to discuss the key points I’m trying to bring out in this post. I ask the mod team, and not antagonistically, to contact me and discuss these points if they have objections, because I think the overall content of this post is essential for a free discourse among the members of this forum discussing the future of Amtrak and also evaluating their opinions in view of some important facts that many of them might not have considered, and I’d rather ‘clean up’ any problems then end the discussion.

I have always found this forum interesting for many reasons, but one in particular relates to this post. There has long been a feeling among transit advocates that “liberals” tend to favor trains (i.e. Democrats) and that ‘conservatives’ do not (i.e. Republicans). But this forum isn’t a bunch of foaming liberals. This forum is, for the most part, a decently representative microcosm of the American political landscape.

You do have some ‘foaming liberals’, (Hi, Ryan!) and I certainly lean left of center myself. But you also have some conservatives here, some of which I’d almost call foaming right wingers. You have urbanites, and people who live in the middle of nowhere. People who clearly have huge amounts of institutional education and relevant degrees, and people who have practically none. I criticize or consider negativity to none of this. I think the main thing I learned in higher education is that higher education is often a huge waste of time.

That is to say, Amtrak, transit, and travel is not a partisan wish. It might be a partisan issue in Congress, but it really isn’t in the reality of the American landscape.

But like a microcosm if the American public, this forum also shows a lot of the misconceptions of money, management, labor, unions, financing, accounting, politics, and realities that pervade our society and tend to make fixing its problems nearly impossible. In order to fix this country’s myriad problems, we must first understand what those problems are. The biggest problem with this country, though, ultimately, is that most of its problems are of great benefit to a select few people, and those people hold a great degree of power. It is in that group’s best interest to obfuscate all problems as carefully as possible, and that group also controls the means to do so.

When I said almost everything you read in media is inaccurate, I meant it. Media is not just stupid about reporting the honest facts about railroading and Amtrak; you just notice it because you happen to know enough about the subject to tell when someone is wrong. I find media is wrong in every subject I know enough about to judge them on; I am not particularly special and my areas of expertise are not all obscure- ipso facto, media is wrong almost always. You can get the basic gist of what went wrong from a story (E.G. a train and a car had a collision at a grade crossing and 2 people were killed) but almost all details reported are inaccurate either by design or incompetence (E.G. the train apparently had a death wish for the car, the conductor drove the train into it, the engineer reassured the passengers, etc.).

One of the distinct themes of American politics I see here most clearly is the backbone of our current financial problems. Americans have voted for a distinct government, and have mostly got it. They want a hell of a lot of service from their government. I include supposed small government proponents- they generally want “SMALLER GOVERNMENT” but fight any attempt to take away particular areas of said government they use. They ALL want to pay as little tax as possible. The poor and middle class either don’t want tax increases, or if they do, they want it only on the ‘1%’ they keep harping about. The wealthy either don’t want tax increases or want the middle class to ‘pay their share’.

You’ve got what you want, folks. Lots of services. An impressively small amount of tax (any objections to this statement better be backed up with sources showing me what developed countries have substantially lower tax rates!). And the resultant huge deficit that is currently less of an immediate problem than people scream about, but will eventually drive this country onto the rocks. (I bring this subject specifically up because it is relevant later in the topic.)

That is the basic background into which I launch into this discussion. I don’t intend to insult anyone here, beyond that point that almost all decision making on the point of anybody is done either on the basis of their self-interest, or the basis of what they think their self-interest will or should be.

Amtrak is in a point of transition. A major point of transition, and whether it will be of benefit or detriment, or both, depends on many factors, some of which we can affect, and some we can’t. If you want to contradict things I state as facts, please first consult the monthly and yearly financial reports and the current Strategic Vision Plan.

Facts:

  • A point we need to consider is the greatly aging ridership on the Long Distance Trains. It is aging, and we can’t ignore that, either in short term marketing, or long term effect. One of my single focal points as a transit advocate in New Jersey is trying to figure out ways to fight the fact that the advocacy is aging into the grave. I can’t count the number of times I have pissed off other members by asking them to look around the room and think about who in the room will be physically able to be there ten years hence.

  • The food service losses in the long distance dining cars represent, according to an OIG report, 99% of the food service losses on Amtrak. In most cases (only Auto Train and Palmetto differ), labor costs alone are higher than the revenue from the car. Then we can add “commissary” (cost of actually providing the food) and equipment costs to that. In the current political climate, this is untenable. Also, it is unreasonable for anybody to postulate prices on a menu that fail to even cover labor costs are a ‘rip-off’.

  • Equipment is wearing out. The Heritage cars are reaching the point of total structural failure (anyone referencing VIA’s similarly aged fleet can shove it- you are comparing a daily driver to a pampered classic) But assuming the Viewliner II order comes through, that problem is self-solving. The Amfleet I’s, however, are 38 years old (although admittedly almost completely rebuilt about 10 years ago), the Superliner Is are 35 years old (and have never received thorough overhauls), and the Amfleet IIs are 32 years old. Both their builders are long out of business, parts availability will be increasingly expensive. They still have some years of service ahead of them, including a period where they will be used as booster fleets. But Amtrak’s ability to maintain long distance service relies on replacing the Superliner Is and Amfleet I’s and either replacing or throughly reconfiguring the Amfleets into a from the ground rebuilt long distance shell.

  • To maintain and expand service on the Northeast Corridor and its relevant feeders (Downeaster, Empire Service, Virginia Service, Keystone Service, Springfield Service) at its current levels of ridership and growth, Amtrak needs to purchase approximately 600 single level coaches to replace the Amfleet Is. There really is nothing wrong with the current equipment in effective design and function, nor would their be with a reconfiguration of the Viewliner shell into an Amfleet I style double-vestibule auto-door layout with similar facilities, so we are talking about 600 cars at about 2.5 million a piece, or $1.5 billion. I doubt Amtrak will have trouble getting congress to agree to that investment, or funding it internally.

  • To preserve western Long Distance service cars approximating the functionality of Superliners will need to be ordered in the form of 150 coaches, 60 food service/lounge cars, and 70 sleepers, or 280 cars at… $3.5 million each? Call it a billion dollar investment.

  • To preserve functionality and allow for capacity expansion on the single level long distance routes, Amtrak needs to have effectively new single level cars configured for long distance service. This requires cars with at least 3 restrooms, adequately large windows (if they are completely rebuilt, I’d assume they have to meet current regulations) and seating for about 60 passengers, with I’d say 250 coaches available for service, and 50 light duty food service cars. Amtrak could either order new coaches built on Viewliner shell specifications (forget the extra windows, though- that would obviously have to be sacrificed on the alter of overhead luggage storage), or take the aggregate of the Amfleet I and Amfleet II fleets and rebuild them into a single specification long distance car. You are either talking about 1.5 million a car or 2.5 million a car, or 450 million to 750 million. I personally suspect the logical approach is a fully replaced car. Therefore:

  • Amtrak’s capital outlay on long-distance trains over the next ten years needs to be $1.75 billion.



Disconnected Opinion Points:

  • If Amtrak is to run a long distance network of attractiveness to more than rail foamers and people who are stuck, it needs to offer a dining service substantially superior to the current cafe car.

  • Long Distance trains require lounge space for passengers to utilize for relaxation.

  • Lounges DO NOT NEED TO BE STAFFED OR SERVE ANYTHING.

  • Traditional full service dining cars are not required. I’m talking about sit down, order all of it, be waited on, with linen table clothes and fresh flowers, grand china, gourmet meal service.

  • Dining car service can and should be profitable, but will require a total rethink as to how to operate it.



Problems:

  • The current Strategic Vision Plan and funding requests outline an intention to operate long distance trains using the same funding matrix put into place for the state supported corridors, only federally supported. This would provide funding for the Long Distance trains on a sustainable level, but would also give Congress the opportunity to manage exactly what is on those trains.

  • Railfans/foamers are an important reason Amtrak exists. They also represent the single largest problem Amtrak faces. The old-school train riders who rode before Amtrak want Amtrak to be what they were familiar with. Luxury trains, providing full service dining cars, staffed lounge cars, full bar service, first class lounges, old fashioned sleeping car service, dome cars, and so on. If we are going to save the transportation functionality of the long distance network, something I consider of paramount importance, we need to change our point of view on that. Certain facilities are important for travel, but the point of this must be fundamentally functional transportation. Every step above that must be either financially self-supporting, or be as financially prudent as possible.

  • Which leads into my rant up above about Americans and taxes. Americans want everything, so long as they don’t have to pay for it. That attitude has to fundamentally change among those who wish to go to the wall supporting Amtrak/Long Distance trains.



While it is my intention to answer my own postulated points in another post, so as to differentiate how I want to do things with the realities (My opinions shown are what I think the realities are, not how I wish to deal with them) with the points I am trying to lay out to allow for a free discourse on those realities, I want to expound a little further with my last point.

Iowa Pacific, American Orient Express, and others have ran luxury trains priced in such a way to make a reasonable profit, that is, have their passengers pay the cost of offering the luxury services provided. I don’t know what Iowa Pacific’s Pullman service is doing, but Orient Express’s limited service behind existing trains was a dismal failure.

The cost of offering a $27.00 AmSteak on the Lake Shore Limited’s dining car is above $27. As I reasoned elsewhere the cost of offering labor for that steak is at least $10 a plate. The steak, its accouterment, as well as the Amsalad, sodas, coffee, and accompanying desert, is probably another $12-15. The cost to haul and maintain that dining car is probably another $6-7 a plate. I don’t know the cost of food spoilage, but I know its a huge cost for land-based restaurants. The variable cost of cheaper meals is probably no more than 10, and is probably directly accounted for by the price. Since the steak costs Amtrak $38-43 a plate to serve you, we can assume that Amtrak loses $11-15 a plate on long distance food.

Yes, traditional full service dining cars have always been a loss leader. Granted. But that is the whole point of this post. Innovative solutions must be found. We have to come to grips with the reality that the current model, if we stick to it, will result eventually in the death of the long distance network. We are not here to cling to long held ideals of how railroads used to be run and how you’d like them to be. That long held ideal costs money, such that the last real attempt to provide it long-term (American Orient Express) failed. If you want that kind of service, be prepared to spend a few grand a night per person or more. But we are not here to discuss that.

We are here to discuss how Amtrak can position its long distance service in a way that does the following:

  • Satisfies Congress.

  • Provides a reasonable level of service and comfort for coach passengers.

  • Provides an onboard experience that is reasonably enjoyable.

  • Provides adequate facilities and amenities to cover a journey the length the trains run.

  • Provides a level of upgrade in service for sleeping car passengers such to justify the cost of their tickets, GRANTING that the cost of providing sleeping car service is relatively high and the passengers don’t think that a reasonable price is the price of plane fare plus the price of a room at a cheap hotel plus the price of the food served.



Political climate:

We need to consider the basic political climate we currently reside in, which I will sum up with the following list.

  • Amtrak is, in the grand scheme of things, basically irrelevant. It costs a basically irrelevant sum of money to operate, and is booted around as a political whipping boy because it costs very little, is not a significant source of political funding, and can be cut and boosted a little each year to either please financial hawks or rail using constituents without effecting anything important to congress critters. Its a low hanging fruit to use as a bi-partisan punching bag to direct peoples attention from real issues and the real problems that those who have power would rather the great unwashed not know about, or at least think about much.

  • The Tea Party, largely funded and controlled by the Koch brother oil money, is in Congress and has a bizarre amount of control and power for something with a relatively fringe level of popular support. The Tea Party, being heavily oil funded, would naturally object to large rail projects that would actually get significant amounts of traffic off the road. That being said, I don’t think they view the long distance network under that guise because:

  • The long distance network is, as far as driving and spending of oil money is concerned, less than irrelevant. A large number of the long distance network passengers would either ride the dog or stay home if the network was canned. Its affect to their bottom line, or anyones bottom line besides Amtrak’s, would be lost in the noise.

  • Obama’s health care rollout and effectiveness, and especially popularity, has been a disaster. This has removed whats left of Obama’s basic power base, and increased the polarity of non-liberals against the democrat point of view.

So with all the above in mind, and before you respond to my response to my own post, lets discuss solutions to Amtrak’s problems, and the general future of Amtrak’s long distance network.
 

Just-Thinking-51

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Reads the post, scratches head, moves on.

Yes that is the underlining problem. People don't care enough to do something. Sorry we have no follow up. Only the nut jobs care enough to get things to change, the rest just move on to the next topic.
 
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I'm interested in your "solutions". While I may be on the fringe of the "old geezer brigade" I do realize things will never go back (nor should they) to the pre-Amtak days.

It just seems i there has to be a way to cater to BOTH the "Basic Necessity Traveling Public", and those who want a bit more "Luxury or First Class".... Amtrak will never rival a cruise ship or private rail charter, nor should it. But if the train is pulling out of the station anyway, it seems logical to be able to charge more, for better services, food, amenities, and seating/sleeping arrangements.
 

CHamilton

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I'm sure that we could quibble about some of the details of your post, but I think that most of us would agree with the broad outline of the issues you raise. Now, how do we solve them?

In my opinion, we need to reframe the discussion completely.

  1. The calls for "making a profit" need to be shot down. Amtrak, like every other form of transportation, is a public good, and should be evaluated as such. It will never make money, just like highways and the air traffic control system.
  2. The world of the 21st century is a very different place than the 20th century's "world of the automobile." As fossil fuels run out and we deal with climate change, our auto-dependent culture and infrastructure will undergo huge revisions, and we'll need a robust passenger rail system.
  3. Until very recently, support for passenger rail was bipartisan. The current political situation is, let's hope, an aberration, but we need to work to ensure that it goes away soon.
Let's continue the conversation, and develop strategies to make a better rail system happen!
 

tonys96

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One thing to remember: Population ages across the board. As we die out, others age. So saying that only the current oldsters will be proponents of Amtrak travel, while discounting that those who will follow us in time will not , is disingenuous.

I was not an avid Amtrak rider until I was 50. My g/f had never been on a train until she was 53.

I will respond more to this missive later, however I will now say that I do not agree that all written above as "Facts" are indeed "Facts" and not just opinion.
 

Ryan

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/me waves back at GML.

Overall, well said. That's a pretty good depiction of the situation.

Also, what Charlie had to say is spot on. The "how" we do those things is the reason the Rail Advocacy forum exists.

Incidentally, I just got a (form letter, sadly) email response to the last time I contacted my Representative agreeing that spending money on infrastructure improvements is something we need to do as a nation.

If only that sentiment was shared by the other 434 of his compatriots.
 

PaulM

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The only "fact" that I would question is the aging of the LD rider. I realize it's just anecdotal, but based on quite a few LD trips in the last few years (14 nights in 2013 alone), I've noticed more and more younger passengers during all seasons; and I'm talking sleepers.
 

henryj

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GML the problem with your analysis is the basic question, what is the role of an LD train, particularly the western trains. It takes five to six sets of equipment to basically haul one plane load of passengers a day and it takes them two days and nights to get there. As you surmise, LD trains are irrelevant to today's travel. Regardless of how the 'foamers' on here think, an LD train is a cruise train catering to vacationers. Yes it does provide basic transportation to some coach passengers and the elderly and those afraid to fly. So the trains, particularly the western LD trains that take two days to traverse their route, need to provide cruise train amenities. Dining cars, and trains enthusiasts on here seem obsessed with food, have never made any money and never will. They are an amenity , along with lounge cars, provided to attract cruise train vacationers. The problem with their costs is basically labor, not food. Food costs are irrelevant to the cost structure of these trains. The trains just have too many highly paid people on board. And the longer it takes for a train to make it's journey, the higher these labor costs are. So the lengthening of the EB schedule, for instance, will just cost Amtrak more and they won't be charging any more for the trip. The other 'controllable cost' is actually revenue. Amtrak charges Greyhound rates for coach seats, but provides luxury amenities, such as on board dining and sight seeing lounge cars. The other large costs such as track rent, fuel, equipment maintenance are not as controllable as the above mentioned two. Running on time would help also, of course. In any case this is why successful trains like the CZ, EB, SWC and CS are also perennially among the biggest losers. These trains are actually national treasures like the Canadian, and like the Canadian should be treated as such regardless of whether they break even or not. The Florida trains actually provide a modicum of transportation sense and if handled right, should break even or even make money. The Crescent makes sense are far as Atlanta. It could save a lot of money by dropping unnecessary cars and staff there before continuing to New Orleans as basically a coach train. The remainder are a mixed bag. The Eagle, for instance, is really replacing three or four trains that used to run to Texas. The Sunset no longer goes to Florida which provided a lot of it's revenue. The CONO......is it still nicknamed the 'chicken bone run'? And you would think the Capitol and LSL serving the nations largest cities would be self supporting. Perhaps those trains are the ones you are thinking about changing to European style Spartan overnights. Anyway, my two cents worth.

jf
 
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AmtrakBlue

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/me waves back at GML.

Overall, well said. That's a pretty good depiction of the situation.

Also, what Charlie had to say is spot on. The "how" we do those things is the reason the Rail Advocacy forum exists.

Incidentally, I just got a (form letter, sadly) email response to the last time I contacted my Representative agreeing that spending money on infrastructure improvements is something we need to do as a nation.

If only that sentiment was shared by the other 434 of his compatriots.
I got my form letters too. Of course, living on the NEC, my guys are pro-rail since they use it themselves.
 

jis

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One thing that I notice is that in other transportation modes, the infrastructure - its construction, management and operation - is clearly separated from the operation of services using the infrastructure. The infrastructure is subsidized at some significant level for all, some using proxy taxes trying to masquerade around as user fees, some direct user fees, and some outright grants from general ledger + of course bonding etc. the usual techniques for financing long term capital costs.

The general expectation of making money appears to apply to the operation of services using the infrastructure. I am not really sure that it is worth fighting that head to head, because that sentiment does force some level of discipline in the system. So I suppose I am not quite ready to dump the "making money" part completely. I would like to see the domains more clearly spelled out and funding/money making roles more clearly specified in the new "contract".

One fundamental problem in the US is the fact that most of the infrastructure for rail is neither publicly owned nor is there adequate regulations giving reasonable access to the same for the use of public good. This appears to be a problem unique to this country - neigh this continent due to historical factors. This in and of itself will force the notion of the infrastructure needing to make money to support itself or come up with a new "contract" where the difference is adequately made up from public sources in lieu of corresponding ceding of some control/access to the public for public use. While we are already seeing certain examples of this taking place in small steps I have no idea how we get to a general social contract of this nature without running afoul of "taking of property".
 
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SanAntonioClyde

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Enjoyed the post. Have similar thought on some items. My travel experience on several LD trains leads me to following points.

1. My frequent travel on Texas Eagle has proven time and time again that a significant number of travelers use it for short trips.

2. The thought of running the Sunset Ltd coast to coast needs to be put to rest. Instead run a separate train from New Orleans to Florida. No clue as to where you get the train sets in either case.

3. Increased train frequency always seems to be a key component in increasing public "coming into the fold" of accepting and willing to have public funding for rail transportation.

4. While I have supported NARP for years have always been disappointed in their reluctance in assisting state organizations. An example in having a means of allowing my info released to others in my state so we could be better organized.

This forum is enjoyable since it does cover many facets of those who have an interest in rail travel. Unfortunately we do have a second rate service despite the thousands of dedicated employees who work hard to bring the best they can with limited resources
 

mfastx

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The problem with long distance trains is that it just isn't a realistic travel option for most people. A Houston - New Orleans run time of 9 hours just isn't going to entice lots of people to ride. I don't think long distance trains are going to die out by any means, but there's a limit to how utilized they will be in the long run unless Amtrak starts corridor service with multiple trains a day and faster runtimes.
 
E

Eugene S

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So yesteryear is gone! Well yes and well no, Look at the equipment, even the new cars are built on the same format as the old cars, Stop and think how would I like the train to be different than the cross country bus and why do I hate having to take the Airplane. example- you are a parent with 3,4, or 5 small children and the ol" clunker won't make it on a 1500 mile journey and destination is 200 miles from nearest airport ,but the train stops at the destination. The cars need to be built on need as well as function--notice hotels/motels are now providing a lite self serve breakfast. You are on the train for several hours, but desire and willing to pay for first class accommodations (not food), you realize that sitting that long of time is not good for your health, A little leg exercise goes a long way and makes the trip seem shorter. Or Maybe I'm just a business man to see my customers-wouldn't it be nice if I could spread my work material without someone looking over my shoulder. Do you see the a perceived need? This does not even get into the sleeper and dining car area. example for First Class would be a 3 car set with end cars being the sitting cars with plush swivel recliners (one per window) the center car would be the activity car with various kinds of exercise equipment. These cars would be joined by articulated bogies with wide passageways. Do you see and understand the direction of my thought, For the rider the train needs to be different , Such as I have described would make the train different and a joy to ride.
 

Ryan

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Regardless of how the 'foamers' on here think, an LD train is a cruise train catering to vacationers. Yes it does provide basic transportation to some coach passengers and the elderly and those afraid to fly.
[citation needed]

This doesn't square with all of the people that I've met and talked to over the course of my trips. The vast majority of them were using the train to get from point A to point B. Given that I was talking to them in the diner, most of them were sleeper passengers, and of all ages. Also the vast majority of them weren't traveling endpoint to endpoint, so your comments about the 2 days to make the trip aren't relevant.
 
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Granted my sample size is small, but my observations about the typical Amtrak passenger squares with Ryan's. The vast majority are using Amtrak to get from one spot to another, and the majority are not going endpoint to endpoint. The trips I take with my uncle are largely endpoint to endpoint and I know in the sleepers, I see lots of turnover enroute with the sleepers. And I would say that based on my observations of the trips I take, the majority of those in the coaches are younger folk. Granted, at age 54, what I consider young (and old, for that matter) may be skewed :lol: and granted we travel in the summer when those families with children are much more likely to be traveling but I see a lot of young folk aboard Amtrak.
 

afigg

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Regardless of how the 'foamers' on here think, an LD train is a cruise train catering to vacationers. Yes it does provide basic transportation to some coach passengers and the elderly and those afraid to fly.
[citation needed]

This doesn't square with all of the people that I've met and talked to over the course of my trips. The vast majority of them were using the train to get from point A to point B. Given that I was talking to them in the diner, most of them were sleeper passengers, and of all ages. Also the vast majority of them weren't traveling endpoint to endpoint, so your comments about the 2 days to make the trip aren't relevant.
The ridership statistics provided by NARP and in the PIP reports show that the majority of passengers are taking the train short to medium distances and are not traveling end to end on a "land cruise". The most common distance traveled on the Empire Builder is 100 to 199 miles. The east coast trains such as the Capitol Limited and LSL have a higher percentage of passengers traveling end to end between WAS-CHI and NYP-CHI, but is it still a minority of the passengers. The LD trains are used for all types of personal travel, not just "land cruises" for the well off on vacation. The posters on this forum are not a representative cross-section of the Amtrak LD train customer base.
 

VentureForth

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I wish I could find more recent data. Perhaps it just isn't there. John Cornyn - a very conservative (though NOT Tea Party by any means) voted in FAVOR of a $16.71 BILLION appropriation for Amtrak back in 2008 which was then signed by Dubya. My current House representative, Jack Kingston, on the other hand voted against it. Jack is very Tea Party.

I need to make this clear. The Tea Party stands for one major issue - T.E.A. It stands for Taxed Enough Already. The major belief of the TEA party is that the government spends way more money that it needs to, and thus taxes us way more than it needs to. This has nothing to do with oil, energy, etc. Sure, there are those factions in its funding, but even the most liberal of issues source major funding, ie: George Soros, etc. Shall we disdain the moral depravity of our country, blaming Big Media and the billions is pumps into corrupting or liberating our minds?

To make the conservative argument as simple as possible, it comes down to this. Should the government be in the business of business? I would argue that in its purest essence - meaning the absence of government control or regulation - if there is a demand for a product or service, private enterprise would find a way to meet the demands of the population. In fact, often private enterprise creates a demand for their products.

So what has happened? Most transportation systems that were in existence in the earlier part of the 20th century were privately owned. From the streetcars of Los Angeles to the El in Chicago to the vast commuter rail network around New York, private enterprise created wealth by offering a product that people needed and could afford. However, most went bankrupt with the advent of the private automobile and affordable airfare. Some lost out to another big private enterprise player - the bus. Today, most of what remains of these legacy companies are owned and operated by local and state governmental cooperatives. Most have absurdedly low fares and are heavily subsidized.

Today, Amtrak exsists purely as a gift to the Americans from Congress.

Many would be affected, but few would care, if service outside the NEC and California was terminated. The fact is that over the past 40 years, we've witnessed an incredible amout of mismanagment, apathy, corruption, and theft. If the people charged to manage and run Amtrak don't care (and even if it's only 10% of the ranks), why should the 10% of Americans who actually ride the train be expected to care?

So, yes. Amtrak is a political football. Yes, it's something we all like very much. Yes, it could be funded better. Yes, it could be managed better. Yes, it could do more to increase it's bottom line. But no, we don't need it. We want it. If we needed it, someone other than the government would make it happen.
 

henryj

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Regardless of how the 'foamers' on here think, an LD train is a cruise train catering to vacationers. Yes it does provide basic transportation to some coach passengers and the elderly and those afraid to fly.
[citation needed]

This doesn't square with all of the people that I've met and talked to over the course of my trips. The vast majority of them were using the train to get from point A to point B. Given that I was talking to them in the diner, most of them were sleeper passengers, and of all ages. Also the vast majority of them weren't traveling endpoint to endpoint, so your comments about the 2 days to make the trip aren't relevant.
So then Ryan, you support running Spartan coach like trains rather than luxury type long distance trains.? I fail to see your point so far. What do you think the LD trains should look like? Couchettes instead of sleepers? Automats in place of diners? I don't know what you mean by the VAST majority. I have ridden plenty of trains, particularly the western LD trains. I am not looking for a yesteryear experience, just a nice trip. If I wanted a bus ride I can take Greyhound. If I want to be stuffed into a too small seat and body searched I can fly. Do you want a series of fast coach trains spaced end to end to cross the country? The LSL could be just that. Why have sleepers at all. The Europeans have replaced most sleeper trains with high speed trains. But you have to change trains multiple times to make a long trip. No through service. Is that what you want here? I think your point is to just take the opposite view no matter what it is. I too have ridden these LD trains and talked to passengers on board. Yes they are also going to intermediate points. Some are even using them for real transportation. But the western trains are still cruise trains. If you make them something else then they lose all their value. You live in the East. Eastern and Western LD trains are two different animals and serve different clientele. And even in your territory the trains are vastly different from one market to another. This is a huge country. I just don't see generic one of a kind trains serving all these different markets. We are not Europe or Japan.
 

Ryan

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Wow, that's like the king of all strawman posts there, Henry. Well done.

My point is your entering assumption of western train = land cruise and not "real transportation" is false, and all of your arguments based on it are invalid.

I think that the trains should continue to run as-is. In a perfect world, Amtrak would have the money to invest in far more rolling stock to increase capacity. Part of that capacity increase could come in the form of an "in between" class of cars containing seats similar to what you see in international first class on an airliner.

My LD Amtrak mileage is pretty evenly split between "western" and "eastern" trains, so you can drop the "you're from the east and don't understand" bit.
 

jebr

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By the way, I'm also waiting for a citation that most people on the western long distance trains use it as a land cruise instead of transportation. Because that's not my experience, and most of the PIPs show that the vast majority of people are not going from endpoint to endpoint on the western long distance trains.

Oh, and as but one example, here's an article talking about the life of people "commuting" to Williston every few weeks to work in the oil fields. Note the method of transportation they're using on their commute.
 

jis

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However, most went bankrupt with the advent of the private automobile and affordable airfare.
What you meant to say here is "most went bankrupt, unable to compete with the massive government subsidies given to other modes of transportation".
Actually, really affordable airfares happened after the Airline Deregulation Act 1978. That was way after the proverbial goose of the railroads, and passenger railroads in general was cooked. Most of it was due to subsidized highways construction and proliferation of personal automobiles and trucks, together with what some would argue over-regulation of railroads, and had relatively little to do with affordable air fares, but had more to do with the mere availability of a mode that allowed trans-continental trips to be completed within a single day or less instead of several days, and still does irrespective of fare levels, TSA pains and all that. As you may recall, the railroads had already shed their passenger services through the creation of Amtrak in 1971.

Incidentally, the railroads were finally, fully deregulated two years later by the Staggers Act 1980, starting a gradual but definite resurgence of the railroads. On the way to Staggers there were the 3R Act 1973 which created Conrail, and the 4R Act 1976 which put Conrail into operation and conveyed the NEC spine and related assets to Amtrak.
 

henryj

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By the way, I'm also waiting for a citation that most people on the western long distance trains use it as a land cruise instead of transportation. Because that's not my experience, and most of the PIPs show that the vast majority of people are not going from endpoint to endpoint on the western long distance trains.

Oh, and as but one example, here's an article talking about the life of people "commuting" to Williston every few weeks to work in the oil fields. Note the method of transportation they're using on their commute.
You guys have it your way. I live in Houston. We have one LD train three times a week. I don't see anything changing on LD trains other than less amenities and more cost cutting with the current Amtrak management. You can site all the PIP;s you want and make all the foamer points you want. Nothing is going to change.
 
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