The Future Of Amtrak And The Long Distance Trains

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Administator
Moderator
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
32,221
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
Better yet, go INDIA style. Put hand grips and foot pads on the roof and sides of the rear car.
My understanding is that those traveling on the roof are zero revenue customers (otherwise known as ticketless travelers), so they would not fulfill the revenue mission that the OP had in mind anyway.

Incidentally, this is becoming less common with more and more routes getting electrified with 25kV catenary. The roof travel then has a tendency to convert itself into a trip to the Pearly Gates. Few years back there was a video circulating on Youtube about such an incident at Gaya Jct. (station for Bodh Gaya a holy site for Buddhists of the world). I think it has since been taken down. It was pretty horrid!

Anyway, for the same reason this idea would not work well on the NEC either. So all in all - a bad idea. ;)
 
Last edited:

joelkfla

Conductor
Joined
Oct 16, 2018
Messages
1,751
Location
12 miles from Walt Disney World
ASM - Available Seat Miles
CASM - Cost per Available Seat Mile
RASM - Revenue per Available Seat Mile

Standard terminology in the passenger transportation industry.

Amtrak does provide its consolidated CASM and RASM every month. Needless to say, its RASM is less than its CASM.
Thanks. Wikipedia had it under "Aeronautics" (which was wrong in the first place, it should have been "Aviation'). I changed it to be under "Transportation", and noted that it can also be applied to trains & buses.
 

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
9,502
Location
Ithaca, NY
One of Amtrak's wrongdoings relative to LD trains is erroneously claiming that they are still under the restriction placed on them by Congress at one time preventing them from adding any LD trains without getting Congress's permission. Unfortunately Congress is collectively dumb enough not to have added a simple sentence stating that Amtrak is no longer under that restriction.

Amtrak mismanagement is apparently also misinterpreting the restriction.

The restriction was quite nitpicky and specific: it referred to trains with the same *endpoints* as existing LD trains. In other words, Amtrak could add 25 new LD trains between NY and Chicago even *with* the legislative restriction. Also, the North Coast Hiawatha, being a Chicago-Seattle or Chicago-Portland train, could be added even *with* the legislative restriction. So could the Chicago-Seattle Pioneer. (And that's quite intentional: Congress members who supported the NCH were involved in writing that restriction.)

At some point, this sort of wilful misinterpretation of the law starts to look malicious.
 

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
9,502
Location
Ithaca, NY
But the enormous success of many LCCs in the airline industry while full service airlines struggle to survive suggests that in general most likely all Coach service cramming passengers is a winner over more luxurious service, most unfortunately, I might add.

Emirates is successfully pursuing the opposite strategy, of course.

We chewed through a lot of analysis a few years ago and found that adding a coach seemed to add more net profit than a sleeper on the Silver Star, while adding a sleeper seemed to add more net profit than a coach on the Lake Shore Limited. So there's definitely a balance to be found with both classes. Really, Amtrak should have enough cars of both types to lengthen all trains to meet demand. It doesn't.
 
Joined
Feb 18, 2022
Messages
2
Location
San Jose, California, USA
You know, I'm conflicted about this one. Part of the mystique of the Long Distance trains is the low speed. I guess the decision has to be made, are they per se transportation across those long distances, or are they more of a way to see the countryside and/or scenery? I lean toward the latter. Like I just said in another thread, the one time I have ridden a LD train was the Coast Starlight back on January 24, 2003, on my End of Active Obligated Service. The Armed Forces pay for your ride back to you home of record -- if you drive they pay for the gas, if you fly they pay for the ticket, if you go on a train they pay for it. So I went with an expensive stateroom, $400 ride, from Seattle to San Jose. It took 24 hours. It was great, I very much enjoyed it.

Of course, if I wanted to go from San Jose to Seattle at high speed, say to go to a Bring Your Own Computer LAN Party up there over a weekend, I would just fly, and get there in about two hours. No wheel on rail train can get close to that speed at that distance (if it's a short distance under 200 miles then yeah, HSR is going to be about the same speed. but not 800 miles). The French TGV for example averages 173, that would take 4.6 hours best case scenario, so even if we invested the billions and billions it would take to acheive that, the private sector product would still be a LOT faster. I guess I wouldn't object if we could do it cheaply though, say under 1 billion.

So yeah being in the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party, I would say, leave the LD trains as they are, maybe contract somebody like Aramark to do the hotel features (the staterooms, the cafe car, the observation car) if that saves money.

I could support increasing the speed as much as we can without spending an inordinate amount of money. I think right now they average 35 or something like that. The thing if you increase them to 70 or more, you no longer have an overnight train and you wouldn't sleep on the train etc. So now it's a totally different experience, and I'm not sure it's worth spending much money on it, because at the end of the day, for high speed long distance, the private sector has that covered with aircraft. I think the top speed on most of the track for Coast Starlight is probably 79, right? Like Caltrain down here in the Bay Area? So in theory it should be possible to get it to average more like 70 than 35. Not sure what that would entail. Maybe one of the railroad engineers on here can tell us what all that would take and if it's plausible for a small amount of money, again I would say under 1 billion per LD train is the max I would support.
 

west point

Engineer
Joined
Jun 9, 2015
Messages
3,325
Location
SW ATL airport
Just get rid of the slow sections so trains can go 80 to 90 MPH on many stretches. a 60 MPH average including stops would get 10-1/2 hours ATL <> Wash. Palmetto10hours WASH <> Savannah, 21 hours NYP - MIA, 13 hours for Capitol probably no possible due to mountains,
 
Last edited:

rs9

Train Attendant
Joined
Dec 26, 2021
Messages
82
Location
Chicago
You know, I'm conflicted about this one. Part of the mystique of the Long Distance trains is the low speed. I guess the decision has to be made, are they per se transportation across those long distances, or are they more of a way to see the countryside and/or scenery? I lean toward the latter. Like I just said in another thread, the one time I have ridden a LD train was the Coast Starlight back on January 24, 2003, on my End of Active Obligated Service. The Armed Forces pay for your ride back to you home of record -- if you drive they pay for the gas, if you fly they pay for the ticket, if you go on a train they pay for it. So I went with an expensive stateroom, $400 ride, from Seattle to San Jose. It took 24 hours. It was great, I very much enjoyed it.

Of course, if I wanted to go from San Jose to Seattle at high speed, say to go to a Bring Your Own Computer LAN Party up there over a weekend, I would just fly, and get there in about two hours. No wheel on rail train can get close to that speed at that distance (if it's a short distance under 200 miles then yeah, HSR is going to be about the same speed. but not 800 miles). The French TGV for example averages 173, that would take 4.6 hours best case scenario, so even if we invested the billions and billions it would take to acheive that, the private sector product would still be a LOT faster. I guess I wouldn't object if we could do it cheaply though, say under 1 billion.

So yeah being in the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party, I would say, leave the LD trains as they are, maybe contract somebody like Aramark to do the hotel features (the staterooms, the cafe car, the observation car) if that saves money.

I could support increasing the speed as much as we can without spending an inordinate amount of money. I think right now they average 35 or something like that. The thing if you increase them to 70 or more, you no longer have an overnight train and you wouldn't sleep on the train etc. So now it's a totally different experience, and I'm not sure it's worth spending much money on it, because at the end of the day, for high speed long distance, the private sector has that covered with aircraft. I think the top speed on most of the track for Coast Starlight is probably 79, right? Like Caltrain down here in the Bay Area? So in theory it should be possible to get it to average more like 70 than 35. Not sure what that would entail. Maybe one of the railroad engineers on here can tell us what all that would take and if it's plausible for a small amount of money, again I would say under 1 billion per LD train is the max I would support.

I think there's a couple of points here:

1. Yes, if speeds were increased, long distance trains wouldn't be overnight services for certain destinations. I don't see why that's a bad thing. If I can travel from Chicago Rochester as a daytime regional service (yes, stretching the definition of region), instead of going overnight, I'm still going to use the service and might actually be more inclined to do so. Higher speeds, or actual high speed rail, would bring about a redefinition of long term train travel.

2. As to whether that's worth spending money on, I disagree with your assertion that long distance train travel is or should be more experiential than a part of the U.S.'s transportation infrastructure. Granted, it is not a key cog in that infrastructure to date. But if we are serious about tackling climate change (we're probably not), then rail transport is going to play a key role in replacing short haul and even medium haul flights.

3. Regarding experiential - Amtrak could take some pretty simple steps to make one night overnight travel a useful experience in the work-from-home environment we are in. Example: I'm taking the Lake Shore Limited Boston to Chicago in business class later this spring. The train departs at 12:50 Eastern time. Yeah, the trip is 22.5 hours. That sounds crazy. Give me functional wifi and it becomes not just a full workday but one that actually might be enjoyable. Take a break and watch the scenery zoom by for a few moments. Spending the day at or near the station and then on the train working, enjoying dinner on the train and then maybe streaming a movie before getting some sleep...that becomes a useful experience. It won't be for everybody. But experience doesn't have to just be sight-seeing across the west.
 

Joe from PA

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 24, 2022
Messages
126
Location
Philadelphia
Keep in mind the Long Distance trains also serve many small cities and communities sometimes as the only public transportation. Amtrak already eliminated some of the stops. As long as the train makes the stops, it will be impossible to increase the speed.

True...even large communities. If a person in Southern Florida wants to go by train to Disney World, their only trains are the two Silver trains. Actually, only the Silver Meteor, unless they don't mind a extra 2 hours going by way of Tampa.
 

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Administator
Moderator
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
32,221
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
Just get rid of the slow sections so trains can go 80 to 90 MPH on many stretches. a 60 MPH average including stops would get 10-1/2 hours ATL <> Wash. Palmetto10hours WASH <> Savannah, 21 hours NYP - MIA, 13 hours for Capitol probably no possible due to mountains,
The armchair calculator and timetable in hand magic wand solution? :D
 

rs9

Train Attendant
Joined
Dec 26, 2021
Messages
82
Location
Chicago
Keep in mind the Long Distance trains also serve many small cities and communities sometimes as the only public transportation. Amtrak already eliminated some of the stops. As long as the train makes the stops, it will be impossible to increase the speed.

I think another way to put it is that riders use long distance service as corridor service because corridor service might not exist where they live.

Looking at the Lake Shore Limited as an example, in 2019, about 65% of passengers traveled 500 miles or less and 43% were 300 miles or less. Median ridership was in the range of 100-199 miles.

On the flip side, 9% (this isn't exact most likely) of passengers traveled CHI-NYP. I didn't see stats for CHI-BOS.

 

Devil's Advocate

‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
13,225
Location
Texas
Keep in mind the Long Distance trains also serve many small cities and communities sometimes as the only public transportation. Amtrak already eliminated some of the stops. As long as the train makes the stops, it will be impossible to increase the speed.
In my experience some of the fastest trains in the world stop and start much more frequently than any of Amtrak's Long Distance trains.
 

toddinde

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Apr 23, 2015
Messages
456
Location
Sierra Vista, AZ
You know, I'm conflicted about this one. Part of the mystique of the Long Distance trains is the low speed. I guess the decision has to be made, are they per se transportation across those long distances, or are they more of a way to see the countryside and/or scenery? I lean toward the latter. Like I just said in another thread, the one time I have ridden a LD train was the Coast Starlight back on January 24, 2003, on my End of Active Obligated Service. The Armed Forces pay for your ride back to you home of record -- if you drive they pay for the gas, if you fly they pay for the ticket, if you go on a train they pay for it. So I went with an expensive stateroom, $400 ride, from Seattle to San Jose. It took 24 hours. It was great, I very much enjoyed it.

Of course, if I wanted to go from San Jose to Seattle at high speed, say to go to a Bring Your Own Computer LAN Party up there over a weekend, I would just fly, and get there in about two hours. No wheel on rail train can get close to that speed at that distance (if it's a short distance under 200 miles then yeah, HSR is going to be about the same speed. but not 800 miles). The French TGV for example averages 173, that would take 4.6 hours best case scenario, so even if we invested the billions and billions it would take to acheive that, the private sector product would still be a LOT faster. I guess I wouldn't object if we could do it cheaply though, say under 1 billion.

So yeah being in the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party, I would say, leave the LD trains as they are, maybe contract somebody like Aramark to do the hotel features (the staterooms, the cafe car, the observation car) if that saves money.

I could support increasing the speed as much as we can without spending an inordinate amount of money. I think right now they average 35 or something like that. The thing if you increase them to 70 or more, you no longer have an overnight train and you wouldn't sleep on the train etc. So now it's a totally different experience, and I'm not sure it's worth spending much money on it, because at the end of the day, for high speed long distance, the private sector has that covered with aircraft. I think the top speed on most of the track for Coast Starlight is probably 79, right? Like Caltrain down here in the Bay Area? So in theory it should be possible to get it to average more like 70 than 35. Not sure what that would entail. Maybe one of the railroad engineers on here can tell us what all that would take and if it's plausible for a small amount of money, again I would say under 1 billion per LD train is the max I would support.
A couple of points. The long distance trains don’t have to decide what they need to be; they can be many things. The name trains of the past like the California Zephyr, the Empire Builder and Silver Meteor were all things. Some people took them all the way on vacation. Some people used them for business. Some people used them to visit family, and on and on. Just because there are rail cruises out there doesn’t mean that a well run, long distance train can’t be all things. Second, contracting out isn’t the panacea. You lose a lot of control and it costs more. Savings, when there are any, are usually done to support the decision to outsource. Once outsourced, your at the mercy of contractors who low ball to get the work, and then jack up the prices. Experience with contracting out shows it cost $1.85 for every $1 spent pre contracting out. Any savings are usually accomplished by cutting employee salaries and benefits to pay for contractor overhead. That’s even if Amtrak could find a contractor willing to do it which is doubtful. Good management, good labor relations, good equipment, good schedules, an expanded route system, and good marketing will solve all Amtrak’s problems. Start with a focus on fundamentals and a commitment to grow the business. The rest will come along.
 

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
9,502
Location
Ithaca, NY
Good management, good labor relations, good equipment, good schedules, an expanded route system, and good marketing will solve all Amtrak’s problems. Start with a focus on fundamentals and a commitment to grow the business. The rest will come along.

Well, I'd say start with getting control of the tracks or getting them into the hands of cooperative owners, but they ARE working on that. After that, yes, what you said
 

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Administator
Moderator
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
32,221
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
Well, I'd say start with getting control of the tracks or getting them into the hands of cooperative owners, but they ARE working on that. After that, yes, what you said
What really matters is getting control of dispatching and getting a solid contract in place for track maintenance. Doing that might require an order of magnitude less money than buying up property even with the exercise of eminent domain.
 

TheCrescent

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jun 24, 2020
Messages
340
If long-distance trains are an intentionally low-speed way to see the scenery, let a private operator provide that service; that’s not an appropriate use of people’s tax dollars.

If long-distance trains are a socially desirable service that the marketplace fails to provide, then that’s were government should come in (and that’s how I view them).
 

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
9,502
Location
Ithaca, NY
What really matters is getting control of dispatching and getting a solid contract in place for track maintenance. Doing that might require an order of magnitude less money than buying up property even with the exercise of eminent domain.
Not so sure about the pricing on that.

Dispatching is usually the big fight, yes.

If a government pays for track maintenance and doesn't have ownership rights, it's basically getting cheated -- it's a flat out value giveaway from taxpayers to privateers. This ends up costing more in the long run.

If a government pays for track maintenance and retains some sort of ownership rights in the track it maintains and upgrades, through a lease or ownership rights of the physical materials in the track, or something -- then in a few decades, typically the freight railroad will sell the land to a non-railroad company, who will then sell the land to a government at reasonable prices (as happened with the Metro-North lines, and there are examples in California too).

Apparently the residual value of the land is not valued that highly by the freight operators.

Given that governments often don't like to pay upfront, I suppose the most likely outcome is effectively "rent-to-own" transfers from the private owners to government; frankly, there have been a lot of deals which ended up working this way in my lifetime already.
 

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Administator
Moderator
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
32,221
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
Not so sure about the pricing on that.

Dispatching is usually the big fight, yes.

If a government pays for track maintenance and doesn't have ownership rights, it's basically getting cheated -- it's a flat out value giveaway from taxpayers to privateers. This ends up costing more in the long run.

If a government pays for track maintenance and retains some sort of ownership rights in the track it maintains and upgrades, through a lease or ownership rights of the physical materials in the track, or something -- then in a few decades, typically the freight railroad will sell the land to a non-railroad company, who will then sell the land to a government at reasonable prices (as happened with the Metro-North lines, and there are examples in California too).

Apparently the residual value of the land is not valued that highly by the freight operators.

Given that governments often don't like to pay upfront, I suppose the most likely outcome is effectively "rent-to-own" transfers from the private owners to government; frankly, there have been a lot of deals which ended up working this way in my lifetime already.
What I had in mind is something like the deal that NYSDOT struck with CSX on the Poughkeepsie - Hoffmans section of the Water Level Route.
 
Top