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The obsession with the past is hurting the future of passenger rail

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bms

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Cleveland has a Red Line heavy rail station right in the airport, but our Amtrak station is way up on the lake and the trains show up in the middle of the night. Can't get there from here.

And an airport station isn't all that it's cracked up to be. The airport station is actually the closest to my home, and I always use the next closest station because it's a nightmare to try and find your Uber or cab at the airport.

As far as the obsession with the past, I think Mr. Anderson was out of line when he claimed that anyone who wanted a decent meal was lost in the past. Good riddance to him. I think it's completely reasonable for people to expect convenient travel in coach class, and decent meals if they pay for first class.
 

jiml

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This might be stating the obvious, but the problem with most airport-rail connections in the US is that most airport terminals were build when passenger rail was in decline, and automobile use was on the rise. Therefore, terminals were built with no consideration for intercity rail access. Even those airports that are right next to rail lines have terminals that are too far away to be practical for a direct connection without some intermediate conveyance.

Incidentally, the only place I can think of where you can get off an Amtrak train and walk directly to an airport terminal without needing a shuttle bus or people mover of some sort is Burbank, CA (if there’s another one i can’t think of, let me know as I’m curious to know where it is). Unfortunately, that terminal is so old and hemmed in with no possibility for expansion that they’re actually moving it to the other side of the airport. It will supposedly still be accessible by Metrolink (on another line), but not by Amtrak. I haven’t seen the details to know whether the Metrolink connection will be direct or whether it will require a shuttle. In any event, Burbank isn’t exactly a bustling air hub where such convenience can be taken advantage of.
Burbank has been a favorite for this reason for years. I was not pleased to learn of the terminal move the last time there (although it won't be quick). Fortunately we normally spend at least one night between train and plane, so the Marriott within walking distance of the train platform can still be a transition base.
 

fdaley

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As far as the obsession with the past, I think Mr. Anderson was out of line when he claimed that anyone who wanted a decent meal was lost in the past. Good riddance to him. I think it's completely reasonable for people to expect convenient travel in coach class, and decent meals if they pay for first class.
Although I don't expect the great streamliners of the past to return, I do think it would help to be informed by the past, particularly with the long-distance trains that require traveling overnight to complete a trip. For example, the concept of the hotel on wheels that animated the Pullman glory trains of the past is probably something Amtrak's management should have in mind in delivering sleeper service today, albeit updated for 21st century tastes.

The Amtrak leadership of the past few years has been heavy on former airline people who honestly seem to have no clue why anyone would spend two or three days on a train to make a trip that could be covered by a plane in a few hours. And they see their mission narrowly as delivering a transportation service, when on the LD trains they are as much or more in the hospitality business.

So they've done away with nearly everything that made LD train travel special -- dining service, the Pacific Parlour, the last remaining dome car in the fleet -- on the theory that they're improving the financial viability of these trains, when in fact they're driving away their most loyal customers. There are even reports that they'd like to consolidate dining and lounge service into a single car. They'd probably want to do away with sleepers too if they weren't counting on them to deliver such a big chunk of revenue. But what is the long-term prospect of retaining those high-revenue customers, let alone attracting new ones, when you're offering a Motel 6 experience for a Fairmont price?
 

Chris I

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Don't know if Newark International has been mentioned... an excellent connection with NEC which permits folks to fly in and get almost anywhere they need to go with in the Eastern Megalopolis. All those large cities have extensive mass transit systems.

Would like to see a better connection with Amtrak in Chicago. Seattle / Denver / Portland / St. Louis and many other cities are developing towards this; but we have a long way to go when developing a more extensive Amtrak system that feeds off of and connects larger urban areas... like it does in the NEC.

View attachment 20314
Connecting SEA and PDX with passenger trains would require fairly major (and expensive) detours for anyone not travelling to the airport. Both airports are several miles off of the main line, and Seattle is on top of a hill.

I would like to see a direct connection from Portland Union Station to the airport Red Line, though. Right now, you either need to walk about 8 blocks through a sketchy part of town to then take a 15min ride on the Red Line, or you catch the Green Line one block from the station and transfer.

Once Link is built out up in Seattle, you will be able to transfer in Tacoma and have a quick ride to Seatac. We've taken Amtrak up to Seatac a few times for international flights, and the current options are not great. You either transfer in Tacoma to a ST Express bus or you transfer at Tukwila to a local bus. Both add at least a half hour to the trip.
 

Chris I

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Burbank has been a favorite for this reason for years. I was not pleased to learn of the terminal move the last time there (although it won't be quick). Fortunately we normally spend at least one night between train and plane, so the Marriott within walking distance of the train platform can still be a transition base.
With the new terminal located in the NE quadrant, it seems like it would be possible to add a walkway to the Antelope Valley line stop. It would make sense for the Surfliner to stop at Burbank, rather than Burbank Airport, which would permit transfers and a one stop ride back up the Antelope Valley line to the airport.
 

Mailliw

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I believe in passenger rail as a viable mode of transportation; not just as a novelty or tourist experience. Ideally the focus should be on creating corridors with multiple daily frequencies, but not to the exclusion of long distance routes. They serve a vital purpose in connecting rural (&red) areas to larger cities. Both LDs and night trains should have a place in out network. The future of rail isn't going to look like the past, but we can still look at practices from the past for and evaluate if/how they could work in modern context. Ditto for foreign rail practices in an American context.
 

jpakala

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In 1964 we took the Super Chief and dining was 5-star quality with fresh flowers, heavy-quality silverware & linens, crystal-like goblets, even finger bowls and always a plate (even if a clean empty one until replaced by your next course). When there wasn't seating for us they took us into the (at that point empty) Turquoise Room, a private dining room in next car which was the dome lounge car, whose rotating parlor car chairs in the dome we loved, as well as the 2 regular double-seats facing forward by the very front windows. But on all trains the sleeping cars seemed to have more substantial beds, and definitely heavier linens & better blankets. But Amtrak sleepers are much superior to the ever-common 12 section, 1 drawing room Pullmans of long ago. I don't know how people managed. I do remember in 1959 getting myself (at 15) back into an upper berth without summoning the porter to fetch the car's one ladder when we had a 14-section 'Tour-a-luxe' sleeper on the Olympian Hiawatha. In 1967 my upper berth (in one of the sleeper's 4 sections) on The Canadian had I think it's own ladder (folding steps, sideways, versus rungs).
 

Willbridge

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After only three decades of struggle Denver has a pretty good set-up. It gets a noticeable amount of air<>rail connections that combine with hotel stays. A lot of work went into that.

Much credit should go to former Mayor Wellington Webb. He and some key staff people understood that good transit service would benefit the essential workers as well as air travelers if it was set up right. He overcame the preference of the aviation staff who wanted our buses that pioneered the service to be stuck in a remote parking lot (E. 56th & Piccadilly if you like looking up things on Google Maps). In turn we designed a new type of transit bus service that would segue smoothly to the rail line. A lot of people at RTD were involved in making the bus a success in itself. It took dealing with a certain amount of public cynicism when we would say that we were doing one thing or another to plan for the rail line.

After I retired I sometimes rode out to the airport to get a discounted coffee specialty by showing my transit Retiree pass. That worked until the people who remembered how many hours we had spent with them moved on. The second best part was overhearing air travelers saying "it's just like Europe!" But the very best part was seeing the essential workers settled down to tap away on their cellphones or catching a few winks.

It's unlikely that any of that would have happened under the previous mayor. His administration wanted the tracks gone from Denver Union Station for real estate development and a massive parking facility. His aviation staff dragged their feet or came up with ideas as described above. When I look at other cities with mediocre transit access for major airports I think about how important leadership is. These local issues hamper any future regional rail or corridor plans.
 

bms

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After only three decades of struggle Denver has a pretty good set-up. It gets a noticeable amount of air<>rail connections that combine with hotel stays. A lot of work went into that.

Much credit should go to former Mayor Wellington Webb. He and some key staff people understood that good transit service would benefit the essential workers as well as air travelers if it was set up right. He overcame the preference of the aviation staff who wanted our buses that pioneered the service to be stuck in a remote parking lot (E. 56th & Piccadilly if you like looking up things on Google Maps). In turn we designed a new type of transit bus service that would segue smoothly to the rail line. A lot of people at RTD were involved in making the bus a success in itself. It took dealing with a certain amount of public cynicism when we would say that we were doing one thing or another to plan for the rail line.

After I retired I sometimes rode out to the airport to get a discounted coffee specialty by showing my transit Retiree pass. That worked until the people who remembered how many hours we had spent with them moved on. The second best part was overhearing air travelers saying "it's just like Europe!" But the very best part was seeing the essential workers settled down to tap away on their cellphones or catching a few winks.

It's unlikely that any of that would have happened under the previous mayor. His administration wanted the tracks gone from Denver Union Station for real estate development and a massive parking facility. His aviation staff dragged their feet or came up with ideas as described above. When I look at other cities with mediocre transit access for major airports I think about how important leadership is. These local issues hamper any future regional rail or corridor plans.
The RTD really provides a great service, and has been instrumental to the continued economic growth in Denver. 56th and Piccadilly, that's wild, there's nothing there even now!
 

railiner

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I guess I was involved in a way, in bus service to Denver's Airport...I used to drive the Airport Express from Boulder to Stapleton, for Denver Boulder Bus Company, prior to its takeover by RTD....😁
We also ran a couple of trips via downtown, but carried no local traffic between downtown and the airport.

Besides that service, Continental Trailways also ran a couple of Five Star Luxury Service trips to Colorado Springs and Pueble, or to the Broadmoor Resort from the Stapleton Airport Passenger Terminal. I believe Gray Line also ran some tours from there.

Denver Metro only ran local, all stops city buses from there to downtown. Express service was provided by 8 Door Checker Aerobuses form a limo service.
 

Willbridge

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I guess I was involved in a way, in bus service to Denver's Airport...I used to drive the Airport Express from Boulder to Stapleton, for Denver Boulder Bus Company, prior to its takeover by RTD....😁
We also ran a couple of trips via downtown, but carried no local traffic between downtown and the airport.

Besides that service, Continental Trailways also ran a couple of Five Star Luxury Service trips to Colorado Springs and Pueblo, or to the Broadmoor Resort from the Stapleton Airport Passenger Terminal. I believe Gray Line also ran some tours from there.

Denver Metro only ran local, all stops city buses from there to downtown. Express service was provided by 8 Door Checker Aerobuses form a limo service.
In setting up the skyRide coach service for DIA we studied what made the Denver<>Boulder service so good and with some struggles adapted it for the airport situation. You might remember Bob Brewster who gave us a lot of input from an operator's point of view. He's the last Denver-Boulder Bus Co. driver working for RTD, now as a part-timer.

A friend of mine in North Denver was the daughter of the general manager who handled the conversion of the electric interurban service to the "parlor coaches" of Denver-Boulder Bus Co. She used to take her North High friends swimming at Eldorado Springs. (I wonder how many daughters of bus company officials today would do that?) Her dad made the decisions to set high service standards instead of the usual cost-cutting approach.

That Trailways schedule was covered by an articulated Golden Eagle. I always wondered if it was mostly to give the bus a work-out for testing without getting too far from home.

For readers wondering about this diversion into a seeming obsession with the past, it's because we can learn from our predecessors, good or bad. In the case of the new DIA we had lots of eyes on us and the question was whether we could transplant the spirit of the Denver<>Boulder service to a new operation while meeting the mandated cost recovery.
 

railiner

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Indeed, I remember "Motorman Brewster"😁...

I only worked for DBB Co. for a year, but one of my favorite memories there, was starting up the new line from Boulder to Longmont. It departed Boulder at pre-dawn 6:10 AM, and reached Longmont (nonstop), twenty minutes later. From there, I would become the third section on a Colorado Motorway (also owned by the James family), trip from Ft. Collins to Denver. We picked up another section in Broomfield.

When RTD took over, their 'deep pockets' surely brought improved service for those lines.

I went from DBB to Continental Trailways in Denver. We operated what was perhaps RTD's very first bus service, "The Parker Stage" under contract, until RTD took it over themself.

Sorry to 'hijack' the thread with memories....:)
 

Tlcooper93

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Boston
There's a lot of discussion here advocating for a return to the "height of the train travel era".

As railfans, it's always fun to see what once was. However, as far as advocating for the future of rail, arguing for a "return to the old days" in rail is as destined to fail as arguing for a return to the glory days of air travel.

We need to be focused on advocating for services that meet present passenger needs. The much maligned NEC is a success story that models how passenger rail works in the rest of the world and one which we should be working to repeat everywhere else in the country:
Judging by my quick skimming of this thread, it doesn't seem like there is a consensus on what exactly should be advocated for in terms of Intercity service.

For one, the NEC section of Amtrak service is actually quite good when compared to the rest of Europe. Acela trains provide a nice (albeit expensive) product, and the speed to distance ratio is comparable with a lot of European routes.

For instance, BOS - NYC and NYC - DC actually have higher average speeds than the Frecciarossa Milan - Venice route, and SBB Milan - Zurich.

One aspect of Amtrak service, and train service in this country in general, is the failure to provide transit (intercity train) oriented development. I personally believe convenience is the only reason the Acela works in non-covid times. Acela tickets are generally more expensive than connecting flight tickets between major US east coast cities. The upside is the downtown-to-downtown service.

The concept of a central station does harken back to the older days of rail travel in this country, and towns like Cleveland, Rochester, Detroit, Buffalo, Portland ME, and Miami (up until recently) have crappy, poorly located stations. Many of the stations that used to exist in these towns, (for example Cleveland), were incredible, centrally located masterpieces. Amtrak stations outside of the NEC have a knack of truly being in the worst locations.

If Amtrak wants better service outside of the NEC it needs better stations. Just look at the CA Zephyr: all CA destinations kind of suck in terms of proximity (with the exception of Sacramento).

I personally think if the Silver Service terminated in the new Miami Central, that it would revolutionize both trains and their ridership, not to mention have help Brightline, and Commuter trains as well. Every station in this country should be more like Miami Central.
 
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Mailliw

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Good idea, but does MiamiCentral even have platforms that can accommodate Silver trains? That's what's keeping them from Miami Intermodel.
 

Tlcooper93

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No. It does not, and there is absolutely no space to expand it to have such either.
This is true, but these are the sorts of sacrifices that I believe need to be made in order to see a change.
Perhaps silver service trains could split in two and half the train could enter Miami Central, and the other half could serve a seperate location. This could help lower the number of stops in FL overall.

Platforms at MiamiCentral are at least 800ft long, and could serve a medium size train.
 

jis

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The bigger problem is that when Miami Central operates at full capacity serving Brightline short distance and Orlando/Tampa Service and Coastal Commuter plus Tri Rail services, there simply won't be time slots available for serving an LD train which tends to spend way more time occupying platforms than commuter and frequent service regional trains.

The station is not designed to handle Amtrak LD trains and there is no simple way to change that.

Amtrak would actually be better off serving Miami International Airport as it was originally supposed to serve. but now it looks like instead of Amtrak, it might be Brightline that will make it there first, even though it would involve acquiring a couple of city blocks to build the SE quadrant connector at Iris. Theoretically that could open some slots for Amtrak at Miami Central, but I doubt it will happen in the next 20 years.
 

Tlcooper93

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The bigger problem is that when Miami Central operates at full capacity serving Brightline short distance and Orlando/Tampa Service and Coastal Commuter plus Tri Rail services, there simply won't be time slots available for serving an LD train which tends to spend way more time occupying platforms than commuter and frequent service regional trains.

The station is not designed to handle Amtrak LD trains and there is no simple way to change that.

Amtrak would actually be better off serving Miami International Airport as it was originally supposed to serve. but now it looks like instead of Amtrak, it might be Brightline that will make it there first, even though it would involve acquiring a couple of city blocks to build the SE quadrant connector at Iris. Theoretically that could open some slots for Amtrak at Miami Central, but I doubt it will happen in the next 20 years.
What about sacrificing Coastal commuter for a singly daily Amtrak slot?
Miami intermodal is a nice option, but it really is a shame that Miami Central is so limited given how much potential it could have had.
 

jis

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What about sacrificing Coastal commuter for a singly daily Amtrak slot?
Miami intermodal is a nice option, but it really is a shame that Miami Central is so limited given how much potential it could have had.
Won't happen because the local political support for coastal commuter will always be orders of magnitude higher than for Amtrak. And the lcoa view is that Amtrak has already been accommodated at the airport where some tweaks can fix any remaining problems, and Amtrak is unwilling to use that. So why bother further with them?

I am actually surprised that Amtrak is not being more proactive in moving to the airport station while the opportunity lasts. It will go away if they do not grab it while there is time. They are being obstinately stupid at this point in time.
 

Tlcooper93

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Won't happen because the local political support for coastal commuter will always be orders of magnitude higher than for Amtrak. And the lcoa view is that Amtrak has already been accommodated at the airport where some tweaks can fix any remaining problems, and Amtrak is unwilling to use that. So why bother further with them?

I am actually surprised that Amtrak is not being more proactive in moving to the airport station while the opportunity lasts. It will go away if they do not grab it while there is time. They are being obstinately stupid at this point in time.
Just out of curiosity, where are you getting your info regarding stations slots? I'm not questioning you, I just want to have that info for myself.
Will Brightline connect with Amtrak at any station?

Amtrak seems to really only care about their service in the NEC. When it comes to other parts of the country, it just doesn't seem to be a priority to improve stations/service.
 

jis

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Brightline currently is not allowed to interline with Amtrak until they give up their STB exemption. Their business model does not critically depend on such interlining. Eventually there may come a point where they will make that change, but that time does not appear to be now. They want to remain an intra-state regional company apparently, for the time being at least.

I happen to personally know several senior Brightline people with whom I talk to from time to time. I am also a member of the Florida East Coast Railway Society and am a Board member of the Florida Rail Passenger Coalition.

So pretty much all through conversations.

Of course political alignments and motivations can change over time. One can only base ones speculation on what is known at the present time.

But one thing that is universally true I think is that if there is a robust local train service, that tends to have far greater political support than inter-regional and long distance service, unless it serves a significant local purpose too. Trying to forcefully extract a slot from NJT's allocation during the commission hours through the Hudson tubes or from LIRR through the East River tunnels for an additional Amtrak service, even though Amtrak owns the infrastructure, is very hard to achieve without triggering some bad unpredictable unintended consequence somewhere else. More so with LIRR since LIRR actually owns the slots, and paid real money for them.
 
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Mailliw

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I don't think Brightline is going to consider interling with Amtrak until Tampa is up an running. It'd probably just involve a shuttle bus to MiamiCentral for Silver passengers.
 

crescent-zephyr

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I don't think Brightline is going to consider interling with Amtrak until Tampa is up an running. It'd probably just involve a shuttle bus to MiamiCentral for Silver passengers.
If Amtrak ever moves to the airport the 2 stations will be linked via MetroRail.
 
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Trogdor

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I don't think Brightline is going to consider interling with Amtrak until Tampa is up an running. It'd probably just involve a shuttle bus to MiamiCentral for Silver passengers.
If Amtrak ever moves to the airport the 2 stations will be linked via MetroRail.
Maybe I’m missing something, but why would anyone ever need to connect between Amtrak and Brightline in Miami? Seems that would be an awful lot of backtracking, since the only way either train would go from Miami is north, with the first few stops in the same cities already served by the other.
 
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