Thoughts on An Ideal State for Amtrak from Jim Matthews RPA CEO

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dlagrua

Conductor
Joined
Nov 24, 2009
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3,107
I read Jim Mathews blog and he makes some very good points. I've spent a couple of hours talking to the man one on one, and I am convinced that the RPA under Jim's leadership is better positioned now than it ever was. As a member of RPA I will continue my membership, for the good work that they are doing. Jim is a mover and a shaker and he's clearly stated the message from rail passengers loud and clear. The result won't be known until next years transportation reappropriation bill is in place but I remain optimistic that positive results will result.
 

Larry H.

OBS Chief
Joined
Dec 22, 2006
Messages
944
I think he is right in that connections in the western cities is a real problem for growth. When Amtrak was formed it had hubs or at least connecting cities where you could change trains to get to places you needed to go. Today you have to go to Chicago simply to to to the South east of the nation. That is a very long way, and expensive way to the consumer than if you could cut off that hundreds of miles of extra time and cost. Same out in the western areas, no connection for north south to the existing trains. You have to spend literally days and pay for them to get some place that if a direct route from the chief to the builder were added taking in maybe denver. or salt lake city, some way to avoid all that wasted time. I know its never going to happen but its the real flaw in why we don't have a great deal more travelers on the trains that run.
 

Willbridge

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
323
I think he is right in that connections in the western cities is a real problem for growth. When Amtrak was formed it had hubs or at least connecting cities where you could change trains to get to places you needed to go. Today you have to go to Chicago simply to to to the South east of the nation. That is a very long way, and expensive way to the consumer than if you could cut off that hundreds of miles of extra time and cost. Same out in the western areas, no connection for north south to the existing trains. You have to spend literally days and pay for them to get some place that if a direct route from the chief to the builder were added taking in maybe denver. or salt lake city, some way to avoid all that wasted time. I know its never going to happen but its the real flaw in why we don't have a great deal more travelers on the trains that run.
I haven't checked it lately, but when I sketched it out several years ago, a coach train running KCY - OMA - MSP as a one-day trip makes some terrific connections and might have time enough to add SD into the network with a short deviation. I'm wary of pushing the idea, though, without seeing the track first.
  • Train 4 to OMA and MSP markets
  • Train 6 to MSP market
  • Trains 4 and 6 to 7/27.
  • and return on all these.
Aside from Texas, the most commonly denied requests in Denver are for the Twin Cities and Kansas City/St. Louis. This May 1st was the 48th anniversary of having convoluted ways of getting to those cities.
 

Philly Amtrak Fan

Conductor
Joined
Jul 25, 2015
Messages
2,004
I think he is right in that connections in the western cities is a real problem for growth. When Amtrak was formed it had hubs or at least connecting cities where you could change trains to get to places you needed to go. Today you have to go to Chicago simply to to to the South east of the nation. That is a very long way, and expensive way to the consumer than if you could cut off that hundreds of miles of extra time and cost. Same out in the western areas, no connection for north south to the existing trains. You have to spend literally days and pay for them to get some place that if a direct route from the chief to the builder were added taking in maybe denver. or salt lake city, some way to avoid all that wasted time. I know its never going to happen but its the real flaw in why we don't have a great deal more travelers on the trains that run.
And you wonder why I care about bringing back the Broadway Limited/Three Rivers. The way the Amtrak LD system is set up, Chicago is everything. If the National Limited were still running, I could also go through Kansas City to get to Los Angeles (or to Texas if the Lone Star was still running). What if you could make a same day connection in New Orleans between the Crescent and Sunset Limited? It would make New Orleans a more viable alternative between the East Coast and West Coast. Or the Crescent Star between the NEC and Texas. And for passengers going from Florida to Texas/California? They'd be happy to be able to only have to stay overnight in NOL right now.

Of course instead of RPA caring so much about more trains and more service, they get all bent out of shape about what kind of food is on the train. Instead of wasting money on Amtrak steaks, why not use that money to go for more trains?
 

Amtrakfflyer

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Feb 2, 2005
Messages
448
Never say never it just takes someone with a vision and persuasion for a new Desert Wind/Pioneer or something similar from Kansas City. The DW/PNR were created during budget cut years interesting enough.

I’m not saying this will happen just that anything is possible even during unlikely times.
 

TiBike

OBS Chief
Joined
Apr 18, 2015
Messages
709
There are three big problems with Matthews' arguments.

First, he's saying that Amtrak's mission is to provide transportation service to communities that otherwise lack it. On a national basis, Amtrak trains reach very few communities and even fewer rely solely on them. If any truly do at all. No one did an analysis that concluded, for example, that a handful of towns in Montana and North Dakota need subsidised train service, but everyone else in those states, and in Wyoming and South Dakota, don't. It's pure happenstance that those towns are on rail routes that Amtrak is using.

Second, if RPA were really concerned about providing basic transportation service to isolated communities, it wouldn't be kicking up a fuss about sleepers, and dining cars and cooked to order steaks. It would be urging Amtrak and congress to shift spending to expanding rural routes and stops. Matthews is using a ginned up rural development argument to support a rail fan agenda.

Finally, his "normalised" map is nonsense. He's assuming, completely disingenuously, that increasing the number and frequency of trains would produce a proportionate increase in ridership. He shouldn't be making that argument anywhere but Capitol Hill – that's the only place you'll find people dumb enough to believe it.
 

jebr

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Jan 23, 2012
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I haven't checked it lately, but when I sketched it out several years ago, a coach train running KCY - OMA - MSP as a one-day trip makes some terrific connections and might have time enough to add SD into the network with a short deviation. I'm wary of pushing the idea, though, without seeing the track first.
  • Train 4 to OMA and MSP markets
  • Train 6 to MSP market
  • Trains 4 and 6 to 7/27.
  • and return on all these.
Aside from Texas, the most commonly denied requests in Denver are for the Twin Cities and Kansas City/St. Louis. This May 1st was the 48th anniversary of having convoluted ways of getting to those cities.
I think what would be most likely to happen is a train that goes MSP - KCY via Des Moines instead of via Omaha, though I wouldn't be surprised if there's some sort of cobbled-together MSP - Des Moines - OMA - KCY route. The rail route through Des Moines could still offer connections, though a new station would need to be built in Chariton, IA to allow transferring (that's where the lines would cross from the looks of it.)
 

neroden

Conductor
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
7,764
The riders-per-departure map is excellent and very accurate. It actually does show which sections are weak (West Texas, the gap between Reno and Salt Lake, the Portland-Sacramento run) and which are strong (literally everything east of the Mississippi).

While there is obviously a point after which adding more trains per day doesn't add more riders, in cases like the Cardinal, Lake Shore Limited and Crescent, adding more trains per day obviously would add more riders.

In fact, if the trains per day went up by a factor of 2, I am quite sure the ridership would go up by a factor of more than 2. That's always been historically true on routes such as these. It's documented that if you increase the number of trains per day, the number of riders goes up *more* than proportionally. This happens when going from less-than-daily to daily, going from daily to twice daily, and going from twice daily to three times daily. It's been demonstrated on routes all over the country. (After three times daily, the results are not as clear; it isn't always super-proportional after that.)
 

neroden

Conductor
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
7,764
Aside from Texas, the most commonly denied requests in Denver are for the Twin Cities and Kansas City/St. Louis. This May 1st was the 48th anniversary of having convoluted ways of getting to those cities.
The most commonly denied request NATIONWIDE at Amtrak call centers a few years ago was New York to Detroit. The most commonly denied request in Syracuse is, again, to Detroit. It really shouldn't be that hard to assemble a route from Toledo to Detroit and run a NY-Detroit-Chicago train. There's been no vision.
 

Philly Amtrak Fan

Conductor
Joined
Jul 25, 2015
Messages
2,004
The most commonly denied request NATIONWIDE at Amtrak call centers a few years ago was New York to Detroit. The most commonly denied request in Syracuse is, again, to Detroit. It really shouldn't be that hard to assemble a route from Toledo to Detroit and run a NY-Detroit-Chicago train. There's been no vision.
Just reroute the LSL or CL via Michigan. Does South Bend really need both of the trains? It's not like there's much of a difference in the times. The only stop west of Toledo they don't share is Bryan and if the LSL is rerouted via Michigan they can add Bryan to the CL. Of course a third train service from Chicago to New York serving Michigan and Pennsylvania or some combination so that Pennsylvania can go to Chicago and Michigan can get to the East Coast would be better.
 

Pere Flyer

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Dec 25, 2016
Messages
421
He's assuming, completely disingenuously, that increasing the number and frequency of trains would produce a proportionate increase in ridership.
It may not result in a proportional ridership increase, but an increase in service frequency of any transit mode has shown time and again to result in some substantial degree of increased ridership. It’s called induced demand.
 

Larry H.

OBS Chief
Joined
Dec 22, 2006
Messages
944
The old connection of Omaha NE to Kansas City and on to Carbondale Il. would connect a lot of people to shorter trips and more ways to get there. I agree the National Limited being removed was a real killer for travelers going east from St. Louis or Kansas City.
 
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