Upcoming Amtrak LD Schedule Changes (2021)

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Palmland

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I’m not sure what you think would be accomplished by hiring former freight railroad dispatchers that couldn’t already be accomplished by the freight railroads upholding their end of the bargain that they agree to whenever they approve a schedule change.
It’s not necessary if you believe Amtrak has the necessary competence to negotiate effectively with the railroad. The more you understand about the business and concerns of the company you are negotiating with the easier it should be to anticipate objections, prepare a rebuttal, and come to a mutual agreement on the issue at hand. I’m not sure Amtrak with their recent house cleaning still has that competence.
 

PaTrainFan

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The repeated complaints from freight shippers that their cars aren't arriving on time do tend to point to total, utter incompetence at most of the Class I railroads -- at least CSX, NS, and CN. It seems like on many lines they are not running anything resembling regular operations of a railroad. This is actually why I support nationalization; it's not just for passenger service, it's needed for freight service too.
Wasn't "precision scheduled railroading" supposed to take care of this? (I say this with sarcasm intended.)
 

dlagrua

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After reading this post thoroughly, are we really supposed to believe that Amtrak will be adding the new "corridor" routes" proposed? Apparently there isn't enough rail space to efficiently run what is already there.
 

neroden

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It’s not necessary if you believe Amtrak has the necessary competence to negotiate effectively with the railroad. The more you understand about the business and concerns of the company you are negotiating with the easier it should be to anticipate objections, prepare a rebuttal, and come to a mutual agreement on the issue at hand. I’m not sure Amtrak with their recent house cleaning still has that competence.
Most of the Class Is -- specifically NS and CSX -- don't seem to know their own business or understand what their customers want. CSX has been going through many cycles of mismanagement to cook the quarterly earnings reports in order to juice the CEO's take-home pay, while NS got obsessed with a non-functional "automated dispatching" system.

It is quite hard to come to a mutual agreement with incompetent lunatics whose concerns make no sense, who are trying to get out with a golden parachute, whose concerns have nothing to do with business. BNSF is in the hands of a long-term owner who wants to run a railroad -- with BNSF, it should be easy to come to terms with them.

With CSX, only "We will buy this railroad from you" seems to work, at least in the last 30 years (and I'm saying this having watched CSX behavior for over 30 years); the same was true with CN under Hunter Harrison, and is probably still true; while NS seems easier to deal with, again, "We will buy this railroad from you" seems to be the negotiating tactic they respond best to.
 

neroden

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After reading this post thoroughly, are we really supposed to believe that Amtrak will be adding the new "corridor" routes" proposed? Apparently there isn't enough rail space to efficiently run what is already there.
Scranton to New York is fresh, government-owned right-of-way. Should be able to make it happen. :)
 

jruff001

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The repeated complaints from freight shippers that their cars aren't arriving on time do tend to point to total, utter incompetence at most of the Class I railroads -- at least CSX, NS, and CN. It seems like on many lines they are not running anything resembling regular operations of a railroad. This is actually why I support nationalization; it's not just for passenger service, it's needed for freight service too.
So you want some Amtrak-like entity to run the freight railroads? Because the government would do a better job?
 

west point

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Freight RR dispatchers appear to be overloaded. Look at how many dispatchers on the WASH - NYP Amtrak RR as compared to almost any route. A dispatcher IMHO should only have to be busy 50% of time during normal operations. That way when the abnormal situation begins to occur which will happens several times a shift the dispatcher will have time to rectify the situation. No train should ever have to wait 5 minutes or more to get an answer from a dispatcher..
 

MARC Rider

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So you want some Amtrak-like entity to run the freight railroads? Because the government would do a better job?
Actually, the government probably would do a better job than these bloated corporate entities that are being managed so that the CEOs and other top executives can juice up their take-home on the basis of short-term quarterly financial performance. It's a telling point that the U.S. Armed Forces aren't privatized, even though throughout history mercenary armies have been a very profitable business.
 

Trogdor

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So you want some Amtrak-like entity to run the freight railroads? Because the government would do a better job?
It’s interesting to see how strong certain dogma can run that, even in the face of abject failure by the private sector in certain areas important to society (i.e. transportation), the automatic response is to imply the government couldn’t do better.

The main reason the government does poorly at certain things is because people vote for politicians whose main objective is to ensure the government does poorly at those things in order to prove their foregone conclusion that the government can’t properly do certain things. Otherwise, it’s all just people, and they don’t magically change their DNA based on the organizational structure they fall under.
 

jruff001

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It’s interesting to see how strong certain dogma can run that, even in the face of abject failure by the private sector in certain areas important to society (i.e. transportation), the automatic response is to imply the government couldn’t do better.
To be clear, I didn't mean to imply the government necessarily couldn't do better.

I was responding to what I thought was an odd comment here where the dogma seems to be that Amtrak management sucks and if only private companies ran long distance trains in the U.S. there would be more of them, better service and (of course, the holy grail of this website) REAL DINING CARS! (And all that would be profitable, naturally.)

But when freight trains interfere with Amtrak schedules, suddenly the whole transportation sector is an abject failure warranting a government takeover.
 

neroden

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So you want some Amtrak-like entity to run the freight railroads? Because the government would do a better job?
Frankly, yes.

I mean, BNSF is doing fine, leave it be. But CSX... ye gods, have you seen the freight shipper complaints? The last time they were getting good service in the Northeast, it was when the track was owned by something called... oh right... CONRAIL.

If you haven't heard of it, Conrail was an Amtrak-like entity to run the freight railroads in the Northeast because the government could do a better job than private industry (which had gone bankrupt).

From the moment Conrail was privatized, freight service went downhill, and when it was broken up by NS and CSX, service REALLY went downhill. Should have stayed in public hands.
 

neroden

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To be clear, I didn't mean to imply the government necessarily couldn't do better.

I was responding to what I thought was an odd comment here where the dogma seems to be that Amtrak management sucks and if only private companies ran long distance trains in the U.S. there would be more of them, better service and (of course, the holy grail of this website) REAL DINING CARS! (And all that would be profitable, naturally.)

But when freight trains interfere with Amtrak schedules, suddenly the whole transportation sector is an abject failure warranting a government takeover.
You're hearing two different groups of people.
 

MARC Rider

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I was responding to what I thought was an odd comment here where the dogma seems to be that Amtrak management sucks and if only private companies ran long distance trains in the U.S. there would be more of them, better service
Perhaps Amtrak Management sucks, but, if Amtrak isn't exactly a "private company," it's not a government agency, either. It's a sort of private company that happens to be owned by the government. Amtrak employees aren't civil servants, and the company is subject to all the regulations that a privately-owned railroad is subject to.

The reason it exists is because private railroads, funded by private capital, weren't able to provide profitable passenger service. Yet it's a reasonable political consensus across party lines that some sort of passenger rail is a needed public good. Thus, Amtrak was created, funded with capital from the taxpayers. (And this was done during a Republican presidential administration, by the way.) The likely kind of "privatization" that one might see for passenger rail would be for the government to pay a contractor to run the trains. Is that really all that different from Amtrak? The main difference is that any private investors who would be willing to do this would want a high rate of return on their investment. Under public ownership, the objective is to provide a public service. In an economical way, yes, but the managers at Amtrak, whatever their faults, are not running the operation to make themselves rich.
 

me_little_me

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It’s interesting to see how strong certain dogma can run that, even in the face of abject failure by the private sector in certain areas important to society (i.e. transportation), the automatic response is to imply the government couldn’t do better.

The main reason the government does poorly at certain things is because people vote for politicians whose main objective is to ensure the government does poorly at those things in order to prove their foregone conclusion that the government can’t properly do certain things. Otherwise, it’s all just people, and they don’t magically change their DNA based on the organizational structure they fall under.
I disagree. My experience in government (i.e. the military) is that there is a lack of "profit motivation" in government that is not necessarily better in private industry when run by executives who think only of themselves and not the company. So bad government operations occur where management doesn't think about ways it can do better because there is no financial incentive to do so and bad corporate operations occur when management only thinks short term for their personal betterment (quarterly) rather than long term for the good of the company (investing in improvements, people and customers).
Good government exists. Good private ownership exists. Neither is what the people at the top of most government agencies or private corporations want. It has little to do with the fact that some politicians want government operations to look bad.
 

Trogdor

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I disagree. My experience in government (i.e. the military) is that there is a lack of "profit motivation" in government that is not necessarily better in private industry when run by executives who think only of themselves and not the company. So bad government operations occur where management doesn't think about ways it can do better because there is no financial incentive to do so and bad corporate operations occur when management only thinks short term for their personal betterment (quarterly) rather than long term for the good of the company (investing in improvements, people and customers).
Good government exists. Good private ownership exists. Neither is what the people at the top of most government agencies or private corporations want. It has little to do with the fact that some politicians want government operations to look bad.
My experience in government (transportation) is that there are plenty of folks in lower and middle levels of the organization that have enough interest and enthusiasm to do things right, innovate, etc., but who can't get anything done because upper levels are too busy worrying about what Politician X is going to think and/or how it's going to look to his/her constituents. And there are plenty of edicts from on high that are forced to be implemented because of a political mandate that makes zero logical sense, and everybody knows it makes zero sense, but generally everyone feels powerless to do anything about it (the dining car mess over the past few years at Amtrak is a perfect example, but by no means the only one). Granted, it's not always an intentional "make government look bad" move by every politician (though there is absolutely plenty of it). Some of it is just politicians asserting their influence because they want to feel important. But that's not significantly different from companies with bad management (of which there are plenty).

It's just a fallacy that profit motive is what drives people to do good things, rather than a personal sense of accomplishment and pride.
 

me_little_me

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It's just a fallacy that profit motive is what drives people to do good things, rather than a personal sense of accomplishment and pride.
Profit is a big motive. For he higher ups, they want to be shown what will be the benefit (in $$) of doing something. That means middle management is going to have to present a proposal in that light and the lower ranks are going to have to convince those middle managers that they should propose a change to the uppers on the grounds that it benefits financially.

And if people are incentivized to think $$, even the lower ranks will come up with good ideas that save money, do things more efficiently and improve customer experience (which relates to improving the bottom line). In the old days at my company, profit sharing was a strong motive and often in our field office, there were comments from us at the bottom that the managers were being wasteful when we would say "You are spending my profit sharing". In government and bad companies, I found that concept lacking so waste was tolerated because nobody cared.

Just look at Amtrak's failure to sufficiently monetize their diners and cafes by running out of items to sell in cafes and denying coach passengers access to diners- even before Covid. Did nobody care enough to say "We can make more money if we have more to sell!" instead of accepting the failure? There is no incentive for an employee with no profit-sharing or other financial incentive to push against lazy management and no incentive for middle management to confront upper management in spite of politicians who just want to point out the increasing subsidies as a stick to push for elimination. Had upper management made more effort to assign a better portion of fares towards dining and really pushed to always have things to sell on board, in stations and online, they would have had a better chance to keep the Micas of the world away. As it was, they took away coach diner income, carried even less in the cafe and "proved" Mica's point. Worse, the execs pull the rug out from their congressional supporters.
 

Trogdor

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Profit is a big motive. For he higher ups, they want to be shown what will be the benefit (in $$) of doing something. That means middle management is going to have to present a proposal in that light and the lower ranks are going to have to convince those middle managers that they should propose a change to the uppers on the grounds that it benefits financially.

And if people are incentivized to think $$, even the lower ranks will come up with good ideas that save money, do things more efficiently and improve customer experience (which relates to improving the bottom line). In the old days at my company, profit sharing was a strong motive and often in our field office, there were comments from us at the bottom that the managers were being wasteful when we would say "You are spending my profit sharing". In government and bad companies, I found that concept lacking so waste was tolerated because nobody cared.

Just look at Amtrak's failure to sufficiently monetize their diners and cafes by running out of items to sell in cafes and denying coach passengers access to diners- even before Covid. Did nobody care enough to say "We can make more money if we have more to sell!" instead of accepting the failure? There is no incentive for an employee with no profit-sharing or other financial incentive to push against lazy management and no incentive for middle management to confront upper management in spite of politicians who just want to point out the increasing subsidies as a stick to push for elimination. Had upper management made more effort to assign a better portion of fares towards dining and really pushed to always have things to sell on board, in stations and online, they would have had a better chance to keep the Micas of the world away. As it was, they took away coach diner income, carried even less in the cafe and "proved" Mica's point. Worse, the execs pull the rug out from their congressional supporters.
I guess we may have to agree to disagree on this. NS and CSX (and CN) are operational disasters because “profit motive” led execs to cut back on everything in the interest of improving the short-term income statement.

The only thing that will keep the Micas of the world away are not voting them into office. They are not seriously interested in fiscal responsibility. They have a dogmatic view of the world and do what they can to see it through.

Amtrak has had many experiments with food service, including some that improved the offerings (for a few years, the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight each offered upgraded service with the justification that the improvements would yield net revenue increases greater than their expense increases). The original concept of the Cross Country Cafe car was to offer a continuous daytime meal service with a revamped menu that was better than cafe car offerings but not as formal as the dining car (I was even a passenger on a test run of the service early in its development). Various other things have been done, all without “profit motive.”

The Pacific Parlour Car was added to the Starlight for a couple of decades by employees at Amtrak interested in offering good service, without any profit motive (there’s clearly no “profit sharing” at Amtrak, and performance bonuses are given at the judgment of the managers, and financial performance of their specific initiatives isn’t necessarily a requirement).

A lot of that stuff got trashed fairly quickly in recent years by legislative mandates, and/or upper management installed by a politically appointed board who were trying to adhere to said mandates.

The Micas of the world don’t give a damn about whether or not any of those experiments are a success. The requirement that food service losses go to zero means even if those things cut losses in half, it would still be a failure and be in violation of a legislated mandate. And that was the whole point of the mandate.
 
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