Way to cut down losses on long distance trains

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IndyLions

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To increase the profit one need to truly understand what most potential business travelers as well as laid-back passengers are looking for in common and it's not available in both cars travel or air travel. It is the ability to comfort travel overnight without wasting precious day time, and sleeps with privacy and confidence of security (in a lockable private space)

With that in mind, long distance train should be cut into several mid-distance trains, with each route fit into 8~14 hours total riding time. Departs before the night on day 1, arrives next morning, adding more stops on both end, and skipping as much stops as possible in the middle.

In Europe, this is usually called "Hotel Train"
There are a few corridors where this could work in theory as supplemental service, not replacement for existing service.

However this would likely only happen if something incredibly major like the Green New Deal was somehow implemented in a big way in an effort to encourage rail travel in lieu of air travel.

What comes to mind is restoring the Night Owl between Washington and Boston, new overnight service from San Francisco to LA, added overnight service between Atlanta and New York, etc.

The Night Owl wouldn’t take a whole lot of new equipment – they could even decide to implement that in the next year or two once the new Viewliners come into service. The rest however would only likely happen with a bunch of new equipment that would have to be paid for by some major government program.
 

Amtrakfflyer

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Back to the main title of thread. How to cut down losses on long distance trains? Fire Anderson and Gardner immediately before more damage is done. The numbers may look ok now but expect the bottom to fall out the next two years when repeat riders stop riding. Any public transit official from a big city would do far better in conjunction with a strong VP of marketing that knows rail. Brian Rosenwald or the conductor that was instrumental in bringing the ski train back (both highlighted in Trains magazine this month) come to mind. I’m sure Amtrak has a few outstanding front line employees that could could come to Washington and join management under a capable CEO.

Generally speaking I don’t think the next CEO should be from the private sector.
 
Joined
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There are a few corridors where this could work in theory as supplemental service, not replacement for existing service.

However this would likely only happen if something incredibly major like the Green New Deal was somehow implemented in a big way in an effort to encourage rail travel in lieu of air travel.

What comes to mind is restoring the Night Owl between Washington and Boston, new overnight service from San Francisco to LA, added overnight service between Atlanta and New York, etc.

The Night Owl wouldn’t take a whole lot of new equipment – they could even decide to implement that in the next year or two once the new Viewliners come into service. The rest however would only likely happen with a bunch of new equipment that would have to be paid for by some major government program.

Good point. Adding new services definitely make sense. Just curious if new overnight services are projected to be profitable, does it still require congress approval?
 

jis

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Good point. Adding new services definitely make sense. Just curious if new overnight services are projected to be profitable, does it still require congress approval?
Since it would be ashort/medium distance intra-California service it would be Caltrans' baby and would not require any federal approval.
 

IndyLions

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Since it would be ashort/medium distance intra-California service it would be Caltrans' baby and would not require any federal approval.
I don’t see states doing new trains in any kind of scale on their own. Virginia is the exception rather than the rule. Even states like Michigan and California are making very slow progress.

In my opinion significant expansion only happens if a new Federal program comes into play buoyed by a “Green New Deal” or something similar - especially when it comes to adding overnight service.
 

JRR

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What it appears that they're doing is hoping that the higher fares and cut costs will offset the decreased ridership in terms of revenue. This is the problem with the concept of "profitability." You can be profitable by having high prices and fewer customers, or having lower prices and more customers. Those of us who want to expand the role of passenger rail in our transportation mix would prefer the latter. I guess the current management at Amtrak doesn't care, "profitability is profitability." But I would think that Congress, who is funding Amtrak, might have a different idea of "profitability," which would be to run as many trains as possible (in as many of the members' districts or states as possible) without having to provide an operating subsidy. That's a lot different from the perspective of a private-sector CEO.

The long distance trains rely on sales of premium tickets (i.e., sleepers) to boost revenue, so they need to be very careful not to cut into those sales. Sleeper passengers are more sensitive to service quality, so management has to be careful about how they cut the costs of providing the premium service. Obviously, the current management of Amtrak is not doing a very good job of this.
This reminds me of an interview while I was living in Richmond Va with the director of the toll facilities about the increase in tolls. When it was pointed out that the reason for the revenue problem was directly caused by the fact the the tolls road were not being used, and it was suggested that the increased of the toll would caused a further decline in use. The Director replied:"We took that into account and increased the toll an additional amount to account for the decreased."

Obviously, I wouldn't hire that guy to run my business!
 

toddinde

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This reminds me of an interview while I was living in Richmond Va with the director of the toll facilities about the increase in tolls. When it was pointed out that the reason for the revenue problem was directly caused by the fact the the tolls road were not being used, and it was suggested that the increased of the toll would caused a further decline in use. The Director replied:"We took that into account and increased the toll an additional amount to account for the decreased."

Obviously, I wouldn't hire that guy to run my business!
 

toddinde

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Exactly. The guy forgot that the purpose of the highway in the first place was to transport people.
 

iplaybass

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Warning: Slightly off-topic.

Generally speaking I don’t think the next CEO should be from the private sector.
Too late. Besides, with "profit" being the watchword, only CEOs with "proven track records " are considered. Anderson turned around Delta, so of course he was qualified to run the national rail network--it's just like an airline.

Long distance train travel today is complicated. Performance issues because of freight traffic and diminished capacity (lots of track has been removed since rail's heyday. Don't have to pay maintenance).

Equipment restrictions. Where would Amtrak get the equipment to run more LD trains?

Inability to serve communities at a decent time. This could be solved with an additional frequency on some routes. Lack of equipment+no rail line capacity... not going to happen.

Along with Amtrak accounting, these are all challenges to improving the LD network. If you want to make it more profitable, you're going to need to accurately assess cost, and be interested in some root cause analysis.
 

dlagrua

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Cardinal ridership drops in WV, Manchin blames adverse Amtrak policies

Cutting station agents is not a way. Sobering numbers for Cardinal in WV.
Cutting station agents and service is a discriminatory practice as it may drive away poorer people who have purchased their tickets at the station and may not have access to a computer. Cutting amenities charging more and giving the rail passenger less can only result in lower ridership not more revenue. If you try to equate rail service to airline service you will undoubtedly lose. Slower passenger rail service must provide better and have a selling strategy.
As for the LD service not being profitable; every time we ride those trains they are full. Amtrak means to tell us that fares do not cover equipment use, fuel their route costs and the online service crews salaries? Maybe Amtrak should stop charging the LD routes for costs they do not incur like the use of Penn Station, the staff there and the use and maintenance of the NE Corridor.
 

MARC Rider

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Maybe Amtrak should stop charging the LD routes for costs they do not incur like the use of Penn Station, the staff there and the use and maintenance of the NE Corridor.
All of the preceding stuff you wrote is true, but in the case of the Cardinal, it does use Penn Station and the Northeast Corridor.
 
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All of the preceding stuff you wrote is true, but in the case of the Cardinal, it does use Penn Station and the Northeast Corridor.
As do the Silver Star, the Silver Meteor, the Palmetto, and the Crescent. And while the Lake Shore Limited does not use the NEC, it does use Penn Station. While these trains undoubtedly benefit from the NEC, it's highly doubtful that Amtrak would save any serious money on the NEC by discontinuing these trains. The Federal Railroad Administration will be taking public comments until June 1 on a proposal to keep tab of how much money could be saved by discontinuing any particular route. This would undoubtedly make the financials of the long-distance trains look better. You can find details in the current issue of Trains magazine, or on the Rail Passengers Association website.
 

railpost

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How much does adding a car to the consist reduce the mileage of the engine puling the load? How much does adding another sleeper car add to the cost of operating the train?

One way to make a train more profitable would be to carry more passengers per trip - especially on longer distances.

One way to do this might be by adding additional sleeper cars to the LD trains, thus allowing each train to carry more people. However, in order for this to work, the prices for riding in a sleeper need to b adjusted to a more affordable level.

Since many of the people who ride coach do so, not because they are riding a short distance, but because the price of coach is much less money. Therefore, while lowering the cost of sleepers would move some of the current coach passengers into sleepers, it would not displace that many. Even if it did, the overall number of passengers on the train would not drop by that much.

Currently, the difference in ticket cost from coach to sleeper is about 4 times the price. Reducing this difference to a more affordable level, perhaps 2 to 2.5 the price of coach, would allow some who now ride coach to sleepers.

At current price levels, even if the entire passenger load of a coach moved to sleepers the train would still take in about the same amount of money.

By adding sleeper cars and reducing the price of the sleeper fare it would seem like it would increase overall ridership on LD trains since not all coach passengers would move to sleepers even if the cost were more affordable.

Another thing that might help would be to quit categorizing trains into only to categories. I have noticed that all trains that are more than 500 miles seems to be called "long distance". Why is there no category for "medium distance"? While trains over 500 miles may require more than a single "work day (8 hours)" to run, even an overnight trains does not compare to a two or three day/night trip.

There is quite a difference in a train that travels from Florida to NY than one that travels from California to NY.

I would consider the trains from Florida to NY or perhaps from Chi to NOL to be "medium distance" trains. I know on the Silvers, many of those on the trains go from Fl all the way to NY - I do not know how many ride from NY all the way to LAX or EMY or even from CHI to EMY.

By adding additional sleepers and reducing their fares would encourage more ridership on these MD trains allowing for more coach seats to be available for those who are using these trains for short distances.
 
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It might be possible to make a case for more sleepers.... if it can be shown that the sleepers make a profit. That's one reason I don't think meals should be included in sleeper fares, because that tends to muddle the financials. It could be that when a portion of the sleeper fare is transferred to the food account, the sleepers end up losing money.
 

MARC Rider

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The Federal Railroad Administration will be taking public comments until June 1 on a proposal to keep tab of how much money could be saved by discontinuing any particular route. This would undoubtedly make the financials of the long-distance trains look better. You can find details in the current issue of Trains magazine, or on the Rail Passengers Association website.
Actually, I couldn't find any information on either the Trains magazine site or the RPA site. Do you have a link?
 

MARC Rider

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My inclination, if I had the power to force it, would be to have all costs be shown as "unloaded," that is without allocations for various overhead costs (shared operating costs and capital needs). The overhead costs would then be their own cost center. This would certainly give a more accurate picture of what it costs to provide ancillary services, like food and beverage or sleeping cars. The only reason I can see for allocating overhead costs to a given service is to help set fares so that revenue can cover both the actual costs of the service and the overall operating costs and capital needs. If the unloaded costs to provide, say, traditional dining car service is really such that it's not covered by the increased revenue generated by such services, then, sure, they need to find a cheaper alternative. But you can't really have a fair argument about this sort of thing if the "costs" presented are larded with overhead.
 
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Actually, I couldn't find any information on either the Trains magazine site or the RPA site. Do you have a link?
The cost-allocation proposal is part of a broader rule that would also establish new metrics for on-time performance (the on-time proposal has received publicity). There was a very good discussion of this proposal in the current print edition of Trains magazine. I would quote from it, but unfortunately, I just threw the magazine out. In its April 3 hotline, the Rail Passengers Association wrote: "The proposed rule would also publish quarterly financial performance measured using both the PRIIA-required Avoidable Cost standard and Amtrak’s existing Fully Allocated Costs methodologies. Rail Passengers remains critical of the Fully Allocated Costs method and shares the concerns of the Amtrak Office of Inspector General that costs measured this way neither reflect the underlying economics of a particular service nor provide the basis for projecting the effect on revenue and cost of service changes. Publishing Avoidable and Fully Allocated together should offer insight into the real cost of operating our interstate passenger-rail system and help to highlight the benefits it brings to the people and the communities it serves. "
The actual proposal and a link to comment on it can be found on the RPA website: Regulations | FRA
 
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Why is Amtrak not capitalizing on the pandemic? Riding in a Roomette from LAX to Oakland or Sacramemto or Eugene, and further north is the greatest way to isolate for a single or a couple! Very few people know this. Also, as airlines all over the world are trying new reconfigurations in their seating, where is Amtrak! I been to Europe four times and always used trains to travel. There are often rooms of four seats inside a clear walled room, great for people to travel in.
 

Cho Cho Charlie

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Exactly. The guy forgot that the purpose of the highway in the first place was to transport people.
I thought it was the military. The highway can and would be used to move military supplies and as air fields. Its just that between major wars, the government is nice enough to let the people who paid for them, to use them too.
 

PVD

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It would depend on which highways and who built them. There have certainly been roads built using both justifications..
 

rrdude

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Cutting station agents and service is a discriminatory practice as it may drive away poorer people who have purchased their tickets at the station and may not have access to a computer. Cutting amenities charging more and giving the rail passenger less can only result in lower ridership not more revenue. If you try to equate rail service to airline service you will undoubtedly lose. Slower passenger rail service must provide better and have a selling strategy.
As for the LD service not being profitable; every time we ride those trains they are full. Amtrak means to tell us that fares do not cover equipment use, fuel their route costs and the online service crews salaries? Maybe Amtrak should stop charging the LD routes for costs they do not incur like the use of Penn Station, the staff there and the use and maintenance of the NE Corridor.
Virtually everyone today has a cell phone, and you can buy a ticket using said phone. Or get a friend to do it. Greyhound is in the same situation. You can hardly buy a ticket anywhere EXCEPT online, or big city stations, that doesn't stop "the poor" from riding the Dog.
 

MARC Rider

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I thought it was the military. The highway can and would be used to move military supplies and as air fields. Its just that between major wars, the government is nice enough to let the people who paid for them, to use them too.
The military angle was just the hook that the highway lobby used to pry money from Congress and the state legislators for a national system of paved highways. In the early days, paved roads were desired by either cyclists or the few rich hobbyists who owned cars. Maybe also some farmers who might find it easier to get their crops to market. None of these roads needed to be a national system for those uses, and the paved roads and other roads suitable for motor vehicles in the US before world war 1 were kind of scattered about the country.

By 1919, there was a nascent highway lobby, and also the Army had a ton of trucks left over from the war with nothing to do with them, so someone got the bright idea of running a transcontinental truck convoy as a joint project between the Army and the highway lobby. The Army could show a "proof on concept" of using trucks to transport stuff long distances, while the highway lobby got some useful publicity. The Army also used the caravan as a recruiting draw, though I'm not sure why the Army needed to be recruiting in 1919, I thought they were shedding soldiers as fast as they could. The convoy took over 2 months to drive from DC to San Francisco. Even back then, you could ride or ship something the same distance by train in 4 days, so advances were clearly needed both in highway construction and vehicle design. I think they spent a lot of time stuck in mud and fixing broken down bridges and trucks (with spare parts rushed to the breakdown sites by trains.)

One of the Army officers participating in this event was a guy named Dwight Eisenhower. This is what started his interest in highways, I guess. At the time the highway lobby was happy enough to get a national system of 2-lane paved highways. A couple of decades later, Eisenhower, now a big shot general in command of all of the Allied forces invading Germany from the west, discovered that the Germans had obligingly built for the invaders a nice system of 4-lane freeways, which some of his commander made good use of. A few years later Eisenhower became President of the United States, and from his military experience with roads, advocated a similar national system of freeways in the United States. (There was already the Pennsylvania Turnpike and New Jersey Turnpike and a few parkways around New York.) While Eisenhower was, of course, inspired by his military experience, I do think that the real impetus for this came from civilian sources. In fact, Eisenhower's experience might cause one to think that freeways might not be the best thing for national defense, as the German ones were very helpful for the American invaders. But, with the longstanding American cultural/political reluctance to spend tax dollars on "internal improvements," marketing this as a "defense" project might have been helpful in bringing a few senators and representatives aboard.
 

railiner

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The military angle was just the hook that the highway lobby used to pry money from Congress and the state legislators for a national system of paved highways. In the early days, paved roads were desired by either cyclists or the few rich hobbyists who owned cars. Maybe also some farmers who might find it easier to get their crops to market. None of these roads needed to be a national system for those uses, and the paved roads and other roads suitable for motor vehicles in the US before world war 1 were kind of scattered about the country.

By 1919, there was a nascent highway lobby, and also the Army had a ton of trucks left over from the war with nothing to do with them, so someone got the bright idea of running a transcontinental truck convoy as a joint project between the Army and the highway lobby. The Army could show a "proof on concept" of using trucks to transport stuff long distances, while the highway lobby got some useful publicity. The Army also used the caravan as a recruiting draw, though I'm not sure why the Army needed to be recruiting in 1919, I thought they were shedding soldiers as fast as they could. The convoy took over 2 months to drive from DC to San Francisco. Even back then, you could ride or ship something the same distance by train in 4 days, so advances were clearly needed both in highway construction and vehicle design. I think they spent a lot of time stuck in mud and fixing broken down bridges and trucks (with spare parts rushed to the breakdown sites by trains.)

One of the Army officers participating in this event was a guy named Dwight Eisenhower. This is what started his interest in highways, I guess. At the time the highway lobby was happy enough to get a national system of 2-lane paved highways. A couple of decades later, Eisenhower, now a big shot general in command of all of the Allied forces invading Germany from the west, discovered that the Germans had obligingly built for the invaders a nice system of 4-lane freeways, which some of his commander made good use of. A few years later Eisenhower became President of the United States, and from his military experience with roads, advocated a similar national system of freeways in the United States. (There was already the Pennsylvania Turnpike and New Jersey Turnpike and a few parkways around New York.) While Eisenhower was, of course, inspired by his military experience, I do think that the real impetus for this came from civilian sources. In fact, Eisenhower's experience might cause one to think that freeways might not be the best thing for national defense, as the German ones were very helpful for the American invaders. But, with the longstanding American cultural/political reluctance to spend tax dollars on "internal improvements," marketing this as a "defense" project might have been helpful in bringing a few senators and representatives aboard.
As it seems you have an excellent knowledge of highway history, you must be aware of the role several railroads had in supporting the “Good Roads” movement, in the early 20th century...most notably The Southern...which ironically came back to “bite them”....
 
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