We can get behind Corridor Service...without abandoning LD

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I was away from this forum for a few days - and after "taking the temperature of the room" something struck me. We as rail advocates (along with Amtrak) are largely cutting off our nose to spite our face.

On our side, when Amtrak floats a (poorly communicated) proposal to vastly increase corridor service - we react with disdain that our dream LD route hasn't been included in the plan. Is the plan perfect? Heck no. But it does increase frequencies on all existing corridors - and creates a bunch of new corridors with a minimum of three trains per day each way. We should sign up for that in a heartbeat. But there is almost no discussion on this forum on how we can get behind the plan and advocate to make it better and make it happen.

On the Amtrak side - they should be doing everything they can to make sure all rail advocates are 100% in their corner to help make the plan a reality. LD and corridor service are the "yin and yang" of rail transportation. Political support for one is completely reliant on political support for the other. You can't release a corridor plan without also detailing how you are going to make the LD system better.

It's not like they need to propose to double the LD network to receive our support. When they announced their Connect US plan, if they would have simultaneously announced a plan to take the Cardinal and Sunset daily, place a large LD equipment order and increase consists - we probably would have been ecstatic. Heck, just announcing a commitment to increased levels of onboard service on the existing LD network might have been enough. Whatever the case - by throwing a (genuine) bone to the LD folks while they floated their corridor proposal - they would have just about ensured universal rail advocate support for the plan.

Instead, we continue to whine about the lack of Amtrak's enthusiasm for LD (which is real), and completely ignore a worthwhile (first draft) plan for meaningful corridor expansion which WILL help LD, if only indirectly. And they continue to ignore an important facet of their business - the only one that performed during the pandemic - assuring that an important community of rail advocates remains on the sideline.

I think we're both being idiots. I kind of expect that from Amtrak, but I think we can be better.
 
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I totally agree. It should be noted on the annual RPA day on the hill event, Gardner mentioned that they are looking into using the corridor expansion program to take the Cardinal and Sunset Limited daily as that could serve as the first frequency in a couple of the corridors they have proposed.
 
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Since the Connect US plan was so poorly communicated, I highly recommend watching a replay of Amtrak presenting the plan during this webinar from the High Speed Rail Alliance:

Brown Bag Lunch: Amtrak’s 2035 Vision

My reaction to the program was that the corridor plan is worthwhile, and there is a lot to like. It is also painfully obvious that Amtrak looks at LD as more of an obligation than anything else. There were some compliments thrown in there by the Amtrak representative for how the LD trains (especially sleepers) performed during the pandemic, indicating how important LD is to the communities they serve. That was largely lip service - at least that was my read.

That being said - let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. I think we need to support the plan - and encourage organizations like the HSRA to get Amtrak LD management signed up for a Webinar of their own so we can start holding their feet to the fire on the LD side.
 

Josh M

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Expanding corridor service strikes me as a good way to rebuild (enthusiasm? desire?) for rail travel among the broader populace, not just those of us who enjoy and/or prefer it already. If they can provide reliable transportation between major cities that are a couple hundred-ish miles apart and do so consistently, I can easily see it having a spillover effect of creating more interest in long-distance travel by train.
 
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Based on what has been happening at Amtrak, I do not trust anything that Amtrak promises any further than I can throw an SSL Lounge car.

Based on what's happening in the country, I see no guarantee that Amtrak will be voted what Biden proposes and, even if he gets what he wanted, that future congresses will vote the release of the funds for the next 15 years.

Based on the actions of the freights to fight Amtrak tooth and nail and impose intolerable delays on Amtrak, the chances of anything happening in the few years I have left are almost nil.

As much as I hope that any increase in the number and kind of trains or routes is in our future, I think it is more a dream (or even a fantasy) to think a significant portion will actually happen.
 
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The main justification for taxpayer subsidy of passenger rail is to provide a mobility alternative to driving private cars. It's also a practical alternative to buses in highly trafficked routes. The public benefit is reducing traffic on congested highways, reducing emissions and improving air quality, reducing car crashes, and so forth. To do this, the subsidies are most effective if they subsidize frequent service in densely populated areas, where there is a large pool of potential passengers, congested traffic, air quality problems, and so forth. This means corridor service between relatively large cities. The goal is to increase the "mode share" of passenger rail to a point that it's at least larger than rounding error, as it is in most of the US outside of the northeast. Passenger rail is actually a practical alternative to cars for trips of less than 500 miles, and has the potential to be competitive with air travel for city-pairs of 200 miles or less. If more Americans see taking the train as a practical travel alternative, there will be more political support for taxpayer subsidy of passenger rail.

The long distance service also provides mobility alternatives for people who live in rural areas, at least those rural areas along the long-distance rail routes. Most of these people are also going to be making trips of 500 miles or less, as is borne out by the ridership statistics provided by RPA. It also serves people who need to make longer trips because they can't or won't fly or drive, mainly for medical reasons. Then there are people, like many on AU, who just like the experience of taking long train trips. Unfortunately, our desires aren't really a good justification for taxpayer subsidies for long distance passenger rail service.

The long distance service, as bad as it is, must be popular enough with rural voting constituencies that members of Congress from the states affected will be more likely to support overall Federal funding for passenger rail if there's some support for these long-distance services that serve their constituencies. This has been the political calculus for Amtrak funding for along time. It may be changing if there's an increase of ideological opposition to government support for passenger rail in general for whatever reasons -- "boondoggle," "old-fashioned technology whose time has come and gone," "It mainly supports those undesirable diverse urban riff-raff," etc. But at this point, it seems that the subsidies for the long distance service should focus on improving safety, reliability, and on-time performance, not adding more new long-distance routes with 35 mph end-to-end average speeds, and chronically late trains that serve many of the intermediate cities at inconvenient hours.

So I would think that Amtrak management is absolutely correct to prioritize their near-term expansion plans to focus on corridor service. Of course, the corridors can connect with each other, and eventually allow for adding new long-distance routes that can share overhead costs with the corridor services, thus ensuring better financial performance of the long-distance trains. But in the short term, the best thing is to get more Americans riding trains in more parts of the country. Setting up new corridor service will be hard enough -- the host railroads are reluctant, the states may be reluctant, the rail corridors are not always the fastest and most efficient routings between cities, and so forth. Lots of moving parts and political egos and regional factions that will have to be mollified. But it really is the best way forward to increasing the use of passenger rail in the US.
 

zephyr17

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I am fine with expanding Corridor services. I am not, and have never been against it and I am grateful I live in a state that supports Corridor services on its own dime.

When I see something concrete from Amtrak management actually supporting the long distance services and reversing recent and planned intentional degradations in service, I might change my mind about their intentions on long distance services.

Concrete action in my mind include all of the following:
1. Restoration of traditional dining on the eastern trains.
2. Removal of the plan to gut the Viewliner diners from the 5 year fleet plan.
3. Statement that all runs over a certain duration (16 hours? 18 hours?) will have dining and lounge/cafe cars. Back off the single food service car concept for the LDs.
4. Commitment to restore access by coach passengers to traditional dining post-COVID. Based on current trends, that should be by the end of 2021.

At this point, all I am looking for is reversal of the latest degradations in service on the existing network and a commitment to stop further degradation. As a start, I am not looking for service expansions or anything of that sort. I have my own opinions on that, but right now I would be content with Amtrak management just putting the gun down.
 
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Not sure where one gets the idea that we on this forum are against corridor service. The NEC is the one place in this country where Amtrak more or less provides European level service, and if we could make that model happen in other parts of the country, no one in their right mind would be against that.

I think all people want is expansion of corridor service that is NOT at the expense of the LD routes, which themselves often provide a quasi corridor service, as well as serve essential rural communities. Honestly, so long as the current LD routes are kept, I couldn't care less that the Desert Wind (insert lost LD route here) isn't making a resurrection. I think we all understand that corridor service is deeply connected to increasing rail popularity overall.

Increasing and improving on-board service like dining and/or observation cars, should happen on all trains LD, or not.
 

Heading North

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My hope (while it’s a long shot) is that if corridors add connectivity, that’s a plus for ridership on the LDs too. There are a lot of gaps between LDs on the map where it would be easy to slot in connecting trains on daytime runs. And while some people might be OK with bus connections (and they work well in CA for example), the more destinations you connect by rail, the more ridership you get whether they got there on a corridor train, a short or long hop on an LD train, or a mix of both. That’s one reason losing the potential 3-C corridor a decade ago was such a bummer.
 
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The problem is that the wonderful prior Amtrak president, Mr. Anderson, tried to promote corridor service and dump LD and went so far as to propose the SW C train be converted into two shorter trains separated by a LONG bus drive. So many of us view Amtrak's proposed corridors as another step in dumping LD service along with the changes proposed and/or implemented and promised improvements that never came even before Covid.

So it's not that some of don't want corridor - we do - but that we don't trust the purpose of the proposals for corridor from a company that has shown that its current and former executives can't be trusted to do much in the way of improvements.
 

west point

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I believe we will see Amtrak's real view of LD trains this summer. Amtrak will have enough Siemens cars on Midwest trains that each east coast train could add at least one coach for higher passenger demand
 
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It is not an accident that many of the corridors are developing around where long distance trains currently run - and we very may well see a daily cardinal and sunset as part of this. The corridors will feed additional riders into the adjacent long distance trains and serve as bridges between some of these corridors. It may make sense to shift some things around as some of these routes come to life so that the long distance train meshes better with the corridors - such as shifting the silver star on to the new planned route from Virginia down to Raleigh on the old S line which also gets it on to a primarily passenger track for that segment.
 
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Based on what has been happening at Amtrak, I do not trust anything that Amtrak promises any further than I can throw an SSL Lounge car.

Based on what's happening in the country, I see no guarantee that Amtrak will be voted what Biden proposes and, even if he gets what he wanted, that future congresses will vote the release of the funds for the next 15 years.

Based on the actions of the freights to fight Amtrak tooth and nail and impose intolerable delays on Amtrak, the chances of anything happening in the few years I have left are almost nil.

As much as I hope that any increase in the number and kind of trains or routes is in our future, I think it is more a dream (or even a fantasy) to think a significant portion will actually happen.

Your skepticism is well founded. But at some point, if you let that rule your actions - it is self defeating.

Despite your skepticism - if you believe expanding rail service is the right thing - take a leap of faith and contact your congressmen and let them know this needs to happen.

I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to grousing about Amtrak. But while it is therapeutic at times, it doesn't do a single thing to improve rail service in this country.
 
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Your skepticism is well founded. But at some point, if you let that rule your actions - it is self defeating.

Despite your skepticism - if you believe expanding rail service is the right thing - take a leap of faith and contact your congressmen and let them know this needs to happen.

I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to grousing about Amtrak. But while it is therapeutic at times, it doesn't do a single thing to improve rail service in this country.
My congressman is more right wing than Attila the Hun and our senators are not much better. They have no interest in voting for anything that would benefit the country - or even the state if it might offend their radical constituency.
 
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Not sure where one gets the idea that we on this forum are against corridor service.

It’s more about a lack of enthusiasm at a point in time when there is an immediate opportunity to greatly expand planned train service in this country.

95% of the posts around here are still all about how crappy our food service is and how LD is being neglected. Both true statements, but frankly – we’re spitting into the wind at this point.
 
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My congressman is more right wing than Attila the Hun and our senators are not much better. They have no interest in voting for anything that would benefit the country - or even the state if it might offend their radical constituency.
You’re not asking them to support abortion.

Rail transportation is not a left wing issue if it’s presented properly. It’s an issue with quite a bit of bipartisan support.

Don’t even mention things that he will disagree with, like green initiatives and how the carbon footprint of Americans will be reduced. Talk about the economic benefits instead.

No right winger is going to get thrown out of office because they vote on a balanced transportation policy that includes rail transportation.
 
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I believe we will see Amtrak's real view of LD trains this summer. Amtrak will have enough Siemens cars on Midwest trains that each east coast train could add at least one coach for higher passenger demand

I think we know their view – they run them because they have to. And they run them with little enthusiasm.

The question is – as rail advocates, do we completely withdraw our support from Amtrak because of their current neglect of LD? Or do we enthusiastically support increased corridor service while working in the background to hold their feet to the fire to get improvements on the LD side as well?
 
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No right winger is going to get thrown out of office because they vote on a balanced transportation policy that includes rail transportation.
You must be wrong because they all seem to think that zeroing out Amtrak is more important than almost everything else in spite of the fact that it is only a small rock in the budget mountain.Many of them only grudgingly accept Amtrak funding as a tradeoff - "we'll support it for another year if you give us ...".

From the very beginning of Amtrak, many of them have been trying to kill it one way or another.
 
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You must be wrong because they all seem to think that zeroing out Amtrak is more important than almost everything else in spite of the fact that it is only a small rock in the budget mountain.Many of them only grudgingly accept Amtrak funding as a tradeoff - "we'll support it for another year if you give us ...".

From the very beginning of Amtrak, many of them have been trying to kill it one way or another.
If they think that zeroing out Amtrak is more important than anything else, then how did Amtrak funding stay more or less stable over the years 2015 to 2019 when the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, including the years 2017 to 2019 when the President was a Republican, too?
 

jis

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If they think that zeroing out Amtrak is more important than anything else, then how did Amtrak funding stay more or less stable over the years 2015 to 2019 when the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, including the years 2017 to 2019 when the President was a Republican, too?
Amtrak has always had a base sustenance level support. Problems arise when one tries to get real growth appropriations.

Trump's budget proposals were always zero to about half of what is needed for sustenance, and Congress fixed it upwards to something close to Authorization but usually a tad short of it.

This is for Amtrak. Remember there are other line items that help Amtrak, and Congress has deftly fudged around with them to add some more. And there is FTA which has much broader support and does fund a whole bunch of Amtrak related stuff specially on the NEC.

It is also true that Republicans (many but not all) feel that they were fooled into allowing Amtrak to be created with promise of profitablity in five years. That is why they keep harping endlessly about the total subsidy that Amtrak has gotten since its inception and how Amtrak is suppose to pay for all that through profits. It is part of the lengthy Republican history of hypocrisy, but that is for another thread another day I suppose.
 
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zephyr17

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Presidential budgets are often dead on arrival. The fact that Reagan, Bush 2.0, and Trump all zeroed out Amtrak doesn't mean much.

With that said, Amtrak's funding has always been a matter of enough to survive, never enough to thrive.
 
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It is also true that Republicans (many but not all) feel that they were fooled into allowing Amtrak to be created with promise of profitablity in five years. That is why they keep harping endlessly about the total subsidy that has got Amtrak since its inception and how Amtrak is suppose to pay for all that through profits. It is part of the lengthy Republican history of hypocrisy, but that is for another thread another day I suppose.

Is this hypocrisy you're referring to the classic "fund roads and planes but not trains."
I recall John McCain doing something like this in Arizona with state sponsored flights but not trains.

With that said, Amtrak's funding has always been a matter of enough to survive, never enough to thrive.

Yeah, the right only gives enough to survive, and the left only cares about super expensive high speed rail projects.
Amtrak really kind of falls through the bi-partisan cracks...
 
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I think you'd see more support on the political right for rail infrastructure if Amtrak were privately operated. I suspect they'd be much more willing to support the tracks and infrastructure just as they do for airports/air traffic control or interstate highways. The difference is that the airlines are private companies driven by profit margins to seek out efficiencies and satisfy their customers. Since Amtrak is more-or-less operated by the government (or at least any operating losses are covered by the taxpayer), the political discussions too often become focused on operations-related issues like why can't Amtrak make money on the hamburgers they sell? There are many threads on this site that (rightly) bemoan Amtrak's failures in satisfying the customer. Placing profit motive behind politics certainly plays a role in their acceptance of mediocre customer service.
 
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