What Should Amtrak Change?

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jis

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The problem is that NS has not been able to stick to the revised schedule, either, meaning that instead of a two-hour late Crescent leaving Atlanta at 10 p.m. rather the scheduled 8 p.m., a two-hour late Crescent now leaves Atlanta at 1:30 a.m. rather than the scheduled 11:30 p.m. This means that the northbound Crescent is "serving" its biggest non-NEC market at an unmarketable time.
Yeah, the timings suck. But the only way they can get fixed in the short term is if STB gets on Crescent's case. No matter how many dozen posts are made on AU that won't make an iota of difference on how the Crescent operates.
 

TheCrescent

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Loads on the southbound Crescent have been light when I’ve taken it recently. I would think that the completely useless northbound schedule is at least partly to blame. I certainly won’t take it northbound; even if the departure time were ok, spending all day between Charlotte and NY makes no sense when one can fly that in two hours.

The new schedule is thus likely significantly reducing ridership.
 

Cal

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For sleeping car passengers, Amtrak should offer a beverage upon departure, like airlines do.

If I am getting settled in on board, having a drink upon departure would be nice, instead of waiting for the cafe car to open or waiting for dinner (when an adult beverage is served).
Yes, however I'd rather it be that the SCA will also bring drinks throughout the trip if wanted. Is this already a thing, or is it one of those inconsistent things with Amtrak?
 
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Yes, however I'd rather it be that the SCA will also bring drinks throughout the trip if wanted. Is this already a thing, or is it one of those inconsistent things with Amtrak?

I’m sure all of the better SCAs will do it if you ask. I can only imagine that some of the “not-so -good” SCAs would look at you like you had two heads if you made a request like that and you weren’t obviously a mobility impaired person.
 

TheCrescent

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Agreed. I recall that when I once asked for a Scotch with dinner, the SCA lectured me that it isn’t her job to wait in line in the cafe car for me.

What Amtrak should change: two things that would make it easier to sleep in sleeping cars:

1. Turn down lights in hallways (since curtains don’t block all light, light comes into sleeping car rooms all night; sleep masks help, though).

2.Get better mattresses. The top bed in Viewliners, at least, is kind of hard.
 
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That’s not accurate. Many countries have privatized their railroads. The European Union and many of its member states have allowed and encouraged private operators to run both freight trains and passenger trains.

Second, CSX’s market capitalization is $74 billion; Norfolk Southern’s is $67 billion. BNSF’s is estimated at far more (and forcing Warren Buffet to sell is realistic and easy, you think)? So it would require hundreds of billions of dollars to buy them, and that would mean not one cent of that used for track improvements for Amtrak; it would mean all of those funds were used to buy shares from private owners.

US freight railroads are far ahead of publicly-owned freight railroads in price per ton-mile of freight (i.e., they run more efficiently per dollar spent) and in terms of market share. In short, some US railroads do lead the world: US privately-owned freight railroads.

I am irritated as well over how Amtrak is treated by Class Is, but the simpler and cheaper solution is just to give Amtrak enough funds that it can build its own track and not worry about Class I interference. Nationalizing Class Is would be much more expensive and would result in reduced Class I performance.

So, in short: buying Class Is would cost hundreds of billions of dollars and not a cent would directly improve Amtrak. I’d rather spend hundreds of billions directly for improvements for Amtrak (new track, new cars, etc.).

You seriously underestimate the price tag on "enough funds that it can build its own track and not worry about Class I interference."
Your claim that it would be more expensive to buy the Class I's is unequivocally wrong. This would take thousands of miles worth of track construction, and cost perhaps upwards of 500 billion (depending on what type of tracks we build.)

Look at South coast rail construction in Boston:
Its taking 3.5 billion to construct and upgrade roughly 36 miles of track, though relatively easy ROW without too many bridges, tunnels or other complications.

That said, there is merit to your overall argument that spending billions on Amtrak would be better. I would rather, however, wait to see what Amtrak does with 66 billion before we assert that giving them hundreds of billions is better.

A better use of time and money would be to nationalize the tracks overall.
 
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jis

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How about nationalizing the major ROWs? Then tracks and sidings could be added more easily.
I doubt that Amtrak by itself can pull that off, even with all the help from the STB. The Congress and the President might have to play a significant role that they probably are not upto at present, realistically speaking.

But it certainly is a good thought, and as you say, it will simplify several things.
 

Siegmund

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Also, your position seems to be that the costs of building about 20,000 miles of track would be hundreds of billions of dollars.

Only hundreds of billions is quite a lowball estimate. $5M per mile gets you to $100B. In an uninhabited area where you already have the ROW, you can perhaps lay a second track next to existing track for that price. If you have to acquire new land in an urban area it is a whooole lot more than that.

So the value of Class Is’ track is many times higher than their market capitalization?
That makes no sense; if the value of a company’s hard assets is many times the company’s market value, something’s really wrong.

It makes a great deal of sense (assuming that when you say "value" you mean "cost to replace/replicate", as opposed to "price someone would be willing to pay to buy the existing item.")

It means the Class Is own a legacy asset which is cost-effective to maintain, but would not be cost-effective to build from scratch today.

When is the last time someone laid, say, more than 100 miles of new track?
In North America, the three most recent examples I can think of are the Powder River Basin -- single track laid in new territory in the 1970s, double track added in the 1990s; BC Rail's projects to build to Fort St. James and Fort Nelson in the 60s (completed, and still operating though not minting a ton of money); and BC rail's attempt to build to Dease Lake and on toward Alaska in the early 70s (suspended unfinished 1977.) One of those three was a good business investment. A second was a good political/societal move, and at least covers it operating costs, after being built at government expense. The third was an expensive flop, and would have been much more expensive, though less of a flop, had it been completed.

When is the last time someone laid 1000 miles of track?
In North America, the most recent project of that size I can think of is CN's line to Churchill, 90 years ago. In the US, is there an example more recent than the Milwaukee Road and the Western Pacific, 110 years ago?

It has been done in China recently, and in Japan, France, and Russia somewhat less recently - at large government expense; I have seen no figures whether the lines have made back their construction costs.

Similarly, re Amazon -- the company's market value is tied to how much merchandise they can move in a year, not to the resale value of their warehouses and trucks, which will depreciate.
 

TheCrescent

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Only hundreds of billions is quite a lowball estimate. $5M per mile gets you to $100B. In an uninhabited area where you already have the ROW, you can perhaps lay a second track next to existing track for that price. If you have to acquire new land in an urban area it is a whooole lot more than that.



It makes a great deal of sense (assuming that when you say "value" you mean "cost to replace/replicate", as opposed to "price someone would be willing to pay to buy the existing item.")

It means the Class Is own a legacy asset which is cost-effective to maintain, but would not be cost-effective to build from scratch today.

When is the last time someone laid, say, more than 100 miles of new track?
In North America, the three most recent examples I can think of are the Powder River Basin -- single track laid in new territory in the 1970s, double track added in the 1990s; BC Rail's projects to build to Fort St. James and Fort Nelson in the 60s (completed, and still operating though not minting a ton of money); and BC rail's attempt to build to Dease Lake and on toward Alaska in the early 70s (suspended unfinished 1977.) One of those three was a good business investment. A second was a good political/societal move, and at least covers it operating costs, after being built at government expense. The third was an expensive flop, and would have been much more expensive, though less of a flop, had it been completed.

When is the last time someone laid 1000 miles of track?
In North America, the most recent project of that size I can think of is CN's line to Churchill, 90 years ago. In the US, is there an example more recent than the Milwaukee Road and the Western Pacific, 110 years ago?

It has been done in China recently, and in Japan, France, and Russia somewhat less recently - at large government expense; I have seen no figures whether the lines have made back their construction costs.

Similarly, re Amazon -- the company's market value is tied to how much merchandise they can move in a year, not to the resale value of their warehouses and trucks, which will depreciate.

Again:

1. Amtrak doesn’t need its entire system rebuilt from scratch. For example, delays on the Crescent are between around Atlanta and Birmingham; that’s the area that needs some additional track. Between Washington and around Atlanta, it’s fine and there are very few delays.

2. If the Class Is’ value (the amount someone would pay to buy the entire business) is significantly less than the value of their track, investors would not tolerate that situation as it would mean that the amount spent for track was generating a negative rate of return.

No sane investor would fund a dollar for track the rate of return from the investment were negative. Class Is have built extensive new track recently, from BNSF building large amounts of new track to NS building the Crescent Corridor. And track has to be renewed and replaced--in effect, largely rebuilt--over time; rails need to be replaced, ties need to replaced, bridges need to be rebuilt, so claims that "it wouldn't be cost-effective to build it now" miss the point--track DOES need to be rebuilt over time.

https://compassinternational.net/railroad-engineering-construction-cost-benchmarks/ shows costs of far less than $5MM per mile, too.

If the value of your employer’s business is significantly lower than its hard assets (e.g., if its business is worth less than its office furniture and equipment), I hope that you are looking for a new job asap since it wouldn’t last long.

Finally, Amtrak's revenue is (from what I could find) less than $4 billion per year. Class Is' revenue is about $80 billion per year. Yes, I'd love Amtrak to have many times its current revenues. But in terms of its impact on the economy (even if it grew significantly), Amtrak is a drop in the bucket compared to Class Is. It really makes no sense to nationalize a large and profitable business with a large share of US freight transportation--Class Is--to significantly help a far smaller one whose economic impact is minor on most of its routes.

Given all of the supply chain issues that the US is currently having, people really want to nationalize Class Is, whose economic impact is far-reaching, and reconfigure their track so that a train or a few trains a day that Amtrak operates would be more punctual--really?

I'm not looking to argue, I'm just looking to be realistic about what rail advocates ought to be pushing for.
 
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neroden

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Nationalizing Class Is would be much more expensive and would result in reduced Class I performance.
Maybe in some alternate universe.

Here in the actual US, it's quite evident that CSX and NS are incapable of providing decent service to freight shipper customers. Class I performance, in terms of *actually delivering freight*, would skyrocket if they were nationalized.

BNSF does OK. I'm not doctrinaire. Fine, leave it alone for now.

But CSX and NS badly need their track and dispatching nationalized for freight purposes alone. No freight customer in their service territory would seriously dispute this.
 
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TheCrescent

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It isn’t fair that some fares on Amtrak are so high that some people can’t afford them.

It isn’t fair that freight operations by private Class Is delay Amtrak trains.

How can Amtrak become more fair?
 

Eric in East County

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After reading the various posts in other threads, I’m left to wonder if Amtrak is in better or worse shape (personnel-wise, equipment-wise, website functions-wise, etc.) than it was a year ago. Other than the Red Cap situation in Chicago, it appeared to us to be functioning more or less normally when we made our trip to Ohio and back last summer. (The trains we traveled on were the Pacific Surfliner (business class) the Southwest Chief (bedroom) and the Capitol Limited (coach) and that might have had something to do with what we observed.) You’d expect that things would be even better a year later but perhaps not. Your opinions please.
 

Bob Dylan

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After reading the various posts in other threads, I’m left to wonder if Amtrak is in better or worse shape (personnel-wise, equipment-wise, website functions-wise, etc.) than it was a year ago. Other than the Red Cap situation in Chicago, it appeared to us to be functioning more or less normally when we made our trip to Ohio and back last summer. (The trains we traveled on were the Pacific Surfliner (business class) the Southwest Chief (bedroom) and the Capitol Limited (coach) and that might have had something to do with what we observed.) You’d expect that things would be even better a year later but perhaps not. Your opinions please.
IMO there are SOME Improvements, Traditional Dining on SOME LD Trains, New Equipment starting to Slowly Arrive,the change from 3 times a week to 7 , then back to 5, for SOME LD Trains.

But Overall, Amtrak is NOT in better shape with the Shortage of Equipment and Staff( with Snail like Hiring,Terrible IT System,, Flex Food still being slung on LD Trains , and Poor to Terrible OTP and Maintainence on most Routes.

Overall I'd give Amtrak a C- Minus if a Grade was given for its Performance in the past year.
YMMV
 
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