What should Amtrak change?

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I only started riding the train a few years ago, so I am new to the joke that is Amtrak. It's hard to imagine people who rely on it.

I live in Denver and like to go up to Glenwood Springs, CO a few times a year. Sometimes I drove the 160 miles and sometimes I booked a room on Amtrak. I used to pay around $300 each way. Pricey, but worth it to avoid the drive. When I recently heard that congress had awarded Amtrak $50 billion or so, I knew bad things were coming.
Sure enough, when I looked that the prices they were $500+ each way, so I drove to Glenwood.

Yesterday I thought I'd watch the 12:10 PM eastbound train to Chicago come through. It actually arrived at 9:00 PM and left at 9:33! (On-time for Amtrak, I guess). If I had booked my return trip on Amtrak I would have arrived in Denver at 3 AM and missed both included meals. All that for $1000. For that kind of money I should receive first class service. Of course I wouldn't have.

Our national railroad, Amtrak, is a national embarrassment and I don't think it will ever be fixed. The people of Burundi would be ashamed of such a railroad.
Coach on the Zephyr seems to be sold out for a test booking on June 22. A roomette is $387.
A test booking for July 13 shows the coach fare to be $89.
Road mileage is 158 miles. Using the IRS rate for operating costs of a personal car for business use ($0.585/mile), the cost of driving is $92.43.
 

jis

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It may be that the NEC runs better because each dispatcher handles fewer problem trains and track outages. Some of the class 1s have one dispatcher covering as many miles as the whole NYP - WASH distances. How many dispatch districts does Amtrak have? Maybe as many as 6 during high traffic times?
For NEC South, at least 9 CETC desks IIRC, plus a few additional desks for the Empire Corridor, Hell Gate etc.. This does not include PSCC which handles Penn Station, Harold and Sunnyside. But the traffic density on the NEC South is way more than almost any other segment of trackage in the US, except perhaps MNRR and LIRR.
 

zephyr17

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It is really train density much more than mileage that determines the number of dispatchers required. A Class I dispatcher in the west could have several hundred miles of multiple lightly used branch lines or just a few miles of busy railroad like BNSF's Seattle Terminal desk, which only handles between Edmonds and Black River Jct (Tukwila). BNSF dispatchers generally handle things pretty well.
 
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Yesterday I thought I'd watch the 12:10 PM eastbound train to Chicago come through. It actually arrived at 9:00 PM and left at 9:33! (On-time for Amtrak, I guess). If I had booked my return trip on Amtrak I would have arrived in Denver at 3 AM and missed both included meals....
I have not taken a sleeper lately, but at least up until a few years ago, Amtrak was good about conjuring something tasty for their first class passengers, such as the late night steak dinners they fed us out of St. Paul, MN when the eastbound EB became an overnight train, arriving in Glenview some 2 days and 14 hours late.
 
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Hmm, there might be more than 2-3 other select corridors, but I haven't ridden on many outside the Northeast to get asense of hopw well things work. But things seems to work pretty well on:

1 -the NEC
2- Keystone
3- Empire
4-Hartford-Springfield
5- Piedmont
For all intents and purposes, I consider the Keystone and Hartford Springfield to more or less be a part of the NEC. Perhaps thats why you felt the need to nitpick my number: 2-3.
 

neroden

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Reliability is largely a matter of who's doing the dispatching. Bottom line, the Class I "freight" railroads have mostly been really terrible at dispatching. If a train is entirely dispatched by friendly, competent railroads it usually runs on time.

The exception is when Chicago Mechanical doesn't do their job and the trains don't start out of Chicago on time, a known problem which Amtrak has never been willing to properly address.


The "friendly dispatcher" issue is one reason "South of the Lake" would help so much: currently the Michigan services are on friendly rails from Porter, Indiana to Detroit, Michigan except for a single crossing at Battle Creek. Unfortunately their timekeeping gets destroyed between Porter and Chicago. "South of the Lake" would get Amtrak its own tracks from Porter to Chicago.
 

MisterUptempo

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Reliability is largely a matter of who's doing the dispatching. Bottom line, the Class I "freight" railroads have mostly been really terrible at dispatching. If a train is entirely dispatched by friendly, competent railroads it usually runs on time.

The exception is when Chicago Mechanical doesn't do their job and the trains don't start out of Chicago on time, a known problem which Amtrak has never been willing to properly address.


The "friendly dispatcher" issue is one reason "South of the Lake" would help so much: currently the Michigan services are on friendly rails from Porter, Indiana to Detroit, Michigan except for a single crossing at Battle Creek. Unfortunately their timekeeping gets destroyed between Porter and Chicago. "South of the Lake" would get Amtrak its own tracks from Porter to Chicago.
The problems at Battle Creek are beginning to be addressed at this time, a presentation given by an Amtrak rep to the MIPRC in Nov, 2020 mentions the following-
New Battle Creek Connector Bypassing CN

• 1.4 miles of CN territory in downtown Battle Creek leads to multiple hand-off delays, and also includes station
• MDOT obtained $750K CRISI planning grant for Phase 1 NEPA/design work
• Amtrak providing $375K match, as is MDOT
• MDOT expects phase 1 work to begin in spring 2021
There was obviously a delay in getting the the NEPA work started, as the request for bids was not posted until December 1, 2021.
 
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Hmm, there might be more than 2-3 other select corridors, but I haven't ridden on many outside the Northeast to get asense of hopw well things work. But things seems to work pretty well on:

1 -the NEC
2- Keystone
3- Empire
4-Hartford-Springfield
5- Piedmont

Virginia service (Washington-Richmond-Norfolk/Newport News and the Roanoaker) seem to be pretty reliable, but they seem to have meltdowns occasionally, and I "enjoyed" a meltdown in Virginia on the Carolinian once. Perhaps this will change as Virginia takes over the rail lines. I've also had good experiences with the Palmetto.

I don't know how reliable the Midwest corridors are, but I've had good experience with the Hiawatha Service.

The Pacific Surfliner and Capitol Corridor service in California seem to be pretty reliable. I've never been on the San Joaquins or the Cascades, so I can't speak to them.

The real problems with reliability seems to the long-distance trains.
The Downeaster also seems to work pretty well even with Pan Am freight using the same tracks.
Only caveat is CSX took over Pan Am so we will wait and see what effect this may have.
 
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The Downeaster also seems to work pretty well even with Pan Am freight using the same tracks.
Only caveat is CSX took over Pan Am so we will wait and see what effect this may have.
Agreed; it might be my second most frequent route, as I go to Portland to perform about 6 times a year. But in my opinion, the Downeaster doesn't really have the frequency to be compared to the NEC. With the Acela, the NEC has basically hourly frequency, which puts it in a class all on its own.

When they get the Downeaster to 8 round trips daily, then maybe i'll re-think.
 
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I'm honestly surprised such a rural route can support this. Or am I wrong to say it's rural?
Maine, especially in the summer, is a massive tourist destination. Its population more than triples along the coast.
Portland is a small but vibrant city with a crazy good food scene.
If you haven't eaten in Portland, I high suggest that you do.
 

NES28

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I don't know how reliable the Midwest corridors are, but I've had good experience with the Hiawatha Service.
Hiawatha and Chi-STL services are now running pretty reliably but the speed and frequency on both is capped by the Class I owners. The only way that we will get the fast, frequent service that the market will support outside of the NEC is by assembling publicly-owned alignments that can upgraded over time. This would be mostly regional corridors but could include some long distance routes such as CHI-NYC and Chi-Florida with good markets throughout their length.

While bringing these routes into public ownership and upgrading them will be a big lift, the end result will be service that will be profitable to operate. Goodbye Sec. 209 operating subsidies!
 
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Agreed; it might be my second most frequent route, as I go to Portland to perform about 6 times a year. But in my opinion, the Downeaster doesn't really have the frequency to be compared to the NEC. With the Acela, the NEC has basically hourly frequency, which puts it in a class all on its own.
You listed the Piedmont as a corridor and the DE has at least as many frequencies if not more.
Obviously none of the corridors outside of the NEC can be compared with the NEC which is in a class by itself.
 

dirtpro06

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My perspective is that of an occasional rider that enjoys regional and LD trains simply as a fun way to travel.

Adding new routes or connections is the one thing that would nudge me towards riding more often. If I can reasonably get from where I am to where I'm going without having to park my car somewhere or rent a car where I'm going that would take a ton of headache out of the equation. Of course this requires coordination with other public transit options.

Second, the website and app are horrible for trip planning. I would like to be able to compare and contrast routes, see all the info mentioned previously in this thread and view intersecting modes of public transit from the app and website. If Amtrak could work out a common ticketing account where scanning a QR code allows you to walk on any transit system and your card be billed that would be an added bonus as currently I have to use multiple apps each with their own log ins and quirks just to move across a city.

Third, simplify and publish the pricing models. I shouldn't have to be an Amtrak expert to understand when I can get a good price. The app should send notifications when there's a sale or enable you to watch certain ticket prices to allow you to snag it when/if it drops or be notified of upcoming price increases.

Just my 0.02
 

west point

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Adding new routes or connections is the one thing that would nudge me towards riding more often.
I agree but we need to be waiting fore ever for any available equipment to increase service/

Hopefully Amtrak will not retire any equipment as long as it appears that it seems to sell almost every seat available. Unfortunately at the present rate of getting all inventory and enough operating personnel working it appears that summer 2023 will be the first time all equipment can operate.
 

Mailliw

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I saw this in the Non-Rail forum and was intrigued by Napaway's seat design. Could something like this work in next generation long distanc coaches? Amtrak could change car configuration between economy and business class as needed, or just have assigned seating with suites available for an upcharge.
 

zephyr17

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I saw this in the Non-Rail forum and was intrigued by Napaway's seat design. Could something like this work in next generation long distanc coaches? Amtrak could change car configuration between economy and business class as needed, or just have assigned seating with suites available for an upcharge.
They pretty much take up the same amount of space as a roomette and only sleeps one person. Since the amount of space required is directly proportional to capacity, which directly corresponds with price, this is no improvement on a roomette and, in fact, cuts capacity.

An all roomette car would be far more economically efficient than this.

It is not an answer.
 

Ziv

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They pretty much take up the same amount of space as a roomette and only sleeps one person. Since the amount of space required is directly proportional to capacity, which directly corresponds with price, this is no improvement on a roomette and, in fact, cuts capacity.

An all roomette car would be far more economically efficient than this.

It is not an answer.
I think that an Amtrak Roomette is 6.5'x3.5' or 22.75 sq ft and sleeps flat while a Napaway Butterfly Suite is 5'x3.3' or 16.5 sq ft. but it is a lay flat at an angle, which is a bit of an advantage for the Napaway on square footage and a bit of a negative on the lack of sleeping flat. But the Napaways take up less than 75% of the space of a Roomette which is interesting. The problem is that I am not sure how to fit Napaways into a sleeping car in a way that takes advantage of the smaller footprint...
The Roomette can sleep two, though, and the Napaway is just for single travelers if I am reading this right, so I can't see a Napaway room type completely replacing the Roomette, but it would be interesting to see it added to the mix of room types Amtrak offers. Though I really doubt that Amtrak would do so...
 

Ziv

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75% space for 50% capacity. Sounds right to me
Exactly. The Napaway would, I believe, not be as workable as the twin bunks for two people in a Roomette even though it might be nearly as good for those traveling alone. But half or more of the Roomette passengers are singles so if you assign some of the singles to smaller, cheaper Napaways it might be a win-win. But going to the expense of adding an extra room type to the sleeper fleet is a remote possibility.
It comes back to the question, "How could Amtrak add a sleeper type that is cheaper than a Roomette?" that we see so often. Maybe it isn't the sleeper type that is the most likely answer for Amtrak and us LD travelers who want a sleeper but don't like the currently high prices. Maybe Amtrak just needs to add a new sleeper car (with the current mix of room types) to every LD train that comes close to selling out fairly frequently. Add supply, and if demand remains similar, the price will drop eventually. Low bucket Roomettes are a decent deal, there just aren't as many low bucket sleeper deals of late.
Lower prices would eventually lead to more demand so Amtrak would be "forced" to acquire more sleepers and therefore to make the likely profit from their additional investment.
The horror!
LOL!

It comes back to the probability that some of Amtrak's woes could be solved by increasing the number of sleeping cars, but that is happening at a glacial pace.
 

Mailliw

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Nevermind. I was actually thinking of Napaway as a seating option, but for to cut the numbers in half for nighttime mode when trying to estimate capacity. :oops:
 
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Compared to the individual pre-Amtrak railroads, Amtrak's current operation is vastly larger than any of the private passenger systems in place prior to 1971, in terms of both geography and number of trains. Add in the fact that outside of the NEC Amtrak trains run at the pleasure (or displeasure) of host railroads, and it's clear that Amtrak's challenges are greater than those ever faced by the storied systems that we all held in such high esteem.

With exceptional management and sustained deep funding I imagine Amtrak could do significantly better. However, Amtrak is unlikely to ever enjoy either of those blessings.

Could part of Amtrak's half-century long malaise be that it is simply too big to manage?
 

rs9

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Compared to the individual pre-Amtrak railroads, Amtrak's current operation is vastly larger than any of the private passenger systems in place prior to 1971, in terms of both geography and number of trains. Add in the fact that outside of the NEC Amtrak trains run at the pleasure (or displeasure) of host railroads, and it's clear that Amtrak's challenges are greater than those ever faced by the storied systems that we all held in such high esteem.

With exceptional management and sustained deep funding I imagine Amtrak could do significantly better. However, Amtrak is unlikely to ever enjoy either of those blessings.

Could part of Amtrak's half-century long malaise be that it is simply too big to manage?
Maybe it is too big to manage, but I look at it as more of as the modern-day Amtrak never really had a lot of choice as to what it would be. It remains an agglomeration of historical train routes that may, or may not, reflect current population trends and needed/desired movements of people. Various parties defend various parts of the system, and nothing much changes to create a cohesive rail system that most of us here would prefer.

I know I will be upsetting the apple cart by saying this, but the more I learn about Amtrak's operations (admittedly I'm a newer rider), I think one of the problems is the framing of the national network as a veritable national network as opposed to a national network of regional routes. For example, I would guess that 80% or more of people on the Lake Shore Limited are taking the train point-to-point. Someone from Buffalo has traveled to Chicago on the LSL and now is returning home. Yet their travel is impacted by a three hour delay because a smattering of passengers traveling from Los Angeles to New York via Amtrak are arriving on a super-late train. It's one thing for the Eagle or Southwest Chief to endure huge delays, and it is rough on its passengers. But to then compound that and create new poor customer experiences to me seems just foolhardy. And yes, I recognize some people can't fly and this might be the only way for them to get across the country - I just think Amtrak might benefit from rethinking how it goes about doing so. That's my larger point - it doesn't seem like there's ever been a ton of thought put into what the rail system is, it just basically is.
 
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