What Should Amtrak Change?

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1) Bring new sleeper accommodations online and regularly refurbish them. The Viewliner IIs are a good start, but they are a drop in the bucket for what is actually needed.

2) As new sleepers come online, price the sleeper product to appeal more toward the masses. A roomette for one night should be in the $200 - $250 range.

3) Get pre-clearance set up in Montreal and Toronto (along with bringing back Toronto - Detroit - Chicago service)

Didn't make the list:
1) Market cruise ship packages that include seamless transportation from major Northeastern cities (and Chicago?) and the cruise ship ports. Time the train's arrival so you can go right from the train to your room on the ship. (Trains running late would be a major hurdle for this to work.) This could even work with cruise ship ports in the northeast and mid-Atlantic. A shuttle would meet you at the train station and bring you right to the port.

2) Have some lie-flat seats on long distance trains. I know that this has been debated ad nauseum as far as space utilization is concerned, but this would be a great option for people who are not traveling twelve hours or more, but who want to be able to get a couple of hours of decent sleep.

3) Have a last-minute option to pay extra to guarantee an empty seat next to you if the train is not sold out.

4) Have good seat maps and allow all passengers to reserve their specific seat ahead of time.

5) Have streaming entertainment on all trains.

6) Develop an app that plays audio guides along the route. The app would be tied into GPS and would connect its content with where the train was at the moment.

7) A new overnight route between Montreal and Boston-New York - DC. Same for Toronto.

8) A new overnight route: Chicago - Indianapolis - Louisville - Nashville - Atlanta - Florida.
 
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jebr

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Here are three things that I would change with Amtrak:

1. Use every available avenue available to get trains running ~95% on time (within 30 minutes,) and the vast majority of delayed trains to be under 1 hour delayed (so 99% or so are arriving within an hour of the scheduled timetable.) That means getting equipment in strong operating condition, working with the railroads and the STB (and any other relevant authorities) to enforce Amtrak's priority status, etc. If OTP is not improved, trains (particularly LD ones) will be permanently relegated to "only useful if you don't have a schedule to keep" status - and for something that gets a decent amount of taxpayer funding that limitation isn't acceptable. I should be able to take the Empire Builder from MSP to CHI and know that, barring some major catastrophe, I'll be able get into Chicago with enough time to make that 7 PM evening reception/dinner meeting/Cubs game. Right now that's a serious gamble.

2. Get Wi-Fi on every train, and make it as stable as possible given technology limitations. Satellite may not be practical, but there should be, at minimum, as robust of connectivity as can be achieved with network connections from all the major cellular networks, along with any relevant regional carriers (which may be available through roaming agreements with one of the major networks.)

3. Have consistent, enforced service standards across the company. Staff can go above and beyond those requirements, but the minimum must be upheld. Paired with this would be revamping policies so that someone from the diner can cover the cafe car over their meal breaks, so that the cafe car doesn't need to close during the day.
 
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Now that many have posted, here are my three points that I think would make 66 billion feel well spent:

1. Performance:
-Get trains to be as on time as able (there can and should be different standards for NEC vs. LD trains). As others have said, this is hard to do, but it still needs to happen, and everything possible needs to be done to try and make this happen.
-Performance also includes locos and coaches to run in working order at all times. Bathrooms should not fail, kitchens should not malfunction, and locomotives should work.
-Tracks and infrastructure. This could easily become a black hole for cash, but there are some low hanging fruits that could make big improvements that won't cost too much.

2. Service:
-As others have said, standardization of service is very important. I don't have anything to add.
-Better food/drink -- get some semblance of traditional dining back in the east.
-Ensure the overhaul/new bedding on every train get completed; right now, it feels like a giant press release with no actual product...

3. Equipment:
-Amtrak needs to get more equipment, especially sleepers. As others have said, there needs to be more sleeper cars, so that prices can come down, and it can be a viable option of travel (somewhere just under first class airfare would be a great slot). Trains will always be slower option, but an affordable night's sleep while traveling can definitely compete!
-Superliners do have a few years left in them, but I would hope that some of this 66 billion could go towards plans for securing a replacement.

In terms of massive infrastructure projects, I would hope that Amtrak doesn't spend too much on those, as other funding could help with that. Especially things like the Gateway Project, and Baltimore tunnels.

7) A new overnight route between Montreal and Boston-New York - DC. Same for Toronto.

8) A new overnight route: Chicago - Indianapolis - Louisville - Nashville - Atlanta - Florida.
I would LOVE for there to be a LSL-like train that goes from Montreal to Boston/NYC/DC. It makes so much sense, and it could be similar to Nightjets in Europe.
Night trains could be just as popular here, especially connecting cities which have good public trasit. The Night Owl should not be the only night train on the NEC.
 

sttom

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I always see people complain about Amtrak's website, but I don't see how that's a big problem. Compared to Southwest or Alaska, it's pretty standard minus the inability to do the flexible travel day thing like most airlines do.

I do agree the app is a bit broken. Beyond it breaking more than it should, or not knowing it gave me a Guest Rewards number, I can't make a hotel reservation. Southwest's app can do that. Which would be a source of revenue for them.

Cafe food has always been a....I don't have a nice way to put how it is. It's been inconsistent and bounced between ok and bad 7-11 over the years. Having the cafe car menu be better us an easy gripe. One thing I do remember from the California menu from when I was in high school was them having a burrito on the menu that was good. If I remember right, it was made by someone and just microwaved in the train. I remember it being my favorite thing to eat on the train. And that got axed at some point in the last 12 years. Having more options like that would at least make me happy.
 
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Amtrak needs to do the fundamentals well. They have to master the blocking and tackling before they get this influx of cash and dare to greatly expand the system. And by that I mean, employee training and customer service at all levels. The best employees can make the worst of situations bearable for passengers and pays for itself in return business.
 
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Since T.L. Cooper wanted three major items - here are mine:

1. New equipment across the entire system.
2. Elimination of the 750 mile rule. Oh, what the heck - that’s not ambitious enough. Let’s just nationalize all rail infrastructure.
3. Complete top-down / bottom-up customer service culture change.

Major? Yes. Realistic? What fun is that?
 
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RE the comment about lowering fares especially sleepers. Seems that Amtrak has had so many periods in its existence where it has tried (and failed) to achieve break even, that it has developed this obsession with maximizing income, which makes sense for a private company but is less justifiable for a public service. But for Amtrak to be perceived as a public service i.e. providing an alternative transportation mode that reduces congestion and improves air quality it has to be more of a factor in other parts of the country besides the NEC where it does play a significant role. This becomes something of a chicken and egg thing - people won't take Amtrak seriously outside the Northeast until it has a bigger presence but it can't build a bigger presence without more financial support mostly from the states which requires them to be convinced that it is a serious transportation alternative.
 
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RE the comment about lowering fares especially sleepers. Seems that Amtrak has had so many periods in its existence where it has tried (and failed) to achieve break even, that it has developed this obsession with maximizing income, which makes sense for a private company but is less justifiable for a public service. But for Amtrak to be perceived as a public service i.e. providing an alternative transportation mode that reduces congestion and improves air quality it has to be more of a factor in other parts of the country besides the NEC where it does play a significant role. This becomes something of a chicken and egg thing - people won't take Amtrak seriously outside the Northeast until it has a bigger presence but it can't build a bigger presence without more financial support mostly from the states which requires them to be convinced that it is a serious transportation alternative.
This is true, but there one could also look at the NEC, where the fares are ridiculously high (I mean, over $60 Baltimore - Philadelphia, when I used to ride for $4.50 in the 1970s? Even accounting for inflation, the fares are way more expensive than they used to be.) Despite that, Amtrak trains are still a major competitive transportation mode for the region. You have a tough argument to make for reducing fares if they can fill the trains at the ridiculously high fares they're charging. This is especially true for sleeper rooms, which provide one almost total privacy. People seem to be buying them at the high fares, even with the substandard on-board service. Well, at least a tough business argument. From the point of view of using Amtrak as a tool to get people out of their cars, one needs lower fares, but only if the capacity is increased so that the revenue is preserved. This is true for all of Amtrak's services, including the NEC.
 

west point

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quote
From the point of view of using Amtrak as a tool to get people out of their cars, one needs lower fares, but only if the capacity is increased so that the revenue is preserved. This is true for all of Amtrak's services, including the NEC.
Quote

This is the big chicken and egg situation of the NEC. Also to a lesser extent for Regional and LD routes. If fares on the NEC were near those per mile for LD routes Amtrak does not have capacity especially the North River tunnel bores. Most regionals during higher travel times would need 13 - 15 cars especially going into NYP. Can you imagine the passenger congestion of passengers trying to exit and board trains on NYP's narrow platforms.?

12 revenue coaches' capacity of 70 passengers each = 840 persons for NYP's O & Ds.
 

Trollopian

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Flying is faster and cheaper than train travel, so most people opt for that. In reality, the only people who travel by train outside of the NEC are those who have lots of money to spend, lots of time to kill, or live somewhere without access to an airport.
I'm not wholly convinced that's true. My usual route is Washington to Pittsburgh on the Capitol Limited. The conductors separate us by final destination...but when I walk through the "Chicago car" on my way to and from the cafe, I'm struck by how full it is. Many families with children, many people of color, some people who look too big to fit comfortably in an airplane seat. The fares in coach are, or pre-pandemic were, very competitive with flying.

(Clarification: What I dub the "Chicago car" also holds many passengers bound for Cleveland, Detroit via Toledo, and other stops west of Pittsburgh.)

We also overlook that a small but significant number of people are afraid of flying. About 13 percent of Americans have never flown in an airplane. Granted, that might not be solely because of fear, but still.

Except on segments of the NEC the train will never outcompete flying for the time-conscious. But it doesn't really have to. It just has to improve from today's dismal standards.
 
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quote
From the point of view of using Amtrak as a tool to get people out of their cars, one needs lower fares, but only if the capacity is increased so that the revenue is preserved. This is true for all of Amtrak's services, including the NEC.
Quote

This is the big chicken and egg situation of the NEC. Also to a lesser extent for Regional and LD routes. If fares on the NEC were near those per mile for LD routes Amtrak does not have capacity especially the North River tunnel bores. Most regionals during higher travel times would need 13 - 15 cars especially going into NYP. Can you imagine the passenger congestion of passengers trying to exit and board trains on NYP's narrow platforms.?

12 revenue coaches' capacity of 70 passengers each = 840 persons for NYP's O & Ds.
This might be true, but perhaps the per-mile NEC fares might need to be higher than Long-distance fares, but not as much higher as they are now.

My circa 1970 Philadelphia - Baltimore ticket that cost $4.50 then would cost $32 now if only adjusted for inflation. The cheapest ticket offered now is $44, and prices of $70, $80, and $90+ are more common. And that's just for the Northeast Regional. There were some Acela fares that were $170 - $180. This is for a 90 mile, 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minute trip. (OK, admittedly the product quality is batter. Back in the good old days of Penn Central, the trip took 1 hour 40 minutes, and sometimes longer when the train decided to make unscheduled stops, and not for stations, along the way.)

It's interesting to note that Philadelphia - Harrisburg fares on the Keystones and Pennsylvanian are $35 for all trains, for a distance of about the same as Philadelphia to Baltimore. I recall that Philadelphia - Harrisburg fares were in the $4-$5 range back in the early 1970s, so it seems that those fares are just tracking overall inflation. This must have something to do with the state support for the service.

So maybe Amtrak "plays favorites" with the NEC, but it seems they're also price-gouging NEC riders as well. I think they could lower fares and increase capacity to some degree, as current consists are only 7 cars (they were 8 before Covid), which means they could easily add 2-3 more coaches per Northeast Regional without totally overtaxing Penn Station in New York. After all, the Penn Station platforms handle NJT double-deck commuter trains that disgorge 1,000+ passengers all the time.
 

neroden

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I'm sure this has been discussed already, but from a business standpoint, wouldn't it make sense to significantly lower fares across the board to attract more frequent ridership?
I analyze businesses professionally as an investor.

The answer: Certainly not.

First of all, the trains are already full. So what's the point of getting increased riders if the trains are sold out? So step one is to get more cars so you can run more trains.

Secondly, there are far too many people who take one train ride and then say "never again" because the train was six hours late. Amtrak needs to get the trains running on time. Every dollar they spend on lawyers to fight corrupt freight railroad execs in the courts or at the STB, every dollar they spend on buying track out from under the freight railroad execs, will reap far more ridership than any price changes ever could.

Thirdly, there are similar problems with customers who encounter awful food or the extremely uninformative and badly developed website, the missing timetables, wheelchair-inaccessible stations, etc.

Once *these problems are solved*, then sure, cut fares. Before that, it makes no business sense.

There are much better ways to gain ridership than cutting fares at this point, by bringing service up to minimum quality standards. *And* since the trains are practically full, there's a limit to how much ridership they can gain until they buy more cars.

So instead Amtrak should take the money it can get from fares and use it to fix service problems and buy more cars. Once service quality is back to "reasonable" and there's extra train capacity, *then* we can talk about cutting fares.

I mean, I'm not against lower fares, but until Amtrak is showered with money and manpower to solve its more fundamental problems, it just seems like the wrong allocation of resources.
 
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John from RI

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1) Bring new sleeper accommodations online and regularly refurbish them. The Viewliner IIs are a good start, but they are a drop in the bucket for what is actually needed.

2) As new sleepers come online, price the sleeper product to appeal more toward the masses. A roomette for one night should be in the $200 - $250 range.

3) Get pre-clearance set up in Montreal and Toronto (along with bringing back Toronto - Detroit - Chicago service)

Didn't make the list:
1) Market cruise ship packages that include seamless transportation from major Northeastern cities (and Chicago?) and the cruise ship ports. Time the train's arrival so you can go right from the train to your room on the ship. (Trains running late would be a major hurdle for this to work.) This could even work with cruise ship ports in the northeast and mid-Atlantic. A shuttle would meet you at the train station and bring you right to the port.

2) Have some lie-flat seats on long distance trains. I know that this has been debated ad nauseum as far as space utilization is concerned, but this would be a great option for people who are not traveling twelve hours or more, but who want to be able to get a couple of hours of decent sleep.

3) Have a last-minute option to pay extra to guarantee an empty seat next to you if the train is not sold out.

4) Have good seat maps and allow all passengers to reserve their specific seat ahead of time.

5) Have streaming entertainment on all trains.

6) Develop an app that plays audio guides along the route. The app would be tied into GPS and would connect its content with where the train was at the moment.

7) A new overnight route between Montreal and Boston-New York - DC. Same for Toronto.

8) A new overnight route: Chicago - Indianapolis - Louisville - Nashville - Atlanta - Florida.
I like your 8th suggestion, a route between Chicago and Florida. And I would add at an appropriate stop a few cars to carry automobiles so the train would be both a passenger and an auto train.
 

Siegmund

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I'd be fine with just two major things (both already mentioned.)

Run the trains on time, and adequately equip them.

It seems that the last time Amtrak had adequate equipment was in 1971, and has been chronically short of everything, especially sleeping cars, continuously since 1972. They ran several overnight trains without sleepers in the mid-70s, and they owned about 300 Heritage sleepers then. Since then there's been a recurring theme that none of their five long-distance equipment orders was big enough to replace all the equipment it was intended to replace, let alone allow any expansion.

On the SD front, I want to wring the neck of whomever thought it was a clever idea to serve a busy market like the NEC with six-car trainsets and then whine about how they can't increase capacity because the tunnels are carrying the maximum number of trains.
 
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On the SD front, I want to wring the neck of whomever thought it was a clever idea to serve a busy market like the NEC with six-car trainsets and then whine about how they can't increase capacity because the tunnels are carrying the maximum number of trains.
NE regionals tend to have anywhere from 7 - 9 cars in the consist (except occasionally with the overnight train). That said, platform length at South Station really makes lengthening train sets complicated.
 
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Deni

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Except on segments of the NEC the train will never outcompete flying for the time-conscious. But it doesn't really have to. It just has to improve from today's dismal standards.
High-speed rail could compete with air in many places around the country, if we would just build it already. NYC-Chicago could be a five hour train ride based on trains that do similar distances in Europe and Asia. I think tons of people who up to now don't think of the train would take that over flying.
 
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High-speed rail could compete with air in many places around the country, if we would just build it already. NYC-Chicago could be a five hour train ride based on trains that do similar distances in Europe and Asia. I think tons of people who up to now don't think of the train would take that over flying.
This is a commonly stated point that I really think is oversimplified. You are not wrong. But...

First of all, building a NYC/BOS-CHI HSR line would have gargantuan costs, would require political and public will which does not exist, and could take close to 30 years at best to complete.

There is not any comparable train route in Europe that covers a distance of 700-900 miles in close to 5 hours. In fact, the average HSR route in Europe resembles Acela speeds and distances more than not (with only a handful of exceptions).

The Beijing-Shanghai route certainly fits this description, but it is mostly unique (though more routes like this are popping up around China). It took massive government led capital investment, and a Herculean effort to get their network to the level where trains could run that distance in that amount of time.

The Tokaido Shinkansen more resembles this, but certainly not in distance. Traveling 320 miles in close to 2 hours and 20 minutes, its not nearly the level that youre describing.

Lets first get a few city pairs that make sense, having more instances of proof of concept. The Acela SHOULD act as a proof of concept for many aspects of train travel, but the fact that its run by Amtrak makes people willfully ignore just how convenient and popular it is, most seemingly out of spite.
 
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CCC1007

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This is a commonly stated point that I really think is oversimplified. You are not wrong. But...
First of all, building a NYC/BOS-CHI HSR line would have gargantuan costs, would require political and public will which does not exist, and could take close to 30 years at best to complete.

There is not any comparable train route in Europe that covers a distance of 700-900 miles in close to 5 hours. In fact, the average HSR route in Europe resembles Acela speeds more than anything else (with only a handful of exceptions).

The Beijing-Shanghai route certainly fits this description, but it is mostly unique (though more routes like this are popping up around China).

The Tokaido Shinkansen more resembles this, but certainly not in distance. Traveling 320 miles in close to 2 hours and 20 minutes, its not nearly the level that youre describing.

Lets first get a few city pairs that make sense, having more instances of proof of concept. The Acela SHOULD act as a proof of concept for many aspects of train travel, but the fact that its run by Amtrak makes people willfully ignore just how convenient and popular it is, most seemingly out of spite.
Well, then lets take the FRA's suggestion and push for Chicago to MSP and St Louis, since those both were identified as being the best not currently undergoing development.
 

jpakala

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Train is much faster and cheaper in non-NEC cases such as this: We wanted to go from Midwest city A to B, but by air it was $500 or $1000 for a changeable ticket and it took much longer because changing planes in Chicago (twice as far as city B) was required. Train was under $50 and took much less time.
 

west point

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I like your 8th suggestion, a route between Chicago and Florida. And I would add at an appropriate stop a few cars to carry automobiles so the train would be both a passenger and an auto train.

I see you are new to this forum. The history of the Louisville - Sanford auto train had it attached to the then Amtrak Floridian. Unfortunately time keeping was so bad that arrivals at either end were often many hours late. Amtrak's present Auto train does not have to keep stopping at many stations. Therefore it often makes up any delays that occur. When everything goes well has arrived as much as 1-1/2 hours early. That cannot happen with a Midwest <> Sanford auto train attached to a scheduled train. Only once in a while on schedule but mostly late or very late.
 
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