What should Amtrak change?

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toddinde

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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.
You make some great points. What people fail to understand is that the number of people traveling from point A to B isn’t the number of people that might travel from point A to B. Yes, a great rail system will attract market share from autos and air, but it will also attract people who would not travel at all.
 

toddinde

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Battery-operated locomotives are coming, and expensive electrification might not be needed soon.


I see that you’re trying really hard to make friends online, but another approach might work better.

The NEC has high ridership due to numerous large cities and dense suburbs being near each other, combined with a decent train system.

Even with a decent, but not great, train system, Amtrak gets a huge portion of its ridership there. If the NEC were improved so that it had additional capacity (such as to allow more trains per hour, at a range of ticket price points) and significantly faster speeds, it could attract significantly more ridership.

The increase in revenue and ridership from a $66B upgrade to the NEC dwarfs any increase in ridership that could be achieved by spending the $66B elsewhere.

The Obama HSR grants were scattered around the US and did little to increase Amtrak’s overall ridership and revenues. Compare them to the effects of the Acela program, which helped Amtrak’s overall ridership and revenues significantly. $66B is way more than was spent on the Acela upgrades in the 1990s and would have even more of an effect.
The NEC is a sink hole, and could suck away all the money in the world if it were allowed to. But that’s neither politically realistic or sensible. Amtrak needs to be national or nothing. In point of fact, the market penetration of long distance trains exceeds the market penetration of the NEC in many places. The Sunset Limited serves more population and faster growing areas than the NEC. I live in Arizona, and I’m glad to support the NEC if my friends in the NEC support a daily Sunset and the Sun Corridor between Tucson and Phoenix, and ultimately on to LA. But if the NEC folks want to take our trains away, and take all the funding, I don’t care if another steel wheel ever turns between New York and Washington. Let me be clear; if we lose our trains, I would gladly oppose any funding for rail anywhere else.
 
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To follow up on what Toddindie said above, I believe if the rail mode ever becomes more than a rounding error in the percentages of intercity travel, it has to establish itself in the faster growing areas of the country namely the Southeast and Southwest, as the example of Phoenix - Tucson and a daily Sunset that is routed through Phoenix, to start.
 

jis

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I will make a bold prediction that rail travel will remain a rounding error in the long distance travel space for at least the next thirty years in this country, no matter how badly we wish it were otherwise. OTOH, short to medium corridors will start thriving within that time period. This could even include corridors like Northeast to Chicago if the states on its path can be brought into the mix of strong supporters.
 
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Mailliw

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How many people don't travel with their own comb and toothbrush? Seems like a waste. It's different on an airplane, where most passengers don't have easy access to an overnight bag.

Pad & pen would be nice, and a few toiletry samples, but earplugs and sleep mask would be the most useful. Other items could be available from SCA upon request, with a note in the room stating so, as used to be the case for many hotel chains.
Also instead of the entertainment system just have better wifi and/or an on-board portal with content passengers can stream to their own devices or order room service.
 

TheCrescent

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In point of fact, the market penetration of long distance trains exceeds the market penetration of the NEC in many places.

Where? When I take the Crescent, the station that I use (outside of the NEC) has about 12,000 passengers per year, or about 16 passengers per train per day. That's a minuscule market share.

But I'm impressed that there are some long-distance trains (1x each way per day) exceeds NEC market share (multiple trains per day); I'd like to know which trains those are, and at which stations.
 
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Where? When I take the Crescent, the station that I use (outside of the NEC) has about 12,000 passengers per year, or about 16 passengers per train per day. That's a minuscule market share.

But I'm impressed that there are some long-distance trains (1x each way per day) exceeds NEC market share (multiple trains per day); I'd like to know which trains those are, and at which stations.
Not market share, but passengers boarding and detraining (from RPA)
figures for 2019

Northeast Corridor: 12.3 million
Population within 50 miles of a station: 47.1 million

Long Distance: 4.5 million
Population within 50 miles of a station: 93.5 million served only by long-distance trains

State supported (includes Virginia Northeast Regionals): 15 million
Population within 50 miles of a station: 13.3 million served only by state supported trains

Thruway feeder service:
1.4 million
Population of Thruway only service area withing 50 miles of station: 114.7 million

Not exactly market share, but number of passengers as a percentage of the total population of the service area,

NEC: 26%
Long Distance: 4.8%
State Supported: 112%
Thruway feeder: 1.2%

I'm actually pretty impressed at the ridership of the state-supported services.
 

SarahZ

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1) The ability to combine points and cash instead of booking with either all points or all cash. I can do this through every major hotel brand and airline, so why not Amtrak?

2) Extend the Pere Marquette north from Grand Rapids to Traverse City. I'm not sure where Michigan stands on the plan to start a rail line connecting Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids, but if they did, that would ensure even more tourists would use Amtrak to head up north. They could even do a ski train to encourage ridership during winter.

3) Run the LSL through Michigan instead of northern Indiana and Ohio. They're already served by the CL. This would prevent having to backtrack to Chicago or connect in Toledo in the middle of the night.
 

neroden

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Everything I’ve read, watched, and heard regarding battery operated locomotive suggests that it is a technology that will not get very far with rail travel (if you have sources saying otherwise, please do share).
They work just fine. I'm feeling tired and won't dig up my 20 years worth of sources right now.

If you're running a significant number of trains per day, it's cheaper and more efficient to put up overhead wire, though.

There might be some potential with freight, but if you’ve ever driven a Tesla, you’ll know that driving higher speeds renders that longevity of your battery useless.
Had a Tesla for 8 years, now have a VW ID.4. Repeat: works fine. Spent an excessive amount of time studying this.

For trains traveling faster than 79mph (which should be a goal of all corridor-based passenger rail), exclusively battery operated locomotives will be incredibly inefficient, and won’t work.
Yes, they would be inefficient -- but not as inefficient as diesel, which is much, much less efficient.

Battery-electric trains will work, but are not the best option.

They will be more efficient than diesel. For long runs, they probably will be more expensive upfront than diesel, due to the amount of batteries needed onboard (think three or more battery-electric locomotives for one run of the LSL, for instance).

Battery-electrics will be less efficient than overhead wire. For infrequent runs, they may be cheaper than overhead wire.

But we want *frequent* trains, and for *frequent* trains, overhead wire is better.

Hybrid trains make more sense, which is why they are being discussed for Amfleet replacement Siemens train sets.
Yes -- overhead / battery hybrids allow you to skip the most difficult and expensive bits of overhead electrification.
 

west point

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As far as corridors are the corridor of WASH <> Raleigh / CLT population needs comparison to WASH, NYP, BOS. Right now, this thread has others saying that thru passengers are only about 10% at NYP. So as of now what is the percent of regional passenger that go thru WASH? Of course, that would include the passengers that ride the Silvers and Carolinian that originate in the WASH / CLT corridor. "IF" The numbers now are encouraging then the "S" line will need to be completed.

The ~ 160 miles of the "S" line Richmond Main Street - Raleigh could be traveled in about 2:00. That compares with the Carolinian times of ~ 3:30 saving 1"30. There would not be all the delays possible that occurs on the CSX "A" line. I cannot really know how much additional scheduled times will come down both WASH - Richmond by VA DOT and Raleigh - CLT by NC DOT??.
 

toddinde

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Where? When I take the Crescent, the station that I use (outside of the NEC) has about 12,000 passengers per year, or about 16 passengers per train per day. That's a minuscule market share.

But I'm impressed that there are some long-distance trains (1x each way per day) exceeds NEC market share (multiple trains per day); I'd like to know which trains those are, and at which stations.
There are many. If a train station boards 10,000 people per year in a county with a population of 30,000, that’s 1/3 of the population. 1/3 of the population of Philadelphia isn’t riding Amtrak. Those trains are as important to those communities as the NEC is to the cities it serves. Since the entire long distance network costs Amtrak, prepandemic, $800 million, and that number is highly suspect as severely inflated, and the NEC has a state of good repair cost estimated at $30 billion, it’s quite clear that the NEC is getting a massive taxpayer lift from the rest of the country. Rural communities have few transportation options, and have a right to have their rail service. It frosts me when the NEC supporters argue that they should be the only ones with rail service. Fortunately, our political system is such that rural America has a voice.
 
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They work just fine. I'm feeling tired and won't dig up my 20 years worth of sources right now.

If you're running a significant number of trains per day, it's cheaper and more efficient to put up overhead wire, though.


Had a Tesla for 8 years, now have a VW ID.4. Repeat: works fine. Spent an excessive amount of time studying this.


Yes, they would be inefficient -- but not as inefficient as diesel, which is much, much less efficient.

Battery-electric trains will work, but are not the best option.

They will be more efficient than diesel. For long runs, they probably will be more expensive upfront than diesel, due to the amount of batteries needed onboard (think three or more battery-electric locomotives for one run of the LSL, for instance).

Battery-electrics will be less efficient than overhead wire. For infrequent runs, they may be cheaper than overhead wire.

But we want *frequent* trains, and for *frequent* trains, overhead wire is better.


Yes -- overhead / battery hybrids allow you to skip the most difficult and expensive bits of overhead electrification.

Ok, I know you’re knowledgeable, and know you probably do indeed have good sources, but you can’t spend an entire post picking apart my own without providing some of this “excessive,” and “20 years worth” of material. Otherwise it really just looks like proof by vehement assertion.
 

akbrian

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1) Reliable on time performance. If you can't count on it usually being reliable, most folks will choose and alternative that is.

2) Some arrangement for checked luggage to all destinations. The elderly folks that can put up with poor on time performance often have difficulty hauling luggage around.

3) Concierge service when the trip goes sideways for whatever reason.

4) First class lounge with bar service on LD trains.

5) Some kind of provision somewhere for smokers on LD trains. I don't smoke. Not a car or anything like that, more like the size of handicap bathroom with a window and direct ventilation outside. Don't even worry about heating or cooling it. Think along the lines of vestibule half door situation. Why? Who wants to put up with increasingly grumpy smokers that have had their last few smoke stops canceled. Or being late while the whole train waits for the county sheriff to show up a crossing in the middle of nowhere to arrest some clown that thought they could get away with smoking in a restroom.
 

Cal

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1) Reliable on time performance. If you can't count on it usually being reliable, most folks will choose and alternative that is.

2) Some arrangement for checked luggage to all destinations. The elderly folks that can put up with poor on time performance often have difficulty hauling luggage around.

3) Concierge service when the trip goes sideways for whatever reason.

4) First class lounge with bar service on LD trains.

5) Some kind of provision somewhere for smokers on LD trains. I don't smoke. Not a car or anything like that, more like the size of handicap bathroom with a window and direct ventilation outside. Don't even worry about heating or cooling it. Think along the lines of vestibule half door situation. Why? Who wants to put up with increasingly grumpy smokers that have had their last few smoke stops canceled. Or being late while the whole train waits for the county sheriff to show up a crossing in the middle of nowhere to arrest some clown that thought they could get away with smoking in a restroom.
I disagree with your last two. I don't think sleepers need their own lounge, just better service and amenities and they can use the SSL. And on my many Amtrak trips, smokers have been a problem maybe two, three times, and I'm not sure how that'd go about.
 

akbrian

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I disagree with your last two. I don't think sleepers need their own lounge, just better service and amenities and they can use the SSL. And on my many Amtrak trips, smokers have been a problem maybe two, three times, and I'm not sure how that'd go about.
I don't think the smoking area would fly in this day and age politically, but I don't think it would be that hard to do solely from a cost and engineering standpoint. But then I can remember when the acceptable smoking area was a vestibule platform with the door upper open.

Regarding the lounge, I really don't like riding in a roomette during the day. You can see more scenery in coach. However, I do like to sleep flat and have it dark enough to be able see the nighttime scenery in snow country without looking through the reflections of interior lighting on the window. I think a first class lounge sells the upgraded trip. It's nice to have a place to socialize.
 

neroden

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Ok, I know you’re knowledgeable, and know you probably do indeed have good sources, but you can’t spend an entire post picking apart my own without providing some of this “excessive,” and “20 years worth” of material. Otherwise it really just looks like proof by vehement assertion.

Sorry. I've been doing this long enough I usually can't even be bothered to get out the data for people on this one unless they're actual policymakers or are talking to policymakers; for them I will bother to dig out the studies. I'm sorry; it's a matter of impatience at this point. All these questions seemed reasonable to me 20 years ago, and 10 years ago, and now it just seems like people haven't bothered to Google.

Scotland's putting in battery-electrics, LIRR's putting in battery-electrics, Japan already has battery-electrics, Austria has battery-overhead wire hybrids.

Some deployments:


I will link a brief report from an advocacy group in the UK, which quotes a Scottish government report I haven't been able to track down yet:

The Scottish document compares energy efficiencies – fraction of grid energy “not wasted”. Energy is as physically
real as money. We must waste as little as possible. The percentage efficiencies are:
• electric trains (overhead wires) 83%
• battery trains 71%
• hydrogen trains 30%

If you pay close attention to the existing battery-electric deployments listed in Wikipedia, you'll notice that the effective ranges are increasing for each subsequent deployment. This has to do with batteries with higher volumetric and gravimetric energy density, and cheaper batteries. First it became commercially reasonable for 10-mile lines; now for 100-mile lines; it's going to keep going.

There just aren't any theoretical limits to battery-electric trains. The burden of proof is on those who are claiming that there's something wrong with them, not on me.

Range is determined by how many cars full of batteries you have, which is not limited. There are no issues with speed (I don't even know where you got that from).

Pricing, I can get citations on, and the pricing stuff is complicated as prices are moving all the time -- battery-electrics get cheaper yearly as battery prices drop, and used to be much too expensive to consider. My description of the cost situation should be considered a snapshot, as the price situation is very fast-moving. But I don't think that's what you were asserting. I get really annoyed by claims of non-feasibility, which are totally unfounded. Battery-electrics have always been completely feasible; due to massive drops in price, they are now also cost-effective much of the time.

There are a few critical technical developments from 10 years ago which you may not be aware of. Since Tesla started doing it, every manfuacturer now realizes that batteries must be thermally controlled -- kept in their happy temperature window. This is being done in the Wabtec and Progress Rail battery-electric locomotives, as well as in all new electric automobiles. This eliminates most of the unreliability and short-lifespan stories about batteries which you will have heard regarding batteries without thermal management.
 

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TheCrescent

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There are many. If a train station boards 10,000 people per year in a county with a population of 30,000, that’s 1/3 of the population. 1/3 of the population of Philadelphia isn’t riding Amtrak. Those trains are as important to those communities as the NEC is to the cities it serves. Since the entire long distance network costs Amtrak, prepandemic, $800 million, and that number is highly suspect as severely inflated, and the NEC has a state of good repair cost estimated at $30 billion, it’s quite clear that the NEC is getting a massive taxpayer lift from the rest of the country. Rural communities have few transportation options, and have a right to have their rail service. It frosts me when the NEC supporters argue that they should be the only ones with rail service. Fortunately, our political system is such that rural America has a voice.

I'm not seeing this--and the statement that "1/3 of the population of Philadelphia isn't riding Amtrak" isn't riding Amtrak is correct--a much larger portion of the population is. Some examples (ridership numbers are the latest pre-pandemic numbers that I could find).

Philadelphia 30th Street Station: 4,471,992 riders, 1,603,797 population of Philadelphia. Ridership: 2.788x the population.

Malta, Montana: 3,165 riders, 1,860 population. Ridership: 1.70x the population.

NYP: 10,397,729 riders, 8,804,190 population. Ridership: 1.181x the population.

Las Vegas, New Mexico: 4,648 riders, 13,753 population. Ridership: 0.338x the population.
 

rs9

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I'm not seeing this--and the statement that "1/3 of the population of Philadelphia isn't riding Amtrak" isn't riding Amtrak is correct--a much larger portion of the population is. Some examples (ridership numbers are the latest pre-pandemic numbers that I could find).

Philadelphia 30th Street Station: 4,471,992 riders, 1,603,797 population of Philadelphia. Ridership: 2.788x the population.

Malta, Montana: 3,165 riders, 1,860 population. Ridership: 1.70x the population.

NYP: 10,397,729 riders, 8,804,190 population. Ridership: 1.181x the population.

Las Vegas, New Mexico: 4,648 riders, 13,753 population. Ridership: 0.338x the population.

Are those unique riders? It might be that a smaller percentage of Philadelphians are taking many rides for business purposes, whereas Amtrak usage from smaller stations might be less frequent but more spread across the population.
 
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Amtrak needs to change some people's perception of their service. On another message board, Amtrak is getting trashed because of the Federal money that they expect to receive while there is a reduction of service in the Silver Service route.

The basic complaint is why can they predict this service reduction so far into 2022 and prevent reservations for both Silver Meteor and Silver Star.

The "sins of past management" are impacting this train advocate's thinking, I believe. And, knowing that Amtrak expects to get a considerable infusion of Federal dollars while not providing the service that this train advocate (and others as well?) expect may be creating an unanticipated consequence of receiving these funds.
 

Ryan

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The basic complaint is why can they predict this service reduction so far into 2022 and prevent reservations for both Silver Meteor and Silver Star.

Booking for the upcoming trains that are being cancelled opened 11 months ago.

11 months ago, vaccinations were just starting to roll out and supplies lagged far, far behind demand. If believes that they could have predicted the number of people that would have predicted this level of vaccine refusal, the delta and omicron surges, and the utter poop show that was the scramble for tests at Christmastime, I've got a bridge to sell them
 

TheCrescent

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Are those unique riders? It might be that a smaller percentage of Philadelphians are taking many rides for business purposes, whereas Amtrak usage from smaller stations might be less frequent but more spread across the population.

I don't know who keeps track of information such as that, other than Amtrak Guest Rewards internally. Regardless of how you measure it, I'm not seeing that smaller stations necessarily have a higher percentage of overall trips, or a higher percentage of the population (measured by rides vs. the total population), taking Amtrak than NEC stations do.

Let's look at one station in a small town far from an airport: Clemson, SC.

The station is in a very prominent location right next to downtown, and on the main commercial strip. Trains are very visible; almost everyone in town sees them and hears them.

The station is a little over a mile from Clemson University (about 25,000 students) and its football stadium (81,500 seats).

Amtrak COULD have a big business taking students home on vacation and bringing fans to the stadium on Saturdays in the fall, since those are large numbers of people needing transportation, the station is so close and football game day traffic is really bad. Even a shuttle train starting in Spartanburg, running to Clemson, and on to Seneca, and back, could do a big business on football Saturdays.

But Clemson has 1,489 passengers a year.

People drive to football games and either drive or fly home on vacation; the university runs shuttles to the airport (about 40 miles away).

It's a big business that Amtrak makes little effort to get.
 
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I feel like the SSL already serves this purpose. Creating one specifically for sleeping car passengers just means you have to either cut down space in the existing-lounges for all or get a whole new car.

A newly designed round ended superliner SSL type observation car for sleeping class passengers would suit me just fine. (with a bar, of course.)
 

flitcraft

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There are so many competing demands for new Amtrak equipment that prioritizing a first class lounge, with or without a bar, for sleeping car passengers ought to be a low priority. What sells sleepers is inherent in the name--you get a private place to sleep lying down. (For what it's worth, I think it's lie-flat seating that sells business class on long haul flights, too.) Access to the dining cars with traditional (or in some ways better) food is also a sales plus for Amtrak in selling sleeper space.

Don't get me wrong--I'd love a Via Park Car equivalent for sleeper passengers, but given the other serious needs for new equipment, I'm willing to share the SSL (and drink from my private bar in my room. 😉)
 
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