Why aren't overnight trains able to compete with flying?

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zephyr17

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Difficult? Sure. Impossible? Not at all.

Even more possible with rail friendly people in power (President Biden and our good friend Pete!)
Never said it was impossible. Said it was wildly unlikely, and I stand by that.

Biden and Buttigieg are both nothing if not highly practical politicians. They both support rail. And both are highly supportive of Amtrak's corridor initiatives. I do not see either wasting political capital in a unproven long shot to restore overnight business rail travel.
 

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Even more possible with rail friendly people in power (President Biden and our good friend Pete!)
I suppose anything is possible but you'd need a stronger Senate that could ignore Mushy Manchin and Spineless Sinema.

Toronto is Canada's business capital and has been eclipsing Montreal as a business center for decades.
Oui.
 

sttom

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Overnight business travel by rail basically died on the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the offerings were much more plentiful and flexible, the trains generally faster and the onboard service better. It is not coming back. While some of here managed it, some often, some occasionally, we are not a representative sample. Business travelers generally do not like to be on the road any longer than they have to be.
"Died" really isn't the right term to describe what happened to the easy overnight trips in the US rail network prior to Amtrak. A lot of companies (notably the Southern Pacific and the Chicago & Northwestern) ran their trains into the ground in a bid to get rid of them because they didn't want to try to compete with cars on segments where they could. Some of these routes like the SP's Owl between Oakland and Los Angeles was running with worn-out heavyweight equipment until it was cancelled. Some railways ran a good service till the end, but a lot of them were trying to kill off their passenger trains and some tried to compete and were reasonably successful. Mostly the railroads that started using Slumbercoaches. They tended to do better than others. So Amtrak could compete, but they don't have a plan to do so as was mentioned.

Difficult? Sure. Impossible? Not at all.

Even more possible with rail friendly people in power (President Biden and our good friend Pete!)
I'll believe those two when they deliver. Until then they're all talk and no walk. Northeast Joe is a friend of the NEC, not the rest of us.
 

zephyr17

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Note that I started the time period in the late 1950s, when services were still abundant and service levels had not yet declined.

In the late 1950s the Lark was still full service, and though they had added coaches by then, it was still running the Lark Club with full dining service for dinner and breakfast. The Owl still had grill service.

Patronage in these trains was declining rapidly when even services were still largely intact even on the shortly to become passenger averse SP. Shortly after, it became a vicious cycle where downgrades drove off more passengers, driving even more downgrades, driving off more passengers. There is no denying that SP became actively hostile to passengers and tried to drive them off, following a playbook remarkably similar to Richard Anderson's, but not in the late 50s.

The 20th Century Limited maintained its standards to its last day in 1967.

Business patronage was already declining rapidly before the big service cuts. The downgrades were the coup de grace.
 
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zephyr17

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Newbie question - does Europe share passenger rail with freight? Are they two separate track entities?
They share, but the rail infrastructure structure is passenger oriented with freight very much secondary, the inverse of here. The economics of rail freight favor long haul over short haul, which is one of the reasons why private railroads survived here, with their very long hauls.

Largely only the HSR lines are exclusively passenger. Most conventional lines host at least a little freight.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Newbie question - does Europe share passenger rail with freight? Are they two separate track entities?
I beleive the railroad’s are owned and maintained as infrastructure and trains bid to use space on the track. Similar to how our airports work.
 

jruff001

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"Died" really isn't the right term to describe what happened to the easy overnight trips in the US rail network prior to Amtrak. A lot of companies (notably the Southern Pacific and the Chicago & Northwestern) ran their trains into the ground in a bid to get rid of them because they didn't want to try to compete with cars on segments where they could. Some of these routes like the SP's Owl between Oakland and Los Angeles was running with worn-out heavyweight equipment until it was cancelled. Some railways ran a good service till the end, but a lot of them were trying to kill off their passenger trains and some tried to compete and were reasonably successful. Mostly the railroads that started using Slumbercoaches. They tended to do better than others. So Amtrak could compete, but they don't have a plan to do so as was mentioned.
Well, they only started trying to kill off passenger trains once it became clear to them that passenger trains were a money-losing proposition, but they still had to convince the ICC of that.

Or are you saying the railroads tried to kill off passenger trains even though they could have been financial gold mines?
 

jis

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I beleive the railroad’s are owned and maintained as infrastructure and trains bid to use space on the track. Similar to how our airports work.
That is what EU wants. That is mostly not the reality, though there are many places where it is slowly tending towards the norm.

It is actually quite interesting that in so called “socialist” Europe open access to infrastructure is the stated goal, whereas in the land of so called “free enterprise” access to infrastructure is about as closed as it can be.
 

toddinde

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OK, maybe between New York and Washington, and also between LA and San Francisco if they ever finish CAHSR, and the Midwest corridors if they improve the speeds and reliability. According the Amtrak, the Cascades actually compete with air travel between Portland and Seattle, which is a bit of a mystery to me, although these two cities are so close together, why would anyone want to fly the distance. And maybe a few more city pairs, and also the trains may be competitive in some smaller markets where there isn't good air service and multiple connections are needed. But the point is that in most of these cases, these would be day trains.

As far as overnight services, there may be room to build some market for business travelers, but it's always going to be a niche market. I say this as someone who, indeed, has traveled overnight on Amtrak for business. The vast majority of travelers, if presented with a choice of 4-5 hours of dealing with getting to the airport, airport formalities, a flight of 1-2 hours, and the airport stuff on the other end, will chose that over 9-10 hours in a sleeping car, no matter how nice it is and how good the service they get. And most people for these sort of short trips don't need any sort of food service, they'll either eat before the go to the airport or when they get into town.

Let's face it, the days of the fast streamliners for overnight business trips are over and have been for half a century. While it might be possible to provide such service, it's always going to be a much lower priority for Amtrak and its paymasters (i.e. the states and Congress). I'm satisfied that we can still enjoy at least a simulacrum of old-style long-distance train travel on a few selected routes. But the future of passenger rail is really for shorter distances, going faster and more frequently between large population centers.
I don’t agree, and night trains are thriving in Europe. This is a new day, and people are changing their approach to travel. The pre-Amtrak era of night train business travel is a few generations ago. It’s time to give it a shot and market it. The Caledonian Sleeper model applied to the Northeast would pack a big punch. Trains originating in Norfolk or Richmond, and terminating in Boston and a number of destinations like Albany and Maine. Those are cities that could be conveniently served. Note also that most of those cities require a connection making any flight at minimum, five or six hours. Unless you live in a hub city, any flight usually requires a change. Any change adds hours to the flight. I’ve flown a lot for business, and a flight is more often than not an all day affair. We don’t know what we don’t have, but there are a lot of business travelers that would gladly get off the plane for a train.
 

Exvalley

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I suppose anything is possible but you'd need a stronger Senate that could ignore Mushy Manchin and Spineless Sinema.
If the Democrats ignore Manchin and Sinema on matters with no Republican support absolutely nothing will pass. Like it or not, their votes are needed.
 
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Mailliw

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Hadn't heard about this, at least as non-Amtrak. Heard rumblings about maybe resuming the Montrealer as a overnight service if they ever put that Preclearance facility in Central Station.

Personally, I think a better candidate for business travel would be NYC-Toronto. Toronto is Canada's business capital and has been eclipsing Montreal as a business center for decades.
François Rebello is a former Quebec MNA; Hotel Train proposal have been geared towards personal travel, not business. Presumably this would benefit Quebec much more than NYS so it's a nonstandard unless the former is willing and able to provide a subsidy. It be a very interesting public private partnership between his company, Amtrak, and VIA for sure.
 

neroden

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What a horrible strategy. If the Democrats ignore Manchin and Sinema on matters with no Republican support absolutely nothing will pass. Like it or not, their votes are needed. There is nothing “squishy” or “spineless” about being accountable to your constituents. That’s how a democracy supposed to work.
Sinema is certainly not being accountable to her constituents; polls show that her bizarre pro-filibuster stunts means that she'd lose the primary at this point, and it's infuriating independents too, without gaining her any Republican support.
 

neroden

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Let's be fair here. The airlines provided a service. Consumers are the ones who made the choice - and they chose what they preferred. You can't fault the airlines for giving the consumer what they wanted.



Agreed! I rode a Northeast Regional for the first time in years this past weekend. One of the things that surprised me the most was how long it took to travel between Pelham and Penn Station. I know that there is no easy answer, but that long loop through Astoria at a not-so-fast speed seemed to be incredibly inefficient.
*Sigh* Alternative G, the tunnel between Penn Station and Grand Central. Then the train could come into GCT, then continue to Penn. The slow section would be much shorter, since the GCT approach is pretty fast, and for people headed to the east side of Manhattan, the whole trip would be shorter.

This was stopped by, I kid you not, worries about dealing with the owners of the extremely expensive land full of skyscrapers along the route. No other reason. That's the official reason given for not doing it. Pathetic; the government is supposed to have eminent domain, not be the servant of private landlords.
 

Ferroequinologist

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The Cascades between Seattle and Portland are heavily used for business travel, as are the Surfliners, particularly between LA and San Diego. The Capitol Corridor between Sacramento and the Bay Area is big in business travel.

I can't speak to Michigan Services, or Lincoln Service, but imagine they have their share.

Plus the aforementioned Regionals.

What they all have in common is they are all Corridor services with moderate trip times and multiple frequencies. What they also have in common is they are not overnight trips. Anywhere multi-frequency corridor service is offered between business centers 2-4/5 hours apart business travel takes to the rails.

Overnight business travel by rail basically died on the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the offerings were much more plentiful and flexible, the trains generally faster and the onboard service better. It is not coming back. While some of here managed it, some often, some occasionally, we are not a representative sample. Business travelers generally do not like to be on the road any longer than they have to be.
Are these routes REALLY a common mode of travel for business people the way New York-Philadelphia, Phildelphia-Washington or even New York to Washington is?
 

Ferroequinologist

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Or Northeast Regional. Plenty of business travelers on the Northeast Regionals.
Yes, I agree. I cited ACELA because it is the only service that has the speed and amenities to attract airline business class travellers. NE Regional is a step below and it does indeed attract a lot of others. If you say you're taking the train NY to Washington, New York to Philadelphia or Philadelphia to Washington no-one is going to be surprised. It's just a normal thing to do. Can that be said of any other corridor in the US (other than New York-Boston)?
 

sttom

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Well, they only started trying to kill off passenger trains once it became clear to them that passenger trains were a money-losing proposition, but they still had to convince the ICC of that.

Or are you saying the railroads tried to kill off passenger trains even though they could have been financial gold mines?
Financial gold mines, no. Less money losing and small profit, potentially. Railroads didn't even want to try to compete in the 50s and were happy to cede as much of the market as they could get away with by and large until Amtrak was created. Some railroads figured in the 30s that cars would be a threat over time and still put up a good show after World War 2. The Great Northern was one of them.

This also doesn't take away from the fact that most railroads didn't put money into services that could turn a profit. Which were shorter segments where traffic was already becoming a problem and were too short to fly. They essential only kept the routes they had to. The railroad industry at this point and arguably American companies to this day are not run by the most competent people, but the laziest and greediest people possible.
 

neroden

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Yes, I agree. I cited ACELA because it is the only service that has the speed and amenities to attract airline business class travellers. NE Regional is a step below and it does indeed attract a lot of others. If you say you're taking the train NY to Washington, New York to Philadelphia or Philadelphia to Washington no-one is going to be surprised. It's just a normal thing to do. Can that be said of any other corridor in the US (other than New York-Boston)?
LA-San Diego.
 

zephyr17

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Are these routes REALLY a common mode of travel for business people the way New York-Philadelphia, Phildelphia-Washington or even New York to Washington is?
I can directly speak to the Cascades and the answer is yes. People at my company used it for business travel routinely to Portland and Vancouver, WA. Amtrak Cascades was one of our company's recommended carriers. Flying to Portland is a pain with the whole airport rigmarole for such a short flight and Interstate 5 is often a problem around Lakewood and Joint Base Lewis McChord even outside of Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver/Portland rush hours. A lot more people I knew at work used the Cascades than the Alaska/Horizon puddle jumps to get to Portland.

So yeah. It was highly popular and well patronized with both business and leisure travelers before COVID.
 
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