Why do long distance Amtrak trains travel at very low speeds?

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For example, it takes the Coast Starlight 12-14 hours to go from the SF Bay Area to Los Angeles. By contrast, driving that distance only takes 7 hours. Why?
Simply because the railway is usually a much older routing, that is limited by grades and curvature. Trains take longer to accelerate and decelerate than cars do. Some long distance trains are faster than cars...the SW Chief runs at 90mph for several long stretches...
 
Simply because the railway is usually a much older routing, that is limited by grades and curvature. Trains take longer to accelerate and decelerate than cars do. Some long distance trains are faster than cars...the SW Chief runs at 90mph for several long stretches...
What is the average speed of the Coast Starlight? Is it around 45 mph because I don't think they can run at 79 mph all the way?
 
I've driven to Chicago from NJ in about 12 hours. If we took Amtrak, a combination of NEC, Cardinal or CL it would take as long as 16 hours (train time plus with a couple of hours waiting time between trains) The train is slower due to speed limits allowed on the freight lines and for the station stops. We take it because it is comfortable, convenient, the scenery can be nice and we can rest and/or sleep while we travel.
 
For the reasons mentioned above and because they largely run on track owned by freight railroads who don't need to go that fast and therefore don't build and maintain their track to support faster speeds even where grades and curves (or the lack of) would allow it. Higher grade tracks are exponentially more expensive. In the case of the Coast Starlight it's also routing - it goes up the coast LA to Oakland (actually only most of that, but). On the other hand, as slow and round about as the Empire Builder is, I'm not driving straight through from Portland to Chicago in under 48 hours even if that's theoretically possible.
 
Long-distance trains moving at slow speeds (or even 0 mph) is indeed influenced by grade, track quality, freight interference and the like. But if you're talking about calculated trip speed between two points, that's also significantly impacted by padded schedules. That's especially true prior to the end point or other key stations. For example for the 40 mile segement between Kansas City and Lawrence you don't need an extra 37 minutes going east versus west. But eastbound padding into KC allows more local Kansas City-Chicago customers an on-time trip when the inbound has some routine minor sluggish delays. They also help at stations with connections and for on-time performance stats in general. But such padding cut into the overall calculated speed on long-distrance trains.
 
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The Coast Starlight from SF to LA hugs the coast for a significant part of the route on old single track. Not a lot of places to arrange meets for passing trains and the maintenance isn't what it used to be when the Daylight/Starlight ran in the SP days. Plus you have a number of stops and hills to climb once you move away from the coast.

On the other hand, once you get past Livermore it's a straight shot on I-5 and to a lesser extent I-580 at 70mph into LA. True, you might hit traffic in built-up areas but you can still make it faster than the CS route or even the San Joaquins.

This is also why the CAHSR project is a thing (if it ever goes end-to-end).
 
Interestingly, if you were to drive a similar route to the LSL, which takes around 20 hours, it was be about 15-1/2 hours. Driving to Boston is similar, but the train takes even longer.
 
Interestingly, if you were to drive a similar route to the LSL, which takes around 20 hours, it was be about 15-1/2 hours. Driving to Boston is similar, but the train takes even longer.
The better question for the original poster might be: "Why aren't passenger trains as fast as they once were?"

The all-time fastest Chicago to New York City train was the mid-'50's Broadway Limited ...
It did it in 15.5 hours, on a considerably longer route than you could drive it on today's I-80...

http://www.streamlinerschedules.com/concourse/track5/broadway195607.html
 
The former SP Coast Line past Atascadero and the Cuesta Garde could be upgraded to 125 mph running if grade crossings were closed and 110 mph if not. San Jose, however, would probably be the end of fast running and there are several other stretches in Southern California that could support it.
 
I'll also add that amtrak puts a lot of slack in some routes and the coast starlight is one of them in segments, From San Luis Obispo to Salinas there is no CTC and so switches are all hand thrown, as a result when UP was actually running freight instead of storing intermodal cars the passenger train would normally end up in the hole with the entire process taking 20-30 minutes

It is 11:15 northbound and 12 hours southbound OKJ-LAX, just by cutting slack Amtrak should be able to do it closer to 10 hours. another hour to hour and half could be saved by actually putting enough superelevation on curves (5.5in max) and finally realigment of bad segements and 90-110mph top speed could maybe shave another hour. so ~8 hours from Oakland to LA is totally posible with work

Will amtrak do any of that no, its going to be on the state to do those upgrades for corridor service and amtrak will benfit
 
The better question for the original poster might be: "Why aren't passenger trains as fast as they once were?"

The all-time fastest Chicago to New York City train was the mid-'50's Broadway Limited ...
It did it in 15.5 hours, on a considerably longer route than you could drive it on today's I-80...

http://www.streamlinerschedules.com/concourse/track5/broadway195607.html
Back in those days railroads were competing with each other for business which doesn't happen today. Amtrak has no rail competition between Chicago and NYC so there's no imperative to even advocate for faster service, much less deliver it. Also, in the words of my late father who was an operations manager for the Pennsylvania Railroad during the mid-50's, "Heaven help you if you delayed the Broadway!" That fear also no longer exists.
 
Back in those days railroads were competing with each other for business which doesn't happen today. Amtrak has no rail competition between Chicago and NYC so there's no imperative to even advocate for faster service, much less deliver it. Also, in the words of my late father who was an operations manager for the Pennsylvania Railroad during the mid-50's, "Heaven help you if you delayed the Broadway!" That fear also no longer exists.
I might add that there was no freight interference with passenger rail traffic
AND
Then the aero-plane cut that 15+ hours to less than half and even half it again ***
*** but it wasn't city center to city center
 
Back in those days railroads were competing with each other for business which doesn't happen today. Amtrak has no rail competition between Chicago and NYC so there's no imperative to even advocate for faster service, much less deliver it. Also, in the words of my late father who was an operations manager for the Pennsylvania Railroad during the mid-50's, "Heaven help you if you delayed the Broadway!" That fear also no longer exists.
Absolutely!

I would imagine that on some roads, the first item the CEO would check on the "morning report", was the performance of their flagship train...

;)
 
Absolutely!

I would imagine that on some roads, the first item the CEO would check on the "morning report", was the performance of their flagship train...

;)
Reportedly when the City of Portland was launched, the UP president had a performance report on his desk each morning from the chief dispatcher.

That was gone by 1959 when this operating schedule was issued. The note on superior rights of Train 105, the Streamliner, however, showed that it was still important. Train 12, the Idahoan, aka the Pocatello Rocket, was given 11 minutes extra at Clarnie to get out of the way of 105. For a comparison, Train 106 was given no extra time for the meet with a freight at Meno. Time Freight 126 also was given special rights.
1959 UP Oregon 001.jpg
I'm not sure if it was at Meno, but I remember after lunch in the dome diner my father taking me up to the dome coach and telling me to "watch close." Green block. Without a pause we hurtled past a freight that was waiting "in the hole" for us.
 
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Simply because the railway is usually a much older routing, that is limited by grades and curvature. Trains take longer to accelerate and decelerate than cars do. Some long distance trains are faster than cars...the SW Chief runs at 90mph for several long stretches...
All true and also because trains make many more stops between than a car normally would.
 
All true and also because trains make many more stops between than a car normally would.
Oh, I don't know. When I take a road trip, I need to stop every hour or so to use the restroom. Then there are traffic lights and such if you have to go off the freeway. On the other hand, I can drive curvy mountain highways, even the Pennsylvania Turnpike, at 60-70 mph, no problem.
 
Why? Simple, padding the schedule. The 1984 STL-CHI Texas Eagle schedule is similar to today's TE schedule and today's TE is a shorter consist and goes faster than in 1984 (well........did the F40s have speed recorders?)
 
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