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Will full service dining ever return to the Western trains?

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crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
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2,816
The NEC is the only Amtrak Service that effectively competes with every other intercity transportation service, on top of being profitable.

I was strongly agreeing with you up to this point: The NEC is not the enemy of Passenger Rail in the US, it is the model.
I haven’t seen any data that shows the NEC is profitable. Have you?
 

jruff001

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
105
As others have said, once they’re gone, they’re gone.
Perhaps you missed it, but I am one of those "others" who said that too.

The long distance trains have been a whipping boy for those who want to divert resources to the never ending black hole that is the Northeast Corridor. I’m not willing to see the United States abandon intercity passenger rail while every other developed country in the world is expanding theirs, including long distance and overnight trains. All to save a few hundred million dollars in a multi-trillion federal budget. Ridiculous.
I think the NEC IS a wise use of taxpayer money from a public policy perspective, along with other corridors in high-population-density areas where passenger rail in the U.S. actually makes sense. I know this goes against the conventional wisdom on this site where LD trains are viewed as much sexier.

And the intercity passenger rail systems of most other developed nations are a lot closer in many ways to the NEC than they are to Amtrak's LD trains. (I am thinking mainly Europe here. The LD trains in Canada and Australia may be even more useless from a public policy perspective than the Amtrak LD network is in the US.)
 

Nick Farr

Lead Service Attendant
AU Supporter
Joined
Dec 25, 2019
Messages
267
Location
Michigan
Is it safer?
Much safer. While the trips are longer, you come into contact with far fewer people. In a sleeper car, you can cut down your risk to almost nothing.

You're not forced to queue with people except at terminus points, and at that it's for a very short while and avoidable.

Air flows more slowly in the trains and is exchanged with external air more often than on aircraft.
 

tgstubbs1

Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Messages
150
CN tried a variation of that across Canada, once upon a time...it wasn't too successful...even though the roads were not as good as now, and trains ran better.

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Too bad they didn't do whatever the Amtrak Auto Train does. Of course Canada is a much less populated country and the VIA is in worse shape than Amtrak overall.
 

jiml

Conductor
Joined
Feb 27, 2019
Messages
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Location
Toronto area
CN tried a variation of that across Canada, once upon a time...it wasn't too successful...even though the roads were not as good as now, and trains ran better.

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It was expensive for the time and one of the largest problems was the fact that passengers and vehicles did not board at the same time from the same location, as they do on Auto Train. It's been awhile so I'll defer to someone with a better memory of the process, but IIRC you'd drop your car at the auto loading depot the day before your travel, then you would have to take a taxi or transit both back home and to your station to catch the train. Same thing at the other end in that your car was not "there" when you disembarked (except at a couple of locations) and you either went out to a rail yard to get it or relied on a car rental company to deliver it. Too many "moving pieces", participants and variables to be successful. Auto Train has it right.
 

jiml

Conductor
Joined
Feb 27, 2019
Messages
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Location
Toronto area
The LD trains in Canada and Australia may be even more useless from a public policy perspective than the Amtrak LD network is in the US.)
It is unfair to compare LD trains in Canada with those in Australia. The latter are expensive "cruises" or "experiences", whereas only the Canadian really falls into that category. The bulk of VIA LD trains serve remote communities without great air or highway links. The Ocean is somewhat of a combination of both. Someone travelling from point-to-point in Northern Manitoba or Quebec is very similar to the same traveler going between remote stops on the Amtrak LD network. VIA is required to maintain some of these services - again not that different from Amtrak if they decided to cut a route such as the Empire Builder, for example.
 

20th Century Rider

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
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Location
Oregon Coast
You need to stop with the nonsense about wise use of taxpayer money. Even with Amtrak’s highly inflated accounting, the long distance trains require a subsidy of $500 million a year. Do you have any idea of how absolutely infinitesimal that is in the scheme of the federal budget? As others have said, once they’re gone, they’re gone. All the investment taxpayers have made in stations, yards, terminals and maintenance facilities: Gone. Skilled workforce: Gone. These trains have been proven to produce economic activity in the towns they serve that vastly outweighs any subsidy. Remember, that $500 million in subsidy is creating billions in economic activity which goes away with the trains. If a train served 10,000 passengers a year at a station in a county with a population of 30,000, that is incredible market penetration. The long distance trains have been a whipping boy for those who want to divert resources to the never ending black hole that is the Northeast Corridor. I’m not willing to see the United States abandon intercity passenger rail while every other developed country in the world is expanding theirs, including long distance and overnight trains. All to save a few hundred million dollars in a multi-trillion federal budget. Ridiculous.
I like what you said! To that I would add:

1] the incredible funding waste for pet projects that serve no one... the most famous being the 'bridge to nowhere' in Alaska. And has anyone checked out military spending???
2] Amtrak is supposed to be a transport service for the American citizens... with their tax dollars going to support it
3] Amtrak is deserving of its share of transportation funding just as for the roads and airports [which aren't expected to support themselves!!!]
4] To support a rail system is to emphasize emissions control with positive effect on the environment
5] Priority and accountability to the American people for money spent and wasted
6] Lagging behind far more efficient rail systems being developed in Asia, Europe, Africa, and India

I'll bet the combined wisdom of forum members could 'enlighten' Congress to the importance of Amtrak!🚄🚈🚆🌈
 

railiner

Conductor
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
8,277
Location
Palm Beach County
Too bad they didn't do whatever the Amtrak Auto Train does. Of course Canada is a much less populated country and the VIA is in worse shape than Amtrak overall.
It was expensive for the time and one of the largest problems was the fact that passengers and vehicles did not board at the same time from the same location, as they do on Auto Train. It's been awhile so I'll defer to someone with a better memory of the process, but IIRC you'd drop your car at the auto loading depot the day before your travel, then you would have to take a taxi or transit both back home and to your station to catch the train. Same thing at the other end in that your car was not "there" when you disembarked (except at a couple of locations) and you either went out to a rail yard to get it or relied on a car rental company to deliver it. Too many "moving pieces", participants and variables to be successful. Auto Train has it right.
To be fair, Canada (and the rest of the US, for that matter), does not have the very unique market that the Auto Train enjoys....
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,816

The NEC had an operating surplus of $541.8 million for FY19
How much of the $646.1 in Infrastructure was spent on the nec?

How much of the $138 in stations and real estate was spent on the nec.

And we know $49 was spent on Acela 21 development.

Highly doubtful that the nec is actually profitable.
 

20th Century Rider

OBS Chief
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Jan 26, 2020
Messages
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Location
Oregon Coast

Nick Farr

Lead Service Attendant
AU Supporter
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Dec 25, 2019
Messages
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Location
Michigan
How much of the $646.1 in Infrastructure was spent on the nec?
First of all, this is a stupid argument to be having. The NEC is not the enemy of the LD network. Let's not buy into the false premise that Amtrak is designed to be a profitable enterprise as it's currently structured, any more than a trucking company would be profitable if it were forced to pay for the construction and upkeep of interstate highways.

Duplicating the success of the NEC along similar corridors (like Brightline, California HSR and Texas HSR) is the best way of assuring there is a LD network that attracts more customers with more frequent service.

But anyway, a little accounting lesson: You have to break down infrastructure spending between routine maintenance (which is expensed immediately) and spending which is designed to last more than one financial period and is depreciated over time.

The $646.1 figure you're citing is capital spend, so it falls out of the operating category and is functionally irrelevant. The NEC is going to be more capital intensive because Amtrak owns most of that rail, where in the rest of the network it borrows rail and pays for access from other railroads. It's an apples and oranges comparison.

If we look at all operating infrastructure spend in FY19, Amtrak spent $83.6M total, on the core NEC services, with another $0.612M on ancillary Amtrak services against a total operating infrastructure spend of $352M.

So, for a service that accounts for $1.377 BILLION, or 41% of Amtrak's total operating revenue (including state service subsidies), you're talking about a 10% total operating infrastructure spend where Amtrak owns its own rails.

If we're talking about capital expenditures, if we go back to the Level 1 accounts, you might be able to craft an argument that the NEC is not profitable without Federal grants. This is a bit misleading, since Amtrak runs the NEC like a true railroad that owns most of its own infrastructure and lends it out to other mostly commuter railroads. So, if you wanted to make the argument the NEC is not profitable, you could say that the entire operation (trains and rails) is operating at a $131M deficit net of Federal Grants.

However--even this is inaccurate. Amtrak's operating revenue (not including Federal Grants) minus operating expenses is still a positive $541M dollars.

In other words, at the operating level, for every dollar of revenue on the NEC, taxpayers put in $0.37 and of that, ALL of it goes into capital (i.e. non-operating) uses.

Let's compare that to the National Network, where Amtrak mostly runs on leased rails.

Just looking at operating expenses, for every dollar of revenue on the National Network (which includes State Support), Federal taxpayers put in $1.07. For every federal dollar, only $0.72 goes into capital uses--the rest is covering operating expenses Amtrak cannot recover through ticket revenue.
 
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bms

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 29, 2018
Messages
174
Location
Cleveland
I also doubt the Northeast Corridor is really profitable. If it is, that's because Amtrak owns the tracks and can schedule trains and add service where it sees fit. It's apples and oranges compared to operating over tracks owned by another railroad, which reluctantly allows Amtrak to operate and doesn't prioritize Amtrak trains when dispatching.

edit: beat me to it!
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,816
It's apples and oranges compared to operating over tracks owned by another railroad, which reluctantly allows Amtrak to operate and doesn't prioritize Amtrak trains when dispatching.
If the apples are grown on a farm that the farmer owns and has to maintain, and the oranges are grown on land that is owned by a giant Fortune 500 company that charges the orange farmers for use than you are correct it’s an apples to oranges comparison.

Either way... the farmers have an expense.

Now what would be VERY interesting is if the same fruit growing company was in charge of both but lumped all of their expenses together and announced the apples were profitable and the oranges were losing money because nobody likes oranges anymore, except for a few experiential fruit customers and a few old people who grew up on oranges.
 

Sauve850

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 9, 2014
Messages
551
Location
West Palm Beach, Florida
Much safer. While the trips are longer, you come into contact with far fewer people. In a sleeper car, you can cut down your risk to almost nothing.

You're not forced to queue with people except at terminus points, and at that it's for a very short while and avoidable.

Air flows more slowly in the trains and is exchanged with external air more often than on aircraft.
Look forward to riding the train again instead of flying. I only ride in sleepers but not sold on your simple statement of "much safer". Im not saying you are wrong. Is there some data you can point us to?

Ive flown cross country twice this summer. June and end of August. Terminals in major cities were near empty as were the planes I flew on. Wasnt within 50 feet of anyone in the terminal waiting to board. CDC likes their hospital grade hepa filters 99.999%. MIT study said ( only what i read ) risk of Covid -19 from nearby passenger 1 in 4300. Amtrak was discussed but would have liked to see the risk numbers. They were not there unfortunately.

Again Id prefer a cross country trip on the train but cant find real data.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,816
I cited audited financials to back up my point. You've completely failed to cite any backup to your point.
I cited numbers in the same financial report. :)

To be fair, there is no way for either of us to prove our point because all the infrastructure is lumped together, so I shouldn’t have said your statement was false, it’s just not proven.

By the way, I’m not arguing against taxpayer money going to rail transportation, I think it should. But saying that the NEC is profitable and that long-distance travel loses money is misleading. You didn't start that, Amtrak leadership did.
 

mlanoue

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 30, 2003
Messages
81
Location
Joliet, Illinois
I've said this before but I'll say it again: If you are physically and financially blessed with the ability and means to own and operate an automobile, the entire North American continent is your oyster. But, if you are not so blessed, then at least at present you are not even a third-class citizen. I know that the majority are not going to leave their comfortable cars and/or fast airplanes. But we need to have quality alternatives.
And, this doesn't seem to be discussed much, but driving isn't a joy for some people. It's an exhausting chore. I hate the fact that there are lots of places I'd like to see, but I'd have to be on alert for 10 hours strapped to a chair at 70+ MPH making sure I don't hit somebody or get hit. I like to look out windows and not have to worry about every single second I'm in motion. I know driving is inevitable sooner or later, but if I can hop a train for 80 percent of the trip, then rent a car, that would be fantastic.


As ehbowen said above--there aren't enough alternatives.
 
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20th Century Rider

OBS Chief
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Jan 26, 2020
Messages
707
Location
Oregon Coast
I've said this before but I'll say it again: If you are physically and financially blessed with the ability and means to own and operate an automobile, the entire North American continent is your oyster. But, if you are not so blessed, then at least at present you are not even a third-class citizen. I know that the majority are not going to leave their comfortable cars and/or fast airplanes. But we need to have quality alternatives.
You make an excellent point! Here in Eugene Oregon, mass transit bus is made available free of cost to seniors and those who can't afford the fare. I don't see why the national government doesn't take care of its citizens as do the local governments. Yes, we need comfortable rail transit for everyone... and it should be made available at reduced rates for seniors and/or those who need assistance getting where they want to go. BTW... Europe with it's amazing rail systems does this. Why can't we?

What you said has my vote, and hopefully the vote of many others!🚆🌈🤠
 

fdaley

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
73
And, this doesn't seem to be discussed much, but driving isn't a joy for some people. It's an exhausting chore. I hate the fact that there are lots of places I'd like to see, but I'd have to be on alert for 10 hours strapped to a chair at 70+ MPH making sure I don't hit somebody or get hit. I like to look out windows and not have to worry about every single second I'm in motion.
This is pretty much exactly how I feel about driving. I don't mind an hour or three, but when we get to trips of six or eight hours, I'm just exhausted afterward. So it has always amazed me that so many people seem to equate driving with personal freedom. If I'm stuck behind the wheel for hours on end, I feel anything but free.
 

Devil's Advocate

Sarcastic Misanthrope
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May 24, 2010
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This is pretty much exactly how I feel about driving. I don't mind an hour or three, but when we get to trips of six or eight hours, I'm just exhausted afterward. So it has always amazed me that so many people seem to equate driving with personal freedom. If I'm stuck behind the wheel for hours on end, I feel anything but free.
I think it's an age thing. When I was young I loved to drive. A friend and I drove 24+ hours without bed rest a few times. But these days I don't enjoy it anymore. Now I prefer to fly or ride the train instead. I don't mind driving once I get where I'm going but those days of endless hours staring at a distant horizon really start to wear on you after a while. When I was young it really did feel like freedom but now it just makes me wonder if I'm going crazy.
 
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fdaley

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
73
Food service must be of a high quality, and be available to all passengers, coach or sleeper.
I completely agree that this needs to be the standard, and I'm OK with achieving it by congressional mandate if necessary. But I'd like to think that Amtrak's management would be smart enough to realize that good food is essential attracting and retaining customers for its long-distance trains.

First, if we can save the trains, better food service will return. That will happen when Amtrak management gets serious about running the railroad.
I am not at all certain that the current management will ever get serious about running the long-distance trains. Do you think that they'll shape up when they get direction from Congress? Or do we need a new management team?
 

jruff001

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
105
I'm leaving my post visible, but I will offer an apology for being overly dramatic. It's a character flaw.
Thanks, but FWIW I thought your response was quite reasonable based on what I wrote (which was a dumb post on my part because I misunderstood you!).
 
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