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Will full service dining ever return to the Western trains?

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Nick Farr

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Exactly. For example... Acela should be paying 100% for everything that Amtrak is paying to operate over 125 mph trains.
Again, Acela is not the enemy. It's what we want everywhere. Acela is a consistent net contributor to capital expenses, to the tune of $89.4M dollars, even from October 2019 through to now--which covers the entire pandemic crisis.

Why do you have it out for the NEC? If you really believe in LD rail, I would think you'd want to duplicate the NEC's success in other corridors throughout the US (Chicago - Detroit, San Francisco - Los Angeles, Indianapolis/Cincinatti/Columbus/Cleveland/Pittsburgh)
 

crescent-zephyr

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??? I love Acela. Ive ridden it many times.

I’m not against Acela or the NEC but Acela operating costs should be taken out of Acela revenue. (And regional trains should have infrustructure take out of revenue just like host railroad fees for LD trains.)

There’s only 1 service, Acela Express, that requires any tracks be kept up to FRA Class 8 standards. Shouldn’t Acela Revenue be paying for that? Why shouldn’t it?

OR

Amtrak shouldn’t count the host railroad fees as operating costs for LD trains.
 
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crescent-zephyr

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Based on the financials, LD revenue would half to roughly double to match operating expenses. Do you really think it is as simple as Amtrak just doubling average ticket prices (and other revenue sources) tomorrow? If so, why hasn't Amtrak done that already?
Not at all... The Auto Train lost 6.7 million. That means every time an Auto Train departs it loses $9,178. The Auto train has a capacity of 600 passengers... let's say it always runs at 50% capacity. That's $30 extra per passenger to make the Auto Train break even.... hardly double the price (and only $15 extra per passenger if the train were to always run at 100% capacity.).

Obviously the Auto Train is the only train where the math is that easy.
 

Nick Farr

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I’m not against Acela or the NEC but Acela operating costs should be taken out of Acela revenue.
They are. Acela ticket revenue in FY19 and FY20 contributed way more than their relative share to capital and infrastructure costs on the NEC, along with all the other legacy pension costs.

Bear in mind that Amtrak isn't even the only user of the NEC. MARC, SEPTA and NJ Transit are among other railroads hosted by Amtrak.

Also, costs of trackage for all Amtrak services are *miniscule* when taking into account all of the total operating costs of each line.

Further, the Federal Government more than subsidized the costs of Acela development from the ballast on up--as it should have. That's not a knock on Acela, that's something they should repeat throughout the US.

If we want LD trains to run on time, perhaps we should shift some of that billion dollar operational spend and put it into sidings, double tracks and other line enhancements that would allow for Amtrak to bypass freight per law.
 

Willbridge

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Yeah, that's what I was thinking while trying to remember the last major round of cuts. If the pattern follows that era it might not all be bad news.
Each round of cuts has made the map more skeletal and placed more fixed costs on the remaining trains, setting the stage for the next round of cuts. As Canada has demonstrated. The only cuts I can think of that seemed justified by low ridership were some in the Carter round that were hampered by poor infrastructure.
 

20th Century Rider

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Each round of cuts has made the map more skeletal and placed more fixed costs on the remaining trains, setting the stage for the next round of cuts. As Canada has demonstrated. The only cuts I can think of that seemed justified by low ridership were some in the Carter round that were hampered by poor infrastructure.
Continuing minimization begets depreciation and continuing depreciation begets minimization... All this may be halted with the fresh outlook of a new administration who writes the ways and means of change with a desperately needed cash infusion... that will bring maximization with increased utilization. Hmmm... that sounds good to me! 🤠
 

me_little_me

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But at the same time, you cannot argue these facts:

* The NEC has higher passenger numbers than any other mode of transit (including air travel) across its largest city pairs. The national network comes in last in all but a few city pairs between MSAs where another service is offered.

* In FY19, the NEC was subsidized to the tune of $0.37 for every dollar of ticket revenue. The national network (where Amtrak doesn't own rail) was subsidized to the tune of $1.07 for every dollar of ticket revenue--this isn't even counting state-level subsidies.
And the cause of these "facts"?

Amtrak decides how much of a station's/maintenance/personnel/etc costs to allocate to each train. There have been lots of complaints that this allocation discriminates against the LD by over-allocating costs to those trains. Amtrak apparently is not very open on how allocation is done.

The more trains that run (to a certain point) along the route, the lower the cost per train. So a single Crescent in each direction has to collectively cover the costs of Birmingham station e.g. but two trains in each direction would not cost twice as much as those costs contain a lot of fixed costs. Similarly, 3X services/week prior to Covid were wasteful loss of potential income.

More cars on a train may result in a large increase in revenue for a small increase in cost but Amtrak doesn't have the capital (nor can it float bonds/sell stock) to buy more cars. Every time you see a LD train sold out for sleeper rooms, you see money left on the table. Airlines can't enlarge their planes but they can roll out spare bigger ones and add flights during high season because they have the ability to show investors and bondholders and banks that the extra capital money can buy planes that can be amortized in fewer years than they cost to purchase and maintain. Amtrak doesn't seem to have the ability to convince congress that this is the case nor the ability to lease additional cars as airlines can lease planes.

I'm sure the Amtrak delays caused by the class I railroads result in a significant cost due to lost sales, extra pay for employees, etc. but congress has never fixed the issue in spite of the fact that the railroads were required by the original agreement to give Amtrak priority as part of shedding their passenger services.

Becoming more profitable (or reducing loss) does not necessarily require cutting services nor increasing fares. It also can be done by increasing revenue by increasing services. Amtrak has not pursued that alternative partially as a result of their internal management and partially as a result of congressional action (or lack thereof).

It was mentioned in this thread about how close Amtrak is to breaking even on the Auto Train and how an increase of $30/passenger would eliminate the loss. But what would the result of adding an additional car be when the train is likely to be close to full in increasing revenue vs increasing prices per person?

Yes, figures don't lie but liars can manipulate figures.
 

Nick Farr

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And the cause of these "facts"?

Amtrak decides how much of a station's/maintenance/personnel/etc costs to allocate to each train. There have been lots of complaints that this allocation discriminates against the LD by over-allocating costs to those trains. Amtrak apparently is not very open on how allocation is done.
All the stations on the NEC fall under NEC accounts.

For the National Network, there's previously been some relatively immaterially improper capital cost allocation going on between State Supported services and Long Distance trains, but the last few audited financial reports have mostly cleared those out.

You could argue there's some improper allocation with pension and legacy coat obligations that technically predate Amtrak, but that's not going to change either of the facts cited above or move the operating subsidy numbers.

Every time you see a LD train sold out for sleeper rooms, you see money left on the table.
Incorrect. While there are occasions where adding a sleeper car may be warranted, the cost of changing the consist, adding an SCA, possibly adding an engine or recalculating the fuel load AND the costs of lugging an empty car back to Chicago just plunge the train into further losses.

Amtrak needs to improve its revenue management practices and customer relations in order to maximize profits on the LD lines before they go switching around consists.

I'm sure the Amtrak delays caused by the class I railroads result in a significant cost due to lost sales, extra pay for employees, etc. but congress has never fixed the issue in spite of the fact that the railroads were required by the original agreement to give Amtrak priority as part of shedding their passenger services.
Correct, except for the fact that it's the job of the Department of Justice to sanction the railroads according to the law.

Becoming more profitable (or reducing loss) does not necessarily require cutting services nor increasing fares. It also can be done by increasing revenue by increasing services.
Becoming profitable should not be a mandate of Amtrak.

However, the load factors on the LD trains from their inception to now shows that you cannot gain more revenue from running the same old products the same old way.

Increasing the LD network services is kind of like saying let's spend all our money on a trip to Mars when we could invest in building a base on the moon and reliable transportation to space.

The LD Network cannot thrive or add new service unless it becomes a luxury land cruise product (ala the Auto Train), or becomes a viable link between other railroad corridors.

The LD Network exists because of Congressional Nostalgia and Federal funding.
 

crescent-zephyr

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The LD Network cannot thrive or add new service unless it becomes a luxury land cruise product (ala the Auto Train), or becomes a viable link between other railroad corridors.
1- the auto train is not the definition of a land cruise or luxury. It is a niche and unique service.

2- LD trains do not need to be a link between corridors to thrive, although that can help. IMHO, the LD trains need more frequency on existing routes where it makes sense. The best example of this is the East Coast with Silver Star, Silver Meteor, and Silver Palm / Palmetto all serving the same major cities daily at different times but each route serving unique towns (the Silver Palm used to go through Ocala... I regret not riding that route before it was cut back to its' present route.)
 

jruff001

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Every time you see a LD train sold out for sleeper rooms, you see money left on the table.
Yet there are a lot of posts here screaming about sleeping cars being too expensive and how their high fares prove that evil Amtrak management wants to drive away customers to make LD trains fail.
 

railiner

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I find it rather interesting on how the differential in price between 'coach' and 'first class' has evolved thru the years...

If you compare both railroad and airline fares today, with those say, back in the '60's....the difference is dramatic. Back in the '60's stepping up from coach to first class was not very much, although it probably seemed to be, at the time. Today, stepping up is a huge difference in almost every case...
 

Nick Farr

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1- the auto train is not the definition of a land cruise or luxury. It is a niche and unique service.
If an express "take your car to Disneyworld" train that still has Full-Service dining isn't a land cruise product, what exactly is?
 

20th Century Rider

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I find it rather interesting on how the differential in price between 'coach' and 'first class' has evolved thru the years...

If you compare both railroad and airline fares today, with those say, back in the '60's....the difference is dramatic. Back in the '60's stepping up from coach to first class was not very much, although it probably seemed to be, at the time. Today, stepping up is a huge difference in almost every case...
The pricing differential between an Amtrak coach seat and roomette is widening, while the service level for that roomette has been sharply diminishing. But I guess Amtrak can do that because passengers step up with a hand full of money to pay for such; accepting that lowered level of service. It's the old 'supply and demand' rule --- the quality of what is supplied can deteriorate 'successfully' if the demand remains in tact.

So 'what's in this for me?' Absolutely a negative nothing.
 

Nick Farr

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But I guess Amtrak can do that because passengers step up with a hand full of money to pay for such; accepting that lowered level of service.
The most inelastic demand for sleeper trains (the one-and-dones and those who travel by sleeper train regardless) aren't really "opting in" to a lower level of service. The bucket listers probably have no idea and the captive users simply don't care because they don't have any other options.

The other reason is--we're blaming Amtrak for what is fundamentally a congressional mandate.

Unless the Senate takes up the bill demanding Amtrak restore proper food service, we're really just yelling into a void.
 

crescent-zephyr

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If an express "take your car to Disneyworld" train that still has Full-Service dining isn't a land cruise product, what exactly is?
People don’t take their car on a land cruise or a regular cruise. (American orient express is the only land cruise rail option we’ve had in this country, as well as their rebranded Grande Luxe.)

The fact that they are taking their car actually proves they are using it as part of their transit. The point of the auto train is the auto train does the driving for you.
 

me_little_me

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All the stations on the NEC fall under NEC accounts.

For the National Network, there's previously been some relatively immaterially improper capital cost allocation going on between State Supported services and Long Distance trains, but the last few audited financial reports have mostly cleared those out.
It is my understanding LD trains are allocated costs from the NEC for their use of it. That would include station, electric engine cost, personnel, etc. Do you have other information that none of the costs or only a fair share of them are allocated to LD for use of these?

Incorrect. While there are occasions where adding a sleeper car may be warranted, the cost of changing the consist, adding an SCA, possibly adding an engine or recalculating the fuel load AND the costs of lugging an empty car back to Chicago just plunge the train into further losses.
No, correct. Sure there are costs associated with adding a car but the income should be much higher than the added cost. And, that's a silly argument about adding an engine as even Amtrak would know that, if an additional engine, diner or lounge car were required because the existing one(s) were at their limit, it would likely not be a candidate for an added car. I generalized so I'll agree with you that it is not true in ALL cases.

Amtrak needs to improve its revenue management practices and customer relations in order to maximize profits on the LD lines before they go switching around consists.
No! They need to "improve its revenue management practices and customer relations in order to maximize profits..." but there is a limit to what that will accomplish. They need to GROW into breaking even or reduce loss, not cut to do so or they might as well cut to zero which would reduce all losses to zero but then there would be no Amtrak. They need to start thinking of growth ideas. Anderson thought of more intercity trains but he wanted to do it at the expense of LD. Amtrak lost an opportunity IMHO to implement the concept of growth by not having Orlando-Tampa-Miami coach service or just Tampa-Miami on days the Star doesn't run until full daily service is restored on the Star. They even have the engines and cars available from the tar trains that are not being used.

Becoming profitable should not be a mandate of Amtrak.
I never said that. I said "Becoming more profitable (or reducing loss) [Bold added in this post] does not necessarily require cutting services nor increasing fares. It also can be done by increasing revenue by increasing services."
But it doesn't matter which of those you are talking about. They must increase revenue by increasing services whether that means more trains, more cities on a route, rerouting, offering additional onboard services to bring in more income, etc. They tried that with BC on the LD routes but BC on Amtrak is already inconsistent and it apparently did not work well enough to keep. I have to say they at least TRIED SOMETHING that didn't involve cutting.

However, the load factors on the LD trains from their inception to now shows that you cannot gain more revenue from running the same old products the same old way.
True except they are not trying to get more revenue. All they try is cutting service. (Covid issues apart).

Increasing the LD network services is kind of like saying let's spend all our money on a trip to Mars when we could invest in building a base on the moon and reliable transportation to space.

The LD Network cannot thrive or add new service unless it becomes a luxury land cruise product (ala the Auto Train), or becomes a viable link between other railroad corridors.

The LD Network exists because of Congressional Nostalgia and Federal funding.
Pfftt! "all our money"? No, some of our money. Just like NASA does.
No, it does not require land cruise product. But adding limited "Land Cruise", as you so nicely put it, is offering an add-on product to existing trains that MIGHT increase revenue to REDUCE LOSSES.
It is not nostalgia. It is a service, just like local transit. It deserves federal funding like other interstate services.
 

Devil's Advocate

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If an express "take your car to Disneyworld" train that still has Full-Service dining isn't a land cruise product, what exactly is?
Off the top of my head I'd say Rocky Mountaineer's GoldLeaf Service and The Canadian's Prestige Class. Although those services might not be long for this world. Most of the traditional land cruise services died off with the 2008 US mortgage fraud recession, including the long lived Orient Express.
 

Qapla

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I have not ridden the AT to see "first hand" ... but, I would venture to say that the majority of those using the AT are NOT going to Disney. It is not really that practical to take your car all the way to Florida on a train for a few days stay at an over-priced hotel. Flying in quicker and easier. Many who want a car while at the theme parks simply rent one when they get there.

Most I have seem who have their own car with them drove it there themselves - they did not take the AT

Have you taken the AT? Have you been to Disney? Have you surveyed those who have used the AT to verify that the AT is only being used as a "land cruise for Disney"?

Keep in mind, some of us actually live in Florida ... not Michigan
 

crescent-zephyr

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They're taking their car to/from a vacation destination where having a car helps enable the vacation.
I have no clue what point you are trying to make. Yes many people that travel are traveling to go on a vacation?

If I’m taking a plane to go to Disney word / land... that doesn’t make that plane an “air cruise” - it’s still a way to get to the destination.

The only time I’ve taken an overnight train purely for the train was when I rode Pullman Rail Journeys. (Pullman to Chicago and then mega bus home... what a contrast!).

Even when I took VIA rail it was just a more roundabout way of getting to the west coast.
 
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