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Without additional funding, how can Amtrak improve the LD trains?

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crescent-zephyr

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@Seaboard92 I was in the Cedar Rapids on the #261 trip to Duluth that had NO diesel because Amtrak couldn't find a spare diesel that actually worked. The attendant ( I forget his name but I'm sure you know him.. ) was telling me they were glad it was cool and cloudy weather since the Cedar Rapids and Super Dome generators could potentially overheat and shut down in extra hot weather. Of course... with no diesel I spent much of my time in the baggage car listening to the locomotive... foamers gonna foam :p.
 

Nick Farr

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Prior to the Amtrak conversion of Heritage cars to Head End Power, besides the full dome lounges, the entire former Santa Fe 'Hi-Level' fleet were equipped with individual Enginator's, IIRC...it did not seem to be a hazard back then...
Just because it never killed anyone doesn't mean it wasn't hazardous. HEP is more efficient and safer than individual gensets on cars.
 

Seaboard92

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@Seaboard92 I was in the Cedar Rapids on the #261 trip to Duluth that had NO diesel because Amtrak couldn't find a spare diesel that actually worked. The attendant ( I forget his name but I'm sure you know him.. ) was telling me they were glad it was cool and cloudy weather since the Cedar Rapids and Super Dome generators could potentially overheat and shut down in extra hot weather. Of course... with no diesel I spent much of my time in the baggage car listening to the locomotive... foamers gonna foam :p.
It's funny the Super Dome was one of the generators we were using that day. I believe we had it powering it and one other car. I probably do know him especially if he was one who traveled with the car with charters. That group is amazing.
 

railiner

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Just because it never killed anyone doesn't mean it wasn't hazardous. HEP is more efficient and safer than individual gensets on cars.
480 volts of HEP flowing thru a train can be a hazard as well...
Perhaps we should go back to the era of batteries on each car, charged by axle generator's, and producing 74 volts?:rolleyes:
 

tgstubbs1

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I rode on one of those "rail buses" one a two hour trip to Nanimo BC by VIA. I found the drone of the diesel a bit tedious, not like the Cadillac quiet ride of the Superliners.
 

railiner

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I rode on one of those "rail buses" one a two hour trip to Nanimo BC by VIA. I found the drone of the diesel a bit tedious, not like the Cadillac quiet ride of the Superliners.
That was a "Dayliner" in CP parlance...(Railiner is the CN version of the Budd Rail Diesel Car)...;)🙂
 

neroden

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Before we begin, please don't beat up on Flex Dining here, there's a nice 20 page thread for that already.

What I'm interested in discussing here are specific, actionable ideas that don't require a major increase in funding.

How feasible they are is debatable. However, since we're in a do-more-with-less era where anything might go, I figured I'd throw some of these things out there:
  • Have the Department of Justice go after host railroads that do not prioritize passenger traffic. Assess the fines and enforce the law.
  • Computerize all the OBS systems. The conductors have handheld devices for scanning tickets, why not issue similar tech to the OBS staff that works with a localized mesh network on the train? From the call button on up.
  • Develop a better service culture with OBS. Hold OBS accountable using the same customer service metrics used everywhere else in the industry. Transition out bad OBS, reward good OBS.
  • Make the LSA actual management responsible for supervising all aspects of OBS staff
  • Cross-train OBS staff and change operating procedures to maximize the use of OBS hours.
  • Work with local food providers to offer different dining options at crew change stops.
  • Work with Private Car owners to develop "land cruise" options and develop special packages with better food and other items (to demonstrate demand for these services)
What are your ideas?
A number of these things actually require capital expenditures. The point-of-sale systems for the OBS are an example, and yes, it is important. Fixing Amtrak's antiquated reservations system is another one on the list of "really valuable one-time expenditures".

Fixing Amtrak's notorious accounting system would be more capital expenditures well spent.

Hiring a full-time supervisor to dog the irresponsible people in Chicago maintenance who keep sending cars out broken while claiming they're "repaired", and building up files to sack them, would be valuable. It would become clear that more real maintenance workers were needed, though. It's an improvement to honestly admit that the cars were still broken rather than falsifying paperwork, but it requires more work and spending to make sure they actually get fixed.

One which doesn't require any spending and would save money is firing Stephen Gardner immediately and appointing someone who has a clue about railroad economics to replace him.

One which requires very little spending is getting a higher grade of pre-packaged meals, with *less salt*. Preferably a different local provider at each "origination station".

One which requires almost NO spending is publishing the ingredients lists for these on the website.
 
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neroden

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Tell that to the folks who ride the train between, say, Toledo and Chicago, or Trinidad and Albuquerque, or Minot and Havre, etc. Look at the RPA data tables on LD train ridership. Most trips are a few to a couple of hundred miles or less. The percentage of Amtrak passengers actually traveling all the way across the country and spending 3 nights on the train is minuscule relative to total ridership. The only reason for a taxpayer-funded transportation company to provide premium service is that it boosts revenue, but the cost of providing the premium service shouldn't be so high that the net revenue boost disappears. We really don't know how much it costs to provide traditional sleeping car and dining car service, and its possible that it's not as ruinously expensive as the anti-LD people say it is. However, if Amtrak can cut the cost of providing the premium service and not lose that many riders, they'll rake in even more net revenue, thus possibly reducing the need for a taxpayer subsidy for the coach service, which is where most of the ridership is.

I suspect that most overnight passengers would be perfectly satisfied with a flex-dining-like product if the meals were better quality and the menu had a some more variety. (And it was also available to coach passengers) Yeah, it would still suck (well, not be the finest dining experience) for three nights and 4 days on the rails, but why should the company cater to a small, demanding subset of its total customer base? Anyway, much as I enjoy the dining car experience, I don't ride the train primarily to eat, I save that for when I arrive at my destination.
Last time I looked into it, the Lake Shore Limited was the most profitable dining car of all of them, getting the most actual paid-for meals from coach passengers -- because people from New York and Chicago *expect* to pay high prices in restaurants. This was before the first round of idiotic stupid quality cuts, many years ago, which has sabotaged diner revenues on the LSL. If the only choices were "some trains get full diners, some don't", the numbers say that the LSL gets the full diner first. Of course Amtrak did the opposite.

If I were operating Amtrak in a businesslike fashion, I'd have a wide selection of much-higher-quality pre-made "picnic" meals from local caterers operating at the train's origin station, with a selection of price points, pre-ordered and delivered to Amtrak's commissary with individual customers' names and train numbers on them. You'd have a different selection eastbound and westbound on each train, with local food, and onboard cooking not required. And crucially, *quality* would be an option people could pay for. A lot of people would just order a nice picnic breakfast from Toledo to Chicago -- it would come onboard at New York City (or Boston) and be delivered to the customer the next morning in Indiana -- and that would work out fine. Right now you can't get a decent breakfast on Amtrak unless you bring it yourself.
 

Qapla

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With today's technology there is probably a way to make a much quieter, safer and affordable alternate "emergency/standby" power source for a private car - but trying to get an old rule changed would probably be more difficult than retrofitting the railcars with such a power source
 

MARC Rider

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The other point you're missing is that there's literally no reason for a dedicated public passenger car to have a fuel tank at all. If they're in service, they should have HEP.
Actually, there is a reason -- to maintain power in the cars when the HEP malfunctions.

Back in my MARC riding days, we had a notorious incident where an engine broke down and hundreds of passengers were stuck in very hot railcars with no A/C on a blazing hot Maryland summer day. It was so bad, I believe the state secretary of Transportation, and maybe the president of AMTRAK, too, wrote a groveling apology to the passengers, which was placed on our seats the next morning.

Also, and this is more germane to LD service, food service cars should have a backup to ensure uninterrupted power to keep perishable foods cold.

So there are actually two reasons for a dedicated public passenger car to have a backup auxiliary power unit, even if they usually use HEP. Diesel powered APUs are widely used on heavy-duty long-haul trucks, so worries about gasoline explosions (though not fires) are irrelevant. However, they can probably be designed to minimize the risk. In the end, battery technology is moving along such that I suspect that backup batteries (maybe even with solar charging) will soon become more practical and would really reduce fire risk.
 

Nick Farr

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Back in my MARC riding days, we had a notorious incident where an engine broke down and hundreds of passengers were stuck in very hot railcars with no A/C on a blazing hot Maryland summer day.
The hell train is why MARC ended up running diesel trains on electrified lines, right?

It's actually way better to just put the backup generator equipment or batteries on the locomotive in the first place. The energy waste of lugging around an extra genset on each passenger car isn't worth the...once in a decade loss of A/C?

A/C can turn into a life safety issue, but cooling food is no reason to introduce extra risk.
 

jiml

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That was a "Dayliner" in CP parlance...(Railiner is the CN version of the Budd Rail Diesel Car)...;)🙂
They used to be a staple of daily operation. I quite liked them. Before the recent upheaval VIA was having several re-engined and refurbished for various purposes. Two are in service on the White River route - not sure what happened to the rest of the project. These are some of the "new" ones:
maxresdefault.jpg
 

tgstubbs1

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They used to be a staple of daily operation. I quite liked them. Before the recent upheaval VIA was having several re-engined and refurbished for various purposes. Two are in service on the White River route - not sure what happened to the rest of the project. These are some of the "new" ones:
Could Amtrak use these to fill in days where they think a full train is uneconomical?
 

Willbridge

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Could Amtrak use these to fill in days where they think a full train is uneconomical?
For [insert choice of fallacious reasons] some reason Amtrak has a 49-year history of loathing RDC's or their potential successors. In the years when RDC's were still fairly available, Amtrak also could put on trains over any distance more than 75 miles without requiring state support. When I was working for Oregon DOT I began to suspect that there were too many routes that would be feasible with RDC's and that they would have faced pressure to expand. Unavailability of rolling stock has always been a way to avoid expansion.

The best use of mu equipment in relation to long-distance service is as feeders that generate interline revenue beyond their shorter distance routes. My dad rode the Zephyrette once between Oakland and Salt Lake City, and for most customers that was more than enough RDC mileage.
 
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Seaboard92

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For [insert choice of fallacious reasons] some reason Amtrak has a 49-year history of loathing RDC's or their potential successors. In the years when RDC's were still fairly available, Amtrak also could put on trains over any distance more than 75 miles without requiring state support. When I was working for Oregon DOT I began to suspect that there were too many routes that would be feasible with RDC's and that they would have faced pressure to expand. Unavailability of rolling stock has always been a way to avoid expansion.

The best use of mu equipment in relation to long-distance service is as feeders that generate interline revenue beyond their shorter distance routes. My dad rode the Zephyrette once between Oakland and Salt Lake City, and for most customers that was more than enough RDC mileage.
I think that might be the longest RDC run of them all at 928 miles one way. If you can think of a longer one I would be curious.
 

jiml

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Unavailability of rolling stock has always been a way to avoid expansion.
That basically sums up the problem in one line. Although those RDC's look great and are mechanically sound, they're still 50-70 years old and no one builds a similar product currently. Amtrak also doesn't look at refurbishing old equipment the same way as other railroads, other than when they're forced into it (inception, initial HEP conversion, Amfleet interiors). My VIA LD trip last fall was on a 70 year-old Park car not long out of the shop with a one year-old interior. VIA has a long history of refurbishing and most passengers don't seem to mind 50-70 year-old rolling stock as long as it's reliable and clean. Even though they still hope to acquire the new Siemens trainsets for the corridor, they just spent a fortune pre-Covid on new LRC interiors.
 

MARC Rider

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The hell train is why MARC ended up running diesel trains on electrified lines, right?
No, I believe it's because Amtrak is charging MARC too much for electric power. They only electrified line is the Penn Line, they need to have diesels for the other 2 lines, so it's diesels all the way. And I think that the "hell train" was pulled by a diesel. After the incident, all the MARC Penn Line trains leaving Washington on hot summer afternoons were pulled by 2 locomotives for redundancy.
 

Nick Farr

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No, I believe it's because Amtrak is charging MARC too much for electric power. They only electrified line is the Penn Line, they need to have diesels for the other 2 lines, so it's diesels all the way. And I think that the "hell train" was pulled by a diesel. After the incident, all the MARC Penn Line trains leaving Washington on hot summer afternoons were pulled by 2 locomotives for redundancy.
I'm just floored at the circumstances where running Diesels on electrified lines ends up being the better option. This is backwards in so many different ways.
 

railiner

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Second longest was the Choctaw Rockette between Memphis and Amarillo on the Rock Island, at 761 miles. If they had run it to the end of the Rock at Tucumcari, it still would be a little less....
If you add on the segment from Tucumcari to Santa Rosa, that was originally run by the Rock Island, but later by the SP, it would be close to a tie in mileage with the WP....
 

railiner

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How long was the Sunset Limited when it ran all the way to Miami between 1993-1996? Or even when it only ran to Orlando?
...
Irrelevant...we are comparing longest RDC runs, not longest Amtrak runs.
But the extended Sunset ran 3,066 miles, Los Angeles to Miami....
 
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