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Would a Presidential "Amtrak One" Actually Work? 🚅

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Devil's Advocate

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While looking at the next steps for the incoming government (barring more domestic terrorism) I bumped into the following article that at first gave me a chuckle and then made me wonder if it's actually possible.

Biden could send a powerful message by switching from Air Force One to Amtrak One for presidential travel between cities a few hundred miles apart. That’s the so-called “sweet spot” where rail travel is more convenient and environmentally sound than driving or flying. Axios reports the president-elect and his transition team are already considering traveling by train to the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021, “ditching the typical flourish of arriving in Washington on an Air Force plane, pulling in instead on the same Amtrak train he rode to and from Delaware for 30 years as a senator.”

Is that an actual possibility? I know there are many rules and regulations for presidential travel that would likely make such a solution tedious and difficult but if a president really wanted to could they employ a presidential train instead of a plane for shorter domestic trips? If not what would stop them from doing so?
 
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Trogdor

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I don’t see it for a few reasons:

One, the crazy logistics and security that must be undertaken every time he travels. It’s fairly easy to secure an airport for a couple of hours. It’s another thing altogether to secure hundreds of miles of railroad. You’d basically have to shut down the entire railroad when he travels, and then there’s still the issue of securing the right of way.

Two, Air Force One needs to be able to redirect at a moments notice in response to changing circumstances, security threats, etc. Absolutely impossible to do with a train.
 

Exvalley

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The cost of outfitting a train with all of the specialized equipment that is on Air Force One (and that the President needs access to when they travel) would likely make it prohibitively expensive. The new Air Force One (a modified Boeing 747-8) is predicted to cost $5.2 billion. Compare that to the list price of a 747-8, which is roughly $420 million.

And this doesn't even factor in increased security costs for traveling overland rather than at 39,000 feet.

To be honest, if that sort of money is going to be spent on rail, I would rather that it be spent on projects that benefit everyone, not just the President.
 

me_little_me

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For short trips, the president doesn't need AF1. The Marine Helicopter is often much better, not requiring airports (and their closure) and providing faster, safer and better point to point transportation than either a train or plane plus riding on the highways in a convoy of armored limos.
 

AFS1970

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A couple of factors would make this not a great option. The increased weight of an armor plated train, think about how much the beast weighs compared to a normal limo, might make it cost prohibitive. As for securing miles of rail, think about the right of way, and adjoining properties.

There is a pretty good National Geographic special from a few years ago about how they prepare for a presidential visit. Also train stations are harder than airports because they don't need to use the terminal. If you did that with a rail line it might mean stopping in a yard out of town.

I can tell you that living in a town nearby to where one of the first President Bush's daughters lived even when he took the helicopter it was quite the undertaking.
 

Mailliw

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Not going to happen. President-Elect Biden might be able to charter a train to DC like Obama did, but after that it's Air Force or Marine One. It just won't be practical for anything other than say a short ceremonial trip on the new Acela.
 

Seaboard92

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I think it is something doable to be honest. It was done for almost an entire century before the advent of Air Force I. It really isn't that hard to outfit a railcar with all of the amour plating, bullet proof windows, and communications equipment required. If you really wanted a budget option just go to Gold Coast Railroad Museum and pull FDR's car out and get a valid PC1, and PC2 done on it fix some of the other components. I know the Wisconsin (EX MILW PS Office Car) also allegedly has amour plating as well. So it really wouldn't be that hard.

As far as securing the ROW it really isn't that hard. You wouldn't have to shut the railroad down prior to the arrival of the special. Now one should spike the switches shut but that doesn't take long to do and the secret service had no issue with not doing that on his campaign special. Nor did they have an issue with not running a security train ahead of him.

If you don't publicize when or how he is getting somewhere you wouldn't really need to protect the track that much. The railroad can be tight lipped when it needs to be. Now that being said some railfan might happen to catch a special running around and post about it. But it wouldn't be hard to camouflage it as a Office Car Special for a freight railroad. Which wouldn't get any large media coverage, and might not even get railfan coverage. I seam to think I am one of the few people who goes out to chase those in my area.

So is it doable yes. Will it happen probably not.
 

WWW

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I don’t see it for a few reasons:

One, the crazy logistics and security that must be undertaken every time he travels. It’s fairly easy to secure an airport for a couple of hours. It’s another thing altogether to secure hundreds of miles of railroad. You’d basically have to shut down the entire railroad when he travels, and then there’s still the issue of securing the right of way.

Two, Air Force One needs to be able to redirect at a moments notice in response to changing circumstances, security threats, etc. Absolutely impossible to do with a train.
Let the Secret Service work out the details - it is possible and doable.

Anywhere along the NEC a helicopter (or two) could pace the train and secure the President if needed to an airport with the 747 Air Force One standing by.
Keeping it simple while avoiding a lot of complicated modes of transportation wasting manpower and facilities.
 

Trogdor

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Anywhere along the NEC a helicopter (or two) could pace the train and secure the President if needed to an airport with the 747 Air Force One standing by.
Keeping it simple while avoiding a lot of complicated modes of transportation wasting manpower and facilities.
Your first sentence completely contradicts your second.
 

Trogdor

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I think it is something doable to be honest. It was done for almost an entire century before the advent of Air Force I. It really isn't that hard to outfit a railcar with all of the amour plating, bullet proof windows, and communications equipment required. If you really wanted a budget option just go to Gold Coast Railroad Museum and pull FDR's car out and get a valid PC1, and PC2 done on it fix some of the other components. I know the Wisconsin (EX MILW PS Office Car) also allegedly has amour plating as well. So it really wouldn't be that hard.
What was done in the Roosevelt era and what can (and needs to) be done in the year 2021 are different things. Obviously, aviation was an entirely different animal back then. What has also changed is the US’s role in the world, and, by extension, the need for communications and security. All of this has already been worked into existing procedures for flying the president. Procedures used in 1941 aren’t exactly relevant.

As far as securing the ROW it really isn't that hard. You wouldn't have to shut the railroad down prior to the arrival of the special. Now one should spike the switches shut but that doesn't take long to do and the secret service had no issue with not doing that on his campaign special. Nor did they have an issue with not running a security train ahead of him.
There’s a difference between a presidential candidate and the actual president. Even if the Secret Service is providing personal security, there’s also the everything else that is involved in moving the president around.

When the president is moving by road, they shut roads down in the area along the route of the motorcade. When at the airport, air traffic stops until the president is clear.

If you don't publicize when or how he is getting somewhere you wouldn't really need to protect the track that much. The railroad can be tight lipped when it needs to be.
Not from my experience. Now it’s possible things have changed in the past seven years, but my experience at Amtrak includes people accidentally copying the entire company on messages, numerous times, and someone inadvertently sending me (who had nothing to do with the situation) an email about the security of a vice presidential motorcade going over an Amtrak grade crossing (and who then had to call me up and ask me to delete the email).

Now that being said some railfan might happen to catch a special running around and post about it. But it wouldn't be hard to camouflage it as a Office Car Special for a freight railroad. Which wouldn't get any large media coverage, and might not even get railfan coverage. I seam to think I am one of the few people who goes out to chase those in my area.
Do that more than once or twice and it will become pretty obvious, and railfans (among others) will start camping out whenever there is news of a presidential visit.
 

me_little_me

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Other reasons why it is impractical:

Trains can't easily be diverted in case of an attempted attack. Trains can only stop (slowly) and then backup. Limos have quicker stopping, can go in multiple directions and since there are more than one in a presidential convoy, can provide increased protection and attack the attackers. Planes can turn in many directions, albeit slowly for a 747.

Far less sophistication is required to attack a train vs a plane. It's on the ground and moving in one direction only.

In the old days, an attack was more likely to come from a single crazy person or dedicated anarchist. That's why past presidents needed far less protection and could use train transport. Today, we have huge groups of crazies who can get a hold of huge amounts of explosives and high powered rocket weapons. Moreover, drones change the whole picture as they can be sent in flocks like birds all pre-programmed so no active communication is required.

Since a train is limited to tracks, it is not necessary to attack it directly and overcome its armor. Attacking the weak track is a lot easier.
 

20th Century Rider

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Although there is discussion of the impracticality of a 'Train One,' there are situations where a presidential train would be significant today. Logistically to bring the President closer to crowds while still surrounded by security, trains can travel through urban areas where crowds can gather. This would work as a campaign and ceremonial function. Recently the funeral train for President George Herbert Walker Bush allowed many a chance to extend condolences.

American rail is part of the American heritage... and President Biden's support may bring new possibilities. Below... pics of the Biden campaign train... and the funeral train of President George HW Bush.
201207151724-01-biden-amtrak-1987-exlarge-169.jpg

Funeral_Train_Pumphery.jpg
 

Mailliw

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It's worth noting the only world leaders to travel by private train today are Queen Elizabeth II and Kim Jong-un. For Her Majesty it's a convenient way to take lodging with her to fit more engagements in. Security is less of a concern in the UK and she actually takes regular passenger trains sometimes (first class of course). Of course in North Korea the Leader can do as he pleases and the costs or public inconvenience of his security are irrelevant.
 

tgstubbs1

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There's an old movie (b&w) that is about President traveling by train through Surprise, AZ.
There is an assassination attempt but of course it's foiled.
 

Pat Harper

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Train travel is okay for some, but if Biden is in favor of the "Green New Deal", we won't have it around for much longer unless trains convert to some other form of fuel. Now they run on diesel fuel, which is one of the fossil fuels, and those are supposedly on the way out. What other forms of fuel are available other than electricity? Steam power? Then you have to use coal or wood to fuel the fire that produces the steam. Coal is also a fossil fuel that will no longer be available under the "Green New Deal". The only thing left would be wood, which would necessitate cutting down a lot of trees.
 

Exvalley

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Train travel is okay for some, but if Biden is in favor of the "Green New Deal", we won't have it around for much longer unless trains convert to some other form of fuel. Now they run on diesel fuel, which is one of the fossil fuels, and those are supposedly on the way out.
If the taxes on diesel go up fares will have to go up to cover the added expense.
 

tgstubbs1

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Didn't BN have a program to replace diesel with CNG?
The tanks take a lot of room but they could have a ' tender" behind the locomotive.
 

20th Century Rider

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Train travel is okay for some, but if Biden is in favor of the "Green New Deal", we won't have it around for much longer unless trains convert to some other form of fuel. Now they run on diesel fuel, which is one of the fossil fuels, and those are supposedly on the way out. What other forms of fuel are available other than electricity? Steam power? Then you have to use coal or wood to fuel the fire that produces the steam. Coal is also a fossil fuel that will no longer be available under the "Green New Deal". The only thing left would be wood, which would necessitate cutting down a lot of trees.
Electricity which can be created using green methods is becoming widely used throughout the world... including the new HS lines in Europe, Asia, Africa, and China. That said... it remains how do-able that would be for present Amtrak routes outside of the Eastern corridor. But for sure, America has faced bigger challenges.

Meanwhile the new Tier 4 Locomotives coming out to power LD trains will be more fuel efficient with reduced pollution. While that's not the best answer it's a step for progress. We still have a long way to go to update our rail system.

180712_Charger_AMTRAK_background3.jpg
Charger_AMTRAK_08_5.jpg
 

Devil's Advocate

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Most of these posts sound like (admittedly valid and rational) reasons for why it would be too expensive and impractical, but not necessarily why it cannot be done. There are numerous examples of modern presidents visiting dangerous locations or tying up infrastructure for hours on end with little regard for cost, impact, or flexibility. I wasn't intending to ask if it was a good idea so much as what (if anything) would prevent it.

Train travel is okay for some, but if Biden is in favor of the "Green New Deal", we won't have it around for much longer unless trains convert to some other form of fuel. Now they run on diesel fuel, which is one of the fossil fuels, and those are supposedly on the way out. What other forms of fuel are available other than electricity? Steam power? Then you have to use coal or wood to fuel the fire that produces the steam. Coal is also a fossil fuel that will no longer be available under the "Green New Deal". The only thing left would be wood, which would necessitate cutting down a lot of trees.
Tier 4 locomotives will likely survive with little or no impact but Tier 3 models and below may require substantial modifications to reach new compliance standards. Genset switching may see a return and I would not be surprised if there is a push to expand electric service as well, but that would take time to become a viable option. I'm not sure why you would select this particular hill to die on but I guess that's your choice.

If the taxes on diesel go up fares will have to go up to cover the added expense.
Amtrak is already exempt from many taxes and those that remain can be reduced, removed, or suspended by will of Congress. A functioning government has little incentive to tax itself and so long as Amtrak avoids carrying third party freight these benefits should survive a legal challenge in a rational justice system (jury still out on that though).
 
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Mailliw

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There are experimental hydrogen trains. Diesel-electric engine can run on biodiesel, even conveniently diesel trains are greener than airplanes or fleets of cars.
 
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