Amtrak

Railfan General Discussion
NEW! - DIRECTLY POST YOUR RAILFAN PICTURES! For discussion and comments of any railroad related topic. No politics except as relates to railroading.

Moderators: othermoderator, moderator

Mark D
Conductor
Posts: 3145
Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:01 pm
Location: Sort of between Litchfield and Forest City, MN.

Amtrak

Postby Mark D » Mon Oct 15, 2018 10:40 am

I do read railroad topics more than just at Chaski and a few other railroad discussion forums, so I do read quite a bit about Amtrak.
Amtrak seems to do ok on short commuter type operations and even some routes of medium length.
But when it gets to the very long distance trains such as the Empire Builder and similar they fall flat on their collective face.

The main problem is that they are competing for track time on host railroads who are trying to get their own product across the country. Apparently the railroads are doing their best to keep Amtrak trains moving, but an article in the recent Trains magazine pointed out how Amtrak and the freight cannot co-exist on the same rails. I no longer have that magazine so I can't quote from it but if anyone who reads this also gets trains, read the article on this topic in the latest Trains.
Essentially, my take on it is that the only way Amtrak can operate the very long distance trains in a useful manner would be to lay their own rail. Since that's not going to happen, I hate to say it but there are only a couple of options. 1) Amtrak lays their own rail. 2) Amtrak lays their own rail but ties onto regional rail in areas where there might be rails in place already and the regional railroad is willing. 3) Continue to operate on the class 1 railroads, but add an extra day in each direction. The idea is to keep the freights rolling because Amtrak stays more out of their way. This means that Amtrak should be able to stay within a day of their advertised arrival times... not really a good option, but they stay out of the way of the freights to some extent and the freights don't block the L.D. passenger train as much.
4) discontinue the long distant passenger trains. Also not a good idea from several viewpoints, one of them being the small towns that have no air transportation and 1930's era highways. All they have if they need to go very far is their car or an occasional bus.

Mark D.
Mark D. - The bottom of the information curve

Millhouse
Conductor
Posts: 407
Joined: Sat Oct 04, 2008 11:44 am

Re: Amtrak

Postby Millhouse » Mon Oct 15, 2018 4:27 pm

Always wanted to ride the Empire Builder out west, but I would never make the St. Paul to Portland trip without explicitly knowing that the train was part of the destination (kind of like a cruise ship). In other words, I wouldn't be in a hurry. Which of course isn't a sustainable business model for other people trying to actually get places.

As far as Amtrak building its own infrastructure, that's kind of indicative of the problem and the reason all along that we just don't have anything remotely competitive with Europe or Japan in the realm of high-speed passenger rail, isn't it (excluding the Acela, which is still 30 years behind the times when you compare it to the TGV or the Shinkansen)? Because of the size of the country and lack of infrastructure - mainly track that can accommodate high-speed heavy rail traffic. The land mass size here doesn't help that challenge.

Real question is, would it be Amtrak who does it first? Would it be a massive government joint project? I've read about the idea being proposed between the major cities in California, but that's just California. You start talking about building a rail infrastructure on a multi-state level and it just gets more complicated from there. I'm not saying it can't be done, I guess, just the complexity of different business bodies involved...is above me.

To say nothing of cost, but that's an automatic given. I agree with you though that long Amtrak trips are for nothing more than the sightseer who likes/loves trains.

EDIT: Once I looked it up just for fun, taking a ride across the Japanese country side on the Shinkansen (in especially the maglev) ...a ticket on that thing is comparable in price to an airline ticket here.

Mark D
Conductor
Posts: 3145
Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:01 pm
Location: Sort of between Litchfield and Forest City, MN.

Re: Amtrak

Postby Mark D » Tue Oct 16, 2018 9:26 am

All of what I wrote was only in a dream world. We cannot compare our rail infrastructure with just about any other country because of the sheer size of our country compared with the others. Most of the countries that have good rail service are about the size of anywhere from one to five of our states. It's not quite so difficult to build a small railway as it is to lay up to 3000 miles of new track.
Califonia is having financial trouble with their 'little' adventure in high speed rail.

So the upshot is that in this country passenger rail is not really feasible for critical transportation of much distance.

Mark D.
Mark D. - The bottom of the information curve

bobnsteam
Conductor
Posts: 73
Joined: Mon Feb 04, 2013 5:51 pm
Interested in trains?: Yes

Re: Amtrak

Postby bobnsteam » Tue Oct 16, 2018 7:09 pm

Guys,
Thanks for your posts about Amtrak and the Empire Builder. I've ridden the Empire Builder three times from
Portland to Whitefish, Montana (visit daughter) without a hitch. I've read about not keeping schedules due
to your remarks about freight traffic and such. Every time I book the train I'm aware of what can happen, but
I have been fortunate. On the Coast Starlight from Portland to L.A. its always late. You have to be bussed
to your local station. Once approaching La Cuesta grade near San Luis Obispo the locomotive gave out and a
and a backup had to be sent up to bring us in.
As for high speed rail from L.A. to S.F. its got it problems too. Love to ride it but its a long way off.
Bob

Mark D
Conductor
Posts: 3145
Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:01 pm
Location: Sort of between Litchfield and Forest City, MN.

Re: Amtrak

Postby Mark D » Wed Oct 17, 2018 9:17 am

I have used Amtrak only once. That was from the Twin Cities to Seattle and back a week later. It was reasonably on time both ways. But it isn't always that way. But again, the Amtrak trains do have a significant effect on the host railroads own traffic.
And I do not see a way to make it better. Might be cheaper to build small airports along the routes Amtrak operates so that regional airlines can service those towns. That would end the long distance passenger trains altogether, but those who live in those small cities and large towns would actually be better served. I didn't think about that until just now. That's why it doesn't appear above. :-)

Mark D.
Mark D. - The bottom of the information curve

Millhouse
Conductor
Posts: 407
Joined: Sat Oct 04, 2008 11:44 am

Re: Amtrak

Postby Millhouse » Wed Oct 17, 2018 11:34 pm

As a kid we used to ride Amtrak from Fort Worth to Dallas for fun. We did that once or twice.

Then me and my Mom took Amtrak in '78 from Dallas to Kansas City to see her sister. I don't recall any problems. Our room on the train was small, but we at least had a place to sleep. It was a long ride.

Coast Starlight and Empire Builder are on the wish list, we'll see. Before I do those I'd rather ride behind 261 to and from Duluth. :)

John Bohon
Conductor
Posts: 370
Joined: Sat Jul 23, 2005 9:30 pm
Location: North Carolina

Re: Amtrak

Postby John Bohon » Thu Oct 18, 2018 9:48 am

As long as people see investment of tax dollars in airports, waterways, and roads as good investments and investments in rail infrastructure as a bad investment we will never join the many countries who have developed workable rail systems. Do not think for a minute high speed rail being built in Europe and China are being built with private money. The difference between the other countries and ours is how they choose to spend their money and where their priorities lie. As for building airports for smaller cities the government is actually going the other way and refusing to subsidize flights into smaller airports in larger numbers. There certainly are not enough passengers flying form these small airports to make operating them on a private basis possible. Do you really think they are going to start spending tax money to build airports they will then have to subsidize operations out of? By doing this our government is only furthering our investment in roads. Those people living near the small airports have no other option but to drive at least as far as the nearest airport, bus station, or Amtrak station. Since railroads are far more fuel efficient than airplanes it would seem to me we should be encouraging people to ride trains instead of flying or driving. Somehow in America public transportation is now seen as a bad thing so money is thrown at roads with no end in sight. While in NJ last spring I was driving on a highway with 8 lanes going in each direction. How many miles of high speed railroad could be built for the cost of building that 8 lane highway? How much improvement could be made to Amtrak if for only one year we stopped spending money to build highways and used that money to improve Amtrak?

The issue is not the physical size of the United States but the way we perceive our money is best spent. Remember that with our size comes the opportunity to produce more money. Australia is similar in size to us but with far less population yet their cities have efficient and frequent commuter service that as far as I can tell is well utilized. They also have their share of long distance trains. Somehow they find a way to fund these operations. Smaller countries often choose to invest in rail instead of roads and then operate trains in a manner people will use them Until we adopt a culture that does not begin with no taxes for anything and that everything should make money we will continue to fall further behind other countries that are developing systems we can not imagine. In the fifties and sixties we thought it was a good idea to invest in our country for the common good. The result included interstate highways, the space program, and the biggest middle class in the history of the world. Having lived through those times and knowing what my parents, older than most at that time, lived though I am still amazed at what we did in such a short time to make this country the greatest in the world. As we spend less and less on things that are for the common good of the average citizen our country has gone from leading the world to barely following. In my opinion until we get back to a point where people are willing to give up a little of what they have so the country can advance again we will never reverse this trend. Part of that is investing in our infrastructure again. Hell, we can not even afford to fix the roads we build so many years ago let alone build new roads or fund Amtrak properly.

Before criticizing Amtrak, the airlines, or commuter operations be they rail or buss it is important to understand they are not going to be there for the sole purpose of making some investors wealthy. Other countries can afford to do these great things mostly because the people all pay more in taxes. Try buying a gallon of gas in Europe and I suspect you will be shocked at the price. While some of that extra tax is probably used for roads much is used for other forms of transportation. This serves to discourage driving and encourage the use of public transportation. For all of my lifetime the railroads in the US have been trying to reduce themselves to greater profitability. They do not seem to understand growing to greater profits. Much the same attitude has been taken by our government. Like the railroads it has only proven to be a way to fall further behind the rest of the world. It is my opinion that if we are to become world leaders in passenger transportation again we first have to make the resolve to do so and then decide to spent the money it is going to take make that possible. There just are no easy or cheap ways of doing that.

John Bohon

bsd_mike
Conductor
Posts: 101
Joined: Sat Jul 16, 2005 12:56 pm

Re: Amtrak

Postby bsd_mike » Thu Oct 18, 2018 4:09 pm

Mark,
Back to your first post regarding connecting regional railroads together.

Lets think about the Empire Builder service to the west coast.

Suppose we started on the TC & W and went west instead of the BNSF.
What could the next link in the chain be? Is there anyway through the Dakotas?

Once reaching Billings, the train could continue west until Spokane.

How about west of Spokane?

Cool idea!

Mark D
Conductor
Posts: 3145
Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:01 pm
Location: Sort of between Litchfield and Forest City, MN.

Re: Amtrak

Postby Mark D » Fri Oct 19, 2018 9:30 am

Any regional or short line that would fit into the scheme would be that much less track to have to lay. Said railroads that owned their track would, and should, profit from the passenger service
But by the time all that track was connected everything else could have changed. By then Amtrak might have already cut the long distance trains from low usage. The class one railroads might have hit a huge down cycle in business and can then host the Amtrak trains again - if Amtrak is still operating those trains.
Everything humans do is done with a gamble and a hope and a prayer. Sometimes it all works, other times it all goes down the drain.

I would say that the remaining ROW of the former Milwaukee Road might be a good start for an Amtrak route to the west. IIRC some of the trestles are still there - in poor condition. But some of the original track is still in use in one or two cases. Through Minnesota the TC&W operates on the Milwaukee Road. Regional railroad pretty much from the Twin Cities into the Dakota's.

Mark D.
Mark D. - The bottom of the information curve

bsd_mike
Conductor
Posts: 101
Joined: Sat Jul 16, 2005 12:56 pm

Re: Amtrak

Postby bsd_mike » Fri Oct 19, 2018 10:45 am

The said thing is, reading the Minnesota Railroad Passenger Association newsletter, the long distance trains actually can do
pretty well. The passenger count per mile on the Empire Builder is pretty good they say.

Nobody is obviously taking them who is in a hurry, but they do want to be comfortable. Amtrak seems to be
doing what the railroads did in days gone by to discourage customers by reducing services.

I think it could be a win-win... though I bet it will never happen.
The regional railroads could get some much needed capital to upgrade their networks.
Amtrak could can priority scheduling since they ponied up some of the money.
Little towns could keep service.

-Mike

John Bohon
Conductor
Posts: 370
Joined: Sat Jul 23, 2005 9:30 pm
Location: North Carolina

Re: Amtrak

Postby John Bohon » Fri Oct 19, 2018 6:25 pm

The abandonment of far to much track in the US is another result of the idea of shrinking their way to profit. Instead of getting rid of the track the railroads should have been out looking for ways to fill it up with traffic. Instead they only looked at the present traffic and decided it would never get better so they did not need the extra track. While some of the track was abandon before deregulation most was after. The ability to shed so much duplicate track was a mistake. The government should have not allowed all the track to be abandon but rather rail banked or continued to be operated in some form lines considered important to future growth. America is paying the bill on that now too.

Like everything, deregulation had its good points and its bad ones. The allowing of gateways to be closed forced the customers out of the ability to determine the route their traffic took. Instead the last carrier determined the interchange point eliminating shippers ability to possibly use another railroad offering a cheaper price. That was great for the destination carrier but for shippers of unit trains the ability to ship via another route was eliminated. Add to that the wholesale mega mergers and the railroads quickly created monopolies. To one degree or another that also affects Amtrak. The situation created is the railroads are happy but the customers are not.

Another thing lost today is the fact that the railroads were once considered public utilities. In that sense they were obligated to perform services for the customers even it they did not particularly want to. In many states the railroads answered to the Public Utilities Commission and even the state track inspectors worked for the PUC. I guess the railroads really started to wiggle out of that when they decided they did not want to handle passenger trains. I really do not know why but today they seem to have no need to act in the behalf of the public. Amtrak schedule keeping has got to be a result of that process to some degree.

I have no clue what the answers are or even if there any possible ways to get Amtrak out of the mess it is currently in. It is certain that in the current political climate Amtrak is going to be lucky to tread water. It may well be lucky to survive.

John Bohon

Mark D
Conductor
Posts: 3145
Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:01 pm
Location: Sort of between Litchfield and Forest City, MN.

Re: Amtrak

Postby Mark D » Sat Oct 20, 2018 10:18 am

Yep. I wish Amtrak would continue to operate. It does serve a good purpose. But the down side is that it is costing way more than what it brings in and at the same time are costing the host railroads money in delayed trains of their own.
And it keeps getting worse. Sooner or later it's going to have to give it up or 'make a new plan, Stan."
Mark D.
Mark D. - The bottom of the information curve

John Bohon
Conductor
Posts: 370
Joined: Sat Jul 23, 2005 9:30 pm
Location: North Carolina

Re: Amtrak

Postby John Bohon » Sun Oct 21, 2018 9:56 am

It would be interesting to see a report that compared the amount of money spent on subsidies for Amtrak, the airlines, and the highways. My guess is the price per head would be pretty close in each case but that could be wildly wrong. On the other hand the money spent by the government to subsidize trucks as compared to rail for freight movement would be hugely in favor of the trucks.

John Bohon

Mark D
Conductor
Posts: 3145
Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:01 pm
Location: Sort of between Litchfield and Forest City, MN.

Re: Amtrak

Postby Mark D » Mon Oct 22, 2018 9:42 am

I'm pretty sure the government subsidizes the airports, thus airlines and light aircraft far more than they subsidizes Amtrak. Note that I said Amtrak. This is because I'm leaving out state and municipal rail transportation which also receives subsidies from Uncle Sam.
Same goes for highways and even ocean and great lakes shipping.
Mark D.
Mark D. - The bottom of the information curve


Return to “General Discussion”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests