Amtrak’s Cluelessness On Passenger Miles (At Least In Washington)

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By Noel T. Braymer

Passenger miles are the best measure of productivity in transportation of people since most tickets are priced by travel distance. Yet Amtrak focuses instead on ridership numbers. In the case of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, many people travel on it, but the busiest segment is for travel between New York and Philadelphia, a distance of only 91 miles out of a corridor of 457 miles. A marketing program to fill where there are empty seats should be a high priority at Amtrak to boast income and they can still boast about their ridership. The airlines generally do this with computers to raise prices during times planes are almost full and discount tickets when planes would otherwise fly with plenty of empty seats. Not just the airlines do this, intercity bus service in this country offer tickets online with prices changing from day to day and hour to hour depending on demand and when you want to travel. But its not just a question of when you want to travel, but if you can get to where you want to go. The more options a carrier can offer a passenger, the more passengers will travel on that service. Amtrak could connect to many more markets easily within their system, but refuses to do so based on assumed extra costs, while ignoring increased revenue. This is reflected in the mind numbingly stupid plan to break up the Long Distance Trains into mini corridors of no more than a thousand miles while breaking connections between many cities. What this will do is reduce revenues on these lines. But that may be part of the plan, since Amtrak will likely demand that the States on these shorter routes pay subsidy to Amtrak, which current Amtrak legislation allows.

What proof do I have of Amtrak’s blindness to increasing passenger miles and connections? Lets look back at the short time the Palmetto was extended south of Savannah 140 miles to Jacksonville. Basically for very little money outside of incremental costs like fuel and so on,  the Palmetto was in service generating additional passenger miles by going to Jacksonville. Under then Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor, in December of 1988 the Palmetto was extended to Jacksonville. This was done over the objections of Amtrak’s marketing due to expected low ridership counts from this extension. With the extension of the Palmetto to Jacksonville, the train “only” carried 40 to 50 additional passengers from Jacksonville. But these new passengers generally traveled past Savannah. As a result of these new, longer distance and higher ticket paying passengers, the Palmetto’s revenues increased and losses decreased. In fact more revenue could have been be made, if additional equipment was available to carry more passengers. This is a common problem on many of Amtrak’s long distance trains. Another factor at the time that increased Amtrak’s revenue on the Palmetto was winning a mail contract at Jacksonville from the US Postal service. By November 1, 2004 after Claytor retired, Amtrak cut back the route of the Palmetto to Savannah to “save money”.

Much of what is known of the interaction between increased ridership revenue and minor service improvements comes from the work of the late Dr. Adrian Herzog with what he called “Matrix Theory”. What Dr Herzog did was create a computer simulation of different scenarios of rail passenger service on Amtrak and their effect on ridership and revenue. This was done in the 1980’s at Cal State Northridge where Dr Herzog was a Professor of Astronomy and had access to the University’s mainfame computer for his use for research projects. To test his work he used the route of the Southwest Chief and fine tuned the simulation of it until it matched current ridership patterns with the real train. From there he was able test out different combinations of connecting services to see which ones were the most productive. Central to Dr Herzog’s ridership prediction was the more markets you had on a service, the greater your ridership and passenger miles. What Dr. Herzog showed with what he called the Matrix Theory for Passenger Trains, was that if you have a non-stop service between 2 stations you have 2 city pairs. Basically from point A to point B and from point B to point A. Now if you add just one extra station on this route you go from 2 city pairs to 6! That would be from A to B, B to A, A to C, C to A, B to C and C to B. If you increase this to 4 stations you have 12 city pairs. That’s from 2 places to 12 places you can sell ticket to just by doubling the number of stations from 2 stations to 4. This Matrix effect is what happened when the Palmetto was extended to Jacksonville.

Many of the scenarios of Dr. Herzog’s simulations included sections of trains merging with and breaking off of the Southwest Chief. This greatly increased the matrix or number of markets that can be served by the Southwest Chief. In 1984 Dr Herzon ran a simulation of the Southwest Chief with three new connections. A section from Tucson, and Phoenix to Flagstaff to connect and split off of the Chief. Splitting and joining the Southwest Chief at Barstow between Los Angeles and north to Oakland and San Jose. Third splitting  and rejoining the train again at Kansas City with one section continuing on to Chicago on the original route. The others section would head to Chicago by way of St. Louis. The normal passenger load at Flagstaff on the Chief in 1984 was 212 passengers. Under this simulation the number would have been 1,260 which was more than one train could handle. Between 3 to 4 trains would have been needed to carry that many passengers.

Do successful passenger services use anything like the Matrix Theory? Airlines often use Hub and Spoke Airports for transferring passengers. This is a type of matrix. A new intercity bus service will open in California in time for the Memorial Day Weekend from Flixbus the largest intercity bus service in Europe. Serving roughly 19 markets in Southern California, Arizona and Southern Nevada, this company advertise they will have 180 city to city connections for their passengers. They plan to extend service later this summer to Northern California and likely also Northern Nevada. By then they plan to have 400 city to city connections for their passengers just in the western United States.

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Metrolink Is Finally Getting Connected

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By Noel T. Braymer

This May, Metrolink opened a new second station at the Burbank Airport. This new station is on its Antelope Valley Line between Los Angeles and Lancaster. This is in addition to the joint Amtrak/ Metrolink Burbank Airport Station on the LOSSAN Corridor between San Luis Obispo and San Diego. With this new station, Burbank Airport will have 14 trains a day to start on weekdays and 6 on weekends connecting Burbank Airport to downtown Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley. This is only the beginning. This station site will also be in the future part of a High Speed Rail Station for connections with Metrolink. Even before that, Metrolink plans to have in operation by 2028 what it calls SCORE for Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion. What this plan calls for by 2028 is service on most of Metrolink’s lines of at least service every half hour most of the day. In the case of Burbank Airport this would mean Metrolink trains every 15 minutes at both Burbank Airport train stations most of the day. This doesn’t include additional Amtrak services planned on the LOSSAN route and Metrolink services north of Santa Clarita to Lancaster in addition to 4 trains an hour between Los Angeles and Santa Clarita. To make this happen will require major track work with more double tracking, more grade separations and improved Quiet Zone grade crossings. Also in the long run more equipment will be needed and electrification is planned with possible overhead catenary and battery powered services on the busiest lines.

Planned Metrolink frequencies by 2028 on its current lines

I recently took a trip north on Metrolink to the new Burbank Airport Station. I planned to catch a shuttle bus at the station to the terminal to check out the connection. My problem was I couldn’t find the shuttle. I only found it after the next southbound Metrolink train arrived at the new station. Minutes before the train’s arrival a blue Super Shuttle Van arrived to stand by to pick train passengers going to the terminal. The place the van was assigned to park was at the very northern edge of the new station. The current platform is built for 6 car trainsets which is the longest trains Metrolink operates. But the Antelope Valley trains for now run with 4 car trainsets. When the trains come into the new station, they park at the south end of the station. Basically it is very hard to see a van that far away from where most of the passengers get off from the train. No doubt the Van driver gave up and soon drove off before I found the spot the van was assigned to park way out in the boonies. The van should park right in the middle further south where the passengers get off the train. There should be a big sign saying free ride to terminal here! More printed information and public announcements on the train about how to use the van service to get to the airport would help. Even if passengers on the train aren’t going to the airport, hearing about it makes it more likely they will want to use it the next time they fly. Train service to Burbank Airport should do very well. One way train fare from Union Station to Burbank Airport is $6. The cost of the Flyaway Bus from Union Station to LAX is $9.75 one way. Once up to speed rail service to Burbank Airport can not only be cheaper that the Flyaway Bus, but faster and more frequent. But first passengers have to be able to find the shuttle if they want to use it.

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Southbound Metrolink train arriving at the north end of the new Burbank Airport train station on Metrolink’s Antelope Valley Line. At the left hand side is the shuttle van for passengers transferring to the Burbank Airport terminal. The trains stop at the south end of the platforms where it is hard to see the shuttle van and a long walk for someone with bags.

Burbank Airport, with expanded Metrolink service could have the fastest and most convenient airport rail service of any airport in California, The only other airport which might come close in California would be Ontario Airport which has its terminals alongside the Union Pacific Tracks. All that is missing is a station and passenger service directly to Ontario Airport. With future trains running every 15 minutes on 2 lines, that’s at least 8 trains an hour in both directions to Burbank Airport. But these trains would serve more than the Airport. At the new Antelope Valley Line Burbank Airport station, LA Metro and Burbank City buses will stop there for with connections to the area around Burbank Airport. For passengers going to or from downtown Los Angeles or the San Fernando, Antelope and San Gabriel Valleys, Metrolink rail service to Burbank Airport will be faster, cheaper and more convenient than driving to LAX. To make much of this happen will require LINK US, which is the name for the planned run through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station. Link US will avoid having all trains terminal at Union Station and instead allow trains to continue through Los Angeles while stopping there for no more than 5 minutes. This will open up service and connections with Metrolink and other services throughout most of Southern California.

What Metrolink is planning now is a long way from 1992 when Metrolink first started operation. Having good connections, constant service most of the day and night 7 days a week and service with run through trains was standard in 1992 in most major metro areas in the developed world except the United States. The background of the planners who were hired at the start of Metrolink mostly came from commuter railroads in the East. They planned most of Metrolink based on their experience which was for rush hour service for travel to downtown.This didn’t reflect the travel patterns then in Southern California which Los Angeles is a hub, but not the final destination for most travel. Just in the last few years fewer people are commuting to downtown Los Angeles and increasingly moving to live downtown and get to work with a short commute. Its time that Los Angeles and Southern California had a truly Regional Rail service which connects most of Southern California all day and night, 7 days a week. SCORE goes along way towards that.

There is more that can be done by Metrolink. Recently Metrolink has been running more trains for special events like concerts, sporting events, county fairs, beach trains and so on. Metrolink is also promoting their connections to the other regional airports. One of its weaknesses now for connections to airports and theme parks is the fact that their trains don’t always run often enough to be convenient to catch planes or to spend a day and late night at a theme park. No one wants to miss the last train of the night stuck at the airport or Disneyland. And there is the issue of lack of connections within Metrolink to many places in Southern California and lack of Metrolink at all to many places.

One example of this is travel between San Diego County and the Inland Empire of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. There is the problem of limited single track capacity between San Juan Capistrano and Camp Pendleton which limits the number of trains that can run between Oceanside and Riverside/ San Bernardino. But there is a simple solution to this. Build in connection between trains to and from San Diego with trains to the Inland Empire from Orange County. One way to do that would be to have connections with Surfliner trains between Inland Empire/Orange County Metrolink trains at Irvine. The Surfliners tend to have plenty of seats south of Irvine but gets crowded north of Irvine. Amtrak already accepts Metrolink tickets on some of their Surfliner trains. With increasing use of on line ticketing by both Amtrak and Metrolink, ticketing shouldn’t be be a major problem. What also could be done would be to extend a few more Orange County Metrolink trains from Laguna Niguel to Oceanside and even to San Diego. Such extended Los Angeles bound Metrolink service could also connect with Inland Empire/Orange County trains as well as accept Coaster Train tickets and make all Coaster stops in San Diego County too. Many people travel between Orange and San Diego Counties who would not be stopping at Surfliner stations. There have been discussions of extending Metrolink trains from Oceanside to San Diego in the past. By 2025 90% of the tracks in San Diego County will be doubled tracked which will allow more frequent service.

There are plenty of other places to have more transfers between Metrolink trains. One example would be Downtown Burbank for transfers between the Ventura County and Antelope Valley Lines. At San Bernardino after additional track work which allow extending all Inland Empire Line/Orange County trains from Riverside to stop there, these trains could then connect with San Bernardino Line Trains and increase ridership for both lines. The city of Orange station already gets many transfers between Orange County Line trains with Inland Empire/Orange County trains.The primary transfer point will be at Union Station. With run through service available in hopefully the next 5 years the need to transfer at Union Station will be reduced with more one seat/one train service between the busiest Metrolink Lines. But there will still need to be connections to some trains which should be printed in the timetables and with clear signage at the stations so passengers don’t miss their connections. Connections are the cheapest way to increase ridership, revenue and public support for rail or any passenger service. With more frequent service most of the day, connections become even more attractive.

Map of the current Metrolink network with part of the route for Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner with the white line. Not shown on this map is the future extension of the San Bernardino line east of San Bernardino with some trains east to Redlands. The blue line on this map is now the 91/Perris line, extended from Riverside on the grey line in Riverside County to Perris.

What is still missing are good connections to West Los Angeles and Metrolink. There is the Expo Line now between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica. But you still have to catch either the Red or Purple Lines at Union Station to get the Expo Line at 7th and Flower in downtown west to Culver City and Santa Monica.This will still be true even after the Regional Connector is finished in 2021. The Blue Line will be extended to Union Station but not the Expo Line which will head to East Los Angeles. A transfer between the Blue and Expo Lines will be an improvement with no need to leave the platform for connecting trains at Little Tokyo. The Purple Line is planned to be extended to Westwood by 2028. This will likely become the busiest rail transit line in Los Angeles County when running. But getting around most of West Los Angeles without a car will still be difficult in 2028 from downtown Los Angeles. The Crenshaw/LAX line is scheduled to open next year. This line will have connections to the Expo and Green Lines. But there are no track connections for trains to run on the Expo Line to the Crenshaw/LAX Line or to use the Blue Line and connect to the Green Line from downtown LA to get to LAX. For train passengers from Riverside, Orange and San Diego Counties to West Los Angeles most connections require an out of the way, slow connection to Union Station.

A simple, cheap solution to this is to run connecting buses to the Westside and Metrolink trains. Metrolink tickets are already good for transfers to most public transport connecting at their stations. LA Metro already has express buses to many places such as between Pasadena’s Gold Line and the North Hollywood Red Line/Orange Bus Line terminal. Another example would be the Silver Bus Line between El Monte, downtown LA and the Harbor Area. Something along these lines would work in Los Angeles County at the Norwalk/Santa Fe Metrolink Station. Such a bus could connect to Metrolink trains and connect passengers to the Green Line, Silver Line, the Crenshaw/LAX Line, LAX terminal shuttle buses, the Expo Line in Culver City and Westwood and the future Purple Line extension. Such a service would not only be used by Metrolink passengers, but by  bus passengers looking to an alternative to driving in West LA. LA Metro has plans to improve service between the San Fernando Valley and Westwood in time for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics with connections to the Purple Line. But no definite plans have yet been announced. New connections to Metrolink and the busiest LA Metro transit services would increase ridership for both services and make it easier for more people to get around without a car.

Did You Really Think Gasoline Would Stay Cheap Forever?

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By Noel T. Braymer

One thing about the price of gasoline in California, or anywhere is the effect on it from the market price for oil. One thing about the price of oil is that it is very volatile, with prices shooting up wildly only to crash back down later. What often drives oil prices are the threat of war in an oil rich region like the Persian Gulf. We have seen wild fluctuations in oil prices around the time of the first oil embargo in 1973 when many of the major Arab oil producers cut off oil supplies to counties which supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War between it and Egypt. We saw much the same after the Iranian Revolution and the take over of the US Embassy and American hostages in Iran between 1979 to 1981. Both of these crises resulted in greater interest in public transportation and expanding Rail Passenger service. We also saw spikes in oil and gas prices after September 11, 2001 with the bombing of the World Trade Center and the US invasion of Iraq. Iraq was blamed for the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York.

The point when oil reached its highest price was in March of 2008 when oil prices peaked at $160 for a barrel of oil. So what happened then? This was the beginning of what was called the Great Recession kicked off by the collapse of the Home Mortgage Bubble. What happened next were speculators looking for someplace to put their cash after the market for home mortgage securitization crashed and popped the Home Mortgage Bubble. A great deal of this money went into buying commodities like food, minerals and oil. For a short time this greatly raised the price of living for most people around the world. The price of oil for several years stabilized at a little over $100 dollars a barrel between roughly 2010 up until the end of 2014. Then the price of oil dropped down as low as $30 dollar a barrel in February of 2016. Since then oil prices stayed under $60 dollars a barrel until the end of last year.

So why have oil prices climbed now to almost $70 dollars a barrel? First let’s answer why oil dropped to almost $30 dollars in early 2016. What happened was Saudi Arabia intentionally increased its oil production to lower the price of oil on the world market. Saudi Arabia had 2 reasons for doing it. One was to reduce oil revenues for Iran which Saudi Arabia is fighting for the role as the leader of Islam in the World. The other reason was to make the production of fractured shale oil in the United States unprofitable to drive it out of business. All oil producers had reduced income during this time because of the Saudi’s created oil glut. But the Saudi’s failed to shut down the production of oil fracking in the United States. So now Saudi Arabia and Russia, 2 of the world’s larger oil producers have agreed to reduce their oil production to drive oil prices up and make more money. The result is gas prices in the United States are going up. California had its highest gas prices in the summer of 2012 at over $4.50 a gallon for regular gasoline. This was long before the recent 12 cent a gallon gas tax increase was put on gasoline in California which some people are all worked up about. Right now the price of regular gasoline is around $3.70 a gallon in California. Gasoline prices in California were higher than they are now as recently as the summer of 2015.

So the price of oil, gasoline and fossil fuels are not always a free market: they are often manipulated, at least for a time. If you don’t like the cost of gasoline, you can use market forces and save money by buying less. How you do it is up to you. Drive less, buy a more efficient car or take the train more often. You won’t be alone. Take Saudi Arabia for example. The Saudi’s have lots of heat from the sun, little fresh water, lots of sea water on their coastline and they know they will run out of oil some day. So what they are doing is investing in solar energy. Using their plentiful sunlight they are turning it into electricity to run their air conditioning and to desalinate sea water into fresh water. By making electricity with the Sun the Saudi’s save money and can instead sell what’s left of their oil reserves to the rest of the world. In the past the Saudi’s burned their oil to make electricity for air conditioning and desalinating water. Not only does this allow them to sell more oil in the future as long as their oil reserves hold out. But it leaves them in a position to export electricity in the future after their oil reserves are no longer able to produce income. The cost of producing oil will only go up unless there is a way found to grow algae to make oil that it is cheaper to grow it than by getting it out of the ground. Renewable energy prices will only continue to go down as technology improves and economies of scale are in place and the sun continues to shine.

Part III “STATE-SUPPORTED CORRIDOR TRAINS: AMTRAK’S LAST HURRAH”

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A Malodorous Condition Created & Perpetuated By Amtrak
What Jim McClellan Recognized; What Richard Anderson Is Obliged To Learn

By M.E. Singer

Stop the Mendacity and Just Study What Jim McClellan Learned–And it was Not About a Focus on End Points

If Amtrak’s CEO Anderson was ever receptive to a succinct explanation of the rationale supporting how Amtrak’s revenue growth opportunity is dependent upon embracing and integrating the state corridors as part of a real national system, he would move to stop the rifting of the state and long distance routes for the exclusive benefit of the Northeast Corridor (NEC). 

To support that logic, I would refer Anderson to become familiar with the thinking of a knowledgeable, respected, and committed railroader, Jim McClellan, who was at the FRA and the development of Railpax (1969-1970); present at the beginning of Amtrak (1971-1973) where he managed selecting routes, schedules, equipment, and how to market the services. 

With such an unrivaled background, and the willingness to learn from mistakes to keep going forward, McClellan clarified in his recent book, MY LIFE WITH TRAINS, a concise rationale for the state corridors, as well as the long distance routes:

“…We also saw a lot of unmet potential in smaller markets. One of the great advantages of the rail mode is its ability to serve those markets.”

When it comes to the current Potomac rage of excuses endemic to Amtrak’s cover-up of its obvious lack of knowledge of the marketplace by deceitfully encouraging politicians and media to believe that somehow Amtrak is an anachronism for continuing to provide the end-point to end-point schedules of long distance routes, Jim McClellan had an answer for that too!

“Then there was the fast train between Chicago and the Twin Cities, with only one stop in Milwaukee. We were fascinated by the prospect of competing with the airlines…Unfortunately, we had ignored the fact that trains were often most competitive in smaller markets.”

Following the logic explained here by Jim McClellan, to successfully focus on a revitalized Midwest state corridor development will require the knowledge of what worked in the past (1946-1969); to design routes in respect to demographics and changing mobility requirements today; and to encourage the potential new paradigm presented by Fortress Investment Group, owner of the Brightline. Such state corridors will be successful if they offer the convenience of dedicated, frequently scheduled services to interconnect intra-state and interstate corridors on a regional basis, with the long distance trains serving to overlap the state corridors by connecting multi-regions.

Only A State-Owned Enterprise Like Amtrak Would Willfully Ignore the Changes In Demographics and Mobility Needs

Suburbia, and Exurbia Beyond:
Given Amtrak’s persistent, imperceptive approach failing to build revenues by identifying new and changing situations, the pointless arrow should have long ago been exchanged for the face of Alfred E. Neuman and his motto, “What Me Worry?” 

As identified in Metro (5/2/18), “Super Commuters’ Who Travel 90-Plus Minutes To Get To Work, On The Rise,” there is most certainly a growing group of riders abandoned by Amtrak. “Experts attribute the rise in long commutes to ‘skyrocketing housing costs and a reluctance to move, born of memories of the 2008 financial crisis.”  Curbed on 5/1/18 identified in “Millennials and New Magnetism of Mid-Cities” how cities under a million population “that aren’t regional powerhouses like Austin or Seattle, are increasingly seen as not just places to find a lower cost of living, easier commute, and closer connections with family, but also a more approachable, neighborhood-oriented version of the urban lifestyle.”

Also, a book review in Curbed on 5/9/18, “Our Towns’: How Small Cities Aren’t Just Surviving, But Thriving,” the authors reported their research “how small cities and towns from nearly every corner of the country have proven to be more resilient, flexible, and dynamic than many realize. Smaller cities are investing in revitalizing.” Important in the context of what my point is in this piece, the authors stated that “by combining federal support, in the form of community development block grants and transportation funding, with state-level investments and support from cities, local businesses, and NGOs, these urban revivals offered a great counterpoint to the argument that all politics is paralyzed, twisted, and corrupted;” reporting “I now think public-private partnerships is the way the country actually works.” 

Although California’s JPAs continue to perfect this opportunity, a developing example of this far exurban residential life relying on non-commuter rail service to the major city is evidenced in Illinois, with two state-supported trains planned and paid for by IDOT to provide marginal day-tripper service between Chicago and Princeton (104 miles), Mendota (83 miles), and Plano (52). Sadly, people living well beyond the rail head of the Chicago commuter lines were once served by a vast network of state and long distance trains until the late 1960s; ironically, well before the rendering of farm lands into far exurban residential developments.

What Cliff Notes™ Failed to Explain The Relevance For How Amtrak Should Market  State Corridors

Scheduling, Frequencies, and Routes Serving Exurban/Suburban Markets:
As identified above, given how the changing demographics clearly identifying how the population continues to grow in far exurban locations should have been at the forefront of a dynamic change in Amtrak’s thinking from merely in terms of end-points, when the mobility demands have not only increased for downtown service, but importantly, for connecting exurban and suburban markets to en route destinations. This market has only grown for the many college students now attending their own state universities, or within neighboring states within the Midwest; the growing demand for convenient schedules for day-trippers for business and personal travel. Jim McClellan had a clear vision of this opportunity when he spoke of the Milwaukee-St. Louis run thru service via Chicago: “the goal was not the end points (Milwaukee and St. Louis), but rather the lesser markets, such as the north Chicago suburbs to Springfield.” 

Interestingly, I discussed this issue with Kevin McKinney, who continues to embrace that knowledge of the market from when he worked for McClellan in the early days of Amtrak.  As McKinney explained what he believed was so obvious; yet neglected for so long: “And suburb extensions, such as ending St. Louis trains in Kirkwood or somewhere like that west of St. Louis; ending Milwaukee trains in Waukesha, or somewhere west of the city, where most of the suburban population is. Chicago-Detroit already extends to Oakland County north of Detroit.  Also, the need for “Route 128” type suburban stops, so people don’t have to venture in to city-center to catch a train, or go in the wrong direction (e.g., south into Indianapolis, to catch a train north to Chicago.)”

Eliminate Connections with Run Thru Operations via Chicago:
A parallel component to revitalizing the Midwest corridors is to build upon how McClellan successfully created the NEC we know today by having all of those trains “operate into and out of Penn Station. The through service was a success and remains so today.” Appreciating what he was achieving with the NEC, he felt it was logical by “expanding the concept to the Midwest, several trains between Chicago and St. Louis were extended to Milwaukee.” In his own evaluation of run thru Chicago operations, McClellan acknowledged “I still think the concept is a winner, but Chicago is a barrier to through service now as it was then.” Indeed, nothing has changed, as Chicago Union Station only offers two north-south run thru tracks, with only the eastern track having a full platform (as currently utilized by the “Empire Builder”).

However, as previously discussed here, beyond the need for building a platform on the western run thru track, how many trains could be pushed through the two run thru tracks at Chicago Union Station each hour; how would the different T&E districts be handled; what about the different signaling systems (or, would the new Siemens cabs be able to identify, along with PTC?). Building upon what McClellan/McKinney achieved-and learned-with the Milwaukee-St. Louis run thru schedules in the early 1970s, operating most Midwest state corridors thru Chicago would be a solution to losing potential traffic due to the elongated time and inconvenience of changing trains; to enhance the obvious marketability of serving exurban/suburban stops to en route or other end points; to increase frequencies and convenience of those schedules; to facilitate asset utilization of equipment. This could be started with St. Louis-Chicago-Milwaukee and Detroit-Chicago-Milwaukee or St. Louis. The options are too numerous to simply list.

Oh, to be Sherman and Join Mr. Peabody in his “Wayback Machine:” What We Once Had and Lost–How the Private Railroads Understood Geography and Demographics to Interconnect State Corridors and Regions

Without an Official Railway Guide and a collection of timetables, it is difficult to comprehend how the Midwest was such a powerhouse for so many railroads providing competitive state corridors, with long distance services filling in and connecting those multi- regional corridors. Even then, railroading was not focused exclusively upon the end point mythology, with the exception of between Chicago-New York via NYC’s non-stop “Twentieth Century Limited” and PRR’s “Broadway Limited”; initially NYNH&H’s “Merchants Limited” and ” Yankee Clipper” between Boston-New York. Even the very deluxe, extra-fare “Super Chief” made en route stops between Chicago-Los Angeles; the “Denver Zephyr” carried a vista-dome observation-parlor just to accommodate travelers between Chicago-Lincoln, NE.

Frankly, the epitome of short haul intra-state, interstate regional, and the linkage between all regions provided by the long distance trains was in the Midwest, based out of their Chicago hub. Although my Official Railway Guides and railroad timetables are still packed-up, I can recite from rote memory mostly what we had from the 1950s thru the late 1960s, as well as the competition between the private railroads for travelers. (Today, non-stop bus competition has become a disrupter in the Midwest against Amtrak, which Amtrak has simply disregarded and waved off). The Midwest routes (indicating principal number of trains operated) picking 1962 are listed below of the private rail lines directly linking many towns en route with each other, and to their end points:

Chicago-Milwaukee: almost hourly CNW; CMSt.P&P; hourly CNS&M (until 1963, an electric interurban between Chicago Loop-Milwaukee offering the “Electroliner” with a tavern/diner.)
Chicago-Green Bay: multiple CNW 400s offering diner, lounge, and parlor (6); CMSt.P&P (1-2).
Chicago-Minneapolis: CB&Q (5); CMSt.P&P (3); CNW (1-discontinued 1963; also “Mankato 400” Chicago- Rochester, MN).
Chicago-Omaha: CB&Q (4); CMSt.P&P (2); CRI&P (2).
Chicago-Kansas City: AT&SF (6); CB&Q (2); CRI&P (1).
Chicago-Des Moines: CRI&P (2).
Chicago-Peoria: CRI&P  (3)
Chicago-St. Louis: GM&O (3); WAB (3); IC (1).
Chicago-Indianapolis: NYC (2); PRR (2); MON (1).
Chicago-Cincinnati: NYC (2); PRR (2).
Chicago-Louisville: PRR (2).
Chicago-Detroit: NYC (5); GTW (2).
Chicago-Grand Rapids: C&O (3)
Chicago-Toronto: GTW (3).
Chicago-Pittsburgh: PRR ( 5); B&O (3).
Chicago-Cleveland: NYC (4); NKP (2).
Chicago-Akron/Youngstown: B&O (3); EL (2).
Chicago-South Bend: GTW (3); NYC (5); CSS&SB (electric interurban providing service between Chicago Loop-South Bend).
Chicago-Galena-Rockford- Dubuque: IC (2).
Chicago-Sioux City: IC (1).
Chicago-Champaign/Carbondale/ Memphis: IC (6)
Chicago-Danville/Evansville/ Nashville:  C&EI/L&N (1).

Also relevant is how the individual private railroads competed against each other on their long distance runs, which inter-connected their intra-state and interstate corridors on a regional basis; connecting these multi regions together, including:

AT&SF: Chicago-Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago-Oklahoma/Texas.
B&O: Chicago-Washington.
CB&Q: Chicago-Seattle; Chicago-Denver; Portland; San Francisco; Yellowstone Park; Glacier Park.
C&NW: Chicago-Ashland, WI; Ishpeming, MI.
CRI&P: Chicago-Denver/Colorado Springs; Los Angeles (via SP).
GM&O: Chicago-Texas (via MP “Texas Eagle”).
GTW: Chicago-Toronto/Detroit.
IC: Chicago-New Orleans/Miami.
L&N (CE&I): Chicago-New Orleans/Atlanta.
CMSt.P&P/UP: Chicago-Denver; Portland; Los Angles; San Francisco; Yellowstone Park.
NYC: Chicago-New York/Boston.
PRR: Chicago-New York/Florida.

Re-Designing the Midwest State Corridors to be Relevant Today–and Tomorrow

Understanding there are numerous opportunities to extend corridors to expand their intra-state and interstate reach; to provide run thru Chicago schedules between Ohio, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota; to identify frequencies, which could certainly be exclusively elaborated upon in another writing, a proposed Midwest Corridor route system would be built to include:

Chicago-Milwaukee: (re-connect UP/ex-CNW North Line between Kenosha-Milwaukee to recognize how the geography between Milwaukee through the Chicago suburbs-Chicago has become a megalopolis; heavy potential traffic from north shore suburbs seeking to avoid conga line of trucks on I-94; Chicago commuter Metra currently runs Chicago-Kenosha). No run thru, as Chicago end point not Union Station; but certainly could extend regional service to Green Bay; Madison.

Chicago-Milwaukee-Green Bay, WI: track condition between Milwaukee-Green Bay?

Chicago-Milwaukee Madison: track condition Milwaukee-Madison? In 2008, recently elected Wisconsin governor (Walker) rejected federal stimulus funds to re-build line MKE-MAD and acquire Talgo equipment.

Chicago-Madison: track condition Fox Lake, IL-Madison, WI? Madison is state capitol/UW campus.

Chicago-Madison-St. Paul: track between Madison Portage or Columbus to link with CP main to St. Paul?

Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul: increase inter-regional frequency.

Milwaukee/St. Louis-Chicago-St. Louis-Kansas City-Omaha: inter-connect regions. Track condition KC-Omaha?

Chicago-Quad Cities-Iowa City-Des Moines: inadequate track condition Quad Cities-Des-Moines?

Chicago-Galena-Dubuque- Rockford: Galena popular tourist attraction year round; but very poor track condition; CN owned.

Chicago-Grand Rapids-Lansing-Detroit: important intra-state route along ex-Pere Marquette route. Track condition Grand Rapids- Detroit? Also link with discussion in Michigan to return service north to Traverse City.

Chicago-Carbondale-Memphis: poor track; CN owned.

Chicago-Indianapolis- Cincinnati/Louisville: Sections split at Indianapolis for OH and KY. Poor track conditions.

Chicago-Danville-Terre Haute-Indianapolis: No passenger routes west-east serving middle section of IL and IN.

Chicago-Galesburg-Quincy: currently state paid twice frequency. Potential to run north to connect to St. Paul. Track condition?

Chicago-Port Huron-Toronto: availability of connecting CN tunnel?

Chicago-Cleveland-Akron- Youngstown-Pittsburgh: re- surging populations and economics; lack connectivity in the Heartland.

Chicago/Detroit-Toledo- Cleveland-Akron-Youngstown- Pittsburgh: re-surging populations and economics; lack connectivity in the Heartland.

Cincinnati-Columbus-Cleveland: the heart of Ohio. Track condition? In 2008, recently elected Ohio governor (Kasich) rejected federal stimulus funds to re-build line between CIN-CLE.

St. Paul-Kansas City: the spine of the Midwest. Track condition?

ANOTHER OPTION TO FRANCHISING
According to Bloomberg on 5/11/18, “Fortress Investment Group, which owns the Brightline, hopes it can be a model for other cities on routes too far to drive but too short to fly. This is “the same trip that I’ll take hopefully with the mayors from Dallas and Houston and Atlanta and Charlotte and St. Louis and all the other places we want to be,” said Wes Edens, Fortress’s co-founder and co-chief executive officer.”

HOW TO FINANCE OUR ABILITY TO RE-CONNECT STATES AND REGIONS TO ENHANCE MOBILITY
Our guiding light should be to remember what former U.S. Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen (R-IL) once said, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” Just as I have taken the position in Part II to allow franchising and open access to state corridors as exit ramp from Amtrak; that PRIIA must have its flow reversed back to the states; we must recognize how we are confronted with a hegemonic mentality of Amtrak’s Board and management team with what John Tierney identified as a “government within the government,” which as he described, “produce one economy-hindering rule after another without much oversight.”

We must learn to be aware and pushback on other economic concepts that intend to suck out all the oxygen in the room, leaving nothing to build the requisite infrastructure to operate our sorely needed regional intra-state and interstate rail corridors. This includes:

In the May, 2018 issue of Governing, “Stadium Fatigue” pointed out how “spending money on a stadium-entertainment venue-is essentially consumption, and it is entirely different from investing to improve education, transit, or public safety, all of which will yield an economic return .This is especially true for spending on infrastructure.” Critical to this point is how “the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston research on public-spending on infrastructure stated its impact “on private-sector output and productivity has been positive and statistically significant.”

City Lab has nicely elaborated on its caveat re Amazon’s HQ2. In “The Hypocrisy of Amazon’s HQ2 Process” (5/10/18), it pointed out how “the mayors and civic leaders of America’s most liberal and economically dynamic cities have played right into the company’s hands, rushing to subsidize one of the world’s largest corporations and its richest man rather than building up their own local economic capacities and investing in pressing social needs…these liberal cities, with Amazon holding the reins, are engaging in their own race to the bottom.” In another issue of City Lab, “HQ2 Cities: There’s a Better Way to Do Economic Development” (2/28/18), the story analyzed how “In the nearly 40 years since Main Street America began, modest investments by cities and states in support of locally driven economic development have driven impressive returns. Put another way, for every public dollar invested, the private sector matched that and added another three dollars.” To confront Amazon’s promises, “there is little evidence that such subsidies bring sustainable economic benefit to cities. Research suggests that firms receiving incentives are statistically no more likely to generate new jobs than similar firms that don’t.”

Overt federal subsidies to retain the power of monopolies does not help our economy, e.g., pharmaceuticals, oil, sugar. In fact, as reported in the  “A Bitter Pill for Americans,”  National Review ,5/11/18, “the downstream effects of this program are disastrous. Roughly $3 billion in costs are shifted to manufacturers in the form of a hidden sugar tax annually, forcing consumers to pay more for food. The processors’ guaranteed profit makes the dredging up of pristine lands irresistible, harming conservation efforts. Taxpayer-funded bailouts have occurred as recently as the last farm-bill debate, in 2013, and government projections predict that they will continue.”

Without injecting the fervor of politics here, I do not believe we can simply overlook how the federal government has splurged with our funds, as reported by Reason in “Afghanistan Reconstruction: Huge Cost, Meager Benefits” (5/10/18), “U.S. spending in Afghanistan is plagued by “far too many instances of poor planning, sloppy execution, theft, corruption, and lack of accountability,” the federal official charged with keeping track of reconstruction efforts in that country testified yesterday. “Congress has appropriated $126 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction since Fiscal Year 2002,” Sopko writes. By 2014, “total appropriations for Afghanistan reconstruction, after adjustment for inflation, had already exceeded the total of U.S. aid committed to the Marshall Plan for rebuilding much of Europe after World War II.”  in Afghanistan “the United States threw itself into reconstruction with haste and hubris, with untested assumptions and unrealistic expectations, and with piles of cash and tight deadlines for spending it—too much, too fast, with too little oversight.” 

A lesson from the $15 billion “Big Dig” project in Boston is still relevant today: how it helps to have real political muscle supporting you. Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill pushed the project for Congress to pay 80% of its costs.

Where Do We Go From Here..?

It is sadly obvious the government has wasted far more funds on bankrolling monopolies, tax-free business investments for the elite, and fiascos overseas, depriving the regeneration of state rail corridors and the embracement of a national system. Parts I-III in this series described the factors inhibiting state corridors, as well as the options to stop ‘sailing against every prevailing wind.’ Although CEO Anderson is punching above his game in respect to the national system, when it comes to the state corridors, the non-NEC states have been forced into playing a new, no win version of the “Hunger Games.” Instead of waiting for Anderson to inevitably have his ‘time in the barrel,’ we cannot be just watching the state corridors fade from the rear view mirror. States must be educated to appreciate the unleveled playing field deliberately devised by Amtrak’s Board and dutifully carried out by its senior management.

In essence, the states will have to fight for their PRIIA funds to be returned to be used locally; to learn how California’s JPAs succeeded; so the states can make a coherent decision how to work with each other in geographic proximity re: passenger operations and relationships with the Class 1s. Indeed, the national system inclusive of the state corridors and long distance routes must have the benefit of a Marshall Plan from of investment by the federal, state, and local governments, along with real public-private partnership (P3) involvement.

However, my caveat is without taking a 180 degree turn now, state corridors will inevitably succumb to the deja vu of another chapter in the ICC Hosmer Report of 1958 that accurately projected the decline and demise of passenger trains. How long can those states paying through the throat for marginal, at best, corridor services that do not meet intra-state nor interstate regional connectivity swallow the cost each year of non-negotiable increases based upon Amtrak’s own full cost methodology that dis-incentivizes any meaningful level of frequency?

 

 

Wow, Thanks Jerry!

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By Noel T. Braymer

With California’s Governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown now in his last year as governor, he seems to be a man in a hurry to tie up as many loose ends as possible before he goes. Brown had years after he left Sacramento in 1983 to rethink what he would differently if he got a second chance as governor. When Jerry Brown came back to Sacramento as Governor in 2011, he had a lot of plans and is in the process making sure they survive after 2019. Central to his plans are expanded rail passenger service, reductions in green house gas emissions in the State and keeping California’s State budget in balance. Under Governor Brown, $4.3 billion dollars was just released to fund many rail and transit projects that have waited for years for funding. This was made possible with the passage of new transportation taxes on fuel, increased car registration fees and money from the Cap and Trade program. Brown is quickly putting that money to use for highway repair projects, plus improved rail and transit services. One thing building new roads or expanding old ones doesn’t do is reduce traffic congestion: it only makes it worse. Another factor in Brown’s hurry to spend this new tax revenues may also be part of his plans to avoid problems from a recession he predicts will happen after he leaves. What this new spending will do is not only generate economic activity after new rail and transit services are running, but also stimulate local economies with new construction in the short term. All of this while leaving the air cleaner and a State budget surplus. According to recent news reports, California is now the 5th largest economy in the world with $2.7 trillion dollars in Gross Domestic Product surpassing Great Britain. California has had major economic growth since the Great Recession of 2008, particularly after the election of Jerry Brown in 2010.

Two of the areas in California where rail infrastructure has been delayed too long are in the San Joaquin Valley and along the Coast between Ventura County up to Gilroy. Both areas are largely rural, generally have low population densities and don’t have a lot of money to spend on rail projects. But both regions are astride of the 2 main north/south travel corridors in the State and deserve State funded help improving regional and State wide rail passenger services. Like many overnight successes, efforts to expand service on both the San Joaquins and ACE trains in the San Joaquin Valley have been years in the making. With funding now at hand we can expect by 2020 faster San Joaquin trains with 4 round trips between the lower San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento. In addition to the 2 existing trains, the San Joaquins plan to add 2 more trains by 2020 to Sacramento. These new trains will be on an underused branch of the Union Pacific. With State supported funding these old tracks will be upgraded for running more passenger trains.This will include new stations in the Sacramento area. At the same time the ACE trains which now run between San Jose and Stockton will have in a few years service to Sacramento and to Merced. This will include a transfer station and timed transfers to get to any point on the ACE network. In a few years there is expected to be 9 round trip trains between Stockton and Sacramento with the combined San Joaquins and ACE services. The goal is to have hourly service to Sacramento in the not too distant future.

After the fires late last year in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties and the flooding in Santa Barbara: finally more rail passenger service and the money to add more sidings in the region is finally happening. This will have a good effect on service along the entire Coast Line. What could be next? Finally extending a Pacific Surfliner at least as far as San Jose? What will happen is improvements between Gilroy and San Jose to extend Caltrain electrification to Gilroy by 2027 for speeds up to 110 miles per hour. This is part of High Speed Rail construction. This will allow High Speed Rail construction to be used by Caltrain before the High Speed Rail tunnel needed to connect the Valley to the Coast Line is built which won’t be before 2029. There is also talk of running some San Joaquin trains on the new HSR tracks in the San Joaquin Valley which will be finished by 2022. What is funded now are track improvements to raise speeds for the San Joaquin trains up to 90 miles per hour and reducing their running times to under 6 hours between Bakersfield and Oakland.

Another area in California which will enjoy improved rail service is Southern California. A major beneficiary will be Metrolink. Metrolink is planning on greatly increasing the frequencies of its service with some lines having up to 4 trains an hour in both directions and 2 trains an hour on most of its lines most of the day. Service is also being planned to link stations on all sides of downtown Los Angeles. This will mean having tracks at Los Angeles Union Station that instead of dead ending like they do now, instead run through the station in one end and out the other. A major part of the funding for building such run-through tracks and other improvements at Union Station will be with the money which was recently released for rail projects.These improvements will create a truly regional rail service for most of Southern California providing an economical alternative to often gridlocked roads and freeways. In addition LA Metro is getting State funding to extend the Purple Line to Westwood as well as building a new 18 mile Light Rail Line from Downtown Los Angeles to the southeast border of Los Angeles County at Artesia. With the help of this new funding these and other new transportation projects will be ready by 2028 in time for the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics to help people get around.

With full electrification on Caltrain to Gilroy, to more frequent Surfliners, Metrolink and Coaster Trains on the LOSSAN Corridor between San Diego and San Luis Obispo plus in the future San Jose as well as expanded San Joaquin service, much more rail service will be available in California in just the next 10 years. In Los Angeles, San Diego and the Bay Area, major transit projects are underway now helped in part by increased funding made possible with local tax increases and funding approved by Governor Brown. This in addition to rail service upgrades funded now between Sacramento, the Bay Area and and San Joaquin Valley on the San Joaquins, ACE and Capitol Corridor trains. Then there is the California High Speed Rail project of whom’s reports of its death are greatly exaggerated.Transportation is a system with many moving parts. What is being planned now to deal with future travel demand is with expanding the rail passenger network to prevent more gridlock on already congested freeways and at airports which building new ones to handle more flights is prohibitively expensive. The High Speed Rail project is just a part of a larger interlocking system of public transportation to grow the economy and provide more travel options. One thing is clear, good rail passenger service attracts passengers. From Light Rail, extended subways and improved corridor rail services, many of the rail services improved in the last 40 years have improved the local economies of those regions that have expanded rail service. Caltrain and BART are often full and rail transit is often busy in Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego. As the California rail passenger service network continues to grown and interconnect more, the more it will benefit local communities and much of the State as a whole. High Speed Rail is one part of this growing rail passenger system evolving in California.

 

Should California Secede From Amtrak ?

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By Noel T. Braymer

In a recent column by Don Phillips (The Potomac Pundit) in Passenger Train Journal, it was reported that the heads of the 3 Joint Powers Agencies in California managing the 3 State supported trains (Capitol Corridor, San Joaquins and Pacific Surfliners) signed a joint letter to Amtrak President Richard Anderson. All three managers were upset with changes made to ticketing without advanced notification to the JPA’s managing these Amtrak trains. These changes reduced the ticket discounting available on these California based trains. All three top managers :David Kutrosky, Stacey Mortensen and Jennifer Bergener pointed out that these discounts were made during times of low ridership. With these discounts the 3 trains were able to bring in $27 million dollars of additional revenue and and increase ridership by 1.1 million for Amtrak. This is an example of Yield Management which the airline industry pioneered by raising prices when demand was high and discounting tickets when traffic was slow to ensure more seats had paying passengers and increased income. This is a concept that Anderson with a long career in the airline industry should understand.

Another problem in California is the cost of running regional rail service with Amtrak. The California supported trains share many costs with Long Distance Trains which terminate in California: the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief and Sunset Limited. Local California trains share costs and facilities for servicing and repair of their trains with the Long Distance Trains which serve California. The possibility of cut backs or even eliminating some these Long Distance Trains means that more of the overhead cost burden of train servicing and maintenance would be shifted to the State of California, increasing its subsidy to Amtrak. What exactly is California getting out of this deal?

Amtrak has some of the highest operating costs of any passenger rail service in this Country. Because of this many of the rail commuter services in this country contract operations of their trains usually to private companies with lower costs and bids than Amtrak’s. In the case after the deadly crash at Chatsworth almost 10 years ago, Metrolink dropped their contract with a privately owned operator and signed on with Amtrak. This was largely because Amtrak’s liability is backed up by the US Treasury and Metrolink’s safety record also included an accident in Glendale killing 11 in 2005 before the Chatsworth crash. The other commuter services in California: Caltrain, ACE and Coaster are all operated by private operators.

In the case of the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquins, most their equipment is owned by the State of California. For the Surfliners, much of the equipment is owned by Amtrak which the State must pay lease payment to. The goal of the LOSSAN JPA is to replace the Amtrak owned equipment with State owned equipment as soon as possible to save money and increase the cost recovery of the Surfliners. Durring the last fiscal year the Surfliners recovered roughly 79% of its costs from the farebox, the highest cost recovery of any of the State supported Amtrak train.

So could these 3 local California trains run without Amtrak? Private operators run commuter trains on  mostly freight railroads now. In the case of ACE service between San Jose and Stockton, almost all of the service is on the UP. ACE soon will be adding tracks on the UP right of way between Merced and Stockton and will share an upgraded secondary UP line for expanded service with the San Joaquins from Stockton to Sacramento. Generally the railroads prefer contracts with commuter operators because they pay more and the railroads make more money with them than running Amtrak trains. Going back to the creation of Amtrak, the railroads have to give a discounted price to Amtrak when using their tracks. The railroads are able to negotiate a better deal with commuter services. Much the same could be done with the three local California trains now run by Amtrak. In the case of Southern California the tracks between Moorpark and San Diego are controlled and or owned by public agencies except on the BNSF between the City of Commerce and Fullerton. Agreements to expand passenger service on the BNSF have generally come with track improvements that are mostly government funded.

So should the 3 California local Amtrak trains secede from Amtrak? It should at least be looked at. Clearly having local control and management in California is doing a better job for California than Amtrak’s Management in Washington. What else could be done? Should Amtrak mess with the Starlight, it might be necessary for the States of California, Oregon and Washington to jointly take over that service too. Amtrak is suppose to according to recent legislation put up 3 long distance services out to bid for operation by private operators soon. Yet before this has been done, Amtrak President Anderson is attempting major changes to Long Distance services which could well sabotage any chance to see what other operators could do to increase ridership, service and revenues of what’s left of America’s Long Distance Rail Passenger service. The very fact that Mr Anderson proposed such a large scale change to so much of the rail passenger service in this country without even a test service to see if it would work first, doesn’t inspire confidence in his judgement when it comes to rail passenger service.

Part 2 “STATE-SUPPORTED CORRIDORS: AMTRAK’S LAST HURRAH”

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Defining its “Core Network” as the NEC has Terminated the “National” in its Name, NRPC

By M.E. Singer

The real collusion at the nation’s expense: how Amtrak purports its monopoly status as a state-owned enterprise to willfully neglect and sacrifice the state corridors. We have a binary choice–to allow the economic unfeasible perpetuation of Amtrak’s unfettered abandonment of state corridors and continuing their condition of disrepair. Or, instead, to seize upon identifying and integrating solutions towards building a viable 21st century business model not focused on end points, but rather, run thru routes, extensions beyond current end points, and increased frequencies to inter-connect intra-state and inter-state regions. The devastation of the Midwest Corridors and restoration are the focus here, clearly with the intent of the application of this proposed template for other state/regional corridors.

Background-Evolution of State Corridor Problems Created by Amtrak
Demonstrating an historical lack of vision and strident mentality favoring the status quo are not favorable characteristics of how a typical marketing-focused firm competes in the marketplace. Yet, we find how Amtrak has historically been unsupportive of state and regional economic development, particularly with the Midwest Corridors, by holding to a fixed operation. As evidenced by consists (influence of union crewing rules?); end-point to end-point devoid of run thru schedules in Chicago; not extending routes to include suburbs as end- points; not expanding beyond traditional end-points to link regions; offering minimal frequencies dissuading day trippers (except over Thanksgiving); now, ignoring the vast number of colleges to discontinue the student discount. Perhaps this explains how once again Amtrak is advertising for a Senior Marketing Manager for state corridors (Indeed: 4/18/18). Historically, Amtrak has even evidenced its consistent inability to competently operate short haul commuter corridors, as it has lost contracts with: VRE and Caltrain; NCTD (Amtrak did not re-bid) and MBTA (Amtrak elected not to bid); and its recent bid to operate for Connecticut DOT its CTrail between New Haven-Hartford-Springfield.

What happened to the corporate mindset created by those at the beginning of Amtrak who clearly had the right vision to disregard the prior mindset of routes? This included Kevin McKinney creating the most successful concept of linking the multiple regional/inter-state end-points of Los Angeles-Oakland-Portland- Seattle with the “Coast Starlight;” how Jim McClellan fought the naysayers by running NEC trains thru New York City; how that team introduced the first run thru between Milwaukee-St. Louis via Chicago’s Union Station (“Abraham Lincoln” and “Prairie State“).

No thanks to Amtrak, what is possible is evidenced today by California’s Joint Powers Authorities who have successfully disregarded the end-point mentality of Amtrak by operating three intra-state regional extended routes with ever increasing frequencies, augmenting their reach utilizing a network of ThruWay bus connections:
“Pacific Surfliner”: San Diego-Los Angeles-Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo.
“San Joaquin”: Bakersfield-Fresno-Merced- Sacramento-Oakland-Emeryville.
“Capitol”: Auburn-Sacramento-Emeryville- Oakland-San Jose.

Amtrak’s business model today is foisted upon the states in a one-two punch to clearly disincentivize seizing growth enhancement opportunities by increasing corridor frequencies, and to expand or extend regional routes. Amtrak has impeded this growth by:
1) Amtrak convinced Congress apparently of yet another “glide path towards solvency” by having the Passenger Rail Investment & Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) passed, which cocooned the NEC states from the intent to charge all other states 85% of annual costs–as determined by Amtrak’s own cost methodology.
2) This unique cost methodology to exclusively serve the narrow interests of Amtrak as a state-owned enterprise disregards the universally acceptable concept of applying just the incremental costs to increasing frequencies or route extensions. Instead, Amtrak treats each frequency as its own full cost center by disregarding any thought of shared costs, or amortizing fixed costs against increased frequencies. Apparently, GAAP (Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles) is a verboten four letter word Amtrak adamantly rejects and refuses to be conversant with, or adhere to, in the world of accounting and finance.

Not content to dissuade the pent-up corridor opportunities in the Midwest, Amtrak continues its philosophy to “charge more, give less” by blindsiding Chicago’s commuter line, Metra, with its recent stealthy takeover of all Union Station assets; thus, negating any positive influence conducted by the STB. As this was previously attempted and lost by Amtrak against VRE at Washington Union Station, the Chicago matter should have the same outcome. There is a strong sense in Chicago that Amtrak’s ‘middle of the night’ ploy was to simply eliminate Metra’s obvious role to implement the once and future O’Hare Express rail service.

Action Plan: How to Fix What Amtrak Broke
Former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn’s advice, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” was never intended to ever be interpreted for bad legislation to be baked into concrete. PRIIA has been proven as a federal instrument to feed the NEC subsidy at the expense of state corridors. PRIIA has stunted the natural growth of state corridors by their non-GAAP payments to Amtrak, while Amtrak has utilized PRIIA as a cudgel against those very states to increase frequencies or expand regionally. Simply put, PRIIA is bad legislation that can no longer remain baked into preventing the common sense requires in our transportation policies and planning that require flexibility to meet changing demands and how to economically serve them.

Eliminating PRIIA

Attacking PRIIA Politically:
As Amtrak’s CEO Anderson has embraced the PRIIA Act of 2008 as his lodestar to enable Amtrak to fracture the national network comprised of the long distance and state-supported corridors, we must frontally attack PRIIA, whether now, or, after the 2018 elections. An effective organized political effort must be created to detract PRIIA by implicating its overt economic bias against all states, but favoring those of the NEC. Which of those non-NEC states and their federal representatives  actually voted in agreement to have their economic development and mobility stilted by increasingly higher annual payments for Amtrak to divert into its NEC subsidy? We cannot tolerate the PRIIA Act continuing to extort payment from the non-NEC states, just as we cannot leave unsettled properly interpreting within PRIIA the options offered in lieu of Amtrak.

Attacking PRIIA-Financial Impetus:
What is key here to protect and facilitate the growth of state corridors is how PRIIA cannot be allowed to be considered “permanent” as labor agreements are now viewed, where the union remains indefinitely certified and never again required to stand for re-election. Successfully attacking PRIIA concomitantly to the Administration’s current review of efficiencies and costs of the USPS, will enable the states west of the Potomac to politically demand:
1) Each NEC state must also be fully charged for its Amtrak corridor trains costs (including infrastructure), particularly  when it should be emphasized how the entire NEC is only 457 miles in length between Boston-Washington. Yet, PRIIA requires all states must pay for corridors under 750 miles.
2) Immediately, the state formulas and the full cost cost methodology must be reviewed by a trusted third party to provide the time for the non-NEC states to get their act together for the next step. In the meantime, all such PRIIA payments must be directed to be exclusively utilized in that state, or, by acknowledgment, within its inter-connecting region. This will also uncover the canard of just how “profitable” the NEC can be on its own.
3) If eliminating PRIIA requires an incremental approach, than the first step should be for every state, or, in agreement with their inter-connecting regional state partners, to be annually re-funded their payments. This will provide a grasp on their budget to enable states to determine if it is in their economic interest to continue their relationship with Amtrak, as expected by the NEC states. Or, as expected with the non-NEC states, they will proceed individually, or, to create viable inter-regional compacts, to pursue a non-Amtrak direction. The bottom-line is to legislatively and financially break Amtrak’s self-interpreted monopoly at the expense of state corridor development. This will also include eliminating the excessive corporate overhead costs assessed to the state-supported corridors, e.g., government relations, public relations, HR, as well as catenary repair, track and ballast gangs, etc.

Strategy for State-Supported Corridors to Pivot Post PRIIA/Amtrak:
On a very timely basis for pursuing this recommended course of action, we note how Connecticut has already elected to franchise its expanded New Haven-Hartford-Springfield route/schedule frequency to a joint venture of Transit America/Alternate Concepts; rejecting the infrastructure owner, Amtrak. This agreement calls for the franchisee to operate trains, provide customer service, and maintain depots, while Amtrak will handle dispatching, maintain  infrastructure, and continue its own trains. This state decision (within the NEC!) should be the stimulus to demand Congress to clearly interpret PRIIA to allow for states/regions to franchise their passenger services, or, as in Connecticut, operate as a mix with Amtrak in an open access concept.

What cannot be ignored is how the U.S. transportation market has evolved into an open market to compete, except for Amtrak. Forget for a moment our argument how the federal treasury built interstate highways to facilitate re-engineered bus lines to compete on express and luxury routes; or, how the airlines benefited from tax-built airports and air traffic control. The point is they learned how to identify and seize opportunity in the market. This explains Amtrak’s necrotic approach to state-supported corridors that has resulted in the majority of travelers relying upon auto or bus.

Our dilemma is the reality that currently no firm exists in North America with the proven expertise to successfully manage and operate an intercity passenger train service. Until the joint venture in Connecticut makes its mark, those private operators currently in service now operate only commuter services; those not in any such contractual service are bereft of the basic requirements to bid, including: no operating experience; no accessible equipment; no internal financing for working capital and start-up costs; no relationship with Class 1s or Amtrak. Despite so much initial enthusiasm for Iowa Pacific’s (IPH) entrance into the Chicago-Indianapolis market (“Hoosier State”) after a false start with the original RFP, what happened is clearly a reminder that passenger trains are more than an exercise in hugging a Lionel concept. Simply put, in its enthusiasm to throw together a dome diner/lounge business class and coaches, IPH failed to appreciate the covenants of its contract with Amtrak and the State of Indiana. The lack of daily service, increased frequencies, and an archaic slow schedule did not help. However, given the litigious history of IPH against Amtrak, why would anybody expect IPH to be given the benefit of Amtrak’s inspection of its equipment, or a better deal on a second locomotive required for its recent (and discontinued) Pullman Service between Chicago-New Orleans?

The Inevitable Transformation of State Corridors into a Franchise Service:
Fortuitously, there is one firm with proven competence in both bus and rail that could take state corridors to the next step historically denied by Amtrak. This firm is out of Germany: FlixMobility, which in five short years has incredibly successfully challenged the standard concept of ground transport; now rail. At some point this year, FlixBus will operate their template in the U.S., initially out of LA to the Southwest. The franchise concept is perfect–they “do everything except buy buses and hire drivers” and retains only 25% of the ticket price. Focused on its strengths  FlixBus creates the timetables, pricing, route planning, marketing, sales, establishes service standards, and facilitates customers to book tickets through its apps; thus, creating a comprehensive network flexible to meet demands of the marketplace. Quite relevant for this recommendation is the fact how FlixTrains has been added this year; that by year-end, 28 destinations throughout Germany will be served by FlixTrain. Just as California’s JPAs have proven, FlixMobility has declared how “bus and rail complement each other perfectly.” Integrating bus and train in its network will “create a sustainable concept for the future of mobility.”

How to Implement a State Corridor Franchise:
Frankly, given the dearth of experienced intercity rail operators in the U.S., FlixMobility’s successful experience with bus and train franchising in Europe, and its impending arrival in the U.S., could be the only-and best-alternative to Amtrak’s current stagnant policy towards state corridors. An initial approach to franchising state corridors could be:

1) Financial-Operations, Track Access, & Dispatching:
Focusing on the Midwest, their state DOTs lack the experience level as evidenced in California, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington. The all-encompassing expertise of FlixMobility would certainly offer a value to these states, as well as facilitate their outlook toward regional inter-connections. To fund the franchise operation, I refer back to my July, 2015, proposal embraced by Jim McClellan: to have a ticket tax and seat reservation fee exclusively dedicated to that state’s passenger operations. In respect to Congressman Fazio’s (D-OR) excellent  recommendation, every Wall Street transaction should be taxed to dedicate those fees toward the requisite infrastructure improvements to facilitate the blending of passenger and freight trains on private Class 1 infrastructure. To prevent interfering with  those freight services, this will require the construction of an additional mainline track and signaling to separate passenger and freight. We must recognize that to achieve a successful implementation of corridor franchises, we must step back from Amtrak’s failure to respect Class 1 freight operations, while making bonus payments for criteria that has no logical basis given increased schedule padding and delays. We must recognize that track capacity is an issue that cannot be ignored, or pushed to Congress. Again, just look at how California’s JPAs work with the Class 1s to invest to create increased track capacity, passing sidings, etc. Indeed, as a more respectful commercial customer, the franchise must be able to negotiate a new, realistic payment to the private owner of that right-of-way that serves to motivate a mutually beneficial  relationship.

2) Insurance:
The state corridors must be able to secure for their franchise operator a similar insurance program that Amtrak has enjoyed that mutually absolved the passenger operator and Class 1.

3) Infrastructure/P3:
We should be cognizant and concerned of what was represented in the National Real Estate Investor of 4 May 2018 how “there is a strong movement afoot to build infrastructure through P3s, but this funding mechanism usually only works for projects that generate lots of money, such as student housing, publicly-owned healthcare facilities and airports. Transportation projects, including toll roads and bridges and light rail construction, require bond measures because they don’t generate enough revenues above operational and maintenance costs to pay back private investors.”  Between the federal and state governments, to ensure the franchise concept is viable,, we must change these dynamics of how P3 is viewed, as its application could serve to revamp rail infrastructure to accommodate more and faster state trains.

4) On-Board Services:
A competent franchise approach to fulfilling the the customer’s perception of value will create a Midwest Parlour service branded as “Pinstripe Service” providing full drink and hot meal services. There will be no cafe car or LSA, but rather, in coach, a catering trolley service to provide today’s market for “grab and go food fare.”

5) Equipment:
For now, states will be required to “wet lease” equipment and crews from Amtrak. However, all costs must be reviewed and validated by a reputable external third party to show such costs as being correctly calculated to avoid any further rape of the states for depreciation, reservations (non-existent), etc. Eventually, new equipment must be bi-directional with electronic doors. Remember, there are alternatives to Anderson’s vision of a suburban-style DMU fleet. Ideally, states will realize the economic opportunity to control costs by purchasing equipment together and standardizing their fleet of power and consists.

Breaking the Amtrak Mold
Amtrak’s inherent attribute that has compromised and discouraged the development of state corridors is best explained in a Forbesarticle (02/23/13) describing how a state-owned enterprise is “tightly controlled;” with “no transparency;” “packed with party apparatchiks, and stifled honest competition by introducing all kinds of inefficiencies into the market.” How else can Amtrak’s myopic vision to fail to competently identify and timely react to changes in the market be explained?  For example:

As indicated in “Intercity Bus Lines Picking Up Speed with New Service Strategies” (Metro 05/01/18), “strategies have changed greatly since the days when BoltBus and Megabus rolled out major hubs and route networks to bring express service to population centers across the U.S. mainland. The most recent expansion has been more nuanced, generally spurred by a desire to fill gaps in the system, improve connectivity with Amtrak, and strengthen existing routes with new intermediate stops.” Also, “a big story since the start of 2017 has been new premium services, including business-class offerings. These services are intended to capitalize on the airport “hassle factor” and consumers’ desire to avoid driving amid worsening congestion.”
Limoliner now competes head-on with Amtrak between Boston-NYC; Vonlane serves the Texas Triangle (Ft. Worth-Austin-Houston) unserved by Amtrak. Growth of the bus industry on Amtrak’s watch is an indictment over the short haul market Amtrak not only failed to develop, but actually stymied.

Congressman McClintock proposed an amendment to end the taxpayer subsidy of Essential Air Service (EAS) on 04/27/18, by railing how “Essential Air Service is perhaps the least essential program in the entire government.  It is a direct subsidy paid to airline companies to fly empty and near-empty planes from small airports to regional hubs.  This was supposed to be a temporary program to allow local communities and airports to adjust to airline de-regulation in 1978 and instead has grown to include 173 airports in a program that has doubled in cost in the last decade. Why can’t it?  In many cases, the small airports in the program are less than an hour’s drive from regional airports. There are supposed to be $200 per passenger caps on the subsidy and a minimum of ten passengers per day, yet every request to waive these requirements has been granted.  Every one.  Per passenger subsidies on some flights are now nearly $1,000 per passenger.  By comparison, you can charter a small plane for around $150 to $200 an hour.  Over the next five years, this program will cost taxpayers nearly one billion dollars in direct appropriations, which this amendment would cease.  The program also gets another $100 million a year from overflight fees that would otherwise be available to fund high priorities in the aviation system, like 21st Century air traffic control technology.”
Why has Amtrak elected to remain mum on this subsidy for “puddle jumper” flights down the road from a major airport; to not have pointed out how those funds could be re-directed to Amtrak for a bigger bang investment in state corridors?

At the beginning of May, 2018, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker stated “since last summer, crude oil prices have gone up more than 60% from around $45 a barrel to roughly $75. And the last 12% of that’s happened in the last two weeks.”
How does Amtrak prepare for the inevitable jump in the price of air tickets and potential for withdrawal from short haul routes (as Parker said, “decisions about what markets to fly to from Chicago will no longer be based on trying to gain market share, but rather, on where the carrier can operate most profitably”)? In its classic “shoot, aim, ready” response to market opportunities, Amtrak moves in parallel to further deteriorate dining services on long distance trains; to embrace the concept how the DMU will serve components of what was a contiguous long distance corridor. Total silence from the Amtrak corporate castle towards increasing frequencies on long distance and state corridors by acquiring more equipment, beyond the fantasy of DMUs as the updated version of “the little engine that could.”

We should also not forget how Amtrak’s focus on the end-point has persistently been detrimental to cultivating acceptance of its own self-serving business model, as evidenced:

“Sunset Limited” arrives Los Angles 535am; arrives New Orleans 940pm.
“Lake Shore Limited” arrives NYC 623pm; Boston 801pm.
(note: primary scheduling purpose to serve as day train between Buffalo-NYC/Boston).
“Capitol Limited” arrives Washington 105pm.
(note: primary scheduling purpose to serve as day train between Pittsburgh-Washington).
“Cardinal” arrives Washington 619pm.
“City of New Orleans” arrives New Orleans 347pm.

Southbound “Coast Starlight” arrives Los Angeles 900pm; eastbound “Southwest Chief” departs Los Angeles 610pm.

Arranging the Interlocking Plant
With these facts of Amtrak’s pathetic response to changes in the marketplace, it is long overdue to accept that by charging the same windmills will make any difference. Indeed, how ludicrous it is to believe Amtrak can achieve any different and improved results by following a course of repetition compulsion to consistently repeat the same problems of the past. To overcome current handicaps imposed by Amtrak upon state-support corridors of poor service frequencies and lack of inter-connecting state and regional routes, states must take back their PRIIA funds; remove the economic shackles of PRIIA; look to developing a franchise in conjunction with their border states that will link regions, break through the end point mentality, and provide the expected frequency to adequately compete with the convenience of auto and cost of bus.

In Part 3, we will delve into how Amtrak has elected to ignore recent changes in the market by identifying where people now live; how their travel needs have changed beyond Amtrak’s end-point restrictions; the growing need to provide convenient schedules  to facilitate day trippers for business, college, and pleasure. In a tip of the hat to California’s JPAs, the proposed routes and frequencies will be identified to rehabilitate the Midwest Corridors.

 

What’s Planned In The Near Future For The San Joaquins and ACE Trains

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By Noel T. Braymer

Starting on May 7th, the San Joaquins will have an early morning arrival into Sacramento. There will still be 7  roundtrip San Joaquin trains in the San Joaquin Valley, but now with an early morning and midday arrival into Sacramento. Departures from Sacramento will be in midday and early evening. Also bus connections at Stockton to Sacramento will continue to connect with the 5 round trips between Bakersfield and Oakland. The new morning train to Sacramento will originate at Fresno with bus connections to Southern California, as well as bus stops at Bakersfield and Hanford. This is the start of a longer range plan to expand service to Sacramento connecting to the San Joaquin Valley as well as to San Jose. Recently approved funding will bring about track improvements to increase the number of San Joaquin trains to Sacramento as well as extend Altamont Corridor Express trains (ACE) from San Jose past Stockton to Sacramento sharing tracks with San Joaquin trains between Stockton and Sacramento. ACE is also funded for extending service south of Stockton to as far as Merced.

The routes of the San Joaquins between Bakersfield to Oakland and Sacramento

Much about this planning can be found in the current draft of the 2018 business plan for the San Joaquins. The final draft of this business plan will be published by mid-year when finally approved. Current planning calls for a second early morning departure from Fresno for an earlier morning arrival into Oakland and the northern Bay Area by 2019. This will be part of the current 7 roundtrip San Joaquin trains. Both of these new early morning arrivals are focused on business travel from the San Joaquin Valley to both Sacramento and the Bay Area. Planned by mid 2020 are an 8th and 9th round trip San Joaquin train service from Bakersfield with both going to Sacramento. Before operations can begin for these new services, major track work will be needed to expand service and reduce running times. The goal is to raise speeds on the current route to 90 miles per hour and reduce running times for the trains to under 6 hours between Bakersfield to Oakland and Sacramento. This will reduce the number of crew changes needed for the San Joaquins and save money.  Also with new Siemens Charger locomotives coming on line later this year the trains will have faster acceleration which will shorten running times. This is part of a $1.5 billion dollar, ten year Capital Improvement Plan for the San Joaquins. Recently grant money for these and many other rail and transit related projects have been released by the State which greatly improves the chances of seeing long planned track projects being built soon.

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These are the ridership numbers for the connecting bus services to the San Joaquins. The biggest bus connections are to Southern California and Sacramento

Central to the plan to extending more San Joaquins service to Sacramento will be the use of the Union Pacific’s Sacramento Division which is not part of the UP’s mainline which is now used by the 2 current round trip San Joaquin trains into the Sacramento Amtrak Station. Work will be needed to upgrade the Sacramento Division’s track for passenger service. Also new stations will be needed between Stockton and Sacramento because this route which won’t have connections to the main Sacramento Amtrak station. The current San Joaquin trains will continue to use the UP main line to Sacramento as additional passenger trains are added on the Sacramento Division at Stockton. This will also include new ACE service to Sacramento. The plan is to have a total of 9 round trips between Stockton and Sacramento between the San Joaquins and ACE. Long term plans call for hourly service to Sacramento equally shared between the San Joaquins and ACE. There are also plans in the future to extend San Joaquin service north of Sacramento on the Sacramento Division to Yuba City/Maryville first, then with extensions finally to Redding.

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The routes used by ACE (in purple) and the San Joaquins (in blue) connecting Sacramento by rail to the San Joaquin Valley and to San Jose.

Other extensions being looked at for San Joaquin service would extend some trains 5 miles south the current terminal at Oakland to the Oakland Coliseum Amtrak and BART Stations. This would provide connections to BART service as well as to the Oakland Airport. These improvements will require more equipment. The San Joaquin JPA is looking at the new Siemens single level cars being built for the State of California. To speed up loading for these new cars and the single level Comet cars now leased from Amtrak, the JPA is looking at mini-high level platforms at the doors of low level cars both for improved handicap access and to speed up loading and unloading of these trains.

Also being planned are changes to some of the feeder bus services for the San Joaquins. This could include terminating north valley service at Chico instead of Redding. Passengers traveling as far as Redding would have bus connections on the new North Express Bus service. Changes are also being looked at for better connections on the San Joaquins with bus connections to the SMART train service in Sonoma/Marin Counties. Also being planned is a new joint Amtrak/High Speed Rail station in Madera between Fresno and Merced. There is already a Madera Station for the San Joaquins, but this new station would allow transfers between High Speed Rail and San Joaquin trains. This will be the only High Speed Rail station which will have transfers to the San Joaquins. There are also plans to lower emissions on both San Joaquins trains and connecting buses by switching over to renewable diesel fuel in the near future.

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There are plans to use a new public bus connection between Redding and Sacramento to connect to future San Joaquins and ACE trains at Sacramento. Future plans call for extending San Joaquins on the Sacramento Division as far as Chico from Sacramento.

This April 26th, State funding was announced for track work to expand passenger service between Stockton and Sacramento. This will be on the Union Pacific Sacramento Division which has light traffic at best now. Several new stations will be built north of Stockton to serve new riders. The following is a press release on the funding expanding  Sacramento service “The Valley Rail project is a transformational, megaregional initiative.  Valley Rail results in the initiation of San Jose bound commuter service from Sacramento using existing commuter rail equipment (expected by 2020).  Four trains from Ceres are included in the proposal, with three heading up to Sacramento (with a transfer to San Jose in Lathrop) and one direct route to San Jose by no later than 2023.  Feeder electric bus service will connect to Ceres from Merced.  Valley Rail also adds two new San Joaquins round-trips between Fresno and Sacramento, on top of the two round-trips currently available.  Total rail service between Stockton and Sacramento will be nine round-trips across all available routes and service providers, including one Sacramento to Stockton only round-trip. “

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These are maps from ACE. The smaller map is of the current ACE service. The larger maps shows the planned ACE extension to Merced with connections to both Sacramento and San Jose.

As part of the planning for this service is what is called “pulse scheduling”. This is based on what has been mastered in Switzerland: running trains and connecting services on a memory schedule. That means running trains at the same time of the hour all day long with connecting services arriving and departing based on the train’s schedule. This will likely require less double tracking if the trains are scheduled to be using tracks without meets with other trains. This will make possible hourly service in the future shared between San Joaquin and ACE trains between Stockton and Sacramento.

Part I “STATE-SUPPORTED CORRIDOR TRAINS: AMTRAK’S LAST HURRAH”

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How Amtrak Dismisses the “Hole Doctrine”: When In A Hole, Stop Digging

By M.E. Singer

Just as the nation belatedly learned from its fatal mistake of dismissing the (accurate) warnings of General Billy Mitchell, so we find Amtrak so obstinate in its unrelenting adherence to its failure to avoid perpetuating the “hole doctrine.”  Far too much time has passed since the last competent railroader, Mr. David Gunn, last led Amtrak in 2005. Given the accumulation of business errors by Amtrak contributing to its hole being dug even deeper, such a strident approach towards failure would have shutdown Amtrak in the real marketplace. Indeed, it has become increasingly obvious that for Amtrak to blindly refuse to acknowledge these self-inflicted facts built-up over the past will most certainly cause Amtrak’s eventual failure.

Unreasonable Actions Further Impairing Amtrak’s Legitimacy

We witness in Amtrak’s belligerent  corporate culture an unwillingness to listen, learn, evolve, and grow, despite the turnaround market lessons of McDonald’s and other national firms who have real stockholders, investors, and a keen sensitivity to the marketplace. A selection of current disturbing examples of Amtrak’s arrogant approach to the marketplace includes: parallel to the appointment of two anti-rail members to its Board of Directors, note how Amtrak wielded its “power” to cut the Pacific Parlour Car and now dismantle the dining car services. Politically, we have to question how far Amtrak will push to the edge of the envelope, when it announced the de-staffing of all depots in West Virginia right after its meeting between Senator Manchin’s (D-WVA) and Amtrak’s CEO Anderson over the continued operation of the New River charter train. Despite the senator’s emphasis on the importance of tourism to his state’s economy, was the de-staffing even mentioned during this meeting with that state’s senior senator? Also, was all the PR hoopla over Amtrak working towards connecting rail service between LaJunta and Pueblo just a delaying tactic for Colorado to contribute towards rehabbing the “Southwest Chief” route, given the recent announcement to de-staff the LaJunta depot? How will Amtrak continue to promote its packaged vacations, now that the much vaunted marketing adage, “getting there is half the fun,” was discarded with the dining cars?

Acting as a State-Owned Enterprise Indifferent to the Market, Amtrak Polarizes Tomorrow’s Future Ridership

The relevance of the state-supported corridors, particularly in the Midwest, has been jeopardized by Amtrak eliminating the student discount (and others); yet, concomitantly, how quickly NARP seized the opportunity to promote membership as the only way to maintain that discount. From NARP’s own recent promotion:

As Amtrak Cuts Discounts, RPA’s Continues….
Membership to Rail Passengers has become more valuable as Amtrak has eliminated numerous discounts for students, veterans and AAA members. As it stands now, a membership to Rail Passengers is one of the only discounts that Amtrak continues to recognize. If you have friends or family that travel on Amtrak and previously relied on other criteria for discounts, now is a great time to encourage them to become members of the Rail Passengers Association. 

In my opinion, given the acknowledged economic relationship of Amtrak paying NARP for alleged consumer relations activity, the atmospherics are concerning, as one could construe a vertical tying agreement between the parties that requires students to pay for membership in NARP if they seek to retain their student discount, previously provided at no cost directly by Amtrak.

Terminal Diagnosis of Amtrak as a State-Owned Enterprise: Unfocused and Lack of Market Synergies 

Depicting the issues of Amtrak’s principal sectors below and how they impact each other, we see the inability of Amtrak to capitalize on the obvious synergies between the sectors.  As it will be evidenced, Amtrak has failed to develop the natural growth opportunities, particularly the connectivity between intra-state and interstate regional corridors, as well as long distance services to major vacation sites (e.g., national parks). Given how Amtrak has created such an un-level playing field, these issues continue to self-perpetuate, at the cost of building revenues and offering a value to the public:

Amtrak does not appreciate nor support the long distance sector connecting numerous intra-state and inter-state sub-markets; how this sector has been excessively burdened with the inappropriate allocation of overhead and NEC (Northeast Corridor) infrastructure costs that defy the integrity of GAAP (Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles).The sad reality of Amtrak’s politicized business model that has denied the growth potential and market development of this sector by historically ignoring such potential; willfully failing to secure additional equipment to increase frequencies and revenues. Where else is there such an archaic, dysfunctional economic model that is purely satisfied with barely maintaining the status quo; or, actually believing by cutting product, performance and service will achieve an economic breakeven? What is the true meaning of “breakeven” when the data is manipulated like a “shell game” to the exclusive benefit of the NEC?

Who will shoot “the emperor wears no clothes” to finally decry how the NEC is far from being “profitable,” given the facts that its significant infrastructure costs are not subtracted from revenues; that their is in excess of $450 million in deferred infrastructure costs (the alleged loss of the Long Distance sector claimed by Amtrak). Until mandated by Congress in 2015, the many regional commuter lines were operated throughout the NEC for free since 1976, without paying there share of operational and infrastructure costs. Amtrak controls the message to avoid acknowledging the “elephant in the room,” that despite Acela I and soon Acela II, the majority of travel along the NEC is not end point-to-end point, but rather, limited between Philadelphia-New York City.

Incredibly, Amtrak’s new CEO from Delta Airlines, Richard Anderson, offers naïve proposals not toned down by his management council of lifers, focused on their own job continuity over well conceived products and services to create profits. Otherwise, how could Anderson seriously propose to slice-up long distance routes into elongated daytime corridors up to 700 miles; how would so much of the current traffic between sub-markets be served (contrary to the false statement emphasizing and dismissing end point-to-end point traffic)? To even speak of DMUs evidences a lack of knowledge (as further pointed out by Noel Braymer here). The DMUs referenced are certainly not the type used in Switzerland, offering first, coach, and food/beverage services, but rather, the basic suburban, short haul model. What brings out the true irony in the equipment proposal, given the intended distance and lack of features, is the fact how the airlines have been so quick to eliminate the regional jets from their fleet for any schedule beyond a very short haul and limited traffic, in respect to the passenger comfort level.

Looking up from the hole it has been digging for itself, Amtrak has failed to understand how the state-supported corridors have bifurcated into two distinct sectors. One primarily in the Midwest with those states continuing to simply pay Amtrak its requested tribute to maintain a minimal, costly, and unresponsive service. However, what continues to evidence is how other states have picked-up the mantle from Amtrak to revamp their state-supported routes by acknowledging with a hands-on approach how they could grow and build market share by increasing the connectivity of their inter-regional routes and schedules.

The key issue in this two-part article is to acknowledge those states with the commitment to create viable regional corridors, despite Amtrak’s intransigent, “this is how we always did it,” attitude. In parallel, to explain how the current paralysis of Amtrak has been foisted upon the Midwest corridors; a recommended bold course of action that would invigorate and revive these once vibrant corridors. Such a course of action could serve as a template to eventually cover all state corridors.

Beyond the “Daylights” and “Clockers,” the Midwest corridors were renown, up until the early 1960s, for running speedsters over jointed rail, numerous grade-crossings, and blending with freight traffic to offer parlor, diner, lounge, and coach services (even domes) tying together the villages and towns en route with there end point cities. Until the federal treasury paid for the expansion of the airlines into the short haul markets, a savvy traveler knew they could go anywhere throughout the Midwest on a “400,” “Zephyr,” “Hiawatha,” “Rocket,” “Chief,” “Pere Marquette;” other corridor runs (GM&O, WAB, C&EI, GTW); the regional lines of the IC, and many other long distance runs serving the short haul corridors (NYC, B&O, EL, NKP, PRR), etc.

What the Midwest Corridor Situation Can Learn From These Other States Achieving State and Regional Corridors

Before targeting the egregious foibles of Amtrak in the once vibrant Midwest corridor market, it behooves us to acknowledge, learn from, and embrace the proven and successful points evidenced by these flourishing state corridors. Ideally, the key points of success can be integrated into a revamped Midwest corridor system.

California Joint Powers Authorities (JPAs):
The very best business model at this time, as it has competently evidenced its comprehension and appreciation how traffic increases concomitant to expanding its reach regionally to inter-connect viable corridors that had not previously existed. Responsible for marketing and sales, we can hope that one day these three JPAs can secure similar insurance protection as Amtrak enjoys, and arrange for economically feasible track access and dispatching costs from the Class 1s, in order to bid a long awaited adieu to Amtrak. Certainly, the exorbitant charges to lease antiquated equipment from Amtrak could be resolved with Siemens or Bombardier; given current revenue stream would facilitate leases (the history of the original bi-levels as Amtrak’s “hook” to retain these services is another story.)

What we can learn from California, if we we can still objectively view politics, is to look at what that state has achieved to generate state rail corridor funding from increased gasoline taxes, cap and trade, and SB1, all in support of the objective: the Transit and Intercity Rail Capacity Program. This realistic approach has allowed for the continuing track, bridge, and signal construction to facilitate additional frequencies on already heavily used corridorsA critically contributing factor encouraging the success of these JPA routes is also their understanding of how dedicated bus connections has consistently contributed to the load factors of their trains by extending the reach of the dedicated train routes. The state continues its financial commitment to expand the intra-state regional rail corridors.

North Carolina Department of Transportation NCDOT):
Amazing how the state of North Carolina would successfully identify and develop its own intra-state regional corridor between Charlotte and Raleigh; to brand, market and develop schedules for the “Piedmont” route.  As well, to secure and rehab its own consists and power, with its own lounge car and vending machines. The service runs on the North Carolina Railroad (owned by the state and leased to the NS), with the state investing to rehab the right-of-way, signaling, and eliminating grade crossings to increase train speed. Due to its initial success, the “Piedmont “has been expanded to three round trip frequencies, with a fourth to begin this June when the new Raleigh depot comes on line. The success of the “Piedmonts,” as well, operating “The Carolinian” on this route via Richmond/Washington all the way to NYC, has encouraged NCDOT to eventually extend the “Piedmont” to Asheville and Wilmington. Like California, NCDOT learned to utilize dedicated bus connections to enhance connecting traffic on the “Piedmonts.”

Virginia:
Given how the NEC has already been extended south from Washington to Richmond, with service to Newport News, the state clearly understood the economic feasibility to merely extend current NEC “Northeast Regionals” south of Washington/Richmond to serve Norfolk, Lynchburg, and Roanoke. Even now, further west, Bristol is clamoring to extend the train from Lynchburg/Roanoke. Almost by accident, Amtrak learned what asset utilization actually means.  Of course, proximity to the NEC and its “Northeast Regional”fleet made the expansion program quite feasible. Indeed, in respect to the strong market of two-way traffic between the Northeast and Virginia, it is said that Virginia does not pay for these services to Richmond, Norfolk, Lynchburg/Roanoke, as Amtrak has defined them to be “profitable.” It certainly helps to share a border on the Potomac…

Northern New England Rail Passenger Authority-State of Maine:
Despite the substantial cost by not utilizing Boston’s South Station and yards due to the ex-B&M route using North Station, necessitating a dedicated fleet for the “Downeaster” concept, as well as New Hampshire’s refusal to contribute towards the three stops within the state, Maine put together a coherent corridor concept between Boston-Portland, ME. Recently, the route was extended to include Freeport (think L.L. Bean) and Brunswick.  Unfortunately, Amtrak was unable to complete in time its study to extend limited summer seasonal service to Rockland on Maine’s coast. The five “Downeaster’s” include a functioning business class car with 2+1 leather seating; quite impressive is the fact the state picks the food & beverage provisioning (and I believe also provides the attendant). Talk about product and cash controls! The “Downeaster” route utilizes the friendly tracks of the MBTA commuter line and the short line of Pan Am Railway. This inter-state regional corridor is quite popular for the on-line colleges, leisure travel for shopping, beaches, and coast, as well as business day-trippers. This corridor has flourished as a result of a very hands-on approach by a committed state agency.

CTrail:
As I previously pointed out here in an article, “Nose Under the Tent,” the State of Connecticut contributed significant funds, on top of the federal funding, due to Amtrak not meeting the agreed upon budget or timeline to re-build the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line (e.g., right-of-way, restoring second track, signaling, grade crossings, depots). The state elected to franchise the frequent service by selecting Transit America and its partners over Amtrak; leaving Amtrak only has the landlord to collect usage fees on the infrastructure. To operate its own trains cutting Amtrak out of the equation is significant as it gives new definition to the PRIIA Act of 2008, by opening a current Amtrak route to franchise in competition to the current Amtrak schedule. This begins to redefine Amtrak in its apparent future role as an infrastructure operator, leaving the train operations in more capable hands. As well, how much Amtrak traffic to NYC will potentially be bled off and diverted to Metro North connections at New Haven? Service has been delayed until early summer as CTrail completes rehabbing old ex-MBTA cars. With high frequencies, fast schedules, and good equipment, this inter-state regional corridor could give Amtrak a run for its money.

MBTA to Cape Cod:
Gone are the days of the New Haven serving this fantastic summer season location of Cape Cod with multiple trains from Boston, New York, and overnight from Washington/New York. Although Amtrak attempted a seasonal schedule from Washington/New York in the mid-1980s, that failed for a variety of reasons. However, in 2013, the much scorned MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority) created the“Cape Flyer” from Boston-Hyannis on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the summer season. This train providing bi-level commuter cars, bar and food service, quickly succeeded, and has only increased its traffic every year since. As the “Flyer” easily connects with the many ferries at Hyannis, the horrific traffic jam on the single roads to/from Boston is avoided. (Imagine the #101 or #405 on Friday rush hour!) I can personally vouch for the value and why The T’s “Flyer” is so successful, when I had to pay $300 round trip per person in 2013 just to fly a “puddle-jumper” between Boston and the Cape.  The Cape to Bostonians is like Montauk to New Yorkers. Too bad Chicagoans cannot reach Galena by rail, nor San Franciscans to Monterey by rail…

NYC-Berkshires:
Currently, their is activity beyond mere curiosity to re-introduce a regional inter-state service between New York City-the Berkshire Mountains (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), a popular summer destination for Manhattanites. At issue will the extent of cooperation and costs identified by Amtrak and CSX; if Massachusetts will be at the table to contribute  or, to just benefit from the tourism dollars. What will be the fate of the CSX line between Albany-Boston that serves Pittsfield and Worcester?

Florida AAF “Brightline:”
A solid concept to connect an intra-regional market currently unserved by any frequent, high speed train service. Utilizing the right-of-way of its former owner, the Florida East Coast Railway(FEC) between Miami-Cocoa Beach was a terrific opportunity to significantly save on land acquisition costs, currently highly contested by well-financed NIMBYs and their lobbyists. Offering new equipment and updated on-board services, “Brightline” intends to reduce the high volume traffic along parallel I-95, by offering convenient mobility between Miami-Orlando International for tourists, commuters, business and leisure travelers. As well, FEC/AAF is fulfilling the proven concept of creating real estate development at its depots and en route, just as we have historically witnessed in Japan and Hong Kong. In the end, it’s all about politics and who ya know; accordingly, will the anti-train folks, already spending heavy money re horn blowing, grade-crossings, and fencing the right-of-way, have their victory to prevent the planned extension from Cocoa Beach-Orlando International? If that happens, I have previously commented in various Florida papers of that effort could be viewed as the 21st century legacy to the National City Lines case. It should be discovered just who is fronting the lobbyists and stirring up the NIMBYs, as in my opinion, we will find those detesting competition, such as airlines, bus lines, auto rentals, and their supporters from oil, construction, bus, air, and auto manufacturers.

High-Speed Rail-Texas and California:
Certainly, we should consider the proposed Texas central Railway HSR line between Dallas-Houston as a classic intra-regional corridor. The current California HSR under construction is also to be an intra-state regional corridor, connecting with the three JPA routes and various commuter lines. Politics and financing will determine their fate.

Applying the Success Points and Create A New Template for the Faltering Midwest Corridors to Prosper

Despite the current Midwest Corridors burdened with primarily multi-state routes, the successful corridors above have evidenced how to overcome that obstacle. The real issues to change for the Midwest Corridors to become viable are: financial, political; operational; frequency; speed; schedules; on-board services; ownership; routes; enhancing regional inter-connectivity. These points will be covered next week in Part II “State-Supported Corridor Trains: Amtrak’s Last Hurrah.”

 

 

 

At Amtrak It’s The Blind Leading The Blind.

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By Noel T. Braymer

It’s usually a good bet that if an idea at Amtrak starts in Washington, it’s usually a bad idea. For years Amtrak has been fixated on expanding corridor services, not just on the NEC, but also between other major cities around the country. Usually the idea includes limiting the number of station stops so the trains will have shorter running times between 2 large cities. So every few years over most of Amtrak’s existence since 1971, it will change an all stops train into a limited service on a corridor with fewer station stops. This has happened at least 3 or 4 times just between Los Angeles and San Diego. Every time this was done the results were the same: ridership on the “express train” went down, but not on the other trains “slower trains” on the same corridor. Why was that? By, bypassing stations, the train was eliminating market pairs. Ridership on any service increases with more markets it can serve. That’s the whole point behind hub and spoke airports. Non stop flights are popular for people who want faster service if they can afford it. But serving just two markets: points A and B limits the number of people willing to fly on that flight. But by adding connections on all flights to many more markets or destinations the number of people flying increases greatly for each flight.

A good example of this is the corridor between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. Back in the 1980’s this corridor was only between Los Angeles and San Diego. Caltrans Rail Branch in the 1970’s had the idea of extending some rail service from San Diego north of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. The then Southern Pacific Railroad opposed this or any attempts to add more passenger service on their railroad which served Santa Barbara. After years in court the extension of the then San Diegan trains was allowed for one round trip between Santa Barbara and San Diego in the late 1980’s. The result was a noticeable increase in revenues for the San Diegan trains with a major increase in cost recovery. Were there that many more people traveling between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles? The travel times on this train wasn’t very fast plus the long layover in Los Angeles meant you could drive faster than riding this train. But what increased ridership wasn’t just between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. There were people who could travel now to many more combinations of city pairs as more stations were added to this corridor. This is still working, the LOSSAN Joint Powers Agency which manages service on the now Pacific Surfliner service has 12 round trip between San Diego and Los Angeles, with 5 of these trains extended to Santa Barbara with 2 of these trains going to San Luis Obispo. LOSSAN’s goal now in a year or two is to add a third San Diego to San Luis Obispo round trip with 6 round trips between Santa Barbara and San Diego and 13 round trips between San Diego and Los Angeles. The Pacific Surfliner trains has the highest cost recovery of any State subsidized train on Amtrak.

One problem the LOSSAN Corridor has is crowded trains on the Surfliners. All Surfliners trains have at least 6 passenger cars, with some trains during busy periods running with up to 10 cars on a train. Now Amtrak is talking about buying Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) equipment to save money to replace most of their Amfleet equipment which was mostly built in the 1970’s. It looks like Amtrak is also planning to break up the routes of the Long Distance trains into routes under a thousand miles also using DMU equipment based on reducing their operating costs. I guess you could also try to run a limousine service using sub-compact cars, but I doubt that would be any more successful than using DMU equipment on a long distance service. It’s a question of revenue and capacity.

Most DMU services have at a maximum 4 car trains. A few have 5 car trains, but few if any are longer than that. The reasons are economics. To carry more than 4 carloads of passengers by rail, using a locomotive becomes more economical than using DMU cars each with small diesel engines to power each car. Just in the case of the Surfliners they  already need more than 6 cars per train. Realize that most Surfliner trains use bi-level equipment, so most Surfliner trains with 6 cars are roughly the same passenger capacity as a single level car train of 7 or 8 cars. Now if you want to run a successful passenger service, wouldn’t you want to carry more than 5 cars loads of passengers per train?

Most of Amtrak’s Long Distance Trains usually have 9 cars. In the past before Amtrak, Long Distance Trains often carried up to 18 cars. The reason for this was to carry as much revenue as possible on a train. In the past in this Country on busy times of the year, railroads would run additional trains, with one following the other to carry more people and revenue during times of heavy travel demand. Often Amtrak’s Long Distance trains are sold out. This particularly includes sleeping car service. Most Amtrak Long Distance Trains only run 2 sleeping cars. If Amtrak had more sleeping cars and added them to their trains when demand was high, Amtrak’s revenues will go up at little additional cost. But Amtrak won’t do that.

Amtrak has a very unique system of accounting. That’s not a good thing. Accounting is suppose to follow in most cases what are called Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or GAAP. Amtrak’s accounting doesn’t follow GAAP. The results are what Amtrak’s accounting assumes often fails to happen when Amtrak makes changes to its service. Back in 1979 the Carter Administration demanded that Amtrak reduce its costs because it was losing so much money. After much noise, Amtrak cut five of what they said were its 5 worse trains and getting rid of them would save them money. Four of these five trains were Long Distance trains. According to Amtrak’s accounting the most expensive and money losing services are its Long Distance trains. Before Amtrak, the Long Distance trains on most freight railroads often broke even or cost the railroads little money to operate. When Amtrak was being created, railroads around the country were invited to join it to  get rid of their passenger services. Many railroads with mostly Long Distance passenger trains were in no hurry to be a part of Amtrak. It was a few years after the start up of Amtrak before the last railroad allowed it to take over their Long Distance services.

The railroad that was in the most trouble in 1970 was the PennCentral which the majority of its passenger service were short haul or commuter trains on the Northeast Corridor. The railroads that had lost the most money with passenger services tended to be those with short distance or commuter services. In 1970 the PennCentral went bankrupt. In 1971 Amtrak was created to help bailout PennCentral’s stockholders. So what happened after these 5 trains were cut in 1979? Amtrak didn’t save money, its costs were mostly unchanged, but its revenues went down because they were carrying fewer paying passengers. In other words Amtrak was economically worse off after cutting these 5 trains.

By the 1980s Amtrak was losing more money than they were in 1979. During the Reagan Administration retired Southern Railway’s President W. Graham Claytor was brought in as President of Amtrak at the recommendation of Federal Railroad Administrator John Riley. Under Claytor, Long Distances services were improved, new equipment and expanded Long Distance services were introduced and Amtrak’s cost recovery greatly improved. Claytor predicted that in the early 90’s when he retired as Amtrak President that by 2000 Amtrak would break even, if it continued his policies. Shortly after Claytor left, Amtrak put most of its efforts into the start up of the express ACELA High Speed Rail service to replace the Metroliners between Boston and Washington. One Amtrak President at this time called ACELA its glidepath to prosperity. The ACELA program had many problems and high start up costs.

To try to save money, Amtrak cut service, mostly on Long Distance trains in the 90’s. According to Amtrak’s accounting they should have saved money with these cuts. But it didn’t. At the same time Amtrak greatly increased the amount of money it charged the States for State subsidized trains. Amtrak does very well by having States subsidize it and would love to expand this subsidy from the States with the Long Distance Trains. By 2002, things came to a head and Amtrak needed billions of dollars in bailouts just to keep running.

So why does Amtrak’s accounting often get things wrong? Why don’t Amtrak’s costs go down when they cut service and why don’t they expand service to increase revenue? If you were to demand an audit of Amtrak’s books, you would find that Amtrak’s books are balanced and can account for all its revenues and all bills that it pays. So what’s going on? Mostly politics. About half of Amtrak’s business is on the Northeast Corridor. The NEC is where most of its managers are. The NEC serves Washington and New York which are political power centers. Also the many small states of the NEC give Amtrak a solid block of support, particularly in the Senate.

Amtrak’s accounting uses an arbitrary way of assuming costs for its trains. Costs for a train are largely based on the route miles of the train on Amtrak. This means that longer distance trains are assigned a higher share of Amtrak’s overhead costs based on its route miles than the shorter distance trains which include most of the trains on the NEC. Using this accounting, at least in the past and it may still hold true; if you tried to add a second frequency using existing equipment and crews on a route, Amtrak accounting would assume that the costs of the service would double. In much the same thinking Amtrak assumed if you eliminated service you would save money even if you got less revenue as a result and little or no reduction of Amtrak’s overhead costs. There is also the issue that most of Amtrak’s overhead costs are on the NEC including the costs of running the trains on the NEC. Amtrak is responsible for the costs of running the NEC railroad with plenty of commuter trains plus its own trains. The NEC is the busiest and one if not the most expensive railroads to operated in this country. In the case of most of the Long Distance Trains, they don’t run on the NEC, they run mostly on freight railroads. Amtrak by law gets a discounted price for using the freight railroad’s tracks, so the cost of running most of Amtrak’s trains outside of the NEC is fairly low by comparison. But the Long Distance trains are billed for a large part of the costs of the NEC, making it look like the NEC trains are doing better than they are while the Long Distance trains are a popular whipping boy for politicians based on Amtrak’s unusual accounting.

This political game of using the Long Distance trains as a decoy to distract from Amtrak’s real problems creates more trouble for it down the road. Expanding service with the Long Distance trains is the best option for improving Amtrak’s economic stability. This was shown during Claytor’s Presidency when revenues rose faster that operating costs at Amtrak. This takes us back to where we started. Most people don’t ride a Long Distance train from end point to end point. But the average trip on a long distance train is much longer than for short distance corridor services. That means that long distance services can easily generate more passenger miles than a shorter distance corridor train. A passenger mile is one mile traveled by one passenger. A passenger on a 100 mile trip generates 100 passenger miles and so on. The significance of this is revenues are directly related to the amount of passenger miles a train carries: in other words more is better. Now remember what happened to the then San Diegans when some service was extended to Santa Barbara in the late 1980’s? Ridership went up because the train had opened more markets with a longer route with more stations. The beauty of a Long Distance train is that it can serve many more stations with many more combinations between stations to attract passengers because their routes are so long and have so many stations. There are other things which Amtrak can do to increase ridership and revenue on Long Distance Trains. One is to add sections to more train. Amtrak still does this on the Empire Builder splitting the train in half at Spokane with one section going to Portland and the other to Seattle. It’s almost like getting 2 trains for the price of one. The other is to operate hubs like the airlines have at airports. At hub stations passengers can make transfers between trains to increase the total number of markets you offer passengers to increase ridership. This can include additional connecting bus service which Amtrak has been including to many of its Long Distance trains already.

This is a graphic from the 2018 Business Plan for the LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority on the financial data of the San Diegans/Pacific Surf liner Trains. Farebox recovery starting in 1977 increased as ridership did as well. Starting in 1988 after service was extended to Santa Barbara the farebox recovery according to Amtrak often exceed over 100%. By 1995 as the ACELA startup was draining Amtrak’s resources, Amtrak raised it prices to California for the Surfliners. Since then there has been a slow increase in cost recoveries on the Surfliners. For last Fiscal Year the Surfliners recovered almost 80% of it costs. LOSSAN is planning to improve it cost recovery using State owned locomotives and passenger cars which will cost less than paying Amtrak for those services.

What Amtrak President Anderson proposes with his DMU corridor service could destroy Amtrak. It will certainly hurt it. For starters, DMU’s become uneconomical when carrying more than 5 single level car loads of passengers. Most Long Distance train already carry more than 5 carloads of passengers longer distances than this replacement DMU service would. But the main issue is the Long Distance trains are not the problem. Amtrak does better when Long Distance service is expanded. The problem at Amtrak is the high costs of owning the NEC, and distracting the public by blaming the Long Distance trains for its problems. The governments of most countries cover or subsidize transportation infrastructure. Trucking companies don’t own roads, airlines don’t own airports and so on: these are paid for largely by taxpayers even in this country. The exception to this in this country have been the railroads which own and have to pay for their infrastructure. With the NEC, Amtrak owns the busiest and likely most expensive railroad to operate in the country. When the PennCentral was reorganized into Conrail, one of the first things the FRA did was dump the NEC on Amtrak around 1976 so Conrail would be able to make money.

What most of the world, particularly European countries have been doing is taking over the infrastructure of its railroads. This is either done by a non profit state owned company or by a government agency. The railroads of Europe are being encouraged to extend their services beyond their nation’s borders. Also new private start-up operating companies are being encouraged to enter the rail passenger service market to create competition between services. Is there anyplace in America with major public ownership of the railroads? Well there is California. In the 1980’s and 90’s the railroads were only to happy to sell off many of their secondary and lightly used branch lines. In California many Light Rail services were based on buying rail lines from the railroads. If we look at the LOSSAN Corridor today, only the 21 mile segment of the BNSF Mainline between the City of Commerce to Fullerton is not publicly owned of the 128 miles between Los Angeles and San Diego. Between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara local government owns at least half of the railroad and is responsible for operation of the railroad between Los Angeles as far as Moorpark in Ventura County. In many cases State and local governments have spent money improving private railroads in order to expand passenger service. An example of this is the construction of a third track on the BNSF mainline between Fullerton and Riverside to run Metrolink and the Southwest Chief on it and not disrupt freight traffic on the BNSF.

What would clear up the question of the costs of the NEC would be to separate the ownership of the NEC off of Amtrak and into a separate non profit company or new government agency controlled by the States of the NEC. Revenues for running this would come charging trains for using the tracks as well as Federal grants and local taxpayer support. The NEC States and Amtrak oppose this idea. The States don’t want to pay more for its commuter rail services. Many of Amtrak jobs on the NEC are for the operation, repair and maintenance of the NEC: Amtrak employees fear that their jobs would be at risk. This would also expose many of the problems that Amtrak has about the costs of owning, operating, repairing and maintaining the NEC. But this would give the public a clearer view of the true costs and benefits of Long Distance Rail service. If Long Distance rail service was expanded, it would greatly reduce or eliminate the subsidy needs of Amtrak.