By Anthony Lee
Editor’s note: Anthony Lee has been a RailPAC member since he was a teenager, and was a board member until he retired and moved to Florida. The items below are his ideas for improving Amtrak service.
A new era is coming to intercity rail passenger service in the United States and for Amtrak starting after July 12th when the new Amtrak CEO, Richard Anderson, comes on board. Hopefully, there will be a better customer experience. The best way for Amtrak to increase revenue and ridership is to expand the national network by filling the gap (75-750 miles) in the under-served markets and it also would /improve network connectivity and desirability for intercity passenger rail to other modes in the United States.
The best way forward is to create a network of shared thruway bus service/Amtrak regional bus/rail hubs, and use ride-sharing services to compete with discount buses, cheap air fares, and private cars by using leased equipment from Europe with a FRA waiver, or using Talgo series 8 equipment on certain routes. Also, using equipment that was on overnight trains in Europe that were replaced by High Speed trains and low budget airlines could be used.
Improving Service and Expanding Service and Market Share in the Northeast Corridor
Pennsylvania Station, New York – The new Penn Station will not be open until 2022 and new Acela equipment will be operating at the same time.
One option right now would be to use Grand Central Terminal for Acela service from Boston to New York using leased high speed (tilting trains) rail running equipment from Europe or Asia, and later with refurbished Acela equipment. New services to Albany, the Inland route, and other New England destinations from GCT would reduce pressure off using Pennsylvanian Station. Also, some Northeast Regional trains from Washington D.C., and Keystone service from Harrisburg, should be rerouted to Hoboken NJ Terminal with ferry access. In addition, Amtrak needs to the restore new sleeper car service on Northeast Regional train 66/67 (Boston-Washington-Newport News) with cross country cafe service. In Addition, Amtrak needs to restore the Montrealer to Montreal, which would provide connections to the Silver Services and the Crescent since Canada to Florida is an important travel market along with the NEC-to-Florida market as well.
Here are some suggested uses by Region:
Expanding rail service in the Midwest -Northeast Corridors
New York to Chicago and Chicago -Washington are the busiest train markets. Amtrak needs to create a separate Chicago to Boston train, the “New England States” from Chicago toBoston ; extend the Capitol Limted from New York to Boston with leased equipment from Europe; and extend the Pennsylvanian from Pittsburgh to Chicago via Detroit using the Amtrak/MDOT Chicago-Detroit rail corridor. These will restore The Broadway Limted/Three Rivers services eliminated in 1995/1997 because of budget cuts. An Advance Chicago-New York flip schedule of the current schedule using Grand central Terminal as a terminus could be run when needed or scheduled service.
Amtrak needs to extend sections of the Crescent from Meridian MS to Forth Worth and from New Orleans to San Antonio. Amtrak needs to also extend Northeast Regional trains 66/67(Washington-Atalanta-New Orleans) to New Orleans and extend Northeast Regional trains 171/174 from Roanoke to Bristol-Knoxville-Chattanooga- Birmingham-Montgomery-Mobile-New Orleans. They should also expand more service to the South and Sunbelt, especially Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta. and Dallas. New Orleans is being re-discovered by hi-tech firms, so growth along the Gulf coast, and in Birmingham, the Space program at Huntsville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga is getting the spill over effect in Atlanta, Hollywood South in Atlanta, and Airbus Industries in Mobile. Mobile is also a major cruise port, and casinos and beaches are proper destinations along the Gulf Coast as well.
New Possible Potential Talgo Train Routes and other Western services:
A second Coast Starlight would provide much-needed capacity on that corridor and route. Since the Starlight is often sold out, especially in the sleepers, the West Coast/Cascade Starlight service would connect Cascadia region (Pacific Northwest), Silicon Valley, and Southern C alifornia with the growing desert high tech cites of Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson. Al buquerque and El Paso. and this train would also connect with the Southwest Chief at Barstow by a cross platform connection.
A New Talgo service could go Chicago-Pittsburgh-Washington on-Richmond-Newport News. This train would provide overnight service to Northern Virginia and the Tidewater region, another proper business/leisure market. Converting the City of New Orleans to Talgo equipment coach/sleepers, and the Capitol Limited to single level equipment would free up Superliner equipment for use on other Superliner equipped trains.
Using Talgo equipment on these new trains would provide an alternative to congested highways, discount buses and air travel on these corridors. Amtrak uses Talgos on their Cascade service, and Talgos are used on intercity trains in Europe. The State of California plans to use Talgos on the LOSSAN corridor some day. Also, Talgo has facilitates in Milwaukee, Seattle and Los Angeles to maintain these trains. Talgos are very reliable trainsets, have been in service more than fifty years, and are best suited for routes with a lot of curves which reduce running times. Depending on funding sources, Talgo equipment could be use to re-establish intercity rail service on the North Coast Hiawatha and Pioneer routes in the northwest, or as a much desired second Minneapolis-Chicago round trip.
Expanding Auto Train services nationwide
Expansion of Auto Train Service by using private/partnership Auto Train service could be expanded to some National Parks, popular recreational areas, and tourist attraction areas, using leased auto carriers and locomotives, and surplus cars from Europe that were used on night trains in Europe but replaced because of cheap airfares and high speed trains.
Possible and Potential Auto Train train routes.
Chicago to Lorton (Washington/NEC)
Chicago to North Jersey/Albany-New England/NEC
Chicago to Sanford/Orlando
Chicago to Denver
Chicago to Phoenix/Tucson (seasonal) and Grand Canyon
Los Angeles-Grand Canyon
Chicago to Las Vegas
Seattle/Bay Area/Southern California on the I-5 Corridor
Florida Silver Services/Palmetto
Amtrak should do the following to increase East Coast ridership, since Florida is a highly competitive travel market with competing air, discount buses and of course the private automobile.
Extend Florida service down the FEC line from Jacksonville to Miami serving the Treasure coast and other cites along the Florida East Coast
Overnight Thruway express bus Nashville-Chattanooga-Atlanta to Jacksonville with a connection with the Silver Services/Palmetto/Sunset Limited
Restore rail service to Ocala and Gainesville currently served only by thruway bus service
Extend the Palmetto with sleeper and cafe food services from Savannah to Tampa and Miami. By extending the Palmetto to Miami Amtrak would provide a must needed overnight train service within Florida to Savannah and Charleston as the alternative to driving the turnpike and I-95
Amtrak should add Business class to the Silver Services and a first class diner car lounge, as well as restoring dining car service on the Silver Star service
Extend the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Orlando and Miami daily
Add a second seasonal Auto Train
Add a thruway express bus Augusta Georgia/Aiken South Carolina to Columbia, SC and Savannah,GA to connect to the Silver Star service
Add a Fourth Flordia train via Columbia SC, the Silver Comet, using leased equipment
Extend the Texas Eagle to Los Angeles via the Texas and Pacific (the Abilene and Midland route)
Extend the Heartland Flyer to Newton, KS via Wichita
Restore the Sunset Limted to Florida
Add a Thruway express bus( Ft .Worth -Dallas Longview- Shreveport- Baton Rouge- New Orleans) bus connection the Heartland flyer and Texas Eagle at Ft .Worth.
Add Uvalde, Sierra Blanca, and Segiun,TX as Sunset Limited stops
Add Willcox, and change Benson AZ to a scheduled stop, not a flag stop
Extend train sections of the Sunset Limited from Los Angelesto Emeryville,
and from Los Angeles-Barstow-Phoenix, and Las Vegas connecting with the Sunset at Tucson
The Desert Wind/Southwest Chief-
Combine the restored Desert Wind with a Southwest Chief connection to the California Zephyr at Denver
Combine the train between at La Junta and Chicago (La Junta -Pueblo-Denver-Cheyenne-Ogden- Salt Lake City-Provo-Las Vegas Los Angeles) restoring rail service to Las Vegas
Thruway service to Amarillo and Lubbock would connect with the Southwest chief at Albuquerque
First Class/Business class -restore the amenities that were eliminated because of budget cuts
Add First Class/Business Class/Business Class “Plus”
Restore Wine tasting
First Class dining car lounges on all long distance trains
Slumber coaches be re-branded as “Business Class Plus” on overnight trains, meals not included in the fare
Create more Metropolitan lounges/first class lounges
Amtrak should add business class on the Keystone service, with trolley food cart service
Expand Business class to long distance trains and to the San Joaquins and Capitol Corridor,