By Rail Provocateur/M.E. Singer
In follow-up to my published article in RAILWAY AGE in 2017 critically analyzing why would Amtrak put sleeper compartments on sale without any black-out dates during the last part of summer and Thanksgiving, “Their ya go again, Mr. Anderson!” So, now in its desperation, Amtrak has once again reverted to an advertising campaign that proves it is devoid of competent marketing . (https://www.amtrak.com/roomette-sale-buy-one-get-one-free) As I can only surmise Anderson is throwing us a large piece of coal for this Christmas, one can only ask, did Delta ever put on sale its first class seats, particularly during an extended period that included the seasonal bump at the tail end of the winter holidays, and throughout the spring holidays.
Frankly, in response to what I perceived as an Amtrak “flack” piece pushed to the media, and picked up by the FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, “Wanna Take An Amtrak Train Across the Country in Style? Now is a Good Time to Book” (4 Dec) https://www.star-telegram.com/news/traffic/honkin-mad-blog/article222598950.html, my response after a sense of bewilderment why Amtrak cannot focus its limited talents beyond spreading manure with the acknowledgment of its obligatory political sponsors, was to question why what is left of the legacy media cannot decipher and interpret how Amtrak is maligning the truth?
As the great Yogi Berra said, “Deja vu all over again!” This is the second fire sale on sleeping accommodations by Amtrak in less than one year. Interesting how each sale runs through heavier travel seasons; not just geared to cover the lighter shoulder periods; evidencing a desperate response to a serious deterioration in revenues. Certainly to note in this advertisement is how Amtrak no longer promotes the experience in the dining car, let alone crafted beverages in the lounge car. Pathetic how even Amtrak pushes Pepsi product when the market is clearly with Coke. Ironically, Amtrak continues to ignore the perpetual issues with broken electrical outlets; fails to advise passengers in its advertising of no WiFi en route; or that the “Silver Star” lost its diner and operates with but a cafe car offering a selection far less than what Costco offers; how the “Capitol Limited” and “Lake Shore Limited” lost their diners and specialize in cold, box meals.
Clearly, this desperate advertising to offer roomettes on a “fire sale” is a result of Amtrak shooting itself in the foot by loudly attempting to derail these long distance trains over the past year:
1) Reducing consists to turn away passengers. Indeed, to what extent has Anderson set a course to intentionally dilute revenue in peak periods to further show no meaningful revenue potential on long distance trains?
2) Downgrading dining; eliminating lounge car staffing; reducing waiter staff in diner.
3) Starting with the “Southwest Chief” seeking to disrupt the continuous trip by substituting buses. Obviously, what effect would that have on such routes other than to chase away revenue passengers and kill the route?
4) Trashing long distance trains in the media; deliberately stabbing these trains before Congress, as if we are no different than passengers of the 1960s who ran away from the SP’s determined effort to shoo away any and all interested passengers, including die-hard foamers.
5) Whatever happened to a staffed lounge car; let alone a properly trained bartender equipped to craft cocktails? Obviously, another attempt by Amtrak to deflate any revenue potential; to torpedo passenger expectations (unlike the Santa Fe right up to 1 May 1971!)
4) Unable to work with the freight railroads who own the track to ensure timely dispatching (conveyance) per schedule. How many of Amtrak’s Board members and management officers actually worked in private business, let alone Wall Street, to appreciate how nothing is a “bet on the come” or given away free? Had they remembered their experience and respected how business works, they would not act so insidiously expecting Class 1s to rollover and continue at their cost to convey Amtrak. Instead, there would be meaningful negotiations that would identify and respect the costs for providing track access and dispatching Amtrak. Interestingly, as the Class 1s convert to Precision Scheduling, with elongated freights and no sidings to hold them; this can only mean the passenger schedules will be further stabbed.
The bottom line takeaway here is that obviously Amtrak lacks competent marketing, as no viable business trashes its own product without reaping the public’s negative response. Also, what doesn’t help Amtrak is how it has lost its most experienced management from buy-outs and layoffs.
Clearly, we can interpret this desperate swan dive act by Amtrak in parallel to how NY’s Governor Cuomo is now maneuvering to vacate Amtrak from the Hudson River tunnel project (and eventually the Gateway Project); the expressed concern by RAILWAY AGE’S Frank Wilner that Amtrak may not achieve the hurdle necessary to secure funding; and the inside joke how NY’s Senator Schumer scheming with Amtrak’s Board Chair, Anthony Coscia, to divert federal funding from the National Network to shore-up the deficit-ridden Northeast Corridor, may actually be shooting himself in the foot and “tanking'” the NEC. As we know, so much of the NEC infrastructure and corporate costs are dumped onto the long distance and state-supported trains due to a highly irregular Amtrak ignoring of GAAP; if Schumer/Coscia succeed in killing off the long distance trains, what happens to Amtrak’s full cost allocation methodology? All those costs would revert (properly) to the NEC; thus, causing me to encourage stock investments in Bolt and Peter Pan.
For far too long, Amtrak has spun its own interpretation of how to fulfill its National Network. Now, that jilted business perspective is to continue to narrow Amtrak’s business opportunities, as it continues to persist in pushing itself into a very narrow corner. Frankly, I am enthralled, as Amtrak negates itself and destroys any sense of viability; thus, ideally to encourage California’s 3 successful JPAs to negate Amtrak by leasing their own equipment (new; not at fully depreciated costs) and to negotiate directly with the Class 1s re realistic costs for track access and dispatching. And coming up on Amtrak’s red block signals will be Virgin Trains USA to open-up the paralyzed passenger train market, including ignored or underserved market; compete head-on with Amtrak in current corridors; eventually to compete with Amtrak on the NEC.