Skip to comments.Please answer my ignorant questions about AMTRACK [vanity]
Posted on 05/29/2012 9:17:57 AM PDT by Feline_AIDS
Alternate title for this post:
Dreams from My Freightcar: A Story of Pace and Incompetence
1. Why can't private passenger trains operate like plane companies?
2. Why don't we rip up some old tracks and turn them into true high-speed elevated rail that travels at 500 kilometers/hr?
3. Why is Amtrack, as it is now, so inefficient and crappy when train transportation is supposedly so efficient (CSX's 430+miles/gallon fuel)
4. There seems to be an inverse relationship of luxury to efficiency. Plane travel is torture, but it's efficient. Train travel could be luxurious since it's not fuel inefficient, but is time inefficient. Why is this ratio not considered for leisure travel? In other words, weight doesn't seem like it should be a serious consideration in train travel like it is in air travel, so why don't we have palatial luxury compartments? Is there a limit to the length of a passenger train?
5. Is Amtrack not as bad as I think it is? (All I know is I thought maybe I'd take a train on a leisure trip, but found the prices were outrageous, at least compared to flying.)
3. because government funding leads to inefficiencies.
The only feasibility I see in high speed rail would be two or east west routes that only stop 2 or 3 times along their routes.
That said, I don’t want to pay for them. Rail is more effective as a means of long distance overland freight.
Is that you ?
Seriously, CSX’s numbers are lacking one essential dimension - the pounds being carried.
If passenger rail could be done profitably in this country some company would be out there doing it.
The very fact that Amtrak has a monopoly on it, is heavily subsidized and runs constantly at a loss tells you that it cannot be done profitably. Too few people would be wiling to pay the ticket price.
To my knowledge Amtrak is not even making money in the Boston-NY-Washington corridor where there is substantial demand.
I think you can figure out the difficulties from that.
Where’s Willie Green when we need him?
As one who loves to travel by train if feasible its a shame we can’t have a decent travel experience. The trains are old and not likely to be maintained properly, the routes have too many stops that make no sense, the right of way is too restrictive to accommodate more speed, the list goes on and on.
I even pay for the small roomette, which adds 2x the cost to the ticket but at least you have your own toilet, and the sleep is so much better. But the TV screens rarely work in the car. WiFi is pretty much non-existent on the long hauls and the food has really gone downhill since my youth. It’s almost better to bring your own food in a cooler.
Most people won’t pay enough to make the investments needed worthwhile.
Don’t have to maintain tracks in the sky.
Whoare "we"? Do you have a mouse in your pocket?
I remember my sister and brother in law decided to travel to Redding, California from Seattle, Washington via AMTRAK train. It’s only like 600 miles.
They wanted to travel comfortably so they decided to take the train instead of a 3 hour flight (SEA-PDX-CEC-RDD on Horizon Air).
They told me to pick them up at 11PM at the Redding train station. 11PM came and went, we were told the train was running late. Long story short, we went to Denny’s for breakfast and were planning lunch when the train finally arrived at 1030AM. From that day forward, I said no train, no how.
12 hours late on a 600 mile trip, unbelievable. How they stay in business is beyond me (oh yeah...government subsidy)
Schedule 750, Fuel consumed (freight + switching) = 446,999,921 gallons
Schedule 755, line 110, Revenue Ton-Miles = 209,248,946,000 RTM
RTM per gallon = (209,248,946,000 RTM / 446,999,921 gals) = 468 RTM/gal
Public transportation - because nobody wants to die alone.
Moving goods by train is highly efficient.
Moving people is not, maybe.
I love to travel by train, like the slow non rushed travel. The travel time by train just has to figured into the length of a vacation.
If you are talking about moving people at high speed across long distances, I agree, we have the tech to do it, and other countries already have done it.
Freight train business isn’t even remotely like the passenger biz.
CSX/NS/BSNF/etc run trains over 100 cars long to a few customers located near existing tracks. A cross-country or cross-state distance is no issue for these companies or the companies they serve.
AMTRAK can only run on the tracks where they are, use trains that are only a few cars long, and carry people who often want to go to places not anywhere near tracks. Thus the pool of possible riders is substantially limited.
Outside of the NE Corridor, most trackbeds are owned by the freight-rail companies. As a result, AMTRAK often has to yield to the trains carrying freight.
Putting in new high speed rail is therefore prohibitively costly because (a) right-of-way must be purchases; (b) rail and fencing installed from the ground up; (c) and now you face the same problems as with passenger rail today: people not living close to tracks and not close to tracks where they work. It’s a cost AND convenience problem, which is why high-speed rail will always fail between bigger cities.
(Note: it works in Europe because their rail infrastructure was there 100 years ago, and the culture is substantially different as a result).
“Wheres Willie Green when we need him?”
That’s a good question. What did he do? I knew I hadn’t seen him around.
I think it’s Amtrak.
Indy to Chicago has a passenger train schedule that would seem efficient at first glance if you don't want to fly or drive. Let's say you wanted to see a Cubs or Sox game.
It would take about 4 hours to get there by train and cost about $150 round trip for two people. Plus, the schedule doesn't match up with game times. You would likely have to spend the night.
The 4 hours includes 2 or 3 stops. You can drive in 3 hours and for about $125 in gas round trip. Flying would take you 3 hours when checking in and all that but would cost about $350 (best price round trip with overnight stay).
So I too have wondered, why hasn't anyone considered running some passenger trains that should be able to cut travel to 2 hours at about $40/person on infrastructure that already exists? I would think there would be a considerable market for this all over the Midwest.
Indy, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit (if it still has recyclable metal tracks in place), etc. are all 3 to 4 hour trips. Indiana already has a huge rail network (Crossroads of America) that would seem to make it work simply.
Amtrak is government subsidized, I’m sure they’re saddled with debt and inflexible Union contracts. Government owned companies become safe-havens for low to mid level political functionaries that served their political parties interests but couldn’t break out into the big time themselves.
These people generally have impressive looking, yet functionally worthless CV’s and end up in positions where they can unintentional inflict the worst damage possible to an organization that should be a market driven free enterprise.
The only reason people take the Boston to NYC trains is because the cab ride in from the airport is $40 and 45 minutes. The Amtrack drops you off at Penn station 34th Street and 7th/8th Avenue right under Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan. That is the only reason I ever took it.
Also, it cost $45/day or more to park a car in NYC. It adds up if you are going to be there for a few days.
I watch Top Gear and they do a lot of races across Europe car vs different public transportation. So far, I don’t think public transportation has won yet.
Even flying a small private plane from the south of France to London was slower than the drive.
One disadvantage is the poor scheduling. Taking a train at 5:00 am isn’t fun. On the other hand, so far at least, you and your luggage don’t have to go through TSA screenings.
ShadowAce, you bring up a very good point. All trains must run on track. To save money during the building of track, most of the track in the United States is single track. Since it is privately owned, it is like a private road. Private companies use the track for their own trains, and charge other freight companies to use their rail lines.
To make the train transportation market similar to the air carrier market, you would need to nationalize all of the physical rail, many of the rail stations, and then create a national rail managment center to direct traffic. Considering that there are some rail lines / corridors that are already heavily used, you would need to further invest the building of additional rail lines / bridges / corridors / spurs
All of this adds up to a very expensive proposition.
I think that he got tombstoned awhile ago. He was starting to get more and more militant and less and less rational with his postings. I suspect that he angered the wrong admin/mod.
Trains only compete with highway and planes in high density populations like the northeast but only for 2 people or less. Once you have more than 2 people in your traveling party driving a car is more economical.
Ask John Galt.
Simple answer- AMTRAK is a Government-Run Company.
"The Peter Principle" lives.
I remember that episode. (Great show, Top Gear)
Are you watching that new show with Richard Hamond, where he tries to learn to operate big equipment in three days?
Yep, the train is slow and easy - I still love train travel.
Too many destinations...something like 500 cities served. Some of those routes have got to be losers.
Here is the explanation from the Amtrak Historical Society:
The Chiefs, the Limiteds, the Zephyrs. They were more than passenger trains. They surrounded us with impeccable comfort and tantalized our palates with elegant dining fare as they whisked into a world of romance and mystique.
During the 1940s the passenger train began fighting a battle against the airplane and private automobile. By the 1960s the passenger train was rarely considered as a means of travel. Schedules were erratic, trains were run down, and more often than not the journey was a miserable experience.
Then, in October, 1970, in an attempt to revive passenger rail service, congress passed the Rail Passenger Service Act. That Act created Amtrak, a private company which, on May 1, 1971 began managing a nation-wide rail system dedicated to passenger service.
I’m old enough to have ridden the Super Chiefs when they were in their prime, but as the explanation notes they went downhill rapidly with the advent of air and interstate. In the 70s, Amtrak had reasonable rates and we could go to New York from North Carolina on an overnight ride cheaper than flying. Some parts of the journey were slow due to bad track and the trains were always late even then. Now the rates are often higher than flying and the schedules are just as bad.
Amtrak was supposed to be a temporary measure until somebody figured out how to run passenger rail profitably in a world of freeways and airplanes. That was 40 years ago. Clinton gave them a big boost in funding that was only supposed to last 5 years at the end of which they were either supposed to become self sustaining or cease to exist, neither happened. If you take the time to understand those facts all your questions are answered.
Yeah I like trains too. I just don’t want to make taxpayers fund them.
As a frequent user of the Amtrak Cardinal, I think I can answer a few of those questions.
The direct line Indy-Lafayette tracks (NYCentral Line) were pulled up in the 80’s. The train now must go Indy-Crawfordsville-Lafayette, adding 40 miles to the trip, over rail lines owned by two different companies.
The real problem for this train is the bottleneck on the Chicago Southside. Amtrak has to add 60 minutes to the schedule due to this, and sometimes sits for far longer than that, just short of the east-west mainline. This effects the train both ways.
Once off the Chicago area tracks and on the Monon, heading southbound, it usually does very well.
Wow... Total highway miles of road in the United States (all public roads/streets):
1960: 3.5 million miles
1960: 3.7 million
1980: 3.8 million
1990: 3.9- million
2000: 3.9+ million
2009: 4.05 million
Total Rail miles (excluding doubled tracks and sidings):
1960: 207,334 miles
(AMTRAK miles: 24K in 1980... declining to 21.1K in 2009)
Meanwhile: there were 254.2 MILLION registered passenger vehicles in the US in 2009. Why take the train if you spent the money to have the convenience of a car?
(Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics/Research and Innovative Technology Administration)
“I’m asking why private companies don’t do this.”
Because private companies want to make a profit.
You are on to something there. If I want to take the train to visit relatives in Virginia, I've got to be at the station at 4:30 AM. Plus, there are no parking facilities at the station!
Would all rail passenger advocates and mass transit advocates please pay their own way? I am tired of subsidizing their sentimentality and other whims.
So off the bat, you've eliminated most of the country for being viable for rail.
Now, Amtrak already owns the real estate for the NE Corridor. It would be vastly expensive for another company to create a new corridor.
So basically by default, you have a monopoly situation for the train corridor in the NE. And the fedgov, for once in its life, would have to do a realistic assessment of the most cost-effective means of running that corridor, and whether it would be cost-effective to convert it to high-speed rail. Given how nutso they have gotten with hi-speed rail projects in other parts of the country, I ain't holding my breath.
Recommend the Starlight between LA and Seattle, along the Pacific coast, as the one I like best so far.
Willie got the ZOT after basically showing that he was pushing the U.N. Agenda 21.
That is, he was a troll.
I’m with you, and I’m one of those sentimentalists. I think there’s a luxury tour potential with train travel—but it’s too regulated. Wish it could be privatized, because I think it’d either become a lot more fun *or* go out of business entirely.
“Simple answer- AMTRAK is a Government-Run Company.”
Actually, Amtrak is a private company (heavily regulated) that relies on funding from the government. Kind of like the Post Office.
I spent considerable time from 1981 until 2012 running their locomotives.... (ran freight and commuter, too)
But just in case the marketplace would have supported private passenger service, the government included a provision in the 1971 law prohibiting any private company from operating service over any route operated by Amtrak. Almost all major inter-city routes would require use of the same track as Amtrak for at least some distance.
A notable exception is the Florida East Coast Railroad. This company was in the middle of breaking a 14 year long strike when Amtrak was formed and although it serves every city on Florida's east coast, Amtrak stays off of it. The company announced a couple of months ago that it would re-enter the passenger business as early as 2014.