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article- Why can't America have great trains?

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railsquid

Thanks for all the suggestions. If this trip happens, it's going to be a couple of years down the line anyway. I'm vaguely imagining a one-way rail trip left-to-right, and flying back to the airport of entry. Looking at the map, SF - Salt Lake City - Denver - Chicago looks like a promising route. Doesn't even have to be all the way to the East Coast come to think of it, though I would like to see New York and the space-orientated bit of the Smithsonian museum in Washington.

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toc36

Here's a link to a Arizona blogger named Warren Meyer.  He is a contributor to Forbes magazine.  Writes a lot about government subsidy.  This link addresses mostly the political and economic dynamics of Arizona commuter rail.

 

http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/category/rail-and-mass-transit

 

 

He is also a model railroader!

 

http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/category/model-railroading

Edited by toc36

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toc36

Railsquid,

 

If you make it out to the DC area and want to visit "manly" museums in addition to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum ...........

 

Udvar Hazy Center:  Its the Dulles extension of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  

http://airandspace.si.edu/visit/udvar-hazy-center/

 

National Rifle Association firearms Museum

http://www.nramuseum.org/museums/national-firearms-museum.aspx

 

National Museum of the Marine Corps

http://www.usmcmuseum.com/index.asp

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Jace

The actual costs of these services are almost double of the ticket incomes, which i don't understand as the rolling stock is old, the tracks are almost free and one train doesn't need a lot of staff or fuel either. Operating costs should be in the range of a double stack container train, but look to be as high as a japanese cruise train with ticket prices around half their actual worth.

 

A double stack train operates with a two person crew with yard/terminal costs at each end. A long distance passenger train will operate over the same crew districts thus the actual train crew costs are the same, the difference is the on-board staff. The LD trains have both coach and sleeper services. Both the sleepers and coaches require attendant(s), the diners also require staff. Then there's the cost to prep and clean the trains in the yards. This is all reflected in the seat mile per employee - among the lowest of any Amtrak service despite the high mileages posted by these trains. So yes, in the end, the costs will be much closer to a cruise train. Sleeper prices can be high and they do sell out, at least over the summer. This is the only way that these trains can come close to recovering their costs as coach prices are more akin to bus service given the slow speeds and poor on-time performance. Plus these trains tend to stop at intermediate stations at very inconvenient times.

 

Personally, I think the article's gushing over the increased role of the states is misplaced. PRIIA mandated that the states pay more of their share of the costs (outside the NEC). This simply shifts what were Federal costs to the states, it doesn't do anything to allow the states to better control these costs (they still have to pay Amtrak and Amtrak only to operate the trains). The states have also started to pick up the tab on equipment with large multi-state orders for cars (Sumitomo) and locomotives (Siemens) already in place. This again shifts costs from the Feds to the states but if anything, these costs are higher versus orders to upgrade a national fleet. Increasing the state role also places these services into much more risk. Service and budget cuts now become solely dependent upon a single state election. Should an anti-rail governor get elected, train service could well be in jeopardy (look up Wisconsin Talgo contract to see how ridiculous this can become). At least on the Federal level, there has been enough support in key states throughout the country to keep Amtrak afloat no matter which administration is in charge.

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kvp

If we take the double stack example, then the coach class would be essentially free as only a single conductor per shift is required for checking tickets. (assuming very little or no Amtrak staff at the stations) Sleeper cars could do away with very little crew and given the level of service, a motel level wage. Diners based on the food they serve could be considered the same as any gas station diner with similar wages and diner crews can handle the on board food carts too. Cleaning can be done at the end stations by the same staff that cleans the local commuters. I suspect something is really amiss here or the whole crew has a higher salary than the passengers, which isn't a good business modell, especially for a higher priced sleeper service.

 

It would be interesting to know the cost details for the 8 longest routes (or even a single one) for fuel, equipment, salaries, etc.

 

So far i've only found this:

http://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/374/876/Long%20Distance%20Trains.pdf

(the crew requirements seem to be rather low, like a total of 4 persons for diner service)

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Guest ___

If we take the double stack example, then the coach class would be essentially free as only a single conductor per shift is required for checking tickets. (assuming very little or no Amtrak staff at the stations) Sleeper cars could do away with very little crew and given the level of service, a motel level wage. Diners based on the food they serve could be considered the same as any gas station diner with similar wages and diner crews can handle the on board food carts too. Cleaning can be done at the end stations by the same staff that cleans the local commuters. I suspect something is really amiss here or the whole crew has a higher salary than the passengers, which isn't a good business modell, especially for a higher priced sleeper service.

 

It would be interesting to know the cost details for the 8 longest routes (or even a single one) for fuel, equipment, salaries, etc.

 

So far i've only found this:

http://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/374/876/Long%20Distance%20Trains.pdf

(the crew requirements seem to be rather low, like a total of 4 persons for diner service)

 

Keeping in mind that there are quite a few in Congress as well as the Union who are pushing hard for two in the cab again after the recent NEC accident. Personally, I'm amazed twenty years ago, Amtrak was able to go to a single crew member in the locomotive.

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velotrain

Thanks for all the suggestions. If this trip happens, it's going to be a couple of years down the line anyway. I'm vaguely imagining a one-way rail trip left-to-right, and flying back to the airport of entry. Looking at the map, SF - Salt Lake City - Denver - Chicago looks like a promising route. Doesn't even have to be all the way to the East Coast come to think of it, though I would like to see New York and the space-orientated bit of the Smithsonian museum in Washington.

 

Accepting that it's a few years off - if happening at all, I had a few other thoughts.  

 

 

Do it over two trips, with Chicago as the pivot point.  If you're willing to forego flying back to LA, consider the Kansas City route.  You could get off at Flagstaff, rent a car, and visit the Grand Canyon. 

 

 

I'd suggest going up into Utah and seeing Bryce Canyon.  Although less spectacular scale-wise, I find it just as compelling and more on a "human" scale.  There are also trails that your young son could hike, and I think he'd like the colorful rock formations.  It could certainly be less intimidating than the Grand Canyon - if that is a factor.  There's many other national parks in the vicinity, including Zion, depending on how much time and interest you have.

 

 

 

For the second trip, head up to Toronto from Chicago - Niagara Falls optional.  Ottawa is a beautiful city with a grand setting, and much more "approachable" than the mega-cities of Toronto and Montreal.  Decide what you want to see on the east coast, and then return to Chicago for the flight home.  

 

 

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railsquid

Thanks. I'll have to make a separate thread in a couple of year's time for this ;).

 

However if there's one North American city which has been well and truly checked off my bucket list, it's Ottawa, where I end up every year or two for work reasons. I can wrangle the time next year, I might use that for a jumping-off point for a whistle-stop US east coast tour, Boston-NY-Washington DC (or reverse). Not sure if I'd call Montreal a "megacity" though, I explored most of the central area by bicycle in half-a-day ;).

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Jace

If we take the double stack example, then the coach class would be essentially free as only a single conductor per shift is required for checking tickets. (assuming very little or no Amtrak staff at the stations) Sleeper cars could do away with very little crew and given the level of service, a motel level wage. Diners based on the food they serve could be considered the same as any gas station diner with similar wages and diner crews can handle the on board food carts too. Cleaning can be done at the end stations by the same staff that cleans the local commuters. I suspect something is really amiss here or the whole crew has a higher salary than the passengers, which isn't a good business modell, especially for a higher priced sleeper service.

 

It would be interesting to know the cost details for the 8 longest routes (or even a single one) for fuel, equipment, salaries, etc.

 

 

Amtrak's biggest cost is labor (50% of total costs, 70% of their revenues). Cutting costs here would go a long way to making the services break even but cutting costs here is bad news politically.

 

Higher level cost (and revenue) details for each route can be found in their monthly reports. Here's the latest (May 2015):

http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?c=Page&pagename=am%2FLayout&cid=1241245669222

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velotrain

However if there's one North American city which has been well and truly checked off my bucket list, it's Ottawa, where I end up every year or two for work reasons. I can wrangle the time next year, I might use that for a jumping-off point for a whistle-stop US east coast tour, Boston-NY-Washington DC (or reverse). Not sure if I'd call Montreal a "megacity" though, I explored most of the central area by bicycle in half-a-day ;).

 

I hope you've had a chance to do some cycling in Ottawa, as there is a great network of trails, and a lot of green space.

 

I've led several group tours to there, both from the Boston area and Ogdensburg, NY.

 

> I explored most of the central area by bicycle in half-a-day

 

But how many cities are there where this is not possible?  (OK, besides Tokyo ;-)

 

That is why I love exploring cities - especially new ones - by bike, as you can see so much more in a short period than any other mode of transportation.

 

If leaving Ottawa by train, you'd need to go to Montreal first, then Boston or NYC.  It might even make more sense to fly to Boston or Portland, ME (if possible ?) - not a major city, but well worth visiting, and with Amtrak service to Boston - multiple trips daily.  It's also the home of a lot of what remains of the Maine two-footers - if you're into NG at all.

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Jcarlton

On a more positive note... Mrs. Railsquid has got it into her head that it would be a great idea to take Railsquid Jr. on a coast-to-coast train tour of the US when he's old enough to appreciate such things, and who am I to deny this plan? However, is it remotely feasible? I have a couple of railway books which depict impressive-looking tourist-style trains sweeping dramatically through impressive-looking scenery but they date from the 1970s.

It's doable.  You are going to have to change trains in Chicago and the layover may be significant.  On the other hand the train staff on Amtrak tend to very good and the trip is a great experience.

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