Private Car Owners Hear From Amtrak at Convention

Those attending a convention of private railroad car owners were urged to continue to work together to ensure that elected officials understand that Amtrak is a public service.

The convention of the American Association of Private Rail Car Owners was held in Albuquerque, which is on the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

The Chief has been at the center of much controversy in recent years including a plan by Amtrak to replace rail service between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, with buses.

That plan was thwarted by Congress.

Karl Ziebarth, chairman of the board, CEO, and general manager of the Santa Fe Southern Railway said one way to influence Amtrak’s future is to weigh in on an authorization bill Congress must approve that will authorize funding for Amtrak.

Amtrak has angered many private rail car owners by restricting the number of locations at which private rail cars can be added or removed from Amtrak trains.

The passenger carrier has also implemented more stringent operating practices governing private rail cars and increased the tariffs charged to handle and haul those cars.

Stephan Robusto of Amtrak’s Commercial Development Group conceded that the new rules have displeased some private rail car owners.

But he said that with those rules now in place car owners will now have a better idea of what moves are possible and what trips they can sell.

Robusto said the approval process for private cars moves will be quicker and more straight forward.

“The good news is that we’re still running private cars,” Robusto said. “Obviously there are a lot of limitations, huge price increases that came out, but at least we’re still running private cars. It could have been a lot worse. It could have been totally thrown out.”

Amtrak views handling private cars as a business proposition, Robusto said, and is not operating as it did in the past just because that was the way that it was always done.

Robusto said Amtrak was losing money on a full allocated cost basis in the handling of private rail cars.

The carrier doesn’t view the handling of private rail cars as an incremental business.

In response to a question about the prospects of Amtrak agreeing to again allow private rail cars to be added to trains at stations with short dwell times, Robusto reiterated Amtrak policy that no delays, even a delay of one minute, will be tolerated.

“We are trying to eliminate any delays we can control,” says Robusto.

When asked if Amtrak intended to fulfill its public mission to provide service to private cars, Robusto said he didn’t believe Amtrak has an obligation to do tthat.

“I believe that we should provide service to private cars because it’s good for Amtrak’s business under the new guidelines,” he said.

Michael DeAngelo, Amtrak’s manager of charter and special movements, said the passenger carrier is no longer handling as many charter and excursion trains in part because of the lack of positive train control systems on some routes.

“If it [route] doesn’t have PTC it doesn’t get past box number one. We will not operate another [excursion train] without PTC,” Robusto said.

Rob Mangels Sr., a mechanical associate for R.L. Banks & Associates said the limited number of terminals at which private cars can be maintained is becoming a problem for private car owners.

“Another thing that’s happening is that Beech Grove has sold off the excess equipment that Amtrak had,” Mangels said.

“That means they don’t have parts, they don’t have drawings, they don’t have the people who know how to deal with it, they don’t have the skill sets to deal with it and within three or four years, there’s going to be a really big brain drain at Amtrak when it comes to handling [heritage passenger] equipment.”

Beech Grove is an Amtrak heavy maintenance shop located in an Indianapolis suburb.

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One Response to “Private Car Owners Hear From Amtrak at Convention”

  1. wildbillfromusa Says:

    It’s about time that Amtrak existed for the travelling public and Congressional directives, not for the whims of its current management that does not have the rail passenger in mind. It is an agency that desparately needs to be reined in. I hope AAPRCO flexes its muscle in this regard.

    Having to beg from Amtrak is sickening. Is the tail supposed to wag the dog?

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