Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak long distance trains’

Bound for Miami

May 19, 2019

Amtrak’s Silver Meteor rushes past the Newark Liberty Airport station without even slowing down.

No. 97 is bound for Miami and assuming it doesn’t lose any significant time en route will be halting at its destination in more than 24 hours.

Amtrak Releases More 5-Year Plans

April 4, 2019

Amtrak recently released five additional medium-range plans pertaining to infrastructure, stations, transportation assets and service line.

Those plans, which have five-year time frames, compliment another five-year plan released previously pertaining to equipment.

Amtrak said the plans seek to provide an articulation of company goals for the next five years.

Each document uses a SWOT analyses (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) as part of the review.

The documents provide management’s thinking of the key issues facing Amtrak.

A review of the plans by Trains magazine concluded that although the plans contain much information, they also tend to reflect a bias by Amtrak management against long-distance passenger trains.

It cited as an example how the discussion of Amtrak service never mentions passenger miles and instead focuses on “subsidy per passenger” and the fact that long-distance routes sustained a $543.2 million operating loss.

Amtrak also views the long-distance trains as failing to meet the preferences of today’s travelers.

A More Creative Way to End Long-Distance Trains

March 23, 2019

The Trump administration is not the first to try to end funding of Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

As far back as the middle 1970s presidents and their secretaries of transportation were using the same playbook of citing low ridership and high financial losses.

But the budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 contains a twist. It doesn’t just call for ending funding of the long-distance trains as other administrations have done, it also seeks to replace them with bus service that would be funded for a time from grant funds that would be doled out at the sole discretion of the administration.

To be sure, the administration’s budget proposal would cut Amtrak funding by $1.06 billion.

However, the funding of long-distance trains would be replaced by grants dispersed from a Restoration and Enhancement Grant program.

The budget proposal contends that rural communities “will be better served by other modes of transportation, like intercity buses.”

The Rail Passengers Association in a blog posted on its website this week noted that the administration’s proposal would pit Amtrak’s national network against the Northeast Corridor.

“And by moving it to a competitive grant program—controlled by the White House—the administration gets to choose the winners and losers,” wrote RPA President Jim Martin.

Previous efforts to eliminate Amtrak’s long-distance trains have fallen short, but there are fewer long-distance routes than there have been in the past.

Among the trains that have fallen in past Amtrak budget fights are the National Limited (New York-Kansas City), Lone Star (Chicago-Houston), North Coast Hiawatha (Chicago-Seattle via southern Montana), Floridian (Chicago-Miami/St. Petersburg), Broadway Limited (Chicago-New York via Akron, Ohio), Desert Wind (Chicago-Los Angeles via Las Vegas), Pioneer (Chicago-Seattle via Boise, Idaho), Mountaineer (Chicago-Norfolk), and Hilltopper (Washington-Catlettsburg, Kentucky).

Will Buses Replace Corridor Trains, Too?

March 17, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association said last week that the proposed Trump administration federal budget would not just eliminate long-distance trains it would also replace some corridor trains with subsidized bus service.

In a blog posting on the RPA website, the rail passenger advocacy group did not provide any details of the bus for train proposal, noting that the full budget will not be available until March 18 and many of the details are still unclear.

However, RPA said that federal transportation officials have signaled that they do not support using federal dollars for what they see as local responsibilities.

This includes the proposed new Hudson River rail tunnels. “Transit projects are local responsibilities, and elected officials from New York and New Jersey are the ones accountable for them,” said DOT Deputy Secretary Jeffrey Rosen.

The budget proposal released last week by the administration suggested that long-distance trains be replaced by buses.

At a House committee hearing last week Amtrak Senior Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner was asked about that and responded that the carrier is itself seeking to better understand the administration’s proposal.

However, Gardner told the committee that Amtrak wants to launch a series of new corridor services, noting that some of those corridors now exist within the confines of Amtrak’s long-distance network.

“There are a core set of long-distance routes which we think make sense in the future of the [national] network and for which federal support will be necessary,” he said.

“There are a number of routes which we do think have opportunity for expanded corridor service, and of course we today have, through the Section 209 of PRIIA, a strong partnership with states to support and fund corridor services.

“Many corridors exist today on long-distance routes, so there are opportunities to have corridors that today are served by long-distance trains served instead by corridor trains.”

One example of that would be Chicago-Twin Cities, which is part of the route of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Gardner acknowledged that creating these corridors will require a “strong partnership” among the states, the federal government and Amtrak.

Saying it would be a big transition to start adding those services, Gardner said he thought it would be “appropriate for Congress through reauthorization or your committee to look at the right partnership between the federal government and the states as part of the modernization of the network. There are clearly interests that are local, intrastate and national that would be served by such an improvement.”

Amtrak plans to seek the full $1.8 billion that it has been authorized under the FAST Act.

“But we’ll include a long list of things that we think are worthy of additional funding so we see really no shortage of things that require continued federal investment and partnership with our states,” Gardner said.

The budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 that the administration released last week proposed cutting $455.6 million from Amtrak and intercity rail programs.

It proposed allocating “$550 million in transitional grants for states to help pay for a restructuring of the Amtrak network.

The budget proposal includes $936 million in direct grants to Amtrak for the Northeast Corridor and existing State-supported lines.

Trump Budget Would Slash Transportation Funding

March 14, 2019

The Trump administration is seeking a cut of $5.1 billion to the budget of the U.S. Department of Transportation that would also include the elimination Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The proposed fiscal year 2020 budget would cut DOT funding by 21.5 percent and make major cuts to Amtrak funding.

The passenger carrier would receive $1.49 billion, which is a 22 percent reduction from its fiscal year appropriation of $1.9 billion.

Northeast Corridor funding would be slashed from $650 million to $325.5 million and no funding is recommended for the Gateway Tunnel project in New York and New Jersey.

The budget proposes $550 million in “transitional funding” to help states pay for Amtrak corridor routes, including those not now in operation.

The budget envisions Amtrak contracting with bus operators to provide transportation to rural areas served by long-distance trains.

The budget contended that Amtrak inadequately serves rural areas while not serving many growing metropolitan areas.

The administration cited low ridership and large operating losses of long-distance routes as the driving force for restructuring the national intercity passenger rail system.

“The administration believes that restructuring the Amtrak system can result in better service (at a lower cost) by focusing trains on shorter distance (less than 750 miles) routes, while providing robust intercity bus service to currently underserved rural areas via a partnership between Amtrak and bus operators,” the budget states.

Much of the thrust of the budget is to transfer funding of transportation from the federal government to state governments.

“The 2020 Budget  . . .  recognizes that the federal government is not — and should not be — the primary funder of the nation’s transportation systems,” the budget document said.

The American Public Transportation Association said the budget would fund public transportation at $12.4 billion, a cut of $998 million from the FY2019 enacted level of $13.4 billion.

Most of that decrease comes from cuts in the Capital Investment Grants program, a discretionary and competitive federal grant program that funds projects for light, heavy and commuter rail, as well as streetcars and bus rapid transit services.

The administration proposes spending $1.5 billion for CIG programs, a cut of $1 billion from current funding levels.

The CIG program funding recommendation would make $500 million available for new CIG projects.

However, the budget would fully funds Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act programs authorized from the Highway Trust Fund.

It also would double funding for INFRA grants to $2 billion. These can be used for ports, intermodal, or rail projects including grade crossing separations, in addition to highway projects.

The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development program would receive $1 billion, a $100 million increase.

The budget contains $200 billion for “other infrastructure projects,” but those are described as “visionary projects” such as 5G cellular communications and artificial intelligence.

Amtrak Eyeing Major Revamp of Its Route Network

February 22, 2019

The big news concerning Amtrak this week was a report in the Wall Street Journal that Amtrak plans to revamp its route network to emphasize new corridors, primarily in the South and West.

The Journal quoted an unnamed Amtrak official as saying: “We are undertaking a major rethinking of the national network and how we offer service on the national network. That study and planning isn’t done yet, and we aren’t prepared to announce any plans or recommendations yet—those will come in our reauthorization proposal.”

The newspaper report said the route restructuring is being prompted in part by a need to replace or retire the aging Superliner fleet devoted to most long-distance trains.

Another factor is that Amtrak must be reauthorized by Congress later this year.

Amtrak officials have been hinting for at least a year at a change in the carrier’s business focus.

During a speech in California, Amtrak President Richard Anderson described the long-distance trains as experiential.

Anthony Coscia, the chairman of the Amtrak board of directors, told the Rail Passengers Association in a meeting last May that in the long term the overall shape of Amtrak’s national network is likely due to population shifts, demographic trends and economic growth.

Coscia expressed Amtrak’s desire to develop corridor routes with strong potential for growth in unserved or lightly served areas.

Writing on the Trains magazine website, columnist Fred Frailey said the implication of the report by the Wall Street Journal is that Amtrak wants to operate daylight service between large city pairs.

Frailey quoted at length the remarks of Amtrak’s Stephen Gardner, a senior executive vice president, at the Rail Trends meeting in New York City last November.

“We’re looking at a different America. They do not live half in the city and half in the country,” Gardner said. “Now the vast majority live in major metropolitan areas. And those metro areas are shifting. The Northeast will be a net loser.

“Where growth is happening is in the South, Mountain West and West. And guess who lives in those metro areas? It’s Millennials, by far.”

Gardner went on to say that this has resulted in a mismatch between population density, transportation demand and Amtrak’s current network.

Frailey speculated that what ultimately may occur is that some of Amtrak’s long-distance routes will be split into segments operating during the daytime.

He cited the example of the Chicago-New Orleans route, which might be broken into Chicago-Memphis and New Orleans-Memphis segments.

Amtrak Buying 75 Chargers for Long-Distance Trains

December 21, 2018

Amtrak said it will purchase 75 Charger locomotives for use on long-distance trains starting in fall 2021.

The Siemens locomotives will replace aging P42DC units that have been the mainstay of long-distance trains for several years.

In a news release, Amtrak said it will have options to purchase additional Chargers for use on some state-funded corridor routes.

Trains expected to be assigned the new Chargers are Auto Train, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Empire Builder, Lake Shore Limited, Palmetto, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, and Texas Eagle.

Funding for the locomotives was not disclosed other than a statement that they will be paid for through available funds and comply with Buy American provisions.

The units will be built in Sacramento, California, with all of them expected to be in service by 2024.

The Chargers will have 4,400 in horsepower capability, 16-cylinder diesel engines with modern control systems and A.C. propulsion.

Each unit will have Tier 4 emissions technology, reducing nitrogen oxide by more than 89 percent and particulate matter by 95 percent while providing an average of 10 percent savings in diesel fuel consumption.

“These new locomotives will offer increased reliability, more hauling power, improved safety features and lower emissions,” said Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson in a statement.

The first of the Chargers will be delivered in summer 2021.

Amtrak currently operates Chargers on state-funded routes in California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan and Washington.

Some of the GE-built P40 and P42 locomotives the Chargers will replace have been in service for more than 25 years.

Improved Food Service May be Coming to Amtrak

December 17, 2018

A post on the website of the Rail Passengers Association hints that improved food service options are coming to Amtrak.

That announcement followed a meeting with RPA President Jim Mathrews RPA vice president Sean Jeans-Gail met Amtrak management.

RPA said that Amtrak is working on some service enhancement measures that it might begin implementing as soon as January.

Although the RPA posting said it can’t release details on those until contracts are announced, it did say that better food, and more hot options are on the way.

“We also this week received explicit assurances that the long-term vision for the National Network is an improved service “with more traditional dining options,” Mathews wrote.

Amtrak Eyeing Superliner Replacement or Rebuilding

December 10, 2018

Amtrak has given a hint that it is considering a plan for replacement or rebuilding of its Superliner fleet.

In a letter to Rail Passengers Association Jim Mathews, Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia said the carrier is evaluating what he termed an “appropriate strategy” for the Superliner fleet, which is primarily assigned to long-distance trains.

Coscia noted that several of Amtrak’s equipment fleets are nearing the end of their useful lives.

“We are eager to grow and expand service to currently underserved cities, corridors and communities across the country,” Coscia wrote. “We are hopeful there will be opportunities for expansion onto new routes in places like Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.”

He also indicated that Amtrak’s PRIIA-required Route Improvement Plans are providing an opportunity to examine options for daily service for the Cardinal and Sunset Limited.

“Of course, to do so will require reasonable cooperation from our host railroads and available equipment,” Coscia wrote.

It is not yet what steps Amtrak might take to address the wearing out Superliner fleet.

Amtrak Offering 2 for 1 Roomette Fares

December 7, 2018

Inside a Viewliner roomette aboard the Lake Shore Limited.

Amtrak is offering a buy one get one free sale on sleeping car roomettes.

The deal is only available at Amtrak.com and runs through Dec. 11 for travel between Jan. 7 and May 23, 2019. There are no blackout dates.

In a news release, Amtrak said the sale allows one person in a group of two to travel for free.

Under normal circumstances, both occupants of a Viewliner or Superliner roomette must each pay for rail fare and share an accommodation charge.

The sale applies to travel aboard the California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Coast Startlight, Crescent, Empire Builder, Lake Shore Limited, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle.

The sale does not apply to the Auto Train.

The companion traveling with the customer must stay in the same roomette, and other terms and conditions apply.

To take advantage of the sale, a traveler should begin by clicking on the “Buy One Roomette and Bring a Companion for Free” page of the Amtrak website.

The sale does not show up on the normal reservations page, which is unable to calculate the discount.

Passengers will know they have booked the sale fare if they see a “promo applied” notation below the roomette fare.

Trains magazine reported that it found that the best cost savings are available for multi-night travel because rail fares are yield managed.