The Real Beneficiary of the Blended System for HSR is Amtrak

May 28th, 2012 | Posted by

Thanks to Tom McNamara for this guest post. -Robert

Update: I made some edits below to clarify the fact that House Minority Leader Pelosi was not speaking about any form of Amtrak consolidation, but was instead reflecting on the grandeur of Grand Central Station. The concept of Amtrak consolidation with HSR is Tom McNamara’s and not Pelosi’s.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi christened the TransBay Transit Center the “Grand Central Station of the West”. Although this draws on a deep vein of allusions, it also misses the mark for a couple of reasons. One, Grand Central Terminal serves passengers (the Station is used for mail). Two, if you want to take anything other than a commuter train from Grand Central Station, you are out of luck. Amtrak only serves nearby Penn Station.

Such a statement might seem like a Freudian slip. For as much ink as high speed rail’s role in the nation’s transportation future gets, Amtrak gets surprisingly little attention. At first, it might seem patently ridiculous to suggest that intermodality with long distance legacy trains is an important component of high speed rail. But actually, it’s not.

Amtrak, as many are quick to point out, has three almost autonomous components: transcontinental trains that are descended from earlier generations, the Northeast Corridor (which it owns), and state-sponsored routes around the country like the Hiawatha from Chicago to Milwaukee or the Cascades from Seattle to Portland. As HSR systems expand, they will absorb more and more of these state-sponsored routes, Congress will likely have to increase taxpayer subsidies for the longer transcontinental routes to offset the loss of income from state-sponsored service. Should that not be possible, however, the next option would be to consolidate lines and extend many of the routes with a final destination of none other than the Bay Area.

The Sunset Limited, as a prime example, ran in its Southern Pacific days from San Francisco to New Orleans. Today, you can’t go further than L.A.’s Union Station. And instead of terminating in the Crescent City, Amtrak’s version went all the way to Orlando until Hurricane Katrina. Combined with planned high speed rail upgrades, however, restoring the Sunset Limited would allow the Coast Starlight to be replaced, by the Limited in the south and extending the Empire Builder to the north. Similarly, Amtrak could make reciprocal moves in the East, extending the California Zephyr along the Ohio River to absorb the Cardinal and by shifting its Crescent service to the Gulf Coast, and beefing up the Auto Train. In fact, consolidation could reduce the number of long distance lines by a third, from fifteen to ten.

Moreover, using TransBay, and by extension, the Peninsula right of way for Amtrak also explains one other development: the Authority’s sudden willingness to embrace a “blended” system.

Consider that unlike CalTrain, which could be supplanted by BART, Amtrak will always have to use diesel engines to handle routes in areas of the country that are remote. Because of that, it will use heavier carriages that cannot reach the same speed as state-of-the-art high speed rail technology.

Thus, if the Sunset Limited did roll through Palo Alto once more it would assure that high speed trains would have a much lower maximum speed through town. But because high speed trains wouldn’t be sharing tracks with commuter rail, there would be little additional track if any, to build. HSR would simply pass by the once-daily trains just like the Baby Bullet does today.

It all makes so much sense, you would wonder why no one has mentioned the idea...except that Pelosi, America’s Shadow Chancellor, already did.

The key, of course, is that no elected officials further south have joined with her have proposed this. But then that’s hardly a surprise given that there is no political will even to shore up Cal Train’s finances (or Amtrak’s for that matter).

The Authority’s Revised Business Plan, however, gives us a clue. The Northern California United Service is set to align both Amtrak California services and commuter rail under one plan. However, while the business plan makes it seem as if service would expand under this scenario, consolidation seems more likely. The Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin would be replaced with a longer version of the Altamont Corridor Express that would head both north to Sacramento and south to Merced. That would, in effect, make the Altamont Corridor route more desirable for Amtrak’s eastbound long distance routes as well, by reducing competition from freight.

For now, the only place you will find high speed rail and Amtrak’s long distance trains on the same platform is still New York’s Penn Station. Soon, however, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland will join that list. And then perhaps, it could be time to start calling TransBay Center “the Grand Central Station of the West”.

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  1. Alon Levy
    May 28th, 2012 at 21:09
    #1

    Tom, you’re overinterpreting one sentence. The reason people are comparing stations to Grand Central and not Penn Station is how they look: Grand Central is the same cathedral depot from 1912, whereas Penn Station is infamously dinky and from the 60s. Hatred for Penn Station is one of the few things all urbanists today agree on, even fans of urban renewal.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    I did some research to see if a reporter had misquoted the Speaker’s remarks. This is an excerpt of her prepared remarks from that day:

    “Today, in breaking ground on the Transbay Transit Center, we are opening a new chapter in that history of progress. We are coming together to create jobs and revitalize our economy; to make San Francisco, once again, a national model for economic development.

    “In breaking ground on the Transbay Transit Center today, we are laying the first building blocks of a new ‘Grand Central Station of the West,’ connecting cities and communities throughout the region and across the state.

    “It will be a crossroads of commerce, jobs, transit, and retail. And it will increase public transit options, reduce congestion on our roads, and cut carbon emissions.

    http://pelosi.house.gov/news/press-releases/2010/08/pelosi-remarks-at-transbay-transit-center-groundbreaking.shtml

    Moreover, on the TransBay Center’s own website there is this:

    The Transbay Transit Center Project is a visionary transportation and housing project that transforms downtown San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay Area’s regional transportation system by creating a “Grand Central Station of the West” in the heart of a new transit-friendly neighborhood. The $4 billion project will replace the current Transbay Terminal at First and Mission streets in San Francisco with a modern regional transit hub connecting eight Bay Area counties and the State of California through 11 transit systems: AC Transit, BART, Caltrain, Golden Gate Transit, Greyhound, Muni, SamTrans, WestCAT Lynx, Amtrak, Paratransit and future High Speed Rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles/Anaheim.

    http://transbaycenter.org/project/program-overview

    I’m not sure Alon, therefore, how the use of this phrase has anything to do with architecture or urban design. It seems pretty obvious to me that the idea of a Grand Central Station is that of a place where everyone (and everything passes through).

    Also, people seem to be confused about the term consolidation. I was referring to combining operations within Amtrak, not combining Amtrak administratively with someone else.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Didn’t you just say in the original post that the real reason for using the term Grand Central is that it doesn’t have Amtrak?

    Anyway, you know it’s about Grand Central as an icon since nobody, anywhere, proposes to build the Penn Station of X. That is used only as a term of abuse. Enough of the people who write these blurbs commute daily to Grand Central or Penn Station that they know which one they should be comparing things with.

    By mutation, when people talk about the Grand Central of X, they do not mean to reproduce the exact characteristics of the station. Diridon Intergalactic, for example, was never meant to be a terminal. (However, because some of the designers take Grand Central as the canonical example of what to build, they may reproduce such features as a dinky track area segregated from the concourses; this is a separate discussion.)

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Even those who’ve never been in either station in their life will have an impression of Grand Central Station picked up from media images. AFAIU, the only reason a movie maker would wish to use Penn Station is because they want to have a running chase scene through a crowded, confusing, claustrophobic space.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    San Francisco — WORLD CLASS! — has opted, after a WORLD CLASS architectural “competition”, for the “crowded, confusing, claustrophobic space” option.

    One that doesn’t accommodate most of the train service promised.

    Score!

    All signed off by the TJPA, Caltrain, the CHSRA. You know, the professional planners and engineers. “Professional” int the Special Needs US-only sheltered workshop sense, of people who couldn’t even get a job interview anywhere else in the world.

    The world’s finest transportation planning professionals, delivering as usual. All for the low, low. low cost of $4 billion, and counting.

  2. Clem
    May 28th, 2012 at 21:47
    #2

    It all makes so much sense

    To you, maybe.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    I don’t care what you tell me, 1 + 1 = 17

    joe Reply:

    1 + 1 = 11

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    I thought eleven was XI

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    1+1 = 10
    1+1+1 =11
    1+1+1+1=100

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Binary land!

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    So are you for binary, or agin it?

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Officially I’m neutral, but secretly…

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Horses for courses, so all three, depending on circumstance.

  3. lex luther
    May 28th, 2012 at 22:07
    #3

    welcome to the amtrak blog.

  4. Michael
    May 28th, 2012 at 22:15
    #4

    It makes as much sense as throwing RVs into elegant European road races because of a fond memory for the family vacation to all the KOAs. I’ve probably got more Amtrak points than most commentators on this list, but the dusty, crappy, four days on the road Sunset Limited, or whatever, up the Peninsula and into Transbay? Yes, best use of the infrastructure.

    The TEE is dead. A friend recently took a ferry across the Channel for fun and really regretted it. The Orient Express runs, but not as a regular service. Sure, a cross country cruise on Amtrak is cool, but let’s not mistake what it is (with all its encumberances with the freight railways) and what we’re trying to accomplish in California. I’ve scooted from Brussels to London in the Waterloo Terminal days to understand the “complexities” of a blended service, let alone one that adds more ungainly long distance trains to a congested before its time corridor and terminal, GCC or Penn prodigy.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Diesel trains can’t run into the TBT, its an electric-only tunnel.

    jim Reply:

    LD trains running into Penn Station change locomotives at Washington or Philadelphia. LD trains running into TBT could change locomotives at San Jose.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    And once there, they’d be contending for platforms ~ and since they are LD trains running on US freight corridors, the needed platform space could be anytime within a multiple hour range. The practical place for a Coast Daylight to stop is 4th & King. It would be “connected” to the TBT via the underground 4th and Townsend platform for the Caltrain local.

    If there were corridor upgrades from LA-Union Station to SLO, Salinas to San Jose and the Capitol Corridor to Sacramento sufficient to take two hours off of the LA to Sacramento trip, then you could run a LA / Reno train along the coastal route, with two trains shuttling back and forth like
    the Palmetto. That would avoid interference with delays in Riverside and many miles of track miles east. But it would run up the East Bay, not up the Peninsula and out again.

    jim Reply:

    LD trains are scheduled into and out of Penn Station off-peak. A Coast Daylight, should it and the tunnel into TBT both exist simultaneously, could be scheduled into and out of the TBT off-peak to eliminate platform contention.

  5. Loren Petrich
    May 28th, 2012 at 22:33
    #5

    Grand Central Terminal used to be the main NYC station of the New York Central railroad. The legendary train 20th Century Ltd. ran from there to Chicago. Amtrak went to there before changing to Penn Station, and Amtrak runs a train on that legendary train’s route, the Lake Shore Ltd.

    So it’s name is now an anachronism; Metro-North Downtown Station would be a better one.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Depends on you point of view. From New Jersey, Penn Station, which is farther downtown than Grand Central, is Uptown. I haven’t been in Penn Station Newark in a while, the signs even read that way. Uptown trains and Downtown Trains. Probably still there since they were original to the station and the station is landmarked.
    No technical reason why Metro North Hudson or New Haven line trains can’t go to Penn Station.

  6. James in PA
    May 28th, 2012 at 22:38
    #6

    Tom,
    You may know what you are saying, and I am far from a rail expert, but your writing style seems disjointed and contextual making it difficult to follow.

    Donk Reply:

    Maybe I am tired, but I am also sort of missing the point. Tom, are you supporting the consolidation of Amtrak routes and then blending with HSR?

    Personally, and sorry DP, but I would dismantle all of the long distance Amtrak routes and break them up into manageable pieces. Having a train go from LA to New Orleans is just ridiculous. If you need to get to New Orleans, then fly. If you have a fear of flying, then drive. If you are too old to drive, then take a bus.

    The long distance Amtrak routes should not be part of the discussion when planning future rail service. Their only value is that they preserve some ROW, but ROW in the middle of New Mexico is not worth preserving. The state-supported Amtrak routes that have already been broken up into manageable pieces should be part of the discussion.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Ditto. Amtrak should be broken up. LD trains axed. If rural states still want to have their one train/day that passes through town at 4:49am, then pay for it. Even better, replace that long distance train with an intrastate service with several roundtrips/day, which would better serve the public.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    What is the argument, there? That the Federal responsibility for alternative means for interstate travel only applies to large metropolitan areas, and smaller urbanized areas, small towns and rural area should just suck it and rely on their closest interstate highway?

    Matthew B Reply:

    I don’t move to Montana expecting the government to supply an underground rail station to get me around. It’s not a valid argument to say that small towns and rural areas should get rail “just because.” I strongly support government supported rail, but that it should be in a coherent network. Current legacy routes may or may not fit into such a network.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Nor is it a valid argument to say that the Federal role in providing transport to small towns and rural areas ought to be restricted to Interstate Highways and subsidized small town airports “just because”.

    Since the current Amtrak services in North Dakota and Montana are not the equivalent of constructing an underground rail station, “I don’t move to Montana expecting the government to supply an underground rail station to get me around.” only supports the assertion that all LD services should be cut by acting as a red herring and distracting from lack of argument to back up the assertion.

    Now, given a Rapid Passenger Rail system from Chicago to Minneapolis, one would reroute the Amtrak onto that corridor, unless Minnesota for its own reasons wanted to subsidize service through the legacy corridor.

    Given an electrified Rapid Freight Rail “Steel Interstate” network, as hypothetically here, one would run the primary LD routes along the Steel Interstate, and services off the Steel Interstates would be designed to be complementary to the ones on the Steel Interstate.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Independently of everything else: for readability, could you please link to a map that shows all lines simultaneously instead of cycling between them one by one?

    Jon Reply:

    I’m having a hard time with this post as well. Many of the sentences are just not logically connected to the ones that came before them.

    Do please exlplain why Nancy Pelosi’s comment was a “Freudian slip” rather than just, say, a “slip”. Also why diesel trains always mean heavy cars (PTC mandate anyone?) Or why Amtrak’s diesel services have any relevance to Transbay with its electric-only approach tunnel.

    With the blended plan, the authority hopes to create a unified rail system more like the NEC, with the difference that it would be owned by the state of Califonia rather than by Amtrak. That is the reason why the Amtrak California services are being taken over by the state. The long-distance Amtrak services have no more relevance to CAHSR than they do to the NEC- less, in fact, as the organization will be completely different- and so bear little consideration in the authorities plans.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The median trip on the long distance routes is six hours ~ the majority of people do not take the route end to end, but rather end to somewhere in the middle and somewhere in the middle to somewhere in the middle.

    When the HSR is finished, the only rationale for running an Amtrak up to San Francisco on the Peninsula would, as with the conventional rail Madrid/Barcelona route, overnight trains that leave after the last HSR leaves SF/LA and arrives before the first HSR arrives the other side. And improvements on that corridor may well be required to permit even that service.

    In the south, that early arrival would be better used running down the rest of the Surfliner route that it has already been running since SLO. And in the north, that early arrival would be better used in providing additional Capitol Corridor services ~ indeed, could well be a set dedicated to providing extended Capitol Corridor service to Salinas ~ and so shouldn’t pass up the Peninsula at all, but should pass up the Capital Corridor route along the East Bay.

    Meanwhile there is no reason to extend the Sunset to San Francisco, since with a 5am-6am arrival, and a 10pm departure, on its current schedule it is faster to get to the Bay via HSR than on the coastal Amtrak route. Indeed, that would be true for the IOS and the Bay to Basin, as well as the full LA-US to SF-TBT.

    On the preferred HSR alignment, the Coast Starlate southbound would hand over riders from points along the Capital Corridor through to San Jose, and collect riders for the coast at San Jose and Gilroy. Its ridership would likely rise north of Sacramento and drop south of San Jose, losing its SF through to LA ridership except for the coastal scenery trade.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The reason the median trip is shorter is that this is the length of the useful end segments – Chicago to Minneapolis, Chicago to Kansas City, etc. Those segments should be reinforced with extra trains, while lonely runs through Montana and New Mexico should be axed to make funding and rolling stock available for such reinforcement.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Those are also common trip lengths in the middle. Much of the Montana and North Dakota patronage, after all, is heading from or to Minneapolis.

    Assuming a fixed supply of resources for trains but a flexible supply of resources for highway, airport and aircraft operation spending, and then playing robbing Peter to pay Paul games with those arbitrarily fixed resources, is absurd. For one thing, the quantity of resources is not made available on the basis of large metropolitan resource consuming areas get it all, and the rural and regional resource producing areas get squat.

    Take away the funding for the long distance trains through North Dakota and Montana and New Mexico and whatever other areas have been allocated the role of hewing wood and drawing water for people in the large metropolitan areas and there is no guarantee that it remains in Amtrak.

    If the reinforcement of the end segments are justified, then they justify the acquisition of rolling stock to provide that service. The operations of those short and medium corridors and the operations of the LD trains through those corridors are complementary.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    First, the Amtrak subsidy per capita and per rider in Montana and North Dakota is higher than in the Northeast. So no, the allocation of money isn’t “large metropolitan resource consuming areas get it all”; it’s “large metropolitan areas contribute money and rural areas take it and then call people who live in metro areas fake Americans.” That’s why Amtrak is supposed to seek state subsidies first for shorter routes but not on longer routes.

    And even the political allocation doesn’t work this way. Trent Lott may have steered money to Amtrak (and his state is underserved rather than overserved), but as discussed in this very sub-thread, the GOP Senators from the Interior West don’t care. You’re presenting the same argument as for letting the GOP control a portion of the stimulus funds knowing it wouldn’t vote for the stimulus anyway – bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship.

    So forget about that, and focus on serving the markets that are currently getting 1 train per day when they should be getting 10, or at least 2 or 3 that don’t stop in the middle of the night. The economically and geographically correct way to do this – as opposed to lines-on-a-map or reminiscing about traveling like it’s 1959 – is to start by serving these corridors, and only then serve Minot.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Of course, by “this very sub-thread” I mean the next sub-thread. The one where Jim is asking whether Utah Senators are supporting Amtrak.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    So no, the allocation of money …

    I didn’t say money, I said resource. Do you think that manipulating bits in a computer in a New York money center bank “creates resources”? It can create money, but it cannot create resources. Resources ~ labor, productive equipment, natural resources ~ can be mobilized by financial manipulations, but creating them is a trickier business.

    … but as discussed in this very sub-thread, the GOP Senators from the Interior West don’t care …

    There is a big voting block of GOP Senators who would welcome your proposal to simply abolish all Long Distance trains. They would do so by cutting the Amtrak budget by that amount.

    The Senators who are on the Amtrak logroll for the LD train funding are neither limited to the Interior West nor to the GOP. And even among the substantial GOP block that would gladly vote to shut down Amtrak entirely, “care / don’t care” is a false dichotomy, since there is a difference between being willing to cast a floor vote and how much political capital you are willing to spend to achieve that result.

    So forget about that, and focus on serving the markets that are currently getting 1 train per day when they should be getting 10, or at least 2 or 3 that don’t stop in the middle of the night. The economically and geographically correct way to do this – as opposed to lines-on-a-map or reminiscing about traveling like it’s 1959 – is to start by serving these corridors, and only then serve Minot.

    You are still making the false assumption that there is a fixed pot of money and its available to the short and medium corridor service, but the empirical evidence points in the opposite direction. The actual movement in Amtrak funding has been toward shifting the responsibility of funding shorter corridor services to the states.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The economy has a lot of parts that are neither speculation nor primary commodities. For examples, actual finance (i.e. matching savers to borrowers), heavy manufacturing, hi-tech, and tourism. To hear you tell it, New York and Los Angeles invaded the great productive regions of North Dakota, seized their riches, and forced them into the global economy.

    A lot of the Amtrak LD funding could be redirected even within the states that benefit from it. I doubt anyone in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, or Illinois cares much about the Lake Shore Limited. New York and Pennsylvania have their corridor trains, Illinois has its own, and Ohio would probably like it a lot more if trains served Cleveland at a useful time. Indiana just successfully primaried Lugar because he’d collaborated with Obama on securing ex-Soviet nukes so we’re not looking at the epitome of rationality there – but if the Dems win, probably they’d care more about serving Chicago-Indy usefully than about trains to New York.

    The only states that should lose service are the ones whose representatives are categorically against any and all government spending they dislike. What you’re saying about political capital assumes rational actors. We just saw what those people do when they’re offered nearly free federal money to a project that the private sector bears all the risk for.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I doubt anyone in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, or Illinois cares much about the Lake Shore Limited.

    People Upstate care greatly about the Late Shore Limited. We examine the schedules carefully to avoid using it because it’s notoriously late….

    BruceMcF Reply:

    To hear you tell it, New York and Los Angeles invaded the great productive regions of North Dakota, seized their riches, and forced them into the global economy.

    Well, first time around it was just New York ~ LA wasn’t a big deal when they first got the technology to effectively plow that prairie soil. The current one, though, that would indeed include NYC and LA with resource footprints far in excess of their local resource production.

    A lot of the Amtrak LD funding could be redirected even within the states that benefit from it. I doubt anyone in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, or Illinois cares much about the Lake Shore Limited. New York and Pennsylvania have their corridor trains, Illinois has its own, and Ohio would probably like it a lot more if trains served Cleveland at a useful time.

    Except that the claim that it can be redirected is false: if Ohio wants a Corridor service to Chicago that leaves Cleveland sometimes between 6am and 12midnight, it has to subsidize it out of the state budget. It cannot request to have the Lakeshore canceled and “Ohio’s share” put into a corridor train service. Ditto if Ohio would rather that “its share” of the Capitol Limited went into extending the Pennsylvanian to Chicago instead.

    Indiana just successfully primaried Lugar because he’d collaborated with Obama on securing ex-Soviet nukes so we’re not looking at the epitome of rationality there – but if the Dems win, probably they’d care more about serving Chicago-Indy usefully than about trains to New York.

    You surely are not assuming that the cycle that the Republican party is going through at the moment is permanent and sustainable? In any event, Northwest Indiana and Toledo would rather have additional Chicago service, but if you promise them that you are going to take one service away first, and then are going to get Congress to give them two
    or more extra corridor services to Chicago in return, that sounds like a a pig-in-a-poke ~ because it probably is.

    You are still talking as if there is a fixed, secure budget that can be spent however some committee of transit bloggers decree, and you are going about optimizing the spending. However, there is nothing in what you are describing that gives any indication of how you hope to build the durable, sustainable coalition that can secure that funding.

    jim Reply:

    The LD funding will not be redirected. About 18 months from now, all corridor services will be state-sponsored and state-funded. The consequence will be that the federal subsidy will no longer be a general Amtrak subsidy, given to Amtrak to compensate for its multiple failings, but a specific LD subsidy.

    If it’s reduced, then LD routes will be reduced pari passu.

    That isn’t what the people who wrote PRIIA #209 intended (they were just mad that New York got free corridor service) but it’s a very useful consequence.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    about 18 months from now the 113th Congress will be 11 months into it’s term. They could change the law. In other words a lot depends on what happens on November 6th.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    It always has. For example, with a Republican in the White House, a Republican majority in the House full of an equal mix of tea party crazies and representative who don’t want to be primaried by tea party crazies, and 50 Republican Senators, the Repulicans in the Senate will abolish the filibuster and the Amtrak LD trains will be gone. Indeed, there will be so many other things gone that the usual strategy of rallying friends and well wishers to help out will likely run up against the fact that many of the friends and well wishers will be focusing their energies on much higher personal priorities.

    OTOH, if any House Republicans who went along with the tea party crazies end up losing in the General because they were successfully painted as radicals, the Democrats retain a slender majority in the Senate, and the incumbent Democratic President is re-elected, then the current logroll quite likely survives, though in the mutated form of Federal capital works funding for corridor improvements rather than Federal funding for corridor operating subsidies.

    And of course there is the long term observation, at least on the Presidential level, that the out party tend to be pulled the furthest toward the base in its first try to recapture the White House, and if unsuccessful, its next effort tends to be more centrist (though of course “the center” shifts over time). So combine the normal trend and four more years of demographic change to the disadvantage of the GOP, and 2016 could be a long way away from 2010.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Bruce, you’re punting on why anyone in the affected regions would object to a “please change PRIIA so that we can replace the LSL with 4 Chicago-Cleveland corridor trains and 1 Chicago-Cleveland-Pittsburgh train.” It’s not cancellation-and-then-maybe-corridor-service, but rather an immediate redirect of funding. The best way to get more funding in this case is to make sure it is spent usefully.

    Also, the natural (and agricultural) resource footprint of cities is large, but that’s not what makes a modern economy. The capital and labor resources you need to run a modern city all exist within the city.

    jim Reply:

    why anyone in the affected regions would object to a “please change PRIIA so that we can replace the LSL with 4 Chicago-Cleveland corridor trains and 1 Chicago-Cleveland-Pittsburgh train.”

    I think everyone whose state had had to pony up the full cost of running their corridor services would object to Ohio getting its corridor service for free.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    So, for spite, California would vote against a change that costs it no money? It’s possible, but then again there are enough states that would get more corridor service out of it. (And California needs more federal funding for HSR.)

    Nathanael Reply:

    “Bruce, you’re punting on why anyone in the affected regions would object to a “please change PRIIA so that we can replace the LSL with 4 Chicago-Cleveland corridor trains and 1 Chicago-Cleveland-Pittsburgh train.””

    I’ll tell you why: because that would be fucking stupid. The major uses of the LSL right now are Chicago-Buffalo, Chicago-Syracuse, Chicago-Rochester, and Chicago-NY. Your proposal axes three of those connections and makes the fourth require a transfer.

    That’s STUPID. The correct thing to do is to add the corridor trains but leave the through train.

    Nathanael Reply:

    “I doubt anyone in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, or Illinois cares much about the Lake Shore Limited. N”

    I guess I should simply correct you on this misapprehension. You’re wrong. A lot of people in upstate NY whop travel to Chicago regularly care a great deal about the Lake Shore Limited.

    Now that you know you’re wrong, you can rethink the crap you were spouting and try again.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Hint, Alon, for the future: when trying to figure out who the supporters of a given train are, for a train which is already running, try looking up the most popular city pairs on that route before you shoot your mouth off. There’s usually some serious support among the people who make the trip between the most popular city pairs, and there’s usually a good reason for it. In the case of upstate NY, plane flights to Chicago are expensive and driving there is miserably long, and don’t get me started on the buses.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Bruce, you’re punting on why anyone in the affected regions would object to a “please change PRIIA so that we can replace the LSL with 4 Chicago-Cleveland corridor trains and 1 Chicago-Cleveland-Pittsburgh train.” It’s not cancellation-and-then-maybe-corridor-service, but rather an immediate redirect of funding. The best way to get more funding in this case is to make sure it is spent usefully.

    In your scenario it might not be a cancellation and then maybe corridor service, nor cancellation and then corridor service for a few years until its cancelled … how as a real world proposal to start building a coalition for and start pushing to get through Congress, that’s exactly what it is.

    Fortunately, only those sufficiently naive to not see the obvious risk of the cancellation getting through and the replacement corridor services not getting through would have any reason to be enthusiastic about the plan.

    As far as why not just reschedule the train ~ Nathanael has covered that. The Buffalo / Rochester / Syracuse axis has a cohort of intercity rail passengers, substantially because of the NYC transport market, and that axis is a fine distance for a conventional rail sleeper. But a conventional rail sleeper is always going through somewhere in the middle of the night, and in the case of the Lakeshore, that includes Northeast Ohio. Rescheduling the train to run through Cleveland as a day corridor to Chicago and a sleeper to NYC implies running through the Buffalo / Rochester / Syracuse axis in the middle of the night.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    But why would anyone support Ohio and Indiana getting free medium corridor service except the Senators from Ohio and Indiana.

    You are joining Alon in assuming the coalition to support the alternative arrangement, and your
    argument here is, “of course there will be a coalition, because why would anyone object?”

    Except as Jim points out, that single change will get an immediate objection from NY, Illinois, California, Virginia and North Carolina among states that fund corridor services at a state level, in addition to the Senators against funding Amtrak at all. So it would have to be a general across-the-board system for swapping LD trains for corridor services.

    And even if you do, the legislative history has been to cut corridor service operating subsidies, so there is a demonstrated coalition out there for clawing back the new corridor funding, just like it clawed back the previous corridor funding.

    So, given the existence of that demonstrated coalition, what confidence could anybody have that its not just a bait and switch? What is the sense of Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman both working together and fighting hard for that switch? And what is the sense of either the Republican or the Democratic Senator for Ohio in taking a risk for a switch with little prospects of doing anything other than annoying a small block of voters in Northwest Ohio?

    Nathanael Reply:

    I’m sorry, you’re just wrong, Alon. The long runs are extremely useful; for people who can’t or won’t take planes, they connect the major cities.

    Now, some of them are just stupid, and the Cardinal comes to mind.

    However, the California Zephyr serves a large and growing Denver-Chicago market, the Empire Builder serves large and growing Chicago-Seattle and Chicago-Portland markets, and the Southwest Chief serves the growing LA-Chicago market. There is a startlingly large amount of endpoint-to-endpoint travel. The intermediate points are gravy.

    Axing these trains wouldn’t free up a meaningful amount of rolling stock or employee time.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, heading southeast out of Chicago to get to NYC, or south out of NYC to get to Chicago, it seems like two different LD routes both snipped in the middle and then tied together.

    That is a route that is held back by the corridor service it provides on one end, since if there was a free standing Indianapolis morning corridor to NYC and 5-6pm corridor return service, then the Cardinal could be a pre-Start of Business sleeper arrival in Chicago and an evening sleeper departure out of Chicago. Its also too bad the Cardinal cannot connect to the Northeast Regional at Charlottesville and run through to Richmond and Newport News, but even the Transdominion Express proposal T’s from Richmond at Lynchburg rather than Charlottesville.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    That’s exactly the reason I was saying consolidation is inevitable. The utility of long distance routes isn’t harmed by making them longer, only shorter….

    BruceMcF Reply:

    In a system where LD passenger train schedules are not affected by long delays, making routes
    longer doesn’t harm utility. In a system where they are constantly plagued by delays, making routes longer propagates the delays.

    If there was a Maintenance of Way tax credit on intercity passenger rail vehicle miles transiting on freight operators systems, requiring at least daily service to quality, defined in segments from station departure to station departure, and with tiers for 40mph transit, 60mph transit, 80mph transit and 100mph transit, then there’s be an incentive for freight operators to make sure that intercity passenger rail could get through their systems effectively.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    The six hour statistic is misleading: a sleeper car carries fewer passengers than a regular coach one. Even though sleepers routinely sell out, the subsidized fares for coach help fill the rest of the train up with shorter haul passengers.

    Keep in mind though that the Sunset Limited used to be an all-Pullman (sleeper) route, even 100 years ago. Thus, if the sleeper areas had the same capacity as the coach, I would wager the majority of passengers would be on for longer than six hours…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The sleepers have much higher labor costs (e.g. for attendants).

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Yeah, but the revenue is sufficiently higher as to cover it. One attendant per car, couple dozen fares at hundreds extra each

    jim Reply:

    I’d believe that except that the only passenger only LD service that covers its avoidable costs (the Palmetto) is the only LD service that doesn’t have sleeper service.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, the Palmetto is not a medium corridor, but its not a multi-day train either ~ it starts and ends the same day. In transit time (the distance on that transit time is boosted by running on the NEC from NYC to DC), its more the limit of a long corridor service than it is a LD train

    Those “6hr coach trips” on the multi-day LD trains ebb and flow with the catchment populations of the origin and destination stations being served, and with the range of alternative transport options available, but they also ebb and flow based on the time of day itself. A potential “6hr trip” with an origin or a destination scheduled for 12am-5am is going to only see a sliver of its potential demand, with something like a three hour shoulder on both sides.

    The ideal would be a LD train that converted from a higher capacity daytime corridor train in the day, to a lower capacity all-sleeper in the middle of the night.

    In regular 2+2 coach, that would require half of the coach seats to be unlockable into true DayNighters, ticketing passengers who will be travelling into the night or starting their trip in the night into the DayNighter seats, and reserving the use of the alternate rows of regular coach seats to day coach passengers.

    Indeed, if sleepers are selling out, an ability to partition the Daynighters on the fly into DayNight cabins could well be worthwhile, since if there is more demand than can be accommodated by roomettes, there is likely spillover demand at a suitably discounted price for DayNight cabins. The front and back separators are straightforward, since the DayCoach seats provide much of that, and swing down panels between the luggage compartment attaching to the DayCoach seat could provide the rest. Providing the privacy door is trickier, but something could likely be worked out.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    So, a Viewliner has capacity of 32, vs. 59 for an Amfleet II. On the Superliners, the corresponding numbers are 44 for a sleeper and 74 for a coach. So that’s already a factor of almost 2. In addition, the total cost of the rooms is not that big if they’re full – two people sharing a roomette pay a little more than twice what they’d pay in coach (for bedrooms, the price is obviously much higher, but there aren’t that many of them). The sleeper car will still generate more revenue because one person in a room still pays for nearly the full cost of the room, but add all the extra cost they incur and they don’t look so good.

    The other issue is that LD trains run with 2-3 locos, vs. 1 for corridor trains. What this means is that if you replace those sleeper cars with coaches, you can break trains in half and provide double the service at marginally higher cost. Put another way: if the Viewliners are converted to coaches, the equipment of the LSL can be used to provide about 6 trains per day between Chicago and Cleveland.

    jim Reply:

    There’s two different things here. There’s the reallocation of the rolling stock tied up in the LD services (and there’s a lot: the Zephyr uses six trainsets to achieve daily service, the Sunset used to use four to achieve tri-weekly) and the reallocation of the Federal subsidy. I don’t think it’s likely that the Federal subsidy will be reallocated to corridor trains. Bruce has pointed out that the whole trend has been to push corridor service subsidy onto the states. It’s much more likely that the Federal subsidy will be cut or even terminated. But clearly if a long distance service is cancelled, or even curtailed, that would free up rolling stock that could be converted to corridor use, for corridors where the state thinks the need great enough that it’s willing to pay for service along it.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The best way to free up rolling stock is to run the trains faster.

    The Zephyr suffers from slow running through the mountains west of Denver. The Southwest Chief uses four trainsets to run a slightly longer distance than the Zephyr’s six trainsets.

    The Lake Shore Limited is using three trainsets, but it could be using two if the route were sped up only a little bit.

    Amtrak’s current long-distance routes are a skeleton network. It does not make sense to reduce it much further; it provides crucial connections between the East Coast and Florida, the East Coast and Chicago, Chicago and the West Coast, Chicago and Denver, and the West Coast and Denver. In fact, it makes more sense to expand it to reach more cities. (That said, the three-day-a-week trains make no sense; the economics of the situation means a minimum of a daily train or nothing. Amtrak has already realized this but has been fighting with recalcitrant freight companies to get permission to run daily trains.)

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Consider this hypothetical table:

    California Zephyr San Francisco New York City 77
    Empire Builder San Francisco Chicago 64
    Sunset Ltd. San Francisco Nw Orleans 57
    Texas Eagle Eliminated
    Southwest Chief Chicago Los Angeles 42

    Coast Starlight San Francisco Portland 18
    Silver Star Eliminated
    Crescent New York New Orleans 35
    Cardinal Eliminated
    Silver Meteor Eliminated

    City of New Orleans Chicago New Orleans 19
    Auto Train Washington Orlando 18
    Capitol Ltd. Chicago Washington 18
    Lake Shore Ltd. New York City Chicago 18
    Palmetto Eliminated

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The best way to free up rolling stock is to run the trains faster.

    Quite. The PRIIA 210 plan for the Cardinal is to up the frequency from three days a week to seven days a week. Because this replaces the Hoosier that runs the other four days a week between Indianapolis and Chicago, the change from three days a week to seven days a week requires no new locomotives and one new sleeper car, diner car, baggage car and coach car. The estimate is that this increases costs 11%, ridership 96% and revenue 121%.

    However, between Cincinnati and Chicago, the Cardinal runs an average of around 32mph, based on schedule track mileage. If the Cincinnati / Chicago corridor in the Midwest Regional Rail System were made time competitive with driving, according to Google maps that would be 5:45 as opposed to 10hrs on the Cardinal. If taken on the Chicago side for both legs with an earlier arrival and later departure, it could well be possible to turn the train at Chicago to run a corridor service between Chicago and Cincinnati.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Sorry, your analysis is wrong, Alon. The cost of running the trains is:
    the cost of slots;
    and the cost of negotiation with the freight companies who own all-too-many of the tracks;
    and the cost of the engineers and conductors who are per-train, not per car.

    If you “replace those sleeper cars with coaches”, youstill CANNOT break trains in half, not without multimillions in extra costs. All you do is lose the sleeper income.

    The 2nd loco on the LD trains is not just because the train is long; it’s also a spare in case one of the locos dies, because the trains are so far from the nearest rescue passenger loco, and possible freight rescue locos have terrible performance. On shorter trips, potential rescue locos are closer, so this isn’t an issue. In the NEC, with frequent service, potential rescue locos are all over the place. This situation is particularly noticeable on the trains where the same number of cars are hauled by 2 locomotives off-NEC and 1 locomotive on-NEC.

    You obviously don’t know the first thing about Amtrak’s internal economic situation. The sleepers are incremental revenue adders, period.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Note that if there WERE enough overlapping corridor trains along the distance, you COULD run the Lake Short Limited with 1 loco the whole way, because rescue locos would be available….

    Alon Levy Reply:

    First, the cost of train attendants is per car. Conductors I’m less sure about – all I know is the commuter rail union rules, which mandate a number of conductors per car. But the long-distance trains run with a double-digit number of employees on board, whereas the NEC trains run with 5.

    Second, trains that run with one loco on medium-distance corridor service run with two locos on long-distance trains, even on the same routes. The Empire Service trains run with one loco. The Wolverine runs with one loco, which suggests that a Chicago-Cleveland corridor train would also run with just one loco. Chances are if the Ohio Hub is built, Cleveland-Buffalo will run with one loco. And yet the LSL runs with 2-3 locos.

    And third, medium-distance trains that are far from rescue locos still run with just one loco. For example, the Adirondack spends nearly 7 hours on a route it shares with nothing and another hour on a route it shares only with the single-loco Ethan Allen Express, and the Pennsylvanian spends 5.5 hours on a route shared with nothing and 2 hours more on a route shared only with the electric Keystone.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The Sunset Ltd was an all-Pullman route “even” 100 years ago? Why “even”? 100 years ago there were multiple passenger services along the sections of the route where the Sunset Ltd is now the sole passenger rail service, and there was no competition with airlines for the west coast traffic.

    Andy Chow Reply:

    I wonder why Robert let Tom wrote this piece in the first place.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Actually…anyone can submit a guest post if he or she would like to. However, Robert still maintains full editorial control, and he only publishes what he wants to. No one compensates me for what I write, and it is not in conjunction with any other enterprise (political or otherwise)….

  7. jim
    May 29th, 2012 at 05:30
    #7

    In contradistinction to Tom, I suspect that by 2020 Amtrak will have only a minimal presence in the West. Jimsf, late commenter on this blog, told us that his management had told them that BNSF might take over the San Joaquins. With the formation of the Northern California JPB, that presumably becomes BNSF taking over NoCal intercity conventional operations entirely. I think it even more likely that BNSF will take over the Cascades.

    Whether UP takes over the Surfliners or not, that would leave the Amtrak West Coast infrastructure almost entirely supported by the long distance trains, pushing up their costs, hence their losses, and making them vulnerable targets when a Republican Congress succeeds in cutting Amtrak’s operating subsidy.

    HSR increases that vulnerability. If there’s frequent high speed connections between LAUS, Sacramento and Transbay, why run long distance trains to both northern and southern California? One train into LAUS from the Midwest and (maybe) one from the South will do. Passengers can transfer there to HSR for the rest of California.

    joe Reply:

    I think jimsf also thought the two services were complementary and not incompatible. Local and regional. That may increase ridership depending on the trip.

    A well traveled bus line can have express and local buses. Our VTA express bus 522 costs more than the local 22.
    With airlines – direct vs connecting flights between city pairs. Cost vs convince. On business travel I usually try direct while for leisure, the spare time with a connection is worth the savings.

    Where it might not work out politically is if CA has to drive all ridership to HSR to return a profit.

    I recognize the GOP strategy is to spin off any profitable amtrak to private interests and then close down the remaining service. That’s a forever war and nothing can stop it – arguments will be inverted and twisted to always favor public assets given to private interests and tax cutting.

    James M. in Irvine Reply:

    What happened to Jimsf? I found his comments quite enlightening on this blog. It is good to have an insider’s view.

    Jim M in Irvine

    swing hanger Reply:

    His employer got wind of his commenting here, and told him to cut it out.

    James M. in Irvine Reply:

    Well, his last post was in “Valley Republicans Make HSR A Top Target” on May 2nd. I hope all is wellfor him and the other commenters here.

    Jim

    Peter Reply:

    He’s dropped off the grid in the past before.

    Peter Reply:

    Seriously?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Yes, he said so, but I think he’s back with a new name and a slightly disguised writing style. I think I know how he’s posting now, but I’m not going to call him on it.

    flowmotion Reply:

    Just look for the guy reporting what he ate for lunch, and you’ll find him.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    I heard its because he made a nasty but fairly true comment about the anti gay, paranoid teaparty wackjobs who populate kings county. the ones who grab water like greedy little pigs from northern water supply, while depleting and selling their ground water rights to evil developers ( who they then pretend to hate) all while screaming “stop the congressional water grab” because pelosi and them are trying to preserve the delta.

    That’s what I heard anyway.

    joe Reply:

    Get the government out of my amtrak!

    VBobier Reply:

    Get Private Industry out of My Government!!

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    and you have to consider the unexpected upheaval to caltrans probably doesn’t wit well with this out of thin air joint powers plan. There are people who are disgruntled with the way caltrans runs the service and those who think they can do a better job of it. Ofcourse if it weren’t for caltrans there would be no rail service in cali to speak of so you have to give them credit. Whats happening is a political power play of one agency thinking they can do a better job ( and probably with visions of world domination just like bart)

    Who can do the best job? Who knows? But no one can increase service without money and bnsfs permission. Currently neither of those things are anywhere to be found.

    That said. I believe amtrak san joaquin service will remain as local service all the way to bakersfiled for a long time. so long as the constituents of those counties demand it. Not just up to the time hsr starts service, but for quite some time after that. Perhaps by the time its time to phase out merced to bakersfiled it will finally be time for conventional service north to redding and the resources and rolling stock can simply be redirected northward. Its a plan that make sense. ( so don’t hold your breath)

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The transition can also be an incremental process, with the frequencies south of Merced
    cut down in reaction to the drop in ridership, and one or two trains shifted, and a substitute bus between Madero and Bakersfield added, with stops at Fresno HSR, Hanford HSR and Bakersfield HSR, to make up for the lost frequency, with a well chosen second stop in both Bakersfield and Fresno and good connections with the HSR at Fresno or Hanford and Bakersfield to drain the train ridership out of Madero, Corcorran and Wasco further, then cut off the service “in response to the lack of demand for the service”.

    Finding somewhere that could better use the trains, whether improved service north, a “long Capitol” corridor train between Salinas and Reno, a second coastal service, and/or increased frequencies or longer trains on the San Joaquin in response to the Merced recruiter task, would not be difficult.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Isn’t the reason that the Zephyr runs to Northern California because it would cost more to have a Denver / SLC / Reno train run to Southern California? After all, Colorado, Utah and Nevada makes three more states and up to six more Senators.

    When the IOS starts running, it could just as well hand over its Bay passengers at Sacramento and run through from Sacramento to Merced. That holds through until there is a HSR from Sacramento to LA, at which point it can terminate at Sacramento.

    jim Reply:

    The Zephyr could just run Chicago-Omaha-Denver. That’s its strongest market, anyway. There’s much less demand west of Denver. The California-Reno ski trade could be handled by extending selected Capitol Corridor trains in the season.

    Do Utah Senators actually support Amtrak?

    blankslate Reply:

    No. A few years ago they announced a quasi-serious offer to replace the Zephyr with a bus within the state of Utah and send the money saved to “states that actually need rail service, like New Jersey” (paraphrased from an article I’m having trouble digging up at the moment)

    Nathanael Reply:

    The Zephyr’s strongest market is indeed Chicago-Denver. The second-strongest market is a mere Denver-Glenwood Springs (a.k.a Ski Train).

    The third-strongest market, however, is Chicago-Emeryville, which is the full midwest – west coast run. Other strong markets are from the west coast to Reno and Salt Lake and from Chicago to Omaha. (Apparently few people go to Salt Lake from Denver or points east. I’m not surprised.)

    With California High Speed Rail, the Chicago-West Coast market might well be entirely replaced by Chicago-LA-SF trips, since the Southwest Chief makes it across the country in 41:30 while the Zephyr takes 50:10…. and one could speed up the Southwest Chief route much more easily than the Zephyr route. At that point, it might make sense to chop the Zephyr up into pieces, assuming that Denver-West Coast demand doesn’t start skyrocketing. Which it might.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Denver is a classic sleeper morning arrival, and if the Iowa Connections plan was established on a 90mph corridor basis, it could pick up more business along the way between Chicago / Omaha, since it would pass through the Quad Cities, Iowa City and Des Moines, and likely even more importantly could leave Chicago later to still arrive at the same time in the morning.

    Is that the fastest potential alignment to SLC? If the Front Range corridor is improved to 90mph-110mph range, I wonder what that would that do to the potential for Denver / SLC via Fort Collins and Cheyenne?

    joe Reply:

    I’m not sure what the Koch Brother’s position is for Amtrak in Utah.

    Possibly they support service from Salt Lake to Las Vegas.

    VBobier Reply:

    The Koch Brother’s position? Control, control, control, but then they like what burns oil and rolls on rubber and Amtrak/CHSRA isn’t it.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    You know, given all the tools at a Senator’s disposal to gum up the works, having an ideological “no” vote focusing their serious effort somewhere else is also worthwhile.

    Among those three states, there were four votes for the Senate Transport bill, which included, among a large number of other logrolls, funding for Amtrak LD services, unding, and one vote against ~ from Utah, and one not voting ~ from Utah. It was a net +3 from the three Democrats and a net +0 from the three Republicans.

    Of course, the transport bill is a big bill, and the Amtrak funding is very small slice of it, so any Senator can always say they voted for the bill for some other X, Y, or Z that will benefit their state, but if there are 50+ votes to strip Amtrak funding from the bill, then those other reasons don’t do any good for the Amtrak operations.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The LD train has to be the overnight sleeper to/fro Denver, because the main scenic tourism is for the run through the Rockies which requires it to run westbound out of Denver in the morning and eastbound out of Denver in the evening. However, if the Iowa Connection plan ever goes ahead, and the Zephyr shifts to the old Rock Island Line from Moline to Omaha, it might be worthwhile to split the Zephyr at Denver and run an evening service into Denver, connecting to the eastbound Zephyr to come back, and a morning service out of Denver, splitting off the of the Zephyr sleeper service from Chicago / Iowa / Omaha to Denver.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    The railroads will not run passenger service without major operating subsidies. And the problem with the San Joaquins is this: BNSF would need trackage on UP’s system to serve the Bay Area.

    VBobier Reply:

    Good luck on UP giving Trackage rights to the BNSF to run a Passenger Train…

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Is that over both the San Joaquin and the hypothetical upgraded ACE alignment?

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    The current San Joaquin service dovetails with the extent of BNSF track in Northern California.

    Thus, to serve San Jose, BNSF would need to negotiate an extension of its trackage rights from Oakland to San Jose to include passenger rail as well as freight.

    Part of the reasoning, I think, to spin off Amtrak California into local JPAs is that BART and Capitol Corridor (and really CalTrain) all negotiate with and use UP track for their services, whereas the San Joaquin is relegated to BNSF track.

    This is significant because if you attempted to run the “Northern California Unified Service” up from San Jose without using using UP’s Niles Canyon route (effectively Altamont) you would have a very slow service that has to navigate a lot of urban grade crossing, port traffic, service duplication with BART, the narrow, winding ROW along the upper Bay, and cross traffic in Stockton switching yard that would still have to take the longer way south into the San Joaquin valley or north to Sacramento.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Previous Interstate Commerce Commissions and Surface Transportation Boards allowed for some mergers which they should never have allowed, which leave UP in some cases with three parallel tracks on formerly competing railroads.

  8. adirondacker12800
    May 29th, 2012 at 05:53
    #8

    Because of that, it will use heavier carriages that cannot reach the same speed as state-of-the-art high speed rail technology.

    Amtrak coaches clip along at 125 every day all day on the Northeast Corridor. If you want to send Amtrak trains up the Peninsula they’ll be able to travel at the same speed as the HSR trains since the HSR trains will be going 125 or less on the Peninsula.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    There is one way in which the Blended Operations plan would help out the Amtrak style trains ~ the Blended Operation express passing tracks will be built to allow higher axle load trains through, so even if later express tracks to increase the capacity for HSR are only built to support the lighter axle load trains, the original Blended Operation express passing tracks will still be there.

  9. Reedman
    May 29th, 2012 at 10:50
    #9

    To get from New Orleans, LA to Jacksonville, FL by passenger rail requires going through either Chicago or Washington DC (Really. You can’t make this stuff up). The US needs better low speed rail to be built first, in order to support connections to high speed rail.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, that should be via Atlanta at the very least.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Amtrak’s initial grid had a number of better connections; several of them were removed because the tracks were too damned slow, including the Indianapolis-Louisville-Nashville-Birmingham-Montgomery-Jacksonville route.

    Amtrak has been reluctant to restart the New Orleans-Jacksonville segment partly for this reason (as well as the fact that all the stations need to be rebuilt to ADA standards).

    But anyway, there are huge sections along NOLA-Jacksonville with speed limits of 50 mph or less, and that’s just not competitive for an intercity train — and on top of that, large hunks take a very indirect and winding route.

    And Amtrak can’t afford to build major new infrastructure by itself, nor should it do so for one train a day.

    The US needs “low speed rail” — but “low speed” for intercity rail is actually 79 mph, and I totally understand Amtrak’s unwillingness to invest more in connections which would be worse than highway speed.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Hence via Atlanta. Likely not in this decade, unless the demographic shift in Georgia accelerates, but if Georgia gets a hankering for intercity rail corridors, Atlanta / Savannah is a corridor to pursue, and if Alabama gets jealous, connecting Birmingham and Montgomery to the Atlanta hub somehow would be a higher priority.

    jim Reply:

    But there’s not going to be high speed rail in or anywhere near NOLA to connect to.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Not in the next few years? Or not ever? There could well be Express HSR from Houston to Dallas some day, the Houston / San Antonio connection could be upgraded to Rapid Rail, its a possibility that the SEHSR Rapid Rail system will some day break out of Virginia and North Carolina and hit Atlanta ~ and it notionally extends all the way to NOLA ~ and at the other side of the former eastern leg of the Sunset route, there could well be some form of Express Intercity train from Jacksonville to Miami in another four or five years.

    jim Reply:

    Not ever

    BruceMcF Reply:

    If the property developers decide that having an HSR system running through to a large metropolis is a good thing, then local Chambers of Commerce are going to start pushing for it. And when enough local Chambers of Commerce push for it, Texas is going to get either Express HSR or Rapid Rail of some sort between Houston and DFW.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Unless global warming causes the evacuation of Texas due to unlivable levels of searing heat. Which is actually pretty likely.

    Global warming is one reason I don’t really want to invest much in infrastructure in the South.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Time scales. Desertification of East Texas in the 2060’s is not going to interfere with the construction of Express HSR in the 2020’s.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    An intercity link from New Orleans to Jacksonville is one of the least important low-speed connections in the US. What’s more important is to focus on regional-intercity connections, at lower range. For examples near the region in question, consider as a first tier New Orleans-Houston and Atlanta-Birmingham, and as a second tier New Orleans-Mobile(-Pensacola), New Orleans-Jackson(-Memphis), Birmingham-Montgomery-Mobile, and Birmingham-Tuscaloosa-Jackson. These need to have frequent day trains running between them, at reasonable average speed. A train a day is for travelers who aren’t train fanatics like zero trains per day; a reasonable minimum frequency is a train every two hours.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Actually, a train a day seems to be approximately the minimum to attract vacation travellers, who plan far in advance and have relatively flexible schedules, as well as low-budget college students (same situation).

    Less than one a day and you really won’t attract anyone except railfans, though. The actual stats bear me out on this. One a day does a respectable, though minor, business, while 3 a week does terrible business.

    But there’s little point in actually *building* a line in order to run one a day. One a day is suitable for overlaid through service over lines which already host multiple shorter services. In Europe, with lots of frequent shorter services, you’ll still typically only find one a day which runs *through* over a long route.

    For historical reasons Amtrak has been left with a skeleton network consisting mostly of these overlays. We need to beef the corridors underneath them back up. This will involve some reroutes (for instance, if the Omaha-Quad Cities – Chicago corridor service is reinstated, the Denver-Chicago train should obviously follow the same route).

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Quite ~ if Indiana were to upgrade the corridor between Chicago and Indianapolis, and Ohio were to develop the Cincinnati / Columbus corridor, that might permit a daily Columbus / Dayton / Indianapolis / Chicago service, but neither of those investments could be justified by that service.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The longer the route, the less frequency you need. For intercontinental service, one or two planes per day are fine, so airlines fly the largest planes they have. New York-London can fill anything so they fly 747s at ten-minute intervals at the peak, but even on more marginal markets, like New York-Nice, they fly widebodies, whereas thicker domestic markets like New York-Florida get narrow-bodies.

    The same is true of trains. A sleeper only needs a train per day. But a four-hour corridor train needs much more. This is why ridership went up more than 67% when the Chicago-St. Louis service expanded from 3 to 5 trains per day. And 5 per day is still much less than the minimum the Germans would find acceptable at such range.

    jim Reply:

    To get from Denver, CO to Trinidad, CO by passenger rail requires going through Chicago (or at least Galesburg) (Really. You can’t make this stuff up).

    One can come up with lots of city pairs that Amtrak doesn’t connect. So what? In the case of Denver and Trinidad, one can ask why Colorado doesn’t sponsor a corridor train. The same question arises on the “suspended” Sunset route: why doesn’t Florida sponsor a Jacksonville-Tallahassee-Pensacola corridor train? This is more than half the suspended Sunset route. And the answer is that it isn’t a Florida priority. The previous administration prioritized Tampa-Orlando. The present administration prioritizes the Atlantic coast. None of them gives a rat’s about the panhandle. If the state doesn’t care, why should the Federal government?

    Just because one can draw a line on a map, or because once a train ran there, doesn’t mean that train service is now justified.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Suppose you were a local Chamber of Commerce in Miami or Orlando or Tampa. Would you be more interested in transport connections with Atlanta and the southern extension of the NEC through to North Carolina … or to a small city that competes against you in tourist markets?

    If the FEC railroad upgrades the connection between Miami and Jacksonville, there’s no clear driving force to focus attention from there on Mobile, Biloxi and New Orleans, rather than on Atlanta or to North Carolina and points north. And there are already existing intercity services through to North Carolina ~ and Savannah / Atlanta would seem to be the special responsibility of a state that is not named Florida, so Florida’s role with respect to the Atlanta route would be mostly confined to cheerleading.

    Reedman Reply:

    Trinidad CO has a population of 9,071
    It cannot be compared to New Orleans or Jacksonville.

    As you point out very well, the connection from NOLA to Jacksonville goes through four states. Not something that a single state can take on politically. If “CAHSR” went through CA, AZ, NM, and TX, the probability of Jerry Brown getting it implemented would be zero.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    And for the State of Colorado, Fort Collins / Denver / Colorado Springs is a bit higher priority than Colorado Springs to Trinidad CO to join the Southwest Chief route to Albaquerque.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    And Denver has a population of 3 million, more than NOLA and Jax combined. If the comparison to Trinidad offends you, then consider Denver-ALBQ, or Denver-Kansas City.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Denver-Albuquerque was seriously proposed by the previous governor of NM, but then crazies managed to take over the NM government (they are trying to back out on the purchase of the line from Lamy to Trinidad even though they have *only $300,000* left in payments, have already paid *$4.7 million*, and can’t get the 4.7 million back).

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Think of this way:

    The Sunset Limited before Hurricane Katrina paralleled Interstate 10 from Los Angeles to Jacksonville more or less. How many people do you know take an interstate from coast to coast? Thus, it doesn’t make sense to run train service like a freeway…

    BruceMcF Reply:

    And some of those stretches of I-10 have more traffic on them than others.

    The equivalent of Interstates with bypass loops and three+ lane Interstates in the vicinities urban centers is the overlay of short and medium corridor trains over the LD route. Improving those corridors for the corridor services also makes for a better alignment for the LD route, resulting in quicker transits and fewer delays.

    However, Amtrak is more like running on the US National Road system, composed primarily of one lane each way “Blue Highways”, but often becoming the main commercial drag when going through a town or city, and so with stop signs and street lights for a long stretch until you get out in the countryside again. Running a train service like a freeway would be (1) building a Steel Interstate network and then (2) running LD trains on that network.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Running trains like freeways would mean spending money without oversight or limit, in regions where building them is inappropriate, just to provide lines on a map. (The main road czar in the relevant period opposed a national freeway network, on the grounds that freeways were only required in the urban areas and outside of them traffic wouldn’t justify the expense; he was overruled because the report he wrote about the non-viability of a national tollway network was under pressure to have a more positive tone, so his co-author instead proposed building a national toll-free freeway network.)

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Setting aside the disingenuous element of the argument, “I’m going to read ‘like’ as meaning identical in some bad respect that I have on tap”, clusters of expressways around large urban centers with benefit to the majority of rural areas would have been nothing but lines on the map in reality, because it would never have passed.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    What you say would never have passed would have become reality if the Interstate Highway Act hadn’t been signed. The states were building tollways themselves on the markets that could support them. (The road czars deployed FUD against tollways whenever they could.)

    On top of that, look at the plans that were made at the time. Despite the persistent anti-urban bias of the road program, there was also a tradition of building more infrastructure in and near the cities based on demand, coming from the 1930s-era realization that most traffic was local and urban. Because it was not thought of as a new network, but rather as incremental upgrades to the National Highway System, it didn’t require nationally uniform standards. Both before and after 1956 the roads in urban areas had more lanes. In the 1940s they still thought of freeways as a measure to fight congestion, a problem that didn’t exist in the Dakotas.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    What you say would never have passed would have become reality if the Interstate Highway Act hadn’t been signed. The states were building tollways themselves on the markets that could support them.

    Surely there would have been expressways on a state by state basis based on balances of power in each state’s politics ~ but what would be the reason to expect a national system? How would the National Highway system have become established as sets of disconnected Highways radiating from large cities and then stopping?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    As if the Ohio Turnpike doesn’t connect to anything else…..

    From Wikipedia: Built from 1949 to 1955, construction for the roadway was completed a year prior to the Interstate Highway System.

    ooooh maybe it does connect, also from Wikipedia. . The road runs east–west in the northern section of the state, from the Indiana Toll Road (at the Indiana–Ohio border near Bryan) to the Pennsylvania Turnpike (at the Ohio–Pennsylvania border near Petersburg).

    .. that dastardly Wikipedia.. The Indiana Toll Road was publicly financed and constructed during the 1950s. It opened in stages, east to west, between August and November 1956. The formal dedication ceremony was held on September 17, 1956.

    and

    The first piece of the Western Extension, from Irwin to US 22 at Monroeville, east of Pittsburgh, opened August 7, 1951. The remainder opened to traffic on December 26, 1951, taking the highway west almost to the Ohio state line. Traffic was diverted onto the two-lane Burkey Road just west of the western barrier toll for almost three years until a connection with the Ohio Turnpike connection opened.

    The system from Boston to Chicago, New York to Chicago and Washington DC to Chicago was nearing completion by the time the Interstate Act was signed into law.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, the expressways connecting to Chicago and the expressways connecting to New York
    connected, just as the Empire Corridor, Chicago / Cleveland leg of the Midwest Hub and hypothetical Cleveland / Buffalo leg of the Ohio hub would form a connect system that would allow a New York / Chicago service to run all on corridors upgraded for passenger rail.

    Your point being that the same interconnections would happen nationwide providing a similar level of transport access between metropolitan areas nationwide? Or to quibble that once you hit the northeast coast, the metropolitan areas get close enough together that the expressways link up?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There’s never going to be a nationwide HSR system, why should there be a nationwide limited access highway system?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Given the conditions of the 1950’s, to provide intercity mobility based on our abundant petroleum. Of course, back in the 1950’s, the US crude oil price was still stabilized by the production quotas imposed by the Texas Railway Commission. The mistake was to run the interstates through the cities rather than between and around them, and not imposing a quota, but in the US, when what we ought to do and the income of property developers are in conflict, the property developers normally win.

    Now that we import 3/5 or more of our petroleum (the “produce half of our liquid fuels” is a bit of a rort, since it includes ethanol which is only a margin net energy producer at best, and natural gas liquids, and while some of the NGL fraction is usable in refining gasoline, a majority is not), we should develop a national Steel Interstate system of electric rail, including wherever appropriate Electricity superhighways to interconnect renewable resource areas and connect renewable energy resource areas to energy consumers.

    But that wouldn’t be Express HSR, any more than you would have 6-lane Interstate Highways running coast to coast.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There was even less reason to build all that stuff between the West Coast and the Mississippi River back in the 50s than there is now.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I can’t let this question slide:

    How would the National Highway system have become established as sets of disconnected Highways radiating from large cities and then stopping?

    The national roads were established explicitly as a system connecting small towns, ostensibly for mail routes. Urban roads received no federal funds until the late 1930s. Roads were either primary, i.e. long-distance intercity roads (at most 7% of the mileage in each state, by law), or secondary, i.e. roads connecting county seats and such.

    However, once it became clear that the main source of traffic was the cities, the push changed to suburban roads and freeways through cities. If they built those, they thought, they could get rid of congestion.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    You may not be able to let the question slide, but you do not seem to be willing to actually
    tackle it.

    The national roads were established explicitly as a system connecting small towns, ostensibly for mail routes.

    Now, how would the National Highway system have been established if, instead, it had been established as sets of disconnected highways radiating from large cities and then stopping?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    But they weren’t stupid enough to build road radiating from cities and then stopping. They built roads radiating from cities that connected to highways radiating from other cities in other states. Byt the time the yahoos in what are now red states got it through their thick skulls that highways were a good way to suck yet more money out of cities there were highways radiating from cities connecting Boston to Washington DC and points in between and Boston or Washington DC to Chicago.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Bruce, the problem is that disconnected roads were never really an option. But there were debates about whether to focus on building a national system first or to let the states build local systems that eventually connect, and the approach that won was the latter one. The reason it gave the US a connected national road system is that roads connecting strings of small towns were eligible, and there were strings of small towns along routes paralleling the transcontinental railroads. Build secondary roads to connect the towns along the Great Northern, and you have US 2. Build secondary routes to connect the towns along the Northern Pacific, and you have US 10. Add some privately-built primary roads like the Lincoln Highway and you have a connected network.

    The reason this can’t work for rail the same way is that these are relatively thin markets, which play to the natural advantage of roads over rail. There’s not enough traffic on US 2 to create significant congestion to slow down cars, or to create enough patronage to justify even semi-frequent rail service. Paving and maintaining a road for 70 km/h outside cities is dirt cheap. The trains can’t compete with that; their advantage is on thicker markets, where the road would need to be repeatedly widened and grade-separated to allow cars to go faster than bicycles.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The market for transport between the cities connected by the HSR justifies Express HSR, if its justified in the first place. Connecting intercity transport is a supplementary recruiter.

    We have to build and start operating Express HSR in the top ranking corridors first, before we’ll have a database to support yes/no decisions on corridors where that supplementary patronage is required to justify the project in the first place.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Strictly speaking, it doesn’t require going through DC or Chicago to get from NOLA to Jacksonville. The Crescent serves Charlotte, NC, the Piedmont connects Charlotte, NC to Raleigh, and the Silver Star / Palmetto serves Raleigh and Jacksonville. However if the Crescent is designed to connect to outbound services at DC, the trip could easily take longer on the route that is fewer travel miles: either the connections are loose, and you lose a lot of time on the connections, or the connections are tight, and you risk losing a day if the first LD service is delayed and the second LD service is on time.

    If Georgia invested in Atlanta / Savannah for a corridor service ~ AFAIU the investments are mostly closer to Atlanta ~ and if the FEC proposal gets up in Florida, a daily Miami / Atlanta train would turn that into NOLA / Atlanta / Savannah / Jacksonville.`

  10. California Taxpayer
    May 29th, 2012 at 19:36
    #10

    There is no reason to abandon long distance trains. In spite of relatively – and tempory-rough times, this is a wealthy nation that can well afford to protect its national rail system, loved by americans and people around the world, which serves vast expanses of the stunning american west, and the history steeped east and south. We can affored to p0reserve our railroad heritage, have state regional services, commuter services and to develope high speed services in place such as cali and the nec.

    We can well afford it. If we drop billions per month on wars that nobody is into, and if 40,000 people a year can die on our highways with zero public outrage, and if nasa can spend 50 years playing lost in space (danger dnager!) We damn well afford to keep trains running.

    Its not either or. Just like with energy, its all of the above.

    VBobier Reply:

    The Repugnican response: Or None. Repugs would rather increase the Military budget and bring back the Military Draft… So that the US will have a Military Second to NONE…

    Spokker Reply:

    Obama would rather redefine the word “militant” to hide civilian deaths caused by increased drone strikes. And he’ll take the increased military budget to carry out these atrocious activities abroad.

    http://worldnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/05/30/11949657-report-obama-embraces-disputed-definition-of-civilian-in-drone-wars?chromedomain=usnews

    But guys, his administration is so into HSR and fairness and making sure police don’t act stupidly and defending his sons that look like Trayvon and the life of Julia and unicorns and happiness and stuff!

    Don’t be fooled. There is no different between Obama and Romney besides superficial qualities.

    rick rong Reply:

    You’re very cynical, Spokker. (I think we’ll end up voting for the same guy.)

    Nathanael Reply:

    Oh, there is a difference between Obama and Romney. I don’t like either of them, but Obama doesn’t make a point of walking blind people into doors for fun.

    Yes, low standards are the order of the day here. I’m in a safe state, so I’m basically a bystander in the Presidential election; I have the luxury of finding the most appropriate protest candidate. If you’re in a swing state, you don’t have that luxury, and should vote for whichever devil seems least bad.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    “Don’t be fooled. There is no different between Obama and Romney besides superficial qualities.”

    Don’t be blinded by the distance between either and where you would want them to be. Granted that they are both wicked politicians, there is the quite substantial difference between the two that while President Obama proposes to drive the economy into a ditch, Governor Romney proposes to drive it off a cliff. So, sure, Obama aint no FDR, and if this were the sixties, he’d be closer to a Rockefeller Republican than anything that would be recognized as a Democrat, but in a depressed economy, a Rockefeller Republican is far better than a Taft Republican.

    Spokker Reply:

    There is another…

    There… is… another…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Remind us all what Ron Paul’s position on economic stimulus is?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Irrelevant? Even if he ran, a 3rd party vote for President in a winner take all first past the post by state is for yucks and giggles when you really showed up to vote in another race.

    The question is whether millions would be better or worse off if Tweedle Dum won vs Tweedle Dee. If yes, vote for the millions better off, even if in a better world there would not be one Tweedle candidate, never mind two.

    Mind, I didn’t buy the ‘there’s no real difference between the two parties’ argument in 2000, so its no surprise that I don’t buy it now. Given that they are two corporatist candidates, there are still differences between their distinct brands of corporatism.

    Spokker Reply:

    Not Ron Paul, Alon…

    Matthew Reply:

    Princess Leah?

    Pretty sure she was born on another planet.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Could always give ourselves back to Queen Elizabeth. As an added bonus, Duchess Catherine should over shine and crowd out all of our worthless socialites.

    Spokker Reply:

    Gary Johnson.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Is Gary Johnson pro-stimulus? Is any libertarian?

    Nathanael Reply:

    You thinking of Dr. Jill Stein?

    Well, if you’re in a safe state like California, feel free.

    BeWise Reply:

    Ron Paul is also the one who wants to see fair competition in transportation. He doesn’t want to see rail subsidized at the federal level just as he doesn’t want to see highways heavily subsidized. Mind you it was the heavily gocernment subsidized highways that had an adverse effect on private rail transportation back in the 50s and 60s.
    Watch this video Dr. Paul discussing transportation:
    http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/01/05/ron-paul-stop-subsidizing-highways-let-transit-flourish/

    BeWise Reply:

    *government*

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, Ron Paul just wants all beneficiaries of transport other than passengers to take a free ride on the backs of passengers.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Not only that, but also when the US economy falls back into depression as a result of his permanent austerity plan, the states will be able to build infrastructure for cheap.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Except to do so, states would actually have to borrow to build the infrastructure, rather than creating new purchasing power to employ the massive unemployed resources available.

    jim Reply:

    “There is a world elsewhere” — Coriolanus, 3.3.132

  11. California Taxpayer
    May 29th, 2012 at 20:44
    #11

    I rode amtrak this week. They really need to do something about the noise. I mean this girl yapped on her cell phone for two hours without taking a breath. yap yap yap yap. Can’t they can talking or something. And the boom boom music even with their headphones on…. so loud you can hear it 5 rows away. Is this India? What’s next live chickens and riding on the roof for half price. They need to have car for quiet people over 40 or something. This is why the majority of the population refuses to use public transportation to begin with. They don’t want to listen tiffany yapping on her phone nonstop for hours. she never inhaled.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    On the NEC, there’s a quiet car.

    swing hanger Reply:

    As soon as business travelers and other more demanding customers start riding trains, there will be quiet cars in California. Also, and maybe it’s a cultural thing, but where I live, it’s considered rude to talk on cell phones on any car in the train. People receive their calls in the vestibules, away from fellow seated passengers.

    Peter Reply:

    Isn’t there already frequently a quiet car on Capitol Corridor trains?

    lex luther Reply:

    quiet car for people over 40? its not a library. its amtrak. its the greyhound on rails

    in america, there will never be quiet private cars in public owned transportation. someone will file suit over it.

    HSR trains will be public, so HSR trains will be filled to the brim with cell phone yappers, headphone beats and the sounds of tapping as people update their social networking sites ever 2 minutes. as we become more dependent on electronics, its only gotten worse and just imagine what kind of gadgets will be available in 10 to 20 years by the time its built out.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    in america, there will never be quiet private cars in public owned transportation. someone will file suit over it.

    Quiet CarAmtrak offers Quiet Cars on many corridor trains, providing a peaceful, quiet atmosphere for passengers who want to work or rest without distraction.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Don’t confuse him with facts.

    rick rong Reply:

    The Capitol Corridor has a quiet car.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    amtrak quiet car

    and surliner busines class

    But nothing on the train in the central valley.

    Also, there’s a problem when they locate quiet cars and business class cars right behind the locomotive. Why in holy hell would you put your premium service in the noisiest smelliest (ever present diesel fumes) in the worst spot in the consist? the quietest smothes ride is the rear car. Of course that would make sense so…

    And what happened to the valley train it gets left out with no upgrade options?

    This week when I was on that train with the yappy girl…..well, the rest of the story was that she boarded, and went to sit in the seat in front of me, where a nice older lady ( you know – a normal respectable person with manners) had been sitting but who had gone to the lounge. the girl took her seat. The lady returned, and explained that was her seat, the girl moved over but left all her crap on the floor. The nice older lady was like, “well I do need a place to put my feet can you move your things” and the girl was like, oh ok, you could tell the lady wanted to roll her eyes. So then she sits down to read her book and thats when the girl pulls out the phone and starts yapping. I felt bad for the lady. Ill bet that lady would have glady paid a couple extra bucks to no have to sit next to that girl. I know I would.

    Matthew Reply:

    This is something that has mystified me too: why are the business, quiet, and on LD, sleeper cars often located near the locomotive?

    Go figure.

    Nathanael Reply:

    There are various reasons for locating the first class cars at the locomotive end.

    One, perhaps the most common, is if the train doesn’t actually turn around at the end of its run.

    If the locomotive simply detaches and runs around the train, then the first class cars are at the locomotive end running south but at the rear running north (for example). At terminals without a wye, this may be the only sensible way to do things. (There’s no wye in Bakersfield, is there?)

    If the train is “topped and tailed”, then there are locomotives at both ends, so the first class cars have to be next to a locomotive.

    (If the train is run “push-pull” then the first class cars can be next to the cab car, however.)

    On the Lake Shore Limited and Empire Builder, there are sleepers at *both* ends of the train because the train splits partway through.

    On some long trains with no baggage car, people in the last carriage have complained about excessive swaying, so the first-class car is put up front to prevent that.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    At least in LA, the sleeper cars are at the end of the train, not the front. No idea why business is at the front however. Metrolink puts their quiet cars second from the engine.

    Wdobner Reply:

    In addition to the previously mentioned examples, SEPTA’s Regional Rail system has a Quiet Ride program, and PATCO, a somewhat BART-like rapid transit line in Southern NJ has a Quiet Car program, despite having no attendant or conductor in the car. Nobody has sued regarding their exclusion from either service.

    But since you mention private cars on public owned transport lines, then the Jersey Shore Commuter Club certainly stands as a tacit reminder of just how uninformed you are. They are a non-profit group that has organized to equip one of NJT’s standard Comet commuter cars with 24 seats from an Amtrak Amfleet car for use by the members of the club. Again, nobody has sued in nearly 30 years of operation.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Only “30 years of operation?” That group’s site says they actually go back to 1933!

    And from what I understand, actual operation of cars with standing charters like that may go back to the 1890s, perhaps even earlier. Certainly a very long time.

    At the same time, strictly private operations like that were always rare, and almost entirely an east-coast thing, so it’s understandable some people wouldn’t know about them, or that they still exist. Ignorance of the Quiet Cars is another matter, though; they seem to have gotten a fair amount of press coverage over the years.

    In some way, I’m reminded of the girl back when I was in high school who said she hated her train ride–confined to a seat, and nothing to eat. The fun part was, the train involved was the Capitol Limited, back when the B&O still ran it.

    Me: “That was terrible, but why didn’t you go to the dining car?”

    She: “I didn’t know you could get food on the train. Where was it?”

    Me: “In the diner, probably behind your car somewhere.”

    She: “How was I supposed to get to it?”

    Me: “You just walk through the cars to the one with the food. It’s like a restaurant.”

    She: “You mean you can go from one car to another while the train is moving?”

    Me: “Yes.”

    She: “I didn’t know that.”

    Sheesh, we’ve only had vestibules between passenger cars since what, the late 1880s or early 1890s?

    Nathanael Reply:

    Good memory, Mr. Lubic: First vestibule train was 1887, says Wikipedia.

    Wdobner Reply:

    Only “30 years of operation?” That group’s site says they actually go back to 1933!

    My apologies, 30 years of public operation. Since 1983 it has been operated by New Jersey Transit. For the 50 years before that the JSCC was hauled by the Pennsylvania Railroad, a private organization.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I’m surprised Lex apparently didn’t know about the Quiet Cars. They’ve only been around since 2001, and are apparently appreciated:

    http://www.americablog.com/2011/05/police-remove-cell-phone-talker-from.html

    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/putting_mute_in_commute_lONUASoyw0NZ2jUJulF2PP

    http://travel.usatoday.com/news/story/2012-04-16/Commuter-trains-increase-number-of-quiet-cars/54320806/1

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Somehow, I can imagine right-ravers like Limbaugh and Hannerty making some point about the Quiet Cars being Communistic, socialistic, Nazi-istic, or just plain un-American:

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110518162515AAoQjgA

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2008/12/05/the-nazi-of-the-quiet-car.html

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Perhaps he gets his Limbaugh and Hannity ravings second hand, from messages successfully pushed into the mainstream mess media by the radical reactionary echo chamber.

    Spokker Reply:

    I just move to another seat. The San Joaquins is the only route I’ve had trouble with in terms of annoyances from other passengers.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Amtrak actually says that passengers are not to talk on their cell phones at night except in the cafe car. (They’re allowed to during the day.)

    And passengers are explicitly not to use any electronic noisemakers which can be heard by their neighbors.

    So I guess you could complain to the coach attendant.

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