Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Amtrak report complete on New Orleans-Orlando Sunset restoration

The report is 78 pages. It is comprehensive and explores the three options previously reported; a stand alone daily train, a continuation of the “City” from Chicago, and a three times weekly extension of the existing Sunset. Here is a link to the Report which contains exhaustive operational notes, financial analysis, and proposed schedules.

Unlike some who rise to criticize this report before the ink is dry, I have attempted to take a measured approach. The report is a study in the complexities of passenger railroad operations. Some observations:

  • Restoring each of the 13 “suspended” stops is presumed but not necessarily required.
  • $10 million in station costs, including $3 million in Sanford, Fla. How close is that to Orlando?
  • The option extending the “City” produces significantly more revenue and better “numbers” overall.
  • The daily “stand alone” option produces less revenue than extending the present Sunset consist.
  • $20 million for Positive Train Control and CSX wants increased “capacity”” for daily operation. CSX is clearly getting ready for negotiating by stating the firmest position.
  • The Sunset gets “murdered” in total travel time New Orleans-Orlando, 18.5 hours. Not a surprise.
  • 20 month lead time to extend the Sunset and 4 years on a stand alone train or extending the “City.”
  • The option exists not to restore service.
  • New stations are necessary at Mobile and Sanford. You can argue about Sanford, but the Mobile case is obvious and the solution is unclear. Report estimates 20 months needed for planning and construction.
  • 13 options were originally considered.
  • Schedules for restored Sunset three times weekly look pretty good. Four hours dwell in NO eastbound, 2.5 hours westbound. If only there were sufficient equipment to operate this schedule daily, life would be good.
  • The schedule for extending the “City” is also good with reasonable times in Pensacola.

This report recognizes some hard realities, including the scarcity of available rolling stock and the potential availability of capital. In plain English, it is not very subtly suggested that restoring this service may have the effect of reducing service elsewhere.

It is unclear how any of the three options interface with upgrades of the Sunset west of New Orleans. It is also clear that the running time east of New Orleans, 18.5 hours, is a  detriment, which is mitigated by overnight operation. I also think it is probably proven that Orlando must be the east terminal.

Finally, and I could be wrong but, this does not look to me like a case of Amtrak foot-dragging of an opposition to long haul trains. It is, however, a realistic assessment of existing difficulties.

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Filed under: Amtrak

5 Responses

  1. Jerry H. Sullivan, P.E. (retired) says:

    First of all, the 18.5 hours east of NewOrleans may not be nice, but there is no way around it. For roughly 240 miles, the maximum speed allowed at present is 59mph, which translates into more like 30mph average. This is because there are no signals between Flomaton, AL and Tallahassee, FL. The report mentions this.

    As for CSX, they have already cut service on the line to AVOID putting PTC on it, so it will fall to Amtrak to do the PTC if it is to operate the route.

    I don’t believe the figures between an extended CNO and a standalone are completely honest. Obviously if the CNO is extended, then ridership will be larger, on a longer distance, but a daily seperate train will generate a lot more revenue than this report will have us believe.

    The report does sorta strike at the host railroads about late running, and it must be realized that the high losses on this train stemmed exactly from this late running which was flagrantly done, mostly by UP, and some by CSX. Thus, it did not matter what the actual ridership was, the killer was the higher than expected expenses and these will only go away if the host railroads fine it costs THEM when THEY run the train late.

    There is also a passing reference to state support. No state should be required to support an interstate operation of any kind. If a state wants to do it, fine, but it should not be a mandated requirement.

    PTC will be the killer of this route and most others as well, unless the Congress comes up with some federal grants for it. It will be far easier for host railroads to route traffic away from secondary lines which would otherwise require it, and save the host railroad a lot of
    expense.

  2. Jerry H. Sullivan, P.E. (retired) says:

    I failed to comment on Sanford. Sanford’s Amtrak (not AutoTrain) station belonged to CSX and since CSX had no use for it, little maintenance was done. As a result, Sanford ceased being a stop for any service (except AutoTrain) some years ago. The State of Florida has requested some stimulus money to do what is necessary to get this station back on line. It is about 20 miles from Orlando, and when the Sunset ran many hours late, passengers were sometimes bussed from Sanford to Orlando, sometimes Orlando to Sanford as well for various reasons.
    The AutoTrain station is not on the mainline, so it cannot be used by a through service without switching moves. While Sanford is 20 miles from Orlanod, WinterPark, also a stop, is perhaps 10 miles, or less
    from Orlando, and for trains going further south there is also Kissimmee. This is a densely populated narrow corridor of about 45 miles, and yes, this many stops is desirable.

  3. patlynch says:

    Jerry, I have a lot to say on this subject (I think), but I did want to observe that the report does seem to back up your passenger and revenue contentions about a coast-to-coast Sunset.

    I am also fascinated by the “stand alone” train projections.
    Pat

  4. It cannot be quantified without actually doing it, but my years in the industry (44) tell me that a daily train will be more reliable in its time keeping, thus appearing, over time, to be reliable transportation and this will in turn generate more demand. I would have no problem with continuing the 3-day a week train to get service started sooner, but in the long run, daily is the best option, and AMtrak in verbal comments to various groups, has indicated that less than daily is “out”.

  5. Allan says:

    My initial reaction is: BS!

    Put two stakes in the ground with yellow tape between them and call it a station until one is built. Not running a train because of one station on the route is nonsense.

    And 20 months required to train the crews to do what? I worked at an airline and it took way less time to train our crews on the various aircraft they had to fly. And what about the crews that were on this route before? Have they all quit or retired???

    Why is Amtrak dragging its feet on this route? It doesn’t make sense.

    I hope they do extend the City of New Orleans … then I can get on the train in Memphis and make the whole trip to Disney World! You think that Amtrak might try to market that? … Naw.

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