Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Heartland Flyer update

Evan Stair sent out some info today on the Heartland Flyer and a proposed daylight hours schedule (Alternative 3) to operate Fort Worth-Kansas City.

In the recently completed Amtrak Feasibility study for the Kansas City -
Wichita – Oklahoma City – Fort Worth corridor…

1) Alternative- 3 would beat ridership figures for three long distance
trains?
2) Alternative- 3 would beat ridership figures for nine state supplemental
trains?
3) Alternative- 3 cost per mile would be $18.08 per mile?
4) Alternative- 3 would beat ridership figures for the Missouri River
Runners between Kansas City and St. Louis?
5) Currently Heartland Flyer is less efficient as it shows a required
$28.59 per mile?

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Filed under: Amtrak, Regional USA Passenger Rail

11 Responses

  1. Peter Laws says:

    Yeah, it’s a pretty good outcome across the board. The two connected trains did better than the two disconnected trains as expected (see http://www.ksdot.org/ for the study and PR). Interestingly, you have to look in the footnotes to see the financial performance *with* so-called bridge traffic included (connections to/from 21/22 and 3/4). Those make the trains look even better.

    Sadly, Oklahoma has a BIG budget hole to fill and we’ll be lucky to keep the Heartland Flyer at all. Remember, unlike other states, ODOT pays for this train to run – Amtrak is just the operations contractor. No contract renewal, no train. I assume Kansas is in the same boat (on the same train?).

    Anyway, big kudos to the Northern Flyer Alliance for getting the process this far!

  2. Woody says:

    Actually, numerous other trains are state-supported. Illinois and Michigan pay for at least 5 trains each out of Chicago. NC pays for the Carolinian and the Piedmont; VA pays for trains out of D.C. to Richmond and Lynchburg, maybe to the Tidewater. PA pays for Keystone trains to Harrisburg and the Pennsylvanian to Pittsburgh. Washington and Oregon pays for Cascades service Seattle-Portland. Missouri pays for the River Runner. Even Texas puts in a few bucks to help with the Heartland Flyer. And California pays for a dozen trains, or two dozen.

    Congress tried to make things simple – too simple. New trains entirely within one state or less than, what, 700 or 1,000 miles, I forget perzactly, must be state-subsidized. Longer t can get Amtrak money, except that isn’t any such thing in the budget. It would make sense for Amtrak to cover half the losses on new medium-distance routes that improve its system. But this is not time to talk about subsidizing operations even at the national level.

    The feds are trying to help the Heartland flyer a bit. The round of HSR grants included a few million for new signaling from Ft. Worth to the Oklahoma border. IIRC, that stretch had no signals, so trains have to run really slow.

    Of course, the big hang-up to expanding any service, long distance or short corridor, is that Amtrak has no cars to supply for new train service, no matter who pays. We need to pressure Congress to support a huge order, larger than what Amtrak has asked for, to expand the supply of passenger cars to expand routes and services.

  3. Peter Laws says:

    Like Maine, Oklahoma has ONLY state-supported trains and would have NO trains if they hadn’t paid for them. The others you mentioned had service provided with Free Federal Money to begin with and have paid to have additional trains added. Not so with Maine or Oklahoma.

    ARRA funds are going to the BNSF Ft Worth Sub south of Gainesville to retime crossings (for the most part – see http://is.gd/aQvEu for TxDOT’s plan) which helps 821/822 by reducing the end-to-end time by 15 minutes. That doesn’t sound like a lot but it is and will get us below 4 hours one-way. The next 15 minutes that comes out of the end-to-end time will be much more expensive.

    Meanwhile, NY gets $148M for NYC-Albany-Buffalo, a corridor that has multiple trains a day … that NYS pays nothing towards (they do support the Adirondack that uses part of the Empire Corridor).

    Congress didn’t make it simple – they shut the door behind the “Penn Central states” (states that had trains run by the Penn Central generally don’t have to support their trains, even if intra-state – we do that for them).

  4. Woody says:

    Thanks for that link to the TexDOT filing with the nitty gritty details.

    I can see that cutting 15 minutes out of the schedule is a good, good thing. Just marketing the service to say, “under 4 hours” is so much better than “a little over 4 hours.”

    There could also be real cost savings. I’m sure that better on-time performance cuts overtime costs. And it could be that slicing 15 minutes off the timetable will save O.T. too, but I just don’t know how the labor contracts and work schedules play out.

    Clearly the few millions invested in this grade crossing is a real bargain. And a beautiful example (not the only one, by any means) of how the HSR grants will benefit Amtrak-speed passenger rail long before anyone rides HSR here.

    Anyway, those nitty gritty details reinforce my observation that we desperately need a huge order for new Amtrak equipment: The current Flyer runs only two coaches and a cafe car.

    When the trip times are cut, ridership will increase, and the Heartland Flyer will need more capacity. Extending the train to St Louis or Kansas City would be a good use for even more new cars.

    Also interesting that you lay some problems to a grandfathering of Penn Central trains. I wasn’t paying any attention back in those days. Today I’d support growing our way out of any antique inequities.

    Looks to me like a morning Empire train out of NYC, one that now goes to Niagara Falls, could be diverted and extended to reach Cleveland at a reasonable hour, before 9 p.m. That would have it arrive in Chicago around 3 a.m. — horrors! — which is about the time all other Amtrak trains currently pass through Cleveland.

    I’m sure there’s plenty people with better schedule-making skills than I will ever boast. The point is, they need equipment and operating support to expand the Amtrak network, including the Heartland Flyer.

  5. HockeyFan says:

    New York is a mixed bag. While it’s true that they don’t pay for the Empire Corridor, NY does spend a lot of money on commuter rail, subways and other transit. Their state DOT is not simply a Highway DOT. After years of dispute with Amtrak on improving the Empire Corridor, they’ve buried the hatchet and agreed to pay for $20M in improvements.
    NY also lost out (compared to other states) in the $8B rail stimulus. That opened some eyes in the DOT and should get them more serious about committing matching state resources to getting better rail and HSR going. NY is the key state in the entire Northeast, much like IL is in the Midwest. The smoother and faster trains run here, the more likely they will be on time on short and long distance runs.

  6. Peter Laws says:

    $148,000,000 is “lost out”? Really? The only reason NY is “key” is that the Pennsylvania and the New Haven built the New York Connecting to allow through traffic from Boston to Washington. That’s what? 40 miles from the CT line to the Hudson River? And all Amtrak-owned, meaning “paid for by the taxpayers of the USA”.

    As for the state paying for commuter rail, etc, yeah? So? I’ll repeat: Oklahoma (and Maine) would have no passenger trains *at all* if the taxpayers of those states didn’t pay for them. Maine has received funding recently for an extension of their service but Oklahoma got bupkus.

    Meanwhile, NY gets $148,000,000 for the Empire Corridor where they pay bupkus for those trains – all costs not covered by ticket revenue is picked up by the taxpayers of the USA.

  7. Woody says:

    Yes, $148 million is “lost out” for the fourth most populous state, with 14.5 million residents, more than twice the number for Oklahoma, with 3.6 million, and Kansas, with 2.8 million, combined.

    The Empire Corridor carries not only the two Empire Service trains NYC-Albany-Buffalo-Niagara Falls, but also the Maple Leaf to Toronto, and the Lake Shore Limited NYC/Boston-Albany-Buffalo-Cleveland-Chicago.

    If Amtrak were allowed to expand, this route would be a prime candidate for a train NYC-Cleveland-Chicago/Detroit that would arrive in Cleveland during daylight hours. Yeah, I’d even put that need ahead of serving Witchita.

    So back to the Heartland Flyer. I went to the Kansas DOT site and again, wonderful nitty gritty details. Amtrak and BNSF report that it will take $140 million to upgrade the route between Ft Worth and Oklahoma City to allow 100% on-time performance for the new train continuing to Newton or Kansas City. Presumably those upgrades would allow better OTP for the existing schedule of the Heartland Flyer, which currently has a 36% OTP — did I get that right? Oy vey.

    O.K., you tell me: Spend $140 million on potentially two trains in Oklahoma or $148 million on four existing trains in New York State?

    Well, if I were King, we’d be spending more on rail in all these states and others. But in a democracy, you might consider whether rail gets more support from Senators like Schumer and Gillibrand than from James Inhofe or Tom Coburn, Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts. If we could replace a handful of the die-hard opponents of funding passenger rail with supporters, maybe we wouldn’t be fighting over the scraps.

  8. Peter Laws says:

    By your calculations, then, KS and OK should have been able to divide up $65,000,000 in infrastructure – 44% of $148,000,000. We’ll ignore the fact that NYS pays $0 dollars towards operating expenses on the Empire Corridor (save for the Adirondack).

    Let’s see how that compares to what those states actually got. Let’s see, carry the one … looks like we were shorted about $65,000,000.

    Pretty typical of the Penn Central states: “we got ours (that you paid for), now go away!”

  9. HockeyFan says:

    I like seeing the word “bupkus” used. Keep it up.
    I’m in favor of OK and KS getting their fair share of fed money too. Woody makes a good point that if KS and OK had Congressional representation that was even mildly supportive of passenger rail, they wouldn’t have to fund their train(s) with 100% state money. NY isn’t the enemy. Let’s build up local support in the heartland for rail.

  10. Tom Elmore says:

    Despite the somewhat misleading picture painted in comments above insisting “Oklahoma would have no train at all if state taxpayers didn’t fund it,” THE HEARTLAND FLYER was originally designed to be self-supporting. Way back in 1999, the train came to the state with a $23 million startup fund and a plan for self-support from Day One via a Kansas City-to-Ft. Worth First Class Mail contract. Other innovative revenue opportunities waited in the wings, as well. However, while many self-styled state “passenger rail advocates” sat on their hands, ODOT director Neal McCaleb stymied this plan, deliberately stubbing the train’s proposed route at OKC, killing the Mail contract — and ultimately making the service a subsidy case of grindingly limited usefulness to potential riders along its remaining route.

    This is the same ODOT that just destroyed OKC Union Station’s 8-block-long passenger terminal yard, historic center of the state’s rail network — along with key, longstanding elements of its mail and express handling infrastructure. This, yet again, while many of the same, aforementioned “passenger rail advocates” and “organizations” said and did nothing — except inexplicably sucking-up to and running interference for ODOT leadership.

    Is it any surprise, then, that significant numbers of “non-railfan taxpayers” on and near THE FLYER’s route seem to have no idea the state has any rail passenger service at all? Any surprise that a service deliberatly twisted and maimed by ODOT to become an argument against passenger trains is still so embarassingly unknown and sparsely ridden in its home state?

    Oklahoma had a very real shot at establishing itself as the center of a reasonable effort to make intercity passenger trains revenue independent and truly viable again — but few “advocates” would speak up against ODOT’s transparently malicious mismanagement, amounting to sabotage, of that opportunity.

    It’s hard to feel very sorry, then, for Oklahomans, who are apparently content to take whatever stale crumbs fall from their laughably corrupt, highway-lobby-controlled “department of transportation’s” table. Anything, apparently, to avoid the stress of occasionally rising up on their hind legs and acting like “citizens.”

    Boomer Sooner.

  11. Teresa Cunningham says:

    I would say most Oklahomans are unaware of how much money the action of a few are going to cost them. Not only will they pay for highways a majority will rarely use, but apparently a train line also. KC said they will use their existing Union Station, imagine that. Maybe they have people around who grew up in the Great Depression, who remember to use what you have if it still works.

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