Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

A little help from my friends .. an open thread on the new Obama administration, Amtrak, and transportation

I am beginning to write an essay on Amtrak, the Obama administration and transportation policy. There are some aspects of this which are obvious. Among those is restoration of the Sunset east of New Orleans and an substantial purchase of new equipment. 

What do you believe is most needed at Amtrak, and also for federal involvement in regional transportation. Make this an open thread and feel free to leave your comments. I will check in frequently.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

19 Responses

  1. Bob says:

    Personally, I think Amtrak should focus funds for what they have been doing since the early 2000s, partnering with states and upgrading corridor service. I believe this method has the most competitive potential and gives Amtrak the greatest prospect of building a natural constituency (through more riders) to seek future gains. To be frank, the system need to totally rebuild and bring itself into the modern era. In my opinion, the best way to do this is to build an electoral constituency that can pressure politicians to provide rational and lasting to the infrastructure of rail (like we do with highways and airports). Now, I am not merely talking about solely upgrading existing routes, but also looking into corridors that are not currently served (so the goals of Amtrak would still be centered on expansion). However, I don’t think Amtrak should make bringing back defunct long-distance service as an intial policy goal. The reason for this is because long-distance routes don’t supply as strong of a constituency to Amtrak and the infrastructure upgrades yield less direct results for politicians to grab a hold of. As a caveat, though, I think we should maintain what long-distance routes we do have in order to continue the important symbolism of a national route network that can later be built upon when the lasting constituency is formed (from the corridors stragtegy).

  2. Ran says:

    Fleet-wide:
    Fleet recapitalization is key

    On-corridor:
    1) Decide if next generation trains will be loco hauled or trainsets. If loco hauled, begin acquisition of new engines now.
    2) Work with commuters who share NEC to build capacity and reduce bottlenecks (especially MN north of NYP)

    Off-corridor:
    1) Pursue 21-state plan to adopt shared specs for next-gen rail cars to ensure sufficient market to open and sustain domestic railcar production
    2) Work with states and freights to enhance existing services
    3) Develop pool of capital to use as incentive for freights to cooperate with Amtrak and ensure trains receive priority dispatch

  3. WilS says:

    1. invest in the areas already succeeding. It just makes since. that is frustrating for me, bec. im not in those areas, but if u want what is bst business wise. New Cars, improve tracks, and offer commuter icentives.
    2. interconnect some of the southern rail ways, so people do not have to go all the way to chicago, tripling the cost of a trip in the south.
    3. begin developing segragated railway or contingency plans to keep passenger and freight rail from intermingling. It will help reduce travel times.
    4. Make stations more automated to avoid more closings.

  4. Focus on corridor trains and new service, expand and improve NEC, introduce new long distance trains.

  5. toast2042 says:

    Give Amtrak priority on rails. As soon as someone hears the words “only eight hours late” they don’t care about the rest. Guaranteed arrival times will help Amtrak’s image more than anything else. Requires no investment in rails, cars or personell, just shuffling of precedence.

    Next look in to a gradual build-out of local services. Amtrak should start partnering with all the state and local authorities trying to implement commuter rail and help out as much as possible. If people ride Amtrak to work every day they’ll be more likely to look into riding it for longer trips as well.

    Stop over-engineering the trains. They’re not freight trains, they’re passenger trains. We’re building Hummers when we should be building Priuses. This adds complexity, cost and weight, reducing efficiency and profit. Quit.

  6. robbie says:

    I agree w/ toast 2042. Adding new service will do nothing unless it is on time in the first place. Next, state and corridor services need to be created and existing ones need to be made more efficient and quicker. No more 8 hour twin cities to Chicago trips when they used to be 6.5 hours! And frequency for corridor services needs to be uprgaded. remember, frequency drives ridership.

  7. cash-strapped college student who loves the train b/c it's cheap says:

    in addition to everything that has been said, I would add ‘renovation and modernization of stations’ to the list. i recently took a long-distance trip on Amtrak starting in Birmingham, AL. A few things I noticed in the station:

    1) completely unfriendly to disabled. platform was only reachable by long flight of stairs, and many elderly people w/serious limitations were disembarking.

    2) two people doing everything in station.

    3) when moving luggage, was being moved on a 100 year-old HAND-PULLED luggage cart. I saw the same cart restored and on display w/placard at a much nicer station in northern Virginia.

    4) entire station was in generally decrepit condition. Unpleasant waiting area, platform looked like it was about to collapse, was in very bad part of town, etc.

    How will Amtrak attract customers if it can’t even serve significant portions of its customer base (handicapped, disabled)?

  8. logannash says:

    @Fellow college student

    On that note, it would certainly behoove Amtrak to do a better job with the location of train stations. I won’t whine about the horrible 70’s era shopping mall look of the Twin Cities Amtrak station (although it deserves to be whined about) but I will point out that it is in a frightfully inconvenient place for anyone without a car on hand (which would be, you know, train passengers).

    If they go ahead with the plan to move services back to St. Paul’s Union Depot.. problem solved. It will be on the Central Line light-rail corridor in the middle of the city.

  9. Kevin Lovd says:

    There needs to be enforcement of the laws giving Amtrak trains priority. My proposal is this: for each minute a train is late, all the passengers get a 1% refund of their ticket price. Five minutes late means a 5% refund. Ten minutes late means a 10% refund. All the way up to one hour and 40 minutes late means a 100% refund.

    If the host railway line is responsible for the lateness, then they pay. If Amtrak is responsible, Amtrak pays.

    I predict that having actual consequences for lateness will result in the host railways suddenly figuring out how to ensure that the trains run on time.

  10. robbie says:

    I agree with logannash…the amshack at Midway has got to go.

  11. jlhughes says:

    Corridor track improvements. This will help reliability and offer the opportunity to reduce travel time.

    On the corridor I ride — Capitol Corridor between Sacramento and Oakland (and on to San Jose) — more rolling stock is needed. We actually have standing-room only for portions of the trip on Fridays.

  12. Barry Grossman says:

    In reviewing all of the above remarks, most if not all with insight and merit, several points stand out in my mind as those to be given priority. First and formost is on time performance, given current timetables. TRUE: when one hears or reads “8 hours late” or even one hour late….everything else falls to the wayside for all those aboard the train, those meeting passengers off loading at stations and all others involved in the process. It matters little for the many even if they were riding in a private car, with service for royalty, or in coach class waiting for the arrival at their destination to visit Grandma on Thanksgiving Day. Second…
    It matters not if the train can be relied on for on time performance as in the days of old if the 6, 8 or 24 hour trip is experienced in “cattle car” conditions, e.e. overcrowding during peak season, lack of manpower in service areas, malfunctioning equipment such as toilets, dining and lounge car facilities, broken seating and even doors to exit and board malfunctioning. Personell, excempt from Federal hours of work rules, they too also late in their arrival and the ability to “get on with their lives” at the end of a working trip, poorly trained as the training simply does not meet the reality of “life style” of one employed within the industry in general. On board personel managed by an army privy to a Federal dumping ground for political patronage, with little if any experience or training in the field of which they are managing, with possibly the exeption to the actual operating crew. It goes without saying, these class and crafts of on board and often station personel are overworked given budgetary priorities, and the lack of a realistic working culture of planning both logisticaly and in line with service necesity or even for that matter safety. No matter how much one’s contract calls to be paid for performing any task, if that person is given overwhelming conditions even under the best of circumstances, not provided the tools in which to perform his or her responsibilites if at all let alone in a timely fashion, and is put in an almost suffocating work environment given just some of the examples mentioned, it matters little to the passenger who had paid hard earned money for the ticket to ride. The CULTURE of Amtrak must be changed, modified and turned upside down to priortiise the passenger i.e. in that the PRODUCT Amtrak is selling is everything….EVERYTHING… behind the locomotive….and what experience the passenger has aboard. To put the lowest paid, poorest trained, dismaley managed and unscrupriosly supervised of all the carriers employees with the least amount of tools and manpower to perform their responsibilties is and has been a culture of failure.
    To those that point out station platform “deficiancies”: HELLO….? Ever been to St. Louis? That’s right ..ST. LOUIS! It may have been upgraded since I have last been there [I hope!] but how many years did this HUB go with a mere trailer for station services, and gravel for a platform. And that’s just one of so, …no, too many like that. But regardless, if the train arrives and departs on time, one’s TRAVEL EXPERIENCE is all about the… PRODUCT, the ON BOARD EXPERIENCE. If the train is on time both ways, and they “get what they paid for” in that NOT just the ability of the carrier to get passengers from point a to point b… THEY WILL RETURN, and talk it up for the product when they get off. None the less, it is so… the passenger experience starts at the station, and ends at the station, rendering a depot an integral component to …THE PRODUCT.
    It seems to me there simply is just too much emphasis on everything and anything peripheral to Amtrak’s ability to move the passengers in a marketable and viable way to excite Americans into riding trains. Most emphasis has always been the Northeast corridor, and therein lies an underlying problem. Legislators do not ride outside the corridor in order to get the flavor of what a substantial investment of wasted capital of expenditure is due to the over sights mentioned here. The rest of the system is opperated as an almost after thought, and certainly NOT the priority suggested by the carrier. Resources are not provided outside the corridor because they go un scrutinized first hand by those that vote subsidy and budget. That is to say… well….and I’ll leave it there…for now.

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