Here is the latest from Amtrak Ink. Analysis follows.
RPI 2009 To Target
“The 2009 RPI initiative is in full swing as a crosssection of departments and individuals are engaged in delivering route-level improvements to a number of corridor and long-distance services. In Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles, representatives from Marketing and Product Management, Strategic Partnerships, Labor Relations,Transportation,Mechanical and Engineering
are evaluating route performance and targeting opportunities for improvement.”
“The Sunset Limited is one of a number of routes that is buoying overall long-distance ridership and revenue totals. Ridership and revenue are both around 20 percent higher than the prior fiscal year.
Product Management Director Jack Rich and a team of 65, which includes department heads, on-site managers, key employees and union officials fromWashington,D.C., New Orleans and LosAngeles, established an initial
punch list of more than 200 potential areas for change and improvement.And, while Rich said his team will likely focus on typical improvement areas like on-time performance or higher CSI scores, he envisions that the process “will put everything on the plate, with no prejudice.” Among the items for consideration are ensuring that the proper amount of equipment and staffing is maintained; implementing aggressive “green and clean” initiatives; establishing marketing initiatives to target city pairs; and launching station enhancements to increase patron awareness and use.
“We need to re-engineer every aspect of this train.That means redirecting
everything —from food to scheduling to marketing — so that it’s more customer-oriented,” said Rich. “We’re conducting a total examination
of the existing model to better match customer expectations, maximize revenue opportunities and get the most out of this service.”
Rich added that, “The recent significant improvement in on-time performance for the Sunset Limited has provided an opportunity to create momentum, as
performance indicators move in a positive direction on this route.We have an opportunity to be the Petri dish for unique innovations”
This is nothing but good news (unless Amtrak is exclusively managed by sociopaths and pathological liars). TFA has been somewhat skeptical about Beech Grove projects and the ultimate outcome for long distance trains. Taken at face value, this should answer those questions. Let us review.
- Ridership and revenue are both around 20 percent higher than the prior fiscal year. This is great news and we an only hope that, within the Amtrak managements corps, left hand is talking to right hand. One would expect even more outstanding results from a daily train. It is impossible for anyone but a serious railfan to plan a trip using a three-day a week schedule.
- “n initial punch list of more than 200 potential areas for change and improvement” How many can be done immediately? How many will cost nothing?
- “proper amount of equipment and staffing” Not easily done today. As equipment becomes available, this will change. Daily operation is a function of equipment.
- “on-time performance” How this objective relates to the excessive padding on the schedule is an unknown and a major issue. All suggestions welcome. End-to-end running time must be shortened.
- “target city pairs” There are plenty on this long route. Again, a function of scheduling. New Orleans-Houston might grow with a daily schedule. LA-Phoenix is schedule sensitive and worked better with the old schedule.
- “launching station enhancements to increase patron awareness and use.” Start in Beaumont. (Orange Co. Texas pop. 385,000)
- And don’t crow about the improvement in on-time performance. The schedule is a disgrace, an abomination. Reliability is important but speed must have some value.
Amtrak seems to be saying many of the right words. All of this is the best possible news if good words are matched by good deeds.
Making this a daily train, which I believe is a non-negotiable item, raises logistical issues which those of us who are not working with it every day cannot imagine. Change is coming and not everybody will be pleased with every symptom of recovery on the Sunset.
The matter of restoring service east of New Orleans is also overdue for consideration. This is an essential part of the national system. It is another “must do” item.
Creating a separate connecting service similar to the old Gulf Wind between New Orleans and Jacksonville is a possibility. This is a logistical issue and way over my rank and grade. The only question is “when,” not “if?”
Your comments are surely invited and I promise to take part in the discussion.
UPDATE AND CORRECTION: I am informed that Jacksonville is not a “terminal.” A restored Florida Sunset must go to Orland. This seems to assure a “break” in the schedule at New Orleans. That’s probably a good thing.
As Amtrak gets serious about the Sunset, everybody concerned needs to realize that this route has been somebody’s red headed stepchild for 40 long years. SP has this train running tri-weekly in the 60’s and deliberately broke its connections to Florida in New Orleans every night. This train has had its diner pulled, its sleepers discontinued, its stations abandoned for 40 years and this is not by any means only Amtrak’s fault.
Getting this train back on its feet will take years.
Here are some general goals.
- Daily service LA-NO and NO-Orlando
- restore service into downtown Phoenix
- restore Coast Starlite connections
- improve Beaumont station
- additional sleeping cars
Finally, restoring service east of NO is not a Florida issue. This train should be feeding the City and the Crescent from NO, the Eagle at San Antonio and, of course, the various east coast trains in Florida. This is an important regional issue and should be seen as effecting the nanational system.
And in summation, (whew) not everybody is going to be satisfied with all of the changes. That includes me. On this one, considering the sad history and sorry condition of this train, we need to give Amtrak some room to experiment. The population centers served by these two routes (LA-NO and NO-ORL) are too important to let languish.
FURTHER DISPUTED INFORMATION: A reader (who equally seems to know what he is talking about) tells me that Jacksonville, in fact, has necessary facilities to be a terminal for the Sunset (or Gulf Wind, or whatever).
I apologize. If things get any more serious around here, I may have to resort to AN ORIGINAL SOURCE. Don’t make me go there!
So many “stations” are in such shabby condition I would not doubt anything I was told about even a large facility like Jacksonville’s. Little Rock, where I live, has a single side track and the “house” siding for Amtrak was ripped out a couple of years ago. Only one train at a time can use the LR depot. We do have a crew base, and two agents.
Terminating a restored Sunset or Gulf Wind at Jacksonville has advantages, but that is an operational, logistical, management decision.
AND I really apprecaite readers input. I only wish I could do this full time.