Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

UPDATED THRICE: The Sunset may go daily coast-to-coast

UPDATE: My “usually reliable source” tells me “the plan” is for real and is being negotiated with UP. A daily train would create a nice rythm of operation for dispatchers. Amtrak would like to implement in October.

SECOND UPDATE: Also of note on Sunset improvements. Improved running time – perhaps by as much as eight hours. New Orleans arrival time from the west is hoped to be in the 9:30 range. Schedule for the new New Orleans- Florida departure not discussed. Might leave the door open for an early morning departure and day run to Jacksonville. Just speculation. Through sleeper NO-LA possible as repaired equipment rolls out.l Amtrak wants a new plan of operation for Phoenix (no surprise there). Connections with Coast Starlite will be reestablished.

THIRD UPDATE: Gene Poon, one of the professional followers of rail activity, updates this story on another source. Let me summarize.

  • proposals are tentative; not approved by Amtrak board or operating railroads
  • east of New Orleans proposal not completed
  • westbound N. O. departure around 10:30 Am. M. arrive San Antonio around 11:30, connects to departing Eagle.
  • thru NO-LA sleeper may come on as equipment is available
  • more traditional eastbound departure from LA, after 10 P. M. arrive N. O. around 10 P. M.
  • through Chi-LA daily Eagle with diner and sleepers
  • no sleepers east of San Antonio at this time
  • daily service is expected to generate 100,000 new passengers

I sincerely hope I have these details correct. This would insinuate a direct connection in N. O. both directions with less that desirable times at Mobile, but daylight service throughout Florida. It is an overnight train. It has to stop at night somewhere.

Final note on the third update. This is what can happen in Amtrak is not working full-time just to stay in business. Amtrak is to be congratulated.  This is the kind of progressive (imperfect) activity which airlines and truckers have fought (and will continue to fight) at all costs.

Should Republicans gain control of Congress (which I doubt) in 2 years, a lot more than Amtrak will be lost.

We now return to our regular programming ….

With Logan and I held hostage by the dark powers of academia, you have missed a few developments. I am honestly embarrassed to be so slow on an important story concerning a matter covered here for sometime. There seem to be conclusive developments on the Sunset, Amtrak’s Los Angeles to Orlando route which has been “suspended” east of New Orleans since Katrian.

If this report proves to be true, something which must always be taken into account in railroad circles, I think Amtrak management is to be congratulated for providing DAILY service along the entire corridor. Even with a coach only train New Orleans to Florida, this is an amazing accomplishment. This will be well received and patronized.  Although some will not be pleased, this is an outstanding start.

Let me reconstruct some of the email.

First a question.

Did anyone attend the RailPAC/NARP meeting yesterday in Los Angeles?  Mr. Boardman was guest speaker and Brian Rosenwald was rumored to be unveiling the new plans for the Sunset Limited.

The answer.

Mr. Rosenwald announced that they are pushing for daily service on the Texas Eagle between LAX and CHI.  There would also be a daily stub train from — to NOL each day.  The Texas Eagle would be full service – coaches, sleepers, lounge and dining car.  The new Sunset Limited stub would be coach only with a Cross Country Cafe.  The train may be rebranded with a new name when that happens.

This sounds pretty much like what Amtrak didn’t tell us at the SHSRC meeting in Birmingham on 23 Apr.  At that meeting Amtrak explained they were discussing only the  New Orleans to Orlando service.  However, there was general agreement from those who  were informed that the Texas Eagle would be full-service daily LAX to CHI.  There would be a  “new” train San Antonio to New Orleans, but a “stub” not full – service, but daily.  What Amtrak did talk at length about was that there would be a “coordinated connector train between New Orleans and Orlando, not full service, but daily.

So with both these meetings we have a pretty clear picture as to what is happening.  RailPac got the briefing on the Sunset west of NOLA and SHSRC got the briefing on the Sunset east of NOLA.

What was the Sunset route will be the Eagle LAX to San Antonio, a stub Sunset (or new name) San Antonio to NOLA, and another stub train from NOLA to Orlando with a new name.

This is not the absolute best everyone had hoped for, but at least it’s a restoration of service to Florida, and daily service the entire route.  Those are the two main goals of all the groups supporting the Sunset.  It’s a great start, and we just need to monitor it to see it happens, and support it when it does.  We can always push for improvements later, and well-supported trains hopefully won’t be ignored for improvements.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

17 Responses

  1. It is not a good enough solution. IT is utterly insane to have an overnight train, as NewOrleans to Orlando will be, without at least one sleeper. While the old Sunset’s coaches were well used, the sleepers were even more so, and now the sleeper passengers like myself, who subsidized the coaches are left in the cold.
    SouthWest Airlines just gained a dedicated customer. I have no use for a coach only train and have no intention of using the service until it is COMPLETE.

  2. patlynch says:

    Jerry,

    It’s hard to imagine Amtrak making such an important decision without taking your personal convenience into consideration.

    Even an overnight coach train on this route will be booked solid. That schedule connects perfectly with the City of New Orleans both directions. There is a strong chance it will connect with the San Antonio schedule both ways. This makes New Orleans a powerful Amtrak hub.

    If this schedule gets to Mobile before midnight and departs Mobile around 6 in the morning or later westbound, Tallahassee and Jacksonville get decent arrival times. Plenty of moderate income people, college students and older folks will use this DAILY service.

    Amtrak has made a serious move to correct a big hole in the schedule. I support this decision, even though they somehow forgot to ask me either.
    Pat

  3. Woody says:

    Daily service is better than not daily. Twice daily should be the minimum on all the Amtrak routes, to ensure that every stop gets daylight service.

    We need an order for 2,000 new passenger cars to expand Amtrak service. Regular cars, sleepers, dining cars, dome cars, lounge cars, “quiet” cars, wi-fi cars, oh my!

    And we dare not dawdle. If we invite bids tomorrow, we could probably get a couple hundred new cars on the tracks before the end of Obama’s second term.

  4. It is not a matter of my personal convenience. Consistently for nearly 10 years, I rode the old train once or twice a year and, railfan that I am, I was also at the station to witness it’s westward departure many other times. Sleepers were sold out months in advance on every trip while you could walk up and buy a coach seat 5′ before departure almost anytime. Coaches usually ran around 80% capacity. Loss of the sleeper passengers, most of whom will not voluntarily downgrade, will cost the service enough money that it will not last long, and that is my real fear.

  5. Woody is quite correct. The Chinese have almost the entire world’s capacity for passenger car stock already ordered. I have seen delivery times out as far as 7-8 years on new equipment, but I have also seen where one or two potential manufacturers are willing to set up shop in the US, if they get a large order, and access to a closed automotive factory that already has rail access, or similar facility.

    Amtrak is said to have a wish list of about 80 cars, which is nice, but far short of sufficient. If these were ordered today, the end of Obama’s second term would be about right, but in another month or two, it will be in his successors term, and that be a Republican, the order would probably be cancelled.

  6. Woody says:

    There’s a lot more on the Sunset Limited issue in a report by William Lindley at http://www.unitedrail.org this week. It’s highly opinionated, of course, but full of good info and interesting observations.

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

    Bruce Richardson keeps up that website, unitedrail.org and he happens to be a good friend of mine. Although I disagree with him on many things, he knows more about what he writes than most people give him credit for. I’ve seen the report and it is a good one.

  8. Paul says:

    I will admit I am not a mechanical engineer (that’s my brother) but is there not an opportunity with the government soon owning more than half of GM to convert some of the idled factory/production to railcar production and parts manufacturing?

  9. I have seen speculation about automotive factory(s) being used
    for that purpose, but I don’t know if it is rumour or serious. It would make sense because the really fine, or delicate work, done on the INTERIOR of passenger cars is not that too far fetched from the interiors of automobiles. The heavy, outside work, is pretty specialized but folks can be trained.

    with reference to the updates, a daytime run to Orlando from NewOrleans is not acceptible to any of us in the east, simply because if we are going through NewOrleans, a forced overnight stay in NewOrleans makes the cost of the trip, even in coach, higher than just flying in the first place. My wife would opt to spend a night there going or coming in a heartbeat, but I would not, and many other potential riders would not. This daytime thing would suit the corridorists fine, and would handle the Mobile-NewOrleans trade pretty well, but Florida would be out of the picture. In any case it is a 20 hour run from Orlando to NewOrleans and this is not going to change significantly without a lot of dollars being put into the CSX line across the Florida Panhandle.
    When Amtrak looks at what to do with the east end, they had better remember that 46% of the Sunset revenue came from east of NO, and a large percentage of that revenue what going through NewOrleans. Although the sleepers were always full, a significant part of that through revenue was in coach, so coach or sleeper, I believe the whole route will suffer if great care is not taken with all connections.

  10. Mad Park says:

    I have to agree w/ Jerry Sullivan (and Bruce Richardson) on the point that there are baggage cars full of money to be made from First Class passengers and Amtrak seems to dismiss this revenue stream rather cavalierly in 2 ways: staffing and availability. The right TA in a clean well set-up car is a huge money maker for the company, and more cars = even more money. There are any number of folks, me included, who will not travel in coach on an overnight train; I sure do miss the Slumbercoaches…

  11. Nathanael Nerode says:

    I’m not sure Amtrak is wrong about its sleeper choices here. Remember, they currently have a sleeper shortage, and can’t put sleepers on every train they want them on.

    The question is, *where* are the sleeper passengers travelling?

    For everyone travelling from LA to San Antonio or points in between, or onwards on the Texas Eagle, this is an *upgrade* from 3-times-a-week sleeper service to daily sleeper service — and an increase in the number of sleepers on the Texas Eagle route to boot. It may be that Amtrak discovered that their best revenue from the Sunset Limited sleepers was west of San Antonio.

    Service from Houston west won’t be harmed too badly; the 4-5 hour coach trip to connect to the sleepers at San Antonio is annoying but not deadly. And we can hope the running time will be improved (it ought to be 3 hours).

    Service from Louisiana west will hurt due to lack of sleepers — but that may be a decent tradeoff if more money can be made on the western end of the route (which should be much faster than before the double-tracking) and on the Texas Eagle. The crash in the New Orleans population may mean that the Lousiana-West Coast service just isn’t as profitable.

    Interesting and notable is that Amtrak is avoiding the superlong multi-carrier runs (with their attendant schedulekeeping problems). The new superlong Texas Eagle will be all-UP (excepting the terminals in Chicago and LA); the New Orleans-Florida train will be all-CSX, and the the New Orleans-San Antonio train will be short! This may be the actual motivation (this and getting a train-a-day on every route).

    They’ll have to improve the San Antonio train station, though.

    The proposal is not too hot for Floridians heading west — your best route is to go via DC and Chicago — but given the horrible timings on the twisty Florida Panhandle route (I can get from NYC to Chicago in 18 hours on the LSL), I think perhaps it makes sense. Maybe if the Deep South ever got its act together an alternative rail route to the west could be constructed. (Maybe Jacksonville-Atlanta for starters; that should have passengers, surely).

  12. Spokker says:

    “It’s hard to imagine Amtrak making such an important decision without taking your personal convenience into consideration. ”

    If you only want people to post here that agree with your opinion you might want to turn on moderation first.

  13. The blogger was just chiding me, and I don’t take it personal, except that Amtrak was ignoring a lot more than one persons convenience. When the Sunset ran with 2 full sleepers west from Florida, they were sold out months ahead. When it ran with 1.5 sleepers, they were sold out many months ahead, so the only reasonable explanation for even considering a non-sleeper train on an overnight schedule is lack of equipment and the assumption that more money is to be made west of SanAntonio.
    If this is the case, then many will not use the eastern service until there are sleepers, and so we hope that Amtrak has some plan to deal with that as quickly as possible. It is known that Boardman’s wish list includes more Viewliner type sleepers, but just when the order will be placed, and how long it will take to fill it, is anybody’s guess. Although SuperLiners are the best rail cars in the land (in my opinion), the FRA has decided that they do not meet current crashworthiness standards, so it is not likely that any more of that style of car will be built. SuperLiners are a type of construction where there is no center sill, and the buff and draft loads are carried through structural members in the sides of the car. ViewLiners, on the other hand, are just improved heritage cars where the buff and draft loads are carried through a center sill and the rest of the car is just a shell to protect the contents.

  14. Spokker says:

    Having an area for discussion on a blog implies that people should post their personal opinion. “I won’t use it.” is just as valid as any other opinion.

    I just found it funny that he was trolling his own readers in his own comment section on his own blog by “chiding” you for having the audacity to say you won’t ride this train if they don’t include sleepers. Maybe he’ll accuse you of being a foamer that is setting back passenger rail in this country with all your foamer buddies because there aren’t enough black women that belong to NARP. That seems to be his trademark.

  15. patlynch says:

    Spokker, You should be a stand up comic. I enjoy your posts (and Jerry’s too). I am pleased to be making a difference in people’s lives.
    Pat

  16. Mad Park says:

    Nathanael – Had Amtrak stayed true to is charter and not invested nearly all is federal appropriations in the NE corridor running trains that are often lass than half full, they would have instead spent money on keeping long distance cars in service. This was a conscious corporate decision, the ramifications of which are now painfully evident.

  17. Woody says:

    FRA “crashworthiness standards.” That would be a good subject for a lengthy post and discussion. I’d like to learn more.

    I have the outsider’s impression that the FRA is an excellent example of “not invented here” syndrome. Seatbelts? Not invented for rail cars. Air bags? Not invented here.

    Personally, I’m not so worried about getting squished when my rail car gets squashed. I’m worried about my body hurtling over seats and into heads and walls when the car comes to a sudden halt. But I’m not allowed to fasten a seat belt to ease my paranoid fears.

    Meanwhile the Europeans concentrate on reducing the number of wrecks, rather than turning rail cars into tanks on wheels to survive the ultimate impact. Which system is more effective in cutting deaths and injuries per passenger mile? Which is more cost effective?

    And if in fact we move to a n advanced generation of train control signaling based on new-fangled radio, computers, geopositioning satellites, etc., do we really need for the next order for passenger cars to be a modification of the base-model Sherman tank? Couldn’t the new cars be more like Boeing jets, built of light-weight carbon graphite fibers and adhesives and designed most of all not to crash?

    Lots of people here probably know a lot more than I do about all of this. I’d enjoy a full discussion. Probably not here. I don’t mean to hijack this thread about the excellent good news about the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle routes.

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