Trains For America

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Passenger Train Journal Sunset Proposal

NOTE TO READERS: The posts in “comments” are very informative concerning the specific PTJ conception of the Sunset.

Passenger Train  Journal enters the expanding conversation over “fixing” the Sunset route in its latest issue by making a few suggestions of its own. My understanding is that the Orlando arrival is early morning and departure is around 11 PM. This has the effect of putting Jacksonville train times at the middle of night.

I am presuming a late afternoon departure from N. O. and early morning out of San Antonio. Again, the out of luck city, I am willing to bet, is Houston.

I am presuming a mid-morning EB run from New Orleans. It would be sheer speculation on train times at Los Angeles. It would be great to hear from somebody who has seen the issue and, respecting PTJ’s copyright, lay out the essentials. After all, it’s their proposal.

Amtrak has spent a lot of time and energy on the Sunset and is suggesting a remedy that gives the entire route daily service. I think we need to give the Amtrak idea preference, but that could be wrong.

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

10 Responses

  1. Yep, HOuston would be out in the cold, and the tail end of a branch line so to speak. The main route of the Sunset would be as-is to ElPaso, but then direct from there to DFW. Another train, which they suggested be called the “Cajun King” would handle DFW to Orlando, by way of NewOrleans, with a fairly long layover in DFW between the two trains, in both directions. The Sunset departure from LA was to be after the arrival of the Coast Starlight and essentially the old schedule as far as ElPaso.
    However, as I said, knowing the neighborhood around the train station in Jacksonville, one knows very well why no late night service has worked in 38 years — in a word — FEAR. Most people who are leaving on the SilverStar, the last train of the day at 11pm, arrive at the depot by 7:30 or 8, and do not leave it.

  2. Eric J. Taylor says:

    The PRJ’s proposal not only cuts off Houston, but also San Antonio. The Sunset would turn east at El Paso go through DFW and on to NO through Baton Rouge. They presently propose NO service at all, east or west, between NO and El Paso. As I read it, all of southern Texas and SW Louisiana would no longer have service. The PRJ implies that some “regional” service could be initiated along the present Sunset route. My question, why not “split” the Sunset going east at El Paso with one section to NO via DFW and the second section staying on the present route to NO and both sections joining up again in NO for the trip to Florida? Both routes deserve study before a rejection of either route.

  3. Mike Schafer says:

    Hey! I’m all for Eric Taylor’s suggestion–and I created the PTJ (not “PRJ”) proposal! But as I see it, Amtrak’s response to Eric’s proposal would be that it doesn’t have enough equipment–and it probably doesn’t right now. Further, I suspect that UP would fight tooth and nail against adding new passenger service to its routes versus just shifting the route to DFW. However, please read my proposal again. I do NOT propose to “cut off” Houston. Rather, Houston is served by a connecting train (i.e., an extended Heartland Flyer) for the Sunset at DFW (and similarly, so is San Antonio)–and in my humble opinion there is no reason that there can’t be through L.A.–Houston cars. (Amtrak will say no, because it is seemingly terrified of enroute train switching and/or combining of trains.)–Mike Schafer

  4. patlynch says:

    Thanks to Eric and Mike!

    Mike is the editor of PTJ and I am complimented by his input.

    Ahhhhh, yes. The Mills Proposal.

    This one goes back a ways, but the PTJ formulation looks a lot like a concept put forward by an excellent Amtrak board member of by-gone days. Mr. Mills envisioned Dallas as an important rail hub. Dallas certainly deserves that distinction.

    As I outline the advantages of the PTJ-Mills concept, please do not take it as an endorsement. I think the Amtrak solution discussed here recently deserves priority.

    This routing is a much faster connection between Los Angeles and Dallas, by 12 hours. It provides a number of connections at Dallas

    The Eagle and the Heartland Flyer would “feed” such a train, and there is always the possibility of Dallas-Shreveport-Jackson-Atlanta service. The connection with the Crescent is an obvious winner.

    This is speculation, but I sense that Amtrak is rather tied down to existing route right now. It appears that there are some operational considerations about opening up a completely new route that seem to pose difficulties. I leave such things to the transportation professionals.

    I think the value of this conception of the Sunset’s marketing area is that of a “next step.” Operating from El Paso direct to Dallas improves the market between the Midwest and the Southwest. The Dallas-Orlando service joins numerous city pairs (and many of those destinations are under served).

    And let us not forget San Antonio and Houston.

    Overshadowing all of this great discussion is Amtrak’s urgent need for stable management and a major equipment order.

  5. Eric J. Taylor says:

    Sorry for the typo. I have been a long time subscriber of the PTJ and support all your magazine stands for. Ours is not a diagreemnent of substance, only how Amtrak should plan from the start. To me, when one cannot go directly from NO to Houston and San Antonio, that is a loss of service. If one has to go through DFW, with the potential layovers, from NO, then I believe they will not take a train but hop on I-10 and drive. That is why I proposed that from the start both options be explored with the intent of picking one now with the goal of adding the second later.
    As to UP I will give my thought of what I would like to see Amtrak do. Since the goal is to keep interference to a minimum, either from freight trains or autos, Amtrak should try to build new rail on former abandoned lines or short lines, as is the case in the Midwest proposal from Indianapolis to Cincinnati and Louisville. Then Amtrak can leave the CSX line (former B&O) from Cincinnati to Indianapolis. However, where the higher speed rail needs to use freight rails, either through the process of eminent domain or tax credits, a second rail would be laid next to the freight line. Then a negotiation can be had between thr freight and Amtrak over either a two-way system can be instituted or the freight can “rent” the Amtrak track when not in use. Just looking over the maps, may railraods had double tracks in many areas, NYC and Pa 4 tracks in some places. Adding 1 or 2 new tracks would help both parties. So if the UP objects to using their rails, build a second next to it between NO and El Paso.
    If we are going to have HSR or higher speed rail we need to be agressive and up front about having dedicated passenger rail as much as possible as in Europe.
    Keep up the good work with the PTJ. I especially liked the report on the 3-C proposal. As a former resident of Ohio and having ridden the old NYC’s James Whitcomb Riley to Chicago, good rail service is really needed again in the Midwest. BTW – I am waiting for someone to propose to close the gap in the Midwest between Columbus and St. Louis and to add a proposal from Louisville to Atlanta and onto Jacksonville.

  6. Bill says:

    The PTJ proposal revives the Mills plan of several decades ago, with a few route variations between Dallas and New Orleans. The Mills plan (named for John Mills — an Amtrak official, but not the board member of the same name) was seriously considered (including operation of test trains) by Amtrak during the era when Graham Claytor and Charlie Luna ruled Amtrak, though a quick scan of the PTJ article suggests that the magazine might have been unaware of that prior study.

    The benefit of the Mills/PTJ plan is reduced travel time between Dallas and Los Angeles. The negative result of the plan is greatly extended travel time between San Antonio to Los Angeles, Houston to Los Angeles, and New Orleans to Los Angeles. The PTJ plan also dismisses rail service along the New Orleans-Houston route (a designated HSR corridor) as well as Houston-San Antonio, unless these segments are picked up by various “regional” services.

    Lets look at the travel time impact for cities beyond or east of Dallas. Current Sunset Limited travel time between Los Angeles and New Orleans is just under 50 hours, and that number is excessive because of padding added to offset UP congestion of past years. The travel time proposed by the PTJ article for Los Angeles-New Orleans service is 58 hours.

    No time schedule is offered by PTJ for the proposed Heartland Flyer extension which would provide “stub” service to Houston, but lets assume for argument’s sake that the train could make the same time as the old Sunbeam during its fastest days — 4 hours, Dallas to Houston. That is drastically faster than the last Amtrak schedule which operated in the early 1990s, and is probably not realistic in the short term without significant track improvements. Even given an optimistic 4 hour schedule, the Los Angeles-Houston time via Dallas is still 8 hours slower than the present overpadded Sunset schedule. San Antonio to Los Angeles travel times are adversely impacted in similar fashion.

    The issue that seems to cause the greatest consternation among those wanting to change the Sunset route is the segment with relatively low population, namely the San Antonio-Del Rio-Alpine-El Paso segment. It is indeed very true that the proposed El Paso-Dallas segment serves a much larger intermediate population along the route than does the current El Paso-San Antonio segment. This population argument does nothing to change the fact that the shortest distance between two points (San Antonio and El Paso) is the present Sunset route through Del Rio and Alpine. That route survived for a century and prospered for much of that time, not because of great population in the Big Bend region of Texas, but because it was the fastest route between east (New Orleans and Houston) and west (Tucson and Los Angeles). That geographical reality is just as true today as it was when the Sunset Limited began in the 1890s.

    It is both unwise and politically foolhardy to advocate removal of passenger train service from ANY segment of today’s skeletal route structure. The intermediate ridership generated by Del Rio and Alpine is one concern, albeit a small part of the total picture. The far greater concern about the PTJ proposal is that it places in jeopardy a substantial part of the current through ridership and revenue of today’s Sunset Limited, by virtue of subjecting those passengers to a trip that is at least 8 hour longer. The PTJ presumption is that the revised route would overcome these losses and still achieve better ridership and revenue. This is a speculative shell game, robbing one segment to favor another segment, and it is a process that most advocates have come to recognize as an improper strategy, regardless of the segment involved.

    Should Dallas to California service operate direct to El Paso, rather than through San Antonio? Absolutely — a pervasive argument can be advanced that the decreased travel time and increased population served would result in a well patronized route. That does NOT mean that New Orleans, Houston and San Antonio direct east-west service should be sacrificed in the process.

  7. MadPark says:

    The possibilities are endless – a through train to/from DC via Atlanta, Meridian, Jackson, Shreveport, DFW to El Paso with through cars to/from LA on a renewed Orlando to/from LA Sunset? Having these two trains as single level (Viewliner 2.0 after about 2014?) trains would free up Superliners for the more northern Chicago to CA and Pac NW trains where they are sorely needed. Throw another US$13B in the pot Mr LaHood!

  8. DOTUN says:


  9. Douglas L. Weiskopf says:

    I got into this a little late, but it seems to me that the biggest problems faced by the Sunset in Texas are the inadequate tri-weekly schedule and the ludicrous middle of the night scheduled stops both directions in Texas’ biggest tourist destination, San Antonio, and east-bound in Houston. My proposal is to leave the Sunset’s route the same, but make it a daily train and tighten up and shift the schedules: approximately 8 hours later leaving LA eastbound, and exactly 12 hours later, leaving New Orleans around midnight westbound. This provides good times through the routes largest population centers in Texas. Then I would schedule a regional train from Dallasconnecting with the Sunset in El Paso, instead of San Antonio.

  10. Paul McGuffin says:

    If the Sunset starts running to DFW, from Sierra Blanca (90 miles east of El Paso), look for Union Pacific to abandon the Sierra Blanca, Marfa, Alpine line to Del Rio.
    Actually, the two trains idea is good. If the Feds wanted to spend the money, they could, but they wont. Social programs get votes not AMTRAK. I mean, just think about it, they should rebuild the Phoenix to Welton (Yuma) line and start running a daily train from Phoenix or Tucson to the LA basin. That would also allow AMTRAK to service Phoenix again, the 9th largest city in the country.

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