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I ride the Amtrak Downeaster five days a week, commuting into Boston from southern New Hampshire. It's about 90 minutes each way but it sure beats driving into Boston and lets me work for a very fun and exciting startup smack in the middle of downtown Boston.

When i started riding in March the train was typically about 70% full. That's a rough, totally off the cuff estimate from my memory of 6 months ago, but based on how often I had a seat to myself I think it s fairly accurate. In May ridership picked up and trains were often at or near 100% capacity. They said this would only last during the summer. Well, summer is over and it is 5:01pm right now. As the train is pulling away from North Station (as I type this sentence) there are still people looking for seats. I suspect there are people sitting in the Cafe car already, even tho they are not supposed to.

It's about to get MUCH worse. More below the fold.

So, a little background for those of you unfamiliar (or slightly familiar) with the Downeaster line. This is primarily a commuter run designed to ferry people into Boston in the morning and back out in the evening. Including the end points Boston and Portland there are a total of 10 stops and 5 runs in each direction every weekday (weekend runs as well but the weekend is a totally different dynamic and not one I'm familiar with since I only ride during the week.

The primary commuter runs are two inbound runs in the morning and two outbound in the late afternoon. Let's call these M1, M2, A1 and A2 for easy of reference.

M1 gets into Boston at 8:15am
M2 gets into Boston at 10:30am
A1 departs Boston at 5:00pm
A2 departs Boston at 5:40pm

As I mentioned, there are 5 runs in each direction, but for those of us commuting into Boston to work these are the only viable runs, and if you miss that 5:40pm train the next train is at 11:20pm (great if you want to catch a show in Boston but not even a good option for dinner in town before heading home).

Come November 1st Amtrak is adding two new stops on the far side of Portland, extending the line upto Freeport (yay free train rides to LLBean since I am only a monthly pass). Extending the line is good, but it's how they have decided to handle the longer runs which is a problem, and I'll get to that in a moment.

Like many commuters, I ride the M1 train in the morning. Some days I ride the M2 instead, especially if I was up until 1am the night before working on a customer issue or some time sensitive project. The M2 train is a mix of day trippers and office types who can afford to get into the office after 10:30am.

Heading home I try and catch the A1 train so that I can be home in time for dinner. In the rare occasion when I miss the A1 I can always catch the A2. Both the A1 and the A2 have a high concentration of commuters, and I know many people who ride the M1 take the A2 home.

Come October 15th things are going to get interesting.

The M2 and A1 trains will stay essentially the same.
The M1 train will get into Boston about 20 minutes earlier.
The A2 train has been moved to 6:45pm

It's that last part that is the kicker. Those riders who leave the office at 5pm to catch the 5:40 train now will have two voices come October 15th. They can stick around in the office for another hour and catch the 6:45pm or they can cut out a little early and catch the 5pm.

I'm guessing that a very significant percentage of the people who currently ride the 5:40pm train will opt for that second option and move themselves to the 5:00pm train. I'm guessing we'll see close to 25% of the 5:40 riders switching to the 5:00pm train.

Remember how I said the 5:00pm train is at 100% capacity? I've asked repeatedly if we are going to see an extra car added onto any of the trains to address the increased capacity, but to date have not gotten even a hint that this might happen.

Amtrak is not prepared.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (23+ / 0-)

    Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them - Thomas Jefferson 30 July, 1816

    by Roiling Snake Ball on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 02:42:34 PM PDT

  •  The good news is (9+ / 0-)

    people are taking the train. Now the level of service has to be raised to match consumer demand.

    "Political ends as sad remains will die." - YES 'And You and I' ; -8.88, -9.54

    by US Blues on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 02:48:47 PM PDT

  •  Easy problem to solve (6+ / 0-)

    Begin running short express trains to the first major stop that is about 30 minutes from the station.

  •  Instead of increasing service when fuel prices (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock, Aunt Pat, lina

    rise we have seen the service cut nationwide on ALL public transportation.

    Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.

    by Horace Boothroyd III on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 02:52:50 PM PDT

  •  I've always wondered how many people commute (5+ / 0-)

    via Amtrak, especially on the NEC across DC, Philly, and NYC. (I know Boston is the north terminal on the NEC, but it goes to South Station.)

    If you don't mind me asking, how much is your monthly pass? With the lowest NEC NYC–Philly fares at $34 for a one way, I can't imagine how much the monthlies are.

    You must also have an amazingly flexible job that allows you to leave no matter what in order to catch your train. I commuted via NJ Transit around 1 1/2 years ago, and I hated having to wait 50 minutes for the next train because of work. I can't imagine what it's like to have to wait 5 HOURS.

    •  Commuters still make a problem (3+ / 0-)

      They used to get a discount for buying monthly tickets or the like. But Amtrak decided that the short-run passengers were not worth the hassle, on the train or on the platforms. So that's all past and gone, afaik.

      In an emergency, like a weather event or a train breakdown, I believe that usually Amtrak will honor commuter passes and vice versa.

      How many people pay full fare to ride from Philly to NYC or similar, I don't know, but many do it.

      Many commuter trains share tracks in the NEC right of way with Amtrak and to put it bluntly, they sometimes get in the way and slow down the Amtrak trains. The Hudson Tunnel into Penn Station is so full that Amtrak cannot schedule its long distance trains thru during rush hour. In Connecticut, where MetroNorth owns the tracks, its schedules actually hold back the Acelas.

      Part of the huge cost of rebuilding the NEC to handle true HSR will be making separate lines for the local-stopping trains.

    •  Ticket prices (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aunt Pat, mattc129, Odysseus, G2geek

      A one way, single ride ticket for me would be about $30. A 10 ride pack is discounted 50% to about $150 and a monthly pass which will get me from Boston to Portland (and any stop in between) is $300.

      From Boston to my stop is the same as from Boston to Portland so I just buy a Boston to Portland pass. Since I ride at least 40 times a month it works out to a 75% discount.

      And, after subtracting the portion my work pays and taxes I don't pay on the pretax withdrawal my net out of pocket is closer to $170/month.

      Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them - Thomas Jefferson 30 July, 1816

      by Roiling Snake Ball on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 05:18:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wow, and that's for Amtrak?? So inexpensive (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        My NJ Transit pass from Ridgewood, NJ to Hoboken was $223! I guess it's different since I lived within a viable traditional commuter rail system with a lot more service, but still, that seems awfully inexpensive for a monthly.

        •  Oh I agree (0+ / 0-)

          The cost of the Boston/Portland monthly pass is astonishingly low, even nt taking into account the portion paid by my work and the pretax deduction savings.

          Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them - Thomas Jefferson 30 July, 1816

          by Roiling Snake Ball on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 04:31:38 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Sorry. (7+ / 0-)

    All of Amtrack is on Repub slash-and-burn budget cut list. Along with NEA, NEH, PBS, DEd, Headstart, WIC...etc. Idjits.

    Gawd. Think of the jobs, stock market and corporate gains, and oh yeah energy savings, that would come from a nationwide TGV-style rapid rail system. Grrrrr.

    "What everyone wants is a job and some hope."--RFK

    by For Dean in Dixie on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 03:05:40 PM PDT

  •  I love the train. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, Woody, BachFan, G2geek

    I don't have the "luxury" of being able to use Amtrak in a commute (the subway does just fine, though), but it is my favorite way to do regional travel. All the leg space, the scenery, the flexibility to move around, the conversations, and general comfort are very worth it.

    We're going to need more travel demand management as the population continues going up and the environment becomes more and more stressed out by greenhouse gases. This Congress has really done a disservice to public transportation during a much needed time.

    Hopefully minor schedule adjustments will be enough resolve the Downeaster situation though. Funding it to make it happen is kind of the bigger issue it sounds.

    "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~Edward Abbey ////\\\\ "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." ~W.E.B. DuBois

    by rovertheoctopus on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 03:13:20 PM PDT

  •  I love the Downeaster (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, Woody, G2geek

    I only use it on weekends.

    I had heard that they were adding Brunswick and Freeport to the schedule.

    If they expand that to all 5 weekdays, I would consider moving farther north and taking the train from Brunswick to Portland for work.

    I fall down, I get up, I keep dancing.

    by DamselleFly on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 03:17:54 PM PDT

  •  It is a State of Maine train (10+ / 0-)

    Amtrak runs the Downeaster, but Maine calls the shots. Because as I understand it, the State of New Hampshire refuses to kick in to offset the trains' modest operating losses. So while I see your problem, you probably shouldn't lash out at Amtrak when NH citizens are already getting a free ride, if you'll excuse my bluntly pointing this out.

    You should instead contact your NH officials and ask your state to support more trains on this route, or at least to pay for added cars if they can be found. Seems you're not being well-represented by your electeds in Concord -- but you know this.

    However, even if Maine and New Hampshire were willing to put in a little more money to support more runs by the Downeasters, Amtrak probably could not come up with any spare cars for this route.

    The big problem with Amtrak is that we have a national shortage of it.

    Amtrak has suffered from a 40-year-long shortage of money. Of course, that has lead to a severe shortage of cars and locomotives. That results in a shortage of frequencies, with most routes seeing only one train a day each way. And that one often stops in the dark of night (see Cleveland, Cincinnati, Charlotte NC, among others). It means there's a shortage of cars on many of Amtrak's trains.

    And while Amtrak loses money on almost every route, in the same way that the U.S. loses money on every mile of interstate highway, we obviously have enormous pent-up demand for passenger trains and a shortage of Amtrak routes.

    So cities like Phoenix, Columbus, Las Vegas, Wichita, Mobile, Ft Myers, Nashville, Baton Rouge, Boise, Des Moines, Colorado Springs, Louisville, Tulsa, Shreveport, Daytona, Amarillo, Knoxville, Cheyenne, Tallahassee, Ft Wayne, Bethlehem, Macon, Lubbock, Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Las Cruces, Duluth, Scranton, Billings, Biloxi, Dover, and many others -- not to forget Manchester, NH -- do not get any Amtrak service at all.

    Amtrak cannot begin to meet the needs of its passengers until it can grow. To get serious about that, Amtrak must order hundreds of new cars and dozens of locomotives. And it cannot order the needed new equipment until authorized by Congress. What's the chance your two NH Repub House members will help you with that?

    Well, bashing Amtrak doesn't help any. It just goes along with those who hate Amtrak and every other taxpayer-supported service.

    •  there is also the problem with limited tracks (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aunt Pat, BachFan, annan, Odysseus, G2geek, Woody

      Freight trains have priority and with no money there can be no separate track for Amtrak.  Even if there could be a longer train, they have to fit in the timing for the freight trains.  

      •  Upgrades are expensive (0+ / 0-)

        To get the trains up to 110-mph on the big Midwestern routes St Louis-Chicago and Detroit-Chicago, it's costing about a billion on each route, and more work and more money will be needed down the line.

        The State of Michigan used federal money to buy over 100 miles of right of way from Kalamazoo to Dearborn, so with the track upgrades, most of this line will not be troubled by freights. The Illinois route got double tracked for the most part, but it will still share the rails with the Union Pacific.

        Very late in the game, or in this round anyway, New York State was able to lease a nice stretch north of NYC to beyond Albany. Otherwise NY State mostly missed out when the big stimulus grants were made. But if an infrastructure/jobs bill comes along, that NYC-Albany-Syracuse-Rochester-Buffalo corridor is ripe for big improvements.

        Pennsylvania also missed out on a chance to really upgrade the Keystone line to Harrisburg. Now with a Repub Gov, no telling if it will get another chance.

    •  I agree with your comment, (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Railfan, BachFan, Cobbler, Odysseus, G2geek, Woody

      "The big problem with Amtrak is that we have a national shortage of it."
      I commuted on the Capitol Corridor from Auburn, CA to Sacramento, CA from the first day of service.  CC only goes from Auburn once in the moring and a return train in the evening making two stops before reaching Sac.  From Sacramento it goes to San Jose making many stops along the way.  It was a great way to commute and more cars were added as ridership grew.  It was not without perils the first couple of years as UP owns the tracks and thought freight was more important than commuters.  On time stats are very good now and a second train from Auburn will be added in the next year or so.  I have taken this train on its weekend schedule to San Francisco and for those of us that do not enjoy driving in "the City"  it is a great way to travel.  Factoring in parking fees in SF the price of a ticket is affordable.  Now I get a senior discount if I ride mid-week.  I am a strong supporter of Amtrak.  

      Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't.... (then it's on to Plan B or more duct tape).

      by Aunt Pat on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 04:18:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  A few points (6+ / 0-)

      Per mile, NH riders pay more than Maine riders, so it's not quite as simple as you make it out to be. I agree there should be more involvement in the Downeaster from NH but that won't happen until we get the repugs out of office. We are working on it.

      And I will criticize Amtrak for settling on such a poor schedule change. Unless of course they are doing it to intentionally start a fire storm in hope it will spur riders to demand better service from their reps. If that is the case, and it works, then bravo.

      Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them - Thomas Jefferson 30 July, 1816

      by Roiling Snake Ball on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 05:30:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You don't think Maine sets the schedule? (0+ / 0-)

        Maine pays the piper, so Amtrak dances to their tune.

        Like you, I hope there is a clamor for more cars, more trains, more service. But if there is, and the politicians try to respond, they'll still have to deal with Amtrak's 'shortage of everything' problem.

        So Maine will want more coaches and maybe even another locomotive to run trains more frequently. Of course, other states want more for their corridor trains. Amtrak does not have any equipment to spare. It can't run down to the Buick dealer and grab a couple of traincars off the lot, it just doesn't work that way.

        Desperately needed new cars for premium-priced service (130 sleepers, diners, baggage cars, crew dorms) were ordered back in 2009 or 2010, just as fast as the bidding procedures could work. Deliveries will start late next year, 2013, and the order will be completed 2016 -- the end of Obama's second term.

        Obama-Biden-LaHood-Szabo-Boardman -- with some billions of stimulus invested in trackwork and equipment -- have begun to turn around Amtrak in many small ways. Well, we have a start anyway.

        The next big things are to order much more equipment -- dozens more Acela cars for the most 'profitable' route, next generation cars and quick accelerating diesel locomotives for the rest of the system.

        Hundreds and hundreds, over a thousand new cars are needed just to replace obsolete stuff, and another thousand if we really want to see service increased on all the routes.

        If Amtrak can't get permission from Congress to buy new equipment, the Repubs will be able to keep it crippled for years to come.

      •  Fare is fair, after all (0+ / 0-)

        Glad to hear about the different fares per mile, and I feel better about that part. Thanks for the clarification.

        Now here's this, to help you channel your concerns to the appropriate spot:

        The extension of Amtrak’s Downeaster to Freeport and Brunswick, Maine, will begin revenue service on November 1 ....

        Patricia Quinn—executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which manages the service—[spoke] about the Downeaster’s impressive ridership and operating figures.

        "It's a huge milestone," Quinn told the Associated Press. "Really, expanding to Freeport and Brunswick was always part of the plan. When we inaugurated the service in 2001, it was supposed to happen in a couple of years. To make it finally happen is pretty exciting."

        -- from the HotLine of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
        •  good info, thanks (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          The "new Hampshire freeloaders" is something which I've heard a number of times from people in Maine. This looks to me like another example of the "divide the people among themselves" tactic so common in the right wing crowd. As long as we are busy bein mad at each other we won't look at the real root of the problem.

          I'll poke the NNEPRA bear.

          Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them - Thomas Jefferson 30 July, 1816

          by Roiling Snake Ball on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 04:43:12 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  But how to invest in it? (0+ / 0-)

            I'm supposing that the NH politicians think they got it covered. They let the socialists in Maine pay the state subsidy. While in a free market way, they let their citizens pay thru the higher-per-mile ticket prices.

            That would be ok if splitting the operating costs were all there was to it.

            But it's the incremental upgrades where the State of Maine can appropriate funds to, oh, fix the bridge, or lay a section of new track, or refurbish a train station or two. Often enuff the feds require lump-sum matches before giving out grants for such capital investments.  

            It's really hard to see how fare-per-mile could help with that.

            I'd guess the Maine officials are annoyed when they have to handle those projects on their own. So sometimes they might air a complaint.

            Of course, it's unusual to find any two states working really well on any Amtrak project.

            The state's rights and state's responsibility thing that sounds so good in the Repub speeches doesn't work so well in practice.

            Consider trying to get that new tunnel built under the Hudson.

            That new route from Chicago-Quad Cities-Iowa City is being upgraded part way, but it was stopped at the Mississippi by the Repub Gov of Iowa.

            Years back, Amtrak was paid a little subsidy for a train branching off the Crescent line (NYC-D.C.-Charlotte-Atlanta-Birmingham-New Orleans) and going Birmingham-Montgomery-Mobile-Biloxi-New Orleans. It got decent ridership, but then Mississippi pulled the plug, and no way was Alabama gonna pay the whole damn thing. (The casinos in and around Biloxi might dictate a different chapter in that story nowadays.)

            So it isn't all on NH -- or all on Amtrak -- when these things go wrong.

  •  sabotage it to justify shutting it down (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, LilithGardener, G2geek

    I can hear the conservatives now: "Obviously the roads aren't wide enough to handle the number of commuters; why else would people take the train?"

    To those who say the New Deal didn't work: WWII was also government spending

    by Visceral on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 04:03:26 PM PDT

  •  Sounds like crappy UK trains. EOM (0+ / 0-)
    •  what does? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      my service to London takes under 1 hour a ride, has at least two an hour until 11pm 6 days a week, and often four....

      crowded, yes - who drives a car into London when they don't need to?

      so what is your point, Ms Herrera?

      •  The crowding (0+ / 0-)

        Not the frequency. My husband's route is one of these. He often ends up standing for the entirety of his 45 minute commute. I don't blame people for taking the train, I blame the train operators for charging ridiculous fares and then packing people in like sardines. We are not in London.

        •  nor am I - 60 miles away! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          and rush hour trains are crowded in part because they can't get more trains on the tracks at the key times.....

          work from home if you can; put in for flexible hours (eg 10-6) etc if you can; and support development of train tracks....

          saying the trains are crap is not helpful and not blaming the real crap!

          •  Sorry, I stand by my statement. (0+ / 0-)

            Compared to European trains they are pretty crappy and could be a lot better.

            I'm glad your experience has been a good one. I realize that because the train services are run by different train operators, the quality can vary. You may not be in London but you are still commuting into London. My husband does not commute into London. He commutes from Southampton to Bournemouth. I think it's bullshit that he pays for an expensive ticket like everyone else and often ends up having to stand. The service from Southampton to Cardiff is another one, usually only has 3 carriages. Almost every time I've been on it, people stand for most of the way. You can't even get to the toilets because there are people blocking the aisles. This train stops in Bristol, another major UK city. My experiences have not been during rush hour. I don't think there is any excuse for that.

            •  Southampton > Bristol I know well (0+ / 0-)

              there are crappy trains everywhere - and good ones.

              don't generalise, is my point.

              And thanks be, I don't commute - I occasionally travel to all sorts of places, and work from home most of the time.  We need to do more of this, and try to do away with rush hours.

  •  Write Joe Biden! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Greenfinches, Aunt Pat, G2geek

    He would sure understand!  

    I hope this gets sorted out.  

    I would rather spend my life searching for truth than live a single day within the comfort of a lie. ~ John Victor Ramses

    by KayCeSF on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 05:42:13 PM PDT

  •  I've never been able to take the train (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    into Boston. There's a station less than a mile from my house, but all the &*()&^% commuters living in New Hampshire have bought up all the seating months in advance, so I can't make a reservation.

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