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At the beginning of last month, Paul Druce of "Reason & Rail" discussed the possible impact of the pending upgrade of the Amtrak Acela route in Acela II is the path towards Amtrak operational self-sustainability:

The forthcoming Acela II isn’t just supposed to be significantly faster than the current Acela service, cutting 24 minutes from the scheduled time between Washington and New York and 38 minutes between Washington and Boston, but it will also represent a significant boost in capacity. ...

With an increase in seating capacity, Amtrak will be able to garner significantly more revenue, even if it lowers the price of Acela seating somewhat. This added revenue comes with no significant increase in operational cost and quite possibly a lowered cost, as there should be a higher rate of availability and lowered mechanical costs for what is essentially an off the shelf train, along with significantly lower energy consumption. With current averages for occupancy and passenger revenue unchanged, an Acela II train service could see $742 million in revenue, with $447 million in operational profit.

This will have an even larger effect upon Amtrak’s financial deficit than initially appears because starting in FY2014, the states bear a greater responsibility for the short distance train corridors. This had the affect of reducing Amtrak’s FY2014 budget request to only $373 million for the operating grant; 2013’s appropriation, by contrast, was $442 million.

Note that what Paul Druce refers to as "operational profit" is what I have been calling "operating surplus" in the Sunday Train, the surplus of revenues from operations over operating costs. This is nothing like an operational profit, at present, since a profit is a financial benefit from a difference between revenue and costs, and there is nothing in the current organization of the Acela services that make a surplus on their operations into a distinctive financial asset for any purpose ... whether public or private.

Whether or not all or part of this operating surplus should be made into an operational profit is a question that goes to the heart of what is the purpose of Amtrak. The way that this surplus is spent can be the means to service a range of ends ... but what are the ends that are a legitimate use of these means?

Since Amtrak was established, and exists, as a political compromise, this is not a question about what is the proper "End" for Amtrak activities, but what are the proper "Ends" for Amtrak activities.

The Amtrak Tripod

Amtrak originated, and survives, as a political compromise, with both operational and political complementarity between the three legs of the Amtrak tripod:

  • The Northeast Corridor, with operating surpluses overall and quite substantial capital requirements, for Maintenance of Way, for rehabilitation to a State of Good Repair (making good a promise originally made in the 1970's), and for upgrades to contribute an even more substantial share of intercity transport in a region where the per-mile costs of road capacity expansion can be enormous;
  • The State Corridors, with some large metropolitan areas provided with a range of services, some metropolitan areas enjoying one or two valued services, and many metropolitan areas receiving no service at all, previously operating under a range of cost-sharing arrangements reflecting Administration and Congressional philosophy regarding Amtrak at the time the service was established, but recently moving toward a common cost-sharing formula, with federal capital subsidies for most state corridor located outside of the Amtrak budget; and
  • The Long Distance services, with substantial operating loss ratios, operating as a combination of skeleton service retaining a vestige of diversity in our long distance intercity transport system dominated by much larger road and air services receiving much larger operating and capital subsidies, and with quite limited needs for ongoing capital subsidy.

The Northeast Corridor is a fundamental concern to the economic health of most of the states through which it travels. Indeed, the majority of trains traveling on the Northeast Corridor are commuter railroads. As discussed in Railway Age in June of 2013,

The states of Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia currently pay less than full-cost recovery user charges for those commuter trains’ access to the Northeast Corridor. Agreements in place vary considerably as to cost recovery, and Amtrak is a minority user of the corridor it owns.

On the 456-mile Northeast Corridor linking Washington, D.C., with Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, Amtrak operates only 153 trains daily, while commuter carriers operate more than 2,000 trains daily.

Interestingly, freight railroads that operate 70 freight trains daily over the Northeast Corridor do pay Amtrak full-cost recovery under negotiated contracts.

Now, train counts can be as deceptive as trip-counts when comparing longer distance trains and shorter distance trains, but note that even if the average Amtrak route is ten times the length of the average commuter railroad route on the NEC, the majority of route-miles would still be on commuter railroads.

So the current arrangements on the NEC are an implicit subsidy of commuter rail operations in these eight states. There is a currently ongoing process to develop a formula under which commuter railroads using the NEC would pay full cost recovery, but while this would result in an increase in the financial performance of the NEC, there is a substantial risk of an economic loss if cash-strapped states are forced to cut back commuter rail services, generating increased use of our heavily subsidized road network ... and of course, increasing financial pressure on these same states.

The state corridors are heavily clustered, which helps explain the impetus for the states served bearing the full operating costs of these services. There is a cluster of services in the Northeast that operate onto the NEC, often originating and terminating in NYC, a cluster of services in the Great Lakes and Midwest originating and terminating in Chicago, the three Amtrak California services (Capital Corridor for Northern California, Surfliner for Southern California, and San Joaquin connecting Northern California and the San Joaquin Valley, with a bus extension from Bakersfield into LA), Oklahoma's Heartland Flyer from OK City to Fort Worth, TX, and the Cascade Corridor serving Washington and Oregon.

Some of these corridors were legacy services that were inherited by Amtrak from freight railroads in meeting prior community service obligations, while others were either established or expanded by states by agreement with Amtrak, which helps account for much of the uneven cost sharing. For instance, if three subsidized legacy corridors have been operated by Amtrak with one service per day, and three different states contract with Amtrak to provide additional service, with each state covering the pro-rata share of operating costs for the new services, the result will be:

  • 0% state cost share in a state that does not add any state subsidized services;
  • 50% state cost share in a state that adds a second, state subsidized service;
  • 75% state cost share in a state that adds three, state subsidized, services; and
  • 87.5% state cost share in a state that adds seven, state subsidized, service.

At the time of arriving at each contract, each state is making the same underlying deal ... "we'll cover the cost of the extra services" ... but the end result is a quite uneven distribution overall. And since the details of the cost sharing in each case depends upon specific contracts as negotiated at different points in time, there will be a wide range of difference as to what costs are included and on what basis.

This was the landscape that "PRIIA Section 209" aimed to reform. One major hurdle to overcome was how to treat those services operating on a few sections of Amtrak-owned corridors, where costs of actual Maintenance of Way spending was substantially higher per route mile than the majority of corridors where freight railroads charged fees for the use of freight corridors by Amtrak. A second was how to charge overhead costs, where states preferred fixed percentage charges with Amtrak bearing the risks of unexpected increases in overhead costs ~ and receiving the financial benefit of improved productivity in overhead operations. Once agreement was reached on a formula for an "as if access fee" for Amtrak-owned corridors and Amtrak agreed to set percentage overhead charges, most states reached agreement with Amtrak regarding the cost-sharing formula.

Indiana objected to the agreement, though without offering an alternative, and the legislation was written with an eye toward agreement by all states ... while at the same time giving Amtrak a hard deadline for completing agreements to operate short corridors under the new cost sharing agreement. So Amtrak took the agreement with the majority of states with short corridors to the Surface Transportation Board, which approved it for use. In October, 2013, Indiana reached an agreement to keep the Hoosier State corridor from Indianapolis to Chicago in operation, with the majority of the money for the state share coming from the cities in Indiana along the corridor.

The Long Haul corridors are the fifteen Amtrak services with routes over 750 miles:

  • The Northeast Corridor to Chicago trains ~ the Lakeshore Ltd from NYC and Boston to Chicago, the Capital Ltd from DC to Chicago, and the three-per-week Cardinal from NYC to Chicago via WV, Kentucky and Indiana;
  • The NYC to Southeast trains, discussed last week ~ the Silver Meteor and Silver Star to Florida, the Palmetto to Savanna, GA, and the Crescent to Atlanta and New Orleans, and the "land ferry" Auto Train from Northern Virgnia to Florida;
  • The Chicago Western Trains ~ the Empire Builder to Seattle and Portland, the California Zephyr to San Francisco via Denver, the Southwest Chief to LA via New Mexico, the Texas Eagle to Forth Worth and San Antonia; and the City of New Orleans to New Orleans;
  • The remaining Western trains, the Sunset Limited between New Orleans and LA and the Starlight (often called "Starlate") from Seattle to LA via Portland and Oakland.

The same legislation that required Amtrak and the states to arrive at a cost-sharing agreement for short corridor services required Amtrak to study ways to improve the financial and customer service effectiveness of the long haul corridors. The result so far has been modest improvements to the best performing trains and a number of quite more substantial improvements to the worst performers held back by the costs of supporting capital upgrades, according to the host freight railroads, and the unwillingess of Congress to increase total operating subsidies in pursuit of substantial reductions in operating loss ratios and substantially smaller subsidies per passenger mile.

Of course, a tendency to refer to long distance corridors by their end points combined with hazy memories of long distance train travel before the rise of air travel often gives a misleading impression of what the point of the long distance routes are. End to end patronage only accounts for a minority of service, with an average trip of 600 miles, which, depending upon transit speed is a trip of 12-20 hours. So much more common than end-to-end trips are trips between larger metropolitan centers along the corridor and trips between smaller rural areas and larger metropolitan centers.

 
The Core Compromise

The core political compromise that created the Amtrak system was between the representatives of the large, densely populated metropolitan areas of the Northeast Corridor, middle sized urban centers that relied upon corridor trains to gain access to larger metropolitan centers, and those rural areas relying upon long distance passenger trains as an important part of their access to intercity transport.

The model under which passenger rail service had been provided in much of the country was by mandating passenger rail service as a requirement for operating a railroad on a corridor, which meant that passenger rail service was effectively cross-subsidized by freight rail operations. However, after World War II, we embarked on our long project of providing massive subsidies to air transport and road transport, with substantial cross-subsidies from passenger to freight transport on our motorways laid on top of the overall subsidies to road transport, so subsidy-paying freight railroads that paid full cost plus property tax for their infrastructure were placed into competition with subsidy-receiving road freight that paid only a minority share of their largely property-tax-free infrastructure.

So the post-WWII era represented a long retreat by freight railroads from general freight into the heavy bulk commodity freight where their real cost advantage was so substantial that they could not be overcome by the massive subsidy advantage enjoyed by road freight. And part and parcel of that retreat was that the freight rail system became less and less suitable for the provision of effective conventional rail passenger transport.

Amtrak involved picking up the pieces of the destruction of the foundations of the original passenger rail mandate system with an agreement that if the freight railroads would allow Amtrak to use their corridors, then Amtrak would take over their mandated responsibility to provide passenger rail service.

Of course, over time Amtrak shifted from being a makeshift effort to rescue as much as possible of the benefits of the status quo passenger rail system to itself representing the status quo, so that even as levels of service funded by Amtrak ebbed and flowed with changes in political tides in Washington, we saw the accumulation of the state-subsidized corridor services, and the establishment of the formally-HSR-but-effectively-Rapid Rail "Acela" system in the Northeast Corridor.

Which is the context in which we encounter the question of what to do with the types of operating surpluses projected for the upgraded Acela II services.

As noted by Paul Druce, these surpluses could push the entire Amtrak system close to an operating break-even. On 2013 operating costs of the national train system of about $2,83b, and operating revenues of about $2.39b, that requires an operating subsidy of about $435m (or less than $1.40 per person). However the operating subsidies of the short corridor leg is being substantially reduced, so that simply pooling operating revenues and operating costs between the three legs is, in effect, a transfer from Northeast Corridor operations to long distance rail operations.

Indeed, if we were to go beyond the Acela II system to the $20b NEC High Speed Rail corridor proposed by Alon Levy, the appeal of that passenger service would likely place Amtrak in a position of operating surplus as a whole ... even as intercity rail as a whole would still likely require, and merit, substantial capital subsidies.

So, under the current institution of making an operating subsidy request, for all three legs, and a capital subsidy request, for all three legs, the de facto distribution of operating surpluses on the Northeast Corridor is:

  • Nearly 100% to long distance rail operating losses, through to breakeven; then
  • To be directed to capital investment or other spending, at Amtrak's discretion including the pressure or opportunities established by whatever level of capital subsidy Congress agrees to provide.

Is this the best way to allocate this operating surplus?

 
A New Division of the Spoils

If we were to turn the operating surplus on the NEC corridor into an operational profit, by putting it into a distinct flow of funds with programmed revenue shares ... how should we program the revenue shares? (Note that this is a thought experiment, since I am not aware of any existing powerful interest group that is pushing for this conversion from operating surplus into operational profit to be made.)

The first split is between the NEC, which generated the operating surplus (as a return on decades of capital subsidies) and the rest of the system. The system of giving every dollar of surplus from the NEC over to partially cover operating losses of the balance of the system, primarily the long distance rail system is problematic. One of the major problems is that it acts an incentive for cost padding withing the NEC system ... with the comparison of Alon Levy's price tag of under $20b for a 4hr Boston to DC system versus the Amtrak price tag of $150b+ for a 3hr Boston to DC system being a possible example in the differences in mindset between "what costs are required" and "what costs can we find a justification for?"

The split itself is largely arbitrary, but the simplest arbitrary split to explain is the 50:50 split. "Equal shares" carries a sense of being fair. Of course, it often drives a fight to determine who counts as an equal party to get a share, but the current status quo creates a notional two party transaction, with the NEC as contributor of the internal cross-subsidy as one notional party and the rest of the National Train System, as beneficiary of the internal cross-subsidy, as the other.

Within the NEC portion, I would dedicate the bulk to investment in capital improvements, and the balance to defray operating costs of the commuting rail services sharing the NEC. Obviously what "the bulk" amounts to is also a bit arbitrary, but I would suggest an 80:20 split as a starting point.

For the rest of the national system, I would put the bulk into a fund for capital improvements on long distance Amtrak corridors that would contribute to reduced operating losses. However, I would set aside a share for an FRA-administered fund for feasibility studies and environmental impact assessments for improved or new intercity rail corridors. The purpose of this fund would be to build up a national "shelf" of profits that could be pursued in four to ten year timelines as opposed to the twelve to twenty year timelines that presently face corridors without planning already in progress.

Again, what "a portion" amounts to is a bit arbitrary, but I would start with the same 80:20 split as in the NEC share.

Now, this system would mean that Amtrak as a whole would not get "close to" operating break-even as under the status quo system, in which every dollar of NEC operating surplus goes toward operating losses elsewhere, which is largely operating losses of long distance trains.

On other hand, a large part of the prospective value of the long distance rail network is the insurance value of keeping the corridors up and running, in the event that it becomes important to substantially increase our reliance on long distance rail transport. We know that we are going to be facing emergencies over the coming half century, given our multiple, collective decisions over the past three decades to allow the Climate Suicide Club to continue the drive to catastrophe. Having ongoing operations on the corridors currently in use provides some service of substantial importance to a number of smaller communities along the corridors themselves. However, the most valuable service on a national basis is the effective insurance due to continuing to operate the corridors.

Given an insurance premium of under $1.40 per person, where a large part of that premium simply offsets the competitive impact of the massive subsidies given to road transport, I am not persuaded that cutting that insurance premium as low as possible as fast as possible is the highest priority use of the operating surplus on the NEC.

In the notional scheme presented here, 80% of the operating surplus is re-invested in capital works, 10% is devoted to defraying the cost of operations on the NEC by the large number of commuter operations using the line, and 10% is devoted to building up our shelf of completed feasibility studies, approved Tier I Environmental Impact Studies, and approved Tier II Environmental Impact Studies and Preliminary Design and Engineering for intercity rail projects across the country.

On Paul Druce's figures, that would yield about $100m to each capital fund and $25m to the smaller funds (a little more, given that Paul Druce looks at the Acela alone, and the NEC regional also generates an operating surplus, though smaller). $100m annually to service 5% coupon bonds would be a capital value $1.5b over 20 years.

However, on his projection of Acela II operating surpluses, that would rise to about $300m/yr per capital fund (which could fund $4.5b in bonds with a 5% coupon over 20 years) and around $75m/yr to the two smaller funds.

And I would expect all four streams of funding would be better spent than simply shifting long distance service operating losses from national funding to being funded by surpluses drawn from passengers on the Northeast corridor.

 
Conclusions & Considerations

As always, the end of the Sunday Train essay is not the final word, but the invitation to start the conversation. Remember that any aspect of sustainable transport policy is fair game for conversation.

However, note that having spent some hours writing about this topic, I may tend to see some other topic as being a commentary on this one. Therefore, please flag that you are raising a different topic when doing so, such as with "NT" for "New Topic" in the subject line.

Originally posted to Sunday Train on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 06:05 PM PST.

Also republished by Climate Hawks and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Rec'd. Tipped, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      thanatokephaloides, BruceMcF

      And Subscribed To Your Home Page, BruceMcF.

      So True.

      Populist movements don't build themselves.

      (Although the outcome, does count. Learning is very important. No one starts out knowing how to do something).
      It doesn't matter what the "horse race" outcome of the campaign is, if we fight the campaign. Fighting it, we learn how to fight. Learning how to fight political battles, we become citizens again. Becoming citizens again, we reclaim the Republic that lies dormant beneath the bread and circuses of modern American society.
      2014 Action Alert/Even More Political Activism Needed ♥ It Will Be A Very Busy Year/Voting Info

      I Love Trains. Trains work well. These new trains are for sure the way for the future.

      Faster than driving, more comfortable than flying.

      Amtrak's Website

      Brought To You By That Crazed Sociologist/Media Fanatic rebel ga Be The Change You Want To See In The World! Gandhi

      by rebel ga on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 11:51:19 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I question the implication in this sentence, (7+ / 0-)

    which I only provide the ending of for clarity:

    " so subsidy-paying freight railroads that paid full cost plus property tax for their infrastructure were placed into competition with subsidy-receiving road freight that paid only a minority share of their largely property-tax-free infrastructure."
    These railroads were built with the subsidy of a MILE WIDE swath of land along their routes (square mile blocks on alternating sides of the track, in actuality). The return from this land was surely far more overall than the return for hauling freight. Railroad companies continue to benefit from this massive initial subsidy to this day. To say that unsubsidized rail had to compete with subsidized trucking is absurd in historical context - both industries initially received massive government subsidies to create the infrastructure.

    Bringing it bact to the topic of this diary, in return for all this land, the railroads were required to provide passenger service "in perpetuity." You state:

    Amtrak involved picking up the pieces of the destruction of the foundations of the original passenger rail mandate system with an agreement that if the freight railroads would allow Amtrak to use their corridors, then Amtrak would take over their mandated responsibility to provide passenger rail service.
    and so you recognize that there was a "mandate". It was generous of the government to take over the provision of passenger service when it was no longer "suitable" (profitable) for the rail companies to comply with that mandate. It was even more generous that the government decided to pay for this passenger service with taxpayer subsidies, instead of relying on that massive land base that was to provide a subsidy for passenger service "in perpetuity."

    Perhaps if we taxpayers are expected to pay to provide pasenger service, the rail companies should return, or reimburse us for, all that land we gave them in payment for this service.

    •  the land grants (12+ / 0-)

      were generous, perhaps overly generous. Certainly there was a great deal of corruption in the process of building railroads westward from the Mississippi through land populated only by the Native Americans to California (and as the Plains Indians caused problems for the construction of the Union Pacific they were swiftly killed or herded into reservations).
           But no profit-making company could have or would have built even one transcontinental railroad as a speculative venture. The government had gigantic amounts of land and relatively little money and little experience apart from the Civil War in running a railroad. The land grant system followed logically. Since the railroads made settlement on the Plains in massive numbers and economic activity on a gigantic scale from the Sierras to the Mississippi possible, the benefits were by no means all to the railroads.
           The railroads agreed to carry U.S. troops at a reduced rate, and indeed moved millions of soldiers during World War I and II at a bargain price. So how do you do the accounting for all that?
           What is clear is that, as Bruce has written, post-World War II policy was to tax the railroads, regulate the life out of them, and then build and maintain highways with tax money. Given this, it is not surprising that the railways came near collapse by the late 70s, and that Amtrak was created as a fig-leaf to disguise the "inevitable" death of passenger rail. But despite all the attempts to kill it, Amtrak and passenger rail are still alive.

      "Something has gone very wrong with America, not just its economy, but its ability to function as a democratic nation. And it’s hard to see when or how that wrongness will get fixed." Paul Krugman and Robin Wells

      by Reston history guy on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 07:45:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  All this is true (4+ / 0-)

        but does not really address the core issue - rail companies have in the past, and continue to, amass huge quantities of wealth from the assets, and the profits on the assets, provided to them in exchange for passenger service. So why are they not providing this service, whether or not it makes them money?

        •  not being a legal historian (10+ / 0-)

          but rather a generalist, I cannot say with confidence that there was an explicit guarantee of passenger service in exchange for the land grants. My impression--possibly mistaken--is that the land grants were made on condition that the companies involved actually laid track. As far as I know, it never crossed the minds of anyone in the late 19th or early 20th century that a railroad company might not wish to carry passengers. Now later in the 20th century, when the railroads began to try to shed their passenger services, the ICC often prevented them from doing so. But I do not think that the ICC's rationale was a quid pro quo for the land grants, but rather the public interest. Even so, by 1971 only a handful of passenger routes remained, and had Amtrak not been created the ICC would have--sooner or later--consented to the disappearance of the rest.

          "Something has gone very wrong with America, not just its economy, but its ability to function as a democratic nation. And it’s hard to see when or how that wrongness will get fixed." Paul Krugman and Robin Wells

          by Reston history guy on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 08:07:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I believe that some communities on Granger lines . (4+ / 0-)

            ... had to fight to retain passenger service in the late 1800's ... that was one of the issues that made the High Plains populists later supporters of reforms like the ICC.

            And in the turn of that century and early 20th century, it was an ongoing issue with interurbans that had been established to sell property in a development, which was more in the nature of the developers moving on and the interurban that had originally been established as a property-selling loss leader sometimes struggling to survive.

            The nature of rail is that there is a lot of scope to conserve on cash flows by skimping on maintenance of way ~ the practice that underlay the poor state of repair of the NEC when Amtrak took it over ~ and often the fact that the interurban was not running on a financially sustainable basis took a decade or more to become evident.

            Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

            by BruceMcF on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 10:32:48 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  i'd expect those land grants were long ago sold (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          thanatokephaloides, BruceMcF, Woody

          off.

          The Railroads of the 19th century had billions in land grants.

          They spent them.

          Hence the phenomenal wealth of the Gilded era.

          we can only plan with what we got today.

      •  If you haven't read Stephen Ambrose's (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elfling, thanatokephaloides

        Nothing Like it in the World get a copy sometime.  It's quite the history.  The skulduggery around the project would rival Halliburton.

        If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

        by marykk on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 10:31:19 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Most if not all railroad operating companies (10+ / 0-)

      have been separated from their land grants by reorganization in bankruptcy. I certainly believe a railroad with the right of eminent domain, priority at crossings, etc., does need to be regulated as a common carrier, including providing or funding passenger service where sensible, but the land grants are so long ago as to be meaningless when talking about late 20th century truck competition.

      It's also worth noting that passenger rail was rarely profitable without external benefits, such as development of suburbs (usually related to streetcar lines, not land grant railroads) or advertising (bigwigs rode the trains and were more likely to ship their product using a company they received good service from).

      warning: snark probably above

      by NE2 on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 08:01:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  So you are saying that ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      terrypinder, thanatokephaloides

      ... post WWII, freight railroad operators received MORE benefit in terms of Right of Way than road freight shipping companies?

      IOW when making a relative comparison, a benefit that both sides of the comparison received in equal measure, the relative comparison does not change whether it is included or set to one side to focus on the differences.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 08:57:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, the railroads obviously received the subsidies (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Bisbonian, thanatokephaloides

        much earlier.

        But the financial benefits of those subsidies - the land, the timber, the return on the profits they earned selling these resources - continue to this day.

        Even if the assets were later separated from the liabilities.

        •  Actually, by now most of the ... (5+ / 0-)

          ... financial benefits have been bundled into prices paid to acquire the railroads, so the remaining benefits from land distributions are primarily in the form of inherited wealth of the heirs of those who sold out.

          This is especially the case of the eastern Class I's, Norfolk Southern and CSX, where even if there were some corridors that were originally owned by the railroad upon which the Class I was built, the large majority of their track was acquired as part of a process of corridor buyouts and railroad mergers.

          Its like the taxi medallion problem, where issue of taxi medallions lagging behind demand lead to an increase in the value of taxi medallions, but that is not a windfall gain to the person who buys into a taxi company after the increase in medallion value ... from their perspective, they paid a market price for the medallion, and it is included as part of their cost of operations.

          Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 10:26:39 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  As always, rigorous work. Nicely done. (5+ / 0-)

    Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

    by TomP on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 06:56:08 PM PST

  •  Would be nice if the EB delays (5+ / 0-)

    Were reduced if not eliminated.  BNSF is really dropping the ball. Shafting Amtrak for damned oil trains.

    •  Dropping the ball or not caring (9+ / 0-)

      One way to create more room for profitable freight is to make the passenger service so unreliable (for instance 24 hour delays due to derailments) that people don't risk it. Then on some future day there will be "less demand", justifying even fewer passenger routes and more capacity for oil and coal.

    •  Facing capacity constraints ... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, Kasoru, patbahn, thanatokephaloides

      ... much of the Northern Transcon is facing capacity constraints and, as noted, status quo freight is not intrinsically compatible with effective passenger transport. BNSF does not screw over passenger rail in the way that UP often does, but we would need a Steel Interstate rapid freight corrider for long distance trains to run without delays when traffic starts to press against capacity.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 08:48:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yet another reason to cut oil usage. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BruceMcF, Kasoru, thanatokephaloides
      •  cut oil usage (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TomFromNJ
        Yet another reason to cut oil usage.
        Which requires that more passenger rail transportation be available -- and used, which mandates both high quality and low cost to the consumer.

        In my humble opinion, the only way to do that is to restore (or first-time impose, as historically applicable) the mandate that private freight railroads supply passenger service at reasonable consumer cost throughout their operating ranges, whether the service itself is profitable or not. Where land grants used to serve as incentives, cut the rail lines some tax slack now. But make it happen.

        And localities need to go back to rail-based local transit, too. Buses are serious oil wasters and polluters. We need our interurbans and streetcars back.

        Most oil wastage comes from the inherent inefficiency of frictional steering.

        Anyone who doubts the factuality of that last statement can show me a critter with a steering wheel which can haul a ton of something 200 miles on a single gallon of oil at reasonable speed. As the Norfolk Southern commercials remind us, trains do that routinely. And the movement of passengers is no different (and with respect to oil, can be made more efficient still by the use of electrified trains).

        "It's high time (and then some) that we put an end to the exceptionalistic nonsense floating around in our culture and face the fact that either the economy works for all, or it doesn't work AT all." -- Sean McCullough (DailyKos user thanatokephaloides)

        by thanatokephaloides on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 06:52:22 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Requiring the financially infeasible ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          thanatokephaloides

          ... is unlikely to work. However the same system that would allow us to shift a large portion of long distance trucking to rail would also enable substantially improved Rapid passenger rail service.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 08:41:41 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  feasability (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            BruceMcF

            Bruce McF said:

            Requiring the financially infeasible is unlikely to work.
            As your own diary (the one we're commenting on) correctly pointed out, the sole reason my suggestions are financially infeasable for modern private railroads is that the railroads (today unsubsidized and fully taxed) are having to compete with heavily subsidized and relatively lightly taxed automobile and air traffic. These subsidies, in turn, are essentially making it cheaper to consume ever more oil per person.

            To repair this, simply repair the imbalance. Start by reducing or eliminating many forms of real property tax on the rights-of-way in exchange for restoration of traditional passenger service. (For just one example.)

            However the same system that would allow us to shift a large portion of long distance trucking to rail would also enable substantially improved Rapid passenger rail service.
            It would also place the railroads on more of a carload-or-less footing than they are today, which would also make traditional passenger service more feasable while keeping it cost-attractive for the consumer.

            We agree on the essential point here: Rail passenger service (preferably directly railroad operated) needs to be restored, for a variety of reasons. The railroads have successfully done it before. We only need to restructure the taxation/subsidy system so they can do it again.

            "It's high time (and then some) that we put an end to the exceptionalistic nonsense floating around in our culture and face the fact that either the economy works for all, or it doesn't work AT all." -- Sean McCullough (DailyKos user thanatokephaloides)

            by thanatokephaloides on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 11:57:43 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Its a leap from ... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              thanatokephaloides

              ... one reason its financially unfeasible to the sole reason its financially unfeasible. The effort to establish that as a mandate on railroads also runs into the fact that the current bulk freight markets that they presently specialize in are far less lucrative on a ton-mile basis than the delivery-time-sensitive and delivery-speed-sensitive single truckload freights that are the bulk of long distance freight on a dollar-value basis, so that as currently constituted

              And if the same reforms that would make it feasible to impose those services as a community service obligation would also make it feasible to operate long distance trains and corridor trains on a much larger number of corridors at net operating break-even, then it would seem simpler to provide the services directly rather than as an indirect tax-in-kind on passenger railroads.

              Indeed, if we had one half the political clout required to (1) strip out the hidden and cross subsidies to road freight and (2) gut the bulk of industrial property tax receipts of thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of small rural communities across the country, we would have the clout to establish substantial interest subsidies for the bonds required to establish Steel Interstates as publicly owned infrastructure on the existing right of of way.

              Among the various strategies that I have considered over the years in this series for establishing a Steel Interstate (all of them presently out of reach) my preference would be for the approached that are easier to get to.

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              by BruceMcF on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 08:41:28 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Coming at this from a different industry... (5+ / 0-)

    Wondering how Amtrak/rail measures revenue and costs by route/train?  I'm used to revenue per available seat mile and cost per available seat mile.  Airline industry here.

    •  Amtrak gives both ... (7+ / 0-)

      ... psenger mile and seat mile figures in their monthly performance reports.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 10:39:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Beware (4+ / 0-)

      The apparent seat mile comparisons are not real or correct.

      Amtrak measures revenue per available seat mile from end to end. So a trip from Chicago to the SF Bay is measured as one unit. But actually, very few passengers travel end to end. Each line is different, but roughly 4 out of 5 passengers only ride shorter segments. Typically, a seat will have about three or more different occupants going end to end on a long distance train.

      On the California Zephyr, Chicago to the SF Bay area, the largest single number of passengers ride the Chicago-Denver section of the route. Then in Denver, other passengers get on board to enjoy the mountain scenery, but then get off at Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, or Salt Lake City. Many seats remain empty until Reno, when the train fills up again.

      Amtrak counts those empty seats between Glenwood Springs and Reno among the available seats, of course.

      But airlines count things differently. Fly from Chicago to Denver. Get off, change to another plane, fly to Reno, Sacramento, SF Bay. That hour or two on the ground at Denver International Airport is not counted in the airline definition of available seats; only time in the air is measured.

      So a direct comparison is a false comparison.

      •  but that's still a seat mile. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        thanatokephaloides

        say you go NY to LA,  and a passenger changes 3 times.
        you sold 3 segments.  for a totold of 3*SegmentPrice/Distance.

        •  A published number? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          thanatokephaloides, BruceMcF

          Do any airlines publish available seat miles for a three segment, uh, uh, what? The three segments each have different costs: different planes used, airport costs, distances dictating how much fuel is burned reaching altitude vs how much at cruising altitude, etc. If the passenger uses three different planes, what are the available seat miles to compare to the revenue seat miles?

          I can say that in recent years, under Amtrak President Joe Boardman following the PRIIA law, much more information measuring Amtrak's performance is published. By most of the metrics, Amtrak is doing better, so that makes full disclosure easier to do. :-)

      •  The seat miles is a capacity measue ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Woody

        ... the pax-mile is a use measure.

        And, yes, on a non-stop air rout, the ratio of seat mile to pax miles is just the ratio of filled seats when it takes off, while the ratio on a train is a weighted average of load factor on each segment of the corridor.

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        by BruceMcF on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 08:32:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Grow to improve the ratio (0+ / 0-)

          One simple way to improve the ratio of revenue (sold) seats to available (empty) seats, is to add more corridor trains to the long distance routes.

          The Background

          The State of Virginia, with old-fashioned bipartisan support btw, decided to subsidize additional passenger service.

          Many Northeast Regional trains after finishing a SB run 'sleep' overnight in D.C. to run NB the next day. By extending the run of one of these trains down to Charlottesville and then Lynchburg, where the train would 'sleep', equipment was available. Thereby sharing some of the train's costs with the NEC, Virginia and Amtrak figured to do this extension with only a modest yearly subsidy.

          The chosen route on the western side of the state was politically perfect (other Amtrak trains already ran thru Richmond or down to Newport News). It also overlapped the established route of the long distance Crescent, to Atlanta and New Orleans, so there was a ridership base.

          The extended Regional was an immediate success. Ridership quickly blew thru the forecast levels, and the expected subsidy-requiring operating losses disappeared.

          The AmtrakVirginia Regional, sometimes affectionately called "the  Lynchburger", leaves Lynchburg NB at 7:38 a.m., 1hr 42min after the Crescent passes thru (allowing another hour of quality sleep LOL). It arrives in D.C. at 11:20 a.m., 1hr 27 minutes after the Crescent, still giving plenty of time to meet someone for lunch.

          The departure and arrival times of the Crescent work OK for a morning trip to D.C. and an evening return. The slightly different schedule of the Lynchburger works much better, including an evening return arriving at 8:36 p.m. while the SB Crescent passes thru at 10 p.m.

          Many Crescent riders from Lynchburg and Charlottesville defected to the Lynchburger with its more convenient schedule. Tweaking the fares -- raising them from these Virginia stops while the Lynchburger fares are always kept a few bucks cheaper -- gently pushed other short-distance riders off the long distance train.

          Now to the Point

          Because Amtrak seats are sold first come first served, if a passenger buys a ticket on the Crescent from Charlottesville to D.C. or beyond, Amtrak has to keep that seat reserved. It's only open for sale to riders getting off at Charlottesville or points south, e.g., Birmingham, AL-Charlotte or Atlanta--Goldsboro, N.C. As the Crescent filled up, customers couldn't reserve a seat from, say, Atlanta to D.C. or NYC, because those seats were full north of Lynchburg.

          (It's as if an airline couldn't sell you a seat from Tulsa to L.A. with a change of planes in Dallas-Ft Worth, because the plane is full from Tulsa to DFW. The airline answer to this problem is multiple frequencies on almost every route. And if everyone wants to leave on the first flight out of Tulsa, the airline's computer raises fares on that leg so that people will adjust and take a later flight with unsold seats.)

          Enticing Virginia riders onto the Lynchburger and pushing them off the Crescent opened up seats nearer to D.C., allowing Amtrak to sell more of the more lucrative long distance tickets to D.C. and the other NEC cities.

          So the apparent "competitor", the Lynchburger, actually increased revenue on the Crescent! And by sharing the costs of a few stations -- Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Manassas, etc. -- the Lynchburger corridor train shaved some costs for the long distance Crescent.

          Amtrak needs a lot more growth of corridors like the Lynchburger, and the recently added Norfolk train, and to grow the frequencies to airline levels where possible, to improve the results of its long distance trains.

  •  This diary inspired me to check prices (7+ / 0-)

    For taking the train instead of driving or flying for my annual vacations. For one destination, slightly cheaper, comparable time to driving. For the other, youch more expensive! And three times as long!

    •  Yes, it will vary widely ... (6+ / 0-)

      ... though the individual break-even depends on how you count wear and tear on your car, if there is paid parking at the other end, and how much you value the time lost driving. As well as trending up when gas prices climb.

      Also, when number of seats are below demand due to underfunding rolling stock, there will be fewer discounts available to those with flexibilty over the packed out part of the corridor, while discounts may be available on the same train in a lower demand part of the route.

      But I was cautious about suggesting that the current skeleton system serves a massive current transport need for the $1.40/person we spend on subsidizing those operations. The point about supporting diversity is that different elements serve different people's needs.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 04:59:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Certainly I expected wide variation. Doesn't (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BruceMcF, thanatokephaloides

        help that to go from MO to CO requires either a 4 1/2 hour bus ride, or changing trains in Chicago. The California Zephyr route looks fun.

        •  Indeed, that's it ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          thanatokephaloides

          ... they try to set the prices for the Amtrak through buses on a cost basis, and the tickets are largely per mile, so when a particular trip is a lot of miles out of our way, the price of the trip goes up in line with that.

          The NARP vision would include a route from KC to Omaha, which would make a trip from Missouri to Denver and one connecting from Denver south to the Southwest Chief route, so between those alternatives, there would likely be a substantially more straightforward trip.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 10:09:28 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  NARP (and its affiliate ColoRail) (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            BruceMcF, Woody

            Thank You!

            ... for the NARP link, which also turned me on to the Colorado Association of Rail Passengers (ColoRail) webpage.

            :-)

            "It's high time (and then some) that we put an end to the exceptionalistic nonsense floating around in our culture and face the fact that either the economy works for all, or it doesn't work AT all." -- Sean McCullough (DailyKos user thanatokephaloides)

            by thanatokephaloides on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 07:05:12 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  The Zephyr route is very fun (4+ / 0-)

          I wrote a diary about it several years back:

          http://www.dailykos.com/...

          When you consider the time and cost of train versus air, take the time to consider the shuttle bus and parking for your specific destinations. For example, for me to travel to Southern California costs less on Amtrak than it does just for the shuttle bus legs, and Amtrak happens to have stops a few minutes from each end.

          The train is a very comfortable place to work with few distractions, also.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 11:02:12 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Competition (5+ / 0-)

      Simple economics says that adding one more competitor to a market will tend to lower prices.

      For even fairly short airline markets, Amtrak may or may not be a real competitor, depending, as Bruce said, on route by route differences, like total trip time, departure or arrival times, if connecting transfers are required, etc.

      But in some markets -- Springfield, IL to Chicago, or from Lynchburg, VA to D.C. or Philly, for example -- better Amtrak service lowered airline prices considerably.

    •  What is your time worth? (5+ / 0-)

      Remember, for most of us, driving time is wasted, a cost, while riding time, with our electronic gadgets and Wi-Fi, can be valuable time, for work or play.

      However, while Wi-Fi is now available on all corridor services, like St Louis-Chicago, it is not available on LD services like the Texas Eagle, San Antonio-Dallas-Little Rock-St Louis-Chicago. You can grab a few minutes online using your fancy phone at stations and thru cities, but you can't count on it for much time.

      Retrofitting old passenger cars for Wi-Fi is not so cheap or easy. If Amtrak is able to order the thousands of new cars it needs under the Fleet Renewal Plan, we'll probably get Wi-Fi on all the new cars.

      •  If you have a cellular data card (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        thanatokephaloides

        you can keep service on some of those routes, but not necessarily on all. Of course, wireless from the cars would be far better all the way around.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 11:04:22 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  shouldn't be that hard. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        thanatokephaloides

        dial it into the car, put 4G cell and satellite broadband.

        Sell it with the seat.

        •  Somehow its hard (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          thanatokephaloides, BruceMcF

          Far away from my knowledge base here, but I know the Amtrak system is based on land towers along the route, nothing satellite. A unit installed in one car, such as the lounge car, picks up the signals and passes them on to the other cars. Anyway, it has cost Amtrak some money, worth it since it is so popular, and it has been upgraded.

          I don't have a cellular data card, but as I understand it, a few hours on a train can drain your allotted monthly free time.

          Whatever its flaws, the Wi-Fi service is getting better, and 85% of all Amtrak passengers can get it almost all the time. But not the long distance passengers, not for now.

          •  Satellite would be ... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Woody

            ... satellite to towers along the route and transponders along the corridor ... lot more investment per mile for mostly one train per day each way than the mobile 4G based solutions, so at the very least you'd do the easier before doing the harder.

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            by BruceMcF on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 08:15:33 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  the long haul trains (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Woody

            are going through very empty terrain on rail corridors not highways.

            very hard to justify investment into towers.

            But satellite broadband wouldn't be too hard.

            For the sleeper cars, you don't need a lot, just enough
            to keep people happy.

            •  Given the difference between ... (0+ / 0-)

              ... text and video bandwidth demands, and the difference in tolerance of email / text chat / twitter versus streaming video and audio to drops in internet access (as in going through a tunnel), you could have a hybrid system with a selection of streaming movies & other streaming content hosted on a server on the train and a mini-VSAT providing a modest amount of external bandwidth.

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              by BruceMcF on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 09:41:00 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  or a small caching server (0+ / 0-)

                that figures out you want "Netflix", loads it when it can,

                and then a fast response on text/email...

                •  That kind of pre-caching ... (0+ / 0-)

                  ... can be done for an entire movie or season of a television show, by agreement with the streaming service, where with the transport most commonly used for licensed media, you are limited to a fraction of a minute ahead.

                  That would work with a system with relatively low bandwidth mobile satellite internet and substantially higher bandwidth available at stations, through a land connection or fixed satellite internet ... the server could "call ahead" to have the next station  pre load a collection of material which can then be block loaded through a high capacity link when the train gets to the station.

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                  by BruceMcF on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:52:08 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  you usually start at a urban area, and you are (0+ / 0-)

                    en route,  plus, people can bring along a few DVDs
                    for the kids,  or the server can be one of those
                    hotel services which caches popular movies and
                    say "20 games"...

                    •  That latter is what I was originally describing .. (0+ / 0-)

                      .... the route starts in an urban area, but a substantial share start in or run through a more lightly poulated area, especially on routes with shorter corridors on a portion of the route, selecting for both longer trips and trips in the more lightly poulated areas on the long distance trains.

                      In any event, simplest would be a deal with Netflix and possibly a premium movie setvice for a rotating selection of movies & TV series & a collection of fladh games on the in-board WiFi when running through a dark zone.

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                      by BruceMcF on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 12:32:35 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

      •  wifi service (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Woody, ModerateJosh
        However, while Wi-Fi is now available on all corridor services, like St Louis-Chicago, it is not available on LD services like the Texas Eagle, San Antonio-Dallas-Little Rock-St Louis-Chicago.
        You probably will never get it in miles 50-56 west of Denver on the California Zephyr, either......

        ......sniquorsnark

        :->

        "It's high time (and then some) that we put an end to the exceptionalistic nonsense floating around in our culture and face the fact that either the economy works for all, or it doesn't work AT all." -- Sean McCullough (DailyKos user thanatokephaloides)

        by thanatokephaloides on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 07:11:35 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sometimes . . . (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          thanatokephaloides

          . . . and some places, we're supposed to look at the scenery, dammit, and not at that glowing screen. LOL.

          West of Denver is surely one of those times and places.

          •  west of Denver (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Woody
            Sometimes . . . .

            . . . and some places, we're supposed to look at the scenery, dammit, and not at that glowing screen. LOL.

            West of Denver is surely one of those times and places.

            Not during miles 50 to 56.   :-)

            (Did you click the link, perchance?)

            "It's high time (and then some) that we put an end to the exceptionalistic nonsense floating around in our culture and face the fact that either the economy works for all, or it doesn't work AT all." -- Sean McCullough (DailyKos user thanatokephaloides)

            by thanatokephaloides on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 03:15:50 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Didn't click it (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              BruceMcF, thanatokephaloides

              Sorry. My bad. So I missed your joke.

              The Wikipedia article was very interesting.

              Aren't there many bottlenecks between Denver and Salt Lake? The Rocky Mountain scenery section could be a candidate for a second Amtrak train, but iiuc the UP says there's no room at all for even one more train. Anyone in Colorado talking about new tunnels etc to add capacity?

              •  For connecting those centers .. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                thanatokephaloides

                .. the northern route via Cheyenne might be the easier to improve.

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                by BruceMcF on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 12:29:57 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  Cheyenne (0+ / 0-)

                Woody said:

                Aren't there many bottlenecks between Denver and Salt Lake? The Rocky Mountain scenery section could be a candidate for a second Amtrak train, but iiuc the UP says there's no room at all for even one more train. Anyone in Colorado talking about new tunnels etc to add capacity?
                As far as I know, the answer is no. Why? Because there are other problems. The Denver and Salt Lake (Moffat Road) west of Rollins Pass/Moffat Tunnel has several passages where a single track was blasted into the cliff side along the Colorado River. (Example: Byers Canyon) This railway was finally completed with the completion of the Dotsero Cutoff in 1934. Environmental laws in 1934 (and before) were far more lenient than today's environmental laws. The likelihood of the Union Pacific to get authorization to blast even more right-of-way out of these passages for double track or sidings is essentially nil. Without these expansions, drilling new or larger tunnels in the Moffat Road's Tunnel District isn't worth the Union Pacific's while.  (Or the mega-dollars.)

                Also, as Bruce McF pointed out:

                For connecting those centers the northern route via Cheyenne might be the easier to improve.
                The lands between Cheyenne and Salt Lake City are a far better candidiate for railway expansion. They are considerably cheaper to obtain than Colorado mountain lands; railroad expansion in this part of Wyoming and Utah isn't likely to trigger any environmental objections as the current railroad right-of-way is essentially an overlay on unmodified natural terrain; and there's already a railroad there, so the UP could plead "little or no additional environmental impact". And the UP could probably get any additional land it would need for the added right-of-way for a comparative song. The land in question has no appreciable surface water resources, which is why there was ever a transcontinental railway due west from Denver at all during the steam era. Railroading was harder through the mountains, but those same mountains provided the clean surface water those steam engines needed. Much of the land due west of Cheyenne is BLM land today because they couldn't give it away during the Homestead Act era (1863 - 1976). So the Feds (BLM) still own most of it; they'd be willing to sell it cheap (especially if Wyoming's representation in Congress pushed for it); and building any railway expansion would be about as cheap as it can get.

                However, those lands are useless for scenic tourism. They are arid shortgrass prairie almost completely devoid of geologic or biotic features. Good for hauling coal; bad for passenger trains full of folks wanting to see stuff.

                "It's high time (and then some) that we put an end to the exceptionalistic nonsense floating around in our culture and face the fact that either the economy works for all, or it doesn't work AT all." -- Sean McCullough (DailyKos user thanatokephaloides)

                by thanatokephaloides on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 04:37:32 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  There are plenty of train routes that (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    terrypinder, thanatokephaloides

    Should be able to beat the airlines.

    I would think any run under 90 miles would clearly be best by train if the train.  

    Is the problem that the airlines own the politicians?

    •  The problem there is that ... (5+ / 0-)

      ... not that much of air travel is in that range. The trips are primarily competing against our subsidized road traffic, and while those road traffic subsidies are entrenched, numerous and often hidden, the matching subsidies for rail transport are normally open and requiring action by one or more level of government. And as we've seen in California, sometimes facing negative propaganda equal in measure the the amount of road and air spending that they will save.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 04:49:34 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The sweet spot (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BruceMcF

      When the train trip can be made in 3 hours or less, the train will beat the airplane. At the current Amtrak average speed of less than 60 mph, that's about 175 miles. Speed up the train, with stretches up to 110 mph, to get an Acela average speed of 80 mph LOL, and you're looking at 240 mile distances.

      But a corridor that takes "only" four hours end to end, e.g. Cascades with 187 miles Portland-Seattle, can thrive. Upgrading underway on the Cascades route will cut 10 minutes out of the 4 hour trip. They plan to add two more trains to the four now running to handle the added passengers expected. (Note that this route features "hundreds of curves" making upgrades to faster times very costly.)

      On the Wolverines corridor, Chicago-Kalamazoo-Ann Arbor-Dearborn-Detroit, for 281 miles the trains take about 5 hours or more. After the current on-going set of upgrades are completed, the trip time will be about 4 1/2 hours. Another billion invested in the infrastructure could get it down below 4 hours. Then another billion or so could get trip time down to 3 1/2 hours. (The biggest sums will be spent getting speeds thru ChicagoLand up from a crawl, but those improvements will help five -- as of now -- Michigan trains and two LD trains, the Lake Shore Ltd and the Capitol Ltd, offering a pretty good bang for the buck.)

      •  One note to include there is that ... (0+ / 0-)

        ... a corridor that is 4hrs end to end through almost anywhere in the eastern US offers a large number of trips 3hrs or less, with the middle half of the corridor featuring under 3hr trips along the entire corridor in both directions. So with the Wolverine, or the Ohio 3C Rapid Rail version or the Columbus / Chicago or the Chicago / St. Louis, any analysis that ignores that there are people living in the middle half of the corridor would be way off on the viability of the corridor.

        In the simplest abstract case, a 4hr corridor with 9 evenly spaced stations (1/2hr apart) ~  has 28 distinct trips that are 1-4 hrs ... only three of them are longer than 3hrs.

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        by BruceMcF on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 12:27:45 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Harrisburg-Pittsburgh (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BachFan, thanatokephaloides

    has yet another study due out this spring. I'll keep you posted.

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility. uid 52583 lol

    by terrypinder on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 05:24:58 AM PST

    •  Thanks, I've been checking on the status of ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      thanatokephaloides

      ... Keystone West every month or two since I first learned they were studying it.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 10:17:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Good luck (4+ / 0-)

      What this route needs is NYC-Philly-Harrisburg-Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago.

      The middle cities between the megacities get lousy arrival and departure times. The Lake Shore Ltd and the Capitol Ltd have to fit their times to the best hours for departing or arriving in Union Station in D.C., or Penn Station in NYC, or Chicago Union Station. To stop in Cleveland in daylight instead of midnight, we need a whole 'nuther train.

      Corridor service, starting with even one more frequency of the Pennsylvanian, would be good, but Pittsburgh and Cleveland would both benefit from a longer route as well.

      A short corridor train or another long distance train will not come cheap at all. Probably billions (with an 's') for infrastructure upgrades to make even one more train possible on this busy freight line.

      Unfortunately, because NS says its route Harrisburg-Pittsburgh is FULL, the needed upgrades probably can't be done incrementally over several years and several budgets. Taking the hit at once will be a heavy blow to PennDOT or even the federal budget line for passenger trains.

      Hope we do see progress here sooner than later.

      •  that would require cooperation with our neighbor (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        thanatokephaloides, BruceMcF

        states. i can pretty much predict what this study will say.

        Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility. uid 52583 lol

        by terrypinder on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 11:41:14 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  States rights (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          thanatokephaloides, BruceMcF

          The worst idea in PRIIA was to let individual states have veto power. It only takes one crazy governor -- Scott Walker in Wisconsin comes to mind -- to mess up things for all the others.

          But a route like this, over 750 miles long, would not be a state-supported line. It would be a new Amtrak train. That would require Congress to allow an exception to the rules, or to change the rules.

          While politics remains poisonous for passenger rail, all the trend lines for Amtrak itself are good: growing ridership, better on-time performance, Wi-Fi and eTicketing, new equipment coming on, upgrades to key sections of right of way, lower losses, etc. So in a few years it just could be possible to start a few new routes.

          •  except Amtrak recently dropped (0+ / 0-)

            the Keystone West subsidy. It's entirely state-supported now. The service almost died but it apparently has more fans in Harrisburg than people thought.

            Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility. uid 52583 lol

            by terrypinder on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 04:43:22 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Not an Amtrak decision (0+ / 0-)

              Congress ordered that all routes under 750 miles have to be state-supported, in the PRIIA law passed in 2006 iirc. Other states were jealous that NY State, Michigan, and a couple of others, had routes <750 miles that the feds paid for. But other states that started corridors after Amtrak Day back in 1971 had to pay all or most of their costs. So Congress leveled the playing field, and of course, moved the costs out of the federal budget onto the states.

              NY State picked up the costs of two trains to Buffalo and the Maple Leaf to Toronto if it wasn't paying for it already. It was already paying for the Adirondack to Montreal and part of the Ethan Allen to Vermont. Michigan picked up the costs of 5 corridor trains.

              Other states like Indiana whined and whined. Yeah, poor Indiana: The Lake Shore Ltd and the Capitol Ltd pass across its northern tier making several stops; four Michigan trains make at least one stop en route; another LD train the Cardinal NEC-Cincinnati-Indianapolis-Lafayette-Chicago  passes thru all of 3 days a week LOL; Amtrak's major repair facility is in Beech Grove; and if the Siemens bid clears, Cummins will be making hundreds of diesel engines in the state. But the state didn't want to pay for a train to run Indy-Chicago on the 4 days a week that the Cardinal doesn't run.

              And Pennsylvania? One station on the NEC with a hundred trains a day. And the Keystone East Philly-Lancaster-(York)-Harrisburg continues to improve. Last I paid attention, the Keystone corridor awaited investment on the SEPTA segment of the tracks.

              So the Pennsylvanian, I want it to succeed. I was impatient with your Gov for his posturing, as I'm sure you were as well.

              But in any case, Amtrak didn't do it. Congress done it.

        •  As far as co-operation, ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Woody

          ... given the political decision to polarize the Quickstart in Ohio, it would take a Democratic governor in Ohio and a shift in the balance of power in the State legislator.

          Given limited line capacity on the Keystone West corridor, if Ohio did develop the Pitt / Youngstown / Cleveland corridor and the Toledo / Detriot corridor, cooperating with Michigan to extend a set of cars from a Wolverine onto a Detroit / Pttsburgh service connecting to a Qpennsylvanian service.

          Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 07:54:59 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  ... dang tablet ... (0+ / 0-)

            (... that's when I really need a comment edit function ...)

            ... might offer the equivalent without requiring the fight in Congress to get a new long distance "NEC / Chicago via Philadelphia and Pittsburg" long distance corridor approved.

            But that hinges on improvements in transit speed and level of service on the Keystone West, since 8:05pm Pittsburgh arrival westbound and 7:30am Pittsburgh departure eastbound implies Yet Another Evening Train east out of Chicago and Yet Another Morning Arrival west into Chicago. And the current Pennsylvanian already trades cars with the Capital Ltd, Chicago/DC.

            If there were capacity and speed upgrades that would allow a train set to run the Keystone West each way per day, as a morning train one way and an evening train the other, that would also allow the midday frequency to return at night as a sleeper service, so from two trainsets providing one service each way, Pennsylvania could go tp four trainsets providing three day services and one sleeper service each way.

            Given the mooted Ohio political flip allowing the Toledo / Detroit link to be built, the scheduling of that kind of sleeper service could certainly connect to Chicago by extending a Wolverine through to Pittsburgh. The sleeper cars themselves could take the trip Chicago / NYC by switching trains, as the Capital Ltd cars from Chicago to NYC do by switching onto the current Pennsylvanian.

            Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

            by BruceMcF on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 09:36:27 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Acela II and the ARC tunnel. (4+ / 0-)

    Now that Chris Christie is toast, as a national candidate
    is there any chance of resurrecting the ARC tunnel?

    It seems to me, there are a couple of big issues for the NEC if you want to make it into an efficient service.

    1)  ARC Tunnel: it's my understanding the current access into Penn Station is a mess, small, old, decrepit, obsolete.

    2) Deficient HSR corridor through CT and MA. If they fix these corridors and electrify to HSR spec.

    3) deficient  bridges in CT.

    it always struck me as Amtrak needs the ability to run one fleet of Highliner cars anywhere they want and they need the ability to run Acela Fast and straight.

    what's the cost of doing that, and what are the obstacles?

    •  For some of those points ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      patbahn, spacecadet1, Woody

      ... follow that link to the "$20b NEC HSR" essay. Amtrak was not actually slated to use the ARC tunnels, but is advocating the parallel Gateway project which would interlock with the original Penn Central Hudson River tunnelsa.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 08:00:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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