As part of Amtrak's growth plans for the Texas Eagle, this route is expected to gain a fifth Chicago-Texas-California frequency within the next few months. It had originally been hoped that the Surface Transportation Board ruling on Amtrak's express initiative would have been handed down prior to the start of this service, but the STB's preoccupation with the ongoing Union Pacific disaster "Gridlock in Texas," has overshadowed most other issues.
In order to take advantage of the high ridership levels traditionally experienced during the Summer, Amtrak should add the Eagle's fifth frequency effective with the May 17, 1998, timetable change. This addition would bring the Eagle to a frequency of five days per week, significantly improving the marketability of the route. The fifth frequency will operate as the Texas Eagle - California Service through to Los Angeles, in the same fashion as the fourth frequency which began operating on February 6, 1998. This increased frequency will be in keeping with Amtrak-Intercity's President Lee Bullock's pledge to make the Eagle daily as soon as possible. Although daily service is indeed the ultimate goal, five day/week service will provide a significant improvement for passengers trying to schedule trips on this route.
The days of operation for the fifth frequency should be carefully chosen, in order to maximize revenues and best take advantage of existing travel patterns. Two options are under consideration: (1) departing Chicago on Sunday evening and returning from Los Angeles on Wednesday evening, and (2) departing Chicago on Monday evening and returning from Los Angeles on Thursday evening. The second option is more convenient for train operating crews on the east end of the route, in terms of minimizing lengthy layovers, but the mid-week operation effectively schedules the train on what are traditionally the lightest travel days of the week. The first option thus appears to be much better in terms of passenger utilization. The Friday night northbound operation from Texas and Arkansas was historically the heaviest travel night when the Eagle operated daily, because of the common desire of many passengers to begin their trip after work on Friday. The southbound trip, with a departure from Chicago on Sunday afternoon, provides a popular "end of the weekend" departure from Chicago, with a Monday arrival in Arkansas and Texas.
Four weekly trips of the Texas Eagle - California Service have been operated to date, and each trip has experienced sold out sleeping car conditions. This strong demand for first class accommodations will be spread over the other days of operation once through sleeper (and coach) service between the Eagle and Sunset is restored on May 19. Until that time, given the strong demand for sleeping car space, it would seem desirable to add a second sleeper to the Eagle-California Service inventory to capitalize on even higher traffic levels traditionally encountered over the next several months due to various spring breaks and Easter.
As the Texas Eagle continues to grow, several options for restructuring of the Eagle and Sunset product lines have been suggested. One version modifies the Texas Eagle product line to extend from Chicago to San Antonio to Los Angeles, with the Sunset Limited product line being reorganized to concentrate on traffic between Houston, New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida. Another option simply shifts jurisdiction of the San Antonio station to the Eagle product line, based on the reasoning that San Antonio is a terminal station for the Eagle but only a pass-through station for the Sunset. A third variation proposes shifting responsibility for the San Antonio station now, and extending the Eagle product line to Los Angeles if and when the Texas Eagle-California Service trains are rerouted over the former T&P direct route west from Fort Worth to El Paso and Los Angeles. Any restructuring of route responsibilities should be carefully reviewed, but might well be advantageous to both routes.
Prepared for Arkansas Rail by Bill
Posted: Thursday 5 March 1998.
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