Actual and potential ridership on the Texas Eagle is an important issue if this route is to be preserved. Amtrak management has argued that the train's ridership is faltering, and that there is no growth potential for the Chicago-Little Rock-Dallas-San Antonio route. However, Amtrak's own in-house computer printouts contradict management views on this train. The only reduction in ridership has been an artificial reduction, brought on by Amtrak management's failure to provide sufficient capacity on the train.
Amtrak's computerized reservation system is capable of generating a Summary of Train [SOT] report, showing the number of passengers on board, as well as the on/off count, for each station on a route. This report reflects the computer system's "picture" of the train; actual passengers on the train may be slightly more (due to last minute walk-up sales) or slightly less (due to no-show passengers), but Amtrak uses the SOT report as an accurate view of day to day train patronage. The SOT totals are expressed as the sum of coach passengers plus sleeping car passengers on board at any given station.
Prior to the demise of the Houston-Dallas segment of the Texas Eagle, the train routinely carried five coaches, with a seating capacity of approximately 375 passengers. Since the discontinuance of that segment in September 1995, Amtrak has limited the Texas Eagle to only three coaches, seating a total of 225 passengers. The train's sleeping car capacity was not affected by the Houston discontinuance; two sleeping cars (total capacity of 84 passengers) operate between Chicago and San Antonio (with one continuing to Los Angeles).
As an example of patronage during the period when five coaches were included in the consist, the following SOT excerpt is representative:
Approximately 50 of the coach passengers on each train (56 on #522 and 48 on #521) originated at points along the Dallas-Houston segment which was subsequently discontinued. Many of these Houston passengers are still being accommodated by Amtrak, however, via an Amtrak Thruway bus which operates from the Houston Amtrak station to a connection with the Texas Eagle at Longview, Texas. In any event, it is obvious that the so-called "Houston" coaches were extensively used to bolster the total train capacity between Dallas and Chicago. Amtrak management's arbitrary reassignment of these cars elsewhere was directly responsible for a significant ridership decline on the Texas Eagle after September 1995.
As a part of the present Texas Eagle discontinuance effort, Amtrak management now claims that patronage along this route does not fill even the three coaches assigned. Amtrak's own SOT reports suggest otherwise. The following summary of SOT reports for 1996 show the point where each train carried the maximum number of passengers. This point, where the train patronage peaks, is the limiting factor blocking other subsequent sales downline. For example, maximum ridership on the Eagle traditionally peaks between Little Rock and St. Louis. If northbound train #22's computer inventory shows "sold out" between Walnut Ridge and St. Louis, it then becomes impossible for Austin or Dallas to sell any more Texas to Chicago tickets, even though some empty seats might be on the train as it passes through Texas.
NOTE: The following ridership figures are excerpts from actual Amtrak SOT reports.
Apr 9 154+63 PBF Station Code: Apr 9 (#22) 206+88 PBF PBF = Poplar Bluff Apr 12 183+62 PBF
2. June 14-July 30 SOT reports were all prepared on April 25 to document developing Summer travel levels. These numbers reflect an amazing load factor considering the advance date. The numbers also prove that Amtrak management had ample warning of the need to assign addition equipment to this train to properly handle the available business. Given these reservation levels in April, the failure of Amtrak management to assign additional cars to this train is absolutely inexcusable.
Jun 14 223+65 LRK Jun 16 210+73 PBF Jun 18 206+65 PBF Jun 21 189+71 LRK Jun 23 222+69 PBF Jun 25 217+70 WNR Station Codes: Jun 28 223+74 PBF ARK = Arkadelphia Jun 30 221+66 WNR LRK = Little Rock Jul 2 221+73 PBF MHL = Marshall TX Jul 5 216+59 PBF MVN = Malvern Jul 7 221+81 PBF PBF = Poplar Bluff Jul 9 226+73 MHL WNR = Walnut Ridge Jul 12 225+69 LRK Jul 14 204+52 WNR Jul 16 204+73 WNR Jul 21 215+67 MVN Jul 23 190+64 PBF Jul 26 220+75 WNR Jul 28 179+58 WNR Jul 30 206+62 ARK
3. For the month of August, two partial sets of SOT reports have been made available for analysis. One set, denoted (**) was run on August 15 to gauge demand for the remainder of the month. A second set was run for random dates within 24 hours of the train operation; these reports are accurate as to train on-board count. The (**) set shows less passengers than ultimately boarded the train because these reports do not include last minute sales taking place in the 8 to 15 day period after these SOT reports were compiled.
Aug 6 (#22) 188+66 PBF Aug 9 219+78 LRK Aug 9 (#22) 226+66 WNR Aug 11 233+61 PBF Station Codes: Aug 11 (#22) 222+47 WNR ARK = Arkadelphia Aug 13 228+62 PBF LRK = Little Rock Aug 16 223+75 PBF MHL = Marshall TX Aug 16 (#22) 226+68 WNR MVN = Malvern Aug 18 224+70 PBF PBF = Poplar Bluff Aug 18 (#22) 226+58 WNR WNR = Walnut Ridge Aug 23 ** 156+54 WNR Aug 23 ** (#22) 196+71 WNR Aug 25 ** 161+56 WNR Aug 25 ** (#22) 183+62 WNR Aug 27 ** 165+47 LRK Aug 30 ** 138+54 PBF Sep 1 ** 170+73 WNRAnytime the coach reservations exceeded 225 passengers, the train was shown as sold out. For numerous dates in June and July, the Texas Eagle was listed as sold out perhaps two months in advance. How many prospective passengers called to make reservations during this period, only to be told that Amtrak was unwilling or unable to accommodate their travel needs? What impact would one or two (or more) additional coaches have made on the balance sheet for the Eagle? Given the obvious demand for service, the prudent course it to maintain service while providing sufficient equipment for the route to prove itself.
Prepared for Arkansas Rail by Bill
Pollard. Email: email@example.com
Posted: Thursday, 5 September 1996.
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