October 24, 1996
Mr. Mark Cane, President - Amtrak Intercity Business Unit
210 South Canal Street
Chicago, IL 60606
Dear Mr. Cane:
It is with considerable dismay that rail advocates have observed Amtrak's ongoing failure to add sufficient equipment to the Texas Eagle to accommodate the present travel demand. This train now operates with a fixed consist of three coaches, two sleeping cars, a diner, a sightseer lounge, a dormitory car for crew, and a baggage-mail car. Additional coaches are added between St. Louis and Chicago to protect the short-distance, low dollar tickets generated on that segment of the route, while ignoring the additional long-distance, high dollar tickets which are being turned away due to insufficient capacity between Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth. The issue of Amtrak's improper allocation of equipment for this route has been raised previously, most recently in the September subcommittee hearings chaired by Senator Hutchison. Since you were present at those hearings, many had hoped that some subsequent effort might be made to remedy the problem.
Persons traveling aboard the Texas Eagle between Little Rock and Chicago in recent weeks have found the coaches and sleeping cars to be filled to capacity in each direction. A spot check of upcoming departures of the southbound Eagle from Chicago revealed that most trains were completely sold out, usually between St. Louis and Little Rock. It should be noted that the September-October period is traditionally a "slow" period for most travel modes, as witnessed by the variety of cut-rate airline fares which become available each year during the period between Labor Day and early November. The fact that the Eagle exhibits a strong demand during traditionally light travel periods should speak to the viability of this route.
As you should well know, once a train reaches capacity on any segment of its route, it precludes the sale of many longer distance tickets. [For example, a sold-out train between Little Rock and St. Louis will preclude additional sales of San Antonio-Chicago tickets, even though accommodations might be available for the entire trip except the Little Rock-St. Louis segment.] Amtrak's refusal to provide adequate equipment to meet existing demand over the past year appears to be a deliberate attempt to sabotage this route's economic performance. Identical measures were employed by the freight railroads during the 1960s when those carriers were making every effort to discontinue privately operated passenger trains prior to the creation of Amtrak.
Amtrak's various excuses for not adding cars to the Eagle's consist are not persuasive. The corporate dogma about equipment shortages fails to mention that on many routes, equipment sits idle at endpoint terminals for over 24 hours before returning to service. On the inbound Texas Eagle, equipment arriving in Chicago may sit in excess of 48 hours before returning to service. Considering the cost of equipment, this level of utilization is an embarrassment. No private sector transportation company could survive with such a large percentage of their rolling stock sitting idle for so much of the time. In addition, much of the so-called equipment shortage has indeed been manufactured by Amtrak. The decision to withdraw 46 former Santa Fe high level cars and various "heritage" cars has unnecessarily exacerbated the equipment shortage created by the above mentioned poor utilization. At the same time that Amtrak is refusing to operate these allegedly obsolete cars, VIA Rail Canada has totally remanufactured similar equipment to like-new condition (including cars purchased from Amtrak at "surplus" prices). VIA trains such as the Canadian are universally acclaimed as the premier passenger trains on the North American continent, providing a level of service far superior to anything that Amtrak has thus far been able to offer. VIA's successful experience in remanufacturing 1950s vintage stainless steel streamlined passenger cars for a fraction of the cost of new cars suggests that Amtrak's argument of obsolescence is without merit.
Another Amtrak argument against adding cars to the Eagle involves the necessity of adding an assistant conductor to the train crew if the consist exceeds the present length. Why has Amtrak not approached the United Transportation Union for an exemption from this admittedly questionable requirement, in deference to the Eagle's "hit-list" status? Even if this work-rule exemption could not be negotiated with the union, the additional revenue generated by the added cars would far exceed the additional expenses incurred in operating the expanded consist. In any event, the issue of another assistant conductor would involve only two crew districts (St. Louis-Little Rock and Little Rock-Fort Worth), since excess cars could be dropped at Fort Worth using Amtrak mechanical personnel currently available at that point.
Amtrak continues to state that the corporation's limited amount of equipment could be better utilized elsewhere (with elsewhere seemingly defined as anywhere except the Texas Eagle.) Can you provide irrefutable evidence that all Superliners (except wreck damaged cars) are presently assigned and operating? Cars that sit weeks or longer, allegedly "protecting" consists on various routes, could and should be placed in service generating revenue, not sitting idle gathering rust. Specific identity (car numbers) of serviceable Superliner cars which have been idle for inordinately long periods can be provided if necessary. Once again, the "limited equipment" excuse appears to have been fabricated by Amtrak to justify the corporation's reluctance to properly operate the Texas Eagle.
On October 21 Amtrak announced a "2 for 1" ticket sale on the Texas Eagle and other trains that had been threatened with discontinuance. According to Amtrak reservation clerks, all discounted fares aboard the Texas Eagle have been taken for the remainder of October. Either the demand was so great that the seats immediately sold out upon the publication of the first legitimate Amtrak newspaper advertisement for the Texas Eagle in years (albeit with incorrect fares from Little Rock), or Amtrak's "yield management" system programmed only a very few seats into the train inventory in the first place. If the former is the case, more equipment should be added; if the latter is the case, it amounts to fraud being perpetrated upon the traveling public on this route.
In order to alleviate the shortage of available space on the Eagle, and to allow the train to perform at a level closer to its true potential, Amtrak should immediately institute the following changes to the train consist:
Prepared for Arkansas Rail by Bill
Pollard. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: Wednesday, 30 October 1996.
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