SUPPORT AMTRAK - INVEST IN AMERICA'S INFRASTRUCTURE
It was a beautiful day in Wells, Maine, on October 22, 2018. I was in a pretty bad mood because my trusty Honda Accord had decided to periodically not start and at this point was sitting in the station parking lot awaiting AAA. After that and the musings of Amtrak management I welcomed the chance to grab some shots of the Downeaster at work.
First, there was the cheerful station, bedecked with Halloween decor.
Then Northbound #683, in a canopy of fall colors way down the line, spot on time at 2:53.
Then Southbound #686 on time at 2:59. All went like clockwork. The trains were gleaming and clean in appearance. Further good news is that PanAm work on the tracks is due to be over as I write this and two more round trips will be added.
Oh, as for the Honda, it spent two days in a Honda service center in New Hampshire, where nobody could figure out why we have starting problems. That will have to be done down where I live in Massachustts....where compared to the Downeaster our commuter rail trains border on being a practical joke....dirty windows, track changes that leave passengers isolated, and new apps that won't download. And now winter is coming. lol.
Camera: Sony HV90
Photos and text by Ron Goodenow. Please do not republish. . For more of Ron's Friends of Amtrak Photo Gallery please CLICK HERE
|Sadly, on October 28, 2018, Ron Goodenow passed from this life. Those of us who knew him personally are deeply saddened but will always remember Ron as very special human being capable of so much love, warmth and life. The train and photographic community has also lost a good life long friend. Amtrak has lost a champion. Rest in peace, my friend. We will miss you. This photographic gallery will remain as a testimony to your commitment to passenger train travel as well as your fine artistic photographic skills. --Craig S. O'Connell|
Generally, children from 2 to 15 are half-fare when traveling with an adult.
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Is Amtrak becoming like the airlines? (Reprinted from USA Today)
by Bill McGee, Special to USA TODAY Published 5:00 a.m. ET Oct. 24, 2018
For years I’ve been traveling to the nation’s capital to represent airline passengers before Congress, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration. And I often get there by train. That’s not a punchline or a cheap shot, just a simple recognition that for me – and millions of others who live along the Interstate 95 corridor – Amtrak is the quickest, easiest, least stressful, most productive and often cheapest mode to get from Connecticut to downtown Washington. The same is true in many other communities nationwide.
But like many other riders and consumer advocates, I’ve started to note “airline creep” working its way into Amtrak’s policies, pricing, fees and service. It’s little wonder, since the former CEO of Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines is now the CEO of the nation’s train line. So it’s also little wonder those of us who love riding the rails are now asking: Is Amtrak turning into a low-cost airline?
Planes to trains
In July 2017, Amtrak’s board appointed Richard Anderson president and CEO, after he previously served as the CEO of first Northwest and then Delta and oversaw the merger of those two carriers. Three months later former Continental and Northwest executive Tim Griffin was named Amtrak’s chief marketing officer; then an ex-Northwest and Delta officer was tapped as Amtrak’s chief safety officer. Other former Delta execs now head up the “passenger experience” and “product development & customer experience” departments.
To be sure, many rail riders no doubt are happy with several recent innovations, including new meal options, upgraded Wi-Fi and even Dunkin’ Donuts coffee onboard. But what’s interesting is that Amtrak has been defining itself as NOT being an airline, even while emulating one. In September 2017, shortly after Anderson’s arrival, the rail line launched a new marketing campaign entitled “Break the Travel Quo” that dissed air travel by touting Amtrak’s ample legroom and freedom to use electronic devices with no “airplane mode.” The campaign took aim at airlines by specifically assailing other travel “rules, restrictions, additional fees and shrinking legroom.” And that drumbeat has continued; just last month Amtrak posted an ad on Facebook touting “2 free checked bags” and “0 middle seats.”
Such advantages are what make Amtrak the travel mode of choice for me and so many others. A report from the Congressional Research Service in September 2017 titled “Amtrak: Overview” found the following: “By some measures, Amtrak is performing as well as or better than it ever has in its 47-year history. For example, it is carrying a near-record number of passengers, and its passenger load factor and its operating ratio are at the upper end of their historic ranges. On the other hand, Amtrak’s ridership is barely growing at a time when other transportation modes are seeing ridership increases.”
However, that passenger load factor – the percentage of occupied seats – has been inching up from the 51 percent mark in last year’s report. The latest stats, which reflect the year to date through July, indicate loads are at 58 percent for both the national network and its crown jewel, the Northeast Corridor. Of course, such news is a paradox, since fuller trains are good news for executives, investors and even taxpayers, but bad news for passengers in crowded train cars. That said, the typical domestic airline cabin is both more crowded and more profitable. Average passenger loads for the domestic airline industry haven’t been below 58 percent since 1977; what’s more, there are no middle seats on Amtrak – yet.
I reached out to riders and advocates alike and asked if the rhetoric has matched the experience. Time and again, I encountered Amtrak customers worried about the company’s new direction. Especially since President Donald Trump has called for “drastic cuts” to Amtrak’s budget, with elimination of service to more than 220 cities in 23 states, as I noted here in January in “Eight disturbing travel trends you’ll confront in 2018.”
“The concerns about changes being made under Richard Anderson’s regime at Amtrak are real,” says Charlie Leocha, president of nonprofit Travelers United. “The railroad experience is moving in the direction of airline service.” He’s echoed by Kevin Mitchell, a frequent Amtrak rider and chairman of the Business Travel Coalition: “I believe that Amtrak and its customers are not faring well under the guidance of former airline executives. After the radical consolidation of the U.S. airline industry, the current crop of executives … were schooled in increasing confusing fees and shrinking seats.”
Here’s a summation of the issues that most concern customers who want Amtrak to be an alternative to airline service, not a duplication of it.
• Pricing/discounts. Amtrak recently revamped its standard pricing reductions. As Leocha notes, “Amtrak no longer offers discounts to veterans, students and AAA members, and the minimum age of eligibility for the senior discount was raised to 65 from 62.” What’s more, that senior discount is now 10 percent rather than 15 percent. Instead, Amtrak has introduced temporary reductions, such as a four-day sale for seniors and a three-day sale for students.
Another frequent rider, Lauren from Boston, notes: “My real issue is that under the new CEO, Amtrak, a government entity that receives taxpayer money, is offering large corporate discounts while at the same time cutting back on discounts previously offered to seniors and students.” John M., a rail customer in California, adds, “I’m a veteran and a taxpayer, and my tax dollars help go to Amtrak. But they cut the (veterans) discount. Just when I need it most.”The rail line also introduced a more complex pricing option in May, by launching 25 percent off on reservations booked 21 days before travel. The three-week advance fare is one of the most common and complex pricing “buckets” employed by airlines.
• Ticketing. Lisa Beth, who travels frequently from New York City to visit family in Baltimore, has indeed seen changes in the last year, and some are positive changes: “I noticed a few months ago they reupholstered the seats and made them much more comfortable, what you would want on an airplane.” But she worries that stricter policies and fees are creeping in, and says, “I remember in the 1980s and 1990s, if I missed a train I would just take the next one. I had complete flexibility. Now it’s gotten more stringent. I noticed recently that if I canceled I could get an eVoucher, but if I wanted my money back I had to pay a fee. I worry that the rules will become even more overly restrictive.” Leocha agrees, stating Amtrak’s cancellation policy is now more “airline-like,” with penalties for most reservations canceled 24 hours after booking.
In addition, these penalties hit riders the hardest at peak travel times, just as the airlines do. As Mitchell points out, “A public, taxpayer-funded service should be cost-based and not discriminatory to those who subsidize it. Would the Internal Revenue Service get away with higher fees for citizens paying online at peak call times?”
• Seat comfort. In July 2017, just as Anderson was taking over, train junkies felt a shiver when they read here and elsewhere that the outgoing Amtrak CEO stated at the National Press Club that seats might start getting tighter: “We are looking at doing some creative things. There’ll be some other things that don’t make it quite as comfortable.” Those remarks prompted Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to urge the rail line not to start on the “slippery slope” of “packing people in like sardines.”
Roomier accommodations on Amtrak was something I addressed here with “Train or plane? Which is the better choice?” and “Tale of the tape: Amtrak is more comfortable than airlines.” I noted Amtrak’s coach seats offer width of 23 inches and legroom “pitch” of 39 inches between seats, and much more in premium classes. Consider that the economy/coach sections of the Big Three Airlines – American, Delta and United – on workhorse Boeing 737s in domestic service offer pitch of 30 to 31 inches and width of 16.6 to 17.8 inches. Amtrak continues to offer much roomier seats, but the stats aren’t on Amtrak.com anymore, and don’t bother asking Julie, “Your Virtual Assistant,” because she’s not saying.
• Seating policies. Several riders have noted Amtrak offers another big advantage over the airlines: more liberal seating rules. As one mother of two young children notes, “I wouldn’t want assigned seats when I’ve got my kids with me.” In fact, some customers suggest that just as Amtrak has Quiet Cars popular with business travelers, there should be dedicated zones at no cost for travelers with special needs, seniors and families with young kids. There’s no question this would be a huge improvement over airline travel, since the DOT has failed to implement a 2016 congressional mandate for domestic air carriers to allow families with children under 12 to sit together at no additional cost.Beth also loves the ability to get up and move around on a train – even the ability to move seats entirely: “Last week there was a woman on Bluetooth conducting a conference call right next to me. So I finally got up and moved. You can’t do that on an airplane.” Obviously switching seats won’t be an option if passengers are given designated seats. For those who question if this scenario is likely, it’s worth noting that in May Amtrak announced an assigned seating option for First passengers on Acela trains.
• Baggage. Currently, the rules for what you can tote onboard Amtrak are much more liberal than any airline’s: Each passenger is allowed two personal items at 25 pounds each and two carry-ons at 50 pounds each, for a total of 150 pounds. Technically, there are restrictions on overweight bags and excess bags, but even the most frequent rail travelers can’t recall much enforcement.
But some frequent riders quoted on social media and rail blogs are worried the train line may tinker with this key advantage it has over airlines. As one notes: “The good thing is, you can fit your bag over your seat on Amtrak the way you can’t in an airplane. It would be really bad to start having fees for bags.”
A good barometer will be if Amtrak begins enforcing its existing baggage restrictions. As one anonymous rider in Chicago says, “It’s mission creep. Like changing the rules on the (Guest Rewards) program.” This customer noted Amtrak recently ended its partnership with Starwood Hotels.
Time will tell ...
The next year may well determine how all those former airline executives intend to reshape Amtrak. Leocha believes the elimination of customer service agents at some stations is an ominous sign. “We are seeing the worst of airline customer service issues being introduced to the railroad experience,” he says. “The Amtrak Board of Directors and Congress have the final say on these changes, unlike the airlines where changes are made by executives with the needs of investors put squarely in front of the needs of consumers.”
Bill McGee, a contributing editor to Consumer Reports and the former editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, is an FAA-licensed aircraft dispatcher who worked in airline operations and management for several years. Tell him what you think of his latest column by sending him an email at email@example.com. Include your name, hometown and daytime phone number, and he may use your feedback in a future column.
Budget Slashes Amtrak
From Trains Magazine
Wire/UPDATE: Amtrak, light-rail cuts in Trump's first budget
UPDATE: Amtrak, light-rail cuts in Trump's first budget
March 16, 2017
WASHINGTON — Amtrak and mass transit face severe budget cuts under President Trump's proposed fiscal 2018 budget. And a grant program that has provided funds for rail projects is on the verge of elimination.
The 2018 budget
would eliminate subsidies for Amtrak's long-distance trains, “which have
long been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating
losses” according to budget documents released overnight. Document writers
say cuts would allow the railroad's management to focus on better management
of the Northeast Corridor and state-supported passenger rail services.
In a response this morning, Amtrak officials said the cuts would eliminate train service in 23 of the 46 states the system now serves. Those trains feed the Northeast Corridor and state-supported services.
is very focused on running efficiently,” Amtrak officials say in a statement.
“We covered 94 percent of our total network operating costs through ticket
sales and other revenues in [fiscal year 2016] — but these services all
require Federal investment.”
The budget will not provide for any new projects under the Federal Transit Administration's capital investment program. Rather, budget document writers say the change leaves funding up to “localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”
Officials with the American Public Transportation Association say they are surprised and disappointed with the budget details so far. At a time when the administration is touting $1 trillion for infrastructure, “the White House is recommending cutting billions of dollars from existing transportation and public transit infrastructure programs," APTA officials say.
Association officials say that the cuts would affect projects in Kansas City; Dallas; Fort Worth, Texas; Indianapolis; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Fort Lauderdale, and Jacksonville, Fla.
The budget proposal also calls for eliminating funding for “unauthorized” Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants. In January, the Department of Transportation announced $500 million was available for the popular program, which has been funding projects since 2009.
Among the 2016 grant recipients are San Bernardino County, Calif., which received $8.6 million for passenger rail service; Mississippi's 65-mile long Natchez Railway, that received $10 million for rehabilitation and upgrades for five bridges; and the Springfield, Ill., which received $14 million to build two underpasses for proposed high-speed service between St. Louis and Chicago.
Answer for Aging Acela Fleet: 160 M.P.H. Trains
From the New York Times, August 27, 2016
WASHINGTON — A new
era of high-speed train travel is coming to the nation’s busiest rail
Federal officials on Friday announced a $2.45 billion loan to Amtrak for the purchase of state-of-the-art trains to replace the aging Acela trains that use the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston.
Amtrak plans to put the first of 28 new trains into service in about five years. Once they are fully deployed, officials expect the Acela to depart every half-hour between Washington and New York and every hour between New York and Boston. That should increase passenger capacity by about 40 percent, they said.
While the new trains will not approach the speeds of some Asian and European trains, officials said they hoped that the new Acela would travel at 160 miles per hour in some places, up from 135 m.p.h. now. The trains will theoretically be able to go faster than 160 m.p.h., though that would require a huge upgrade of the track system.
Vice President Joseph R.
Biden Jr., a longtime Amtrak supporter who frequently travels by train between
Washington and his home in Delaware, announced the loan at the station in Wilmington
that is named in his honor.
"We need these kinds of investments to keep this region — and our whole country — moving, and to create new jobs," Mr. Biden said.
Anthony R. Coscia, Amtrak’s chairman, said the railroad service was "responding to a change in the United States of people moving into the cities, of people looking for city-to-city connections."
The Acela trains have become one of the most successful parts of the Amtrak system. Over the last decade, they have helped train service displace airplanes as the most popular mode of travel in the Northeast Corridor. Acela trains carry about 3.4 million passengers a year between the three major cities.
But nearly 15 years after America’s first high-speed trains began coursing between Washington and Boston, the 20 current Acela trains are nearing the end of their usable lives.
Transportation officials said Amtrak first considered overhauling the existing Acela trains, 17 of which are operating at any given time. But that would have been disruptive and costly, the officials said.
The new trains will be manufactured in New York State by Alstom, a French company that builds high-speed trains around the globe. For Amtrak, Alstom will build a version of the Avelia Liberty, which the company’s website describes as having "an innovative compact power car and nine passenger cars, with the possibility of three more being added if demand grows." The company says the train is capable of traveling at 186 m.p.h.
Like the existing Acela trains, the new ones will have business-class cars, a cafe car, a first-class car and a quiet car, where the use of cellphones is discouraged. The new trains will also offer better accessibility for people with disabilities.
Officials said about $2 billion would be spent on the new trains. The rest of the loan will be used to upgrade several stations, including those in New York and Washington, and to improve track reliability and safety.
Amtrak expects increased revenue from the more frequent Acela service to help it pay back the loan, the biggest in the history of the Department of Transportation, officials said.
The existing Acela trains will be completely phased out by the end of 2022, they said.
"This is a serious, serious upgrade," Mr. Biden said. "You would need seven more lanes on I-95 to accommodate the traffic if Amtrak shut down."
Americans love trains. So should conservatives.
By William S. Lind and Glen D. Bottoms •
From: The American Conservative
At root, conservatism is about preserving good things from the past and, where they have been lost, restoring them. Conservatives know that life in the past was in many ways better than life at present; morals and manners both come to mind. So, as some of us are old enough to remember, was travel.
The word “travel” itself suggests a better time and better experiences getting from one place to another than those we now suffer. Travel, where the journey itself is part of the pleasure, has been displaced by “transportation.” Like so many bandboxes or birdcages, people too are now packages and shipped. Whether crammed into an airline seat designed for garden gnomes, your baggage thoroughly (or not) searched in case you are a terrorist, or stuck in heavy traffic behind the wheel of a car, enjoying the journey is not in the script. Your highest hope is to get through it quickly and safely and forget about it as soon as possible.
Yet strange to say, some Americans do still travel, and enjoy it. Who are these privileged souls? Not the 1 percent, but anyone who is traveling by train. Last year, they numbered just over 30 million, counting only passengers on Amtrak, not commuter trains.
Passenger trains offer comfortable travel the middle class can afford. On long-distance trains, most of which use Amtrak’s double-decker Superliner cars, a reasonable coach fare gets you a better seat than domestic flights offer in first class. You have a big window and interesting things to see from it. You can look out, read, work, or nap, all with plenty of room. You can get up and walk around, including to a lounge car with wraparound glass and, for now, to the dining car for a meal with real food. The train can be social if you want it to be; it is easy to meet people. If your trip is overnight, for a somewhat steeper fare, though usually less than first class by air, you can get a private room with a bed at night and a comfortable chair or sofa during the day.
These trains represent one of the good things from the past conservatives should work to conserve and expand: at present, passenger rail service in most of the country is a fraction of what it was 50 years ago. All of which makes it passing strange that congressional Republicans are doing their utmost to kill Amtrak. Each year, they cut its budget further. They starve it of capital funds it needs to buy new cars so it can carry more people. Last year, House Republicans forced through a measure that drove a knife in Amtrak’s back. They put a legal requirement on Amtrak to end all losses on food and beverage services.
Even in the glory days of rail travel, dining cars lost money. Railroads provided diners anyway, and took pride in the excellence of the food served on their trains, because when people are traveling for a day or more they need real meals.
The only way Amtrak can meet the new mandate is to eliminate dining cars. Passengers would have to go on journeys of a thousand miles or more with nothing but a snack bar. Coach passengers may do that, but a great many sleeping car passengers will not. Amtrak makes a lot more money from sleeping cars than from coaches: by its own calculations, sleeping car passengers account for just 15 percent of long-distance passengers but contribute 36 percent of total revenue. Amtrak’s average yield per mile for coach passengers is 14.2 cents; for sleeping car passengers, 27.2 cents. As Jim Loomison wrote in a Consumer Traveler story last year: “Here’s the unvarnished truth, put in the simplest possible terms by a respected authority on passenger rail: ‘If the dining cars go, the sleepers go. If the sleepers go, the big revenue goes. If the big revenue goes, Amtrak goes’.”
Congressional Republicans explain their hostility to Amtrak with two arguments. First, Amtrak is subsidized, and second, it runs trains no one rides.
Yes, Amtrak is subsidized. So are all competing forms of transportation. Highways cover only 51 percent of their costs from all user fees, including the gas tax. The rest is paid by subsidies of one form or another, especially from local property taxes. Airlines receive massive subsidies in the form of airports and the air traffic control system. The day after 9/11, the airlines ran to Capitol Hill and were immediately given billions of dollars in additional taxpayer money, no questions asked.
Amtrak currently covers 75 percent of its costs from passenger fares, not counting payments from states and commuter authorities. Including both ticket revenue and ancillary payments, Amtrak covered 93 percent of its expenses in 2014. And again, sleeping car patrons on long distance trains, a particular target of House Republicans, contribute over a third of Amtrak’s total long-distance revenue.
Arguments that we should keep the Northeast Corridor—which serves cities like Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston—but eliminate the rest of Amtrak’s network fail both financially and politically. Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor trains do make an operating profit. But because Amtrak owns most of the corridor, it bears an enormous expense for its maintenance and operation. Amtrak’s long-distance trains by contrast run on private railroads’ tracks, with little direct cost to Amtrak. Politically, if you kill everyone else’s trains, why should senators and congressmen from outside the Northeast Corridor vote money for Amtrak? If the Republicans kill Amtrak, they kill all of Amtrak, including the Northeast Corridor.
As to Amtrak’s trains running empty, the opposite is the case. Amtrak could carry more passengers than it does if it had the equipment, which Congress refuses it the money to buy. On many long-distance trains, sleeping-car space is sold out months in advance. Since Amtrak’s founding in 1971, its ridership has grown from 6 million to 30.9 million in 2014. All across the country, more and more Americans are finding the train is a better way to travel, and they want more trains to ride. Passenger rail is a growing business. Usually, Republicans want to encourage business growth. In this case, they are going to kill it.
If congressional Republicans would replace their irrational loathing for passenger trains with an approach based on facts and reason, they could help both the taxpayer and the people who want to ride trains. Amtrak, like most businesses that have monopolies, could use some competition. The railroads will fight bitterly against letting other passenger-train operators besides Amtrak run over their tracks because they fear that would lead to “open access” for competing freight-train operators as well. But a few years ago, when an old colleague of ours, the late Paul Weyrich, served on a high-level commission examining the future of transportation, several railroad presidents told him privately that if they could bid for part of Amtrak’s subsidy, they would consider again running their own passenger trains. Were Congress to pass legislation opening the door to this possibility, we might get, on at least some long-distance routes, trains that were run well and on time for less cost.
In fact, in Florida a railroad, the Florida East Coast (FEC), is planning to introduce its own passenger trains between Miami, Palm Beach, and Orlando, trains it expects will make money. FEC has pioneered new practices in railroading for many decades, usually with success. If this one works, the return of passenger trains operated by private railroads would receive a major boost.
Another private company that owns a number of short-line railroads, Iowa Pacific Holdings, is bringing back one of the glories of the railway age, the Pullman Company. Once a week, restored Pullman cars run between Chicago and New Orleans, attached to Amtrak’s “City of New Orleans” route. Trains magazine reports:
It could almost be an evening in 1956. Streamlined passenger cars, handsomely attired in the chocolate and orange livery of the Illinois Central Railroad, their windows glowing invitingly, stand beside a platform at a great Chicago terminal. White-jacketed men wait at lowered vestibule steps, ready to direct passengers to their assigned space and to lift their luggage aboard.
Sound a bit different from what you go through trying to get on an airplane?
Again we come face-to-face with what conservatism is all about: conserving and restoring good things from our shared past. As Trains notes, “At its 1920s peak, Pullman carried 39 million people per year to every corner of the country. Its hallmark was quality comfort for the traveling public, delivered consistently, at reasonable prices. It was not about opulent luxury for a wealthy, junketing few.”
What is the Republican Party in Congress about? Whom do the Republicans represent and serve? The middle class, who enjoy traveling by train and can afford to do so—or just the 1 percent, people who travel by private jet and write large checks as campaign contributions?
Ultimately, the Republican Party’s efforts in Congress to deny Americans the choice of travel by rail come down to two different visions of America. The first is a vision of the America we once had and conservatives still want, an overwhelmingly middle-class country with lots of nice things available at prices the middle class can afford. The other is an America where the 1 percent lounge in Neronian splendor while the middle class sinks into poverty, where everything they can afford is unpleasant. With its efforts to destroy Amtrak, the Republican Congress casts a vote for the latter.
William S. Lind is director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation. Glen Bottoms is the center’s executive director.
HOUSE PASSES AMTRAK REAUTHORIZATION BILL - March 5, 2015
NOTE: This bill is only the AUTHORIZATION - which permits Amtrak to receive that amount of money and exist for another 5 years. The hardest part to come is the APPROPRIATION - which is the actual $$$ given to Amtrak on a year-by-year basis. Also still to come is the Senate's version. Once both houses approve their respective bills, they go to a joint House/Senate conference committee to iron out the differences.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a rare burst of bipartisanship, the House moved Wednesday to boost Amtrak's popular service between Boston and Washington while giving states a greater say in the local routes they help subsidize.
The bill, approved by a vote of 316 to 101, authorizes $7.2 billion in federal subsidies for passenger rail, including about $1.4 billion a year over four years in subsidies for Amtrak. That's nearly the same as current spending levels, disappointing Amtrak supporters who had urged a significant increase to help the railroad address its deteriorating infrastructure and aging equipment.
But in a compromise between Democrats and Republicans, the bill separates Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service between Boston and Washington from its long-distance routes. That would allow Amtrak to use profits from the money-making corridor for improvements that could speed up trains and enhance service on the route. Amtrak officials have long complained that they've had to use Northeast Corridor profits to subsidize 15 unprofitable long-distance routes around the country.
The bill would also give officials in 19 states "a seat at the table" with Amtrak when deciding changes and budgets for service in their states, said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. And it directs Amtrak to make changes in the financial information it provides state and local governments and the public so that the information is more "transparent," he said.
The bill also includes a provision by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., that would permit Amtrak passengers to bring pets with them.
The White House said in a statement earlier in the week that it supports passage of the bill because it would improve Amtrak service, but complained that the measure doesn't provide enough money and lacks provisions to improve safety.
In a nod to conservatives, the bill permits "streamlining" of environmental and other regulations to speed up the time involved in approving construction projects. And the bill directs Amtrak to take certain steps to eliminate operating losses for food service aboard trains.
Despite those concessions, the conservative pressure groups Heritage Action and Club for Growth sent messages to lawmakers before the vote opposing the bill and warning that it will be considered a "key vote" in judging their performance in office.
"Most Republicans claim they want to end or greatly reform Amtrak," the Club for Growth said. "But this bill doesn't do that, even though it was drafted and supported by House GOP leaders."
Acknowledging the conservative opposition, Shuster said: "I know some of my colleagues are skeptical of Amtrak and passenger rail in general ... but it is a good, strong reform bill. Neither side got everything they want." He said the bill "sets Amtrak on a course to improve itself" so that someday federal subsidies will no longer be needed.
One hundred and one Republicans voted against the bill despite their leadership's support for the measure. In favor of the bill were 132 of their GOP colleagues and all 184 Democrats who cast votes. A similar Amtrak bill passed the House with overwhelming GOP support last year, although it died in the Senate.
Despite their overwhelming vote in favor, Democrats were also lukewarm on the measure. "It's an OK bill," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the measure's co-sponsor along with Shuster.
Just before the bill passed, a GOP amendment to eliminate all federal subsidies for Amtrak was defeated by a vote of 147 to 272.
Ed Wytkind, head of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department, which represents Amtrak workers, said the amendment would have "hollowed out our only national passenger railroad, and destroyed thousands of middle-class jobs."
Senate action is also required, but key senators have so far expressed no urgency to take up the matter.
of the Capitol Hill newspapers estimated that I've taken more than 7,000 round
trips on Amtrak over the course of my career. But the one I made on Jan. 17,
2009 was a bit different. When I got there, there were 8,000 people standing
in the freezing cold. And I wasn't racing to reach the 7:46 a.m. Metroliner
(later, the Acela) that I had taken thousands of times before.
I was meeting up with the train that would carry President Obama and me to our inauguration.
That day, Gregg Weaver, a conductor who started riding Amtrak the same year I did--1972--introduced me to the crowd. As Gregg spoke, it struck me that over the years, Amtrak provided me with more than a way to get to Washington to serve the people of Delaware every morning and a way to get home to my family each night. It has provided me another family entirely--a community of dedicated professionals who have shared the milestones in my life, and who have allowed me to share the milestones in theirs.
And it has provided me with one thing more, an understanding of--and a respect for--the role of rail travel in our society and our economy.
Though I don't get to ride the train nearly as much anymore, those were the lessons I brought with me on that final trip to Washington as a United States Senator.
I began making the 110-mile commute shortly after I was sworn in as a Senator. It was the only way that I could have been a Senator at all. I had to be able to get home to spend evenings with my two sons after we lost their mother and sister in an auto accident a month earlier.
Since then, on those many trips down to Washington, I got into a routine. From Wilmington to Baltimore I'd read the papers and make phone calls. At Baltimore, I'd start preparing for that day's hearings, amending my opening statement or going through the list of witnesses. And by the time I arrived in D.C., I'd be ready to jump right in.
Getting home was sometimes a sprint, too. One year, on my birthday, my daughter had planned a party for me. She really wanted to give me a gift and blow out candles. Senator Bob Dole was the Majority Leader at the time, and we were voting that night. I told him that I really had to be home for my daughter, which meant that I needed to catch the 5:54 p.m. train. Senator Dole backed up the votes until 9 p.m. I boarded the train and, in Wilmington, my daughter was standing there on the middle platform. She and my wife sang "Happy Birthday," I blew out the candle, took a piece of cake, opened her gift, gave her a kiss, and caught the 7:23 p.m. going south--and managed to be there for the 9 p.m. vote.
Amtrak doesn't just carry us from one place to another--it makes things possible that otherwise wouldn't be. For 36 years, I was able to make most of those birthday parties, to get home to read bedtime stories, to cheer for my children at their soccer games. Simply put, Amtrak gave me--and countless other Americans--more time with my family. That's worth immeasurably more to me than the fare printed on the ticket.
I took the train every night--and I still do whenever possible--I always noticed
the lights on in the houses flickering in the passing neighborhoods, dotting
the landscape speeding by my window. Moms and dads were at their kitchen table,
talking after they put their kids to bed. Like Americans everywhere, they were
asking questions as profound as they are ordinary: Should Mom move in with us
now that Dad is gone? How are we going to pay the heating bills? Did you hear
the company may be cutting our health care? Now that we owe more on the house
than it's worth, how are we going to send the kids to college? How are we going
be able to retire?
I would look out the window and hear their questions, feel their pain. And every time I made that trip, it would inspire me to get up the next day, head back down to Washington, and give them the answers they're looking for. Those moments looking out the window and seeing the lights on, they told me things that the briefing folders in front of me never could. They gave color and meaning to the problems I've spent my career trying to solve. They reminded me why I made that trip back and forth 7,000 times.
But my support for rail travel goes beyond the emotional connection. With delays at our airports and congestion on our roads becoming increasingly ubiquitous, volatile fuel prices, increased environmental awareness, and a need for transportation links between growing communities, rail travel is more important to America than ever before.
for Amtrak must be strong--not because it is a cherished American institution,
which it is--but because it is a powerful and indispensable way to carry us
all into a leaner, cleaner, greener 21st century.
Consider that if you shut down Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, it is estimated that to compensate for the loss, you'd have to add seven new lanes of highway to Interstate 95. When you consider that it costs an average of $30 million for one linear mile of one lane of highway, you see what a sound investment rail travel is. And that's before you factor in the environmental benefits of keeping millions and millions of cars off the road.
In 1830, the first steam-engine locomotive, the Tom Thumb, graced America's railways. Its first run was a rickety 13-mile trek from Baltimore to Ellicott Mills, Md., but it became much more than that. It marked the beginning of a new journey, heading straight into a better, more imaginative American future.
We are on a similar journey now. We are at the dawn of a new age, where the very best ideas of today will shape our tomorrow, where renewable clean energy and new transportation systems and more efficient technology will revolutionize American life the way the Tom Thumb did some 180 years ago.
On Jan. 20, 2009, pulling out of the Wilmington train station, embarking on that same short trip I made thousands of times before, I thought again about the journey America was about to take as a nation. And I saw our future the same way I always did: looking out Amtrak's windows.
by Bruce Watson, Oct 29th 2009
"On Tuesday, Subsidy Scope, a subsidiary of the Pew Charitable Trust, reported that Amtrak, America's passenger rail company, "lost" an average of $38 per passenger. Citing a new metric for train depreciation, the report suggested that the train line has been less than transparent in its estimation of its own profitability.
"While it is interesting that the government spends an average of $38 on each Amtrak passenger, this isn't really news. Over a year ago, in fact, Amtrak president Alex Kummant stated that each passenger on the train line represents a public capital expenditure of approximately $40, and similar figures have been bandied about for years. In fact, the only truly surprising thing is that some conservative think tanks and advocacy organizations continue to criticize the corporation for its failure to turn a profit. The underlying message seems to be that Amtrak is a financial failure, and that if rail travel were privatized, it would somehow be able to make a profit.
"The truth is that Amtrak is not designed to make money; rather, it is designed to provide a public service. The same could be said of the rest of America's transportation network: none of the country's transportation systems generate profit or pay for themselves. The airlines, for example, rely on a patchwork of municipal, state, and federal funding to finance the cost of airports. Meanwhile, federal funds pay for airport security and taxes pay for the FAA. Many pilots are trained by the military, and much of the avionics used in private aircraft is developed under military contract. If these costs were transferred to airline passengers, the price of a plane ticket would be prohibitive.
"And what about America's roads? The highway trust fund, which is ostensibly funded by gas taxes, still receives money from Congress, while the various agencies that oversee its administration and police its passengers are all funded by taxes. Again, if these costs were transferred to individual travelers, few people could afford to drive.
"Taken on a passenger-by-passenger basis, trains cost taxpayers far less than cars, planes, motorcycles or rickshaws. The big difference, as National Corridor Initiative president and CEO James P. RePass noted in a recent interview, is that "Subsidies for airlines and highways are far less obvious than Amtrak's single line item."
"The Subsidy Scope study also pointed out that some portions of the Amtrak infrastructure are more profitable than others. For example, the Northeast Corridor's Acela Express makes an average profit of $41 per customer, while the Northeast Regional, which is more heavily traveled, costs $5 per passenger. In Subsidy Scope's estimation, the biggest loser in the land is the Sunset Limited, which runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles at an average cost of $462 per customer.
"The Sunset Limited has long been plagued with problems and Amtrak is still working to increase its performance. However, the idea that one can parse a railway system into profitable and unprofitable lines is probably shortsighted. As Kummant noted, "it's an entire network that matters. And if you don't have an entire network, you end up with a ridiculous patchwork of short little lanes of things that make no sense from a national system." To put it another way, while certain portions of an interstate highway may be more popular than others, closing off several less-traveled miles would vastly reduce the overall effectiveness of the system, as some regions would be cut off from the grid and others would face longer, more costly routes.
"RePass addressed this point, stating: "The benefit of a transportation system doesn't accrue to the system itself, but rather to the economy and to the cities and citizens it services. Pew, by looking at the cost of tickets, reinforces the notion that transportation systems have to pay for themselves." As policymakers, pundits and politicians assess the value of America's passenger rail, they need to get past the idea that it must pay for itself. The measure of a rail line's profit is the energy and vitality that it brings to an area and the commerce that it supports."
OTHERS LEAVE U.S. IN THE DUST ON HIGH SPEED RAIL - October 28, 2009
In a recent article in "The Baltimore Sun" Michael Dresser says that it came as no surprise "that the United States is far behind Japan or Germany or France in high-speed rail. We've known for years that visitors from these highly developed industrial nations have been laughing behind our backs at our woefully antiquated rail system." But Dresser sounds a wake up call when he notes "But it came as a shock to be confronted with the reality of how far behind we are in high-speed intercity rail compared with such countries as China, Turkey, South Korea and Brazil. Even Iran is planning a line from Tehran to Qom that will reach 200 mph - a speed that will make Amtrak's Acela (maximum 135 mph) look as if it were being pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine." And in Spain, "the service is so reliable that the operator will refund a passenger's full fare if the train is more than five minutes late. Riders also get their money back if the air conditioning or toilet malfunctions."
Imagine that in the USA?
Dresser goes on to say that "Much of the opposition to high-speed rail in this country stems from an ideological opposition to a government role in just about anything but fighting wars. But history shows that there has never been a significant advance in U.S. transportation without federal involvement on some level. Many of the same arguments made against high-speed rail could be made about the Erie Canal, transcontinental rail and the interstate highway system."
"This is all information gleaned at the inaugural conference of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association in Washington last week," writes Dresser. The association has a definite point of view. "It's advocating construction of a 17,000-mile high-speed rail network in the United States and parts of Canada - carrying trains at speeds up to 220 mph - by 2030."
How do we fund such a system?
Dresser turns to one authority for a possible answer. "Norman Anderson, chief executive of CG/LA Infrastructure LLC, suggested a way to fund such big projects. He supports the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank - a concept President Barack Obama has embraced and for which he proposed $5 billion in the budget. Anderson said that such a bank could be financed through the sale of federally backed bonds to private citizens, pension funds and other investors. The bank would finance the construction of rail lines - and other capital projects - that would be leased to operating companies. Without the burden of maintaining obsolete infrastructure like Amtrak's, he said, the operating companies could make a decent profit."
So there you have it, folks. Even Iran is surpassing us on creating a first class rail transportation network.
New York Times article of December 22, 2006 by Matthew L. Wald and Don Phillips
providing some very interesting reading. Here are some highlights from this
Amtrak could see a ridership growth spurt of 50 percent in the next five to
10 years, but it would require billions of state and federal dollars invested
in the tracks of other railroads, and millions more of private investment in
passenger rail cars, the new president of the railroad said Thursday in an interview.
...Mr. Kummant indicated that Amtrak was backing away from some ideas that had
upset Amtrak supporters, including putting the Washington-to-Boston corridor
under separate ownership. He also said he did not intend to slash the long-distance
network because it was a national asset that, once lost, would probably never
...Mr. Kummant, a former freight rail executive, said that the rail network
nationally was overloaded, but that strong growth in freight traffic, and the
interest in rail as a solution to congestion and
energy problems, opened the possibility for government investment in private freight railroad lines that Amtrak used."
our own concerns about frequent threats to cutback on our nation's long distance
trains, Kummant said: "We're not going to do anything radical there."
" ...The cost of cross-country trains comes to about a dollar and a half per American per year, he said, and they are irreplaceable. He compared trains like the Empire Builder and the City of New Orleans to assets like national parks. ?I haven?t had the opportunity to go to Glacier National Park since 1976, but I pay taxes every year in the hope that I have the option to go back," Mr. Kummant said.
AMTRAK SLEEPING CAR PLANS AVAILABLE ON FRIENDS OF AMTRAK WEBSITE, August 24, 2000. Friends of Amtrak now has a page that shows in JPG format the layout of Amtrak's sleeping cars. Amtravelers take note! I don't believe that I've seen such a plan anywhere on the net. http://trainweb.org/crocon/sleeperplans.html
THE SIX MYTHS ABOUT AMTRAK
Myth #1 - Amtrak can be profitable. No national rail passenger system in the world is profitable. Without public subsidy, there will be no passenger rail transportation systems in the United States.
Myth #2 - The private sector is dying to take over our services. Remember why we were formed. We are what is left of a once privately run enterprise.
Myth #3 - Long-distance trains are the problem. This is perhaps one of the biggest myths. If you eliminate every long-distance train, your avoidable costs would decrease about $70 million a year-after about a year and a half of making labor protection costs. On a fully allocated basis, after five years, you might save annually about $300 million. Focusing on this problem is not going to save Amtrak. This approach is a red herring.
Myth #4 - Amtrak is a featherbed for labor. Our wage rates are about 90% of the freight industry and are even lower when compared to transit. Wages are not the problem; generating a higher level of productivity, that is the challenge. It is management's duty to seek such improvement.
Myth #5 - The Northeast Corridor (NEC) is profitable. The NEC may cover most of its above-the-rail costs, but it is an extremely costly piece of railroad to maintain. The NEC is not profitable and never will be. Sure, private groups might be interested in having it, but they would take it only with the promise of massive capital infusions.
Myth #6 - There is a quick fix - reform. The word reform is like catnip to those interested in a quick fix to Amtrak. If the answer were quick and easy, we would have solved the problem long ago. What needs to be done is to tightly manage the company and its finances and begin to make incremental but critical improvements to plant and equipment.
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