Time to Push for Amtrak $$

Discussion in 'The Real Thing- North America' started by Dave Flinn, Sep 19, 2001.

  1. Dave Flinn

    Dave Flinn Member

    It has occurred to me, the last several days, that perhaps now, more than ever, it is time to push our legislators here in the US to provide adequate funding for Amtrak. Yes, the airlines need help right now in recovering from the events of last week, as the overall picture affects the national ecdonomy. At the same time, it seems that more people are riding Amtrak, and will continue to do so. I've heard more than one person say they won't fly anymore. Amtrak has been fighting for years, as we all know, for better federal funding. With the new conditions, perhaps now is the time for them to get it.
  2. roryglasgow

    roryglasgow Active Member


    I thought Congress was trying to wean Amtrak off of federal funding... Isn't that what the Acela is all about?

  3. billk

    billk Active Member

    I would think that there would now be a greatly increased demand for Amtrak's services (for obvious reasons). If that happens and they still can't make it on their own, then ...?
  4. IMRL393

    IMRL393 Member

    Considering how much money the U.S. Government pumps into the aircraft industry (not even counting the billions now requested), in terms of the FAA, NASA and industry research, money to build airports, and all those flight controllers and equipment to name a few, the amount given to AMTRAK is a drop in the bucket.

    The passenger has NEVER "paid his way" on the airlines - why should rail traffic be any different ???

    If the government would give AMTRAK it's fair share of the transportation budget, it would be in fine shape!
  5. Bill Stone

    Bill Stone Member

    The government could also restore mail contracts to the railroads. When the mail was yanked from the railroads and given over entirely to the airlines, was when passenger service became a total backbreaker for the roads.

    An interesting aside here: The mail doesn't get from California to New York any faster now than when the railroads were hauling it!

    But on the other hand, my wife and I took the Coast Starlite, supposed to be one of the better trains, from LA to Portland, Oregon, for the '94 NMRA convention, and back home again. We had a compartment with private bath, and it cost us about three-times what air tickets would have. That would have been okay, except the cars were not clean, the equipment was broken, the employees seemed to go out of their way to be surly, and we never arrived at any station on time. (And we are not "difficult" travelers.) The scenery and the surprisingly good fare in the dining car ALMOST made it worth while, but not quite. Amtrac has a long way to go to deserve to survive.
  6. IMRL393

    IMRL393 Member

    On the other hand, I took the Southwest Chief from Galesburg, IL to Newton, Kansas and back this summer. My wife and daughter are handicapped, so we all rode in a very accessable coach (something that didn't exist on the old trains!) - we had a great time, were treated very well by the kind AMTRAK 'Chief folks !

    I suppose it all depends on the "luck of the draw" as to people and equipment - but the same is true on the airlines.

    I think that AMTRAK has done well with the (relatively!) little money it is given and the ruins of the passenger service it started with.

    The Chief is my favorite way to travel.

    It's also fun to model (along with the ROCK and IMRL of course!).

    Go AMTRAK !!!!!!!!

  7. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member

    I note with interest that none of the comments I have read here make any reference to transcontinental travel. And that may be the thinking, out of the box, so to speak, that the railroad brains need to think. Let the airlines do their thing in the transcontinental market and develop a system of (interconnecting??) local train systems.

    There has been a push lately to see about establishing service between St. Louis and Oklahoma City that would include Springfield and Branson on the route. I think there is merit to such thinking until you realize that the station in St. Louis is located out in the boondocks and away from all of the local public transportation. If the train station were co-located with one of the Metrolink light rail stations then you have convenient access to much of the rest of the city. That co-location might also spur the local decision makers to think about expansion of the Metrolink!!

    Having said that, I think that until there is a real change of attitude on the part of several parties involved we are blowing smoke. If the railroads won't give the Amtrack trains the right of way over coal trains that tells me there is an attitude that needs to be adjusted.

  8. roryglasgow

    roryglasgow Active Member


    Hmmm.... Service to Branson would be convenient to me because my mom lives near there. As it is now, I would have to drive halfway across Missouri from the nearest station. Now if only the cost were realistic...


    P.S. - Hey! They at least have a passenger station in Branson!
  9. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member

    When I wrote my previous post on this subject I was trying to think of the word I sometimes hear used about an effective and efficient transportation system. That word is "seamless."

    By this I think they mean what we did almost every day we were in England last year for a month. We left our flat, walked a short block to the Tube station, rode the tube either to our in the city destination or to the railroad station to go out of town. There were buses and trollys and all that available too. It makes it very possible to get from where you are to where you want to be totally by using public transportation.

    I agree with whom ever commented about price and courtesy, both need to be addressed, but if people want to ride the train all the way across the outback of Australia, why not up the Feather River Canyon or hundreds of other places in this country?

    I don't know the answer, but I wish those who have the power and influence to do something about it would be serious in looking into EVERY aspect of our transportation system to see what needs to be done and then DO IT!!

    How about enhancing the need for reliable rail transportantion by putting into place a rule/law that over the road trucks could only operate within a 500 mile radius of their terminal! All other loads would be required to be piggybacked on trains?? Think about the cost savings in fuel and the eduction of the number of trucks on the highways, thereby reducing the number of accidents and freeing up the roads for cars!!!!


  10. Bill Stone

    Bill Stone Member

    On 60 Minutes tonight (Sunday, Sep 30) Andy Rooney gave a surprisingly good plug for the railroads.....
  11. Peirce

    Peirce Member

    I don't usually advocate having the government underwrite any private industry. However, in the case of the railroads, we should be taking a clue from the europoean counties where they still consider train service important. So far as I know, every railroad there, except maybe some in the "tourist" category, have some degree of government support.

    You are right in pointing out that passenger service is not a profit item, but it is important to the economy and national defence. Big money needs to be put into specal trackage, for example, for any high speed train service to work properly. The Acela experience demonstrates that just beefing up existing tracks, with grade crossings and sharp curves still there, is not working.

    We need high speed train service for long and medium distances. We also need better local service. Just think how many automobiles and trucks can be gotten off the road (resd, less traffic and pollution) with reliable and affordable commuter service. In some countries, I believe, there is even a restriction on long-distance trucking. Over a certain distance, they must be put on a train.

    Yes, it is time for more financing, not only for Amtrak, but for all passenger rail service.
  12. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member

    Does anyone have any feel at all for how long it would take a high speed train to cross the USA or Canada?

    Also, unless I misread something, I think the trains at least in Germany, are wholly government owned. They haul all the Bundespost (mail) too, and are on time!!

    They are what I also think of as "seamless" travel. When I lived in Munich many years ago I could walk 100 yards to the S-Bahn (local fast train), be delivered at the main Munich railroad station (Hauptbahnhof) in 17 minutes, walk upstairs to the waiting train and actually be on my way less than 30 minutes after I left the house which was about 10 miles+ from the train station!

    Seamless, painless and effortless!

  13. Peirce

    Peirce Member

    I don't know the details of ownership in Germany, but it may be true the railroads are government owned. The key here is that they work, and are on time.

    When I was in Paris last year, I checked on the TGV to Geneva as compared to a standard train. The travel times: TGV 4 hrs, 40 min; standard train 10 hrs.

    I haven't figured out what the coast-to-coast travel time might be, but let's put it this way: Fast enough to fill most business needs, but slow enough that you arrive rested.
  14. LC

    LC Member

    I would be more than happy to back any funding for AmTrak provided they (AmTrak)had a proven record to the good.

    They however don't even come close.

    To pump more money into something that has such a poor preformance record such as they is only throwing good money after bad.

    Lets face it, the railroads were forced to dump passenger service because of who? The air lines, now the air lines are begging for money, and more of it. They who caused the passenger service to go under are soon to go under themselves. At the very least see a huge change.

    It appears to me that we have to stay away from quick, rash decisions untill we can decide which way to go on this.

    We have turned into a nation of speed, the faster the better, perhaps it's time to just slow down the pace in more ways than one.

    Many other nations have been using good, dependable rail service all along. Where the heck did we miss the boat? (or should I say the train)

    I know one thing for sure, all that old roadbed that has been turned into trails, bike paths, and what have you will soon perhaps be needed, and we will soon wish that in many cases the track had been preserved, at least some of it.

    We need a long term solution, and right now I really don't think anyone knows for sure what that will be.

    One nice thing, with the air lines using less fuel, the gas prices are going down! Looks like we need more fuel effecient transportation as long as we are looking into changes.

    Perhaps we will, some day, see some good come out of all this bad. Remember, what we do over the next few years won't be for us, it will be for our children and their children.
  15. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member

    I guess that after reading the last response on this thread I can't just leave it there and make that the end.

    My response here is in NO way meant to be critical of anything anyone has said. This is a forum for people interested in all aspects of railroads and railroading and I believe that a healthy discussion about the status of passenger rail service in this country (USA) can be good.

    First of all about AMTRAK. I agree with the comment about the potential for throwing good money after back, but to stop that aspect of the conversation there fails to complete the thought. I firmly believe that a major part of the problem is that those responsible for making decisons regarding passenger service in this country are unwilling to think outside the box. It is not that they are not capable of such thinking, it is that they are the victims of a system that rewards failure and does not necessarily protect those who are wanting to be creative.

    That leads to the comment about the airlines being responible for the demise of the railroads. Sorry, but I think that comment for the most part is bogus. The railroads themselves and the willingness of the US Postal Service to take away a very lucrative source of income from them would seem to me to have played a much larger role in the current situation with the railroads than anything the airline industry might have done. That along with the impatient mentality of the US traveling public would seem to have been the major factors in taking us to where we are today with respect to rail travel.

    What can be done. There are probably a number of things, but it would take the complete cooperation of an number of entities to make it work. The government would need to agree to not micro-manage the effort. It is importnat to create an environment where the railroads have the opportunity to make a profit before anything good can come from the whole deal. That means patience as the railroads study and develop the routes that can make them a profit. That means that they develop the schedules and routes, not Congress.

    I think the most difficult aspect of the process would be to convince the American public to ride the trains. Transcontinental trains would seem to hold the least appeal, although with the current security problems with the airlines and airports, maybe that too is a possibility. Hand in hand with this thought is our unwillingness to develop truly state of the art high speed rail systems in various parts of the country. Make it appealing to ride the train, with the possibility of getting there on time and I'll ride in a heartbeat!

    Reliable train service is the other aspect that is lacking. When unit coal trains put the AMTRAK on the siding, that is not reliable service. There needs to be a commitmenton the part of the railroads to make passenger service a priority. I guess I've never understood why that would be a problem anyway as there are so few passenger trains in the first place.

    I watched what I thought was a very interesting situation with regards to trains while I was in Germany last year. This is a bit of a generalization, but for the most part true. I had the occasion one day to basically spend the day watching trains. It was cold and rainy and I decided I was going to stay put for the day. What I realized after watching a mainline along the Rhine River off and on for the day was that the Germans were running almost exclusively passenger trains during the day and freights at night. And boy do they run the freights. Not near as long as ours, but one every five minutes or so! I thought it was an interesting concept and maybe part of what I mean about thinking outside the box.

    Anyway, I've gone on much too long, but I think there is real merit in bringing back increased passenger service, but it will take some folks in positions where they can truly operate as a business without being nickeled and dimed to death by any government entity.

  16. LC

    LC Member

    I agree with a lot of things Bob has stated.

    No, the air lines were not the only thing that brought passenger service to an end, super highways played a major roll too. (along with, and in combination of other things) Railroads were already in trouble and to try and keep passenger service going would have been a foolish move on their part.

    Enter Am Track: A program seperate from the railroads themselves. A service that has a very poor record of "on time arrivals", which brings us to the point of why they are put "in the hole" so often.

    Railroads can not function if their trains have to sit in sidings waiting for a late Am Track. As time went on the only way for the railroads to operate was to put Am Track on a "back burner" if you will, and let them through when time and space allowed.

    That thinking has now become a habit, and with the railroads themselves trying to work out all sorts of problems related to mergers there is "no quick fix".

    I'll agree with anyone who feels the thinkers "can't get out of the box", and for the reasons Bob has stated.

    I have been in Government service all my working career, and have seen first hand how "blind" people can be. Don't even try to come up with a "better" idea, if a higher-up decides to use the idea and it fails, guess who gets the blame? And usually because the boss didn't use the whole idea, or expand on it correctly.

    High speed rail is the most logical answer to the passenger service problem. In light of current events the thought of passenger service being greatly expanded becomes a strong possibility. As well as a wise move. The thinking for the future however should be "low speed".

    (good points Bob, and well written)
  17. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member

    I take my hat off to Lance and his perceptions of the rail crisis.

    On a postive note .... wouldn't it be a rush to ride a true high speed train from the east coast ...NYC, DC or wherever to Chicago! I think this is one of the areas where we/gov't/railroads, whomever have failed. They "think" they see the ridership only along the east coast corridor, while if they could afford ( and I mean dollar wise) to work out of the box and develop their own loyal customers, you could probably make some money by running high speed on dedicated tracks like the French ( I't's hard for me to say that the French do it better than us!!). We have folks here in Missouri who ride the AMTRAK back and forth to Kansas City and St. Louis and through Jefferson City the state capital. Convenient, even if seldom on time. Over and back in one day. Biggest problem is that the terminal stations on both ends are out of the way. On the St. Louis side if the MetroLink lightrail came close to the AMTRAK station I think both would benefit greatly.

  18. Bill Stone

    Bill Stone Member

    Bob Collins and Lance --- thanks for your intelligent and well thought out comments. I agree, for the most part, with all you said.
    Bob, you mentioned the mentality of the public not accepting the
    "slower" ride on a train. If people would really think about it, they might welcome it.

    Way back, during and after WWII, my father had to travel from Los Angeles to New York for a couple of conferences a year. He always enjoyed having the privacy of his compartment on the Super Chief for 3 days (going) to get his thinking, his notes and his presentations ready. And he used the 3 days returning to unwind from the hectic pace of the negotiations.

    Before he retired, he did it a couple of times by air, and decided that was no way to do it.

    If people could only get tuned into (at least some elements of)the agreeable pace that train travel could put us back on, they might find it good for them!

  19. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member

    Thanks for your comments Bill. Although we might not be able to solve the problems associated with rail travel in this country I find it most interesting that you can find here folks who are both interested and knowledgeable regarding all facets of railroad operations.

    I guess the more thought I give it the more I am convinced that if there were ever a commitment to high speed rail travel it ought to be from Chicago either east to NYC or DC or southeast to Atlanta and Florida. One of the major costs in providing high speed dedicated right of way is the cost of procuring that right of way. So it seems to me what is needed to make the first try practical is a route that would be traveled enough to make the project financially successful and two, one where you can procure right of way at something of a reasonable cost.

    Electric, that would certainly be my locomotion of choice, at least until they build an atomic one. Here again, allow the folks in charge to really be in charge and think out of the box. Levitation, fine, if it is practical and affordable!!

  20. roryglasgow

    roryglasgow Active Member

    Bob, I think you just hit on something... Maybe model railroad hobbiests ought to run Amtrak! Heck, I'd do it for free in my spare time!

    With today's computer technology, we could wire it all up like a big model train layout. With experienced hobbiests running the trains, we'd get everyone there one time, I'm sure!

    Just a thought...thinking out of the box, slightly!

    -Rory :)

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