What About Passenger Service?

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by Mountain Man, Jul 8, 2008.

  1. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    Railroad freight service is now a booming market, thanks largely to the enormous price increases for diesel fuel. However, the steeply rising prices of aviation fuel coupled with the draconian treatment of air travel passengers has not produced a corresponding hike in rail passenger business anywhere but on already existing lines.

    Will we see a return to rail passenger service in American? If so, when?

    We did a little research last night to see if we could visit my parents in Yreka, California by train and if so, how much it would cost. The journey by car is roughly 1100 miles, and figuring a conservative 20 miles per gallon, the round trip would cost 2200/20=110x$4gal= $440 in fuel, and would take two full days of driving. We alternate driving and sleeping, so the trip takes us about 20 hours and usually costs about $100 for food and coffee. Add a few bucks for forgotten incidentals and call it $600 for the round trip.

    Amtrak: Nearest station is Denver, Colorado, about 100 miles away.
    Cost: $400 per person, chair seating only. ( double that for sleeping compartment.)

    No dining car - all food must be purchased from vending machines on board. Tough on a diabetic like myself.

    Destination: Sacremento or Redding. Sacremento is 300 miles from Yreka, Redding a little less, but the final distance will still have to be driven in a rental vehicle.

    Rail Travel time: 30 hours.

    Incidental problems: Personal vehicle will have to be 0placed in secured parking in Denver while gone.

    Estimated total cost of rail, auto, meals, and secured parking for same trip: about $1200 dollars for the same round trip, and a lot more hassle and incionvenience.

    I think American railroads are staring a potential bonanza in the face, but I wonder when they will get around to recognizing it and doing something about it.
  2. nachoman

    nachoman Guest

    Even before amtrak, railroads usually claimed their passenger routes broke even at best. This during the heyday of rail travel. It could have been "creative book keeping" by the railroads in oreder to claim this.

    Individual freight railroads would never get back into the passenger business unless it made more money for them than freight. Amtrak could capitalize in some areas, but it would be difficult to rake in more passengers in places where they don't have the infrastructure already. Laying new rail is expensive, and never would return on investiment except in the most heavily congested areas. Plus, they have to compete with busses...

    The areas where I could see rail paying off is commuter service in the sprawling cities of the west - maybe a commuter train that runs between Denver and Colorado Springs. The market is the folks who bought property way out in the sticks who can no longer afford the gas to get to work.

  3. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    It would be nice to see a return to rail travel, but I doubt that the railroads would be too interested. They were tripping over themselves dumping passenger service when Amtrak was formed, as most had been trying for years to get out of the passenger business. There were a few holdouts, but I recall reading that most roads had been losing money on passengers for years - the 1940s probably was the last time they made money, and even though many roads re-equipped their premier trains after the war, business continued to decline. Nowadays, with most major stations and terminals gone or converted to other uses, and all the supporting infrastructure likewise, we'll not likely see the return of those days. Even many of the tracks which once tied most of North America together are gone completely, re-trenched to major urban centres and those smaller towns which are fortunate enough to still be situated on a mainline going between those centres. So, because of the vast areas with no tracks at all, many of us would have a long drive just to get to the tracks, not likely to encourage most roads (or Amtrak) to bother building a station (Amshak) for our use once we got there.

  4. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Kevin is right about passenger service - at best a break-even proposition, even during the "Golden Age" of rail travel. Many passenger routes were kept in operation because of the opportunities they created - for mail contracts, or express service - for real revenue. I don't know the history in the US, but in Canada, Canadian National was expressly forbidden to drop passenger service even if routes were loosing money. But this was because CNR was the government road, more or less.

    If the infrastructure had been kept, I'd say maybe they'd consider it. But since much of the rail that has been laid has been ripped up, the chances are almost zero of reinstituting travel as you describe. Commuter rail on the other hand, especially where it capitalizes on existing infrastructure, could do well.

  5. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    What might work - and it would depend on existing track being in the right place, and decently maintained for passenger speeds - is a bus direct competitor. I have in mind a modern equivalent of an RDC; one that could have a coach or 2 added on if demand warranted. Keep the schedules frequent - every hour or so - and the capacity small.

    I don't see long haul rail (over an hour's flying time or 500 miles) ever being cost-effective. But medium-haul between cities and towns where regional airlines are even marginal could be a reasonable bet. A local example would be Front Range service, extending from Laramie or Cheyenne through Ft Collins, Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs, down to Pueblo. But that line is already very heavily used by coal and regular freight at present - I can see at least 3 trains every hour on my van pool commute between Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

    Labor costs would have to be minimized - one engineer and maybe one conductor. Again, existing infrastructure would have to do until the concept is proven.

    Amtrak is successfully used by commuters for distances longer than typical commuter rail - Harpers Ferry to Washington DC, New Haven to New York, and Sacramento to Oakland are examples.

    just my thoughts
  6. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    There is one big constraint on any fast increase in passenger service -- no surplus equipment. Amtrak recently cancelled a train (IIRC) in order to improve another one. A couple of damaged coaches and another train is curtailled. Even when they get the money to spend, it takes 5 years to put an order on the tracks.
    This doesn't even take into account getting the freight railroads to run the trains.

    One advantage railroad travel had over flying is seving intermediate towns. Most roads ran one slow train a day that stopped everywhere. Now they imitate the airlines and run limiteds ans expresses that only serve big cities.
  7. kf4jqd

    kf4jqd Active Member

    There has been some small talk about Northfolk Southern having some passenger service between Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee and to Atlanta, GA. As I said, it was only small talk. Who never knows? Technology today has alot more to offer than it did in the "Golden Years" of passenger railroad.

  8. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    Routing, as noted, is one of the big problems. Especially to smaller communities. The other is that freight railroads don't want to deal with passenger trains. Witness the fact that Amtrak trains are not the first priority on transcontinental routes. They are only there because the government pressures the railroad to allow them and pays to keep the track up to supposed passenger standards.
    It would take massive federal subsidies and special high speed passenger routes (new, not rebuilt) plus all new equipment, to make long distance trains viable. That still doesn't address the short haul routes.
    I can see more commuter trains and routes in metro areas but not much better service on log haul routes. I'm sure a 777 or the newer 787 will be much more economical than a train.
  9. Dave1905

    Dave1905 Member

    Hauling passengers by any means is a losing proposition. How many passenger liners are there? (not counting cruise ships, a different animal) How many bus lines are still in business? How many airlines are going broke? If the airlines and busses had to build their own roads and airports they'd go belly up instantly. So passenger rail isn't going to make money any way you do it. If you want passenger rail then you need to figure your doing it as a public service and operate it as such.

    I don't see the line abandonments as a big deal for passenger service since most of the mileage that was abandoned would not be lines you would put passenger service over. How many passenger trains are you going to operate over granger lines in Iowa and Nebraska? Actually a lot of commuter/light rail operations in major cities are on right of way abandoned by class 1 railroads (St Louis, Salt Lake City, Houston, DFW, et al) so they are "abandoned" but are actually carrying passengers.

    Dave H.
  10. N Gauger

    N Gauger 1:20.3 Train Addict

    Interesting comments... you guys. :D

    Having lived my entire life along the Northeast Corridor, I have never seen a diesel powered passenger train... Everything here is electrified. The point is, the passenger service here thrives, that is to say, loses very little money.

    http://septa.org/service/rr_schedules.html Runs a few hundred trains a day, they use some of Amtrak NE Corridor track, but they also run on their own lines (all ex PRR) throughout the region.

    As has been said, this is mostly do to the fact that thousands of us live within walking distance of our stations. We can board the local trains and go to the main (30th St) station of Amtrak and connect to any Amtrak Train.

    Buses planes and trains all share the "rental car" problem, - no matter what way you travel, you have to rent a car. The only exception is the auto train to Florida, but you have to drive to Wash. DC to load your car on.. 2 hours from here.

    As far as commuter rail service, There was a study done here to see if it was feasible to re-open 5 miles of abandoned rail, an extension of present is use rail, and they mentioned something in the area of 15 million dollars maintenance costs per mile, to restore it. i know there is at least one wooden bridge that would have to be rebuilt, but it's only 50 feet long.

    All this would do is extend the present line to the "Next station" that was abandoned for lack of passengers about 20 years ago.

    So, it seems it is a geographical issue. If you can get people to leave their cars at a station - they would take the train, as long as they had minimum hassles when they got to their destination.

    I know very few people willing to transfer to buses or cabs, once they get into the city. By contrast, when I worked there, I took the train... walked 3 blocks to the station, then 5 blocks in the city to work.. Not bad at all..... except in bad weather :(
  11. Dave Flinn

    Dave Flinn Member

    Some good points have been made, and they're all pretty much true. That's not to say that rail travel can't make something of a comeback, especially with current gas prices, which aren't likely to go down for a good long while, if ever. The problem is that rail passenger service just doesn't reach a lot of places that it used to, and probably never will; but there are some favorable indications. Here in my part of the country (Upstate New York) there has been talk, which will probably bear fruit, of reinstituting service between NYC and Scranton. And now they're talking about extending that to Binghamton and even starting service between Binghamton and Syracuse. If that were to happen, I could go about 20 miles to Cortland to catch a train. As it is now, I have to go 50 miles to Syracuse. No, we will never see rail passenger service as it was in its heyday, but there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. The big factor is convincing the government(s), State and Federal, to spend the money required.
  12. iis612

    iis612 Member

    There have been a few mentions of passenger service being a losing proposition at best. That is true. It is also true for the airlines and amtrak. The money has always been in mail and fast freight.
    With the ever rising cost of fuel and railroad freight service on a rapid rise we are seeing an opposite effect on other modes of transportation. Airlines are raising rates for passengers and mail service and cutting routes. Trucking companies are closing there doors.
    The only reason Amtrak charges what they charge is because they can. They are the only transcontinental passenger rail service available. They know they have the market, therefore they treat there passeengers like cattle, well probably worse. They are terrible at managing a timetable, and let's not mention their safety record, and they charge disturbing rates.
    If CSX, NW, BNSF and UP all got together and combined passenger service with freight and mail service, they could make money. People may still have to rent cars, but is that any different than flying? The keys are going to be in the price point, marketing, and the destinations served. There are far more smaller details that would have to be hammered out between the big 4 and the FRA but since the cost of fuel is not going to drop for a long time, if ever, the overall cost of implementation could be recouped over time. Once the big 4 get together and share costs and revenue you will see smaller lines getting into the same thing.
    Remember, railroads can move more tonnage with less fuel, and if done with efficiency of the "Golden Age" they can do it on time.
    A huge downside is that there is no way to monitor every mile of track, therefore making it the weakest point of infrastructure and more vulnerable to terrorist attack.

  13. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    It is a very interesting point about the money. Railroads were the "dotcom" of the late 19th century. All levels of government - local, provincial/state, and federal were involved in funding (to various levels) the construction. In some instances, a railroad might select one town over another for a depot based on the size of the levy or subsidy voted by the town. Or in some cases, the railroad set up their own town.

    The bottom line was there was a lot more money to be made building the railroad than in running it. As a result, there was a lot more built than really required.

  14. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    So why is it that passenger service works so well for Europe and Asia?

    Compete with what buses? Surely you don't mean Greyhound?
  15. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    Mountain Man: I think my answer to your question (not the only or best answer,maybe) is population density, infrastructure in place for many years, the fact that european countries and Japan are much smaller in area than the US and for years, roads were not adequate for long distance travel. You also have the more socialist outlook in many countries that allows the government to finance routes that don't make money.
  16. rekline

    rekline Member

    Observations that I have made in trying to find more affordable passenger travel. Planes have become too expensive for family travel. The first thing I have found is the autotrain from VA to FLA. Great Idea and saves on the rental car problem. Wish it would travel from the Northeast, outside of NYC, that would be perfect. Second, All of the Amtrak stations are not conviently located to anything. If I travel to my parents house, the train arrives late at night in a section of the city that I am not too thrilled to be in at that time of night. If Amtrak wants to be more viable, it should work with the local governments and states to relocate the rail stations nearer to the airports and make the airports a transportation center. Rental car and hotel problems solved. The best example of this is Baltimore, where the train station is at the fringe of the airport. If anyone from Amtrak is reading this. Please, Please take this advice to heart. I would love to use the train as a means of travel over the plane.
  17. jesso

    jesso Member

    Somehow there needs to be a way to get the local passenger services connected. Trax is very popular in Salt Lake City, and I have heard that Frontrunner has parking issues at the stations so they must be popular. So you can get from Ogden through Salt Lake, and eventually Provo for reasonably good price, but to go anywhere else requires Amtrak. I went on the Amtrak site to see how I could travel and it appears they have agreements with buses, because I can get picked up in St. George where there is no track and get to Salt Lake. However, that would be $160 a person round trip. That is just WAY too much for a four hour-one way trip.
  18. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    But trains don't fall out of the sky killing everyone on board, and they aren't vulnerable to heat-seeking missiles. Modern jet passenger aircraft are far more vulnerable than anything else moving today.
  19. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    So the conclusion is that America will just dry up in the absence of any viable alternatives?

    The problem I have with that argument is that markets always spring up to serve customers. The airline industry is doing it's absolute best to close passenger travel completely, American bus travel is a very bad joke, and long distance driving is becoming too expensive. This translates into a huge potential market that will demand to be served somehow.

    I also have a problem with the concept that a huge train traveling on a massive infrastructure is required to move people. Something as simple as a streetcar traveling on light rails can do it easily and cheaply - that same lightweight railcar, traveling on existing track from city to city is entirely possible, especially if the government stops subsidizing highway construction exclusively and begins to take responsibility for all of America's transportation needs.

    As for America not being able to match the accomplishments of Europe or Japan, I seem to recall that we essentially rebuilt them from the ground up under programs like the Marshall Plan. I don't believe that we can't match the technology, especially since we are experimenting with such incredibly expensive concepts as Mag-lev trains. That's like building space shuttles to fly from LA to NYC.

    We do not need multi-billion dollar bullet trains - all we need are cheap, reliable means of moving around that travel at least as fast as the average highway speed of an automobile. Half the fun of going someplace used to be the trip itself.

    No harm will come to the American people if they slow down a little and enjoy the ride. We might even save a fortune on anti-anxiety meds, anti-depressants and cardiac meds, and walking around a little bit is just what America needs to reduce it's fat content.
  20. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    The light rail costs are easy to understand - inevitably, this sort of thing is constructed after the city is built, and thus requires condemnation costs, demolition and removal costs, the expenses of temporary construction to re-route traffic and finally the construction of the actual light rail itself.

    When light rail was constructed through Denver, right from the heart of the city and paralleling the freeway on it's final stretch, the amount of demolition and construction was staggering, pretty much like building a subway through the center of a modern metropolis.

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