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» RAILforum » Passenger Trains » Amtrak » Favorable Coverage - Wall Street Journal, No Less!!!!

   
Author Topic: Favorable Coverage - Wall Street Journal, No Less!!!!
Gilbert B Norman
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While some here may find it difficult to believe, Today's Wall Street Journal (subscription site) has favorable coverage not only regarding the ridership increases enjoyed by the Corridor, but also mention of increases in the various other Corridors as well.

Even if his editorial board does not, I think reporter Daniel Machalaba has a "soft spot' for passenger rail.

Brief passage:

Airplanes are getting stuck in lots of traffic jams this summer, but Amtrak is on a roll.

Ridership on the passenger rail system is up 6% so far this year, the biggest jump since the late 1970s. On the Acela Express, trains that run at higher speeds between Washington, New York and Boston, the number of riders has surged 20% over the past 10 months. That's enough new passengers to fill 2,000 Boeing 757 jets.

Richard Rosen, who heads a pharmacy-fulfillment company in Boston, is making as many of his trips to New York as possible on the Acela.

Flying to New York, with traffic to and from La Guardia Airport, flight delays and security lines, has become "an absolute horror show," he says. A recent one-hour flight turned into four hours of exasperation. Mr. Rosen says the Acela, which takes about 3½ hours to get from Boston's Back Bay Station to Pennsylvania Station in midtown Manhattan, is more comfortable and reliable. "The train is much better, and you can do your work and use your cellphone during the whole trip," he says.


http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118781538275205642.html

Posts: 9388 | From: Clarendon Hills, IL USA (BNSF Chicago Sub MP 18.71) | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Doodlebug
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Very interesting story. There is also a link to a Wall Street Journal sidebar from the story Mr. Norman posted, which is an interview with Amtrak President Alex Kummant at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118779699309605407.html?mod=US-Business-News.

Highlights:
  • Long-distance trains -- "I'm very reluctant to simply end some of these services. The cost of keeping the long-distance network is something like $450 million a year. That's $1.50 per year a head in order that we even have a long-distance train network five years from now. In other words, a cup of coffee and a cheap one at that."
  • Possible LD service changes -- "It is logical to have a dialogue about splitting the California Zephyr, which operates from Chicago through Denver to the Bay Area, into an eastern and western service. The Chicago-Denver service runs very well. You can get on the train in the mid-afternoon in Chicago, have a nice dinner and wake up in Denver. The western part is slower, more of an excursion train, where the real selling feature is the dramatic landscape it crosses."
  • High-speed service -- "That is a goal we could all aspire to, and the question is how and when the country will be ready. We are talking about tens of billions of dollars, or euros, for a single corridor. I think we could get there in a couple of steps. I believe we could build an incremental approach where we could develop 100 mph corridors with conventional equipment. You build ridership and consciousness. Let's not forget that before the TGV [train à grande vitesse -- high-speed train] was there in France, there was a lower-speed train. There was a natural evolution from lower to higher speeds, and there is no reason we can't do that in the U.S."

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Gilbert B Norman
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Not sure to what extent Dow Jones & Company has sanctioned the linked video to be available as free content, but nevertheless here it is. It provides character insight to the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Machalaba.

Volks, he just might be a railfan:

http://next.video.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=8ff7e247-8b75-4b9d-b052-e84bb70bdd9f

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RRRICH
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Good video link, Gil!!! I don't know where you come up with all the "stuff" you are able to find and share on this forum, but keep it up!!!!!! We appreciate it!!
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TBlack
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Gilbert,
Mr. Kummant's comments suggest a question: when does a corridor train cease to be a corridor train and become a long distance train? Isn't he suggesting that Chicago - Denver be viewed a corridor? And, if so, can we also view NYC - Chicago as a corridor? There must be other city pairs that are similar: that is, leave in the afternoon and arrive the following morning.
Tom

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Mr. Toy
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I'm not clear on what would be gained by splitting the Zephyr or any other route. It would certainly be an inconvenience to through passengers. And I would think it would cost just as much if not more to turn trains in Denver than it does to run them through.

But maybe there's enough traffic Chicago to Denver to justify a second train on that segment???

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TBlack
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I don't think it's a question of splitting the CZ; but rather, as Kummant suggests, realizing that it accomplishes 2 goals: corridor and excursion and should be marketed as such.
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Tanner929
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For a Inter city rail service to succeed, there needs to have a clean safe and reliable Mass transit system on the other end. If passangers have to rent a car or spend a fortune on taxi's then the'll find it is cheaper to drive.
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Mr. Toy
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Indeed, Mr. Tanner. That's one reason why I only ride the train if an overnight is involved. For a trip that can be done in one day, it is faster, cheaper, and easier to drive. That's one reason why I question the notion that the future of rail is in regional corridors. For me, the most economical use of rail travel is for trips in the 500 to 1500 mile range. Anything longer takes too much time to be on the ground (unless one has ample time to spare). Anything shorter is best done by car.
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TBlack
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Anything shorter is best done by car.

Could you be showing a west coast bias, Mr. Toy? The distance between Boston and NYC is 200 miles, in round numbers. You CAN drive it in 3.5 hours, downtown to downtown if you plan your departure properly. Most folks up here figure on 4 hours. When you get there you have to park the car...$35. Acela does the trip in 3.5 to 3.75 hours and no parking fee. Flying is hugely expensive and, with the conditions at Laguardia what they are, doesn't save much time. I think the same numbers hold for the NYC to DC leg, although I'm not as familiar with those stats. That distance is about the same as the Boston leg.

Where it gets tricky is going from Boston to DC. That trip on Acela takes 6.5 hours vs. flying of 1.5 hours, and the airport is convenient and easy on both ends. That distance is about 400-450 miles.

Where, I would suggest, it gets easier again is the 1000 mile trip between, say, NYC and Chicago or Chicago and Denver. The passenger can leave the office in the afternoon and be at the destination first thing in the morning. They gotta spend the night somewhere; why not on the train? Flying doesn't add that much in benefits on that trip.

Whaddaya think?

Tom

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delvyrails
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Most trips between metro areas such as Boston and New York are NOT made between two downtowns starting and finishing a mile or two from the Amtrak stations. From ten, 20, or 30 miles out in origin, destination, or both, the time comparison is much different.

That's one reason I tend to agree with Mr. Toy (500 miles+) and believe that necessarily limited-stop HSR is overrated because of "feed-in, feed-out" considerations. In some cases, slower trains with more stops may be better.

--------------------
John Pawson

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Mr. Toy
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Mr. Black, its not so much of a west coast bias as an outside the NEC bias. In other words, most of the country. Its a different ballgame in the NEC. Even with nothing more to go on than my one experience on a Metroliner in 1976, and having seen how congested the roads were even then, I would say that the train is more convenient there than driving.
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George Harris
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I have a feeling that these short to medium corridors as the financial salvation of Amtrak are far less realistic in practice than they sound in theory. Most of the existing corridors are financial sinkholes. Only Los Angeles to San Diego is close to coveing its costs. San Jose / Oakland to Sacramento is covering about 50% of its cost and is regarded as a rousing success. So far as I know, this is not much different from the experience with state supported short to medium distance trains in the rest of the country - approx. 50% subsidy.

From the perspective of being carless in San Francisco: Having done Ferry Building to Fresno once by train and once by car, I will probably not use the train again for similar weekend trips, because: If you need a car in Fresno and must rent one, then you have the problem of early turn in on Sunday, at limited locations, It is easier and cheaper to rent the car on the San Francisco end and endure the traffic than to hassle with pick ups and turn ins and mooch rides to/from station on the Fresno end. With traffic jams on weekends there was almost no difference in end to end times, but the car was some faster.

Now, if we had a good overnight to Los Angeles, that would change the story completely for my Southern Calif connections with handy commuter type connections from there, then the 6 plus hour drive time - plus stops of course - would be happily traded for a 10 hour plus, maybe even 12 hour train ride, particularly since SFO to LAX requires about 4 hour plus flying time, meaning very little saving over driving.

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Mr. Toy
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George, we could revive the Lark name, but I think the Coast Nightlight would be more fun to say. [Roll Eyes]

I think you're right on about the corridor theory. Still, I think they'll be useful for many people, but not for every trip, as illustrated by your example. I wish someone would take seriously the idea of extending the Capitol Corridor south to Salinas or Monterey. If Auburn can justify a train I don't know why we can't. Thus I'll have to amend my earlier post. If the Capitols were extended south, I think I could justify an occasional ride, having friends and family located at a couple of points near that route.

BTW, I think you'll find it takes more than six hours to drive SF to LA. LA is a good six hours from Monterey, and SF is more than 100 miles farther. Eight hours is closer to reality, unless you can drive faster than the CHP can follow. [Eek!]

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TBlack
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I have a feeling that these short to medium corridors as the financial salvation of Amtrak are far less realistic in practice than they sound in theory

I'm not sure what you mean by financial salvation, Mr. Harris, but if you mean profitability, I think that's an unfair measure. There are no passenger transportation systems existant that, taking in ALL costs, are profitable. I'll concede that some of us don't mind driving 500 miles for convenience, but that is thanks to a highway system that was built for a whole host of reasons, none of which was profitability. Rather, market demand has always been the driving force. I'm reading that you, me and Mr. Toy are agreeing that the one night train ride could have some appeal in the marketplace. And now, thanks to your brilliant suggestion, I get to add SF/LA to my list of NYC/CHI, CHI/DEN as possible overnight train rides! Thanks!

Tom

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4021North
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Mr. Black, I think you hit the nail on the head saying that profitability is not a fair measure of how well Amtrak does. I see way too much focus on that aspect of things where Amtrak is concerned, and not enough focus on the other areas.

*****
quote:
For an Inter city rail service to succeed, there needs to be a clean safe and reliable Mass transit system on the other end.
I think a more effective rule would be, "there needs to be a clean, safe and reliable way for people to reach their final destination." Whether that be walking, a short taxi ride, public transit, or other means such as bicycles. Starting new rail service wouldn't have to be put off everywhere that there isn't a good transit system in place already, because that is only one part of the equation.
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Mr. Toy
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I think that George was agreeing that corridor trains are not profitable, and thus aren't the panacea their advocates claim them to be.
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George Harris
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Yes, that is why I said, "financial" salvation. If we considered any long distance train that covered over half its costs out the ticket sales a success, (as we seem to on corridors) we would be running several times as many LD trains as we do now.

I consider casting this in an "either/or" manner a mistake in concept. We should be looking at doing some or a lot of both.

We can either decide that the objective is to add convenience and increase passenger miles of travel, or we can try to squeeze the system down to minimal government contribution, but it does not appear possible to do both.

Looking at an analysis a few years ago in the Railway Gazette, Amtrak alread gets more passenger miles per unit of labor and per piece of passenger carrying equipment that almost any other system in the world. In short, "how they do it in Europe" is not going to save us. "How they do it in Japan" is not possible in the US because we do not have the consistent countrywide population density they do, nor the extremely high cost of automobile ownership and operation they do.

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