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Author Topic: Amtrak gains slowing, softening?
Henry Kisor
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This report suggests that falling gasoline prices may affect Amtrak's ridership numbers:

http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=105095

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rresor
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When oil prices were rising last summer, this forum was full of doom-and-gloom speculation about $8 per gallon gasoline, with a very unattractive gleeful undertone. So it's no surprise that a 50% decline in gasoline prices over the last several months is greeted with -- silence.

We'll just have to hope the folks whose choice of Amtrak was driven by $4 per gallon gas found the experience pleasant enough that they'll remain customers even though gas is now $1.93 for regular (last Monday in southern New Jersey).

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RR4me
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Seems prices swing like a pendulum, based first on speculation and now on recession fears. Facts that don't change include the tremendous growth in Asia, that even if slowed now for economic reasons, will inexorably cause the price of gas to rise over time. What this lull does is give Amtrak planners time to consider a future that WILL include big growth in ridership. I hope they can convince the congress that it's coming, and get funded appropriately.
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Ocala Mike
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T. Boone Pickens guarantees that crude will be $100/barrel by next spring. Enjoy the under $2/gal. price now, because it won't last.

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Ocala Mike

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sfthunderchief
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Or could it be that the gains in ridership each month over the last year come at a price that compared to a comparable period a year ago, the increase is either smaller, or on par, or slightly less?

It may be unreasonable to expect that Amtrak can show enormous gains each month, indefinitely. For one thing there is a capacity of equipment limit that will be reached.

I know not every train runs full, but there is such a thing as the "limit."

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sfthunderchief
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Also,

When do you all think the oil industry will blink, and the artificially low prices we've enjoyed for a few days will once again begin to rise?

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notelvis
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quote:
Originally posted by sfthunderchief:
Also,

When do you all think the oil industry will blink, and the artificially low prices we've enjoyed for a few days will once again begin to rise?

My prediction is that they will be on the rise again shortly after Christmas......

maybe.

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David Pressley

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Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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Mr. Toy
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Gas prices came down because people cut back on driving. Prices will stay low if people keep driving less, but will rise again should they start driving more. Amtrak will suffer or prosper depending on whether motorists learned this lesson or not.

As an aside, remember this summer when prices on everything went up because of the cost of transporting goods went up? Economists said this spelled trouble for the economy. Now that gas prices have fallen, prices on everything have come back down. Economists call this "deflation" and last week they were saying it spelled trouble for the economy. Go figure.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Likely by Xmas, there will be some "post gas bust" ridership stats available.

Away from the NEC, where Acela has clearly proved itself a commercial success, there still need hard evidence that Amtrak travel is not tied to the price of gas. Even though a small portion of the overall cost of operating a motor vehicle, gas is still the most direct cost of such. Even as gas prices have now roundly "halved" ($2.299/ga today for me; albeit major brand Premium - by comparo, a May 29 ticket i just pulled out shows $4.399/ga), it will be interesting to seel how many of the recent gains Amtrak can hold on to.

While I'm hoping for the best on this point, I'm expecting the worst.

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mpaulshore
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Why does the word "halved" need to be put in quotation marks? Is it a slang word?
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Henry Kisor
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Oh, Mpaulshore, "give it a rest," won't you?
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Henry Kisor
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GBN, you may be absolutely right, but perhaps many new riders, having never before experienced Amtrak, may like it enough to keep taking the train. This is evidenced in many enthusiastic blogposts by new riders.

Also, driving habits apparently have not returned to their pre-Amtrak boom level. It is thought in many quarters that drivers are well aware oil prices could zoom right back up into the stratosphere.

So it is not an impossible idea that Amtrak can hang on to most of its new riders. Ora pro nobis.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Drawing analogies to the previous "gas crisis" some of us here lived through (compared with other railforums where the answer would be none of us, here could well be most of us), the difference this time is that the supply has been unaffected - it is only the price, which of course to some is meaningless.

During the 1973-74 "crisis" and to a lesser extent that of '79, one often found gas rationed or at times couldn't buy it at any price. This was quite unnerving for someone who needed an auto for work. Amtrak of course enjoyed a spike in its ridership during the "crisis" and of course the usual was late and overcrowded trains. At that time, no new equipment, save the RTG Turbos and 40 SDP-40F's, had been placed in service - need more be said with regards to reliability or an enjoyable travel experience? When the "crisis' was deemed over, the ridership 'tanked" and it was not until 1999 that Amtrak ridership exceeded that enjoyed during the 'crisis" (quotations intentionally used account as there is conjecture between whether the action arose from ideological differences or from a deliberate action by the oil producers, domestic and foreign, to force a price increase).

This time the price increase and subsequent collapse is based upon supply and demand, people made a choice to seek out mass transportation; some were satisfied with the change and some households may have decided they can do quite well with one less auto resulting in savings far FAR greater than the cost of fuel.

While it is hard to look away from the experience of 73-74, maybe this time the outcome will be different.

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palmland
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Mr. Norman, I hope your optimism over Amtrak retention of ridership gains is correct. However, having just returned from a trip to the northeast, I95 was bumper to bumper. I can only imagine what it will be like tomorrow, Sunday, as the holiday weekend ends. At a gas stop near Petersburg, Va gas was $1.58/gal.

A quick stop at the Rocky Mount, NC station found the NB Silver Star cooling its heals from being involved in some grade crossing mishap just north of the station (by then over 2 hours late) while the NB Carolinian arrived on time but was trapped by the Star and a freight on the other main.

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Henry Kisor
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Palmland, one's mileage may vary, as they say. Yesterday I drove I-94 (the Chicago-Milwaukee main drag) and traffic was relatively light for a Saturday. Gas was $1.63 a gallon in southern Wisconsin.

By the way, I'm the fellow who's optimistic about the Amtrak ridership gains -- GBN, that staunch realist, is much less so.

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palmland
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HK-I suspect snow birds made the difference. They start migrating right after Thanksgiving.
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Henry Kisor
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Slightly off topic, but perhaps retention of ridership gains also depends on improvement of service quality:

http://timesunion.com/ASPStories/Story.asp?StoryID=745089&LinkFrom=RSS

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Gilbert B Norman
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There was a vague reference in a segment of NBC "Today" this morning in which I may have heard the correspondent (Mike Taibi) say "rail travel is down". The reference that both air and auto, gas notwithstanding, are definitely down was distinctly heard on the laundromat's TV.

The segment included maybe two seconds of Acela file footage

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rresor
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Just a bit of historical perspective. After gas prices last peaked in 1981, they fell more or less continuously until 1998. I wouldn't expect any short-run increase this time. I think we're headed for another several years, at least, of relatively low gas prices.

So it looks like Amtrak will have to make it on its own merits, just as it always has.

Another historical note. Amtrak ridership peaked in 1981, and did not return to that level until 2005 or so. And this was despite rapid growth in auto and air travel.

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Henry Kisor
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This morning, for the hell of it I checked sleeper charges on Nos. 5/6 between Chicago and Glenwood Springs for mid-January. The lowest bucket price of $194 each way for a roomette is (or was) available every day January 11 through 16.

That suggests sleeper demand may be softening.

The price is good enough so that my wife and I are now considering a week's trip to take the waters at Glenwood Springs.

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RRRICH
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I imagine, if you checked the same fare for the same trip in mid-summer, the roomette would be considerably more than $194 each way!!!!
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Henry Kisor
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There was one mid-December CHI-GSC departure from Chicago on No. 5 with a roomette available for $494! That's a Ritz Carlton suite price!

As retirees my wife and I have learned to travel only in the off seasons and preferably at those seasons' slowest times.

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rresor
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Well, here's another indication demand is softening. Through December 12, Amtrak is running a "holiday sale" on the Northeast Corridor. Fares are reduced about $7 below the usual lowest "bucket", and for both morning and evening trains. This all knocks roughly 1/3 off the price of my PHL -- WAS round trip.

I've been advance purchasing tix for some January and February trips to lock in the sale price before it goes back up (if it does). With the recent economic news, I suppose Amtrak could decide to lower fares even more...

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PaulB
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Just a report "from the trenches"...

I took Surfliner 769 from Fullerton to LA yesterday. Just a few months ago, nearly EVERY seat on a 700-series train would be filled. If you could get a seat, you would be sharing the two-seater with someone else. Yesterday, I had no problem finding a window seat to myself. There were a few rows in our car that were empty, and 3 booths in the downstairs Cafe were empty.

On the way back I took 582. This train originates in LA, although there is a connecting bus to it. I took a seat in a substituting Superliner Coach. Only one other person took a seat in the coach besides me! The regular Surfliner coaches were about half-full. A few months ago, ALL coaches would be 50-75% full departing LA.

So, based on my very unscientific sample, ridership seems to be down, especially for the corridor trains.

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Southwest Chief
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Just got back from a Coast Starlight trip. Very low ridership in the sleepers. Never had any problems finding space in the Parlor car. Going up we had 6 for wine tasting. Coming down we had around 11. Word from the crew is they are taking the third sleeper off soon. Coach traffic was also way down.

My theory is it's between holidays when few can get off work.

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Henry Kisor
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Here's a report that the Vermont legislature is considering dumping its Amtrak support owing to having to tighten the state's belts:

http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20081208/BUSINESS/812080301

It's obvious that the economic free-fall is going to hurt everybody and every mode of travel.

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amtraxmaniac
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Gas is now lowest its been in 2 years in my neck of the woods. This is good news for all but TWO groups: mass transit advocates and the oil industry. There have been layoffs galore out here due in part to the low price of a barrel of crude oil. So gas prices are a double edged sword. When they're high, people complain (yet they buy anyway). When they are low though, people can't afford it at all because they DON'T HAVE JOBS. As crazy as it sounds, being pro Amtrak and PRO JOBS, I'm hoping gas prices go up A BIT.

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Patrick

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Gilbert B Norman
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While I would prefer to have confirmation of such from a recognized newssource, this material appearing at an advocacy blog suggests the concerns expressed at this topic are "for real":

It was simply inevitable; all too many that even three months ago were lined up at an Acela gate at Penn are now lined up at the State unemployment agency's office.

Scroll down:

http://trains4america.wordpress.com

Possibly the Northeast, where as often noted I grew up, will learn two words - restraint and austerity.

Oh, on personal gas watch, I paid $1.899/ga yesterday for major brand Premium.

Finally, while anecdotal, I received this from a friend who resides in the Wash area:

Gil - Did my annual Christmas trip to New York last Friday. Macy's seemed full, but few had Macy's bags. At Citicorp (53rd and Lexington), they announced that this would be the last year for their big train layout - due to bank problems. Penn Station was a zoo as all Empire Service trains had been canceled. One girl was desperately trying to get to Rhinecliff, with Amtrak giving no info -I got out my Metro North schedule and told her to go to Grand Central for a train to Poughkeepsie - and wished her luck. I returned on 193 at 5:39 PM - as usual, expecting huge crowds for the Friday evening service, I sneaked down to the platform before it was announced. The deluge never occurred! The six car train was barely half full - just a few boarded at Newark - I remember that this train was standing room only and now there wasn't even a line at the snack car.

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Henry Kisor
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I am impressed with the Trains for America blog. Just about everything seems to be well sourced, and when editorial opinion is invoked, it is obvious that it is opinion. The tone of the prose is measured and thoughtful.

Just sayin'.

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