Commentary by Russ Jackson, RailPAC Associate Director
On February 1, 2014, Amtrak’s General Manager Long Distance Services, Mark Murphy, spoke to the RailPAC-NARP meeting in Los Angeles. While this writer was unable to attend the meeting I have viewed the video of his presentation. In it, Mr. Murphy spoke of the future of the long distance trains, and that subject is important to California because four of them serve the state, providing mobility options for those who want to travel beyond the state’s borders by train. Accompanying him were Mike Dwyer, the route director for the Coast Starlight and the Southwest Chief, and Joy Smith, Business Liaison Director of Service Excellence, long distance services. Mr. Dwyer’s contribution was the good news that the Pacific Parlour car will be continued on the Coast Starlight. Ms Smith was not heard from and that is unfortunate, as her presentation to a TXARP meeting when she was General Manaager in Texas was excellent and very well received. Mr. Murphy spoke of Amtrak’s need for more revenue and that they are “going after every dime we can get; we can’t cut our way to success.” Rail advocates in attendance loudly applauded this and the fact he stated that Amtrak earns 89-90 cents for each operating cost dollar. He proudly spoke of the “new equipment” on order, while not mentioning that those cars are the new low-levels that will be used only on the eastern trains. As for new equipment for the western trains, he only said “nothing today, but if we can show value…” meaning that the western trains still have to show their worth to the company? He wants to add capacity to “grow our revenue,” but did not say how that would be accomplished. We all know that the way to do that is to add Superliner cars as well as the new Viewliners to current consists.
Neil Bjornsen, 1945 – 2014 January 29th, 2014
What Do The Long Haul Trains Really Cost? January 14th, 2014
By Andrew Selden, President, Minnesota Rail Passenger Association
The great Amtrak myth is that long distance trains cost a ton of money (one recent report we saw, which loaded them up with shares of every cost imaginable, including NEC costs and all the non-cash ones like depreciation of fully-depreciated Superliners, alleged a net loss last year of more than $600 million).
Getting Derailed on the Crescent for Thanksgiving! December 20th, 2013
Story and Photos by RailPAC member Alexander Friedman
I love traveling cross-country by train and I have done so every year for over a decade. For this Thanksgiving holidays I decided to take, for the first time the Sunset Limited. Then after visiting New Orleans for a day, I planned to transfer onto the Crescent for a trip straight to Washington D.C. I was also going to visit my father who lives just west of our nation’s capital, for a nice Thanksgiving celebration. I was truly excited about riding these two routes, the few that I haven’t traveled yet.
Amtrak Monthly Performance Report December 16th, 2013
Reported by Anthony Lee, RailPAC Associate Director
Each month Amtrak compiles a Performance Report, covering many financial and financial items. Their full (unaudited) report can be found on www.amtrak.com by going to the list of items at the bottom of the home page and selecting “News & Media” then select “Reports & Documents” and then look at the items at the bottom of the page. In this report we have selected certain items that highlight what is on that 61 page report for the month of October, 2013.
New Amtrak Cars, But (sigh) Not For The West November 21st, 2013
Commentary by Russ Jackson, URPA/RailPAC
On October 24, 2013, Amtrak rolled out the new low-level Viewliner cars at the manufacturer CAF’s plant in Elmira, New York. The order is for 130 cars: 25 sleeper cars, 25 dining cars, 25 baggage/dormitory cars and 55 baggage cars, and Amtrak is excited. They should be. This is the first order for the passenger fleet since the Superliner II cars were purchased in the 1990s. That’s a long time. In a blog report, Amtrak was enthusiastic about “how cool” these new cars are. They will all be painted in “Phase III” red and blue stripes, which was Amtrak’s most popular design, and will have the heritage “pointless arrow” on the first cars to be released. See http://blog.amtrak.com/2013/10/coming-soon-new-long-distance-cars for pictures of the exterior and interior of these new cars. Will they increase capacity for the routes where they will run? Not much, because current plans call for all the older Viewliners to be withdrawn from service for upgrade to Viewliner II standards, and there is no funding for that yet. Remember, too, Amtrak is also buying new electric locomotives for use on the Northeast Corridor. It’s nice they are being built in Sacramento, though.
Re: Ralph James Auburn-Bakersfield Trip (a discussion) August 2nd, 2013
NOTE: The following letter was published in the July 29, 2013 RailPAC e-newsletter as a “letter to the editor” after Ralph James’ article on the subject in the July-August issue of the “Steel Wheels” newsletter. Ralph James has now replied to Mr. Heywood, and those comments are published here.
Amtrak’s Southwest Chief; a future still in doubt August 1st, 2013
Commentary by Russ Jackson, RailPAC
It’s time we took another look at the continuing saga of the future of the Southwest Chief, which requires action as to whether 1) It will continue on its historic route from Albuquerque to Kansas via the Raton Pass route, or, 2) It will be moved to the BNSF “Transcon” route from Belen, NM to Kansas via Amarillo and Wichita, or, 3) It will be discontinued altogether. The decision deadline is the end of 2014.
Comet Car Access problem? A RailPAC solution July 1st, 2013
RailPAC Opinion with PHOTOS, by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President
As RailPAC’s e-mail newsletter Editor Noel Braymer has previously reported there is some discontent on the part of the San Joaquin rail board at being allocated two consists of the refurbished “Comet” cars.
Sacramento to Tucson, on Amtrak and in the Dining Car June 4th, 2013
Trip Report and Comments by Mike Barnbaum, RailPAC Associate Director
Six months ago, I reserved with 11,000 Guest Rewards points, a round trip from Sacramento to Tucson. I have already traveled one-way, and will be returning on Sunday 26 May from Tucson, arriving into Sacramento on Monday 27 May. This was a sad trip in the wake of what just recently happened in Sacramento. Sacramento put up a good fight in an effort that turned out successful with all involved (Mayor, City Council, Fans, Grassroots, Local Investors, Major Equity Investors, bipartisan state legislature support and more) to save the Sacramento Kings for present and future generations to come. While that was a success in Sacramento, it was no the case in Tucson, Arizona, where the community’s only professional sports franchise, the Tucson Padres, will not be the Tucson Padres in 2014. The franchise is packing their bags and moving to El Paso, where we have found out through Twitter that their new ballpark will be located in a location in Downtown El Paso that require the demolition of both a Natural Science History Museum and El Paso City Hall. City offices are being housed in a building there in El Paso, Texas, where an old newspaper printing factory used to be, according to sources on social media giant, Twitter.