Posts Tagged ‘National Association of Railroad Passengers’

Less Than Daily Service: A Primmer

October 12, 2020

It might be hard to believe but rail passenger advocates once stood aside as a railroad shifted the frequency of operation of a long-distance passenger train from daily to tri-weekly.

In the late 1960s Southern Pacific wanted to discontinue its daily Sunset Limited between Los Angeles and New Orleans, citing high financial losses due to ridership having fallen by half compared with the early 1950s. Revenue had fallen even more.

To reduce costs, SP removed sleeping cars and full-service dining, replacing the latter with vending machines.

That move was heavily criticized by Interstate Commerce Commission examiner John S. Messer and also drew fire from local government officials along the route and the then-new National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Then something remarkable happened. NARP agreed to refrain from criticizing SP if the railroad reinstated dining cars and sleepers. In return NARP agreed not to protest switching the train to tri-weekly operation.

On the 1971 day that Amtrak began operations, it inherited tri-weekly Southern Pacific Nos. 1 and 2.

Amtrak will celebrate its 50th birthday next May and the Sunset Limited has never operated on a daily schedule the length of its route under Amtrak auspices.

Of late Amtrak has been acting like SP once did by reducing the frequency of nearly all of its long-distance trains to tri-weekly.

Although it has not eliminated sleeping cars, Amtrak has downgraded its dining service by replacing on most long-distance trains freshly prepared meals onboard with a more limited menu of pre-prepared fare.

Amtrak has sought to frame tri-weekly service as a temporary measure and linked it to steep ridership and revenue declines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The passenger carrier expects ridership to be only half in the federal fiscal year 2021 of what it was in 2019.

Less-than-daily operation of passenger trains is not a new concept although Amtrak has never operated virtually its entire long-distance network in that manner.

Although not the norm, less-than-daily service existed in the pre-Amtrak era.

After Western Pacific discontinued its leg of the California Zephyr in March 1968, there continued to be a tri-weekly “California Service” operating over much of the route of today’s Amtrak California Zephyr.

SP operated what is today’s Coast Starlight tri-weekly between Oakland, California, and Seattle.

Examine various issues of the Official Guide of the Railways in the late 1960s and you’ll find several trains that operated weekly, only on weekends, tri-weekly or only during a certain season of the year.

There once were trains that operated every other day or every third day, including a trio of Chicago-Florida Streamliners, the City of Miami, South Wind and Dixie Flager.

The trains were scheduled so there was a daily departure from Chicago, albeit on different routes.

The City of Miami and South Wind survived until the coming of Amtrak by which time they had been operating every other day since the 1950s.

Tri-weekly trains have been fixtures at various times in Amtrak’s history. It did not begin operating the Coast Starlight or San Francisco Zephyr (later renamed California Zephyr) daily over the length of their routes until 1973.

The Chicago-Seattle North Coast Hiawatha began life in June 1971 as a tri-weekly train between Minneapolis and Spokane, Washington. It reached Chicago and Seattle combined with the daily Empire Builder.

At various times the North Coast Hi alternated between daily and tri-weekly operation before being discontinued in early October 1979.

The Inter-American, the forerunner of the Texas Eagle, began in January 1973, as a tri-weekly train between Fort Worth and Laredo, Texas.

It later was extended to St. Louis and, eventually, to Chicago. Even then at various times the Inter-American operated tri-weekly south of St. Louise.

And then there is the Cardinal. The subject of discontinuance efforts in the late 1970s, the Cardinal survived largely because of the influence of West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd.

When talk of discontinuing the Cardinal picked up again in 1981, Amtrak President Alan Boyd suggested keeping the train as a tri-weekly run between Chicago and Cincinnati named the Midwestener.

Instead the Amtrak board of directors voted in September 1981 to end the Cardinal.

It was revived in January 1982 thanks to a rider placed in an appropriations bill by Indiana Congressman Adam Benjamin. It has operated tri-weekly ever since.

Less than daily service was common in the airline industry even before the pandemic.

Southwest Airlines served some markets only on weekends. Low cost carriers Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier don’t fly every route every day.

Legacy carriers Delta, United and American have flights that don’t operate on days when travel demand is diminished, typically early in the week.

Nonetheless, rail passengers supporters have strenuously objected to Amtrak’s tri-weekly plan because they see it not as a rational response to plunging ridership and revenue but as an ominous harbinger of bad things to come for Amtrak’s national network.

Trains magazine passenger correspondent Bob Johnston panning it in an article headlined “How to kill a network” in the September 2020 issue.

East Coat-based passenger train advocate David Peter Alan has argued in a series of essays posted on the Railway Age website that Amtrak is waging war on its passengers by imposing service cuts so severe that the national network as its been known will cease to exist.

The Rail Passengers Association, formerly known as NARP, called Amtrak’s tri-weekly service plan disappointing and misguided, saying Amtrak might be setting itself up for failure.

The primary argument made by passenger advocates against tri-weekly service is Amtrak tried it once and failed to save as much money as it claimed it would.

Advocates are fond of citing a Government Accountability Office report on the 1995 cutback to less-than-daily service on several routes, most of them in the West and South.

The GAO found that passengers did not adjust their travel plans as Amtrak expected and less-than-daily service led to “less efficient usage of equipment and other unforeseen problems.”

Amtrak President George Warrington told the Senate Commerce Committee in 2000 that Amtrak lost more passenger revenue than it was able to recoup in saved expenses due to the fixed cost nature of the operation.

Amtrak eventually restored all of those trains to daily operation but also eliminated the Pioneer to Seattle, and Desert Wind to Los Angeles.

Amtrak has published a set of criteria that it said will guide the return to daily service. Whether any or even all of the long-distance trains can meet those criteria remains to be seen.

Political pressure might force Amtrak to reinstate daily operation of long-distance trains or there may develop a situation in which some trains resume daily operation and others do not.

Tri-weekly service may not be an ideal business practice, yet some service is better than no service. If you don’t believe that, ask those who live in cities and regions that have no intercity rail passenger service.

Ultimately, the question of how often Amtrak’s long-distance trains operate or even whether they will operate at all is a political one that will be “resolved” by the political process.

There are many unknowns that will influence how that plays out including how well the travel market rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic that has dramatically cut the use of public transit, idled cruise ships and jet airliners, and led to an unprecedented shrinking of the world’s airline route network.

Amtrak Ends AAA, Student Discounts

March 1, 2018

Two popular Amtrak discount fares were eliminated quietly last month.

The passenger carrier removed its American Automobile Association and student discounts, both of which offered 10 percent off on Amtrak fares.

When asked to comment about the changes, Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said that passengers seeking discounts should book at least 14 days in advance of travel or look for Amtrak’s Saver Fares.

The student fares had been scaled back, being limited to travel aboard state-sponsored trains.

Earlier, Amtrak had ended its Student Advantage and International Student Identity Card programs, both of which offered 10 percent discounts.

Since early this year, Amtrak has overhauled its fare structure, including increasing the penalties for cash refunds on certain types of reservations.

Amtrak also offers 50 percent off for children ages 2 to 15 (one per accompanying adult) and 10 percent discounts for seniors (ages 65 and older), active-duty military personnel with military ID, passengers with disabilities, and members of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (now the Rail Passengers Association) and of Veterans Advantage.

For the most part, these discounts require reservations to be made at least three days in advance of travel and cannot be applied to Saver fares

They also are unavailable on some trains, including weekday Acela Express trains and 7000 and 8000-series Thruway buses, as well as travel between Toronto and Niagara Falls, Ontario, on the segment of the Maple Leaf operated by VIA Rail.

The remaining discounts apply only to the “rail fare” portion of tickets and cannot be used for accommodation charge for sleeping cars, business class or Acela first class.

NARP Rebrands Itself With New Name, New Look

December 1, 2017

As part of its efforts to rebrand itself, the National Association of Railroad passengers has rolled out a new name and new looks for its website and monthly newsletter.

Now known as the Rail Passengers Association, the group has adopted a logo featuring a stylized passenger car window.

For now the new website can be reached at the old address of www.narprail.org but it can also accessed at www.railpassengers.org

The new name and look were first revealed to the group’s members at its 50th anniversary celebration event held in Chicago in early November.

In a news release, the RPA said its new look will herald “a new age for advocacy for rail passengers in North America.”

RPA also has moved to a larger headquarters office in Washington.

The RPA logo is a landscape-oriented rectangle with two slanted lines in its lower left corner.

RPA said the image “allows the organization to highlight scenes riders would see from their train seat by adding different pictures and photos inside the window.”

RPA head Jim Matthews said the design also allows the group “to show a mix of cityscapes and landscapes inside the rectangle of the logo to create a view out of the imagined window.

“We can even use animation and movement to take advantage of the social media and web-based platforms where we advocate for rail riders. And, we can highlight regional differences and issues that we care about.”

Founded in 1967 as a non-profit organization, the official name of the group remains National Association of Railroad Passengers.

NARP Planning Rallies for Amtrak Trains

June 9, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers is planning a series of rallies across the country on June 23 to drum up political support for saving funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The Trump administration has proposed ending funding of long-distance service in the fiscal year 2018 federal budget, which NARP says would end intercity rail passenger service at 220 communities in 23 states.

“If Congress enacts this budget, our national passenger rail network will largely cease to exist,” NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews says. “Communities and rail passengers need to clearly and loudly tell Congress that our communities and citizens rely on trains as important travel options.”

More information about the rallies is available at www.townswithouttrains.com.

Will Driver-less Cars Hurt Passenger Rail?

October 26, 2016

A study projects that self-driving cars could have an adverse effect on rail passenger ridership, reducing it by 40 percent.

Amtrak 4The study by the Boston Consulting Group, titled “Will Autonomous Vehicles Derail Trains?” suggests that in some communities trains could be replaced by self-driving motor vehicles.

“The advent of autonomous vehicles could well affect passenger rail travel as profoundly as did the automobile 125 years ago,” the report states.

It remains to be seen when self-driving vehicles will appear on roads and streets on a large scale.

A number of pilot programs are underway by such companies as Tesla, Uber and Google.

Uber recently began a test program of driverless cars in Pittsburgh and the U.S. Department of Department of Transportation has written new regulations for the cars.

The Boston group report cited a survey of 5,500 people in 10 countries that found that 50 percent of them would ride in a driverless-car.

The Boston group said an advantage of self-driving vehicles is that they can deliver passengers right to the doorstep of where they want to do.

The study also said that the technology to regulate autonomous vehicles would cost less than a passenger rail system.

Passenger rail carriers could take advantage of self-driving vehicles, the study said, by having a fleet of such vehicles at the ready to take passenger the last few miles of their journey once they step off a train.

Not all rail passenger advocates agree with the conclusions of the study.

Andy Kunz, president and CEO of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, told Trains magazine that the idea driverless cars would replace passenger trains is “absurd.”

“They want to spend a trillion dollars to try to make cars operate closely spaced as a ‘platoon’ with no proof whatsoever it will ever work, when we already have trains that rapidly move people closely spaced together, and have been proven and successful for 150 years,” Kunz said. “There is no way this driverless car system will ever come close to moving the high numbers of people across a region that high speed rail can do now.”

Kunz cautioned that driverless cars could become the target of hackers, citing how Chinese security researchers figured out how to control a Tesla car remotely.

“They think people are going to get into their driverless car, program in a destination, and then sit back and read the newspaper while the vehicle does the navigating, when we already have taxis, Uber and trains that do this now without having to invent anything new,” Kunz said.

Also critical of the report was the National Association of Railroad Passengers, which said the report ignores new trends in resettlement patterns that have seen young and educated professionals moving to cities and walkable communities.

“That has led to steady growth in passenger rail service, with cities and states looking to develop new rail lines and multi-modal stations,” NARP said. “In addition, rail transit is technology that that readily available for the development of passenger rail networks, and it is a mode of transportation that people are familiar with, and can rely on.”

Former Ohio Congressman LaTourette Dies at 62; Supported Passenger Rail, Public Transportation

August 6, 2016

Former Ohio Congressman Steve LaTourette died this pst week at age 62 of pancreatic cancer.

Mr. LaTourette was known for his support of passenger rail and investing in the nation’s infrastructure.

Steve LaTourette

Steve LaTourette

Representing the 19th District for 18 years, Mr. LaTourette stepped down in 2013, citing what he termed an increasingly corrosive atmosphere of partisanship in Washington.

“You get some who just take this attitude that, ‘If I don’t get 100 percent of what I want, I’m going to take my ball and go home,’” Mr. LaTourette told WKSU-FM in a recent interview. “And that’s not the way the country was set up. That isn’t the way life is.”

Mr. LaTourette, a Republican, represented Ohio’s 19th District in Congress for 18 years.

The American Public Transportation Association and the Association of American Railroads both hailed Mr. LaTourette for his work on public transit and freight rail.

“As a senior member of the Republican leadership and a strong believer in the Mass Transit Account, [Mr. LaTourette] successfully fought with APTA against the ill-conceived effort to eliminate dedicated federal transit funding in 2012,” said APTA Chair Valarie McCall and Acting President and Chief Executive Officer Richard White in a statement.

They described Mr. LaTourette as “a voice of reason and an exemplary example of what it means to be a selfless public servant.”

AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger in a statement described Mr. LaTourette as a leader for many years on transportation, saying that the railroad industry is deeply saddened by his passing.

“The AAR had the honor of working with Rep. LaTourette during his time on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, including during his service as chairman of the panel’s Subcommittee on Railroads, and always found him to be fair: gathering facts from all sides and at the end of the day, exercising good judgment,” Hamberger said.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers described Mr. LaTourette as a leading Republican voice for bipartisan investment in infrastructure and passenger rail.

Mr. LaTourette is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and his six children: Sarah, Amy, Clare, Sam, Emerson and Henry.

STB Passenger Rulings Panned, Applauded

August 1, 2016

Rail passenger advocates were pleased but the Association of American Railroads was disappointed with rulings issued last week by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board pertaining to Amtrak’s on-time performance.

STBIn one decision, the STB said it would not institute a proposed policy statement that would have given Amtrak’s contract railroads more freedom to determine dispatching preferences.

Instead, the STB said it would consider on a case-by-case basis Amtrak complaints about its trains not being given preferential treatment as required by federal law.

In the second case, the STB said it would consider arrivals and departures at intermediate stations in investigations of on-time performance.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 mandates an average 80 percent on-time requirement for Amtrak trains.

The STB is authorized to investigate instances in which a host railroad is not dispatching Amtrak trains in a way as to reach that standard.

“It is a disappointment the [board] has decided to add mid-point on-time performance measures, which could result in negative impacts for freight rail customers and consumers,” the AAR said in a statement. “But the freight rail industry will continue to work with Amtrak to provide dependable passenger service in the country. In the meantime, we will review the two decisions and evaluate our further legal options.”

On the other hand, Jim Mathews, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said in a statement, “NARP congratulates the STB for coming to the correct decision in these important rulemakings. The STB plays a crucial role in ensuring that the national rail system operates both fairly and efficiently, and in ensuring that Congressional mandates are respected and enforced.”

Rumors Flying About LSL Reroute via Michigan

July 25, 2016

The National Association of Railroad Passengers is reporting that rumors have been flying that Amtrak is considering re-routing the Lake Shore Limited through Michigan.

Amtrak Lake Shore LimitedNARP said some reports have the train being rerouted via Detroit, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo as early as this October and that the reroute would be experimental.

Amtrak has acknowledged that such a routing is being studied as part of a “very high level analysis of options for the future,” NARP said on its website.

In the NARP hotline feature posted last week, the rail passenger advocacy group said it has heard the Lake Shore rerouting rumors from sources inside and side of Amtrak.

The group noted that the Michigan Department of Transportation has expressed interest in seeing a long distance train between Chicago and the East rerouted through Michigan.

Amtrak for several years ran its Chicago-Toledo Lake Cities via Detroit. Scheduled to connect in Toledo with the Lake Shore Limited, the Lake Cities was discontinued between Toledo and Detroit in April 1995 as part of a route-restructuring.

If the Lake Shore Limited is sent via Michigan, its route would remain unchanged east of Toledo.

Amtrak Service Unaffected by Fed Budget Cuts

March 2, 2013

The eastbound Lake Shore Limited idles at Cleveland on June 3, 2012, before resuming its journey to New York and  Boston. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

The eastbound Lake Shore Limited idles at Cleveland on June 3, 2012, before resuming its journey to New York and Boston. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

Amtrak service to Northeast Ohio and elsewhere is expected to continue as normal despite the implementation on Friday of an $85 billion sequester of the federal budget. Amtrak said that it will not reduce its schedules even though it, too, will be receiving less in federal funding.

“Amtrak is planning to take actions to allow it to withstand a funding cut and not cut service,” said Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods. “During (fiscal year) 2013, Amtrak is experiencing solid revenue growth and we have been controlling our costs and managing our budget in anticipation of a possible reduction in federal funding.”

The 2013 federal fiscal year extends through Sept. 30.

However, some maintenance work and planning to improve and expand service is expected to be hindered by the sequester.

Two Amtrak routes serve Northeast Ohio. The Chicago-Washington, D.C., Capitol Limited serves Alliance, Cleveland, Elyria, Sandusky and Toledo. The Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited serves Bryan, Toledo, Sandusky, Elyria and Cleveland.

Also serving Ohio is the Chicago-New York Cardinal, which operates tri-weekly and stops in Cincinnati.

News reports have quoted transportation officials as saying that air travel may be hard hit by the sequester as funds for the Federal Aviation Administration are reduced. The FAA operates the nation’s air traffic control system.

Also affected will be funding for airport security, which could lead to longer lines at airport security checkpoints.

By law federal workers must receive a 30-day notice of layoffs, so any problems with air travel are not expected to arise until April.

Amtrak carried more than 31 million passengers last year and covers most of its operating costs from passenger revenue.

Nearly 90 percent of Amtrak ridership since 1997 has been on trips under 400 miles. Along with a 55 percent jump in passengers, it generated a positive operating surplus of $47 million in 2011, according to a new report released by the Brookings Institution.

The report found that Amtrak has been the fastest-growing domestic transportation mode over the past 15 years. Ten metropolitan areas, mostly on the coasts, account for nearly two-thirds of Amtrak’s patronage.

The Brookings report said that the long distance routes carry less than 20 percent of Amtrak’s patronage and cost it $614 million.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers, however, noted that ridership on the 15 long-distance routes also has been growing. NARP cited figures from an Amtrak news release that in fiscal year 2012 the long-distance trains accounted for 43 percent of Amtrak’s passenger miles. A passenger mile is one passenger transported one mile.

In fiscal year 2012, Amtrak’s long-distance trains had their best combined ridership in 19 years.