Amtrak, What Do We Get for $137,200,000.00 Dollars?

That is the question!  Railway Age has a piece on this titled “Amtrak gets funding for Western services”.  As quoted from the article, “The Coast Starlight, running between Los Angeles and Seattle, will receive $81.1 million; the Cascades, supported in part by the states of Oregon and Washington, will get $56.1 million.”  So I want to know!  Will we get increased service?  Will we get more equipment?  We ought to get more trains AND more service for that amount of money!

$81.1 million should EASILY buy enough sets to almost double frequency on the Coast Starlight Route.  Amtrak might of course need to split some existing equipment and such, but the point is, they could do it.  Maybe they could fix a few of those stretches that have wretched slow orders too?  I’m almost scared to actually know what we’ll get for the money.  I dread to think that it’ll all go to silly absurd things like painting stations or adding something stupid like parking, but I’ll give’em the benefit of the doubt.  I look forward to the news.

As for the Cascades landing $56.1 million, we better get some more of that service Washington (and Oregon sort of) has promised us for years!  We could easily double the passenger carried by doubling the number of trains.  With $56.1 million that should get the system AT LEAST a few more engines and another 1-2 train sets.  Of course those FRA regulatory mafia will have to lay off in order for Amtrak to get anymore of those excellent (and VERY safe) Talgo Trainsets, if Talgo would even sell us anymore.

So does anyone have any news on this?  Any word lemme know!!!  I’m chomping at the bit to know!

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8 Comments

  1. From what I have read…don’t even think about new equipment.

    From the Seattle Times: "In all Amtrak got $1.3 billion from President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package." This is roughly Amtrak’s annual appropriation, and Amtrak gets funded through the Omnibus spending bill.

    Since some of the funding is still for FY09 (or is it FY08?), it appears that the $137.2 million is really just the federal operating support for the remainder of the last year, and the next year. In other words – it’s existing, continuing spending – NOT new capital spending.

    IMO: The money spent on the Coast Starlight is throwing good money after bad. Let’s face it – one Amtrak train, or even 100 Amtrak trains, cannot compete in the Pacific Northwest-California travel corridor. One would have to spend billions of dollars and permanently scar the Siskiyou and Shasta Ranges with a maglev line (not HSR, but maglev) to even approach time-competitiveness (and even at 350 MPH, air travel is still faster than maglev, but at least Portland-Bay Area would be competitive when you factor in airport dwell time.)

    When you look at the Eugene-North and Redding-South as two separate routes, you have two daytime corridors that with improved schedules could retain and attract riders. But Eugene-Redding is a vast (355 miles) wasteland, with only Klamath Falls (population less than 20,000) as the only significant stop. Is serving K Falls worth $81 million?

    Seattle-Portland is worth expanding rail service; with the EXISTING EQUIPMENT WSDOT/Amtrak could run seven round-trips a day, two hours apart, full span of day. Seattle-Bellingham-Vancouver (BC) would likely need new equipment but there is less traffic on this corridor. WSDOT is determined to keep this route, so adding a couple trainsets up north makes sense.

    Portland-Eugene is just not a rail market. Buses running on an hourly schedule would provide the same quality and level of service (in fact buses between Salem and Portland would actually beat the train, since the train must travel way off the straight-line and are severely speed-restricted north of Hubbard). Oregon could do better with commuter rail between Portland-Salem, and just bus service south to Eugene (or maybe a less expensive, coach-only, conventional trainset with no food service and just three or four coaches, locomotive – nothing else? – but with far, far fewer departures).

    Redding-Sacramento is already planned as an extension of the Capitols Corridor in California; Redding’s population is just shy of 110,000 (not much smaller than either Salem or Eugene!) And there are calls to create the Coast Daylight, a daytime train between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, which has a number of major cities along the central coast.

    So…why does the Coast Starlight exist as it is? Because one "likes trains" isn’t a good enough answer. It is nothing more than a niche player, and the money can be better utilized to seriously move people where additional capacity is needed rather than catering to a very, very, very tiny population of people who "like trains".

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  2. hahaa, yeah, I don’t expect to see any equipment, just dreaming really.

    …and I seriously hope that the 137.2 Million is NOT regular spending. The Talgo stretch is almost break even for christ’s sake! Now, the Coast Starlight stretch, if it could actually stay full all year it would do gangbusters of profits. But as you point out, it has about 50+% occupancy, which I assume is when it is 90%+ full (or often sold out) during the summer time.

    Between Eugene and California there is ZERO technical, economic, environmental, or other reason to run rail. Unless they stuck a toll that would actually cover the costs of the Interstate from Eugene down to California there is no marketable competitive reason to run rail, as you point out. Without MAGLEV there is no competitive reason to try to fend of air travel between the points.

    I also agree that between Eugene and Portland, at least today, there is zero reason to be running passenger rail. As you point out, it just really isn’t environmentally, economic, or intelligent to be doing so. At least not until they can run honest to goodnes FAST and RELIABLE service. If they could land the commuter segment and get Eugeneites to Portlandia in about an hour then the stretch could be worth something. Until then, complete waste of time and money.

    The Coast Starlight is nice, but if they can’t fill it up during the winter they might as well throw in the hat, at least for the winter time. If they could fill it to at least 70%, they’d break even, anything over would turn into that thing passenger trains are mythically not supposed to do, turn a profit.

    But I digress, I was reading on Amtrak’s site today. We’re getting squat, some repair facilities, and aother misallocations of the money. I don’t think a damn penny out of the entire 1.3 billion is actually going to service impreovements. A LOT of it is going to security and other things of that sort.

    I find it sickening, the one thing that EVEN Libertarians generally agree on that the Government is supposed to do, they don’t do – security. WTF I just don’t know. Government should be handling security, NOT Amtrak.

    I find that completely asinine.

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  3. "The Talgo stretch is almost break even for christ’s sake!"

    Actually, no.

    According to Amtrak’s September 2008 "Monthly Performance Report" (which includes the full fiscal year results), the Cascades lost $5.9 million – and that is only the federal portion of the loss (which Amtrak counts); it does not include the contributions paid by WSDOT or ODOT (about $5 million a year for Oregon; WSDOT’s contribution is much higher).

    On the other hand, the buses that run as part of the Cascades, at least in Oregon, do not receive any subsidy, they do earn a profit for their operators (OC&W Coachways primarily, Greyhound runs some of the schedules.)

    The Coast Starlight, along with the Empire Builder, are actually pretty popular services. The problem is that they have an identity crisis. Are they a luxury train (sleeping cars, "free" food, lounge cars?) Are they basic transportation between remote communities? What is their purpose? The Starlight has some great scenery but since when was it the government’s role to provide this particular mode of transport; why doesn’t the government run Oregon Coast sightseeing flights, or a cruise line up and down the coast? In the past I’ve argued that support for Amtrak (at least with regards to the Empire Builder) ought to be a locomotive and coaches only…with a private operator permitted to tack on sleepers, lounge cars, dining car, etc. That way the government is still providing the "basic transportation" that is often lacking especially in northern Montana (especially with the loss of Big Sky Airlines; there are few if any bus services up there either) while creating a business opportunity that isn’t subsidized.

    IMO, The Coast Starlight ought to be privatized if to continue because the "basic transportation" argument doesn’t pan; there are multiple operators and multiple modes; and plus there are better rail services along much of the route which more truly provide "basic transportation". There are buses that serve Klamath Falls and Chemult (which isn’t even an incorporated city). We can use the money smarter, elsewhere.

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  4. "I find it sickening, the one thing that EVEN Libertarians generally agree on that the Government is supposed to do, they don’t do – security. WTF I just don’t know. Government should be handling security, NOT Amtrak. "

    Good point.

    🙂

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  5. The buses don’t make a profit, they get paid a profit.

    The buses also don’t pay !@#$ for infrastructure that they get, for all intents, free. The major injustice of the road system. Some pay, some don’t, meanwhile it ruins millions of business opportunities for productive private employment.

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  6. "The buses also don’t pay !@#$ for infrastructure that they get, for all intents, free. The major injustice of the road system. Some pay, some don’t, meanwhile it ruins millions of business opportunities for productive private employment."

    Wait a second. It ruins millions of business opportunities for productive private employment…like what? Doesn’t the highway system CREATE millions of business opportunities?

    Much of the economic growth experienced in this country is directly related to the highway system — it started with the railroad system, yes. But there’s another reason why road use took off over railroad use. The railroads were a monopoly and controlled rates, and in many cases provided poor service.

    Just as we see with many activist groups who want to counter "the institution" (whatever it is, from WalMart to McDonalds to the federal government) – back then, the railroads WERE "the institution". You lived and worked by the railroad’s clock, and the railroad determined when and where trade occurred. The railroad determined if you could freely travel. The private automobile broke the back of "the institution" and created huge amounts of private wealth literally out of nowhere.

    If we look here in Oregon, most of the railroads abandoned passenger service not in the 1950s and 1960s after the Interstates (5 and 84) were built, but actually in the 1920s and 1930s. Only a handful of non-mainline trains existed into the 1950s, and many of the trains abandoned during that time didn’t even follow I-5 or I-84 — trains to Astoria and to Bend where freeways don’t come near.

    It should also be noted that many Greyhound routes in Oregon (at least until a few years ago when Greyhound started slashing routes) had direct historical ties to former Southern Pacific railroad and later motorcoach routes; the route from Portland to Lincoln City and down U.S. 101 to San Francisco was a Southern Pacific route dating back to the 1930s that SP sold to Greyhound. The railroads even knew that maintaining its own track wasn’t cost-effective in many cases but it was the federal government – the Interstate Commerce Commission, to be specific – that tied the hands of the railroad and prevented effective cost-reduction measures. The ICC forced railroads to operate nonproductive routes and established difficult criteria to abandon lines, rules that weren’t finally eliminated until the Staggers Act deregulated railroads.

    Reply

  7. What do you mean yachtcharter griechenland? Of course I’ve thought about Amtrak, that’s where the money is going. I’m perplexed by your question.

    Reply

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