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Old 06-14-2014, 02:24 PM
 
900 posts, read 794,750 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by redguard57 View Post
Just to defend Amtrak travel -- it works extremely well in the northeast corridor. I've made the trip between Boston and Washington, D.C. many times. It gets you from downtown to downtown in about 6.5 hours for about $120 one way. The Acela cuts the trip by about an hour and is nicer, but costs $200. That's cheaper and faster than flying when you consider the 2 hours early you need to arrive at the airport, AND it gets you directly downtown. Definitely faster than driving through New York traffic. It's so convenient I've encountered people who went on evening dates from NYC to Boston or vice versa. Providence, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore... all the points in between are really fast.

Outside the Boston-DC corridor, however... not so good.
The big issue elsewhere is usually having to share tracks with freight trains, which are a booming business as someone said upthread. However, improvements are in the works, evidently. We drove down the 5 to Oceanside, CA a few days ago, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a sign touting a double-tracking project in the area. The main coastal rail route between L.A. and San Diego has only one set of tracks for most of its length, so double-tracking even just some of it can help a great deal.
Quote:

I always check Amtrak when I plan travel, but for the cost weighed against the time, it's never worth it. If I'm going to travel 40+ hours it better damn well be half the cost of flying and it never is. Greyhound is often faster and cheaper than Amtrak - beating Amtrak by half a day or more on long distance trips.

UNLESS I'm travelling btw DC and Boston, in which case Amtrak is the best deal by far.
Admittedly, I haven't looked at the schedules, but I doubt if a Greyhound bus could be any faster than Amtrak between L.A. and San Diego, unless perhaps it runs very late at night.

FTR I have to admit that buses are more comfortable than most American trains in the smoothness of the ride. The trains usually have a "swaying" quality and sometimes you seem to hear every rivet and weld on the track as you pass over it. Presumably this doesn't happen on the Acela, though.
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Old 06-14-2014, 03:29 PM
 
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Here is another problem American railroads face; trains must run on tracks, tracks sit upon land, land is taxed.

As American RR passenger traffic declined then fell off a cliff ROWs were abandoned or had double or even four tracks (two each way) removed to suit the current demand. Penn Central was still paying dearly for the "High Line" ROW that runs through lower Manhattan which was one of the reasons why they kept asking to tear the thing down.

Problem is today now that rail travel is again seeing interest you cannot always put back easily what was taken away.

Even where ROW is still in use improvements to allow faster trains is not always welcomed or wanted.

Amtrak could get much faster times on the Acela between NYC and Boston if the ROW running through Conn was a bit less "scenic" and more straight. However the property owners of ocean front land where the tracks already run aren't totally happy with Amtrak as it is; they certainly would oppose any taking of their property or further easements to remove some of the curves and bends to give faster speeds.

All this being what it may, Amtrak does do sleeper service including some variations that are very popular. The "Auto-Trains" for instance enjoy great reviews and a large following: Amtrak Autotrain - Lorton, VA | Yelp
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Old 06-14-2014, 05:12 PM
 
20,749 posts, read 13,749,199 times
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You would never know it by today's sad state of affairs, but prior to WWII the United States had the fastest and most technologically modern passenger rail system in the world. Indeed concept of HSR was invented by American railroads with trains like the Hiawatha running between Chicago and the Twin Cities reaching speeds at or near 100 mph under *STEAM* power.

In fact one of the reasons the Feds stepped in to place limits on train speeds without proper signals (in cab versus ROW) was that RRs were pushing the envelope when it came to speed with sometimes horrible crashes.

Many RRs knew then that sleeper/overnight service was dying and travelers wanted to get from "A" to "B" quickly. Time sensitive freight was also increasing and with new competition coming from trucks using the Interstate highway system shippers were growing less tolerant of delays/having their stuff tied up in RR yards.
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Old 06-14-2014, 05:32 PM
 
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I feel like the decline of passenger rail in the US is somewhat of a free market issue. In the railroad's heyday, all RR passenger services were privately-owned; competition is what made the railroads such a high quality way to travel. When the govt interfered by building the interstates, it uprooted the passenger railroad industry, leading to the car and plane dominated system we have today. I think that shift on the government's part to invest in interstates (and airports) was driven by the impact of airplanes and trucks in the war effort during WWII. Railroads, which were crucial in mobilizing for the Civil War and WWI, played a secondary role to cargo aircraft and trucks in transport of men and materiel. The US govt observed this and applied it to civilian life, thus giving us what we have now.
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Old 06-14-2014, 05:40 PM
 
Location: Vallejo
14,062 posts, read 16,078,369 times
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We had some pretty sophisticated wagon technology back in the day too. And then the airplane came along.

The airplane just makes much more sense, maybe not for freight but for passenger service, especially at the time. The Western US is very spread out with means better suited for air travel than train travel. Rail became irrelevant for regional travel. 1960 to 2000 saw regional rail travel fall by more than two thirds. During the same time, air travel grew by more than ten fold. Domestic air travel dwarfs rail by close to 100:1 today.

Regional rail just became relegated to freight in the US. Rail is something like ten times as energy efficient as trucks at moving freight per ton. If it doesn't need to get there very soon and is going a long distance, that's a pretty big advantage. As you saw fuel prices go up the demand for freight rail increased dramatically. In contrast, the energy efficiency of moving passengers by rail is not significantly greater than air.
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Old 06-14-2014, 06:19 PM
 
Location: the Permian Basin
4,196 posts, read 3,083,574 times
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Rail travel is outmoded and overpriced.
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Old 06-14-2014, 06:52 PM
 
Location: Oregon, formerly Texas
5,455 posts, read 3,759,379 times
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I see a lot of interest in regional rail. Ie: in Houston, the light rail was criticized when under construction but now people there love it. It has more ridership than all but Boston and San Francisco light rail last I checked, and the system isn't even that expansive. A lot of cities are probably kicking themselves for destroying their streetcar tracks back in the 1950s and 60s.

I think HSR would work great in ~500 mile corridors, ie: Atlanta to Miami, San Antonio and New Orleans via Houston, San Antonio to Oklahoma City via Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago to Minneapolis, San Diego to San Francisco.

I know I would use it. There's no way to get from San Antonio to Dallas, for example, that doesn't take 5-6 hours. That's how long it takes to drive and you can't get through Austin quickly unless you go during the night or pay for the toll road. If you fly, it's only an hour flight, but 2 hour early arrival at airport #1 then getting through the airport, getting a rental car, etc... at airport #2 and you're pretty much at 5 hours. Greyhound stops at Podunk towns in between so it's about 8 hours.

It's extremely expensive to build, though.
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Old 06-14-2014, 06:54 PM
 
2,941 posts, read 3,858,676 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OuttaTheLouBurbs View Post
I feel like the decline of passenger rail in the US is somewhat of a free market issue. In the railroad's heyday, all RR passenger services were privately-owned; competition is what made the railroads such a high quality way to travel. When the govt interfered by building the interstates, it uprooted the passenger railroad industry, leading to the car and plane dominated system we have today. I think that shift on the government's part to invest in interstates (and airports) was driven by the impact of airplanes and trucks in the war effort during WWII. Railroads, which were crucial in mobilizing for the Civil War and WWI, played a secondary role to cargo aircraft and trucks in transport of men and materiel. The US govt observed this and applied it to civilian life, thus giving us what we have now.
Not really. Trucks were critical to WWI and trains did play an role in WWII. Cars, buses and airplanes are much more flexible forms of travel and airplanes are faster. A train is tied to it's rails and to an degree to it's schedule. An car or bus could take you door to door(or much closer to were you need to be). Buses are smaller in capacity making them ideal for routes and towns that can't support an rail stop or are far from one.

The development of the jet made air travel even more affordable. Jets produce more power, require less maintenance and use an cheaper fuel source than the piston engines of old. This opened up air travel to the masses. Air travel previously was for the well off.With more power you could carry more passengers(which allows costs to be spread over more people), and use cheap kerosene(instead of high octane aviation fuel--sorta like gasoline but more refined).

With the advent of the highway system allowing long distance driving the train could not compete. Buses don't require rails and this means the stop could be in multiple places. For instance there in an main bus terminal downtown in Chicago, but also two stops elsewhere off CTA el stations both to the north and to the far south side.

Last edited by chirack; 06-14-2014 at 07:10 PM..
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Old 06-14-2014, 07:02 PM
PJA
 
2,392 posts, read 2,480,318 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Adi from the Brunswicks View Post
If you think southwest is bad, then fly American cross country next time. They only offered beverages once during the entire trip, and when my 85 year old grandpa asked for more water they served him with frustration .

I sure hope you complained to the server's superiors. They should be glad to have a job and show it through their service.
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Old 06-14-2014, 07:12 PM
 
Location: Nescopeck, Penna. (birthplace)
12,351 posts, read 7,507,136 times
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At its height, in the 1920's. the Pullman company rostered a fleet of some 9000 sleeping cars, and tens of thousands of Americans checked into the "hotel on rails" every night. The figures tend to be slightly distorted by the operating practices common to the times; for example. the New York Central's 20th Century Limed was bay far the most-acclaimed passenger train of its time -- so popular that it ran in as many as six identical "sections" -- each an individual train, spaced a few minutes apart, In contrast, rival Pennsylvania Railroad's Broadway Limited seldom ran in multiple sections -- but one-time demands such as conventions could be accomodated by special moves, which often ran as "extra sections" on published schedules of less-posh trains.

But the vast majority of Pullman business was tied to single cars attached to regular schedules, and some of them,,such as New York- Boston, Philadelphia-Pittsburgh, and Chicago-indianapolis, could be fairly short in terms of the distance covered. The pssenger(s) checked into a car positioned at the originating terminal, but which might not move for another couple of hours.

Anyone seeking to research the actual structure of Pullman services should consult a back copy of the Official Guide of the Railroads -- a paperback book, running well over 1000 pages until around 1960, updated monthly, and used as a reference for ticket sellers and station agents. Within those pages, one could find, for example, that Pullman service between Pittsburgh and Massena, New York, was heavily patronized -- mostly at the behest of Alcoa, which ferried engineers, managers and executives between its headquarters in the Steel City and its major production facility on the banks of the St Lawrence.

Earlier Pullman service depended heavily on "sections" -- individual berths which folded down over seats used in the daylight hours, with curtains alone for privacy, but as living standards rose, individual quarters, sometimes described as "roomettes", became more common. Around 1950, the ""slumbercoach". a series of individual European-style compartments with fold-down beds was introduced, but by that time , the near=complete demise of long-distance rail passenger service was foreseeable.

From the late Thirties through the early Fifties, (interrupted by World War II, of course) the great Western transcontinentals, such as Union Pacific, Santa Fe and Burlington, also operated weekly summer excursions to the Western National Parks, with educators as the target market. These services usually drew upon the oldest equipment, which, while also available for troop and National Guard moves, sat idle iin coach yards much of the time, Again the sight of four or more "sections", moving out of the gateways to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon on a late-summer evening, was something never to be forgotten.

But what many Americans, politicians and passengers alike. fail to recognize is that after the emergence of the auto and the airliner, rail passenger operation was never a moneymaker. The private rail operators tended to add mail and express (the forerunner of UPS/FedEx) revenues, and to use the trains for executive and employee travel. but the losses surged after the Postal Service began diverting first-class mail and Railway Post Office services in the late Sixties.

Amtrak was originsally intended asa stop-gap measure for the still-substantial contingent of Americans who, in 1970, had never obtained a driver's license, and were reluctant to fly. But a redesign and replacement of the handful (20-30) of long-distance runs still in operation was unexpectedly well-received; thus, another part of the "pork barrel" was born. The service never had a chance to make a profit, due largely to the loss of the "head-end" (mail and express) service that used to cover most of the overhead.

I rode on an Amtrak sleeper on only one occasion; a cross-country trip in the fall of 1980 -- about a year after the St. Louis and Kansas City gateway / Chicago bypass had been dropped a a austerity measure. Having spent the previous night on a coach seat from Altoona, and the "dome cars" from which a rail buff could read the lineside signals and second-guess the engine crew having been taken out of service, it wasn't much past 9 PM when I headed for my roomette. dressed down, and quickly passed out. I was nudged awake by the switching out of a car or two at K C. an woke up a few hours later near Dodge City; there would be another night in the berth between Albuquerque and San Bernardino, but at a price tag of #300 (in 1980 -- probably at least triple that today -- it was a luxury not likely to be repeated.

It should be recognize that even at its height in the Twenties, an overnight stay in any public accomodation was a rarity for the majority of Americans; revival of such a service in conjunction with an industry which has also abandoned its "retail" market (in the form of infrequent or one-time, single-car freight moves) is highly improbable.

Last edited by 2nd trick op; 06-14-2014 at 08:35 PM..
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