Amtrak’s decision to degrade service threatens its future

Faced with the financial loss of the mail contracts and competition from the interstate highways, carriers such as the Southern Pacific systematically degraded their remaining passenger trains using tactics which included removing the diner and lounge cars. The hope was this would so upset riders that they would cease to travel by train, and the carrier could get federal permission to end service. A notorious example was the train called the Sunset Limited, which from 1968-1970 offered only vending machine food on a two-day run!

Amtrak quickly restored proper food and beverage offerings, advertising “We’re Making the Trains Worth Riding Again”. Unfortunately, Amtrak recently has begun to copy these 1960s tactics, degrading the on-board experience which it knows will discourage ridership.

Why is this occurring? Amtrak is under pressure from Congress to eliminate food service losses, but this approach is unreasonable and unnecessary. Do the cruise lines or airlines attempt to make money on food? Of course not; these costs are built into their fares. Amtrak has been doing this as well. Railroad diners never made money; they attracted business. If riders are asked to accept only microwaved burgers and pizza on a two-night/three-day EMPIRE BUILDER trip, we know ridership will implode.

…Amtrak knows what happened in the past when the railroads systematically cut back amenities. Ridership collapsed. For fiscal year 2018, Amtrak just received the largest Congressional appropriation for its National Network in history ($1.3 billion). It needs to explain to Congress that not providing quality food service on the Coast Starlight is no more an option than on a cruise ship.

Amtrak’s decision to degrade service threatens its future | Guest Commentary | heraldandnews.com

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Want airline food? Take Amtrak

It’s part of a plan to dismantle the National Network—shutting down most, if not all, long-distance trains, to focus on the Northeast Corridor, Midwest (Chicago) and California short- and medium-distance services, and state-supported trains.

…Why don’t you just come out and say it: “Amtrak is getting rid of dining cars.” No BS. No dancing around the issue. Tell it straight up. It’s what’s happening, right?

Anybody want to eat in a roomette?

…Already gone are the Coast Starlight parlor cars, in-train tour guides on some western trains, most charters, and private railcars bringing up the markers (for a hefty fee, of course). The “cross-country café” is replacing, I’m told, full dining service on Superliner trains: One crew member runs the microwave, another delivers the meal.

Want airline food? Take Amtrak – Railway Age

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Why trains run slower now than they did in the 1920s.

The aforementioned Montreal Limited, for example, circa 1942, would pull out of New York’s Grand Central Station at 11:15 p.m., arriving at Montreal’s (now defunct) Windsor Station at 8:25 a.m., a little more than nine hours later. To make that journey today, from New York’s Penn Station on the Adirondack, requires a nearly 12-hour ride. The trip from Chicago to Minneapolis via the Olympian Hiawatha in the 1950s took about four and a half hours; today, via Amtrak’s Empire Builder, the journey is more than eight hours. Going from Brattleboro, Vt., to New York City on the Boston and Maine Railroad’s Washingtonian took less than five hours in 1938; today, Amtrak’s Vermonter (the only option) takes six hours—if it’s on time, which it isn’t, nearly 75 percent of the time.

… 220 mph would be phenomenal, but we would also do well to simply get trains back up to the speeds they traveled at during the Harding administration. Consider, for example, the Burlington Zephyr, …which barreled from Chicago to Denver in 1934 in a little more than 13 hours. (It would take more than 18 today.) An article later that year, by which time the Zephyr had put on the “harness of a regular railroad schedule,” quoted a conductor complaining the train was “loafing” along at only 85 mph. But it was not uncommon for the Zephyr or other trains to hit speeds of more than 100 mph in the 1930s. Today’s “high-speed” Acela service on Amtrak has an average speed of 87 mph and a rarely hit peak speed of 150 mph. (The engine itself could top 200 mph.)

…Less rail capacity (and rail quality) has coincided with a dramatic rise in freight traffic in recent years, owing in part to a buoyant economy and in part to trains’ improving (and now superior) fuel efficiency to trucks—particularly as diesel fuel prices have risen. Despite recent infrastructure spending, bottlenecks are routine, as passenger trains typically yield to passing freight trains.

…As it turns out, there are actually plenty of examples of “technological regress” throughout history. As this fascinating paper notes, the process of building with cement had reached a high point during the Roman Empire, only to be “lost” until its reinvention in the early 13th century. The United States has lost not so much the technology of rail speed as the public will, the cultural memory; this may have made sense for a historical period, but now, weighed in terms of the congestion, carbon emissions, and comfort of other travel modes, it seems time to reach for the way-back machine. As journalist Philip Longman has pointed out, where “fast mail trains” once “ensured next-day delivery on a letter mailed with a standard two-cent stamp in New York to points as far west as Chicago,” today, “that same letter is likely to travel by air first to FedEx’s Memphis hub, then be unloaded, sorted, and reloaded onto another plane, a process that demands far greater expenditures of money, carbon, fuel, and, in many instances, time than the one used eighty years ago.” In building our “bridge to the 21st Century” we might remember the Roman god Janus, patron of, among other things, bridges: He looked backward as well as forward.

Why trains run slower now than they did in the 1920s.

Sigh…

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crash was deliberate, aviation experts suggest

Boeing 777 pilot and instructor Simon Hardy reconstructed the flight plan based on military radar, and says Captain Shah flew along the border of Malaysia and Thailand, crossing in and out of each country’s airspace to avoid detection.

“It did the job,” Hardy said, “because we know, as a fact, that the military did not come and intercept the aircraft.”

Hardy also made a strange discovery: Captain Shah likely dipped the plane’s wing over Penang, his hometown.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crash was deliberate, aviation experts suggest – CBS News

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