U.S., A Sporting Event: How Would You Improve Amtrak’s Scheduling And Equipment Utilization?

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; March 26, 2021

We are going to have a sporting event suitable for all ladies and gentlemen. Perfect for everyone playing at home, at work on your breaks or even in the classroom for budding railroad planners.

The object of the game is to make better use of Amtrak rolling stock assets – passenger cars and locomotives – by improving service to attract new passengers and increase revenues.

• All of this will have to be accomplished without a need for host railroads to impose large fees for upgrading infrastructure to manage the new expansions.

• The expansion should also have minimal impact on the need for using extra equipment which may currently be held in the reserve fleet or sidelined wrecked equipment which may be restored.

• The biggest additional expense will be train mile costs.

• You cannot reduce any existing service to achieve an expansion.

Remember: The primary function – for which it is designed and manufactured – of passenger rolling stock is to continuously be in use, with planned maintenance intervals. Equipment sitting in a yard or on a siding produces no revenue and is not fulfilling the purpose for which is was purchased or leased.

The following is a brief sample of expansions. Read these examples and then create your own similar list.

1) Extend the Palmetto south from Savannah, Georgia to Jacksonville, Florida as Amtrak first did in the late 1980s.

• Requires no extra equipment.

• Requires no track upgrades.

• Requires no changes in current scheduling other than the extension.

• Eliminates a crew base in Savannah because Jacksonville already has a crew base.

• Moves turn maintenance from Savannah to Jacksonville. Jacksonville already has a house track for overnight parking and servicing.

• When the Palmetto came to Jacksonville before, it was not unusual for most of a coach to fill with passengers boarding in Jacksonville.

2) Detach the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited, name it the New England States (an historic New York Central name) and run it as a second frequency between Albany and Chicago.

• This will require one more diner (of which there is a new fleet of Viewliner diners currently being underutilized) and one more lounge car. The coach which is currently reserved for additional capacity in peak demand can be utilized year-round to add available seats to the Boston train.

• The New York section of the Lake Shore currently spends about 21 hours a day in Sunnyside Yard in Queens which is terrible equipment utilization.

• Change the New York section schedule to depart Chicago two and a half hours earlier at 7:00 p.m. plus pick up the 45 minutes currently lost in Albany for the train split/join.

• Let the Boston section be the later departure/clean-up train from Chicago to the east.

• Send the New York section beyond New York City to Norfolk, Virginia down the Norfolk Southern Railroad line south of Petersburg, Virginia, about eight hours south of New York City.

• This will provide a late evening arrival in Norfolk for a full service train, overnight for turn maintenance and restocking (where the Northeast Corridor Norfolk trains already have this function performed, plus a crew base), and an 8 a.m. northbound departure which will still maintain the original New York – Chicago schedule.

• This will provide one-seat service from Southeast Virginia through Richmond and up the NEC and on to Chicago via New York City.

• To avoid adding to the amount of trains over the at-capacity Long Bridge just south of Washington Union Station going into Virginia, eliminate one of the current New York – Richmond NEC trains and replace it with an extended Lake Shore Limited.

3) Extend the Capitol Limited from Washington, D.C. to Newport News Virginia, bringing needed new service to Colonial Williamsburg, a major tourist destination.

• Currently the Capitol trainset sits idle 27 hours in Washington between runs.

• Keeping the Capitol’s current schedule, the extension to Newport News would put the train in Richmond before 4 p.m., in Williamsburg about 5:30 p.m. and Newport News/Hampton Roads about 6 p.m.

• Northbound would depart Newport News at about 10:30 a.m. and arrive in Washington to maintain its current departure about 4 p.m.

• This will also provide a one-seat ride from Chicago to Richmond, Colonial Williamsburg and Newport News/Hampton Roads.

• To avoid adding to the amount of trains over the at-capacity Long Bridge just south of Washington Union Station going into Virginia, combine one of the current New York – Richmond NEC trains in Washington with an extended Capitol Limited using a transition car as has been successfully done in the past.

4) Extend the Pennsylvanian Southern/Western terminal from Pittsburgh to Cleveland. Move up the departure from New York Penn Station from 10:52 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., with the train arriving in Cleveland approximately at 9:00 p.m.

• Depart Cleveland at 8:00 a.m. and arrive in New York Penn at approximately 8:00 p.m.

• Provides one seat daylight service between Cleveland and the Northeast Corridor/New York Penn.

• Currently the Pennsylvanian equipment sits in Sunnyside Yard in Queens over 17 hours a day; this reduces idle time to 13 hours a day. Equipment sits in Pittsburgh for approximately 12 hours a day; this reduces idle time to 11 hours a day in Cleveland.

• Will require moving turn maintenance and crew base from Pittsburgh to Cleveland.

• All current Cleveland service on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited occurs between 1:45 a.m. and 5 a.m. This will provide a more marketable travel choice to and from Cleveland during daylight/evening hours.

These are just four obvious examples of better equipment utilization, better passenger-friendly scheduling and opportunities to “sweat the assets” by wringing higher amounts of revenue out of equipment which otherwise sits idle.

There are dozens of other opportunities throughout the Amtrak system to create better schedules and provide an improved schedule. There is no “single way” from here to there; the challenge is how to find the best way.

The winners of this sporting event will bathe in the knowledge of sharing realistic upgrades to the prospect for passenger trains in the contiguous 48 states.

Ready? Get set, go.

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