U.S., A Sporting Event: How would you improve Stephen Gardner’s Amtrak scheduling and equipment utilization? Plus, Amtrak is seeking 4,000 new employees

A nocturnal visit by the Lake Shore Limited at the Cleveland, Ohio Amtrak station in 2015. Note the size of the crowd of passengers waiting to board. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on this platform on March 26, 2021. It has been expanded, updated, and photographs and illustrations added. – Corridorrail.com Editor

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; August 24, 2022

We are having 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.

Wikimedia Commons image.

The object of the game is to make better use of Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner’s rolling stock assets – passenger cars and locomotives – by improving service to attract new passengers and increase revenues. Here are the rules:

• 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. Train mile costs are defined as what the host railroad charges Amtrak to allow a train to move one mile over its tracks.

• 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 be continuously 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.

Passengers board the waiting northbound Palmetto at its Savannah, Georgia southern terminal in 2015. The Palmetto is turned, cleaned and serviced overnight with about 10 to 12 hours to accomplish the task, depending if the southbound train is on time. Foursquare City Guide internet photo.

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

• Requires no extra equipment or additional train and engine crews.

• 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.

An early morning 2011 photo of the southbound Silver Star at the Jacksonville, Florida station. The Star is on the outside station dedicated track and the northbound equipment pictured near the top of the photo to the right of the Star is on the second dedicated station track which was formerly used by the Palmetto. In the far right of the photo is the former U.S. Mail and Express loading dock which was constructed when Amtrak in the late 1980s into the early 2000s had its ill-fated mail and express business. The short-lived 1990s successor to the Palmetto, the Silver Palm, had heavy mail and express business added to train in Jacksonville. Wikimedia Commons photo.

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

Daily, in each direction the Lake Shore Limited has its New York City and Boston sections combined westbound and parted eastbound at the Albany-Rensselaer station. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A 1949 New York Central System publicity photo for the newly inaugurated New England States which operated until 1967. Internet photo.

• 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.

Original route of New York Central System’s New England States which today is the route of the Boston Section of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited. Wikimedia Commons illustration.

• Let the Boston section be the later departure/clean-up train from Chicago to the east, departing on the current schedule.

• 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.

A 2014 view of the downtown Norfolk,Virginia Amtrak station. The original Norfolk Terminal Station and office building above the station was torn down in 1963. Wikimedia Commons photo.

• 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.

The CSX Long Bridge over the Potomac River just south of Washington Union Station is operating at close to 100% capacity carrying CSX freight trains, Amtrak passenger trains and Virginia Railway Express commuter trains. All trains south of Washington Union Station coming into the Southeast on CSX tracks cross the double-tracked Long Bridge. A second double-track bridge exclusively for passenger trains is soon to be built. The current steel bridge pictured above was built by a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1904 and rebuilt 1942-43. Wikimedia Commons photo.

• 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. If passenger capacity is an issue, simply add the cars for the current NEC train operating into Virginia to the 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.

Washington Union Station passengers board the northbound Capitol Limited in 2013 before Stephen Gardner’s stewardship when it was still a full-amenities train with a dining car and Sightseer Lounge car. Wikimedia Commons photo.

• 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.

Amtrak Northeast Regional Service has two daily trains for Colonial Williamsburg and the surrounding Virginia history tourism area. Six to eight million visitors a year come to the Williamsburg area, spending $1.24 billion dollars annually. But, Amtrak has only 54,553 passengers entraining and detraining at the Williamsburg station. Wikimedia Commons photo.

• 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.

Superliner trainsets are designed for movement between cars (as shown with the car on the right) to take place only on the upper level of the cars. These Superliner train models demonstrate how Superliner transition cars work with single level cars. The Superliner model on the left shows the lower level diaphragm door which on the car interior is found at the bottom of a flight of stairs, allowing train crew and passengers in some instances to move between the upper level of a Superliner train to a single level car. Much of the original purpose of transition cars was to allow train operating crews to reach the single level baggage car from the interior of the train, but there have been instances where transition cars have been used to add single level cars in service to Superliner consists and allow full operational use of all cars. In the past, Amfleet II single level coaches were added to the Capitol Limited in Chicago for transfer at Washington Union Station to Florida Silver Service trains to provide single seat service from the Midwest to Florida. Internet illustration.

Let’s pause for a moment and consider the importance of tourism and passenger train travel to Williamsburg, Virginia and the surrounding historic area including Jamestown and Yorktown, as well as the major military bases and colleges in the area. In 2019, the last pre-pandemic year when the economy was roaring, Williamsburg and Colonial Williamsburg had six to eight million visitors, depending on what close-by areas you include in the count. The economic spending by tourists for 2019 was $1.24 billion dollars according to the Virginia Tourism Corporation. To recap: six to eight million visitors, spending $1.24 billion dollars. The total passengers entraining and detraining at the Williamsburg Transportation Center Amtrak station was a minuscule 54,553. Williamsburg is served by only two daily Northeast Regional trains. Imagine the potential if more passenger train service was added on this former C&O Railroad/now CSX Transportation hosted route. It appears Stephen Gardner’s Amtrak is blithely “leaving money on the table” by not providing more service to Williamsburg.

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.

This magnificent Pennsylvania Railroad passenger train station designed by Daniel Burnham still stands today – as a residential building, not as a train station as built. However, the train platform area behind the original station is still in use by Amtrak. Wikipedia Commons photo.
This is the “modern” Amtrak addition/replacement to the original Pennsylvania Railroad station at Pittsburgh shown in this 2015 photograph. The new building has direct access to the original station train platform area used by the Capitol Limited and Pennsylvanian. Wikimedia Commons photo.
The single level Pennsylvanian and the Superliner Capitol Limited in 2012 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Wikimedia Commons photo.

• 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.

A 2018 view of the Cleveland Amtrak station used nightly by the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited. The station waiting room hours are midnight to 7:30 a.m. Behind the station is the Cleveland Brown’s FirstEnergy football stadium and to the right of the stadium not seen is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Wikimedia Commons photo.

• 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.

The former Pennsylvania Railroad’s Sunnyside Yard on Long Island which handles all Amtrak trains for New York City’s Penn Station and is home to the Pennsylvanian trainsets over 17 hours a day. This 2016 photo taken from a passing train shows what a busy place it is every day of the year. Wikimedia Commons photo.

• Will require moving turn maintenance 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. Cleveland has a metropolitan area of over two million souls.

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.

In other news, Stephen Gardner’s Amtrak – better late than never – has issued a press release saying the company is seeking to hire 4,000 new employees, many of them to replace the multiple hundreds of employees who were foolishly furloughed during the pandemic. Here is the full press release:

Amtrak Seeks to Fill Over 4,000 New Roles

August 17, 2022

WASHINGTON – Amtrak has more than 4,000 positions available that span a number of disciplines, including project management, finance, technology, onboard services, electrical, customer service and many more. To address this significant demand, Amtrak is hosting hiring events and career fairs to attract new talent, with a concentration in Los Angeles, Seattle, New Orleans, New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Oakland, Philadelphia, Miami and Wilmington, Del.

“As we connect communities, economies and families, Amtrak employees have a significant opportunity to engage in truly meaningful project work,” said Qiana Spain, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer at Amtrak. “As our recruitment teams pave the way to secure top talent across Amtrak, I am proud to lead such remarkable hiring efforts.”

Amtrak is planning over 54 hiring events in FY23, including the following virtual events:

At Amtrak, the starting pay rate for all onboard service crafts is $21.00 per hour. On the mechanical side, journeyman electricians start at $34.07 per hour and Amtrak offers hiring bonuses and relocation packages to fill critical positions.

In addition to actively hiring for 4,000 regular, full-time positions, the company also has programs for paid internships and co-ops for both undergrad and graduate students as well as Apprenticeship Programs for those looking for entry level, skilled labor learning opportunities. Offering competitive wages, Amtrak aims to convert 50% of all eligible interns to full-time roles. This includes early career rotational programs in finance, human resources, IT, marketing, safety and engineering.

Along with offering well-paying, rewarding work that has already led to more than 2,800 new employees this year, Amtrak provides a competitive benefits program that supports employees. This includes rail pass travel privileges where employees and their eligible dependents are entitled to free and reduced-rate rail transportation; a generous amount of paid time away from work each year; educational assistance; comprehensive health and wellness benefits; and much more.

As Amtrak expands its workforce, the company remains committed to fostering an environment where diverse ideas, backgrounds and perspectives thrive. Whether starting a career, looking for new opportunities or an experienced career professional, Amtrak’s goal is to connect talented people to career opportunities, including rebuilding and expanding passenger rail. Entering a new era of growth and modernization in markets across America, historic levels of funding received from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress and enacted by the Biden Administration changed what is possible, including comprehensive modernization for aged assets, infrastructure improvements, and advancing the Amtrak Connects US vision.

To stay up to date on career opportunities and upcoming hiring events, please visit the Amtrak career site at careers.Amtrak.com.

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