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.
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.
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.
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.
• 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, 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.
• 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. 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.
• 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.
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.
• 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 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:
- Walk-In Wednesday Career Fair: Second Wednesday of every month, 1 to 3 p.m. ET
- Hiring Our Heroes – Skilled Trades & Advanced Manufacturing: August 18, 1 to 3 p.m. ET
- Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) STEM Career Fair: August 24, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET
- Next stop Amtrak – Women in Tech: August 25, 1 to 3 p.m. ET
- Hiring our Heroes – Transportation, Supply Chain, & Logistics: September 22, 1 to 3 p.m. ET
- Next stop Amtrak – Latinx/Hispanic Individuals: September 29, 1 to 3 p.m. ET
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.