U.S., Amtrak History: 22 Years After Dr. Adrian Herzog Wrote How to Save Amtrak, They Still Struggle

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; March 25, 2021

The following excerpts are from an article published in the June 1999 issue of The Western Rail Passenger Review authored by the late Dr. Adrian Herzog. These excerpts demonstrate that even over two decades later, some things seem to never change. In June 1999 Amtrak was in the George Warrington era on its “glidepath to self-sufficiency” campaign.

Will Amtrak Ever Order Intercity Equipment Or Is It Already Much Too Late?

By Adrian Herzog, Ph.D.

Time is moving rapidly forward … As we have demonstrated on many occasions, Amtrak trains are all marginally profitable.

The problem with Amtrak is and always has been the huge overhead costs of the NEC. The only way to move Amtrak toward self-sufficiency is by rapidly increasing the number of trains while not increasing the fixed infrastructure. …[Amtrak was] given over $2 billion in capital investment funds. … [T]hey sink it all into infrastructure on the NEC and a few other secondary corridors.

This certainly will increase the overhead costs without adding one red cent of additional revenue. … [T]hey will increase the deficit dramatically …

Detailed studies prepared … and presented to the Amtrak Board, clearly showed that the only way to save Amtrak was through a massive investment in the intercity fleet that could have rapidly increased the production of revenue passenger miles. Amtrak has chosen not to follow this advice… Let’s look at … [the] business plan. The two basic principles:

1) Only revenue earning investments can contribute to increasing transportation revenue. This means that the only investments, or lease programs that can be considered are those that increase the size of the operating revenue fleet.

2) Infrastructure investments only contribute to increasing the overhead. While infrastructure must be built up, it should not be done by or owned by Amtrak since Amtrak must divest itself of all such infrastructure in order to reduce the overhead to acceptable levels.

Translation into plain English: Amtrak must order as much equipment as needed to break even and show a fully allocated profit, and Amtrak must dump its infrastructure investments and investment programs onto other agencies, either federal, state or private. The question can then be asked, “What level of rail passenger activity is needed to produce enough revenue to not only cover the marginal operating costs, but also the fully allocated costs after the corridor infrastructure has been dumped onto other agencies?” The answer is that the break-even point for the long-distance services is at a level of activity about four times greater than the system is currently producing. This can be achieved by:

1) A modest increase in the size of the intercity network by about 30%.

2) The gradual increase in train frequency from an average of about one per day per route to an average of three trains per day per route.

In terms of new cars this means an increase from the current [long distance] fleet of some 600 cars to a break even fleet of some 2,400 cars. Which means that Amtrak should lease an additional 1,800 cars as soon as possible. The limitation of such an acquisition is mainly the rate at which the cars can be produced, roughly one per day, and the rate at which Amtrak can absorb the new cars.

Even at a rate of only 200 cars per year, it would still take almost nine years to reach the goal of self-sufficiency. Has Amtrak learned how to save itself? I doubt it, and until they launch a massive multi-year expansion plan they will not have demonstrated that they have learned. …

Adrian Herzog was a genius who loved passenger trains. He had traveled over much of the civilized world and understood how passenger trains worked and what it took to make them successful. He was an early computer simulator modeler of passenger train performance and how ridership and load factors behaved by consist, city-pairs, and terminals using his matrix theory he had earlier developed.

First and foremost, Dr. Herzog was an astrophysicist who shared his brilliance with others. He followed his father, also an astrophysicist, into the family business. One of his father’s friends was Edward Teller, known as “the father of the hydrogen bomb,” a title Dr. Teller did not care for. As Dr. Herzog said, to him as a child, Dr. Teller was “just Uncle Eddie.”

Dr. Herzog and his parents were Swiss; they emigrated to the United States soon after World War II. They arrived in their new home of Los Angeles by train at Los Angeles Union Station. Dr. Herzog told stories of even as a small child he was smitten by LAUS and the love affair continued until his death.

The last long distance train trip Dr. Herzog took was from Jacksonville, Florida to Los Angeles in a roomette on the Sunset Limited. Sending him off at the Jacksonville station no one knew it would be his final long distance train trip prior to his unexpected death. Thanks to the graciousness of Victor Francis (Who also was kind and generous to be my stand-in at Dr. Herzog’s funeral and deliver a brief eulogy.) and others in the Sunset’s Los Angeles Service Manager’s office, a special VIP onboard presentation was arranged for Dr. Herzog as a surprise.

The next day departing New Orleans the onboard services chief presented Dr. Herzog with a bottle of wine, refreshments and souvenirs in his roomette announcing it was compliments of the Sunset Limited. An astonished passenger across the hall in another roomette asked Dr. Herzog why he was receiving such special treatment. Typical of Dr. Herzog he simply replied tongue-in-cheek, “It pays to know the boss.”

For those who wish to learn more about Dr. Herzog, below is a brief tribute written by this author upon his passing and was posted on the internet All-Aboard list on March 1, 2001 and archived on Trainweb.com:

Dr. Adrian Herzog
10 July 1948 – 28 February 2001

My dear friend and colleague, Dr. Adrian Herzog, passed away last night at his home in Northridge, California. His exact cause of death has not been determined, but a heart attack is suspected because he suffered from hypertension.

Adrian was just 52. He was born in Switzerland, but had been a U.S. citizen and lived in the Los Angeles area since he was a small child.

Often bombastic, Adrian was a delight to have as a friend and colleague. He cared deeply about his friends and coworkers.

In real life, Adrian was an astrophysicist, and Chairman of the Physics Department at California State University, Northridge. He was proud that his department was one of the leading departments in the State of California. Before becoming department chair, for many years he taught pre-med students. Adrian consulted to a number of organizations, including NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His other accomplishments are too numerous to mention.

Adrian was interested in a number of areas, including his passion for trains, ships, and planes. He was equally skilled at discussing any of these subjects. Adrian enjoyed politics; he became involved in the Democratic Party as a teenager. While in college, Adrian was a part of Bobby Kennedy’s California campaign. He was part of the entourage in the kitchen in the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel when Bobby Kennedy was fatally shot.

Besides being one of the guiding lights of URPA, Adrian was a member of NARP and several state organizations. He spent tens of thousands of his own dollars through the years on behalf of rail causes. He and the late Byron Nordberg were business partners in the consulting firm of NHA, Inc. (Nordberg-Herzog Associates).

His last Amtrak trip was to Sacramento to the NARP meeting in February. Prior to that, in early January he traveled from Los Angeles to Washington by train for some Washington meetings, and returned via Jacksonville on the Sunset Limited. That was the last time I saw him.

We talked on the telephone almost every day, sometimes several times a day. Adrian always wanted to be completely informed of everything that was going on. He made major contributions to the Selden Plan, and created the written paper on the matrix theory. Arrangements were underway for him to testify before Congress in the coming weeks.

It is extremely difficult for me to express how much I am going to miss Adrian. He was a brilliant man who was happy to share his knowledge and wisdom. The other members of URPA today are all stunned by his sudden departure. He will be sorely missed. Needless to say, the A-A list will be much less lively by his absence.

Adrian and his wife, Dora, have been married for less than 10 years. He had no children. He is also survived by his mother.

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