Author Topic: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O  (Read 984 times)

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Offline scottv11

no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« on: April 10, 2014, 03:08:43 pm »
I have been e-mailing  back and forth with Amtrak customer service asking for / pushing for  Roll on roll off service for the Pittsburgh / DC train to service the GAP - C&O bike trails.  After many e-mails current status is "We do not know if this service will be provided I the future" but on the other hand my suggestions " will be noted for management review"  It felt like pulling teeth to get that much out of them.

They had a trial run of this service and by all accounts it was a success. We need to make them see that spending the money to outfit a couple baggage cars with the hardware necessary will pay off for them.


Offline jamawani

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #1 on: April 10, 2014, 05:18:50 pm »
Unfortunately - it is unlikely to offer many financial incentives for Amtrak. Baggage service is a headache for any and all carriers - thus, the airlines ever-increasing fees. Add to that the post-9-11 security issues and carriers would probably prefer that passengers travel with nothing - including clothing.

As a rail supporter since the late 1970s, I have seen a steady erosion of baggage services nationwide. Since many stops outside urban corridors have, at most, one train each day in each direction, it is prohibitively expensive to staff a station. For liability reasons it is risky to have people do their own loading.  It's one thing on urban routes with raised platforms or low-level car doors to have cyclist bring their own bikes on board - - but to get a bike into a baggage car may involve too much risk.

Then there is the potential for delays - ha-ha - as if Amtrak worried about delays.
I regret that Cumberland, MD does not have better rail services.
It would make a huge difference.

Offline indyfabz

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2014, 08:04:22 am »
As a rail supporter since the late 1970s, I have seen a steady erosion of baggage services nationwide. Since many stops outside urban corridors have, at most, one train each day in each direction, it is prohibitively expensive to staff a station. For liability reasons it is risky to have people do their own loading.  It's one thing on urban routes with raised platforms or low-level car doors to have cyclist bring their own bikes on board - - but to get a bike into a baggage car may involve too much risk.

This plus the fact that the baggage cars Amtyrak inherited were vintage. 1950s, I believe. Many reached the ends of their useful lives. New baggage cars cost a lot of money, and the remaining ones are expensive to maintain. Amtrak labor is, in general, more expensive than the industry norm.

In Amtrak's defense re: schedules: Outside of the Northeast Corridor and the Philadelphia-Harrisburgh line, where servicve is pretty reliable, Amtrak does not own or dispatch the rigths of way it operates on. The Cumberland--Pitsburgh services operates on a very busy piece of railroad. Typically, there is a contractual incentive for the owning freight road to keep Amtrak on schedule, but that isn't always popular.

Offline staehpj1

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2014, 10:09:24 am »
I was under the impression that the desired roll on service didn't require baggage cars or additional personnel, but merely a bit of rack space for the hang the bikes in.  What did they do during the trial?  I can't imagine the had regular baggage service along the route.

Offline DaveB

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2014, 10:26:08 am »
Passenger rail service in this country, with the possible exceptions of the Northeast corridor (say Norfolk VA to Portland ME) and the Pacific coast from San Francisco to San Diego, has too low a population density and too much space between major cities to be economically feasible.  Air travel meets the needs for long hauls and the private car for shorter ones.  Amtrak is fighting an uphill, against the wind battle and until they are adequately subsidized they will never be more than a marginal player.

Yes, the Europeans so a fabulous job at providing reliable and frequent rail service but their short distances and high population density make it attractive. Even at that, most of their passenger service is subsidized.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2014, 10:27:41 am by DaveB »

Offline jamawani

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #5 on: April 11, 2014, 12:36:19 pm »
The Washington-Pittsburgh-Chicago route is a long-distance Amtrak route with baggage service in a traditional baggage car. That said, baggage service is limited to a few intermediate stops:

2014 Capitol Limited - Baggage Service:
Washington, DC
Pittsburgh, PA
Cleveland, OH
Toledo, OH
South Bend, IN
Chicago, IL

I think the last baggage handled at Cumberland was on the B&O Railroad up until May 1, 1971 when Amtrak took over and ended all passenger service via Cumberland until the mid-1970s. Baggage service on the former B&O segment was never restored to any intermediate stations once gone.

Offline GSullivan

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2014, 11:40:03 am »
Hi All -

Thanks for engaging in this topic. I'm actually happy to report that we are making progress with Amtrak. This January, Adventure Cycling and Amtrak formed a Bicycle Task Force to work on several initiatives for helping make Amtrak more friendly to bicycles. Here is the vision statement: Amtrak officials, passenger rail association members, bicycle and trail advocates, and transportation officials are convening a Task Force to address both long-term and short-term goals for improving bicycle access and services. The Task Force will build the business case for bicycles/cyclists on Amtrak, and will oversee pilot project(s) within the Northeast region that will facilitate and document design solutions, potential policy changes and communication strategies for better bicycle service.

We are working on choosing two pilot projects in the next month. One will be on a long corridor and one will be on a short corridor in the North East region. The routes chosen will depend on a long laundry list of things - funding, local and/or state agency support, cars, platform accommodations, operational limitations, etc. But the Amtrak officials and the bicycle, passenger rails advocates are dedicated to make the pilots successful. 

Stay tuned for more information, we'll be announcing more progress publicly as we determine which lines we'll be piloting and figuring out the business case and how we can make the pilots work across numerous Amtrak lines. If you wish to be included in the "milestone updates" please contact the travel initiatives department and we'll put you on the email list.

Thanks!
Ginny Sullivan
Director of Travel Initiatives
Ginny Sullivan

Offline DaveB

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #7 on: April 15, 2014, 02:07:39 pm »
A bit off-track (pun intended) but does Greyhound/Trailways offer any reasonable bike transport as accompanying luggage for passengers?

Offline staehpj1

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #8 on: April 15, 2014, 02:54:34 pm »
A bit off-track (pun intended) but does Greyhound/Trailways offer any reasonable bike transport as accompanying luggage for passengers?
Yes.  I haven't used them but have dropped off a buddy who did.  I don't have any details, but can at least acknowledge that the service exists.  I have also read that they will ship bikes as cargo.

Offline indyfabz

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #9 on: April 16, 2014, 11:23:41 am »
Passenger rail service in this country, with the possible exceptions of the Northeast corridor (say Norfolk VA to Portland ME) and the Pacific coast from San Francisco to San Diego, has too low a population density and too much space between major cities to be economically feasible.

The Keystone service (NYC-Philly-Harrisburg) is very popular as is Milwaukee-Chicago. Both have about 14 trains each weekday. Amtrak's Illinois service is, too. That's not to mention the numerous commuter rail agencies. New Jersey Transit, for example, is tryingto add more capacity bot on and off the Northeast Corridor.

But I do believe are funding prioritiesd are out of whack.

Offline paddleboy17

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #10 on: April 16, 2014, 01:22:27 pm »
A bit off-track (pun intended) but does Greyhound/Trailways offer any reasonable bike transport as accompanying luggage for passengers?
I did a trip in Oregon last summer.  I had planned to use one of the Cascades trains as they offer roll on/roll off service but none of their schedules line up with what I needed.  AMTRAK also offers (in spots) something called Thruway Connecting Service.  Think AMTRAK Bus Lines.  My experience with a Thruway bus was fabulous.  I had to reserve a bike spot, which meant I got one of the two cargo bays all to myself, and that is where my bike and panniers went.  The bus driver knew I was coming, had the 2nd bay open and ready for me. When I got to my destination, the station met me and made sure I had no issue with getting my bike out and back together.  And they only charged me $10 to ship my bike.

I would use a Thruway bus again in a heartbeat.

Unfortunately, there is not a Thruway bus between Cumberland and Pittsburgh.

I did look once into Greyhound Freight Services.  They will take bike boxes (which are normally considered oversized freight by FedEx, UPS, and DHL).  The charge of $50 sticks in my head.  The service is basically from bus depot to bus depot.
« Last Edit: April 16, 2014, 01:33:46 pm by paddleboy17 »
Danno

Offline canalligators

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2014, 10:26:46 am »
I dont' want to discourage you expressing your interests to Amtrak, because this is important.  But you should realize that individuals asking about it are going to have little effect.  Only by supporting the organizations that are working on the problem (and there are many) will any results happen.

BTW, as another poster noted, AC is working on it.  So is NARP (National Association of Railroad Passengers), ESPA (Empire State Passenger Association), NYBC (NY Bicycling Coalition), NYS DOT and many others.  I'm sure other cycling organizations are on it elsewhere.

As mentioned, the baggage cars are ancient, made in the 1950s.  New ones are being produced, and they do have accommodation for unboxed bikes.  Some of the new passenger cars will too, these replace coaches that are almost as ancient (70s-80s).

Offline jamawani

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #12 on: April 18, 2014, 12:02:04 pm »
Remember, also, that the Capitol Limited route - Washington-Cumberland-Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Chicago - is a big money loser for Amtrak and that Amtrak is under considerable political pressure on Capitol Hill to reduce these losses. Annual losses usually exceed $25 million - with annual ridership under 225,000. That means that this train LOSES more than $100 for each passenger carried. It would be nice if Amtrak provided baggage service at Cumberland, but it is very unlikely to happen any time soon given the additional costs such would entail.

Offline DaveB

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #13 on: April 18, 2014, 12:31:39 pm »
Remember, also, that the Capitol Limited route - Washington-Cumberland-Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Chicago - is a big money loser for Amtrak and that Amtrak is under considerable political pressure on Capitol Hill to reduce these losses. Annual losses usually exceed $25 million - with annual ridership under 225,000. That means that this train LOSES more than $100 for each passenger carried. It would be nice if Amtrak provided baggage service at Cumberland, but it is very unlikely to happen any time soon given the additional costs such would entail.
Wow, if Amtrak can't make money on a highly populated route that includes cities like DC, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago, where can they make money? 

I wonder if it's a chicken-and-egg problem.  They offer expensive, unreliable service so they lose money.  Since they are losing money they raise prices and reduce service to cut the losses.  And it spirals downhill from there.

Offline jamawani

Re: no progress with Amtrak for GAP / C&O
« Reply #14 on: April 18, 2014, 02:37:33 pm »
Dave -

Passenger rail financial losses are a long and detailed subject - one that I have been involved with for some time - but also, one far too complex to discuss on cycle touring blogs. Suffice it to say that if I had an easy answer, I'd be Secretary of Transportation.

Almost all passenger rail all over the world has some degree of subsidy - but other forms of transportation do, too. Airports constructed at public expense - gate fees are only a fraction of cost. Cruise ship terminals. Etc. Etc. Despite the Highway Trust Fund - automotive transportation gets lots of hidden subsidies, too. That's why so many of us get rankled when people tell us to get our bikes off the road because THEY paid for them.

The only Amtrak route that makes money is the Northeast Corridor. Other corridors - like Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, Eugene to Vancouver - come close.  But loge-distance, overnight trains that have only one train each way per day have very high overhead, lengthy schedules, frequent delays, and high overhead costs. Washington to Chicago takes almost 18 hours on Amtrak - a little over an hour by air. Amtrak's travel time is the same as Greyhound's. Round-trip cost - - train - $188, bus - $180, plane - $240.

So even if Amtrak raised its fares to $240, they would still be losing $50+ per passenger and probably more since they would shed fare-conscious passengers to Greyhound. There are no easy answers - and getting bicycle baggage service to Cumberland is not going to be one of their top priorities - especially if it costs money.