Updated: Feb 28
The Federal Railroad Administration is in the process of completing a new study on
Amtrak's long distance routes. This study is set to take the better part of this year and is likely to be very important for the future of Amtrak's long distance service. The purpose of the study is to see how the FRA, Amtrak and other stakeholders are to best utilize and expand the long distance network.
We wanted to give some insight into the study, what they're looking at, and what it means for the Southeast.
Amtrak's long distance routes are mostly legacy routes from former operators. These routes are longer than 750 miles. They include sleeper accommodation, standard seating, luggage services, lounge car and multiple dining options, depending on accommodation. They are also the primary rail option for the majority of rural America, including the Southeast. In fact, there are only three services: the Piedmont, Virginia Services and Heartland Flyer that are not long distance service. For most people, if they are on a train they are on a long distance service. It is also important to note that these routes are extremely unprofitable. They are often loss leaders, losing as much as $100 per passenger, per trip. In an effort to curb this money loss, Amtrak has been reducing service and scaling back amenities, such as a made to order dining.
Evaluate options for restoring or enhancing daily intercity passenger rail service along routes: The objective of this study is to explore potential options for restoring or enhancing daily intercity passenger rail service along existing routes. This could involve evaluating the feasibility of adding new trains or increasing the frequency of existing trains.
Select preferred options for restoring or enhancing service: Once options have been evaluated, the study will aim to select preferred options for restoring or enhancing service. This could involve selecting options that are most feasible, cost-effective, and likely to generate high ridership.
Develop a prioritized inventory of capital projects and other actions required to restore or enhance the service, including cost estimates for those projects and actions. This objective involves developing a comprehensive list of capital projects and other actions that will be required to restore or enhance intercity passenger rail service. This could include upgrades to existing infrastructure, the acquisition of new rolling stock, and improvements to stations and other facilities. The list will be prioritized based on factors such as feasibility, cost, and impact.
Create recommendations for methods by which Amtrak could work with local communities and organizations to develop activities and programs to continuously improve public use of intercity passenger rail service along each route: This objective aims to identify ways in which Amtrak can work with local communities and organizations to develop activities and programs that will encourage more people to use intercity passenger rail service. This could involve partnerships with local businesses and attractions, marketing and promotional campaigns, and community outreach programs.
Identify federal and non-federal funding sources required to restore or enhance the service: The study will identify potential sources of funding, both from the federal government and from other sources such as state and local governments and private sector partners. This will be important for determining the feasibility of proposed capital projects and other actions required to restore or enhance intercity passenger rail service.
The timeline of the study and the topic of each meeting. The first meeting has already happened and the next meeting where the FRA will present a shortlist of routes, will be occurring sometime in spring of this year
Long Distance Future
What we (the SEPRI) would like to see come out of this study is a revolution in long distance services within the Southeast. Currently, the long distance service is not well designed for the people of the Southeast. Trains arrive at odd hours of the night, they are often late, have very little frequency and do not go to many places. Thus, making intrastate travel difficult.
What we would like to see is a more Southern centric route map.The vast majority of long distance routes radiate from New York or Chicago and head primarily to New Orleans or Southern Florida. For the people of the mid 20th century this may have been practical. A lot of people live in New York and Chicago and need to head south. The problem is that when the timetable was created, they were designed to accommodate those people. I.E., departure time was convenient to Chicogo and New York. By the time the rain was going through the southern states, trains were often delayed and arrived late in the evening or in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, this scheduling has persisted into the 21st century. We would like to see the timetables change to accommodate the people of the Southeast. Trains should arrive at convenient times.
We also need more services at higher frequencies. Many of our major cities including: Atlanta, Birmingham, Houston, Memphis, Columbia, Little Rock and Austin only have one train per day. Cities like Nashiville and Tallahssee do not have any service. This needs to change. If Amtrak is going to add to their long distance portfolio they need to add trains to these major cities that would service millions of people.
We need more east west routes. With the Chicago and New York centric maps, all of the trains in the Southeast have a north/south orientation. We need to be able to go east and west. For example, he creation of the I-20 corridor or the reintroduction of the Sunset limited, Floridian and Pan American.