So I asked Amtrak (again)…
One thing I’m curious about: Amtrak says it will need to install bike racks in six cars (at $8000 per car) before it can start service. Why six, not two? Each train takes a day from Chicago to Washington and another day to get back, so it seems like they need to outfit just two trains, no?
Existing Amtrak routes with roll-on roll-off charge $5 per bike, or $10, or free, depending on the route. The routes that only handle 4 bikes per train charge $10.
Two cars are always in motion. Two more cars are at the ends of the line, awaiting being put in motion for the next day’s train. Two more are either undergoing maintenance or on standby, in case of failure. Actually, they told us that they need eight such cars so equipped, to do things properly on the Capitol Limited.
Still, is $64,000 all that’s standing in the way of at least getting the rolling stock outfitted? In the overall scheme of things, that’s a piddlingly small number. The traffic light at Perry and Perrymont cost $100,000 a few years back.
Interesting. The trip is supposed to take 17 hours 30 minutes. So it sounds like a train arrives in Chicago, sits there, and 6 hours later, a different train heads back, while the first train sits around for 30 hours before it heads out again? On Monday, #1 heads to DC and #2 heads to Chicago, then on Tuesday #3 heads to DC and #4 heads to Chicago, then on Wednesday #1 heads back to Chicago and #2 heads back to DC? Meanwhile, #5, #6, and perhaps #7 and #8 serve as backups.
Of course, trains get delayed. Is 6 hours not enough time to absorb those delays?
I agree that the money seems an easily surmountable obstacle. Bureaucratic inertia will be a bigger hurdle, I expect.
Steven wrote:Is 6 hours not enough time to absorb those delays?
I am not very familiar how Amtrak preps their trains but I know how passengers trains are prepared in Russia. First of all train gets moved to a special “appendix” after all passengers are gone and it’s time to move. It cannot be moved significantly earlier since passengers are allowed to return if they forgot something. After move to the appendix (which by itself takes 15 minutes easily) there is a time for cleaning. Length of cleaning operation depends on many things including how dirty the train is, availability free cleaning crew, etc. Usually cleaning takes at least a couple of hours. Then you need to refill water/toilet and drain/change toilets. This is done at special place. Then it’s time for safety inspection. During safety inspection one could decide that something should be repaired and then train is pulled to a depot and another train will go. Safety check is going to be ran one more time (but it fast check) just before train is ready to go and again if something goes wrong the train is going to be replaced. I say it again, I am not very familiar with Amtrak mode of operations (I can ask our guys who work with Amtrak) and this is Russian mode of operations but I think those mode of operations are similar in different countries. And total preparation time in Russia is about 12 hours if everything is available right away. Sometimes during summer due to increased amount of scheduled trains cleaning crew would not be available for 16 hours. And safety people would like to touch train last.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, outside of the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak does not own the tracks it runs on. It shares them with freight trains, who have priority, so trains can be delayed hours, easily, depending on the line.
jonawebb wrote:It shares them with freight trains, who have priority, so trains can be delayed hours, easily, depending on the line.
It’s not quite right. Amtrak operates according to schedule and per agreement with other company if they are in certain window of this schedule then they have priority. If they managed to get out of the window then their priority is low. In addition, there are high priority trains (usually run by government or under government — like some waste transportation, nuclear fuel, etc) — those train will delay everything.
Interesting, thanks. Of course, planes have most of the same issues (with weather delays substituted for freight train delays), yet airlines don’t buy 8 planes for every 2 simultaneous flights. I suppose a lot of the difference is just the result of planes being faster and easier to move around at the last minute.
Amtrak has a page where they provide historical data on the lateness of their trains, and the reasons for the lateness: http://www.amtrak.com/historical-on-time-performance. E.g., the California Zephyr is on-time under 70% of the time, the Empire Builder just over 60%. Pretty pathetic.
“As many of you know, the tracks Amtrak trains travel outside of the Northeast Corridor are owned by various host freight and commuter railroads.”
Steven wrote:Interesting, thanks. Of course, planes have most of the same issues (with weather delays substituted for freight train delays), yet airlines don’t buy 8 planes for every 2 simultaneous flights. I suppose a lot of the difference is just the result of planes being faster and easier to move around at the last minute.
Airlines usually have much shorter legs in terms of time. And routes are scheduled in the way that airplanes do not flight short leg and come back. The same plane will go (just an example) from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to Boston and then back. In doing so they minimize time to serve a plane on a ground — usually there is enough fuel to fy further. And plane is served at the same point as passenger load/unload making operations in parallel. As you boarding/unboarding plane you can see that luggage/food/toilets/fuels are all served together (multiple cars around plane, many people doing different stuff around plane). one of the reason to do so is that airline pays to airport for all services and time on the ground (based on MTOW) while RR companies usually owns tracks and land around it. Nevertheless minimum time between land and take off is about 45 minutes but usually close to 2 hours.
And if we are talking about long leg like NY-Paris and daily flights– it’s more than 2 planes. Plus airlines has a nasty habit to overbook flights about 15%. sometimes it bites them in their butts. In addition if something happens to airplane most companies will pay to another companies to transfer passengers (if they don’t have extra airplane) to another company. It’s still cheaper than to pay for accommodations. Pretty often you can see that a bigger airplane has been replaced with smaller one. This is also due to some problems with other flights.
In rare occasions company will fly extra airplane (empty) to replace the one out of service.
I will leave it to the experts to get to the bottom of scheduling issues. I am not an expert. Seems like this is more a symptom of a larger, more intractable problem, than a problem itself. I’m all for solving upstream problems rather than treating symptoms.
the first time i ever came to pittsburgh was on the train (~1999). it was already 3+ hours late when it pulled in to Toledo; by the time we got to Pittsburgh, we were over 7 hours behind schedule. the return wasn’t as memorable, but was also late by several hours….
In the Saturday Post-Gazette:
I was surprised, the article (to me) didn’t come across as positive as I expected.
For what it’s worth,
I’ve taken Amtrak from Johnstown or Altoona to Pgh at least a dozen times, never late.
I’ve taken Amtrak from Phila. to Altoona four or five times, never late.
I’ve taken Amtrak from Chicago to Pgh, twice, never late.
I’ve taken Amtrak from Saratoga Springs to NYC, twice, never late.
I’ve taken Amtrak from Charleston SC, to Phila., once, it was about an hour or two late.
They do a good job in my book.
I was surprised, the article (to me) didn’t come across as positive as I expected.
I think it is just the author’s style, it didn’t exactly rub me as negative either… just the facts kind of approach.
He must have really needed to use the John, before he got on the train in Connellsville. LOL Fortunately, there is a public john at the campsite (and an even better restroom in the Martin’s).
Real progress. Linda McKenna Boxx of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, and I, are part of an official Amtrak task force to take a serious look at implementing roll-on/roll-off (RORO) bike service on at least some Amtrak trains.
Something *will* happen. Maybe not fast, maybe not system-wide, but real.
congrats Stu and thank you for investing the time and effort.
So just to see what would happen, I called Amtrak to ask if I can take a bike on a train from Pittsburgh to NYC. (Knowing that the website says the 42 Pennsylvanian does not have checked baggage service.) Answer is still “no.”
Good talking point for the National Bike Summit congressional meetings next week. Surely there are potential bike tourists in NYC that want to check out the Most Livable City…
Thank you, @kbrooks, for taking the time and trouble to call them.
Posting from the Capitol Limited right now!
It just so happens that Deborah Stone-Wulf from Amtrak spoke at a breakout session at the National Bike Summit this week. She relayed the various things they’re doing to be more bike friendly, including the test equipment and the task force. She said this was all in response to the “many… many… many” letters they’ve received. ;)
I asked what we could do to help them continue to make progress — lobby Congress for more money for Amtrak? Keep writing letters? etc. She said that the best thing to do would be to wait for the recommendations to come from the task force, then lobby Congress for funding for those specific recommendations. Apparently lobbying without these ideas in place will just result in more unhelpful browbeating of Amtrak by those who enjoy that sort of thing.
Im not sure if this is the most up to date thread on the topic…
I ride from DC to Pittsburgh for work quite a bit, and wanted to provide an update what the trains look like and what he staff have to say about bringing bikes onboard. I just took it last night so its fresh in my mind.
Sometimes the train has cars with luggage rooms with the type of bike hangers you see on european trains, other times it doesn’t. The train I was on last night didn’t.
On both types of train, with and without the hangers, the train staff dont really seem very clued in. I have asked and even on the train with the bike hangers the staff don’t even seem to know they exist. I have not talked to anyone working for amtrak on a train that knows when or if there are plans for roll on bike service.
Moreover – and I really do like taking the train – but the whole process seems more and more confusing. So many Amtrak people telling you where to sit, which exit to use, where you can put your bags, etc. It kind of feels like being babysat the whole way (at least compared to train trips other places). I can only imagine the confusion roll on bike service will add…
Has anyone heard anymore news about this? I would really like to be able to take my bike to DC on a regular basis.
See earlier posts. There is a task force, they are making progress, expect to hear something about a pilot project (possibly two) for equipping the rolling stock for handling bikes.
There are a lot of moving parts to this. I am part of that task force.
I have seen the “short list”, and was in on the conversation as to why some routes are favored over others, at least for the pilot study. No decision has been made yet, but there is definitely progress. I am not at liberty to say publicly what routes will be looked at first, though I think it is safe to say that what we did here last October really helped show how feasible it is to do RORO (roll-on, roll-off) service at all, which got this conversation rolling.
Not directly affecting us here, but does anyone know if Canada’s VIA Rail system is looking at offering similar service? Since some trains cross the border, that adds a level of complexity not present for intra-U.S. routes like here to D.C.
VIA’s bike page says some routes have bike racks, but it’s not totally clear on some details. Seems they have baggage handlers to get your unboxed bike on and off.
Thanks for your work on this, Stu.
I would sure like to go from Pgh to Montreal or QCC, with a bike, without driving, but I haven’t been able to find any reasonable way to do that. Driving there is hell. Even driving to Toronto or Buffalo is doable, but still nuts. I love it up there but the trip is such a bitch.
Trains crossing the borders have to switch crews, so even if there is one physical train going from NYC to Montreal, two entirely separate sets of crews, rules, station configurations, come into play.
Even for the within-the-U.S. routes, one major limiting factor here is that, in order to provide the RORO service we want on a route, they have to outfit all the rolling stock that might be used on that one route, and try to keep it on that route. This becomes much more difficult when the cars from route “A” on a Monday go to route “B” on a Tuesday, route “C” on Friday, and return to “A” at the end of the week. So that might be 10x (or more) the number of cars they have to rig for this. In time, they will do that, but for the pilot, they need to narrow it to those couple of routes where they can “capture” the equipment. That is just one factor; there are lots more.
Like I said, there are a lot of moving parts to this equation. I had no idea it was this complicated.
So, you’re saying that if we get RORO service on this route, the trains will still be circulated on other routes potentially….
Could this mean RORO service from DC to PGH to Cleveland to chicago could be a reality as well since they also lie on the capitol limited route?
VIA Rail http://www.viarail.ca/bike
– Ontario Southwest: Windsor-London-Toronto and stops in between (daily trains)
– Ontario East: Toronto-and Montreal and stops in between (daily trains)
NOTE: Bikes can only be transported on trains listed with baggage cars. During summer months 12 bike racks are available on one trains daily between Toronto and Montreal, with no disassembly or boxing required. On other trains or during regular season, bikes can be transported in bags or boxes on trains with baggage car service. Upon arrival at the train station, check your bike at the baggage counter. Bike Transportation is only available to/from stations with attendants on duty. Extra charges apply.
GO Transit http://www.gotransit.com
– Toronto-Niagara Falls and stops in between (summer weekend service)
NOTE: Easy roll on roll off service. No extra charges. 2014 includes Victoria Day weekend in May, Canadian Thanksgiving in October, and summer service starting June 27 to September 1. Saturday, Sunday and holiday’s special ‘bike coaches’ are available with bike racks providing space for at least 46 bikes. A Friday evening service provides space for up to 18 bikes in regular train carriages, no bike racks available.
I took my bike on GO Transit for a 20 mile trip east of Toronto in Nov. 2013 and it was super-easy and convenient.
So it sounds like driving to TO and taking a train to QC would be feasible. At least it would knock off 6 soul crushing hours of driving across desolate upstate NY hell.
Drive to Niagara Falls, Ontario, and pick up the train there. That’s a 4 hour drive from Pittsburgh.
There are long-distance routes, like the Capitol Limited (DC to Chicago), and short-distance routes (DC to Vermont). There will be one trial route of each type for RORO service. These new cars will be part of the service.
Stu, this is kind of a big deal, right? And to confirm my understanding, the DC-Chicago includes the DC-Pittsburgh leg? (thanks in advance)
The article says all 15 long-distance routes (the Capitol Limited being one of them) will get the improved baggage cars by the end of 2014. Will the RORO trial permit passengers to bring their bikes into the baggage car at any stop? (I thought the baggage car was normally only opened at baggage stops, of which there are none between Pittsburgh and DC. So I don’t understand how these new cars help with RORO service.)
Lots of variables. Lots of details. Nothing’s been announced yet. We were to have a teleconference this week but it got delayed.
It’s official! http://www.post-gazette.com/news/transportation/2014/06/25/Amtrak-to-welcome-bicycling-passengers-by-end-of-the-year/stories/201406250033
BTW: thanks, Stu. I’m sure your tireless advocacy had something to do with them including the Capitol Limited.
Whoa: it’s all their trains! Even better!
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