Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

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Silophant
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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Silophant » May 15th, 2020, 10:41 am

This was a couple years ago now, but when I read through the report, my understanding was that MSP-Chicago is the outer edge of what can be done in a single crew shift, and going to St Cloud would require a crew change in Winona (why there specifically, idk). Since there's not a BNSF base in Winona, a crew change would require extra expenses to move people around and it wound up adding a lot more to the operational cost than you'd expect from an extra 70 miles.

Then, once the endpoint was cut back to the MSP metro, the capital costs of expanding TF or Fridley Stations, and the additional track work required to get there, was deemed not worth it and they settled on SPUD as the endpoint.

From my interested layperson's view, the most likely scenario to extend it past SPUD would be waiting for NLX to eventually get moving and do those track upgrades, then extend the TCMC train to the newly Amtrak-ready TFS or Fridley Station, or Foley or wherever NLX's north metro stop ends up being.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby DanPatchToget » September 8th, 2020, 3:59 pm

In case anyone didn't know, Amtrak is planning to cut service on many long-distance routes, including the Empire Builder, from daily to tri-weekly. The service cuts for the Empire Builder are planned to begin October 19th.

Westbound service will depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. Eastbound service will depart Portland/Seattle on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby talindsay » September 8th, 2020, 4:23 pm

Wow, that's terrible. That would move it from barely workable to useless as an actual travel option and make it just a tourist gimmick. My own experience riding it has been that the majority of people I've talked with weren't tourists taking a train ride - they were people getting somewhere, with some reason they didn't want to fly or drive. They'd pretty much all end up on buses with that change.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby VacantLuxuries » September 8th, 2020, 5:42 pm

If only there was someone running for president who regularly rode Amtrak and understands its value to the American people.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Silophant » September 8th, 2020, 6:07 pm

Yeah, my partner and I took the EB to Glacier and back a couple weeks ago, and we were tourists in a sleeper room, but it seemed pretty clear that the most, if not all, of the people sitting in coach were taking it to get somewhere. I was figuring that there might be enough red-state senators demanding continued service to get some rescue funding in the second COVID rescue bill, but I guess that would have required there to, y'know, be a second COVID rescue bill.

I was also hoping that Amtrak would, on its own, decide to run a truncated (sleeper car-less?) CHI-MSP or maybe CHI-SCD Empire Builder on the days that the full EB didn't run, since that segment is pretty consistently full, but I don't know enough about their operations to know if that's something they can feasibly do. Anecdotally, I was surprised at how many (at least 50) people were waiting at SPUD to get on the 8am Chicago-bound train on a Wednesday morning in September when we detrained.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby DanPatchToget » September 8th, 2020, 8:29 pm

If only there was someone running for president who regularly rode Amtrak and understands its value to the American people.
I see what you're getting at, but it's going to take more than electing Biden to make Amtrak actually good (I would say great again, but let's face it, it's never been "great" outside the Northeast). Obama promised a lot in terms of improving intercity passenger rail but all it took was Republicans saying no to derail most of those promises.

I know Biden regularly used Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor, but does he have experience with Amtrak service outside of there? If his plan is taking away from long-distance service and making minor improvements to corridor routes then that's no better than the status quo.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Korh » September 8th, 2020, 9:38 pm

I'm not really surprised, Amtrak has been more aggressive in trying to find ways to cut long distance service ever since Anderson was appointed president (maybe even since Moorman to an extent) and I think is still true with Flynn.
Question is does the Twin Cities make the cut for Amtrak's other goal of expanding short haul routes since the 400(ish) miles to Chicago is kinda pushing it and the nlx might have been quietly taken out behind the shed at this point.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Mdcastle » September 9th, 2020, 6:54 am

Apparently people are as scared to be put next to strangers in a sealed metal compartment for hours at a time on the ground as they are to be put next to strangers in a sealed metal compartment for hours at a time in the sky. I'm seeing all kinds of online ads now all of a sudden about how "safe" traveling Amtrak is even in the middle of a respiratory pandemic.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby alexschief » September 9th, 2020, 7:09 am

Evidence seems pretty strong that airplane or train travel actually is safe, given the air filtration systems in these vehicles and the easy enforcement of universal masking.

The problem for Amtrak with routes like the Empire Builder is that they are extremely unprofitable. I think it makes sense for Amtrak to run them fewer times per week, but the Minneapolis-Chicago route should be (at least four times) daily in both directions, and I hope they are able to break that out as a separate service.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Mdcastle » September 9th, 2020, 8:53 am

I've seen multiple sources rank flying at 5/10 or so as far as risk. Here's one:
https://www.kltv.com/2020/06/11/medical ... isk-level/

Presumably that applies to other shared public vehicles like buses and trains. I have $500 in vouchers and miles that expire at the end of the year, but there's no way I'm risking my life to use them. My tolerance is level 2 or below, I still get restaurant takeout and drive-thru, but no longer enter a grocery store or any other kind of public building where I'd be there for an extended period of time.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby DanPatchToget » September 9th, 2020, 9:25 am

The problem for Amtrak with routes like the Empire Builder is that they are extremely unprofitable. I think it makes sense for Amtrak to run them fewer times per week, but the Minneapolis-Chicago route should be (at least four times) daily in both directions, and I hope they are able to break that out as a separate service.
The long-distance routes will be even more unprofitable if service is reduced, and it'll be a slippery slope towards cutting service entirely.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby EOst » September 9th, 2020, 10:37 am

Question is does the Twin Cities make the cut for Amtrak's other goal of expanding short haul routes since the 400(ish) miles to Chicago is kinda pushing it and the nlx might have been quietly taken out behind the shed at this point.
Amtrak is very committed to the second train, and they have been quietly lobbying for the $10m in bonding needed at the legislature.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby tmart » September 9th, 2020, 10:43 am

I'm not really surprised, Amtrak has been more aggressive in trying to find ways to cut long distance service ever since Anderson was appointed president (maybe even since Moorman to an extent) and I think is still true with Flynn.
Question is does the Twin Cities make the cut for Amtrak's other goal of expanding short haul routes since the 400(ish) miles to Chicago is kinda pushing it and the nlx might have been quietly taken out behind the shed at this point.
I do think the kinda mediocre alignment of the rails really hampers the progress (or even just maintenance of existing service) of this corridor. Yes, 400 miles is a stretch when there are few major destinations between St. Paul and Milwaukee. With the "obvious" alternative alignment, you'd have segments of roughly 100 miles or less (St. Paul - Rochester - La Crosse - Madison - Milwaukee - Chicago) and that fits super well into their business plans. But that long stretch between St. Paul and Milwaukee with only La Crosse (and, sure, the Dells and Red Wing if you're feeling generous) as an anchor makes it more practical for Amtrak to invest in better Milwaukee-Chicago service.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby VacantLuxuries » September 9th, 2020, 3:10 pm

I know Biden regularly used Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor, but does he have experience with Amtrak service outside of there? If his plan is taking away from long-distance service and making minor improvements to corridor routes then that's no better than the status quo.
His infrastructure plan involves improvements across all of Amtrak, with the eventual goal of a complete transcontinental high speed line and the Northeast Corridor being extended down the rest of the east coast. I imagine restoration of daily long distance service as a condition to additional funding would be a baby step.

But like with any of his agenda, it requires a Blue senate and the states the trains run through to not play games with the money. In 2010, dems lost the house, as well as and Wisconsin and Florida, which is why his rail plans for those states failed. People have to keep showing up and voting if they don't want the leaders carrying their issues to get cut off at the kneecaps.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Mdcastle » September 9th, 2020, 4:54 pm

So what kind of travel times for a high speed transcontinental line can we expect vs just taking a plane?

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Korh » September 9th, 2020, 5:52 pm

I think some might disagree but I don't really think the goal for HSR in the US should be to get a transcontinental line built per say but to try and make as many shorter routes as possible.
The "too short to fly, too far to drive" is kinda becoming a meme at this point but there is some truth to it if you want to see any progress on HSR even though it has the downside of creating an uneven patchwork of a network across the country. But I'd argue that might be alright so long as there are enough conventional trains to fill in the gaps between lines with a serviceable level of speed and frequency.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby DanPatchToget » September 9th, 2020, 6:45 pm

If HSR (around 220 mph) is ever built in Minnesota it should be Twin Cities-Rochester-La Crosse-Madison-Milwaukee-Chicago. Improving existing rail corridors like the one the Empire Builder operates on to allow higher speeds (110 mph max), less delays by freight traffic, and allow additional trains should still be pursued, but let's not try to shoehorn bullet trains on a conventional rail corridor like Canadian Pacific's route along the river.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby VacantLuxuries » September 9th, 2020, 8:22 pm

So what kind of travel times for a high speed transcontinental line can we expect vs just taking a plane?
I have no illusions that taking a high-speed train from New York to LA, or even Chicago to LA, would ever be competitive with air travel.

But that's not really the point. The point would be high-speed infrastructure and connections between New York and Philadelphia, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh and Chicago, Chicago and Kansas City, Kansas City and Denver, Denver and Albuquerque, Albuquerque and Phoenix, and Phoenix and Los Angeles. And the more successful routes on that list would now have the infrastructure to be able to set up more frequent corridor service.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby tmart » September 10th, 2020, 6:19 am

I think transcontinental HSR is more of a political framework than a transportation framework. It signals to activists that the scale of investment would be large, it signals to non-coastal states that this won't just benefit NY and CA, and it has the big, ambitious, optimistic feel of going to the Moon or the Interstate Highway System or the original transcontinental railroad.

In practical terms the Western Plains are long to cross and lack major destinations, and the Rockies would be extremely expensive to build across for high speeds, so that's a major barrier both for eventual ridership and for construction feasibility. I think realistically, the investments would come first in corridors that make sense anyway--up and down the coasts, hub networks around Chicago and Atlanta and LA, along the lower Great Lakes, the Texas Triangle, and so on. The high-cost, low-utility segments between these to complete the coast-to-coast, from Lincoln to Denver to Vegas or whatever, will be categorized as, like, "Phase 6 - 2060(??)."

Keep in mind that the Interstate started construction in the 50s and wasn't continuous from coast-to-coast (I-80) until the mid 80s, with the last of the original planned segments finishing in the 90s with a ludicrously expensive pass through rural Colorado completing I-70.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby HKM » September 10th, 2020, 3:27 pm

Thought those on this thread would be interested in page 6 of this (undated, but believe it is largely taken from ~2009-2011 as it mirrors the original early Obama administration plans for HSR) report from the NY-area Regional Planning Association that scored the top 50 city pairs for high-speed rail potential. Chicago-MSP was #25 but is included in one of the five "lines" for "HSR Phase 1" that would see a Chicago hub connect to MSP, Detroit, and St. Louis.

https://rpa.org/uploads/pdfs/Where-HSR-Works-Best.pdf


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