Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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NSSD70ACe
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Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

Unread post by NSSD70ACe »

Amtrak released their FY20-25 line plans. One big change (for us Michiganders) is that Amtrak is seriously evaluating connecting the sidings between Niles and Kalamazoo, effectively restoring most of the double track. Amtrak believes this will alleviate capacity concerns while also eliminating delays for meeting trains on the west end.

Found on page 94.

https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/proj ... Y21-25.pdf
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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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8 trains a day plus whatever locals NS runs and Amtrak needs to make that 2 main track territory?
What they really need to do is improve the dispatch reliability so that the trains are at the proper sidings at the proper times.

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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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DaveO wrote:
Thu Jul 30, 2020 1:24 pm
8 trains a day plus whatever locals NS runs and Amtrak needs to make that 2 main track territory?
What they really need to do is improve the dispatch reliability so that the trains are at the proper sidings at the proper times.
Amtrak is foreseeing growth on the AML corridor. As a result, they want to double-track the line.
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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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Someone needs to visit Switzerland to watch how they handle a much greater volume of trains over a single track. If the trains are close to their schedules, there should be little congestion on this part of the line. If double track is needed anywhere, it is at Ann Arbor where trains are often held out at Ypsilanti or Chelsea because of close meets with #352 and #355.

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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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CR900945 wrote:
Sun Aug 02, 2020 12:14 pm
Someone needs to visit Switzerland to watch how they handle a much greater volume of trains over a single track. If the trains are close to their schedules, there should be little congestion on this part of the line. If double track is needed anywhere, it is at Ann Arbor where trains are often held out at Ypsilanti or Chelsea because of close meets with #352 and #355.

Amtrak didn’t have the power to do so until recently when the State of Michigan purchased the line. Maybe it’s in the works and it hasn’t been moved past the planning phase, who knows.

As a follow-up to DaveO: Amtrak’s dispatching isn’t usually the issue. NS screwing over the trains almost immediately after they hit the Chicago Line is what is causing the problems. If Amtrak was given the priority they were supposed to have or they had their own right of way into Chicago, chances are the OTP would be just fine.

By the way, they did research doing their own ROW to Chicago. It’s in the plan from 2019. I’m not sure where it stands at this point but Amtrak is still exploring all options to fix the timing issues that NS doesn’t seem all that motivated to fix.
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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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Conversely if Amtrak was to incentivize NS they could accomplish the same thing.

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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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Dispatch reliability is meant to include all facets of moving their trains on-time.
Not leaving Pontiac on-time usually isn't due to an issue with CN, it's an issue with Amtrak.

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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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NSSD70ACe wrote:
Sun Aug 02, 2020 1:08 pm
By the way, they did research doing their own ROW to Chicago. It’s in the plan from 2019. I’m not sure where it stands at this point but Amtrak is still exploring all options to fix the timing issues that NS doesn’t seem all that motivated to fix.
Plan or wish list? When someone says plan I expect an actual plan with at least the beginnings of the required studies and a determination that the solution offerred has merit. The further along in the planning progress (such a Environmental Impact Statements, Record of Decisions and funding requests) the more the wish becomes a plan.

The Chicago timing issue is well documented (by railfans). On time scheduled trains leaving CUS get blocked by the same freight trains most nights. It is as if NS doesn't care that there is a scheduled train passing through - they want their freight out of the yard so they give it clearance and hold the Amtrak. Perhaps they are getting an incentive from the shippers to get that freight out of the yard on time.

Long term there will be fixes available (given money to construct and completion of the planning process). Short term it would be good if NS would carve out a window for each of the trains using their line. If Amtrak hits the window (especially eastbound out of CUS) they get their slot. If they fail to get their train past 21st St in the window then the delay is on Amtrak.

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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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justalurker66 wrote:
Sun Aug 02, 2020 3:34 pm
NSSD70ACe wrote:
Sun Aug 02, 2020 1:08 pm
By the way, they did research doing their own ROW to Chicago. It’s in the plan from 2019. I’m not sure where it stands at this point but Amtrak is still exploring all options to fix the timing issues that NS doesn’t seem all that motivated to fix.
Plan or wish list? When someone says plan I expect an actual plan with at least the beginnings of the required studies and a determination that the solution offerred has merit. The further along in the planning progress (such a Environmental Impact Statements, Record of Decisions and funding requests) the more the wish becomes a plan.

The Chicago timing issue is well documented (by railfans). On time scheduled trains leaving CUS get blocked by the same freight trains most nights. It is as if NS doesn't care that there is a scheduled train passing through - they want their freight out of the yard so they give it clearance and hold the Amtrak. Perhaps they are getting an incentive from the shippers to get that freight out of the yard on time.

Long term there will be fixes available (given money to construct and completion of the planning process). Short term it would be good if NS would carve out a window for each of the trains using their line. If Amtrak hits the window (especially eastbound out of CUS) they get their slot. If they fail to get their train past 21st St in the window then the delay is on Amtrak.
https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/proj ... equest.pdf

Amtrak’s FY2020 Grant Request and Legislative Report. Page 40/41.
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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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justalurker66 wrote:
Sun Aug 02, 2020 3:34 pm
Perhaps they are getting an incentive from the shippers to get that freight out of the yard on time.
This. NS makes money moving freight, not passengers. If Amtrak paid for the top priority they desire, they'd get it. All of the Z-train shippers do so.

Sure, there's arguments that carrying passengers is part of the railroad's common carrier obligations. But that statue never said it had to be at top speed.

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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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Think back a few years. FedEx team drivers with doubles made the trip between east and west coasts in four days. TOFC took five days. FedEx needed a four day service and asked for an expedited service once a week. BNSF looked at not just the cost of the train but the delay to everything else so the faster train could overtake them. BNSF presented the costs to FedEx. FedEx declined the up charge and said we'll take our business to UP. BNSF said sorry, but this is what it costs. UP took the business without the up charge and nearly locked up their network trying to push it through. Priority isn't free even for big shippers.

On the subject of Michigan Line delays the Detroit Free Press quoted John Gray, senior VP for policy at the AAR. “It would be nice to see the public coming forward” — that is, with federal and state dollars — “where they have an interest in keeping passengers trains operating,”

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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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PatAzo wrote:
Mon Aug 03, 2020 11:19 am
Think back a few years. FedEx team drivers with doubles made the trip between east and west coasts in four days. TOFC took five days. FedEx needed a four day service and asked for an expedited service once a week. BNSF looked at not just the cost of the train but the delay to everything else so the faster train could overtake them. BNSF presented the costs to FedEx. FedEx declined the up charge and said we'll take our business to UP. BNSF said sorry, but this is what it costs. UP took the business without the up charge and nearly locked up their network trying to push it through. Priority isn't free even for big shippers.

On the subject of Michigan Line delays the Detroit Free Press quoted John Gray, senior VP for policy at the AAR. “It would be nice to see the public coming forward” — that is, with federal and state dollars — “where they have an interest in keeping passengers trains operating,”
Ironic, considering that’s exactly what’s been happening with passenger rail. Our taxes fund Amtrak. Our state taxes fund our state services. We shouldn’t be building stuff for freight. Building infrastructure doesn’t necessarily mean the problem is solved. If you use it right then it shouldn’t be an issue. But I haven’t seen anything yet that says NS is effectively dispatching the Chicago Line. In fact, it was somewhere on this board that someone was complaining the third main was put in to relieve pressure and the dispatching techniques didn’t result in any changes.

John Gray did hit the nail on the head though: this is all about money. Freight wants to keep the Wall Street buffoons happy and they don’t care how it gets done. We see it time and again with 12000-foot trains, ridiculous fuel saving measures that result in trains struggling to maintain track speed (see DelayInBlock’s latest Chicago Line video) and derailments. But it’s all about the operating ratio and the bottom line.
Amtrak's here to stay. Deal with it.

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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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NSSD70ACe wrote:
Mon Aug 03, 2020 12:03 pm
John Gray did hit the nail on the head though: this is all about money. Freight wants to keep the Wall Street buffoons happy and they don’t care how it gets done. We see it time and again with 12000-foot trains, ridiculous fuel saving measures that result in trains struggling to maintain track speed (see DelayInBlock’s latest Chicago Line video) and derailments. But it’s all about the operating ratio and the bottom line.
Yup, Norfolk Southern is in business to make money while operating a railroad. Lowering their profits by benefiting a customer who doesn't pay for what they demand/require is not part of a winning strategy in that department.

Track speed doesn't mean anything. Speed only matters to passenger trains (who do not pay for the privilege) and high-priority freights (who do pay for the privilege). To everything else and in general, railroads run best when everybody is going the same speed. Does not matter if that is 30 mph or 60 mph. Amtrak trains are outliers, even in pre-PSR times. You see it on the sign boards, which let Amtrak do 10-25 mph more than the freights at "track speed".

Despite all of these problems, NS and the other Class Ones are as profitable as ever. They are achieving their primary goal. Railfans and passenger advocates can howl all they want, but the bottom line is just that: they exist to make money. So they're not going to prioritize things that do not make money.

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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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Saturnalia wrote:
Mon Aug 03, 2020 1:06 pm
NSSD70ACe wrote:
Mon Aug 03, 2020 12:03 pm
John Gray did hit the nail on the head though: this is all about money. Freight wants to keep the Wall Street buffoons happy and they don’t care how it gets done. We see it time and again with 12000-foot trains, ridiculous fuel saving measures that result in trains struggling to maintain track speed (see DelayInBlock’s latest Chicago Line video) and derailments. But it’s all about the operating ratio and the bottom line.

Yup, Norfolk Southern is in business to make money while operating a railroad. Lowering their profits by benefiting a customer who doesn't pay for what they demand/require is not part of a winning strategy in that department.

Track speed doesn't mean anything. Speed only matters to passenger trains (who do not pay for the privilege) and high-priority freights (who do pay for the privilege). To everything else and in general, railroads run best when everybody is going the same speed. Does not matter if that is 30 mph or 60 mph. Amtrak trains are outliers, even in pre-PSR times. You see it on the sign boards, which let Amtrak do 10-25 mph more than the freights at "track speed".

Despite all of these problems, NS and the other Class Ones are as profitable as ever. They are achieving their primary goal. Railfans and passenger advocates can howl all they want, but the bottom line is just that: they exist to make money. So they're not going to prioritize things that do not make money.
No one is denying they exist to make money. Not once did I say that. What I’m saying is that they’re too busy pleasuring Wall Street to see what they’re doing to their own company and the knock-on effects it has. You want to make a boatload of cash? Treat your customers right.

This is an excerpt from “Riding the Rails” by former BNSF CEO Robert Krebs, page 93:

“Today, so many public companies feel compelled to focus on pleasing their investors with big dividends and share buybacks, and then they think about their customers. With me it was the other way around. If you take good care of your customers, you’ll get more customers, and investors will be well rewarded because as revenues grow, so will profits, as was the case at Santa Fe.”

That is exactly the problem with major public companies today, not just railroads. Wall Street first, everyone else second. Can’t give your investors dividends or good quarterly results or raise your stock price if you piss off all your customers to the point where they leave, can you? And that’s exactly what happened with the implementation of PSR. The infrastructure wasn’t built to keep up with it and not only are customers suffering when service disruptions happen, Amtrak gets screwed too. It’s interesting that the decline in OTP in Michigan roughly correlates with the implementation of PSR strategies by the Class 1 companies.
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Re: Amtrak Asset Line Plan FY20-25

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NSSD70ACe wrote:
Mon Aug 03, 2020 2:35 pm
No one is denying they exist to make money. Not once did I say that. What I’m saying is that they’re too busy pleasuring Wall Street to see what they’re doing to their own company and the knock-on effects it has. You want to make a boatload of cash? Treat your customers right.
You pleasure Wall Street by making money. So when you say "they're too busy pleasuring Wall Street" you're sort of implying that customers should come first, profits second. The fun part about capitalism is that if one company wants too much, the shippers can go somewhere else. The railroads are playing the same supply and demand game as everybody else. They have chosen to focus on a smaller number of more valuable shippers to extract the greatest return on investment. If somebody wants to go the volume route, well then they can go right ahead. There is still plenty of competition.

Also, since the railroads move freight, there's much less in the way of "customer serivce". Moving coal isn't much like moving people ala Amtrak. That's why Amtrak and the freight railroads will always be in separate directions on this: if coal arrives at 3pm or 6pm it doesn't matter. The freight railroads are designed for their product, not Amtrak's.
NSSD70ACe wrote:
Mon Aug 03, 2020 2:35 pm
This is an excerpt from “Riding the Rails” by former BNSF CEO Robert Krebs, page 93:

“Today, so many public companies feel compelled to focus on pleasing their investors with big dividends and share buybacks, and then they think about their customers. With me it was the other way around. If you take good care of your customers, you’ll get more customers, and investors will be well rewarded because as revenues grow, so will profits, as was the case at Santa Fe.”
Krebs was of a different era: when track capacity was loose and there was lots of traffic growth. Today's railroads are in a different economic environment and with strained track capacity. They're to the point that picking and choosing which volume to accept is important. Traffic has been more or less flat for years for this reason.
NSSD70ACe wrote:
Mon Aug 03, 2020 2:35 pm
That is exactly the problem with major public companies today, not just railroads. Wall Street first, everyone else second. Can’t give your investors dividends or good quarterly results or raise your stock price if you piss off all your customers to the point where they leave, can you?
Again, this is the beauty of capitalism: there's always room for competition. While the railroads have become choosy with what traffic they bring on, that's far from "pissing off all your customers to the point where they leave". If their volume declines, they can lower their rates and accept a lower margin but more volume. Right now there is still plenty of highly profitable traffic to move with minimal resources, keeping margins high. Let somebody else handle the thin-margin stuff. It is a view on margins rather than market share, but that brings me to how the railroads will always struggle to be nimble and thus why market share is less important.

We've seen this with the pandemic. Railroads kept their rates roughly the same as before to keep their margins. Thus, traffic recovered much slower than trucks, but the railroads stayed very profitable - which again is their goal. Railroads are also much weaker, structurally, at handling big increases in traffic. They are much less nimble and is why they don't really try to be that way. Yards are hard to grow, locomotive and equipment orders take years to fulfill, and employees the better part of a year to train. That's why steady amounts of higher-margin traffic moved as efficiently as possible is the current winning strategy for the railroads.

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