December 13, 2018 - An interesting interview with Matt Rose, Executive Chairman of BNSF Railway. An excerpt about Amtrak (and specifically referencing the Empire Builder): "Public policy needs to determine who pays for this stuff, and what is the role of Amtrak. It’s not for the railroads to determine, and quite frankly, it’s not for the Amtrak board to determine. Do we want a national system? Do we want just a regional system? What is the value of having passengers being able to utilize that system in the middle of North Dakota? If you’re living in the state of North Dakota, it’s a high value. If you’re living in L.A. and want to get to Chicago, it’s probably not a huge value."
December 7, 2018 - This week, Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia wrote to Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews outlining real steps to pursue many of your Association’s customer-focused priorities. Coscia’s letter was a response to Mathews’ October open letter calling on Amtrak’s Board to embrace a bold growth plan for Amtrak focused on serving the entire country. While we must remain vigilant and keep working closely with our partners in Congress, along with our Mayors and other elected and appointed officials, Amtrak confirmed its broad agreement with us on the need for aggressive action on On-Time Performance, restoration of at least daily service system-wide, growth and expanded service, and the need for new and upgraded rolling stock. “As you are aware, several of our fleets are close to the end of their useful lives; therefore, Amtrak has begun formulating a comprehensive fleet strategy and is now taking critical steps toward re-fleeting, both on the Northeast Corridor and the National Network,” Coscia said in his letter to Mathews. “...we will soon begin to evaluate the appropriate strategy for our bi-level equipment; your thoughts and recommendations on this important topic would be greatly appreciated.” Members should know that we are regularly and frequently meeting with Amtrak on all the issues we have outlined in our letter, and that advocacy -- your voice -- is working. We are scheduled to meet next month with Amtrak in the first of several meetings to provide input to the re-fleeting plan and the bi-level equipment strategy. Amtrak is also well aware of our hopeful and grand vision for more and better service and commitment to the National Network. “We are eager to grow and expand service to currently underserved cities, corridors and communities across the country,” Coscia wrote. “We are hopeful there will be opportunities for expansion onto new routes in places like Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.” Coscia also specifically acknowledged your Association’s continued call for restoration of daily service on the Cardinal and Sunset Limited routes. “You’ve raised valid concerns about thrice-weekly service which is consistent with the Company’s own view as set forth in our PRIIA-required Route Improvement Plans,” Coscia wrote. “We are looking again at the opportunity for daily service for both the Cardinal and the Sunset Limited. Of course, to do so will require reasonable cooperation from our Host Railroads and available equipment.” Amtrak also sent Mathews’ letter and Coscia’s response to all employees through a company-wide memo, emphasizing the role our organization plays in advocating for robust investment in passenger rail: “RPA spends most of its time educating members of Congress and their staffs about the value of passenger rail. This work is important to Amtrak, as the company relies on Congress for significant funding for capital investments. Earlier this year, Amtrak received $1.9 billion from Congress, the largest annual appropriation in the history of the company.” Coscia’s comprehensive response, and the broad distribution it saw across the railroad, is encouraging; advocates should recognize that they’re playing a role in advancing a vision for a modern rail network. At the same time, we have to be the watchdogs of Amtrak. We have to ensure they do not become too “efficient,” because we know what that really means, and it’s not good for passengers. We should be wary of “rider choice.” Nickel-and-dime fees are the hallmarks of the worst airlines and Amtrak should know this as well as anyone. If they don’t know it, we will be there to remind them, again and again. Bad service is the scourge that will absolutely push people into their cars. Bad food, no food, old equipment, less frequent services, exorbitant fees or price: these are unacceptable anywhere, whether on the Northeast Corridor or on the rest of the Interstate Passenger Rail System. We can also never allow prioritization of — or discrimination against — one region over another. Amtrak can’t be allowed to choke the life out of certain routes, intentionally or not. But that also means advocates need to stop choosing sides, arguing for or against the Northeast Corridor -- which remains a vital part of the overall National Network. We should never take from elsewhere to boost the Corridor, but we should welcome any effort to improve service and the customer experience on any route, and then use that success to push further so that passengers riding anywhere in the Interstate Rail Passenger System get the benefits. More to the point, riders from Boston and NY and Washington will add to our voice on OTP, Private Right of Action, regular, frequent, safe and reliable service, new and better equipment, and so forth. When Amtrak wants to downgrade food and beverage options, NEC riders will be right there with us and in great numbers. (The link to the actual letter from Mr. Coscia is above).
December 5, 2018 - All Aboard Washington has a new editor for their newsletter, Patrick Carnahan. Check out his work!
December 3, 2018 - Access Empire Builder ridership statistics at the Empire Builder groups.io site
Could DFL victories bring passenger-rail improvements to Minnesota? Maybe. High-speed rail? Probably not.
December 3, 2018 - Article about passenger rail in the December 2, 2018 St. Paul Pioneer Press
September 24, 2018 - Adding a daily train viable, study says; funding sought.
September 11, 2018 - Interesting article about funding for the Williston airport, which is to receive at least $112 million in federal funding for its $231 million airport. Here's the article from the Williston Herald: The article gives numerous numerous examples of grants given to airports in North Dakota alone. By the way, the "XWA" reference is to evidently what the airport code will be for the new airport. The current airport, Sloulin Field, is ISN. Sloulin Field currently has 5 commercial passenger flights daily: 2 Delta flights to Minneapolis/St. Paul, and 3 United flights to Denver. Note the reference to the Dickinson airport, which is also getting more money. Before the first Bakken Boom, both Williston and Dickinson were Essential Air Service cities served out of Denver with prop planes. As the boom was taking place, both cities saw an increase in air service in the form of small jets. Dickinson's main service was United to Denver, and for awhile even had Delta service to Minneapolis/St. Paul. As the boom subsided, Williston service diminished somewhat, but Dickinson faced losing its service altogether as it was no longer economically feasible. No problem, however: Essential Air Service was reinstated - to the tune of $4 million per year, which is amazingly not all that unusual in EAS terms! In contrast, there is no such program in place when passenger train service is threatened to a community. Several years ago, EAS was discontinued in places like Lewistown and Miles City in Montana because they were less than 150 miles (the new guideline) from a "major" airport (in their case, Billings). But Dickinson is only 100 miles from the Bismarck airport, which enjoys non-stop service to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Denver, Chicago, and Dallas/Fort Worth. And while Williston is no longer an EAS airport, Sidney (45 miles from Williston) and Glendive (116 miles from Williston) still each rack up millions in EAS "investment" annually. Just another perspective on "subsidy," "investment," and the perceptions of each. --Mark Meyer
August 30, 2018 - Amtrak officials say Empire Builder service will not change, but some worry about health of national network
August 30, 2018 - Dear Mr. Anderson: I am writing you both as a long-time believer in and user of Amtrak as well as a frequent passenger on our nation’s air transportation system.
August 30, 2018 - A white paper issued by the Rail Passengers Association, “Amtrak’s Route Accounting: Fatally Flawed, Misleading & Wrong,” contends that Amtrak’s fully allocated cost methodology “grossly exaggerates the cost of operating the national passenger train system. This, in turn, has lead to the conclusion adopted by many elected leaders and other affected stakeholders that abandonment of key long-distance trains will save Amtrak significant sums and lead to a more financially secure national passenger operation.”
August 30, 2018 - In the Someone-had-to-say-it-so-it-might-as-well-be-me department, this happened in New Mexico today.
August 29, 2018 - By Fred Frailey TRAINS magazine
August 14, 2018 - Here is the Amtrak Employee Advisory Memo issued today on the SOUTHWEST CHIEF. MEMO: "We know many of you have concerns about the status of the Southwest Chief. Here’s an update: We are considering changes to the route and operation of the Southwest Chief. No decision has been made yet on our long-term operation of the entire Southwest Chief route, but a portion of the route faces unique challenges because of extensive operational and capital investment costs required to continue the present service. We are considering all options on how to make this route work, given the changing needs of our passengers, our limited resources and the expectations of Congress to deliver this service safely and efficiently. What we want you and our stakeholders to know is that the status quo is not an option – we or others either have to invest more or make changes. We are looking specifically at changes to the Southwest Chief because it requires a lot of capital investment to keep it running “as is.” The Southwest Chief currently loses more than $50M every year, and we will need to invest more than $100M in the next 3-5 years to bring the route to a State of Good Repair and to fully implement Positive Train Control, plus additional operating expenses that will likely add to the train’s annual losses. We are responsible for all maintenance and capital costs for a 219-mile stretch of the route between Colorado and New Mexico. Also, Positive Train Control is not installed on a 348-mile stretch between Dodge City, Kan., and Albuquerque. No other Amtrak route has this combination of operational losses with capital investment needs. And this is an issue for us because we have a clear mandate from Congress, which is stated in the FAST Act, to deliver our services in a cost-effective manner, and we are falling short of this mandate with the Southwest Chief. We have many capital needs at Amtrak, and we have limited resources. We have to balance the needs of the Southwest Chief with the needs of the rest of our National Network, including all of our other Long Distance trains. We know that many of our customers and stakeholders value this route – and we are evaluating all options. We are continuing to have conversations with members of the Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico congressional delegations and state and local leaders about the various options and funding needs. In addition, we will have senior executives onboard the Southwest Chief next week to talk with our stakeholders along the route. We will provide updates as new information becomes available. In the meantime, we ask that everyone continue to provide excellent service and hospitality to our Southwest Chief customers and continue to operate safely and with the high degree of professionalism that defines our employees." ***** For those of you who are following this, the bottom line is: In spite of the previous Amtrak administration agreeing to fund the track maintenance between Trinidad and Lamy ($3 million annually), the current leadership at Amtrak is choosing not to honor that commitment. It is interesting that Amtrak cities the need to meet "the expectations of Congress to deliver this service safely and efficiently" when referring to the Southwest Chief, but when congress has dictated in their past budget resolution that the current long distance network continue, and on-line congresspeople have specifically passed resolutions reiterating this, current Amtrak management just ignores it, and regurgitates its very flawed analysis of the Southwest Chief, including their new claim the route needs Positive Train Control in spite of the Federal Railroad Administration agreeing that this line doesn't. And they never do explain how one of their alternatives - busing passengers around the areas without PTC - could ever be cheaper or safer than the current operation, nor do they explain why a simple point in time can render an operation without PTC unsafe! I, for one, think that Amtrak (and supporters at NARP) erred horribly 15-20 years ago when Amtrak did not reroute the Southwest Chief away from Raton Pass (to a route via Clovis, NM) when BNSF offered it as an option (an option currently not available). But the current Southwest Chief position at Amtrak - basically that they are untrustworthy because they don't honor agreements and are not transparent with regard to accounting of expenses - should be a wake up call to all proponents of rail passenger service outside the Northeast Corridor that indeed Amtrak's intent is to erode the service originating internally. --Mark Meyer
August 5, 2018 - A bill requiring reinstatement of Amtrak ticket agents at Havre and Shelby is stalled in Congress.
July 27, 2018 - Amendment No. 3414 To express the sense of Congress relating to the importance of long-distance passenger rail routes. (Yea 95-4)
July 27, 2018 - Amendment No. 3422 To require the Inspector General to update an audit report concerning on-time performance of Amtrak.
July 26, 2018 - Trains News Wire
July 11, 2018 - Some rail passenger advocates are taking up cuts to Amtrak service in Havre and proposals to reduce service from Kansas to New Mexico as a battle cry to fight any reduction to long-distance passenger rail in the country. (Havre Daily News)
July 10, 2018 - Mark Meyer of Portland, Oregon, a Cut Bank native and a member of the Rail Passengers Association, said he has helped create a website promoting and advocating for Amtrak’s Empire Builder that runs along the Hi-Line, traveling from Chicago to the West Coast and back. (Havre Daily News)