Fargo Outreach Public Forums - Great Success

November 2, 2019

On Wednesday Oct 30 All Aboard Minnesota conducted two public meetings in Fargo/Moorhead to educate and advocate for daytime rail service between there and the Twin Cities. We conducted an afternoon forum for business, civic, government and other community leaders and out of the 100 we invited, 42 showed up! Showing great interest, these community leaders asked a number of questions and there was definite support for this service. AAMN presented what the service could look like, along with the economic and mobility benefits the new service could offer the area.

The evening public forum was also very well attended, with an estimated crowd of 85. Support was also very enthusiastic while some were disappointed about how long it would take to implement the service. Frank Lotterlie from the MnDOT State Rail Office was also on hand to answer questions.

We felt like the word is getting out for what more rail service can offer and momentum is building. Press coverage was good, with interviews by WDAY, and KVRR TV stations, along with the Fargo Forum which ran this article; https://www.inforum.com/business/transportation/4747474-A-passenger-train-that-doesnt-leave-Fargo-Moorhead-in-the-middle-of-the-night-Residents-show-their-support

Riding the Empire Builder - good human interest article

October 15, 2019

Taking the title from Alfred Hitchcock's movie "North by Northwest", here is a good human interest article about riding the Empire Builder. Why on earth would anyone ride this train end to end when you can fly so much faster? This article explains why the experience alone is worth it! Well worth reading, enjoy!


Why Amtrak's new business model won't work

August 12, 2019

Andrew Sheldon recently published a great article in Railway Age about why Amtrak's new business model won't work. As we are becoming aware, Amtrak wants to focus on short haul "city pairs" routes, largely paid for by the states, and the North East Corridor, to the detriment and perhaps elimination of the long distance trains. All Aboard Minnesota is very supportive of short haul routes, such as the establishment of the 2nd train frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago, and this trains hopeful extension beyond the Twin Cities to the Fargo/Moorhead area. We are in fact holding a public forum in Fargo/Moorhead on Oct 30 to educate the public on the mobility, economic, and environmental benefits this additional rail service will offer. But we will adamately oppose any service reduction or elimination to the long distance trains, espcially the Empire Builder.

Here is a link to Andy's excellent article, well worth your time: https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/intercity/deciphering-the-amtrak-puzzle/?fbclid=IwAR2yX2v_DvdWG7scV8tNWAAu9bvQcis90kgLkrYScwP0stcp_8Vq-blNLbY

Amtrak's Business Model - The intent is clear!

August 7, 2019

An article was published in Crain's New York Business magazine about the business model that Amtrak wants to move towards. Thisnew business model focuses on of course, the North East Corridor, and short "city pairs" of 400 miles or less, basically state supported corridor services. In this article long distance trains are citied as losing money, and need to be "remade" while the NEC makes a profit, which is absolutely not true. Bottom line, for rail advocates, we could have a real fight on our hands to save the long distance trains like the Empire Builder. Fortunately, in the US Congress there appears to be bi-partisan support for a national network. Here is a link to that artice (be prepared, we may need to call on you to call your US House Rep and our two Senators to save the long distance trains!)https://outline.com/jNNJ7k

Amtrak Ticket Agent Staffing Issues at St. Paul Union Depot

June 24, 2019

It has very recently come to our attention that Amtrak is not filling ticket agent positions at St. Paul Union Depot, which is causing staffing shortages. This past Saturday, June 22 in fact, there were no ticket agents at all on duty in the evening. This obviously is concerning, and not serving the public well especially at a major city station like St. Paul - Minneapolis in the busy summer travel months. All Aboard Minnesota has contacted our US Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar to alert them of this situation, our concerns about this, and to ask for their support in opposing Amtrak ticket agent cuts across the system. We urge you to call Minnesota's US Senators and voice your conerns over this issue. If can happen once, it can happen again, and we will monitor this situation. Thanks to all of our members and friends for your support!

Amtrak's very flawed assumptions about its business units - Article by Railway Age

April 21, 2019

Very good article published by Railway Age about Richard Anderson's very flawed and mis-statements about how the NEC is "profitable" and the long distance trains lose money, and there for should be truncated or eliminated. The article reference's George Chilson's excellent white paper on Amtrak's deficient accounting methods that seek to create this illusion. Very much worth a read, here is the link; https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/repeat-actions-dont-produce-different-outcomes/?fbclid=IwAR1OYAi4qH_l4NcYwGw8CH_C2cklJCFpqMF7RJ4rdx8t2MviErH_uGRbwso

Amtrak and the Southwest Chief - Possible service disruption

July 23, 2018

Amtrak is proposing "disrupting service"   on the Southwest Chief line between Albuquerque and Dodge City by annulling the train and busing passengers between these cities.  The Rail Passenger Association has done an excellent analysis of this situation and it is posted below.

All Aboard Minnesota is very much against this move and is working with RPA to help in any way we can in the campaign to save this train.  Additionally, we believe that Amtrak is not being honest in their intent to continue to operate the national network. We believe this could have impacts for the Empire Builder and will conduct an outreach campaign to our Congressional representatives and mayors in Minnesota and North Dakota to alert them of this issue.  We will of course keep this blog updated as more information becomes available.

RPA's analysis of the Southwest Chief situation:

Fact Checking the Amtrak Proposal to Replace the Southwest Chief with Bus Service in Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico.

The Southwest Chief would effectively cease to exist if the proposed bus bridge from Dodge City, KS or La Junta, CO to Albuquerque is implemented. While presented as a decision based in concern for passenger safety and cost reductions, the plan would make passengers less safe, dissipate the service’s economic impact across the corridor, and—given the resulting collapse of ridership and revenue—effectively save no tax dollars on operational expenses.

The plan to truncate the Southwest Chief with a bus bridge would also shift costs to states that have the most to lose from its truncation. In its presentation on the proposed bus bridge, Amtrak points to plans for service expansions in Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma as evidence of its commitment to the region.

However, the cost of these services would be borne by the states under PRIIA Sec. 209. While the continued presence of the Chief would in fact facilitate the development of these services with valuable passenger connections, the development of these urban corridor services shouldn’t come at the expense of rural communities that currently depend on Amtrak National Network service.

The bus bridge will worsen the performance metrics Amtrak is using to justify this truncation without lowering taxpayer costs
The Chief’s ridership trends are steady: Amtrak’s earlier statement that the number of passengers using the Chief is “steadily declining” is false. Ridership volume in FY 2017 was down only 1% from its peak in FY 2015; it was up 14% from eight years ago in FY 2009.

Amtrak’s presentation highlights the fact that 96% of Amtrak trips are under 750 miles. But for the Chief’s 2,265 miles, conspicuously absent is the fact that trips on the Chief overlap along the entirety of the corridor. Having analyzed the Chief’s passenger load throughout its route, Rail Passengers estimates significant ridership and 70% of the trains’ current revenue is at risk under this proposal. The proposed bus bridge would be of a significant enough duration – 6-12 hours—to decimate high revenue sleeping car ridership. This is made more disappointing because;
The Chief’s seat occupancy rate compares well even to the NEC: Amtrak’s earlier claim that the Chief operates “40% empty” fails to fully capture how busy the train is.

The reality is that passengers filled 61.5% of the Chief’s available seat miles during FY 2017. This number puts the Chief within the top 20% of all Amtrak’s routes (8th out of 48), higher than even the Acela Express service. (In assessing “occupancy,”

it’s important to recognize that trains do not operate the same as airplanes; trains do not make a single trip between a pair of end points, they make numerous stops along a single corridor. As a result, there is a constant turnover of seats.

That’s the strength of a long-distance corridor train like the Chief; by connecting 36 stations, it provides a convenient, single seat ride for passengers traveling short, medium and long distances, serving 528 unique city pairs. This allows a single corridor to generate the volumes and revenues needed to serve people in urban and rural communities. In matter of fact, on the more heavily traveled segments of the Chief’s route, the number of passengers can be 90% or more of the available seats, causing “sold out” conditions for prospective passengers.)

By using a Fully Allocated Cost methodology, Amtrak fails to fully capture the incremental cost of running the Chief. Had the railroad also employed Avoidable Cost methodology—as stipulated in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 (Public Law 108-447)—the cost would have been significantly lower. Rail Passengers’ estimate, developed using concepts developed by the Volpe Transportation Center for Amtrak in 2009, suggests that as much as 80% of the costs that Amtrak allocates to the Chief may represent fixed costs for shared facilities and overhead. These costs would not go away with the Chief’s elimination and would instead be allocated to other routes.

Amtrak is asking its stakeholders for more, after reneging on a partnership it has repeatedly and publicly committed to over the course of multiple grant applications
States have already invested local funds in partnership with Amtrak: Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico have all invested over $9 million in state funds ($6 million in previous TIGER grant applications with another $3 million in the current round of TIGER grants), based upon an explicit agreement between Amtrak, Amtrak-served communities, and BNSF Railroad. For Amtrak to suddenly withdraw its support for the Chief in the middle of the preservation effort, without any opportunity for stakeholder input, constitutes a serious breach of trust.

This sudden decision by Amtrak has stalled applications for additional infrastructure grants, including plans to apply for a share of the $1.5 billion in grant funding offered through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grants program. Given the BUILD program’s emphasis on supporting rural transportation systems, it’s safe to assume the Southwest Chief would have scored well.

The bus bridge will be less safe for passengers, less accessible to the public. Amtrak’s justification of forcing passengers onto busses for lack of Positive Train Control will make them less safe; Busses have 3.04 accidents per million passenger miles, while intercity passenger trains only have 1.7, over 40% fewer accidents mile for mile.

Amtrak has enjoyed considerable gains in ridership from the Accessibility Community, because Busses and trains are not equal options for these passengers. Bus Bathrooms are in no way ADA compliant, while accomodations can be made on Amtrak, a real factor for a 6-12 hour journey. Ingress and Egress issues are a significant area of risk addressed in the ADA, and multiple transfers increase the probability of injuries.

Amtrak states that the $50 million, ten year-investment in infrastructure investment “does not include positive train control (PTC) installation and implementation costs.”
The focus on safety is admirable and correct. However, the Federal Railroad Administration does not require PTC over lines with fewer than four passenger trains per day, and less than 15 Million tons of freight per year. (49 CFR 236.1019 - Main line track exceptions).

Risks are limited because competing traffic is light in some places, non-existent in others. The absence of heavy axle load freight traffic should also make derailment prevention easier, given the reduced risk of rail breaks and freight braking-induced kinks. This segment should have lower overall risk, even without PTC, than most of the network.
The Raton Route in question is considered safely exempt by the FRA, save for the Rail Runner district in Albuquerque; the Rio Metro Regional Transit District is currently working with the FRA to ensure that it meets all PTC requirements in a timely fashion.

The Rail Passengers Association represents the passengers and communities that depend on this corridor, and so we feel compelled to provide a broader and more complete context to help members of Congress evaluate the proper next steps to preserve this important transportation service for residents in the 36 communities across 8 states that depend on the Southwest Chief. We are available for any further elaboration.

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La Crosse Additional Daily Passenger Train Forum

July 22, 2018

On Monday, October 8 All Aboard Minnesota in conjunction with the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers, and All Aboard Wisconsin, will be conducting a public forum to educate citizens of La Crosse about the benefits of the second train between the Twin Cities and Chicago through La Crosse.

Click for more info on the La Crosse Second Passenger Train Public Forum