Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Silophant » January 12th, 2016, 12:20 am

I guess the problem isn't so much the frequency of delays as the magnitude. If it was an hour late even as much as 70% of the time, I wouldn't see that as such a big deal. If I'm planning 8-9 hours to get to Chicago, it's not such a big deal if it's probably going to be 9-10 hours. But if there's even a 10% chance that it'll actually be 19-20 hours... That's a dealbreaker.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby froggie » January 12th, 2016, 8:37 am

Regarding the Builder's better-than-previously time performance, it's likely that a lot of that is due to decreased Bakken oil field activity given the obscenely low price of oil. Though some of the improvement may be due to possible completion of double-tracking projects along the line. I don't know of these double-tracking projects have been completed, but I know from personal experience (taking the Builder this past summer) that projects were underway on both sides of Williston, ND as well as between Becker and Big Lake.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Archiapolis » January 12th, 2016, 12:51 pm

mulad wrote:I may as well post this tool I just found for digging into arrival history. Right now it reports an average delay of 1 hour 11 minutes for departures, but a median delay of just 2 minutes. Tthe arrival figures would be even better. Still, we'd really want something that's punctual closer to 95% of the time, not just 50%.
I'm not a "transit geek" like many of you so maybe my metrics are different...in the year 2015, the idea that a travel mode could EVER be delayed by 10 hours is enough to make me avoid that mode. UNLESS we are talking about a catastrophic event (derailment, 2 feet of snow etc), a 10 hour delay shouldn't even be possible.

I can understand planning a "casual trip" using this mode if you have all of the time in the world but if you have a precious 2 days off to do a four day weekend trip to Chicago, it seems that this mode is not a great choice.

As for the $$$ amounts above, these $$$ are just to STUDY another arrival/departure correct? Maybe I'm confused (easily done) but these $$$ to study running another train of similar make/model on existing tracks between two existing end points seems like the definition of ridiculous. I await correction...

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby David Greene » January 12th, 2016, 1:21 pm

Nope, you are correct.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Silophant » January 12th, 2016, 1:30 pm

I believe they are also studying adding a Target Field Station stop to the new (or maybe both?) trips, and the additional track work that may entail. No idea why they couldn't start running with the existing stops while they study the Minneapolis stuff though.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby min-chi-cbus » January 12th, 2016, 8:41 pm

What does it cost these days to fly to Chicago? $150? $125? There's got to be at least two dozen daily flights from MSP. Rail has to be something substantially better in some way, shape or form to merit the investment and ridership demand. There won't be the same level of accessibility.....it won't be cheaper.....it won't be faster. WHAT then? I'm a huge proponent of HSR and other more sustainable modes of trans-continental transportation but from the business side of things, I can't make sense of it.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby FISHMANPET » January 12th, 2016, 8:59 pm

This was discussed in the hsr thread, but a hsr trip would be very time competitive with flying, especially when you factor in time spent in security.

Adding a standard speed trip would probably be more beneficial to communities along the route rather than the Minneapolis to Chicago market directly.

And if some day we tax carbon, flying will become drastically more expensive.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby phop » January 12th, 2016, 9:35 pm

I think the standard rail option would best compete with the lower cost bus/drive options rather than air travel. I would gladly pay a small premium for a reliable rail equivalent to the current bus experience. I also wouldn't want to be stuck storing a car somewhere if I was taking to a trip to the Chicago core, so I would likely opt for a reliable rail trip in that circumstance as well. Granted, this assumes that the new service would have equivalent/slightly lower fares than the Empire Builder.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby David Greene » January 13th, 2016, 12:31 am

min-chi-cbus wrote:Rail has to be something substantially better in some way, shape or form to merit the investment and ridership demand. There won't be the same level of accessibility.....it won't be cheaper.....it won't be faster. WHAT then?
It's not flying.

I'm only half-joking. You'll meet quite a few people on the train who simply will not fly.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Archiapolis » January 13th, 2016, 8:22 am

min-chi-cbus wrote:What does it cost these days to fly to Chicago? $150? $125? There's got to be at least two dozen daily flights from MSP. Rail has to be something substantially better in some way, shape or form to merit the investment and ridership demand. There won't be the same level of accessibility.....it won't be cheaper.....it won't be faster. WHAT then? I'm a huge proponent of HSR and other more sustainable modes of trans-continental transportation but from the business side of things, I can't make sense of it.
THANK YOU. I've been struggling to articulate this thought. This is exactly what I've been trying to say.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby mattaudio » January 13th, 2016, 9:47 am

The whole idea that flying to Chicago "only costs" $100 or whatever is fiction and highly subsidized. People who fly to Chicago are rational actors in a highly irrational system (I'm one of them - I usually fly to Chicago, and I often fly for work). And it's not just subsidies of greenhouse gas externalities I'm talking about. The domestic civil aviation regime in the United States is highly subsidized - billions of dollars a decade - in costs borne by society as a whole rather than borne by airlines or the flying public.

Let's not pretend that spending money on rail infrastructure or service operation is somehow a subsidy, when flying on an airline or driving on the Interstate are not highly subsidized. It's intellectually dishonest. Let's have a fair financial comparison between modes.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby at40man » January 13th, 2016, 10:34 am

David Greene wrote:
min-chi-cbus wrote:Rail has to be something substantially better in some way, shape or form to merit the investment and ridership demand. There won't be the same level of accessibility.....it won't be cheaper.....it won't be faster. WHAT then?
It's not flying.

I'm only half-joking. You'll meet quite a few people on the train who simply will not fly.
That's not even joking. These days when I go to Chicago, I will not drive and hell has to freeze over for me to fly there. Taking the train there is so much more pleasant and far less hassle. I fly enough for work that I'd rather not fly to or from there for even short flights. I had a layover there after a trip to Mexico, and I opted to take Amtrak back to St. Paul instead of flying that leg. It's such a nice train ride... (and maybe I'm just foaming)

When comparing tangible and intangible benefits of going to Chicago, taking Amtrak there really scores high on the intangible benefits list. If the travel time can be knocked down, I think far more people would take the train rather than drive there. You really don't need a car in Chicago and if anything it is a major pain-in-the-ass to have a car there.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby min-chi-cbus » January 13th, 2016, 10:34 am

David Greene wrote:
min-chi-cbus wrote:Rail has to be something substantially better in some way, shape or form to merit the investment and ridership demand. There won't be the same level of accessibility.....it won't be cheaper.....it won't be faster. WHAT then?
It's not flying.

I'm only half-joking. You'll meet quite a few people on the train who simply will not fly.

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That is a very good point.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby min-chi-cbus » January 13th, 2016, 10:36 am

mattaudio wrote:The whole idea that flying to Chicago "only costs" $100 or whatever is fiction and highly subsidized. People who fly to Chicago are rational actors in a highly irrational system (I'm one of them - I usually fly to Chicago, and I often fly for work). And it's not just subsidies of greenhouse gas externalities I'm talking about. The domestic civil aviation regime in the United States is highly subsidized - billions of dollars a decade - in costs borne by society as a whole rather than borne by airlines or the flying public.

Let's not pretend that spending money on rail infrastructure or service operation is somehow a subsidy, when flying on an airline or driving on the Interstate are not highly subsidized. It's intellectually dishonest. Let's have a fair financial comparison between modes.
That's also a good point. I don't know how to accurately reflect the "true" costs of driving, flying or taking rail in this scenario.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby the other scott » January 14th, 2016, 9:32 pm

Archiapolis wrote: As for the $$$ amounts above, these $$$ are just to STUDY another arrival/departure correct? Maybe I'm confused (easily done) but these $$$ to study running another train of similar make/model on existing tracks between two existing end points seems like the definition of ridiculous. I await correction...
If the money is being spent to study adding a train between MSP and CHI, it's not totally ridiculous. I don't think there are as many problems on this leg of the EB because it doesn't have the same traffic problems (as froggie pointed out) as EB has out west. My guess is that a train running between MSP and CHI would be fairly reliable.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby woofner » January 14th, 2016, 11:03 pm

Yep most of the delay is on the part of the route west of the Twin Cities. The MSP-CHI segment of the Empire builder is probably more reliable than driving the interstate and certainly more comfortable. More frequent low speed trains would cut into driving modeshare, since those times are fairly comparable (about 7 hrs vs 8hrs).

MSP-CHI HSR unfortunately is only realistic in a 30 year timeframe, during which timeframe carbon taxes also become likely. That makes it very likely that HSR -- in the future world paying the cost of climate disruption that builds it -- will cut into air modeshare.
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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby FISHMANPET » January 21st, 2016, 5:06 pm

Question about sleeper policy on the Builder.

I know that they don't allow randoms to just wander the train and get into the sleeper cars. But if I booked 4 coach tickets and 1 passenger in a family bedroom for the trip to Chicago (which is scheduled from 8AM to 3:30 PM) would those 4 coach passengers be allowed to come hang out in my room (which seats 5, just doesn't sleep 5).

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby jebr » January 25th, 2016, 11:28 am

FISHMANPET wrote:Question about sleeper policy on the Builder.

I know that they don't allow randoms to just wander the train and get into the sleeper cars. But if I booked 4 coach tickets and 1 passenger in a family bedroom for the trip to Chicago (which is scheduled from 8AM to 3:30 PM) would those 4 coach passengers be allowed to come hang out in my room (which seats 5, just doesn't sleep 5).
Not if they have coach tickets. It can be booked if you call an agent to book the tickets and specify that you're booking it in "non-berth" mode. This also entitles them to full sleeper benefits (free meals, lounge access in Chicago, etc.) but does not entitle them to a coach seat (they need to either sit in the sleeper or in the lounge car.) The seating must also stay in "daytime" mode (the beds can't be made down into beds.)

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby grant1simons2 » February 10th, 2016, 1:46 pm

"Ramsey County revives St. Paul to Chicago rail study"

http://www.twincities.com/2016/02/09/ra ... ail-study/
On Tuesday, the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners voted to put up to $300,000 toward reviving the hamstrung planning efforts.

The first phase of the environmental study will be complete by the end of December 2017 and will produce finer estimates for construction, capital and operating costs, including a closer look at how subsidies might be divided between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby grant1simons2 » February 19th, 2016, 8:44 pm

$136 for a 7h48m trip to Chicago for spring break, March 6-12.. Or $109 for an American Airlines flight that's roughly ~4h (I included Security/ticket and boarding in that). I know I'm not the only one who thinks this is ridiculous, but my question is how do we fix it? It seems like rail travel is just a hobby way of getting around now. Like an amusement ride that's overpriced.


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