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Amtrak II: The Basic Plan

October 26th, 1999

Based on Adrian Herzog’s post to the All-Aboard mailing list, 26 October 1999


There have been calls for a unified action that all rail supporters could get behind. This is it. (Anyone who agrees, please write your congressperson.)

The basic idea behind the URPA plan being pushed in Congress and at the Amtrak Reform Council is to split Amtrak into two parts: The Northeast Corridor (NEC), and the remainder of the national system. Specifically, we believe the NEC should go to the transit agencies where it belongs, with the national system run by what is essentially Amtrak West.

In general, there are two ways of separating the NEC and national system. One if for Amtrak to remain the national system, in which case it must divest itself of the NEC. The other is that it becomes the operator of the NEC in which case it must divest itself of the national system. Either approach works and both would aid both systems.

The basic URPA plan is based on the following economic reasoning:

(Note: these numbers were based on the system before the last round of cuts.)

Northeast Corridor

  • About 25 to 30% of the passenger miles of the system;
  • About 40 to 50% of the passenger revenue (due to higher yield per mile);
  • About 80% of the overhead charges, due to ownership of the route;
  • No viable Express potential (routes too short to be truck competitive).

National System

  • 70 to 75% of the passenger miles on the system;
  • 50 to 60% of the revenue of the system;
  • 20% of the overhead;
  • Huge Express potential (to double revenue at a minimum).

Now given these sorts of numbers, which of the two systems is easier to bring up to self-sufficiency in a short time frame? What we are advocating is that the NEC remain a federally supported corridor funded by UMTA as a regional transportation agency. Amtrak II would be the national system.

Let’s look at the revenues of a potential AMTRAK II.

50 % of current Amtrak passenger revenue plus at least an equal amount of Express revenue. Result: given the current small system, AMTRAK II could generate the same revenue as the current Amtrak with only a small system overhead. Now where would “profitability” lie? At a level roughly four times the current level of service of the national system.

How can that be achieved?

  1. The current trains must be longer in terms of both passenger and freight capacity. Doubling the average long-distance train from 8 to 16 cars would double the passenger capacity. This will take marketing and quality service to achieve. Even with 16 passenger cars on average, this still leaves a capacity of over 20 express vehicles per train if the maximum train length is to stay around 40 vehicles.
  2. We must double the number of trains actually operating. This is mostly, but not exclusively done by increasing the train frequency from one per day to two per day, or from tri-weekly to daily service. It is also done by adding a small number of additional routes, such as Chicago-Florida and Denver-Texas.

Since this plan was first developed before the most recent route cutbacks, it would also require the immediate restoration of all trains cut in the mid 90s.

Dr. Adrian Herzog,
VP Research URPA

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