Amtrak, private car groups discuss future of car moves

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A private car brings up the rear on a southbound Pacific Surfliner at Fullerton, Calif., in April 2014.
TRAINS: Brian Schmidt

WASHINGTON — Amtrak management and leaders of two groups representing private-car owners held a conference call Tuesday to discuss issues arising from the passenger railroad’s new policies on charters and special trains, among them the future of moves to or from midpoints on a train’s route.

In meeting notes distributed to members of American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners and the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance, and obtained by Trains News Wire, Amtrak leadership said the passenger railroad has been charged with evaluating private cars on scheduled trains and how those services can continue, while also improving on-time performance and “Amtrak economics.”

Amtrak’s policy change of March 28 [See “Amtrak to stop operating special trains, charter moves,” Trains News Wire] plainly stated the railroad’s intentions to no longer operate charter services or special trains, citing operational distractions, low profit margins, and passenger delays. But the passenger railroad is listening to the private-car community about how those services can continue more efficiently.

Several individuals and groups whose cars are housed at midpoint pickups had move requests denied by Amtrak, citing inefficient dwell times and on-time performance issues. The elimination of midpoint pickups would force private car operators to relocate their cars to those places Amtrak trains originate or terminate, such as Chicago, Washington Union Station, or Los Angeles.

“If you want cars switched at every station, we can’t do that,” an Amtrak representative said during Tuesday’s call. “We are interested in your thoughts about what you think is reasonable and consistent with the mission of not delaying trains.”

Private car leaders offered ideas that would improve on-time performance, but preserve midpoint pickups. Among the recommendations were a requirement for private car operators to have their own qualified mechanical personnel to help facilitate midpoint switching, or to add private cars to the head ends of trians to eliminate extra switching moves. They also suggested having their cars operate on generator until reaching a station with sufficient dwell time to allow head-end power to be connected.

Amtrak’s response was that operating private cars is most efficient when hauled from the train’s origin to its destination, noting that midpoint recovery times are to protect against train delays, not for switching of private cars.

A number of midpoint terminals were discussed during the call which account for a sizeable portion of Amtrak-certified cars that operate regularly but are not at traditional endpoints. They include Lamy, N.M.; Huntington, W.Va.; Denver Union Station; Midway near St. Paul, Minn.; Whitefish, Mont.; Charlotte, N.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Tucson, Ariz.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Orlando, Fla.; Milwaukee; Cleveland; St. Louis; San Antonio, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; and Kansas City, Mo.

Private car owners, many of whom house their cars at these locations, told Amtrak they would look at ways to expedite handling at their facilities to improve operations. The Amtrak representatives asked for that information by Thursday or Friday.

Amtrak’s current pricing for private-car moves was not discussed, although the railroad did say it is reviewing its price structure for private-car business. Private car leaders say they would like to better understand the railroad’s special train net-margin issues and to explore what “fully allocated profitable margin” really means.

According to the meeting notes, the private car community said it would be willing to “pay twice the actual cost,” but is seeking additional information from the railroad.

Contacted by Trains News Wire, Railroad Passenger Car Alliance President W. Roger Fuehring says his group is “very appreciative of Amtrak taking the time to listen to our concerns as it relates to future movements of private cars within their network. We sincerely appreciate our friends at AAPRCO and look forward to assisting Amtrak with a suitable resolution to the issues at hand.”

While special trains were not discussed during the call, AAPRCO confirmed in a Tuesday evening email to members that its mid-year train, the Black Hills Special, had been denied its move. The train was planned to operate between Lincoln, Neb., and Denver on May 17-22, 2018.

Amtrak has yet to clarify what special trains will operate or how it will definitively handle the private car business going forward.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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