Reminder: buy your tickets today!

Travel protips for Thanksgiving week:

Just as a reminder, while many ticket offices are open for extended hours tomorrow, they will be swamped by people trying to get out for Thanksgiving travel. This especially applies to the SEPTA and Amtrak ticket offices at 30th Street Station, as well as the Amtrak and NJ Transit TVMs there. If you still haven’t yet bought or picked up your train ticket for tomorrow, do it on your way home today. Some outlying ticket offices may have extended hours today as well; if they do, take advantage of that. Getting tickets a day or more early saved my bacon as an undergrad in the suburbs, when the lines at the ticket office could be up to 15 minutes long leading up to every midday departure on Wednesday.

Also, if your Regional Rail trip involves Trenton or the Airport, remember to get your ticket through to those points to save time and money.

If you have any choice in the matter at all, don’t pay cash on board tomorrow; that’s going to be a mess, and you will make a conductor’s already hard life even worse.

Amtrak, of course, is on a modified schedule throughout the holiday week, and if it’s part of your holiday plans you should have booked weeks ago. But, there are still a few seats available on most trains tomorrow to both New York and Washington, although your procrastination tax will be to pay through the nose for those last tickets. Reserved seating is in effect for all Keystone Service trains.

Travel safe, travel smart, and have a happy holiday!

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Ted Cruz, you asshole

Overview:

“NEC FUTURE is a comprehensive planning effort to define, evaluate and prioritize future investments in the Northeast Corridor (NEC), launched by [the FRA] in February 2012.

…NEC FUTURE will create a framework for the future investments needed to improve passenger rail capacity and service through 2040…”

Public Meetings:

“Open House Meetings, October-November 2013 – Postponed”

“Due to the recent federal government shutdown, the NEC FUTURE public meetings have been postponed until 2014 (or after the holiday season). Please check this website for information on dates and locations for rescheduled open houses. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

The cancelled meetings for this area had been scheduled for November 4th in Wilmington and November 13th in Philadelphia.

Weekend Update

Happy weekend! Pennsylvania’s SB1 Transportation funding bill may be back from the dead; I’ll have more by tomorrow morning, or you can look in on the Pittsburgh Comet or Keystone Politics for the fast update, or if you’ve forgotten what SB1 actually does, there’s the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from June.

Meanwhile, we have a big weekend of construction and disruption around the weekend to look forward to. Here’s the roundup:

  • Lansdale/Doylestown is bustituting between Lansdale and Doylestown for catenary work. Shuttle bus schedule here. This is second of seven planned work weekends.
  • Media/Elwyn is a hot mess. On Saturday:
    • Trains will be operating on the outbound track only between 49th Street and Secane (inclusive), and will be operating on altered schedules, until 6:00pm. Evening service will be unaffected.
    • Inbound trains (before 6:00p) will run between 9 and 14 minutes later. Outbound trains (before 6:00p) will run between 21 and 14 minutes earlier. Consult SEPTA’s schedules for exact times.
    • Train #7303, the first outbound departure Saturday morning, is cancelled.

    On Sunday:

    • Due to emergency repairs to the Crum Creek Viaduct, instead of replicating the Saturday changes as planned, Sunday will instead feature bustitution west of Morton Station.
    • Inbound shuttle buses from Elwyn will run bewteen 25 and 13 minutes earlier than normal schedule, and inbound trains will leave Morton 5 minutes early before resuming normal schedules at Secane.
    • Outbound trains will arrive at Morton 5 minutes later than normal, and shuttle buses will leave 5 minutes after that. Outbound shuttle buses will run between 14 and 25 minutes later than scheduled times.
    • The repairs to Crum Creek Viaduct are spot repairs intended to forestall immediate closure of the bridge, and will not affect the scheduled 2015 closure of that bridge in the absence of subsequent major investment.
  • Chestnut Hill East, which runs through with Media/Elwyn on weekends, is getting follow-on disruption. On Saturday, inbound trains will run 21 minutes earlier, and outbound trains will run 14 minutes later, until about 6:30pm.
  • SEPTA City Bus routes 7, 39, and 54 will return to their newly-reconstructed homes at 33rd and Dauphin Loop at 5:00a Sunday morning. This will conclude the 13-month reconstruction process for that facility.
  • SEPTA City Bus routes 39, 47, 54, 56, 57, 60, and 89 will be detoured for the Puerto Rican Day Parade on Sunday. This map gives the best summary of all the extensive changes.
  • Atlantic City Line will be bustituted between Philadelphia and Cherry Hill on Saturday, 7:00am to 3:00pm, for an emergency preparedness drill in Pennsauken. Tellingly, the shuttle bus operation is not expected to take any more time than is scheduled between Cherry Hill and 30th Street.
  • Trackwork on PATCO is resulting in adjusted schedules, but no closures, on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Eight NJT 400-series Bus Routes are disrupted by street repair in Camden near Walter Rand until Tuesday.
  • Amtrak service on the Northeast Corridor is thoroughly boned by ConEd’s mishap restricting electrical power to Metro North in Westchester County. Trains originating and terminating in New York ought to be unaffected, but trains running through the affected area to/from Boston will see either delays or cancellations. Acela Express service is not running between New York and Boston until at least Monday, maybe later; Northeast Regional service is being towed through the affected areas by diesel locomotives. We expect to hear more on Sunday, but the prognosis from ConEd has been grim.

The Pennsylvanian lives

Late breaking news tonight, that the Amtrak Pennsylvanian, which serves New York, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and intermediate points, will continue to run past October of this year.  That is when PRIIA ’08 mandates that all Amtrak routes shorter than 750 miles either receive state support, or be removed from the national network.  The only two routes that America’s Railroad had yet to find funding agreements for were the Pennsylvanian and the Hoosier State between Chicago and Indianapolis; all indications out of Indiana are that the state government is implacably hostile to any support of Amtrak, and that the Hoosier State will die.  

The Pennsylvanian is the only Amtrak train that serves the cities of western Pennsylvania between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, including Altoona and Johnstown, along the former main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

No details of the agreement are available, (only a laconic press release from Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman), but given that the state funding formula is fixed., we can only presume that the Governor and his Transportation Secretary have agreed to include a Pennsylvanian line item in the PennDOT budgeting process.  I’ll update here with the details as they become available.

In the first 24 hours, news venues are only saying that the Corbett administration is promising to include $3.8 million of the $5.7 million Amtrak was asking in the next budget, but are giving no details as to how this is adequate for Amtrak. I am going to continue to keep an eye on this, and hopefully further details will emerge.

Destroying the village to save it is still a bad idea: Amtrak Corridors and Long Distance

The commentariat is going yet another round on Amtrak, in advance of provisions of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) taking effect this year. This time, it’s Henry Grabar in the Atlantic Cities (with the linkbait title “How Amtrak Could Become a Robust, Profitable Enterprise”), highlighting the difference between what is painted as “Good Amtrak”, which is made up of the routes under 750 miles that are subject to PRIIA’s state funding requirements, and the “Bad Amtrak” of long distance services of the National Network, which Amtrak has a political mandate to run. The short haul services, it is alleged, made a $46 million operating profit, while the long distance trains lost $597 million.

The problem — and in Grabar’s defence, it’s an easy mistake to make in going through the accountantese of Amtrak’s financial statements — is that the table he is reading (and republishing) is not the actual financial performance of these routes. Instead, it is the table of financial performance after state subsidies to routes that receive them. In truth, the only short haul routes that cover their own operating costs are Acela Express, Northeast Regional Boston-Washington, Northeast Regional Washington-Lynchburg, VA, Northeast Regional Washington-Richmond-Hampton Roads, VA, and Carolinian. The rest are either currently state subsidised (like the Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service, about to be state-subsidised under the terms of PRIIA (like the New York-Albany Empire Service, or are in imminent danger of discontinuation (two routes: the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State, and, very close to home, the NYC-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian).

Meanwhile, the long distance services don’t do quite so badly. While the point that they only make up 15% of total ridership is well taken, most routes have seen serious financial performance improvements in recent years, and many could do even better, but are stuck against Amtrak’s rolling stock shortage, a recent problem that is slowly being addressed, but not fast enough to lift some of the best-performing National Network trains, like the NYC-Chicago Lake Shore Limited and the NYC-Florida Silver Service, into black ink. There is fierce debate in railroading circles as to whether Amtrak’s rolling stock shortage will become acute before it’s addressed by new car orders currently in process. And of course, Amtrak’s best-performing route in dollars per train-mile is the sui generis, long distance Auto Train. Grabar never mentions it.

The larger point here is that the reduction of Amtrak into Good Corridors and Bad Long Distance is, well, reductionist. The most successful corridors are the densest segments of long-distance routes, and the most successful long distance routes overlap with the corridors. Both sides contribute to Amtrak’s impressive ridership growth. They may serve different markets and different purposes, but they reuse quite a lot of physical and human capital between them, and it makes no sense whatsoever to sacrifice one to “save” the other.