August 26, 2020 - TRA Opinion -

Connections... Connections... Connections...

Without any institutional knowledge left at Amtrak to schedule trains, no one apparently realizes that while Hurricane Laura heads north up the Mississippi Valley the sun is still shining on the Texas Eagle route from Dallas to San Antonio today (Wednesday 8/26). Passengers connecting on the Heartland Flyer from Fort Worth to points south will soon realize their Texas Eagle train has been cancelled and they must find alternate transportation. Passengers from Dallas and other Texas cities that are connecting on the Sunset Limited will have to find their way to San Antonio to board the westward train in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Lost revenue.... upset passengers.

Bad storms roaring up the Mississippi Valley resulting in cancelled services from Little Rock to Chicago are nothing new. Back when there were educated railroaders at Amtrak they would take the equipment (Train #22) sitting at San Antonio and run a shuttle either to Fort Worth and/or Dallas to accommodate the passengers on the Texas and Oklahoma side that were unaffected by storms. The Texas Eagle would handle connections at Fort Worth for the evening Heartland Flyer and turn back south as train #21 to San Antonio.

Fort Worth is the connection point between the Heartland Flyer and the Texas Eagle. There are a significant amount of passengers that transit from Oklahoma points to Texas cities on this I-35 corridor train. But not today. We wonder if the Oklahoma DOT and the Texas DOT, that pay dearly for state-supported service, are just a little bit miffed by Amtrak's refusal to run their part of the Texas Eagle while the sun is shining.

As if that's not bad enough news... service on the Texas Eagle will be cut from daily to three-times-a-week in October as part of Amtrak's "cost savings" move during the Coronavirus pandemic. Connections at the Chicago hub will result in passengers finding that their onward train may only operate twice or only once a week because of the convoluted way Amtrak will schedule the Texas Eagle to arrive and depart at Chicago Union Station. So if you want to travel from Toledo, Ohio to Temple, Texas you will have to make sure that you depart Toledo on Thursday, the only day of the week you can connect to the Texas Eagle at Chicago.

For those of you who don't remember as far back as the mid 90's, Amtrak tried this "cost savings" method on national network trains before, only running a three-day-a-week schedule. Unfortunately, with so many fixed costs still in place, the expected savings turned out to be smoke and mirrors. Ridership and revenue plummeted when 4 days a week were removed from schedules and passengers sought other transportation options. It took Amtrak two years to learn this lesson and restore daily service. How long will it take this time?

Is there anyone left on the Amtrak board or in the C-suite that knows how to run a passenger railroad?