From Trains Magazine:
Amtrak’s 45-year near monopoly on overnight passenger trains could end based on a proposal announced today by the Federal Railroad Administration to introduce a pilot program allowing independent entities to run long-distance trains on as many as three routes.
On paper, it’s a great idea. But I have to ask questions about this, seeing how the national network is under tremendous strain from elected officials and how the premise of a privatized long distance service would open up a slippery slope. At the end of the day, as long as it does not harm the national network, I am in favor of it.
First, what equipment would the private operator(s) use? I know that all of the Class I’s have an extensive fleet of business cars, but I doubt any of it is configured for extensive passenger carrying. And would the Class I’s want to use Amtrak’s equipment or their own?
Regardless, the privatized long distance service concept is a few years before actually happening. It’s going to take time to set everything up.
Here’s the most doable routes:
Any private operator for the Auto Train: The Auto Train is a money maker, and for the most part always has been. It runs non-stop between its terminals outside of Orlando, Florida and Washington, DC (outside of a service stop in Florence, SC) and provides an excellent way to ferry a car and combines a hotel (or couch), food and gas for an overnight trip.
BNSF and the Southwest Chief: BNSF and Amtrak have had a mixed relationship with the Chief. While we can’t change history, in a half-decent parallel universe, BNSF would still be operating trains under contract for Amtrak and the Feds as a “service to the public”, losing money during the slow months but doing a thriving business during the busy season. ATSF (Santa Fe) reluctantly joined Amtrak because it could not get rid of its local trains, and John S. Reed, the head of ATSF during the Amtrak transition period, was not impressed with the way Amtrak ran the Chief (thus the ten year period that Amtrak didn’t have the Chief name with the now Southwest Chief).
NS and the Crescent: Also very likely. I forget where I read this, but NS said that if the subsidies were right and there would be assistance with capital costs, the would be happy to run the Crescent. The Southern Railway ran the original train until they could no longer do so (a combination of equipment troubles and operations losses did Southern’s operation in). Don’t be surprised if in a few years that NS is operating the Piedmont as part of a three-way partnership with Amtrak and the state of North Carolina.
Now here’s the thing: will this encourage an expansion of passenger rail across the country?