Revoke Ban on Charter Trains and Private Car Movements
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On March 28th, 2018, Amtrak released a Special Employee Advisory containing the following text:
“Generally, Amtrak will no longer operate charter services or special trains. These operations caused significant operational distraction, failed to capture fully allocated profitable margins and sometimes delayed our paying customers on our scheduled trains. There may be a few narrow exceptions to this policy in order to support specific strategic initiatives, for example trial service in support of growing new scheduled service. Otherwise, one-time trips and charters are immediately discontinued,”
In implementing this policy, we believe that Amtrak may be in violation of 49 US Code 11101. From Cornell University's Legal Information Institution, section A of 49 US Code 11101 states the following:
"A rail carrier providing transportation or service subject to the jurisdiction of the Board under this part shall provide the transportation or service on reasonable request. A rail carrier shall not be found to have violated this section because it fulfills its reasonable commitments under contracts authorized under section 10709 of this title before responding to reasonable requests for service. Commitments which deprive a carrier of its ability to respond to reasonable requests for common carrier service are not reasonable"
This one decision has had an instantaneous and far reaching impact on the Heritage Railroading and Historic Preservation Community in one fell swoop, potentially affecting several non-profit organizations. We believe this means the following:
No Steam excursions under the Amtrak Umbrella.
- Any steam locomotives who currently run under Amtrak and those who were working towards doing so will no longer be hosted: Southern Pacific 4449, Norfolk & Western 611, Milwaukee Road 261, Santa Fe 3751, and several others. Some of these locomotives do not have the benefit of a regional or tourist railroad nearby willing to host them, let alone possessing infrastructure capable of handling such large engines.
- As an example: when operating under Norfolk Southern's 21st Century Steam Program, the trips run with Norfolk & Western 611 in the year 2015 generated an estimated $4.5-$7 million in local revenue throughout the communities the locomotive visited. This success was repeated during the 2016 and 2017 excursion seasons, drawing visitors from most every state in the union, as well as international visitors from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
No special charter trains using Amtrak equipment, with our without Privately Owned railcars.
- The New River Train in West Virginia, operated by the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, has been run continuously for over 50 years between Huntington and Hinton. With two weekends of trips a year, it generates an estimated $4 Million in County and State revenue in only 2 weekends of operation a year.
- Some organizations, such as the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC, have run similar excursions during the fall season.
Restricted movement of Private Railcars:
-It is gathered that, unless there is a station dwell time of more than 30 minutes, Private Cars will not be attached or taken off trains mid-route. In the case of the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, this means they are no longer able to move their railcars. Freight railroads will often move private cars, but in many cases charge astronomically high rates and do not handle the cars properly, resulting in expensive damage.
In general these are all non-profit organizations whose mission is to preserve and raise awareness of the history of America's railroads, and the revenue from these excursions can often have a huge impact on their earnings.
These organizations pay Amtrak for charter trains and the movement of cars. These trips are run on a limited basis, often one or two weekends a year per organization, and generally at times that are less disruptive to normal operations.
To Amtrak these operations might generate "less than the fully allocated profit margins", but without Amtrak's cooperation, the valuable revenue earned from these trips will be lost, and Locomotives and Railcars that hundreds of everyday American (and International) citizens that have given almost countless volunteer hours and their hard earned money to keep operating.
It is also particularly disappointing as these organizations and the people associated with them are often Amtrak's most ardent and vocal supporters.
Though the National Railroad Passenger Corporation is operated as a For-Profit organization, the State and Federal Subsidies that are vital to Amtrak’s continued existence come from the pocket of the American Taxpayers.
As American Taxpayers (and International Visitors who support the USA's tourist economy when visiting for these special excursions) we respectfully request that you carefully reconsider this decision and the devastating impacts to several organizations, communities, and thousands of American citizens in such a short amount of time.
We also hope that this will open the door for closer cooperation between these organizations and Amtrak to work out more efficient and valuable operational plans, and perhaps for Amtrak to more effectively capitalize on the invaluable Public Relations value of Steam Locomotives and Private Railcars.
On a personal note, I should add that I am passionate about this cause as I myself have worked both professionally and voluntarily since 2012 in the Heritage Railroading industry. I have also given many financial contributions via memberships and one off or recurring donations to several other organizations as well.
I have several dear friends who’s very livelihood depends on operations such as these.
My personal plea that I'm sure others will share is this: Please do not let our work go in vain.
- 49 U.S. Code 11101 "Common Carrier Transportation, Service, and Rates" sourced from: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/49/11101
- Special thanks to Joe Rosenthal of the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society for providing some of the information used in this petition.
- 611 Excursion economic impact numbers sourced from WSLS 10 News Roanoke. Visitor statistics from members of the Forward 611 Committee.
- Heading Photograph by Steven Kramer: Southern Pacific 4449 leads an excursion operated under Amtrak's Umbrella, sourced from the Friends of the SP 4449 website. The Friends of SP 4449 and Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation are non-profit organizations based in Portland, Oregon.
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