Thursday, September 09, 2021

Does the LV Need AMTRAK?

AMTRAK stop in Cumberland, MD
AMTRAK and local officials will host a "media roundtable" on Friday to drum up support for its $75 billion plan to expand passenger rail service. This includes a line that will run from Allentown through Bethlehem, Easton and into NYC. Details of its proposal are here. 

I have mixed feelings. Owned by the federal government, it has lost money every year since 1970. Since it has no incentive to compete,it is extremely inefficient. I discovered this the hard way when I attempted to secure a train ticket from D.C. to Pittsburgh in August. The website is far from user friendly, and no one answered the phone when I attempted to call numerous times. I was only able to get a ticket by downloading an app on my smart phone. The train I took arrived two hours late, something I'm told is a common occurrence. 

On the other hand, I loved everything about the ride. It was far cheaper than renting a car or flying. The seats were comfortable and the dining car was a nice touch. If you're in no hurry, it's a great way to travel.  

Also, anyway driving on Routes 22 or 78 during rush hour might seriously consider this alternative. 

What's your take? 


Anonymous said...

I love riding Amtrak, but feel this plan would be a boondoggle. Amtrak DOES have competition here - highly efficient bus service to Manhattan. Commuters can park their cars in large,well lit and safe intermodal lots and ride to NYC in comfort. Why would you want to park in small lots next to urban train stations, especially at night or early morning? But the bigger deterrent is the shift in central office work to virtual work from a home office. There are much fewer commuters to NYC to begin with. This will not change even post-pandemic. Companies are saving money on expensive office square footage, and remote workers are saving money on commuting expenses. Spend the money on other more critical infrastructure needs.

Anonymous said...

If only locals had not sold the train track access!

Anonymous said...

What a great (and old) idea. I love train travel. I’ve taken numerous long distance trips to Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, Buffalo, and Montreal. I’d love getting on a train rather than a bus or driving, to go to New York. However, I seriously doubt that it’s feasible. I’ve looked over the study and the trip would be 45 minutes longer than the bus, and I’m sure it would cost the ridership much more. The station locations determine the ridership. Would it be in downtown Allentown to service the intercity poor (where the track right of way currently exists), or out in the suburbs, where you could have safe parking? The same question has to be raised for Bethlehem and Easton. And who needs to go to New York? The pandemic emptied out office buildings and employers found out that they didn’t have to pay for space for daily cubicle workers, and Amtrak is priced beyond an affordable level for everyday commuters. People go to New York for events, theater, sports, museums, occasional business. I believe this area would be better served by a partnership and extension of the New Jersey Transit system and focus on connections to Newark Airport and JFK, and the Lehigh Valley International Airport folks aren’t going to let that happen. Bieber was a great system, before the owner killed it.

Anonymous said...

Love it! Passenger rail to NYC will be a great thing for the Lehigh Valley!

Anonymous said...

Does it need it? Absolutely. Does the LV want it? Harder to say. I can already hear the boos of the 60+ community...

The problem with rail/AMTRAK is that we've more or less ignored it for the better part of the last century so we are stuck with inferior lines, service and infrastructure for it which leads to delays and poor experiences for customers. It will take at least 20 years to see a shift in a better direction.

Ideally we should have a line going from ABE over to EWR then to Penn Station in NYC. A second line from ABE down to Philly's 30th St Station and PHL airport would connect us to major metros and reduce some highway traffic. Eventually a 3rd line out to Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.

Anonymous said...

The train is a great idea but also a pipe dream at the same time. America is not in the train mind set any more. Years ago when more trains moved through Easton then anywhere else in the country there were options after option to get places. And then when you got there you walked. Today less and less people walk. They seem to want door to door convenience. I doubt we would ever see in our life time train coming back to the Lehigh Valley From NYC or Philadelphia.

There just are not enough people who would use it make it worth while. And when you look at the studies. More people commute from the Lehigh Valley toward Philadelphia then to NYC.

Unknown said...

I love the idea of train travel. However, we dont need to worry about passenger service. Warehouses will fill the valley soon enough and there isnt a thing we can do about it.

Anonymous said...

I'm as nostalgic about rail travel as the next guy, but then there were also those that bemoaned the loss of stagecoaches to railroads.

I'm sure some of the strongest proponents of rail lines to NYC and Phil. would also be first in line to oppose the building of more sprawling bedroom communities to accommodate the resultant influx of McMansion loving commuters.

They could all stand around tearfully lamenting "We are all Lansdale now."

Bud H said...

Rail Service to LV and NYC: Been trying to keep an open mind on this issue for the past 25 years of rail service proposal.

We need to do a serious and unbiased study on the impacts for the LV region of rail service. There are pros and cons. I suspect that making it easier to travel back and fore from NYC and NJ would fundamentally change the Lehigh Valley. Some good, some bad.
The in migration or growth of people coming to the region from NY & NJ has been profound over the past two decades. Lots of questions, how would it affect our:
• Schools
• Taxes
• Housing prices and affordable housing
• Neighborhoods
• Culture of LV
• Roads
• Character
• Governance
One of the top issues being discussed throughout the region is truck traffic and large industrial / warehouse development in a “choice over chance” approach to thinking and governing, the impacts including:
• More trucks on the roads
• More jobs – some have said 40,000 new jobs
• School districts have received millions per year in property taxes on large building
Rail service is a similar “choice over chance” option.
Any such analysis needs to be free of political bias. We are seeing too much of that when local government studies seem more like advocacy than analysis.
Yes, everyone wants free government “goodies” – sometime when you take the “goodies” you end up worse off. Let’s do a good fair study – then decide if we want it.

Anonymous said...

It makes sense to connect the airports. EWR-ABE-PHL by high speed rail. Would make ABE a much more viable location, particularly for discount airlines like Spirit, Southwest, JetBlue, etc.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I'm as nostalgic about rail travel as the next guy, but then there were also those that bemoaned the loss of stagecoaches to railroads."

What the hell are you talking about? I doubt that is even remotely true.

John said...

Part of the bigger picture that many people aren’t addressing is the ability to go beyond Penn Station to the rest of the country. TransBridge (and the intermodal parking lots provided by PennDOT at 33 and 412) are fine for regular commuters to Manhattan. TransBridge is flexible enough to add and remove runs to accommodate the changes in commuting patterns. For students attending the Valley’s universities and colleges, however, getting here involves a car.

As an older reader who likes to travel, I sure don’t enjoy the idea of toting a week’s luggage from Port Authority to Penn Station if I want to go to Boston or Washington. I can’t easily take the train to Florida or anywhere else from here without driving to Philadelphia.

Yes, Amtrak will be more expensive than the bus to go to New York, especially for people like me who can travel to NYC by bus for half price. But it’s not about Manhattan. It’s about more mobility at a lower carbon cost than a flight out of ABE to connect somewhere else or a long car drive or even a schlep across Manhattan with bags. It’s about connecting the Lehigh Valley to America. We’re not going to be overrun. The warehouses are already here.

michael molovinsky said...

The problem with the infrastructure bill will to be spend the windfall money somewhat wisely. While the train to NYC has been debated for decades, at least it's a viable plan that has been on the books for years. I fear too many new "highways to nowhere". Put my share into the train service. Thank you

Anonymous said...

Mixed feelings as well. We love to go to NYC, and service to Penn Station would be terrific. However, it pays to remember that the trains run both ways. They take us to New York, but they also bring New York to us.

Anonymous said...

I love trains. But frankly making it even easier for the crime drugs and gangs access to this area worries me. They are already here but making access from the big cities would make it worse. Sorry to say

Anonymous said...

"I doubt that is even remotely true."

Define “remotely.”

“As a rule, people who had previously travelled by coach disliked the railway.”

“A poet lamented ‘We hear no more the clanging hoof and the stagecoach rattling by, for the steam king rules the traveled world, and the Old Pike is left to die.’”

“In an 1863 essay, Charles Dickens stirred his readers’ nostalgia by describing a typical country village that had been ‘a great stage-coaching town” before “the ruthless railways … killed and buried it.’”

Anonymous said...

Making travel from LV to NY faster and easier will create a huge influx of people who live/work in the NY metro area to move to the Lehigh Valley. We have enough traffic already. No thanks.

John said...

However, it pays to remember that the trains run both ways. They take us to New York, but they also bring New York to us.

Guess what. The cheapest train fare from Philadelphia to New York, a similar distance, is $43. I just checked. TransBridge is about three bucks cheaper. “New York” is already here, if that’s the thinly-veiled message you’re communicating. If you wanted to raise the drawbridge and fill the Delaware with alligators, THAT train left the station 30 or more years ago.

Amtrak charges premium prices for a premium level of service. It’s more expensive than driving or taking a bus. I assure you, you will absolutely approve of the passengers arriving on Amtrak trains in Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton. They’re going to arrive and spend money on our hotels, fine dining, and college tuition.

People making statements like “bring New York to us” are the reason we can’t have nice things. And why we didn’t join SEPTA in the 1970s so we could continue train service to Philadelphia. And probably why we have warehouses instead of farms. But I digress.

Mike said...

Commuters have always liked subsidized transportation. That's all this is.

Anonymous said...

The image that comes to mind is the Bushwood pool on Caddy Day. Prepare for the onslaught.

Anonymous said...

@11:46 - You are WAY overthinking things. New York City Criminals, Drug Lords and Gangs, in general, are probably going to stick with personal vehicles in order to conduct whatever "business" they have in the LV and then quickly return to their lairs in the big city.

Hanging around train stations with pockets full of drugs, cash and whatever stolen material they're attempting to carry while waiting around for the train back sounds like a risk they'd probably look to avoid.

Bernie O'Hare said...

11:53, I stand corrected.

Anonymous said...

It’s time to make America great again by making Hi-speed rail connections to all the major hubs.

Cut the defense spending in half and use those funds to build a state-of-the-art Hi-speed train so that we are competitive with the European community. 600km/h

Buses are not the solution and we need major work on our infrastructure.

Let’s get Americans back to work like FDR NewDeal.

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful, passenger rail is the future! We need to become less dependant on cars and these investments in infastructure are how we get there.

Anonymous said...

Amtrak provides useful and needed service in some parts of the country however people in the railroad industry who read these stories about Amtrak service thru the A-B-E area just shake their heads in disbelief because they know it is never going to happen. Local passenger service ended in the 1960s because of low patronage. In the 1970s NJ Transit extended its commuter rail service west to Phillipsburg, NJ. It last 9 or 10 years and was annulled due to low ridership. Back in the "glory days" passenger service was operated by the railroads who owned the tracks it ran on and "parted the way" for the passenger train to get thru. If Amtrak returns now the Norfolk Southern (NS) railroad will be the "host" railroad. NS is a bastard to deal with most times and will require Amtrak to pay for additional rail line capacity in some areas. The most important customer on NS is United Parcel Service and NS is never going to delay a "hot" UPS train just to run an Amtrak train. Prior to the pandemic Trans Bridge had a huge business providing bus service between NYC and the LV area. Drive by their terminal now and much of the fleet is parked in their terminal lot. Dream on. Passenger service for the ABE area isnt going to happen.

Anonymous said...

The problem with bringing rail is when you ask people would you use it, most people say yes, and it is said overwhelmingly. However, the number of people who would use it daily is pretty low. People using it from time to time is not going to make it a success. I think the best the Lehigh Valley will get is P-burg for service to NYC and Quakertown to get to Philly. And those 2 proposals are nowhere near coming to reality.

Anonymous said...

I think a bus lane in the middle of I-78 or a new dedicated bus lane in the highway would be far more efficient and could be used to provide quick and simple service to New York. The bus only lane at Weehawken through the Lincoln Tunnel is a model of efficiency. The price could be extremely cheap and the service would be quicker than rail. Just ride Amtrack from Philly to Pittsburgh. The price is very high and it takes them upwards of 8 - 10 hours to make the trip that takes 5 hours by car or 40 minutes by air. The ambiance of train riding is great, but at the end of the day, quick and inexpensive travel times are more important.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I decline to post comments from an anon who holds himself out as a statistician, but is actually an anti-vaxxer and anti-masker who dabbles in conspiracy theories. I would post you if I thought you had any credibility. You don't and can't even ID yourself, so don't hold yourself out as some authority on anything.