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Brian Rosenwald, Chief, Product Management, Amtrak

RailPAC Annual Meeting, NARP Member Meeting


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The Sunset Limited - Amtrak's Plan

Brian Rosenwald, Chief, Product Management,  Amtrak

When I saw that Mr. Rosenwald would be speaking, I was more excited about hearing him at the conference than any other speaker on the agenda.  I like to hear long-time employees of Amtrak speak and I had heard repeatedly that Brian Rosenwald was instrumental in getting the Parlour Cars on the Coast Starlight, and later saving them from being eliminating.  I understand he was also intimately involved in the rehab. of the Empire Builder.  Now that is a person I want to hear, as he now works on the Sunset Limited.  I obviously, living in Southern California, enjoy the best of Amtrak, the Coast Starlight, and by nature have 'regional interests,' so having never ridden the Sunset Limited, have only a reporting interest in it's rehab.  But true to my trade of e-reporting for, I have heard the stories of how Katrina knocked the socks off the Florida to New Orleans portion of this route, and how riders wonder if it will ever return.  It is from this point of view that I dutifully took notes on Mr. Rosenwald's presentation.

I might add, RailPAC/NARP started a system at the beginning of the conference of having attendees write their questions on paper, to be read by an MC after each presentation (as TRAC has successfully done since I started attending their conferences).  This procedure fell flat because they never picked up any questions after Mr. Boardman's first presentation.  Therefore, I still have in my possession my questions for Brian Rosenwald.


How Amtrak is Changing

Mr. Rosenwald began by addressing, How Amtrak is Changing.  He mentioned that no one person within Amtrak management 'owns a route' as in the past and they have a systematic procedure for reviewing long-distance routes and suggesting improvements to the Board.

Route Performance Improvement (RPI)

The way RPI works is that six routes per year are studied to see what can be changed.  The RPI saved the Cost Starlight Parlour Cars.  The CS had to show revenue on the Parlour Car to save it.  That is why they charge for wine tasting, and in return we now have a Parlour Car attendant.

They are also working on long-distance staffing in coach cars - one per car - and working on dining car staffing.  They've started Regional Menus and restored greener and healthier menu items.  By June they will have one 'signature menu item' on each route.

Sunset Limited  - Diamond in the Rough

Mr. Rosenwald mentioned that the RPI on the Sunset Limited had 65 people working on it and they worked on 250 ideas that were submitted.  The result of the RPI is a proposal, that may be accepted by the board or rejected, (so I'm thankful that we got to hear about it before it went to the board), is that service and schedule plans are for it NOT be a tri-weekly train.  They reasoned that cutting service would not make it financially sound, but restoring 7-day service will.  Part of the RPI was a discussion of connections with the Texas Eagle

Revenue Per Car Day is a good measure of revenue recovery.  On an accompanying graph, he showed the Empire Builder at the top in revenue recovery, and the Sunset Limited at the bottom - but it sits for days without any revenue on the current schedule.

Sunset Limited will have daily service, probably within months, if passed.  Their restrictions in the RPI are:  1) they cannot add more equipment because there is not any available, 2) they must consider destinations without bias, 3) they must consider the cost of the host railroads.

As with other prepared presentations of the day, Mr. Rosenwald had excellent PowerPoint slides prepared.  I tried to photograph as many as I could. 

Note to other presenters:  If you want your presentation to be accurately reported and remembered by the attendees...have a slide presentation!  Also, tell the audience where they can find this slide set online, or other similar information online!  Otherwise, you are expecting an audience that may never have been responsible for remembering anything from a presentation giving their interpretation of your information, which, more than likely, will be misquoted.

Mr. Rosenwald's excellent slides (with my feeble attempt to replicate through photography).  Remember to double click any image for a double-sized copy:

Route Performance Improvement Program components.
The 2009 RPI Routes they are studying: 

Empire Service/Adirondack,  Lake Shore Ltd., Lincoln Service, Crescent, Empire Builder, Sunset Limited.
What are people saying about the Sunset Limited?
Average Speed of Selected Long-Distance Trains.

Customer Profile of the Sunset Limited's Ridership
Route and Ridership boarding at each station LA to New Orleans.
Cost Recover by Route - Sunset Limited is lowest.
Proposal and History

Sunset Proposal Overview
"Can we do this?  Obstacles.  Name of new service"
(Of course I like "California Eagle.")
Most Asked Questions
I think this set of slides makes it much more meaningful to see the thoughts of the presenter, than just relying of reporters' notes who are assigned to cover the conference.  Don't you agree?

The proposal is for a Los Angeles - San Antonio - Chicago daily service.  This route will provide the most revenue, a must for any proposal at Amtrak.  There is to be 'stub' service from San Antonio to New Orleans on a daily, daylight schedule.  Service will include:  Coach, Business Class, Checked Luggage, and Meal Service.  A later departure (10:30 pm) from Los Angeles will allow for connections to the Coast Starlight

Since tickets, food, and sleepers are revenue generators these factors are being considered in this proposal.  Downside is a bad arrival/departure time for Palm Springs, but added revenue from added big-city stations offsets this negative factor.  This is the "Cincinnati Phenomena" the fact that on the Cardinal, Cincinnati is always a looser because it is served at 3 to 4 a.m. tri-weekly.

Thank you, Mr. Rosenwald, for letting us peak at the pre-approved proposal and hear the considerations across the board that have to be part of the thought process.

Another attendee's thoughts:

Brian Rosenwald came up with a really good trade off to "improve" the Sunset Limited service. Bringing that train up to 7 days instead of 3 days per week is a definite "improvement" to me. Restoring the connection in both directions with the Amtrak Coast Starlight is an additional "improvement" that as Brian Rosenwald pointed out, is worth an additional million dollars per year in passenger revenue.
The major trade off is that San Antonio to New Orleans service goes down to just Coach / Business Class service. But it will be a daytime train reducing the need for sleepers. And that to goes up to 7 days per week. Again I see this as a major improvement. And like Brian Rosenwald said, if equipment becomes available, there is no reason that there couldn't be a sleeper on that train that gets switch out to the New Orleans bound train in San Antonio.
Of course many see this as a nail in the coffin of Amtrak ever restoring Sunset Limited service to Florida. I have a contrary opinion. With 7 day per week service on the Los Angeles / San Antonio / Chicago train AND the San Antonio - New Orleans train, I think ridership will soar and put pressure on restoring service all the way to Florida.

After the Meeting, I got this 'Clarification from Amtrak'  It is what Brian actually said, but just like eyewitnesses to the same event, many heard only a few of the facts, and may not have gotten those right:

Sunset/Eagle restructuring (from an Amtrak official for forwarding to discussion groups):

> I wanted to clarify a number of misconceptions that have come
> up about the revamped Sunset Limited proposal that was
> presented by Brian Rosenwald in Los Angeles to RailPAC.
> First of all, this is nothing more than a proposal that is
> under development and discussion, and at this time has not
> been finalized or approved by Amtrak's Executive Committee or
> Board of Directors.
> 1) As part of this proposal, the Texas Eagle (see name caveat
> below) would run from Chicago - San Antonio - Los Angeles
> daily, and a connecting Superliner train (with checked
> baggage and meal service) would operate from New Orleans -
> San Antonio daily.
> 2) Make no mistake, this proposal would restore daily service
> to all points on the Sunset route. Tri-weekly service is
> inefficient, confusing to passengers, results in poor
> financial performance, and presents a number of marketing and
> other challenges. The only bias that Amtrak had going into
> this analysis was to have daily service on this route.
> 3) As presented to RailPAC, the analysis for this proposal
> showed over 100,000 additional yearly riders for the
> proposal, along with significant revenue increases. The
> analysis took into account ridership demand, forecast demand,
> and markets.
> 4) The transfer in San Antonio from the thru train to the
> connecting train would NOT be in the middle of the night. As
> part of the proposed schedule, the eastbound train would
> leave Los Angeles after 10 PM, arriving San Antonio around 6
> AM, and the eastbound connecting train would leave around
> 7:30 AM. Going west, the connecting train would leave New
> Orleans around 10:30 AM, arrive New Orleans around 11:30 PM,
> and passengers could then get on the Eagle before it departs.
> Again, no schedule has been approved by any host RR and this
> is only a discussion at this time.
> 5) No name has been chosen for either service. This is
> certainly up to discussion and is probably the least of the
> concerns.
> 6) This proposal is completely independent of the Sunset-East
> study, and would not end the possibility of re-instating a
> transcontinental service, should the corporation decide to do
> so. Thru-cars could potentially operate between Los Angeles,
> San Antonio, and New Orleans, and even continue to points
> east should this be what the study recommends.

Thoughts on the Meeting and Speakers:

From the same person before the Amtrak clarification:

I felt positive about the meeting, but it seems that many that attending are fit to be tied and are boiling over in all the places rail people post online. Most are ripping Boardman terribly. They seem to be attacking Brian Rosenwald's proposal more than attacking him personally. But they do seem to be attributing underhanded motives to Boardman and putting him the same category as Warrington's goal of destroying Amtrak as a national system. I don't see that criticism as being warranted at all. No wonder high level speakers like this from Amtrak hardly ever want to come and speak at meetings like this!

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