NARP Will Urge a Daily Cardinal.
For several weeks now, I’ve been working on several interesting projects for NARP—that’s the National Association of Railroad Passengers. One has to do with producing some public service radio spots that will be sent to more than 200 radio stations in towns all along the route of Amtrak’s train 50/51, the Cardinal. The 30-second spots will urge that the Cardinal’s schedule be increased from three times a week to a daily service. It’s a real shame that this train operates on such an inadequate and inconvenient schedule.
Cincinnati is on the Cardinal’s route and with a population of more than two million people in the greater metropolitan area—not to mention this magnificent railway station—you would certainly think that this would be a major stop for Amtrak. But not only is the Cardinal the ONLY passenger train serving Cincinnati, it rolls into town just three times a week. But wait! It gets worse: the westbound train arrives at 1:30 in the morning and the eastbound train appears at 3:15 a.m. That really is a disgrace.
(Unfortunately, a daily Cardinal won’t solve that part of the problem. The only real solution is to extend the Hoosier State to Cincinnati, run it on a daily basis, and adjust the schedule for reasonable arrival and departure times for both Chicago and Cincinnati.)
Of all Amtrak’s eastern trains, the Cardinal is probably the most scenic, especially the lengthy stretch through the New River gorge. The thrice-weekly schedule is awfully frustrating, however. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to schedule the overnight ride on the Cardinal out of Chicago only to find it was not operating on the day I needed to travel.
In addition, since Amtrak crew members have to occupy four of the roomettes in the one and only Viewliner sleeping car, it would certainly seem to me that a daily Cardinal could attract sufficient additional passengers to warrant a second sleeper. And you know what? On another day, in another time, that might have been enough to justify a full-service dining car instead of the current café car! (No, no! Never mind. I don’t want to go there!)
The biggest problem is that damn 3-a-week schedule! I’ve never been able to schedule it, and as a result I’ve never taken the Cardinal even though I’ve had reason to go from New York to Indianapolis!
I have run simple estimates. Based on historical evidence, from 3-a-week to daily tends to raise ridership — and revenue — by a factor of about 7/3. It’s kind of obvious why — you get all the people who needed to travel on a particular day when the train wasn’t running.
It requires 3 trainsets instead of 2. So costs would go up by a factor of only 1.5, roughly speaking.
If you apply these factors to the Cardinal’s current revenues and variable costs (not the overhead, which should be unchanged!) you discover that at current ticket prices, Amtrak would gain about $5 million/year in the black by making the Cardinal daily. It would require *less* annual subsidy to run the train daily!
This should be enough to make it worth paying for whatever track improvements are necessary to make it happen!
Some of the problems you outlined could be solved by the new equipment being built – a second sleeper, with a baggage – crew car on a daily train each way I won’t go there with the diner, but another problem – the small windows – would only be solved with new equipment that’s NOT coming anytime soon; being somewhat helped by a single – level sightseer/lounge car.
Right … right … and right again!