RailPAC followup letter to Amtrak about Coast Starlight resumption

1017 L Street, Sacramento, CA 95814

March 10, 2008

Mr. Alex Kummant
President and CEO
National Railroad Passenger Corporation
60 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E.
Washington, DC 20002


Dear Mr. Kummant:

I have reviewed Amtrak’s statements about the suspension and truncation of the Coast Starlight and the lack of first class accommodation on any part of the route. I’m gratified that you came round to our point of view and decided that it was sensible, both politically and commercially, to reinstate the train, albeit coach class only and one of the longest bus bridges on record. I remain concerned about the fact that you originally decided that service throughout was expendable. The first thing that comes to mind is your company’s claim that bookings were light, and that was part of the reason for having few qualms about suspending the service. We have been unhappy for many years with Amtrak’s marketing of its services, and are very concerned that so much of the very limited capacity on the Coast Starlight was not sold.

We have always advocated a greater degree of low cost route specific advertising which has been proven to be successful at intermediate stations. Print media space is cheaper than it has been for a long time, and tends to be read by the train riding demographic. In addition the tourist trade, both domestic and international, continues to grow. January and February are great months to visit California. Even though nominally it’s our rainy season we have plenty of good weather. The cruise ship business is burgeoning in San Diego, San Pedro and San Francisco. The Coast Starlight route would be a natural for combined sea and land cruises. As far as international tourists are concerned, the sharp decline of the dollar must surely present opportunities to work with European, South American and Asian tour operators to make Amtrak a part of the United States experience for these overseas visitors.

Given the limited capacity of the long-distance trains, you should be sold out year round. Indeed, the dilemma in January when the landslide occurred should have been, “what are we to do with all these pre-booked passengers?”, not “how quickly can we stop running the train?”

In your most recent letter you stated that you would keep passengers informed as the landslide situation develops and news becomes available. I am astounded to find, on looking at Amtrak.com today, that there is still no general announcement of the ongoing reduced Coast Starlight service on the opening page. You can only find out what is happening when you try to buy a ticket.

Finally, the day after limited service was resumed, February 2, the train suffered a two hour late start because of mechanical problems. This after Amtrak had nearly two weeks to work on getting the equipment in shape. Locomotive failures on California Corridor services are frequent and unacceptable. I hope that when full Coast Starlight service resumes the sleepers and dining cars will be in pristine condition. You’ve had plenty of time to “detail” them.

Yours faithfully,
Paul J. Dyson

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