Van versus Plane

As noted in the Portland Business Journal, Shuttle Express is going to try to give Horizon Air a run for their money on the Portland-Seattle route:

Shuttle Express will use six passenger “luxury vans” for the service. The vans include leather captain chairs, Wi-Fi service, DVD/CD/TV monitors and coffee service.

$180 for a roundtrip.

15 responses to “Van versus Plane”

  1. Not a bad idea, I hope they do well with it. I’ll still stick to Amtrak though, as long as I can get tickets.

  2. I got word down wind that a 5th Amtrak Cascades round trip may start in July 2008 or September 2008. There is also a possibility of a 6th train early 2010 just in time for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

    No confirmation from Amtrak though =/

  3. It would be cool if we could have our country invest in travel train to make it a viable option over these private vans and airplanes.

    To those who prefer vans, I would encourage you to take Amtrak. Remember each ticket you buy is an investment in viable train travel for the future.

  4. Is the train to Seattle reliable?

    Somewhat, build in 30 minutes for delays, then yes. It’s a great option to flying, but tickets sell out early. My biggest complaint about both MAX and Amtrak around here is the lack of service when it’s needed, and it holds true for the Cascades as well.

  5. Define reliable: The Cascades (not the number 11 or 14, which can easily be 8 hours late,) generally are within a half hour of when they say they will arrive, when they are running in the first place. But in the last year, probably 10% of the time they haven’t run at all, and backup service, (a bus,) isn’t always available, so…

    That 10% is caused by a bunch of things, landslides sometimes close the tracks for a day or two at a time, the track was flooded, (as was the freeway,) last month, and then they had a problem with the trains themselves and it took them a while to round up some replacement cars…

    The good news is: I can buy a ticket for tomorrow for $36 each way, which is far less than a plane ticket, and while they don’t have free beer, (you have to pay for it,) the seats have power outlets and there is a movie and so it is a nice trip…

  6. Specifically about lateness:

    Interesting comparison of the reliability of the train vs. van vs. plane. Assuming that the previous comments were correct about the worst case of giving the train a half hour leeway, that’s pretty good, IMO:

    Who could expect to drive to Seattle and not build in a ONE-hour leeway for unexpected conditions along that route?

  7. Out of the 300 or so times I have been on Amtrak Cascades since the start of the service, I’ve been late a total of 46 times ranging from hitting a pedestrian, 3 cars, 1 engine failure, flooding, train line air brake failure (broken air pipe within the trainline, very rare), and the most common, freight delays.

    The biggest factor is freight delays. Since Amtrak does not own the right-of-way, Amtrak while given 1st priority with some dispatchers, other “hot freight” at times need to be kept moving, which restricts Amtrak’s ability to stay ontime. The schedule padding is helpful to offset delays by freight trains and the 2 draw bridges between Seattle and Portland (Steliacoom/University Place Lift Span Bridge and Vancouver Swing Span bridge)

    There has been one time leaving Seattle 23 minutes down (Normal 7:30am, left at 7:52am) and arriving in Portland ontime (11am)

    The Cascades in retropect, if they had the railroad to themselfs and everything ran perfect, no crossovers and did not have to wait until scheduled departure time at stations, the Cascades could easily do 3 hours and 5 minutes. (scheduled for 3 hours and 30 minutes with padding)

    The Seattle – Vancouver BC has the most padding on the West Coast for Customs. For those that haven’t been on the train, at Blaine just before the Canadian crossing, US Customs board the train to check for proper identification. At Blaine there is also a siding where freight trains do inspections. I have been delayed an hour waiting for a freight train to clear up before our turn was allowed. You also go through Customs at Vancouver Station. Thankfully, WSDOT is putting in the money for a 4 track yard in Blaine to do these inspections and lengthen the siding which will allow the Cascades to simply stop and do the walk through.

    WSDOT has installed 15 new 50mph crossovers between Vancouver, WA and Tacoma, Washington while Sound Transit paid for a 3rd mainline between Seattle and Tukwila (17 miles) and 2 mainline relocations along with 7 more 50mph crossovers. With all of this work is fully finished in 2013, the Cascades and Sounder will be able to roll out additional trains. WSDOT/Amtrak is hopeful for 16 trains or as demand needs it.

  8. As for the Amtrak train service, u guys should go to some of the passenger rail meetings. Then you’d have the scoop directly from Amtrak. But here goes on dispelling some myth and facts.

    There is no money actually set aside yet for the train sets required for the 5th or additional frequencies between Seattle and Portland.

    The sidings north of Seattle and south of Vancouver (as mentioned by Bunbridge) will allow for two frequencies to and from Seattle to Vancvouer. However that leaves no more trains to make additional Seattle to Portland trips unless they take one set from the Portland to Eugene corridor.

    Personally that corridor is barely break even, but the Seattle to Portland corridor will become profitable (operationally) at 5 or more trains. Something Amtrak only does on one other line (Acela/NEC). So I’d say to put it on the SEA to PDX part, but efficiency, cost effectiveness, actual throughput, or heaven forbid profit (it IS supposed to be an independent company responsible for sustainability) of people is unfortunately not a priority of the Government or Amtrak.

    As for the 5th and 6th frequency – aint gonna happen anytime soon. Unless someone figures out how to do one of the following:

    1. Washington or Oregon raise taxes (and convince Talgo to send them more train sets after their recent oddity in relationship).
    2. Competition is allowed in rail transportation again and all the subsidies go away. If you can’t figure that out, go take a history and economics class in relation to railroading.
    3. Expand the physical tracks so that they can handle the service.
    4. …or we could just toss 99% of the FRA’s rules.

    I vote for 2 and 4. England did it and they have TONS more service than us. France is trying to do it. Japan did it and decreased the tax burden directly on the citizenry. …and no developed nation in the world has the regulatory backwardness and lacking efficiency of the FRA. The FRA makes passenger rail literally 3-10x more expensive and slower in this nation than it is in any others.

    It is amazing that we still pay only 10% of what Europeans do for shipping material via rail, I dread the feds get involved to force more passenger rail. Something amenable needs to be agreed upon before they wreck our system.

    …if any of this sounds confusing, just spend a month or two researching American passenger rail and freight rail. You’ll start seeing the confusion SUPER fast.

  9. “I vote for 2 and 4. England did it and they have TONS more service than us. France is trying to do it. Japan did it and decreased the tax burden directly on the citizenry. .”

    I’m not sure what your getting at Adron?

    England, France, and Japan, have many more government sponsored programs than the ‘diamond of capitalism’ aka America does. (universal health care for one)

  10. They should get some statisticians in to figure out what price point Amtrak should charge in fares and still not alienate customers. I think $20 each way from Salem to Portland, $75 from Eugene to Portland would still be a great bargain and $150 each way to Seattle would be well worth it. Maybe if these mass transit systems would charge enough they could turn a profit and thus have money to improve their infrastructure. Instead they are run like European Communist entities that are failing miserably.

  11. $150 each way to Seattle

    Each way? When they’re competing with $150-ish _roundtrip_ airfares (including taxes), and $90-ish each way door-to-door luxury van rides?

    Amtrak currently charges $28-$36 each way. I can see increasing the fares in combination with improving trip times and increasing service frequency, both of which add considerable value to travelers, but what you’re proposing is five-fold increase in fares. Are you sure the traveling public will accept that?

  12. Well, they should be somewhere in the slightly higher than Greyhound and slightly less than this limo van cost. That’s what I said Maybe if these mass transit systems would charge enough they could turn a profit and thus have money to improve their infrastructure.

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