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Amtrak Changes and Private Cars and DCNRHS - Our Trips and Charters are Running!

posted Apr 29, 2018, 11:17 AM by James Lilly
Many folks have asked how the recent changes at Amtrak involving private cars, charters, and excursion will affect DCNRHS' trips and charter.  We are very much aware of the changes but want to reassure our passengers and customers that our trips and charters will continue to run. We urge our past customers who enjoy traveling with us to support our current trip offerings and ask those contemplating making a trip for the first time to "not hesitate, go now!" Our Trip Committee Chairman and Charter Agent, Mr. Kevin Tankersley, has penned a thoughtful article on this subject, which we share below!

Amtrak Changes Private Car Policies

Over the last few weeks, a lot was reported everywhere from the railfan media to the mainstream press on changes Amtrak was proposing to make to private car operations on Amtrak trains.  The reports gathered from car owners who suddenly had move requests denied, informal conversations and other unofficial sources, indicated a wide range of potential changes which were anticipated to severely curtail the operation of private cars on Amtrak trains.  The thrust of the reasoning for the changes relayed by Amtrak was that private cars delay their trains and that changes would be made to eliminate those delays. 

When these reports surfaced, the private car and heritage rail community sprung to action.

A number of individuals, private car owners and organizations urged folks to contact their Congressmen and Senators to express their views that the proposed changes were headed in the wrong direction. DCNRHS supported efforts of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners (AAPRCO) and the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance (RPCA) by providing answers to surveys of operational data to be used in discussions with Amtrak on these issues.

After several weeks of uncertainty, on April 18th, Amtrak officially released new policies for the operation of special charter trains, the operation of private cars in regularly scheduled trains and a revised tariff for the operation of private cars in regularly scheduled trains.  Here’s a summary of the changes and how they will affect DCNRHS’ three Amtrak qualified private cars—Dover Harbor, Franklin Inn, and Collinsville Inn:

Amtrak Chartered Special Trains

Amtrak Chartered Special Trains are now limited to operate only on the routes of regularly scheduled Amtrak trains.  What this means is that Amtrak will no longer operate special trains on routes that travel “rare mileage” such as for the AAPRCO convention.  DCNRHS’ cars have participated in Amtrak chartered special trains either in charter service such as Franklin Inn  did during the 2012 NRHS Convention in Iowa; and or on trips such as offered with Dover Harbor periodically as part of AAPRCO’s annual convention special trains.   Our cars have also participated in Amtrak Special trains, such as the annual New River Train in West Virginia, which runs on the route of Amtrak’s Cardinal, and could possibly be operated subject to several other stipulations in the new policy.  In terms of our cars, this means somewhat reduced opportunities for us to operate either in charter service or on trips offered through DCNRHS.   Also, even though our organization has a long history of operating excursion trains going back to 1951, DCNRHS has not directly chartered an Amtrak special train since the early 2000s.

Private Cars on Regularly Scheduled Amtrak Trains

Private car operations on regularly scheduled Amtrak trains are changed in the following ways:

The new policy defines the locations where private cars may be switched on and off of trains; this list eliminates a number of locations where cars were switched onto and off of trains previously.   The emphasis is on cars operating from origin to the endpoint of given trains and en route switching has been significantly curtailed with some exceptions.  Washington DC is one of the locations where en route switching is permitted on many trains, when power is changed from electric to diesel or vice versa.  Since Washington DC is the primary location DCNRHS operates its cars from this change does not have significant effect on our operations.  There are a few en route locations such as Huntington WV, Jacksonville FL and Emeryville CA where our cars have operated to in the past that are affected.

Another major change is that Amtrak had in recent years been encouraging private cars to have work done in their shops.  With the new policy, Amtrak will no longer do work on private rail cars, except for FRA-required repairs to safety appliances while the car is en route on an approved trip.  This means that for any work to be done on the car, we will have to hire private contractors or send our cars to private shops.  As there are none in the immediate Washington DC area, there is added cost for sending the cars to a shop, and also logistics for oversight of work being performed at some distance away.

Revised Tariff

Along with the new polices a revised tariff was issued, raising the most of the various rates twelve (12) to fifteen (15) percent.  A few of the special switching rates were increased by over 125%.  The new tariff rates are effective with all movements commencing on or after May 1, 2018.  DCNRHS does follow good business practice has some contingency built in to our business plans for trip fares and charter fees in the event of a tariff increase such as this, although it is not as much as this unexpected tariff increase, so there will be a slight impact to the bottom line of the trips currently offered.   Future trip offerings and charters will be priced to reflect the revised tariff rates, and you may expect our fares to rise as a result of these changes.  For the trips we are currently advertising, we have determined we will not change the fares and DCNRHS will absorb the additional costs, however it becomes more important for us to ensure the trips are well patronized.  We hope that you will join us for one or more of these upcoming trips.