Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sell The Seats You Have

The most recent issue of Trains carries an article that describes how Amtrak copes with the Thanksgiving Holiday rush. It's not a surprise that Amtrak no longer even tries to have enough seats for everyone who wants to ride. They just want to sell the seats they have at a price that goes higher with every sold seat.

Yes, selling more seats could produce higher revenues, but at what cost? This is the bottom line syndrome that has hit Amtrak hard, making it less of a public utility and more of a government white elephant.

T'was a time when Amtrak could find enough used, abused and just plain junk passenger equipment, service it, and put it on the rails for a holiday rush. Gone to sales or scrap, these venerable pieces of equipment have their modern counterpart in the scores of damaged or worn out passenger seats in Amtrak yards. There's no money budgeted for repairs and repairs don't appear to be on the radar screen.

Our theory of a proper course for Amtrak is Revamp Nothing. Go back through our archives to find out what Revamp Nothing is all about. But should Amtrak (or whatever form national Passenger Rail takes in the future) build enough new equipment to meet peak demands?

We say yes! Why? Because holidays and vacations are the make and break for any travel-related business in the US. Any business will get more repeat business and off-peak business if it can handle the peaks with style and class.

Case in point: Car rentals. Having a good experience when renting a car for a holday trip makes us more willing to spend that extra bit and rent one while our Mercedes is in the shop, or when our two-seater just isn't big enough to take four adults out for dinner. Having a good experience with the car itself will also sell more of the same car line off the dealer lots.

If we can call up Amtrak and get a reservation for a last-minute out-of-town Thanksgiving dinner invitation, we will be more likely to check out Amtrak when we need a last minute to go to a business meeting two states away. If the price is reasonable, we will be more likely. This is true of airlines, too.

Because we can't do this today is why we drive alot. It's why alot of people drive alot instead of take the train, which for trips of 1500 miles or less has comparable travel times.

We are talking to Alex Kummant: Get those government dunderheads to fess up enough money so that you can build some peak capacity. Stop playing games with numbers on tickets that should be flat rated. Get some balls and start serving the train-riding public like a real railroad! You may be surprised on how much new money you can make.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com
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