Friday, November 27, 2015

Amtrak, What Are You Waiting For???

Recently I blogged about long term battery storage options to help preserve the pathetic longevity of the Nissan LEAF 12 volt battery.  Being a resident of the farthest Northern State Capital in the Contiguous United States means I do know a lot of "Snowbirds!"  Snowbirds are people who abandon their Northern homes when the cold weather hits for sunny southern abodes.  Sadly, this means leaving the beloved LEAF behind... My only question;  WHY???

This makes no sense. Its like leaving your dog at home. Sure people do it for 10 days in Hawaii but no one does it for 4 months while in Arizona! Ok, I know what you are thinking; No one looks at their car like they look at their pet. I say "SPEAK FOR YOURSELF!!"

 Now in the early days of EVdom, the number of Snowbirds who were also LEAFers was minimal.  But that has changed and just monitoring the EV related Facebook groups for suggestions on how to store a LEAF long term is all one needs to know that a need is rapidly emerging.

My parents were also Snowbirds. Besides their primary home in Olympia, they also had a house in Mission, Texas located about 5 miles from the Rio Grande and Mexico.  It was located in a retirement community which was somewhat self sufficient so they had an EV (a golf cart; which was the primary source of transportation for nearly everyone in the park. In fact, they were so plentiful that no one there secured their cart. They would just pull up to the Pool, jump out leaving the keys in the ignition. This way keys did not get lost. And no one ever "intentionally" stole a cart and Yes, there were cases of "mistaken identity")  Now when my Dad was in his early 70's, they simply drove to Texas and back in the family car.

But as he got older, driving became more of a hassle than it was worth.  So one Winter, they simply relied on friends, relatives and an occasional taxi for rides. This did not work out well. Mind you; this was a retirement community which basically means "7 day weekend, every weekend."  This meant the social calendar was very active. There was always something going on at the community center. Someone having a party or BBQ, etc.  So it was easy to survive without a car most of the time but it still was a hassle.  Eventually,  they bought a car that was shared with my Dad's Sister among others. How well this worked out was not very clear. It was a bit of an expensive option and later when my Aunt and Uncle moved back to Michigan, its value became questionable.

Now before we get to a solution. Lets talk about Amtrak.  Now, their reputation is a bit tarnished after that horrific accident Philidelphia but a few interesting facts;

In total, long-distance routes carry about 14.6 percent of Amtrak’s passengers but soak up about 41 percent of the costs.
Read more at Reuters
Well, that is a very interesting statistic.  Here we have Amtrak using its very crowded popular Eastern Seaboard routes to support their routes covering the wide open West.  IOW; Amtrak is simply not a preferred route for travel if one has to go aways BUT... What about my LEAF? I be willing to bet she would not care especially if it meant being ignored for several months in a cold garage verses cruising The Winter Texas Sun (which is about the only time of year its pleasant!)

I think Amtrak is missing out on a great business opportunity by not offering car transport service. But wait!! They do offer it!! well as long as you want to go from Lorton Virginia to Sanford Florida since this is the ONLY car transport route they offer.   Now the route is 811 miles by car and they are charging $244 for the car or  30 cents per mile soooo, hmmmm?

At the same rate per mile we are looking at roughly  $600 for Texas but have to think a farther distance would be cheaper per mile because there would be only one load unload cost to consider.  A passenger ticket for the Florida route is $263 while a ticket from Olympia to San Antonio is $651 hence the $600 estimate.
I guess it all really depends on how long you will be down South. My Parents usually left right after Christmas and returned in April so were gone 4 months. Others I know leave right after Thanksgiving with various return times some as early as March so 4 months seems to be the average. So we are looking at roughly $1200 for the roundtrip carfare over a 4 month period which means a base cost of $300.  Well that could buy a lot of taxi fares.  Also need to realize that many people are only down south for 3 months which drives the cost to $400 a month.  Maybe not such a great deal, or is it?

To realistically evaluate the cost we need to look at acceptable alternatives and there are few.  Granted its about what you are willing to accept.  The community my parents lived in was pretty active. There was something at the Senior Center every night. Be it Bingo, A movie, pot luck or just an excuse for one of the residents to have a party (No one held parties at their house. The Center had several rooms that could be reserved at no charge) so there was a lesser need for many to venture to town less than 5 miles away.  So an occasional taxi could be very manageable financially. But my parents either ate out or with friends for nearly every meal. It was vacation for them (several residents lived there all year long) and that is how they lived it when there so having a car was essential.

The Center did have a shuttle that would go to the Mall during the week and also to any destination that was agreed upon by the passengers so it was workable but my parents hated it. There would be pick up times for the return from the mall that they would be on time for but usually it was up to an hour wait for stragglers. So the only real option was a car.  Ignoring the purchase price, Insurance would have to cover the entire year. Now I can get "storage" insurance on my car which is like $150 for 6 months so I would like do that when not down there and regular insurance while there.  So the cost would vary depending on the person but by far the cheapest option but then again there is the issue of having a car sit for 8 months which introduced a whole new set of problems.

So shipping the LEAF is likely the most expensive option if not buying a 2nd car but remember Amtrak Diesels are 30-40% more efficient than any other transportation option. Electric locomotives are even more efficient.  Amtrak is struggling to make long western routes profitable. This looks like an easy way to generate some more coin. Unlike passenger cars which often run at much less than 50% capacity. Car trains can add or remove as demand sees fit.

So Amtrak??? What are you waiting for???


  1. Amtrak is likely the place not to look for this service on the West Coast as the need for this service isn't in the high demand as its on the East Coast. BNSF and Union Pacific share the NS tracks between Portland and Seattle. I would check BNSF customer service as they do ship POV's and can give you a rate:

    Pat Campbell, Vancouver

    1. ah interesting option. I was more wanting a ship and ride with option. But the biggest reason I suggested this is because you are right. Ridership in the West is pathetic. The average route here runs under 40% capacity most of the time and the difference between a 4 hour flight and a 33 hour train ride is significant but if it allows you to take the car??

    2. BNSF has to be one of the most unfriendly websites ever. I find it hard to believe I have to register for an account just to get pricing info...