May 18, 2022 - TRA Newswire -

The Federal Railroad Administration's first quarterly report on intercity passenger rail performance and service quality is out and for the three Texas services run by Amtrak it's a mixed bag.

The period covered is from October 1, 2021 through December 31, 2022, while masks were still required, trains were running less frequently than pre-pandemic and with fewer coach seats, sleeping cars and amenities available to increase ridership and revenue.

The Amtrak Heartland Flyer daily roundtrip between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City scored an on-time performance high of 80.8% compared to the daily Texas Eagle at 66.1% and the tri-weekly Sunset Limited which came in at 40.0%. The Heartland Flyer is a jointly-partnered service of the Oklahoma and Texas Department of Transportation.

The Heartland Flyer was delayed 6,000 minutes during the 3 month period, the Texas Eagle 61,000 minutes and the Sunset Limited 40,000 minutes. The highest category of delay was listed as freight train interference.

Onboard food service scored a lowly 58% on the Texas Eagle, which saw it's full-service dining car and sightseer lounge removed by Amtrak and substituted with TV-style prepared meals, which were only available to sleeping car passengers. Coach passengers had a slim pickings menu of choices in sandwiches to choose on the overnight train. The Sunset Limited, with a full-service dining car scored a 69% favorable rating and the Heartland Flyer, with a short day run operating a snack-coach, came in at 77% favorable.

Customer Service overall satisfaction scores ranged from 77% on the Texas Eagle and 79% on the Sunset Limited to 90% on the Heartland Flyer.

Operating during the pandemic took a big hit on cost recovery for the two long-distance lines with a 48% cost recovery on the Texas Eagle and 23% for the Sunset Limited. Factors that caused the low numbers were lack of equipment to fill ridership needs, numerous cancelled trains and late/delayed trains that resulted in refunds and revenue adjustments to passengers. The  national network long-distance trains were especially hard hit by a lack of operating employees, which was common through all transportation modes. Cost recovery on the Heartland Flyer, with a short run of about 5 hours, averaged 94% during the period. 

Photo credit: Texas Rail Advocates, Alpine Texas station