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Old 12-06-2013, 07:59 AM   #1
Dr. StrangeHat
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Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

http://www.pressherald.com/news/Mont...ns_steam_.html

Definitely not high-speed and probably more of a tourist train than anything, but it's a start. Given past delays with passenger service operations in dealing with the likes of Pan Am, I doubt they'll get this off the ground in 2014.
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Old 12-06-2013, 08:23 AM   #2
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

Maybe a stupid question, but if this is an overnight hotel train with stops halfway down the route, does that make for 3am wake-ups for anyone getting off at Bethel?
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Old 12-06-2013, 08:38 AM   #3
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

The 6 pm departure from Montreal doesn't sound bad to get to Boston at 830. Although $150 1-way is probably the equivalent of a flight.

They would have to have two trainsets to have a daily each way, but so I wonder when they have the Boston one leave. Given the long timing and comparable price, I would do it from Boston to wake up in Montreal if the timing was the same, but then probably fly home- especially if you are getting up a 3 am to talk to customs. They should have a way to pre-clear people at a reasonable hour- at least from the major stations of Boston-Portland-and Montreal.
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Old 12-06-2013, 09:31 AM   #4
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

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Maybe a stupid question, but if this is an overnight hotel train with stops halfway down the route, does that make for 3am wake-ups for anyone getting off at Bethel?
If the train is supposed to get to Portland by 6:00am, then Bethel would probably be around 4:30-5:00am, which isn't as bad as 3:00am. The distance from Bethel to Portland may seem big on a map, but that track is in better shape from Auburn down to Portland and can handle higher speeds (epsecially the track from Yarmouth down, which has been upgraded to run the Downeaster). I doubt many would get off in Bethel anyway, especially if this is only supposed to run mid-June to mid-September. Bethel is more of a winter destination. The big destinations for these travelers will be Old Orchard Beach and Boston. OOB is like the Jersey Shore for Canadians.

The big hassle for travelers would be the midnight-ish stop at the Canadian border.
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Old 12-06-2013, 09:36 AM   #5
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

It will really take them 4 hours to get from Montreal to the border?
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Old 12-06-2013, 09:38 AM   #6
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

Midnight-ish was just a guess...it looks like this routes through Sherbrooke, so it's probably later than that

Edited to add: The slowest stretch will probably be from the Canadian border to Bethel. If you follow the track on Goodle Maps, it snakes through northern VT/NH/ME. There aren't many long, straight stretches of track.
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Old 12-06-2013, 10:17 AM   #7
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

For $300 round trip for a 12 hour trip (frankly, it'll be longer because I'm sure the train will take 2nd priority to freight throughout the route as well as Amtrak and MBTA when it shares track with them) seems like it's doomed to fail. I'm willing to bet there will be some who book at first simply for the Novelty of it, but you're looking at $1,200 for a family of four just to ride the train! No thanks. The overnight aspect even ruins the scenic aspect (and Berlin-Bethel along the Androscoggin River/ Route 2 is a gorgeous route).

I understand the seasonal part for the Montréal- OOB crowd. I lived in Old Orchard Beach for a year during undergrad and in the summer French is heard just as much as English. Old Orchard was crawling with coach buses with Québec plates, but a quick google search doesn't seem to show any regular scheduled bus trips to OOB from Montréal. It seems most were charters or part of a vacation package. The fact that there is no scheduled bus service from MTL to OOB may bode well for scheduled rail service, or it may indicate that the demand isn't there. I'm not sure. Still, even the charter buses indicate a 6 hour bus ride to OOB vs a 12+ hour train ride. I can't imagine that MTL's tourists want to spend 24 hours traveling for a long weekend getaway.

The Bethel stop is interesting. My family has a vacation home in Bethel we've discussed Boston-Bethel train service quite a bit believing it would be great for city dwellers looking for car-free access to quality skiing (sorry, Wachusett). I've always believed N. Conway would be better suited for such a route as it has a larger, more pedestrian friendly downtown and closer proximity to more nearby ski areas (Cranmore is essentially walking distance from the station). However, Bethel has a good small transit network (the "Mountain Explorer") which could easily complete the connection between the train and the mountain.

The problem with this route as proposed is that it's seasonal in the summer. Summer is slower for tourism than ski season, and most of the activities that summer travelers participate in require adequate transportation on the Bethel end of the route. Besides, what's someone arriving in Bethel at 4:30 AM going to do?

In its current proposed form, there's no way I see this doing well.
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Old 12-06-2013, 11:52 AM   #8
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

There's no nonstop in the BOS-YMQ air market today, but a connecting flight on Porter goes for $375 r/t. Since average fares drop when nonstops are introduced, I'd say $350 is a reasonable price to expect for an air round trip, and maybe $200 one way.

When you further consider that the hotel train saves *some* travelers a night in a hotel (making a day trip possible) you could see it go to a $200 value.

So $150 is probably a decent target ticket price, but can you profitably deliver a sleeper at that price? If you can, it would put Amtrak to shame (which we'd have to admit, is a possible outcome here).

But I'm skeptical. Sometimes there are gaps in what people want: either a cheap seat or a luxury sleeper--that cannot be bridged by a lukewarm offering in-between (like a bargain sleeper).
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Old 12-06-2013, 12:27 PM   #9
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

Some background on why the push for this is happening now:

-- St. Lawrence & Atlantic RR is owned by Gennessee & Wyoming, a conglomerate of a zillion shortline freight railroads across the U.S. and Canada. They're known as a very good operator...focused, efficient, makes mind-boggling profits as a corporation despite each individual line being an itty bitty isolated operation. StL&A is a typical G&W subsidiary: they keep their mainline in immaculate condition, they're efficient and good with customer service, they always turn a profit. And...they're a nearly invisible afterthought vs. the region's big boys.


-- Last year G&W pulled off a mega-merger to buy the 2nd largest shortline conglomerate in the country, RailAmerica. That deal brought NECR, the 4th largest regional carrier in New England and the Vermonter's host railroad, into the fold. As well as Connecticut Southern, which is the freight operator for the Springfield Line.


-- With the merger they've now got very large New England presence and are making moves to integrate those 3 currently disconnected carriers. Streamlining operations, sharing equipment, and cutting deals with other carriers so they can move goods outside their territory. For example, NECR and Providence & Worcester RR now have a 'coopetition' arrangement to move goods (primarily autoracks) from Canada to Port of Davisville in Providence to get them better rates avoiding CSX and Pan Am. They're seeking similar arrangements to link CT Southern with NECR and make StL&A a bigger competitive threat to Pan Am in Maine.


-- They're very passenger-friendly. NECR and CT Southern have longstanding, very positive working relationships with Amtrak over the Vermonter. Common ownership now makes StL&A a familiar and non-scary prospect for Amtrak to do business with.

Most of you have heard of NECR's Central Corridor proposal to run their own passenger trains on the cheap between Amherst, Palmer and New London. This is StL&A's play for the same thing. They eagerly want to bait passenger traffic as leverage for public-funded freight track upgrades, and are pitching the very good condition of their track as a low barrier of entry. NECR has track that's for the most part 60 MPH passenger end-to-end. StL&A has track that's for the most part 40 MPH passenger (and wouldn't take a crushing sum of money to get to 60 MPH). Since they're very efficiency-minded, they run long trains fewer times per day and would have a lot of schedule slots to give to passenger trains (I think StL&A only does 1 large round-trip per day, with run-as-directeds only as necessary).


-- The border crossing and Customs clearance process may get improved soon, eliminating that projected 2 hour wait at the border. Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont has legislation in U.S. Senate committee to streamline and institute Customs pre-clearance procedures for intercity trains that cross the border but do not have stops right at the border for a Customs checkpoint like the Adirondack, Maple Leaf, and Empire to Niagra Falls do. His self-interest in pursuing that is to get his state pork for reinstating the Montrealer, but if Congress ever gets moving enough to pick this up out of committee it'll offer up a lot of new route options that haven't been available post-9/11 and should pick up a decent amount of bipartisan support.

While they have to state that 2-hour wait now in the proposal because the legislation is unsettled, clearly they are hedging that pre-clearance and elimination of that border wait can come to this route by or soon after its launch date.


-- Big changes are coming to Maine's rail network. That awful train disaster in Quebec this summer with the exploding oil train has bankrupted Montreal, Maine & Atlantic RR, which runs the competing east-west int'l route across Quebec and northern Maine. They are about to be split up by the bankruptcy court amongst one or several bidders with their Quebec, Maine, and Vermont lines changing hands. Most likely to much more reputable carriers than notoriously skinflint and unsafe MM&A. All of the freight carriers in Maine like Pan Am and StL&A are jockeying for position to either buy those lines outright or divert traffic off them to their mainlines. As is NECR trying to divert more traffic through VT.

You can see there's a convergence of events happening right now that explains some of the timing of the public announcement re: passenger service. Everyone's got big skin in the game. Including Pan Am, which is playing both offense and defense in Maine.


-- Note also that the MM&A mainline is an ex-passenger route itself. VIA Rail (Canada's Amtrak) ran the Atlantic route from Montreal to Halifax 3 days a week here until 1994, with 6 intermediate stops in Maine. New Brunswick province and Eastern Quebec are still ripshit over the budget cuts that cancelled the service, with secessionists seizing on that as Exhibit Y of Ontario shitting all over the Maritimes and Quebec. Touched some political third rails over there, and the provinces have been loudly lobbying for its restoration ever since.

This obviously plays into Maine's hands at expanding their passenger network, even though the Atlantic never reached Portland and is unrelated to this POR-MTL proposal. Lots of public money in Canada is going towards rebuilding the town leveled by that rail tanker disaster, and whoever buys MM&A is probably going to get courtesy of lots of $$$ to repair that line. MaineDOT will have their say too. And there is potential if the Atlantic were ever to rise from the ashes of a future Downeaster extension to Augusta or Bangor having connecting service up to Brownville to link the two routes. Or an insta-implementation motorcoach out of Portland ferrying passengers up 95 between the Downeaster and Atlantic a la the Amtrak Thruway coaches out west that fill in by-bus some broken links between nearby train routes.

So again...convergence of events explaining some of the timing. POR-MTL, the wheeling and dealing with freights on the ex-Atlantic route, the ever-expanding Downeaster proposals. Individually some of these proposals might be meh on the merits (and I do think it's too soon for POR-MTL), but collectively it's building momentum across a wide regional swath of 2 countries with a whole slew of stakeholders aggressively plotting their chess moves. You can throw the Vermonter/Montrealer into this whole mix too with the Customs legislation, the Gennessee & Wyoming conglomerate, and the pre-existing Amtrak relationships with some of these parties.

Which projects get prioritized is open for a big, long debate. But it's a big, sprawling puzzle with a lot of pieces coming into place and big shifts about to go down with all the major freight carriers in Northern NE and Quebec over business deals.



So...just a little background on the motivations for them pimping this proposal right now as opposed to some other time.
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Old 12-06-2013, 12:36 PM   #10
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

For me, flying to Montréal was never an option. Not because of price (I never even checked), but because driving the route is easy (scenic, no major traffic issues along the route). Even if I didn't own a car, I'd consider renting one since the drive from Boston to Montréal is around 5 to 5 1/2 hours (the train is around 14).

If owning/renting a car isn't an option, it starts to get interesting. As you mentioned, a flight is around $375 r/t and probably in the ballpark of 8 hours or so when you factor in time checking in, flight times and connecting time. A bus is around $180 round trip and takes 7-8 hours. It's shorter and cheaper. However, it's not SO much shorter and I'd wager the train is more comfortable by a large margin. I think I would take the bus ( a difference of $120 is no small difference), but I can see people at least having to think it over.

I think this train route benefits Old Orchard Beach the most. That's where most of the traffic from Montréal will be heading in the summer and it provides an alternative to charter buses and travel agency trips.

Still, I doubt that they'll get the numbers to make $150 sleeper cars sustainable and I think if the price goes up any higher than $150, it'll lose any appeal it may have left.
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Old 12-06-2013, 01:02 PM   #11
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

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I think this train route benefits Old Orchard Beach the most. That's where most of the traffic from Montréal will be heading in the summer and it provides an alternative to charter buses and travel agency trips.
That's what I'm thinking on this proposal. There really is a huge market for OOB amongst Canadians. People don't tend to realize this, but OOB is a HUGE draw for Canadians (seriously, it really is their version of the Jersey Shore) but not so much from as far away as Montreal. My father's side of the family is from the St. Georges/Lac Megantic/Sherbrooke area, and OOB draws mostly from that area and from the Quebec City area. If they tap into the Montreal market just a little more by providing a more comfortable travel option vs. buses/planes/automobiles, then this train could essentially build it's own supply just by existing, as long as it's marketed well.

On a personal level, my in-laws live on the New York/Canadian border about 45 minutes south of Montreal. When my son is older, I'd love to be able to put him on the train and send him on his way to visit his grandparents for a week in the summer (mommy and daddy need a vacation too). A 45 minute drive to Montreal for them to pick him up would be a lot easier than both of us driving 2.5 hours to meet them half-way or sending him through multiple transfer cities via Greyhound.
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Old 12-06-2013, 02:06 PM   #12
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

When I visited Montreal the only reasonable option was driving, which annoyed me. But my friend had bought a car and he wanted to gain more experience highway driving, so we traded off shifts. I wish there was a better way up there though. I've done my time, driving 350-400 miles by myself back when I was younger, and I couldn't do that kind of trip anymore, and even Montreal is too much road-trip for me in one day. Plus if you get stuck in line, like we did, on the way back, it just adds more misery. And they took our tomatoes

If you could watch the scenery for a large part of the trip, I'd be happy to sit even on a slower train for longer. Maybe at night they could do some kind of "dark car" and you can see by moonlight. Not sure if that would work.
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Old 12-06-2013, 02:49 PM   #13
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

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When I visited Montreal the only reasonable option was driving, which annoyed me. But my friend had bought a car and he wanted to gain more experience highway driving, so we traded off shifts. I wish there was a better way up there though. I've done my time, driving 350-400 miles by myself back when I was younger, and I couldn't do that kind of trip anymore, and even Montreal is too much road-trip for me in one day. Plus if you get stuck in line, like we did, on the way back, it just adds more misery. And they took our tomatoes

If you could watch the scenery for a large part of the trip, I'd be happy to sit even on a slower train for longer. Maybe at night they could do some kind of "dark car" and you can see by moonlight. Not sure if that would work.
Greyhound still runs four round-trips a day on the old Vermont Transit route between Boston and Montreal via Manchester NH, White River Junction and Burlington VT


http://extranet.greyhound.com/Revsup...es/pdf/062.pdf
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Old 12-06-2013, 03:05 PM   #14
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

I know, but 8 hours on the bus is hellish. Worse than driving.
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Old 12-06-2013, 04:35 PM   #15
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

The worst part is the "direct" Greyhound route through NH and VT is even slower than than the more frequently departing BOS-MTL route that goes all the way to Albany then turns 90 degrees north on I-87. The bus options to MTL are worse than pathetic.

RR.net post from a couple months ago where I compared best/worst Greyhound schedules with a BOS-MTL train estimate using the current Lake Shore Limited schedule, current Vermonter schedule Amherst-north, and the 1993 Montrealer schedule from the last full year of service to come up with a rough estimate on current track. Nothing upgraded except what's already finished on the Vermonter and rolling back track conditions in Canada to 1993:

9:10.

Keep in mind...that's on track between St. Albans and Cantic that was in generally deplorable condition for passenger traffic back in '93, track between Cantic and Montreal that is still dog-slow to this day on the Adirondack, and our wonderfully addled Worcester Line that still can't top 60 MPH. Greyhound times varied from 7:10 to an excruciating 11:10...longer at peak hours because of Pike and I-87 traffic. Lot of departures a day from SS on the Albany routing, though...so it's got frequency going for it.

But still...it's mind-boggling that the projected un-upgraded train times are even close to the current bus schedule. It just doesn't compute that the bus routings are either that convoluted or have so many intermediate stops there can't be one decent express on the schedule that only stops at a couple big-city intermediates while doing speed limit elsewhere.

If that's the most the market will bear on rubber tires...yeah, there probably is a competitive BOS-MTL train route to be had for not much capital cash. Just get the damn Worcester Line to 80 MPH in MBTA territory where it'll do the most good. Montrealer restoration off the existing Vermonter will get the track speed from St. Albans-Cantic equivalent to the 50-60 MPH the White River Jct.-St. Albans stretch currently does, and under that plan Quebec would put some badly needed upgrades into the Cantic-MTL portion shared with the Adirondack to ease that the big schedule kink. Those are the only upgrades period; the Boston flank only requires doing what's already in dire need for the T on the Worcester Line. No further upgrades required to the Vermonter or NECR from Palmer to Northfield to add that, and it's debatable whether Worcester speed increases should even extend west of Worcester since that stretch through the hills to Palmer can never get much faster.

If that even sheds *modest* enough time to hit 8:30 it now beats the peak-hour buses that have to fight any degree of interstate traffic. And works its way into middle of the pack on the full slate of bus schedules. Find ways with future upgrades to chip 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there and reach closer to 8:15 or 8:00 and it becomes preferable to every bus except the presently nonexistent expresses.

The study they're funding in conjunction with the Amtrak Inlands study looks like a better idea than I would've thought after wincing at all those bus travel times. I had no idea till I looked that the current options were THAT unattractive.
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Old 12-06-2013, 04:56 PM   #16
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

F-Line, quick question. Who runs the Boston-Montreal bus route that goes to Albany and up 87? To do that via Greyhound requires a transfer in Albany, is not faster than the route through New Hampshire (probably because of transfer time) and is a once a day option.
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Old 12-06-2013, 05:16 PM   #17
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

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F-Line, quick question. Who runs the Boston-Montreal bus route that goes to Albany and up 87? To do that via Greyhound requires a transfer in Albany, is not faster than the route through New Hampshire (probably because of transfer time) and is a once a day option.
Transfer time on the Albany routing is 20 minutes for each schedule slot. Pretty much the going rate for transfer cushion at any intercity hub. The problem is Albany is the only option you have for a departure later than 1:30pm. The NH/VT routing only departs Boston mornings, that one lunchtime slot, and a 11:50pm-6:45am night owl. So weekenders looking to split after work can only get there the long way...through bad interstate traffic...with a transfer. That's a huge buzzkill.


It's not that there couldn't be superior bus options. There could. There just isn't. If the Vermonter went back to Montreal you'd literally be able to make better time grabbing a cheap and plentiful express bus to Springfield then transferring to a northbound Amtrak than you would going any of the one-ticket Greyhound options available after 1:30pm. The way the bus schedules break out with maximum pain at the highest-demand slots is baffling. It's obviously a well-enough patronized route to have a decent number of departures. So why do the one-seaters shut down entirely after lunch? Makes no sense.
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Old 12-06-2013, 05:28 PM   #18
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

Maybe Montreal/Boston is just not as strong a route as we would like to think. Sounds strange to me, since they're almost sister cities in some ways. But if the demand was there, wouldn't reasonable air service and bus service be available?

It's easier for me to get to San Francisco. Non-stop flights to there are half the price. That's because the BOS-SF demand is super-strong so there's big savings from economies of scale.

Sure, the border crossing is part of the problem. But still... does that equate to the incredibly inflated cost-per-air-mile?
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Old 12-06-2013, 07:20 PM   #19
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

It might have to do with Greyhound being one of the only operators around here that crosses the border. The other New England regional carriers don't. At least not any that stretch all the way to Boston...I think the only non-Greyhounds originate in NH. And so far the upstart cheapo carriers (BoltBus, Megabus) haven't gotten enough foothold in the Northeast to add those routes.

I have a hard time believing the demand is inherently weak. It's more that the options have been so poor for so long that MTL seems like a world away when it's in fact only 250 miles on the highway...a little less than Boston-Philly. But airfare sucks...MTL isn't a hub airport with commonality to the hub routes out of Logan, so you can't get a cheap connection. The buses suck...Greyhound likewise is so sprawling it tends to be hub-oriented, so they get higher margins pooling the weekenders from New York and Boston in Albany than they do expanding the direct schedules to more convenient hours. And there hasn't been a Boston-Montreal train since B&M discontinued interstate service on the Northern Route in the mid-60's.

But the Montrealer was quite popular until track conditions forced its hand at the end. It was a somewhat notorious party train for college students and skiers. Enough to merit a lounge car so they could segregate the sleepers from the partygoers. It's not a stretch to see similar student, skier, and weekender demand out of Boston. Demand's been consistently strong for bringing the Montrealer back, enough that it's very likely to happen within the next 5 years. The Adirondack has thrived and seen sharp ridership increases despite being one of the most godawful-delayed routes in the country and taking a mind-numbing 11 hours. The vitals are pretty strong for MTL service in western New England, New York, and up the NEC from D.C. And there has long been baked-in demand for it in Northern New England because of proximity and French-Canadian ethnicity, which is why Maine is so eager to get into the game.


Soft demand in Boston has to be explainable in one-of-these-is-not-like-the-others terms. Maybe there is something. It should certainly get studied on travel demand. But in the absence of such a special twist we're a lot more alike with the rest of New England on where we want to go than we're different. And a lot more alike while being a lot bigger than the rest of New England. When the rest of New England has empirically shown good demand for increased travel options to Montreal, it's a reliable assumption that the demographics fit Boston. And if they don't...there's a major outlying difference that needs to be explained, because that difference will say a whole lot more about travel patterns from here than just MTL.


I think for the rather low barrier of entry on capital costs the train would do well. But we don't necessarily have to wait for that if Greyhound can get supplemented with better BoltBus/Megabus -like options here. Greyhound's so big it's like the airlines...the hubs drive the business, and they've trimmed a lot of point-to-point routes and schedules to focus on the hubs. Albany's a big hub; they cram as much through there as they can. The regional carriers like Peter Pan are never going to go to Montreal because it's too far beyond their territorial scope. So that leaves a golden opportunity for the new crop of discount carriers like BoltBus and Megabus to step in and play the Southwest Airlines-like role. Those guys do stick mostly to point-to-point bus routes and have their operating costs controlled enough to make money on one-seat schedule slots that higher-overhead Greyhound would rather pool through a transfer hub. It's a matter of them getting their border-crossing paperwork in order. Both Bolt and Mega do operate extensively in Canada. But Mega's international reach is currently Toronto/Buffalo-oriented with Montreal only hit off the corridor from Toronto. And Bolt right now only does the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver corridor and has yet to expand north of I-95/NEC. They've only been around 7 and 5 years, respectively, so that's not surprising. But both those carriers and their discount ilk are ripe candidates for filling in what Greyhound won't and the regionals can't.
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Old 12-06-2013, 07:26 PM   #20
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Re: Montreal-to-Boston Overnight "Hotel" Train Via Portland

Bolt is (partially?) owned by Greyhound, no?
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