When the node breaks…put logic back into logistics


amtraksystemI am writing everyone from a hotel room near the Denver and from my gate Denver International Airport. In case you didn’t see the update to the last post, my dream ride on the California Zephyr ended before it ever started, as it was cancelled last night for all destinations east of Denver. So, today I am flying home nonstop to Michigan instead and avoiding the transportation nightmare known as Chicago altogether.

It is not my intent to pick solely on Amtrak, but instead raise a concern with any transportation firm that depends on a single node in its hub-and-spoke network.

Source: divahh.com

Source: divahh.com

The whole transportation debacle that has evolved each time there is a nasty storm is the subject of this post. It is ridiculous for individual storms to wreck so much havoc on our nation’s transportation network and cause passengers to be stranded in airports, stations, hotels, and who knows where. Likewise, freight shipments get stacked up all over the nation.

Nearly all of Amtrak’s cross-country system is based on its primary hub/node in Chicago (see map above). If that node fails, the whole system is impacted – there are no reasonable  or rationale alternatives. The same is true for any airline that relies on a single hub/node or a highway network that converges at one primary location. For the northern half of the United States, Chicago is most often the key chokepoint. In Canada, the choke point tends to be Winnipeg.

If I were the King of Amtrak, I would start developing a secondary system for cross-country train travel and pronto. They do a great job at short hauls, but my experience yesterday shows the weaknesses in their larger network. Likewise, it would be irresponsible for the head of an airline, freight railroad, bus line, or trucking company that depends on a single hub/node, not to consider back-up plans and build some form of redundancy into its system. Let’s put some logic must back into logistics!

Safe travels to everyone who has been impacted by this polar vortex. Hopefully, the transportation problems that have occurred will be addressed so future scenarios are more traveler friendly. The traveling public should expect nothing else.

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One Response to When the node breaks…put logic back into logistics

  1. Ran says:

    Amtrak has, since its founding in 1971, relied on the trackage of the private freight railroads for the vast bulk of its routes (everything except large portions of the NEC and a stretch in Michigan). While you are correct Amtrak is indeed dependent on Chicago, Amtrak is not granted the legal capability to create new routes and there is no political support for the budget that would be necessary for such an expansion. While Amtrak does have a southern route via New Orleans, and a modest maintenance facility there, it would take a vast expansion to be able to serve the long-distance trains in New Orleans, and doing so would eliminate the economies of scale that exist in Chicago where so many short-corridor trains operate using the same facilities that support the long-distance trains. Also, the freight railroads along the southern route would demand substantial capital upgrades to their infrastructure to support more passenger trains and their existing traffic. Given how unusual it is for weather this severe to bring the trains to halt, the current reliance on Chicago seems both justifiable and inescapable. Should the nation choose to redesign its transportation network on a fundamental level, then that would be a good opportunity to rethink the current arrangement, but it is hard to imagine when Congress will ever permit such a rethink to occur. Safe travels

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