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  #1  
Old Posted Oct 4, 2011, 11:42 PM
waltlantz waltlantz is offline
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Overhauling Amtrak

We all know that passenger rail needs to be improved.

But the current situation isn't working, so what can be done about it?

Amtrak is a hobbled behemoth which is riddled with problems. What's more I don't know if true coast to coast service is feasible. Chicago to San Fran and such type of service might have to be phased out. As it stands it can't compete with the airlines.

I think that Amtrak should be pared down into various regional bodies. Kinda how Bell Telephone used to be. Or kind of like British/National Rail. That way it can focus on serving individual regions better. We all see the importance and success of the NEC.

I think that similar success could be duplicated in the Midwest and to a lesser extent the West Coast. It won't be true high speed rail. But if we could get strong inter-city service comparable to what they have in England or France, I think people would be actually willing to buy into the high speed rail thing more.

I don't think many americans frankly care about High Speed Rail. Why would they, most haven't seen a rail system that actually works. If we had trains that could get people to and fro major regional cities that are competitive with the airlines, I think there would then begin to be a bigger groundswell for High Speed service OUTSIDE of transit advocates.

But we gotta start somewhere.
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  #2  
Old Posted Oct 5, 2011, 4:10 AM
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Absolutely. Amtrak should run trains basically in the regions identified for HSR, not cross-country. Unfortunately, senators in rural states like Wyoming and Nebraska have just as many votes as senators from populated states like California and so can fight cuts to services through their states. (TBH I've read that's what happens, but I don't know of any examples. Assuming that it's true...) it seems odd that politicians from rural states, which tend to be red, would even fight for Amtrak service, given they way they want to destroy all government services. In fact, maybe that's an angle to work - co-opt the tea party to get rid of long-distance Amtrak and put those funds to use where the people are.
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  #3  
Old Posted Oct 5, 2011, 8:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by waltlantz View Post
We all know that passenger rail needs to be improved.

But the current situation isn't working, so what can be done about it?

Amtrak is a hobbled behemoth which is riddled with problems. What's more I don't know if true coast to coast service is feasible. Chicago to San Fran and such type of service might have to be phased out. As it stands it can't compete with the airlines.

I think that Amtrak should be pared down into various regional bodies. Kinda how Bell Telephone used to be. Or kind of like British/National Rail. That way it can focus on serving individual regions better. We all see the importance and success of the NEC.

I think that similar success could be duplicated in the Midwest and to a lesser extent the West Coast. It won't be true high speed rail. But if we could get strong inter-city service comparable to what they have in England or France, I think people would be actually willing to buy into the high speed rail thing more.

I don't think many americans frankly care about High Speed Rail. Why would they, most haven't seen a rail system that actually works. If we had trains that could get people to and fro major regional cities that are competitive with the airlines, I think there would then begin to be a bigger groundswell for High Speed service OUTSIDE of transit advocates.

But we gotta start somewhere.
Your right , most Americans don't care about HSR. Most advocates in the Northeast and other regions want other services expanded or enhanced before HSR. I think if we expanded the regular Regional commuter Rail systems to serve every part of each state in the Northeast or Midwest people would jump on board the HSR wagon , but that's not the case. NJ is behind on several projects that would have expanded service to 80% of the state , other Northeastern states are worse then Jersey. Most of us Transit / Rail advocates did support HSR , intill we saw the need for a complete Regional system to be built first before HSR. As for Amtrak there slowly upgrading in this region , so I can't complain. But they need so much more , like a complete upgrade of the Northeast Corridor from New York to DC....the New York to New Haven section is getting upgrading as we speak along with several smaller sections in NJ and DE. But the whole line needs a huge injection. We are getting newer trains and locomotives by 2013-2016 so that alone solves have the issues.
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  #4  
Old Posted Oct 5, 2011, 8:35 AM
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Wait, Amtrak is a behemoth? In comparison to what?
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  #5  
Old Posted Oct 5, 2011, 11:26 AM
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waltlantz:
Quote:
I think that Amtrak should be pared down into various regional bodies. Kinda how Bell Telephone used to be. Or kind of like British/National Rail. That way it can focus on serving individual regions better. We all see the importance and success of the NEC.

I think that similar success could be duplicated in the Midwest and to a lesser extent the West Coast. It won't be true high speed rail. But if we could get strong inter-city service comparable to what they have in England or France, I think people would be actually willing to buy into the high speed rail thing more
First, this is exactly what is being proposed. If you look at the maps from the Federal Railroad Administration, there are 8-9 corridors where high speed rail is planned, connecting cities in mega-regions. Nobody is planning the Chicago-San Francisco routes you cite. Still, this doesn't stop uninformed criticism from oil-industry hacks and Ayn Rand-disciples that the US isn't dense enough for high speed rail, even though the Northeast corridor and coastal California is every bit as dense as Europe.

Second, I have to agree with LMich, Amtrak is no behemoth. As Sen. Lautenberg (D-NJ) noted in a hearing last month, more federal money was spent on highways in FY2010 than has been spent on Amtrak in its 40 year history combined. The federal highway trust fund is broke and has needed a $7B-$8B bailout from the general fund (i.e. subsidizing drivers) for each of the past four years. Americans drove something like 1.7% fewer miles last year. At the same time, ridership on Amtrak was up over 5% last year and there are new ridership records established nearly every month. Amtrak seems like a success to me, given the very meager budgets we give to passenger rail and the heavy subsidies we give to automobiles.
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  #6  
Old Posted Oct 5, 2011, 2:26 PM
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The issue of having effectively no regional governance (and therefore no regional taxation) is a real killer for intercity rail.

The only semi-plausible solution I can see: use the current "anti-pork" mindset to completely reform and simplify the distribution of federal transportation funding to simply be large block grants to states, who then could individually prioritize which transportation modes and which projects to invest the money in. This would, by default, weed out investment in money pit cross-country rail service, while providing a major injection of discretionary cash to those states for whom regional rail connections are a priority.

I suppose a distribution could be made via a simple formula based primarily on population with maybe some minor adjustments for existing strategic infrastructure to be maintained. The population distribution would be the basis for still having the federal government involved, since it would spend on transportation proportionately to the population rather than proportionately to how much people drive (i.e. distributing based on gas tax receipts), thus also removing any distortions favoring one mode over the other.

Last edited by VivaLFuego; Oct 5, 2011 at 2:39 PM.
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  #7  
Old Posted Oct 5, 2011, 3:52 PM
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One of the issues is that Amtrak runs many different types of passenger rail service. For example, the California Zephyr (Chicago-Oakland; Amtrak does not run into San Francisco) you cite is essentially land cruise with local intercity stops in between. Full end-to-end berths on this train, and its peers (Empire Builder, Super Chief, Sunset Limited, and, to a lesser extent, the Crescent) cost about $500 and have a waiting list a year in advance; these berths subsidize cheaper coach seats for people wishing to go Chicago-Topeka or Denver-Salt Lake.

This is a very different type of rail service than the next type down, the overnight trains between Chicago and the Northeast, or the Northeast and Florida, or Chicago and the Gulf Coast. These trains do not have the (profitable) land cruise operation to subsidize local runs, and through runs are not too long--albeit still uncompetitive with airlines. Unlike with the land cruises, which are not in direct competition with airlines (would you say that Royal Caribbean directly competes with e.g. U.S. Air?) these trains are, and are also in direct competition with intercity buses. It is thus that you find that trains such as the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, and Silver Meteor tend to have the highest subsidies of any of Amtrak's operations. On the other hand, the Auto Train in theoretically belongs to this class but is one of Amtrak's least-subsidized operations.

The third type of train Amtrak runs is what we could think of as the extended commuter-intercity class. Amtrak California, the Keystone Corridor, Downeaster, Vermonter, and Northeast Regionals belong to this class. Unlike the overnight train, these trains have shorter still runs (the longest are the San Joaquin and Northeast Regional) and tend to make up a good deal of their costs from ticket sales alone; the subsidy is commonly split between Amtrak and the state. The average subsidy for these trains is actually equivalent with the land cruises.

The forth type of train Amtrak runs is the high-speed rail train. This is theory more than practice in America; but the Acela does make a slim operating profit despite its relatively slow speed. In most of the world, high-speed trains are the most profitable, and their profits subsidize the intercity and overnight trains. CP, DB, SNCF, SJ, RENFE, and Trenitalia, for example, all follow this trend. In theory Amtrak ought to be able to operate in the same manner, but has been starved of the money needed to make these investments and thereby internally subsidize itself, much less turn a profit.

If we wanted to reform Amtrak--and there is no question Amtrak needs to be reformed*--I would suggest spinning off the land cruise operations à la the privatization of British Rail, while doubling down on investment in high-speed rail as a means to eliminate the need to subsidize the intercity and overnight trains**.
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* Although, as I've pointed out before, the current rail regulation in this country is antithetical to passenger rail, and as I've also pointed out before, the main argument used in support of the current FRA rules ("it's a different railroading climate!") is just plain bullshit, pardon my French. Adoption of an Australian regulatory climate would be a reasonable interim step.
** The second major argument FRA- and Amtrak-defenders commonly field is that the major European (and Japanese) railroads (cf. supra) keep fraudulent books. This claim, too, is a false assertion, which Alon Levy debunked today.
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Last edited by hammersklavier; Oct 5, 2011 at 9:40 PM.
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  #8  
Old Posted Oct 10, 2011, 6:58 AM
jamesinclair jamesinclair is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by waltlantz View Post
What's more I don't know if true coast to coast service is feasible. Chicago to San Fran and such type of service might have to be phased out. As it stands it can't compete with the airlines.
It seems like youve forgotten what a train is.

A plane is about origin-destination.

Not a train.

You dont need a single person to ride from Sf to Chicago to make the route feasible.

Enough people depend on going from stop 17 to stop 23, from stop 3 to stop 31, from stop 19 to the terminus etc etc.

The airlines dont serve those markets, so amtrak does a better job.
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  #9  
Old Posted Oct 10, 2011, 3:16 PM
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That's true, but from the Mississippi to the West Coast, there's a very low population to serve. Those 100-500-mile intermediate riders wouldn't be very numerous.

There would be riders and it's worth doing, but not compared to the denser, higher-use parts of the country.
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  #10  
Old Posted Oct 10, 2011, 6:35 PM
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I think the main problem is that so many people don't know about how convenient it is.

I took a train from Birmingham to New Orleans right before my fall semester started to see a friend who was visiting from Italy. It was incredibly convenient. I could bring any food or drink on there that I wanted, I was free to move about the train, there was ample leg room, the scenery was amazing, etc...

Amtrak needs to do a better job of advertising. Most people in Alabama don't even know that rail service is available. When I told people I took a train to NOLA, they said, "You can do that?" Plus, if my Crimson Tide makes it to the SEC Championship game in ATL, I might just hop on the Crescent here in Tuscaloosa and take it to Atlanta.

It's all easy, cheap, convenient, and comfortable. People just need to know about it. Good advertising will go a long way. Then we can start talking about some overhaul...
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  #11  
Old Posted Oct 14, 2011, 8:40 AM
jamesinclair jamesinclair is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mhays View Post
That's true, but from the Mississippi to the West Coast, there's a very low population to serve. Those 100-500-mile intermediate riders wouldn't be very numerous.

There would be riders and it's worth doing, but not compared to the denser, higher-use parts of the country.
Youre right, theres a very low population to serve.

But one train a day, or even only 3 times a week means the train can only carry 500 people at a time.

Theres enough demand for that. Just look at current ridership.
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  #12  
Old Posted Oct 14, 2011, 1:58 PM
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I am far from convinced that the long haul cross-country routes are actually a drain on Amtrak. For two reasons.

1. We all know they lose money operationally, but how much? The long haul routes are a very small percentage of Amtrak's runs, and since Amtrak doesn't own very many of the tracks used by those routes, they do not have to pay much to keep up the tracks. Killing the long haul routes would not affect Amtrak's budget enough to fundamentally change the organization's finances.

2. Amtrak is one of the most popular things the US government does. It's like NASA. Some of the politicians may not like it, but it is wildly popular among the general public. Even people who would never consider using it seem to like the idea that it exists. If you take it out of their state, they very well may throw in the towel and stop caring. Since these long haul routes provide service to a large number of otherwise isolated states, they very well may be worth more money in the political support they generate than they lose operationally.

In short, killing the cross country routes would definitely not save Amtrak's operational budget, but very well might cause it to lose massive political support that it currently enjoys. The long term cost of ending cross country service could far outweigh the short term money saved by not running a tiny handful of trains that aren't very expensive to run in the first place.
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  #13  
Old Posted Oct 14, 2011, 4:28 PM
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Amtrak hits record 30 million passengers (Associated Press)

This past year, Amtrak has had record ridership, five percent passenger growth compared to last year, and an eight percent increase in revenue compared with last year. This is pretty good for a 'Soviet-style' rail system. Meanwhile, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has decreased 1-2 percent this past year. Who needs facts, however, when you have your Ayn Rand-ideology.

Amtrak hits record 30 million passengers

By JOAN LOWY
Associated Press
10/14/2011

"WASHINGTON (AP) — Amtrak trains carried more than 30 million passengers in the past 12 months, the most in one year since the passenger railroad was created four decades ago, railroad officials said Thursday.

Ridership during the budget year ending on Sept. 30 was 30.2 million passengers, up 5 percent over the previous year. Ticket revenue was up by more than 8 percent despite significant weather-related disruptions in much of the country.

Amtrak has set ridership records eight out of the last nine years. A decade ago, it carried 21 million passengers a year."

http://news.yahoo.com/amtrak-hits-re...225659509.html
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Old Posted Oct 14, 2011, 10:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cirrus View Post
I am far from convinced that the long haul cross-country routes are actually a drain on Amtrak. For two reasons.

1. We all know they lose money operationally, but how much? The long haul routes are a very small percentage of Amtrak's runs, and since Amtrak doesn't own very many of the tracks used by those routes, they do not have to pay much to keep up the tracks. Killing the long haul routes would not affect Amtrak's budget enough to fundamentally change the organization's finances.

2. Amtrak is one of the most popular things the US government does. It's like NASA. Some of the politicians may not like it, but it is wildly popular among the general public. Even people who would never consider using it seem to like the idea that it exists. If you take it out of their state, they very well may throw in the towel and stop caring. Since these long haul routes provide service to a large number of otherwise isolated states, they very well may be worth more money in the political support they generate than they lose operationally.

In short, killing the cross country routes would definitely not save Amtrak's operational budget, but very well might cause it to lose massive political support that it currently enjoys. The long term cost of ending cross country service could far outweigh the short term money saved by not running a tiny handful of trains that aren't very expensive to run in the first place.
The cross-country routes are actually extremely successful, and generate well beyond their subsidy in fares. They're essentially land cruises, and people who go on them get sleeper cars and spend money. While there are relatively few cross-country riders, those tickets sell out every year and there is always a waiting list.
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Old Posted Oct 15, 2011, 9:05 AM
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As the HSR corridors and state built-operated regional commuter rail systems are built out over the next 20 years, their success will be highly tied to these AmTrak rail lines. Conventional, long-haul AmTrak will serve as feeder lines into these new developing regional rail systems. They will effectively "feed" each other passengers.

For it all to work, we need to continue expanding metro rail/commuter systems the city level, regional and HSR at the state/regional level and continue to improve AmTrak service, speed and reliability at the national/trans regional levels.
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Old Posted Nov 23, 2011, 12:00 AM
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Considering that HSR is likely not moving any time soon.

Maybe the president can better entice the public not by selling HSR but an improved Amtrak service.

People here have made interesting points about the long haul services. I don't doubt that we have very informed posters here.

Still, I think it's a problem of priorites.

Amtrak as it stands is a national body. I've seen one state version of it, Amtrak California. I think that more states need to have explicit bodies that focus just on Rail like California does. If the state doesn't feel the need to invest, then let them be, they don't get service.

The only real way to move people between the spaced out West and Frontier, is HSR. However, certain states (Texas, Arizona, Florida) need to commit to having focused bodies on the issue as State DOTs mainly seem like DORs (Roads)

sorry for the ramble.
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  #17  
Old Posted Nov 25, 2011, 6:43 PM
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Urban interconnections and Amtrak

As this factor has not yet been discussed:


A huge problem with Amtrak concerns the vast majority of its route total that runs on private rail operated tracks, with emphasis on downtown cores.

Private railroads, as their downtown warehousing business died in the 1950s and 1960s, saw the redevelopment value of the land that was in the 1970s lying idle. With the railroad consolidation in the 1980s and 1990s, this idyl land became even more redundant in the mindset of the times, and, paying even minimal upkeep on the properties an ever more pointless decision, so the private railroad urban property owner became a property developer.

Railroads were even bought for their downtown properties. In Colorado, Phil Anchultz, using all borrowed monies, bought the Rio Grande railroad for the express purpose of quick selling the downtown rail yard properties piece meal to first tier property buyers, using his skill set and a couple of billions dollars as proof of good credit (he later bought Southern Pacific for the same purpose). He was in the business to make extra money quick, using the railroad cash flow to service debt and then selling the gutted resource to pay off his creditors and pocketing the difference through shell corporations.

This type of quick buy and quick sell of railroad property has occurred throughout the United States, and, has produced some of the world's worst railroad interconnections at urban cores. So, while the portions of BNSF, UP, CSX, CN, NS, and KCS between urban markets has been kept in great shape, the downtown through rail traffic has been forced in too many locations to move at crawl speeds. ((In addition, this trend has been accelerated by the rapid rise of railroad inter-modal terminals being built in neighboring towns and at the suburban fringes of metropolitan areas (due to the rise of container traffic and the more spacious environment to transfer containers to and from trucks.))

The bottom line is that passenger trains cannot enter, exit, and, travel through urban cores at nearly the speed possible into the 1950s and early 1960s. In Denver,for example, as late as the early '60s, a train could travel at 50 or even 70 mph a mile or two north or south of city center on private rail lines! Multiply this problem by the number of metro areas with similar speed reductions, and, average speeds for interstate passenger trains drop significantly.

IMO, then, if we ever actually think in terms of steel wheeled interstate transportation on any large scale, urban rail connections must be improved just to get back to close the average speeds present for private railroad operator passenger trains clear into the early '60s.

This is far more important than HSR idealism to increase the average speeds of public (and potential private) passenger train service in the US. We should quit trying to replicate the Japanese or Western European solutions, and, put money into solving the traffic bottle necks created by very ignorant, short sighted profit taking over the last 30 to 40 years.

This is as important as double tracking, and, lengthening sidings to speed up passenger train movement between cites on private rail lines. And far less discussed.
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Last edited by Wizened Variations; Nov 25, 2011 at 7:09 PM.
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  #18  
Old Posted Aug 3, 2012, 9:14 PM
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Amtrak Food Service Lost $834 Million in 10 Years, Mica Says


Aug 2, 2012

By Jeff Plungis

Read More: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-0...mica-says.html

Quote:
Amtrak lost $84.5 million selling food and beverages last year and $833.8 million over 10 years, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica said, calling for a “better way” to run those operations. It costs taxpayers $3.40 for each can of soda the U.S. passenger railroad sells on its trains, and Amtrak charges $2.00, the Florida Republican said at a hearing today. Taxpayers subsidized $68,477 in losses in 2011 for each Amtrak food-service employee, he said, citing Government Accountability Office estimates. “At a time of running multitrillion-dollar deficits, we’ve got to look at every area of government,” Mica said. “Hardworking Americans are underwriting these losses. There has to be a better way.”

- Food costs aren’t the major cause of Amtrak’s financial difficulties, and congressional micromanagement has made it impossible for Amtrak to make good decisions, Rahall said. “This is a whopper of a bad idea if I have ever heard one: trading good-paying jobs with benefits for cheaper cheeseburgers,” he said. Having food service on routes covering more than a few hours is a essential component of running trains, Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Joe Boardman said at the hearing. Reducing on- board service may cause people to stop riding and lead to higher losses, he said. In 2006, the railroad recovered 49 percent of its costs on food. In 2011, the figure was 59 percent. The goal for 2015 is 70 percent, Boardman said. Amtrak contracts out its commissary functions while using its own workers to serve food and beverages on trains. Legislation proposed last year by Representative Jean Schmidt, an Ohio Republican, would require the on-board operations to be contracted out to companies.

.....



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  #19  
Old Posted Aug 3, 2012, 9:18 PM
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There Hypocritical assholes...they target Amtrak but not the small airports that suck down a billion in subsides...
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  #20  
Old Posted Aug 3, 2012, 9:57 PM
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Does it really cost $3.40 for a can of soda? How can it possibly cost so much, if Amtrak is buying in bulk? I smell BS.
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