So Long Durand

June 15, 2018

The passengers have boarded Amtrak’s westbound Blue Water and the conductor has given the highball command on the radio.

Train No. 365 is on time as it departs Durand, Michigan, en route to Chicago. The next stop, though, is East Lansing, Michigan.

P42DC No. 126 is the rear of the train since the Blue Water operates with locomotives on each end so as to avoid having to turn the locomotive or the train in Port Huron, Michigan, during its overnight stay.

Amtrak in Durand uses the Durand Union Station, which once had service provided by the Grand Trunk Western and Ann Arbor railroads.

The station also houses a railroad museum.

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Amtrak Debuts New Cafe Care Menu in NEC

June 15, 2018

In what could be a preview of what is coming system wide, Amtrak launched new café car fare on June 13 on its Acela Express and Northeast Regional trains.

The new menu includes products from Boar’s Head Brand as well as a variety of other snacks, drinks and sundries.

This included drinks such as Makers Mark®, Cutwater™ Spirits, and LaCroix® sparkling water, and other such food items as Sahale Snacks® and Sweet Street® desserts.

“We are pleased to introduce this new menu featuring Boar’s Head premium products for our customers to enjoy as they travel with us along the Northeast Corridor,” said Amtrak Vice President of Product Development & Customer Experience Peter Wilander in a statement.

“The updated menu features premium sandwiches, salads and snacks, along with some gluten-free and vegan choices to enhance the overall Amtrak travel experience.”

Track Work to Disrupt Lake Shore Limited

June 15, 2018

Track work being performed by Keolis/Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will affect operation of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited between Albany, New York, and Boston between June 16 and Aug. 5.

Passengers traveling to Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester and Boston (South Station) on Train No. 448 will get off the train at Albany during the periods of June 15-16, July 27-28, Aug. 3-4 and ride a bus to their destination.

No alternate transportation is being provided to Framingham. Passengers traveling to Boston Back Bay station will disembark from the bus at South Station and be directed to an MBTA or Amtrak commuter train to Back Bay.

On June 16-17, July 28-29 and Aug. 4-5, Train No. 449 will not operate from Boston (South Station) to Albany.

Passengers slated to board at Boston (South Station), Worcester, Springfield and Pittsfield will be provided bus service to Albany.

No alternate transportation is being provided from Boston Back Bay and Framingham. Passengers traveling from Back Bay should board at South Station or travel on alternate dates.

Passengers boarding at South Station and Worcester should go to the Amtrak Information Desk for instructions on boarding the buses.

Worcester passengers will board at the main entrance in front of the station and not at the bus terminal.

Money Might Fund Boston North-South Link Study

June 15, 2018

Building a rail link between North Station and South Station in Boston may be studied after the Massachusetts state legislature approved a bond bill that includes $10 million for the study.

The link would be built in an underground tunnel and Gov. Charlie Baker will determine if the money will be spent for the study. He has not always been receptive to the project.

Senator Jamie Eldridge, who pushed for the funding, said the long-proposed tunnel would “allow for easier movement across the region’s 138 stations and link lines north of Boston to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor . . . with the potential to reduce the amount of cars driving into Boston by as much as 55,000 vehicles a day.”

Eldridge also said that the $10 million in the bond bill “sends a strong message to Governor Baker of the growing support the North-South Rail Link has in the legislature.”

BNSF Seeks PTC Deadline Extension

June 15, 2018

Over the past year there has been a cascade of reports about the progress that U.S. railroads are making toward installing positive train control systems on tracks that carry passengers or hazardous cargo.

The federal law that mandates PTC be installed by the end of this year also allows for an extension of the deadline if certain conditions are met.

The bid for an extension must be made to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Although the PTC deadline is still several months away, the first request for a two-year extension has been made and it has come from an unlikely source.

BNSF said last December that it had installed and was operating PTC on all subdivisions required to have it, making the western railroad a leader in PTC installation.

But BNSF is seeking the extension because of what it terms how the FRA is interpreting federal law as to the interoperability of PTC, which means that locomotives from one railroad can operate under the PTC systems of another carrier.

In a news release, BNSF said the FRA has interpreted federal law to mean that all other railroads operating across any of BNSF’s PTC-equipped lines must be capable of operating with BNSF’s PTC system, but not all railroads that use BNSF track will have completed their PTC installation by the end of this year.

BNSF also said that interoperability of PTC systems between Class I, commuter and short-line rail carriers “remains a challenge.”

The Fort Worth-based carrier said it has PTC in place on 88 required subdivisions covering more than 11,500 route miles.

Recently Amtrak and BNSF announced that two long-distance passenger trains using BNSF track, the Southwest Chief and California Zephyr, will begin using PTC this summer.

In a series of progress reports, the FRA has indicated that some railroads, particularly commuter carriers, are in jeopardy of not only missing the PTC installation deadline but also failing to make sufficient progress to qualify for an extension of the PTC deadline.

Greyhound May Use Amtrak Station in Reno

June 14, 2018

Greyhound Bus Lines may be moving into the Amtrak station in Reno, Nevada, next year.

The bus carrier’s lease on its current station expires at the end of this year and the building was recently sold to a new owner.

A Greyhound official said his company is talking with Amtrak about using its station, which is a stop for Amtrak’s California Zephyr.

The Greyhound official said the bus carrier might use a vacant side of the train station.

Some Reno City Council members had express concern that Greyhound using the Amtrak station would prompt issues with traffic, pedestrian safety and the historic value of the station.

If the Amtrak station doesn’t work out, Greyhound might investigate use of the 4th Street transit station.

Police Probe Apparent Sabotage Effort in Michigan

June 14, 2018

Police released this photo showing the debris placed on a rail on track owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation and used by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern.

Police in Jackson, Michigan, are seeking a suspect who may have been trying to derail an Amtrak or Norfolk Southern train by placing debris on one of the rails.

An Amtrak police officer found the debris on Wednesday morning and notified the Jackson Police Department.

The debris included ballast and tie plates. Police said the debris resulted in a “dangerous situation.”

The debris was placed on a rail between North Jackson and North Blackstone streets.

Jackson is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains.

A Jackson Police spokesman said that walking on the railroad tracks, or property owned by the railroad is a misdemeanor offense.

Raleigh Station to Open on June 27

June 12, 2018

Officials expect the new station serving Amtrak in Raleigh, North Carolina, to open on June 27.

The opening was delayed due to the slope of the station platforms being 1 percent too steep in places and thus not meeting the Americans With Disabilities Act regulations.

A contractor is making corrections to the platform design. By law The slow cannot be more than 2 percent to allow water to drain without placing wheeled objects at constant risk of rolling off the platform.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on April 30 with rail service to the station expected to begin in May. But that was pushed back due to the platform issues.

Petitioners Seek to Save Marshall Ticket Office

June 12, 2018

More than 500 people have signed a petition seeking to save the Amtrak ticket agent in Marshall, Texas.

The office is one of 15 being closed as part of a nationwide cost-cutting program by Amtrak to close ticket offices serving an average of less than 40 passengers per day.

The petition was sent to federal and state officials on Monday. The Marshall ticket office is slated to close on June 29.

Marshall is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Amtrak, BNSF to Implement PTC on Select Routes

June 12, 2018

Amtrak expected to implement positive control operations this week on trains using BNSF tracks, including the Southwest Chief and California Zephyr

It will be the first activation on host-owned territory used by Amtrak. BNSF and Amtrak expect full activation of PTC operations on BNSF routes that host these two trains to be completed by the end of August.

“This is a great step for Amtrak,” said BNSF Assistant Vice President Network Control Systems Chris Matthews. “We have the infrastructure in place that allows Amtrak to operate on our network. We have partnered with them on the federal mandate and in some cases beyond the federal mandate to install PTC on subdivisions not required of BNSF. We look forward to continuing that partnership as they roll-out PTC along our routes.”

As for its own physical plant, Amtrak said it is making progress toward installing and activating PTC.

To date Amtrak said it has installed PTC on 380 of 444 Amtrak-owned locomotives and that 86 percent of the motive power fleet is PTC operable.

Amtrak said 607 of its 900 routes miles has PTC in operation, 95 percent of employees who require training have completed it, and 104 of 120 radio towers have PTC full installed and equipped.

The passenger carrier said it is working with its host railroads on PTC implementation and expects nearly all of them to qualify for an alternative PTC implementation schedule as allowed under federal law.

A risk analysis study is being undertaken for operating on routes under an extension or under an FRA-approved exemption.

That study is expected to result in developing strategies for enhancing safety on a route-by-route basis.

Reiterating a position that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson stated earlier, Amtrak said that on a very limited number of routes where a host railroad has not met the federal PTC deadline that Amtrak “will suspend service and may seek alternative modes of service until such routes come into compliance.”