House Approves $1.4B for Amtrak

September 20, 2017

The U.S. House of Representatives has appropriated money to Amtrak, but not to TIGER grant funding.

The House last week approved a $2.1-trillion budget federal budget for fiscal year 2018.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which can accept it as is or pass its own budget with the differences being worked out in a House-Senate conference committee.

Amtrak funding in the bill is $1.4 billion, of which $1.1 billion is for the national network and $328 million for Northeast Corridor grants.

Lawmakers also approved $500 million for federal-state partnership for state of good repair grants.

Another $25 million was earmarked for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grants, which is down from $68 million in 2017.

The Federal Transit Administration Capital Investment Grant program would receive $1.75 billion, including $1 billion for funding grant agreement projects, and $145 million for core capacity projects. FTA’s “Small Starts” program would receive $182 million.

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Amtrak Restoring Southeast Service

September 18, 2017

Amtrak said on Monday that all trains to and from Florida will return to regular operations after service was temporarily disrupted due to severe weather stemming from Hurricane Irma.

The Silver Meteor from New York to Miami will resume scheduled service on Tuesday (Sept, 19) while its northbound counterpart will depart Miami for the first time on Wednesday (Sept. 20)

The Silver Star will will resume scheduled service between Jacksonville and Miami on Tuesday while its northbound counterpart will resume departing from Miami on Thursday (Sept. 21.) The Star is currently operating only between New York and Jacksonville.

Fuller Park Favored for New Ann Arbor Station

September 18, 2017

A draft environmental assessment favors placing the new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor in Fuller Park.

The long-awaited 212-page report was released on Monday after the Federal Railroad Administration gave the go ahead to do so.

Public comments are being accepted through Nov. 2 and opposition is expected given that many in Ann Arbor have already spoken against using a city park for a new train station.

The city also considered sites along Depot Street, where the existing Amtrak station is located.

Ann Arbor officials have long favored the Fuller Park site in front of the University of Michigan Hospital.

The new station would be elevated over the tracks in order to connect with a city-owned parking lot leased to the University of Michigan.

Development of the station is projected to occur in two stages. Phase I includes:

  • Construct station above the tracks
  • Construct five-level intermodal operations and parking structure to accommodate transit operations, 435 long-term parking spaces, 50 short-term parking spaces, 150 parks user parking spaces and motorcycle parking, bicycle parking, shared bicycle service and bicycle room in parking structure
  • Construct vertical circulation element on north side of the tracks
  • Construct platform on the north side of the tracks with two warming shelters and 650 feet of canopy
  • Construct new 250-foot, eastbound, right-turn lane at the Fuller Road/West Site driveway intersection
  • Construct new 250-foot, eastbound, right-turn lane at the Fuller Road/East Site driveway intersection
  • Relocate and reconstruct the Fuller Road crossovers, including 250 foot, left-turn bays at each crossover
  • Construct four bus bays

Phase II includes:

  • Construct additional parking structure levels to accommodate 870 total long-term parking spaces, 50 short-term spaces, 150 parks user parking spaces
  • Construct five additional bus bays to equal nine bus bays

If a commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit is implemented, the station project would also include:

  • Construct second 800-foot platform on south side of the tracks with two warming shelters and 650 feet of canopy
  • Construct vertical circulation elements (elevators and stairs for pedestrians) on south side of the tracks
  • Construct an additional 250 spaces (1,320 total)

The environmental assessment noted that the Fuller Road site can be developed on property owned by the city and the Michigan Department of Transportation, thereby eliminating the need to acquire additional property.

However, the station will require the will require use of 3.2 acres of Fuller Park, which in turn must be approved by Ann Arbor’s Park Advisory Commission and City Council approval.

Another factor weighing in favor of the Fuller Park site was lower costs, which were estimated at $81 million. Development of a station along Depot Street would cost between $94 million to $98 million.

Ticket Agent Hours Cut in Jackson, Mich.

September 18, 2017

Amtrak has reduced ticket agent service in Jackson, Michigan.

The changes, which became effective on Aug. 29, means the ticket office will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Amtrak has hired a caretaker to open and close the station on those days. Ticket office hours on other days of the week will be 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that Tuesday and Wednesday are typically the lowest travel days in the Midwest.

He also said that many Amtrak passengers are printing their tickets at home or having them scanned on their smart phones aboard the train.

“Overwhelmingly, our passengers choose electronic ticketing,” Magliari said. “Most people are using the eTicketing and a lot of people are doing it without talking to a human.”

Magliari also quipped that “the days of people pushing coins and folded dollars across the counter to a ticket agent with a big stamping machine are pretty well gone. It’s all through automated systems.”

Jackson lacks any Quik-Trak Self-Service Ticketing Kiosks and Magliari said those are being phased out.

At the present time, Amtrak has no plans to remove its ticket agent from Jackson, Magliari said.

Jackson is served by six Wolverine Service trains a day between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

No Word on Restoration of Amtrak SE Service

September 18, 2017

As of mid afternoon today, Amtrak has not said when full service will be restored to the Southeast.

The latest service advisory was posted on Friday afternoon and indicated that the Silver Star had been restored between New York and Jacksonville, Florida.

However, the Silver Meteor remains suspended over its entire route between New York and Miami, and the Silver Star is not operating south of Jacksonville.

The Auto-Train was to be fully restored today in both directions.

Ann Arbor Station Cost Rises to $89M

September 15, 2017

Ann Arbor City Council members got an unexpected surprise this week when they learned that the price tag for a new Amtrak station has shot up by $25 million.

The station, which has been in the talking and planning stages for more than 10 years, was to have cost $65 million, but now it is expected to cost $80 million.

Furthermore, the city will need to find additional funding sources to pay for design and construction work once an environmental assessment is completed.

The news came at a session at which the city’s  chief financial officer said there isn’t enough money to do all of the capital projects that council has discussed.

The current Amtrak station on Depot Street is small and the city has been eyeing sites for a new station along that street or on Fuller Road near the University of Michigan Hospital.

In response to a question by Council Member Jane Lumm of how the project had ballooned in cost, city chief financial officer Tom Crawford had few details.

“This is not intended to be a project update,” Crawford said. “I just grabbed something that I saw and threw it in.”

City Administrator Howard Lazarus said discussions are continuing with the Federal Railroad Administration and that the environmental assessment package could be available for public review as early as next week.

Lazarus acknowledged that schedule estimates on releasing the report have been notoriously unreliable, “but I think we’re pretty close to the end.”

The city is still assuming that 80 percent of the money for the station will come from the federal government and 20 percent will be local funds.

Amtrak Launches New Marketing Campaign

September 15, 2017

Amtrak has launched a new marketing campaign focused on the experience of riding a train.

The campaign’s theme is “Break the Travel Quo”

In a news release, Amtrak said its approach is to take “a lighthearted approach to push against the realities of air and car travel that have become par for the course, juxtaposing commonplace scenarios against the comfort and convenience of Amtrak.

“Not only does Amtrak boast one of the most generous baggage policies in the travel industry – allowing passengers to bring up to four pieces of luggage for free – but the rail company also offers free Wi-Fi, the freedom to use phones and electronic devices at all times, the ability to travel with small pets on many trains, large spacious seats with ample leg room, and no middle seat.”

The marketing campaign is being produced by Amtrak’s ad agency, FCB New York, and began on Thursday.

The campaign is oriented toward local and long distance travel and generally aimed at adults 35 years and older.

However, the campaign also has demographic oriented messages targeting Hispanic, African American, LGBTQ, and Chinese audiences.

The advertising will occur on multiple media platforms and vary regionally, with different messages for certain regions.

Some of the advertisements will be placed in social media and on websites rather than on network or local TV.

Above all Amtrak is seeking to get travelers to think of rail travel as an alternative.

Amtrak has established a website in support of the campaign: www.breakthetravelquo.com.

Amtrak Begins Restoring Southeast Service

September 14, 2017

Amtrak service restoration to the Southeast begins today when the southbound Palmetto will resume service from New York to Savannah, Georgia.

The northbound Palmetto will operate for the first time on Friday since being suspended in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Irma last weekend.

The service restoration also includes related Amtrak Thruway Bus connections.

The Silver Star will resume operation on Friday between New York and Jacksonville, Florida. The trains will add a stop at Jesup, Georgia.

Service remains suspended between Jacksonville and Miami via via Orlando and Tampa.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the New York-Miami Silver Meteor and the Auto Train between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida, remain suspended. No service resumption date was provided in the service advisory.

CUS Gets New Signs

September 14, 2017

New signs have been placed in Chicago Union Station, in what is being described as an update.

The 81 updated signs are designed to easily connect travelers to transportation options and amenities in the station, Regional Transportation Authority officials said in a news release.

Some signs are provide Amtrak passengers information about how to connect with Chicago Transit and Metra route.
The projected also corrected outdated or incorrect signage and unified all signs to Amtrak’s current standards.

Southeast Amtrak Trains Still Suspended

September 13, 2017

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which at last report had been downgraded to a tropical depression, Amtrak service in the Southeast remains suspended

In a service advisory issued Tuesday night, Amtrak said the Silver Star and Silver Meteor between New York and Miami remain canceled through Sept.14.

The southbound Auto Train from Lorton, Virginia, to Sanford, Florida, is canceled through Sept. 14. The northbound Auto Train is suspended through Sept. 15.

The Palmetto from New York to Savannah, Georgia, is canceled through Sept. 13, while its northbound counterpart is suspended through Sept. 13.