Red Boards at CP Lumber

January 25, 2022

Amtrak’s outbound Capitol Limited is less than 10 minutes out of Chicago Union Station and has just crossed Lumber Street at the southern end of shop and service complex. If you look carefully you will see a P42DC siting on a service track awaiting servicing or its next assignment.

This is still Amtrak-owned trackage although in a few minutes No. 30 will be on the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern, which it will use all the way to Cleveland.

On Amtrak these signals are known as CP Lumber and are a familiar sight to Amtrak locomotive engineers piloting trains from the East, Michigan and St. Louis on their final few miles into Chicago.

Seeing them means their shift is about over and their train is about reached its terminus.

Not every Amtrak train coming into Chicago sees these signals. Trains coming in from the BNSF Raceway from Aurora don’t go past here nor on most days do trains coming off the route from New Orleans and Carbondale, Illinois. And of course trains coming down from Milwaukee use the north concourse at Union Station and don’t see these signals either.

They are, of course, one set of dozens of signals that Amtrak trains pass along their respective routes. But most of those signals don’t offer a city skyline view as these do.

Track Work Leads to Palmetto Cancellations

January 25, 2022

Track work being performed by CSX has led Amtrak to cancel the Palmetto in both directions on Jan. 26 and 27.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said no alternative transportation is being offered. Trains 89 and 90 operate daily between New York and Savannah, Georgia.

In an unrelated development, Amtrak also said the elevator in the station in New Carrollton, Maryland, is temporarily out of service.

The advisory said the elevators is expected to be out of service for five weeks due to construction taking place at the station.

The elevators connects the station waiting area with the boarding platforms.

New Carrollton is located on the Northeast Corridor 10 miles north of Washington Union Station.

No Injuries in Lincoln Service Incident

January 25, 2022

No injuries were reported when an Amtrak Lincoln Service train struck debris from a derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight train near Springfield, Illinois, on Friday.

News reports indicate Amtrak Train 306 struck a wheel from the derailment and sustained minor damage.

The Charger locomotive pulling the train shut down after striking the wheel. The crew was able to get it restarted and the train continued northward to Chicago.

Silver Star Consists Expanded

January 25, 2022

In suspending the New York-Miami Silver Meteor starting Jan. 24 Amtrak said it would increase capacity as needed on two other trains operating in the corridor.

Trains magazine reported on its website that the New York-Miami Silver Star has been assigned additional coaches and Viewliner sleeping cars.

The Star is now operating with up to five sleeping cars. It normally ran with two. The Meteor, however, typically ran with more cars, including three sleeping cars.

In its report, Trains said the Meteor typically has more cars than its counterpart because the Meteor has more connecting traffic from western and northern cities.

The schedule of the Silver Star, is not conducive to as much connecting business.

The Trains report noted that the additional capacity that has been added to the Silver Star is in contrast with continued less than normal capacity on many other long distance trains.

The Silver Star and Silver Meteor follow different routes through North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia between Selma, North Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.

The Palmetto, uses the same route as the Silver Meteor and is also continuing to operate daily between New York and Savannah.

The story can be viewed at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/seeking-the-pricing-capacity-sweet-spot-on-two-florida-trains-analysis/

CDOT Adds Service to Replace Amtrak

January 25, 2022

The Connecticut Department of Transportation has added additional trains to its Hartford line to take up some of the slack left by Amtrak’s suspension of some Springfield Shuttle services through late March.

Amtrak cited crew and workers shortages stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic for reducing service between Springfield, Massachusetts, and New Haven, Connecticut, starting today (Jan. 24).

Amtrak has adjusted schedules in the corridor during the suspension, which extends through March 27.

CTrail has added a Sunday only departure from Springfield at 3:55 p.m.; a weekday train departing New Haven at 8:55 a.m.; and bus substitutes for one weekday and one Sunday train in each direction. Two CTrail trains bound for New Haven will operate on revised schedules.

Lake Shore Limited 1976 Style

January 22, 2022

Our Saturday trip back in time has landed us in Elkhart, Indiana, on April 5, 1976. We are at the former New York Central station to watch the westbound Lake Shore Limited make its daily stop.

For some reason today’s No. 49 has just one SDP40F on the point. It normally operates with two.

The Lake Shore Limited has been in service less than a year and host railroad Conrail has been in operation less than a week.

Note that predecessor Penn Central had either begun the process of dismantling the station infrastructure in Elkhart or has allowed it to deteriorate through neglect. Whatever the case, the former boarding platform on the track over from the train has chunks of concrete lying about. It is of no use for boarding passengers now.

Locomotive 588 looks spiffy. It was built in May 1974. But it would not enjoy a long service life. It was traded in to EMD for F40PH No. 267.

As for Train 49, it still operates through Elkhart as it did more than 45 years ago when this image was made. Not only are the SDP40F locomotives gone from Amtrak service but so are all of the streamliner era passenger cars shown here. Today’s Lake Shore Limited is a mix of Amfleet and Viewliner equipment pulled by P42DC locomotives that no one could have even imagined back in 1976.

Amtrak Flexible Dining Menu Expands

January 22, 2022

In passenger train advocacy circles French toast has come to symbolize what is right and wrong about dining aboard Amtrak.

When it is available on the breakfast menu passenger train advocates tend to be pleased. When it is not, they are upset.

Over the years French toast has come and gone from Amtrak dining car menus.

It made a comeback in traditional dining cars on western long-distance trains last summer and is now available on the menu of eastern long distance trains, too.

It was one of a number of additions that Amtrak quietly made to its flexible dining menu last year that increased the number of hot offerings for all meals.

But not all French toast is the same. Just read the menu descriptions for it on the traditional and flexible dining menus.

That offered in traditional dining cars is described as thick-cut Texas toast with whipped cream and seasonal berries. On flexible dining menus it is merely described as thick-cut Texas toast served with Applewood smoked bacon.

What the menus don’t say is that in traditional dining cars the French toast is created on board by a chef. In flexible dining cars all food is created off the train by a catering company and heated onboard.

Some passenger train advocates are still angry about Amtrak’s downgrading of dining service aboard eastern long distance trains starting in June 2018.

It was widely viewed as a cost-cutting move and resulted in fewer choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Further ruffling the feathers of passenger train advocates has been the limiting of dining car service to sleeping car passengers on all trains. Coach passengers were left to buy whatever is available in the café car.

Be that as it may, the current flexible dining offerings are more expansive than they were when the service began in 2018.

In its early days, breakfast under the flexible dining concept was limited to one hot offering – a breakfast sandwich – and such things as snack bars and yogurt.

Aside from French toast, the flexible dining menu now includes two more hot breakfast offering.

The continental breakfast comes with a breakfast sandwich, blueberry muffin, Greek yogurt, and assorted cold cereals and oatmeal.

A three egg omelet comes with Swiss, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses and is accompanied by breakfast potatoes and chicken sausage.

What hasn’t changed is the lunch and dinner offerings are the same. You get a complimentary alcoholic beverage at dinner.

The current offerings include braised beef short ribs served with a Cabernet reduction
sauce, baby green beans, Parisienne carrots and chive mashed potatoes; vegen enchiladas with black beans, corn and cheese wrapped in corn tortillas with an ancho chili sauce and yellow rice; chicken ala rosa with fettuccine, broccoli, sundried cherry tomatoes, and Pecorino Romano cheese in a tomato vodka cream sauce; sesame glazed salmon with stir-fried vegetables and jasmine rice; and penne pasta with tomato sauce, meatballs, and Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

The menu posted at Amtrak’s website does not list dessert items, but carries the notation “ask your server about our seasonal dessert selection.”

Flexible dining service is provided on the Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent, Lake Shore Limited, Silver Star, Silver Meteor and Texas Eagle.

Amtrak gave it the “flexible” moniker because there are no set seating times and meals can be served in your sleeping car room upon request.

Meal hours are 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch, and 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for dinner.

Amtrak officials have talked about upgrading dining service on eastern long-distance trains, but have not provided any specific details or a time frame for when that might happen.

Likewise they have spoken about making dining car meals, whether traditional or flexible, available for purchase by coach passengers but have not said when that might occur.

Nor have they said what form it would take. Prior to the launch of flexible dining coach passengers had the ability to be served in full-service dining cars.

It may be that once dining car meals are made available to coach passengers it might be on a “to go” basis rather than with sit down table service.

The infrastructure bill approved by Congress last year directed Amtrak to establish a food and beverage service task force, but that has yet to get underway and it remains to be seen what recommendations will be made and how or even if they will be implemented.

For now, the only traditional dining involving meals prepared fresh aboard the train is limited to the Auto Train, Empire Builder, California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Coast Starlight.

The current Auto Train menu differs slightly from those on the other trains with full-service dining cars.  

On the Auto Train all entrées include a small salad and dinner roll rather than an appetizer as is the case with western train dining cars.

The current entrees include an 8-ounce flat iron steak with a Cabernet reduction sauce served with baby green beans, Parisian carrots and a choice of mashed potatoes or a baked potato; pan-roasted chicken breast with wild mushroom risotto, English peas, fava beans, and Parisian carrots, all smothered in a morel mushroom sauce; grilled Atlantic salmon served with ancient grains, baby green beans and Parisian carrots in a miso soy beurre blanc sauce; tortellini with pesto cream and grape tomatoes, and English peas topped with shaved Parmesan cheese.

Entrees for children include an all-beef hot dog served with kettle chips, or macaroni and cheese served with baby green beans and Parisian carrots.

Desserts include flourless Chocolate Torte, cheesecake, carrot cake, vanillia ice cream, and sugar-free Jell-O.

The Auto-Train does not offer a full breakfast. Instead, sleeping car passengers receive a continental breakfast.

The current traditional dining car breakfast menu used on western long-distance trains includes a continental breakfast of seasonal mixed berries, croissant, Greek yogurt, assorted cereals, and a choice of oatmeal or grits; French toast; three egg omelet with choice of cheddar, Swiss cheese, tomatoes, red and green peppers and onions, all served with roasted breakfast potatoes and a croissant; and scrambled eggs.

The latter comes with the same options as the omelet along with roasted breakfast potatoes and a croissant.

Diners can add to their meal bacon, pork sausage links or chicken sausage links.

At lunch the entrees include a Caesar salad with romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, and shaved parmesan cheese with the option to add a roasted chicken breast; grilled cheese sandwich with roasted turkey, bacon, provolone and cheddar cheeses on hickory-smoked onion bread; an Angus beef burger with cheddar or Swiss cheese, lettuce, and tomato, on a brioche roll; and vegan chilli served in a baked potato or in a bowl with a choice of toppings of cheddar cheese, bacon,
sour cream, and scallions.

The sandwiches come with a side of Terra chips and coleslaw.

Dinner entrees come with an appetizer and one complimentary alcoholic beverage. As is the case with flexible dining, soft drinks are complimentary throughout the trip.

The appetizers include a lobster crab cake, green chile cheese tamale, or a mixed greens salad with baby brie.

Dinner entrees and desserts are the same as those offered on the Auto Train. The traditional dining cars also make available at dinner offerings from the lunch menu.

The children’s menu includes grilled cheese (American and Swiss) with kettle chips; roasted chicken breast with green beans, carrot balls and cheesy polenta; white cheddar mac and cheese with green beans and carrots; and a all beef hot dog served with kettle chips.

Hannibal Eyes Bringing Amtrak to Town

January 22, 2022

Hannibal, Missouri, has never had scheduled Amtrak service. In fact, by the time Amtrak arrived in 1971 Hannibal had lost intercity rail passenger service on the two major rail lines that pass through the city, a former Wabash route from Springfield, Illinois, to Kansas City; and a former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy route between St. Louis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

The last passenger train, Burlington Nos. 15 and 8 made their final trips on April 8, 1967.

Yet some Hannibal officials are eyeing bringing Amtrak to the city of 17,000 located on the Mississippi River 117 miles north of St. Louis. Hannibal is best known as the boyhood home of author Mark Twain.

Tourism is a significant business in Hannibal and local officials seek bringing in Amtrak as a way to bolster that. The Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is leading the way, seeking to get Amtrak to extend service to Hannibal that now terminates in Quincy, Illinois.

Business owner Michael O’Cheltree said rail passenger service could bring in tourists when the river cruises are not operating.

There is, of course, a long way to go before Amtrak could arrive in Hannibal.

Extending Amtrak service from Quincy to Hannibal is feasible because the ex-Burlington line through Hannibal, now operated by BNSF, connects with the route used by Amtrak at West Quincy, Missouri.

“One of the first things we’re looking at, obviously, is funding for planning,” said Hannibal Economic Development Executive Coordinator Corey Mehaffy. “We’ve got two studies we really need to do. And a feasibility study on demand or passenger rail. So obviously the potential revenue that could come along with that.”

The Chicago-Quincy service is funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation and there is little to no prospect that agency would agree to fund Amtrak service to Hannibal.

Funding would thus need to come from the Missouri Department of Transportation, which currently funds Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Hannibal officials have created a transportation committee to work with city and state officials as well as Amtrak and local businesses.

Mehaffy said the project is still at an early stage and no one knows yet how much it would cost to fund needed studies or to construct a station.

That hasn’t stopped some from dreaming. O’Cheltree said the station could be placed Y Men’s Pavilion next to existing tracks and within walking distance of downtown.

He sees nothing but upside to the idea of bringing in Amtrak.

 “They’d come from Chicago, Macomb, Rockford, all these possible places, spend the night in our motels, come here, do some shopping and go home the next day,” he said.

Beau Hicks, the executive director of the visitor’s bureau has even bigger dreams. She said in time the service could be extended south to St. Louis.

FRA Urged to Create Rail Study Group

January 22, 2022

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has asked the Federal Railroad Administration to establish a group to study potential intercity rail passenger service to the Pacific Northwest.

In particular, the group would consider the establishment of service along the route once used by Amtrak’s North Coast Hiawatha between Chicago and Seattle.

That train, which was discontinued in early October 1979 as part of an Amtrak route restructuring prompted by a reduction in the passenger carrier’s federal aid, used a former Northern Pacific route through southern Montana and central North Dakota.

The proposed Greater Northwest Working Group would be given a mandate to “expedite” the establishment of service within the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The group would review existing Amtrak long-distance service, explore options to restore additional routes, and find ways for Amtrak to work with local organizations.

Already a Montana group, the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, is working to restore rail passenger service to the former North Coast Hiawatha route.

The authority is comprised of several counties that lie along the route.

The route once used by the North Coast Hiawatha is operated in much of Montana by Montana Rail Link, which leases track from BNSF.

BNSF owns the rest of the former North Coast Hiawatha route and recently announced it would take track back from Montana Rail Link, effectively putting the regional carrier out of business.

It is not clear how BNSF’s plans might affect efforts to restore rail passenger service. The plan still needs to win approval of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board and it is unclear when BNSF will seek that.

Adding a Coach in St. Louis

January 21, 2022

The Amtrak reservations system shows a Chicago-St. Louis “section” of the Texas Eagle, trains 421 and 422. In reality this is not a separate train as are trains 448 and 449, the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited.

Rather it is a Superliner coach added and removed from the Eagle at St. Louis.

The image above was made on March 20, 2005, in St. Louis. The northbound Eagle is getting the coach that will operate as Train 422. Note that it is being attached to the rear of the train, meaning coach passengers seated there will need to walk through a sleeping car to get to the dining car or lounge car.

An Amtrak P42DC is acting as the switcher in the operation.