Amtrak, BRS Reach Tentative Contract Agreement

March 20, 2018

Amtrak and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen have reached a tentative contract covering wages and fringe benefits.

BRS said in a news release that the pact calls for a wage increase through 2021, with an 18.8 percent compounded increase over the life of the agreement.

Also, the new contract calls for freezing the monthly health care contribution, with new benefits provided. It also establishes a new-hire alternative health care plan.

BRS members must vote to ratify the agreement before it goes into effect.


CSX Route Sale Could Affect Service Restoration

March 19, 2018

CSX has offered for sale a portion of the route once used in Florida by the Sunset Limited.

Passenger train advocates are concerned that this might affect their efforts to reduce rail passenger service between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida.

The track in question is a 300-mile segment between Jacksonville and Pensacola.

The Southern Rail Commission is lobbying government regulators to consider the inclusion of passenger rail as an aspect of the sale.

If they are able to do that, it could overcome one hurdle to reinstating Amtrak service that was suspended in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina damaged the route.

CSX has opposed resisted allowing Amtrak to use the route.

“There will be regulatory processes that govern the sale of this line,” said Knox Ross, the vice chairman SRC and former mayor of Pelahatchie, Mississippi. “We want to make sure that the regulators understand we want to bring the train back and that that be considered as part of any sale.”

MARC Service to W.Va. Saved

March 19, 2018

Commuter trains operated by Maryland Rail Commuter will continue to serve West Virginia after that state’s governor signed the fiscal year 2019 budget.

The $4.38 billion budget contains authority to allow the transfer of $1.5 million from the securities division in the state Auditor’s Office to the West Virginia Commuter Rail Access Fund.

MARC had threatened to end the service between Washington and Harpers Ferry and Martinsville, West Virginia, as early as summer if a new funding arrangement was not worked out. The new funding agreement will last for a year.

MARC trains to West Virginia use the same CSX (former Baltimore & Ohio) route used by Amtrak’s Capitol Limited.

Boarding CONO in New Orleans

March 16, 2018

The first call for boarding of Amtrak No. 58, the City of New Orleans, has been made at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal and the sleeper class passengers are the first allowed onto the platform to board their train.

They will shortly be in their assigned rooms, which are in the last car on the train today.

Further down the platform, station workers are stocking the dining and lounge cars. The first meal to be served will be dinner with initial seating coming somewhere in Mississippi. Passengers will watch the Illinois prairie roll by as they have breakfast the next morning.

Harrisburg Station Renovation in the Works

March 16, 2018

Plans are in the works to renovate the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Transportation Center, but no timeline for the project has been set.

Officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said work inside the station can begin soon, but other work will not proceed until a flooding alleviation project is completed.

PennDOT said it is creating a master plan for the station, which is the western terminus of Amtrak’s Keystone Service from New York and Philadelphia and an intermediate stop for the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian.

Officials said 90 percent of the design of the $15 million station renovation is complete and PennDOT is working with Amtrak on a construction schedule.

A public hearing has been set for March 22 at 4 p.m. at the station to discuss the proposed project.

PennDOT and the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority want to transform the transportation center and adjacent area into a new transit-oriented, mixed-use development that they say could help revitalize the city.

The plans call for improvements to Market and Cameron streets and a direct connection between the station and parking areas east of it.

However, flooding issues involving Paxton Creek need to be addressed first, including how to fund them.

By one estimate, the flood control work will cost between $60 million to $90 million with the source of that funding yet to be decided.

Some suggested sources have included the state’s Multimodal Fund and the departments of Community and Economic Development and Conservation and Natural Resources.

Once funding is secured the flood control project will require at least four or five years to complete.

Among the plans for the Harrisburg station  development project are an open-space cafe in the main lobby, new seating in the concourse area, removal of trees on Aberdeen Street to open sightlines and increase safety, a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating at the station, and a new entry plaza from the lower-level Market Street entrance.

Also being planned are new office space in the upper floors and removal of offices in the lobby, a pedestrian bridge over the tracks to the station, streetscaping and improvements, and relocating the intercity bus facility.

Track Work to Affect NB Illini, NB CONO

March 16, 2018

On Monday through Friday of each week starting March 22 and extending through May 4, Amtrak’s northbound Illini will operate 30 minutes later at all stations en route due to track work being performed by Canadian National. Train 392 will operate on its normal schedule on Saturdays and Sundays.

Although it has not yet been announced, CN track work will also affect the schedule of the northbound City of New Orleans starting April 4.

No. 58 will begin departing New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal at 10:45 a.m., which is three hours earlier than the normal schedule. The train will be scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 6 a.m.

The revised scheduled will remain in effect through May 8 with the normal schedule resuming the next day.

Signal Work Affects Richmond Trains

March 16, 2018

Signal work being performed by CSX will result in delays of 45 to 120 minutes for all trains arriving and departing Staples Mills station in Richmond, Virginia.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that on March 26 the Carolinian will operate between only Rocky Mount and Charlotte, North  Carolina. No service will be provided at stations between New York and Rocky Mount.

The Palmetto will operate between New York and Washington only. Service will not be available at any station served by the Palmetto south of Washington.

On March 27, the Carolinian will again operate only between  Rocky Mount and Charlotte with service canceled between New York and Rocky Mount  and no alternate transportation provided.

Other trains will be affected by the signal work on March 26 as follows:

  • Train 67 will terminate at Washington with no alternate transportation provided between Washington and Newport News.
  • Train 94 will originate at Richmond Staples Mills station with no alternate transportation between Newport News and Richmond.
  • Train 85 will terminate at Washington with no alternate transportation between Washington and Richmond.
  • Train 84 will depart Norfolk at 6 am and operate 10 minutes earlier through its arrival in Richmond. Normal schedules will resume from Richmond to New York.
  • Train 66 will originate in Washington with no alternate transportation between Newport News and Washington.
  • Train 125 will terminate at Washington with no alternate transportation provided between Washington and Norfolk.
  • All other trains will operate normally

Trains will operate on 27 as follows:

  • Train 66 will originate at Richmond with no alternate transportation provided between Newport News and Richmond.
  • Train 67 will terminate at Richmond with no alternate transportation provided between Richmond and Newport News.
  • Train 84 will originate at Washington with no alternate transportation between Norfolk and Washington.
  • Train 174 will originate at Washington with no alternate transportation between Richmond and Washington.
  • All other trains will operate normally.

Track Work Disrupts Chicago-St. Louis Trains

March 16, 2018

Select Amtrak Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle will be disrupted by track work being performed by Union Pacific on March 18 and 20.

Train 303 will operate between Chicago and Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, with alternate transportation provided to missed stops at Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville and Alton, Illinois, and St. Louis.

Train 304 will operate between Bloomington-Normal and Chicago with Bus service provided to passengers boarding or detraining at St. Louis, Alton, Carlinville, Springfield and Lincoln.

The westbound Texas Eagle will hold at the Bloomington-Normal station until 4:15 p.m. for an open track.

Amtrak said that buses 3103 and 3004 will operate non-stop express from Bloomington-Normal to St. Louis. Buses 5003 and 5004 will make limited station stops, serving Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, Alton and St. Louis on March 18.

Buses 6003 and 6004 will make all station stops, serving Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville, Alton and St. Louis. Northbound buses will operate earlier and southbound buses will operate later than the train schedules.

Passengers should check with for updated schedules.

CONO Canceled in South Due to Flooding

March 16, 2018

Flooding in the South has resulted in Amtrak’s City of New Orleans being canceled between Jackson, Mississippi, and New Orleans.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said host railroad Canadian National has closed the route. An unconfirmed online report attributed the flooding to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opening the Bonnet Carré spillway, which expected to be open for 20 or more days.

When the spillway is open Amtrak trains are not permitted to cross its wooden trestle at the edge of Lake Pontchartrain.

Chartered buses are being provided between Jackson and New Orleans. Amtrak did not say when the route would reopen, only noting it would be as soon as possible.

Affected are passengers traveling to the intermediate stations of Hazlehurst, Brookhaven and McComb in Mississippi, and Hammond, Louisiana.

Passengers traveling north from New Orleans are asked to arrive at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal by 12:15  p.m. to board the buses. No. 58 normally depats NOUPT at 1:45 p.m.

Amtrak Wants Right to Sue Host Railroads over On-time Performance

March 13, 2018

Tucked away in Amtrak’s budget request for fiscal year 2019 is a plea to Congress to give the passenger the legal right to sue its host railroads for delaying its trains.

Amtrak wants to be able to seek legal remedies to protect its statutory right of preference by bringing “an action for equitable or other relief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, or in any jurisdiction where Amtrak resides or is found, to enforce preference rights granted under this subsection.”

The requests follows setbacks in the lawsuits challenging certain provisions of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

The Association of American Railroads challenged the process whereby on-time metrics were to be developed by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Specifically the AAR objected to allowing Amtrak to play a role in establishing the standards.

AAR won that battle when the courts ruled that Congress had unlawfully granted Amtrak regulatory power over the industry in which it participates.

When Amtrak brought three cases against its host railroads, using a Surface Transportation Board metric of 80 percent on-time performance in deciding pending cases, an appeals court ruled that the 80 percent standard had been tainted by the previous rulings.

Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee recently, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said, “We’ve never been able to get the preference right that Amtrak has, enforced . . . and we’d like a private right of action.”

Amtrak is also seeking legislative action to overturn a law that prohibits it from hiring lobbyists. It noted that its host railroads and labor unions are able to hire lobbyists.

The passenger carrier also wants changes to streamline its compliance with at-odds reporting requirements from multiple federal agencies, an exemption from Freedom of Information Act requests, and a law that will make it a federal crime to assault an Amtrak crew member.