STB Forms Passenger Working Group

April 17, 2021

A working group has been created by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to develop plans to enforce on-time performance rules for intercity passenger-rail service.

The STB said the group will oversee a rule formulated in November 2020 by the Federal Railroad Administration that established metrics and minimum standards.

In a news release, the STB said Frank O’Connor will serve as chair of the passenger rail working group.

Frank O’Connor is deputy director of the STB’s Office of Economics.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 gave the STB authority to investigate and adjudicate issues related to on-time performance of Amtrak’s intercity service under the new metrics and standards.

Those rules will be implemented on July 1, with quarterly reporting by the FRA to begin the following month.

The FRA rule defines on-time as the arrival of passengers at their destination station no later than 15 minutes after their published scheduled arrival time.

The FRA’s rule requires Amtrak and its host railroads to certify Amtrak schedules and sets an on-time performance minimum standard of 80 percent for any two consecutive calendar quarters.

Under federal law, the STB is authorized to investigate a failure to meet the on-time performance standard, either on its own initiative or upon complaint by Amtrak or another eligible complainant, to determine whether and to what extent that failure is due to causes that could be reasonably addressed by a rail carrier over whose tracks the intercity passenger train operates or by Amtrak or other intercity passenger rail operators.

The STB may identify reasonable measures and make recommendations to improve train service, quality and on-time performance.

Federal regulators may also award damages and prescribe other relief should the STB determine that failure to meet the on-time performance standard was attributable to a host railroad’s failure to provide preference to Amtrak over freight transportation.

The on-time passenger standards have been a decade in the making.

Earlier attempts to create an on-time standard were challenged by the Association of American Railroads in court and the case twice reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The working group will also “explore the feasibility of creating an office at the STB focused on passenger rail issues and the creation of a Passenger Rail Advisory Committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act,” among other functions.

The Way it Used to Be

April 15, 2021

VIA Rail Canada announced this week that its flag ship long distance train the Canadian, will resume operating next month between Toronto and Vancouver.

The proud Canadian has been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic and then returned to run only between Vancouver and Winnipeg.

The news that the Canadian will again trek across Canada, though, came with some caveats. There will be no access to lounges and dome cars so scenes such as the one above of the two Canadians passing east of Hornepayne, Ontario, in May 2014.

There will be sleeping car service and passengers will be given reservations to eat breakfast and dinner in the dining car. But lunch will be served in your room.

Furthermore Nos. 1 and 2 will operate just one a week. In short, it won’t be the same experience that people from all over the world come to experience.

But at least it will be have some semblance of transcontinental service and the scenery hasn’t change.

Maybe some day the Canadian will once again be the Canadian.

New Venture Cars Tested in Illinois

April 15, 2021

Amtrak made test runs this week of three Siemens Venture coaches pulled by Charger locomotives between Edgewood and Kinmundy, Illinois, on Canadian National tracks.

The test trains evaluated the ability of the new equipment to shunt electric current between rails on CN’s former Illinois Central mainline.

Scheduled Amtrak operations on the CN line between Chicago and New Orleans are required by the host railroad to have a minimum of 30 axles.

Studies conducted by CN, Amtrak, and the Federal Railroad Administration have yet to conclude what track, wheel, or rolling stock issues might cause an interruption of a shunt, which is necessary to activiate signals and highway warning devices.

The test train had three Viewliner II baggage cars, but those were reported to be excluded from the tests, which were to use various locomotive and passenger car combinations.

Grant Awarded for Kirkwood Station Renovation

April 15, 2021

A $1.5 million grant has been made for renovations of the Amtrak station in Kirkwood, Missouri.

The funding came from the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. The grant will enable the City of Kirkwood and the Historic Kirkwood Train Station Foundation to renovate the former Missouri Pacific depot.

Work in the $4.6 million project will include a new roof, heating and cooling system, ADA-compliant restrooms, and a covered station platform.

Thus far about $2.3 million has been raised for the project. The foundation continues to raise money on a  GoFundMe page. Construction is expected to begin in 2024.

Kirkwood, a suburb of St. Louis, is served by the St. Louis-Kansas City Missouri River Runners

Parking Changes Made at Holdrege Station

April 15, 2021

Construction at the Amtrak station in Holdrege, Nebraska, has resulted in changes in parking.

Workers have completed rebuilding an interim accessible platform in Holdrege but passengers boarding trains there will need to park in the city parking lot north of the train station.

The lot can be accessed from 3rd Avenue with an entrance west of East Avenue. The lot is free and has no time limit.

Holdrege is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-San Francisco Bay California Zephyr.

Track Work Disrupts Pacific Surfliners, Coast Starlight

April 15, 2021

Various temporary schedule changes will begin April 16 that affect Pacific Surfliner trains and the Coast Starlight due to track projects.

Between April 16 and May 1 the following changes will be in effect.

On April 15, 23 and 30, Train 796 will terminate at Solana Beach with alternate bus service being provided between Oceanside and San Diego on Bus 3284 and 3286.

Bus 3284 will not stop at Old Town but passengers may take the trolley from San Diego. Bus 3286 will drop off passengers at Old Town.

On April 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 and May 1 and 2, Trains 564, 580, 768, 774, 796, 1564 and 1584 will terminate at Solana Beach. Bus service will be provided from Oceanside to San Diego.

Trains 579, 593, 763, 767, 777, 785 and 1767 will originate at Solana Beach. Bus service will be provided from San Diego to Oceanside to connect with all trains.

Northbound buses will depart earlier than train schedules to allow on-time train departure from Oceanside.

Buses will not stop at Old Town but passengers may take the trolley to San Diego and board the Oceanside buses.

On April 17 and 18, track work being performed north of Los Angeles will result in changes to the following Pacific Surfliner Trains.

Train 763 will terminate at Los Angeles with Bus 4863 operating in its place to Oxnard and Train 1763 operating from Oxnard to Goleta. Regular connecting bus service will operate between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

Train 777 will terminate at Los Angeles with Bus 4877 operating in its place from Los Angeles to Oxnard and Train 1777 operating from Oxnard to San Luis Obispo.

Train 785 will terminate at Los Angeles with Bus 4885 operating in its place from Los Angeles to Oxnard and Train 1785 operating from Oxnard to Goleta. Regular connecting bus service will be provided between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

Buses will depart all stations earlier than the normal schedule. Trains traveling north of Oxnard will depart later than the normal schedule.

Train 768 will originate at Los Angeles. In place of Train 768, Train 1768 will operate from Goleta to Oxnard and operate as Bus 4868 from Oxnard to Los Angeles. Regular connecting bus service will be provided between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.

Train 774 will operate as Train 1774 from San Luis Obispo to Oxnard as Bus 4874 from Oxnard to Los Angeles and as Train 774 from Los Angeles to San Diego.

Train 796 will originate at Los Angeles. In place of Train 796, Train 1796 will operate between Goleta and Oxnard and Bus 4896 will operate from Oxnard to Los Angeles. Regular connecting bus service will be provided between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.

No alternate transportation will be provided to the missed stations of Glendale, Burbank Airport, Chatsworth, Simi Valley, Moorpark and Camarillo.

Buses will depart all stations earlier than the normal schedule. Trains traveling north of Oxnard will depart later than the normal schedule.

On April 18 the southbound Coast Starlight that departed Seattle the day before will be cancelled between Oxnard and Los Angeles, missing intermediate stops at Simi Valley, Van Nuys and Burbank.

Bus 4011 will hold at Oxnard for connecting passengers from the Starlight and provide alternate transportation (drop-off only) at Simi Valley, Van Nuys, Burbank and Los Angeles.

VIA to Run Canadian Across Canada Again

April 15, 2021

VIA Rail Canada will reinstate the Canadian between Toronto and Vancouver on May 17 with one roundtrip per week.

The train has been operating only between Vancouver and Winnipeg for the past several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first westbound trip from Toronto will depart on May 23.

The Canadian will offer coach and sleeping car accommodations in roomettes and bedrooms. However, no berths will be sold and Prestige Class remains suspended through Sept. 15.

Due to health regulations there will be no access to such common areas as lounge cars and domes.

Sleeping car passenger will be able to make reservations for breakfast and dinner in the diner, but lunch will be served in passenger rooms. Coach passengers will be offered food and beverages from a cart.

VIA said the Montreal-Halifax Ocean continues to be suspended indefinitely. Service between Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and Jasper will operate weekly without the Touring Class Panorama dome.

Sleepers remain suspended on Winnipeg-Churchill, Manitoba, trains through Sept. 15.

Passengers who had booked trips on trains that have been canceled will receive refunds without financial penalty.

Stadtler to Head Virginia Rail Authority

April 15, 2021

The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority has named a former Amtrak executive as its executive director.

Appointed was Donald A. Stadtler Jr., who worked at Amtrak for 12 years. His positions at the intercity rail carrier included chief financial officer, chief operations officer, and chief administrative officer.

The Virginia agency, created last year, has a mandate to promote, sustain, and expand passenger and commuter rail service in the state.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine said in a statement that Stadtler’s appointment represents an opportunity for the state to focus on customer service, safety, and performance.

Bill Introduced to Create Front Range District

April 15, 2021

A bi-partisan bill has been introduced in the Colorado state senate to establish the Front Range Passenger Rail District.

The district would plan, build, operate and maintain passenger service connecting the major cities along the east side of the Rocky Mountains as well as provide a connection service to Amtrak’s Southwest Chief and California Zephyr.

Senate President Leroy Garcia, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said in a statement that establishing rail passenger service along the Front Range has been a top priority of his since being elected to the legislature.

The legislation calls for cooperation with the Denver-area Regional Transportation District and says that if appropriate the two agencies should share capital costs on a portion of the route. District members would be appointed by April 1, 2022, with the first meeting the following month.

Gateway Study Completion Expected in May

April 15, 2021

A long-stalled Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for the Gateway Tunnel project in New York and New Jersey is expected to be completed in May.

The project, which affects Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, involves building new tunnels between New Jersey and New York City under the Hudson River while rebuilding the existing tunnels.

The tunnels are used by New Jersey Transit commuter trains.

The announcement of the completion date for the environmental study was made by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

It had been expected given that the Biden administration has signaled its support for the Gateway project.