Boarding in Memphis

November 17, 2019

Passengers getting onto the northbound City of New Orleans board in Memphis, Tennessee.

It is 10:30 p.m. and Train No. 58 is running on time. It will depart in 10 minutes for Chicago and all scheduled intermediate stops.

Track Work to Affect San Joaquins

November 17, 2019

On Nov. 22, Train 704, will terminate at Wasco. Amtrak Thruway Bus 5804 will originate at Wasco and provide alternate transportation from Wasco to Bakersfield.

Also on that date, Train 718, will terminate at Wasco. Amtrak Thruway Bus 5818 will originate at Wasco and provide alternate transportation from Wasco and Bakersfield.

On Nov. 23, Train 711 will originate at Wasco. Amtrak Thruway Bus 5811 will operate through to Wasco, providing alternate transportation from  Bakersfield to Wasco.

Bus 5811 will depart all station stops from San Diego to Bakersfield 15 minutes earlier than normally scheduled.

Pacific Surfliners Are All-Reserved for Thanksgiving Travel

November 17, 2019

In a service advisory, Amtrak said during this period a ticket will only be valid on the train for which you are holding a reservation.

Amtrak said it is adding cars to select trains to provide more seating during the period.

Both Rail2Rail programs (Coaster and Metrolink) will observe a blackout period for the same dates of Nov. 27 through Dec. 2.

Reservations are not required for monthly and 10-ride ticket holders.

Minnesota Interests Seek Federal Funding for New Route

November 17, 2019

Minnesota rail passenger advocates recently made a trip to Washington in search of federal funding for a proposed intercity rail passenger route between the Twin Cities and Duluth, Minnesota.

Proponents of the Northern Lights Express made the rounds of Minnesota congressmen and senators.

The delegation also included public officials from Minnesota.

Backers of the service, which would operate at a top speed of 90 mph, are hoping that with federal funding will come state funding from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Northern Lights Express would restore service to a former Amtrak route known as the North Star and which ended in April 1985 after Minnesota ended funding for the train.

Just 2 BUILD Grants Will Benefit Amtrak

November 17, 2019

Only two of the rail projects that recently received federal BUILD grants that were awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation will directly benefit Amtrak service.

Both involve Amtrak stations in Illinois.

A $14 million grant was awarded for building an underpass at the station in Normal, Illinois, that also serves nearby Bloomington.

The federal funds will pay for design and construction of a pedestrian, bicyclist, and passenger underpass and a second boarding platform at the station.

Normal is served by Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains as well as the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

The other grant was $14 million for design and construction of a new multi-modal transportation center in downtown Carbondale.

That station will replace a modular facility Amtrak opened in the 1980s.

Carbondale is the southern terminus of Amtrak’s Illini and Saluki as well as an intermediate stop for the City of New Orleans, which operates between Chicago and New Orleans.

USDOT handed out $900 million in BUILD grants for 55 transportation-related infrastructure projects in 35 states,

Half of the funding went to projects in rural areas of the country and the lion’s share ($603 million) went to highway projects.

Rail projects received $48.3 million or 5 percent of the total. Transit projects received $84.6 million or 10 percent of the total.

Florida received the largest amount of grant funding followed by North Carolina, Maine, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi and Louisiana.

California received two grants while Michigan, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut received no grant funding.

House Democrats Might Push Reauthorization Bill

November 17, 2019

Democratic members of the federal House of Representatives in Washington are talking about going ahead with a surface transportation reauthorization proposal early next year.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) has discussed the idea with Democrats on the committee and hopes to meet with Senate leaders late next spring to resolve differences between the two proposals.

The Senate has already approved a highway proposal but not acted on reauthorizing or funding public transit or rail transportation.

Infrastructure spending has been talked about periodically in recent years including by President Donald Trump.

But talks between the administration and Congress over an infrastructure package have stalled.

With the 2020 election campaign season heating up candidates can be expected to push their own infrastructure proposals in the coming weeks and months.

Washington Ballot Measure Seen as Not Affecting Proposed Pacific Northwest High-Speed Rail Project

November 17, 2019

Supporters of a proposal to institute high-speed rail in the Pacific Northwest believe that the passage of a ballot measure in Washington State curtailing vehicle registration fees will not necessarily halt the project.

Washington voters approved Initiative 976, which caps the annual state and local car tab fees at $30.

In the wake of that vote, public transit officials expressed concern that funding for projects in the works or in the planning stage could be stymied for lack of funding.

Janet Matkin, communications manager for the Washington State Transportation Department, said Initiative 976 should not affect the high-speed rail project because it is still in the early planning stages.

She said there are a number of funding options that could be examined for the high-speed rail project, which envisions trains traveling 250 mph in the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver corridor.

Some Want New Direction for Calif. High-Speed Project

November 17, 2019

Some California policy makers are raising questions about the wisdom of continuing to proceed with a high-speed rail project in the central part of the state.

They are asking whether it would be better to go with slower trains that would be put into service sooner.

During a hearing conducted by the state Assembly Transportation Committee, Rail Authority board member Daniel Curtin said, “building catenaries and maintenance facilities and buying high-speed trains is unnecessary” if there wasn’t enough money to connect the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

Curtin noted that the state would need to spend billions to purchase new equipment and electrify the lines once construction is finished.

Assembly Member Laura Friedman took issue with an analysis of cost options and how that would increase ridership numbers in the Valley, Bay Area, and Southern California.

“Assuming that our goal is to build from San Diego to San Francisco  . . . the way we get there is by increasing ridership anywhere on the line where you have a large population saying, ‘OK, we’re now in on the train . . . and we demand that you give us that whole system,” she said.

BNSF Track Work to Disrupt Carl Sandsburgs

November 16, 2019

Train 381 will terminate at Macomb, Illinois, with alternate transportation being provided between from Macomb to Quincy.

Train 382 will originate at Macomb with alternate transportation provided from Quincy to Macomb.

Eastbound Bus 3382 will depart Quincy at 4:30 p.m. and operate 60 minutes earlier than the normal train schedule.

Amtrak Board Nomination Moves on to Full Senate

November 16, 2019

A nomination of a former Indiana congressman to the Amtrak board of directors has been sent to the full Senate for consideration.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved the nomination of former U.S. Rep Todd Rokita on a voice vote.

Rokita, who was nominated to the Amtrak board last May for a five-year term, was attacked by some rail passenger advocates for his having twice voted to end Amtrak’s federal funding.

During a July hearing before the committee, Rokita said he voted against Amtrak funding to “send a message” to the carrier.

Rokita said that as a congressman he was sometimes limited to voting yes, no or present.

“I believe in fiscal responsibility for all of us,” Rokita said. “I believe my votes against these funding provisions sent a message to Amtrak.”

He also said during his testimony that he voted for the 2015 FAST Act, which helped create grant funding for Amtrak.

Three other nominations to the Amtrak board remain on hold due to the objection of Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas).

They include Rick Dearborn, a former deputy chief of staff for President Donald Trump; Joseph R. Gruters, a former Florida state representative who was co-chair of Trump’s 2016 Florida campaign, and former U.S. Rep. Leon A. Westmoreland of Georgia

Westmoreland also voted twice against Amtrak funding while in Congress.