Amtrak Station in Tucson

April 27, 2017

The streetside view of the former Southern Pacific station in Tucson, which is now used in part by Amtrak.

Last October I was  on vacation in Tucson, Arizona. I paid a visit to the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, which uses a portion of the former Southern Pacific station.

Amtrak still uses the SP station, although it shares it with Maynard’s Market, a deli-type operation.

I was there on a Thursday and Amtrak’s Sunset Limited was not scheduled to operate in either direction. Tucson is still a staffed station with checked baggage service.

The size of the Amtrak facilities appear to be appropriate for the use that the station gets and the depot has been nicely restored.

The streetside entrance to the Amtrak station. The depot is located on Toole Street.

The exterior of the station as seen from the trackside view.

The Amtrak ticket office in the Tucson station.

Another angle of the Tucson ticket office.

One end of the waiting room. In the distance is the former CTC machine used by Southern Pacific dispatchers to control traffic on the Sunset Route.

The other end of the waiting room, which has a number of historic photographs on the wall. The ticket office is to the left and straight ahead.

The door to the platform as seen from inside the waiting room.

On the platform. The building on the other side of the tracks is the maintenance facility for the Tucson streetcar network.

 

When the LSL Was a Regular Daylight Train in Cleveland

April 26, 2017

It was in 2007, I believe, that Amtrak rescheduled the eastbound Lake Shore Limited to arrive and depart Cleveland between 6 and 7 a.m., which meant it was a daylight operation for a good part of the year.

That schedule didn’t last long and No. 48 soon enough began leaving Chicago at 9:30 p.m., which puts it into Cleveland at 5:35 a.m.

I didn’t take advantage of the 2007 window of opportunity as much as I should have. A friend, though, did. He made it a point to photograph No. 48 in as many places as he could between Cleveland and the Pennsylvania border just east of Conneaut, Ohio, during the summer of 2007.

I did get downtown on a couple of occasions to photograph No. 48 in the station, including this view made on July 14, 2007.

Note that lead unit No. 156 is the one that is now painted in Amtrak’s Phase I locomotive livery.

Missouri River Runner Ridership up in 2017

April 26, 2017

Ridership aboard Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner trains increased 1 percent in the first quarter of 2017.

“For January through March, we were up nearly 1 percent from this time last year,” said Kristi Jamison, Missouri Department of Transportation railroad operations manager. “In January, we were up 10 percent, but that went down in February and March.”

Boardings in Jefferson City fell by 0.5 percent during the period.

“I still believe we’re being affected by low gas prices, and we’re still seeing fewer riders coming into St. Louis because of work on a high-speed rail service to Chicago,” Jamison said. “The infrastructure on that should be done by the end of this year, so we’ll see how we rebound from there.”

Jamison said 30 percent of River Runner passengers make connections with other Amtrak trains in St. Louis or Kansas City.

“So when you have delays like what we’ve seen in construction of the high-speed rail service in Illinois, that drops the ridership level,” she said.

The on-time performance of the Missouri River Runners was 90 percent for the first quarter, with some delays caused by freight traffic congestion.

“We also benefited from a mild winter, which decreases delays caused by cold weather and its effects on the tracks,” Jamison said.

MoDOT does not expect any changes in the service level regardless of how much funding the Missouri legislature allots for the service.

In 2017, the service was initially allotted $9.6 million, but Gov. Eric Greitens withheld $500,000 from that amount, making the intercity rail passenger budget $9.1 million.

MoDOT requested $14.1 million for the Missouri River Runners for fiscal year 2018, but Greitens has recommended approving $9.1 million. The House approved that amount but the Senate has not yet acted on the budget.

“We’re not anticipating any changes to our service due to the level of state funding we’re getting,” Jamison said.

In the meantime, Amtrak and MoDOT have announced two fare promotions that will run through the end of August.

They include mid-week fare sales with a 25 percent discount when traveling Tuesday through Thursday and a Kids Ride Free sale for weekend travel Friday through Sunday for children ages 2-12 when accompanied by a full-fare paid adult.

Reservations are required at least one day in advance of travel. The Missouri River Runners operate twice a day between St. Louis and Kansas City with intermediate stops at Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, Sedalia, Warrensburg, Lee’s Summit and Independence.

Westbound Texas Eagle to Detour in Texas May 1-8

April 26, 2017

Amtrak’s westbound Texas Eagle is being detoured in Texas between May 1 and 8 due to track work being performed by Union Pacific.

The train will miss its scheduled stops at Marshall and Longview, Texas.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers boarding at Shreveport, Louisiana; Marshall, Texas; and Longview, Texas, will board Thruway bus 6421 to Mineola, Texas, where they will board Train 21/421.

Passengers on Nos. 21/421 who are traveling to Shreveport, Marshall and Longview will detrain at Mineola and ride Thruway bus 6121 to their destination. Bus 6121 will originate at Mineola instead of Longview.

Those on Nos. 21/421 who are scheduled to make connections with Thruway bus 6021 at Longview will also detrain at Mineola and take Thruway Bus 6021 to their destination. Bus 6021 will originate in Mineola instead of Longview.

During this period, Amtrak personnel will be available at Mineola to assist customers.

Charger Testing Completed in Illinois

April 25, 2017

The new Charger SC-44 locomotives were tested last weekend on three routes in the Midwest and are expected to enter revenue service this spring.

The Illinois Department of Transportation said the locomotives built by Siemens ran with empty trains of Amtrak passenger cars on routes linking Chicago with Milwaukee; Carbondale, Illinois; and Quincy, Illinois.

The locomotives will be tested on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor later this year.

“The delivery and testing of these attractive new locomotives will certainly get attention now and in years to come as they serve riders in our great Illinois communities,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn.

“Their arrival will be a welcome sight and put us one step closer to providing more efficient and reliable passenger rail service throughout our state and our neighboring states.”

During the test runs, engineering staff from Amtrak and Siemens rode the locomotives and performed required tests while monitoring each engine’s performance.

The Chargers are compliant with EPA Tier IV emissions standards and can operate at speeds up to 125 mph.

IDOT along with state transportation departments in Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Maryland, California and Washington collaborated on ordering the locomotives.

Midwest state agencies acquired 33 of the 4,400-horsepower locomotives, which were purchased through $216.5 million in federal funding and built in Sacramento, California. All of the Midwest-based locomotives are to be delivered by late 2017.

Revenue testing is to begin for 30 days on April 30 in California on the Capitol Corridor route. Six Chargers are expected to operate in Northern California on the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin routes.

In a news release, Siemens said the Chargers are equipped with electronically controlled regenerative braking systems that use energy from traction motors during braking to feed the auxiliary and head-end power systems. The feature is expected to minimize fuel consumption.

The diesel-electric operation is designed to enable better acceleration, cleaner emissions and low noise levels. The locomotives feature a 4,400 horsepower Cummins QSK95 diesel engine.

Expedited FRA Review Sought of Ann Arbor Amtrak Station Site Environmental Assessment

April 25, 2017

A  Michigan congresswoman is trying to turn up the heat on the Federal Railroad Administration to act sooner rather than later on reviewing an environmental assessment for a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell has written to the FRA to urge it to expedite that review.

Ann Arbor faces a Sept. 30 deadline to spend a $2.8 million federal grant that it received to develop a station. The FRA had indicated earlier that it would not finish its review until summer, leaving the city little time to spend the grant money on station design work.

In her letter to the FRA, Dingell said it was important that the FRA move in an “urgent and expeditious manner so the city can move forward with improving mass transit in the state of Michigan.”

Once the FRA finishes reviewing the environmental assessment, there will be a 30-day public comment period.

Thus far the city has not revealed the site it prefers for the new station.

Dingell also pointed out in her letter that Amtrak and the State of Michigan have been working to upgrade service between Chicago and Detroit.

Currently, Ann Arbor is served by three Wolverine Service roundtrips although transportation officials have spoken about increasing that level of service at some unspecified time as well as launching commuter rail service to Detroit.

FRA spokesman Marc Willis said the FRA has received the environmental assessment from the city.

“We reviewed it and sent it back to them for revisions,” he said, adding there’s no time frame from the city when it will be sent back for FRA review.

City Council Member Zachary Ackerman said the city is running out of time to build a new Amtrak station

Ackerman said that a new station seems to be less of a reality given the current climate in Washington and he won’t support a new station without significant federal funding.

Michigan Rail Passenger Advocates Working to Get Amtrak-VIA Bus Connection Detroit-Windsor

April 25, 2017

Michigan rail passengers advocates are working with Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada to revive connecting service between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, although that might not necessarily be rail service.

In a campaign that has been dubbed “mind the gap,” the advocates are talking with both railroads about establishing a direct bus connection.

Passengers who now want to connect between Amtrak and VIA must either take a cab or ride three local transit buses.

The advocates noted that the border crossing at Detroit is the busiest between the two countries.

Until 2003, Amtrak and VIA hosted a Chicago-Toronto train known as the International that operated via Flint and Port Huron, Michigan.

A Detroit-New York train, the Niagara Rainbow, operated via Windsor between October 1974 and January 1979, ending when the states of New York and Michigan ended their funding of the train.

An article posted on the website of the National Association of Railroad Passengers said that VIA is in active discussions with bus companies to provide a “bus bridge” between the VIA station in Windsor and the Detroit Amtrak station.

The service may begin by late 2017. The Michigan advocates hope that if the bus connection proves successful that it might provide an impetus for resuming rail service between Detroit and Windsor.

Downtown Station Site Favored in Buffalo

April 24, 2017

The committee studying sites for a new Amtrak station in Buffalo, New York, has recommended building the station downtown rather than renovating Buffalo Central Terminal.

The exact site will be chosen by the New York Department of Transportation, although it is expected to be along Exchange Street.

The new station is expected to cost at least $35 million, of which the state is contributing $25 million.

Currently, Buffalo is served by two stations, one at Exchange Street and the other in suburban Depew.

Exchange Street serves all trains passing through Buffalo except the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited.

Eleven of the 17 members of the station site committee favored a downtown location while four voted against downtown. One member abstained.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz voted against the downtown recommendation because he opposed the “arbitrary timeline” given the committee to make a decision this month.

“Not all the issues were taken into account,” Poloncarz said. “The process was flawed but not rigged. And, no, this is not the death knell for the [Buffalo] Central Terminal.”

But Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown defended the timeline. “The governor clearly wants it to be a fast-track process, and I think the same kind of time constraints we had as a committee will be placed on the Department of Transportation,” said Brown, who voted for a downtown location.

A downtown location had been favored by WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, an engineering consulting firm hired by the state.

Howard Zemsky, a Buffalo businessman and head of Empire State Development, the state’s development arm, voted for downtown.

“This is really a transportation decision first and foremost, and from that standpoint downtown is a clear winner,” he said.

Zemsky said it was not a case of either or in terms of development of the long-dormant Central Terminal.

The Amtrak representative on the committee favored a downtown location. CSX, which owns the tracks in the vicinity of Central Terminal, said it doesn’t want passenger trains at Central Terminal because that might interfere with a nearby freight yard.

Intercity bus companies also favored a downtown site because they fear that clearance issues could prevent them from serving Central Terminal.

Also working against Central Terminal was the estimated $68 million to $149 million cost of renovating the structure. A downtown location is estimated to cost between $33 million and $86 million.

The Buffalo congressman who had championed Central Terminal was disappointed at the committee’s decision.

“This is a generational opportunity lost, said Brian Higgins said. “Obviously, the Central Terminal was not going to win out in an apples-to-apples cost comparison. It’s the vision you have for the property and what you do with the opportunity.”

Higgins said the downtown location will preclude passengers being able to board there if they are bound for Cleveland or Chicago.

He noted that Amtrak opposes having the Lake Shore Limited backing up for more than a mile to serve downtown Buffalo.

Higgins vowed to work to funnel state and federal funding toward development of Central Terminal.

State Sen. Tim Kennedy supported the Central Terminal and believes that although it lost out in the vote to become an Amtrak station there remains hope that the iconic structure will have a new life.

“There has been more attention paid to the Central Terminal than probably in the last 50 years,” Kennedy said. “I think this is going to be at the end of the day a win-win because of the renewed focus on transforming the Central Terminal into a historic building we can all be proud of once again.”

In the meantime, Canadian developer Harry Stinson said he is close to closing on deal to acquire the 523,000-square-foot Central Terminal, which includes a 17-story tower, concourse building, baggage building and ample underground and street-level parking.

“We’re days away from the final version of the agreement,” Stinson said. “It will have to go through a process, but the agreement is essentially done. There is nothing we see as collectively insurmountable.”

Stinson wants to develop the tower into office space, use the concourse for entertainment, dining and special events and transform the baggage building into a hotel.

Eventually, he will develop new housing at the site, which is now considered a brownfield.

Sunset Limited Phoenix Thruway Route Slated

April 24, 2017

Amtrak plans to launch a new Thruway bus service on May 1 that will link the Phoenix metropolitan area with the New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited.

The closest station to Phoenix served by Nos. 1 and 2 is Maricopa, Arizona.

The new Thruway service will be operated by Stagecoach Express and link Maricopa with Tempe, Phoenix Metro Transit Center and Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

The Sunset Limited operates tri-weekly and also stops in Arizona at Tucson, Yuma and Benson.

 

2 To Get Top U.S. DOT Posts

April 24, 2017

James Ray and Michael Britt are expected to be appointed by the Trump administration to new high-level posts within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Other DOT policy-making posts are expected to be realigned.

Ray will become a senior adviser on infrastructure and head a task force to be appointed to oversee the administration’s expected $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

He is currently a principal at KPMG. He previously worked at the Office of Management and Budget, served as acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, and was a general counsel for DOT from 2006 to 2008.

Britt, who has been the chief of staff for Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, will become senior adviser for Federal Aviation Administration modernization.