Saturday Memory: Going for a Train Ride

June 25, 2022

Amtrak’s southbound Shawnee is arriving in the station at Rantoul, Illinois, in May 1972. Waiting on the platform appears to be a group of school children who probably are going for a train ride to Champaign, the next stop down the line. It won’t be a long ride as the distance from Rantoul to Champaign is just 14 miles.

No. 391 is being pulled by two former Illinois Central E units, which was not a rare occurrence during Amtrak’s first couple of years. But soon the IC units will give way to locomotives brought in from other railroads. Amtrak leased a few IC units and repainted many of them into its own colors even as it retained the IC roster numbers.

Note that none of the passenger cars are in IC passenger colors. Had this image been made in May 1971 all of the equipment would have been IC varnish. But starting in summer 1971 cars from other carriers came to the Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans trains.

Also note the train order semaphore signal and the train order stand. Much has changed since this image was made. The train order signal and stand are long gone. The IC passenger station is now privately owned. Amtrak has a shelter and boarding platform on the north end of the station property.

The Shawnee name has been retired with the Chicago-Carbondale trains operating as the Saluki and Illini.

I wonder if school groups still ride from Rantoul to Champaign so children can get a train ride. The IC used to promote that, but I’m not sure that Amtrak does or even ever did.

Maple Leaf to Resume Operating to Toronto

June 25, 2022

Amtrak said on Friday that its Maple Leaf train will resume operating between New York and Toronto on June 27.

The train has been operating only between New York and Niagara Falls, New York, since March 2020 due to restrictions on international travel imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers crossing the border will need to follow standard entry documentation requirements as well as fulfill additional requirements imposed by the governments of the United States and Canada.

Passengers traveling to the United States who are not U.S. citizens must be fully vaccinated with a U.S. FDA or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine.

Passengers traveling into Canada must use the ArriveCAN app before travel and wear a facial mask while aboard the train traveling within Canada and in Canadian railroad stations.

Non-Canadian citizens must be fully vaccinated and carry the vaccination record that was uploaded into ArriveCAN.

Required documents include the following as well as copy of an ArriveCAN receipt: Passports and travel documents; visas required by foreign nationals to enter Canada; valid permanent resident cards; travel documents issued to permanent residents abroad to facilitate their return to Canada; single journey travel documents issued to refugees selected abroad for resettlement in Canada; travel documents issued by Canada to persons on whom the Government of Canada has conferred protection as refugees or protected persons.

The service advisory noted that minor children are subject to the same travel document and visa requirements as adults.

More information about the ArriveCan program is available at the website of VIA Rail Canada at

www.canada.ca/arrivecan.

VIA operates the Maple Leaf between Toronto and Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Amtrak to Boost Norfolk, Newport News Service

June 25, 2022

Amtrak plans to launch a third roundtrip between Washington and Norfolk, Virginia, on July 11.

The new train will depart Norfolk in early afternoon and supplement existing service that departs there in early and mid morning.

On the same day Amtrak plans to restore the second Washington-Newport News, Virginia, roundtrip and add a second roundtrip between Washington and Roanoke, Virginia.

All of these trains operate under the Northeast Regional brand.

Events Affect Thruway Service in Truckee

June 25, 2022

Amtrak Thruway buses will detour in Truckee, California, through Aug. 11 on Thursdays due to the city’s Truckee Thursdays event that will result in road closures. The detours also will be in effect on July 4 due to a parade.

An alternative stop for Thruway buses has been established two blocks east of the Amtrak station.

The road closures include Donner Pass Road from Spring Street to Bridge and Church streets between 2:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Thursdays.

Interstate buses will take the I-80 exits east of downtown and the depot. Westbound traffic should use Exit 188 and Eastbound should use Exit 188A and proceed to Truckee Way, making a left onto Donner Pass Road for the temporary bus stop for drop off and pick up of passengers.

The same detour will be in effect on July 4 between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. during the Independence Day parade.

Shuttle Links Providence Amtrak Station With Ferry Terminal to Newport, Rhode Island

June 25, 2022

Amtrak said that between June 17 and Oct. 10 SeaStreak Transportation will offer transportation between the Amtrak station in Providence with a ferry service to Newport, Rhode Island.

The service provides free shuttle bus service between the Providence station and the Providence Ferry terminal which which boats to Newport arrive and depart.

There is free parking at the Providence ferry terminal. The shuttle bus service will also stop at the Providence convention center and downtown area.

Penn Station Design Contract Awarded

June 25, 2022

A contract to perform a preliminary design for the expansion of New York Penn Station has been awarded to engineering, design and consulting firm Arup, Amtrak said this week.

News reports indicated that the options to be reviewed include a track-level addition north and south of the existing station; a deep cavern station underneath the existing station, and an option to run through trains between commuter operators where technology allows it.

Arup will create concepts that are part of a federal environmental review for the project.

The design work is expected to take two years to complete and cost $73 million.

Amtrak is working with New Jersey Transit and New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority on the project, which is part of the Gateway project that will increase track capacity into Penn Station from the west.

4 Charged in Amtrak Health Care Fraud Scheme

June 25, 2022

Four people have been charged with health-care fraud that led Amtrak to paying at least $9 million in medical care claims.

The chargers were announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.

Arrested and charged were Muhammad Mirza, 50, Cedar Grove, New Jersey;  Devon Burt, 49, Blue Bell, Pennsylvania; Hallum Gelzer, 43, East Orange, New Jersey; and Punson Figueroa, 55, Long Island City, New York.

If convicted the defendants could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense, whichever is greater.

The prosecutor’s announcement said the defendants allegedly participated in a scheme in which they bribed Amtrak employees to allow people to submit fraudulent claims to the Amtrak health insurance plan.

They then received payments from the passenger carrier’s health care plan for services that were never provided or were medically unnecessary.

Some defendants were said to have received cash for allowing providers to use their personal and insurance information to submit fraudulent claims, and for recruiting others to take part in the scheme.

Officials said the investigation into the scheme involved Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations, the U.S Postal Inspection Service, and the Amtrak Police Department.

Coming and Going at Bort Road

June 24, 2022

It’s a pleasant morning at Bort Road near North East, Pennsylvania, where an ancient wood one-lane bridge spans the double-track mainline of the CSX Erie West Subdivision. Back in the day these were New York Central tracks and hosted the Great Steel Fleet between Chicago and New York.

But all of that is a distant memory and the lone passenger train to pass this way now is Amtrak’s Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited. The NYC once had a Lake Shore Limited, too, but it was far from the echelon of the Twentieth Century Limited or even the New England States.

Amtrak Nos. 48/448 are pretty much on time on this Sept. 29, 2013, date. The sound of a train crew member calling signal indications on the radio and a headlight in the distance provide notice that it is train time.

Just as soon as it came the Lake Shore Limited also is gone. Note that in 2013 heritage baggage cars were still regulars on this train. Otherwise, the consist was the same as it is today, a mixture of Amfleet and Viewliner equipment.

Amtrak Finalizes Charger Order

June 24, 2022

Amtrak said on Thursday it expects to place in service by 2029 another 50 ALC-42 locomotives that it has ordered from Siemens Mobility.

The passenger carrier had said in February it planned to buy the additional Charger locomotives, but this week’s announcement indicated that terms of the purchase have now been completed.

A handful of the 4,200-horsepower locomotives have begun revenue service on the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder with additional Chargers slated to soon begin pulling the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans.

In all Amtrak plans to buy 125 ALC-42 units to be used on long-distance routes and select corridor routes in the national network.

The Chargers are replacements for aging General Electric-built P42DC and P40 locomotives that began operating in the 1990s.

The ALC-42 locomotives are similar to SC-44 locomotives built by Siemens that now pull corridor trains in the Midwest, California and Pacific Northwest.

Amtrak’s first order of 75 ALC-42 locomotives was announced in 2018. That order plus the supplemental Chargers it now has on order are expected to cost $2 billion for the locomotives and a maintenance support program.

The new Chargers are Tier 4 compliant and will be built in Sacramento, California.

Harris Promoted to President by Amtrak

June 24, 2022

Amtrak is promoting Roger Harris to the position of president with current president Stephen Gardner focusing on being the railroad’s chief executive officer.

Harris is currently serving as Amtrak’s chief commercial officer, a position he has held since April 2019.

In his new role, Harris will report to Gardner who became CEO last January following the retirement of William Flynn. Gardner was named president of Amtrak in November 2020.

As president Harris will lead coordination of operations, marketing, customer service, network planning, and other functions.

Splitting the CEO and president positions is not uncommon at Amtrak. The president of Amtrak was the passenger carrier’s highest executive position until the CEO post was created during the Joseph Boardman administration (2008-2016).

Amtrak also announced that effective July 5 Gerhard (Gery) Williams will become executive vice president, service delivery and operations.

He will report to Harris and a new chief commercial officer when one is hired.

Williams succeeds Scot Naparstek, who is retiring after 10 years with Amtrak, including five in his current role where he supervised such safety programs as the implementation of positive train control.

Williams has served as senior vice president, service delivery and operations, since January. He joined Amtrak in 2017 as vice president and chief engineer.