Heading Out of Big D

December 1, 2020

An Amtrak conductor waits to throw a switch as Amtrak’s Texas Eagle leaves Dallas Union Station.

The conductor will reboard the train after the switch is lined back to it normal position.

The image was made on March 5, 1997. At the time P40 locomotives were fairly new and some F40PH locomotives could still be found in motive power consists.

Gardner to Become Amtrak President Dec. 1

December 1, 2020

Amtrak said on Monday that one of its vice presidents will become its president on Dec. 1.

Stephen Gardner

Stephen Gardner, currently Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief operating and commercial officer, will replace William Flynn.

Flynn, who became Amtrak’s president and CEO in April, will remain with the passenger carrier as CEO and a member of its board of directors.

The promotion of Gardner to president had been widely expected by many rail industry observers.

Railway Age reported that Gardner has been making most of the major decisions and setting policy during his time as an Amtrak senior vice president.

His elevation to the president’s chair coincides with the election of Joseph Biden as president. Gardner, like Biden, is a Democrat.

Earlier in his career, Gardner served in staff positions for Congressional Democrats on Capitol Hill, including Delaware Senator Tom Carper.

He joined Amtrak in 2009 after having helped develop railroad and transportation policy for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Before coming to Washington, Gardner worked for Guilford Rail System (now Pan Am Railways) and the Buckingham Branch Railroad.

Railway Age said Gardner is widely recognized as one of the principal authors of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

The magazine said Gardner was unlikely to become Amtrak’s president so long as Republicans controlled the White House and the Department of Transportation.

In a prepared statement, Amtrak said the change in leadership was “part of a broader set of actions taken . . . to ensure that Amtrak is well positioned for success in fiscal year 2021 and beyond.”

The statement said Gardner will lead day-to-day operations and oversee marketing, operations, planning, government affairs, and corporate communication.

Historically, Amtrak’s president has been its top executive, but during the tenure of the late Joseph Boardman the company added the CEO title to his duties.

Amtrak’s statement said the carrier faces “two urgent challenges in 2021” including weathering the COVID-19 pandemic and bolstering Amtrak’s future.

Amtrak’s presidency has been a revolving door in recent years with no one person holding the position for more than a few years.

Charles “Wick” Moorman, a former CEO of Norfolk Southern, came out of retirement in 2016 to serve as Amtrak president and CEO in what at the time was described as a transitional appointment.

Moorman became co-CEO of Amtrak with Richard Anderson in June 2017, an arrangement that continued through the end of 2017.

Anderson, a former CEO of Delta Air Lines, served as Amtrak’s top executive until being replaced in April 2020 by William Flynn, a former CEO of Atlas Air.

Salt Lake City Station Hours Changed

December 1, 2020

Amtrak has temporarily changed the hours that the waiting room at its station in Salt Lake City are open.

Starting Nov. 30, the station will be open will be open on Sunday mornings for Train 6, between 1 a.m. to train departure time. In a service advisory Amtrak said passengers will not have access to the inside of the station or restrooms when it is closed.

The advisory did not give a reason for the change in hours or indicate how long the change would be in effect.

Salt Lake City is served by Amtrak’s California Zephyr.

Group Seeks Study to Restore Service to Dubuque

December 1, 2020

A group based in Dubuque, Iowa, is hoping to return Amtrak service to their city by piggybacking onto a proposed new service between Chicago and Rockford, Illinois.

Amtrak’s Black Hawk ran between Chicago and Dubuque in the late 1970s and early 1980s before being discontinued in 1981 during a State of Illinois budget crunch.

A committee of Dubuque government and economic officials along with officials in three Illinois counties are undertaking the study.

Their hope is to come up with a proposal that would extend the Rockford service to Dubuque.

The group is seeking a consultant to conduct the study, which is expected to take 14 months.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has been working for the past several years on reviving service to Rockford.

IDOT hired a manager for the project earlier this year. The state allocated $275 million in the fiscal year 2020 budget to pay for planning work for the project.

The Iowa-Illinois group’s study would examine such matters as a route, station locations, infrastructure needs, and costs and revenue potential.

Proposals are expected to be received in December and a contract awarded in January.

CN Signal Work Sends VIA onto Freight-Only Line

December 1, 2020

VIA Rail Canada trains recently operated over a freight-only stretch of track in Ontario, thus giving rare mileage riders some bonus coverage.

VIA normally uses the Canadian National Oakville Subdivision in the Toronto region but it was closed for two days for signal and infrastructure work.

That sent VIA detouring over the Halton Subdivision. Affected were VIA trains Nos. 71, 72, 75, and 7.

The reoute added 30 minutes to their schedules and they were able to continue stopping in Aldershot, Brantford, Ingersoll, Woodstock, London, Glencoe, Chatham, and Windsor.

The 25-mile freight-only segment used by VIA detours was between Silver and Burlington West, 25 miles.

CN rebuilt it in 1964 for use as a cutoff to bypass downtown Toronto and to reroute freight traffic to Toronto’s Macmillan Yard.

Milton, Ontario, in the middle of that freight-only section is served by GO Transit commuter service on CP Rail’s Galt Subdivision but the CN route has never had regular passenger service since the upgrade aside from a few passenger reroutes every few years.

Study Eyes Capacity Expansion in California

December 1, 2020

A study has been released by California’s North County Transit District that sets forth a vision for expansion of passenger and freight rail services along the 351-mile corridor linking San Diego with San Luis Obispo via Los Angles.

Known as the LOSSAN rail corridor, it hosts about $1 billion in freight traffic and more than 8 million Amtrak and commuter rail trains.

The report provides a plan to support “efforts to holistically consolidate freight and passenger rail service needs into one executable operating plan, which also aligns with the goals of the 2018 California State Rail Plan,”

NCTD said it has identified infrastructure improvements needed to increase the corridor’s capacity, including eliminating some single track stretches.

Among the plans are expanding Coaster service to the Downtown San Diego Convention Center; extending service to a new Amtrak maintenance facility in National City; increasing freight services  to five roundtrips per day; and minimizing rail crossing delays by extending signaling and positive train control to improve rail speed and coordination with rail crossing gates. 

NCTD said it will work with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), LOSSAN Corridor AgencyCalifornia State Transportation Agency and other key stakeholders “to identify approximately $380 million to implement the prioritized mid-term improvements, and an additional $700 million to implement all phases of investment over the long-term planning horizon while advancing state and national economic, transportation, and environmental goals.” 

Thanksgiving Travel Relatively Quiet at Amtrak

December 1, 2020

The Thanksgiving 2020 travel period was a relatively quiet one for Amtrak.

In the past the intercity carrier has leased equipment from rail commuter agencies to offer additional service in the Northeast, added additional cars to long-distance trains, and operated extra sections on some Midwest Corridor routes out of Chicago.

But this year it was just business as usual with little additional capacity being added.

A report on the Trains magazine website indicated that the only extra trains added this year were a Boston-Washington Northeast Regional roundtrip and one Acela roundtrip between New York and Washington.

The COVID-19 pandemic depressed holiday travel this year although airlines reported their highest single day loads since the pandemic began in earnest last March.

The Trains report said few trains were sold out this year although some sellouts occurred on corridor and long-distance trains on certain days.

Due to the pandemic Amtrak is limiting coach class travel to 50 percent of capacity.

Amtrak has since October operated nearly all of its long-distance trains three days a week.

That meant that some trains did not operate on days that would ordinarily have a seen a high demand for travel.

On Sunday, which airlines say is historically the busiest travel day of the year, Amtrak had just one long-distance train, the Texas Eagle, departing from Chicago.

Some long-distance trains did experience sell outs, including the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited.

Nos. 29 and 30 in recent months has been operating with just four cars, two coaches, a sleeper and a food service car.

But No. 30 departing Chicago on Saturday (Nov. 28) and Monday (Nov. 30) had no available seats available, the Trains report said.

The report said the Texas Eagle had no available coach seating between Chicago and St. Louis on Friday or Sunday in either direction.

The Trains report said space on many long-distance trains that experienced sell outs sold out weeks in advance of the Thanksgiving travel period.

However, Amtrak declined to add additional capacity to those trains.

With health officials seeking to discourage holiday travel, some long-distance trains experienced cancellations as the holiday period drew near, thus opening seats on the day of departure.

Crossing Over in Alliance

November 27, 2020

Amtrak’s westbound Pennsylvanian is crossing over to the track closest to the boarding platform in Alliance, Ohio.

The image was made on May 16, 1999. The Pennsylvanian no longer operates west of Pittsburgh but Alliance continues to be served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited.

Photograph by Edward Ribinskas

Lincoln Station Temporarily Closed

November 27, 2020

The station waiting room in Lincoln, Illinois, has been temporarily closed.

Amtrak did not say in a service advisory why the station  has closed or when it will reopen.

Passengers will continue to have access to boarding platforms for Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains.

Thruway Service Expands in Oregon

November 27, 2020

Amtrak has begun start selling Interline Thruway Service in Oregon from Eugene to Florence and Eugene to Oakridge.

The buses are operated by Pacific Crest Lines.

Buses 8191, 8192, 8193, 8194, 8195 and 8196 will offer service between Eugene and Oakridge, with an intermediate stop at Westfir.

Buses 8612, 8613, 8614 and 8615 will offer service between Eugene and Florence, with intermediate stops at Veneta, Mapleton and Florence (Three Rivers Casino).