The St. Charles Air Line

January 19, 2018

Since March 1972, Amtrak trains going to and from the Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and New Orleans have plied the St. Charles Air Line to gain access to Chicago Union Station.

At some point a train arriving or leaving Union Station must do a backup move to get into or out of the station. All of this adds to the running time and for years there has been talk of creating a more direct connection to the IC mainline and the route into Union Station.

But that has yet to come to fruition so six Amtrak trains a day use the St. Charles Air Line.

In the Illinois Central passenger train days, varnish going to and from the Iowa Division used a portion of the St. Charles Air Line.  Of course, freight trains use the Air Line, too.

Some Chicago officials and land developers would like to see the Air Line abandoned because it traverses territory that in the past decade has seen rapid grown of high-end residential housing. The former site of Central Station has been converted to a housing development.

But for the foreseeable future Amtrak and freight trains will continue to use the Air Line at all hours of the day.

I made the image above from the last car on Amtrak Train No. 393, the Illini, to Carbondale, Illinois, back in June 2010.

In a few minutes No. 393 will round the curve at South Wye Junction and gain the Mainline of Mid America. The train will accelerate as it passes beneath McCormick place and heads southward.

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Pacific Parlor Cars Being Retired

January 19, 2018

Amtrak is retiring the Pacific Parlour Cars that have been a mainstay on the Coast Startlight between Seattle and Los Angeles.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said the former Santa Fe hi-level lounge cars will be retired after Feb. 4.

The nation’s passenger carrier had said earlier that it would remove the cars from service for about a month to repair them.

Amtrak said retirement of the cars is part of “an ongoing effort to modernize equipment.”

An employee bulletin sent this week said the cars would not return to service “due to safety concerns and the rising cost of maintenance.”

The last Pacific Parlour Car to run in revenue service will leave Seattle on Feb. 4. The last northbound car will leave Los Angeles on Feb. 2.

Pacific Parlour Car service began in the middle 1990s to offer lounge space and food service to sleeping car passengers.

The cars were among the last cars still in service built before Amtrak’s 1971 creation.

Retirement of the Pacific Parlor Cars will leave only a small fleet of Heritage dining and baggage cars in active service.

A Pacific Parlour Car has an attendant who serves lunch and dinner in the car by reservation, using a unique menu separate from that served in the adjacent dining car, and provides an afternoon wine and cheese tasting on both days of the Coast Starlight’s daily overnight journey.

Although initially offered as part of the sleeping car fare, since 2015 the wine and cheese tasting has cost $7 per person for wine plus an extra $5 per person for cheese, and has been open also to Business Class passengers.

Amtrak has not determined if it plans to replace Pacific Parlour Car service by another dedicated lounge and food-service car for sleeping car passengers, or whether any other substitute amenity will be offered.

“Customers will still continue to enjoy the spectacular views from other areas of the train, including the Dining Car and the renowned Sightseer Lounge Car,” Amtrak’s Kimberly Woods told Trains magazine.

It is not clear if Amtrak will attempt to sell the retired Pacific Parlour Cars or scrap them.

Those Lost Little Touches

January 18, 2018

There was a time when Amtrak offered a number of small touches for passengers holding sleeping car tickets.

Notice this display inside my room in a Viewliner sleeper on the Lake Shore Limited out of Chicago in June 2010. The car attendant has left a printed greeting with his name.

Another touch was the artificial flowers and the chocolate mint. You could also expect to get a newspaper delivered to your room in the morning and a route schedule to be there as well. Back in the day, as they say, Amtrak even provided route guides.

Now all of these things are gone, victims of cost cutting and changes in service philosophies.

Project Manager Being Sought for Elyria Station Project

January 18, 2018

Commissioners in Lorain County, Ohio, are seeking proposals for a construction manager of the long stalled plan to create a new platform in Elyria for Amtrak passengers.

The platform will be located in the former New York Central passenger station, which serves as a public transportation center for local buses.

County Administrator Jim Cordes expects the proposal will go to bid soon.

“It’s been progressing along fairly slowly, but it’s been progressing,” Cordes said. “We’re at the point now where I’m bringing a project manager to get ready to build something.”

Amtrak currently uses a shelter at 410 East River Street. A modular station at that site was destroyed by fire in 2013.

The existing station also has limited accessibility for those with disabilities and Amtrak must use Track No. 2 of the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern.

The new platform, which is expected to cost between $8 million and $10 million, will feature a bridge spanning the two NS tracks.

It also will include elevators and stairways to provide access to two partially enclosed platforms for passengers.

Lorain County will pay 5 percent to 8 percent of the project cost, with the rest of the money coming from federal, state and Amtrak funding.

Cordes said no start of construction date has yet been set, but expects that to change once the project had been awarded.

He said although work on the project has been slow, it never was in danger of ending. Much of the slow pace was due to reviews of the proposal by the county, NS and Amtrak.

“We’d exchange paperwork, then there’d be tweaks, more paperwork and then more tweaks,” Cordes said. “It was easy to lose focus. It had been a slow project to begin with, and the complicated relationships made it even more so.”

Elyria is service by Amtrak’s Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited and Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited.

San Joaquins Have Modified Schedules in January

January 18, 2018

Amtrak said that BNSF track work will affect San Joaquins trains and thruway buses through Jan. 29.

Southbound trains will run 5 minutes late between Merced and Bakersfield, arriving in Bakersfield 20 minutes later than scheduled.

Northbound trains will operate 10-12 minutes later between Martinez and Emeryville, arriving in Oakland/Sacramento 20 minutes later than scheduled.

Train No. 703 will depart Bakersfield 10 minutes later, arriving in Stockton 20 minutes later than scheduled and Sacramento 30 minutes later than scheduled.

The following buses from Bakersfield will operate 20 minutes later at all stops.

  • Train 702 – Buses, 5402, 5602, 5702, 5802 and 5902
  • Train 704 – Bus 5804
  • Train 710 – Buses 3410, 3510, 5410, 5710, 5810 and 5910
  • Train 712 – Buses 5412, 5612, 5712, 5812 and 5912
  • Train 714 – Buses 3414, 5414, 5614, 5714, 5814 and 5914
  • Train 716 – Bus 5816

The following buses from Hanford will operate 5 minutes later at all stops.

  • Train 710 – Buses 4010 and 6715
  • Train 704 – Buses 4004 and 6703

The following buses from Emeryville will operate 10 minutes later at all stops.

  • Train 711 – Buses 3311 and 6611
  • Train 713 – Bus 6613
  • Train 715 – Bus 6615
  • Train 717 – Bus 6617
  • Train 719 – Bus 6619

The following buses from Martinez will operate 10 minutes later at all stops.

  • Train 715- Buses 6315 and 6515
  • Train 717- Bus 6417

 

Amtrak Chicago Maintenance Worker Killed

January 17, 2018

An Amtrak maintenance worker was killed early Tuesday morning near the service and inspection building in Chicago.

The victim was identified as Martin Rivera, 42, of Chicago. The incident occurred at about 7:15 a.m.

No other injuries of Amtrak workers were reported. The National Transportation Safety Board in investigating the death.

News reports indicated that Rivera was already dead and lying on railroad tracks in the 1400 block of South Lumber Street when paramedics arrived.

Rivera was found lying on the tracks by another Amtrak worker who notified authorities.

MnDOT Still Seeking to Improve Rail Service

January 17, 2018

With high-speed rail now sidetracked, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is moving ahead to study increasing the number of stations served by Amtrak’s Empire Builder between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

MnDOT said that increasing Amtrak service and speeding up the existing service between the city urban areas remains a priority.

“There are slow spots along the corridor that if we put some infrastructure investment in, will allow the trains to go through at faster speeds,” said MnDOT passenger rail director Dan Krom.

“Even with a second train, we’re looking at reducing the travel time and shorter dwell times at the stations [by] addressing some of these choke points along the corridor.”

After being prodded by two Minnesota legislatures earlier this month, MnDOT shelved a study of high-speed rail between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

One component of that study was a second train on the route to supplement the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

State officials had said that the second train had not been expected to launch for another three to four years.

“What we’re really wrapping up is some operational modeling to see how the train fits in with the existing freight system,” Krom said.

Shuttles Begin to Pacific Surfliner Stations

January 17, 2018

Santa Barbara MTD is providing free “last-mile service” from Amtrak stations in Santa Barbara and Goleta to various employers.

The transit agency said the move was in response to a large number of people commuting by rail while Highway 101 is closed due to mudslides.

The shuttle service will operate Monday through Friday until further notice.

The first morning shuttles will hold for the train to arrive. The buses will be marked as “Special Shuttle” and will run on a continuous loop throughout the day.

Virginia Group Calls for Increased Rail Service

January 17, 2018

A Virginia rail passenger advocacy group is seeking to triple the number of trains serving Norfolk, Virginia.

A report released by Virginians for High Speed Rail calls for increasing the number of Amtrak trains departing Norfolk each day from one to 11. Nine of those new frequencies would operate at 90 mph to Washington, which would reduce the current travel time by an hour.

The State of Virginia recently said it plans to fund another roundtrip to Norfolk in 2019 and a third roundtrip in 2022.

The report by the passenger advocacy group said increasing rail service would reduce traffic congestion, cut pollution and grow the economy.

Also in the report is a proposal to instigate rail service to Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg and Radford University in Radford.

In their report, the Virginia group said that before service can be increased scheduling and technology issues must be addressed.

 

Bristol Pushing for Amtrak Feasibility Study

January 17, 2018

City officials in Bristol, Virginia, are seeking proposals from consulting firms to study the potential for Amtrak service.

“We have now moved into an RFP (request for proposals) process, and the RFP process is for an economic feasibility study. And the economic feasibility study will give us data on everything from how it is going to affect traffic patterns to how many cups of coffee are going to be sold downtown. So, this is going to be the tool that we use to keep interest in Amtrak and passenger rail in Bristol,” said Bart Poe, assistant director of community and economic development in the city of 17,000 located on the Virginia-Tennessee border.

Proposals are due by Jan. 23 and city officials hope to have the result of the study by late August. The study will be presented to Amtrak and state officials.

“We know that at this point, we are not high on their list of priorities; there is a lot of stuff in the east that needs to be done, but we hope that this will start moving us up the list of their priorities,” Poe said. “And, the great thing is, if you look at the websites, Amtrak’s website, DRPT, we’re listed there. It shows us, it shows us on the track, so it is not something that we’re just throwing up. This is something that they are aware of and interested in.”

Bristol is not current served by Amtrak and city officials hope that it could be added to a new route to Atlanta.

Fueling their optimism about getting into the Amtrak network has been the success of state-funded services to Lynchburg and Roanoke.

Poe said Lynchburg has surpassed expectations every year since Northeast Regional service began in 2009 and Roanoke has had good ridership numbers since serve began there last October.

“That’s the good thing for us. We’re the next logical step toward Atlanta, so what they want to do is they want to connect the lower states to the upper states with a more direct route,” Poe said, “There was a pretty big lag between Roanoke and Lynchburg, and we hope that ours will be shorter. We anticipate maybe four years. We would like to see and Amtrak train roll in and pick up passengers in four years.”

Poe said the renovated Bristol train station has the space to accommodate Amtrak.