Flying Toward Miami

December 15, 2018

Amtrak’s Silver Meteor is not far out of New York City as it flies through the Newark Liberty International Airport station in May 2016.

The Miami-bound train has a standard consist of Viewliner sleepers and Amfleet II coaches.

On the point is the Northeast Corridor standard ACS-64 Cities Sprinter. It will be removed in Washington for P42DC motive power.

This image was made on a Saturday afternoon and if No. 97 is able to stay on schedule it will arrive in Miami on Sunday evening just after 6:30 p.m.

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Wichita Still Pushing to Get Amtrak Back

December 15, 2018

City officials in Wichita, Kansas, really want Amtrak to come back.

Getting intercity rail passenger service is No. 2 on a list of the city’s transportation priorities for the Kansas legislature this year.

City spokesman Ken Evan said the chances of seeing Amtrak return to the sunflower state’s largest city is 50-50. “We’ve had years where it’s been much lower,” he said.

However, officials in Segwick County are not as enthusiastic. Getting Amtrak back isn’t on their list of transportation priorities.

County Commission Chairman David Dennis is reluctant to support a return of intercity rail service until he can see how much it will cost.

“Until I get the answers to what the cost is and the benefit, I can’t say that I’m supportive or against it,” Dennis said.

The campaign to return Amtrak to Wichita has been a long and fruitless one.

The city was a stop for Amtrak’s Chicago-Houston Lone Star before that train was discontinued in early October 1979 as part of a massive Amtrak restructuring triggered by a desire by Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation to curtail federal funding for Amtrak.

Among the ideas floated for restoring service to Wichita are extending the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Kansas City, Missouri, via Wichita.

There was even some thought given to rerouting the Southwest Chief via Wichita and a more southerly route via Amarillo, Texas.

That idea is unlikely although the Chief’s route through western Kansas, southeastern Colorado and northern New Mexico via Raton Pass is on shaky ground due to Amtrak’s desire to cease operating over it between Dodge City, Kansas, and Albuquerque.

City officials noted federal dollars might be available to fund service via Wichita and state finances are healthier.

More than likely if service to Wichita is to materialize, it would involve extending the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City northward to Kansas City or a connection with the Southwest Chief at Newton, Kansas.

Seeking to push the Segwick County commissions in favor of supporting the return of Amtrak is long-time train advocate Pete Meitzner.

He recently won a seat on the County Commission and takes office in January.

Meitzner said that even though cost estimates have been requested and have yet to be released, he expects the initial outlay to be minimal.

He said federal funds are available for restoring service where it used to exist and he hopes to convince the state to apply. If the state agrees, service to Wichita could be launched in one to two years.

That assumes that the trains would have a top speed of 60 mph instead of 79 mph with the former being the fastest that BNSF allows freight trains to travel on its tracks through Wichita.

It also assumes the service would use equipment now assigned to the Heartland Flyer, which sits overnight in Oklahoma City after arriving from Fort Worth, Texas.

Amtrak operated a demonstration run last year on the route.

How much influence that Meitzner might have on his fellow commissioners remains to be seen.

Commissioner Jim Howell said Meitzner’s presence on the board may lead the county to rethink seeking Amtrak.

“I would not be surprised if we would have new discussions and possibly change our priorities a little bit, and do what we can to chase down our previous comments and straighten things back up again if we have any opportunity to do so,” he said.

Two members of the Kansas legislature also expressed optimism that funding service to Wichita might at least be discussed.

Rep. Dan Hawkins, the new Republican leader in House, and Rep. Tom Sawyer, the Democratic leader, said they’d heard from constituents who want train service in Wichita.

The House Transportation Committee is expected to create a 10-year transportation plan and matching funds for federal funding of Amtrak service might be part of it.

In the meantime, an Amtrak Thruway bus route connects Wichita with the Southwest Chief at Newton.

Last year 4,900 passengers rode the Thruway route that serves Wichita with 1,700 of them boarding there.

The bus originates in Oklahoma City. “We’ve been really happy with it,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Wilmington Station Access Restricted

December 15, 2018

Parking and access to parking at the Wilmington, Delaware, Amtrak station will be restricted during a construction project.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that due to construction on Martin Luther King Boulevard, Front Street will be closed in front of the Wilmington station between French Street and Walnut Street.

The City of Wilmington has closed East Front Street and MLK Boulevard, to expand the street from two lanes to three lanes.

Passengers will need to turn onto French Street to drop off and pick up customers.

The rental car return lot for the station has been relocated to 110 South French Street.

Rental car customers who need to return their rental vehicle will have to access the lot by driving down South French Street and turn left into the rental return lot.

Because parking lots closest to the station are expected to fill early, Amtrak has advised that additional pubic parking is available 24 hours at the DoubleTree Hotel at 700 North King Street and until 7 p.m. at the Wilmington Court House at 500 North King Street.

Passengers are advised to allow additional time to travel to the station during the street construction.

Calif. Congressmen Seek to Save Call Center

December 15, 2018

Thirty-seven California members of Congress have signed a letter asking Amtrak to reconsider closing its reservation call center in Riverside, California.

The center, which employs 500, is scheduled to close in January. Workers have been offered the opportunity to transfer to Amtrak’s only other call center, which is located in Philadelphia.

Rep. Ken Calvert released a separate letter asking Amtrak to delay the closure for at least six months.

His letter said that would provide Congress more time to address the situation as well as give the affected employees time to weigh the relocation offer.

The union representing workers in the Riverside call center has been negotiating with Amtrak over how much in relocation expenses the carrier will pay those agreeing to transfer to Philadelphia.

Amtrak has contended that the volume of calls to its reservation centers has dropped, but some who work in the Riverside office have said Amtrak is diverting some callers to a third-party contractor based in Florida.

Bombardier Miffed About Missing Out on VIA Order

December 15, 2018

A Canadian company is disgruntled about having been passed over for a new equipment order from VIA Rail Canada.

Alain Bellemare, the CEO of Montreal-based Bombardier, said it is “incomprehensible” that there is no requirement for local production to protect Canadian companies and jobs.

“We work in many countries around the world, and all countries require significant local content,” Bellemare said. “We see it in the U.S. It’s difficult to understand that here, we can’t find ways of protecting innovation, technology and jobs that are similar to all the other countries in the world.”

In announcing that it has chosen Siemens to be the builder of 32 new trainsets to be used for corridor service, VIA said on-time delivery was one reason why it bypassed Bombardier.

However, Bellemare said his company can fulfill orders on schedule despite it having missed some deadlines on a Toronto light rail project and delays on a New York subway contract.

“We’ve had a few production problems on some projects, which I began fixing in 2015, and we’re completely fixing them today in 2018,’’ he said. “So for me, this is really not a justification to decide for a C$1 billion project.”

The new equipment being built by Siemens will be assigned to the corridor between Quebec City and Windsor via Toronto.

Report Links Public Transit and Lifestyles

December 15, 2018

The American Public Transportation Association said this week that nearly 80 percent of commuters surveyed view public transit as the “backbone” of a lifestyle that includes current and future modes of transportation and technologies.

The industry group said most commuters consider a range of conveyances as public transportation, including trains, buses, ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, bike/car-share, autonomous vehicles and scooters.

A report issued by APTA said public transportation has been disrupted by new technology, data capabilities and business platforms, according to the report.

“Technological change and generational change will make people more likely to use multitransit options and will allow the transit industry to reach new users,” the report said. “For example, new technologies and travel options are expected to reduce the affinity for car ownership, particularly as younger travelers are more open to using multiple modes to commute.”

Taking aim at critics of public transportation, the report said these changes are unlikely to reduce the need for public transit but instead mean that transit agencies must adapt to become “mobility managers” for commuters.

Managing mobility will be critical for public transit agencies when commuters have the option to take a train, bus, bicycle, autonomous vehicle or any combination of modes to get to their destination, the report states.

“Public transportation can move more people efficiently in less space; as travel options continue to grow, consumers will need a way to make the various travel choices clear and routine; and as consumers recognize growing income inequality and shrinking data privacy, the need to protect the public interest and serve the vulnerable will grow, as well,” the report said.

The survey was used qualitative focus group and a quantitative nationwide survey with a strong focus on millennials. It was conducted by Anazalone Liszt Grove with additional data provided by the National Academy of Sciences and other data sources.

Amtrak Launches Holiday Photo Contest

December 13, 2018

Amtrak is sponsoring a contest for holiday-theme Amtrak photos posted on social media.

The carrier said it will award prizes to the 12 top images.

The contest period for #AmtrakHolidayContest begins Dec. 13 and runs through Dec. 25.

In a news release, Amtrak said its social media team will choose the top photo for each day and contact the winner directly as to what prize the photographer won and how it will be sent.

The prizes include six Dunkin’ gift cards valued at $100 each and six Amtrak “swag bags.”

Contestants can post as many images as they wish, but only win once. The images must be posted on the contestant’s personal Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.

Judges will evaluate submissions based on the inclusion of Amtrak elements (train, station, logo, etc.) and reference to the holiday and/or winter season.

Amtrak said that although creativity is encouraged in the photos, the picture quality does not need to be at a professional level to win.

Applications will only be accepted via social media that use the required hashtag #AmtrakHolidayContest

Photo entries must be posted one time and posting a photo on multiple platforms will not be considered as more than one Entry or increase chances of winning.

Each entry must not have won previous awards and may not have been published previously.

All Entry posts or newsfeed need to be set to “public,” as applicable, so it can be seen by the Amtrak judges.

Group entries will not be accepted. Contestants must be a legal resident of the 48 contiguous United States and the District of Columbia, and least 18 years old. Other terms and conditions apply.

“With our #AmtrakHolidayContest, we know we can bring that holiday magic to train travel with inspirational pictures from our customers,” said Amtrak Chief Marketing Officer Tim Griffin in a statement. “The holiday season is Amtrak’s busiest time, and whether you are traveling for business or leisure, your journey can best be summarized by a picture, and that’s what we are hoping to see through this contest.”

Philly Solari Board Might Stay in Some Form

December 13, 2018

The Solari train information board at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia might be staying after all, a Pennsylvanian congressman said.

U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pennsylvania) said he spoke with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson in a plea to save the 1970s era relic that Amtrak has said it plans to replace with a computerized state-of-the-art system.

Boyle said Anderson was receptive to the idea of keeping the Solari board at the station in some form.

Earlier news reports indicated the board would be given to a museum.

According to Boyle, Anderson suggested that the passenger carrier could either refurbish the board or replace it with a new model integrated into Amtrak’s computer network.

Some in Philadelphia have protested the pending removal of the Solari board, having grown accustomed to its whirling and clacking as it updates train information.

In late November Amtrak had issued a news release saying it planned to replace the Solari board, which is the last of its kind still in use in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

However, Boyle said Amtrak hasn’t yet solicited bids from suppliers for the Solari’s replacement.

Boyle suggested that a newer model Solari-like information board might be acquired by Amtrak for use at 30th Street Station.

In announcing that the Solari board would be replaced, Amtrak said the Italian manufacturer of the board no longer makes replacement parts for it.

IDOT Survey to Ask About Amtrak Service

December 13, 2018

The Illinois Department of Transportation is conducting an online survey that will seek public views on various topics, including Amtrak service in the state.

IDOT funds Amtrak corridor trains linking Chicago with Milwaukee, St. Louis and the Illinois cities of Quincy and Carbondale.

Responses to the Illinois Traveler Opinion Survey are being accepted through Dec. 31 at http://www.idot.illinois.gov.

The survey is being conducted in a partnership with the University of Illinois Springfield and covered such other areas as road conditions, ice-and-snow removal, commuting habits and driving behaviors.

The survey has been conducted annually since 2001. A copy of the 2017 survey and results, along with data collected from past years, can be viewed at bit.ly/2Uu4DnF.

VIA Awards Contract for New Train Sets

December 13, 2018

Artists drawing of the new equipment being ordered from Siemens by VIA Rail Canada.

VIA Rail Canada has awarded a C$989 million ($741 million) contract to Siemens Canada to build 32 intercity train sets for use in the Quebec City–Toronto–Windsor corridor.

The new single-level equipment is expected to begin revenue service in 2022. It will be pulled by a locomotive based on the design of the Charger locomotives used by Amtrak.

VIA said in a news release that the new equipment will significantly increasing capacity to 9,100 seats.

VIA bases in Montreal and Toronto will maintain the equipment with support from Siemens under a 15-year Technical Services and Spares Supply Agreement.

The equipment will have LED lighting, USB ports, wide seats, quiet zones, bicycle storage racks, and flexible luggage space.

The fleet will exceed current accessibility standards for passengers with reduced mobility, including Braille seat numbering, companion seating, at-seat emergency call buttons, accessible toilets, and an integrated mobility device lift.

Siemens won the contract over bids submitted by Bombardier, Stadler and Talgo.