Changing of the Motive Power Liveries

October 19, 2017

It is August 2001 and the eastbound Pennsylvanian is passing through Berea, Ohio, en route to Philadelphia from Chicago.

Although the Phase V livery had been introduced in 1999 on AEM-7 electric motors, it is now migrating to the P42DC fleet.

But Genesis locomotives still wearing the venerable Phase III livery in which they were delivered are still around.

On this day, the Pennsylvanian was modeling two generations of motive power appearances.

P42DC No. 54 will eventually wear the Phase V look and skip Phase IV.

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Ann Arbor Park Commission Favors Putting New Amtrak Station, Parking Garage in Fuller Park

October 19, 2017

An advisory committee has accepted an environmental study favoring building a new Amtrak station in a park in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Despite some opposition, the Park Advisory Commission voted 6-2 in favor of agreeing that the use of Fuller Park for the station would have a minimal impact on the park.

The environmental assessment was conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration and favors putting the station in Fuller Park rather than building along Depot Street.

The commission serves as an advisory body to the Ann Arbor City Council.

The FRA had made a preliminary determination that there would be minimal effect on the park from building an Amtrak station elevated above the railroad tracks and an adjacent parking garage.

The station site would be in the footprint of an existing parking lot in the park along the south side of Fuller Road in front of the University of Michigan hospital.

The city council must now concur that building the station would have a minimal effect on the park.

City officials have said that 3.2 acres (5.4 percent) of Fuller Park would experience permanent impacts from construction associated with the station.

Several members of a grassroots citizens group called Protect A2 Parks argued against the minimal effect designation and in favor of situating the new station along Depot Street, where the current Amtrak station is located.

Protect A2 Parks member Rita Mitchell said a Depot Street site would be more likely to favor improved transit and train travel.

Mitchell also contended that a parking garage in the park would be unsightly.

Citing the parks master plan, Mitchell said there are just 4.53 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents in the central area of the city compared to a rate of 18.52 citywide.

Nancy Shiffler and James D’Amour of the Huron Valley Group of the Sierra Club said using park property for a transportation facility sets a bad precedent.

“Fuller Park is an essential river-valley park providing some of the remaining open viewshed to the valley. There is no way to replace this value,” Shiffler said.

D’Amour, a former city planning commissioner, expressed fear that there could be more proposals to repurpose city parkland. He called for protection of parkland for future generations.

Vince Caruso, another member of Protect A2 Parks, said a station in Fuller Park would be too far away from Ann Arbor’s activity centers.

He said a Depot Street location would be more walkable to downtown. He also said placing the station in Fuller Park would restrict economic development around the station.

“So if we wanted shops — coffee shops, stores, small shops in the vicinity of the station like you normally would see — Fuller doesn’t really allow that,” he said.

Park Commission member Alan Jackson, who voted in favor of the resolution, said he suspects that if the portion of Fuller Park in question was ranked using the city’s parkland acquisition criteria “it would rank exceedingly low and we wouldn’t want to acquire it.”

Commission member David Santacroce, who also favored the resolution, expressed hesitation about second guessing the work of experts who decided that Fuller Park is the best location for the station. He also said the site of the station would still be needed for parking for the park.

Ruth Kraut, who voted against the resolution, retorted she’s not sure it would always have to be a parking lot, saying some have argued the site has been a parking lot for too long and should be transformed into green space.

“I feel there are other alternatives. I’m not convinced this is the best alternative, even if it weren’t parkland,” she said.

Port Huron Wants New or Improved Amtrak Station

October 18, 2017

Port Huron wants a new or renovated Amtrak station and has received a grant to study that prospect.

The Blue Water Area Transportation Commission received the $125,000 that will fund a station site study. Public hearings will be held on Oct. 19 and 26.

It is not clear at this point if a new station would be built at the existing site on 16th Street or elsewhere.

“We’re reaching out to the public to do a couple of things. One, let them know this study is occurring, and two, get their input or feelings on the existing Amtrak station or any potential sites they can think of,” said Dave McElroy, BWAT assistant manager and finance director.

“I think it’s been talked about in the community for a long time. It’s been highlighted in a few community long-range plans. It’s one of the few Amtrak stations that hasn’t been updated in the state.”

Most of the grant funds came from the federal government with the remainder channeled from the Michigan Department of Transportation. The study is expected to be completed next spring.

The primary objective of the study is to identify potential site options and determine what requirements may exist for a new or rehabilitated station.

“There is no predetermined location and it has not been predetermined that an existing station will be replaced,” McElroy said.

Among the complaints that passengers have expressed about the current Port Huron station are parking and security issues, as well as access for those with disabilities.

“I’m not talking about the neighborhood. I’m talking about the lighting, the parking, blind spots, things that make people feel unsafe,” McElroy said. “It’s just the lighting and layout that exists there. If parking’s (an issue) now, and they project ridership to increase, it’s going to be a problem then. But we’ll see when the study comes back.”

Port Huron is the eastern terminus of Amtrak’s Blue Water, which originates in Chicago.

Chicago Suburbs Still Concerned About Hiawatha Expansion

October 18, 2017

Residents in north suburban Chicago are still concerned about a proposal to expand Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service and they aired their grievances during a public hearing held last week.

That meeting was sponsored by the cities of Lake Forest, Glenview, Northbrook, Bannockburn and Deerfield.

Most of those who attended expressed concern about a proposal to add a siding on which freight trains would wait to be passed by Amtrak and Metra commuter trains.

They are worried about matters of noise, pollution and quality of life issues.

In particular, the residents are concerned about idling Canadian Pacific freight locomotives and they thought that those speaking at the meeting were not viewing the situation from the perspective of nearby homeowners.

“They just presented a railroad perspective,” said JoAnn Desmond, president of the Academy Woods Homeowners’ Association. “They didn’t tell us anything about whether it would be safe, or reduce our property value.”

Another homeowner, Greg Billie of Glenview, said the presenters “didn’t address any of the things we came for”

Judy Beck, former president of the Glenview Park District Board, said there was nothing wrong with the presentations, “but they need to balance it out with what the community needs are.”

Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely, who helped organize the hearing, said there has yet to be much discussion of “the underlying issue of freight traffic. And this is an opportunity to learn more about the future of freight traffic.”

Some who attended the hearing cited a March 15 derailment in Lake Forest of tanker cars carrying molten sulfur. None of the derailed cars leaked.

The Federal Railroad Administration is undertaking an environmental impact statement of the proposed Hiawatha expansion and the infrastructure changes is would need. That study is not expected to be completed until early 2018.

Some had the hearing said the panelists failed to explain enough detail about the expansion project.

Northbrook Village Manager Rich Nahrstadt said later that he wasn’t surprised by that.

“When all the city managers got together, we thought we’d try to answer some of the questions that came up about freight during the public hearings,” on the Hiawatha project, he said. “We didn’t plan it to be a replication of the public hearings.”

Panelists did, though, indicate that the proposed siding is needed to avoid rail congestion.

The project also envisions a new overpass over Shermer Road south of Northbrook.

Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum said that early discussions have indicated that freights trains waiting for passenger trains would sit south of Techny Road in an industrial area.

“The answers we’re getting – and this is not confirmed – is that it would actually improve the crossing at Techny (Road) and we would actually have less blockage,” Frum said. “If that’s the case, and it really doesn’t impact Northbrook residents, this is a decision that’s not too hard to make.”

Frum said that the decisions about train operations will be made by the railroads working with federal and state officials.

“Ultimately, freight trains are not going away, despite how much we might wish them to go away,” Frum said. “The thing to do now is to figure out the next step.”

Don’t Look for Amtrak in South Dakota Anytime Soon

October 18, 2017

Just two of the lower 48 states in the continental United States are not served by Amtrak.

Wyoming once hosted three Amtrak routes and sees a periodic detour of the California Zephyr.

But South Dakota has never seen a scheduled Amtrak train and the state had lost intercity rail passenger service before Amtrak began on May 1, 1971.

Officials in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, have discussed bringing Amtrak to their city, but it is not a high priority they say due to the cost.

Sam Trebilock studied bringing Amtrak to Sioux Falls seven year ago. A planner for the city, Trebilcock said he doesn’t know how much it cost to lure the passenger carrier to the state’s largest city, but it would be expensive.

“I think because of the expense of it, it’s something that isn’t on the front burner or anything,” he said.

Much of the expense of bringing in Amtrak involved track renovation. “You can’t just put passenger rails as I understand it onto a freight rail corridor,” he said.

Another hurdle is showing there is a market for the service. “You’d need to be able to show that you’re going to have the ridership it’s going to take to make that work,” Trebilcock said.

Sioux Falls would need to be linked to a destination that would matter to riders, such as Minneapolis or Omaha, Nebraska.

Although transportation officials in Minnesota studied providing Amtrak service to within six miles of Sioux Falls, it was not a high priority.

Rochester Station Cost 49% More Than Expected

October 18, 2017

The newly opened Amtrak station in Rochester, New York, has received high marks, but it also wound up costing 49 percent more than projected.

The new station replaced a modular facility that Amtrak built in the 1970s.

When the project was announced in 2014, the projected cost was put at $29.8 million.

Even that figure was an increase over projections of a few years earlier. Officials said that design changes and delays has increased the sticker price.

But when the station opened more than a week ago, officials said that the station had cost $44.3 million.

In a news release, the New York Department of Transportation said that $20.4 million of the expenses were covered by the federal government, $500,000 by the City of Rochester and $23.4 million by the state.

NYDOT said a number of things led to the increased cost. Those included unexpected costs related to skylights, bridges, soil removal and drainage work.

This included unforeseen problems once workers reached the basement of the former New York Central Railroad station that stood at the site.

Those increased design and construction contract costs from $29.5 million to $34.3 million.

Much of the remaining $10 million in added costs came from track work performed by CSX. This included moving two mainline tracks and building two new tracks for Amtrak’s use.

An open government group said that CSX was paid $8 million for that work.

Rochester is served by four Amtrak Empire Service trains, the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf and the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited.

Buffalo Train Station Makes Endangered List

October 18, 2017

Buffalo’s Central Terminal has made a list of dubious distinction. It has been added to the 2018 World Monuments Watch, a group of international cultural heritage sites facing “daunting threats.”

The former New York Central depot that was used by Amtrak between 1975 and 1979 and for a time in 1971, is No. 22 on the list.

Closed in 1979, the station has undergone some renovation in recent years. However, it was bypassed when Amtrak recently sought a site for a new Buffalo station.

Amtrak has two stations in the  Buffalo region. These include a small and antiquated station at Exchange Street in the city and a station in suburban Depew.

Amtrak Adding Extra Trains for Thanksgiving

October 17, 2017

Amtrak will add eight extra trains in Illinois and 10 in Michigan to handle Thanksgiving travelers.

In a news release, the carrier said it will operate every available passenger car during the holiday period.

On the route between Chicago and St. Louis, train No. 300 from St. Louis will operate 35 minutes earlier than scheduled.

Lincoln Service extra No. 309 will depart Chicago at 10:30 a.m. and make all scheduled intermediate stops en route to Normal, Illinois, where it will arrive at 12:58 p.m.

No. 308 will depart Normal at 1:15 p.m. and make all scheduled stops en route to Chicago, arriving at 3:41 p.m. These schedules are in effect on Nov. 22 and 26.

On the Chicago-Quincy, Illinois, route, Illinois Zephyr No. 383 will operate 31 minutes later than scheduled.

Carl Sandburg extra No. 385 will depart Chicago at 11:30 a.m. and arrive Quincy at 3:53 p.m., making all scheduled intermediate stops.

Extra No. 384 will depart Quincy at 1 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 5:23 p.m. after making all scheduled intermediate stops.

These schedules are in effect on Nov. 22 and 26.

On the Wolverine Service route, Extra No. 356 will depart Chicago on Nov. 22, 25 and 26 at 9:30 a.m., stopping in Michigan at New Buffalo, Niles, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Jackson before arriving in Ann Arbor at 3:10 p.m.

Extra No. 359 will depart Ann Arbor on the same dates at 4:05 p.m. and make the same stops, en route to Chicago, arriving at 7:46 p.m.

On the Pere Marquette route, extra No. 372 will leave Chicago at 10 a.m. and make all stops en route to Holland, arriving at 2:11 p.m. It will depart Holland at 3:10 p.m. and make all scheduled stop en route to a 5:27 p.m. arrival in Chicago.

These schedules are in effect on Nov. 22 and 26.

Reservations will be required between Nov. 21 and 27 for travel aboard the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service.

Amtrak said that in 2016 it carried 760,755 passengers throughout its national network during the Thanksgiving travel period and it expects similar patronage this year.

It plans to assign every available passenger car to its trains during the holiday travel period.

Amtrak Names Griffen to Marketing Post

October 16, 2017

Amtrak has reached into the airline industry for another executive hire.

Griffen

It has named J. Timothy “Tim” Griffin as executive vice president and chief marketing officer, responsible for marketing, passenger experience, Northeast Corridor business development, state supported services business development, long distance services business development, and product support and management.

Griffin held marketing positions at Continental and Northwest Airlines, rising to the post of executive vice president of marketing at Northwest Airlines in 1999.

He has also directed client services at Brierley and Partners, providing loyalty marketing for Hilton, Neiman Marcus, and United Airlines.

Griffin started in the airline industry in 1977 with American Airlines, where he led post-deregulation route and pricing strategies.

He most recently managed a private investment company, consulting in the travel, transportation, and distribution industries.

“Tim brings a deep level of transportation marketing expertise to Amtrak,” said Amtrak co-CEO Richard Anderson in a statement. “Throughout his career, he has repeatedly shown that he knows how to build strong corporate brands that accelerate a company’s growth. At Amtrak, we are looking for Tim to help us identify and win new customers, while continuing to maintain our loyal base of current customers. We are delighted to have him join the company.”

Wisconsin Man Charged With Shooting Amtrak Conductor Deemed by Judge to be Mentally Unfit to Stand Trial

October 14, 2017

A Wisconsin man charged with shooting an Amtrak conductor has been ruled to be mentally unfit to stand trial.

Edward Klein, 79, of West Allis, Wisconsin, stands accused of shooting the conductor in Naperville, Illinois, on May 18.

DuPage County Judge Judge Daniel Guerin this week accepted a doctor’s statement that Klein is suffering from a major neurocognitive disorder, possibly Alzheimer’s disease.

One report said that Klein has an impaired cognition disorder and dementia while a second report said he suffers from a major neuro-cognitive disorder. The reports concluded that neither disorder is likely to be cured by medication.

A physician said in one report Klein is not oriented in time, place or situation and would be unable to recall details in his defense. Judge Guerin set a discharge hearing for Dec. 18.

During the hearing prosecutors said Klein could be acquitted, declared not guilty by reason of insanity, or declared not guilty due to being unable to stand trial.

Klein remains in police custody and the court could decide to have him involuntarily committed to a mental facility for up to two years.

Police have said Klein told them he shot Amtrak conductor Michael Case because he would not allow him to disembark in Naperville from the eastbound Southwest Chief.

Klein was ticketed to travel to Milwaukee via Chicago Union Station.

Case was critically injured when he was shot in the abdomen and hospitalized at Edward Hospital for 10 weeks.

Prosecutors have charged Klein with attempted first-degree murder and several weapons charges.