Legacy of the Broadway Limited

May 22, 2018

All of America’s premier passenger trains had dining cars, but only the most elite trains had twin-unit diners in which one of the cars contained the kitchen and the other a dining room.

Twin-unit diners operated on the New York Central’s Twentieth Century Limited and the Pennsylvania’s Broadway Limited for many years.

Amtrak had four sets of twin-unit diners, all of them built in 1949 by Budd for the Pennsy.

These cars were assigned to the Broadway Limited in the early to mid 1970s.

One set of those diners now resides at the Midwest Railway Preservation Society in Cleveland.

It is former PRR 4610-4611, which carried Amtrak roster numbers 8800-8801.

The cars still wear Amtrak’s Phase I livery but the effects of wear and tear from sitting in the elements over the years has taken a toll.

A PC herald is bleeding through the Amtrak red, white and blue paint on one end of the cars.

This twin-unit diner set was retired by Amtrak in October 1983. Presumably it was stored for several years before that.

Like so many pieces of equipment sitting outside the MRPS roundhouse the fate of these twin-unit diners is uncertain.

Presumably they will be at least cosmetically restored some day when money for that becomes available.

That day may be a long time in coming, but in the meantime they serve as reminders of what once was in another time and era that increasingly seems like a lifetime ago.

Advertisements

Senators Plead to Keep Ticket Offices

May 22, 2018

Two U.S. senators are seeking to get Amtrak to delay plans to close ticket offices in their states.

Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) wrote to the passenger carrier to express “serious concerns” about the criteria Amtrak used to determine which ticket offices to close.

In a letter to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, Manchin said removing the ticket agent from Charleston on June 6 “will not only deprive the state of West Virginia of its last Amtrak ticket agent, but will also compromise safety and upkeep of the facility, and make access more difficult for potential customers.”

Manchin said that Charleston handled 9,749 passengers in federal fiscal year 2017, which works out to more than 62 passengers per day for each day that the tri-weekly Cardinal operates there.

He said Amtrak’s decision to calculate ridership on a weekly basis ignores the fact that the Cardinal does not operate daily. “The policy penalizes Charleston’s station for part-time service without allowing it to be a full-time station.”

Manchin also said 30 percent of West Virginia lacks Internet access and that mobile broadband access is limited in many parts of the state.

Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) sought to keep the ticket offices in Havre and Shelby open during a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

He also called on Amtrak to create a station stop in Culbertson.

“The Empire Builder is critically important to keeping our rural communities connected, transporting out-of-state visitors to some of Montana’s pristine landscapes and supporting local economies,” Daines said. “Amtrak must take action to ensure the needs of Montanans and rural travelers are met.”

Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer of Amtrak, said during the hearing the carrier is supportive of adding a stop at Culbertson once station infrastructure is in place.

Amtrak Moves Trigger Anxiety on SW Chief Route

May 22, 2018

Some recent actions by Amtrak have triggered anxiety along the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

Some fear that Amtrak is seeking to discontinue the Chicago-Los Angeles train.

The Pueblo Chieftan published a recent story that raised the prospect that a hoped-for section or reroute of the Chief to serve Pueblo will fall by the wayside due to changes in Amtrak policy.

La Junta, Colorado, city manager Rick Klein said Amtrak’s plans to close ticket offices along the train’s route has alarmed him.

La Junta is one of those stations losing its ticket agent along with Garden City and Topeka, Kansas, and Fort Madison, Iowa.

“We’ve been working to save the [Southwest Chief] for seven years, and now Amtrak is going in a different direction,” he said. “The Southwest Chief is vital across this region and northern New Mexico.”

Further causing anxiety was a letter sent to public officials along the route of the Chief stating Amtrak will not provide matching funds for a federal grant obtained by Colfax County, New Mexico, until a comprehensive plan is in place to fund the completion of the rebuilding of the train’s route.

Amtrak had earlier said it would provide $3 million for the track rehabilitation in northern New Mexico.

The letter renouncing the funds said the Southwest Chief only carried 364,000 passengers and ridership is declining.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace has led the efforts to extend the Chief to Pueblo and has been involved in the efforts to gain federal, state and local grant money to rebuild the route of Nos. 3 and 4 in western Kansas, southeast Colorado and northern New Mexico.

The chairman of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Rail Commission believes that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson is hostile toward the Chief.

“It’s my understanding this change in direction is coming from Anderson,” Pace said. “Communities in Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico have secured $71 million in rail upgrades over the past four years along the route of the Chief, and now Amtrak is threatening to withhold its contribution. It’s one individual stepping in to unravel all this work.”

Amtrak declined to comment to the newspaper about the issue.

Former Amtrak President Joesph Boardman has asserted that Amtrak is seeking to torpedo the Chief and long-distance trains generally in favor of short-haul corridors, including the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

Writing in the trade publication Railway Age, Boardman contended that the battle for the future of long-distance passenger train is occurring in private and that the Southwest Chief will be the first western train to be targeted.

Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico lawmakers have been supporting the cooperative effort to protect and repair the Southwest Chief’s route across their states.

During a recent committee hearing, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner pressed Joseph Gruters, a nominee of President Donald Trump to the Amtrak board of directors, on Amtrak’s commitment to the matching grant toward rebuilding the Chief’s route.

“That grant was awarded and the announcement was made,” Gardner said during the hearing. “Colorado, Kansas and New Medico have made significant commitments to this. Do you believe in keeping that commitment?”

“If (Amtrak) made the commitment, they should do that,” Gruters said in response.

Amtrak Expects Large Memorial Day Ridership

May 22, 2018

Amtrak is projecting that it will carry more than more than 320,000 passengers during the Memorial Day weekend, which is considered the traditional start of the summer travel season.

In a news release, the carrier said it expects heavy ridership during the summer months due to a spike in gasoline prices.

The news release touted Amtrak has a way to explore a new city, catch a baseball game, experience a summer musical festival or make your way to the beach.

CN Track Work to Affect CONO

May 22, 2018

Track work being performed by Canadian National on the southern end of its route will affect operations of Amtrak’s southbound City of New Orleans between May 29 and July 11.

No. 59 will depart Chicago as scheduled at 8:05 p.m. and operate normally between Chicago and Jackson, Mississippi.

The train will depart from all stations from Jackson to New Orleans, two hours later than the current schedule, Monday through Friday.

However, No. 59 will operate on its normal schedule between Jackson and New Orleans on Saturdays and Sundays.

It will also operate on the normal schedule between Chicago and New Orleans for the Independence Day holiday period on July 2.

Track Work to Disrupt Coast Starlight

May 22, 2018

Union Pacific track work will disrupt the operations of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight late this month and early next month in Oregon.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that on May 28 and 29 and on June 5, Train No. 11 will terminate at Eugene. Buses will transport passengers between Eugene and Klamath Falls, stopping at Chemult.

The train may be delayed between 30 and 60 minutes departing Klamath Falls.

On the same dates, Train No. 14 will terminate at Klamath Falls with buses operating between Klamath Falls and Eugene, stopping at Chemult.

A connection to Train No. 28, the eastbound Empire Builder, at Portland will be made via Bus 5528 at Eugene.

On the days of service disruptions, Train No. 14 may be delayed between 6 and 7 hours.

On June 5, Train No. 14 will not depart Klamath Falls until 10:45 a.m.

Virginia Wants More Service to Richmond

May 22, 2018

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation wants to see additional Amtrak service between Washington and Richmond, Virginia.

To provide that service, the agency said that two new tracks need to be constructed between Washington and Arlington, Virginia, after separate plans for an expanded Long Bridge are completed.

The Federal Railroad Administration and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation are expected to recommended a design and layout for the project later this year.

The recommendation for increased service to Richmond, which would also include an increase in service provided by Virginia Railway Express, was presented to  a Commonwealth Transportation Board subcommittee.

Good Morning, Fargo

May 21, 2018

It was still dark outside as I awakened in my Superliner roomette aboard Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder.

The train had stopped and I pulled back the curtains to see where we were.

The sun was just starting to climb over the horizon as No. 7 paused at the former Great Northern passenger station in Fargo, North Dakota.

From what I could tell the depot is now in part a bicycle shop.

The dawn of a new day also brought a certain amount of anticipation. By the time the sun set we would be in the Rocky Mountains in Montana.

It sort of worked out that way. Because we were running behind schedule, we didn’t make it into the Rockies until after dark.

Most of the day would be spent in Big Sky country, which in its own way is dramatic enough.

But for the next few hours I would be witnessing the North Dakota countryside.

Amtrak Committed to Long-Distance Trains For Now, But Not Necessarily Forever

May 21, 2018

Amtrak has indicated to lawmakers and the Rail Passengers Association that it is not planning additional actions that would have the effect of changing its long-distance routes in ways to favor shorter distance travel.

Writing on the RPA website, RPA President Jim Mathews said that “Amtrak is taking steps to commit publicly to a robust nationwide rail service with a national footprint.”

He said those assurances have been made by the passenger carrier in conversations with the RPA and congressional staff, and during congressional testimony.

Matthews cited the example of reports that the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder would be made into a tri-weekly train as part of a strategy to focus on short-haul corridors.

Many passenger advocates have been alarmed by some recent Amtrak changes, including removing full-serving dining service with fresh meals prepared on board from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited effective June 1.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during an April 19 California Rail Summit that the future of Amtrak lies with 300- to 400- or 500-mile corridors.

RPA has also learned that Amtrak management has begun discussing the long-term future of the carrier’s long-distance routes and that some Amtrak executives are discussing the possibility of allocating more resources to short-distance state corridors. It is not clear how far those discussions have advanced.

Matthews said Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) asked Amtrak Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner point-blank whether there were plans to reduce the Builde.

“We do not plan to institute tri-weekly service on the Empire Builder,” Gardner replied during a committee hearing on May 16. “Obviously we’re operating under the FAST Act authorization in which Congress authorized our network, any conversations about the broad future of our network is best placed in our authorization context as we approach our next authorization. Amtrak is operating all of our long distance routes, we intend to do that and we will consider any future changes collectively between the Congress, the Administration, and Amtrak as we look at the network ahead.”

Matthews noted that he visited with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia earlier this year and received similar assurances.

Coscia said during that meeting that Amtrak has a “mission” beyond the balance sheet, and pledged that top management is “committed to the mission.”

He also said that Amtrak has a responsibility as a recipient of federal funds to make sure that its long-range plans serve the maximum number of Americans possible, especially those who need mobility and have fewer options such as the elderly, the disabled and rural residents.

However, Coscia said that demographic shifts that are leading more people to live in dense mega-regions may result in a time when the “legacy national network routes no longer meet the mission, but looking at the map today I can’t identify any that don’t.”

Coscia said Amtrak sees “corridors hanging off the legacy national network routes like a necklace.”

He cited as examples such corridors as Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Minneapolis as having strong growth potential.

During his April appearance in California, Anderson said “there is a place for the long-distance, ‘experiential’ train.”

Anderson said Amtrak has “a responsibility to figure out how to keep that experiential piece of the pie in place” while simultaneously “figuring out how we discharge our mission under PRIIA”—the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008—“to serve the short-haul markets.”

Empire Corridor Service Disruptions Set, Trains to Use New York Grand Central Terminal

May 21, 2018

Amtrak has announced its plans to divert most trains using the Empire Corridor between New York and Albany-Rensselaer, New York, to Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

The diversion will last between May 26 and Sept. 3 and result in the New York section of the Lake Shore Limited being terminated at Albany.

Passengers traveling to and from New York on Trains 48 and 49 will make an across the platform transfer at Albany-Rensselaer.

Passengers on No. 48 will transfer at Albany to Train 244 bound Grand Central Terminal.

Passengers originating in New York and ticketed aboard No. 49 will use Trains 291, 255 or 295 from Grand Central Terminal and Albany.

The Lake Shore Limited during the summer will travel between Chicago and Boston.

Train 449 will depart Albany 30 minutes later than scheduled with other minor timing adjustments.

Empire Corridor trains that will service Grand Central include Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Adirondack and Maple Leaf trains.

Trains arriving at and departing from Grand Central Terminal will operate on an adjusted schedule and passengers are urged to contact Amtrak for schedule information.

Amtrak personnel will be available at Grand Central Terminal between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily, to answer questions and provide information. The station also has an information kiosk.

Passengers transferring between New York Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal are being referred to taxi and local transit options. Amtrak is not providing transfer service. The two terminals are located about a mile apart.

Checked baggage service will not be available at Grand Central Terminal.

The service disruptions are being prompted by an infrastructure renewal program at New York Penn Station that also include work on the route leading into the terminal from the Empire Corridor.