Archive for October, 2013

Amtrak Long-Distance Trains Manager Named

October 12, 2013

Amtrak has appointed Mark Murphy to be general manager of long distance services. Murphy will be based in Chicago and oversee safety, customer satisfaction, ridership, on-time performance, and financial results for Amtrak’s 15 long-distance trains.

He joined Amtrak in 1976 and was recently the deputy chief mechanical officer of terminal operations in Wilmington, Del.

Among the other positions that Murphy has held are terminal superintendent of the Washington Division, assistant vice president of service operations, superintendent of equipment standards and compliance, and master mechanic of the Central Division.

In his new post, Murphy will supervise the Transportation, Mechanical, and Engineering departments for Amtrak’s long-distance services. New route directors will be responsible for profit and loss, business planning, and decision-making for specific long-distance trains and will report to Murphy.

2 States Still Talking About Amtrak Funding Pacts

October 12, 2013
Passengers board Empire Corridor train No. 288 at Buffalo Depew station on July 31, 2011.

Passengers board Empire Corridor train No. 288 at Buffalo Depew station on July 31, 2011.

With California having reached a funding agreement with Amtrak to share costs of short-distance routes, there are now just two states left that have yet to reach a pact.

Illinois is reported to be close to coming to terms with Amtrak and negotiators are optimistic that an agreement can be reached with Indiana.

In the meantime, more details have been released about the agreement that the New York State Department and Amtrak reached.

The cost sharing agreements are required by the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

New York state will pay about $22 million in federal fiscal year 2014 to cover operating and capital costs associated with the Empire Service trains between New York and Niagara Falls, the Adirondack (New York-Montreal), Maple Leaf (New York-Toronto), and the Ethan Allen (New York-Rutland, Vt.)

Amtrak and New York earlier had reached a separate agreement to share costs with Vermont on the Ethan Allen in which New York will pay 35 percent of the train’s costs. That is an estimated to be about $800,000, in federal fiscal year 2014.

The latest agreement will fund seven daily round trips between New York Penn Station and Albany, two daily round trips between New York and Niagara Falls, and one daily round trip each between New York and Toronto, Montreal, and Rutland.

State funding will pay for operating costs associated with the lines, including fuel and labor costs., and repair and maintenance of Amtrak equipment.

Amtrak and NYSDOT have established a committee to review and approve maintenance costs for the Hudson line between Schenectady and Poughkeepsie. It costs Amtrak about $100 million per year to operate the four routes.

The $22 million state share helps make up the difference between revenues and Amtrak’s operational costs.

New York and Amtrak will establish performance measures for the state-supported trains, including  on-time performance, cleanliness of the trains and Amtrak-operated facilities, and customer service.

Amtrak and NYSDOT will develop performance program standards over the next 90 days, which will include incentives for meeting and exceeding the agreed-upon standards. The first year of the program will be used to create a baseline for future years.

The states of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont will be establishing identical programs.

 

 

Capitol Limited to Host Bike Storage Trial

October 12, 2013
The Capitol Limited, shown at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., in June 2012, will host a trial run of carrying unboxed bicycles.

The Capitol Limited, shown at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., in June 2012, will host a trial run of carrying unboxed bicycles.

The Chicago-Washington, D.C., Capitol Limited is part of an experiment to be conducted on Tuesday, Oct. 15, of carrying unboxed bicycles in the lower level baggage area of a Superliner coach.

During the trail run, a select group of cyclists will travel with their bikes on No. 30 from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., to Rockville, Md., to Washington.

Some other cyclists will be able to try loading and unloading their bikes from the vertically-mounted bicycle holders.

The route of the Capitol Limited on tracks owned by CSX is parallel to bike trail between Pittsburgh and Washington. If the trial is successful, Amtrak might install bike racks in most Superliner baggage holds and allow roll-on bike service on more trains..

East Lansing to Get New Amtrak Station

October 12, 2013

Lansing and East Lansing, Mich., will be getting a new Amtrak station in early 2015.

A new $10.5 million transportation center will be built in East Lansing on a 9-acre site near Harrison and Trowbridge roads.

The current East Lansing Amtrak station, which serves the daily Chicago-Port Huron, Mich., Blue Water,  is expected to be demolished by the end of 2013.

The new transportation center will also serve intercity bus routes as well as local buses of the Capital Area Transportation Authority.

The bulk of the funding for the project is a $6.3 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, a unit of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The project also includes $500,000 matching grants from MDOT and Amtrak.

Planners envision that the new facility will be between 6,000 and 9,000 square feet, with 140 to 150 parking spaces.

The site of the current Amtrak station is owned by Michigan State University, which leases the station to CATA for $1 annually. A 99-year lease was signed in January 2011.

The current station also serves Greyhound and Indian Trails buses. Both companies are expected to serve the new transportation center as is low-fare carrier Megabus.

Michigan Flyer has not decided if it will serve the new transportation. It’s buses currently stop in downtown East Lansing.

Construction of the new transportation center may begin in the spring. Work remains to be done on the new facility’s design.

MSU donated the property for the new transportation center, which was recently appraised at $2.5 million, an in-kind grant match. All but one of the five buildings at the site will be razed.

California Zephyr Resumes Regular Route

October 12, 2013
The inbound California Zephyr glides through Riverside on the center track of the BNSF raceway in suburban Chicago on June 2, 2012.

The inbound California Zephyr glides through Riverside on the central track of the BNSF raceway in suburban Chicago on June 2, 2012.

The California Zephyr will return today to its regular route through the Colorado Rockies after Union Pacific reopened its former Denver & Rio Grande Western main line west of Denver.

The Zephyr had been detouring on UP’s Overland Route through Wyoming after heavy rains and flooding damaged the ex-D&RGW tracks.

UP had been running work trains on a continuous basis to expedite repairs since the line was closed on Sept. 12. Returning to its regular route will restore Amtrak service to Fraser-Winter Park, Granby, Glenwood Springs, and Grand Junction, Colo., and Green River, Helper and Provo, Utah.

The restoration of service took effect with the departures of No. 5 from Chicago and No. 6 from Emeryville, Calif., on Oct. 11. UP is continuing to make repairs to the route and will establish maintenance windows for work to continue .

 

Chicago-St. Louis Track Work to Resume

October 12, 2013
A detouring westbound Texas Eagle passes through Tuscola, Ill., in August 2012.

A detouring westbound Texas Eagle passes through Tuscola, Ill., in August 2012.

The last of three phases to upgrade the Chicago-St. Louis route will get underway later this month, resulting in the route being closed to trains for several days. Affected with be the Lincoln Service and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

The latest work includes the installation of new rail with concrete ties and ballast; upgrades to bridges, culverts, and drainage; signal and wayside equipment installations and upgrades; and grade crossing improvements. Beginning Oct. 16, charter buses will replace for five days Lincoln Service Nos. 300-307 at St. Louis, Alton, Carlinville, Springfield and Lincoln.

On Oct. 21, 22, and 23, Lincoln Service trains will originate and terminate in Springfield with passengers bused to St. Louis, Alton, and Carlinville.

The Texas Eagle will detour between Chicago and St. Louis between Oct. 16-23, with alternate transportation in both directions between Joliet and St. Louis for passengers to and from intermediate points.

Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation expect the improvements will enable Amtrak to operate at speeds up to 110 mph in the future. The current top speed over most of the route is 79 mph.

Since November 2012, trains have been traveling at speeds up to 110 mph on the Dwight- Pontiac segment.

Amtrak Eyes Ending Food & Beverage Losses

October 6, 2013

Amtrak contends that it has a plan to end financial losses on food and beverage service within the next five years, most of which it says are racked up by long-distance trains.

In inflation-adjusted dollars, Amtrak’s projected losses on food and beverage in the current fiscal year – which ended on Oct. 1 – is $74 million, a 30 percent decrease from the $105 million it lost in FY 2006.

Amtrak Inspector General Ted Alves has noted that Amtrak has reduced its food and beverage service losses “over the last several years” by improving management controls.

Amtrak President Joe Boardman echoed that sentiment in a statement released on Friday. “We have made steady and consistent progress, but it is time we commit ourselves to end food and beverage losses once and for all. Our plan will expand initiatives that have worked, add new elements and evolve as updated information and opportunities lead us to better solutions.”

Boardman attributed 99 percent of Amtrak’s food and beverage losses to dining car operations on long-distance trains. Cafe car service, he said, breaks even or covers its costs.

The locus of Amtrak’s plan is a new management structure that will consolidate operations and accountability for food and beverage into a single department.

Amtrak will establish a long-distance services general manager. Route directors will be responsible for profits and losses of specific trains, and will identify opportunities to cut costs and operate more efficiently.

Other steps that Amtrak expects to take include tying dining car staffing to demand, establishing metrics to assess service attendants’ onboard sales performance, taking steps to reduce spoilage, more closely tracking onboard stocking, regularly changing menus, and exploring new price and revenue management options.

One step Amtrak began taking last week involved testing touch-screen tablets in the dining cars of the New York-Miami Silver Meteor. Dining car servers will take passenger orders and print receipts with the tablets.

Next year, Amtrak will implement an electronic point of sale system nationwide that is currently used on Acela Express and California trains

This point of sale system is expected to make checkout and receipt printing in café and lounge cars faster, thus allowing onboard employees to spend more time on sales and customer service. It also is expected to provide real-time inventory status and more flexibility to introduce targeted pricing and discounts, including value and combo meals.

Also in 2014, Amtrak plans to test “cashless” food and beverage sales on certain routes in an effort to reduce transaction times, and cut accounting expenses and the risk of fraud or abuse.

Amtrak said other industries that have pursued similar initiatives have seen increased sales and that the model has been embraced by airline travelers. “I am confidant Amtrak will succeed in this effort just as we have in other areas and across a wide range of financial and operating performance metrics,” Boardman said.

Amtrak believes that eliminating food and beverage would cost it ridership and ticket revenue. Boardman said such losses might increase Amtrak’s need for federal financial support.

New York Reaches Amtrak Funding Pact

October 6, 2013

Illinois, Indiana and California remain the only states that have yet to reach a funding agreement with Amtrak to continue short-distance trains serving those states.

The New York State Department of Transportation announced an agreement on Thursday in which the Empire State will cover will cover most of the operating costs for all Amtrak trains operating in the state except the Lake Shore Limited and Northeast Corridor trains.

New York has long helped fund the New York-Monreal Adirondack and New York-Rutland, Vt.,  Ethan Allen Express. The latter is also supported by the State of Vermont.

New York will pay 35 percent of the costs of the Ethan Allen and pay $22 million to support Amtrak service in fiscal year 2014.

These funds will covers fuel, labor and other operating costs, plus the repair and maintenance of Amtrak’s equipment.

Amtrak and NYSDOT have also formed a committee to study sharing share maintenance costs for the portion of the Empire Corridor between Poughkeepsie and Schenectady, which Amtrak leases from CSX.

Amtrak has said that unless it reaches agreements with those states by Oct. 16, that short-haul services there will be suspended.

Progress Reported in Hoosier State Talks

October 4, 2013

Amtrak and the Indiana Department of Transportation are reportedly making progress in talks to reach a funding agreement to keep the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State in operation.

A spokesman for INDOT told the Associated Press that the sides may reach a short-term agreement to save the train while they continue to work toward a comprehensive funding deal.

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the discussions about a stopgap measure also include local communities.The short-term agreement is expected to last a few months.

“The negotiations are moving forward productively and positively on our side, and I feel that’s the case with the other parties as well, so it’s just a matter of coming to an agreement,” Wingfield said.

He said an agreement is still needed on how much Indiana and the communities along the line would pay to keep the Hoosier State running.

Most of the communities the line serves have said they’re willing to provide financial support, and INDOT’s goal is to boost ridership while aiming to minimize state support for the line, Wingfield said

He said a state-funded analysis released last week of Amtrak’s various proposed options for improving the line and increasing its ridership “would form a starting point for longer term discussions” on a comprehensive funding agreement.

The Hoosier State makes a 196-mile trip between Indianapolis and Chicago four days a week on the days the Chicago-Washington Cardinal does not operate.

The train serves Indianapolis, Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer, and Dyer in Indiana. Last year the Hoosier State carried nearly 37,000 passengers.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association plans to rally the train’s supporters next week before a legislative committee meets on Oct. 16 to discuss state funding for the line.

“There’s a pretty comprehensive backing to sustain this train,” said Christian Ficara, the association’s executive director. “These are mayors throughout northwest Indiana, families in those communities, university students at Purdue University and Wabash College, environmental organizations and unions. We want the legislators to know this is something we care about incredibly much.”

Michigan Track Rehabiliation Gets Underway

October 3, 2013

The second of three Michigan Amtrak route track improvement phases for the 2013 construction season began on Sept. 30. Most of the work is being done between Jackson and Battle Creek on Monday through Thursday on the route used  by the Wolverine Service.

Amtrak Nos. 350 and 353, the first morning eastbound and last evening westbound, will terminate and originate in Battle Creek, rather than Pontiac, through Oct. 10.

Displaced passengers will be accommodated aboard chartered buses in both directions between Pontiac and Battle Creek.

By November, more than 30 miles of new track and 130,000 new ties will have been installed on the former Michigan Central line that was most recently owned by Norfolk Southern, but then sold to the State of Michigan.

A goal of the project is to cut the Detroit-Chicago running time by about two hours from the current 6.5 hours. For more information on the project, go to greatlakesrail.org.