Archive for November, 2013

NTSB Cites Jumper Wire use in 2012 Derailment

November 29, 2013

The use of a jumper wire that resulted in a false proceed signal is being blamed as the likely cause of the derailment of an Amtrak train last year near Niles, Mich.

The National Transportation Safety Board has ruled that the use of the jumper wire violated Amtrak procedures for overriding signal and train control safety. The NTSB also cited inadequate oversight by Amtrak management to ensure that proper jumper wire safeguards were used.

The accident occurred on Oct. 21, 2012, when Wolverine Service No. 350 en route to Detroit (Pontiac) diverged from the mainline at 61 mph at CP 190 and into the Niles Yard.

The train derailed about 291 feet after leaving the main track and traveled 1,148 additional feet before coming to a stop. The two locomotives, one on each end, and four passenger cars all derailed but remained upright.

The NTSB report said that a track maintenance crew had been operating a tamping machine at the site and after completing its work had contacted the Amtrak train director to seek permission to move the tamper into Niles Yard.

The train director was unable to align switch No. 2 into the yard and sought to contact a signal supervisor about the problem. However, no signal maintainers were available so a signal supervisor traveled to the site.

After arriving at CP 190, the supervisor attempted to correct the problem at the power-operated switch but was unsuccessful. He then entered the signal bungalow and removed two cartridge fuses, opened two terminal nuts on the terminal board, and applied local battery power using two jumper wires.

When the battery power was applied, the local control panel indication lights showed that the switch was aligned and locked normal, but he did not verify the physical position of the switch before applying the jumper wire.

The train director contacted the supervisor and informed him that the switch was now indicating normal on the dispatcher’s display and asked if it was safe for No. 350 to proceed eastward. The supervisor answered in the affirmative.

When the supervisor observed No. 350 approaching entering the yard tracks, he realized what had occurred, removed the jumper wires and reinstalled the cartridge fuses.

He did not notify anyone hat he had used jumper wires just before the derailment and he did not leave the signal bungalow to aid the passengers and crew on the derailed train.

On Oct. 26, 2012, Amtrak issued a safety notice and conducted a system wide safety stand down for signal maintenance personnel. Amtrak managers discussed the circumstances of the Niles derailment and reviewed proper jumper wire procedures at safety meetings throughout the system.

Amtrak also issued a safety bulletin that stated in part that that jumper wires should only be used as a last resort to restore train operations. The procedure requires the train director or operator to be notified in all cases in which any signal system is inoperative and how protection is provided until repairs are made and the jumper wires removed.

Amtrak Eyes New Homes in Detroit Suburbs

November 26, 2013

Amtrak may be moving to the new Troy Transit Center late this year while across town the current Amtrak station in Dearborn may be going to the dogs (and cats).

Troy officials want Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains to use the transit center, which is under construction but nearly finished. But Amtrak won’t commit to that until the city can show that it can buy the land on which the transit center is situated.

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said the transit center can’t be used until Amtrak signs a lease with the city,

The center, located behind a shopping center on the southwest corner of Coolidge and Maple, has been in the works for more than a dozen years.

On Monday night, the Troy City Council approved resolutions to move toward buying the transit center property, including agreeing to use $1.8 million in federal funds to purchase the land.

The city thought it owned the 2.7 acres used by the facility when construction began in late 2012, but an appeals court ruled in May that the developer of the shopping center, Grand/Sakwa Properties, owns the land.

The city is still seeking to appeal that decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The city recently had the transit center land parcel assessed at $550,000, but it may have to pay more than that to acquire the property.

The city’s action is expected to enable Amtrak to sign a lease as the city begins negotiating to buy the transit center property.

Troy has already rejected an unspecified offer from Grand/Sakwa Properties for the property. No city funds would be used to buy the land.

Across Metro Detroit, the Friends For the Dearborn Animal Shelter is looking to use the existing Amtrak station as a new animal shelter.

Dearborn City Council President Tom Tafelski recently asked Mayor Jack O’Reilly to draft a memorandum of understanding that will allow the city-own land on which the Amtrak station sits to be used by the animal shelter. It is located behind the Police Department/19th District Court building on Michigan Avenue.

Amtrak will be moving to an under-construction intermodal facility on Michigan Avenue, west of Evergreen Road, in 2014. That move could come as early as April. Amtrak’s six daily Wolverine Service trains serve Dearborn.

The current shelter, located on Greenfield Road, was built in 1978. The shelter’s 4,000 square feet are too small to accommodate the 2,800 animals that are cared for annually, and it’s difficult for staff and volunteers to operate its small work and storage areas. The building also needs major repairs.

Use of the Amtrak station site as an animal shelter would include “incremental costs” with the existing building and potential environmental costs.

The Friends is hoping to begin construction next June on a 22,000-square-foot facility. It is not clear yet if the existing Amtrak station, which was built in 1978, would become part of the new shelter or razed.

Bridge Opened on St. Louis-Kansas City Route

November 25, 2013

A new bridge on the Union Pacific route that hosts Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner trains opened today at Osage City, Mo.

Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo, along with representatives of the Missouri Department of Transportation, UP, Amtrak and the contractor celebrated the opening of the $28 million 1,200-foot railroad bridge across the Osage River.

The project was finished ahead of schedule and under budget. The bridge ended a single-track bottleneck that had delayed Amtrak trains for years.

With the completion of the bridge, the route of the River Runners is now double-track between St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.

“This new railroad bridge is yet another strategic investment in our rail infrastructure that will allow for higher performing passenger rail—while also laying a foundation to invest in faster, more frequent and even more reliable service, said Szabo. “It also advances the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative – a vision Missouri shares with eight other states to connect the Midwest’s 40 largest cities with high-performance passenger rail.”

The Missouri Department of Transportation had commissioned a study by the University of Missouri to determine where rail line capacity enhancements should be made to improve train velocity. The study helped MoDOT and Union Pacific’s engineering and network planning groups decide where to undertake capacity expansion projects across the 275-mile rail corridor.

According to MoDOT, 90 percent of the Missouri River Runner trains arrived on-time or ahead of schedule in fiscal year 2013. These same passenger trains were operating an average of 64 percent on-time in 2008. Subsequently, ridership has increased for six consecutive years to nearly 200,000 passengers.

MoDOT received a multimillion dollar award under the Recovery Act, which funded a majority of this project. Union Pacific provided the remainder of the project cost. The bridge was constructed by OCCI, Inc., of Fulton, Mo.

Woman Gives Birth Aboard Amtrak Train

November 23, 2013

An Amtrak passenger gave birth to a son as a Missouri River Runner train neared the Warrensburg, Mo., station.

Timothy Ryan Whittington Jr. was born about six weeks early in a restroom aboard Amtrak No. 313 at 8:15 p.m. as the train approached the Warrensburg depot.

Jessika Ross, her boyfriend, Timothy Whittington, and her 2-year-old daughter had boarded the train in St. Louis on the first leg of a return to their home in Marysville, Calif., near Sacramento. Her contractions started about 9 a.m. and continued as she rode the train, Ross said.

Her water broke on her third trip to the bathroom. “I knew the baby was coming,” Ross told a Warrensburg newspaper. “It took six minutes and four pushes” to deliver him, Ross said.

His arrival coincided with the train’s arrival at the depot.

The baby’s due date had been in December.

Ross said another passenger got her boyfriend to come from his seat. Another passenger, nurse, April Eads, “came running up with a brand new blanket.” Eads wrapped and handed the baby to Whittington.

An ambulance and a police officer were at the depot when the train came to a stop. Ross and the baby rode to Western Missouri Medical Center in separate ambulances. Her boyfriend and daughter rode with the police officer to the hospital.

A helicopter ambulance picked up Timothy at the hospital and took him to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

Ross spent the night at Western Missouri Medical Center, which gave her a voucher the next day for a cab ride to Children’s Mercy to be reunited with Timothy.

Her boyfriend and daughter received a voucher for a cab ride back to the depot to continue their trip to California.

After spending two and a half weeks at the Ronald McDonald House, Ross said she expected word soon on whether Timothy could be transported by medical helicopter to California.

“He’s doing really good,” Ross said.

Wi-Fi Coming to Hiawatha Service Trains

November 23, 2013

Wi-Fi is coming to Hiawatha Service trains between Chicago and Milwaukee. Amtrak and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation recently signed an agreement to add Wi-Fi to the route.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that WisDOT will spend $300,000 to cover three-fourths of the cost of adding Wi-Fi to the Hiawatha route..

Spokesman Marc Magliari said Wi-Fi is available to about three-fourths of Amtrak rides in the United States, but only some Chicago-St. Louis trains now have it. Trains between Chicago and Michigan points are scheduled to get Wi-Fi in early 2014.

Magliari said Amtrak’s Wi-Fi provider combines cell-based service from several carriers. It provides general Web browsing but does not allow large downloads or live streaming.

Neither Wis DOT nor Amtrak would say when the service will begin.

Magliari said Amtrak is working with other Midwest states to bring Wi-Fi to the rails and would have details on that sometime after Thanksgiving.

Amtrak expects the Wi-Fi service to increase ridership. Currently, AmtrakConnect Wi-Fi is available primarily aboard trains in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest and in California.

The Wisconsin agreement calls for Amtrak to make Wi-Fi service available in 17 cars used in the Hiawatha  service.

The $400,000 cost will be shared between Wisconsin and Illinois in a 75 to 25 percent ratio. The service is expected to cost $86,500 a year.

Legislation Would Allow Pets to Ride Amtrak

November 23, 2013

If a pet industry group has its way, you may soon be able to take Fido and Fluffy with you on your next trip aboard Amtrak. But your pets will have to buy a ticket.

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council is backing legislation introduced in Congress that would mandate that Amtrak carry pets aboard its trains. The council includes pet food and pet supply manufacturers, veterinarians, and retailers.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-CA, and co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-TN; Rep. Michael Grimm, R-NY; and Rep. John Campbell, R-CA, the Pets on Trains Act of 2013 (H.R. 2066) would require Amtrak to designate a “pet car” on each train that has more than one car

Under the proposed law, a passenger could bring aboard a pet so long as he or she was traveling more than 750 miles, the pets was brought aboard in a crate and that pet kennels are stowed in conformance with Amtrak baggage policies

“The pet industry embraces Pets on Trains legislation because we understand the benefits traveling together has to pet owners, as well as the pets themselves,” says Mike Canning, president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. “Legislation like this also brings together two powerhouse industries as economic generators – and will have a positive effect on the economies of cities along the rail route.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, has introduced a companion bill, S.B. 1710, in the Senate.

New Bridge Eases River Runner Route Congestion

November 23, 2013

A notorious bottleneck that has delayed Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner trains will be mitigated with the opening of a new bridge.

The Union Pacific built the bridge at Osage City, Mo., over the Osage River and opened it this past week.

The bridge on the former Missouri Pacific mainline between St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., had reduced two tracks to one. With the opening of the bridge the route will be all double track the entire length of the River Runner route

The $25 million project involved building a bridge over the River and installing double track on each side of the bridge for 0.5 miles. The new bridge is downstream of the existing crossing at milepost 116.89.
Missouri Department of Transportation officials think the project cost may end up being as much as $4 million under budget.

Funding for the project came from the Federal Railroad Administration’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program.

The bridge had been set to open in December, but was completed ahead of schedule.

Wolverine Way Late Again in Michigan

November 21, 2013

The evening Wolverine to Detroit (Pontiac) stalled for more than five hours in northern Indiana on Wednesday night due to mechanical problems with the locomotive.

Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said the train stopped near Michigan City, Ind., at about 8:30 p.m. and had to wait for a replacement locomotive to be sent from Detroit.

There were 100 passengers aboard train No. 354. The train had power during its wait.

No. 354 finally was able to resume its journey at about 2 a.m.

On Sunday night the same train was delayed for about six hours after the crew discovered a flat spot on a wheel of a coach shortly after the train departed from Chicago.

2 Michigan Trains Had Rough Sunday Night

November 19, 2013

Getting from Chicago to Michigan was complicated on Sunday by bad weather and mechanical problems.

The Grand Rapids-bound Pere Marquette was halted twice Sunday night due to downed trees across its route.

Meanwhile, a Detroit-bound Wolverine Service train made it a short distance into its journey before being halted by a flat spot on a wheel, a delay that ended up lasting six hours.

The Pere Marquette was initially halted near Michigan City, Ind., after it struck a downed tree.

Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said the collision caused an hour-and-a-half delay.

Downed trees then brought the train to a standstill near Holland, Mich., and the 93 passengers were eventually taken by bus to Grand Rapids, arriving about 4:30 a.m. Monday.

The westbound Pere Marquette for Monday morning was annulled and the passengers taken to Chicago by bus.

Kulm said there were many fallen trees on the CSX tracks east of Holland.

Wolverine No. 354 and its 254 passengers didn’t get out of Chicago Union Station Sunday night until 6:30 p.m., a half-hour past its scheduled departure time.

About 10 miles later, the train stopped and the crew found a “flat spot” on the wheel of a coach.

The train returned to Chicago where it sat in the maintenance yards for several hours. During that time, the car with the flat spot was removed from the consist.

At about 12:40 a.m., the train arrived back at Union Station where passengers were given the option to detrain. About an hour later, the train departed for Detroit (Pontiac).

During the delay, the train maintained power and passengers were provided free water and food, Kulm said.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari described a flat spot as a place on the wheel that “stops being round.’’

“It happens from time to time especially this time of year, when leaves and other debris get on the track and the brakes are applied,’ Magliari said. “If there’s too large a flat spot that car can’t continue.’’

Magliari said all passengers were given the option of getting a refund and taking another train, which four people took take advantage of.

Heatland Flyer Carries 1 Millionth Passenger

November 16, 2013

Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer carried its 1 millionth passenger, an 18-year-old college student.

Rooke Jackson, a freshman at Oklahoma State University, was honored along with his father, Wayne J. Jackson, and grandfather, Wayne R. Jackson, at events held in Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas.

Rooke Jackson of Oklahoma City, was nominated by Amtrak train crew members for the honor.

He first encountered the Fort Worth-Oklahoma City train at age 4 when his mother, Elaine, took him to the inaugural event in 1999.

The Jacksons estimate they’ve taken the Heartland Flyer more than 150 times since then, mostly to visit Rooke’s grandfather.

Rooke Jackson said all the trips over these years have given him “a unique perspective” on the train crews and their responsibilities.

The Heartland Flyer route is jointly sponsored by the Oklahoma and Texas transportation departments. It has scheduled stops in Norman, Purcell, Pauls Valley and Ardmore in Oklahoma, as well as in Gainesville, Texas.

Amtrak said a grandmother from Oklahoma City was recognized in 2007 as the 500,000th passenger on the Heartland Flyer, which ranks among the best in the Amtrak network for customer satisfaction.