Archive for January, 2014

Port Huron Eyes New Amtrak Station

January 30, 2014

Amtrak may be moving to a new station in Port Huron, Mich., the eastern terminal of the state-funded Blue Water.

Local officials are eyeing a new station site in Port Huron Township because the current depot in the city of Port Huron is outdated.

The station was erected in the 1970s and is not in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, said Paul Maxwell, Port Huron Township Downtown Development Authority director.

He said a decision on a new station site will be released within the next 30 days.

Amtrak, the Michigan Department of Transportation, Canadian National Railway, the city of Port Huron and Port Huron Township Downtown Development Authority have begun discussions about a new station site.

“The benefit of moving, in addition to meeting ADA standards, would be a larger parking lot and being adjacent to the Interstate 69 business loop,” Maxwell said.

The proposed new location would be at 24th Street and Michigan Avenue.

“We have many Canadian residents who come across the bridge, park at the station and take the train to their destination,” said Maxwell. “We need to be able to increase our parking capacity to meet the growing demand.”

The new station might also be served by buses.

“We want to make the Port Huron area a destination for visitors,” Maxwell said. “That means we need to provide adequate transportation.”

In the fiscal year 2013, 194,766 passengers rode the Blue Water, an increase over the 187,911 who rode in the previous year. In 2005, the ridership was 155,741.

Of those, 29,461 boarded or got off the train in Port Huron in FY 2013 while in FY 2012 that number was 26,696.

“The train leaves from Port Huron early in the morning and arrives late at night,” Maxwell said. “This prompts people to spend the night in order to be able to catch the train. This allows visitors and those who are passing through to use local hotels and restaurants.”

Marci Fogal, Port Huron Convention and Visitors Bureau president, said that Amtrak allows for Blue Water Area marketing opportunities.

“We have videos playing and visitors guides in every station along our railway connection centers,” she said. “Trains are a very economical way to travel as well. There has been an increase in riders in the past few years.”

If the Amtrak station is moved to Port Huron Township, Lindsay Wallace, St. Clair County transportation planner, hopes it will be a mixed-use development.

“Since the station will be in an industrial area, the same complex could accommodate commercial and manufacturing trains as well,” she said.

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Empire Builder Route Turns Into One-way Street

January 30, 2014

The woes of the Empire Builder have continued, this time resulting in passengers having to take bus to and from the North Dakota stations of Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby. The busing will continue through Sunday.

Passengers in those communities are being bused to meet the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder in Minot.

“The bus will represent Amtrak,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. Amtrak said the buses will be operated by either Triangle Coach Service or Lucky 7 Limo.

Only passengers traveling westbound on the Empire Builder are affected.

The busing was prompted by a decision by BNSF to shift much of its North Dakota traffic to an easterly direction on the route via the affected communities.

Westbound trains are taking the New Rockford line, which runs diagonally between Fargo and Minot, bypassing Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby.

“BNSF service is being impacted by extreme cold and winter weather conditions across the Midwest,” said BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth. “The extreme cold and snow are presenting significant operating challenges for our operations. To recover, we are operating our westbound trains on our route through New Rockford and eastbound traffic through our Devils Lake route. We will continue working with Amtrak as our network recovers.”

She said weather is a short-term factor. However, she did not estimate when the situation might return to normal.

Crude oil shipments from western North Dakota are only one part of the heavier volume, McBeth said.

“The traffic volume increase leader on our railroad in 2013 in terms of new units of traffic was domestic intermodal traffic, not crude oil. Industrial products and automotive traffic were also very robust and a late compressed harvest created a late grain surge. Crude oil makes up about 4 percent of the overall volume hauled by our railroad.”McBeth said

BNSF absorbed 50 percent of all the volume increases in the rail industry last year while also setting a single-year record for capital investment to improve and expand capacity.

“We invested well over $200 million last year in North Dakota alone and plan to make similar aggressive investments this year, that will benefit all traffic in the state,” she said.

BNSF and Amtrak officials discussed the track situation about two weeks ago, according to Magliari, who added that BNSF officials have indicated the track rerouting might continue, at least part of the time, for several weeks or months.

“This is not a development we are happy about, and we are working with BNSF to improve the situation,” he said.

The news came just three days after Devils Lake officials learned the city will lose its only commercial passenger air service at the end of the week.

Amtrak Restores All Canceled Midwest Trains

January 29, 2014

Amtrak announced on Tuesday that it will operate its full schedule of trains to and from Chicago on Wednesday, Jan. 29.
The railroad warned that “residual delays” are possible due to a logjam of freight traffic on various Amtrak routes as the freight railroads also seek to get back to normal.

Amtrak urged passengers to check on the status of their train before traveling.

Passengers who have paid but choose not to travel due to this service disruption can receive a refund or a voucher for future travel. Some reservations booked online can be modified or canceled on Amtrak.com or by using the free Amtrak mobile app.

 

Amtrak Gets New Route Through Galesburg

January 28, 2014

Some Amtrak trains are getting a new route in Galesburg, Ill., as a result of a congestion relief project on the BNSF.

The railroad has opened a third mainline to the south of the two existing mainlines. This allows freight trainss to bypass the Amtrak station.

However,  Amtrak trains to and from Quincy can no longer use the old curvy route into the station because of the new third track.

Therefore, as a part of a rebuilding of the yard in Galesburg  that added three additional mainline holding tracks, a new route was established for Amtrak’s Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr trains.

Trains heading to Quincy from Chicago still stop on track No. 2, then head west and crossover to the new track No. 3.

Shortly after the crossover, the trains take a switch to the south that loops through the old roundhouse area and connects back to the original route south of the Peoria wye. Total new trackage is just over 0.5 miles.

However, work continues on the yard and it appears that there are plans to extend this track further through the yard. A check of Google Maps for Galesburg has it showing the route’s construction last summer, but not the completed track.

Amtrak Cancelations Continue Into Tuesday

January 28, 2014

Amtrak will continue to operate on Tuesday on a reduced schedule in the Midwest. The following Amtrak Chicago Hub Services have been canceled for Tuesday, Jan. 28:

Lincoln Service Trains 300, 301, 306 & 307.  Trains 302, 303, 304 & 305 and Trains 21/321 & 22/322 (Texas Eagle) will maintain service on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor)

Hiawatha Service Trains 329, 332, 333, 336, 337 & 340. Trains 330, 331, 334, 335, 338, 339, 341 & 342 will maintain service on the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor)

Wolverine Service Trains 350 & 355. Trains 351, 352, 353 & 354 will maintain service on the Chicago-Detroit corridor)

Illinois Zephyr & Carl Sandburg Trains 380 & 381. Amtrak said it was awaiting word from BNSF regarding service by Trains 382 & 383 on the Chicago-Quincy corridor on Tuesday. The route was closed by BNSF late Sunday night, leading Trains 380, 381, 382 & 383 to be canceled on Monday, Jan. 27, and Amtrak Trains 3, 4, 5, & 6 to detour between Chicago and Galesburg via the former Santa Fe mainline via Chillicothe and Streator, Ill.)

Saluki & Illini Trains 390 & 391 are canceled. Trains 392 (Illini) & 393 (Saluki)and Trains 58 & 59 (City of New Orleans) will maintain service on the Chicago-Carbondale corridor)

No changes are planned for other Chicago Hub Services, including Michigan routes to and from Grand Rapids and Port Huron.  Missouri service between Kansas City and St. Louis and Indiana service to and from Indianapolis is expected to operate as scheduled.

Amtrak Cancels Trains on Monday due to Winter

January 26, 2014

Amtrak announced on Sunday that it has canceled some trains on Monday due to expected severe winter weather conditions.

In a statement, Amtrak said it decided to cancel several Midwest Corridor trains following conversations with its freight railroad partners and state transportation departments that sponsor the services.

In the statement, Amtrak said the cancelations are being made as a precautionary move and will maintain service on all routes. The following  trains will not operate on Monday, Jan. 27:

Lincoln Service Trains 300, 301, 306 & 307. (Trains 302, 303, 304 & 305 and Trains 21/321 & 22/322 will maintain service on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor)

Hiawatha Service Trains 329, 332, 333, 336, 337 & 340. (Trains 330, 331, 334, 335, 338, 339, 341 & 342 will maintain service on the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor)

Wolverine Service Trains 350 & 355. Trains 351, 352, 353 & 354 will maintain service on the Chicago-Detroit corridor)

Illinois Zephyr & Carl Sandburg Trains 382 & 383. Trains 380 & 381 will maintain service on the Chicago-Quincy corridor)

Saluki & Illini Trains 392 & 393 are canceled. Trains 390 & 391 and Trains 58 & 59 (City of New Orleans) will maintain service on the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale corridor)

No changes are planned at this time for other Chicago Hub Services, including Michigan routes to and from Grand Rapids/Holland and Port Huron/East Lansing, Missouri service between Kansas City and St. Louis and Indiana service to and from Indianapolis.

Passengers who have paid for tickets but choose not to travel due to this service disruption can receive a refund or a voucher for future travel. Some reservations booked online can be modified or canceled on Amtrak.com or by using the free Amtrak mobile app.

Passengers are encouraged to call 800-USA-RAIL or visit Amtrak.com/alerts for Service Alerts and Passenger Notices. Schedule information and train status updates are available at the Amtrak.com home page.

Oklahoma City Buying ex-Santa Fe Station

January 25, 2014

The station serving the Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma City is on its way to becoming an intermodal terminal after the city acquired the depot in $4.5 million deal.

The station, once owned by the Santa Fe Railway, will be renovated during  a $28.3 million project that will enable it to serve buses, a new streetcar line and trains. There has been discussion about launching a regional rail hub at the station.

The city had sought to acquire the depot through the use of eminent domain, after the city was unable to reach a pact with the owner, Brewer Entrainment.

The city initially offered $2.5 million for the building, but Brewer asked for $23.5 million.

Court-appointed commissioners agreed in September to set a sales price of $4.5 million, which the city council agreed to pay.

Attorneys for Brewer objected, claiming the city had failed to show that it intended to use the station to facilitate “intermodal transportation,” which was defined as “the movement of people involving more than one mode of transportation during a single, seamless journey.”

Brewer dropped its objections last week while reserving the right to seek a jury trial to seek further damages.

Oklahoma City city received a $13.5 million federal grant last fall that combined with $14.8 million in local funding will be used to renovate the depot.
Santa Fe built the depot in 1934 in the Art Deco style. Its interior features details based on Native American motiffs.

Progress Slow for New Stations in New York

January 25, 2014

Local officials and Amtrak are slowly moving ahead toward constructing a new intermodal station in Niagara, Falls, N.Y., that will be used by Empire Corridor trains as well as the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf. The facility will also accommodate buses.

However, the Niagara Falls project is several years behind schedule and the construction bids recently came in higher than expected.

The station project is now expected to cost $25.6 million.

Plans for a new intermodal station in Rochester, N.Y., which sees the same trains as Niagara Falls plus the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited has suffered similar delays.

The New York Department of Transportation has taken over the design of the proposed Rochester facility.

The four design-build teams being considered for the project have now submitted proposals, DOT spokeswoman Jennifer Post said, but they’re still being reviewed.

The proposed Rochester facility would be located at the same location as the current Amtrak station, which was built in the 1970s.

Amtrak No. 49 Gives it Up in Toledo

January 25, 2014

Running more than 12 hours late on Friday, Amtrak’s westbound Lake Shore Limited finally gave up the ghost in Toledo and turned it’s passengers over to a fleet of buses.

Amtrak terminated No. 49 in Toledo and turned it to become Saturday’s No. 48.

At 7:45 a.m. on Saturday morning Nos. 48 and 49 were about to pass each other west of Oak Harbor, Pa.

Given the winter weather conditions along the southern rim of the Great Lakes, you have to wonder if the buses taking the weary passengers to Chicago also encountered problems.

The saga of Friday’s late and getting later No. 49 began on Thursday afternoon with a nearly two hour departure from New York’s Penn Station. No. 449 left Boston’s South Station more than an hour late.

No. 49 continued to lose time, departing Utica, N.Y., 3 hours late and Rochester, N.Y., 5 hours late. By the time it left Erie, Pa., at 11:14 a.m. it was 9.5 hours late.

At that point the Amtrak website went into “service disruption” mode and ceased giving report.

But field reports posted online had No. 49 arriving in Cleveland just after 2 p.m. and departing at 2:25.

From there it was a hard slog to Toledo. Winter weather had turned the Norfolk Southern Chicago Line into a parking lot in many places as trains struggled to inch ahead.

No. 49 was delayed at CP 197 in Olmsted Falls waiting for a coal train to go into the Berea siding.

It passed Huron at 4:10 p.m. Another online report that was based on information from the Track a Train feature on the Amtrak website said that No. 49 sat for two hours in rural Ottawa County.

Photographs posted online showed No. 49 arriving in Toledo at 8:10 p.m.

The picture might be brighter for the Lake Shore Limited on Sunday. No. 49 on Saturday morning was reported 2 hours late out of Sandusky. Assuming that it doesn’t lose substantial amounts of time en route to Chicago, it should get there with enough time to service the equipment before its scheduled departure Saturday night.

Saturday morning’s westbound Capital Limited was 40 minutes late leaving Toledo whereas its eastbound counterpart was nearly four hours late out of Cleveland and Alliance.

 

Viewliner Prototype Sleeper Going Into Storage

January 17, 2014

Amtrak’s first prototype Viewliner sleeper was hooked onto the back of the westbound Cardinal on Friday morning en route to the Beech Grove shops in Indianapolis.

Trains magazine reported that No. 2300 will be going into storage and thus faces an uncertain future.

The car’s interior has been gutted and its windows are cloudy and scratched. Its trucks have chipped paint and rust patches all over them.

No. 2300, fellow Viewliner sleeper No. 2301 and Viewliner diner No. 8400 were built from what proved to be the last passenger car shells manufactured by the Budd Company before it got out of the passenger car business in 1987.

Amtrak developed the shells into passenger cars at Beech Grove before placing them into service. The cars were the model for 50 production Viewliner sleepers that entered revenue service in 1996 on eastern long-distance trains.

Viewliner sleepers still operate on the Cardinal, Lake Shore Limited, Crescent, Silver Star and Silver Meteor.

Amtrak has on order 130 Viewliner II cars that are being built at Elmira, N.Y., by CAF. These cars will feature the basic exterior structural design and original room layout of the Viewliner prototypes.

The Viewliner II order includes sleepers, diners, baggage, and baggage dormitory cars, but no coaches.

Although the original prototype Viewliner sleepers were only used to for mock up designs, diner No. 8400 returned to service in 2011 after economic stimulus funds helped facilitate a complete makeover. No. 8400 was also named Indianapolis.