Archive for February, 2014

Amtrak Turns on Wi-Fi Service in Midwest

February 11, 2014

Amtrak announced that complimentary cellular-based Wi-Fi service is now available on eight Midwest corridors.

These include routes linking Chicago with Milwaukee;  St. Louis; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Detroit (Pontiac); Port Huron, Mich.; Quincy, Ill.; and Carbondale, Ill. Wi-Fi is also available on trains between St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.

The service, known as AmtrakConnect,  uses multiple cellular carriers, and 4G technology where available.

The equipment is installed under contracts with the states of Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin as part of their sponsorship of Amtrak service.

Amtrak said that about 85 percent of its passengers across its national network now have access to Wi-Fi. The railroad said that on routes already enabled, it routinely supports between 30 and 50 percent of passengers on any given train.
AmtrakConnect restricts such data-intensive activities as streaming video and music.

To promote the service, specially dressed “AmtrakConnect Ambassadors” will be riding some trains during the first week of Wi-Fi service.

SW Chief Battle May Have National Consequences

February 9, 2014

A battle being waged over an Amtrak route in the mountains and high plains of the West could hold implications for the future of Amtrak service from coast to coast.

That’s because Some rail passenger service watchers believe that Amtrak is using the Southwest Chief routing issue to sidestep its congressional mandate to subsidize long-distance trains — those traveling more than 750 miles — with federal funds.

Ostensibly, the fight for the Southwest Chief seems unrelated to that. It would seem to be a simple matter of a railroad not wishing to maintain a lightly-used route to passenger trains speeds and telling Amtrak to pony up the money if it wants to continue to operate at 79 miles per hour on the route.

This story has played out before in several places, including in Ohio when Conrail said in the 1980s that it didn’t wish to maintain the Fort Wayne Line to passenger trains speeds. At the time, the former Pennsylvania Railroad route hosted the Chicago-New York Broadway Limited and the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited.

The end result was that Amtrak rerouted the Capitol Limited to its current route via Cleveland and the Broadway Limited to a CSX route via Akron and Youngstown that had been freight only since Amtrak’s beginning in 1971.

But the Southwest Chief route battle may be different.

Amtrak has proposed that it along with BNSF and the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas form a partnership to fund track maintenance of the former Santa Fe mainline in western Kansas, southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico. Each would pay more than $40 million a year for a decade.

Legislators and local officials in towns and districts served by the Southwest Chief have introduced legislation or pressured for state funding of the track maintenance needed to keep the Chief on its present route.

But New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has sounded the alarm about how the federal government is abrogating its legal responsibility to fund a national rail network.

The Republican governor has said in recent months that Amtrak is funded by Congress and any agreement should not leave New Mexico taxpayers with a large bill.

“According to the New Mexico [Department of Transportation], the state has never provided state funds for Amtrak service,” Martinez’s office said last month. “We’re willing to work together on this issue, but any agreement needs to take that reality into account.”

In 2013, Congress appropriated $1.5 billion to Amtrak with $71 million of that amount clawed back due to sequestration, a Nov. 13 Congressional Budget Office memo said.

“All told, the government covers almost all of Amtrak’s capital costs as well as more than 10 percent of its operating costs,” the memo said. “In 1970, when the Congress established Amtrak, it anticipated subsidizing the railroad for only a short time, until it became self-supporting. Since then, however, the federal subsidies to Amtrak have totaled about $45 billion.”

The year 2013 also saw a series of battles in statehouses over funding of Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles.

A law adopted by Congress in 2008 pressured Amtrak to reduce its dependence on federal funding by reaching agreements with states for money for short-haul trains by Oct. 1, 2013. Amtrak announced on Oct. 15 that it had successfully negotiated contracts with 19 states to increase state control and funding of 28 passenger rail routes.

In July 2013, Amtrak announced a $151 billion plan for improvements to routes in its Northeast Corridor, where it owns the tracks.

“I believe what they’re trying to do is set precedent to have the long-distance routes subject to state supplemental payments, because they cannot get enough money out of Congress to continue long-distance trains,” said Evan Stair, president of Passenger Rail Oklahoma.

Amtrak’s long-distance trains are its biggest money-losers some reports say.

The Southwest Chief had operating costs of $114.5 million in 2012 that resulted in a $62.6 million shortfall, according to a Brookings Institute analysis of Amtrak data. It’s a performance on par with most Amtrak long-distance routes.

Yet the long-distance routes are popular and continue to see increased ridership. From 1997 to 2012, patronage of the Southwest Chief increased by almost 100,000 passengers from 1997 to 2012, or 38 percent, according to the report.

Stair pondered for a minute the odds that governments along the route of the Chief will ante up the money needed to fix the tracks that is now uses.

“Is Amtrak sincere in wanting to keep the Southwest Chief, or is this simply this decade’s sacrificial train to Congress?” he asked.

Amtrak has “had no discussions about discontinuing the service between Chicago and Los Angeles,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. “The options on the table are between staying where we are, which is our preference, or rerouting, which is not our preference.”

There are other options that few have talked about openly and Amtrak has not acknowledged. The Southwest Chief could be truncated to a Chicago-Kansas City train or it could be discontinued altogether. In that case, Amtrak might bring back the Desert Wind, a section of the Chicago-San Francisco Bay California Zephyr that carried through cars for Los Angeles and operated via Las Vegas.

The Desert Wind was discontinued in a 1995 service cutback that also saw the end of the Broadway Limited although a replacement train, the Three Rivers operated for a few years via Akron in the early 2000s between Chicago and New York before it ended when Amtrak got out of the mail and express business.

It is too soon to say what the outcome will be of the Southwest Chief battle. Amtrak’s contract to use the BNSF route in question via Albuquerque continues until Jan. 1, 2016.  After that date, BNSF has said that it will only maintain the track to a top speed of 30 miles per hour.

In theory, Amtrak could continue to use the route, but it has indicated it would not.

Amtrak has indicated that funding from New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas needs to be approved by the end of 2014 even though it won’t be needed for another year.

That’s because Amtrak said it could take at least a year to plan a new route for the Southwest Chief.

At this point, the battle of the Southwest Chief is about track maintenance fees. Amtrak hasn’t said that it wants any of the eight states served by the Chief to help pay the train’s operating costs. At least not yet.

But could it be a precedent for asking states to pay infrastructure costs of long-distance trains?

One key difference between the Southwest Chief route battle and the situation with the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited is that the latter trains use well-traveled and maintained Norfolk Southern and CSX freight routes.

Ross Capon, the executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers has said that he suspects that neither Amtrak or BNSF wants to see the Southwest Chief move off its current route.

Putting the Chief on the Transcon route via Amarillo, Texas, would mean seeing yet another train on a route that is already one of BNSF’s busiest and one where the railroad has sunk millions of dollars to expand its capacity. True, the Southwest Chief uses the Transcon west of Albuquerque and everything seems to move just fine.

But in the BNSF executive suite, the current Southwest Chief route is a matter of simple economics and politics. The railroad doesn’t need the ex-Santa Fe route in western Kansas except for local freight service.

BNSF officials no doubt have asked why they should continue to pay to maintain track that it doesn’t use all that much to passenger train speeds. Hence, the decision was made to put the squeeze on the states for money to fix the tracks.

Amtrak has been the front man during the fight over public funding of the track maintenance of the Southwest Chief  route. BNSF has deliberately stayed in the background and said very little when asked about the situation. It would prefer that the narrative remain focused on this being an Amtrak issue.

Still, in railroad executive suites and state departments of transportation across the country, officials are probably watching the Southwest Chief funding fight with some interest because it could become a precursor of things to come.

Rail passenger advocates elsewhere should be watching it, too.

Amtrak to Cut First-Class Amenities

February 8, 2014
The welcome board reception in the Lake Shore Limited diner in Chicago included wine and cheese, but also crackers and grapes.

The welcome board reception in the Lake Shore Limited diner in Chicago included wine and cheese, but also crackers and grapes.

Trains magazine reported Friday that Amtrak’s long-distance route directors have decided to end some first-class and dining car amenities in an effort to cut costs.

The decision was made at a late January meeting in Chicago. Among the amenities to be cut and their effective date are:

  • Cranberry juice in sleeping cars (Feb. 8)
  • Flowers and vases on dining car tables (Feb. 15)
  • Newspapers in sleeping cars (date depends upon vendor)
  • Wine and cheese tastings, Astor chocolate squares, and complimentary champagne or non-alcoholic cider for Coast Starlight and Empire Builder sleeping car passengers (March 31)
  • Pre-departure Lake Shore Limited wine and cheese reception at Chicago for      sleeping car passengers (March 31)
  • Coast Starlight and Empire Builder sleeper amenity kits (May 31)

The latest cuts are nothing new. At various times, Amtrak has added or dropped first class amenities in order to increase premium ticket revenue by providing a better product or in response to congressional pressure. In response to the most recent incident of the latter, Amtrak president Joe Boardman has promised to eliminate food losses in five years.

Trains reported that Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that the decision to cut amenities came from the route directors, not a corporate directive from Washington.

Magliari acknowledge, though that Amtrak “has made promises to stakeholders that we would continue to reduce costs.

“The route directors felt these changes would have a minimal impact on passenger revenue while reducing some confusion in passengers’ expectations between riding the Coast Starlight or Empire Builder and other long-distance service. Like a hotel, we would still provide travel kits to passengers that need them.”

Magliari said there are no plans to cease operating the Coast Starlight’s aging Pacific Parlour Cars.


Empire Builder Directional Running to Continue

February 8, 2014

The westbound-only detour of the Empire Builder between Fargo and Minot, N.D., will continue through March 1 and perhaps beyond.

The Chicago to Seattle/Portland train uses the former Northern Pacific mainline from Fargo to Casselton, and the ex-Great Northern Surrey Cutoff between Casselton and Minot.

BNSF instituted directional running in North Dakota in January in an effort to relieve traffic congestion stemming from weather related woes and increased freight business. Much of the latter has been crude oil trains.

Amtrak has been busing Empire Builder passengers originating at Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby, N.D., to Minot to board the train. The eastbound Builder has continued to run on its regular route.

Amarillo Watching SW Chief Funding Fight

February 8, 2014

Officials in Amarillo, Texas, have taken more than a casual interest in the efforts by lawmakers in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to scramble to come up with the $40 million they each need to keep Amtrak’s Southwest Chief on its present route.

If they fail, Amarillo stands to gain if Amtrak reroutes the Chief to the BNSF Transcon line through the Texas Panhandle.

“I’ve been waiting to find out if there’s a real chance Amtrak will change the route,” said state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo. “If that’s the case, we’ll be all in.

As it often the case when Amtrak is pondering moving a train to another route, the issue is track maintenance.

Amtrak’s contract with BNSF to use the former Santa Fe mainline in western Kansas, Southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico expires in January 2016.

BNSF has little freight traffic on that route and wants to maintain it to a top speed of 30 mph. That’s too slow for Amtrak, which prefers 79 mph. BNSF is willing to allow the Southwest Chief to continue using the former route of Santa Fe’s Super Chief, but at a cost.

Amtrak said it needs $200 million — split among Amtrak, BNSF, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado — to keep the Southwest Chief train on its current 2,256-mile route between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Under the proposed five-way split, each partner’s $40 million contribution would be invested over 10 years.

In July 2012, leaders of the New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas departments of transportation co-signed a letter to Amtrak saying the money won’t come from them.

But communities and lawmakers in those states have been applying pressure to the legislatures in their states to come up with the money.

As it is, track conditions have forced Amtrak to slow the Southwest Chief between Newton, Kan., and Albuquerque.

But moving the Southwest Chief to the Transcon route via Amarillo is not a sure thing, either.

Amtrak has not initiated negotiations with local or state officials along the Transcon route because it says it does not want to create competition among communities it serves now or might serve later

Amtrak Chief of Governmental Relations Ray Lang said in November 2013 that that could if New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado don’t commit funds by the end of 2014.

Amtrak would need a year to plan a new route for the Chief said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

“We would need, by our estimation, all of 2015 just to get that done,” Magliari said.

If so, then Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole said he is ready to talk about bringing Amtrak to town. The Texas city lost intercity rail service in 1971 when the Santa Fe San Francisco Chief was discontinued upon the inception of Amtrak.

“We’ve heard some pretty good and growing talk this would be their best option,” Harpole said. “We’re planning for the planning. We won’t get caught flat-footed.”

The Amarillo City Council voted in September to pay $2.6 million to be used to make Amarillo’s historic Santa Fe Depot ready to serve the Southwest Chief.

Because no reroute planning has occurred, Amtrak doesn’t have cost projections for the move of the Southwest Chief to the BNSF Transcon Route, Magliari said. He referred requests for details as to what reroute work might be needed, and at what cost, to BNSF.

“BNSF is not encouraging or even discussing moving the Southwest Chief from its current route,” BNSF spokeswoman Roxanne Butler, said. “We will continue to accommodate Amtrak service on the existing route at whatever speeds Amtrak is willing to support.”

Butler would not divulge whether BNSF has solidified its own financial commitment to the preservation proposal.

National Association of Railroad Passengers President Ross Capon thinks Amtrak and BNSF want to keep the Southwest Chief on its current route.

“I also have a fairly strong impression that the Burlington Northern does not want the train (Chief) on the southern route,” he said.

That’s because the Transcon is one of BNSF’s busiest freight arteries.

Maps published in the January issue of Trains magazine show the Transcon carried 46 to 51 BNSF trains per day in 1994, compared with 60 to 74 trains today.

With lobbying in New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado ongoing and no entity making a firm commitment, Amarillo waits.

“We have made contact at the staff level with Amtrak and communicated we are interested,” Amarillo City Manager Jarrett Atkinson said. “We’re quite diligently monitoring what’s going on in the three states.”

The city also has indicated its interest in hosting the Southwest Chief to the Texas Department of Transportation but not to BNSF, Atkinson said.

Colorado Wants to Add Pueblo to SW Chief Route

February 7, 2014

Keeping the Southwest Chief operating through Colorado would add $31 million to the estimated $200 million price tag to retain the train on its current route, according to an economic study released Thursday.

Colorado State University-Pueblo released the economic-impact study focusing on the idea of extending the Southwest Chief route to include a Pueblo, Colo., stop before the route bends south to New Mexico, a proposal currently pending in the Colorado Legislature.

The report, commissioned by the Pueblo Area Council of Governments, projects Colorado would reap $57 million in new economic activity over the course of one decade if the Pueblo stop was added.

The study made no presumptions about how to pay for the additional expense of adding Pueblo to the route  of the Chief.

“There’s still a lot of discussion about that,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace.

Much of the money that the state would pay to maintain Amtrak service involves buying new rail.

That’s the $200 million problem that lawmakers in those states are trying to solve, said Gary Carter of the Colorado Rail Passenger Association.

Colorado state Rep. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, and state Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, are pushing legislation to save the Chief.

Carter said Amtrak wants rails that can handle trains doing 80 mph.

“What we need is to replace the old rails, some of which were installed in the 1950s, with new, heavier welded rails that can handle higher speeds,” Carter said.

Replacing the rails from Newton, Kan., to Santa Fe, N.M., would cost $200 million. That would be paid with $40 million each from Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, BNSF and Amtrak, according to Carter.

“When you consider that it can cost $60 million to rebuild 20 miles of highway, modernizing that many miles of rail is a bargain by comparison,” Carter said. Garcia’s and Crowder’s efforts are aimed at creating a state financing authority to take responsibility for the track replacement in Colorado.

The legislation also would alter the current route of the Southwest Chief to bring it into Pueblo as well. Carter said the existing rails between La Junta, Pueblo and Trinidad are in comparatively good shape.

He said one challenge in adding that section to the route of the Chief would be the construction of additional rail sidings to accommodate more train traffic.

Garcia introduced legislation this week to create a financing authority to oversee Colorado’s portion of the route.

The bill was celebrated last Saturday near the train tracks behind the Pueblo Union Depot before a spirited crowd of about 100 politicians, Puebloans and people from around the region.

“We need this train . . . It’s going to be a challenge and we’ve got some work ahead of us,” Garcia said, speaking from the top side of a historical locomotive behind the depot.

Garcia said 28 legislators have cosponsored his bill.

The Southwest Chief now operates between Chicago and Los Angeles, with Colorado stops in Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad.

Garcia said adding a stop in Pueblo would increase ridership because of more people living here. “I’ll tell you what, I am ready for Pueblo to be on the Amtrak map. We have an opportunity to set this right,” said Crowder said, standing next to Garcia. “We cannot allow this to be taken out of Southeastern Colorado.”

Pueblo Commissioner Pace touted the economic impact of the route. “We have the opportunity on the steel-making side and for the (EVRAZ Pueblo) steel mill, because if we have over 200 miles of rail that need to be replaced, we have a steel mill here in Pueblo,” Pace said. “We can create a lot of jobs here.”


Proposed Study of SW Chief Route Advances in NM

February 7, 2014

A New Mexico legislative panel has approved a proposal to study whether the state should help pay to keep Amtrak’s Southwest Chief on its existing route, but lawmakers appear to be reluctant to immediately commit money for maintaining and improving the track.

And even if the legislature approves that funding, the state’s governor may end up having the final say on whether it will be spent to keep the Chicago-Los Angeles train in place.

The House Transportation and Public Works Committee this week agreed on a measure allocating $150,000 for a study of the costs and benefits of New Mexico joining with Colorado and Kansas to each provide about $4 million annually for 10 years to keep the Chief rolling on on its current route. Potential legal issues also would be examined.

Amtrak has warned that it will remove the Southwest Chief from its present route via Lamy and Raton, N.M., if it fails to reach a new operating agreement with BNSF Railway by 2016 for track maintenance.

BNSF has said it will no longer maintain the former Santa Fe route in western Kansas, southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico to passenger train speeds because there is little freight traffic on the line.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s transportation secretary-designate said the legislature should not OK underwriting the maintenance of the Chief’s route until a thorough cost-benefit analysis has been conducted and possible constitutional snags are reconciled.

Some supporters of the proposal to pay to maintain the BNSF tracks for passenger service fear that funding will hinge on the Republican governor’s support. Martinez has said in recent months that Amtrak is funded by Congress and any agreement should not leave New Mexico taxpayers with a large bill.

“According to the New Mexico [Department of Transportation], the state has never provided state funds for Amtrak service,” Martinez’s office said last month. “We’re willing to work together on this issue, but any agreement needs to take that reality into account.”

New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas are mulling whether to split track maintenance costs to keep the train on its present route. The states would have to provide about $4 million a year each for a decade.

“As far as the legislative part, the committee, there’s not a problem,” said Rep. Roberto Gonzales, the chair of the House Transportation and Public Works Committee. “To my knowledge, nobody has come out and said, ‘I can’t support that.’ Our hurdle is the Governor’s Office.” Even if his bill advances, the governor could veto it in the end.

In Colorado, Eric Brown, a spokesman for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, says the Democrat wants to keep the passenger train going and expand its route.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, says his state cannot agree to help fund the route if the other states aren’t on board with funding.

“We are studying this and have had conversations with Amtrak, BNSF, Colorado, and New Mexico, but all parties would need to be at the table financially to make this work,” says Eileen Hawley, Brownback’s spokeswoman.

If no funding agreement is reached by the end of 2015, the Southwest Chief train will likely shift to BNSF’s ex-Santa Fe “Transcon” main line through Amarillo, Texas. That would mean that Albuquerque would be the largest city to lose direct service, although the train would still pass through the city’s metropolitan area.

“I believe everyone needs to do their homework and come back next year,” New Mexico transportation chief Tom Church told The New Mexican.

Church said provisions in the New Mexico Constitution could prohibit the state from using public funds to subsidize a private railroad, and the estimated cost of the project is a moving target that worries the Martinez administration.

“We really don’t know how much it’s going to cost,” Church said.

Elected officials from communities on the line’s current route said there is no time to wait. They urged the House Transportation and Public Works Committee to support a cost-sharing agreement among New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Amtrak and BNSF.  It carries an estimated cost of about $4 million annually over the next decade from each entity beginning next year.

“Northern New Mexico cannot afford to see the rail line abandoned due to the devastating impacts this will have on future economic development projects that depend upon freight service,” said Colfax County Commissioner Bill Sauble.

The committee passed House Bill 241 on to the House Appropriations Committee with a “do pass” recommendation, but not without reservations.

Some lawmakers on the panel are reluctant to spend state money on the project and squabbled over whether support for the project should come from the general fund or severance tax revenue. Others questioned whether towns and counties along the route should raise taxes to pay for the plan themselves.

Ray Lang, chief of state government relations at Amtrak, said he is optimistic about the prospects of a five-way partnership to keep the Southwest Chief’s existing route.

Legislation authorizing the cooperative agreement is working its way through statehouses in New Mexico and Colorado, and legislation is expected to be introduced in Kansas.

BNSF’s  contract with Amtrak expires in January 2016. Virtually all of the track between Hutchinson, Kan., and Lamy, just outside Santa Fe, needs to be replaced, Lang said. Attempts to secure federal funding to ensure the continued operation of the Southwest Chief along its current route have been fruitless.

Moline Route Track Work to Begin This Summer

February 7, 2014

Construction work to pave the way for the launch of Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa is expected to begin this summer, says the Illinois Department of Transportation.

IDOT expected the train to begin operating in 2015.
The preliminary engineering phase is almost complete. The next step would be the final design phase.

The project will have three parts: Chicago to Wyanet (where the amount of work is not as significant); construction of the Wyanet connection between the BNSF and Iowa Interstate main lines; and Wyanet to Moline, where many track, signal and safety upgrades are needed on Iowa Interstate’s former Rock Island main line.

There will also be yard improvements in Eola and Silvis, Ill., with a second mainline built between the yards in Rock Island and Silvis.

The route east of Wyanet is currently used by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, Southwest Chief¸ Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr.

There will be two round-trips daily between Moline and Chicago, with an estimated one-way travel time of just longer than three hours.

The train’s western terminus will be in Moline, which has not seen rail passenger service in more than 30 years since the end of the Quad Cities Rocket by the former Rock Island Railroad.

Illinois is expanding rail passenger service with the help of a $177 million federal grant and $78 million from the state. The state originally planned to spend $45 million but recently increased the amount by $33 million because of increased construction costs between Wyanet and Moline.

OKC Gains Control of ex-Santa Fe Depot

February 7, 2014

Oklahoma City, Okla., has given a high green to the conversion of the city’s former Santa Fe passenger station into a $28 million transit hub that will serve a new streetcar system, Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer and a potential new regional passenger rail line.

Construction is expected to begin in early 2015. Design contract negotiations are underway.

The city was awarded a $13.5 million federal grant last year that allows it to pursue its full plan for conversion of the 84-year-old station into a transit center.

As part of the project, a tunnel will be opened in the depot through the BNSF Railway viaduct wall facing the Bricktown Canal to allow for a direct passenger connection to the entertainment district.

The project also includes an improved Amtrak boarding platform, ticketing and baggage areas, a pedestrian plaza extending to E.K. Gaylord, and hastened construction of a streetcar alignment in front of the depot.

Construction of the first phase of the streetcar system will begin later this year. The line is expected to open by mid-2017.

Oklahoma City has spend two years negotiating with the depot’s owner, Brewer Entertainment, and successfully sought an eminent domain ruling on the property last summer. Court-appointed commissioners set a purchase price of $4.5 million.

Brewer continues to contest in court that purchase price. During negotiations, Brewer, which is owned by the family of the late Bricktown developer Jim Brewer, set a purchase price of $23.5 million while the city had offered $2.5 million.

EMD Files Protest Over Locomotive Choice

February 7, 2014

Electro-Motive Diesel is protesting the selection process for an order of new locomotives to be used on state-supported Amtrak trains.

EMD filed a formal protest with the Illinois Department of Transportation over the multi-state locomotive procurement contract for as many as 35 locomotives. IDOT had issued to Siemens Industry a Notice of Intent to Award on Dec. 18, 2013.

IDOT, in conjunction with the California Department of Transportation and the Washington Department of Transportation, issued the procurement and formed the joint purchasing entities.

EMD’s protest letter reads, in part, that the proposed award to Siemens “does not meet the Illinois Procurement Code requirement that ‘[a]wards shall be made to the responsible offer or whose proposal is determined in writing to be the most advantageous to the State, taking into consideration price and the evaluation factors set forth in the request for proposals.’ In short, Siemens is not a ‘responsible offer or’ and its offer is not ‘responsive’ with respect to the Procurement. EMD is confident that after IDOT reviews the facts presented in this protest, an award to Siemens will be deemed to be contrary to Illinois law, in addition to being inconsistent with the interests of the taxpaying public and the JPEs. . . Pursuant to Illinois General Assembly [law], any award for this Procurement must be stayed until this protest is resolved.”

EMD argues that the locomotive that Siemen’s would build is incapable of achieving and sustaining speeds of 125 mph as required in the procurement specifications.

The EMD protest letter contends that the Siemens locomotive is shown to be only 4,200 BHP (brake horsepower)-rated. “It is not possible for a locomotive to achieve, let alone sustain, 125 mph with merely 4,200 BHP in the train configurations specified in the Procurement, despite the ‘BOOST’ feature provided in Siemens’s design. The ‘BOOST’ feature appears to elevate the locomotive’s BHP to 4,400 for ‘a controlled period of time,’ which allows its locomotive ‘to achieve a higher acceleration or top speed.’ In the context of ‘higher acceleration or top speed,’ the ‘top speed’ on the Siemens locomotive would be something less than 125 mph because it lacks sufficient horsepower,” the EMD letter said.

EMD acknowledged that the Siemens locomotive can achieve 125 mph, “but only while operating downhill. To contemplate such operational limits in real-life service would be unrealistic, not likely acceptable to the public, and could not have possibly been IDOT’s intent,” EMD wrote. .