Archive for March, 2014

Amtrak Giving Double Reward Points ’til May 17

March 25, 2014

Amtrak has announced that its mileage program members can earn additional points during a double days promotion that runs through May 17.

 

Amtrak Guest Rewards members must register online at the program’s website www.amtrakguestrewards.com/DoubleDays.

 

To receive credit for qualifying travel, members need to provide their membership number when making a reservation.

 

Cancelled of refunded reservations and/or tickets are not eligible for bonus points. Double points earning is limited to two one-way trips per day. Other restrictions apply.

 

Normally, program members earn two points for every dollar spent on Amtrak travel, with a 100-point minimum, no matter the price.

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Remeber When the F40, Phase II Were New?

March 24, 2014

Shawnee

It’s January 1977 and I am in Champaign,  Ill., to await the arrival of the southbound Shawnee, a Chicago to Carbondale, Ill., train that was part of Amtrak’s original basic system.

The train pulls in, passengers disembark and board, and a new crew takes over. At the time, F40PH No. 206 has been in service less than a year, having been built in March 1976 as part of Amtrak’s original order of F40s.

The F40 did not debut the Phase II livery. That honor went to the P30CH locomotives, the first of which was built in August 1975.

The Amfleet equipment assigned to No. 391 is also fairly new, having been on the train for the past year.

A number of things have changed about this scene and yet some of them remain the same. The Amfleet equipment is still in service, although much of it is assigned to Northeast Corridor service.

Amtrak no longer operates the F40PH as locomotives, but it has converted several of them to non-powered cab units. No. 206 is not among them.

Crews no longer change at Champaign. Today they work between Chicago and Carbondale.

The former Illinois Central passenger station seen to the left of the photo still stands, but is no longer used by Amtrak, which moved to an intermodal facility south of the IC depot.

The platforms shown are still in use. The tracks visible to the far right of the image have all been removed. Now owned by Canadian National, the former IC mainline here is now a single track railroad.

As for No. 391, it now operates under the name Saluki on the same schedule of the former Shawnee, a name that Amtrak has retired. The Saluki is funded in part by the State of Illinois.

Bill to Save SW Chief Passes Colo. House

March 22, 2014

The Colorado House this week approved legislation designed to save Amtrak’s Southwest Chief line through Southeastern Colorado.

HB14-1161, sponsored by Rep. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, passed on a 44-20 vote. State Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, is sponsoring it in the Senate.

The bill would look to extend the route of the Chief to Pueblo.

Currently, the Chief runs directly from La Junta to Trinidad, but it would add a horseshoe-shaped loop to its route to include Pueblo, a net increase of about 65 miles.

The legislation creates a commission to plan and oversee the improvements to the line on Colorado.

The plan faces obstacles, including requiring several upgrades to track infrastructure and placing pressure on Amtrak’s scheduling of the train.

NM to Study Saving Southwest Chief Costs

March 19, 2014

The New Mexico legislature didn’t approve helping fund the Southwest Chief, but the New Mexico Department of Transportation will study that prospect.

A state budget signed by the governor allocates $50,000 to the Legislative Council Service to study a proposal by Amtrak for New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to share the costs of maintaining and improving more than 600 miles of track through their states.

John Yaeger of the Legislative Council Service said legal issues will be considered as well as the costs and economic benefits of the proposal.

Amtrak has said that the three states must share the costs with it and BNSF of maintaining the route used by the Chicago-Los Angeles train. Each party would provide about $4 million annually for a decade.

BNSF has said that it will no longer maintain the route for passenger service after January 2016 because it is a lightly-used freight route.

The route passes through western Kansas, the southwest corner of Colorado and northern New Mexico.

Enrique Knell, a spokesman for the governor, said Tuesday the Transportation Department will support the study in any way possible.

“But it’s important to remember that Amtrak was created and funded by Congress since its inception, and thus, any agreement should not stick the taxpayers of New Mexico with a large tab,” Knell said.

He said New Mexico has never provided money for Amtrak’s passenger service and “any agreement needs to take that reality into account.”

Amtrak contends that it can’t cover the full cost of maintaining the present route of the Southwest Chief and will have to consider shifting the train to a more southern route along a different BNSF line if there’s no agreement on maintaining current track.

Dispute Keeps Amtrak Passengers in the Cold

March 19, 2014

A dispute over land ownership is keeping Amtrak passengers in Troy, Mich., from using a brand new intermodal station.

The $6.3 million station was completed last November, but remains closed as a question of who owns the land underneath the center is worked out.

Amtrak passengers, in the meantime, have to use a nearby bus stop type shelter. Riders on a SMART bus line also must wait at shelter along Maple Road.

The transit center sits behind a shopping center near Maple and Coolidge Highway, but a judge has ruled that the city of Troy, which built the transit center, does not own the land upon which it was built.

“It’s a shame people have to stand outside in the cold when there is a perfectly good building across the tracks,” said Troy Mayor Dane Slater.

The just ruled that the land on which the transit center is situated belongs to developer Grand/Sakwa Properties, the owner of the Midtown Square shopping center surrounding the transit center.

Although he never supported building the transit center, Mayor Pro Tem Dave Henderson says the city must get the land somehow, whether that is through an agreement with Grand/Sakwa or through condemning the property.

“I didn’t vote for it, but I’m 100 percent behind it now,” said Henderson. “From a community standpoint, we have to try to do whatever it takes to make it work, because otherwise we will have wasted a lot of money.”

In February, Oakland County Circuit Judge Leo Bowman dismissed the city’s lawsuit against Grand/Sakwa, affirming the developer’s ownership of the land.

Troy has been trying for more than 13 years to open a transit center on the site.

Troy partnered with Birmingham on the transit project in 2000, when Grand/Sakwa donated the land with the condition that the money for the transit center be secured by 2010. Birmingham later backed out.

Troy secured an $8.4 million federal grant, but the developer says the money was not acquired before the deadline, meaning the land reverted back to the developer.

In the lawsuit, the city offered to pay Grand/Sakwa $550,000 for the 2.7-acre site. That amount comes from a 2010 appraisal of the land that was completed before the transit center was built.

In a response filed in court, Grand/Sakwa says its concerns go beyond how much the land is worth.

The developer says Troy has not provided the “resources necessary to properly operate and maintain” the transit center.

“Troy’s (projection) for the transportation center shows 167 buses accessing each day the transportation center by crossing Grand/Sakwa’s parking lot,” the document says. “Troy has not provided any analysis or plan of action as to how this traffic situation would ever function and how it would mitigate the substantial impact and interference with the commercial tenants’ businesses at the shopping center or on the access and use of the shopping center by their customers.”

The next step for Troy, said City Attorney Lori Grigg-Bluhm, will be to conduct a new appraisal of the land. The city voted in November to set aside $1.8 million toward purchasing the land if necessary.

“Every federal grant is done on a reimbursement basis. We pay and they reimburse,” Grigg-Bluhm said. “However, we would have assurances that if we spend the money, there will be a reimbursement.”

If the developer agrees to a deal, the litigation will be settled. If not, the city would file a lawsuit to condemn the land.

“There is no plan to demolish the transit center,” said Grigg-Bluhm. “If necessary, a condemnation case would settle the issue of legal title of the real property.”

The 28,000-square-foot transit center was completed last fall and was meant to replace the Amtrak station just across the tracks in Birmingham.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the rail line can’t sign a lease with Troy until the city owns the property.

“We look forward to a resolution and moving into the Troy transportation center,” he said.

Amtrak said the Birmingham stop served 23,257 Amtrak riders in 2013 and 19,712 riders in 2012 on the six Wolverine Service trains that operate between Pontiac and Chicago.

Siemens Wins Passenger Locomotive Contract

March 19, 2014

Despite protests from EMD, Siemens has won a $225 million contract to build 32 diesel passenger locomotives for a multi-state procurement being led by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The Illinois agency represented departments of transportation from California, Michigan, Washington and Missouri.

Siemens will build the 32 locomotives, with an option for 225 additional locomotives, in Sacramento, Calif.

The Tier 4-compliant locomotives are based on Siemens’ Vectron platform already in use in Europe. They will be powered by 4,400 hp Cummins QSK95 prime movers.

EMD, which is headquartered in Illinois, said it has filed formal complaints with the Illinois Procurement Policy Board as well as the Chancery Court in Cook County, Reuters reports.

EMD believe that the IDOT “unfairly evaluated and scored offers and improperly relaxed the specified performance requirements when making its selection,” the report says.
A previous protest filed with IDOT in February was denied.

Farewell, Chicago, From Amtrak No. 30

March 13, 2014
All signals  on the tracks leading into Chicago Union Station are red as seen from the rear of the departing eastbound Capitol Limited on Monday, March 10.

All signals on the tracks leading into Chicago Union Station are red as seen from the rear of the departing eastbound Capitol Limited on Monday, March 10.

I made a weekend trip recently to visit my father in downstate Illinois. As trips go, it wasn’t that long. I went out on Saturday and came back on Monday.

I was seated in the last car of the eight-car Capitol Limited. I would go as far as Cleveland, where we would arrive nearly an hour late due to freight train interference on Norfolk Southern.

The last rays of sunlight illuminated the Chicago Union Station complex as No. 30 began its trek to the nation’s capitol. Here are a few glimpses of what we left behind.

The Willis Tower looms over downtown Chicago as No. 30 continues its outbound journey. The bridge in the foreground carries the St. Charles Air Line, which is used by Amtrak's Illini, Saluki and City of New Orleans.

The Willis Tower looms over downtown Chicago as No. 30 continues its outbound journey. The bridge in the foreground carries the St. Charles Air Line, which is used by Amtrak’s Illini, Saluki and City of New Orleans.

Crossing the South Branch Bridge over the Chicago River, we are  nearly out of the CSU complex. The signals beyond the bridge are for CP Lumber.

Crossing the South Branch Bridge over the Chicago River, we are nearly out of the CSU complex. The signals beyond the bridge are for CP Lumber.

 

Cardinal Gets Interim Superliner Equipment

March 11, 2014

Amtrak’s Cardinal was given a interim set of Superliner equipment this week after the train’s regular Amfleet consist struck a boulder over the weekend.

The makeshift consist includes a single-level baggage car and four Superliners.

Westbound No. 51, which left New York last Friday evening, struck the obstruction on the Buckingham Branch Railroad at milepost 237.7 near Augusta Springs, Va.

P42 No. 125 suffered extensive damage to its main reservoir tank and was unable to continue on its own power. After several hours of unsuccessful repair attempts, two CSX locomotives were dispatched out of the railroad’s Clifton Forge yard to rescue the train.

The train operated 40 miles to Clifton Forge, arriving 10 hours behind schedule. Buses were waiting to take passengers to their destinations.

“One bus never arrived and the remaining passengers were placed in a nearby hotel overnight,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says.

The disabled consist continued to Indianapolis as a deadhead move on Saturday afternoon, pulled by CSX motive power. No. 125 was dropped off there for repairs at Amtrak’s suburban Beech Grove maintenance facility.

Amtrak Launching Advertising Campaigns

March 11, 2014

Amtrak is launching two new advertising campaigns promoting the National system and Northeast Regional Service.

The campaigns will highlight the choice and benefits consumers have for travel. “The new campaigns offer us the opportunity to feature the benefits and amenities of long-distance trains and the convenience of our Northeast Regional Service,” said Amtrak Chief of Marketing and Advertising Programs John Lee.

The railroad said the national campaign will “showcase the amenities offered by long-distance trains that contribute to a unique and comfortable alternative to automobile road trips.”

The ads will feature headlines such as “A better journey starts with a better ride,” “The art of travel redefined,” “Show the road who is boss,” and “Take a whole new view of travel.”

The new campaign promotes the advantages of rail travel vis-à-vis an automobile, such as private sleeper service, large windows, and wide seats with extra headroom and legroom.

The sign-off for these ads, “Making 500 destinations a far better ride,” speaks to the breadth and connectivity of the Amtrak network, the railroad said. The National campaign will include radio, print, digital, mobile and out of home media elements.

Advertising firm Draftfcb New York worked in conjunction with Amtrak to develop the campaigns.

Thaw Had Amtrak Trains Operating on Time

March 11, 2014

March 6, 2014, marked a watershed of sorts for Amtrak in Chicago. Every Midwest Corridor train departed on time. That had not happened for several weeks as Amtrak had to deal with the effects of severe cold and snow.

On that same day, six of the 28 daily departures were delayed a total of 3 hours, 6 minutes. All of those were long-distance trains whose substitute passenger car options have been  hindered by a depleted pool of Superliner equipment that has been raided to provide a sixth set of cars and locomotives for the Empire Builder.

Last week, though, winter weather returned to Chicago and 16 of the 28 Amtrak trains departed on time. The 12 delayed trains posted delays of 21 hours, 12 minutes.

Among the problems were locomotive traction motor failures caused by  snow ingestion and ground faults, delays to inbound trains, and limited indoor facilities with inspection pits.

In a letter placed on seats of Midwest Corridor trains, Amtrak’s Chicago Deputy General Manager Morrell Savoy said that the “service failures are unacceptable.”

The letter went on to say “there were unseen successes, such as improvements that we made in the past four years that enabled the Amtrak terminal facility to be more robust, …our efforts were insufficient to provide the reliability we seek and both you and the state transportation departments expect.”

Long distance general manager Mark Murphy, who was once master mechanic at Chicago, told Trains magazine “We have a truck that makes continuous round-trips to [the] Beech Grove [Heavy Maintenance Facility in Indianapolis] to try to keep a spare pool of traction motors on the floor at all times, but we’ve had to make any number of unscheduled repairs on a daily basis geared to traction motor change outs, to dry them out and to get the grounds to disappear enough to make service.”

Murphy said Chicago needs a four-track, covered inspection facility.

The Empire Builder was incurring severe delays due to the need to bus passengers twice. Once was around an avalanche in Montana between Shelby and Whitefish, and again into Seattle from Everett, Wash., around a blockage on that mudslide-plagued trackage.

The busing is a BNSF Railway-imposed precaution as trains are again being deadheaded through the threatened areas, principally to avoid delays to the eastbound Builder departing Shelby while waiting for inbound train No. 7’s equipment to arrive.