Thaw Had Amtrak Trains Operating on Time

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.

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