Archive for May, 2014

Talgo Saying Goodbye to Milwaukee

May 8, 2014

The messy divorce between Talgo and the state of Wisconsin is just about official now that Talgo plans to move two unused trainsets it built for the state out of Milwaukee and terminate its lease at a city-owned manufacturing plant.

Talgo, a Spanish manufacturer, had been using the facility at Century City in Milwaukee to store two trains it built under a contract with the state of Wisconsin.

Those trains are the subject of a state claim and a lawsuit Talgo filed in Dane County Circuit Court to resolve whether it, or the state, owns them.

The Wisconsin Claims Board on Wednesday will consider Talgo’s $65.9 million breach of contrct claim against the state.

Talgo expects to ends its lease with the City of Milwaukee later this month or in June.

“They are wrapping up in the coming weeks,” said Milwaukee Department of City Development spokesman Jeff Fleming. “It also appears imminent that the trains will be leaving.”

Four years ago, the future of Talgo in Milwaukee looked bright. The company and city reached a pact in to locate U.S. manufacturing operations in Milwaukee.

The city renovated a vacant industrial building on North 27th Street and sought to recover those expenses through a long-term lease with Talgo.

Talgo built two trains for Wisconsin and two for Oregon in the facility. But work ended after Wisconsin canceled its order for two trains to run on a never-built high-speed rail service between Milwaukee and Madison.

Empire Builder Moves to St. Paul Union Depot

May 8, 2014

For the first time in its 43-year history, Amtrak trains began stopping this week at St. Paul Union Depot.

Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman cut a ceremonial ribbon on Wednesday to make the occasion. The first Amtrak train to stop at SPUD was the westbound Empire Builder.

“Today in our nation, we tear every institution down and they begin to disintegrate,” said Boardman in his remarks to the crowd. “When we lose it, that’s when we understand the essential nature of institutions, be it rail passenger service, the postal service, even our military branches. These are the things that make this country a leader in the world. We need to make the right decisions for rebuilding our infrastructure, and our positive attitude — not the negative model that we quickly grab as a nation today.

“The reality of the United States is we need to think about rebuilding these things in a positive way. This community [St. Paul] has reclaimed its imperatives through a learning of the essential loss that you had. Thank you for bringing Amtrak to the St. Paul Union Depot.”

Federal Railroad Administration Deputy Administrator Karen Hedlund and local officials were on hand to inspect the new depot platform.

Amtrak P42DC No. 186, sleeper Pacific Cape, and Amtrak business car No. 10000 were on display. Boardman told Trains magazine that Amtrak would support the operation of a second Chicago-St. Paul train.

He said that once the new passenger cars ordered by several states enter service that Amtrak would have equipment available for the proposed service. Amtrak’s Midway Station in St. Paul saw its final train Wednesday afternoon when the eastbound Empire Builder arrived at 12:37 p.m. and departed at 12:54 p.m., more than five hours late.

Midway Station opened on March 1, 1978, to replace the Great Northern Station in downtown Minneapolis. Amtrak will continue to use the tracks at Midway Station for switching cars on and off the Empire Builder.

4 Firms Show Interest in Operating Hoosier State

May 8, 2014

Four companies interested in operating the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State have responded to the request for proposals issued by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

The quad-weekly train is funded in part by InDOT and seven local government entities along its route. Amtrak now operates the Hoosier State on days that the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

Submitting responses were Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago; Corridor Capital LLC of Los Angeles; Railmark Holdings Inc. of Wixom, Mich.; and Herzog Transit Services Inc. of Irving, Texas, teaming with Passenger Transportation Specialists Inc. of Oklahoma City, Okla.

Amtrak previously submitted a proposal for 2014-15. Bidders may submit proposals for everything from operating the train and route to simply providing services aboard the trains.

Iowa Pacific Holding President Ed Ellis told Trains magazine that his company’s proposal would continue to see the Hoosier State running as an Amtrak train with Amtrak crews, but Iowa Pacific would provide other elements of the service.

This would be similar to a setup in North Carolina where the state provides equipment and locomotives for the state-supported Piedmont while Amtrak provides operating crews and operates the train as part of its network.

Last October, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence announced an agreement to keep the Hoosier State operating in partnership with Indianapolis, Crawfordsville, Rensselaer, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County and Beech Grove. InDOT and its partners are paying $2.7 million to Amtrak to keep the Hoosier State running through this fall.

The state says it hopes to select a finalist this summer and begin negotiations that could lead to a public-private partnership to operate the train.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act ended federal support for certain Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles. The law allows states to contract with independent providers or Amtrak to operate the trains that they now help subsidize.

“It is exciting and interesting to receive four proposals that look at the Hoosier State passenger-rail service in different ways,” said Troy Woodruff, INDOT’s chief of staff. “This private sector interest opens the door for other states and regions that are supporting passenger-rail service.”

InDOT is seeking to improve the Hoosier State service, increase the number of passengers and decrease operating costs by opening the operation to competition from private operators in addition to Amtrak.

MDOT Expects Decision ‘Shortly’ on Equipment

May 8, 2014

Although it has already missed one deadline, the Michigan Department of Transportation expects to decide soon on an equipment supplier for new passenger equipment to be used on state-funded Amtrak trains.

In saying that the decision would be made “shortly,” Tim Hoeffner, director of the MDOT’s Rail Division, said “ . . . this is a very complex process with many moving parts.”

The state’s timetable calls for delivery and testing to begin in August and the equipment to enter service by Sept. 8, 2014. MDOT in March issued two requests for proposals for passenger cars capable of 110 mph operation that would replace existing Amtrak equipment now assigned to Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac)

The new equipment would be assigned to two of the three consists now used by the Wolverines One request for proposal was to provide equipment that must provide at least 310 seats per train and the other request for proposal was for maintenance at Pontiac. The proposals were due by March 31.

MDOT has stated that it wants to end reliance on Amtrak equipment and reduce how much it pays for use of that equipment.

The state is part of a consortium that is acquiring 88 bi-level passenger cars from Nippon Sharyo, but that equipment will not begin arriving until 2017

In the interim, MDOT wants to provide sufficient capacity to support additional train frequencies as well as provide additional capacity.

Michigan’s request for equipment sparked discussion that two Talgo train sets originally purchased by Wisconsin for Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison Hiawatha service expansion might wind up on the Wolverines.

That equipment has been sitting unused in Milwaukee because Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker rejected $810 of federal stimulus funds and canceled the project after he was elected in 2010.

“The RFP is set up for any and all equipment that can be made available immediately,” Hoeffner said.

MDOT owns Budd-built bi-levels purchased from Chicago’s Metra for possible commuter rail service in the state and Hoeffner said using that equipment “is not out of the question if they can be certified for 110 mph operation.” The requests for proposals assigns varying point values for such factors as speed capability, price per revenue seat, quantity, and equipment condition and characteristics.

The winning maintenance bidder will not necessarily be the same company as the equipment supplier. The maintenance contract is for providing “turn-around servicing, pre-trip inspections and brake tests, interior cleaning, toilet servicing” and other maintenance functions at Pontiac and “at its option, turn-around servicing at Chicago,” where Amtrak maintenance is currently based for all Midwest state-supported trains.

The request for proposal document is seeking 98 percent reliability with penalties assessed if this is not achieved.

Pets Can Ride Amtrak in Illinois Test Project

May 8, 2014

Pets can now ride Amtrak trains in Illinois as part of a pilot program being conducted in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Transportation

Dogs and cats will be permitted aboard the Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg, which both operate between Chicago and Quincy, Ill.

Animals cannot weight more than 20 pounds each, advance registration is required and there will be a $25 handling fee will be charged.

“Amtrak is supportive of accommodating pets on trains, and through direct collaboration with the Illinois Department of Transportation and a working group led by U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham of California, we are optimistic a plan can be reached to address the needs and concerns of all our passengers,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman.

The pilot will run between May 5 and Nov. 2.