Archive for June, 2014

New Amtrak Baggage Cars to Have Bike Racks

June 28, 2014

Amtrak’s new baggage cars will come with bicycle racks on all of its long-distance trains.

“This is a service and amenity that we want to make sure we can offer,” said Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz.

Amtrak plans to place into service 55 new baggage cars on all 15 long-distance routes. Amtrak offers roll-on service on a few trains, but for now, those who want to travel with bicycles on trains with baggage cars must box them as checked baggage.

The policies for bicycles at stations with checked baggage service are still are being worked out,. Schulz said.

Last October, Amtrak allowed 20 bicyclists to take their bikes onto a Capitol Limited train in Pittsburgh in a one-day trial of roll-on service that participants said was successful.

Amtrak said it has begun field-testing the baggage cars in Chicago, New Orleans, Miami and the Northeast Corridor. Testing will continue into October.

Advertisements

Firm Named to Build New Rochester Station

June 28, 2014

The Pike Co. Inc. has been chosen to oversee the design and construction of a new intermodal transportation center to be used by Amtrak in Rochester, N.Y.

Based in Rochester, Pike will work with LaBella Associates, Kisan Engineering, Moffat & Nichol Engineering, Foundation Design, Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect and Atlantic Testing Laboratories.

Amtrak currently uses a station built in the 1970s. The new facility will cost an estimated $29.8 million. Amtrak will own and operate the station.

The station will include two additional passenger tracks and a new two-sided high-level passenger platform. Greyhound and Trailways buses are expected to use the facility.

CSX will perform preliminary site work this summer in advance of the design build team’s work, which is expected to begin in the fall. Project funding includes a $15 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program.

NYSDOT and FRA will provide $3.5 million in funding for preliminary engineering. The City of Rochester will provide $500,000 while New York State Rail funds will make up the remainder of project costs. The contractors and the New York State Department of Transportation will negotiate a final contract this summer. The contract will then need to be approved by the state attorney general and comptroller.

Rochester is served by eight daily Amtrak trains, including the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited, the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf and two pairs of Empire Service trains between New York and Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Chicago Firm Tapped to Manage Hoosier State

June 27, 2014

The Indiana Department of Transportation has selected Corridor Capital LLC as the preferred vendor to manage and operate a passenger rail route between Chicago and Indianapolis.

The Chicago-based passenger rail development company would take over the service on Oct. 1. Currently, Amtrak operates the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State over the route along with the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal. The trains do not operate between Chicago and Indianapolis on the same days.

Last fall the Indiana Department of Transportation along with local governments based in communities served by the Hoosier State agreed to provide funding to keep the train rolling for another year.

Earlier this year, InDOT issued a request for proposals to take over the service. INDOT officials said that proposals were submitted by Corridor Capital, Herzog Transit Services and Passenger Transportation Specialists, Iowa Pacific Holdings, and Railmark Holdings. Amtrak also submitted a proposal.

Corridor Capital is now in discussions with InDOT and the online communities about taking over the Hoosier State. Once Corridor Capital takes over, the train is expected to continue to operate with Amtrak conductors and engineers. Corridor Capital will provide equipment and maintenance.

Still being negotiated are such details as costs, ticket pricing, café car service, and business class amenities. The Hoosier State would use some of the 50 former Santa Fe Hi-Level equipment owned or controlled by Corridor Capital.

“We’re working together to open this up to competition to hopefully develop a plan and seek out innovations that will allow this service to improve and be more financially self sustaining,” said InDOT spokesman Will Wingfield.

Trains magazine reported that Corridor Capital plans to hire Railplan International, a Baltimore-based designer of modular interiors, to retrofit luggage towers and modular bathrooms “to make them fit for daily intercity operation and be responsible for maintenance.”

Railplan holds maintenance contracts for commuter services Virginia Railway Express and MARC in the Washington, D.C., area, and recently took over maintenance of North Carolina’s intercity passenger trains.

Founded in 2005, on its website, Corridor Capital describes itself as “a passenger-rail development company that assembles and integrates the multiple elements needed to provide a successful intercity passenger-train service.

“The company owns uniform passenger rolling stock and commands the professional skills of several dozen veteran passenger-train professionals, including civil and mechanical engineers, passenger-car and locomotive builders, station and terminal managers, locomotive and car maintenance specialists, planners, financiers, information technologists, travel-marketing and ticketing specialists and contractors providing on-board food, beverage and hospitality services.

“At Corridor Capital, the train-and-travel package once delivered by a multitude of individual railroad companies has been reinvented and reassembled by a professional passenger-rail development company.  Just as a real-estate developer brings architects, engineers, planners, lawyers and financiers together to create a new office, residential or commercial project, Corridor Capital brings its own agile cadre of specialists together to create the ‘project’ America is waiting for: successful passenger trains.”

More information about Corridor Capital is available at its website at http://ccrail.com

 

3 New Ann Arbor Station Sites identified

June 27, 2014

Three sites have been identified to be the location of a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor, Mich.

URS Corp., an engineering and design firm hired by the city, recently narrowed the list of sites from eight to three, ranked them based on level of access to downtown and community activity centers, such as the University of Michigan Hospital and Central Campus.

The finalist locations include along North Street next to Margo Pond, the existing Amtrak site on Depot Street, and a parking lot on Fuller Road near the UM Hospital. The sites were reviewed for their environmental impacts, accessibility from existing roadways, and sufficient land for station facilities.

Ann Arbor officials want to design a station with the capacity to handle increasing ridership, while allowing dedicated space for buses.

The final design of a new Amtrak station is identified as a $2.6 million expense in the city’s 2015-2016 Capital Improvement Plan. Construction of the station is shown as a separate $44.5 million line item that same year.

Mayor John Hieftje said that he expects 80 percent of the funding to come from the federal government, with other local partners also contributing funds. A final recommendation for a specific site, including a conceptual design, is expected late this year.

Ann Arbor is served by six daily Wolverine Service trains operating between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

CSX Demands New Track in Empire Corridor

June 27, 2014

CSX is demanding a separate track for passenger trains operating more than 79 mph between Albany and Buffalo, N.Y.

The company made the demand in a filing that is part of a preliminary environmental impact statement for a proposal to raise the maximum speed limits for Amtrak trains using the Empire Corridor to 90 or 110 mph.

CSX said the dedicated passenger track would allow speeds of up to 125 mph.

The former New York Central Water Level Route between Schenectady and Buffalo sees 70 to 75 trains daily. It is, CSX said, the company’s “most important line” in its network.

The railroad said that adding additional passenger trains would only add more congestion, causing delays and hindering access to freight customers on sidings along the main line.

Without adequate separation between the freight tracks and a newly constructed passenger track, high-speed trains also would pose increased danger to CSX track crews, it said.
CSX criticized the methods used to compile the draft statement, saying the projected costs don’t include payments for use of CSX property, which it said is worth “billions.”

The railroad also contended that the draft statement doesn’t reflect the detrimental environmental impact that would result from shifting freight traffic from trains to less fuel-efficient trucks as shippers facing delays from the added rail congestion moves freight to the highways.

CSX said that increase in truck traffic would lead to additional road and bridge maintenance cost.

The CSX filing said the statement fails to consider other, more cost-effective, ways to improve passenger mobility, including improved bus service and air service.

However, the filing doesn’t acknowledge that scheduled air service along the Albany-Buffalo corridor is nonexistent because air carriers have been unable to serve the route profitably.

CSX did note the relative lack of population density and transit connections around existing stations in Buffalo, Syracuse, Utica, Rome, and the Capital Region, factors that could affect demand for the service.

The railroad said the study should have considered the Albany-New York City and Albany-Niagara Falls segments as different corridors, allowing policy makers to proceed with improvements on the first and choosing the “no-build” alternative for the second.

CSX freight trains do not use the same tracks s Amtrak uses between Albany and New York City.
The New York State Department of Transportation collected comments from the public during several meetings across the state and through written submissions. On March 21, it extended the deadline for comments to April 30. CSX filed its comments that day.

The final draft environmental impact statement is expected to be released six months to a year after the comment period ends. Another environmental impact statement on the alternative selected will then be produced.

Buses to Replace Texas Eagle Segment

June 27, 2014

The Texas Eagle will not operate in Texas between Fort Work and San Antonio for two months with buses providing substitute transportation.

The service interruption is due to track work being performed by Union Pacific and by BNSF Railway.

The Chicago-San Antonio train will continue to operate as normal east of Fort Work. The service interruption will begin on July 4 and extend through Sept. 3. The affected stations include Cleburne, McGregor, Temple, Taylor, Austin, and San Marcos.

MDOT to Study Detroit-Holland Service

June 21, 2014

Passenger trains haven’t travelled the 200-mile former Pere Marequette route between Detroit and Holland, Mich., since 1971, but that may change if the results of a pending study are favorable.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is preparing to commission a study of the instituting Amtrak service on the Detroit-Holland route.

“Right now, we need to figure out if there is actually a potential ridership along the route before we move this any further,” said MDOT spokesperson Michael Frezell.

MDOT officials decided to undertake the study after Amtrak ridership in Michigan had risen in past 10 years by nearly 300,000.

“This would be the first step in a many-step process. If we are to look for any type of passenger rail along any line between any of those cities, it would take years,” Frezell said.

“Right now, we need to figure out if there is actually a potential ridership along the route before we move this any further,” he said.

Aside from demand, another challenge to implementing the service would be the need to rehabilitate a route that has been freight only since May 1, 1971, when Chesapeake & Ohio service was discontinued with the coming of Amtrak.

The C&O operated two daily roundtrips over the route between Detroit and Grand Rapids, although one pair of trains did not run on Sundays.

The route also served Lansing, the state capitol that is today served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Port Huron, Mich., Blue Water. That train is funded in part by MDOT.

CSX proposed within the past year to remove the block signals from the Detroit-Grand Rapids route, citing the expense of maintaining the signals and the relatively low train density.

Although the Detroit-Holland passenger service study has yet to begin, its results are due to the Michigan legislature by May 2015.

Track Work Delays Expected this Month

June 19, 2014

Summer if the time of baseball, backyard barbecues and beach visits, and also the season for delays to Amtrak trains due to track rehabilitation.

Amtrak has been posting notices on its website about expected delays along various routes.

Perhaps the poster child for delays is the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

A recent service advisory on the Amtrak website warned that “passengers traveling aboard Empire Builder trains can encounter significant delays due to very high volumes of freight train traffic along the route.”

Delays during May and June averaged between three and five hours. Trains are getting delayed o BNSF tracks west of St. Paul, Minn., because of work to expand the capacity of former Greater Northern Hi Line.

BNSF has experienced increased traffic due to the development of the Bakken Shield crude oil fields.

For the summer, the westbound Empire Builder is using a detour route that is normally freight only in an effort to mitigate the delays. That means that passengers for No. 7 to and from Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby, N.D. are traveling by bus to those cities. The detours are expected to last through Oct. 1.

Delays of up to 45 minutes are expected through June 28 for trains traveling on CSX in New York State.

Affected are the Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York), Maple Leaf (New York-Toronto) and Empire Service Nos. 280, 281, 283 and 284 (New York-Niagara Falls). CSX is performing track work west of Albany, N.Y.

Missouri River Runner Trains 311 and 314 will be replaced by buses on part of their routes June 16 through the 21 as Union Pacific Railroad does track work in Western Missouri.

Amtrak is carrying passengers booked on the morning trains from St. Louis (westbound Train 311) and Kansas City (eastbound Train 314) on buses between Jefferson City and Kansas City on selected days.

Trains 313 and 316 will operate as scheduled the length of the route.

Amtrak Offering Sale Fare Through June 26

June 19, 2014

Amtrak has announced a nationwide fare sale for travel from Aug. 18 to Nov. 3. Passengers must book their trips with Amtrak by June 26.

In a news release, Amtrak said that seats and times available for the sale are limited.  Tickets are non-refundable and some blackout dates may apply. The discounted fare is only valid on coach seats and cannot be used on accommodation upgrades.

Amtrak Begins Testing Viewliner Baggage Cars

June 19, 2014

Viewliner1

Amtrak has begun field testing four Viewliner baggage cars that are part of an order of 55 new Viewliner baggage cars being built by CAF USA of Elmire, N.Y.

No. 61000 will travel on trains in the Northeast Corridor and see duty on runs to Chicago (Cardinal and Lake Shore Limited), New Orleans (Crescent) and Miami (Silver Star and Silver Meteor)

The baggage cars are expected to be assigned to trains on all of Amtrak’s 15 long-distance routes.

The baggage cars are part of a larger order for 130 single-level, long-distance Viewliner II passenger cars, which also include diners, sleepers, and baggage-crew dormitory cars.

“The updated design provides for improved reliability and maintenance, and better baggage loading/unloading procedures,” Amtrak said in a news release. “Also, the new built-in luggage racks can secure unboxed bicycles to support the growing demand by passengers to bring their bikes onboard an expanding number of routes.”

The field testing program includes compatibility tests to ensure that the baggage car couples cleanly, and can operate through a curve without interference, with numerous types of Amtrak cars and locomotives.

In addition, there also are tests for speed, stability, braking, noise, wheelset/rail interaction, as well as baggage handling. The field testing will continue through October.

Amtrak expects these cars to begin entering revenue service by late 2014.

“All four car types will modernize the Amtrak fleet, improve reliability and maintenance, upgrade passenger amenities, travel at speeds up to 125 mph, and replace units built as far back as the 1940s and 1950s,” Amtrak said. “The diner, sleeper and baggage-dorm cars will be used on eastern long-distance routes, with the first units of each expected to begin field testing this summer.”

“With the launch of the Viewliner II, Amtrak is also launching Amtrak America, a brand that will encompass all that is great about Amtrak’s long-haul trains, including those with sleeper class service,” said Amtrak spokeman Steve Kulm.

“Amtrak’s route brands will continue, and this brand will make overall service offerings clear to our customers and stakeholders,” he said. “Amtrak America will utilize our Phase Three striping on the Viewliner IIs as a tribute to our heritage. The first cars released from production will also carry Amtrak’s historic logo in honor of our past.”