Archive for June, 2014

Empire Builder Resumes, Delays Continue

June 7, 2014

The five-day suspension of the Empire Builder between Minot, N.D. and St. Paul, Minn., has ended but the train continues to be hindered by delays.

On Friday No. 8 arrived more than four hours late into Chicago. Early Saturday morning the various sections of Nos. 7 and 8 that were on the road were running between 4.5 to 1.5 hours late.

The Empire Builder this week was suspended between St. Paul and Minot with no alternative transportation provided between those points.

The cancelations were at the request of BNSF to make track repairs after frost heaves and other roadbed problems following a harsh winter. No. 8 from Seattle/Portland resumed June 4, while No. 7 from Chicago resumed June 5.

During the service interruption, Amtrak operated a four-car Nos. 807 and 808 between Chicago and St. Paul with a coach-baggage car, two regular coaches and a Sightseer lounge.

Trains were turned on the Division Street wye just east of St. Paul Union Depot, an operation that had been a daily move when the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy and Great Northern operated the train.

In those days the Builder routinely used the wye to access the station when arriving from Chicago or Minneapolis.

The westbound Empire Builder will continue on its previously arranged summer-long detour over BNSF’s KO Subdivision between Fargo and Minot with Grand Forks, Devils Lake, and Rugby, N.D, stops served by a connecting bus.

LSL Boston Section Canceled on Select June Dates

June 7, 2014

Track work being performed by CSX has resulted in the suspension of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited between Albany-Rensselaer and Boston during select days in June.

Eastbound No. 448 will not operate June 7 – 11 and 14 – 18 while westbound No. 449 will not operate June 8 – 11 and 15 – 18.

Passengers will instead reach their destinations via connecting buses. Stations affected include Albany-Rensselaer, Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester, Framingham and Boston South Station.

Bus service will not be provided to Boston’s Back Bay station and passengers are being referred to MBTA for travel options to Back Back.

The New York section of the Lake Shore Limited will continue to operate normally during this period.

Dyer May Cease Maintaining Amtrak Station

June 4, 2014

Officials in Dyer, Ind., are hinting that they may no longer devote time and money toward maintaining the city’s Amtrak station, saying they are not sure that it is worth the cost.

Amtrak’s Cardinal and Hoosier State use the small shelter and platform in this Northwest Indiana city near Chicago.

Amtrak recently extended the platform, making it several times longer and Dyer public works employees have been spending more time at the station.

Dyer public works manager David Proud is concerned that extra time at the station means less time for workers on other duties.

City council members say that extra time may be a factor as they consider whether to continue the town’s arrangement with Amtrak.

Amtrak had a contract with the city to to maintain the shelter and platform for $1,000 a month.

That contract expired last year, but municipal employees have continued to care for the station and Amtrak has continued to pay.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the railroad is talking with the city regarding the maintenance of the Dyer station.

Trying to Figure Out the Empire Builder Sked

June 1, 2014

If you are riding or planning to ride Amtrak’s Empire Builder this summer good luck figuring out what the schedule will be.

Amtrak’s website and the already printed national timetable to be issued on June 9 show the schedule that has been in effect until mid April, when schedules changed to reflect more realistic operating conditions in Montana and North Dakota.

Currently, the Empire Builder is scheduled to depart Seattle and Portland, Ore., respectively at 1:40 p.m. The scheduled arrival time in Chicago three days later is 3:55 p.m.

Westbound, the current schedule shows No. 7 departing Chicago at 2:15 p.m. and arriving in Seattle at 11:55 a.m. No. 27, which splits from No. 7 in Spokane, Wash., is scheduled to arrive in Portland at 11:40 a.m.

The current schedules, which went into effect on April 15, are posted at Amtrak.com. But if you click on the schedule dated June 9, you’ll get a schedule that may or may not be likely to be valid on that date.

Given the on-time problems that the Empire Builder has been having, it is anyone’s guess as to what the schedule will actually be come June 9.

The June 9 timetable, which is now available at Amtrak stations, hints that the schedule shown on that page might be “adjusted.

 

Empire Builder Route Cut Until June 4

June 1, 2014

Amtrak has suspended the Empire Builder between St. Paul, Minn., and Minot, N.D. until June 4 and passengers are on their own at getting between the two points.

“By request of BNSF Railway Company due to current operating conditions on BNSF’s railroad in Eastern North Dakota and Western Minnesota, Amtrak will be canceling service in both directions between MOT and MSP, with no alternate transportation, for four days,” Amtrak said in a statement.

“This is effective with these dates of origin: Train 7 of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th and Train 8 of the 31st, 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The dates are staggered so rail equipment is in the correct location to resume service eastbound on the 4th and westbound on the 5th.”

The cancellations are just the latest in a string of setbacks for the Empire Builder that have included reroutes and adjusted schedules.

Trains magazine reported that an analysis of the Empire Builder  operations since the schedules were changed in mid April found that Nos. 7 and 8 still often operates late. Additional schedule changes are expected to be made this month.

One sticking point has been on the Canadian Pacific route between Chicago and St. Paul where No. 7 has arrived late at St. Paul by more than an hour on 19 occasions when the train had left Chicago either on-time or less than 20 minutes late.

Leaving late, congestion and speed restrictions on BNSF between St. Paul and Minot, even though detouring on the shorter KO Subdivision west of Fargo, have put the westbound train into Minot an average of two to three hours late. The additional “recovery time” – Amtrak’s euphemism for schedule padding – added west of Minot to No. 8 has substantially improved its punctuality into that North Dakota city despite having to contend with track work in Montana and North Dakota

However, if the crew that took No. 7 from St. Cloud, Minn., to Minot arrived late, the eastbound Builder has had to wait at least 45 minutes past its scheduled departure 12 times since April 15 until the same crew was available following a mandatory rest period.

Slow orders and congestion delayed the eastbound train into St. Paul on average another two hours per night.

In the two weeks that the renovated St. Paul Union Depot has hosted Amtrak, eastbound No. 8 has not departed for Chicago less than an hour late, but 12 Empire Builder departures from St. Paul were more than 2.5 hours late.

In the West, there have been occasional on-time arrivals at Seattle, but the eastbound Portland section has been delayed on several occasions, causing the combined train to leave Spokane several hours late. In the meantime, Amtrak has restored the connections to the southbound City of New Orleans at Chicago and the southbound Coast Starlight at Portland.

However, the Trains analysis found that the Empire Builder-City of New Orleans connection has been broken seven times since May 7.

The Builder  that was to arrived in Chicago on May 22, did not reach the Windy City until 2:49 a.m. on Friday morning after the train developed engine trouble west of Whitefish, Mont.

The scheduled arrival time of the Empire Builder is sthe City is 3:55 p.m. whereas the scheduled departure time of the City of New Orleans is 8:05 p.m.

“Amtrak continues to work closely with BNSF and CP regarding the best efforts of the host railroads to dispatch the Empire Builder while they are improving their infrastructure,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Amtrak, NS Upgrading Tracks in Indiana

June 1, 2014

Amtrak passengers travelling to Chicago know well the chokepoint that exists in Northwest Indiana where Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific and CSX trains jockey for space on a congested double-track mainline owned by NS.

But the congestion may be easing as a result of a $71.4 million project that will upgrade the route at eight locations between Porter, Ind., and the Illinois border.

The project will include signal and track upgrades, including new passing sidings and high speed crossovers at several interlockings.

The route sees 14 Amtrak trains and more than 90 freight trains per day, often resulting in heavy delays. A handful of CP and CSX trains use the line via trackage rights.

An NS official president said the improvements will “help our dispatchers to move trains better through this entire area, which will help all of us in the long run.”

The project, which was originally funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in 2010, has a target completion date of 2016.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence officially launched the project from the platform of the Hammond-Whiting Amtrak station and was joined by officials from NS, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration

“By reducing congestion where Lake Michigan funnels rail traffic east of Chicago and improving the flow of goods and people by rail the Indiana Gateway has the potential to grow Northwest Indiana’s reputation as a manufacturing and distribution center and positively impact economic development in the [Calumet] Region,” Pence said in a news release.

The Indiana Gateway project will improve seven locations on NS’s Chicago Line and one on the Amtrak Michigan Line. NS will install universal crossovers at five locations and construct a third mainline track at three locations.

“Norfolk Southern prides itself on a tradition of partnering with other transportation providers, including Amtrak,” said Jeff Harris, NS assistant vice president for operation planning. “The Indiana Gateway project provides important infrastructure improvements which, when completed, should allow for more efficient movement of passenger and freight trains through this vital rail corridor.”

Amtrak will build a new passing siding near the Porter interlocking, where NS, Amtrak and CSX lines intersect.

“Fourteen daily Amtrak trains every day share these tracks with dozens of Norfolk Southern freight trains, all with time-sensitive customers,” said Michael Franke, chief of Amtrak state government contracts. “The Indiana Gateway Project will improve some of the busiest tracks in the country, adding capacity and increasing the fluidity of all trains.”

Passenger Group Wants Better Cincy Service

June 1, 2014

All Aboard Ohio is calling for improved rail passenger service between Cincinnati and Chicago, including 110-mph service.

But the proposals are unlikely to get a friendly reception from the state.

The rail passenger advocacy group cited the inconvenience of the late-night, tri-weekly Amtrak’s Cardinal, which is the only intercity rail service in the Queen City.

The group said that the poor schedules and skimpy service of the Cardinal has kept Cincinnati from having the opportunity to participate in the surge in regional rail ridership enjoyed by other cities.

“We see the challenges with our air system. You see that intercity rail ridership numbers are going through the roof. We need to not be left behind. People say, ‘That is something I could really use.’” said Derek Bauman, a community activist and member of All Aboard Ohio’s board

All Aboard Ohio wants to see 110-mph rail service between Cincinnati Union Terminal and Chicago at least four times per day.

The group estimates that $40 million is needed for the first stage of track, signal and station projects.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich seems unlikely to be receptive to the proposal given that he rejected $400 million in federal funding for improved rail service in 2011.

Embattled Talgos Moved to Indiana

June 1, 2014

Two idle Talgo trainsets that may wind up in service in Michigan have been moved from Milwaukee to the Amtrak shops in Beech Grove, Ind.

The high-speed Talgo trainsets were built for service in Wisconsin but never turned a wheel in revenue service there.

Built in Milwaukee by a Spanish company, the trainsets had been sitting dormant at the Milwaukee facility. They left Wisconsin at 9:15 p.m. on Wednesday, May 28 en route to Indiana.

The equipment was ordered in 2009 by former Governor Jim Doyle as part of a plan for high-speed rail service on routes linking Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison.

Talgo received $52 million in payments before current Gov. Scott Walker killed the project in early 2011.

A Talgo spokesperson said the company moved the train sets to the Beech Gove shops in Indianapolis in order to save storage costs.

The Talgo trainsets each have 14 cars and were moved along with three spare cars behind two Amtrak locomotives. Talgo also built in Milwaukee two trainsets for the State of Oregon that has since entered service.

Talgo is suing the state for failing to honor its purchase agreement and says Walker intentionally obstructed the project.

The Wisconsin Department of transportation has counter claimed that Talgo did not satisfy the contract’s requirements, did not complete manufacturing and testing, and never delivered the equipment.

If the builder prevails in court, the state will have to pay for the equipment and it will still belong to Talgo.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is seeking to acquire passenger equipment to use on the Wolverine Service route between Chicago and Detroit and is widely thought to be considering using the idled Talgo equipment.