Archive for July, 2014

E. Lansing Station Access Restricted

July 26, 2014

A six-week demolition project will result in the Amtrak station in East Lansing, Mich., being a pick-up and drop-off only starting July 28. Station parking will be limited. Passengers and others are asked to use caution as they must walk through the parking lot near the work area. East Lansing is served by the daily Chicago-Port Huron, Mich., Blue Water.

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Hoosier State in Trouble if Indy Pulls Funding

July 25, 2014

Amtrak’s Hoosier State may be doomed after the City of Indianapolis decided to cease helping to fund the quad-weekly service between Chicago and Indy.

Indianapolis was one of a handful of communities served by the train that agreed to help fund it last October after a new federal law took effect that shifted more of the burden of funding the losses of short-haul trains onto state and local governments.

“They have told me they are not interested in doing it next year, and take that as a final no,” said Bob Zier, director of multimodal program and planning for Indiana Department of Transportation.

The news comes shortly after INDOT selected a Chicago company, Corridor Capital, to take over management of the train in October.

Corridor Capital officials have been talking about trying to boost ridership on the service, which is among the least patronized of Amtrak’s short-distance trains by assigning differing equipment, providing modest food service and instituting Wi-Fi service.

In the one-year deal approved last fall, IDOT agreed to provide half of the money, about $1.4 million, to keep the Hoosier State operating. Local governments in Indianapolis, Beech Grove, West Lafayette, Lafayette, Crawfordsville and Tippecanoe County, kicked in the other half.

Ryan Vaughn, an aide to Indianapolis Mayor Gregory Ballard, said that funding the Hoosier State doesn’t make financial sense for the city. The aide said the city’s participation hinged on improvements for Union Station, which is in desperate need of repairs.

Vaughn said it’s hard for the city to take on funding rail service when the needs at Union Station are so great.

He said if Indianapolis can get a federal grant to help with improvements at Union Station, the city might be able to help fund the Hoosier State.

But the deal would need to be done by Sept. 30 although INDOT can apply for one four-month extension.

That Indianapolis wants to end its funding of the Hoosier State doesn’t surprise Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton. “We had a sense Indianapolis wasn’t fully on board from day one,” he said.

Barton doesn’t think the Hoosier State can survive without Indy’s contribution.

“If you look at their contribution, do the math. It doesn’t work out,” he said. “Theirs was a diversion of INDOT funds that they were getting from INDOT anyway. It wasn’t like Crawfordsville, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County and Rensselaer putting cash on the table.

“I think we’re all confident it can be self-sufficient once you get over the hump, but it will take a year-and-a-half to two years, and it will cost a little more with a private provider. I don’t think the rest of us can make up that difference.”

Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski agreeds that losing the support of Indianapolis might be a death blow for the Hoosier State.

“Without them in that financial mix … there’s a very strong possibility it would mean … the end of the Hoosier State,” he said.

Still, some Indiana officials are holding out hope that the train can be saved and turned over to Corridor Capital.

“We’re all trying to put together a scenario where we can implement the new train service,” Zier said. “I’m still optimistic. I think this is going to happen. It’s just a matter of getting everything to fall into place.”

However, it seems unlikely that Lafayette, West Lafayette, Crawfordsville and Tippecanoe County will agreed to commit more money toward the Hoosier State to make up for the loss of the contribution from Indianapolis.

“We certainly cannot kick in more funds,” said Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh.

Roswarski, Barton and West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis agreed that their cities don’t have additional money to subsidize the rail line.

Dennis is not as optimistic as Zier, but still has hope that a deal with Indianapolis or other investors might save the Hoosier State because, he said, in the world of politics, things aren’t always as they seem on the surface.

Also holding out hope is Crawfordsville mayor Barton.

“I don’t think it’s final, now. I’m hopeful,” Barton said. “INDOT is still working very aggressively to pull something together, but in all honesty, if we do not secure it by Sept. 30, it’s probably gone forever.”

The end of the Hoosier State would not mean the end of rail passenger service in any of the affected communities. Amtrak’s tri-weekly Cardinal, which operates on the days that the Hoosier State does not operate, would continue to run between Chicago and New York.

Train Time at Harpers Ferry

July 25, 2014
Amtrak's westbound Capitol Limited arrives at Harpers Ferry about 15 minutes late.

Amtrak’s westbound Capitol Limited arrives at Harpers Ferry about 15 minutes late.

Harpers Ferry, W.Va., is quaint and historic little town that sits astride the ex-Baltimore & Ohio mainline between Cumberland, Md., and Washington/Baltimore. Given its location on the Potomac River where the Shenandoah River branches off, Harpers Ferry had strategic significance during the Civil War era.

The town is perhaps best known, historically, as the site of an ill-fated October 1859 raid by abolitionist John Brown upon the federal arsenal there. The raid was eventually quelled by federal troops led by Col. Robert E. Lee and Lt. J.E.B. Stuart, both of whom became key military leaders in the Confederate Army.

Brown was captured and hung after being convicted by the State of Virginia, of which Harpers Ferry was a part of at the time of the raid. He was hung in nearby Charles Town, now part of West Virginia.

Today, the National Park Service maintains a park dedicated to the history of the Brown raid along with the town’s significance during the Civil War.

The B&O station is part of the Park and has been restored. Although not initially part of the Amtrak system when it began in 1971, Harpers Ferry has been a stop for many Amtrak trains including the Potomac Special, Shenandoah and, now, the Capitol Limited.

The B&O’s commuter service to Martinsburg, W.Va., was not incorporated into Amtrak and today is operated by MARC, which operates three roundtrips on weekdays between Martinsburg and Washington, D.C.

On a late Wednesday afternoon, I was able to photograph the arrival and departure of Amtrak No. 29 from the deck of a private home with the permission of the homeowner.

The train arrived at 5:33 p.m., 17 minutes late, behind Amtrak Phase IV heritage unit No. 184. That was a pleasant surprise. Otherwise, the Capitol was its usual self with three coaches, Sightseer lounge, dining car, three sleepers (one of which houses the crew), baggage car and two P42 locomotives.

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Some sleeper passengers can be seen looking over the town.

Some sleeper passengers can be seen looking over the town.

Taking in the sights from the Sightseer Lounge.

Taking in the sights from the Sightseer Lounge.

 

Emporia Eyes Getting Back on Amtrak Map

July 25, 2014

Residents of Emporia, Kan., are pushing to get Amtrak service restored to their community. They’ve formed the Emporia Amtrak Task Force is study how to raise money to conduct for an impact study to replace a former Santa Fe station that was destroyed by fire in 1999.

The organization is discussing its goals with Amtrak, BNSF Railway, Emporia State University, and community leaders.

The group’s  member say that having a train station would improve the city’s economic development efforts by offering rail service to the elderly and students at nearby Emporia State University.

Additionally, supporters believe the passenger service would entice people to visit the city’s attractions and attend business meeting. Located on the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, Emporia has not been an Amtrak station for 15 years. The closest station today is located 60 miles away in Topeka.

Train Time at Mattoon; End of an Era for Me

July 23, 2014
Amtrak's northbound Saluki is about to halt at the Mattoon, Ill., Amtrak station in March 2014.

Amtrak’s northbound Saluki is about to halt at the Mattoon, Ill., Amtrak station in March 2014.

I don’t remember when my first visit to the Illinois Central passenger station in Mattoon, Ill., occurred. It probably was the Sunday morning when my mother dropped my dad off at the station to catch the City of New Orleans to Carbondale, Ill., where he attended a one-day seminar.

I remember standing on the platform when the colorful streamliner came to a halt. My dad got a seat at a window facing the station and I waved at him as the train departed. I was probably 8 years old then, maybe slightly younger.

I was 13 when I boarded my first IC train at this station in May 1966 for a day trip aboard the Seminole to the Museum of Science and Industry. I would ride the IC to and from this station 10 times between 1966 and 1968.

My next trip from this station occurred in November 1972 and was my first trip aboard Amtrak. It was a day trip on the Panama Limited to Chicago to visit the Museum of Science and Industry.

Over the next decade, I boarded or disembarked from numerous Amtrak trains here. I really should someday count how many trips that was.

In August 1983, I moved away from Mattoon. Although I would get back there on occasion to visit my dad and stepmother, seldom did I take the train. I drove.

Another decade later that changed. I had moved to Cleveland and in April 1994 began a ritual that would play out over the next 20 years.

At the conclusion of the spring semester, I would take Amtrak from Cleveland to Chicago and connect to the Illini to reach Mattoon. Almost always these trips occurred in mid May or early June. In some years, I’d make another trip by train to Mattoon, usually in August.

I always looked forward to those trips. During the Chicago layovers I’d railfan on one of the busy freight lines served by Metra – the BNSF raceway being my favorite – or conduct research at the Chicago Public Library.

Much can change in 20 years. The Burlington Northern became Burlington Northern Santa Fe and then just BNSF. The Chicago & North Western merged into Union Pacific. The Soo Line became part of Canadian Pacific. And the Illinois Central was swallowed up by Canadian National.

Back in 1994, Amtrak’s Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited still had Heritage Fleet coaches and dome cars pulled by F40PH locomotives.

Aside from dining cars serving the Lake Shore, and baggage cars on both trains, the Heritage Fleet equipment is gone. F40s have given way to P42s.

Interestingly, the equipment on the Illini remains Horizon coaches just as it was when I began the ritual of taking Amtrak to visit my dad. However, the exterior livery and seat upholstery have changed.

Some changes had a tremendous upside. In October 2006, Amtrak introduced the Saluki, a state-funded Chicago-Carbondale service.

Scheduled to leave Mattoon at 9:31 a.m. for Chicago, it had a far more convenient schedule for me than the previous 5:23 a.m. scheduled departure of the City of New Orleans. Sure the City afforded me more layover time in Chicago and I liked having breakfast in the diner. But, man, it was early when I had to get up to go catch it.

I made countless memories during my trips to and from Mattoon over the past 20 years. I met a lot of interesting people in the dining car of the City. During one of those trips I had the best French toast that I’ve ever eaten.

I  knew that someday this ritual, like all of our life rituals, would end. I just always hoped it wouldn’t be soon.

The winds of change began blowing harder in February 2013 when my stepmother died. My dad was 87 and becoming frail. He had never had to live by himself. He got by all right for a year but my sister convinced him to move to Arizona to live with her.

Last March, I got in one more trip on Amtrak that I knew would be my last trip by train to see my dad in Mattoon.

It was a bittersweet experience that I made sure to document. As usual, there was quite a crowd waiting to board No. 390 in Mattoon on the morning that I departed.

The IC opened this station on Jan. 21, 1918. Thousands of trains and passengers have passed through its doors since then. Presidential candidates have given speeches. In April 1970, Steve Goodman got off here, having just completed the journey that would provide the impetus for him to finish a song about the train they call the City of New Orleans.

Many of the passengers on this March day were younger and probably students are nearby Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. More than likely, they have no memories and little knowledge of the Illinois Central Railroad. They’ve probably never seen photographs of the orange and chocolate brown trains that the IC once ran here that zipped along at speeds up to 100 mph between Mattoon and Champaign.

For most, if not all, of those passengers, it was just another trip. For me, it was the end of an era.

The ticket office at left is no longer used as Mattoon is not a staffed station.

The ticket office at left is no longer used as Mattoon is not a staffed station.

Waiting on the benches has long been a railroad station tradition. My dad is the man in the middle wearing gloves and holding a cane.

Waiting on the benches has long been a railroad station tradition. My dad is the man in the middle wearing gloves and holding a cane.

The former ICRR depot is now owned by the City of Mattoon and was restored to its early 20th century exterior appearance during a rehabilitation project a few years ago.

The former ICRR depot is now owned by the City of Mattoon and was restored to its early 20th century exterior appearance during a rehabilitation project a few years ago.

Waiting on the platform. Thousands have boarded Amtrak and Illinois Central Railroad passenger trains here since the IC began service here in the 1850s.

Waiting on the platform. Thousands have boarded Amtrak and Illinois Central Railroad passenger trains here since the IC began service here in the 1850s.

The conductor is looking ahead for passengers as the Saluki approaches the station in Mattoon.

The conductor is looking ahead for passengers as the Saluki approaches the station in Mattoon.

Aboard Amtrak No. 390 as it made the station stop in Champaign, Ill.

Aboard Amtrak No. 390 as it made the station stop in Champaign, Ill.

Corridor Capital Talks Hoosier State Upgrades

July 22, 2014

The company that will take over management of the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State is talking about making major improvements in the route, including the addition of Wi-Fi and a faster schedule.  However, food service is not necessarily among the plans.

Fritz Plous, the director of communications for Corridor Capital, spoke of his company’s plans to improve the Hoosier State during a town hall discussion in Crawfordsville, Ind.

In the short term, Corridor Capital needs to boost ridership, which is now about 85 passengers a day aboard the quad-weekly train.

“We need to see it at double that,” said Plous said, adding that such amenities Wi-Fi and information screens could draw more passengers.

“That’s the first step towards legitimacy: Get people a nice, new train,” Plous said. But, “the funding has to be there.”

Another priority will be reducing the current running time of 5 hours and 10 minutes from Indianapolis to Chicago to about two hours less. Plous did not provide any details as to how that could be accomplished on the train’s circuitous route.

“We won the beauty contest,” Plous said. “We don’t know what mojo made INDOT choose us.”

The Indiana Department of Transportation chose Corridor Capital from among four bidders to improve manage the Hoosier State.

Tim Maloney of the Hoosier Environmental Council said that Indiana has $2 billion in reserves and can afford to fund the train.

“We have the money,” he said. “But it depends on what our priorities are.”

Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton urged community members to lobby elected officials to boost the train.

“At the end of the day, you have to have some quality of life that attracts residents to your community,” Barton said. “We all recognize that. Once a line is gone, it’s going to be difficult to get it back.”

 

Ultra Late 49 and About to Get Later

July 21, 2014
The westbound Lake Shore Limited is more than 10 hours late as it saunters through Olmsted Falls, Ohio, on Sunday, July 20.

The westbound Lake Shore Limited is more than 10 hours late as it saunters through Olmsted Falls, Ohio, on Sunday, July 20.

Amtrak’s westbound Lake Shore Limited left New York Penn Station six hours late after a Saturday afternoon rock slide near Peerskill, N.Y., blocked the tracks. Not only was Amtrak affected, but so were Metro North commuter trains.

Hmmmmm. If this keeps up, No. 49 will be through Cleveland in late morning or early afternoon. No. 49 is scheduled to arrive into Cleveland at 3:27 a.m. and although it is frequently late, it seldom is late enough to be seen in daylight.

I kept an eye on No. 49 and decided to capture it at Olmsted Falls. Amtrak Julie predicted a 1:44 p.m. arrival before I left my house just after 11 a.m.

At some point, the Amtrak website put No. 49 into “service disruption” mode and the last report was departing Buffalo Depew station at 10:44 a.m., 10 hours and 45 minutes late.

I would later learn that No. 49 had arrived in Cleveland at 2:06 p.m., 10 hours and 33 minutes late.

With Julie of no help, I had to rely on radio reports on the NS road channel. The NS dispatchers had their hands full, particularly the Toledo East dispatcher who had to contend with 18 miles of single track west of CP 216 near Vermilion.

At one point, trains 21Z, 21G, 27J, 15N and 417 were backed up waiting for track as a small fleet of eastbounds was allowed to move on the single track.

On the Cleveland Terminal side, westbound 19A tripped the detector southeast of Cleveland. Trains 65R and 65K were re-crewed in the Cleveland area and from the sound of things on the radio more westbounds were coming.

The first report I heard of No. 49 was about 2:10 p.m. when the Cleveland Terminal dispatcher reported that Amtrak had just left the station. Shortly thereafter, the terminal dispatcher called Amtrak 49.

“Hey, do you guys have any passengers on that train?”

“Oh yeah, we’re packed.”

Presumably, the dispatcher took this information into account in deciding what trains to move and when. His immediate interest was the 65K, which had re-crewed at CP Max and was ready to leave. At first the dispatcher told the 65K that it would follow Amtrak out of CP Max.

Then the 65K was told to take ’em down to Eastland Road. Ultimately, the 65K was told to watch for signal indication at CP 194. No sooner had that information been conveyed but the Toledo East dispatcher came on to tell the 65K not to go past Lewis Road (MP 195) until instructed to do so.

Amtrak typically leaves the Cleveland station on Track No. 1 but must cross over to Track No. 2 to work the platform at Elyria. I am not sure if No. 49 crossed over at CP Max or at Berea. Whatever the case, the engineer called a clear signal for Track No. 2 at 195.

Shortly after Amtrak had passed Olmsted Falls at 2:35 p.m., I heard the Toledo East dispatcher tell the foreman at the single tracking site that five eastbounds would the next movements.

The dispatcher told Amtrak that it would go two to one at CP 210, I think it was, and would pull in behind a freight at CP 216. If I understood this correctly, it meant that No. 49 would be waiting for the five eastbounds plus the westbound in front of him to get out of the way.

I would find out later that I had heard correctly. A friend reported that No. 49 went through Vermilion at 5 p.m. it had taken an hour and a half for No. 49 to travel about 20 miles.

Here is what my friend reported:

“It [No. 49] ended up sitting for six eastbounds and the 15N went ahead of it through the single lining. We never did see the 417; it was the low man on the pole and then some. They ran the 65R oil train around it, as well.

“The 65K was still being held as were the 145, 11V and at least two others. The 18N was coming out of Bellevue and wondering why he was going into the siding at Avery with the trains it was meeting no where in sight. ‘No where for you to go once you get to Vermillon,’ came the explanation from the dispatcher.

“The dispatcher shifted the traffic direction to eastbound for the 20E, just as we were leaving about 6:15 p.m.

“There were some good chuckles from listening to the radio conversations. The 65R and the foreman were having a tough time hearing each other, but everyone else on the railroad could hear both of them just fine.”

An online report indicated that No. 49 terminated at Toledo and the passengers were taken by bus to Chicago. Passengers for No. 48 on Sunday night were to travel by bus to Toledo.

At about 6 a.m. on Monday morning, the Amtrak universe in Northeast Ohio had returned to normal. No. 48 was doing 79 mph east of Sandusky and appeared to be operating about an hour late on the Track a Train feature. The status mechanism said information on arrival and departure times at Cleveland were unavailable due to a service disruption.

As for No. 49 today, it was running an hour and 16 minutes late. I’m sure some passengers grumbled about that. If they only knew what they missed had they been scheduled to board their train a day earlier.

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Three generations of Amtrak rolling stock can be seen in this view. There are Amfleet II coaches, a heritage fleet dining car and two Viewliner sleepers.

Three generations of Amtrak rolling stock can be seen in this view. There are Amfleet II coaches, a heritage fleet dining car and two Viewliner sleepers.

Two passengers wave from the back of private car Mount Vernon.

Two passengers wave from the back of private car Mount Vernon.

Texas Eagle Busing Continuing into September

July 12, 2014

Texas Eagle passengers travelling to points south of Fort Worth, Texas, will be going by bus through September due to track construction at Tower 55 in Fort Worth.

Amtrak will use the Trinity Railway Express commuter line between Irving and Northeast Tarrant County. When this route reaches Fort Worth, passengers will have to get off the train and board long-distance buses, which will transport them to stops in Cleburne, McGregor, Temple, Austin, San Marcos and San Antonio.

This Sunday, July 13, will be the only exception to the modified schedule, when TRE will be closed for maintenance. Amtrak will take passengers as far as Dallas then bus them to the other Texas Eagle stops on the way to San Antonio.

“I think everyone knew this was coming. The problem is that Fort Worth’s Tower 55 is at the center of the railroad universe,” said Peter LeCody, president of Texas Rail Advocates and NARP board member. “It’s going to be a long, hot summer for passengers transiting through Fort Worth. Let’s hope there are orderly plans in place to minimize the inconvenience.”

 

Restoration of Williston Depot Underway

July 11, 2014
The Williston depot as seen from the westbound Empire Builder on May 23, 2014.

The Williston depot as seen from the westbound Empire Builder on May 23, 2014.

The former Great Northern passenger station in Williston, N.D., is getting a facelift.

Now used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, the station is being restored as part of a nearly half-million project.

Built by the Great Northern Railroad in 1910, the brick bulding will receive new mortar and washing the brick.

“The snow that lays up against the brick, it eventually erodes on the mortar. So that’s been our biggest job,” said project manager Ron Salazar. “It should look like what it looked like when it was built.”

Phase 1 of depot restoration includes restoring the area above the stone name cap and roofing, which will be complete in about three weeks.

The Williston depot serves more than 51,000 people a year.

Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari said that Phast 2, restoring the lower half of the building, is in the early stages and has not yet gone to bid.

 

Amtrak 448/449 Canceled on Select July Dates

July 11, 2014

The Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited will not operate on select dates in July as CSX crews undertake a track rehabilitation program on the train’s route east of Albany-Rensselaer. Affected passengers will be bused to and from their destinations.

Eastbound No. 448 will not operates between July 12 and 16, and July 19 and 23. Westbound No. 449 will not operate between July 13 and 16, and July 20 and 23.

Stations affected include Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester, Framingham and Boston South Station.  Amtrak will not operate buses to Boston Back Bay station during the service disruption and has instead referred passengers to MBTA service to Back Bay.