Archive for July, 2014

SW Chief Whistlestop Tour to Include N.M.

July 10, 2014

The Southwest Chief whistlestop tour through Kansas and Colorado on Friday will continue into New Mexico on Saturday.

Trains magazine reported on Wednesday that the special with Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman aboard will operate from Topeka, Kan., to La Junta, Colo., on Friday, spend the night in La Junta and then roll into New Mexico on Saturday for visits to Trinidad, Colo.; and Raton, Las Vegas; and Lamy, N.M.

During the Saturday trip, the special is expected to make an extended lunch stop in Raton,  where Boardman is expected to visit the nearby Philmont Boy Scout Ranch. The special will terminate in Albuquerque, N.M.

BNSF Executive Chairman Matt Rose will ride the special on Friday as far west as Dodge City, Kan.

On both days, the train will stop at stations to allow media to interview Amtrak personnel. Amtrak and BNSF officials  are visiting the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles train to build support for a plan for the states of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to share the costs of rebuilding the track used by Amtrak in those three states.

BNSF plans to downgrade the track to 30 mph speeds, but is willing to participate in a cost sharing plan involving Amtrak and the states to maintain the route to conditions allowing the Southwest Chief to operate at 79 mph for the next 10 years.

Local officials will board the train at station stops and ride to a station further down the line. During their time on board, the officials will attend briefings in a theater car where the track can be viewed.

Amtrak’s contract with BNSF to operate the Southwest Chief over its current route will expire in January 2016. It has estimated that maintaining the present route via Albuquerque for the decade following will cost $100 million.

Kansas has applied for a $15 million federal TIGER grant that – with contributions from on-line cities, Amtrak, and BNSF – would total $24 million. Colorado’s legislature earlier this year approved legislation that authorizes a commission to also provide financial support as long as other states contribute. The Colorado bill, though, mandated that the Chief be rerouted through Pueblo, Colo.,

New Mexico’s legislature did not approve a funding initiative and Governor Susanna Martinez has repeatedly said that maintaining the passenger route is a federal government responsibility. Nonetheless, a task force is studying the economic impact of keeping or losing the Southwest Chief. That report is expected to be released in November.

Amtrak CEO, BNSF Officials to Barnstorm Kansas

July 9, 2014

Amtrak President Joe Boardman will join top executives of BNSF on a whistle-stop trip across Kansas on the route of the Southwest Chief.

Friday’s event takes place amid efforts in Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado to preserve keep the train on its current route between Newton, Kan., and Albuquerque, N.M.

BNSF is downgrading the route and has demanded millions to maintain it to passenger train speeds.

The legislatures of the three affected states have considered plans to share the costs of maintaining the track.

Boardman and BNSF chairman Matt Rose plan to talk with local officials at each stop about the funding issues.

The train is scheduled to leave Topeka at 9 a.m. and stop in Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City.

 

3 More New Viewliners Released From Factory

July 9, 2014

Three more Amtrak Viewliner II cars were released on Tuesday from the CAF assembly plant in Elmira Heights, N.Y.

They included diner 68000 Albany, sleeper 62500 Portage River, and baggage-dormitory 69000. All were moved to Amtrak’s Albany/Rensselaer, N.Y. facility.

The ferry move was headed by P42DC No. 79 with Amcafe No. 48154 along as a as a rider car. GP38-3H No. 520 brought up the rear.

These are the first Viewliner II cars to be released since baggage car No. 61000 left the plant on May 16. Now, one of each car configuration is available for testing.

Talks Progressing on Hooiser State Takeover

July 7, 2014

An aggressive marketing campaign, connecting service from offline cities and daily service are among the possibilities that Chicago-based Corridor Capital has put on the table in its discussions with Indiana officials in advance of its taking over management of the Hoosier State route.

But before any of that comes to pass, Corridor Capital needs to reach an agreement with CSX, over whose tracks the Chicago-Indianapolis train operates.

Currently, the Indiana Department of Transportation and seven local government entities along the route are paying Amtrak $3 million to operate the quad-weekly train. Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal serves the route on the days that the Hoosier State does not run.

To increase ridership, Corridor Capital has proposed providing shuttles to link such Indiana cities as Kokomo, Terre Haute or Bloomington to the Hoosier State..

Providing daily service and increasing the number of roundtrips per day are also in the discussion, but officials said the more trains that are operated the more expensive it is.

Corridor Capital is expected to use former Santa Fe Hi-level cars on the route.

The company has proposed having a three-year contract with INDOT and the served communities to operate the route, but how much that will cost has yet to be worked out.

Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said every community along the Hoosier State route must renew its commitment to fund the line.

“If one group pulls out, that would be a near fatal blow or fatal blow,” he said.

Roswarski said the goal is to have a new provider in place by Oct. 1 when the initial 12-month contract between state and local governments and Amtrak expires. There is an option to extend the operating contract for another four months.

Aside from INDOT, funding for the Hoosier State is being provided by Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Indianapolis, Crawfordsville, Rensselaer and Beech Grove.

The current Hoosier State schedule has it scheduled to depart Indianapolis at 6 a.m. and to arrive in Chicago at 10:05 a.m. The train departs Chicago at 5:45 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Indianapolis at 11:50 p.m.

This schedule mirrors that of the Cardinal between Chicago and Indianapolis.

Nearly 37,000 people rode the train during fiscal year 2013, generating nearly $900,000 in revenue, according to Amtrak.

Design Work to Start on Belvidere Station

July 7, 2014

Work on building an Amtrak station in Belvidere, Ill., could begin later this year. The station would serve a planned service between Chicago and Rockford that the Illinois Department of Transportation will help fund.

That service, which will also serve Elgin and Huntley, could begin in late 2015.

Belvidere officials will meet with design engineers in the next two to three weeks to review the station’s design.

Stephen Ernst, executive director of the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Planning, said that Boone County and Belvidere leaders are “well along the way” toward finalizing construction plans.

The station and transit center would be built north of city hall between Main and State streets.

Red, White and Late

July 7, 2014

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Amtrak’s many troubles over the past couple of days were described at length in a posting on this site late last week. I followed the progress of the eastbound Lake Shore Limited as it made its way eastward on Friday with an eye toward photographing it at Olmsted Falls.

No. 48 came breezed through the Falls at 12:15 p.m. It arrived at the Cleveland Amtrak station at 12:35 and departed 10 minutes later, nearly seven  hours off schedule.

It would later arrive into New York’s Penn Station at 1:41 a.m., which was seven hours and 18 minutes off schedule.

NS Derailment Sends Amtrak Trains Detouring

July 4, 2014

The Norfolk Southern derailment west of Toledo on Thursday morning that blocked both mainline tracks of the Chicago Line played havoc with Amtrak operations, including an already excessively late westbound Lake Shore Limited.

Some Amtrak trains detoured around the wreckage via the route in southern Michigan used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains. This included the westbound Lake Shore Limited and the eastbound Capitol Limited that departed Chicago on Thursday night.

No. 49 left New York three minutes late on Wednesday but by the time it left Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y., it was just over six hours behind schedule. That ballooned to eight hours late by the time it departed Buffalo, N.Y.

Much of the tardiness was due to the Boston section, No. 448, arriving at South Station in Boston more than 10 hours late on Tuesday.

Whereas No. 448 is scheduled to arrive at 9:10 p.m., it didn’t reach South Station until 7:36 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

In ordinary circumstances, the equipment from inbound No. 448 has more than 12 hours before it is turned to become No. 449.

But on Wednesday No. 449 did not get out of South Station until 5:37 p.m., which is 5 hours and 42 minutes late.

Amtrak held No. 49 at Albany-Rensselaer for six hours until No. 449 arrived.

The cascading effect of late trains getting later had begun when No. 48 departed Chicago on Monday night at 11:25 p.m., which was nearly two hours off schedule.

The train then proceeded to lose time on its eastward journey, with much of the lost time occurring between Elkhart and Waterloo, Ind.

When it departed Waterloo, it was nearly eight hours late. No. 48 departed Cleveland at 2:20 p.m., on Tuesday, which was 8.5 hours late. It reached New York at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday, which was just over 10 hour late.

Online reports on Thursday from a passenger aboard No. 49 on who posted the train’s progress on Trainorders.com, indicated that the Lake Shore left Toledo at 2:10 p.m., which was nearly eight hours late.

The train took much the same route that the former Amtrak Lake Cities took between Chicago and Toledo before it ceased serving Toledo in 1995.

Passengers aboard No. 49 en route to stations at Bryan, Ohio; and Waterloo, Elkhart and South Bend, Ind., disembarked at Toledo and rode a chartered bus to their destination.

A similar procedure played out for passengers aboard the eastbound Capitol Limited. They were taken by bus to South Bend, Elkhart and Waterloo on Thursday night. No. 30 does not stop at Bryan.

No. 49 reached Jackson, Mich., at 6:18 p.m. and Battle Creek at 7:09 p.m. where there was a crew change. Passengers were served dinner between 6 and 6:30 p.m., according to the online report.

“The on-board crew has been very pleasant and courteous,” the online report from aboard the train said. “Jason the Boston sleeper attendant and Susie in the cafe car (a 22-year Amtrak veteran) are great. Susie work for years in the Chicago reservation center until it closed and now works the cafe car on the Boston section of the Lake Shore.”

Detouring Nos. 49 and 30 were given a third P42 locomotive that could handle the high-speed section (110 mph authorized) of Amtrak’s Michigan Line.

No. 49 had P42 Nos. 35, 101 and 91 along with 15 cars. A photograph of the train posted on TO showed that all three sleepers were positioned at the rear of the train next to the Viewliner diner Indianapolis.

Ordinary operating practice is to have the Boston section sleeper as the second car behind the motive power.

No. 49 departed Battle Creek at 7:19 p.m. and then cleared Porter, Ind., at 8:05 p.m. CDT.

An online posted said he heard the NS Chicago West dispatcher say that he wanted to give No. 49 a “straight shot” as best he could, into Chicago.

The equipment on No. 49 that arrived in Chicago on Thursday night became the eastbound Lake Shore Limited that was scheduled to depart Thursday night.

Amtrak No. 30 picked up a pilot and cleared Porter at 8:51 p.m. CDT on Thursday.  It had locomotives 127, 23 and 202. High Iron Travel Rail Excursions Private Car Caritas was on the rear.

A passenger aboard the train said on TO that it reached Jackson, Mich., at about midnight.

No. 30 later departed Toledo at 4:59 a.m., which was 5 hours, 10 minutes late. It arrived in  Cleveland at 7:08 a.m., 5 hours and 23 minutes late.

In the meantime, No. 48 departed Chicago on Thursday night (actually Friday morning) at 1:46 a.m., which was 4 hours and 16 minutes late.

No. 48 did not detour via Michigan because NS had one track opened at the derailment site by the time No. 48 reached the Chicago Line.

It departed Elkhart at 5:26 a.m., 5 hours and 4 minutes late. It later departed Bryan at 6:45 a.m., which is 5 hours and 15 minutes late.