Archive for August, 2014

Michigan Summer Skeds to Stay Until October

August 27, 2014

The modified schedule for Amtrak’s Michigan trains that was imposed for summer track will continue through late September.

The track work is being conducted in western Michigan and affects the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service and the Chicago-Port Huron, Mich., Blue Water.

Primarily affected is westbound No. 365, the Blue Water. Wolverine passengers traveling from western Michigan points to Chicago will continue to have an additional eastbound trip on Sundays and an additional westbound trip on Mondays through Sept. 30. Regular Wolverine Service and Blue Water schedules will resume on Oct. 1. The schedule of the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Mich., Pere Marquette is not affected.

Illinois Seeking Increase in Amtrak Service

August 22, 2014
The southbound Illini is about to make its stop at Mattoon, Ill., as a northbound Canadian National freight train clears the station in August 2014.

The southbound Illini is about to make its stop at Mattoon, Ill., as a northbound Canadian National freight train clears the station in August 2014.

The state of Illinois is talking about expanding Amtrak service on the Chicago-Carbondale, Ill., corridor, which already sees six daily trains, four of them funded by the state.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin recently wrote to Amtrak to suggest that it offer additional service. Their letter noted that ridership has grown 117 percent since 2006 to nearly 400,000 passengers a year.

“Expanding service on this corridor will continue the great progress Illinois has made to improve passenger rail service throughout the state,” the letter said.

Amtrak’s Illinois service is funded by $10.5 million provided by the state. The Carbondale route is particularly popular with students attending University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University. Adding another round trip would help ease overcrowding and expand Illinois service. Quinn and Durbin requested that Amtrak start a formal feasibility study “as soon as possible,” though it is not clear where the additional subsidy funding would come from.

Scheduling of trains over the busy former Illinois Central main line could be an issue. “We do have some issues with the folks who own the tracks, CN” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. “And we do have some issues with how they’re handling our trains.” Amtrak has set no deadline for when it will schedule the feasibility study for the expansion of service.

State-funded trains on the corridor include the Saluki, which operates in both directions in the morning and the Illini, which operates in the evening. Also service the route is the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans.

Memphis Wants More Amtrak Service

August 22, 2014
Passengers board the City of New Orleans in March 2012.

Passengers board the City of New Orleans in March 2012.

Memphis wants more Amtrak service and it recently met with Amtrak officials to talk about how to make that a reality. One option would be to extend one of the Chicago-Carbondale, Ill., trains to Memphis.

Conducting a feasibility study to show the costs, benefits, and possible ridership for such an expansion would be the first step in doing that. With that data, Amtrak could work out the details with the Tennessee and Illinois departments of transportation.

“This is the most likely venue for expanding and adding new service to Memphis,” said Charlie Monte Verde, a government affairs official with Amtrak. “So, the future of expanding rail service in Memphis would be having a train in and out of here to Chicago every single day in each direction.”

Memphis is currently served by Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, which operates daily between Chicago and New Orleans. Memphis is located about 200 miles south of Carbondale.

“Our long-term goal would be to get another train coming through Memphis at Central Station,” said Memphis Councilmember Myron Lowery. “The markets between Chicago and Memphis and Memphis and New Orleans are very productive markets and are increasing on an annualized basis.”

The City of New Orleans is scheduled to stop in Memphis at about 6:30 a.m. southbound and 10 p.m. northbound. Amtrak traffic through Memphis has increased about 46 percent since 1997.

CN Called Out for on Amtrak Delays in Illinois

August 22, 2014

During a public hearing this week Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said Amtrak’s on-time performance is threatening the success of passenger rail in that state.

“Ridership and revenue are at all-time highs for Amtrak, and unfortunately so are delays. Late trains and unnecessary delays turn passengers away from Amtrak and can slow the incredible growth we have seen so far,” Durbin said.

Amtrak’s on-time performance has suffered the most along the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route owned and operated by CN, according to Durbin. The Illini and Saluki trains are arriving on time only 49 percent of the time, he said.

The route is also served by the Chicago-New Orleans long-distance train the City of New Orleans. Also attending the meeting in Champaign were Surface Transportation Board Chairman Dan Elliott and Amtrak board member Tom Carper. Elliott is meeting with community leaders throughout Illinois to discuss the delays along routes operated by Canadian National.

“We’re investing almost $2 billion in federal funds into our passenger rail infrastructure in the state,” Durbin said. “These funds are building new locomotives and train cars that will be used here in Champaign and across the Midwest. We cannot let these investments go to waste due to unnecessary freight train interference. Canadian National’s lack of cooperation with the State of Illinois and Amtrak is disappointing and I encourage them to step up and make the changes necessary to improve Amtrak service.”

In January 2012, Amtrak filed a complaint with the STB about CN’s interference of Amtrak trains on the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale corridor.

Amtrak and CN have tried to mediate the issue through the STB, but Amtrak’s on-time performance has continued to decline and CN has been more “recalcitrant” since a recent D.C. Circuit Court decision that invalidated Amtrak’s on-time performance metrics, according to Durbin’s press release.

Amtrak has indicated it will seek to reopen the case and the STB to rule on it.

Under its contact, CN’s on-time performance is measured based on whether the train moves across the Class I’s route in the pre-set number of minutes. Since winter ended, on-time performance of the Illini and Saluki has improved significantly as fluidity across CN’s North American rail network has slowly improved, said CN spokesman Patrick Waldron.

“Amtrak’s on-time performance figures recently published in the press incorporate delays not attributable to or involving CN, such as delays at stations, delays as the result of Amtrak equipment problems, or delays as the result of trains not coming to CN at the scheduled times,” said Waldron. “CN has provided the state of Illinois and Amtrak several proposals for infrastructure investments to add capacity and reduce passenger delays, particularly for the Illini train, on this busy and congested passenger and freight corridor.”

In 2008, Durbin helped pass legislation that gave STB the authority to enforce Amtrak’s rights to the rails. Last month, Durbin called on the STB to exercise its authority to investigate the causes of Amtrak delays and enforce on-time performance standards.

Earlier this month, Durbin wrote to Amtrak’s president and CEO Joe Boardman and its board chairman, Anthony Coscia, asking for a study to increase the number of trains along the Chicago-Carbondale line.

Empire Builder Gets More Bus Connections

August 22, 2014

The Empire Builder now has more bus connections in Montana.  Amtrak announced that an expanded partnership with Jefferson Lines bus company will take passengers to eight communities in Montana via the Amtrak station in Williston, N.D.

The Montana cities are Sidney, Glendive, Miles City, Billings, Livingston, Bozeman, Butte, and Missoula. Amtrak customer service representatives in Williston have been serving as Jefferson Lines ticket agents in the station building shared by Amtrak and Jefferson.

The Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder is scheduled to stop in Williston at 11:42 a.m. westbound and 4:09 p.m. westbound at the former Great Northern Railway depot.


Hoosier State to Continue Through Jan. 31

August 22, 2014

The beleaguered Hoosier State will continue to operate into early 2015 after the Indiana Department of Transportation and the communities paying for it agreed to a funding extension.

The City of Indianapolis had indicated earlier that it would cease funding the train when the contract to operate it expired on Oct. 1.

However, the contract with Amtrak to operate the Chicago-Indianapolis train allows for a four-month contract extension. INDOT is negotiating with Corridor Capital to improve the service and its funding model by the end of the contract extension on Jan. 31. The Hoosier State operates four times a week on the days that the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

“For the Hoosier State, we are hoping to build from the experience of North Carolina’s successful Piedmont service, in which the state and its private contractors worked with Amtrak to improve and grow passenger rail,” said INDOT multimodal director Robert Zier.

Work Begins on East Lansing Station

August 16, 2014

Work on building a new intermodal station in East Lansing, Mich., that will serve Amtrak recently got underway with the demolition of former Michigan State University Surplus Store and Printing Services buildings.

The $6.8 million facility will also be served by Greyhound, Megabus, Indian Trails bus lines and local Capital Area Transportation Authority buses. The latter will own the station, which is expected to open by next summer.

Funding for the project came from Federal Transportation Administration’s Bus and Bus Facilities Program Livability Initiative ($6.3 million) and the Michigan Department of Transportation ($500,000).

East Lansing is served daily by Amtrak’s Blue Water between Chicago and Port Huron, Mich.

Durbin Seeks STB Probe of CN Amtrak Handling

August 6, 2014

An Illinois senator has asked the Surface Transportation Board to investigate delays to Amtrak trains and blocked grade crossings by Canadian National.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the CN has failed to meet its obligations associated with the 2009 acquisition of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway. Durbin asked the STB to investigate the causes of Amtrak delays and enforce on-time performance standards

As a result of “CN’s obstructions and delays,” Amtrak trains along the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route  arrived on time only 54 percent of the time during the past fiscal year, one of the worst-performing corridors in the nation, the senator said in a news release. Durbin also claimed there were a record number of blocked crossings resulting from unit trains – some of which transport crude oil and ethanol – through such suburban Chicago communities as Barrington and Aurora.

There were 5,267 instances of crossings being blocked by trains for 10 minutes or more in the first quarter, the highest number since CN took ownership of the line, the senator wrote. “I am disappointed … that I continue to hear reports of CN’s unwillingness to meet its most basic obligations in delivering safe and reliable rail service in Illinois,” Durbin said. “CN has failed communities across Illinois, from the suburbs of Chicago that have experienced a record number of blocked rail crossings to towns in Central and Southern Illinois that must face repeated delays in Amtrak service.”

The STB established an oversight period of five years to monitor the operational and environmental impacts of the EJ&E acquisition.

Durbin asked the board to extend the oversight period to ensure that the issues are addressed. In June, Durbin wrote to CN President and Chief Executive Officer Claude Mongeau asking the railroad to address what he believes are ongoing safety and traffic issues.

Mongeau replied with a letter stating that as the weather improved, so did CN’s operations. CN and other Chicago-area railroads were coping with operational challenges and delays due to harsh winter conditions, Mongeau wrote.

With regard to Amtrak service, CN hosts three pairs of Amtrak trains between Chicago and Carbondale each day. Since winter ended, the Illini and Saluki on-time performances have improved significantly with some trains’ contractual performance reaching 90 percent or more in May and June, Mongeau said.

Per the contract, CN must operate the trains between Carbondale and Chicago in an agreed amount of run time. The route also hosts the City of New Orleans.

“Under that contact, CN’s on-time performance is measured based on whether the train moves across the CN route in the pre-set number of minutes. So far this fiscal year, from October to July, CN’s on-time performance under that contract for the two Saluki trains is 84 and 82 percent, and for the two Illini trains is 61 and 82 percent,” said Mongeau.

“Additionally, CN has provided the state of Illinois and Amtrak several proposals for infrastructure investments to add capacity and reduce passenger delays, particularly for the Illini, on this busy and congested freight corridor.”


Rail Work to Begin on Quad Cities Route

August 6, 2014

Iowa Interstate Railroad will begin signal system design work and tie replacement on 53 miles of track as a step toward instituting intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The work wil be done between Wyanet and Moline, Ill. Construction also is expected to begin in September on another part of the 162-mile route at the BNSF Railway’s Eola Yards in Aurora, Ill., state officials said.

“This agreement is another significant milestone in re-establishing passenger service between two great Illinois cities,” said acting Illinois Transportation Secretary Erica Borggren in a statement.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based IAIS is part of Pittsburgh-based Railroad Development Corp., owner of several short lines; its founder, Henry Posner III, is well-known as an advocate of U.S. passenger rail development.

The Quad Cities project also has been awarded $230 million in federal funding. Amtrak service on the route was to have begun in 2013, but has been delayed and no target inauguration date has been set. An Illinois DOT spokesman said the start of service and construction timeline will be announced following the completion of planning work before the end of the year.


No Injuries after No. 30 Hits NS Freight in Ohio

August 5, 2014

No injuries occurred when Amtrak’s eastbound Capitol Limited struck the rear of an NS freight train in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, near Cleveland early Monday morning,

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Trains that “a suspected rules violation occurred . . . It is under investigation by Amtrak and NS, with notification to the FRA.” The train was re-crewed, with significant delay. The incident occurred just before 4 a.m. At the time, No. 30 was running more than 2 hours later, having departed Elyria at 3:26 a.m.

Online reports indicated that No. 30 went into emergency and struck NS 058 at low speed. One reported described the collision as similar to a hard coupling.

There were no injuries to passengers or damage to equipment. The train departed Cleveland at about 11 a.m. The lead engine of the Amtrak train was P42 No. 147. Trailing was P32 No. 517.