Archive for November, 2014

Lake Shore Limited to be Restored Today

November 21, 2014

Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited will be restored today after a three-day suspension prompted by heavy snow in the Buffalo, N.Y., area.

Nos. 48 and 49 will depart as scheduled while New York-Niagara Falls, N.Y., Empire Service will not be fully restored until Saturday.

A modified schedule of Empire Service trains will operate today west of Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y., to and from Syracuse/Buffalo/Niagara Falls.
The New York-Toronto Maple Leaf was restored on Thursday.

Amtrak said that all trains operating through Buffalo will be subject to delay due to the very heavy snowfall and resulting rail traffic congestion due to temporary railroad closures.

Trains north and south of Albany-Rensselaer continued to operate this week.

 

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Lake Shore Ltd. Canceled Due to Snow in Buffalo

November 20, 2014

Amtrak service in New York State is being restored today after a snowstorm that dumped some 6 feet of snow in the Buffalo, N.Y., area prompted Amtrak to cancel service west of Albany, N.Y., over CSX on Wednesday.

Trains affected include the New York-Niagara Falls Empire Service, New York-Toronto Maple Leaf, and the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited. No alternate transportation is available. Amtrak service north, east, and south of Albany-Rensselaer continues to operate.

Amtrak said today on its website that the Maple Leaf would resume service today although it would be subject to delay to due to freight traffic congestion and weather conditions. The website said the Lake Shore Limited and Empire Service would remain suspended through mid-afternoon, but the train status section of the site did not show No. 49 as being canceled.

The Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited was not affected. Amtrak and CSX said they were working to restore service as soon as possible. Amtrak’s service advisory said snow had blocked the CSX tracks in some places.

“Due to lake effect snow expected to total up to six feet, CSX is experiencing significant operational delays and customers in the Buffalo area should expect traffic delays up to 48 hours,” Amtrak said in a customer service advisory.

Amtrak’s website on Wednesday afternoon reported that the Lake Shore Limited trains scheduled to depart on Wednesday had been canceled. Both trains were also canceled on Tuesday.

Norfolk Southern is advising its customers of service problems in the Buffalo area stemming from the heavy snowfall.

“Record setting snowfall, road conditions, and road closures have curtailed Norfolk Southern operations in and around the Buffalo area,” the railroad said. “Customers with rail traffic destined to or originating in the Buffalo area will see a disruption of service over the next few days.”

NS said shipments normally moving through western New York will be detoured over other routes, likely resulting in additional transit time with 24-48 hour delays.

Amtrak May Stay as Hoosier State Operator

November 20, 2014

Amtrak’s Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State is now expected to continue operating under Amtrak auspices, the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal & Courier reported this week.

The newspaper said the Indiana Department of Transportation expects to reach an agreement with Amtrak to continue the quad-weekly train.

INDOT also continues to discuss with Iowa Pacific Holdings the prospect of providing passenger cars, on-board services and marketing for the Hoosier State said Will Wingfield, an INDOT spokesman.

Iowa Pacific was one of three companies that submitted earlier this year to operate the train.

INDOT selected Corridor Capital of Chicago but recently broke off talks with that firm after it was unable to reach an agreement.

Corridor Capital was to have taken over the Hoosier State on Oct. 1, but Amtrak agreed to continue operating the train through late January 2015.

INDOT along with Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Indianapolis, Crawfordsville, Rensselaer and Beech Grove have shared the $2.7 million annual cost of operating the 196-mile line after federal funding was pulled Oct. 1, 2013, for routes less than 750 miles.

The Hoosier State operates on days that the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

Illinois Town OKs Building Amtrak Station

November 14, 2014

An Illinois city along the proposed Amtrak route between Chicago and Rockford has given the OK to building a station for the service.

The Huntley village board approved an intergovernmental agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation to build the station.

The agreement identifies the scope of services and responsibilities and general provisions, plus an estimated project cost and schedule. The platform and temporary parking are to be completed by Nov. 30, 2015.

IDOT has agreed to contribute $2.9 million toward the construction of the Huntley station including the passenger platform, station building and parking lot improvements.

The project cost is estimated to be $3.5 million with the station and platform expected to cost $1.75 million. Service is expected to begin in 2015.

 

 

BNSF Completes Track Expansion in North Dakota

November 14, 2014

BNSF Railway has completed installation of 55 miles of new double track in northwestern North Dakota on the route used by Amtrak’s Empire Builder.

The double track and additional passing sidings were installed on the ex-Great Northern main line between Minot and Williston as part of $400 million project in North Dakota.

Other major work that is planned as part of the project includes putting in four sidings between Grand Forks and Fargo, three between Grand Forks and Devils Lake, and four others near Jamestown and Dickinson and between Bismarck and Zap.

BNSF also is installing centralized traffic control its ex-Northern Pacific Jamestown Subdivision between Surrey Junction near Casselton and Mandan. BNSF expects to install another 36 miles of double track between Minot and Williston in 2015.

Amtrak Adds Service in Illinois for Holiday Travel

November 13, 2014

Amtrak announced that it will operate additional service for the Thanksgiving travel period on the Lincoln Service and Chicago-Quincy, Ill., routes.

Trains will operate on Nov. 30 between Chicago and Bloomington/Normal, Ill., and between Chicago and Quincy corridor, via Galesburg and Macomb.

In order to accommodate the additional round-trip on Nov. 30, train No. 300 will depart St. Louis 35 minutes earlier than usual and train No. 301 will depart Chicago 30 minutes earlier than usual, with both trains operating on a modified schedule that day only.

To accommodate an additional round-trip on Nov. 30, train No. 383 (Illinois Zephyr) will depart Chicago 20 minutes later than usual and operate on a modified timetable to Quincy that day only.

For the full holiday schedule, go to www.amtrak.com.

Corridor Capital Out as Hoosier State Operator

November 11, 2014

Corridor Capital is out, Iowa Pacific may be in and Amtrak is standing by in the ongoing saga of who will operate the Hoosier State.

The Indiana Department of Transportation has broken off contract talks with Chicago-based Corridor Capital, which had submitted the winning bid to operate the Chicago-Indianapolis train beginning on Oct. 1.

However, Corridor Capital and IDOT were unable to reach an agreement by that date and Amtrak is continuing to operate the route through January.

INDOT is now seeking information from Amtrak about continuing to operate the quad-weekly Hoosier State beyond Jan. 31, 2015.

However, INDOT is also negotiating with Iowa Pacific, raising the prospect that the Hoosier State might be a joint venture of sorts.

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said his agency “is requesting pricing from Amtrak to continue as operator after Jan. 31, minus certain elements of the existing service that Amtrak is providing, such as rolling stock, on-board services, and marketing.”

INDOT has not confirmed it is talking with Iowa Pacific Holdings Inc., which had been the runner-up to Corridor Capital, company spokesman Michael Hicks told Trains magazine that “we believe there are opportunities to work with Amtrak and the state of Indiana to make substantial improvements in Hoosier State service over the next year, and we are engaged in discussions with INDOT.”

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Trains that it “continues to work closely with the State of Indiana on the continuation of daily service between Indianapolis and Chicago. Amtrak submitted a contract renewal in April 2014 for the current service model and has offered to work with the state on other viable models used in other states.”

Although INDOT has not said why it broke off talks with Corridor Capital, Trains reported that a major sticking point was financing the costs of getting the equipment in shape for the service.

Corridor Capital said that as late as last Wednesday it continued to provide resources and personnel to meet the demands of the Federal Railroad Administration emergency services contingency plan, which must be submitted to the agency no later than 60 days prior to commencement of any new service.

The company had thus far declined to reveal the specific passenger cars and locomotives that it planned to assign to the Hoosier State service.

It has only said that it “has had modern Amtrak certified equipment ready for retrofit and deployment” since June.

Trains reported that INDOT sent an email notification to Corridor Capital on Friday “rejecting the proposal” it had accepted in June and a certified letter would follow. That email message reportedly did not explain that contract negotiations would be terminated.

Corridor Capital claims that it only learned negotiations had been cancelled after reading a story in the Lafayette Journal & Courier on Saturday evening.

Amtrak spokesman Magliari noted that “Amtrak submitted a contract renewal in April for the current service model and has offered to work with the state on other viable models used in other states. However, time is growing short to resolve many open questions for daily passenger rail service to continue from Feb. 1 and onward.”

Railway Age magazine reported that Amtrak executives privately fumed over Indiana’s intent to farm out the Hoosier State to Corridor Capital.

Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman travelled the route in a special train on Oct. 1 from Indianapolis to Chicago during which he announced that Amtrak would provide free Wi-Fi, a business-class car and light snacks as a goodwill gesture during the last three months of the contract extension.

INDOT, Tippecanoe County. and the cities of Indianapolis, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Rensselaer, Beech Grove and Crawfordsville have collectively  committed $2.7 million toward funding the Hoosier State since Oct. 1, 2013, to keep it operating after Congress eliminated federal funding for Amtrak routes shorter than 750 miles.

Last July news reports said Indianapolis said it will not renew its funding.

INDOT has said its goal was to continue the service and find an independent contractor that could overcome constant delays, run trains at more convenient times, provide amenities such as Wi-Fi, attract more riders, and operate the train more cost effectively than Amtrak.

However, Railway Age reported that numerous rail observers and rail advocates have questioned whether any company could offer even the modest economies of scale Amtrak can lend the underperforming Hoosier State, which runs four days a week.

Combined with the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, the Indianapolis-Chicago route is served by one train each way per day.

Trains reported that if Iowa Pacific wishes to provide passenger cars and locomotives to be operated by Amtrak crews, that equipment must meet Amtrak safety requirements and Amtrak must be indemnified against lawsuits resulting from use of the equipment.

Arvid Olson of the Greater Lafayette Commerce has touted the economic benefits of keeping the Hoosier State going, but he lamented the latest developments.

“It creates genuine pressure on INDOT and the stakeholder’s ability to improve the Hoosier State beginning on Feb. 1, 2015,” he said.

Ridership on the Hoosier State during fiscal year 2014, which ended on Sept. 30, fell 8 percent and revenue dropped 10 percent.

Chicago-St. Louis Route Work Delayed Until Spring

November 11, 2014

Continued work to increase train speeds on the Chicago-St. Louis Amtrak corridor has been delayed until next spring.

Union Pacific, which owns the tracks used by the trains through most of Illinois, had expected to perform the work this fall in Normal, McLean and Lexington.

“Work in other areas of the corridor took longer than expected due to inclement weather, forcing us to push back the work originally slated to get under way this year,” said Paris Ervin, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

UP spokesman Mark Davis said postponing the work ensures it will be done “during the off-school season.”

The project involves renovating passing sidings and installing four-quad crossing gates to prevent vehicles from trying to drive around downed gates at grade crossing.

A “positive train control” system is also being installed that will sends a signal to an approaching train if a vehicle is stuck on the track.

The new timetable for the additional high-speed rail work likely will work better with Normal’s plan to build an overhead walkway from Uptown Station to the south side of the tracks, said Normal Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich.

The corridor hosts eight daily Lincoln Service trains as well as the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Missouri River Runner Passengers to be Bused

November 11, 2014

Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner Nos. 316 and 314 will not operate between Kansas City and Jefferson City, Mo., on Nov. 12 and 13 due to a bridge construction project.

Passengers will be taken by bus between the two points. The trains will operate as scheduled between Jefferson City and St. Louis.

Service will between St. Louis and Kansas City will return to normal on Nov. 14.

Union Pacific Railroad, which hosts Amtrak service on the route, wanted to complete the bridge replacement before the busy Thanksgiving travel period.

When the Pennsylvanian Was New to Cleveland

November 10, 2014

Pennsylvanian at Berea

If you live long enough, everything that you’ve witnessed in your life will become history, even ancient history.

It was 16 years last Friday that Amtrak extended the Pennsylvanian to Chicago and thus created a scheduled daylight train in Northeast Ohio.

The Pennsylvanian began operating between Chicago and Philadelphia on Nov. 7, 1998. Prior to then, it had been a New York-Pittsburgh train.

The impetus for extending the Pennsylvanian to Chicago was to take some of the pressure off the Chicago-New York Three Rivers, which was about to reach its 30-car maximum. Most of the cars on the Three Rivers carried mail and express shipments on its route over CSX via Akron and Youngstown.

The Pennsylvanian would also be heavily oriented toward head-end traffic as well.

At the time, Amtrak was seeking to grow its way to profitability by aggressively going after head-end traffic.

Of course, Ohio rail passenger advocates have been trying for years to get the Pennsylvanian extended to Cleveland and Toledo.

Amtrak eventually exited the mail and express business and the Pennsylvanian in early 2003 fell back to being a New York-Pittsburgh train, which it remains today.

But on Nov. 22, 1998, when this image of Amtrak No. 44 was made at Berea, there was optimism that better days were ahead for Amtrak in Ohio.

Aside from the Pennsylvanian no longer operating west of Pittsburgh, much else has changed about this scene. Amtrak still uses P42 locomotives, but in this scene they are two liveries removed from the present day look.

Also, note the yellow Conrail service truck. In November 1998, Conrail was in its last year of independent operation.

Finally, the signal bridge at the west end of CP 194 has been replaced by modern signals.