Archive for December, 2014

Amtrak Adding Thruway Service in Midwest

December 23, 2014

Amtrak has announced that it is adding Thruway bus service to connect with and supplement its Cardinal and Hoosier State trains between Chicago and Indianapolis.

The new bus routes will connect with Amtrak in Indianapolis and Chicago and serve Gary, Ind.; Cincinnati; Louisville, Ky.; and Nashville, Tenn. Amtrak said passengers will have the option of traveling between Indianapolis and points north to Chicago will have the option of riding the train in one direction and returning by bus.

The new Thruway bus services is an extension of ticketing previously done by Amtrak between Chicago and Louisville via Indianapolis.

18 New Viewliner Baggage Cars Released

December 18, 2014

Amtrak is shipping 18 new Viewliner baggage cars from the CAF USA plant near Elmira, N.Y., to Amtrak’s Hialeah maintenance facility near Miami.

At Hialeah, the cars will undergo a final inspections before acceptance and placement in revenue service in early 2015.

The baggage cars are being conveyed in a special train that left Elmira on Wednesday and is expected to reach Hialeah on Friday.

The train is moving via Albany, N.Y. and thence over the Northeast Corridor to Washington, D.C.

Two Viewliner baggage cars that have been tested on the NEC will be added to the special at Philadelphia.

The baggage cars are part of a larger order for 130 single-level, long-distance passenger cars, including diner, sleeper, and baggage-dorm cars.

Amtrak is encouraging media and rail enthusiasts to take photos of the special as it travels. Photographers are asked to tag the images with the hashtag #AmtrakForward and share them on Amtrak’s Twitter and Instagram accounts.



Large Crowd Tours New Dearborn Station

December 17, 2014

A crowd estimated at more than 300 toured the John D. Dingell Transit Center in Dearborn, Mich., on Monday.

The facility, which opened recently, serves as a suburban Detroit station for Amtrak’s six Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains.

The station is two miles from the previous Amtrak station. The intermodal center, built at a cost for $28.2 million, also serves local transit buses.

Speaking at the ceremony was U.S. Rep.-elect Debbie Dingell, whose ailing husband was first elected to Congress in 1955 and won 29 terms before retiring this year.

The Dingell Center is located across from the Henry Ford Museum and is linked to the museum grounds by a walkway.

A Comfort Inn is located within walking distance east of the center and a Tim Horton’s franchise will soon open on station land along the street. The restaurant’s lease payments will help cover center’s maintenance expenses and contribute to a capital fund.

Texas Eagle to Gain new Dallas-Fort Worth Route

December 17, 2014

Amtrak’s Texas Eagle will be taking a different route between Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, that is expected to result in faster travel times.

Nos. 21 and 22 will use a former Rock Island line now traveled by commuter trains of the Trinity Railway Express.

The Texas Eagle currently uses a Union Pacific route that has heavy freight traffic.

Amtrak will pay a monthly fee to use the TRE tracks and pay some offset costs that will be borne by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. The move has been five years in the making. Negotiations stalled over $7.2 million in federal funding that stalled because of contract issues, primarily over liability insurance coverage.

Texas authorities in 2009 were awarded a federal grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to double-track part of the TRE line in Tarrant County so Amtrak could use it. “There are a number of details to be worked out with several third parties before the shift to the TRE corridor can take place,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.” DART, The T and Amtrak are working with these third parties to complete these arrangements, and we hope to be able to be able to shift the Texas Eagle to the TRE Corridor during the first quarter 2015.”

Stabbing Suspect to Undergo Mental Evaluation

December 16, 2014

A judge in Michigan has ordered the suspect charged with stabbing four aboard an Amtrak train to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

The evaluation will determine if Michael Darnell Williams is mentally fit to stand trial on four counts of assault with intent to murder.

Williams has been charged in connection with an incident aboard the eastbound Blue Water in Niles, Mich., on Dec. 5 in which an Amtrak conductor and three passengers were stabbed.

Williams is being held in the Berrien County Jail on a $1 million bond. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Niles police used a stun gun to subdue Williams as the train sat in the Niles station.

Several of Williams’ family members have told reporters that Williams, a Saginaw native who was employed as a truck driver, is suffering from paranoid hallucinations that made him fear for his life.

All four of the stabbing victims have since been released from Niles area hospitals.

Illini, Saluki to Have Shorter Trips on Dec. 15

December 15, 2014

Amtrak’s Saluki and Illini will operate today (Dec. 15) between Chicago and Champaign, Ill., due to track work being performed by host railroad Canadian National.

Passengers bound for or originating at points south of Champaign will complete their journey by bus.

Amtrak said that the southbound buses will operate on slightly later schedules than the trains due to the longer travel times between stations while the northbound buses will operate on earlier schedules.

Consequently, No. 390, the northbound Saluki will operate 30 minutes later than the normal train schedule, departing Champaign at 10:44 a.m.

The Saluki and Illini normally operate between Chicago and Carbondale, Ill., and are funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Amtrak 29/30 Diners, Lounges Going Into Shops

December 15, 2014

Amtrak has announced that the dining cars and Sightseer lounge normally assigned to the Capitol Limited will be taken out of service beginning Jan. 12, 2015, for maintenance.

The cars will be replaced by a diner-lounge providing complete meals on one side of the car while the other side serves as the train’s lounge car.

The dining car and Sightseer lounge are expected to return to service on March 1.

Amtrak also continues to advise that passengers traveling aboard the Lake Shore Limited may experience significant delays due to heavy freight congestion along the routes.

Amtrak said in a service advisory that it continues to work with Norfolk Southern and CSX to restore dependable service along this route.

Extra Wolverines Being Added for Holiday Travel

December 15, 2014

Amtrak will operate an extra section of the Wolverine Service between Chicago and Ann Arbor, Mich., on select days during the December and January holiday season.

Eastbound Wolverine extra No. 356 will depart Chicago Union Station at 9:20 a.m. on Dec. 26, 27, 28, 31, and on Jan. 3 and 4. It will make intermediate station stops at New Buffalo, Niles, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Jackson, Mich., before arriving in Ann Arbor at 3 p.m.

Westbound Wolverine extra No. 359 will depart Ann Arbor at 4:05 p.m. and operate on the same days and make the same intermediate stops as No. 356 before arriving in Chicago at 7:45 p.m.

Neither train will operate Dec. 29-30 or Jan. 1-2. The three regularly scheduled Wolverine Service roundtrips between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) will operate daily as scheduled during this period.

In a news release, Amtrak said the success of its extra trains during the Thanksgiving travel period, which carried more than 35,000 passengers, prompted the added trains in December and January.

Family Members say Michigan Amtrak Stabbing Suspect Has a Long History of Mental Problems

December 9, 2014

A Michigan man charged in connection with the stabling of four people aboard an Amtrak train Friday night told police that he was fighting a “demon.”

Michael Williams, 44, of Saginaw, Mich., pleaded not guilty during an arraignment hearing on Monday to four counts of attempted murder. He requested a court-appointed attorney.

He continues to be held on $1 million bond in the Berrien County Jail in Niles, Mich., where the assault occurred aboard the eastbound Blue Water en route from Chicago to Port Huron, Mich., with 172 aboard.

Williams will be back in court on Friday.

The revelation of what Williams told Niles police following the attack was made public on Monday in court documents.

“Michael Williams said he did not remember exactly what he did but that he did have a knife in his hand,” according to an affidavit for his arrest.

Williams told police that the “guy he was talking to on the train turned into a demon and he had to fight” him, according to court documents.

Court records show that Williams stabbed and cut the train’s conductor, Dontrol Bankhead, 40, twice in the head, twice in the neck and several times on his body, police said.

He stabbed Bonnie Cleasby, 59, in the abdomen, Dan Stewart, 59, once in the chest, and Gayle VanHorst, 47, in the chest, according to the report.

All of the victims were hospitalized but reported to be in stable condition.

A Niles police officer who responded to the attack said he was forced back out of a passenger car by the fleeing passengers.

He then saw the suspect running at him with a “large hunting knife” with a 5-inch blade.

The officer pulled out his Taser and struck Williams in the chest, “incapacitating” him and causing him to drop the knife as he fell to the floor.

Members of Williams’ family told reporters that he had a history of mental problems.

A sister, Tracy Williams, told the Saginaw News that when she spoke with her brother last week he seemed to be hallucinating and feared for his life as he tried to get to Saginaw.

“We were having conversations back and forth, and I said, ‘You know, Mike, this doesn’t make any sense. Why are they after you?’ ” Tracy Williams said.

“Whatever he believed in his head was real to him. Nothing I could have said could make him think any different.”

Family members said Williams is military veteran who moved to Atlanta last summer to get a commercial driver’s license and work as a cross-country trucker.

“My heart goes out to the victims because they were innocent,” Tracy Williams said. “He wasn’t specifically targeting them. They did absolutely nothing to deserve this.”

Williams’ history of mental health problems dates back at least nine years, when he was petitioned for treatment after arming himself with a hammer and knives in his own home, according to court documents..

Family members said that Williams began suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the U.S. Army during Operation Desert Storm.

Saginaw County Probate Court records show that Williams suffered from paranoid delusions due to cocaine abuse and acute psychosis due to drug use when his family filed a petition to have him involuntarily committed in November 2005.

A judge didn’t rule on the petition because he voluntarily went in for treatment, records show.

According to the petition filled out by an aunt, Williams told his family “people are following him, people are under (the) house and jumping out windows and no one else can see them.”

His mother and sister said he was carrying a hammer and knives in a “threatening posture” in the house, “throwing objects” and digging, apparently in the crawl space, to find people.

Family members summoned Saginaw police eight times in three days in November 2005. Police threatened to use a Taser to get him out from under the house, records show.

A cousin, Lawhawn Scroggins, who lives in Utah, told a Grand Rapids TV station that Williams called her on Tuesday — three days before the Amtrak stabbing — to say that people were following him and trying to kill him.

He told her he was leaving Kentucky and was headed home to Saginaw to escape the people. He was working as a truck driver, she said.

“I don’t think it’s something he did intentionally,” Scroggins said. “I think maybe something triggered him, maybe he was already like paranoid about something before. I don’t know what happened, what triggered him or what was going on.”

An uncle told the TV station that Williams has suffered from mental illness since leaving the military and that it worsened after the deaths of his mother and father.

He said he doesn’t believe Williams meant to hurt anybody. “He’s not that type of person,” he said.

Man Charged in Michigan Amtrak Stabbings

December 7, 2014

The four people stabbed aboard an Amtrak train Friday night in Niles, Mich., were reported to be in stable condition on Saturday while the man taken into custody in connection with the assaults has been charged with four counts of assault with intent to murder.

Michael Darnell Williams, 44, of Saginaw, Mich., was charged Saturday and is being held in the Berrien County Jail. Authorities are still searching for a motive in the case.

Williams was being held on $1 million bond and faces an initial court appearance on Monday. Each count carries a possible life sentence.

The assault occurred at about 7 p.m. aboard the eastbound Blue Water as it made a station stop in Niles en route from Chicago to Port Huron, Mich.

Williams is charged with assaulting an Amtrak conductor and three other people.

Passengers aboard the train who were interviewed by reporters following the incident said that police officers stormed the train and subdued the assailant with a Taser.

Niles Police Chief Jim Millin said that police rushed to the Amtrak station after receiving a call that a passenger was “acting odd and becoming agitated.”

Niles Police were en route to the train station when they were told Williams had stood up and assaulted the four victims.

“When officers arrived at the Amtrak depot they observed a commotion on one of the train cars with numerous passengers exiting that car quickly,” Millin said in a written statement. “Officers pushed their way onto the train past the passengers exiting and were immediately confronted by a male subject armed with a knife. Officers quickly subdued the subject with the use of a Taser and he was taken into custody without further incident.”

“They saw commotion in the train car,” Millin said of his officers. “They had to forcefully work their way through the crowd. As soon as the first officer turned into the car, Mr. Williams was less than 10 feet away and he had the knife in his hand. The officer used his Taser and was able to subdue him.

“Certainly there’s a possibility he could have kept on assaulting passengers and things could have been a lot worse,” the chief told The Associated Press.

“It doesn’t appear he was screaming or in anger against any of these people. He just started cutting and stabbing,” Millin said.

Millin said the victims included a female and three males. Williams was ticketed to travel from Chicago to Flint.

Amtrak said 172 passengers were on board the train at the time of the incident.

The Salvation Army also responded to the scene and provided food, coffee, and hot chocolate for the passengers. They were stranded for more than four hours while police conducted an investigation.

The train finally resumed its journey at 1:20 a.m. Saturday.

“It was pretty incredible that they may have saved some lives,” passenger Tyler Vandermolen said of the police response.

Passenger Caitlin Cipri of Chicago told the South Bend Tribune that she was packing her things to get off the train when she heard screaming. She initially thought the suspect was punching a passenger until she saw the butt of a knife. She said she saw the man stab two other people.

“It was terrifying and you don’t think something like that is going to happen to you,” Cipri said. “It’s terrifying that things like this happen.”

“I was in a mob of four people, and at one point people were falling down and people are getting back up,” Cipri said. “It was such a blur just trying to get to an exit.”

Tyler Vandermolen, who was sitting 10 rows from where the stabbing occurred, said, “You see the police getting a lot for bad press with the stuff going on around the country these days, but you got to give it up for these guys they were there in under… within seconds of this happening it was pretty incredible that they may have saved some lives today.”