Archive for February, 2015

Severe Cold Taking Toll on Amtrak Operations

February 27, 2015

The brutal cold that has gripped the eastern United States in an icy vise has taken a toll on Amtrak trains serving Northeast Ohio.

All Aboard Ohio, a rail passenger advocacy group, said that delays of five hours for the westbound Lake Shore Limited have been common in the past week.

The group noted that on Wednesday night the eastbound Lake Shore Limited departed Chicago Union Station 5 hours, 47 minutes late.

No. 48 was more than six hours late when it met and passed No. 49 between Sandusky and Toledo at about 10 a.m. No. 49 at the time was operating more than four hours late.

The Lake Shore Limited operates between Chicago and New York with a section to and from Boston that joins the train at Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y.

Since Feb. 20, All Aboard Ohio said the average delays for trains serving Northeast Ohio have been:

  • Train 49 arriving Chicago: 5 hours, 57 minutes late
  • Train 48 arriving New York City: 4 hours, 15 minutes late
  • Train 30 arriving Washington D.C.: 2 hours, 44 minutes late
  • Train 29 arriving Chicago: 2 hours, 11 minutes late

Amtrak has also canceled the Boston section, citing severe winter weather across New England. It has provided substitute bus service between Albany and Boston to connect with trains 48/49.

In the meantime, the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal has been truncated since a Feb. 16 derailment of a CSX crude oil train in West Virginia.

Nos. 50 and 51 have been operating only between Chicago and Indianapolis. Buses have then taken passengers between Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

However, Amtrak has not provided substitute bus service between Cincinnati and Charlottesville, Va.

One track at the derailment site opened on Thursday, but early Friday morning the Amtrak website still showed the westbound Cardinal that was scheduled to depart from New York for Chicago today as being canceled.

Amtrak is accepting reservations for the next westbound No. 51, which will depart New York on Sunday morning.

In a news release, All Aboard Ohio said that some of the reasons for the delays are beyond Amtrak’s control

These include speed restrictions as low as 25 mph imposed by CSX and Norfolk Southern because they fear the cold will crack their seamless welded steel rails.

But the advocacy group said that other delays are Amtrak’s responsibility. These include equipment malfunctions, locomotives that have failed en route, doors between rail cars freezing into the open position, and cold temperatures inside passenger cars that led to toilets, pipes and water tanks to freeze and rupture.

“This is downright offensive to the traveling public,” said All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “Amtrak President Joe Boardman must be held to account for this, starting with a personal apology to all passengers who had to endure this pathetic excuse for transportation in a civilized nation. It is clear by their poor performance that these trains are being neglected by Amtrak and its private-sector partners who own and manage the tracks. Rail transportation used to be largely indifferent to bad winter weather. Nowadays, the railroads can’t seem to get their trains through the snow and cold.”

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Winter Storm Affecting Amtrak Trains in NE

February 17, 2015

Although Amtrak has modified its Northeast Corridor schedules on Wednesday in the wake of a major winter storm, most long distance trains to the Midwest will operate as schedule.

However, the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited, which will not operate. Passengers will instead be transported by bus.

The Capitol Limited and New York section of the Lake Shore Limited will operate as scheduled.

Full service is also planned for the New York-Harrisburg, Pa., Keystone Corridor and the Empire Corridor between New York and Niagara Falls, N.Y.

The westbound Cardinal scheduled to depart New York on Wednesday has been canceled due to the derailment on CSX of a crude oil train on the route used by Amtrak No. 51.

Late on Tuesday all coach seats on the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited and Pennsylvanian were sold out for the trains departing on Wednesday from Washington or New York.

3 Illinois Corridor Trains Using Superliners

February 17, 2015

Passengers riding the Illini, Saluki and Carl Sandburg trains in Illinois can expect to be accommodated in Superliner equipment through the end of February.

Amtrak said the usual equipment assigned to business class service on those trains has temporarily removed.

Passengers who purchase business class tickets will receive most if the amenities normally offered on the single-level Horizon and Amfleet cars, including priority boarding, use of the Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago Union Station, complimentary beverages and a newspaper.

Half of the upper level of the of the Superliner food service car will be curtained off for Business Class passengers.

Amtrak said in service advisory that the primary difference in business class on Superliner equipment is two-by-two seating, rather than a row of single seats on one side of the aisle.

The Saluki and Illini operated between Chicago and Carbondale, Ill., while the Carl Sandburg operates between Chicago and Quincy, Ill.

In the meantime, Amtrak has discontinued business class service on the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State. Also disconnected was AmtrakConnect® Wi-Fi. Light refreshments are not longer available on Nos. 850 and 851.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said those services, which were made available on the Hoosier State last October have been removed because  the Indiana Department of Transportation has chosen not to fund their continuation.

Amtrak Tweaks National Train Day Event

February 13, 2015

Amtrak plans to tweak its annual National Train Day observance by making it a series of events held throughout the year.

Previously, Amtrak conducted a National Train Day on the second Saturday in May, although some communities held their own celebrations a week earlier.

Now Amtrak says it will expand from multiple events on a single day to individual events over the course of spring, summer and fall.

To be called Amtrak Train Days, the events are designed to celebrate with local communities why trains matter and reasons to ride.

Events will focus on reaching current and new audiences across America to reinforce the importance, benefits and value of passenger train travel.

The program will begin on May 9 in Chicago and include more than 20 events through the end of October. Locations and dates have yet to be announced.

Amtrak said events will feature a combination of outreach tools, including the Amtrak Exhibit Train in select markets, interactive displays at events sponsored by community organizations, Amtrak employee guest speakers, media and event promotions, and a toolkit to support local community activities.

Communities from across the nation are invited to join in the celebration of passenger train travel by hosting their own Amtrak Train Days events during 2015.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers commented that although the additional focus on local events will be welcome—and will help organizers better allocate limited resources—it remains to be seen whether a dispersed series of events can generate the same level of excitement as a national event.

Additional information is available online at Amtraktraindays.com.

 

 

Executive Order Halts Work on Illinois Rail Routes

February 10, 2015

An executive order signed by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner last Saturday has put on hold work on upgrading the Chicago-St. Louis Corridor for higher speed rail passenger service.

The order prohibits state agencies from awarding contracts without the administration’s approval.

This also will affect plans by the Illinois Department of Transportation to implement Amtrak service between Chicago and Rockford over Union Pacific tracks.

The order is effective until July 1. News media reports indicated that the governor’s office is undertaking a review of all state spending.

Illinois has spent $3 million on engineering items related to the Rockford rail service. Local media reported that Huntley, Ill., local officials have committed $50,000 to an engineering study that was to lead to establishment of an Amtrak station for the Rockford service.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn had sought to expedite service to Huntley and other northwest Illinois communities.

His administration identified $60 million for re-establishing Amtrak service between Chicago and Rockford. That service had been projected to begin by late this year.

 

Amtrak, N.M., Reach Southwest Chief Deal

February 9, 2015

Amtrak President Joe Boardman has worked out an agreement with the New Mexico Department of Transportation that will keep the Southwest Chief operating on its current route for the time being.

The agreement also provides that Amtrak will not make a request for annual maintenance funding help during the 2015 Legislative Session. Amtrak may need maintenance funding help from New Mexico at a later date.

Amtrak will join New Mexico communities and counties and the NMDOT to apply for a TIGER grant under the Federal grant program when U.S. Department of Transportation opens it for 2015.

If awarded, the TIGER grant would cover New Mexico’s one-time capital investment. Those costs are currently estimated at $6.7 million. The grant request may be more if Colorado and Kansas join the application.

Oklahoma City Depot to Get $28.4M Renovation

February 6, 2015

The depot used by Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma City will undergo a $28.4 million renovation project this year.

The former Santa Fe station provides office space and a passenger waiting area for Amtrak.

Architects’ designs should be complete by April and construction could begin this summer. The project is expected to take two years to complete.

Plans are to open the renovated station, with a tunnel leading from inside to a terrace above the Bricktown Canal.

The restoration will transform the depot into a transportation hub for bicycles, future streetcars and commuter trains.

The Art Deco style station opened in 1934 and closed in 1979 when Amtrak’s Chicago-Houston Lone Star was discontinued. It reopened 20 years later to serve the Flyer.

Review Puts Illinois Amtrak Expansion on Hold

February 4, 2015

Expansion of Amtrak service to Rockford, Ill., and to the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa is on hold by order of  Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner while his administration reviews them.

Rauner, who defeated incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn last November, had pledged to review all spending by the state. Service to Rockford had been projected to begin in late 2015.

The announcement prompted Rockford area officials to proclaim their continued support for the service.

“I would argue that anything you can do to improve transportation infrastructure economically benefits the Rockford region and the state,” said state Senator Steve Stadelman. “So it’s something that needs to go ahead no matter what our financial situation is.”

PTC Payment Dispute Threatening to Disrupt Amtrak’s St. Louis, Kansas City Service

February 4, 2015

A dispute over who should pay for installation of positive train control on two terminal railroads is threatening the future operation of Amtrak in St. Louis and Kansas City.

If the dispute is not resolved by the end of the year, Amtrak may cease serving Missouri’s two largest cities or else other arrangements will need to be made for serving them.

Amtrak and the state of Missouri want PTC installed on the Kansas City Terminal Railway and the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis As small terminal railroads, neither is required by federal law to install PTC, but Amtrak and the Missouri Department of Transportation say that it should be

Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said that Amtrak is working with MoDOT on an “equitable solution.”

“We are hopeful a resolution can be reached to maintain current Amtrak services to Kansas City,” he said.

Amtrak already has received invoices from the two railroads for the installation expenses. But neither Amtrak nor Missouri is willing to pay them.

The Missouri Department of Transportation “will not blindly pay for implementation costs” of Positive Train Control, its director, David Nichols, wrote to Amtrak in December.

Amtrak and the MoDOT say the railroads should bear the burden of installing the system because of their freight operations.

They noted that 250 freight trains a day operate over Kansas City Terminal’s track in addition to six passenger trains. Kansas City is the nation’s second busiest rail hub behind Chicago, and St. Louis ranks third.

The estimated cost of installing PTC is $32 million in Kansas City and $700,000 in St. Louis. That doesn’t include future maintenance expenses.

In 2008, Congress approved legislation mandating the installation of PTC by Dec. 31, 2015, on all routes hosting passenger trains.

There is a move afoot in Congress to extend the deadline by as many as five years. PTC is designed to avoid train collisions, derailments and other mishaps, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Amtrak operates two round-trips a day between the St. Louis and Kansas City that are funded by MoDOT. The Missouri River Runner service carried almost 200,000 passengers in 2013.

Also affected are the Chicago-Los Angles Southwest Chief in Kansas City, the Chicago-Antonio Texas Eagle in St. Louis and the Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service corridor trains.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said the service suspension could be averted if Congress passes legislation she has co-sponsored to give railroads another five years to install PTC.

“It’s unacceptable that we would disrupt passenger service in Missouri over this issue,” said McCaskill during a hearing of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “Everyone knows Congress will adjust this deadline.”

Extending the deadline, though, will not resolve the dispute of who will pay for PTC installation in St. Louis and Kansas City.

MoDOT asked the Federal Railroad Administration in December to treat the terminal railroads like the larger ones because of their heavy freight volumes and because such larger railroads as Union Pacific and BNSF have an ownership stake in them.

Michelle Teel, MoDOT’s multimodal operations director, told the Senate committee that Positive Train Control installation requirements “should not be triggered by a small amount of passenger rail traffic, but rather should be based on operation volume, population density, tonnage and commodities moved, especially hazardous materials.”

McCaskill said the Kansas City-St. Louis corridor may not be the busiest passenger rail operation in the country, but provides a vital alternative to highways and air travel.

“It’s not the Northeast Corridor,” she said, “but it’s essential in my state.”

Amtrak Ran Mostly OT Despite Winter Storm

February 3, 2015

With some exceptions, Amtrak performed well during the severe winter conditions that struck the Midwest last weekend.

That was in contrast to a day last month when many trains left Chicago Union Station hour late if they left at all.

This past Monday, eight of Amtrak’s 28 trains out of Chicago left more than 10 minutes late.

One notable exception was a Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service train that broke down. As a result the Hiawathas suffered a cascading series of delays.

The problems began when southbound No. 338 became disabled south of Sturtevant, Wis., Monday afternoon and arrived in Chicago at 10:17 p.m. nearly 6 hours late. Reportedly, the train did not lose heat or lighting.

Train No. 340, the next Milwaukee departure, coupled on to the disabled consist, but the delay caused that train to arrive three hours late. Amtrak created a makeshift consist to pull the 5:08 p.m. Chicago departure of No. 339 for Milwaukee. This train, which does a heavy commuter business, left Chicago at 7 p.m.

That equipment consist arrived back in Chicago after 10:30 p.m. on Monday.

Modification of Amtrak’s P42 locomotive traction motors, winterizing of freeze-prone Horizon fleet cars and a revised inspection building procedures for train servicing in Chicago helped Amtrak to maintain reliability.

Superliner coaches that were removed from long-distance trains last month during the low travel season have been placed on Wolverine Service Nos. 350 and 355, Chicago-Quincy, Ill., Nos. 380 and 381, and Chicago-Carbondale, Ill., Nos. 390 and 393.

When corridor train consists are turned at their endpoints, Amtrak has been running locomotives at the front of each train to minimize traction motor snow ingestion.

BNSF closed its Mendota Subdivision on Monday between Aurora and Galesburg, Ill., forcing Amtrak to cancel the morning Chicago-Quincy services in each direction.

The line reopened that afternoon. The inbound and outbound California Zephyr and Southwest Chief operated close to on time.

BNSF feared a repeat of a January 2014 incident in which three Amtrak trains became stranded in snow drifts near Princeton, Ill.

The weekend storm dumped 19 inches of snow at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, resulting in the cancellation of hundreds of flights.