Severe Cold Taking Toll on Amtrak Operations

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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