Archive for April, 2015

INDOT, FRA Reach Pact on Passenger Safety Rules

April 6, 2015

The efforts of the Indiana Department of Transportation to improve the Hoosier State have cleared another hurdle.

The agency and the Federal Railroad Administration reached an agreement on “clear lines of accountability for passenger rail safety and accessibility.”

Meeting in Indianapolis with FRA staff, INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning said that the two sides discussed the roles and responsibilities of each party connected with the Chicago-Indianapolis train.

Indiana wants to contract with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings to operate the service and both will be expected to meet FRA requirements.

INDOT will designate a staff member responsible for overseeing contract compliance. “INDOT and the FRA share the guiding principles of access to safe mobility,” Browning said in a statement. “Based on these guiding principles, we are both committed to a path toward continuing the Hoosier State service.”

Talks are continuing to reach agreements between INDOT and Amtrak and Iowa Pacific. Amtrak, FRA, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration are continuing to inspect the Iowa Pacific equipment that is expected to be assigned to the Hoosier State.

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

Currently, the Hoosier State is being underwritten by INDOT and many of the communities that it serves.

Amtrak is expected to serve as the primary operator, working with host railroads, providing train and engine crews, and managing reservation and ticketing. Aside from rolling stock and locomotives, Iowa Pacific would provide equipment maintenance, on-board services and marketing.

Southwest Chief Still Not Out of Danger

April 6, 2015

The threat to Amtrak’s Southwest Chief may have eased, but rail passenger advocates say the train potentially is still in danger of being discontinued or rerouted.

Amtrak has said that the Chicago-Los Angeles train will continue on its present route through western Kansas, southeast Colorado and northern New Mexico so long as it appears that political progress is being made to reach a funding plan for track rehabilitation.

Amtrak recently said that the Chief will continue using its current route past the Jan. 1, 2016, expiration date of the contract with BNSF for track maintenance

The route used by the Chief is a lightly used freight route and BNSF had said that it would not maintain the tracks to better than 30 mph speeds.

Amtrak had asked state officials in New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to contribute $4 million each a year for 10 years to fund repair and maintenance of 632 miles the of track between Newton, Kan., and Lamy, N.M.

Amtrak and BNSF had agreed to each contribute an equipment amount each year for the next decade.

Deteriorating tracks conditions have meant in recent years that the Chief must operate was less than the optimal speed of 79 mph.

Amtrak is facing significant increases in its costs for repair and maintenance because BNSF no longer runs much freight on the Kansas and Colorado lines and has no freight service on the New Mexico portion of the line.

Last year Garden City, Kan., received a $12.5 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant to be applied toward the track work.

At the same time, Amtrak, BNSF and the Kansas Department of Transportation contributed $9 million toward track rehabilitation

Another $360,000 was pledged by Colorado and Kansas counties, communities and advocacy groups.  BNSF said it would cover maintenance costs for the newly repaired segment, which has relieved Amtrak of some of the major maintenance costs it would have faced in 2016.

Rebuilding of 45 to 50 miles of track in the worst condition in Kansas and Colorado will be done this year.  BNSF has already begun tie replacement at its own expense in anticipation of laying new rail.

However, New Mexico has yet to pony up any money for track work. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has agreed to pay for a $150,000 study of the Chief’s costs and benefits.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation has said it will seek a TIGER grant for track repairs.

Colorado officials are hoping that enough time can be saved on the schedule to add a stop in Pueblo which would bring the train within 40 miles of Colorado Springs and open an array of new tourism opportunities to Amtrak passengers.

Chicago Amtrak Train Days Events Announced

April 3, 2015

Amtrak is offering a series of events as part of its Amtrak Train Days in Chicago next month.

The events, which require a ticket purchase include self-guided tours of the Amtrak Exhibit Train, an excursion train, VIP train tour, “Hard Hat” Tour and a tour of the Joseph Szabo Control Center.

Joseph Szabo Control Center Tour

May 8, 9, and 10 at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. Cost: $50. A 45 minute tour with each tour having a capacity of 20. Codes for the tour are CHI to CCT. The center controls 583 train movements a day. Participants will hear a short presentation on the history of train movements, the technologies used at the center, and visit the control office where trains are controlled. No photography will be permitted and a signed waiver of release will also be required.

Hard Hat Tour

May 9 at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. Cost: $75 (must be 18 or older). A 90 minute walking tour with a capacity of 20 people per tour, Codes for the tour are CHI to HHT. Participants will receive souvenir hard hats and take a tour of Chicago Union Station. Doors to hidden stairways will be opened, secret unused underground tunnels seen, and special one-time only access to never area not seen by the public will be provided. The sights will include the top of the five-story Great Hall glass atrium, the kitchen space where meals were prepared and the three-story restaurant space where travelers enjoyed them, a steam tunnel that carried super-heated steam, and former mail platforms. The tour cannot accommodate those unable to walk on his or her own or anyone who cannot climb stairs. A signed waiver of release will also be required.

VIP Train Tour

The Chicago to Three Oaks, Mich., trip will oprate on May 8, departing at 5 p.m. and returning at 10 p.m. Cost is $100 and the capacity is 200.  Codes for the tour are CHI to THR and return THR to CHC. Passengers will visit the Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks and ride in Superliner coaches. Assorted adult beverages, snacks and entertainment will be provided. There will be a tour of the distillery while visitors sample beverages and enjoy appetizers. After the two hour tour, the train will depart for Chicago Union Station. Only adults 21 and older are allowed to purchase tickets and IDs will be checked before boarding.

Excursion Train May 9 with departures at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. Tickets are  $10 for adults and $5 for children. Each train has a capacity of 210. Code is CHI to CTD. Booking for the Joseph Szabo Control Center Tour, Hard Hat Tour, VIP Train, and Excursion Train may be made online at Amtrak.com for the VIP Train and Excursion Train. All other tours have to be booked in the station that day or via 1-800-USA-RAIL. For more information, go to www.amtraktraindays.com.

Oklahoma Passenger Service Poised to Launch

April 1, 2015

Private passenger service between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., is expected to begin in May or early summer.

The train, a venture of Watco, which owns the tracks, and Iowa Pacific Holdings, which is providing the equipment and on-board service, has been named the Eastern Flyer.

Matt Abbey, project manager for the service, said that Watco continues to make track improvements and the Federal Railroad Administration must approve the service.

Shuttles from pickup points in Tulsa will take passengers to a station in Sapulpa, Okla., where passenger will then board the train for Midwest City, Okla. Shuttles will then take passengers to various points in Oklahoma City.

The train will also make a number of intermediate stops.

Fares will start at $20 and downtown-to-downtown service will take about three hours. Food and beverage service along with wireless Internet access will be provided aboard the train.

“It’s important to us that this is done well and thoroughly,” Abbey said.

Sometime soon there will be a website and mobile-phone platforms up and running for passengers to check on train times and purchase tickets.

Watco and Iowa Pacific offered demonstration pass trains on the Stillwater Central between Sapulpa and Midwest City in February 2014.