Archive for May, 2015

Amtrak Releases 2nd Veterans Tribute Unit

May 18, 2015

Amtrak has rolled out a second locomotive to honor the nation’s military veterans,

The same livery applied to P42DC No. 42 has been given to ACS-64 No. 642.

Although the locomotive has not been officially unveiled by Amtrak, it was ferried eastward on Sunday and Monday, leaving Chicago  in the motive power consist of the eastbound Capitol Limited on Monday morning.

On Sunday morning, it had left Indianapolis on the northbound Hoosier State after being painted at the Beech Grove shops.

The ACS-64 locomotives are being built in California and ferried across the country, usually by the California Zephyr and Capitol Limited.

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STB to Begin Rule Making for Passenger OT Rules

May 15, 2015

The federal agency that oversees transportation will begin a rule-making process designed to define intercity passenger railroad on-time performance for purposes of Section 213 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

“The Board intends to issue in a subsequent decision a notice of proposed rulemaking in this matter, inviting public participation and comment,” said Surface Transportation Board spokesman Dennis Watson. “This decision follows a series of events surrounding the constitutionality of Section 207 of PRIIA in the federal courts, as well as a petition filed by the Association of American Railroads requesting a rulemaking on this matter.”

“The Board fully recognizes that when Congress enacted PRIIA, it placed importance on the efficient and timely adjudication of on-time performance,” said Watson. “Therefore, the Board will develop a definition of on-time performance with public participation through a formal rulemaking so that a process will be in place as Congress intended.”

The board’s notice can be viewed at

http://www.stb.dot.gov/decisions/readingroom.nsf/WebDecisionID/44440?OpenDocument

Marketing Seen as Key to Hoosier State Success

May 15, 2015

Ed Ellis has a simple idea how to boost ridership on the Hoosier State. It begins with marketing that is rooted in giving people a reason to ride the train.

He expects to offer highly-marketed travel packages that will take passengers to sporting events and cultural attractions.

Ellis, who heads Iowa Pacific Holdings, told the Journal & Courier of Lafayette, Indiana, that travelers can be sorted into three groups: Those who need to get somewhere in a hurry, those who just need to get somewhere and those who are looking for a reason to go.

The latter are much on Ellis’ mind these days.

“The way they ran trains back in the day, they spent a lot of time thinking about events and reasons people need to ride the train,” he said.

“Substantial costs of running trains were paid for by people who didn’t have to go but wanted to go.”

Iowa Pacific is in the process of hiring employees for the passenger rail line, including a marketing manager who will plan trips.

It won’t be just Hoosier traveling to Chicago for the day. “You can be sure we’ll be selling Purdue football packages,” Ellis said.

Iowa Pacific will provide and maintain the passenger cars for the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train that will continue to be operated by Amtrak and funded in part by the Indiana Department of Transportation and the online communities that it serves.

The same route and communities are also served by Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal, which operates on the three days a week that the Hoosier State does not run.

Iowa Pacific will also provide food and beverage service, something that has had scant availability in recent years.

Amtrak will provide engineers and conductors and sell tickets.

Ellis said that he saw an opportunity throughout months of sometimes contentious negotiations among INDOT, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration over operating the Hoosier State.

He is optimistic that the Chicago-Indianapolis route can become a self-supporting enterprise.

That vision is rooted in a railroad career that included a five-year tenure as a vice president at Amtrak between 996 to 2000.

As an example of what he meant by creating demand, Ellis said his company, which is also in the business of hauling freight, built an outdoor concert venue on top of a mountain near Alamosa, Colorado. The only way to get there was to ride an excursion train that Iowa Pacific operates.

“We created that (concert venue) to give people a reason to ride the train,” he said.

Ellis understand what he is up against marketing a train that doesn’t get anywhere in a hurry.

“What has to happen when you have a train that doesn’t provide fast frequent on-time service is you have to figure out how to get more people on the train,” he said.

Increasing service on the route is going to take about $500 million to be used for rebuilding the tracks.

Such work is necessary if Ellis is ever going to reach his goal of 12 passenger trains a day.

Finding that money will be tough going.

Brian Farkas is a locomotive engineer and chairman of the Indiana legislative board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen .

“Some of his ideas are good, but I’m curious to see how he’s going to get $500 million when our legislators are reluctant to fund $3 million for the train,” Farkas said.

Some have pointed toward federal grants, including the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program.

“There is a renewed willingness on the part of Amtrak, CSX and INDOT to pursue economic development funding, including TIGER grants, to improve the rail infrastructure,” said Greater Lafayette Commerce member Arvid Olson.

“We do have a history of cooperation with railroads in this community,” added Liz Solberg, who oversaw Lafayette’s relocation of Norfolk Southern and CSX tracks to create a rail corridor adjacent to the Wabash River.

Douglas Yerkeson, a rail supporter and partner at Faegre Baker Daniels law firm in Indianapolis, is impressed with Ellis’ approach.

“Having a balanced transportation system is critical to economic development for the state,” he said. “And given the government of Indiana’s interest in partnering with a private company, this may be the impetus for culture change.”

Dana Smith, retired head of Greater Lafayette Commerce, agreed. “If Iowa Pacific can pull this off, it’s going to be an absolute positive for this community,” he said.

Last year, Vicki Burch, a West Lafayette city councilwoman, criticized the prospect of state-subsidized rail transit.

But now she wants to give Ellis and his ideas a chance. “We won’t know until we try,” she said.

Budget Talks Crucial for Amtrak Service in Illinois

May 11, 2015

The next few weeks will be pivotal for the future of intercity rail passenger service in Illinois.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed a budget that would dramatically reduce the level of state support for Amtrak trains as well as public transit.

Rauner would cut funding for Amtrak from $42 million annually to $26 million.

It is not clear how this affect Amtrak service in the state other than there may be fewer trains.

At present, Illinois helps to underwrite the costs of two roundtrips daily between Chicago and Quincy, two roundtrips between Chicago and Carbondale, and four roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis. Illinois also helps to fund the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha service.

Amtrak has declined to say how service cuts would play out if the Illinois General Assembly adopts Rauner’s budget recommendation.

There is widespread agreement that service reductions would be the result, but Amtrak won’t say which trains might be discontinued and/or operate less frequently.

The budget cuts stem from a $6 million budget deficit that is staring lawmakers in the face for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Not surprisingly, rail and transit supporters are seeking to rally public support against the governor’s plan.

They’ve organized the Grow Illinois Transit Campaign and established a website, www.growillinoistransit.org.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association and National Association of Railroad Passengers has joined the fight.

They’ve pointed out that not only would Amtrak suffer under the proposed budget cuts, but so would public transportation offered in Chicago by Metra, The Chicago Transit Authority and the suburban-oriented PACE bus network.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in 2006, Illinois increased support for Amtrak and state-supported service doubled on the corridors linking Chicago with Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis.

Also doubling was ridership on those corridors. The state trains carried 242,144 passengers in 2005. In 2014, they carried 633,531, an increase of nearly 162 percent.

The Carbondale and St. Louis corridors are also used by long-distance trains for New Orleans and San Antonio respectively. Operations of those trains would not be affected by any cut in funding for Amtrak.

Connecting bus service also links such cities as Peoria and Danville, neither of which are served by Amtrak, with Amtrak stations in Champaign, Normal and Galesburg.

The latter point enables passengers to connect with long-distance trains traveling to Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay.

But it is not just existing service that is facing the guillotine. Development of new service between Chicago and Rockford, and Chicago and the Quad Cities region has been frozen.

There is fear that further development of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor for high speed service will be halted with the project far from complete.

The state, Amtrak and Union Pacific have spent millions to upgrade the corridor in several places for speeds of up to 110 mile per hour.

Not surprisingly, the opponents of the funding cuts are pointing toward potential harm to economic development and tourism.

At a news conference at the Statehouse in Springfield, Midwest High Speed Rail Association executive director Rick Harnish played the economy card.

“More and more people are choosing where they are going to live or do business based on access to walking, buses and trains,” Harnish said. “Therefore, it’s critical if we want to grow this state’s economy … we need to make it attractive for (people) to travel throughout the state so that they can stay here but access the other things they want.”

Gina Gemberling, acting director of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, told The State Journal Register that the trains are a “vital link for bringing state, national and international tourists to see our important historic sites.”

Springfield tourism officials said 194,762 people rode Amtrak to Springfield in 2014, almost 20,500 more than the 174,265 who used Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.

The city’s mayor-elect, Jim Langfelder, said he will work through whatever the legislature decides to do, but he also sees the value of transportation.

“Society likes convenience,” he said. “The more you can make transportation convenient, the better, not only for work but for tourism.”

The Rauner administration is seeking to lay the blame for the spending cuts at the feet of previous governors, which spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said left Rauner with no choice but to cut the budget.

“Illinois’ fiscal crisis is a result of years of insider deals and overspending, and as a result, the state is $6 billion in the hole,” she said. “Without structural reform, difficult choices must be made to balance the budget and ensure care to the state’s most vulnerable.”

Rauner is a Republican and the legislature is controlled by Democrats, so it seems likely that the governor won’t get all of what he is seeking.

But party affiliation might not matter much when budget negotiations reach a critical stage and tough fiscal decisions need to be made.

Transportation funding, though, is a small part of what is at stake and what the governor and lawmakers are fighting over as they seek to narrow the budget deficit.

There are issues involving funding for the pension plans of public employees, funding for Medicaid and proposed reductions in the budget of the Department of Children and Family Services.

The governor has proposed an increase of $300 million in funding for K-12 education.

Legislators and Rauner have been sparring over what has been dubbed the “Turn Around Agenda” in which Democrats would get new revenue sources to devote to priorities dear to Democratic legislators in exchange for passage of business oriented measures dear to the Republican governor.

It remains to be seen to what degree funding Amtrak and public transportation are dear to either side.

Illinois has a long history of funding Amtrak service. It was the second state to offer Amtrak to operate trains that were not part of the 1971 basic system and it has funded more trains for a much longer period of time than has any other Midwest state.

Lawmakers and state policy makers and employees are active users of Amtrak trains between the capitol city and the Windy City.

Western Illinois University, Illinois State University, Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign are located on the routes used by the state-funded trains with Eastern Illinois University just 10 miles away from a station on the Carbondale route.

So there is an active travel by train culture in Illinois that is all but non-existent in Ohio, stunted in Wisconsin and just now starting to develop in Indiana.

In the end, transportation seems likely to face a reduction and the discussion is probably going to center on how much. It probably will not be the number put forth by the governor.

Perhaps all of Amtrak’s current slate of state-funded trains will continue in operation.

But the price of that might be that continued development of new services and full-speed ahead continuation of high-speed rail construction in the Chicago-St. Louis corridors will be casualties of whatever bargain that the two sides reach.

Sharp-Trap Containers on Select Amtrak Trains

May 11, 2015

Amtrak is now offering complimentary Sharp-Trap® containers aboard select long-distance trains for passengers to safely dispose of small sharp items including, insulin syringes and needles, lancets and razor blades.

The containers are designed to reduce and/or eliminate passengers’ and employees’ risk of cuts or other injuries caused by sharp personal items. Trains offering the containers include the following:

  • Capitol Limited, Trains 29 and 30
  • Cardinal, Trains 50 and 51
  • City of New Orleans, Trains 58 and 59
  • Crescent, Trains 19 and 20
  • Lake Shore Limited, Trains 48/448 and 49/449
  • Silver Meteor, Trains 97 and 98
  • Silver Star, Trains 91 and 92

The Sharp-Trap containers are available upon request from any Amtrak employee on board the train. Employees can also demonstrate how to use the container, if necessary. Sharp-Trap containers are not available at stations.

Amtrak employees cannot dispose of Sharp-Trap containers and for safety reasons passengers must keep their used containers in their possession until exiting the train.

Passengers who see a Sharp-Trap container in any area of the train or station should notify an Amtrak employee.

Amtrak said the availability of Sharp-Trap containers is expected to be added to additional trains.

BNSF Track Work to Disrupt Heartland Flyer

May 11, 2015

BNSF track work will dispute the Heartland Flyer on Monday, May 25, 2015. Train 821, which normally operates from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, will terminate at Gainesville, Texas, where passengers will be provided bus service to Fort Worth. Train 822, which normally originates in Fort Worth, will operate from Gainesville to Oklahoma City. Passengers boarding in Fort Worth will be provided bus service to Gainesville.

Amtrak on Display at Toledo National Train Day

May 10, 2015
It can't pull a train anymore, but F40PH No. 406 still looks the part.

It can’t pull a train anymore, but F40PH No. 406 still looks the part.

Sure, seeing the Norfolk Southern GoRail locomotive motivated me to drive to Toledo on May 2 for the National Train Day event.

But what I really wanted to see was Amtrak P42 No. 42. It is dressed in a striking livery that honor’s America’s veterans. It was every bit as classy looking as I expected it be and it was my first time seeing it in person.

And then there was Amtrak No. 406. Built in July 1988 by EMD, this F40PH has since had its traction motors removed and been converted to a NPCU, meaning that it can provide head-end power and be used to control a locomotive, but it can’t pull a train.

Yet for appearances, it looks just like it did when it came out of the EMD factory, complete with a Phase III livery.

Last Saturday it provided HEP for the Amtrak exhibit train and I found myself being transported back a decade or two when the F40 was the king of the Amtrak diesel fleet.

During their heyday, the F40 was the Rodney Dangerfield of locomotives.

A lot of railfans didn’t care for them. They made a lot of noise when standing in the station and they were diminutive in stature compared with their big six-axle freight cousins.

Not too many people are going to say they prefer the look of an F40 over the sleek streamlining of an EMD E or F unit.

I’ve always been partial to the short-lived SDP40Fs that Amtrak purchased in 1973 and 1974, but the F40 proved to be the locomotive that enjoyed the longer life even if it had been designed with corridor service in mind.

So I spent some time looking over the 406 and remembering all of the trips I made behind the F40 fleet until it began to be replaced in the middle 1990s.

It’s funny how something that was so common two decades can seemingly vanish overnight.

In time the same will likely happen with the P42. Will I someday have pangs of nostalgia upon seeing one of those? Probably, yes I will. But that day hasn’t come yet.

What I came to see.

What I came to see.

It's almost highball time for the next Amtrak train to New York at Toledo's Central Union Terminal. If only it were true.

It’s almost highball time for the next Amtrak train to New York at Toledo’s Central Union Terminal. If only it were true.

A father and his daughter spend some quality time in the Sightseer lounge, imagining they are taking a train trip.

A father and his daughter spend some quality time in the Sightseer lounge, imagining they are taking a train trip.

Built in 1950 for Union Pacific, sleeper Pacific Bend has racked up thousands of miles and seen a lot of places in its lifetime. No longer carrying revenue passengers, it is now assigned to the Amtrak exhibit train.

Built in 1950 for Union Pacific, sleeper Pacific Bend has racked up thousands of miles and seen a lot of places in its lifetime. No longer carrying revenue passengers, it is now assigned to the Amtrak exhibit train.

Amtrak's latest slogan on the side of former baggage cars turned exhibit cars.

Amtrak’s latest slogan on the side of former baggage cars turned exhibit cars.

The gray of P42 No. 42 is a throwback of sorts to the days of New York Central vanish sitting on these very same tracks.

The gray of P42 No. 42 is a throwback of sorts to the days of New York Central vanish sitting on these very same tracks.

Toledo07a

Amtrak Patrons Offered Free eBooks, eMagazines

May 10, 2015

Barnes and Noble and publisher HarperCollins are offering free eBooks and eMagazines to Amtrak customers during Amtrak Trains Days through November.

Amtrak passengers will be able to access the free eBook and eMagazine content by downloading the Free NOOK Reading App on a smartphone or tablet.

Once a selection is made, the customer will be provided an access code, redeemable at http://nookoffers.com/amtrak/.

Customers can also learn more about NOOK’s participation in Amtrak Train Days by liking NOOK on Facebook and following NOOK on Twitter and Instagram.

The offerings will include bestselling eBooks from HarperCollins, in addition to other classics and popular self-published titles from NOOK Press.®

This will include romance, mystery, thrillers, children’s and business titles. The selections will change  throughout Amtrak Train Days.

The initial offerings will include such titles as Spy Catcher by Matthew Dunn and This Will Change Everything by Jared Diamond, as well as NOOK Press favorites including On a Night Like This by Barbara Freethy and The Wedding Gift by Lucy Kevin.

Available single issue eMagazines will include CosmopolitanVanity FairWired and Seventeen.

Customers can install the Free NOOK Reading App on their Android or iOS device by visiting www.NOOKapp.com.

Amtrak Train Days kicked off at Chicago Union Station on May 9 and will include events being held in various communities nationwide. For more information, visitwww.amtraktraindays.com.

Hoosier State Funding Plan Hammered Out

May 7, 2015

A funding plan for the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State will provide state support, but also required local communities along the route to pony up some money.

The Indiana General Assembly is considered a plan to provide a $6 million operating grant for the quad-weekly train for two years with money from a tax amnesty program that is expected to generate at least $90 million. The first $84 million would be deposited in a regional cities development fund.

“On-line communities will (also) be asked to support a small portion of long-term service costs,” Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield said. “INDOT met with city representatives last week to discuss this.”

The Hoosier State will continue to operate with Amtrak equipment through June 30 or  “until long-term agreements can be finalized with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings.”

Iowa Pacific continues to modify equipment that it owns and it is expected to be inspected by Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak, and Food and Drug Administration personnel in late May.

“July 1 is our target date for Iowa Pacific to begin work as INDOT’s contractor, but there are many aspects outside of (our) control,” Wingfield said.