Archive for June, 2015

Iowa Pacific Completes Hoosier State Test Run

June 29, 2015

Indiana, Amtrak and Iowa Pacific officials have yet to announce a takeover date by IP of the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

The quad-weekly train, operated by Amtrak on days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate, is funded in part by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Amtrak’s contract to operate the train expires on June 30, although it has said that it will continue to operate the train if Iowa Pacific does not take it over on July 1.

An IP trainset completed a test run this past weekend over the route, running behind the Amtrak Hoosier State.

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the agency will review the results of the test.

The test train had GP40FH-2 locomotives Nos. 4135 and 4137, full-length dome Summit View and two coaches.

Even after Iowa Pacific takes over the Hoosier State, an Amtrak engineer and conductor will continue to make up the operating crews.

Iowa Pacific has said it will offer food service and business class service in the dome car. IP will service the equipment in its Bensenville, Illinois, shop during the Chicago layover.

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California Zephyr Stranded Overnight In Iowa

June 28, 2015

Amtrak’s westbound California Zephyr was stranded with nearly 300 aboard in Iowa for more than 20 hours this weekend.

The train, which had departed Chicago on Friday afternoon, was stopped in Ottumwa, Iowa, because of a track wash out ahead.

Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said it wasn’t until Saturday night that BNSF crews got the tracks repaired.

After No. 5 was able to resume its journey, it then had to return to the Ottumwa station after a BNSF train ahead of it developed mechanical problems, Graham said.

The Zephyr, which had left Chicago at 2 p.m. on Friday stopped in Iowa at 11:30 p.m. and didn’t move again until 7 p.m. Saturday, she said,

Graham said that passengers were provided food at the station and given the chance to find other means of transportation. However, all of them stayed with the train, Graham said.

The train’s final destination is Emeryville, California, near San Francisco.

Rauner Threatens 40% Amtrak Funding Cut

June 27, 2015

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has indicated that he plans to slash funding for Amtrak service in the state by 40 percent on July 1.

The governor’s plan is to cut the funding from $42 million to $26 million as part of some $820 million in spending cuts that he plans to impose if there is not budget agreement by the time the 2016 fiscal year begins on July 1.

Rauner, a Republican, vetoed an earlier budget sent to him by the Illinois General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats.

The governor said that budget was nearly $4 billion out of balance. The legislature earlier passed a school funding bill that Rauner signed.

Although Amtrak has said it is unclear what effect the wrangling over the budget will have on its state-supported, Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, said in a statement that the cuts would result in fewer trains and higher fares.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Amtrak is awaiting official word as to how funding Illinois will provide for the service it helps underwrite on routes linking Chicago with Milwaukee, St. Louis, Quincy and Carbondale.

“We’ve not had any formal word from Illinois DOT,” Magliari said. “We’re still accepting bookings for current levels of service.”

Some observers have seen Rauner’s announcement of a new series of cuts to state programs as a strategy to prod Democratic leaders to include some of the governor’s pro-business proposals in a compromise budget deal.

In particular, Democrats have balked at Rauner’s attempts to alter worker compensation laws and have voted down his push for a property tax freeze.

Democrats have proposed extending an income tax hike that is scheduled to expire, but Rauner said he won’t support that without the legislature adopting at least five of his initiatives.

In a spending proposal made in February, Rauner said he wanted to reduce Amtrak funding subsidy by 40 percent, a move that Amtrak said would result in cuts to Illinois Amtrak service. The specter of Amtrak cuts prompted statements of concern from lawmakers and university town officials, who say the reductions would hurt students, business and tourism.

The budget bill approved by the General Assembly would keep Amtrak funding at its current $42 million level.

For now, Amtrak is continuing to operate under its current schedule. “We don’t anticipate any July 1 change,” Magliari said.

Petition Drive Seeks Oxford Amtrak Stop

June 27, 2015

An Oxford resident has collected more than 1,000 signatures in support establishing an Amtrak station in that southwest Ohio community.

Many of those who signed Deb Clark’s petitions also said they would be willing to provide funds or materials to make the station happen, she said.

The city of Oxford is supporting the bid to create a station to serve Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, but G. Alan Kyger, Oxford’s development director, said a search committee has not decided on a site.

He did say that the committee is looking at locations on public land, although a privately-owned site would not be ruled out.

The committee has examined five or six potential sites, including between High Street and the former Talawanda High School site on Locust Street.

City officials have declined to divulge the specific locations because they have not spoken with the property owners.

“The eventual decision-makers are going to be city council and Miami University,” Kyger said. “We’re trying to work together on this project.”

Kyger said the search committee intends to make a location recommendation by the end of the summer, Kyger said.

Amtrak gave Oxford and Miami the go-ahead to select a site earlier this year.

The railroad has expressed a willing to serve Oxford, but the city and the university would have to find the site and to pay for it.

The station is expected to be a shelter station with overhead canopies but no amenities such as restrooms.

Washouts Send Chief, Zephyr Detouring

June 27, 2015

Flooding that caused washouts on BNSF tracks used by Amtrak sent the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief onto alternative routes this past week.

Both trains were to detour over nearby Union Pacific routes, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magiliari said.

The Zephyr was to use a former Chicago & North Western route through central Iowa while the Chief was to be sent over the former Missouri Pacific route used by Amtrak’s Missouri River Runners east of Kansas City, Missouri.

Amtrak was offering alternate transportation to most intermediate stops and is offering rebooking and full refunds to passengers who decided not to travel.

All Indiana Amtrak Stations ADA Non-Compliant

June 27, 2015

Many Amtrak stations fail to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including all 11 stations in Indiana, a Department of Justice probe has found.

Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services, the state’s disability advocacy agency, is one of several organizations around the country that filed complaints against Amtrak with the Department of Justice.

The agency’s executive director, Dawn Adams, says the report it sent to the DOJ was based on extensive inspections of Amtrak stations after the state received numerous complaints.

Adams said the violations included inaccessible parking and inadequate counter height, and even refusal to sell tickets to customers with disabilities.

“If the station at the other end that the person wanted to go to was inaccessible, then rather than making that station accessible, they just refused to sell tickets to people with disabilities,” Adams said.

The Department of Justice says it will work with Amtrak to ensure the stations become compliant. Amtrak has indicated that it will cooperate with the effort.

Hastings Station to Lose Ticket Agent

June 27, 2015

Amtrak will remove ticket agents next month from the station in Hastings, Nebraska.

The move will become effective the second week of July and Amtrak will hire a part-time caretaker to clean and inspect the station.

“The volume of ticketing at stations, large and small, has been declining due to e-ticketing and the way technology has changed,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “More than half of passengers do their ticketing without any human intervention at all.”

He said that most Amtrak passengers purchase online tickets, print their tickets at home or have their smart phones scanned, which contains their tickets.

“Of the 500 places you can go to on Amtrak, fewer than 200 are staffed,” Magliari said.

Magliari said the move to end ticket agent service came after the current full-time agent decided to take another job.

The move will leave only Lincoln and Omaha as staffed stations in Nebraska. All of Amtrak’s five stations in the state are served by the Chicago-San Francisco Bay California Zephyr.

Quality Leader Names for Illinois Rail Project

June 27, 2015

Philip Stephens has been named by Parsons Brinckerhoff to serve as the quality task leader for the Chicago to St. Louis high speed rail program.

Stephens, who has more than 20 years of management experience in the application of quality standards for the design and construction of large transportation infrastructure projects, will provide oversight, direction and audits of all program management sub-consultants and contractors.

Parsons Brinckerhoff is serving as program manager for the $1.6 billion project to increase speeds along the 284-mile route.

Before joining Parsons Brinckerhoff, Stephens worked at a Chicago construction engineering firm where he was also involved with quality assurance activities for the Chicago-St. Louis high-speed rail project.

Previously, he was a construction quality assurance manager with a construction management company, providing quality assurance services for Chicago Transit Authority projects.

 

Boston LSL Section Still Not Operating Through

June 19, 2015

The Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited continues to operate as a shuttle train between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer, New York, with Amtrak yet to say when Nos. 448 and 449 will resume running through to and from Chicago.

In a service advisory posted on its website, Amtrak had said that the shuttle train arrangement would last through June 13.

But now the advisory has been removed and online reports indicate that Amtrak has been calling passengers booked with Viewliner sleeper accommodations in July to inform them they were being rebooked.

In one instance, the passenger was rerouted via New York City and placed on an Acela Express train between Boston and New York.

In another, the passenger was rebooked in a coach seat between Albany and Boston.

A check of the Amtrak website found that Nov. 2 was the earliest date for which a Viewliner sleeper room can be booked from Cleveland to Boston.

The online reports indicated that track construction near the Albany-Rennselaer station is continuing and in the meantime Amtrak is unable to separate or combine the New York and Boston sections of the Lake Shore Limited.

Once the project is completed, the track capacity of the station will be increased.

In the meantime, online reports indicates that Nos. 48/49 (the New York section) are operating with 11 cars, including a baggage car, three Viewliner sleepers, dining car, café car and five Amfleet II coaches.

Nos. 48 and 49 are typically pulled by a pair of P42DC locomotives. In recent weeks, the motive power consist has featured No. 156, the Phase I livery heritage locomotive.

A check of Heritageunits.com found that No. 156 has been assigned to No. 48 or No. 49 since at least late May, often leading either westbound or eastbound.

Amtrak Pulls Agents in Grand Forks, North Dakota

June 19, 2015

Amtrak on June 1 discontinued providing ticket agents in the station at Grand Forks, North Dakota.

A service advisory said that checked baggage, ticketing and Amtrak Express services were no longer available and no one will be at the station to provide assistance.

Passengers needing those services were advised to use the Fargo, North Dakota, station located 75 miles south of Grand Forks.

The Grand Forks station will be open daily from 11 p.m. until 8 a.m. to allow passengers access to the waiting room, restrooms and vending machines.

Grand Forks is served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.