Archive for July, 2015

Amtrak 6 Months Late Getting Bicycle Racks Installed on Board the Capitol Limited

July 29, 2015

Want to take your bike aboard Amtrak? No problem says the nation’s rail passenger carrier. Bike racks will be ready by the end of the year.

Uh, that was the end of last year. Despite announcing June 2014 that baggage cars “equipped with built-in luggage racks that will be able to secure unboxed bicycles” would be available by year’s end.

But six months after that deadline passed, Amtrak is still working to install the bike racks.

Among the trains that were slated to get them were the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited.

Although it won’t commit to a new deadline, Amtrak says that is aiming to get the racks installed and ready to use by the end of summer.

“That’s a process we’ve been working on for quite some time,” said Craig Schultz, an Amtrak spokesman. “We’re very eager to get it off the ground.”

Schultz said that finding the right racks and figuring out how they can fit in a baggage car while also keeping a train on schedule has taken longer than expected.

He said Amtrak wants to ensure that loading and unloading bikes doesn’t add time to boarding or de-boarding and that the baggage cars fit with varying platform heights at en route stations.

The bike racks were to be tested on the Capitol Limited and the Vermonter between New York and St. Albans, Vermont.

Amtrak will solicit feedback from riders who use the service, Schultz said.

Nos. 29 and 39 are expected to have racks to fit eight bikes, something that some bicycle advocates say won’t be enough.

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Special Boarding Platform Testing in Ann Arbor

July 24, 2015

A first-of-its-kind boarding platform designed to serve rail passengers with disabilities is undergoing a trial in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The platform is designed to help passengers more easily board trains at stations that have low-level platforms that are well below the floor level of most single-level passenger cars.

Otherwise, passengers must be carried aboard up the stairs or raised to floor level by a lift device.

The new platform is located at the west end of the existing low-level platform at the Ann Arbor Amtrak station.

It has a ramp that leads to a concrete platform that stands 38 inches above the top of the rails. That is the same height as the floor of the Amfleet and Horizon cars commonly used on Wolverine Service trains that serve Ann Arbor.

A wall facing the tracks sits 9 feet back from the center line of the track, thus allowing ample clearance space for passing freight trains.

A 20-foot motorized concrete platform, or shuttle, deploys to the 5-foot, 7-inch distance from the center line to facilitate level boarding at two adjacent doors.

A conductor or station agent can use a cell phone app to activate the shuttle, which takes just over 10 seconds to move into position.

There remains a gap of several inches between the movable section and a passenger car, so a bridge plate is necessary for wheelchair travelers. That plate has guardrails and is made of lightweight carbon fiber. It is 18 inches longer and 30 pounds lighter than the 87-pound aluminum ramps used at most Amtrak stations.

Superliner equipment has a lower boarding level floor and the fiber ramp can be adapted those cars.

Amtrak’s Superliners as well as the bi-level Midwest and California fleet now being built by Nippon Sharyo, have doors that are slightly over 15 inches above top-of-rail.

The Ann Arbor special platform cost about $1.9 million with the funds coming from the Accessible Boarding Technologies portion of the $50 million designated by Congress in the current Amtrak appropriation to make stations accessible to passengers with disabilities.

A similar platform is being planned for the Amtrak station in East Lansing, Michigan, on the Blue Water line. Another may be built at an undisclosed location on the Wolverine Service line.

Although designed to help those with disabilities, the special platform is available for use by any passengers, including seniors, young families with strollers and those traveling with big rolling suitcases.

Amtrak collaborated with a Michigan engineering firm, RLE International, to design the prototype platform.

It was unveiled at a ceremony on July 23, the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Amtrak Touts Station Accessibility Projects

July 20, 2015

The Amtrak station in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is among several that will be renovated this year to make them more accessible to those with disabilities.

Also slated to be renovated this year are stations in Prince, West Virginia; Devils Lake, Rugby, Stanley, and Williston in North Dakota; Detroit Lakes, Red Wing, St. Cloud and Winona in Minnesota; and Glasgow and Havre in Montana.

“Passengers with disabilities represent a large and growing share of Amtrak ridership and we are proud of our role as an important means of transportation,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman in a news release. “We are confident we can build on the progress made to date and advance a robust program of station accessibility improvements in the years to come.”

Amtrak said that over the past 25 years it has improved accessibility at many stations, including repairs and upgrades to platforms, ramps and sidewalks, and renovating entrances and restrooms. All Amtrak trains have accessible seating and restrooms, and long-distance trains have accessible bedrooms.

During the past five fiscal years ridership by passengers with disabilities has increased 50 percent.

Troy Station Stop Suspended for 1 Train

July 17, 2015

Due to track work, Wolverine Service No. 350 Will Not Stop in Troy, Michigan, Monday through Saturdays through Sept. 30.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the action is result of track improvements being made in in Indiana and Michigan.

Amtrak is directing passengers using train 350 to instead board or disembark at Dearborn, Detroit, Royal Oaks or Pontiac. No. 350 is scheduled to arrive in Troy at 2:36 p.m. from Chicago and other intermediate stops.

All other Wolverine Service trains will continue to offer daily service to Troy.

Buffalo Eyes Replacing Exchange Street Station

July 17, 2015

Exchange Street station in Buffalo, New York, may be replaced by an underground facility, city officials say.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. say they want to place the station below an undeveloped tract of land north of the canal.

“Instead of getting off at a site that leads you to believe nothing is happening around you, you would now get off at a site where you’re entering what is planned to be a very vibrant area of the City of Buffalo,” said Brendan R. Mehaffy, executive director of the city’s Office of Strategic Planning.

The current station is a small brick structure located beneath an interstate highway interchange in downtown Buffalo.

It is served by Amtrak’s Empire Service trains and the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf.

In 2014, the station served 41,220 passengers, which was a 7.4 percent increase over 2013 patronage and more than double what it served in 2004.

Mayor Brown has been calling for a train station at Canalside for years.

“Erie Canal Harbor and the Mayor’s Office are on the same page about exploring the feasibility of putting the train station at the northern end of the site before any other projects are finalized,” Mehaffy said. “If we can get it done, it’s worth the investment in the area.”

Waterfront agency board member Sam Hoyt said the board has been discussing placing an Amtrak station on what is described as the northern Aud block.

“We are in the process of considering the next steps there, and a train station will absolutely be a part of that discussion,” he said.

Ten years ago, Hoyt called for having Amtrak use a proposed transportation that would have been placed at the site of the since demolished Memorial Auditorium.

A study conducted at the time found that a station at Canalside was feasible.

“We did thorough research when I was an assemblyman, and the answer is that the short tunnel under which the track goes underground could accommodate a station. It’s definitely doable,” Hoyt said.

Hoyt rode Amtrak between Buffalo and Albany when he served in the state assembly and said that a new station is long overdue.

“You want visitors welcomed by a good first impression,” he said. “As we have done with Buffalo Niagara International Airport, you are greeted by a beautiful state-of-the-art, well-designed airport. You come by Amtrak, and the message is certainly not that this is a city on the move, a city that is growing, prospering and has turned itself around.”

A new Amtrak station would require federal, state and city funds to build, but Hoyt said that hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in Canalside in recent years.

The site has also been listed as possible location for a new stadium for the NFL Buffalo Bills.

“Including a high-quality, intermodal station in the future development of the Aud site makes enormous sense,” Hoyt said. “The Mayor’s Office and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. agree that if we’re going to do a station in Buffalo, it ought to be at that site.”

Bruce B. Becker, president of the Empire State Passengers Association, agreed that the current station needs to be replaced.

“We feel Exchange Street is barely adequate, given the increasing ridership out of the station,” Becker said. “Our organization feels adamantly that with the development of downtown and Canalside and HarborCenter, there is a need for a much-improved Amtrak facility serving downtown.”

Amtrak serve Buffalo through two stations. The Empire corridor trains, Maple Leaf and the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited all stop at a station in suburban Depew.

Cleveland, Elyria Amtrak Stations Ripped

July 16, 2015

The Amtrak station in Cleveland has earned the dubious distinction of joining a list of what CityLab.com described as the worst stations in the country.

CityLab, which covers urban issue for the Atlantic magazine, grouped the station with its “fail station” category.

The ranking attracted some local media attention. Crain’s Cleveland Business cited it on its blog and WKSU wrote a story about it that was posted to the NPR station’s website.

The latter story, though, did have one glaring inaccuracy. It said that Amtrak moved its Cleveland operations to the current Lakefront station after Greater Cleveland RTA moved its operations into Tower City. Actually, what RTA did or didn’t do had nothing to do with it.

Amtrak began using its current location in October 1975 when it launched the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York/Boston.

If CityLab thinks the current station, which opened in 1977, is bad, it should have seen the modular station – read, trailer – that Amtrak initially used in Cleveland.

Actually, the City Lab writer did see it. That trailer was later moved to Elyria, which also made the CityLab list of failing stations.

Noting that fire destroyed the Elyria trailer station in 2013, CityLab described the site as “not-even-a-station-station.”

That might be true, yet the debris from the fire has been removed and a bus shelter-type station constructed in Elyria.

The KSU article did note that Amtrak officials said they have plans to begin using the nearby former New York Central station, which is a hub for Lorain County transit buses.

However, the idea of using the NYC depot for Amtrak has been in the works for years but there is new hope that the idea will finally come to fruition in the short-term future.

In the meantime, the Elyria station is no worse than dozens of other similar type stations across America, including one in Alliance.

Back to Cleveland, though. Amtrak did briefly use Cleveland Union Terminal, now known as Tower City. That was during seven months in 1971 when the first edition of the Lake Shore ran.

But the states on the route reneged on their promise to help fund that train and Amtrak discontinued it in early January 1972.

By then it was stopping at a crossing in the Flats because if Amtrak had used CUT for even one day in 1972, it would have been on the hook for paying a year’s worth of rent.

As for RTA, well it was running rapid transit trains through CUT long before Amtrak began. So it is not clear what it meant by when RTA moved its operations there.

The WKSU story said that Amtrak officials call the Cleveland station “functional” but that they are working with city and county officials to use an intermodal terminal that has been talked about along the lakefront east of the current Amtrak station.

That station would be used by RTA, regional and intercity buses. But it hasn’t been built yet and officials are still looking for a suitable site.

The CityLab article used some colorful descriptions about some Amtrak stations.

For example, it described the Amtrak station in Savannah, Georgia, as having the look of an adult video store that has gone out of business.

The Detroit Amtrak station was described as having the appearance of an unused Sizzler restaurant.

Also making the list were Amtrak stations in Buffalo, New York, and South Bend, Indiana.

The Exchange Street station in Buffalo, which is used by Empire Service trains and the Maple Leaf, but not the Lake Shore Limited, sits beneath a massive interstate highway interchange.

As for South Bend, “What makes the South Bend terminal so truly egregious is the fact that Union Station, a mighty Beaux-Arts building, still stands across town—but it no longer services trains,” wrote CityLab author Kriston Capps.

He had one thing right in his article. “Some of the nation’s train stations don’t make a great impression. That won’t change until Congress truly funds passenger rail,” Capps wrote.

“These are the other train stations—the ones that make you wish you’d left the house a little later so you’d have to spend that much less time waiting at the station.”

Maybe so, but, hey, at least the Cleveland Amtrak station does have heat, air conditioning and indoor plumbing. Try finding those at many stations served by Amtrak.

2 Named to Amtrak Board of Directors

July 14, 2015

President Barack Obama will nominate Derek Kan and re-nominate Anthony Coscia to serve on the board of directors of Amtrak.

Kan is director of strategy at Genapsys who previously he served as a management consultant at Bain & Co. and as an adviser at Elliott Management.

He was a policy adviser to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, the chief economist for the Senate Republican Policy Committee and presidential management fellow at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Coscia has sat on the Amtrak board since June 2010. He is a partner at Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf LLP and between 2003 and 2011 was chairman of the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

UP Derailment Strands Illinois Amtrak Passengers

July 7, 2015

A freight train derailment combined with an incident with a truck on Monday night turned into a 14-hour ordeal for some Lincoln Service passengers bound for St. Louis.

And most of the passengers didn’t make it by rail to their destinations. Instead, they wound up going back to Chicago.

Train No. 307 departed Chicago on Monday at 7 p.m. with 150 passengers.

The first major delay occurred near Joliet due to a truck accident. Amtrak Spokesman Marc Magliari said No. 307 was stopped there for four hours.

The train then had to halt near Dwight after a Union Pacific grain train train derailed about five miles north of Pontiac at Cayuga.

Nine covered hoppers of the UP train left the tracks as the train was departing a siding that serves a Bunge Corp. grain elevator at Cayuga.

The Livingston County sheriff said nine rail cars carrying corn derailed at the Prairie Central Co-op elevator located near Route 66 and 2000 North Road.

The derailment also reported demolished a Railcrew Xpress van. Two employees of that company, contracted by UP to ferry rail crews, jumped from the van when they saw the train derailing and escaped injury.

The train was moving at about 5 mph at the time of the derailment. The sheriff’s Department said a mechanical error with the rails caused the UP train to derail.

As it was, Amtrak’s Lincoln Service had been canceled on Tuesday due to scheduled track work. Passengers were to be bused.

The Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle was to detour over another Union Pacific route through the eastern part of the state.

The southbound Lincoln Service train that was halted on Monday by the UP derailment was instead sent back to Chicago, arriving there early Tuesday morning.

Once in Chicago, passengers were put on buses to get to their destinations.

Amtrak said in a statement that it would offer compensation to the passengers for their inconvenience.

“They told us it was going to be a two hour delay and it kept getting longer and longer,” said Autumn Brooks, an Amtrak passenger.
Michelle Owens said she was unable take her daily medication. “I got a kidney transplant nine years ago. I couldn’t take it because they weren’t offering food except for a little bag of crackers or cookies and that was it,” Owens said.

“They wanted to sell their food to us, basically profiting from the fact that we were stuck on their train,” said Jake Dorris, another Amtrak passenger.

The train arrived back in Union Station just before 9 a.m. on Tuesday. The already exhausted passengers had to wait another hour before boarding buses provided by Amtrak to take them to their destinations.

“We’re going to deal with these passengers individually. We will talk to every one of them to assess what went well and what didn’t. We apologize profusely. There was nothing we could do to make the train go further because the tracks were closed,” Magliari said.

The last bus carrying passengers from Train 307 pulled out of Union Station just before 11 a.m., about 16 hours after their original journey began.

Illinois Amtrak Trains Continue to Operate Despite Lack of Budget Agreement for FY 2016

July 7, 2015

Illinois still doesn’t have a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 and the governor has threatened to cut Amtrak funding by 40 percent.

But for now Amtrak’s state-funded trains in Illinois continue to run as before. Amtrak officials have indicated that that will be the case for at least several weeks.

Gov. Bruce Rauner announced in mid-June plans to slash funding for Amtrak service in Illinois from $42 million to $26 million.

The governor took the action after he vetoed a budget approved by the Illinois General Assembly that Rauner said was out of balance.

Amtrak has seen these type of budget fights before. Rauner is a Republican in his first term in office while the legislature is controlled by Democrats.

“It’s not unusual for us to begin a fiscal year without a contract or a budget in place, in this state and others,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “There’s a continuation clause in the current contract so it continues on. We’ll continue to provide service while we await a conclusion.”

Magliari said that the continuation clause says that “the contract continues in force for several months. I don’t expect this will take several months.”

Nonetheless, Magliari said Amtrak is “discussing with (the Illinois Department of Transportation) what the service will look like going forward.”

Should Amtrak service on Illinois state-funded routes need to be reduced, Magliari said there will be several weeks notice of those cuts.

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly confirmed that IDOT is talking with Amtrak about future service.

“IDOT is proceeding as quickly as possible to make decisions about the frequency and level of service that the state can afford. Despite weeks of conversations, Amtrak has not yet provided IDOT with the complete financial information necessary to reduce service,” Kelly said.

Illinois funds two roundtrips daily between Chicago and Carbondale, and between Chicago and Quincy. It also funds four roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis and helps underwrite service between Chicago and Milwaukee. The latter service is also funded by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

The Illinois-funded trains have been particularly popular with college students.

In Carbondale, home of Southern Illinois University, students were lined up on the last day of the most recent school term, huddling under an awning as it began raining.

Most of the students were headed for Chicago, but some would be getting off at a station in central Illinois.

Although Carbondale is served by the Chicago-bound City of New Orleans in the middle of the night, the early morning state-funded Saluki is more popular.

The next train from Carbondale to Chicago is the late afternoon Illini.

“I probably wouldn’t take the train because I can’t get up at 3:30 in the morning because I’m a sleeper,” said Justin Edelheit of Buffalo Grove as he waited to board the Saluki. “Well, I don’t really have a car down here so I have to take the train to get home and that’s the only way I have to see my family. ”

Pareth Patel can understand Justin’s reliance on Amtrak. “I don’t actually have a car here so it’s easier for me to take the train because I take the train from here to Chicago and then I take the [Metra] train from Union Station to Naperville which is closer to my house.”

Joe Tumminaro likes the train ride home to the suburbs. “I actually take the train a lot. I got rid of my car his year to take the train because it’s just easier,” he said.

John O’Shea said he rides the train every couple of months. “I live right by [Chicago] Union Station so this takes me right to there and I live two blocks away from here so it’s just easy; it’s just a hassle driving 6 hours to and from.”

O’Shea said he often rides the City of New Orleans, but on this day he needed another option, so he rode the Saluki.

“That’s usually the one I take, but that’s just because it’s more convenient for me, I’m taking this because I have to be here somewhere tonight.”

Keelia Hamdan connects in Chicago with a train for Detroit. Losing options could lead to headaches getting home, especially after exams.

“It would be much more difficult to get around and as you can see a ton of people come like the end of the semester so it would effect a lot of people,” she said.

Agreement Reached to Resolve PTC impasse in Kansas City that Threatened Amtrak Service

July 7, 2015

Amtrak said it has reached an “an agreement in principle” regarding installation of positive train control on the Kansas City Terminal Railway.

If implemented, it will end the threat that Amtrak would discontinue its Missouri River Runner service as well as the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Those trains use a portion of the KCTR, which is Class III carrier jointly owned by Union Pacific and BNSF.

“We are hopeful we will soon finalize details of an equitable solution that achieves the installation and ongoing maintenance of PTC in the Kansas City Terminal area,” Amtrak said in a statement.

Amtrak had earlier estimated that it would cost $32 million to install PTC on the KCTR.

Although railroads such as KCTR and the Terminal Railway Association of St. Louis handle hazardous materials on run-through trains from their Class I connections, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 doesn’t require the Class III roads to install PTC unless they host passenger trains.

KCTR refused to pay to install PTC and the Missouri Department of Transportation also declined to pick up the bill. Amtrak said it doesn’t have the money to pay for it either.

There has been a move in Congress to delay the deadline to implement PTC, but that movement stalled after the derailment of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia resulted in multiple fatalities. The deadline to install PTC is Dec. 31, 2015.

Eric Curtit, the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Administrator of Railroads and Multimodal Operations, said terms of the KCTR agreement are confidential.

He said that the KCTR agreement is likely to establish a framework to resolve the same issue regarding TRRA tracks in St. Louis used by the Missouri River Runner trains, the Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.