Archive for August, 2015

Amtrak Nos. 29/30 Won’t Operate East of Pittsburgh for 2 Days in Early September

August 18, 2015

Amtrak’s Capitol Limited will not operate between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., for two days in early September due to CSX track work.

Eastbound No. 30 originating in Chicago on Sept. 5 and 6 will terminate at Pittsburgh.

Passengers bound for Washington will detrain in Pittsburgh and ride a chartered bus to Washington.

Westbound Capitol Limited passengers originating in Washington on Sept. 6 and 7 will ride a bus to Pittsburgh and then transfer to train No. 29.

On both days the buses operating between Pittsburgh and Washington will bypass the intermediate stops at Rockville, Maryland; Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg, West Virginia; Cumberland, Maryland; and Connellsville, Pennsylvania.

Alternative transportation will not be provided to the intermediate stations in either direction.

Cleveland Browns Take Chartered Amtrak Train

August 16, 2015

Numerous reports on reported that the Cleveland Browns chartered an Amtrak train that took the team from Cleveland to Rochester, New York.

Equipment for the train was brought to Cleveland by the eastbound Lake Shore Limited and included two P42DC locomotives (Nos. 192 and 26) and seven Amfleet cars.

Team members were brought to the Amtrak station by bus after a morning practice session.

Although no one reported what time that the train departed, it was said to have arrived in Rochester at 5:15 p.m.

The Browns will be conducting scrimmages this week against the Buffalo Bills. They will host the Bills in a pre-season game on Thursday in Cleveland at First Energy Stadium, which is adjacent to the Amtrak station.

During his daily press conference on Saturday, Browns Coach Mike Pettine was asked why the team was traveling by train to Rochester.

“You need to talk to Simon (Gelan), my assistant, on that one. He handles all team travel. I just think from a – I’m not sure whether our plane was too big to go into Rochester and we’d have to fly into Buffalo then bus another hour and a half up to — I’ve taken the train before having been in Baltimore and been in New York, going down the I-95 quarter on the train. To me, it’s the best way to go. It’s an airplane minus being way above the ground (laughter) and having people search your bags.”

Pettine was asked if going by train was an exercise in team bonding. He dined that but said riding the rails was better than a bus [because] you can relax. Coaches can get a lot of work done. We’ll load tomorrows practice on to our tablets and be able to work on the train. It’s just much more relaxed way to travel.”

It is not known publicly yet if the team will return to Cleveland by rail or plane.

CSX Track Work May Delay Trains in New York

August 12, 2015

CSX track work between Buffalo and Albany, New York, might delay trains for up to 45 minutes, Amtrak has said.

Affected will be the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf, the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited and Empire Service trains 280, 281, 283 and 288.

The track work is expected to be completed by late October.

Amtrak Stabbing Suspect Faces 8 New Charges

August 12, 2015

A Michigan man who has been charged with stabbing four people aboard an Amtrak train last December was arraigned on Wednesday on eight new charges.

Michael Darnell Williams, 44, of Saginaw, now faces four charges of assault with intent to murder, as well as one additional charge of assault with intent to murder, five counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, one count of carrying a concealed weapon (knife) and one count of resisting and obstructing police.

The incident happened last Dec. 5 aboard the eastbound Blue Water as it neared a scheduled stop in Niles, Michigan. The train was en route from Chicago to Port Huron, Michigan.

Williams faces a preliminary hearing next Tuesday on the new charges, as well as the four initial charges against him.

No determination has been made as to whether he can be found criminally responsible for the acts.

At the time of the attack, Williams told police he acted after someone he had been talking to “turned into a demon.”

Niles police met the train at the station and arrested Williams, who police said was armed with a knife.

Amtrak conductor Dontrel Bankhead, 40, was stabbed two times in the head, two times in the neck and several other times in the body; passenger Bonnie Cleasby, 59, was stabbed in the abdomen; passenger Dan Stewart, 56, was stabbed once in the check; and passenger Gail Vanhorst, 47, was stabbed in the chest.

The latest charge of assault with intent to murder charge stems from an alleged assault on a Nile police officer

Williams underwent a forensic examination after his arrest and was found to suffer from visual hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and schizophrenia.

He subsequently received treatment and last week was found to be competent to stand trial in a court hearing before Berrien County Trial Judge Dennis Wiley.

Defense attorney Shannon Sible asked to delay the hearing until the court receives a report on whether Williams can be held criminally responsible for his actions.

“He shouldn’t have to make a decision on how to proceed until we get the report on criminal responsibility,” Sible said.

Assistant Prosecutor Amy Byrd said that being held criminally responsible differs from competency to stand trial .

If Williams is found to be not criminally responsible, his attorney could use that as a defense.

Sible said that Williams is frustrated with the time that has elapsed since his arraignment in December.


Ground Broken for New Amtrak Station in Dwight

August 11, 2015

Groundbreaking was held today in Dwight, Illinois, for a new $3.77 million station to serve Amtrak.

The 800-square-foot depot will provide shelter and restrooms for Lincoln Service passengers. Seven trains stop in Dwight, which is located 92 miles southwest of Chicago Union Station.

“We believe that it’s an economic development grower,” said Village Administrator Kevin McNamara.

The original Dwight station still stands and is the home of the Dwight Main Street Program office. Built for the Chicago & Alton in 1891, the station features the stone architecture of its era.

The new Amtrak station in Dwight will be paid for with federal money meant to improve high-speed rail across the country.

Local officials hope that the new facility will encourage an increase in the number of people who commute to work in Chicago by rail.

Tale of 2 Stations in Michigan City

August 10, 2015
The former Michigan Central station in Michigan City, Indiana, sits next to a route that sees eight Amtrak trains a day.

The former Michigan Central station in Michigan City, Indiana, sits next to a route that sees eight Amtrak trains a day.

This is the about the extent of the Amtrak station in Michigan City. At least the parking is free and plentiful.

This is about the extent of the Amtrak station in Michigan City. At least the parking is free and plentiful.

Amtrak stations across America are a mixed bag. In some places, the station was built decades ago by a railroad that doesn’t exist anymore.

In a few communities, the station is a modern multi-purpose facility created to serve trains, buses and local transit operations.

And in some unfortunate towns the station is a glorified shelter that offers little protection from inclement weather.

It must amaze some Amtrak passengers that they have to wait in a bus-stop shelter when a train station sits nearby.

Such is the case in Michigan City, Indiana, where the Amtrak stop is right in front of a former Michigan Central station.

The latter was until recently a restaurant. There is still a sign for it and I even found a website for it online.

Although eight Amtrak trains a day pass through Michigan City, only three of them stop there. Most people who want to travel to and from Chicago ride the South Shore Line, which offers a far higher level of service than does Amtrak.

When I was in Michigan City last spring, the ex-MC station was vacant. The depot appeared to be in good condition.

It would make a nice multi-purpose facility serving Amtrak and buses. Rail passengers could continue to use the existing platform.

Will that happen? Probably not, but it would be a viable option. In the meantime, Amtrak passengers will continue to wait outside in the snow and the rain, the heat and the cold and wonder why they can’t use the nearby train station.

Track Work to Cancel St. Louis Amtrak Service

August 7, 2015

Upcoming track work will mean cancellation of Lincoln Service between Chicago and St. Louis and a detour for the Texas Eagle on Aug. 17 and 18.

Trains 300, 301, 302 and 303 will be canceled on both days with substitute bus service provided for all trains except No. 300. Buses will operate on a later schedule.

Nos. 321 and 322 will also be canceled and passengers will need to travel on the substitute buses operating in places of the other Lincoln Service trains referenced above.

The Texas Eagle will detour between Chicago and St. Louis via another Union Pacific route. Alternate transportation will not be provided at intermediate points served by Nos. 21 and 22 on its regular route.

When the ‘Late Shore’ Wasn’t Late Enough

August 5, 2015

Amtrak at Painesville1-x

Amtrak at Painesville 2-x

Amtrak at Painesville3-x

Amtrak at Painesville4-x

Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited has been jokingly called the “Late Shore Limited” by many wags. It is not an entirely undeserved reputation given how the train often runs late.

But this is a story about a day when it wasn’t running late enough.

Peter Bowler and I were making plans to go to Painesville to catch the ferry move of the Nickel Plate Road 765.

We didn’t know when it would pass through so we wanted to get there early. We may as well get there in time to catch the eastbound Lake Shore Limited.

Our objective was to get No. 48 passing the former New York Central station, which sits on the south side of the tracks. A local group is restoring the depot, yet it still has a derelict appearance about it.

No. 48 was about 18 minutes late. Fine. That would allow more time for the sun to climb over the trees and illuminate the tracks and depot.

The light kept getting better, but shadows covered the station and the tracks.

I heard the engineer of No. 48 call a clear signal over the radio. An approaching train had that distinctive pattern of headlights and ditch lights of an Amtrak P42 locomotive.

If Amtrak had just been a little later.

The track speed for passenger trains here is 79 mph and No. 48 was doing every bit of that.

There were small pockets of sunlight on Track No. 2 and I managed to get the nose of P42 No. 193 in one of those.

The trailing P42 was No. 822, which wears the Phase III livery. How I wish the order of the locomotives had been reversed. How I wish the sun had been higher in the sky.

Every photographer has had those feelings of when conditions don’t work out the way you had hoped.

There is nothing wrong with making images of objects, moving or static, in shadows. It is just not ideal from a lighting standpoint and so much of photography is about light.

Nonetheless, the inconsistent lighting pattern in the first two images produced some intriguing images.

The sunlight filtering through the trees made the locomotive nose stand out in the top photo and highlighted the trailing unit and Viewliner baggage car in the second photo.

Note how the vegetation and a structure along the right third of the image are illuminated well in contrast with the left third that is in shadows. The front of the train has just enough direct light to create a spotlight effect.

Perhaps images such as these can be planned, but I suspect more often than not they just happen.

The third image is the one that I wished had the full effect of the rising sunlight. But that had yet to occur when the train passed by.

There were still pockets of shadows on the rails 21 minutes later when a CSX freight followed Amtrak eastward on this same track.

Such is life for photographers in Northeast Ohio. We have a lot of trees and they block the rising and setting sun.

The final image in the sequence is the going away shot and it has some of the same effect that I achieved in the first two images, although it is not quite as pronounced.

Look at the track just ahead of the nose of the lead locomotive. The tracks curve here and the the sunlight is already shining on the rails.

There is a streak of sunlight along the lower sections of the Viewliner sleepers and the first three Amfleet cars. The effect is less visible on the side of the heritage diner. It is not quite the classic glint effect, but it is close.

We often think of results in terms of success or failure. Yet many endeavors have elements of both.

This image failed in the sense that the scene with the train passing the depot was not lighted as well as I desired.

Yet I succeeded in photographing the train in this location with enough light to create a recognizable image. Could it have been better? Of course, yet I can’t make the sun rise faster or the train run later. I had to photograph the train when it was here.

I got the train I wanted where I wanted it even if not when I wanted it. Some of these images have interesting lighting that produced images that I’ve enjoyed viewing.

Overall, I would call that a success, some of it in unexpected ways.

Iowa Pacific’s Hoosier State Has Teething Issues

August 4, 2015

Iowa Pacific had to cancel its southbound Hoosier State run on Monday evening because it missed a connection earlier in the day with Amtrak’s northbound Cardinal.

As a result, passengers booked aboard the Hoosier State rode a bus that night instead.

“A process failure resulted in the Cardinal leaving the train behind,” said Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis. “A subsequent conference call among Amtrak, Iowa Pacific and the Indiana Department of Transportation addressed the issue to prevent a recurrence.”

On Monday mornings, the Iowa Pacific equipment must deadhead to Chicago from Indianapolis on the Cardinal so as to be in position to operate southbound that evening.

Indiana is only paying Iowa Pacific to operate the Hoosier State on the four days a week that the Cardinal does not operate.

Amtrak’s contract with CSX does not include a provision for running a separate Hoosier State over the route on days that the Cardinal operates.

The tri-weekly Chicago-New York train operates to Chicago on Monday morning, but doesn’t depart from Chicago for New York until Tuesday evening.

The Iowa Pacific equipment that arrived in Chicago on Tuesday morning must deadhead to Indianapolis on the rear of the Cardinal on Tuesday evening as well.

During the deadhead moves, no passengers are permitted to ride in the Iowa Pacific equipment.

On Thursdays and Saturdays, the Cardinal operates to and from Chicago from Indianapolis so the IP equipment does not need to deadhead.

On Tuesday morning, the Iowa Pacific-operated Hoosier State departed Indianapolis on time and arrived in Chicago 36 minutes early, largely due to schedule padding.

INDOT, Iowa Pacific, Amtrak Reach Agreement on 2-Year Contract for Operating the Hoosier State

August 3, 2015

Terms of the contract between the Indiana Department of Transportation and Iowa Pacific Holdings call for the state to receive 25 percent of any operating profits that the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State earns.

It is one of many details contained in a contract signed last weekend pertaining to the quad-weekly train.

Amtrak, which had operated the Hoosier State through July 31, was also a party to the contract because Amtrak employees will continue to make up the operating crews for the train. Amtrak is also serving working with the host railroads and managing ticket reservations for the train.

Amtrak will be reimbursed by INDOT for its expenses not covered by ticket revenue with Amtrak providing the state with any excess revenue.

INDOT is expected to pay $254,527 per month for the Hoosier State while Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer, Tippecanoe County and West Lafayette will pay a combined $21,194 per month for the service.

The contract expires on June 30, 2017, but INDOT has an option to extend it up to four additional years.
Iowa Pacific is furnishing the locomotives and passenger cars while also providing maintenance, food service and marketing.

The first trips on Aug. 2 under Iowa Pacific auspices suffered the same type of delays that often hindered the Amtrak-operated Hoosier State.

Both trips were delayed by freight train congestion at Union Pacific’s Yard Center in Dolton, Illinois.

The outbound trip from Chicago was 9 minutes late leaving Union Station because Amtrak delivered the equipment to the depot 25 minutes late.

CSX held the Indianapolis-bound train at Dyer, Indiana, for a half-hour due to an automobile accident south of town that did not involve the Hoosier State.

Further glitches occurred when Amtrak send patrons on the first runs what Trains magazine described as “ominous email and telephone message warnings to passengers.”

One passenger told the magazine’s passenger travel correspondent that when she called Amtrak back to ask what the email meant she was initially transferred to a closed customer service office. Another Amtrak agent checked with a supervisor and told Hill that she would be riding “a less luxurious train.”

That assertion was laughable on its face. Under Amtrak operation, the Hoosier State offered coaches and nothing else. The train did not offer food service or onboard Wi-Fi service.

However, one of the three Iowa Pacific cars assigned to the Hoosier State is a former Santa Fe full-width dome lounge offering food service.

Eventually, the dome section will be reserved for business-class passengers who will served hot meals and drinks.

For now, though, anyone can sit in dome lounge Summit View. Trains correspondent Bob Johnston reported that the car features white tablecloths and serves breakfast and dinner.

The top prices range between $6 and $8, respectively. The “Blue Plate Special” on the trip to Indianapolis was sautéed chicken breast. Other choices included Chicken Caprese Panini, an entrée salad, a turkey club sandwich, and cheese or pepperoni pizza.

“For the first month, everybody gets to come in here and say, ‘wow, is this cool?’” Iowa Pacific Holdings president Ed Ellis said. “So then when the fare goes up, we hope they’ll say, ‘yeah, I want to be sitting up there.’ ”

He was referring to the launch of business class service at a yet unannounced date.

Iowa Pacific has directed that two tickets on each Hoosier State trip are to be sold for $1 apiece. Normal an adult “saver” ticket between Chicago and Indianapolis is $24 on either the Hoosier State or Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Ellis described the $1 fares as a conversation starter with college students who might have used competing Megabus service, which similarly offers a handful of fares at the same price.

Iowa Pacific has hired a full-time marketing manager who will be supported by IP’s own Chicago-based tourist train and Pullman Rail Journeys marketing operation.

The Hoosier State marketing efforts are heavily focused on stimulating business from intermediate communities along the route, in particular Purdue University in West Lafayette.

Ellis said Iowa Pacific sees Purdue as a largely untapped market. IP also wants to launch a connecting bus service between Crawfordsville and Bloomington to reach the Indiana University market.

“We’re treating this as one of the world’s nicest excursion trains between two great Midwest destinations,” Ellis said.