Archive for October, 2015

Lake Shore Limited Began 40 Years Ago Today

October 31, 2015
Ad advertisement for Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited that was placed in newspapers in Massachusetts in early November 1975.

Ad advertisement for Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited that was placed in newspapers in Massachusetts in early November 1975.

Forty years ago today (Oct. 31, 1975) Cleveland, Toledo and Elyria, Ohio; South Bend and Elkhart, Indiana; and Erie, Pennsylvania; returned to the Amtrak map with the inauguration of the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York/Boston.

All three cities had been left out of the Amtrak network when the rail passenger carrier began service on May 1, 1971.

The only city in Northeast Ohio at which Amtrak stopped was Canton on the route of the Chicago-New York Broadway Limited.

A short-lived Chicago-New York train named the Lake Shore served Toledo and Cleveland slightly less than seven months.

That service, which began in mid May 1971, was premised on the promises of the states served by the train to underwrite its losses. But none of them put up any money and Amtrak canceled the train in early January.

The Amtrak Improvement Act of 1973 required Amtrak to launch one experimental route a year.

Ohio officials lobbied Amtrak hard for service to be reinstated to Cleveland and Toledo via the former Water Level Route of the New York Central, which by the time Amtrak arrived had become Penn Central.

At the time that Amtrak began in 1971, Cleveland was the largest city in the county not served by Amtrak.

Secretary of Transportation Claude S. Brinegar announced on June 27, 1974, that Chicago-Boston would be Amtrak’s experimental route for 1974. A week later, Amtrak said the train would have a New York section.

Service was expected to begin within six months but was delayed for more than a year due to an equipment shortage, particularly of sleeping cars.

A public relations special operated eastbound over the route on Oct. 28-29, 1975.

Amtrak President Paul Reistrup was aboard the special and he spoke at the Cleveland stop along with Ohio Senator Robert Taft Jr., who had pushed Amtrak hard for restoration of service via Cleveland.

Taft noted that it had been a long and hard fight to get intercity passenger service restored via the former New York Central route through northern Ohio.

Reistrup had favored the route all along, saying he was amazed that it had not been part of the Amtrak network.

“This was an unwanted child, no secret about it,” Resitrup said in Cleveland. “They (Amtrak) didn’t want to run this train.”

The publicity special arrived in Cleveland at 5:30 p.m. to a crowd of about 500. The train was pulled by a pair of SDP40F locomotives, the newest equipment in the consist.

The Cleveland station was a pair of trailers, the current station having not yet been built.

“This probably will be the most important inaugural I take part in,” Reistrup told the crowd. “It’s up to you out there in this crowd to keep this train running.”

When Nos. 48/448 and 49/449 began service on Friday, Oct. 31, 1975, the Chicago-New York running time was 21 hours, which was two-and-a-half hours slower than the Lake Shore of 1971.

The Chicago-Boston running time was 25 hours, which included a backup move the train had to make at Castleton Junction, New York, because the connection that Boston-bound New York Central trains had made for decades east of Rensselaer had been removed by Penn Central.

Amtrak officials emphasized at every stop of the publicity trip that the Lake Shore Limited was experimental and if ridership was poor it would be discontinued after a two-year trial.

On the day that scheduled service began, a crowd of 300 showed up at the Cleveland Amtrak station. Most of them were bus company employees who protested federal funding of the train. They said that made rail cheaper than the bus, which threatened their jobs.

But the public embraced the train and two years after it began the Lake Shore Limited was averaging 272 passengers per trip, a figure that eclipsed the Chicago-New York Broadway Limited.

The U.S. Department of Transportation lifted the experimental status for the Lake Shore Limited on May 9, 1978.

The Lake Shore Limited was the first direct Chicago-Boston train since the Dec. 3, 1967, discontinuance by the New York Central of the New England States.

However, the NYC and later Penn Central ran through cars between the two cities that were interchanged at Buffalo, New York.

News accounts published in October 1975, noted the longer travel time for Amtrak compared to what the New York Central once offered.

Amtrak officials blamed that on poor track conditions. Conrail would not take over the route until the following spring and it would take years to rebuild the track.

When it began, the Lake Shore Limited was scheduled to arrive and depart Chicago in mid afternoon.

The westbound train was scheduled out of Cleveland at 7:30 a.m. The eastbound train was scheduled at 11:20 p.m.

At that time, not all of the western long-distance trains departed Chicago as they do today by mid afternoon.

Failed Inspection Sidelines Hoosier State

October 31, 2015

A failed inspection prompted the cancellation of the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State this past week. Passengers were transported by bus.

The cancellations occurred on Wednesday morning after Amtrak inspectors cited the train for having wheel tolerances that failed to comply with federal regulations.

The inspectors ordered the defects on the two Iowa Pacific Holdings locomotives to be repaired.

The Hoosier State operates with Iowa Pacific equipment and an Amtrak operating crew.

Amtrak performed the repairs at its Chicago maintenance facility and the Hoosier State operated as scheduled Wednesday night to Indianapolis.

Trains magazine reported that Iowa Pacific asked for a separate inspection of its locomotives by a Federal Railroad Administration inspector before any work was done on the wheels.

However, Amtrak worker had already made the repairs before a joint FRA-Iowa Pacific-Amtrak inspection took place Wednesday morning.

The Indiana Department of Transportation pays Amtrak to perform needed repairs before the train leaves Chicago.

“At [Indiana’s] request, we have repeatedly made unscheduled repairs to multiple defects in its vendor’s equipment…and disrupted scheduled work on our own equipment in order to make every effort to dispatch these trains on time,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Chicago-St. Louis Amtrak Service Disruptions to Continue Through Nov. 10 Due to Track Work

October 27, 2015

The disruptions to Amtrak’s Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle will continue through Nov. 10 due to bridge work being performed by Union Pacific in Illinois.

Lincoln Service trains 300, 301, 305 and 306 will be canceled between Chicago and St. Louis between Nov. 1 and 10.

In a service advisory, Amtrak directed passengers planning travel on those trains to use other Lincoln Service train/bus service options.

Trains 302, 303, 304 and 307 will operate normally between St. Louis and Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. Express bus service will operate in both directions between Chicago and Bloomington-Normal providing connections to these trains.

Amtrak service will not be available at Pontiac, Dwight, Joliet and Summit.

The Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle will detour over an alternate UP route between Chicago and St. Louis during the same period.

The Eagle will not make passenger stops at any intermediate city on its detour route via the Illinois towns of Pana, Tuscola and Villa Grove.

The Eagle will operate as scheduled south of St. Louis. Passengers originating at points south of St. Louis and bound for stations served by No. 22 north of St. Louis will disembark in St. Louis and board a bus that will stop only to discharge passengers.

Amtrak said Nos. 21 and 22 may encounter delays up to 45 during the detour move.

TIGER Grant to Fund Additional Track Upgrades on BNSF Route Used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief

October 27, 2015

More federal grant money will flow toward rebuilding the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is awarding a $15 million TIGER grant to the city of La Junta, Colorado, that will be used to fund track work on the BNSF La Junta Subdivision in Colorado and the Albuquerque Subdivision in New Mexico.

An earlier TIGER grant is being used to upgrade tracks used by the Chicago-Los Angeles train through Kansas.

Cities served by the train in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico have raised more than $9 million to match the TIGER grant. Collectively, $24.4 million has been raised for the track project.

The track work will include installation of 39 miles of new welded rail in Colorado and more than 20 miles of new ties and ballast in New Mexico.

The Chief is the only train using the route between La Junta and Madrid, New Mexico. At the latter point, the track into Albuquerque is owned by the State of New Mexico.

Boardman Decries ‘Zero’ Funding of Rail Transportation Infrastructure Projects

October 27, 2015

Amtrak President Joe Boardman has come face to face with a reality that all of his predecessors have faced. Funding for Amtrak is always year to year and that makes long-term planning difficult.

As if that isn’t bad enough, Boardman said the nation faces billions of dollars in infrastructure repairs but has made no progress toward addressing those.

Chief among those infrastructure needs is a plan to resolve railroad congestion in Chicago that delays Amtrak and freight trains alike.

Boardman appeared on Monday on a panel at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Monday to stump for a plan that Amtrak presented recently to fund the $2.6 billion Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program.

Boardman lamented that Amtrak’s annual funding struggles has made multi-year projects exceedingly difficult to plan and carry out.

Also appearing on the panel were Amtrak board member Thomas Carper, former U.S. Rep. Jack Quinn ( R-New York) and Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center President Howard Lerner.

The panel noted that 29 CREATE projects have been built at a cost of $1 billion.

Boardman said it has been a long time since national leaders approved major projects for the common good.

He said the Chicago projects remain unfunded along with the Gateway project to rebuild century-old infrastructure and increase capacity between New York City and New Jersey.

Boardman said at stake is the day-in, day-out reliability of the rail network as well as the mobility needs of students, residents of remote areas and the physically disadvantaged.

As an example of why operation of the rail system needs to be more reliable, Boardman said that the on-time performance of state-supported Amtrak trains is around 55 percent while that of long-distance trains is below 50 percent.

Carper noted that completion of the Englewood Flyover in Chicago eliminated about six train delays per hour at the busiest times.

That $130 million project elevated Metra’s Rock Island District over the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern. The latter is used by 14 Amtrak trains per day.

Carper said that United Parcel Service loses $1 million for every minute of delay to its shipments and that $7 to $9 billion of the nation’s annual gross domestic product is dependent on the flow of freight through Chicago.

Lerner said the next priorities for Chicago should be the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project and the Grand Crossing Project.

He also said that Amtrak, Metra and freight railroads need to better coordinate dispatching and that the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan program must be reformed to make its loans easier to obtain.

However, funding for the rest of CREATE projects as well as the $20 billion Gateway project has yet to be approved.

Lerner said that there are no substitutes for a long-term federal funding program for passenger rail.

Singlel-Level Long-Distance Trains Getting Wi-Fi

October 19, 2015

Amtrak’s single-level long-distance trains are slated to receive Wi-Fi service in 2016, Amtrak has announced.

The Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited and the Chicago-New York Cardinal are both set to receive AmtrakConnect(r), a cellular-based Wi-Fi service.

Amtrak recently made WiFi available to Auto Train passengers and will also add it to the New York-New Orleans Crescent and the New York-Miami Silver Star and Silver Meteor next year.

Although Wi-Fi has been available on various corridor trains for the past few years, the Auto Train is the first long-distance train to receive the service.

Next year’s plans are to provide WiFi service on all single-level long distance routes. By the time those trains receive Wi-Fi, Amtrak said that more than 90 percent of Amtrak passengers will have access to on-board Wi-Fi.

“This new amenity marks an important milestone in our ongoing commitment to improving the passenger experience,” said Mark Murphy, senior vice president and general manager long distance. “The availability of Wi-Fi provides the connectivity passengers expect while traveling and demonstrates yet another reason why Amtrak is a smarter way to travel.”

AmtrakConnect(r) uses numerous cellular carriers to provide Wi-Fi, using 4G LTE technologies where available.

There is no cost to passengers to access the Wi-Fi service.

Chicago Union Station Upgrades to be Announced

October 16, 2015
The great hall of Chicago Union Station.

The great hall of Chicago Union Station.

Amtrak and Chicago officials were to announce on Friday a $14 million plan to renovate Chicago Union Station.

The work would include repairing the station’s skylights, restoring an iconic staircase and building a new Amtrak passenger lounge.

Longer term work will include widening station platforms, connecting the station to the Blue Line of the Chicago Transit Authority and improving street access.

Officials have yet to find a source of funding for the long-term projects, which could cost more than $100 million.

Amtrak is expected to kick in $14 million for the initial station work.

Union Station is the third-busiest railroad terminal in the United States, handling an estimated 50,000 daily commuters.

A report that addresses station improvements concluded that the station is plagued by less-than-ideal access and narrow passageways that lead to overcrowding that exacerbates train delays.

A coalition that includes officials from Amtrak, Metra, the Regional Transportation Authority and the city of Chicago will search for a developer and architecture firm to design the station renovations.

In a statement, RTA Chairman Kirk Dillard said the coalition recognizes Union Station’s architectural value and will seek to restore “its former glory.”

Pact Reached for Springfield Rail Improvements

October 16, 2015

Amtrak and the City of Springfield (Illinois) have reached an agreement for funding a pending relocation of the Chicago-St. Louis route through the capital city of Illinois.

The pact will allow the development of high-speed rail improvements to continue on the Third Street corridor while also seeking to respond to the desire of the city and Sangamon County to move Union Pacific and Amtrak trains to a proposed 10th Street rail corridor over the next decade.

The estimated cost of developing the 10th Street corridor has been placed at $315 million. Work on this corridor is already underway with an underpass at Carpenter Street between Ninth and 11st streets expected to open next year.

Land acquisition has begun for underpasses at Ash and Laurel Streets.

In the meantime, an estimated $30 will be spent to upgrade the Third Street corridor now being used by UP and Amtrak.

That work, which has already gotten underway, will include upgrades to the track, fencing and bridges. The work is expected to be completed by early 2017.

A statement from the office of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said that the details of the funding agreement are expected to be made public within the next few days.

Local and state officials have been talking with Amtrak and railroad officials for years about changing the flow of rail traffic through Springfield.

Amtrak operates eight daily Lincoln Service trains as well as the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle through Springfield. These trains use a route once owned by the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio.

Some city and county officials have argued that money being allocated to improve the current route used by Amtrak and UP trains would be better spent on developing the 10th Street rail corridor.

SW Chief Route Track Work to Begin in Kansas

October 16, 2015

Track rehabilitation will begin next week in western Kansas on the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

The work will be done on BNSF tracks between Holcomb and Deerfield and is expected to be completed by the Thanksgiving holiday.

This portion of an overall project to upgrade several miles of BNSF Railway through western Kansas is expected to be completed before Thanksgiving.

The project involves rehabbing seven switches and improving two grade crossings.

Funding is being provided by a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant awarded to the City of Garden City in 2014.

“This project is the culmination of work by a multitude of people who recognize the importance of passenger and freight rail to our communities,” Garden City Manager Matt Allen said in a statement. “This would not have been possible without the support of our elected representatives at the state level and at the federal level.”

The Southwest Chief operates daily between Chicago and Los Angeles. The route in western Kansas, southeastern Colorado and northern New Mexico has been in danger of being downgraded by BNSF, which operates little freight traffic over it.

BNSF said its current and expected level of freight service over the route does not merit maintaining the line to passenger train speeds.

TIGER grants to be used for track work have been integral to keeping the Chief on its existing route.

The money will be used to rebuild 46.9 miles of the 158 miles of jointed rail between Pierceville, Kansas, and Las Animas, Colorado, to maintain a top speed of 79 mph.

The project will involve the laying of continuous welded rail, new switches and grade crossings improvements.

“Ever since Amtrak and BNSF first met publicly in April of 2012 with Garden City and other communities, your city led a regional partnership to rally matching funds and other support to make the capital investments to preserve and improve this route,” said Ray Lang, senior director, Amtrak Government Affairs & Corporate Communications. “This infrastructure work now underway in Kansas and next in Colorado helps achieve what all of us want: reliable, daily Amtrak Southwest Chief service that is vital public transportation connecting Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to the 500 destinations on the Amtrak network.”

The $12.5 million TIGER grant has been combined with $9.3 million in state, local and private funds to fund the route’s infrastructure improvements.

A coalition of the Kansas cities of Garden City, Dodge City, Newton and Hutchinson along with Colorado communities along the route, BNSF, Amtrak and the Kansas Department of Transportation pledged matching funds toward the $12.5 million grant.

The four Kansas communities each agreed to provide $12,500 while KDOT put up $3 million.

Allen expressed his gratitude to those entities that contributed matching funds to the project. Other contributors included La Junta, Lamar, Trinidad, Bent County, Las Animas County, Otero County, Prowers County and Pueblo County in Colorado; the I-25 Coalition and the Colorado Rail Passenger Association.

The City of La Junta has submitted an application for a 2015 TIGER grant funds.

Man Found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity in Connection with Stabbing Aboard Amtrak Train

October 16, 2015

A Michigan man accused of stabbing four people aboard Amtrak’s Blue Water last year has been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The ruling was rendered on Wednesday in the trial of Michael Darnell Williams, 45, of Saginaw, Michigan.

Judge Dennis Wiley found Williams not guilty by reason of insanity. Williams will now be processed by the Michigan mental health system.

The incident occurred in December 2014 as the train neared Niles, Michigan.

Trial testimony showed that as the train stopped and police approached, Williams stabbed a conductor and three passengers.

Nile police, who had been called prior to the train’s arrival due to what was termed strange behavior by Williams during the train’s journey from Chicago, used a stun gun to subdue Williams.

On a motion from his attorney, Williams was examined by the Michigan Center for Forensic Psychiatry.

An examiner found Williams to be mentally ill and suffering from a delusional disorder that “caused him to be incapable of accurately perceiving his environment, a symptom of his mental illness which was documented in the days preceding the offenses,” the report concluded.

“Rather than consider his options and make a decision to engage in illegal behavior, Mr. Williams appears to have reacted spontaneously and only in consideration of delusional information. Based on his report of the offense, supported by collateral information, he harbored specific delusions that others were following him with the intentions to cause him serious harm or kill him. It appears Mr. Williams was unable to reflect as to what would happen if he acted in such a manner.”

Michigan law defines legal insanity as a mental illness that results in a person lacking substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her conduct or to conform that conduct to the requirements of law.

Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic hired an independent examiner to review the report and found it to be credible.