Archive for November, 2015

Lake Shore Limited 2015 Style

November 25, 2015

Amtrak at Bort 01

For much of 2015, the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited has operated only between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

That is due to a station construction project in Rensselaer that is designed to make Amtrak operations there more efficient.

Subsequently, the Viewliner sleepers ordinary assigned to the Boston section have been shifted to the New York section of Nos. 48 and 49.

This photo of No. 48 heading east at Bort Road near North East, Pennsylvania, shows the state of the art for most of 2015 with the three Viewliner sleepers up front.

Also new on the train in 2015 was the assignment of new Viewliner baggage cars. Heritage dining cars also continued to operate on many days, including this one.

As 2015 was drawing to a close, work was set to begin on building new Viewliner diners.

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Galesburg Celebrates Expanded Amtrak Station

November 24, 2015

An enlarged and spiffed up Galesburg (Illinois) Amtrak station attracted large crowds to celebrate the expansion during an open house last week.

The station was recently renovated and expanded by 1,400 feet. The project cost more than $600,000 with most of that being paid for by state and federal grants.

The station is now brighter and features additional space for passengers and a separate area for buses and luggage check-in.

“I’m really happy and pleased on how it turned out,” said Community Development Director Roy Parkin. “It’s exactly what we wanted. It provides additional space for the Amtrak customers as well as the bus company facility.”

The restrooms also were remodeled and some cosmetic changes were made to the depot.

The station is served by Burlington Trailways bus lines, which will maintain a ticket counter in the facility. City officials noted that there is an Enterprise rental car office nearby.

“In 1999 our passengers just wanted to go from point A to point B,” said Marty Bradley of Burlington Trailways. “Now today they want outlets at every seat, Wi-Fi on the bus and seamless transportation to and from one mode of ground transportation to another. Today it’s possible with the partnership between Burlington Trailways and Amtrak, with the thru-way agreement to get their passengers across the Interstate-74 corridor.”

Galesburg is served by the Chicago-San Francisco Bay California Zephyr, the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, and the Chicago-Quincy Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg.

Amtrak Will Remove Winona Ticket Agent, But Install a Ticket Kiosk and Hire a Part-time Worker

November 24, 2015

The last Amtrak ticket agent in Winona, Minnesota, will sell his last ticket in late December and then transfer to another job.

The station, which is served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, will remain open, but be maintained by a part-time worker, starting in early January.

Amtrak has agreed to install a ticket kiosk, but checked baggage service will end.

This represents a compromise of sorts after Winona residents and elected officials protested Amtrak’s plan to yank its ticket agents.

The initial plan, which Amtrak announced in August, was to have a caretaker open and close the station as well as keep it clean.

Winona is a crew change point for Nos. 7 and 8 and Amtrak said at the time that outbound conductors and engineers could answer questions from passengers as to when the train would be arriving.

Amtrak said most passengers buy their tickets online and that passengers desiring checked luggage service could take it to the La Crosse, Wisconsin, station, which will continue to have Amtrak ticket agents.

“So we have to make a business decision and the right business decision is to not have agents two stations in a row in both La Crosse and Winona,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari back in August.

But that didn’t sit well with Winona Mayor Mark Peterson.

He lobbied Amtrak to keep Winona’s station agent and sought the help of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation and U.S. senators.

Peterson noted that ridership at Winona was second only to St. Paul in Minnesota and only slightly less than that at La Crosse.

As a result, Amtrak agreed to maintain the ticket agent in Winona through the end of the year and to hire a part-timer who will provide travel and train information

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the employee will be more than a caretaker.

“A caretaker is just there to empty the wastebasket, but this is going to be doing more than emptying wastebaskets,” he said. “In some cases, the caretaker is more a custodian than someone who is there to help passengers, but in this case they will help passengers. They will be required to help passengers.”

Magliari said Amtrak on-board personnel will also be able to help passengers with their luggage.

Amtrak also plans to advise Winona residents how to launch a volunteer group to support the depot and greet travelers.

The railroad said it will pay for the leader of a friends of the depot group in Kirkwood, Missouri, to come to Winona to talk about the volunteer program.

“I’m pleased that they are listening and are doing something better than what they originally said they were going to do,” Peterson said.

However, he continues to hope to change Amtrak’s mind and keep a ticket agent in Winona.

Falling Gas Prices Affecting Amtrak Ridership

November 24, 2015

When gasoline prices are spiking, rail passenger advocates like to play up how taking the train is a solution to avoid high fuel prices.

But in recent years, the price of gasoline has dropped from its peak prices in 2010 and Amtrak patronage has either fallen or leveled off.

Between them, the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief serve six stations in Iowa and for fiscal year 2015, which ended on Sept. 30, ridership was 57,611, a decline of 16 percent from what it was five years ago when 68,744 used Amtrak in Iowa.

The 2015 figure is about a 1 percent increase from the 57,238 who used Amtrak in Iowa in fiscal year 2014.

Aside from falling gasoline prices, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said patronage suffered when Amtrak experienced reliability issues triggered by freight congestion on the BNSF tracks that Amtrak uses in Iowa.

“When gasoline prices get into the low $2 or lower per gallon, it tempts people to drive, even though the cost of driving is not always reflected solely in the gasoline price,” Magliari said.

The California Zephyr stops in Burlington, Mount Pleasant, Ottumwa, Osceola and Creston on its route between Chicago and Emeryville, California.

The Southwest Chief serves Fort Madison on its Chicago-Los Angeles route.

Although Amtrak’s overall ridership and revenue remained fairly steady in FY 2015, patronage and ticket revenues were down 0.1 percent compared with FY 2014.

Some Ask Where Ypsi Amtrak Riders Will Park

November 24, 2015

A proposed Amtrak stop in Ypsilanti, Michigan, has some Depot Town business owners asking where Amtrak patrons would park.

The business owners said they are not opposed to Amtrak serving their community, but just want to know how the city is going to handle parking and planning for a station platform.

“My concerns are if we have this process that [has] already moved so far along that we have an announcement in a couple weeks . . . then some site planning could be done, and there are some long-term parking issues that have to be worked through,” said business owner Andy French said. “To be honest with you, maybe there already have been some conversations and it hasn’t been communicated. There are a lot of unanswered questions and a lack of information for a process that seems to be moving along.”

The issue arose last week after city officials learned that the Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak are working on establishing a Ypsilanti stop for the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains.

Although Ypsilanti City Manager Ralph Lange said no announcement about Amtrak serving the city is imminent, he can be heard on a recording of a city council meeting saying there would be some discussion about it in two weeks.

“I’m not at liberty to talk about rail now, but I will be in two weeks,” Lange said.

Council Member Pete Murdock said parking is an obvious problem that the city would address.

“Clearly there are issues related to parking and the train,” he said. “Parking needs to be regulated and dealt with, but I don’t think it’s an insurmountable problem. It’s not like anyone is ignoring it.”

Murdock suggested the Maple Street lot at Maple and River as one possibility for long-term parking, saying that rail commuters would mostly use parking during weekdays.

Depot Town’s parking lots are most crowded on weekends and in the evening.

Murdock said he hasn’t heard which side of the tracks the city is considering to establish the station platform.

Rex Richie owns the building at 42 E. Cross St. in Depot Town and R2 Construction. He also is concerned about the parking and planning issues.

“I’m just concerned about the way it’s going down and want to make sure that we have proper stuff in place as far as parking. I just don’t want to jump into it too quickly. There are a lot of details that haven’t been spelled out,” he said.

Ft. Madison to Pay for Depot Platform Redesign

November 23, 2015

The Fort Madison (Iowa) City Council has approved hiring a consulting firm to redesign the platform of the city’s former Santa Fe Depot. The project began in 2007 but has been hung over a dispute over platform design.

Amtrak had asked that the 500-foot platform be extended to 1,000 feet, but BNSF objected to the original design for the extension.

“We had the train stopping in a curve and they (BNSF) said that can’t happen,”said City Manager David Varley.

The council approved paying almost $30,000 to Klingner & Associates to redesign the platform.

BNSF has told the Iowa Department of Transportation that the platform must be moved 250 feet eastward so that it will not be located on a curve.

Although the city will have to bear the expense of redesigning the platform, Councilman Rusty Andrews said that is pocket change for a project of this magnitude.

“For a long time I’ve been saying this is our field of dreams — if we build it, they will come — and we keep getting pushed off,” Andrews said. “We keep spending money on it, and some day Amtrak will sign on the dotted line.”

Fort Madison is served by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Razing of Rochester Amtrak Stations Gets Started

November 23, 2015

Demolition work began earlier this month on the Amtrak-built 1970s era station in Rochester, New York, to make way for a new intermodal facility.

Amtrak passengers will use a temporary facility while the $29.8 million new station is built during the next 18 months.

The New York Department of Transportation said the new station is expected to open in summer 2017 and will feature retail space and more comfortable waiting and ticketing areas.

The design of the station has a two-sided, high-level passenger platform that will be accessed through a concourse from the station.

Station parking and bicycle and pedestrian access will be improved.
CSX previously had realigned its tracks by the station and installed a dedicated rail line for freight traffic.

Amtrak and CSX trains will continue to share two main tracks. As part of the project, CSX strengthened three railroad bridges near the station to carry the two additional passenger tracks being constructed to provide Amtrak train access to the new station.

Funding for the project included a $15 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant.
NYSDOT and the Federal Railroad Administration provided $3.5 million in funding for the preliminary engineering phase of the project, including $2.8 million secured through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The city of Rochester is contributing $500,000 toward final design and construction.

Rochester is served by the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited, the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf and four Empire Service trains between New York and Niagara Falls, New York.

Ypsilanti Eyes Becoming Amtrak Stop

November 23, 2015

Officials in Ypsilanti, Michigan, are pursuing becoming a stop for Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

The city council was recently informed that Amtrak is interested in using the Depot Town facility.

Although adding Ypsilanti, which is located between Ann Arbor and Dearborn, to the Amtrak map has been discussed before, a contract between the city and the Downtown Development Authority could help secure a portion of funding for the train stop.

“If and when a train stop comes we would put  . . . that as our No. 1 priority,” said DDA Executive Director Tim Colbeck.

“There’s a high level of commitment on a lot of parties to make this happen and there’s a high level of optimism,” he said. “We would absolutely want to support a train stop and when it does happen we would want to be able to put our full capacity behind it through our ability to bond revenue.”

LSL Boston Through Cars to Resume in February

November 17, 2015

The Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited will not resume operating between Chicago and Boston until Feb. 1, 2016.

Currently, Nos. 448 and 449 are operating as a connecting train between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

Amtrak said additional time is needed to complete a track reconfiguration and new platform construction at the station in Rensselaer. The project was originally scheduled to be completed in the fall.

Nos. 448 and 449 have been operating only between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer since early 2015.

The Viewliner sleepers previously assigned to the Boston section have instead been operating between Chicago and New York on Nos. 48 and 49, the parent train of the Lake Shore Limited.

In the interim, the Boston section has operated with coaches and a café car.

Extra Illinois Trains Added for Holiday

November 13, 2015

Amtrak announced today (Nov. 13) that it will operate eight extra trains between Chicago and downstate Illinois for the 2015 Thanksgiving travel period. Three other trains will operate on modified schedules on the heaviest holiday travel days.

Extra Lincoln Service trains will operate between Chicago and Bloomington/Normal on Wednesday (Nov. 25) and Sunday (Nov. 29)

No. 309 will depart Chicago at 10:30 a.m. and arrive in Bloomington/Normal at 12:58 p.m. with intermediate stops at Summit, Joliet, Dwight and Pontiac.

No. 308 will depart Bloomington/Normal at 1:15 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 3:39 p.m., making the same intermediate stops as Train No. 309.

Lincoln Service train No. 300 will depart St. Louis 35 minutes earlier on Nov. 25 and 29 en route to Chicago.

The scheduled departure time for No. 300 is 4:35 a.m. but on Wednesday and Sunday it will depart at 4 a.m. The Chicago arrival time will be 9:25 a.m.

No. 301 will depart from Chicago 30 minutes later on Wednesday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m, with a scheduled St. Louis arrival time of 12:40 p.m.

Extra Carl Sandburg service will operate on Nov. 25 and 29. No. 385 will depart Chicago at 11:30 a.m. and make all regular stops en route to Quincy, Illinois, where it is scheduled to arrive at 3:53 p.m.

No. 384 will depart Quincy at 1 p.m. on Nov. 25 and 29 and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 5:23 p.m.

Intermediate stops served by Nos. 384 and 385 include LaGrange Road, Naperville, Plano, Mendota, Princeton, Kewanee, Galesburg and Macomb.

The Illinois Zephyr will operate from Quincy to Chicago on a later schedule on Nov. 25 and 29. No. 383 will depart Chicago at 6:15 p.m. and arrive in Quincy at 10:38 p.m.

The schedule of the Illinois Zephyr from Quincy to Chicago will not change during the Thanksgiving holiday period.

Amtrak said that it will operate every available passenger rail car in its fleet during the Thanksgiving period.

In 2014, Amtrak carried a record 772,211 passengers during the Thanksgiving travel period, the most ever for the holiday. The railroad said in a news release that it expects similar passenger counts this year.

The busiest travel days are the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after the holiday. Other than Thanksgiving Day, morning trains typically have more available seats than those in the afternoon or evening.