Archive for December, 2015

CONO Patrons Being Bused Carbondale-Memphis

December 31, 2015

Since Tuesday passengers aboard the City of New Orleans have been riding the bus between Memphis and Carbondale, Illinois, due to heavy rains and flooding.

The bus substitution is expected to continue through early next week.

The Chicago-New Orleans train will continue operate as normal between Chicago and Carbondale.

Charter buses are meeting No. 59 at Carbondale and taking passengers to Memphis where they then reboard their train to New Orleans.

Northbound passengers on No. 58 are riding the train from New Orleans to Memphis, taking a bus to Carbondale and then reboarding the train.

The Chicago-Carbondale Saluki and Illini are not affected and continue to operate as normal.

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Track Work Affects Sunset Ltd., Texas Eagle Sked

December 31, 2015

Track work being performed by Union Pacific and BNSF will result in temporary schedule changes for Amtrak ‘s Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited through March.

Between Jan. 8 and March 13, the eastbound Sunset Limited will depart from Los Angeles six hours earlier than the times shown in Amtrak printed timetables and operate six hours earlier at all stations to San Antonio.

From San Antonio to Fort Worth, Train 422 will operate five hours and 10 minutes earlier.

Some equipment on Train 2 operates through to Chicago on the Texas Eagle as No. 422. Amtrak said that the schedule for Train 22 from Fort Worth to Chicago will not be affected.

The westbound Sunset Limited will depart New Orleans 90 minutes later than the times shown in Amtrak timetables and operate 90 minutes later at all stations through its arrival in San Antonio.

The schedule of the westbound Texas Eagle to San Antonio and the Sunset Limited beyond San Antonio will not be affected.

Amtrak Ridership Up in Kansas, Down in Missouri

December 31, 2015

Amtrak ridership in the Midwest during fiscal year 2015 continued to be mixed bag with patronage rising in Kansas while falling in Missouri.

The Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, which serves six Kansas stations, posted a record year with more than 367,000 passengers.

The six Kansas stations on the route served more than 49,000 of those passengers, a slight increase over 2014.

On the other hand, the Missouri River Runner route between St. Louis and Kansas City saw a decline of 10,000 passengers in FY2015, carrying about 179,000 for the year that ended Sept. 30.

The Missouri Department of Transportation, which helps underwrite the costs of the River Runner trains, blamed low gasoline prices, which are about 24 cents a gallon lower than they wre a year ago, says the American Automobile Association

“When gas prices go down, we do see ridership fall some,” said Kristi Jamison, railroad operations manager at the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Missouri is also served by the Southwest Chief and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

MoDOT officials also said that track work that resulted in delays and cancellations also had an adverse effect on River Runner ridership.

The River Runner operates twice daily over Union Pacific tracks.

Passenger Bypass Track in Use in Detroit

December 31, 2015

A segment of track intended to be used only by passenger trains in Detroit is now being used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

The track will enable passenger trains to bypass West Detroit Junction and is located about three miles south of the Detroit station on Woodward Avenue where Amtrak trains make a connection between a Canadian National (former Grand Trunk Western) route and a former Norfolk Southern route now owned by the state of Michigan.

A $7.9 million Federal Railroad Administration grant awarded in 2012 helped finance the $15.8 million project.

The grant was part of a larger effort to alleviate freight and passenger train congestion in greater Detroit. It is also expected that the bypass track will be used for commuter trains that are planned to be launched several years from now.

Capitol Limited Delayed 6 Hours After Hitting Car That Ran Out of Gas at Crossing in Cleveland

December 29, 2015

Passengers aboard the eastbound Capitol Limited were delayed for about six hours on Monday morning after their train struck an unoccupied car at a grade crossing in Cleveland.

Cleveland Police said the car was sitting on the Norfolk Southern tracks in the 8200 block of Bessemer Avenue because it had run out of gasoline.

No. 30 struck the vehicle just after 2 a.m. The driver was able to get out of the car before it was struck by Amtrak P42DC No. 142.

A police report indicated that the driver told them t hat he was crossing the tracks when his vehicle stopped. He was able to get out the car before the train struck the car.

There were no injuries reported among the 262 aboard the train.

The lead Amtrak locomotive suffered unspecified damage and the train was moved away from the scene by an NS locomotive.

Some passengers took to Twitter to voice frustration about the lack of information provided them by Amtrak during the ordeal.

No. 30 finally left town about 8 a.m. for Alliance and Pittsburgh, its next scheduled station stops.

 

Chronic Delays Took Their Toll on Revenue, Ridership in FY 2015 of Amtrak’s Empire Builder

December 29, 2015

Amtrak ticket sales on its 15 long-distance routes dropped by $13 million in fiscal year 2015 and one of the biggest “losers” among them was the Empire Builder.

Ticket revenue for the Chicago-Seattle/Portland train fell by $4 million to $50.5 million, which was a 7.3 percent decline.

Empire Builder ridership fell by 3 percent to 438,000 passengers. That was the seventh fastest drop among the 15 lines on the national network.

Petroleum was at the center of the woes of Nos. 7 and 8 in the former of cheaper gasoline prices that enticed some to drive who might have taken the train.

Another factor was delays caused by freight congestion that was triggered by rising traffic carrying crude oil on the BNSF route used by the train.

“We’ve had some tough operating years,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “There was a lot of freight congestion in 2013, 2014.

Of course the oil boom also benefited the Empire Builder. Minot and Williston, North Dakota, both located in the heart of the oil fields, were second only to Chicago in origins and destinations for passengers beginning or ending their journey in Minnesota.

But ridership along the Minnesota and Twin Cities portion of the line has been off substantially.

Since 2008, a year of severe spikes in gas prices, Minnesota ridership has fallen from nearly 200,000 to 136,000 in 2014. In the Twin Cities alone, ridership dropped from 138,000 to 90,000 during that same period, even as hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in St. Paul Union Depot.

Overall, Amtrak ridership dipped slightly from 30.92 million passengers in FY 2014 to 30.88 million in FY 2015.

Amtrak’s Magliari said the Empire Builder has started to see better days.

“We’ve started to see improvements, but our on-time performance is still not what we’d like it to be, though it’s better than it was,” he said. “We had strong gains in the last few months of the fiscal year as we had a more reliable, better product, and we expect to improve even more.”

 

February CSX Crude Oil Train Derailment Helped to Depress Cardinal Ridership in FY 2015

December 28, 2015

Two Amtrak routes serve West Virginia and one of them suffered a service disruption last February following a CSX crude oil train derailment.

But that did not stop the Charleston Amtrak station from seeing an increase in ridership in fiscal year 2015.

The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Served by the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, Charleston boarded and discharged 9,844 passengers. That is an increase of 1.75 percent over the FY 2015 ridership figures.

Martinsburg, served by the daily Chicago-Washington, D.C., Capitol Limited , experienced a 4.9 percent increase in ridership to 10,309 passengers.

Overall, Amtrak ridership in West Virginia fell 2.9 percent in 2015, to 54,077. Charleston was the only station served by the Cardinal to post a ridership increase.

Prince (which serves Beckley) and Hinton each saw drops of nearly 12 percent, with 2,925 passengers at Prince and 7,506 at Hinton.

Huntington experienced a 7 percent drop in ridership, going from 11,515 to 10,706 passengers in 2015.

White Sulphur Springs had a 1 percent decline, from 5,165 to 5,107 passengers. Two flag stops on the route of the Cardinal saw ridership declines of more than 20 percent, with 432 passengers at Alderson, and 295 passengers at Thurmond. The latter is the smallest town in America with regularly scheduled intercity passenger rail service.

Montgomery’s 2015 ridership of 639 was down just two passengers from 2014.

Harpers Ferry, which is served by the Capitol Limited, gained one passenger from 2014, for total ridership of 6,314.

The crude oil derailment on Feb. 16 in Mount Carbon closed the route of the Cardinal through West Virginia for 11 days. Amtrak canceled 10 trips of the Cardinal through West Virginia.

Chuck Riecks, vice chairman for government relations for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and co-chairman of the Friends of the Cardinal advocacy group, expressed surprise that Charleston ridership gained in FY 2015 considering the February service disruption.

“Thankfully, they were, shall we say, in the slow time of the year,” he said. “It would have been much worse if it occurred in a peak period.”

Amtrak said the 10 cancellations resulted in a 37 percent drop in ridership on the Cardinal, which carried 4,418 passengers in February 2015 compared with 6,512 passengers in February 2014.

Peak ridership for the Cardinal came in July when it carried 10,845 passengers.

Riecks said ridership at the Charleston station has been consistent in recent years.

“Charleston’s sort of stuck in the 9,500-to-10,500 range,” he said, adding, “We never seem to crack the 11,000 mark.”

The Cardinal operates through Charleston on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in both directions.

The 2015 ridership in the capital city of West Virginia worked out to an average of 32.6 passengers boarding or detraining per train.

By comparison, 2015 ridership for other Amtrak stations served by the Cardinal included: Cincinnati, 12,503; Staunton, Virginia, 6,735; Ashland, Kentucky, 2,581; Maysville, Kentucky, 2,279; Clifton Forge, Virginia, 2,247; South Shore, Kentucky, 1,057; and Connersville, Indiana, 770.

Amtrak Seeking Writers for Residency Program

December 22, 2015

Amtrak is accepting applications for its second writers in residence program.

The passenger railroad will select 24 writers to take part in the program, which offers participants a chance to travel the country by rail and “find inspiration from the diversity of landscapes America has to offer,” Amtrak said in a news release.

The program application consists of two questions and the opportunity to provide up to a 20-page writing sample. Winners will be selected by a panel of judges. The application deadline is Jan. 11, 2016

“At Amtrak, we have been honored to play a small part in the stories created by our first 24 residents,” said Julia Quinn, Amtrak director of public relations. “We want to build on the success of the initial launch of the program in 2014 by selecting another group of writers for the Amtrak Residency program and offering them the chance to travel across the country by train.”

During the past year, the 24 residents in the first program traveled the county on such trains as the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight and Empire Builder.

Amtrak said the program offers writers “the chance to experience amazing scenery, an environment that fosters engaging connections and the opportunity to explore and find inspiration from the diversity of landscapes America has to offer.”

Amtrak Resident Lindsay Moran traveled on the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to New Orleans.

“Weeks out of the routine and responsibilities of being a mom, and my multiple other ‘jobs,’ did enable me to finally put some words down on an idea that’s been brewing in my head for a long time,” Moran wrote about her trip. “I feel like I got my writer-ly groove back; so much so that I’m thinking about making one long-distance train trip an annual solo event.”

For more information on Amtrak and the Amtrak Residency program, visit blog.amtrak.com or follow #AmtrakResidency.

Study Reduces Cost Estimates, Speeds for Proposed Minneapolis-Duluth Passenger Trains

December 22, 2015

A study of a proposed passenger rail route between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota, has reduced the cost of the project, but also the speed at which trains would operate.

The departments of transportation of Minnesota and Wisconsin, which collaborated on the study, estimate that the project will cost between $500 million and $600 million, which is nearly half of earlier projections. This includes costs of stations, equipment, and track improvements.

Trains would operate at 90 mph rather than the 110 mph that was earlier planned.

Known as the Northern Lights Express, trains would use existing BNSF tracks and offer four round trips per day Service is projected to begin in 2020 with a travel time of about 2.5 hours.

The study estimated patronage for the first year to be 700,000 to 750,000 trips, which is expected to increase to 1 million trips by 2040.

Fare revenue would cover most of the operating costs, estimated to average $17.5 million per year.

Amtrak’s Minnesota-funded North Star was the last passenger train in the corridor, ending on Easter Sunday 1985 after the state ended its funding.

During the 1960s, the former Great Northern Railway operated the twice-daily Badger and Gopher in the corridor.

A source of funding for construction of the corridor has yet to be identified.

In the meantime, the next step will involved updating the preliminary project and operation cost estimates, and preparation of a final benefit-cost analysis after cost-sharing discussions with BNSF are completed.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is conducting preliminary engineering, a Tier II environmental assessment, and financial and implementation plans. MinnDOT officials said the project could be ready to begin 2017, officials said.

As for funding, MinnDOT is eyeing the possibility of a federal TIGER grant or other federal funding.

Officials said that in seeking federal funds, a project needs to be ready to begin construction.

The project is being overseen in part by the The Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior Passenger Rail Alliance, a joint powers board formed to explore options for renewing passenger service on the 155-mile corridor.

Also participating in the project are local communities along the route and the Minnesota Department of Transportation Passenger Rail & Environmental Services.

Greyhound Move to Toledo CUT Gets OK

December 22, 2015

Greyhound will move into the former Central Union Terminal, now used by Amtrak, under a lease agreement approved by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority last week.

The board also approved the lease for a Subway restaurant franchise to be located in the terminal.

Buses will load and unload under a canopy at the terminal, which now known as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Plaza.

The current Greyhound station is located on Jefferson Avenue in downtown Toledo adjacent to the Pythian Castle, a long-vacant building now owned by the Lucas County Land Bank, which is trying to find a developer for the site.

“Every developer that we have ever talked with about the Pythian Castle has always said that the Greyound station is an impediment to its development,” said Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, chairman of the land bank board. “If the Greyhound really is moving that could be a game-changer for developing that building.”

Toledo officials have long wanted to move the Greyhound station.

Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains will not be using CUT at the same time.

The 24 scheduled Greyhound buses leave Toledo between 6:20 a.m. and midnight while Amtrak’s Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited are scheduled to call in Toledo between 11:39 p.m. and 6:15 a.m.

Paul Toth, Jr., port authority president, said the new plaza for bus service along with the Subway store will open next May or June after renovations are complete.

He said the port authority is spending up to $500,000 for improvements to make space in the MLK Plaza building for Greyhound and Subway.

Amtrak will occupy 4,560 square feet of exclusive space at $18 per square foot and share 7,385 square feet of space with other tenants at $5 per square foot. The railroad will also pay $31,500 a year for exterior lighting.

Greyhound will rent 750 square feet for its own use and share the 7,385 square feet of common space at the same rates charged to Amtrak.

The bus company will pay $212,000 for its share of the capital improvements being made.

Greyhound spokesperson Lanesha Gipson said the current bus station is up for sale. She said Greyhound is expecting ridership to increase once the company begins using CUT.