Archive for January, 2016

Amtrak Modifies Guest Rewards Program

January 30, 2016

Amtrak earlier this month revamped its frequent traveler program by modifying its traditional three-zone approach to redeeming points.

Amtrak logoReward travel will now be redeemed based on the cost of a trip at the time of booking.

Amtrak has created an online calculator to use to determine how many points are needed for a particular trip.

Under the old system, which had been in effect for 15 years, reward travel was redeemed based on the number of zones through travel was occurring.

That system encouraged travelers to redeem points for the most expensive trip within a single zone.

Passengers who cancel reward travel trips will also be subject to a 10 percent point redemption penalty if the cancellation occurs more than two weeks before the date of travel and a 20 percent penalty if canceled less than two weeks before the date of travel.

For further information visit https://amtrakguestrewards.com/

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MnDOT Suspends Zip Rail Planning

January 30, 2016

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has suspended planning work on a proposed high-speed rail line between the Twin Cities and Rochester, Minnesota.

MinnesotaThe action was taken in advance of an expected vote by the Olmsted County Regional Railroad Authority to suspend the project.

Known as Zip Rail, it would have been built by a private company, North American High Speed Rail Group.

A recent study of the proposed Zip Rail determined eight options, all of which would have required a high level of public funding.

MnDOT said it has issued permits for the builder to conduct a feasibility study of a high-speed rail line in southeastern Minnesota.

The Zip Rail project was projected to create more than 11,000 new jobs and add more than $1.6 billion per year in increased economic benefits.

Winona May Create Station Volunteers Program

January 28, 2016

Residents of Winona, Minnesota, are considering launching a volunteers program to work at the city’s Amtrak station in the wake of the removal of the Amtrak ticket agent there late last year.

An Amtrak representative along with a member of a similar program in Kirkwood, Missouri, recently visited Winona to discuss how a volunteer program could be structured and operate.

Amtrak 4After removing its agent from Winona, Amtrak arranged for someone to open and close the station as well as do maintenance and cleaning.

Winona is a crew change point for the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Bill Burckhalter, the station manager for the Kirkwood Amtrak station said his community’s program started with volunteers serving in pairs and coming in an hour before train arrival times and staying for a half-hour after a train had departed.

The volunteers initially greeted passengers and saw them off, but the program has since evolved into providing information and receiving grants to operate, maintain and improve the station.

The City of Kirkwood later purchased the former Missouri Pacific station from Union Pacific.

Burckhalter said the volunteers are a mixture of of train enthusiasts and community members.

“I like the way the community has come together and surrounded the volunteer program,” Burckhalter said. “It’s grown so much.”

Charlie Monte Verde, an Amtrak government affairs representative, said the decision to remove the ticket agent from Winona was based on a shrinking need for staffed stations nationwide because many passengers purchase tickets and make reservations online.

“Nationally, and here in Winona, 85 percent of our customers were using e-ticketing,” Monte Verde said. “With that in mind we had come to the decision to reduce staffing here in Winona.”

Monte Verde said that Canadian Pacific still owns the Winona depot and uses part of it.

However, he said that developing a volunteer program in Winona could still work.  “I think it’s an environment where it can at least become a conversation,” Monte Verde said.

Winona Mayor Mark Peterson said there will be future meetings to discuss setting up a volunteer program.

In 2014, Winona had the second-highest passenger count among Amtrak stations in Minnesota, handling 20,318 passengers. St. Paul was the state’s busiest station with 94,077 passengers.

Missouri Town Gets Federal Grant to Renovate Station as Step Toward Establishing Amtrak Stop

January 28, 2016

A former Missouri Pacific station in Southeast Missouri may become a new stop for Amtrak’s Texas Eagle.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has received a $100,000 federal grant that will be used to renovate the station in Arcadia.

MissouriNo time frame for completion of the work has been announced nor is it clear yet if Amtrak has approved stopping its Chicago-San Antonio train in Arcadia, which is a city of nearly 600 in Iron County.

The city also is the home of Arcadia College and is located in a region that was once a major mining area.

The Iron County Economic Partnership has put up some matching funds for the station renovation project.

“I think this is going to have a very, very good outcome for Iron County — I really do — from a tourism standpoint,” said Iron County Presiding Commissioner Jim Scaggs. “I don’t think we could ask for anything more. Our hope is that if we can get people to stop in the downtown area and we can show them what we have to offer, they’ll come back — and that was the whole idea of the Amtrak train stop.”

Currently, the only Southeast Missouri stop for the Texas Eagle is in Poplar Bluff.

Group Eyes Eau Claire-St. Paul Rail Service

January 28, 2016

A group of western Wisconsin residents is seeking to bring back intercity rail passenger service to Eau Claire, which has not seen a passenger train in 52 years.

The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition was formed in 1999 and is seeking to convince transportation officials in Wisconsin and Minnesota to develop an Eau Claire-Menomonie-Hudson rail passenger corridor.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has been studying development of rail passenger routes from the Twin Cities to Duluth, Rochester and Eau Claire.

WisconsinThe Wisconsin Department of Transportation has been focusing more on improving the Amtrak Hiawatha Service between Milwaukee and Chicago, but has also collaborated with Minnesota officials in seeking to develop addition intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

The West Central group hopes to persuade transportation officials to route trains through Eau Claire via a Union Pacific route that once  hosted the famed Chicago & North Western 400 trains between Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul that ran 400 miles in 400 minutes.

They have pointed to information from MnDOT showing that more than 100,000 vehicles cross the St. Croix River at Hudson every day with many of those drivers coming from the St. Croix and Chippewa valleys.

MnDOT has estimated that rail service could attract 1,000 to 1,400 passengers a day, which would be 5 percent of the travel market and potentially enough to cover the daily operating cost of rail service.

The West Central group believes that there is a market for four daily roundtrips between Eau Claire and St. Paul. Fares would range between $25 to $40. With an 80-mph speed limit, trains could cover the distance in an hour and 15 minutes.

A public-private partnership might be needed to make the service a reality.

The West Central group formed an organizing council last year that will explore financing options as well as capital needs to rebuild the track between Eau Claire and the Twin Cities.

The service would not necessarily be provided by Amtrak. The West Central group pointed to the public-private partner behind All Aboard Florida and noted that Iowa Pacific Holdings took over from Amtrak the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

To learn more about the coalition, go to http://www.westwisconsinrail.org, or http://www.facebook.com/westcentralwisconsinrail, or twitter.com/WestWisRail

Full Capitol Ltd. Service to be Restored Today

January 27, 2016

Amtrak’s Capitol Limited will be restored to operation today over the full length of its route.

The passenger railroad also announced that other long-distance services as well as all Northeast Corridor services that were canceled or truncated after winter storm Jonas dumped one to two feet of snow on the Atlantic seaboard will be reinstated today.

Amtrak Capitol LimitedSince last weekend the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited had been operating only between Chicago and Pittsburgh.

Trains operating to the Southeastern United States had been canceled south of Washington or operated only between intermediate city pairs in regions less affected by the storm.

Freight railroads continue to move to get their service back up to speed.

Norfolk Southern and CSX have resumed moving freight in the Mid-Atlantic and Appalachian regions, but movements in the Northeast remain limited.

NS issued a customer advisory that said service in the Northeast corridor, particularly  between Wilmington and Baltimore, remains limited.

The railroad has reduced traffic into the Conrail shared assets territory in New Jersey until the recovery efforts have been completed.

The service advisory also said that service in some regions of Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania is still recovering and customers can expect delays of 24 to 72 hours to traffic moving through these areas.

Amtrak, Railroads Still Digging Out From Jonas

January 26, 2016

Amtrak’s westbound Capitol Limited originated in Pittsburgh again on Monday night rather than in Washington. The eastbound Capitol did not operate.

Amtrak posted a traveler’s advisory on its website today saying that Nos. 29 and 30 would operate only between Chicago and Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Jan. 26.

Amtrak logoIn the meantime, the passenger railroad has received favorable comments for being able to operate as many trains as it did in the Northeast Corridor in the face of winter storm Jonas.

In some places, Jonas dumped record amounts of precipitation with more than 14 states recording more than a foot of snow.

Among the trains that continued operating was the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian which ran the length of its route throughout the weekend, although it did encounter some delays.

Also operating as normal was the Empire Corridor service between New York and Niagara Falls, New York. The Lake Shore Limited also operated as usual between Chicago and New York.

The storm hindered or halted freight operations in places on CSX and Norfolk Southern.

CSX said its Mountain Subdivision between Grafton, West Virginia, and Cumberland, Maryland, received as much as 35 inches of snow with some drifts reaching 5 feet.

More than 3 feet of snow fell on the CSX mainline in the eastern West Virginia panhandle.

Although operations were starting to return to normal on Sunday, the railroad said it would take a while to dig out.

“Customers should expect delays up to 48 hours on freight moving through impacted areas,” CSX said in a customer advisory.

Terminals as far west as Nashville, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky, were slowed by deep snow.

NS said that trains were starting to resume operating over the Pittsburgh Line on Sunday after a record 30 inches of snow fell in the region around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“Norfolk Southern operations in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast areas are expected to be impacted over the next several days by heavy snow, blizzard conditions and sub-zero temperatures,” the railroad said in a customer advisory.

Capitol Ltd., Cardinal Still on Reduced Operations

January 25, 2016

Amtrak will continue to operate a modified schedule today (Jan. 25) that will have reduced operation of the Capitol Limited and Cardinal.

No. 29 was to operate from Pittsburgh to Chicago. The status of No. 30, which did not depart Chicago on Sunday, will be determined later today.

Amtrak logoThe Cardinal will operate today from Indianapolis to Chicago. Its next eastbound departure is scheduled for Tuesday from Chicago. The next westbound departure is scheduled for Wednesday from New York.

Amtrak said that the Acela Express, Northeast Regional and other services between Boston and Washington, and Keystone Service between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, will operate on a modified schedule on Monday, Jan. 25.

There will be reduced Amtrak service between Washington and points in Virginia due to local conditions.

The Auto Train will not operate on Monday. The Carolinian will operate between Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina; and between New York and Washington.

The Palmetto is operating only between New York and Washington. The northbound Silver Meteor will operate today, but the status of the southbound Meteor had yet to be determined early Monday morning.

The Silver Star is operating only between Miami and Jacksonville, Florida.

Amtrak Set to Use E. Lansing Intermodal Terminal

January 22, 2016

Amtrak will begin using a new East Lansing, Michigan, intermodal terminal on Jan. 25.

The Chicago-bound Blue Water will still use the current Amtrak station, but when the train returns that evening it will stop at the $6.3 million Capital Area Multimodal Gateway facility.

Amtrak 4Local and intercity bus routes have been using the facility since late last year.

Once Amtrak vacates its existing East Lansing station the building will be razed to make way for a parking lot for the intermodal terminal.

The intermodal terminal, built in large part with federal funds, is located at Harrison and Trowbridge roads.

It is three times larger than the nearby Amtrak station.

“We are so pleased to finally have Amtrak move into our new state-of-the-art facility,” CATA CEO Sandy Draggoo said in a statement. “The Gateway has been ready and waiting for Amtrak’s occupancy, which will complement intercity bus operations, provided by MegaBus, Greyhound and Indian Trails, along with taxi service.”

Amtrak ticket agents will be on duty daily in the intermodal terminal between 7 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

East Lansing is the fifth busiest station among the 28 that Amtrak serves in Michigan and handled more than 66,000 passengers in 2013.

East Coast Blizzard Prompts Amtrak to Curtail Service, Capitol Limited, Cardinal Affected

January 22, 2016

A winter storm that forecasters say could dump record or near-record amounts of snow on the East Coast has left transportation companies, including Amtrak, cancelling service this weekend.

Affected will be the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited and the Chicago-New York Cardinal, which operates via Washington.

Amtrak logoNo. 30 will operate from Chicago to Pittsburgh for trains originating on Friday and Saturday. The westbound Capitol Limited that was to originate today in Washington is canceled over its entire route. No. 29 will operate Pittsburgh to Chicago on Saturday and Sunday.

The eastbound Cardinal is canceled on Saturday and the westbound train that was to leave New York today has been canceled.

Thus far, the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited is expected to operate on its normal schedule.

Other long-distance trains that have been canceled or had their operations truncated are the Auto Train, Carolinian, Crescent, Palmetto, Silver Star and Silver Meteor. Visit the Amtrak website for further details.

Amtrak said that the Acela Express, Northeast Regional and other services between locations in Virginia and Boston, as well as Keystone Service between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, will be operating throughout the weekend, but will have modified schedules.

Most Northeast Corridor service between Washington and Boston will operate as scheduled on Friday.

Passengers who have reservations on affected services are being contacted and accommodated on other trains with similar departure times or offered alternate travel dates.

Airlines are also taking similar precautions. News reports indicated that almost 2,400 arrivals and departures have been canceled on Friday at Eastern seaboard airports with a similar number of flights canceled on Saturday.

United Airlines said it would be shutting down operations Friday afternoon at airports in Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia and hopes to get back into operation at those airports on Sunday.

American Airlines has canceled all flights to and from Charlotte, North Carolina, today, but will resume service there on Saturday.

It plans to begin reducing operations in Baltimore and Washington on Friday afternoon and in Philadelphia on Friday evening.

All flights to and from Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia are canceled on Saturday.

American said it will cancel all American Eagle flights from New York area airports on Saturday and that mainline operations would be canceled after the departure of the last late morning flights.

Operations in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington are expected to resume on Sunday.

A storm that dropped a mere inch of snow paralyzed Washington this week and the Washington Area Metro Transit Authority is closing the Metro rail system for the weekend. The nation’s second busiest mass transit system will shut down after 11 p.m. tonight.

During the storm, Metro transit cars will be moved out of the yards and into the tunnels used by Metro trains.

New York transit officials do not at present have any plans to shut down its subway system.

The National Weather Service has posted blizzard warnings for the Washington-Baltimore area that will be in effect between 3 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Sunday.

The storm is expected to deliver 60-mph wind gusts that could blow wet, heavy snow into trees, power lines and transformers, triggering widespread power failures from North Carolina to New England.

A full moon this weekend will swell tides and produce “moderate to major” coastal flooding from Maryland and Delaware to Connecticut.