Archive for January, 2016

2-for-1 Fares Launched on Texas Eagle

January 20, 2016

Amtrak has launched a two for one sale for Texas Eagle passengers that is good for travel through March 20.

The fares are also good for travel beyond San Antonio on the Sunset Limited for those who board at a station served by the Eagle between Chicago and San Antonio.

Amtrak Texas EagleAmong the intermediate stations served by the Eagle are Springfield, Illinois; St. Louis; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, Texas.

Three days a week through cars between Chicago and Los Angeles operate via a connection in San Antonio with the Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited.

Sample fare for two adults each way are as low as Chicago to Little Rock, $124; Los Angeles to Dallas/Ft. Worth, $192; Chicago to Dallas/Ft. Worth, $162; Little Rock to St. Louis, $70; Chicago to Austin, $172; Austin to Dallas/Ft. Worth, $36; Chicago to San Antonio, $172; and San Antonio to Dallas, $44.

Travel between Chicago and St. Louis, and between San Antonio and Los Angeles is excluded. See the Deals tab on Amtrak.com for other applicable restrictions.

Falling Gas Prices, Mild Winter Depress December Amtrak Ridership on Michigan, Indiana Routes

January 20, 2016

Lower gasoline prices and mild winter weather took a toll on Amtrak ridership in the Midwest in December.

News reports this week indicated that ridership on the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette fell by 24 percent in December.

Amtrak logoPartronage had fallen 18 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015, for a loss of 4,800 riders between October and December.

Nearly half of that decline (2,559) occurred in December when revenue fell by $68,000 in December. For the quarter, Pere Marquette revenue fell by $132,675.

Ridership declined by 7.8 percent in St. Joseph, Michigan; about 9 percent in Chicago; 11 percent in Bangor, Michigan; 25.6 percent in Holland, Michigan; and 28 percent in Grand Rapids.

The Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State saw its December ridership fall from what it had been in December 2014.

An online report said the Hoosier State carried 3,043 last month versus 3,259 in 2014.

Earlier in 2015, Iowa Pacific Holding took over management of the Hoosier State, assigning its own equipment and on-board service crews. The IP service includes business class service that provide hot meals in a dome car.

Ticket revenue for the Hoosier State was $76,413 in December 2015 versus $83,878 in December 2014 when it was an Amtrak train.

Amtrak engineers and conductors continue to operate the quad-weekly Hoosier State under contract with IP.

Amtrak patronage at New Buffalo, Michigan, which is served by the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains, rose 3.8 percent in December. On the same route, Niles saw a decline of 22.4 percent while Dowagiac was down 4.1 percent.

CONO Bus To Last Through January 31

January 20, 2016

Amtrak has finally acknowledged on its website that passengers on the City of New Orleans will travel by bus through Jan. 31 between New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi.

Amtrak City of New OrleansA service notice said that the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway on Jan. 10 caused flooding along the route of Nos. 58 and 59.

The bus service will also serve the intermediate stations in Hammond, Louisiana; and McComb, Brookhaven and Hazelhurst, Mississippi.

Passengers will continue to travel by train between Chicago and Jackson.

Champaign-Urbana Saw Amtrak Ridership Decline in FY 2015 for the 2nd Consecutive Year

January 18, 2016
The southbound Illini makes its station stop in Rantoul in August 2012.

The southbound Illini makes its station stop in Rantoul in August 2012.

University towns tend to generate a lot of business for Amtrak and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, is no exception.

One some days the waiting room of the Illinois Terminal, the intermodal station that serves the hometowns of the University of Illinois, overflows with passengers.

Yet in fiscal year 2015, which ended last Sept. 30, ridership from Champaign-Urbana fell for the second consecutive year.

In FY 2013, Amtrak boarded 189,940 passengers in the Twin Cities but saw that number fall to 169,221 in FY 2015. FY 2014 ridership was 179,009.

At the next stop north of Champaign, ridership has shown a slight increase in Rantoul. The ridership numbers for Rantoul have been 5, 889 (FY 2013), 6,166 (FY 2014) and 6,199 (FY 2015)

Patronage fell in many areas of the country during FY 2015 and Amtrak has been blaming falling gasoline prices as a major culprit.

“We believe, as we’ve said before, as gasoline prices go up, so does ridership, and the inverse is true,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

He noted that parking, tolls and traffic tickets in and around Chicago have not changed.

Despite the ridership falloff, Magliari said, “we still have very strong ridership.”

IllinoisIn fact, Amtrak ridership remains at historic levels, with last year being the fifth-highest ridership year on record since 1979, said T.J. Blakeman, Champaign’s senior planner for economic development.

Local officials are concerned that Amtrak service may suffer cuts as a result of a budget stalemate between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly. The two have yet to agree on a budget for the current fiscal year.

Champaign-Urbana is served by three pairs of Amtrak trains, the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans, and the state-funded Illini and Saluki between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

The addition of the Saluki in 2006 provided a boost to Amtrak patronage from Champaign-Urbana, Blakeman said.

“It shows if we can continue to add service on this line, I believe we will continue to see increased ridership,” he said.

Between 2007 and 2014, Amtrak ridership in the Chicago-Carbondale corridor grew 41.6 percent.

Aside from budget uncertainty, another concern of Champaign County officials is delays.

Amtrak uses Canadian National tracks between Chicago and New Orleans and the two have sparred over freight delays.

Magliari said Amtrak has an action pending against Canadian National before regulatory authorities.

Ben LeRoy, an associate planner for the city of Champaign, thinks that bus carriers might also be siphoning away some Amtrak ridership due to the problems of delays.

LeRoy, said he takes Amtrak to conferences, but while a student at the University of Illinois he rode Greyhound because the fare was lower and the buses ran more frequently

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she has left the night before a meeting in Chicago because of the possibility of delays making her late to the meeting.

“That drives away passengers if you can’t be on time. I think that’s the biggest problem, and it’s not Amtrak’s fault,” she said.

Nearly 1,000 people have signed Champaign County First’s online petition at chn.ge/1PtVaBP to support intercity rail passenger rail service on the Chicago-Carbondale corridor.

The petition has described the service as an economic engine for the state of Illinois, the University of Illinois, Eastern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University, which together constitute the I-57 Amtrak Rail Knowledge Corridor.

“Just imagine what would happen to the highways if all those people were driving,” Prushing said.

Blakeman said increased Amtrak ridership has played a role in reducing traffic congestion and parking shortages on the University of Illinois campus.

“We’ve reduced parking on campus. We’ve convinced students to bring fewer cars to campus,” he said.

Extra Coach Added to Nos. 5/6 in California

January 18, 2016

An extra Superliner coach is being added to the California Zephyr on Fridays and Sundays through Feb. 14 that will operate between Emeryville, California, and Reno, Nevada.

Amtrak said the car will accommodate passengers traveling to what is being called “the best snow” in more than a decade in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

In a news release, Amtrak said that many hotels are only steps away from the Amtrak station and most offer shuttles to ski and snow parks.

Boston LSL Section to Return to Chicago

January 18, 2016

The Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited is set to return to Chicago in early February.

Since last April, Nos. 448 and 449 have operated as a coach-only train between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer with through passengers changing trains at the latter station.

Amtrak Lake Shore LimitedThe suspension of the Boston section to Chicago was a result of the construction of a new fourth platform track at the Albany-Rensselaer station.

Aside from providing more operating flexibility, the next track may also result in additional service between Albany-Rensselaer and Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, New York.

A second track has also been installed between Albany and Schenectady that will alleviate a long-time bottleneck on the route used by the Lake Shore Limited the New York-Niagara Falls Empire Service trains, the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf and the New York-Montreal Adirondack.

New York State may elect to increase service by extending westward and/or northward trains that now operate between New York City and Albany-Rensselaer. The state helps fund operation of those Empire Service trains.

CONO Passengers Back on the Bus

January 15, 2016

City of New Orleans passengers are back on the bus after the Canadian National tracks used by the train were closed through the end of January over the Bonnet Carré Spillway.

Amtrak will bus passengers for Nos. 58 and 59 between New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi.

Amtrak City of New OrleansThe track closure occurred after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a flood gate to relieve pressure from high water on the Mississippi River.

The Bonnet Carré Spillway lies on a channel linking the Mississippi River with Lake Ponchartrain

“It is a precautionary measure with the bridge over the Spillway,” CN spokesman Patrick Waldron told Trains magazine.

Amtrak has considered making the bus bridge between New Orleans and Hammond, Louisiana, but a planned temporary schedule change made that impractical.

No. 59 is now departing Memphis 1 hour and 15 minutes later than scheduled in order to accommodate CN track work.

Now set to leave Memphis at 8:05 a.m., No. 59 would arrive in Hammond too late to make a same-day turn for the northbound No. 58.

CN is performing maintenance between Jackson and McComb, Mississippi.

The scheduled delay to No. 59 south of Memphis has not yet been posted on Amtrak’s website.

No. 59 is currently scheduled to depart from Memphis at 6:50 a.m. The New Orleans arrival time will be 4:47 p.m. compared to the scheduled time of 3:32 p.m.

The schedules of the northbound City of New Orleans will not be affected, nor will the scheduled of No. 59 from Chicago to Memphis be affected.

The later running of No. 59 south of Memphis is in effect through Feb. 17.

Amtrak Touting Its Sustainability Practices

January 14, 2016

Amtrak is touting its commitment to environmentally sustainable operations and practices, pointing to, in particular, its use of Siemens ACS-64 locomotives on the Northeast Corridor.

The passenger carrier said that the advanced-technology electric locomotives will save the cost of about 3 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions during the coming decade

Amtrak logoDesigned for easier maintenance Amtrak said the locomotives will maximize energy efficiency by using a regenerative braking system that will feed energy back into the power grid.

Amtrak also said that it is incorporating sustainability practices throughout its network on all trains.

One way it has done that is to provide business and first class passengers with WiFi access to digital newspapers in the Northeast Corridor and on select eastern routes. This saves 103,740 paper copies annually, Amtrak said.

“At Amtrak, our mission is inherently focused on sustainability. We’re proud of our work to provide reliable, energy-efficient transportation, draw more customers to rail, and ultimately reduce the carbon footprint of the traveling public,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman. “We are committed to being a good steward of our resources and having a positive impact in the communities we serve.”

Amtrak recently signed the International Union of Railways Railway Climate Responsibility Pledge in which it committed to reducing energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, stimulating modal shift to rail in national and international markets, actively communicating climate-friendly initiatives, and publicly reporting data on energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

BNSF Gives Grant for Staples Depot Renovation

January 13, 2016

The former Northern Pacific depot in Staples, Minnesota, which is used by Amtrak’s Empire Builder, will continue getting a makeover thanks to a $25,000 donation from the BNSF Railway Foundation.

The money was granted to the Staples Historical Society, which took ownership of the depot from BNSF in 2008. The station was constructed in 1909 in the Classical Revival-style

Amtrak 4The society has since been given a new roof and modern plumbing, electrical, and cooling systems.

The roof was funded by a $200,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and used asphalt shingles designed to resemble the original dark gray slate.

In 2011, a $49,400 grant from the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Grants Program paid for repairing the depot’s more than 48 original double-hung sash windows.

A depot ticket office renovation project that was completed in 2012 created office space for the Staples-Motley Chamber of Commerce.
The historical society wants to transform the station’s second floor into a museum.

Alton Moving Toward Building New Station

January 13, 2016

Prompted by a Dec. 31 deadline to use a federal grant, an Alton city government committee has recommended seeking bids from contractors to build the Alton Regional Multi-Modal Transportation Center.

The facility, to be used by Amtrak’s Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains, would feature an 8,000-square foot brick station, platform, bus terminal, parking lot and an access road.

Amtrak 4The city received a $13.85 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant that stipulates that the facility must be built by the end of 2016.

The $25 million intermodal station is slated to be constructed on the northeast corner of the former Robert P. Wadlow Municipal Golf Course at Homer Adams Parkway and Golf Road.

Aside from Amtrak, the facility will be used by Madison County Transit District buses and have trailheads for bicyclists and pedestrians

Other funding for the $25 million intermodal facility includes $7.4 million from Federal Railroad Administration and state funds and $1.6 million from the city and the transit agency.