Archive for February, 2016

Amtrak to Renovate Macomb Station

February 25, 2016

Amtrak plans to renovate its passenger station in Macomb, Illinois, to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Amtrak 4Plans are to add a ramp to the depot from the parking lot on the east side.

Those plans were recently reviewed by the Macomb Historic Preservation Commission although Amtrak does not need the group’s approval.

“Amtrak is not required to apply for a certificate of appropriateness for changes to the historic depot,” said Community Development Coordinator Ray Heitner. “But it wants city reaction as to how the changes might impact the building’s character.”

Macomb is served by four daily Amtrak trains, the Illinois Zephyr and the Carl Sandburg. All operate between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois, and are supported by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

High-Speed Michigan Line Could be Profitable

February 25, 2016

Michigan map

A study by the Michigan Environmental Council concluded that a high-speed rail line between Detroit and Holland, Michigan, could generate an annual $12 million profit.

The study, Coast-to-Coast Passenger Rail Ridership and Cost Estimate Study, was based on the route having a top speed of 110 mph.

MichiganThree routes were examined, all of which are existing rail lines that would need extensive rebuilding to allow for higher-speed operations.

The study acknowledged that the cost of rebuilding the routes for high-speed rail would require a greater capital investment, but would result in higher ridership that would allow the service to recover its operating costs

The study favored a route that would pass through Ann Arbor and Howell.

If trains on that route had a top speed of 79 mph, the service would require annual funding of $3 million and a capital investment of $130 million, which MEC said is comparable to the cost of building 13 miles of interstate highway.

“Business leaders, economic developers, local governments and college students have all told us they support the idea of knitting together our cities, cultural centers and other institutions by rail,” said Liz Treutel Callin, transportation policy associate for the MEC. “Now we have an in-depth report showing that the coast-to-coast passenger rail project is one worth pursuing, with significant potential benefits for Michigan’s economy and quality of life.”

MEC said the next step in developing the rail route is to conduct a feasibility study that would include an environmental impact analyses, an implementation plan and a review of public-private partnership options.

Boardman Outlines Headwinds Amtrak Facing

February 23, 2016

Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman told a Senate Committee on Tuesday that low gas prices and a strong dollar are negatively affecting Amtrak ridership this year.

Boardman told the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that other headwinds that Amtrak is facing include a pending Surface Transportation Board on-time performance rule-making proceeding and a strong U.S. dollar that has reduced international ticket sales.

Amtrak logoLower oil prices have sent many would-be Amtrak passengers to their automobiles to travel.

“This will be a challenging fiscal year for us and the rail industry,” Boardman said. “I think these challenges will continue in the years to come, and it’s going to be important that all of us who believe in intercity passenger rail work together to support its development.”

During his testimony, Boardman said the STB rule making proceeding pertaining to on-time performance is needed to prod the freight railroads into working harder to keep Amtrak trains on schedule.

If on-time standard are not approved by the STB, Boardman said, it could negatively affect long-distance and state supported trains and result in higher costs for taxpayers.

Boardman said Amtrak’s long-distance trains are particularly important to smaller communities, not just major metropolitan areas.

“We don’t just leap from city to city — we connect smaller towns and communities with one another, and with the nation’s major urban center,” Boardman said. “These communities pay taxes, too, and we provide them a service they use and depend on. I think the excitement you saw last week is dramatic evidence of just how much we can bring to those towns — and how deeply they appreciate it.”

He was referring to an inspection trip that ran over the former route of the Sunset Limited between Jacksonville, Florida, and New Orleans.

The line has been without Amtrak service since Hurricane Katrina damaged the tracks and Amtrak stations along the route.

“We must be careful not to lose the economies of scale of a unified operation,” Boardman said. “One of the things I have learned in my eight years of service is that a unified system brings not just economies of scale, but a greater understanding of the value that Amtrak delivers for the nation.”

Knox W. Ross, the mayor of Pelahatchie, Mississippi, and secretary-treasurer of the Southern Rail Commission, made a plea in support of long-distance trains.

The commission has been working to restore the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans.

Ross said a strong national network is important for everyone, even communities such as his, which is located 20 miles from the Sunset Limited route.

“The success of our town is directly tied to the prosperity of the region,” Ross said. “For my region to prosper, we must have a transportation system that provides options for residents to connect to opportunity in our region and beyond.”

Ross called supporting Amtrak was a “bi-partisan issue that we can all agree on.”

Timothy Hoeffner, chair of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission and Director of the Office of Rail for the Michigan Department of Transportation, also touted the benefits of long-distance trains even though Michigan does not lie on any long-distance routes.

Hoeffner spoke of the importance of a unified national network and called for better synergies between the long-distance and state-supported routes as well as the critical Northeast Corridor. He said a direct link from Michigan to the NEC would be beneficial to Michiganders by avoiding a “detour” through Chicago.

SPUD Planning Rail Festival

February 23, 2016

St. Paul Union Depot will celebrate its 90th anniversary with a festival on April 30 and May 1 that will be co-sponsored by Kalmbach Publishing, the publisher of Trains and Classic Trains magazines.

The event will include historic and modern railroad equipment, discussions and photo sessions, vendors, model railroads and live entertainment.

MinnesotaEvent organizers said the festival will highlight the history and future of passenger train travel, the historic and current role of freight railroads in the region, and the area’s changing transportation trends and needs.

It will showcase SPUD’s role in the revival and growth of St. Paul’s downtown and Ramsey County since the depot was restored and reopened in 2012. The other co-sponsor is the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority.

SPUD opened in 1926, but construction had begun in 1917 and was slowed by World War II.
Nine railroads and more than 200 trains served the station, which cost $15 million to build and features a neoclassical style.

Among the special exhibits slated to be on hand are Milwaukee Road steam locomotive No. 261, the Amtrak exhibit train, Soo Line FP7 No. 2500A, Great Northern SDP40 No. 325 and Northern Pacific Railway RPO/Baggage/Coach No. 1102.

Also hand will be vendors selling books, model trains, and railroad memorabilia.

Until it reopened, SPUD had no passenger trains after its last trains departed on April 30, 1971, on the eve of the coming of Amtrak.

Amtrak returned to SPUD in May 2014 after a $242 million restoration project.

The Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder calls at SPUD daily. SPUD also is served by light rail trains and intercity and metro buses.

Moline Mayor Optimistic About Amtrak Service

February 23, 2016

Moline (Illinois) Mayor Scott Raes is still optimistic that Amtrak service will eventually come to the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa, but said making it happen by 2017 is going to be tough to pull off.

Raes said in his state of the city address that development of the Chicago-Quad Cities route has stalled due to a state budget stalemate. IllinoisThe Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner are at odd over a budget for the current fiscal year.

The mayor noted that work has begun on renovating a hotel that will serve as the station for the route. That project is being funded by a federal TIGER grant.

But rebuilding the tracks to be used by the trains has yet to begin and the project is behind schedule.

“It does get frustrating because there are three players in this project,” Raes said. “One of the things we’re approaching now is we have to build the platform out to meet the [passenger] cars and until we know the height of the tracks, we don’t know where to go.”

Although the service was supposed to start in early 2017, that seems unlikely.

“I think it will be quite a challenge to hit the 2017 [target] although that’s certainly what we’re hoping for,” Raes said. “But, when you look realistically at where the project’s at, I think that would be a stretch.”

Raes doesn’t expect the state to give up on the project, saying the Illinois Department of Transportation is on board and its leaders are trying to work with the governor and lawmakers to make sure Amtrak and other transportation projects move forward.

“We can’t wait,” Raes said. “I think it will be a great revenue source.”

CONO May be About to Resume Full Journey

February 23, 2016

Online reports indicate that Amtrak’s City of New Orleans may soon resume traveling all the way to its namesake city as soon as today.

Amtrak City of New OrleansCanadian National has been rebuilding a trestle damaged by fire on Feb. 13, which led to Nos. 58 and 59 operating only between Chicago and Jackson, Mississippi. Passengers have been traveling by bus between Jackson and New Orleans.

One report showed a photograph of a CN locomotive on the newly-repaired trestle, located along Interstate 10 near New Orleans. The report speculated that CN freights might use the bridge for a period of time to let it settle before Amtrak is permitted on it.

The Amtrak website this morning did not have any updated information as to when the City might resume serving New Orleans. A service advisory posted on the site says that the train will terminate and originate in Jackson through Feb. 29.

The service disruption is the second for the train this year. In January, the route was closed for a time due to flooding.

FRA Grant to Fund Chicago Grade Separation

February 22, 2016

A proposed grade separation at a busy Chicago grade crossing used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Indianapolis route will receive a $1.25 million Federal Railroad Administration grant.

The project will separate a Union Pacific double-track mainline with 95th Street at Eggleston Avenue. The UP route was once owned by the Chicago & Eastern Illinois.

FRAOfficials said that on a typical day the crossing sees 24 UP and CSX trains, two Amtrak trains, 700 buses and 24,000 motor vehicles.

The grant will be used to fund design and engineering services.

Funding for the project was awarded to the Chicago Department of Transportation and Illinois Department of Transportation as part of the FRA’s Safe Transportation of Energy Products by Rail Program.

The grade separation is part of the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program.

CREATE competed against applicants for a share of $10 million in funding to improve grade crossings and track along routes that transport energy products including crude oil and ethanol.

1st Engine Placed in Charger Locomotive

February 20, 2016

Siemens recently installed the first engine and traction alternator into the carbody of a locomotive intended for use pulling Amtrak trains on Midwest and West Coast corridor routes.

The 21-ton Cummins QSK95 diesel engine was placed in a Charger locomotive at the Siemens plant in Sacramento, California.

Amtrak logoSiemens is manufacturing 69 Chargers for the Departments of Transportation in Illinois, California, Michigan, Missouri, Washington and Maryland, and for Brightline, the privately owned and operated express passenger rail service to be offered by Florida East Coast Industries subsidiary All Aboard Florida.

Siemens also is manufacturing at its Sacramento plant passengers coaches for Brightline.

Built in Seymour, Indiana, the Cummins QSK95, is a 16-cylinder, 95-liter-displacement engine rated at 4,400 horsepower.

Siemens described the engine as “engineered with modern technologies and design features that ensure the highest performance, lowest fuel consumption, cleanest emissions, and lowest total cost of ownership of any locomotive engine.”

The Charger locomotives are EPA Tier IV emission compliant and can operate at up to 125 mph.

CONO Full Operation Expected Late This Month

February 19, 2016

Amtrak said that service to New Orleans from Chicago is expected to resume late this month.

Amtrak City of New OrleansPassengers on the City of New Orleans have been transported by bus between New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi, since a fire on Feb. 13 on a trestle on the Canadian National route that the train uses.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said CN is working to repair the bridge, known as the Spillway Bridge. It is adjacent to Interstate 10 near New Orleans.

Other stations affected by the busing include Hazlehurst, Brookhaven and McComb, Mississippi; and Hammond, Louisiana.

Nos. 58 and 59 continue to operate normally between Chicago and Jackson.

Amtrak Seeks $1.8B in FY 2017

February 19, 2016

In a five year improvement plan, Amtrak is seeking $1.8 billion from Congress for fiscal year 2017.

The request includes $920 million for capital expenditures, $650 million for operating expenses and $263.7 million in federal discretionary grant programs authorized under the new surface transportation bill that Congress approved last year.

Amtrak logoThe budget request would cover continued efforts to improve service and safety, funding for implementation of positive train control, an expansion of Wi-Fi service throughout Amtrak’s network, and costs related to the Hudson River tunnel project.

“Amtrak’s capital needs are pressing. Outdated and inadequate infrastructure and equipment must be replaced to sustain and grow both the Amtrak system and the economy it supports,” Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman wrote in a letter to accompany the budget request.

Boardman said Amtrak’s ridership last year exceeded 30 million for the fifth consecutive year, with ridership records set on the Northeast Corridor and two other services.

At $2.185 billion, ticket revenue was slightly less than the previous year.

Noting that Amtrak’s cost recovery was about 90 percent for the second consecutive year, Boardman said ticket revenue was “enough, when combined with our efforts to control costs, to sustain our financial performance.”