Archive for March, 2016

Toledo National Train Day Set for May 7

March 30, 2016

It may no longer be called Amtrak National Train Days, but a national train day celebration will continue in Toledo this year and Amtrak might be a part of it.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari declined to confirm an assertion by the organizers of the Toledo event that it will send passenger cars to Toledo for the May 7 event to place on display as it has done in previous years.

Norfolk Southern plans to send its “Honoring First Responders” locomotive, which carried roster number 9-1-1

Amtrak 4The units is painted in a livery of  red, white, and black. Show organizers say they are planning a ceremony to honor the region’s first responders as part of the event.

The Toledo event also will feature an open house at Central Union Terminal, which is now named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza.

This will be the ninth train day in Toledo and as in past year there will be operating model railroads along with railroad-themed vendors, safety exhibits, children’s activities and musical entertainment.

Amtrak said earlier this year that it was ending its sponsorship of National Train Day.

Amtrak’s Magliari said that before National Train Day began in 2008 that the passenger carrier would on occasion send an equipment display to various cities for promotional purposes.

“Each event request every year, everywhere, will continue to be considered,” Magliari said.

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Wisconsin Eyes Added Hiawatha Service

March 29, 2016

The State of Wisconsin will hold public hearing this summer on a proposal to added three more Amtrak roundtrips between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Currently the Hiawatha Service features seven roundtrips on weekdays, all of them funded by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

WisconsinWisDOT is currently conducting a study regarding the service expansion and plans to make a draft of it public during the summer with hearing to be held late in the summer.

The proposal must be reviewed by the federal government and Wisconsin officials are hoping to land some federal funding for the expansion.

The Hiawatha Service carried more than 800,000 passengers in 2014.

Waterloo Station to be Moved March 30

March 24, 2016

A former New York Central passenger station in Waterloo, Indiana, will be moved next week as the next step toward opening the station for use by Amtrak passengers.

The 132-year-old station will be moved on March 30 two blocks closer to the current Amtrak boarding area on the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern.

Amtrak 4The remaining work to get the depot ready for use by Amtrak is expected to be completed by June.

Although Waterloo is a town of just 2,242, it has the third highest ridership in Indiana. In 2014 it served more than 22,000 passengers.

Amtrak began stopping in Waterloo in 1990 after it ceased serving Fort Wayne.

Workers have been building a foundation at the station’s new location and removed trees to facilitate the move.

Waterloo received a U.S. Department of Transportation grant to pay for the $1.82 million project, which will include a new parking lot, sidewalks, street lighting, landscaping, roadway resurfacing and curbs.

A Passenger Information Display System will inform Amtrak passengers about train arrival times and provide free Wi-Fi.

Currently, passengers in Waterloo use a bus stop type shelter.

Aside from serving Amtrak, the depot will be available for town meetings and community events.

Waterloo is served by the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited and the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited.

Amtrak Makes Forbes Best Employer List

March 24, 2016

Forbes magazine has named Amtrak one of America’s Best Employers 2016.

The railroad was listed under the transportation and logistics category. Companies were chosen following an independent survey of 30,000 workers throughout the United States.

Amtrak logoAmtrak has more than 20,000 employees. The Forbes list included 500 employers across 25 industries.

It is the second consecutive year that Amtrak has made the Forbes best employers list.

“Amtrak is a remarkable story because of the people who continuously make the railroad the smarter way to travel,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman in a news release. “We want employees to find a safe workplace, be challenged, and rewarded with competitive pay and benefits in a performance-oriented culture.”

Runaway Truck Knocked Tracks Out of Alignment Before Southwest Chief Derailment in Kansas

March 23, 2016

Investigators are now saying that the truck that damaged the BNSF tracks before the March 14 derailment in Kansas of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief was a runway.

The truck had been parked at nearby feed mill, but its brakes failed and it rolled downhill across U.S. 50 and struck the tracks, knocking them 12 to 14 inches out of alignment.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2Thirty-two aboard the eastbound Chief were injured when the train left the tracks just after midnight. Seven of the train’s 10 cars derailed, with some flipping over on their sides.

Video from the lead locomotive’s forward-facing camera showed what investigators termed a “localized distortion” in the track.

The engineer of No. 4 applied the emergency brakes shortly before the derailment occurred.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator has said the train was traveling at 60 mph just before the derailment, which is the authorized speed limit for that section of track near Cimarron, Kansas, between Dodge City and Garden City.

The NTSB has determined that the truck that struck the tracks is owned by Cimarron Crossing Feeders, LLC.

The company owns a two-axle 2004 Kenworth truck that matched the tire tracks found at the scene of the derailment.

Investigators believe that either someone failed to set the truck’s parking brakes or a mechanical malfunction caused the truck to begin moving.

Amtrak Offering 15% Student Fare Discounts

March 21, 2016

Amtrak has announced that it is offering 15 percent off the lowest available fare for students ages 17-25.

Amtrak logoThe discounted fares, which are effective immediately, will be in effect for the remainder of 2016.

Travel must be booked at least three days in advance at Amtrak.com. Passengers must present a valid photo identification aboard the train.

Fares are subject to availability and other restrictions may apply.

Illinois Senate OKs Spending on Amtrak

March 21, 2016

The Illinois Senate voted last week to authorize spending to pay the state’s bills from Amtrak.

But there is no assurance that the bill will win the approval of Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has been at odds with the Illinois General Assembly since last year over a fiscal year 2016 budget.

IllinoisThe Senate bill would add another another $4 billion in spending onto the nearly $7.5 billion in backlogged bills.

But Senate Democrats, who control that chamber, acknowledged that even if the bill is adopted it won’t guarantee payment.

Similar to a bill passed by the House last month, the Senate bill adds payments to Amtrak and libraries operated by the secretary of state.

The Rauner administration described the bill as a “a cruel hoax on those it is purportedly designed to help.” Republicans have said the state lacks the money to spend on what is authorized in the spending bills.

The Senate bill will now be considered by the House.

Rauner has threatened to veto piecemeal spending legislation and has instead sought a bill that would give him broad powers to cut spending in order to free up money to pay for various programs.

 

Track Out of Alignment Before S.W. Chief Crash

March 17, 2016

Investigators probing the derailment of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief early Monday say that the cause might be the rail being out of alignment after it was struck by a truck.

During a news conference, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator said the truck moved the rail 12 to 14 inches. The incident occurred a day before the derailment, which resulted in 32 people being treated at two Kansas hospitals for injuries sustained during the accident.

None of the injuries was life-threatening.

STBThe Los Angeles to Chicago bound train was traveling at 60 miles per hour just before the derailment, which occurred between Dodge City and Garden City, Kansas.

The train was carrying 131 passengers and 14 crew members.

NTSB investigators said the train’s engineer spotted a bend in the tracks and applied the emergency brakes, but was unable to avert the derailment, which occurred 18 seconds later.

The truck that hit the track was carrying cattle feed and belonged to Cimarron Crossing Feeders LLC.

The NTSB posted on its Twitter feed photographs of the truck and said that the company that owned it has been cooperative in the investigation.

BNSF owns the track and has repaired them. Amtrak said that Nos. 3 and 4 have resumed using the route.

A passenger aboard the train said she was lying across two seats trying to sleep when the derailment occurred.

“I heard and felt this horrible thundering and rumbling sound,” said Laurel Saiz of Syracuse, New York. “It lasted about five or six seconds and the train started turning over.”

Saiz, a journalism professor at Onondaga Community College in upstate New York, suffered a broken collar bone.

“In my mind, I told myself, this is a train derailment,” she said.

Saiz was on the right side of the Superliner coach, which then flipped over onto its left side.

She said she was thrown from her seat to the opposite side of the train and doesn’t remember what happened next.

“I just remember landing flat,” Saiz said. “I must of hit the other seats on the way down. I think that’s when I broke my collarbone.”

After the car came to a halt, Saiz said she heard an older man beg for help. “He said he couldn’t breathe and that he felt like he was dying,” she said. “That was horrible because I couldn’t do much to help.”

Rescue workers arrived on the scene within minutes and passengers who were not injured were able to help the older man.

Saiz said passengers had to climb a ladder to get out of their car and then reach the ground on another ladder.

A professional musician who was traveling back to his New York City home after playing a gig in Santa Fe, New Mexico, said he feels fortunate to still be alive after being seriously injured.

The musician, a percussionist and video artist who was born as Stefan Joel Weisser but goes by the name Z’EV, said time seemed to stand still once the train left the tracks.

“The train’s going along and then all of a sudden I could tell that they’re like hitting the brakes,” he said. “And then there’s this kind of, like, crack and then the train flips.”

Z’EV said flew in the air seven feet before landing on a seat’s arm rest.

“I knew I was hurt,” he said. “And then I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up the next morning in the hospital.”

Z’EV suffered five broken ribs on his left side and expects to remain hospitalized through the end of the week.

He expected it will take up to a year for his bones to heal. He hospitalized in Amarillo, Texas.

“Considering I use my arms in performing, you know it’s not clear whether–how much I’m going to be able to work,” Z’EV said.

“I can think of better ways to spend the next six months,” he said as he laughed. “The momentous things in your life, eventually you come to realize what it was about.”

Z’EV said he lacks health insurance so his Friends and fans have created a Go Fund Me page to help him pay for medical bills. So far, they’ve raised more than $22,000 of their $30,000 goal.

The page is at https://www.gofundme.com/kqu6bed4

Funding Set for Chicago-St. Paul Study

March 17, 2016

Government officials in Wisconsin and Minnesota have approved funding for a study of a second passenger train between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

The funding is being provided by the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority of Minnesota, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission.

MinnesotaThe Minnesota Department of Transportation will assume the role of technical lead in the study, although it will work with its counterparts in Wisconsin.

The proposed service would use the route of Amtrak’s existing Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

An earlier Amtrak study estimated that a second roundtrip on the Chicago-Twin Cities route could attract more than 155,000 people.

The Empire Builder now carries more than 100,000 annually between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota.

A second Chicago-St. Paul train is not expected to begin operations until three to four years from now.

The 2015 Amtrak study called for a train of two coaches, a snack coach and a cab car coach along with one locomotive.

The Minnesota-Wisconsin study is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete and cost $600,000.

The Ramsey County agency, which owns St. Paul Union Depot, is fronting $300,000 of that cost with Wisconsin expected to pay for the other half. The Minnesota Commission is putting up contingency money.

Although Wisconsin officials are willing to participate in the study, it is not clear if the Badger State will agree to help fund the Chicago-Twin Cities service.

Shortly after he took office in 2011, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker killed a program to extend rail passenger service from Milwaukee to Madison.

WisDOT passenger rail implementation Manager Arun Rao said Walker favors a focus on existing rather than new services.

Wisconsin officials are working with the Illinois Department of Transportation to expand by three roundtrips the existing Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service.

Dan Krom, director of the Minnesota transportation department’s passenger rail office, said that one way to implement additional service to the Twin Cities might involve extending an existing Hiawatha Service train.

Depite the uncertain participation of Wisconsin, Krom said he was encourarged because “they [Wisconsin officials] are at the table with us, are an equal partner and are moving forward.”

The study may also address how funding for the train will be worked out. Rao said a good model might be that of the Hiawatha Service in which Wisconsin contributes 75 percent of the operating funds and Illinois pays the other 25 percent.

Implementation of a second Chicago-St. Paul train will also hinge on whether the proposal can win federal funding to cover most of the capital costs.

“There’s a lot of different tentacles to adding a second train,” Krom said noting that bureaucracies and tight regulations are among the challenges that must be addressed.

Empire Builder Might Service Culbertson, MT

March 17, 2016

Amtrak continues to study establishing a stop for the Empire Builder in Culbertson, Montana.

“We know that it makes business sense to stop at Culbertson,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “There’s a long distance between Wolf Point [Montana] and Williston [North Dakota].

Magliari said Amtrak is in discussions about a station location with Culbertson officials.

Amtrak 4“It has to be at a place that doesn’t add delay to the Empire Builder or the trains that pass through there,” he said.

Culbertson Mayor Gordon Oelkers said the town of 714 in Roosevelt County is working with legislators to obtain funding to build a station that will be maintained by the city.

Estimated cost of the station is $3.5 million. The Empire Builder operates between Chicago and Seattle/Portland.

“The platform is what costs all the money,” Oelkers said. “There’d be a ground source heat pump for heated sidewalks, too. There are a lot of rules and regulations with these.”

The costs are expected to include an estimated $2.244 million for an 850 foot by 12 foot platform, and $376,000 for an engineering and architectural design. Other costs would go for a building, parking lot and flagging during construction.

Federal funding from the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act might be available to pay for some of the station costs

Officials have pointed to a feasibility study showing that a station in Culbertson could draw 7,000 passengers a year.