Archive for March, 2016

20 Hurt in SW Chief Derailment in Kansas

March 14, 2016

Approximately 20 people were treated at hospitals after the eastbound Southwest Chief derailed just after midnight in southwestern Kansas.

Media reports indicated that five Superliner cars had turned over onto their sides. Amtrak said that 140 were aboard the Los Angeles to Chicago train at the time of the derailment.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2The accident occurred 20 miles west of Dodge City in Gray County alongside U.S. Route 50. Western Plains Medical Complex in Dodge City said it was treating passengers in its emergency room. The hospital said none of those treated thus far had suffered critical injuries.

Some passengers were taken to St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City, all of whom were reported to have suffered minor injuries.

Amtrak said that those aboard No. 4 included 128 passengers and 14 crew members. The train had two locomotives and nine cars. The train was traveling on tracks owned by BNSF

Passengers not taken for medical treatment were transported to the 4-H Recreation Center in Cimarron. The Red Cress and other relief agencies were providing blankets, drinks and snacks until Amtrak arranged for alternative transportation.

Amtrak said that the westbound Southwest Chief would detour from Newton, Kansas, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for trains originating March 13 and 14.

Boston LSL Section to Remain Shuttle Train

March 14, 2016

The Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited will continue to be a shuttle train for a while longer.

The National Association of Railroad passengers reported that No. 448/449 will not resume operating between Chicago and Boston on April 1 as earlier planned.

Amtrak Lake Shore LimitedNARP said that platform construction and the installation of new switches at the station in Albany-Rensselaer, New York, will take some tracks out of service during the coming months.

Since early 2015, Nos. 448/449 have been operating only between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer with through passengers having to make an across-the-platform connection.

The Boston section has provided coach and café service.  The full-serving dining car and three Viewliner sleepers have been operating on the New York section of the Lake Shore Limited.

Amtrak to Begin Testing New Viewliners

March 14, 2016

Amtrak expected to begin testing within the next month two new Viewliner dining cars, sleeping cars and baggage-dorm cars.

The new cars were constructed by CAF USA at its plant in Elmira Heights, New York.

The cars are expected to be placed into limited revenue service in the coming months.

Amtrak has been taking initial delivery of cars build by CAF at the Amtrak maintenance facility in Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

MDOT Changes Mind, Will Consider Creating Stop in Ypsilanti for Amtrak’s Wolverine Service Trains

March 11, 2016

The Michigan Department of Transportation has changed its mind and will consider supporting efforts to make Ypsilanti a stop of Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

MDOT and Amtrak had earlier said they would not consider the idea, but state transportation officials now say that a recent study supported establishing an Amtrak stop in Ypsilanti.

Amtrak trains would stop at or near the former Michigan Central depot.

Amtrak 4Local officials said there is still much design work to do and additional approvals that must be obtained.

Mayor Amanda Edmonds said it still might be a while before any of the six Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) trains begin stopping in Ypsilanti.

“It’s taken years, with many allies along the way, to get us to the point we are now,” she said. “But, the journey is far from complete and our end goal is not guaranteed.”

The design work includes planning an ADA-compliant platform that meets specifications provided by MDOT, the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak and Norfolk Southern. The city also must close several railroad crossings.

The platform is likely to be built near a former railroad freight house. City officials also must address issues regarding parking, traffic, site plans and other infrastructure issues that need to be addressed.

Amtrak served Ypsilanti between Jan. 20, 1975, and April 28, 1985.

Maysville To Use Grant to Upgrade Station

March 11, 2016

Marysville, Kentucky, officials are planning to use a $800,000 federal grant to, in part, renovate the city’s Amtrak station.

The funds will be added to the $250,000 that Amtrak has said it would spend on the depot, which is served by the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

KentuckyMaysville City Manager Ray Young said the city will contribute $160,000 to the station renovation project, much of it in in-kind labor.

Among the improvements planned for the depot are an accessible walkway from the public right of way to the station, ADA-compliant parking spaces, replacement of the walkway serving a second track, a new station-based manual lift enclosure, new ADA-compliant entrances to the station as well as an ADA-compliant restroom, city identifier signs on the platform and ADA-required signs for the station and parking lot.

Young expects the station project to be completed by early fall. At that point the city will decide how to use the federal grant funds for other station improvements. Those might include tuck pointing the exterior checking the condition of the roof and making cosmetic improvements.

CAF Production Slowdown Behind Delays in Delivering New Viewliner Cars to Amtrak

March 9, 2016

Delivery of new Amtrak Viewliner cars being built by CAF USA have fallen behind schedule due in part to CAF’s decision to unilaterally slow production of the cars and mechanical defects found in the cars, a report from the Amtrak Office of Inspector General has found.

The report said that the delivery delays are likely to continue as well as increase the cost of the project beyond the original budget.

Amtrak logo“Through December 2015, the delays have resulted in an estimated $7 million increase in overall project costs and a deferral of about $3.7 million in benefits the company expected to accrue from having the cars in revenue service,” the report said. “Our analysis indicates that cost increases and benefit deferrals will continue as the project falls further behind its original schedule.”

The reduction in production at the CAF factory in Elmira, New York, has meant that delivery of the order of 130 cars will not be completed until March 2017, which is two years beyond the original due date. Even that due date is subject to further slippage.

Thus far only baggage cars have been completed and placed into revenue service. Among the key findings of the inspector general’s report are:

  • Weaknesses occurred in CAF’s process for identifying a variety of defects in the baggage cars.
  • Quality issues cropped up with the initial construction of the diner, baggage dormitory and sleeping cars, which are more technically difficult to produce than the baggage cars.
  • Amtrak has experienced project management challenges in addressing these issues. While actions taken by the mechanical department and procurement office resulted in improvements in the daily management of the project, other opportunities exist to improve project management and further mitigate risk by clarifying project accountability, enforcing contract terms and developing a risk mitigation plan.

The report said that Amtrak management has agreed with the recommendations made by the inspector general to address the problems.

Amtrak signed a contract with CAF in 2010 to produce the cars, which were intended to replace equipment now assigned to long-distance trains.

Although most of the Viewliner order was intended for eastern single-level trains, the baggage cars have been assigned to trains throughout the country. The cars were originally scheduled to be completed in November 2014.

The budget for the new equipment was $343 million, which included $300 million to purchase the cars, $29 million for spare parts and $14 million in project management costs.

Amtrak had through December spent sent about $195 million on the project.

CAF and Amtrak agreed in June 2014 to change the order to include 70 baggage cars, 25 diners, 10 baggage-dormitory cars and 25 sleepers. The last cars in the order were given a new delivery due date of no later than April 2016.

A revised timetable negotiated in December 2015 and subject to re-negotiation this year has pushed the final delivery date to March 2017.

For its part, CAF contends that it will lose $41 million on the contract due to having to restructure a contract with a key supplier that is having financial difficulties. The complete report can be found at:

Click to access CAF%20Final%20Report%2020160201.pdf

Hoosier State Offering Discount Fares for Children, Students Through Late May

March 9, 2016

Free and discounted tickets are being offered aboard the Hoosier State for children and students.

One child under age 12 may ride the quad weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train when an adult purchases a full price coach ticket using code V416.

InDOTThe student fares offer discounts of up to 30 percent off on coach fares and must use code V805.

Both fare plans require a ticket purchase at least three days in advance and are good for travel through the end of May.

Tickets can be purchased at or from Amtrak.

The Hoosier State is funded by the Indiana Department of Transportation and online communities.

IDOT reported this week that during February the Hoosier State posted a 93.9 percent on time performance.

In the months since October 2015, INDOT said in a news release, the train’s on-time performance has averaged 86.2 percent.

If You Want to be Ontime Aboard Amtrak, Then You Need to Get on or Off at an Endpoint City

March 9, 2016

Only once have I lived in an Amtrak endpoint city. Otherwise, I’ve lived in places at or near an intermediate station.

I mention that because in my experience your best chance for an on-time arrival or departure is at an endpoint city.

For 20 years I rode Amtrak twice a year to visit my dad when he lived in downstate Illinois.

The westbound Capitol Limited or Lake Shore Limited typically arrived late into Cleveland, but on several occasions No. 29 or Nol 49 were on-time or even early arriving into Chicago Union Station, where both terminate.

My connecting train, the Illini, almost always departed Chicago on time, but more often than not arrived late at my destination of Mattoon, Illinois.

I’ve observed this phenomenon on other routes, too. In May 2014, I rode the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle.

On TransportationWe left Chicago 1 hour, 12 minutes late due to being held for a more than four-hour late arriving Lake Shore Limited.

During the 2,200-mile journey we were upwards of two hours late at times, but arrived into Seattle 15 minutes early.

How was that possible?

The short answer is what Amtrak euphemistically calls “recovery time.”

It is built into the schedule to enable a late Amtrak train to make up time before arriving at an endpoint city.

You often find recovery time by examining the running time between an endpoint city and the next station.

The running time of the Capitol Limited from South Bend, Indiana, to Chicago is 1 hour, 54 minutes. The running time from Chicago to South Bend is 1 hour, 29 minutes.

For the Lake Shore Limited, the running time from South Bend to Chicago is two minutes longer, but exactly the same from Chicago as the Capitol Limited.

The City of New Orleans has a running time of 49 minutes from Chicago to Homewood, Illinois, a distance of 24 miles. Yet its inbound counterpart “needs” 1 hour, 16 minutes to travel the same distance.

As this is written, Amtrak and its host railroads are sparring in a rule-making proceeding by the Surface Transportation Board over on-time standards.

A 1973 federal law gives preference to passenger trains over freight trains and Amtrak is arguing for an absolute interpretation of that standard. The Association of American Railroads sees it differently.

The STB is not going to get involved in every instance in which an Amtrak train is late.

Rather, the issue is a repeated pattern of a host railroad favoring freight trains over passenger trains and/or the host railroad’s repeated failure to dispatch Amtrak trains in a manner that results in on-time performance.

Amtrak argues that when a train arrives or departs at intermediate stations should be taken into account when considering if a host railroad has engaged in a pattern of preferring its freight trains over passenger trains.

The ARR counters that Amtrak schedules are unrealistic given the operating and physical characteristics of today’s railroads.

Both parties want to have it both ways. It’s a bit cheeky for Amtrak to talk about on-time performance at intermediate stations when its own schedules are skewed in favor of endpoint cities.

When Amtrak and the State of Illinois were negotiating a contract a few years ago for the state to fund certain corridor trains, Amtrak refused to agree to an on-time standard for intermediate cities, insisting that only arrival and departure times from originating cities and terminus cities be included in the standard.

In short, if the Illini is late arriving in Mattoon, tough luck. Illinois only can reduce its payments to Amtrak if the Illini is late arriving in Carbondale or Chicago.

The AAR brief might have you believe that Amtrak imposes its schedules upon its host railroads.

The same brief mentions that individual railroads have negotiated agreements with Amtrak pertaining to on-time performance.

I find it hard to believe that any host railroad that has an “incentive” contract for Amtrak on-time performance would not have a major say in Amtrak schedules over its line.

Recovery time exists in part to benefit the host railroad so that it has a better chance of earning incentive payments.

The STB proceeding is about rules that may or may not have mean much in the daily performance of any given train on any given day.

Like any legal rules, the on-time standards the STB is considering would only come into play if Amtrak initiates a proceeding against a host railroad as it has done with Canadian National over its handling of Amtrak trains between Chicago and Carbondale.

Obviously, each party wants the rules slanted in favor of its own interests and positions of strength.

Amtrak hopes that if the rules favor it that will encourage host railroads to give Amtrak the benefit of the doubt more often than not when passenger trains and freight trains are in conflict.

From a passenger perspective, Amtrak’s position has appeal. The eastbound Capitol Limited is scheduled to arrive in Cleveland at 1:45 a.m. If it arrives at 2:15 a.m., it is a half-hour late as far as passengers getting off are concerned. It doesn’t matter that it arrived in Washington on time.

The interests of passengers might seem to be central to the STB proceedings but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Amtrak has already decided that although all passengers have an interest in arriving and departing on time, the interests of some passengers outweigh those of others.

That is why it is advantageous to get on at an originating city and get off at the end of the line. You’re more likely to leave and arrive when the schedules says that you will.

Amtrak Cancels National Train Day

March 7, 2016

Amtrak is doing away with its annual National Train Day celebration, citing financial reasons.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the Amtrak Exhibit Train tour this year would continue.

Amtrak logoNational Train Day began in 2008 as a way to celebrate the history of railroads as well as the tout the advantage of travel by train.

It has traditionally been held on the Saturday closest to the May 10 anniversary of the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad in 1869.

Events have been held at Amtrak stations, tourist railroads and railroad museums. Some of the larger events have featured equipment.

Between 2008 and 2012 the event would feature an official celebrity spokesperson appearing at a single event.

Last year, Amtrak retooled the event and began calling it Amtrak Train Days with a format of a series of events held in multiple cities throughout the year except during the winter.

It is not clear what will happen to the various local train day events.

Rugby, ND, to Lose Amtrak Station Agent

March 5, 2016

The Amtrak station agent in Rugby, North Dakota, will be removed on June 1.

Amtrak Empire BuilderAmtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the agent will transfer to Minot, North Dakota, and the Rugby station will be overseen by a caretaker.

Magliari attributed the change in Rugby to a higher volume of train passengers obtaining tickets online.

Rugby is served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The city thus will join Stanley, Devils Lake and Grand Forks in the ranks of Amtrak stations in North Dakota that do not have a ticket agent.