Archive for April, 2016

Track Work Disrupts Some Lincoln Service Trains

April 29, 2016

Track work being performed by Union Pacific between May 2 and 5 will disrupt Amtrak’s Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains in Illinois with some passengers having to completion a portion of their trip aboard a bus.

Amtrak Texas EagleIn a service advisory Amtrak said trains 301 and 303 will operate normally from Chicago to Springfield, but passengers will ride a bus between Springfield and St. Louis.

The bus schedules will be identical to those of the trains they are replacing and stop at intermediate stations in Illinois at Carlinville and Alton.

Bus service will be provided from St. Louis to Springfield for trains 304 and 306 and passengers continuing north of Springfield will ride a train.

Amtrak said the buses will operate 75 minutes earlier than the corresponding times for Nos. 304 and 306 and serve all intermediate stations.

The Texas Eagle in both directions will depart all stations on its route two hours and 45 minutes later than the times shown in Amtrak’s printed timetables.

Train 21/321 departing Chicago on May 2, 3 and 4 will arrive in San Antonio on May 3, 4 and 5 respectively.

Train 1021 departing Chicago on May 5 will arrive in San Antonio on May 6. No. 421 departing Chicago on May 3 will arrive in Los Angeles on May 5.

N.F. Seeks Retailers for New Amtrak Station

April 29, 2016

Niagara Falls is seeking retail tenants to open shop in the New York state city’s Amtrak station that will open this summer.

The two-story facility now under construction has 4,650 square feet of space available for one or more retailers.

Amtrak 4Retail activities must complement the building and the gorge waterfront location.

City officials say their objective is to establish a food service and retail destination for travelers, tourists and local residents.

If possible, the city wants to promote local food and beverage producers.

The available space has access to interior and exterior public areas, and a full range of utilities. Economic development incentives may be available.

The depot’s first floor will have a public lobby/atrium, and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Interpretive Center.

The Amtrak ticket office and U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection facilities will be housed on the second floor.

Those interested should contact Anthony Vilardo, the city’s director of business development, at 286-4480

Niagara Falls is served by the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf and is the termination and origination point for two Empire Service roundtrips operating to and from New York City.

LSL Operating With 1 Locomotive

April 28, 2016

Reports on a railfan chat list indicate that the Lake Shore Limited is now operating with one locomotive between Chicago and Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

The change was reported to have begun on Tuesday and field reports indicated that that Nos. 48 and 49 each has one locomotive rather than two on that date.

Amtrak Lake Shore LimitedA dual-mode locomotive will pull the Lake Shore Limited between New York and Albany-Rensselaer where one unit has been the practice.

In past years, the motive power between Chicago and Albany-Rensselaer operated through to Boston on Nos. 448 and 449. But the latter trains have operated only between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer for the past year with through passengers having to switch trains in Albany-Rensselaer.

Amtrak has said that construction at the Albany-Rensselaer station has been the reason for operating No. 448/449 as a shuttle train rather than as a through operation to and from Chicago.

Another online report indicated that the Chicago-Boston through cars will not return until early October.

Operating with one locomotive is not an unusual practice at Amtrak, particularly on routes that are relatively flat. Among the trains that have routinely operated with one unit are the City of New Orleans and Texas Eagle.

However, the Chicago-New York Cardinal operates through mountainous West Virginia and it regularly has one locomotive. The Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited also operates with one locomotive during the winter when its consist is reduced.

Recent photographs posted on line show that single-unit running is also taking place on the Silver Star and Silver Meteor between Washington and Miami.

Pets to be Welcome on 5 Midwest Routes

April 27, 2016

Fido and Fluffy will have more trains to ride after Amtrak expands its pets on board program on May 2 to state-supported routes in Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin,

Amtrak logoSmall dogs and cats may be taken aboard in carriers with passengers riding on the Blue Water, Wolverine Service, Pere Marquette, Missouri River Runners and Hiawatha Service trains.

Owners must pay a $25 fee to reserve space for their pet on the train and the animals must meet the following requirements:

  • The maximum weight of a pet including the carrier is limited to 20 pounds.
  • Owners can reserve a space for their pet for a $25 fee with a limit of one pet per passenger.
  • For the safety and comfort of all passengers, pets must remain in a carrier at all times and carriers must remain under the seat of that passenger.
  • All five pet reservations are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Amtrak began a pilot program in Illinois in 2014 of carrying pets with their owners. The passenger carrier said that more than 6,300 pets have come aboard Amtrak since then.

The pets aboard trains program was expanded to Northeast Corridor routes last October and to many long-distance trains earlier this year.

Wolverine Schedules Changed for Track Work

April 27, 2016

Amtrak’s Wolverine Service schedules have been modified to accommodate summer track and signal work as part of the Michigan Accelerated Rail Program.

Amtrak logoThe program, which seeks to create a smoother ride as well as prepare for an expansion of 110-mph service, is being overseen by the Michigan Department of Transportation, which owns much of the route used by the Wolverines between Detroit and Battle Creek.

The temporary schedules will be in effect between April 25 and Sept. 23.

The most significant change will affect train 352 which will operate only from Chicago to Battle Creek, Michigan, on Monday through Saturday.

The train, which is scheduled to depart Chicago at 7:10 a.m., will resume its Chicago-Pontiac, Michigan, route on Sundays.

To pick up the slack, Amtrak has scheduled an extra train from Chicago to Pontiac that will operate Monday through Saturday.

No. 358 will depart Chicago at 4:30 p.m. and arrive in Pontiac at 12:11 a.m.

The equipment making up train 352 will turn at Battle Creek Monday through Saturday to become train 357, departing at 12:25 p.m. and arriving in Chicago at 2:30 p.m.

Other Wolverine Service trains will operate on slightly different schedules.

The schedules of the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water and Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette will not be affected.

Another Railroad Tradition Bites the Dust

April 25, 2016

Perhaps it was inevitable. Airlines haven’t issued timetables for years so it was a matter of time before Amtrak followed suit because there was money to be saved.

Last week Amtrak said it would no longer print its system timetable. It will continue to create a system timetable as a PDF file that you can download from the rail passenger carrier’s website.

It also will continue to print route-specific folders that will be available at some stations and aboard trains.

You could summarize the reason for ending printing of the national timetable in two words: changing times.

But what, exactly, changed?

In a statement Amtrak said it was its patrons. “Surveys have revealed that few customers want or use the printed System Timetable and expressed a preference to access information on-line,” Amtrak said in a statement.

It also said that “schedules, policies, and programs are ever-changing, and it’s impossible to keep the printed document up-to-date.”

The latter assertion is blowing smoke. Routes rarely change and the vast majority of schedule changes are temporary adjustments made when a host railroad is undergoing major track work.

Amtrak also cited being “environmentally friendly,” which has become a catch-all excuse used by every company in America when it is trying to cut and/or shift the costs of printing to its customers.

Saving itself some money is, I suspect, a primary reason for ending the printed system timetable. Amtrak of late has seen its patronage drop and has been looking for ways to cut expenses.

Ending the printing of the system timetable will save some money, although it probably won’t be a substantial amount.

But it will be one more thing that Amtrak can put on a list when it goes before Congress to show that it has been fiscally responsible.

If the surveys – the results of which we will likely never see – really do reveal that few passengers want or use the national timetable, it is not difficult to understand why.

Aside from the trend toward using smart phones as a primary way of accessing the Internet, the system timetable is bulky and inconvenient to use on the go.

It won’t easily fit in a pocket and the typical traveler probably doesn’t care about schedules for any route other than the one he or she is traveling.

Much of the time if you wanted a system timetable you had to ask for it because they seldom were placed in a rack for distribution.

The system timetable hasn’t always been as large or even as attractive as it has been in recent years.

Although Amtrak timetables have always had a color cover, the interiors were often bare bones offerings of page after page of schedules printed on newsprint paper.

Today’s Amtrak system timetable features color printing and photographs along with numerous display advertisements.

I had always presumed that the revenue from those advertisements paid for the expense of printing the timetable. If so, they didn’t pay for it enough, apparently.

I’ve always been a fan of timetables and I have a near complete collection of Amtrak system timetables dating to the first one issued on May 1, 1971.

I enjoy leafing through the timetable as a way of vicariously traveling by train to countless places in America.

I could still do that, but it won’t be as convenient. I would have to collect all of the route folders and that won’t be easy to do.

In my experience, Amtrak tends to distribute route folders by region, so the Cleveland Amtrak station is not likely to have folders for routes on the West Coast.

Ending the printed system timetable might draw a few letters or emails of protest, but that isn’t likely to have any effect. In the end, Amtrak is probably correct that few passengers care or use the system timetable.

And so another railroad tradition falls by the wayside and I’m going to miss it.

Amtrak to Cease Printing National Timetables

April 24, 2016

Amtrak said last week that it will no longer print a national timetable although it will continue to assemble one and make it available as a downloadable PDF file at its website.

“Surveys have revealed that few customers want or use the printed System Timetable and expressed a preference to access information on-line,” Amtrak said in a statement.

Amtrak logoIndividual route folders will continue to be printed and made available. The passenger carrier also conceded that dropping the printing of the national timetable was also done as a cost-cutting move.

Amtrak is among the last transportation providers to publish a system timetable. Most airlines ceased doing it years ago.

The most recent Amtrak national timetable was released on Jan. 11 and had a press run of 300,000 copies.

At one time, the press run for the national timetable was 500,000 copies.

Amtrak to Pull Prince, WV, Ticket Agent

April 24, 2016

Amtrak is removing its ticket agent from the Prince, West Virginia, station, which is served by the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Although Prince is a village of 116, its station serves as the gateway to Beckley, located 12 miles to the west.

Amtrak 4 “The business model for ticketing has changed; cash sales are down because people are buying online. Printing tickets at stations is also down. Customers are printing travel documents at home or using their computers and smartphones,” said Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods. “More than seven out of 10 Amtrak tickets are being booked and purchased via the self-service channels.”

The station will have a caretaker who will open and close the station for scheduled arrivals and departures three days a week

The station was built in 1946 by the Chesapeake & Ohio. Amtrak recently finished a $1.5 million renovation of the depot to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The station features large plate glass windows, terrazzo flooring and high ceilings. It was a one-of-a-kind prototype for other stations that were never built to the same specifications.

The Prince station handled 2,925 passengers in 2015.

Amtrak Thruway Bus Routes Now Serve Wichita

April 20, 2016

An Amtrak Thruway Bus connection has been established to link Wichita, Kansas, with the Southwest Chief and Heartland Flyer.

The bus will connect with Nos. 3 and 4 at Newton, Kansas, and with Nos. 821 and 822 in Oklahoma City.

The buses will call at the bus station in Wichita at 312 S. Broadway St. The bus service is being operated by Village Tours of Wichita.

Wichita has been without Amtrak service since the discontinuance of the Chicago-Houston Lone Star in early October 1979.

CSX Track Work to Affect Amtrak in New York

April 20, 2016

Amtrak has announced that some trains operating in New York State will have modified schedules due to CSX track work between April 24 and July 13.

Travel times between Albany-Rensselaer and Niagara Falls will increase by up to 25 minutes. Empire Service Nos. 284 and 281 will not operate Sunday through Wednesday.

Amtrak logoAlthough the number of trains operating between New York and Albany-Rensselaer and New York will not change, some trains will depart earlier.

Some trains will detour between Albany and Amsterdam via Colonie on April 24 and 25. Those set to take this route include the eastbound Lake Shore Limited, the Maple Leaf in both directions and No. 283. No. 282 will use the detour route on April 25 only.

No. 48 will stop in Amsterdam on both days. This train does not serve Amsterdam otherwise.