Archive for April, 2016

Survey Finds Amtrak Support on Campuses

April 19, 2016

A survey sponsored by the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission found that more than half of the students, faculty and staff at 30 Midwest colleges said they would be willing to ride Amtrak to and from campus if more frequent service was available.

The online survey, which drew nearly 19,200 respondents in nine Midwest states, was conducted between November 2015 and February 2016.

About of a quarter of the respondents said they had never ridden an Amtrak train to and from school.

Amtrak logoSixty-eight percent said they considered passenger trains to be important for the future of transportation in the United States.

The survey found that 65 percent of those who have ridden to school said that Amtrak service is an important resource for them to be able to attend school.

Forty-four percent of those who have not ridden said they’d be willing to do so if there were stations close to their permanent residences.

Another 28 percent said transportation provided by their school to the nearest Amtrak station might motivate them to use passenger rail in the future.

Of respondents who identified themselves, 75 percent were students, 15 percent were staff and 10 percent were faculty. Of student respondents, 90 percent were full time.

“The survey’s encouraging findings are a good first step,” said Tim Hoeffner, MIPRC’s chair and director of the Office of Rail at the Michigan Department of Transportation. “We look forward to working with our partner states, Amtrak and schools in highlighting the advantages of passenger rail for what is clearly a growth market.”

Amtrak, BNSF Sue Kansas Feed Company in Connection with March 14 S.W. Chief Derailment

April 11, 2016

Amtrak and BNSF are suing a Kansas company in connection with a March 14 derailment of the eastbound Southwest Chief.

The laws suit names Cimarron Crossing Feeders and claims that the company engaged in “gross negligence.”

The suit alleges that company employees left a truck “unattended, out of gear and without any brakes applied” when it was loading grain March 13 into March 14.

The truck later rolled downhill, crossed U.S. Highway 50 and struck the side of the railroad BNSF tracks, coming to rest on the tracks, the newspaper reported.

Cimarron was then said to have called for a tow to remove the truck, but did not call BNSF or Amtrak to warn about the damaged track.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation has found that the tracks near the derailment site were a foot or more out of alignment.
Amtrak train No. 4 derailed shortly after midnight near Cimarron, Kansas. Twenty-eight passengers were injured.

Illinois Passenger Advocates Still Optimistic About Amtrak Expansion to Peoria, Quad Cities Region

April 10, 2016

Midwest rail passenger advocates remain optimistic that Amtrak will eventually reach Peoria, Illinois, and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

Speaking at a meeting held in Chicago, Midwest High Speed Rail Association Executive Director Rick Harnish said he is satisfied that the State of Illinois continues to discuss expansion.

“We’re going to expand Amtrak and we need to do it sooner, rather than later,” Harnish said.

The meeting came a year after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed cutting state funding for Amtrak service by 40 percent.

That came amid a budget crisis that still continues. However, the Illinois Department of Transportation in February announced an agreement with Amtrak to maintain service at its present levels until this summer.

Harnish said he has received a commitment from the Rauner administration to provide 110-mile-an-hour service on Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louis corridor in 2017.

He said the widely-held belief that passenger rail is a Democratic issue and opposed by Republicans is a misconception. “It isn’t really that clear-cut,” he said.

Harnish said Republican governors, including Rauner, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have all supported passenger rail expansion programs.

Walker is known for having opposed an expansion of Amtrak service between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, shortly after he was elected in 2010. His administration has been supportive of the current Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

During the meeting, Amtrak officials said the passenger carrier plans to transform Chicago Union Station into a multi-level shopping arcade while moving its ticketing and passenger lounge to the station’s Great Hall in an attempt to eliminate crowding at Amtrak and Metra gates.

NTSB Eyes Damaged Track in Chief Derailment

April 8, 2016
Tire tracks leading to the out of alignment rails at the derailment site of the Southwest Chief.

Tire tracks leading to the out of alignment rails at the derailment site of the Southwest Chief.

Damaged track is the preliminary cause of a March 14 derailment of the Southwest Chief that injured about 30 passengers.

The National Transportation Safety Board said a truck struck the rails near Cimarron, Kansas.

NTSB investigators said railroad ties and tracks were out of their normal positions and established the point of derailment 25 feet beyond that location.

Video from the lead locomotive of the Los Angeles to Chicago train showed abnormal track immediately before the derailment, NTSB officials said in the report.

Investigators also found fresh damage to the north ends of the ties and fresh tire tracks perpendicular to the tracks. Also at the scene were small amount of flaked corn, a type of cattle feed.

The tire tracks led to a feed lot owned by Cimarron Crossing Feeders, where the tread on a 2004 Kenworth International truck matched the tire track impressions at the scene, NTSB officials said.

The truck in question is used to haul flaked corn to feed bins. The truck’s left and right mounting brackets on the front bumper were broken.

The tracks where the derailment occurred are owned by BNSF.

Train No. 4 was traveling at 60 mph — the maximum speed limited in that area — when the engineer applied the  emergency brakes
Amtrak and BNSF have estimated that the track and equipment sustained $1.4 million in damage.

The NTSB said its preliminary findings will be “supplemented or corrected during the course of the investigation.”

Amtrak to Suspend Empire Service Train

April 8, 2016

Amtrak plans to suspend one of its Empire Service trains for more than two months west of Rensselaer, New York, due to CSX track work.

The New York-Niagara Falls train will not operates between Sunday and Wednesday starting April 24 and continuing through July 13.

Amtrak logoAt the request of CSX, Amtrak and the New York State Department of Transportation agreed to the service suspension, which has drawn criticism from the Empire State Passengers Association.

“This is an outrageous service reduction just as the busy spring and summer travel season gets under way to and from upstate cities and tourist destinations,” the passenger advocacy group said on its Facebook page.

New York helps fund service between New York and Niagara Falls, although most trains operate between New York and Albany-Resselaer.

Two roundtrips operate between New York and Niagara Falls. Most of the route is also served by the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited.

Amtrak and the NYSDOT are spending $300 million to lengthen platforms at the Albany-Rensselaer station, install a fourth track at the station complex, build a second track to alleviate congestion between Albany and Schenectady, and upgrade signal and crossing systems between Rensselaer and Poughkeepsie.

1st Charger Locomotive Ready for Testing

April 1, 2016

Siemen announced that its first Charger passenger locomotive has left the factory and will now undergo testing.

The Chargers are designed to operate at speeds up to 125 mph and will be used on various Amtrak corridor services in the Midwest and on the West Coast.

SiemensThe first Charger will be delivered for use in Washington state.

The locomotives have a Cummins QSK95, a 16-cylinder, 95-liter-displacement engine rated at 4,400 horsepower that meets EPA Tier IV emissions standards.

Siemens is building 69 Chargers for the Departments of Transportation in Illinois, California, Michigan, Missouri, Washington State and Maryland.

Brightline, the privately owned and operated express passenger rail service to be offered by Florida East Coast Industries subsidiary All Aboard Florida, has also ordered Charger locomotives

The Chargers are being assembled in Sacramento, California.

AAR Opposes ‘All Stations’ OT Metrics

April 1, 2016

The Association of American Railroads has told the Surface Transportation Board that it opposes use of “all stations metrics” in setting on-time performance standards for passenger trains.

AAR submitted its comments as part of an STB proceeding that was mandated by federal law.

AARInstead of using an “all stations metric” as Amtrak has proposed, AAR said the STB should use those on-time performance metrics that Amtrak and its host railroads have adopted in their operating agreements, if applicable.

“Switching to an all-stations metric would create false positives for investigation because of the back-loading of recovery time in many of Amtrak’s schedules, in addition to conflicting with the operating agreements,” AAR said. “All-stations OTP (on-time performance) is a deficient metric.”

Amtrak has contended that an all-stations metric is the best way to measure on-time performance.

However, the AAR noted that the passenger carrier did not advocate for an all-stations metric in its operating agreements with the freight railroads even though virtually all of the arguments that Amtrak now makes in its comments to the STB were available when it negotiated those agreements.

The on-time standards that the STB is considering would come into play if a passenger carrier such as Amtrak felt that its trains were consistently being delayed by a host railroad.

Amtrak or another passenger carrier could ask the STB to launch an investigation and sanction a railroad if it was found to have violated the on-time performance standards.

In its comments to the STB, AAR noted that most operating agreements measure on-time performance through arrival at the endpoint of each host’s segment or at specified checkpoints rather than at all intermediate stations.

The AAR comments also noted that contrary to the belief of some, Congress has not adopted the all-stations metric for on-time performance in legislation it has adopted over the years, going back to 1976.

In its comments to the STB, Amtrak said an endpoint metric “ignores the experience’ of Amtrak passengers who disembark at an intermediate station.”

In response, the AAR said Amtrak and its host carriers have long recognized that the on-time performance measures in many of their operating agreements and endpoint OTP both provide strongly correlated indications of overall on-time performance on a route, including performance at intermediate stations.

“And in cases where endpoint on-time performance is satisfactory but all-stations on-time performance is not, the immediate focus should not be a full investigation of all operations for the train, but review and consideration of whether recovery time for that train has been appropriately set for the entire route.”

AAR spokesman Ed Greenberg told Railway Age magazine that the nation’s freight railroads recognize the importance of Amtrak.

“We are committed to a reliable passenger rail service,” he said.  “It is a delicate balance in this country where the majority of passenger rail operates on tracks owned by freight railroads, which means trying to find that right transportation mix of serving the needs of passenger rail while ensuring our industry is continuing to meet the shipping requirements of freight customers in moving the country’s economy. Freight railroads take their contractual obligations seriously and comply with the law.”

Greenberg said on-time performance measurement is complicated involves many factors that are negotiated between Amtrak and its host railroads.

Amtrak to Expand Washington Union Station

April 1, 2016

Amtrak said this week that it would undertake a $50 million program to expand the concourse of Union Station in Washington, D.C.

In a news release, Amtrak said the project would result in approximately 20,000 square feet of additional passenger space, nearly doubling the concourse’s current capacity.

The project is in the design phase and will include new restrooms, boarding gates and seating.

Architects will use such features as natural light elements, resulting in a “vastly reconfigured, modernized and unified concourse,” Amtrak officials said.

Amtrak 4A primary purpose of the project is to improve accessibility, circulation, way-finding and multimodal connectivity.  The project is the first under the station’s 2nd Century plan.

Amtrak said it is working with the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, the Federal Railroad Administration and real estate developer Akridge.

“This work and other planned improvements will transform Union Station’s capacity and performance, befitting the vital regional gateway and civic hub the station has become since its redevelopment in 1988,” said Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s executive vice president of Northeast Corridor business development.

Construction will begin this spring with phased work expected to start in 2017.

Union Station is used by Amtrak, Virginia Railway Express and Maryland Area Regional Commuter trains. It is currently operating beyond its capacity.