Archive for May, 2016

Report Says TSA Had Not Implemented All Security Measure to Protect Amtrak Passengers

May 25, 2016

The Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that the Transportation Security Administration has not yet implemented all the requirements under a nearly 10-year-old law aimed at protecting Amtrak from terrorist threats.

The investigation found that as a result TSA has only “limited regulatory oversight” to strengthen passenger security at Amtrak.

Homeland Security“Specifically, TSA has not issued regulations to assign rail carriers to high-risk tiers; established a rail training program; and conducted security background checks of frontline rail employees,” the report said. “In the the absence of formal regulations, TSA relies on outreach programs, voluntary initiatives, and recommended measures to assess and improve rail security for Amtrak.”

The OIG said that a “complex federal rulemaking process” has hindered implementation of the federal requirement.

“Although the rulemaking process can be lengthy, TSA has not prioritized the need to implement these rail security requirements,” the report said. “This is evident from TSA’s inability to satisfy these requirements more than eight years after the legislation was passed.”

Homeland Security concurred with the inspector general’s conclusions, which call for:

• The TSA administrator to ensure the agency develops and adheres to a detailed, formal milestone plan to deliver the remaining 9/11 Act notices of proposed rulemaking to DHS.

  • The DHS General Counsel to coordinate with the Office of Management and Budget to expedite the implementation of the remaining passenger-rail requirements as called for in the legislation.
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Amtrak Seeking Developers for CUS Plan

May 25, 2016

Amtrak has taken the next step in redevelopment of Chicago Union Station by asking for responses to a Request For Qualification for a Master Developer for commercial elements

The plan covers the station and adjacent land, a total of 613,075 square feet of property and 1.33 million total square feet of building area.

Amtrak 4“Any development solution envisioned by the selected proposer will need to align with Amtrak operational goals as well as integrate successfully with the surrounding West Loop neighborhood,” Amtrak said in a statement. “It is critical that the Master Developer successfully engage the community and incorporate feedback from West Loop stakeholders into any development plan.”

Amtrak is seeking companies that can provide design, construction, financing and maintenance of non-rail assets.

The company will be expected to identify expansion opportunities and commercial development in the surrounding West Loop neighborhood

“The plan must also harmonize with growing passenger volumes at CUS,” Amtrak said in its statement.

“Amtrak believes that bringing in private equity through a Master Developer can best achieve the desired outcome that optimizes CUS as an asset that serves more than 33 million travelers and commuters per year,” said Executive Vice President Infrastructure Development Stephen Gardner. “We look forward to continued communication with the development community to find a talented partner to assist us in transforming Chicago Union Station into a world-class transportation facility that is further woven into the fabric of the great city in which it resides.”

The Chicago Union Station complex includes the concourse, mezzanine, head house, Amtrak parking garage, and the north and south train sheds.

Ongoing investments made by Amtrak include upgrades to the station’s head house building that included asbestos abatement, sprinkler systems, and installation of air conditioning.

Getting Up Close With Amtrak P42DC No. 156

May 23, 2016
Amtrak No. 156, the Phase I heritage locomotive, led a train of a Viewliner baggage car, an Amfleet II coach, an Amfleet cafe car and a Viewliner sleeper.

Amtrak No. 156, the Phase I heritage locomotive, led a train of a Viewliner baggage car, an Amfleet II coach, an Amfleet cafe car and a Viewliner sleeper.

Until early this month, I had seen Amtrak P42DC just once. That occurred as I was leaving Chicago Union Station aboard the eastbound Capitol Limited and I got a glimpse of the 156 sitting in the coach yard south of the depot.

My memory is that it went out later that night on the point of the eastbound Lake Shore Limited.

I’m one to think that Amtrak’s Phase I livery was its best. In particular, I liked how it looked on the SDP40F locomotives, but the E and F units looked nice in the “pointless arrow” scheme, too.

The Phase I livery did not look so good on GG1 electric motors, but I never saw any of those other than in photographs.

No. 156 has been all over the country, but our paths have never crossed. I’ve seen scores of photographs of it, including some made in Cleveland.

Some guys I know in the Akron Railroad Club have caught No. 156 more than once. I, though, never even had as much as a near miss with the 156.

I didn’t know that it would be in Toledo for this year’s National Train Day event until Friday afternoon before the event when I saw a posting about it on Facebook. Needless to say, that had me quite excited.

My friend Adam and I arrived in Toledo just after 8 a.m. and there was, at long last, the 156.

Yes, I took a lot of photographs of it. To be sure, it was just sitting there, providing hotel power for an Amtrak display train.

But that didn’t matter. It’s nose was open and it looked like it was pulling a train.

Now that I finally have it, the next challenge is to catch it actually leading a train on the road. That might take some time and a little bit of luck as well.

Of course I made a roster shot of Amtrak 156.

Of course I made a roster shot of Amtrak 156.

The nose needs a little touch-up painting to cover some scratches and dings from life on the road.

The nose needs a little touch-up painting to cover some scratches and dings from life on the road.

The passenger side of the platform with the display train.

The passenger side of the platform with the display train.

If the fuel outlet is where the edge of the "pointless arrow" is supposed to go, no problem. Just paint over it.

If the fuel outlet is where the edge of the “pointless arrow” is supposed to go, no problem. Just paint over it.

Detroit-Ann Arbor Commuter Service Idea Revived

May 23, 2016

A Detroit-based public transportation agency is trying to jump start the long dormant idea of instituting commuter rail service between downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority is proposing linking the Detroit-Ann Arbor service with the currently under construction Detroit streetcar network.

SE Michigan RTAThe RTA board is proposing to include the Ann Arbor service as well as bus rapid transit in its Michigan Avenue corridor study.

Lack of funding has stalled development of the 38-mile Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter service, which would use the same tracks used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

Those rails are now mostly owned by the state of Michigan, which several years ago leased passenger cars for use in the service.

To fund the Ann Arbor commuter service, RTA is proposing to include that cost into its November millage request.

If the millage request is approved, RTA officials say the service could begin around 2022 and have an operating cost of $11 million to $19 million.

The service would required $130 million in capital costs to get started, which would include building a maintenance facility.

“It’s a significant connector between Ann Arbor and Detroit,” said Paul Hillegonds, the RTA’s board chairman. “One of the criticisms of rail always is it’s much more expensive than bus rapid transit, but in this case, the existing infrastructure is in place. It makes sense from a cost-effective standpoint, and I think will be very attractive to riders, and I think a very significant economic development tool for the region.”

RTA will present its commuter rail line proposal on May 31 as part of its master plan

The Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter service would operate eight times a day with trips spread out to include morning and afternoon rush hour service as well as afternoon and evening trains.

Intermediate stops would include Ypsilanti, Wayne and Dearborn. Trains would terminate in Detroit in the New Center area.

The Michigan Department of Transportation has spent $7.6 million to overhaul 23 former Chicago Metra bi-level commuter cars, but stopped paying the lease payments on them last year.

RTA estimates it would cost $4,000 per month per car to lease them from current owner Great Lakes Central Railroad. The agency has proposed leasing nine of the cars, which are currently sitting in Owosso, Michigan.

Saying that development of rail, bus rapid transit and other transit options is needed to create an “integrated system” to help people get where they want to go, RTA CEO Michael Ford said that Ann Arbor and Detroit are major hubs for jobs.

“People being able to get back and forth conveniently and quickly,” Ford said. “I think it’s a game-changer in a lot of ways. I know it’s been tried many times before, but having that kind of frequency of service, it’s very important to the region and getting people where they want to go.”

Nippon Sharyo Says it Will Complete Car Order

May 23, 2016

A passenger car builder that has fallen behind schedule on constructing 172 new bi-level cars for Amtrak corridor service in the Midwest and California said it is committed to finishing the project.

Work at the Nippon Sharyo factory in Rochelle, Illinois, ground to a halt last year when a prototype car failed a compression test.

Nippon SharyoNippon Sharyo has laid 98 workers at the plant and the federal funding for the project may be in jeopardy if the order is not completed by Sept. 30, 2017.

In statement published on the website of Trains magazine, the Japanese company said it is still working to resolve engineering issues that caused the prototype car to fail the test.

The statement also said completion of the entire order is likely to be delayed.

“(We) have been diligently working with the customer and stakeholder to remedy the situation while ensuring that all the rigorous FRA safety standards and requirements are met in order to deliver a safe, high quality, 100-percent Buy America compliant car to the customer,” Nippon Sharyo said in the statement.

“Nippon Sharyo is committed to this project and to the growth and success of its manufacturing facility in Rochelle.

Although we are currently facing difficult times, and some temporary labor reductions, we are committed to investing in our workforce, getting production back on schedule, and being successful and prosperous in the near future.”

Pittsburgh Group Pushing Added Amtrak Service

May 23, 2016

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership is supporting efforts to increase the level of Amtrak service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Lucinda Beattie, vice president of transportation for the group, plans to meet with Gov. Tom Wolf to push the service expansion, which she said would cost $10 million to $13 million a year.

“This is a very affordable transportation project,” Beattie said. “This is not an extravagant project. It’s very doable.”

Amtrak logoPittsburgh officials are seeking to increase service from one roundtrip a day to three roundtrips.

Currently, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation underwrites most of the costs of the Pittsburgh-New York Pennsylvanian.

PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said the agency has asked Amtrak how much it would cost to add one train a day and whether it has the needed equipment and track access.

Under a law approved in 2013, the state has about $8 million a year earmarked for rail service but Kirkpatrick said those funds are already allocated.

Amtrak spokesman Mike Tolbert said the passenger carrier is working on a comprehensive study for the state but he wouldn’t discuss any specifics.

“We are working as fast as we can to put together the information,” Tolbert said. “At this point, I do not have a time frame for when that will be done.”

Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership, said additional Amtrak service would also benefit such communities as Greensburg, Latrobe, Johnstown, Altoona, Tyrone, Huntingdon and Lewistown because they have few public transportation options.

Beattie said that the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg route has the second highest percentage of filled seats among Amtrak’s top 17 routes with patronage having increased every year since 2005 when the service fell from two roundstrips to one with the discontinuance of the Three Rivers.

“We think there’s an unmet demand for more service,” she said. “It can only grow so far with one train.”

Beattie also noted that Pennsylvania helps to fund 14 daily trips on the Harrisburg-to-Philadelphia segment of the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia route.

“I’m really looking forward to hearing what the governor has to say about rail, especially service to the western part of the state. [Additional service] would connect parts of the state that aren’t connected now,” she said.

Passenger Car Order at Risk of Losing Funds

May 18, 2016

A project to build 130 passenger cars for use on corridor trains in the Midwest and California is in danger of being sidetracked because it might lose its funding.

Trains magazine reported that the project is in danger of losing $551 in federal funds, which will be returned to the U.S. treasury if not spend by Sept. 30, 2017.

Nippon SharyoThe cars are to be built by Nippon Sharyo in Rochelle, Illinois, but little progress has been made since a prototype car failed a compression test last fall.

A car shell buckled under the compression of the required 800,000 pounds, for reasons that the manufacturer has not yet identified.

In the meantime, Nippon Sharyo has suspended work on the cars and laid off 98 workers.

The company has invested $50 million in the facility as part of a federal law’s “Buy America” provisions.

Bruce Roberts, chief of California’s Division of Rail in the Department of Public Transportation, the agency overseeing the procurement, said Congress could extend the funding, but that seems unlikely.

He said Nippon Sharyo is “actively working” on a redesign of the cars to address the test requirements, and together Caltran, the Illinois transportation department, and the Federal Railroad Administration are “working with (the manufacturer) to explore other funding options.”

Inside a Viewliner Baggage Car

May 16, 2016
The exterior of the Viewliner sleeper on display in Toledo at National Train Day.

The exterior of the Viewliner sleeper on display in Toledo at National Train Day.

Amtrak passengers seldom get an inside look of a baggage car. If you are riding in a coach or sleeper next to a baggage car you might be able to get a glimpse inside the baggage car through the door window of your car.

So it was a rare opportunity during the annual National Train Day festival in Toledo recently to be able to go inside one of the new Viewliner baggage car.

The car has racks to hold luggage but they were locked upright, probably to prevent children from climbing on them.

At one end of the car was a cabinet that can be locked. Someone on a railfan chat list suggested it is or could be used for storing firearms that have been checked as luggage.

The car has the familiar bowed sides of a Viewliner on the inside.

Looking down the middle of the interior.

Looking down the middle of the interior.

Getting a closer look at the luggage racks that were in the up position.

Getting a closer look at the luggage racks that were in the up position.

A locked cabinet sat at one end of the car.

A locked cabinet sat at one end of the car.

The current Amtrak logo on the side of the car.

The current Amtrak logo on the side of the car.

Lake Shore Limited Locomotive Order Revoked

May 11, 2016

Although the Lake Shore Limited continues to operate with just one P42DC locomotive on many days, an earlier Amtrak order to isolate a second unit if it has one has been rescinded.

Amtrak Lake Shore LimitedThe order, which had been effective on April 14, had directed crews to isolate trailing units on Nos. 48 and 49 between Chicago and Buffalo, New York, unless operating conditions required it to provide traction.

The order was originally given in an effort to conserve fuel use.

Late Saturday Night Hiawathas Offered in Summer

May 10, 2016

Starting May 22, Amtrak will offer new Saturday late night round trips between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Hiawatha 2The added Hiawatha Service will extend through Sept. 3, and is being offered in partnership with the Wisconsin and Illinois departments of transportation.

Train 343 will depart Chicago at 11:10 p.m. while Train 344 will depart Milwaukee at 10:40 p.m.

Trains 329 and 330 will operate only on weekdays during this three-month period.

Passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance and take advantage of eTicketing. Boarding documents can be printed at home or at station Quik-Trak kiosks except at Glenview, Illinois.