Archive for July, 2016

Amtrak to Launch New On-board Magazine

July 29, 2016

Amtrak is planning to launch a new on-board magazine that will be distributed nationwide and replace its current publication, Arrive.

Amtrak logoThe magazine will be named The National and is part of a marketing effort by Amtrak to portray itself as a more upscale travel brand.

The National is set to launch in October and will be published bimonthly by Ink, a British travel magazine publisher that plans to emphasize beautiful travel photography and long-form journalism.

“It’s much more about Americana, the view from the train, the whole country,” Ink Chief Executive Simon Leslie said. “There will be stories about things going on around the network and stories about people on the train.”

Amtrak’s current magazine Arrive is oriented toward the Northeast Corridor although it has made its way westward on some long-distance trains such as the Lake Shore Limited.

The staff for The National will be based in New York. Ink publishes custom titles for the London-to-Paris Eurostar train service and for American and United airlines

Such publications often involve little to no cost for the carrier and the publisher makes money from advertising sales. In some instances, the carrier gets a cut of the ad revenue.

The carrier is responsible for placing the magazine in seatbacks.

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STB Rules in 2 Passenger Cases

July 28, 2016

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board this week decided that it would consider on-time arrival and departure at all stations along a passenger train’s route for purposes of assessing on-time performance.

STBThe STB said in a news release that it deem a train to be “on time” if it arrives at or departs from, a station no more than 15 minutes after its scheduled arrival or departure.

In a related decision, the STB said it is withdrawing a proposed policy statement on issues that may arise, and evidence to be presented in proceedings under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 in favor of a case-by-case approach.

“Reflecting careful consideration of an extensive public and stakeholder response to our most recent passenger rail proposals, these decisions will better position the Board to implement its responsibilities under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008,” said Board Chairman Daniel R. Elliott III in a statement. “Improved passenger train on-time performance is an important goal, and the Board’s decisions will support that goal by clarifying the trigger for starting a proceeding, while allowing more complex and detailed issues to be resolved in the context of individual cases.”

Amtrak Workers Collect West Virginia Aid

July 28, 2016

Amtrak employees recently collected donations that were distributed to areas of West Virginia that were hard hit by flooding in late June.

Amtrak logoThe back-to-school supplies and other materials were placed in a baggage car of Amtrak’s New York to Chicago Cardinal and transported to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, for distribution.

The donations were collected at stations and Amtrak facilities in eight cities.

Amtrak worked with the American Red Cross, community organization Neighbors Loving Neighbors, and the West Virginia National Guard to coordinate the donations.

Removal of Dining Cars From Lake Shore Limited Described by Amtrak as Temporary Measure

July 25, 2016

Amtrak has confirmed removing Heritage Fleet dining cars from the Lake Shore Limited and substituting Amfleet II café cars.

Although Amtrak said that table service on linen is being provided, one report from the train posted on a railfan chat list indicated that the silverware was plastic and the meals were pre-pared and merely heated by an attendant.

Amtrak logoAs a safety concern, the Heritage diners, which were built in the streamliner era following World War II, were sidelined due to cracks in their frames.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers reported that the removal of diners from Nos. 48/49 is temporary until new Viewliner diners enter service.

The Amfleet café cars are featuring a menu similar to that of the Cardinal and City of New Orleans, trains that have modified dining service.

NARP said it was told by Amtrak that repairing the cracks would require a major effort to repair. Currently, Amtrak has 12 Heritage diners in service.

The Lake Shore Limited was chosen to lose its Heritage diners because it has the fewest full meal periods of Amtrak’s single-level long- distance trains.

Viewliner dining cars are part of an order of new equipment being built for Amtrak by CAF in Elmira, New York.

Amtrak officials said the Viewliner diners are now in production and CAF is addressing a “punch list” of items that Amtrak has created.

NARP said Amtrak officials expect the new Viewliner diners to enter revenue service as early as late summer, which it defined as August or early September.

NARP said Amtrak has assured the passenger rail advocacy group that once new diners are available, a more conventional dining service would return to the Lake Shore Limited.

New Viewliner sleepers are expected to begin leaving the CAF plant during the fall.

A review of Amtrak’s CAF Viewliner order conducted by the Government Accountability Office found that the cars are three years overdue.

Amtrak ordered 130 cars for $300 million in 2010 and thus far the only cars to be placed into service have been baggage cars.

The order included 25 dining cars. The GAO report said the order won’t likely be completed until at least 2017.

LSL Reroute Rumors Flying

July 25, 2016

The National Association of Railroad Passengers is reporting that rumors have been flying that Amtrak is considering re-routing the Lake Shore Limited through Michigan.

Amtrak Lake Shore LimitedNARP said some reports have the train being rerouted via Detroit, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo as early as this October and that the reroute would be experimental.

Amtrak has acknowledged that such a route is being studied as part of a “very high level analysis of options for the future,” NARP said on its website.

In the NARP hotline feature posted last week, the rail passenger advocacy group said it has heard the Lake Shore rerouting rumors from sources inside and side of Amtrak.

The group noted that the Michigan Department of Transportation has expressed interest in seeing a long distance train between Chicago and the East rerouted through Michigan.

Amtrak for several years ran its Chicago-Toledo Lake Cities via Detroit. Scheduled to connect in Toledo with the Lake Shore Limited, the Lake Cities was discontinued between Toledo and Detroit in April 1995 as part of a route-restructuring.

Amtrak Wolverine Service Train at BO Tower

July 22, 2016
Amtrak No. 351 passes BO Tower in Kalamazoo on a Saturday morning.

Amtrak No. 351 passes BO Tower in Kalamazoo on a Saturday morning.

I was in Kalamazoo, Michigan, recently and had a chance to visit BO (Botsford) Tower and catch some Amtrak action.

My first glimpse of the tower occurred in early evening on a Thursday as we were walking to Bell’s Eccentric Café.

Several years ago a friend had told me about the café, saying you could see from the café the tracks used by Amtrak as well as BO.

The combination of good craft beer, good food and railroads was too much to pass up.

I did see two eastbound trains pass BO as we were eating dinner at Bell’s, but I didn’t bring my camera or the Amtrak schedules so seeing them was a surprise.

That’s unfortunate because there was good late day light and I could have gotten some good images had I done some planning. But I was more focused on eating dinner than photography.

By the way, I highly recommend eating at Bell’s due to its good food and great beer.

The next morning we had breakfast at Food Dance, another Kalamazoo eatery that I highly recommend.

As we sat in the dining room, I had a good view of the former Grand Rapids & Indiana passenger station across the street.

The GR&I was absorbed by the Pennsylvania Railroad and the depot has been nicely restored. The tracks are now owned by the Grand Elk Railroad.

Three times the gates for the Grand Elk crossing of Michigan Avenue came down, but no trains went past.

Perhaps a train was switching nearby, there was a maintainer at work, or the circuit was malfunctioning.

After breakfast, I journeyed over to get photographs of BO Tower. The first westbound Amtrak train of the day had already passed and we didn’t have time to wait around for the next one.

The next day, a Saturday, we checked out of our motel and stopped by BO a third time.

Amtrak No. 351 was due into Kalamazoo at 9:17 a.m. and I made sure I got there in plenty of time.

The Wolverine Service train was reported seven minutes late out of Ann Arbor and it lost six more minutes en route to Kalamazoo.

The lighting conditions were brutal for a westbound train in mid morning. Earlier, the skies had been cloudy to overcast, but by now they had begun breaking up and the sun was out.

It was my only opportunity to photograph Amtrak at BO on this trip. After the passage of No. 351, we had to begin heading home.

No. 351 had five Horizon fleet cars. What was unusual, though, is that it had just one locomotive.

For several years now every Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) train that I’ve seen has had a locomotive on each end and/or a cab car on the west end.

Someone on a railfan chat list said most Wolverine Service trains have been operating with one unit for several weeks.

The trains are apparently is being turned on Canadian National in Pontiac or Detroit.

Someone speculated that the lack of two locomotives on Wolverine Service trains could be due to a shortage of working P42 locomotives.

I’m not sure if BO is in use. I thought I had read something within the past year saying that it had closed.
During one of my three visits I had seen a vehicle parked by the tower, but there were no vehicles there for my other two visits.

I didn’t see anyone inspect the train when No. 351 came past.

Someone on TrainOrders.com said that the conductor on a Wolverine Service train had told him during a June 24 trip that BO still had an operator.

Yet another poster said that BO can be operated remotely, but I’m not sure if that is by a Norfolk Southern dispatcher or an Amtrak dispatcher.

Amtrak owns the rails between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana. A sign west of BO instructs Amtrak crews what radio frequency to use and welcomes them to the Amtrak Michigan Division.

NS sold the track between Kalamazoo and Dearborn to the state of Michigan more than a year ago and I heard the Amtrak crew calling signals on an NS radio frequency.

Whatever the case, BO is mostly boarded up and appears to have received little external maintenance in recent years. It remains a throwback to an era that has all but ended on American railroads.

At one time, BO controlled crossings of the Michigan Central – which Amtrak uses – with three railroads, two of which were New York Central properties.

These included the PRR’s GR&I, the NYC Kalmazoo branch and NYC’s now abandoned Chicago, Kalamazoo & Southern.

I’ve put it on my “to do” list to get back to Kalamazoo and photograph Amtrak passing BO Tower in the evening in better light.

And, of course, I’ll be sure to make a return visit to Bell’s Eccentric Café.

Amtrak's westbound Wolverine Service train will be stopping in the Kalamazoo station momentarily.

Amtrak’s westbound Wolverine Service train will be stopping in the Kalamazoo station momentarily.

BO Tower could use some new paint. The BO sign was put on by Conrail.

BO Tower could use some new paint. The BO sign was put on by Conrail.

The double track former Michigan Central tracks at BO Tower are now owned by the state of Michigan. The crossing track is now owned by Grand Elk Railroad.

The double track former Michigan Central tracks at BO Tower are now owned by the state of Michigan. The crossing track is now owned by Grand Elk Railroad.

Lake Shore Limited Dining Service Modified

July 20, 2016

Online reports indicate that a shortage of Amtrak Heritage Fleet dining cars has led to the institution of a modified dining service on the Lake Shore Limited.

Food service will be provided in two Amfleet II lounge cars with one having been modified to serve as a diner.

Amtrak Lake Shore LimitedA report on TrainOrders.com showed photographs of a series of heritage dining cars sitting in the coach yard in Chicago, reportedly bad ordered due to problems with the car frames.

The cars included No. 8502/8053 (ex-Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Silver Cuisine);  No. 8504/8052 (ex-CB&Q Silver Restaurant); No. 8551/8500/8051 (ex-CB&Q Silver Diner); No. 8552/8508/8047 (ex-Northern Pacific); and No. 8558/8381-2 (ex-Southern).

One poster said Amtrak had ceased making major repairs to the cars because they were expected to be retired upon being replaced by new Viewliner diners that were to be built by CAF. But production of the new cars has been delayed.

Another poster said that Amtrak has a fleet of 19 Heritage Fleet dining cars of which 11 are used at any given time.

That poster said Amtrak has 12 Heritage diners sitting in Chicago with cracks in their center sills.

Reportedly, of the eight Heritage diners still in service, four have been assigned to the New York-Miami Silver Meteor and four to the New York-New Orleans Crescent.

This is not the first time that the Lake Shore Limited has run with Amfleet lounges as dining cars.

Currently, the Lake Shore is operating between Chicago and New York with three sleepers and five coaches. For the remainder of the summer the Boston section continues to operate only between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

One of the Amfleet lounge cars will be used as a lounge and provide snack service.

CUS Madison Entrance Remodeling Beings

July 20, 2016

Renovation of the Madison Street entrance to Chicago Union Station got underway this week, with some parts of the area being fenced off.

Chicago Union StationJones Lang LaSalle, which manages the station, is overseeing the $826,000 project, which will include repairing pavers, stairs and the ceiling. Workers will make other cosmetic improvements to the entrance.

Work is expected to be largely done at night and on weekends to minimize the effect on commuter traffic.

More than 16,000 commuter pass through the Madison entrance on a given weekday.

Performing the work is Chicago-based Bear Construction. The project is expected to take four months to complete.

NY Makes 2nd Attempt at Schnectady Station

July 19, 2016
An artists rendering of the proposed new Amtrak station to be built in Schenectady, New York.

An artist rendering of the proposed new Amtrak station to be built in Schenectady, New York.

The New York State Department of Transportation is making another attempt to build a new Amtrak station in Schenectady, this time breaking the project into two phases.

An earlier effort to build a new depot ended in failure when the low bid received came in $10 million over budget.

The first phase will include demolition of the existing station, which opened in 1979. Bidding for that project will begin on Sept. 22.

The contractor for this phase will also do concrete work for such things as stairway foundations and elevator shafts.

The second phase will be construction of the new station in 2018. Bidding for that contract will begin in autumn 2017 with construction to be done in 2018. The station will open the same year.

“We split it to attract a wider array of bidders. We’re trying to get more bidders who have a good understanding of the project,” said DOT spokeswoman Carol Breen. “We’re having long advertising periods and holding pre-bid meetings to give contractors a chance to ask questions and clarify anything so we’re getting good bids.”

The station will have 10,630 square feet and is expected to have a traditional railroad station appearance.

$5 Kid Tickets Offered for Travel to Missouri State Fair

July 19, 2016

Amtrak is offered a $5 children’s fare keyed to travel to the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia.

The fare applies to up to two children ages 2-12 when accompanied by an adult traveling at the regular fare.

Amtrak Missouri River RunnerThe fares are good on the state-funded Missouri River Runner trains during the fair’s Aug. 11-21 run in Sedalia.

Reservations should be made using discount code V523 through Aug. 20 and must be made at least one day in advance of travel.

Look for the “Deals” tab at Amtrak.com or call Amtrak reservations at 800-USA-RAIL.

The offer is valid for coach seats and is dependent upon availability.

Amtrak’s Sedalia station is located three miles from the fairgrounds and taxi service information will be available on the train and at the station.

The Missouri River Runner also serves St. Louis, Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, Sedalia, Warrensburg, Lee’s Summit, Independence and Kansas City.