Archive for August, 2016

View From the Cab in Springfield

August 31, 2016

SPI-09 c-x

It was already warm as I waited in late morning on a Sunday in June 1977 for the arrival of the westbound Inter-American in Springfield, Illinois. No. 21 was still being pulled by SDP40F locomotives photographing that was my primary objective.

I don’t recall if the train was late or on time. It arrived behind a single locomotive and stopped. After getting an external photo that didn’t turn out all that well, I asked the engineer if I could come up to photograph inside the cab.

He was an older gentlemen who probably ranked high on the seniority list. At the time, he was an Illinois Central Gulf employee but would have begun his career with the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio or maybe even the Chicago & Alton.

This is one of three images that I made inside the cab. The view is looking southward toward St. Louis from the fireman’s side.

That is the East Adams Street crossing directly ahead. Beyond that is East Monroe Street and then the tracks cross over East Capitol Avenue on a bridge.

Much has changed since this image was made 39 years ago. The ex-GM&O tracks are now owned by Union Pacific and there is just one track now through downtown Springfield.

The Inter-American is now the Texas Eagle and no longer operates south of San Antonio to Neuvo Laredo, Texas, as it did in 1977.

The SDP40F motive power was replaced with F40PH locomotives and Amfleet equipment about two months after my visit.

Officials want to remove these tracks and reroute Amtrak to another path that has far fewer grade crossings.

Like so many other photographs made many years ago, this one is full of reminders of how things have changed as well as how they haven’t.

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Chance Meeting of 2 Amtrak Trains

August 30, 2016

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Amtrak trains pass each other every day on every route, so the practice is common. It can be tricky, though, to know where two trains are going to pass on any given day.

Yes, you can determine the likely meeting places based on schedules and how the trains are operating that day. That’s easier to do on single track territory with a set number of passing sidings, but calculating a meeting point can be complicated on a double-track mainline.

Back in early August 2008 I was in Mendota, Illinois, to photograph the westbound Carl Sandburg and the eastbound Illinois Zephyr, which were scheduled into there seven minutes apart.

The Zephyr was running late and the Sandburg reached the station first. No. 381 had scarcely came to a halt when No. 380 came around the curve.

Perhaps this type of meet happens frequently in Mendota, but it was a lucky break for me.

 

K.C. Union Station Upgrades Get Underway

August 30, 2016

Construction has begun to renovate the East Public Transit area of Kansas City Union Station to provide better access to the new downtown streetcar system, RideKC buses and Amtrak.

MissouriThe changes will include single-level platform modifications to make them ADA compliant, additional seating areas, a lighted pathway to and from Union Station, and enhanced landscaping with public art displays.

Work is expected to be completed by early November with the streetcar platform expected to open first.

Officials said that access to the Union Station streetcar stop will not be blocked during construction.

Permanent aluminum and bronze sculptures will be installed to serve as one of several focal points in the renovated area.

Kansas City Union Station is served by Amtrak Missouri River Runner trains between St. Louis and Kansas City and the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

 

Pa. Lawmaker Optimistic About Added Service

August 30, 2016

A Pennsylvania lawmaker is predicting that additional Amtrak service could begin in western Pennsylvania within a year.

Amtrak logoUsing a football anology, Bryan Barbin, a Johnstown Democrat, said that additional trains are not at the first and goal position yet, but are five yards or less away from the goal line.

Barbin serves on the House Transportation Committee and spoke with Pennsylvania news media after a meeting of that committee.

He said Norfolk Southern will soon tell the state how much it would cost to increase passenger service.

Currently, the route between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg is served only by the daily New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian. The region has been lobbying for years for increased service.

Although expanded service has support on both sides of the political aisle, lawmakers say that the price and technical details must still be negotiated.

“This won’t come to a matter of if, but how much it costs,” Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, said.

Lawmakers might gulp if NS demands costly new switches and track improvements.

“You’ve got to take one step at a time,” Barbin said. “But what do you need to make the western corridor more like the eastern corridor? You’d have to make improvements on both sides of the Allegheny Mountain.”

He said federal grants could help cover the costs for track improvements.

“Any time you have a tight budget like we have, it’s never small potatoes. But it’s possible to do it,” Barbin said.

Expanded rail passenger service to Pittsburgh has the support of Pittsburgh city government, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and the Blair County Chamber of Commerce.

Barbin said some in western Pennsylvania have been contrasting the paltry level of rail service in their end of the state with the scale of commuter rail operations in eastern Pennsylvania, particularly the Keystone Service trains from Harrisburg to Philadelphia and New York.

IP Looking to the Future as it Celebrates First Year of Operating Chicago-Indy Hoosier State

August 29, 2016

Operation of the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State by Iowa Pacific Holdings has reached the end of the first year of a two-year trial and the results are promising and concerning.

Iowa PacificUnder IP oversight, the average on-time performance has been 86 percent, which was better than the OT average of Amtrak trains of between 60 to 65 percent.

Ridership, though, has fallen by 11 percent since IP took over the quad-weekly train from Amtrak on Aug. 2, 2015.

The Hoosier State was racking up financial losses that were on track to reach $2 million for the year.

On the other hand, ticket revenue has increased by 26 percent and during June the Hoosier State even turned a small profit on the strength of increases in patronage and revenue.

IP head Ed Ellis has attributed that turnaround to growth in business class passengers, who pay a premium to receive food and beverage service while riding in a dome car.

The Chicago-Indianapolis route is different in that IP and Amtrak both provide service.

Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal uses the route and the Hoosier State operates on days that the Cardinal does not.

Ellis told West Lafayette radio station WBAA that the improved timekeeping is a result of establishing personal relationships with Amtrak and every freight rail that hosts the train.

“I think, if nothing else, just that level of daily attention has caused everybody else to pay daily attention to the train and has solved the problem,” Ellis said.

For its part, IP has focused on ensuring that the equipment is ready to go at departure time, thus eliminating late departures that can have a ripple effect.

“ . .  . it’s when trains get out of slot that you get more host-related delays because they need to run freight trains. So leaving on time is important,” Ellis said.

The Hoosier State is not solely an IP train. Amtrak provides under contract the operating employees and does servicing in Chicago and Indianapolis.

IP provides the equipment and handles marketing and promotion although the train is shown on the Amtrak website and Amtrak sells tickets for it.

Funding comes from the Indiana Department of Transportation and five communities along the route of the train.

The Hoosier State costs about $2.7 million annually to operate. Eventually, all of the parties concerned would like to see it become more self-supporting financially. They would also like to see more service on the route.

But Ellis said that will require additional sidings and signal work on the mostly-CSX route that would need to be paid for by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

“I think it’s obvious we need more trains, and the only way to do that is for the state to go to the freight railroads and say, ‘What does it take,’ and for the railroads to give us all a number and for us to decide if we can afford to do that,’ ” Ellis said.

If Ellis had his way, he would create a new route into Chicago and even use a different terminal.

What he has in mind is building a connection in Blue Island between the Metra line from Joliet to the La Salle Street Station and the former Grand Trunk Western mainline that CSX now operates.

Writing on Train Orders.com, Ellis said that and other improvements could cost $500 million and cut the Chicago-Indianapolis running time to 3 hours, 20 minutes.

Ellis would also like to operate three daily roundtrips between the two cities.

He said he wants to trade Chicago terminals because Union Station is crowded but La Salle Street is not.

A new Chicago routing would eliminate running on tracks owned by Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and the Belt Railway of Chicago. In the process, IP would gain a faster route into Chicago and eliminate a congestion- prone junction with the Indiana Harbor Belt in Dolton.

If the money was available today Ellis figures it would take a year to 18 months to complete the track improvement work. Given the realities of the situation he said it would more likely take until 2020 to get the improvements made and train frequencies increased.

“There is a lot of spade work that has to be done between INDOT, the [Indiana] legislature and CSX on infrastructure improvement,” Ellis wrote on TO.

But he sees progress, noting that revenue in July 2016 was 70 percent over that of the same month in 2015.

“  . . . so the effects of improved service are beginning to take hold.  But there is a long way to go,” he said.

Continued political support for Hoosier State funding appears to be building.

Indiana lawmaker Tim Brown, a Crawfordsville Republican, is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the state’s biennial budget.

He admits to having been skeptical at first about funding intercity rail passenger service, but after riding the Hoosier State he came away with a favorable impression.

“This experience showed me there is a desire, there is interest in continuing it and growing it, and so I’m more convinced now than two years ago that it’s more appropriate to continue funding,” Brown told WBAA.

Brown said that although it is too early to say how much will be allotted for the Hoosier State when the next budget is hammered out in 2017, he expects legislators to approve a line item for passenger rail in the INDOT budget.

Texas Eagle to Detour in Illinois in September

August 26, 2016

Track work on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor in September will result in the cancellation of some Lincoln Service trains and detours for the Texas Eagle.

300px-Lincoln_Service_map.svgIn some instances, Amtrak said it would provide alternative service on chartered buses between St. Louis and Springfield, Illinois. The dates and trains affected are:

Train 305 on Sept. 5, 6, 15 and 16 will operate Chicago and Springfield only. Bus service will be provided from Springfield to Carlinville, Alton and St. Louis.

Trains 301 and 303 will operate between Chicago and Springfield only on September 6, 7, 16 and 17. Bus service will be provided from Springfield to Carlinville, Alton and St. Louis.

On the same dates, Trains 302, 304 and 306 will be replaced with chartered buses from St. Louis to Alton, Carlinville and Springfield. At Springfield, passengers can board their respective trains.

Train 300 will be cancelled on Sept. 10 and 11 and bus service will not be provided.

Trains 301, 302 and 303 will be cancelled on Sept. 10 and 11 with bus service being provided at all stations on the route.

The Texas Eagle will detour between Chicago and St. Louis on Sept. 6, 7, 10, 11, 16 and 17. These dates are for departures from Chicago and St. Louis and not for dates for departures from Texas stations.

The detour will be via the former Chicago & Eastern Illinois mainline via Pana, Sullivan, Tuscola and Villa Grove, Illinois.

BNSF Track Work to Cancel Heartland Flyer

August 26, 2016

BNSF track work will affect operations of the Heartland Flyer between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, in September.

Heartland FlyerAmtrak said Train 822 will be cancelled on Sept. 18. Passengers will be provided bus service at all stations on the route.

Train 821 will be cancelled on Sept. 19 with passengers riding a chartered bus. On both dates, bicycles will not be accepted aboard the buses.

Amtrak also reminds passengers that new schedules for Nos. 821/822 are now in effect. The primary change is that Train 822 now departs earlier at stations from Gainesville, Texas, to Oklahoma City.

Moorman to be Next Amtrak President

August 19, 2016

Former Norfolk Southern head Charles W. “Wick” Moorman has agreed to become president of Amtrak effective Sept. 1.

Moorman, who retired as president and CEO of NS in 2015, will replace Joseph Boardman.

Amtrak logoIn announcing Moorman’s appointment, Amtrak said he had agreed to take a $1 yearly salary but will be eligible for a $500,000 annual bonus if meets specified performance goals.

Moorman would be the third Amtrak head to take over after serving as president of a Class I railroad.

Graham Claytor Jr. served as Amtrak president from 1982 to 1993 having previously been president of the Southern Railway.

Alan Boyd was president of Amtrak between 1978 and 1982 had been president of the Illinois Central Railroad.

“I view this as public service,” Moorman told Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono. “Amtrak is important to the freight rail carriers, and to the country. This is something I really want to do, and I believe I can contribute to making Amtrak a better railroad. I’m sure the work will be interesting, and I hope it will be fun as well.”

Moorman said he did not take the job for the money or because he had been unhappy in retirement.

In a news release, Moorman said he agreed to take the position because, “it is an honor and privilege to take on the role of CEO at Amtrak, and I look forward to working with its dedicated employees to find ways to provide even better service to our passengers and the nation. At Norfolk Southern, our team fostered change by placing a solid emphasis on performance across all aspects of our business, which helped develop a stronger safety and service culture throughout the company. I look forward to advancing those same goals at Amtrak and helping to build a plan for future growth.”

Moorman has more than 40 years in the railroad industry with NS and the Southern.

He began his railroad career working on a track gang during college and because a management trainee after graduation.

Moorman is a graduate of Georgia Tech University and the Harvard Business School.

He served on the boards of Duke Energy Corporation, Chevron Corporation, the Virginia chapter of the Nature Conservancy, and the Georgia Tech Foundation.

He had held the post of NS executive chairman until late 2015.

“Wick Moorman is a proven railroader whose track record of success demonstrates his commitment and adherence to rail safety, efficiency and service to customers,” said Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ed Hamberger in a statement. “His contributions and leadership in the freight rail industry, I believe, will advance the working partnership the freight railroads have with Amtrak. The AAR and its freight rail members recognize the importance of Amtrak as a reliable U.S. passenger rail service and look forward to working with Wick in his new capacity.”

Amtrak Board Chairman Anthony Coscia said in a statement, “We are very pleased that someone with Wick’s experience and vision will lead Amtrak during this critical period as the company charts a course for future growth and improvement.”

Coscia expressed optimism that Moorman would improve Amtrak’s relationship with its host freight railroads.

“He clearly understands both worlds, and he’s going to be in a position to try to get us all to a much better place,” Coscia said.

Boston LSL Passengers Riding the Bus

August 16, 2016

Amtrak is substituting a bus for the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited on Aug. 21-24 due to CSX track work.

Buses also are replacing the Boston section this week through Wednesday.

Amtrak Lake Shore LimitedPassengers bound for Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester, Framingham and Boston (South Station) will board a bus at the Albany-Rensselaer station to continue their journey or board at their intermediate station if originating east of Albany.

The bus will not stop at Boston Back Bay station.

Westbound passengers will also board a bus at their boarding station except at Boston Back Bay, which is not being served during the time when Nos. 448 and 449 are not operating.

Back Bay passengers are advised to contact MBTA for travel information to or from that station.

Passengers boarding at Boston South Station  should go to the Amtrak Information Desk for instructions on boarding the buses.

Those boarding at Framingham will board their bus at the drop-off/pick-up area for the Track 2 platform (at Waverly Street).

Worcester passengers should go downstairs to the intercity bus area and board the bus marked Premier Bus.

Multi-Ride Ticket Limits Extended in Missouri

August 16, 2016

The 10-ride ticket policy for travel on the St. Louis-Kansas City Missouri River Runner service has been changed to allow passengers a longer period of time to use their tickets.

Amtrak Missouri River RunnerA 10-ride ticket purchased on or after Aug. 15 will be valid for 180 days, which is triple the limit of previous tickets.

All multi-ride Tickets are refundable and exchangeable prior to first use, but they are not transferable.

These tickets can be purchased at Amtrak.com, using Amtrak’s mobile apps or by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).