Archive for August, 2016

New York Trains to Allow Pets Onboard

August 16, 2016

Amtrak is expanding its pets aboard program to four state-supported routes in New York and Vermont.

Amtrak logoTrains that will now allow passengers to carry pets aboard include the New York-Niagara Falls Empire Service, the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf, the New York-Montreal Adirondack and the New York-Rutland Ethan Allen Express.

Pet reservations are now being accepted for all trains for travel beginning Aug. 22.

Dogs and cats travel requirements include:

  • Pet reservations are available for coach accommodations for trips up to seven hours.
  • The maximum weight of pet including the carrier is 20 pounds.
  • Owners can reserve a space for their pet for $25 with one pet per passenger.
  • Pets must remain in a carrier at all times and carriers should remain under a passenger seat.
  • Five pet spots are allotted per train and are booked on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Pets are not allowed on trips to/from Canada.

Amtrak continues to allow service animals on board at no charge.

Amtrak said that more than 10,000 pets have traveled on its trains since the program began in the Northeast Corridor in October 2015.

This past July more than 2,000 pets rode on Amtrak and the program generated more than $1 million in revenue since its inception. Pet service is available on most Amtrak routes.

Group Seeks Cleveland Amtrak Station Changes

August 12, 2016

An Ohio passenger advocacy group wants to see tracks reconfigured in the vicinity of the Cleveland Amtrak station so that two trains could serve the station simultaneously.

Amtrak logoThe work would require expanding the existing platform, installing a crossover at CP 122 on the Cleveland Line of Norfolk Southern and rehabilitating an industrial track to make it a second station track.

All four Amtrak trains serving Cleveland arrive between 1:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. If one or more of them are late, it means that one train has to wait while another does its station work.

Amtrak trains in Cleveland all use the former Track No. 1 of what used to be the double track Chicago Line in the Conrail era.

Congestion can become particularly acute if the Capitol Limited arrives from both directions at the same time.

Under normal circumstances, eastbound No. 30 completes its station work and departs well before the arrival of No. 29.

Both trains use  a connecting track built by Conrail that links the Chicago Line to the Cleveland Line at CP 122. However, Amtrak trains must be on Track No. 2 of the Cleveland Line to be able to access that connecting track at CP 122.

The nearest crossover east of CP 122 is at CP 114 in Garfield Heights 8.1 miles away.

In some instances, No. 30 has departed by backing up from the station to Drawbridge and crossing over to Track No. 1 of the Cleveland Line to get out of the way of No. 29 on Track No. 2.

In other instances, No. 29 is held at CP 114 until No. 30 reaches it and crosses over to Track No. 1.

At times No. 29 has continued to Drawbridge and then backed into the Cleveland Station because it was on Track No. 1 and couldn’t reached the connection at CP 122 due to No. 30 coming out on Track No. 1 or due to NS freight traffic.

AAO is calling for a crossover between Tracks 1 and 2 at CP 122 so Amtrak trains can depart on either track.

The group also said that Track 44, an industrial tracks used by NS and CSX, could be rebuilt to Federal Railroad Administration Class III standards to serve as a second station track. A connecting track would need to be built from the Chicago Line to Track 44.

As part of that project, the current platform, which is now 10-by-1,200 feet would be expanded to 15-by 1,600 feet.

That would allow a train with two locomotives and nine cars to serve the station from Track 44 and still not block the pedestrian walkway from the station.

That walkway crosses Track 44 and the double track Waterfront Line of the Greater Cleveland Transit Authority.

It is not clear who would fund the project or whether Amtrak and NS are studying it.

Boardman Tours Rebuilt S.W. Chief Route

August 11, 2016

As part of what has been billed as a farewell excursion, Amtrak President Joe Boardman recently toured the route of the Southwest Chief and recognized local officials for landing federal money that was used to rebuild the tracks used by the train in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.

BNSF owns the former Santa Fe tracks used by the Chicago-Los Angeles train but has little freight traffic on it.

Amtrak logoBack in 2012, BNSF said that it would no longer maintain the route to support passenger train speeds, which raised questions about the future of the Southwest Chief.

The cities of Garden City, Kansas, and La Junta, Colorado, in response sought and won federal TIGER grant funding totaling $27.6 million that was used to begin a track rehabilitation project.

“Since my service as Amtrak CEO began in 2008, Amtrak and BNSF have worked together to match federal grants with investments from both of our railroads, states and towns,” Boardman said.

The first of those grants was $12.4 million awarded to Garden City. It was combined with $9.3 million of private, local and state funding to renovate nearly 47 of the 158 miles of bolted rail sections between Pierceville, Kansas, and Las Animas, Colorado, to Federal Railroad Administration Class 4 condition.

That work enabled Amtrak Nos. 3 and 4 to operate at up to 79 mph. The project involved installing continuous welded rail and creating new grade crossings and turnouts.

A year later La Junta received a grant of $15.2 million that was used to rebuild the track on the La Junta Subdivision in Colorado and on 20 miles of the Albuquerque Subdivision. That project involved 39 miles of new continuously welded rail and ballast.

BNSF Executive Chairman Matt Rose, Interim Kansas Transportation Secretary Richard Carlson and mayors and state transportation officials rode with Boardman over portions of the route of the Southwest Chief.

The project also received $8 million from Amtrak and $4 million from BNSF.

Boardman also lauded the leadership and problem-solving strategies used to save the Southwest Chief.

Officials said more grant funding will be needed for future track rehabilitation on Raton Pass on other sections of track near Lamy, New Mexico.

2 Ohio Intermodal Station Projects Seek Other Funding after Failing to Land a TIGER Grant

August 11, 2016

Intermodal station projects in Cleveland and Oxford, Ohio, failed to win a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant this year, but will continue to move forward while seeking other funding sources.

In Cleveland, transportation officials have been studying the creation of the Lakefront Multimodal Transportation Center that will serve Amtrak, intercity buses and Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority buses and trains.

Amtrak 4The center, to be located west of East Ninth Street, unsuccessfully sought a $37.4 million TIGER grant.

The total project cost is $46.7 million of which Amtrak is expected to pay $4 million.

The intermodal complex would be part of a planned Mall-to-Harbor walkway that is being built by the City of Cleveland. That project will get underway this fall.

The walkway will have stairs and an elevator linking it to the Amtrak station.

Improvements to the Amtrak station include bringing it into ADA compliance, platform resurfacing/widening, and parking lot and walkway improvements.

Planners are eyeing how to obtain funding for preliminary engineering and construction of the Greyhound portion of the transportation center.

In Oxford, the city, Miami University and the Butler County Regional Transit Authority have proposed developing an intermodal facility that would serve as a stop for Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Officials unsuccessfully sought $20 million in TIGER funds for the $26 million bus-rail intermodal station.

The Amtrak station platform, shelter and parking will cost about $600,000. The Cardinal currently does not stop in Oxford, but Amtrak has indicated it would be willing to serve Oxford if it provides suitable station facilities.

AAR Appeals STB Passenger Train Ruling

August 11, 2016

Displeased with the outcome of a U.S. Surface Transportation Board ruling on passenger train on-time standards, the Association of American Railroads has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the ruling.

AARAAR maintains in its appeal that federal law gives the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak — but not the STB — the legal authority to define on-time performance.

The ruling in question involved an STB determination that on-time arrivals and departures at all stations along a passenger train’s route should be used for the purpose of determining on-time performance.

The STB also said it was dropping a proposal that would have allowed railroads to give higher priority to some freight trains over passenger trains.

The AAR asserted in its appeal that it is not challenging the rule that gives preference to passenger trains on freight-rail lines, said AAR spokesman Ed Greenberg.

“Freight railroads take contractual obligations seriously and comply with the law in giving Amtrak preference,” said Greenberg. “That has never been contested by freight railroads.”

But the AAR said it is disappointed that the STB “has decided to add mid-point on-time performance measures, which could result in negative impacts for freight rail customers and consumers.”

Train Time in Durand

August 7, 2016
The westbound Blue Water is running ahead of schedule as it makes its Durand, Michigan, station stop.

The westbound Blue Water is running ahead of schedule as it makes its Durand, Michigan, station stop.

People pulling suitcases were already headed toward the station as I pulled in. In about a half-hour Amtrak’s westbound Blue Water would be making its station stop in Durand, Michigan.

Durand is a small town yet quite a few people boarded No. 365 on this Wednesday morning.

The Blue Water is funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation and operates daily between Chicago and Port Huron, Michigan.

Like many other Midwest corridor trains, No. 365 leaves early in the morning for a late morning arrival in Chicago. The return train departs Chicago in late afternoon.

There isn’t much time to spend in Chicago for a day trip, but if all goes well the schedule enables passengers to connect with western long distance trains and other Midwest corridor services.

The return schedule, though, is less favorable for connecting from the western trains, particularly if your train is late.

No. 365 arrived in Durand several minutes early and had to wait for time before departing.

I’ve seen and photographed Amtrak trains in Durand in the past, but this would be my first time to get the Blue Water in Durand.

I had photographed the Chicago-Toronto International, which was scheduled through Durand in both directions in mid-afternoon.

That schedule didn’t afford passengers the opportunity to make a Chicago day trip nor did it connect with many other Amtrak trains.

The tracks used by the Blue Water are today owned by Canadian National, but were originally part of the Grand Trunk Western.

The GTW was controlled by CN so many Grand Trunk passenger trains interchanged with CN at Sarnia, Ontario, to and from Toronto.

The Blue Water began in September 1974, using the GTW between Port Huron and Battle Creek, Michigan, but then using Penn Central into Chicago on the same route as Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit trains.

At the time, Nos. 364/365 operated as the Blue Water Limited. It became a Chicago-Toronto train in October 1982, initially operating as the International Limited.

The name was shorted to International in June 1983. Border crossing issues ultimately led Amtrak to suggest that the train be shorted to Chicago-Port Huron operation and put on a schedule similar to that of the Blue Water Limited.

Michigan agreed and in April 2004 the change was made and patronage greatly increased.

I don’t know if any of those who boarded the Blue Water on this day know any of this history or, for that matter, any history of GTW passenger service in Durand.

Most of those boarding were younger and probably know little if anything about the Grand Trunk or CN in general.

They probably were pleased that their train departed on time for its next station stop in East Lansing and, ultimately, to Chicago.

Passengers are lined up to board Amtrak train No. 365 in Durand. Most of them are probably headed for Chicago and some might be going via Amtrak beyond there.

Passengers are lined up to board Amtrak train No. 365 in Durand. Most of them are probably headed for Chicago and some might be going via Amtrak beyond there.

Right this way and to your left.

Right this way and to your left. The Blue Water consist is the standard Midwest corridor train offering of Horizon fleet coaches and an Amfleet cafe car offering business class service.

Two gentlemen sit on benches in the foreground and watch the last passengers board Amtrak's westbound Blue Water.

Two gentlemen sit on benches in the foreground and watch the last passengers board Amtrak’s westbound Blue Water.

The conductor chats with the Durand station caretaker and two railfans along the fence as No. 365 waits for time before it can depart from Durand.

The conductor chats with the Durand station caretaker and two railfans along the fence as No. 365 waits for time before it can depart from Durand.

A portrait in black and white of Amtrak train time in Durand.

A portrait in black and white of Amtrak train time in Durand.

Crossing the CN Holly Subdivision as Amtrak train No. 365 departs on time from Durand.

Crossing the CN Holly Subdivision as Amtrak train No. 365 departs on time from Durand.

The Blue Water operates with a locomotive on each end to avoid having to turn the train in Port Huron during the overnight layover.

The Blue Water operates with a locomotive on each end to avoid having to turn the train in Port Huron during the overnight layover.

Boardman Says S.W. Chief to Stay

August 5, 2016

Amtrak President Joseph Boardman said this week that the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief will continue to operate on its present route for the foreseeable future.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2Boardman, who will step down as Amtrak president in late September, traveled the route of the Chief this week.

He noted that the train had been saved with the help of public funding, including $27.6 million in federal TIGER grant funding after BNSF threatened to lower the speed limit on the route as it downgraded its maintenance program due to low freight traffic.

Until a track rebuilding project began, the condition of the route had been deteriorating.

Some funding was provided by Amtrak ($8 million) and BNSF ($4 million). The funding paid for new rail and ties.

IP Marks 1st Anniversary of Operating Hoosier State

August 3, 2016

Iowa Pacific Holdings operation of the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State celebrated its first anniversary this week.

Iowa PacificIP took over the train from Amtrak on Aug. 2, 2015, although Amtrak continues to provide operating employees and handle certain other tasks on IP’s behalf.

During May and June ticket revenue rose 62 percent and 90 percent of the route’s riders indicated in a survey that they were very satisfied with the service.

Since October 2015, on-time performance has averaged 82 percent.

The Hoosier State operates four times a week on days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

The service is funded by the Indiana Department of Transportation and on-line communities.

Inside the Durand Station

August 2, 2016

Amtrak at Durand 00-x

Durand, Michigan, is like many small towns served by Amtrak in the Midwest in that twice or more a day, people start gathering to wait for the train.

In the case of Durand, a caretaker opens the waiting room of the former Union Station. In many places, the “station” is a glorified bus shelter.

But Durand Union Station has been saved and preserved with part of the structure serving as the Michigan Railroad Museum.

The “union” in the station’s name derives from the fact that it was once served by passenger trains of the Grand Trunk Western and Ann Arbor railroads.

It has been several decades since the Ann Arbor last ran a passenger train and the former AA tracks on the east side of the depot have long since been removed.

Shown are a handful of passengers in the waiting room in mid July 2016 as they awaited the arrival of Amtrak No. 365, the westbound Blue Water for Chicago.

It is a ritual as timeless as the feel of this old passenger station, which has seen several generations waiting here before embarking on a journey.

N.F. Amtrak Station Completed, Still Needs Lease

August 2, 2016

The new Amtrak station in Niagara Falls, New York, held an open house last weekend, but it remains to be seen when trains will begin using the new $43 million transportation complex.

Amtrak 4The city is still negotiating with Amtrak on the details of a lease and service is not expected to begin for at least another month.

The Niagara Falls city council has approved a lease with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for a border patrol office in the station.

“But we are still going back and forth about what [Amtrak] wants in and what we want in,” said Thomas J. DeSantis, acting director of planning and economic development for the city.

Amtrak sent an exhibit train to Niagara Falls for the open house.