Archive for September, 2016

The Inter-American in Springfield

September 23, 2016

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It is a cloudy day in March 1977. The long, bitter winter has finally receded and operations at Amtrak have returned to normal after several trains were annulled for a few weeks due to a shortage of workable equipment.

I’m in Springfield, Illinois, where I lived for two years in the middle 1970s. I’ve returned to visit friends and made a mental note to take my new camera to the Amtrak station to photograph the Inter-American, which arrived in late morning southbound.

At the time, the I-A operated between Chicago and Lardeo, Texas, three days a week although it was a daily operation between Chicago and Fort Worth, Texas.

The I-A, which today is known as the Texas Eagle, has an interesting history that included fights with Missouri Pacific over dispatching and train speeds, and a struggle with a Texas congressman over his desire to see the I-A interchange cars with the Mexican Railways.

Eventually Amtrak worked out its differences with MoPac, but the interchange with the Aztec Eagle never came to be. In time, the route was shortened to Chicago-San Antonio.

At the time that I made this photograph of No. 21 in Springfield, the Inter-American was in the midst of the aforementioned disputes and it had only been about a month since it had resumed operating the length of its route after being canceled south of St. Louis during the harsh winter of 1977 that sidelined a third of Amtrak’s long-distance fleet assigned to Chicago-based trains.

And it had been less than five months since the northern terminus of the I-A had been extended to Chicago from St. Louis.

Nos. 21 and 22 were operating with a pair of SDP40F locomotives, although by the time I saw the I-A in June 1977, the motive power assignment has been reduced to one locomotive.

The SDP40F locomotives and steam-heated equipment would not last much longer. On August 8, 1977, the consist was reduced to two Amfleet coaches and a cafe car. Equipment assignments such as this would become a thing of the past.

 

When Amfleet Was New in the Midwest

September 22, 2016

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Amfleet equipment had been assigned to Midwest corridor trains for just over a year when I made this image of the southbound Shawnee arriving in Effingham, Illinois, on a cold Saturday morning in February.

The Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois, train was scheduled into Effingham in late morning and on this day was running close to on time.

Because of its daylight schedule I frequently saw Nos. 391 and 392, and photographed them a few times in the late 1970s.

A trainman is looking for passengers as No. 391 arrives on the Illinois Central Gulf tracks at a union station that once served the Illinois Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad.

In 1977, Effingham saw six Amtrak trains a day. Aside from the Shawnee, the city was served by the Chicago-New Orleans Panama Limited and the New York-Kansas City National Limited.

My recollection is the trainman is not wearing an Amtrak uniform. Some ICG employees assigned to Amtrak service did not wear passenger uniforms. It might have been because they did not regularly work Amtrak trains. There may have been another reason for that.

Amfleet equipment was an upgrade at the time that it was introduced in the Midwest because it provided consistent climate control. Trains were neither too hot or too cold, and the new equipment was more reliable than much of the steam-heated equipment that it replaced.

The Shawnee  operated with one equipment set, making a daily roundtrip from Chicago to Carbondale. Crews changed at Champaign and Centralia just as the ICRR passenger train crews had. It would be several years before the crew district became Chicago-Carbondale.

It would also be several years before the Shawnee would become a state-funded train and renamed the Illini. In the 1970s, the Shawnee was part of Amtrak’s basic network.

Excursion to Use ex-ICRR Tracks in Mississippi

September 22, 2016

An excursion will run in Mississippi on Oct. 23 over the original route of Amtrak’s Chicago-New Orleans Panama Limited and City of New Orleans.

The train will have Iowa Pacific equipment, which has the orange and chocolate brown livery of the former Illinois Central line to be traveled, now operated by the Grenada Railroad.

iowa-pacificThe 96-mile roundtrip excursion will depart at 10 a.m. from Horn Lake en route to Batesville for views of the peak fall foliage season in Mississippi. The trip will last five hours.

Passengers will have the opportunity to purchase an on-board lunch with a bit of Mississippi flavor to it for a separate charge.

The route to be traveled was  once used IC’s City of New Orleans and Panama Limited.

On board employees will be dressed in traditional conductor and waiter uniforms.

The equipment will include two E8A locomotives and five passenger cars, including the Calumet Club once used on the IC’s City of Miami and the Paducah once used on the Panama Limited and City of New Orleans.

The boarding site is at 6780 Center Street East in Horn Lake. For tickets call: 877-334-4783 or visit http://www.grenadarail.com/ride/batesville-express/

 

Ann Arbor OKs Money for More Station Studies

September 21, 2016

The Ann Arbor City Council has approved a resolution to amend the city’s professional services agreement with AECOM, an engineering firm, which would provide additional funding to perform further studies on a new Amtrak station.

michiganHowever, some council members expressed discontent about how much money has already been spent on studies related to the new depot.

They noted that nearly a million dollars has already been spent on studies and environmental reviews since 2012 and yet a site for the station has yet to be chosen.

A study recently released identified several station options at three sites.

“This additional money is necessary because we have not narrowed it down to one site. The original agreement included the environment review for one preferred alternative,” said council member Jack Eaton. “If we were able to narrow it down to one alternative we would not have to spend this extra $196,000.”

Public Services Administrator Craig Hupy and Transportation Manager Eli Cooper said the additional city funding is needed for additional studies of the potential station sites because the project’s current funding grant from the Federal Railroad Association did not cover the money for studies of additional station locations.

Nine council members voted to approve the resolution, with Eaton the sole no vote.

Ann Arbor is served by six daily Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

Buffalo Exchange Street Station Closed After Heavy Rainfall Led to Ceiling Collapse

September 21, 2016

Exchange Street station in Buffalo, New York, has been closed after heavy rain caused the ceiling to collapse.

Amtrak 3The city of Buffalo, which owns the station, has indicated that it will seek cost estimates about repairing the facility, which is served by New York-Niagara Falls Empire Service trains and the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf.

All of those trains plus the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited are also served by another Amtrak station in suburban Buffalo in Depew, New York.

Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steven Stepniak said a contractor has been sent to the site to evaluate the condition of the building. Stepniak said the city will explore various options before moving forward.

The ceiling collapse occurred near the passenger waiting area last weekend and the station was closed on Monday.

Earlier this month, another portion of the ceiling collapsed, prompting the closure of the station’s ticket office.

Amtrak will continue to serve the station in the meantime. The passenger carrier said it is working with the New York State Department of Transportation, but is not directly involved in station repairs because it does not own the station.

A New York passenger train advocate said the situation underscores the need for a new station in Buffalo near the city’s waterfront.

“We are very concerned over the immediate safety implications, and the loss of service to the increasingly vibrant downtown Buffalo area,” said Bruce Becker, vice president of operations for the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Niagara Falls Station Still Without Trains

September 21, 2016

Niagara Falls, New York, has a state-of-the-art new $43 million intermodal station that was built in part to serve Amtrak, yet the trains continue to call elsewhere.

Amtrak 4The city and Amtrak have yet to agree on a lease agreement for the station, which remains closed until such a pact is reached.

Amtrak continues to work with the City of Niagara Falls toward execution of a lease agreement allowing us to occupy space in the new train station,” said Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz. “We are working through the remaining issues which we are optimistic can be resolved. We look forward to moving Amtrak operations into the new building and inaugurating service to the new station.”

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster has told local media that “the ball is now in Amtrak’s court.”

Work on the new station was completed this summer and an open house was held at which Amtrak showed off a display train.

In the meantime, Amtrak continues to use a facility in Niagara Falls near Lockport Road.

Private Operator Taking Over Heartland Flyer May be Key to Returning Rail Service to Wichita

September 21, 2016

Amtrak hasn’t served Wichita, Kansas, since October 1979 when the Chicago-Houston Lone Star was discontinued in a massive route restructuring designed to cut costs.

Now Kansas officials are hoping that Iowa Pacific Holdings can be the ticket to restoring rail service by extending the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Wichita; Newton, Kansas; or Kansas City.

Heartland FlyerThe Flyer is a student-supported train that currently operates between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, where it connects with the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Iowa Pacific has been mentioned as a potential operator of the Heartland Flyer. Oklahoma is seeking proposals from entities willing to run the Flyer at presumably less cost than what the Oklahoma and Texas departments of transportation are now paying Amtrak.

The two states are paying Amtrak about $2.5 million and $3.5 million a year, from Texas and Oklahoma respectively, to operate the service, which serves more than 70,000 passengers a year.

Continued operation of the Heartland Flyer was in question earlier this year when an Oklahoma lawmaker said the state didn’t have the money to pay for the train.

But the Oklahoma Legislature approved used money from a $5 million annual revolving fund that supports the Heartland Flyer to make up the budget shortfall.

Kenna Carmen, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said the state has enough funds to keep the Flyer running through the next fiscal year.

IP more than a year ago took over from Amtrak operation of the quad-weekly Hoosier State between Chicago and Indianapolis and has received acclaim for improving the service.

IP has been identified as one of seven potential bidders to take over the Heartland Flyer.

Ed Ellis, the head of IP, said the key to bringing costs down is charging passengers more for enhanced service – something he bets they’re willing to pay.

“They would love to have a better travel experience even if it costs more money,” Ellis said.

Although Wichita is not served by Amtrak, a Thruway bus connects the city with the Heartland Flyer at Oklahoma City.
Extending the Flyer into Kansas could cost more than $100 million for additional equipment and such capital costs as track improvements and new stations.

Officials say that the state of finances in Kansas state government means that cities to be served by the Flyer would have to to cover the operating costs that ordinarily the states would pick up.

“It’s one of those situations where it’s going to take broad-based support,” said John Maddox, program director for rail at the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Kansas is served by one Amtrak route, the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, which stops in Newton, about 25 miles north of Wichita.

The state was part of an effort to win a federal grant that was used to rebuild the tracks used by the Chief in western Kansas that kept it on its current route for the foreseeable future.

The Thruway bus that links Wichita and Oklahoma City also operates to Newton to connect with the Chief.

The Cardinal Lands in Charlottesville

September 21, 2016

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It is a July afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia. Amtrak’s tri-weekly Cardinal is scheduled to arrive from both Chicago and New York.

In fact, the Cardinal calls in Charlottesville in both directions three days a week, Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. That is not the case on the western end of the route where the Cardinal arrives in Chicago on Monday, but doesn’t depart again until Tuesday.

Otherwise, Nos. 50 and 51 arrives and departs Chicago on the same day, Thursday and Saturday.

I had some free time during a vacation trip so I made it a point to venture to the Amtrak station to catch the Cardinal. It is a train I used to ride when I lived in Indianapolis, but since leaving there in 1991 I seldom see the Cardinal.

On this day, No. 50 has its then standard consist of one P42DC, a Heritage Fleet baggage car, one Viewliner sleeper, a food service car and three Amfleet II coaches.

Since making this image four years, ago, the Heritage Fleet baggage car has been replaced by a Viewliner baggage car and the train now seems to routinely have two Viewliner sleepers.

It has been a long time since the Cardinal had a full-service dining car. Maybe it will get one when the new Viewliner dining car order is completed by CAF USA. And maybe the dining car will arrive, but the food service will be little different than it is today.

Change in Amtrak service on trains such as the Cardinal seems to be incremental. This train is unlikely to ever be confused with the George Washington, the one-time premier train of the Chesapeake & Ohio, whose tracks the Cardinal uses between Cincinnati and Washington.

But then maybe it doesn’t need to be. Given the history of the Cardinal and how political pressure is all that saved it back in the 1980s, having any service at all is a good thing.

A View In Harpers Ferry That Never Gets Old

September 20, 2016

There is something regal about the name “Capitol Limited.” Perhaps it is because of its association with a Baltimore & Ohio train of the same name that uses the same route of Amtrak’s Capitol Limited between Pittsburgh and Washington. That B&O train ran between Chicago and D.C., just like the Amtrak edition, albeit on a different route west of Pittsburgh.

Perhaps it is something about the name itself. The term “Limited” was used by railroads at one time to indicate a train that went to where it was going in a hurry with few stops along the way. Typically, these trains had some of the best service, if not the best service on the railroad.

And of course the term “Capitol” denotes the seat of government and there is something special about Washington, the ultimate seat of government in the United States.

Amtrak’s Capitol Limited has some of the best scenery in the eastern United States, particularly in its passage through the mountains of Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The eastbound train is scheduled to take in all of that during daylight hours. The westbound train, shown here arriving at Harpers Ferry in August 2008, sees much of it, depending of the time of year.

This view is one of the classic scenes on the former B&O. Thousands of images have been made of passenger and freight trains coming out of this tunnel, which lies on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. These are CSX tracks now, the B&O name having been retired decades ago.

Of course, I waited for No. 29 to arrive so I could get this view, which was made on Aug. 13, 2008. It never gets old seeing it.

Trackside Checked Bicycle Service Now Available on Most Amtrak Long-distance Trains

September 19, 2016

Amtrak has begun checked trackside bicycle service on most long-distance trains.

Amtrak logoThe service is available only at stations that have checked baggage service.

Passengers with bikes must check in with a station agent, obtain a claim check/baggage tag for their bike, and then give that to a crew member inside the baggage car of their train.

Passengers must retrieve their bikes from the baggage car from a crew member once they reach their destination.

The new procedure has ended the need for passengers to break down and box their bikes on long-distance trains. Checked bikes also require payment of a $25 fee.

The service is not yet available on the Portland section of the Empire Builder, the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited or on the Coast Starlight.

Amtrak said checked bike service will begin on the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight at a date to be announced.

Amtrak’s 70 new Viewliner II baggage cars have racks to hang bicycles.