Archive for October, 2016

My Latest Book Hits the Streets Today

October 31, 2016

Today is one of those landmark days in my life that I probably won’t remember, but it is important. My seventh published book, Akron Railroads, is being released today by Arcadia Publishing.

It is the second book of the same title that I’ve published with Arcadia and the identical names aside, they do not have quite the same focus.

book-coverMy first Akron Railroads, published in 2007, focused more on the overall history of railroads serving Akron, Ohio, thus having a broader focus in time. It was part of Arcadia’s Images of Rail series and featured black and white photographs.

The second Akron Railroads has a narrower focus of 1960 to present. Nearly all of the images in that book are in color.

I was able to receive an advance copy of the book about a month ago and was pleased with how it turned out. The quality of the printing is good and it has a glossy cover.

All of the photographs in the edition of Akron Railroads, were contributed by members of the Akron Railroad Club. Some of those members had contributed photographs that appeared in the first edition of Akron Railroads.

Here is the summary of the content of the second edition of Akron Railroads that I wrote that appears on the back cover:

“In the six decades preceding 1960, Akron’s network of railroads had been relatively stable. Then a series of mergers began that year, changing the face of the city’s railroad network. By the early 1970s, the industrial base-particularly the rubber industry-that had sustained the region’s economy was in decline, and the fortunes of the railroad industry fell with it.

“The self-described “rubber capital of the world” was hit hard, and the production of tires for the automotive industry all but disappeared. The 1960s also saw a precipitous decline in rail passenger service, with the last passenger trains discontinued in 1971. A restructuring of the railroad industry that began in the mid-1970s left the Akron region with three railroad companies. Some railroad lines were abandoned, while others saw the scope of their operations changed or reduced. Today’s rail network in Akron may be slimmer, but the railroads are financially healthy and continue to play a major role in meeting the region’s transportation needs.

The book retails for $22.95 and is available from http://www.arcadiapublishing.com

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Hearing Examines Heartland Flyer Operation

October 31, 2016

Some Oklahoma officials are raising questions about why their state pays more to fund the Heartland Flyer than does Texas.

Heartland FlyerThose questions were explored during a meeting of the Oklahoma Senate Transportation Committee last week in Norman, Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Senator Frank Simpson asked for a study, noting that at one time the two states split the costs of the Flyer 50-50.

But now, Simpson noted, the split is closer to 60-40 and Oklahoma cities have invested millions of dollars in infrastructure investments to their stations. Simpson believes that Texas may be receiving economic benefits for which it does not pay.

He also believes that the schedule of the Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas, train favors the Lone Star state.

“The daily schedule really favors Texas—it’s more convenient for riders traveling south than it is for those coming north,” Simpson said. “I’m also concerned that the contract only runs a year at a time. I think when we have cities in Oklahoma making major investments a longer term contract would be tremendously helpful.”

The Heartland Flyer is scheduled to connect in Fort Worth with the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Testimony introduced during the hearing indicated that the preliminary findings of a feasibility study to extend the Heartland Flyer to Newton, Kansas, to connect with the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, indicates that ridership of the Flyer might more than double.

Simpson called for a longer-term contract with Texas and a schedule that is more advantageous for Oklahoma.

“Oklahoma City is investing close to $30 million. My small community of Ardmore is going to make an investment of almost $2 million. I want to make sure they have a sense of security in doing that. That would come with a long-term contract, five or 10 years out,” Simpson said. “The long-term agreement question was not answered, but that’s something I’ve got to pursue with ODOT and probably with Texas.”

The committee also heard that Amtrak may establish a stop for the Flyer in Thackerville, Oklahoma, which is near the Chickasaw Nation’s WinStar World Casino and Resort.

LSL Resumes Chicago-Boston Cars

October 31, 2016

Through sleepers and coaches between Chicago and Boston on the Lake Shore Limited resumed operation last week after being absent for more than a year.

Amtrak Lake Shore LimitedAmtrak had instead operated a stub-end train between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer, New York, with passengers making an across-the-platform connection.

Through Boston cars were dropped during a track reconstruction program in Albany-Rensselaer.

The resumption of Boston through cars coincided with the introduction of business class service between Chicago and Boston.

That service is being provided in 2-1 seating in one end of the café car that operates between the two cities. Business class seating is not yet available between Chicago and New York on Nos. 48 and 49, but is offered on the Chicago-New York Cardinal via Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

Food service between New York and Albany-Rensselaer is being provided by an Amfleet II “diner-lite” car.

N.F. Says Amtrak Lease is Getting Closer

October 31, 2016

Officials in Niagara Falls, New York, have once again said they are close to signing a lease with Amtrak for its use of a new intermodal facility.

Amtrak 4No date has been announced for when Amtrak might begin using the facility.

City Planner Thomas DeSantis said negotiations have taken longer than the city expected, but all of the parties involved are trying to reach a conclusion as soon as possible.

DeSantis said it will likely take Amtrak a few weeks to get settled into the new facility once a lease is signed.

He said that the terminal received a certificate of occupancy last week that allow tenants to use the building after signing a lease.

In its 2017 budget proposal, the city of Niagara Falls projected receiving from Amtrak annual lease payments of $172,800.

A museum to be operated by the Underground Railroad Heritage Area is expected to earn $19,000.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will also occupy a portion of the station, but payments leasing that space will be part of the Amtrak lease payments.

Niagara Falls is served by Amtrak’s Maple Leaf and Empire Service trains.

Buffalo Station Study Gets Funding

October 31, 2016

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has approved awarding $1 million to conduct a study of a new Amtrak station in Buffalo, New York.

Amtrak 4Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown will lead a study committee that will study station sites.

Work on the study is expected to begin in six months.

Buffalo has two Amtrak stations, Exchange Street Station in the city served the Maple Leaf and Empire Service trains. A station in suburban Depew serves all those trains plus the Lake Shore Limited.

Express Cars Remind Me of George Warrington

October 29, 2016

race-26

Whenever I see a photo of an express car attached to an Amtrak train I think of George Warrington.

I will always remember the former Amtrak president for saying that Amtrak was on a glide path to profitability. Mail and express revenue was the centerpiece of the “flight plan.”

On paper the idea that Amtrak could use head-end revenue to wipe out its operating deficits might have made sense.

For many years the private railroads did well with head-end business. Then the post office yanked most of the railway post office cars and head-end business was diverted to freight trains.

Of course the railroads had more of an infrastructure to handle head-end business back then. They also had dedicated mail and express trains and/or carried most of their head-end business on slow locals.

So Amtrak was trying to gin up business that it had never seriously sought before. Amtrak over the years has carried some mail, but it never sought to emulate the late Railway Express Agency until the early 2000s.

Warrington was probably telling Congress what some of its members wanted to hear. They didn’t want to fund Amtrak in the first place and there was political advantage to be gained by sniping about its financial losses.

Shown is an express car on the rear in the Southwest Chief, which is passing through Riverside, Illinois, on the BNSF raceway.

If you rode Amtrak back in the early 2000s, you probably remember your train pulling out of Chicago Union Station and stopping to add head-end cars.

The crew assured you the time needed to do that was built into the schedule.

Warrington’s sucessor, David Gunn, gave up on head-end business although it took awhile for it to cease altogether.

Some of those express cars that Amtrak leased or acquired are still in service and can be spotted on manifest freights from time to time. Some of them are still wearing their Amtrak silver.

New Amtrak Station Opens in Dwight

October 28, 2016

A ceremony was held this week to mark the opening of a new $3.26 million station in Dwight, Illinois, that is served by Amtrak.

300px-Lincoln_Service_map.svgThe Illinois Department of Transportation said it is the first new station to open on the route, which is being rebuilt for higher-speed service by Chicago-St. Louis trains.

Construction began in August 2015 and the new depot has 1,500 square feet of space, free Wi-Fi service and a temperature-controlled waiting room.

Funding was provided by a federal grant. IDOT said that stations in Lincoln and Springfield are slated to be renovated.

Trains stopping in Dwight include three southbound and four northbound Lincoln Service trains.

IDOT said the higher-speed rail project is expected to be completed in 2017

Amtrak Plans to Renovate Fargo, N.D., Station, Says it Will Build Station to Serve Marks, Miss.

October 28, 2016

Amtrak plans to renovate the station it uses in Fargo, North Dakota by adding motorized doors, a ramp and a clear pedestrian walk ways.

Amtrak 4The renovations are designed to make the station more accessible for those in wheelchairs or who may be physically challenged.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Amtrak spokesman Derrick James. “Americans have all sorts of different abilities, and people age.”

The improvements will also include aides to help those with hearing and visual impairments. The restrooms will also be modernized.

Fargo is served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

In other station news, after talking about it for years, Amtrak has said it will be building a station in Marks, Mississippi.

The station is expected to cost $1.2 million and open in 2017.

Marks is located on the route of the Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans between Memphis, Tennessee, and Jackson, Mississippi.

Glenview Residents Rip Hiawatha Expansion

October 28, 2016

A special meeting in Glenview, Illinois, to discuss a proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service drew 70 people, many of whom expressed opposition to the plan.

Hiawatha 2The meeting was hosted by Glenview village officials who suggested that the residents write to their elected representatives.

Village officials contend that an environmental assessment conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration and the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin doesn’t show the need to increase Hiawatha service, doesn’t thoroughly examine the environmental impact of the expansion and offers only short-term solutions to resolve passenger and freight train congestion.

Jeff Brady, the Glenview director of planning, wants the agencies to conduct a “much more detailed” environmental impact study or drop the project.

The service expansion would increase the number of Chicago-Milwaukee roundtrips from seven to 10.

As part of the expansion, there has been a proposal to build an 11,000 or 10,000-foot siding for freight trains to wait until passenger trains clear.

Some residents fear that freight trains might be held in the siding for long periods of time.

One proposal would place the siding on the west side of the existing tracks, which are used by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific. Another would place it on the east side.

Both options would require building a new bridge over Shermer Road next to the existing bridge. That in turn would mean construction of a 5-foot embankment from West Lake Avenue to Shermer Road as well as a 20-foot retaining wall.

Some who attended the meeting said idling freight trains might release fumes and carry potentially toxic materials.

State Rep. Laura Fine of Glenview said she opposes the project.

“We are working with you on this, and we are opposed to this as well,” she said. “But please, even though I am here, write us letters so that we can say we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of letters and emails from constituents saying they are opposed to this, because it just helps our fight as well.”

The FRA is taking public comments about the environmental assessment through Nov. 15.

A public hearing has been set for Nov. 2 at which representatives of the Illinois and Wisconsin departments of transportation and the FRA will discuss the project and the environmental assessment.

That meeting will be held at Park Center, 2400 Chestnut Ave., from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Brady said some Glenview residents have complained about the noise and vibration from the freight trains, which they contend are damaging their homes and disrupting their quality of life.

Some Cubs Fans Took Amtrak to See Their Team

October 27, 2016

Game 2 of Major League Baseball’s World Series drug on for more than four hours on Wednesday night. For a couple dozen fans of the Chicago Cubs that was just fine.

Amtrak logoThey had Amtrak tickets to return to Chicago after watching the Cubs defeat the Cleveland Indians 5-1 at Progressive Field.

Salvador Cardenas, a 28-year-old dentist from Aurora, Illinois, was one of them.

He paid $746 for a standing room ticket in left field during Game 2 and was at the Cleveland Amtrak station was giving high fives to other Cubs fans waiting to return home after the game.

“I had to call all my patients off. I said: ‘Hey, got to do this! I got to go to the World Series!’” Cardenas told a reporter for the Associated Press. “I’m a die-hard Cub fan, so I felt like that came first.”

The AP said about two dozen Cubs fans boarded the westbound Lake Shore Limited, which is scheduled to depart Cleveland at 3:45 a.m.

About an hour earlier, the Capitol Limited had left for Chicago with, presumably, a number of baseball fans onboard.

Marvin Thomas, 51, was aboard No. 49 wearing a blue satin Cubs jacket.

“Ernie Banks lived down the street from us when I was a kid,” said Thomas, who paid $800 a ticket to attend Games 1 and 2. “This is the most unbelievable feeling I’ve had outside my children being born. There was no way I wasn’t going to be here.”

The AP story noted that the number of baseball fans on Amtrak fell far short of the number who rode in 2009 in what some dubbed the Acela Series between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies.

Nor was there the hoopla that occurred aboard a train in 1985 for the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals.

Of course, many Chicago baseball fans probably flew or drove to Cleveland.

A check of Flightaware.com found that five chartered United Airlines jets departed Cleveland Hopkins International Airport between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. Thursday morning. They includes two 767 aircraft, two 737 aircraft and one 747.

Two of those were probably carrying the two teams to Chicago where they will play Game 3 on Friday night. But perhaps some of those flights also carried fans.

Traveling by train used to be the primary way that fans and teams once traveled.

When the Cubs won their last World Series in 1908 and last played in the Series in 1945, train travel was the standard way to travel.

Using chartered flight didn’t take off until 1946 when the Yankees began to charter flights on a regular basis.

Cardenas said he arrived in Cleveland at 5:45 a.m. on Wednesday, walked to the nearby Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, found a bench in front and fell asleep with his Cubs blanket covering him.

An Indians fan gave him a second blanket and told him to leave it there when he was done napping.

Cardenas saw Cubs owner Tom Ricketts at the Rock Hall later in the day.

“I was like, ‘Hey, Tom!’ like I knew him,” Cardenas said. “He waved to me. He said hello. He smiled.”