Archive for October, 2016

Hoosier State Revenue, Patronage Up in Sept.

October 27, 2016

The Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State carried 2,428 passengers in September, which was a 46 percent increase over patronage in September 2015.

Iowa PacificThe Indiana Department of Transportation, which helps fund the train, said that September 2016 marked the fifth consecutive month that ridership has grown on a year-over-year basis.

Ticket revenue totaled $82,324 last month, a 64 percent increase from ticket revenue a year ago.

INDOT said the route’s on-time arrivals performance averaged 82 percent in September, down from 86 percent in August.

The replacement of a manual switch with a remote control switch in Crawfordsville, Indiana, is expected to reduce one-way trips by eight to 15 minutes. The switch is located on track owned by CSX.

The quad-weekly Hoosier State is overseen by Iowa Pacific Holdings, which provides marketing, equipment, maintenance and on-board service. Amtrak provides under contract operating crews and works with the host railroads.

Buffalo Exchange Street Station Reopens

October 27, 2016

Exchange Street Station in Buffalo, New York, has reopened after being repaired.

The station had closed in late September after a ceiling collapsed due to heavy rain.

Amtrak 4The station platform continued to be open to serve Amtrak’s Empire Service trains between New York and Niagara Falls, and the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf.

The station repairs were undertaken by the City of Buffalo’s Department of Public Works, Parks and Streets.

Exchange Street is one of two Amtrak stations in Buffalo. The other, which is also served by the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited, is in suburban Depew.

Empire Builder in Glacier National Park

October 26, 2016

 

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The eastbound Empire Builder crosses at the Two Medicine Bridge at East Glacier in Glacier National Park in Montana. The photographer and his wife ventured to Montana on Amtrak to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Empire Builder OT Performance Improves After BNSF Congestion Hurt Train’s Route in October

October 26, 2016

Amtrak’s Empire Builder is running more smoothly of late after suffering some severe delays due to congestion on its BNSF route through North Dakota and Montana.

Amtrak Empire BuilderAn analysis by Trains magazine found that Nos. 7 and 8 experienced delays not seen since the summer of 2014.

On at least eight occasions, No. 8 was delayed for at least seven hours while twice No. 7 was more than six hours late arriving in Seattle and Portland.

On Oct. 15, No. 7 was terminated at Spokane, Washington, and its passengers sent by bus to their destinations because the train was running nine hours late.

The equipment coming into Seattle and Portland makes a same-day turn to head back east to Chicago.

The magazine said BNSF attributed the congestion to weather-related interruptions and an increase in grain traffic to the Pacific Northwest.

The bulk of the delays occurred between Minot, North Dakota, and Whitefish, Montana.

On some days the Empire Builder arrived so late in Chicago that passengers missed their connections.

The string of delays was finally broken  on Oct. 20 when No. 8 reached Chicago ahead of schedule for the first time since Oct. 6.

Trains reported that a good on-time record had helped the Empire Builder post a 4.8-percent ridership gain in September and 3.7 percent for the 2016 fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

A BNSF spokeswoman said the railroad is mitigating the freight congestion by rerouting some trains and recalling 60 furloughed employees to help relieve crew shortages.

Report Claims That Autonomous Cars Will Hurt Passenger Rail; Others Aren’t So Sure About That

October 25, 2016

A study projects that self-driving cars could have an adverse effect on rail passenger ridership, reducing it by 40 percent.

Amtrak 4The study by the Boston Consulting Group, titled “Will Autonomous Vehicles Derail Trains?” suggests that in some communities trains could be replaced by self-driving motor vehicles.

“The advent of autonomous vehicles could well affect passenger rail travel as profoundly as did the automobile 125 years ago,” the report states.

It remains to be seen when self-driving vehicles will appear on roads and streets on a large scale.

A number of pilot programs are underway by such companies as Tesla, Uber and Google.

Uber recently began a test program of driverless cars in Pittsburgh and the U.S. Department of Department of Transportation has written new regulations for the cars.

The Boston group report cited a survey of 5,500 people in 10 countries that found that 50 percent of them would ride in a driverless car.

The Boston group said an advantage of self-driving vehicles is that they can deliver passengers right to the doorstep of where they want to do.

The study also said that the technology to regulate autonomous vehicles would cost less than a passenger rail system.

Passenger rail carriers could take advantage of self-driving vehicles, the study said, by having a fleet of such vehicles at the ready to take passenger the last few miles of their journey once they step off a train.

Not all rail passenger advocates agree with the conclusions of the study.

Andy Kunz, president and CEO of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, told Trains magazine that the idea that driverless cars would replace passenger trains is “absurd.”

“They want to spend a trillion dollars to try to make cars operate closely spaced as a ‘platoon’ with no proof whatsoever it will ever work, when we already have trains that rapidly move people closely spaced together, and have been proven and successful for 150 years,” Kunz said. “There is no way this driverless car system will ever come close to moving the high numbers of people across a region that high speed rail can do now.”

Kunz cautioned that driverless cars could become the target of hackers, citing how Chinese security researchers figured out how to control a Tesla car remotely.

“They think people are going to get into their driverless car, program in a destination, and then sit back and read the newspaper while the vehicle does the navigating, when we already have taxis, Uber, and trains that do this now without having to invent anything new,” Kunz said.

Also critical of the report was the National Association of Railroad Passengers, which said the report ignores new trends in resettlement patterns that have seen young and educated professionals moving to cities and walkable communities.

“That has led to steady growth in passenger rail service, with cities and states looking to develop new rail lines and multi-modal stations,” NARP said. “In addition, rail transit is technology that that readily available for the development of passenger rail networks, and it is a mode of transportation that people are familiar with, and can rely on.”

South Shore Says it Will Meet PTC Deadline

October 25, 2016

The South Shore commuter line expects to complete the installation of positive train control within two years.

South Shore logoPassenger railroads are facing a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline to have PTC installed and operational. The Federal Railroad Administration has said that deadline won’t be pushed back again as it was last year.

“Our intention is to meet that deadline,” said South Shore President Michael Noland.

Noland said the South Shore, which operates between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, has borrowed $100 million to pay for PTC and will be paying off that debt for the next 20 years.

About $80 million of that bond issue is for a contract with Parsons Transportation Group, which also will be installing PTC on Metra trains.

The South Shore said it will begin installing PTC equipment in its 72 power cars in an addition that it is building at its Michigan City shops.

Baseball Fans Flocking to Chicago-Cleveland Flights

October 24, 2016

Chicago Cubs fans are flocking to Cleveland by air, by rail and by bus.

Amtrak logoA study by Orbitz.com found that the number of airline passengers between Chicago and Cleveland this week is up by 50 percent.

The Cubs will open World Series play on Tuesday night against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.

Games one and two in the series are in Cleveland on Tuesday and Wednesday with games three and four set for Friday and Saturday at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Orbitz said it has been tracking travel purchases between the two cities for several days and concluded that Chicago fans are taking to public transportation in larger number than Cleveland fans. Of course it may be that Cleveland fans are more likely to drive than fly to Chicago.

Airline passengers flying between the two cities should be prepared for sticker shock.

The average roundtrip air fare is $495 originating in Chicago and $478 roundtrip for flights originating in Northeast Ohio.

Game tickets are officially sold out so scalpers are commanding top dollar in resale market.

Tickets to the games at Wrigley Field may be among the most expensive in sports history, starting at about $2,400, according to ticket resale site SeatGeek. By contrast, tickets to the games in Cleveland on the resale market are starting at about $900.

The Indians last appeared in a World Series in 1997 and last won a Series in 1948. The Cubs last played in a World Series in 1945 and haven’t won the fall classic since 1908.

A check of the Amtrak website late Monday afternoon found that seats were still available on both the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited for travel from Chicago to Cleveland on Oct. 24 and 25. Coach fares started at $56 one way.

Amtrak Bans Galaxy Note 7 Smart Phones

October 24, 2016

Count Amtrak as among the nation’s common carriers that are banning the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smart phone.

Amtrak logoPassengers will be prohibited from not just traveling aboard trains with the phones, but they also are being prohibited from station platforms and waiting areas.

Amtrak said those found onboard with a Galaxy Note 7 in their possession will be asked to leave the train at the next station.

“Because there is nothing more important than the safety of our customers and employees, we have decided to prohibit Samsung Galaxy Note 7 cell phones on Amtrak property due to potential serious safety risks,” an Amtrak spokesperson said. “This ban includes Amtrak trains, Thruway buses, facilities, stations, platforms, Amtrak vehicles, and as an item carried within a vehicle on Auto Train.”

Other carriers, including airlines, have banned the Galaxy Note 7 because of problems of faulty batteries catching fire and, in some cases, exploding.

The Federal Aviation Administration has prohibited passengers from flying with the phone.

Air travelers found with a Galaxy Note 7 could have their phone confiscated and “may face fines.”

The Very Late Running Season

October 24, 2016

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It is August 2014 and Amtrak is in the midst of a nightmare summer on Norfolk Southern. It was routine then for the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited to operate several hours off schedule.

NS had instituted a new computerized dispatching system and things were chaotic for several months. It also didn’t help that it was the height of the summer track work season and in some places trains had to fit through a single-track stretch.

Yet another complication was that very late arriving Amtrak trains in Chicago meant late turns due to the need for crew rest and equipment servicing.

Although not good for passengers, it was good news for photographers living in places where Amtrak would under ordinary circumstances pass through in the middle of the night.

In the photo above, train No. 30, the eastbound Capitol Limited should have been through Brady Lake, Ohio, located between Cleveland and Alliance, about six hours ago. But on this date it was making a daylight run through Northeast Ohio.

Running Late Through a Snow Squall

October 23, 2016

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A snow squall has parked itself over the tracks of Norfolk Southern near Kent, Ohio, on a late January 2014 Sunday morning as Amtrak’s eastbound Capitol Limited passes through.

No. 30 is running several hours late and would arrive in Washington late on Sunday night. I hope that they had enough food on board to serve lunch and dinner.

Not long after the train passed by here, the snow stopped and it was cloudy the rest of the day.