Archive for November, 2016

STB Finalizes Passenger Dispute Rules

November 30, 2016

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has issued its final rule implementing standards for resolving dispute between passenger carriers and their host railroads.

STBThe standards were mandated by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015.

The STB said that “the FAST Act clarified and augmented the Board’s existing adjudicatory responsibilities related to the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak).”

“Specific FAST Act provisions address STB adjudication of disputes regarding Amtrak cost recovery for its operation of state-supported routes, and costs allocated to states in their use of rail facilities for commuter rail operations within the Washington, D.C.-to-Boston Northeast Corridor.”

The FAST Act requires the Board to establish procedures for resolving such disputes, which may include the provision of professional mediation services. The Board said its final rule implements those provisions.

Time to Go to Work on the Head End

November 30, 2016

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The outbound engineer of Amtrak train No. 6 is climbing the steps to take his place in the cab of P42DC No. 76 as it prepares to depart from Sacramento, California, on June 26, 1999.

The train still has a long way to go to reach Chicago and shortly after departing from Sacramento the passengers will enjoy some of the best scenery that the route has to offer in the Golden State.

The route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains can be stunning.

The California Zephyr will travel through the Nevada and Utah deserts and high plateaus during nighttime hours and passengers will have yet another day of mountain scenery as it passes through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Of course, this engineer won’t be around to see the Rockies. He’ll be getting off well before then to return to Sacramento.

Support for Daily Cardinal Builds in W.Va.

November 29, 2016

Support for daily service by Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal is building in West Virginia, but supporters know that it remains long way off.

Amtrak CardinalAmong those recently supporting increasing the frequency of service of the tri-weekly train is the mayor of Charleston, Danny Jones.

Jones describes himself as train travel enthusiast who travels via Amtrak several times a year.

“It would bring more people through or more visitors if it were seven days a week,” Jones said. “However, “It would still lose money.”

Shortly after a conference was held in Cincinnati this past September to discuss a daily Cardinal, the West Virginia Governor’s Conference on Tourism unanimously passed a motion in favor of daily Cardinal service.

The Cincinnati conference was sponsored by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce.

In the meantime, Mayor Jones is fighting to retain the Amtrak agent at the Charleston depot, which is wedged between MacCorkle Avenue and the CSX railroad tracks.

Jones said some improvements have been made to the stop, including the installation of benches outside and some signs and landscaping around the station.

Buffalo Station Committee to hold 1st Meeting

November 29, 2016

A committee to study sites for a new Amtrak station in Buffalo, New York, expects to hold its first meeting in December.

Amtrak 4The 17-member committee will review such locations as the former Buffalo Central Terminal, Larkinville, Canalside and the current Exchange Street Amtrak station.

The State of New York has allocated $20 for construction of the station and the committee will look to see if it can obtain some federal funding.

“We’ll be able to fast track these initiatives that unfortunately have taken the back burner because of a lack of funding,” said committee member Tim Kennedy, a state senator from Buffalo. “Now we can drive forward with those. And I think it fits right into the timetable that we’re looking at with the new train station in Buffalo.”

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said he will accept a challenge from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to decide on a station location within the next six months.

Amtrak, CTA From on High

November 28, 2016

amtrak-hiawatha-on-june-20-2010

Some of the more interesting railfanning that you can do is from the observation deck of Willis Tower, formerly known as Sears Tower.

From the observation deck, you have an expansive view of the routes used by Amtrak in and out of Chicago Union Station as well as the coach yard and engine service facility.

Yes, the trains look rather small and it helps to have a good telephoto lens if you wish to make photographs.

Shown here is a Hiawatha Service train arriving at Union Station from Milwaukee as a Chicago Transit Authority train passes overhead after having just crossed the Chicago River on June 20, 2010.

Westbound Pennsylvanian in Berea, Ohio

November 27, 2016

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Amtrak’s westbound Pennsylvanian passes through Berea, Ohio, on May 29, 1999, in late afternoon.

The train is in its first years operating west of Pittsburgh. Amtrak rescheduled the train to operate between Chicago and Philadelphia on Nov. 7, 1998, and thought it could pay for the expansion with increased mail and express revenue.

Ultimately, Amtrak decided to get out of the head-end business and in February 2003, the Pennsylvanian reverted to New York-Pittsburgh operation.

For a while, though, Nos. 42/43 were the only daylight Amtrak trains in Cleveland, the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited calling between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.

FRA Updates Progress on High-Speed Train Rules

November 27, 2016

The Federal Railroad Administration this week issued an update on its proposed safety standards for high-speed passenger trains.

FRAThe regulations have been the subject of nearly 10 years of work by the agency’s passenger-rail division.

The FRA is expected to establish a new category of passenger equipment — Tier III — for trains traveling up to 220 mph.

The updated standards would offer an alternative method for evaluating how well passengers and crews are protected in an accident, often called crashworthiness.

The public, railroad industry, railroad labor, manufacturers and other stakeholders will have an opportunity to provide feedback and comment on the proposed rule during the next 60 days.

Under the proposed rules, crashworthiness would be evaluated based on equipment meeting an equivalent level of safety achieved through crash energy management technology or other innovative engineering methods.

Although Tier III trains will be required to have exclusive track to operate at speeds above 125 mph, the new standards will allow Tier III trains to safely share track with current Tier I and Tier II commuter, intercity and Acela trains.

Compatibility between equipment types is a key strategy to allow trains to share existing corridors to reach downtown stations, FRA officials said in a news release.

Michigan Officials Reviewing Options After Voters Narrowly Defeated Tax Plan for Commuter Rail

November 27, 2016

The Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority it examining its options after voters earlier this month narrowly defeated a tax increase that would have funded an expansion of service, including a Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line.

SE Michigan RTAWhat is certain, though, is that the earliest that the SMRTA can return to the voters with the same proposal is 2018.

“Obviously we’re just trying to absorb what happened,” said Michael Ford, who leads SMRTA.

The proposal for a 20-year 1.2 mill tax increase passed in Wayne (Detroit) and Washtenaw (Ann Arbor) counties, divided voters fairly evenly in Oakland County but was rejected in Macomb County.

“We’re going to have to reassess, understand why,” Ford said of why people voted against the tax plan, adding he plans to convene with the RTA board, which includes representatives from the different communities, to discuss possible next steps, including whether to plan to put a proposal before voters again in two years.

Ford said he remains optimistic that something can be done to expand public transportation options and still thinks that the proposed plan of commuter rail and new regional bus services is a good one.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said that had the tax been approved it would have given the Detroit-Ann Arbor rail link a critical boost.

“Commuter rail is a necessity for Ann Arbor to improve our local economy and to improve our local quality of life,” he said.

Had the plan been funded by the tax measure, commuter rail was expected to begin in 2022 and used the route now used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

No One Boarding the Illini in Homewood

November 25, 2016

ic-014-homewood-august-31-1996

An Amtrak crew member is picking up the step box and will soon board the northbound Illini at Homewood, Illinois, as it departs for its final stop at Chicago Union Station. The date is Aug. 31, 1996.

Amtrak does not carry passengers from Homewood to Chicago except when they are connecting there with other Amtrak trains.

Homewood is shown as a discharge only station for the northbound Illini.

Some passengers who disembarked here are still lingering on the platform before walking down a stairway to a tunnel that leads to the station.

Viewliner Diner Training May Start Soon

November 25, 2016

Amtrak’s first Viewliner II diner will be ready for crew training once it completes a testing program in Florida.

Amtrak logoThe dining car is at the Hialeah Maintenance Facility near Miami.

Amtrak has ordered 25 Viewliner II diners for assignment to single-level long-distance trains, including the Lake Shore Limited and the Cardinal.

The cars were originally scheduled to be delivered two years ago but have been delayed by production issues.

The Viewliner diners will replace Heritage Fleet dining cars, some of which have in the past several months been replaced by Amfleet food service cars.

Only the New York-New Orleans Crescent and the New York-Miami Silver Meteor are operating with Heritage dining cars.

The testing is being done at Hialeah because it maintains single-level long-distance equipment.