Archive for December, 2016

Where Amtrak Locos Lay Over Between Runs

December 24, 2016

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South of Chicago Union Station is the engine house where Amtrak maintains locomotives assigned to trains originating in Chicago.

I’ve passed by the facility numerous times on an Amtrak train, but never been inside of it. It is not the type of place that often offers public tours.

I got this grab shot from aboard the Carbondale, Illinois, to Chicago Saluki as it passed by the engine house on the St. Charles Air Line.

Other than routine servicing between runs, the engine house has facilities to perform maintenance, although the heavy overhauls are done at Beech Grove shops near Indianapolis.

Amtrak’s Sunset Limited Will Depart LA 2 Hours Earlier on Select Days in January, February

December 24, 2016

The Sunset Limited will operate earlier from Los Angles to El Paso, Texas, on select days in January and February due to Union Pacific track work.

sunset-limitedThe altered schedules will also apply to passengers originatin on the Texas Eagle between those points, but will not affect the Eagle schedule east of San Antonio. The Los Angeles section of the Texas Eagle is conveyed by the Sunset Limited.

The effective dates are Jan. 11, 13, 15, 25, 27 and 29, and Feb. 8, 10 and 12.

On those dates, Train No. 2 will depart from Los Angeles at 8 p.m., two hours earlier than scheduled.

Arrival and departure times at intermediate stations between Los Angeles and El Paso will be two hours earlier.

However, No. 2 will depart from El Paso at its scheduled time of 3:35 p.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

The track work will not affect the operation of the westbound Sunset Limited.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers will not be able to make connections on the affected days to No. 2 from the inbound Coast Starlight or some Pacific Surfliner trains.

Now Arriving From Carbondale, The Saluki

December 23, 2016

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The view is from the observation deck of Willis Tower in Chicago looking south on May 20, 2013. There is a clear view of the St. Charles Air Line which Amtrak trains use to get to and from the former Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and New Orleans.

The train that is visible in the top image crossing the Chicago River is the inbound Saluki from Carbondale, Illinois. It will cross over the Amtrak and Metra coach yards en route to reaching the BNSF Raceway at Union Avenue.

No. 390 will then back into Chicago Union Station. This move has been standard operating procedure for Amtrak trains arriving from New Orleans, Carbondale and Champaign since 1972.

On occasion, Amtrak has diverged from the St. Charles Air Line to the former IC Iowa Division at 16th Street Tower, crossed the route used by eastern Amtrak trains at 21st Street, and done a backup move on the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio route into Union Station.

I’ve also been on an Amtrak train that pulled out straight out and backed around the wye onto the Raceway to access the St. Charles Air Line.

Whichever route that an Amtrak train bound for or coming off the former IC takes, it will need to do a backup move at some point. Click on the photographs to enlarge them.

Some Think Parking Too Pricey in East Lansing

December 23, 2016

Some Lansing, Michigan, region Amtrak passengers are grousing about the cost of parking at the East Lansing station.

Amtrak 4It used to be free to park there, but that has not been the case since Amtrak began using the new Capital Area Multimodal Gateway last January.

Capital Area Transportation Authority charges $10 a day with a $50 maximum charge per week. The facility also serves local and intercity buses.

A CATA spokesperson told the Lansing State Journal that the parking fees at the facility were similar to those of other Lansing area parking facilities.

The City of East Lansing charges $15 a day in garages and $20 in surface lots. The City of Lansing charges $10 a day in its parking garages and Capital Regional International Airport has a $12 a day fee in short-term parking lots and $10 a day in long-term lots.

But when compared with the cost of parking at other Amtrak stations in Michigan, East Lansing is pricey.

East Lansing is served by the Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan, Blue Water and parking is free at Amtrak stations on the route in Port Huron, Flint, Durand, Battle Creek, Dowagiac, Niles and New Buffalo.

There is no parking at the station in Lapeer and in Kalamazoo Amtrak passengers are directed to use a city lot that charges $9.70 a night on weekdays and $3 on Saturdays. Parking is free in the Kalamazoo city facility on Sunday.

On Amtrak’s Wolverine Service route in Michigan, parking is free in Dearborn and Ann Arbor.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier is a tenant in East Lansing and has no say over parking fees at the station.

Magliari said it is not unusual for parking at or near Amtrak stations to come with a fee.

Although parking used to be free at the former East Lansing Amtrak station, problems arose when Michigan State University students who were not traveling would park there.

The CATA spokewoman said Amtrak passengers who don’t want to pay parking fees can ride a bus home or get a lift from a taxi or Uber driver. Passengers can even have friends drop them off or pick them up.

The parking rate in East Lansing, though, must seem like a bargain to Chicago residents who pay $26 a day to park at Chicago Union Station.

Amtrak’s Moorman Favors Negotiations With Railroads Rather than Government Force

December 22, 2016

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman prefers negotiations with its contract railroads rather than government regulation or court action when it comes to improving the passenger carrier’s on-time issues.

Amtrak logoMoorman said during an interview with Politico that on-time performance is a sensitive subject, but he thinks the freight railroads are amendable to talking about how to improve Amtrak’s performance.

Moorman said he knows that delays caused by freight trains are hindering Amtrak’s long-distance trains, but he also believes the railroads are putting forth their best effort to give passenger trains good on-time performance.

In recent years, the on-time performance of passenger trains has been the subject of a U.S. Surface Transportation board rule-making proceeding and Amtrak has filed complaints with the STB about the dispatching practices of certain railroads, notably Canadian National.

The STB has said it will examine on a case-by-case basis situations in which a freight railroad is to blame if Amtrak is unable to meet an 80 percent on-time performance goal.

The STB also will implement new formulas for calculating on-time performance.

Amtrak Claims Closing Huntington Ticket Office Step Toward Increasing Cardinal’s Frequency

December 22, 2016

Amtrak is attempting to frame the removal of its ticket agent from Huntington, West Virginia, as a move designed to save money so that the Chicago-New York Cardinal might be able to run more frequently than three times a week.

amtrak-cardinalThe last day for the Amtrak ticket agent to work was Wednesday night.

“Every dollar [Amtrak] can retain by taking advantage of technological advances like e-ticketing is a dollar that can go towards giving Huntington daily Amtrak service,” said Amtrak Senior Government Affairs Specialist Charlie Monte Verde in a statement to Trains magazine.

Reiterating what Amtrak personal have said to the news media when ticket agent were removed from other stations, Monte Verde said most tickets are now purchased online or on smart phones.

He described the move to remove the Huntington agent as a business decision.

Oxford City Council Members Meet With Amtrak to Discuss Instituting Station for the Cardinal

December 22, 2016

Oxford city council members met with Amtrak officials this week as part of a continuing campaign to get the passenger carrier to establish a stop in the southwestern Ohio city for the Chicago-New York Cardinal.

amtrak-cardinalProponents of the stop have proposed establishing a station near West Chestnut and South Main streets and are seeking at least $350,000 from the city and Miami University.

The movement to establish the station dates to 2009. That effort fell flat when Amtrak said there was enough demand to warrant the cost of a station.

The Cardinal has passed through Oxford since April 27, 1986, but has never stopped there. The Cardinal once served nearby Hamilton, Ohio, but that stop has since been discontinued.

The nearest station to Oxford served by the Cardinal is Cincinnati.

Efforts to get Amtrak to serve Oxford were renewed in 2015 with proponents pointing to an increase in the city’s population since the previous study.

This time Amtrak encouraged local officials to identify a potential station site. The former Baltimore & Ohio station in Oxford on Elm Street had been razed in 1994.

Amtrak has told Oxford that the carrier will not provide funding for acquiring, building or maintaining of a station.

In naming the West Chestnut and South Main site, Oxford officials have proposed creating a regional transportation hub that would also serve as a bus stop.

The Butler County Regional Transit and Miami University unsuccessfully sought a TIGER earlier this year.

Their current plan is to seek to secure the site and then find funding to pay for the station.

Chicago Suburbs Continue to Push for Full Environmental Study of Proposed Hiawatha Service Expansion

December 22, 2016

Public officials and residents of five northern Chicago suburbs are continuing to call for more comprehensive study of a proposal to expand Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Hiawatha 2About 100 people attended a meeting held this week in Lake Forest, Illinois, to discuss how the communities might be affected by the service expansion.

One point of contention is a passing siding that would be built to allow Canadian Pacific freight trains to wait for Amtrak and Metra trains to pass.

The siding has drawn sharp criticism from residents of Lake Forest, Deerfield, Northbrook, Glenview and Bannockburn.

A presentation at the Lake Forest meeting said the additional trackage, which would range from 13,000 to 18,000 feet, would enable faster rail service.

But Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely said it would also mean that freight trains would be 14 feet closer to homes along the west side of the tracks.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation initially proposed the service expansion, which would increase the number or daily Hiawatha Service roundtrips from seven to 10.

Also participating in the study are the Illinois Department of Transportation, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration.

The Illinois and Wisconsin transportation departments jointly fund the Hiawatha Service.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the FRA will make the final decision on whether the expansion can proceed because it is expected to provide most of the funding for the $150 track improvements, including the controversial passing siding.

The FRA released an environmental assessment of the project last October and public comment is being taken through Jan. 15.

That assessment concluded that the service expansion would not adversely affect adjacent properties through either noise or vibration.

Kiely said the suburban communities want the FRA to conduct a full environmental impact statement, which would be more comprehensive.

“That’s why the communities initially said they’d like to see a full environmental impact study done so we all have complete knowledge and information as to what those noise and vibration impacts are going to be,” he said.

The FRA’s environmental assessment noted that ridership in the Chicago‐Milwaukee corridor nearly doubled between 2001 and 2013, growing by an average of 5.9 percent per year.”

WisDOT wants the service increase in order to keep up with travel demand on the route.

“As ridership grows, near‐capacity and over‐capacity conditions (especially on trains 330, 332, 337 and 339) are expected to occur more frequently if no improvements are made to the service. Peak trains are often over capacity. Ridership is continuing to increase, despite the fall in gas prices. There is also significant and growing ridership on the mid-day off-peak trains,” said WisDOT spokesman Mae Knowles.

Public comments about the expansion plan can be made by sending an email to DOTChicagoMilwaukeePassengerRailEA@dot.wi.gov or by calling 608-261-6123.

 

FRA Grants Raise Hopes that New Rail Service is Getting Closer to Coming to Fruition

December 22, 2016

The allocation this week by the Federal Railroad Administration of $2.5 million for stations improvements has officials in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi hopeful that intercity rail passenger service between New Orleans and Florida, and New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is closer to getting launched.

FRAThe service to Baton Rouge is seen as commuter service, but the service east of the Crescent City would be a restoration of an Amtrak route lost when Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.

Until then, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited operated between Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida, via New Orleans, Mobile, Alabama, and Tallahassee and Jacksonville, Florida.

Three cities, Baton Rouge, Gonzales and LaPlace, will split $350,000 to begin planning for passengers stations on the proposed commuter train route.

The rest of the money will be allocated to cities in Mississippi (Biloxi, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport and Pascagoula) and Mobile for station development.

Some of the grant money is being distributed to the Alabama cities of Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Anniston for station work on the New York-New Orleans Crescent route.

Officials say it will be several years before the New Orleans-Baton Rouge service could start. Funding for the service has yet to be secured.

A study conducted in 2015 estimated the service would cost $6.7 million a year based on annual ridership of 210,000 paying a one-way fare of $10 per trip.

Restoring Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast could happen in 18 to 24 months said John Spain, a Louisiana representatives on the Southern Rail Commission.

Amtrak extended the Sunset Limited to Florida in 1993, operating tri-weekly. State-funded service to portions of the Gulf Coast from New Orleans have come and gone over the years.

The SRC noted in a 2015 report that the Sunset Limited was plagued by poor timekeeping due, in part, to freight train congestion.

Ex-Amtrak Station Frozen in Time in Akron

December 21, 2016
That tree growing behind the former Amtrak station in Akron wasn't originally part of the station, but it does add a touch of color in autumn.

That tree growing behind the former Amtrak station in Akron wasn’t originally part of the station complex, but it adds a touch of color in autumn.

Akron was left off Amtrak’s initial route map in 1971. The city saw an occasional Amtrak detour move over the years, most notably during the 1970s, but it didn’t become an Amtrak city until November 1990 when the Broadway Limited was removed from Conrail’s Fort Wayne Line and routed onto the Chicago-Pittsburgh mainline of CSX (former Baltimore & Ohio).

Although Akron Union Depot still stood, it had been taken over by the University of Akron. Amtrak built a modular station and used part of the platform area of the former union depot.

The Broadway Limited was discontinued in September 1995 in a massive route restructuring. That might have been the end of the story of Amtrak in Akron, but the New York-Pittsburgh Three Rivers was extended west to Chicago in November 1996.

That train, though, blew through Akron without stopping until August 1998. The Three Rivers used the same station and platform as the Broadway Limited, but the hang up had been who would pay for whatever repairs were needed to the facilities — such as they were — before Amtrak would agree to stop the Three Rivers in Akron.

During the Broadway Limited days, the Akron station had a ticket agent. But during the Three Rivers days, the station had a caretaker.

The Three Rivers made its last trips through Akron in March 2005, a victim of low patronage, and the end of the great mail and express gambit. Carriage of the latter was the primary reason why the Three Rivers had been extended west of Pittsburgh.

More than a decade after Nos. 40 and 41 halted in Akron for the final time, the Amtrak station in the Rubber City is frozen in time.

I paid a visit to the station in early November to see what remained. It has changed little since my last visit there in March 2012 and, for that matter, it had not changed much since service ended in 2005.

There is a tree growing behind the building that didn’t used to be there and the exterior appearance of the station is the same save for the plywood placed behind the front windows that wasn’t there in 2005. Remarkably, the building is largely free of vandalism and graffiti.

Taped to a front window is a November 2004 schedule for the Three Rivers, various notifications about Amtrak policies, a sign that says this is an unstaffed station, and a sign that says the Three Rivers no longer stops at this station. In fact there is no Three Rivers anymore anywhere.

What is missing is the platform,which CSX ripped out in 2012 when it was conducting a clearance project as part of the development of its National Gateway.

Otherwise, Amtrak’s Akron station remains frozen in time more than a decade after the trains left for good.

The front of the former Amtrak station in Akron.

The front of the former Amtrak station in Akron as seen in March 2012. It still looks like this four years later.

Unless you looked carefully and found this sign you might think that Amtrak still served Akron.

Unless you looked carefully. you might miss this sign and think that Amtrak still served Akron.

In this March 2012 view work has begun to remove the Amtrak platform. The walkway from the station to the platform had already been removed.

In this March 2012 view, work has begun to remove the Amtrak platform. The walkway from the station to the platform had already been removed.

The Amtrak platform has since been removed by CSX. The view is looking west toward the site of the former Akron Union Depot.

The Amtrak boarding platform was removed by CSX in 2012. The view is looking west toward the site of the former Akron Union Depot.

Quaker Square looms over the former Amtrak station in Akron, but even it has changed. It is now owned by the University of Akron and used for student housing and special events.

Although Quaker Square still looms over the former Amtrak station in Akron, even it has changed. It is now owned by the University of Akron and used for student housing and special events.

A schedule from 2004 remains taped to the front window of the Akron Amtrak station despite the fact the train was discontinued more than a decade ago.

A schedule dated Nov. 1, 2004, remains taped to the front window of the Akron Amtrak station even though the train was discontinued more than a decade ago.