Archive for December, 2016

Boy Scouts Urge Daily Operation of The Cardinal During 2017, 2019 Jamborees in West Virginia

December 21, 2016

Boy Scouts of America is urging Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman to operate the Cardinal daily during July 2017 when the Scouts will hold their National Jamboree at Mount Hope, West Virginia.

amtrak-cardinalThe Summit Bechtel Reserve at Mount Hope will also be the site of the World Scout Jamboree in 2019 and the Scouts would like to see daily service during that event, too.

The jamboree location is within the 70,000-acre New River Gorge National River recreation area. The Chicago-New York Cardinal operates tri-weekly.

The Boy Scouts became aware of the movement to urge Amtrak to operate the Cardinal on a daily basis during a conference held in September in Cincinnati.

“I hope Amtrak will consider the opportunity to take advantage of the Jamboree window to operate daily service on the Cardinal and to work with local tourism representatives to maximize this unique opportunity,” BSA Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh wrote in a letter to Amtrak. “I know I speak for all when I say that enhanced service would be a welcome addition offering the possibility of increased ridership and visitors to the New River Gorge.”

All Aboard Ohio, a rail passenger advocacy group, said that Amtrak cannot legally expand service that increases its operating losses without identifying funding to offset it.

AAO noted that Amtrak has estimated that it has enough equipment to operate the Cardinal as often as five days a week.

The equipment pool available to expand operations of the Cardinal to seven days a week may be sufficient by next summer due to Amtrak taking delivery of new Viewliner cars being built by CAF USA.

CSX, NS Shutdowns Won’t Affect Amtrak

December 20, 2016

CSX said this week that it will shut down operations on Christmas Eve and reopen on Dec. 26.

CSX logo 1In a customer service advisory, CSX said operations will cease at 3 p.m. on Dec. 24 and resume at 7 a.m. on Dec. 26.

That is similar to a shutdown announced last week by Norfolk Southern, which plans to shut down on Dec. 24 and remain idle until Dec. 27. NS has said that it will “not accept trains at interchanges” during the days that it is closed.

Trains magazine observed that also other Class I and regional railroads are scaling back operations on non-essential route, none are planning complete shutdowns as are NS and CSX.

Amtrak and commuter trains that use CSX and NS are not expected to be adversely affected by the holiday service closures.

Amtrak Removing Huntington Ticket Agent

December 20, 2016

Amtrak is planning to remove its ticket agent from its station in Huntington, West Virginia.

amtrak-cardinalThe station agent, who serves the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, is slated to be removed on Wednesday.

Amtrak will hire a part-time caretaker to open the station 30 minutes before train times and then lock it after the train departs.

Removal of the Huntington agent will leave Charleston as the only station served by the Cardinal in West Virginia that still has a ticket agent.

Amtrak removed its agent at Prince last February.

Chuck Riecks of the advocacy group Friends of the Cardinal, told The Herald-Dispatch, a Huntington newspaper, that Amtrak wants to remove agents at several stations across the country. “The figure I hear is 122 stations,” he said.

He said the standard that Amtrak is using to determine whether to remove an agent is ticket sales. In recent years, Amtrak has not replaced agents who retired or left the company.

When a ticket agent is removed, it usually means that passengers will no longer be able to buy tickets at the station.

Agents also handle checked luggage, provide information on train status and help passengers plan trips by rail.

In news stories about the removal of agents in other cities, an Amtrak spokesman has often cited a rise in the number of passengers who buy tickets online.

Riecks said the Prince station has gone through at least two caretakers since the agent was removed.

“Prince, and more recently Huntington, just had a bunch of Amtrak money spent to put the stations into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Riecks said. “Charleston is the next station slated to get the ADA work, and in all seriousness some of us are thinking we don’t want it. We know what comes next.”

Chicago-Columbus Route Planning to Start

December 20, 2016

All Aboard Ohio said Monday that enough funding has been raised to begin what it described as an alternatives analysis and public input process for a proposed Chicago-Columbus passenger rail route.

Amtrak 4The Indiana Department of Transportation submitted an application to the Federal Railroad Administration in support of the planning process for the route.

In a news release, AAO, a rail passenger advocacy group based in Cleveland, said INDOT offered the locally-raised funds, totaling $350,000, to start the planning process as part of an arrangement with the FRA.

The initial planning work is to be completed by late 2017.  AAO also said the support of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association was also critical.

The Chicago-Columbus route would operate via Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Lima, Ohio, using large portions of the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s Fort Wayne Line, which hosted Amtrak trains until November 1990 when the trains were rerouted due to Conrail downgrading the route.

“There are only two rail corridors to the east of Chicago that lack heavy freight rail traffic and could offer the potential for frequent, reliable, 110-mph passenger trains,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of AAO.

The Fort Wayne Line is one of those with Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit being the other.

Prendergast noted that work is already underway to upgrade the Michigan corridor for 110-mph passenger service.

Crescent Stations to Receive Upgrades

December 20, 2016

The Southern Rail Commission said on Monday that three Alabama cities will receive funding to upgrade their Amtrak stations. All are served by the New York-New Orleans Crescent.

Amtrak 4The Commission said the grants are part of $2.4 million in federal funds to be spent for station upgrades in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

The grants include $139,500 for Anniston, $150,000 for Birmingham and $314,457 for Tuscaloosa.

In Anniston, city officials say they will use their grant to extend the platform by 400 feet, to allow Nos. 19 and 20 to load and unload baggage and bicycles.

City manager Kent Davis noted that the Chief Ladiga Trail has been extended into Anniston and cycling signs have been placed on city streets.

The city also has going a project to build a new trailhead and parking lot serving Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail.

“If we make Amtrak more bike friendly as well, it could bring in more cyclists,” Davis said.

The lengthened platform is expected to eliminate the need for double stopping.

The city is in talks with Norfolk Southern, which owns the property on which the platform extension will be installed.

TSA Mandates RR Workers get Security Training

December 20, 2016

In a regulation published on Dec. 16, the Transportation Security Administration said it will require all “security sensitive employees” of Class I freight railroads, commuter lines, and Amtrak to have formal security training. The rules also will apply to intercity bus companies.

tsa-logoTransportation companies will be required to establish a TSA-approved training program within a year.

Railroad employees expected to be affected by the training requirement are locomotive engineers, conductors, dispatchers and maintenance of way employees.

TSA said in a statement that the security training will focus on the ability “to observe, assess, and respond to security risks and potential security breaches.”

In particular, this will apply to railroad workers engaged in the transport of explosive, toxic, or radioactive cargoes through “high threat urban areas.”

All transportation companies covered by the regulation must appoint security coordinators.
TSA put the estimated cost of implementing the regulations at $90.7 million for freight railroads, and $53.4 million for commuter railroads.

TSA expects to extend the rules it is proposing for railroads and bus companies to maritime operations.

The National Limited Takes a Detour

December 19, 2016
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The westbound National Limited arrives in the station at Mattoon, Ilinois, in May 1977 on a detour move. The train is using the former New York Central route to St. Louis due to track work on its regular route over the former Pennsylvania Railroad route via Effingham, Illinois.

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The National Limited handled mail from New York to Los Angeles that was interchanged to the Southwest Limited in Kansas City. Note that the former NYC passenger platform is still in place at right nine years after the last NYC passenger train here was discontinued.

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The Amtrak conductor and two other crew members wait in the vestibule of a coach as the eastbound National Limited arrives in Mattoon, Illinois, in May 1977 on a detour move.

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The eastbound National Limited departs from Mattoon, Illinois, on former New York Central rails. It will regain its regular route in Terre Haute, Indiana. A portion of the former NYC passenger station is visible at right.

It was not unusual for Amtrak’s National Limited to detour between Terre Haute, Indiana, and St. Louis.

The scheduled route was via the former Pennsylvania Railroad via Effingham, Illlinois, but the Penn Central dispatcher had the option of running the train over the ex-New York Central route through Mattoon, Illinois.

After Conrail took over Penn Central in 1976, it began rebuilding the ex-Pennsy route used by Amtrak Nos. 30 and 31.

In late April 1977, the National Limited was rescheduled to operate during the afternoon hours between St. Louis and Effingham. That also coincided with the track gang hours.

So, for a good part of May 1977, Nos. 30 and 31 detoured via the ex-NYC route, making the Effingham stop at the former NYC passenger platform in Mattoon

The last NYC passenger train through Mattoon had been discontinued in March 1968, but the platform was still in place on the south side of the tracks.

I was a young reporter for the Mattoon Journal Gazette and I gave myself an assignment one afternoon to cover the detour of the National Limited.

I went down to the tracks, interviewed waiting passengers, and made photographs of both trains using Kodak Tri-X film.

Much has changed since that May 1977 day. The National Limited was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1979, and in March 1982, Conrail abandoned the former NYC tracks through Mattoon. The rails were picked up a year later.

The former NYC station has since been razed. The platforms remained in place for several years after the tracks were pulled up, but were eventually taken out in the early 2000s to make way for a parking lot for the YMCA.

In Position as Required by Rule

December 17, 2016
sw-limited-novemer-1-1981

The rear brakeman of Amtrak No. 4 stands watch in Lamy, New Mexico, on Nov. 1, 1981.

Amtrak’s eastbound Southwest Limited is making its station stop in Lamy, New Mexico, and the Santa Fe rear brakeman watches the boarding process from toward the rear of the train.

The two Superliner sleepers assigned to No. 4 today are on the rear end. I got to talking with this crew member during my journey, which began the night before in Los Angeles and would end early the next morning in Kansas City. Before he went off duty, he handed me the train bulletin for that day.

I made this image from the vestibule of the sleeper in which I had a room.

CenturyLink to Help Sponsor Amtrak Ski Train

December 17, 2016

The ski train between Denver and Winter Park won’t begin running until next month but surging sales have prompted Amtrak to increase its capacity.

Amtrak logoAmtrak said some weekend trips are nearly sold out in advance of the Jan. 7 first run. The train operates between Denver Union Station and the Winter Park ski resort just west of Moffat Tunnel.

The train has also picked up a corporate sponsor, CenturyLink a Louisiana-based telecommunications provider.

Three cars and one locomotive will be wrapped in a CenturyLink wrap to promote the service, which will be known as Amtrak Winter Park Express presented by CenturyLink.

The train will operate on weekends and two holiday Mondays through March 26.

Amtrak Marketing in 1971 and Today

December 16, 2016

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Amtrak’s marketing was pretty simple during its first year of operation. Shown above on the left is a page from the Nov. 14, 1971, timetable.

The full-page advertisement features an Amtrak passenger representative holding an oversize model of a passenger car standing in the middle of a railroad track with the slogan of the time, “We’re Making the Trains Worth Traveling Again.”

Despite the fact that some railroads — the Santa Fe being a notable example — still provided very good service, the public perception in the early 1970s was colored by reports about travel on trains offered by Penn Central and other railroads that were described as dirty and unpleasant. If you read the text of the advertisement above, you will find in talking point No. 2 that Amtrak was pledging to operate cleaner trains.

In the early 1970s, travel by train was in decline and Amtrak claimed to be seeking to reverse that.

Contrast that approach to that taken in the advertisement published in the last system timetable that Amtrak printed early in 2016.

In the second decade of the 21st century Amtrak perceives its primary competitor to be the private automobile. It now sees itself as having long since “arrived” and n ow living an urbane existence. Its advertisements are slicker looking and more stylized.

It was an increasing reliance on private automobile travel that led to the decline of intercity train travel that Amtrak was assuring the public that it was seeking to address back in 1971.

More than four decades later, Amtrak is still battling the convenience of the private automobile. The ways that Amtrak fights that battle has changed, but not the battle itself. (click on the image to enlarge it).