Archive for February, 2017

CZ Still Suspended West of Reno

February 24, 2017

Amtrak has again suspended operation of its California Zephyr over a portion of its route due to avalanche threats in Northern California.

amtrak-california-zephyrNos. 5 and 6 are temporarily suspended between Reno, Nevada, and Emeryville, California, due to Union Pacific suspending operating on its Donner Pass line between Colfax and Truckee.

Westbound trains will terminate in Reno while eastbounds will originate there. Service remains unchanged between Chicago and Reno.

Some passengers will be transported by bus between Reno and Emeryville.

Route closures had forced UP to focus traffic on its Donner Pass route and led Amtrak to cancel operation of the California Zephyr west of Salt Lake City for more than a week and half.

Side by Side in Conneaut

February 23, 2017

amtrak023

It was an Amtrak two-fer day although the second of the photo ops was not planned.

On Sept. 19, 2014, a friend and I made out way to Conneaut, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border to photograph an American Association of Private Rail Car Owners special en route to the group’s convention in New England.

It operated on Norfolk Southern and was, technically, an Amtrak charter even if the only Amtrak equipment was the locomotives.

After photographing the special on the Conneaut trestle, we checked with Amtrak Julie just for the heck of it to see how No. 48 was doing.

Under normal circumstances, the eastbound Lake Shore Limited would be long past Conneaut. But the summer and fall of 2014 was far from normal circumstances for Amtrak operations between Chicago and Cleveland.

Sure enough, No. 48 was running late and we had time to get up to the former Lake Shore & Michigan Southern station to get a photo of it rounding the curve beneath the water tank.

For good measure No. 48 came up alongside a CSX train slowly making its way eastward.

Amtrak Cafe Car Fare

February 22, 2017

cleveland-amfleet-mural-3

The offerings of a typical Amtrak cafe car probably are not the healthiest and they are for sure not the cheapest offerings.

But if you have the munchies after sitting in a coach seat for a couple hours with another couple hours to go before reaching your destination, they look pretty good.

Shown is the serving area of an Amfleet cafe car that was on display in May 2016 at the National Train Day event in Toledo, Ohio.

Through the use of enhance graphics and color photography the food offerings look better than they do when the attendant hands them to you in a cardboard box.

And when was the last time that you saw a whole pie in a food service car? The current national cafe car menu at the Amtrak website doesn’t show pie as an option. Not even one of those Hostess apple pies found in convenience stores.

I will admit that I’ve always had a fondness for the Angus cheeseburger, which currently costs $7.25.

Like I said, Amtrak cafe fare is not cheap. Bon appetit.

AAO Still Trying to Move the Passenger Needle

February 22, 2017

A message showed up in my email inbox the other day from All Aboard Ohio, a passenger advocacy group, that has released a report titled, “Ohio Passenger Rail Assessment of Needs.”

The report was timed to coincide with the Ohio legislature getting to work in hammering out the state’s budget for the next two years.

ohioAAO is trying to push legislators to “begin planning, constructing or completing $23.6 million worth of passenger rail improvements” over the next two years.

Much of that work involves upgrading stations served by the state’s three Amtrak trains, the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited and Cardinal.

Some of the funding would also be used to plan potential future intercity rail routes, including a proposed Chicago-Fort Wayne-Columbus route that has never seen Amtrak service.

As AAO sees it, more than $80 million in state funding could be available under state law to be used for passenger rail development without paying for the operating costs of any actual trains.

An AAO news release about the report was written in the typical optimistic tone of rail passenger advocates and sought to put the best possible face on intercity rail.

It focused on such facts as how Amtrak covers 94 percent of its costs through revenues and set a ridership record in fiscal year 2016.

It also reiterated a tactic that AAO has used in the past of trying to shame Ohio policy makers into taking action by noting how neighboring states and the Canadian province of Ontario are investing millions in the development of intercity routes and services while Ohio spends zilch.

The state capital of Columbus is the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere without passenger rail service.

Some folks in Phoenix might quibble with that although the Valley of the Sun does have a light rail system that is seeking to expand.

Rail passenger advocates tend to be an optimistic lot. They have to be. If they acknowledged the long and difficult road ahead they might throw up their hands in frustration. AAO is no exception.

“We look forward to continuing our dialogue with Ohio’s policymakers in achieving realistic, near-term improvements to our state’s transportation system,” said AAO Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “We urge Ohioans to contact their state lawmakers in Columbus today and inform them with a short, polite message that they want better passenger rail service in Ohio.”

AAO has around 500 members and even if all of them contacted their legislators it is doubtful that it would have much effect on what the legislature is likely to do in terms of supporting intercity passenger rail.

Ohio has never spent a dime on funding intercity rail service, unlike neighboring Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

It received a federal grant to help develop the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati corridor, but Gov. John Kasich killed the project shortly after winning election in 2010 and the federal government took back the grant and reallocated it elsewhere.

Ohio’s apathy, indifference or hostility – choose which word you think fits best – toward intercity rail development is not likely to change this year.

Kasich is still governor and is unlikely to change his views toward intercity rail service. Nor is the current legislature likely to be any more open to rail than is the governor. They are not going to be shamed or moved to action.

There may be some small victories, such as state funding of existing station improvements, but little to nothing else.

So AAO works to develop support for a rail a little at a time. Like I said, it’s going to be a long struggle.

CZ Resume Operating Full Length of Route

February 21, 2017

Amtrak’s California Zephyr is back in operation the length of its route after flooding washed out the Union Pacific route used by the train west of Salt Lake City.

amtrak-california-zephyrNos. 5 and 6 had been operating between Chicago and Salt Lake City for more than a week due to freight train congestion and weather related issues.

The congestion had been caused in part by freight traffic being diverted to the Donner Pass route used by Amtrak due to the Feather River Canyon route being knocked out of service following heavy rains.

The Feather River route, which once hosted the original California Zephyr in Western Pacific days, was still being repaired on Tuesday.

But both WP and Southern Pacific routes east of Winnemucca, Nevada are now open.

St. Cloud Station Rehab Gets Underway

February 21, 2017

Work has begun to rehabilitate the Amtrak station in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

The $1.3 million project will include updated restroom facilities, improved wheelchair accessibility and signs that comply with the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Amtrak 4Also included in the project are a new roof for the depot, a reconfigured parking lot and boarding platforms improvements.

St. Cloud is served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, which handled 11,457 passengers there in 2016 compared with 9,950 in 2015.

Overall 2016 ridership of Nos. 7-27 and 8-28 for 2016 was 146,689, an increase of 5.8 percent over 2015.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the Builder’s operating performance has improved after a period of time when high oil train traffic on host railroad BNSF resulted in severe delays and cancellations.

Megabus to Resume Chicago-Nebraska Route

February 21, 2017

Amtrak just go another travel competitor in the Chicago-Nebraska travel market.

megabusMegabus has announced that it will restore service between Chicago and Lincoln, Nebraska, on March 1.

The single roundtrip a day will make intermediate stops in Omaha, Nebraska; the Iowa cities of Des Moines and Iowa City; and Moline, Illinois.

Additional trips may be added on weekends and holidays. The service is being operated as a partnership with Windstar Lines of Carroll, Iowa.

Megabus ended the route last month, citing declining ridership due to low gasoline prices.

Generations of Motive Power

February 20, 2017

southwest-chief-at-naperville-on-september-1-1996

Amtrak train No. 4 is departing from the station in Naperville, Illinois, and is about to cross over to the center track for the run into Chicago.

I made this image of the motive power consist because I found it interesting how there are three distinct locomotives represented.

On the point is a P40DC locomotive with the fading stripes that are original to those units, but which proved to be short lived on Amtrak.

In the middle is a P32-8 wearing its striking and original livery that proved to be unique to these locomotives.

And the third unit is an F40PH in the Phase III livery. At the time, F40s were still commonplace, but starting to fade from the roster.

Moorman Urges Rail Infrastructure Investments

February 16, 2017

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman told a Senate committee this week that the United States needs a new era of infrastructure investment in order to ensure a healthy future for long-distance passenger rail travel.

Wick Moorman

Wick Moorman

Speaking to the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security, Moorman said, “The time is now to invest in our aging assets.

“More than ever, our nation and the traveling public rely on Amtrak for mobility, but the future of Amtrak depends on whether we can renew the cars, locomotives, bridges, tunnels, stations and other infrastructure that allows us to meet these growing.”

Noting that Amtrak posted a record ridership of more than 31 million passengers and ticket revenues of $2.2 billion in 2016, Moorman said. “I’m certain that we can get even better by relentlessly improving our safety culture, modernizing and upgrading our products and strengthening our operational efficiency and project delivery.”

Moorman called for additional support from Congress and the Trump Administration to upgrade aging assets in order to continue to provide reliable services and network operations.

Among the improvements that Moorman cited as urgently needed are construction of tunnels and bridges on the Northeast Corridor; expansion of stations in Chicago and Washington; construction of a fleet of new or rebuilt diesel locomotives; and construction of track, signaling, and other improvements to remove choke points on host railroads or restore service in key underserved markets, such as along the Gulf Coast.

Moorman said Amtrak is focusing on identifying ways to improve collaboration with the 21 states and various commuter agencies that it partners with to provide service on corridors across the country. He urged the federal government to explore different ways to support intercity passenger rail service.

This could include direct investments, public-private partnerships and innovative financing, streamlining of the environmental review process, and less bureaucratic red tape.

“Investments in these sectors can help spur the rebirth of America’s passenger rail manufacturing and supply sector,” Moorman said.

Norman to Become Locomotive Horn Quiet Zone

February 16, 2017

Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer will be making less noise as it passes through Norman, Oklahoma, starting Friday.

Heartland FlyerThe city has adopted an ordinance that will result in Amtrak and BNSF trains gradually decreasing the use of locomotive horns.

Eventually, Norman will become a quiet zone although locomotive engineers will be permitted to sound the horn for safety reasons.

The city has installed median barriers and warning signs at grade crossing as required by federal law in order to qualify as a quiet zone for locomotive horns.

Norman, the hometown of the University of Oklahoma, has been working since 2015 to establish itself as a quiet zone.