Archive for April, 2017

Cardinal, Hoosier State to be Rescheduled

April 28, 2017

Amtrak plans to reschedule the Cardinal and Hoosier State between Chicago and Indianapolis on May 1.

Trains 50 and 850 will operate 11 minutes earlier at all stations from Dyer to Indianapolis, departing Dyer at 6:44 p.m., Rensselaer at 7:35 p.m., Lafayette at 9:46 p.m. and Crawfordsville at 10:20 p.m. The arrival at Indianapolis will be 11:39 pm. All times shown are local.

Nos. 51 and 851 will be scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 10 a.m., five minutes earlier than the current schedule.

The Chicago to New York No. 50 originates in Chicago on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Train 850 originates in Chicago on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Train 51 runs between Indianapolis and Chicago on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Train 851 will originate in Indianapolis on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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City Might Take Over Jackson Union Station

April 28, 2017

Plagued by security issues and a deteriorating physical structure, the Amtrak station in Jackson, Mississippi, may be getting a new owner.

The Jackson Redevelopment Authority Board of Commissioners, which owns Union Station, has asked the City of Jackson to consider taking over the downtown transit hub, which serves Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, and Greyhound and local buses.

The Redevelopment Authority said that among the problems at Union Station are criminal activity, burglaries, leaking roofs, security issues and financial concerns.

City Councilman Kenneth Stokes cited these issues in saying that the future of Union Station is in jeopardy.

“We cannot wait until Union Station completely falls down before we do something,” Stokes said. “We’re still on some solid ground. Let’s take it over now, let’s make the necessary repairs and bring Union Station back up.”

Stokes said the police department might have to establish a substation at the depot to ensure that it is safe.

He said he will put the matter of a possible transfer of ownership and title of Union Station to the city on the next city council agenda for discussion.

Coast Starlight Route Temporarily Severed

April 28, 2017

Operations of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight have been disrupted following a derailment of a Union Pacific freight train in the Sacramento River Canyon this week.

UP officials say that it will take up to a month to repair the damage and reopen the route.

The Seattle-Los Angeles Amtrak train continues to operate between Los Angeles and Sacramento, but has been canceled for now between Portland and Sacramento.

The freight train derailment occurred about 12 miles south of Dunsmuir, California, on a bridge.

UP is rerouting trains from Roseville, California, and Los Angeles as far east as Salt Lake City to reach Portland via Pocatello, Idaho.

Higher-priority cargo is being routed on the Feather River Canyon east from Roseville to Keddie, California, and then via the BNSF Inside Gateway route to Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Amtrak Station in Tucson

April 27, 2017

The streetside view of the former Southern Pacific station in Tucson, which is now used in part by Amtrak.

Last October I was  on vacation in Tucson, Arizona. I paid a visit to the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, which uses a portion of the former Southern Pacific station.

Amtrak still uses the SP station, although it shares it with Maynard’s Market, a deli-type operation.

I was there on a Thursday and Amtrak’s Sunset Limited was not scheduled to operate in either direction. Tucson is still a staffed station with checked baggage service.

The size of the Amtrak facilities appear to be appropriate for the use that the station gets and the depot has been nicely restored.

The streetside entrance to the Amtrak station. The depot is located on Toole Street.

The exterior of the station as seen from the trackside view.

The Amtrak ticket office in the Tucson station.

Another angle of the Tucson ticket office.

One end of the waiting room. In the distance is the former CTC machine used by Southern Pacific dispatchers to control traffic on the Sunset Route.

The other end of the waiting room, which has a number of historic photographs on the wall. The ticket office is to the left and straight ahead.

The door to the platform as seen from inside the waiting room.

On the platform. The building on the other side of the tracks is the maintenance facility for the Tucson streetcar network.

 

When the LSL Was a Regular Daylight Train in Cleveland

April 26, 2017

It was in 2007, I believe, that Amtrak rescheduled the eastbound Lake Shore Limited to arrive and depart Cleveland between 6 and 7 a.m., which meant it was a daylight operation for a good part of the year.

That schedule didn’t last long and No. 48 soon enough began leaving Chicago at 9:30 p.m., which puts it into Cleveland at 5:35 a.m.

I didn’t take advantage of the 2007 window of opportunity as much as I should have. A friend, though, did. He made it a point to photograph No. 48 in as many places as he could between Cleveland and the Pennsylvania border just east of Conneaut, Ohio, during the summer of 2007.

I did get downtown on a couple of occasions to photograph No. 48 in the station, including this view made on July 14, 2007.

Note that lead unit No. 156 is the one that is now painted in Amtrak’s Phase I locomotive livery.

Missouri River Runner Ridership up in 2017

April 26, 2017

Ridership aboard Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner trains increased 1 percent in the first quarter of 2017.

“For January through March, we were up nearly 1 percent from this time last year,” said Kristi Jamison, Missouri Department of Transportation railroad operations manager. “In January, we were up 10 percent, but that went down in February and March.”

Boardings in Jefferson City fell by 0.5 percent during the period.

“I still believe we’re being affected by low gas prices, and we’re still seeing fewer riders coming into St. Louis because of work on a high-speed rail service to Chicago,” Jamison said. “The infrastructure on that should be done by the end of this year, so we’ll see how we rebound from there.”

Jamison said 30 percent of River Runner passengers make connections with other Amtrak trains in St. Louis or Kansas City.

“So when you have delays like what we’ve seen in construction of the high-speed rail service in Illinois, that drops the ridership level,” she said.

The on-time performance of the Missouri River Runners was 90 percent for the first quarter, with some delays caused by freight traffic congestion.

“We also benefited from a mild winter, which decreases delays caused by cold weather and its effects on the tracks,” Jamison said.

MoDOT does not expect any changes in the service level regardless of how much funding the Missouri legislature allots for the service.

In 2017, the service was initially allotted $9.6 million, but Gov. Eric Greitens withheld $500,000 from that amount, making the intercity rail passenger budget $9.1 million.

MoDOT requested $14.1 million for the Missouri River Runners for fiscal year 2018, but Greitens has recommended approving $9.1 million. The House approved that amount but the Senate has not yet acted on the budget.

“We’re not anticipating any changes to our service due to the level of state funding we’re getting,” Jamison said.

In the meantime, Amtrak and MoDOT have announced two fare promotions that will run through the end of August.

They include mid-week fare sales with a 25 percent discount when traveling Tuesday through Thursday and a Kids Ride Free sale for weekend travel Friday through Sunday for children ages 2-12 when accompanied by a full-fare paid adult.

Reservations are required at least one day in advance of travel. The Missouri River Runners operate twice a day between St. Louis and Kansas City with intermediate stops at Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, Sedalia, Warrensburg, Lee’s Summit and Independence.

Westbound Texas Eagle to Detour in Texas May 1-8

April 26, 2017

Amtrak’s westbound Texas Eagle is being detoured in Texas between May 1 and 8 due to track work being performed by Union Pacific.

The train will miss its scheduled stops at Marshall and Longview, Texas.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers boarding at Shreveport, Louisiana; Marshall, Texas; and Longview, Texas, will board Thruway bus 6421 to Mineola, Texas, where they will board Train 21/421.

Passengers on Nos. 21/421 who are traveling to Shreveport, Marshall and Longview will detrain at Mineola and ride Thruway bus 6121 to their destination. Bus 6121 will originate at Mineola instead of Longview.

Those on Nos. 21/421 who are scheduled to make connections with Thruway bus 6021 at Longview will also detrain at Mineola and take Thruway Bus 6021 to their destination. Bus 6021 will originate in Mineola instead of Longview.

During this period, Amtrak personnel will be available at Mineola to assist customers.

Charger Testing Completed in Illinois

April 25, 2017

The new Charger SC-44 locomotives were tested last weekend on three routes in the Midwest and are expected to enter revenue service this spring.

The Illinois Department of Transportation said the locomotives built by Siemens ran with empty trains of Amtrak passenger cars on routes linking Chicago with Milwaukee; Carbondale, Illinois; and Quincy, Illinois.

The locomotives will be tested on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor later this year.

“The delivery and testing of these attractive new locomotives will certainly get attention now and in years to come as they serve riders in our great Illinois communities,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn.

“Their arrival will be a welcome sight and put us one step closer to providing more efficient and reliable passenger rail service throughout our state and our neighboring states.”

During the test runs, engineering staff from Amtrak and Siemens rode the locomotives and performed required tests while monitoring each engine’s performance.

The Chargers are compliant with EPA Tier IV emissions standards and can operate at speeds up to 125 mph.

IDOT along with state transportation departments in Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Maryland, California and Washington collaborated on ordering the locomotives.

Midwest state agencies acquired 33 of the 4,400-horsepower locomotives, which were purchased through $216.5 million in federal funding and built in Sacramento, California. All of the Midwest-based locomotives are to be delivered by late 2017.

Revenue testing is to begin for 30 days on April 30 in California on the Capitol Corridor route. Six Chargers are expected to operate in Northern California on the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin routes.

In a news release, Siemens said the Chargers are equipped with electronically controlled regenerative braking systems that use energy from traction motors during braking to feed the auxiliary and head-end power systems. The feature is expected to minimize fuel consumption.

The diesel-electric operation is designed to enable better acceleration, cleaner emissions and low noise levels. The locomotives feature a 4,400 horsepower Cummins QSK95 diesel engine.

Expedited FRA Review Sought of Ann Arbor Amtrak Station Site Environmental Assessment

April 25, 2017

A  Michigan congresswoman is trying to turn up the heat on the Federal Railroad Administration to act sooner rather than later on reviewing an environmental assessment for a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell has written to the FRA to urge it to expedite that review.

Ann Arbor faces a Sept. 30 deadline to spend a $2.8 million federal grant that it received to develop a station. The FRA had indicated earlier that it would not finish its review until summer, leaving the city little time to spend the grant money on station design work.

In her letter to the FRA, Dingell said it was important that the FRA move in an “urgent and expeditious manner so the city can move forward with improving mass transit in the state of Michigan.”

Once the FRA finishes reviewing the environmental assessment, there will be a 30-day public comment period.

Thus far the city has not revealed the site it prefers for the new station.

Dingell also pointed out in her letter that Amtrak and the State of Michigan have been working to upgrade service between Chicago and Detroit.

Currently, Ann Arbor is served by three Wolverine Service roundtrips although transportation officials have spoken about increasing that level of service at some unspecified time as well as launching commuter rail service to Detroit.

FRA spokesman Marc Willis said the FRA has received the environmental assessment from the city.

“We reviewed it and sent it back to them for revisions,” he said, adding there’s no time frame from the city when it will be sent back for FRA review.

City Council Member Zachary Ackerman said the city is running out of time to build a new Amtrak station

Ackerman said that a new station seems to be less of a reality given the current climate in Washington and he won’t support a new station without significant federal funding.

Michigan Rail Passenger Advocates Working to Get Amtrak-VIA Bus Connection Detroit-Windsor

April 25, 2017

Michigan rail passengers advocates are working with Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada to revive connecting service between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, although that might not necessarily be rail service.

In a campaign that has been dubbed “mind the gap,” the advocates are talking with both railroads about establishing a direct bus connection.

Passengers who now want to connect between Amtrak and VIA must either take a cab or ride three local transit buses.

The advocates noted that the border crossing at Detroit is the busiest between the two countries.

Until 2003, Amtrak and VIA hosted a Chicago-Toronto train known as the International that operated via Flint and Port Huron, Michigan.

A Detroit-New York train, the Niagara Rainbow, operated via Windsor between October 1974 and January 1979, ending when the states of New York and Michigan ended their funding of the train.

An article posted on the website of the National Association of Railroad Passengers said that VIA is in active discussions with bus companies to provide a “bus bridge” between the VIA station in Windsor and the Detroit Amtrak station.

The service may begin by late 2017. The Michigan advocates hope that if the bus connection proves successful that it might provide an impetus for resuming rail service between Detroit and Windsor.