Archive for May, 2017

LSL Not Affected by New York Penn Station Changes

May 31, 2017

The Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited will not be affected by schedule changes that Amtrak is imposing this summer at New York Penn Station during a track renewal project.

The passenger carrier said on Tuesday that it will change its schedules between July 10 and Sept. 1 to reflect the reduced station capacity as workers undertake track and switch work.

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman said Amtrak would be affected the most by the schedule changes, which also will affect New Jersey Transit and Long Island Railroad trains.

One long-distance train, the New York-New Orleans Crescent, will terminate in Washington during the construction period. Passengers bound for points north of Washington will need to change trains in Washington.

Northeast Regional service will see three round trip trains New York and Washington canceled. New York-Boston service will operate at current levels.

Keystone Service will terminate in Philadelphia with one roundtrip terminating in Newark, New Jersey.  Service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, will be at current levels.

There will be no schedule changes for Acela Express service. Amtrak said it would announce changes to Empire Service later.

Amtrak said it decided to speed up previously planned projects to improve conditions and service reliability at the station following two derailments earlier this year.

“While we regret that this work requires some reduction in train service and disruption to passengers over the summer months, we believe it will ultimately be worth the investment in terms of increased reliability of passenger rail travel,” said Moorman in a news release.

 

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Chicago-Columbus Study to be Completed This Year

May 31, 2017

A study of passenger rail service between Chicago and Columbus is expected to be completed by late this year.

HNTB Corporation is analyzing operating plans and preliminary costs for the proposed service, a review that is required by the National Environmental Policy Act to begin the project.

Completion of the analysis would enable the project to receive federal funds for design and construction.

HNTB will recommend a route, operating speeds, train frequency and station sites, as well as estimated ridership and revenue. The $350,000 study is being paid for by cities and businesses along the corridor, including Fort Wayne, Indiana, which lost Amtrak service in late 1990.

The route would initially have a top speed of 75 mph with an eventual goal 110 mph travel.

“We are making great progress in our efforts to return passenger rail to Fort Wayne and northern Indiana and northwest Ohio,” said Geoff Paddock, a member of  the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association.“This passenger-rail line will boost economic development efforts by connecting people and businesses throughout the region and it will enhance the quality of life for area residents.”

The group said in December 2016 that the Federal Railroad Administration would conduct the alternatives analysis and solicit public input on the project. HNTB was the contractor hired to complete that study.

From the Vestibule Aboard the National Limited

May 31, 2017

In the early days of Amtrak, crew members often said little to nothing if you made photographs from the windows of the vestibule doors.

I’m sure there were crew members who would chase you out of the vestibule if they saw you standing there, but I had some good luck in being able to make images while the crew either looked the other way or gave their tacit approval.

The conductor of Amtrak’s westbound National Limited fell into the latter category along with the rear brakeman. In fact the brakeman talked to myself and another passenger at length and even led us to the vestibule window at the rear of the train.

In the photograph above, No. 31 is arriving at Indianapolis Union Station on a Saturday morning in April 1977. Those Amtrak passenger cars on the other tracks might be waiting to go to the Beech Grove shops. At the time Nos. 30 and 31 were the only Amtrak trains serving Indianapolis.

The bottom photograph was made as No. 31 was going around a curve in East St. Louis, Illinois, to cross the Mississippi River over MacArthur Bridge and enter St. Louis.

On the point of No. 31 are a pair of freight diesels, Penn Central SD35 No. 6029 and Conrail SD40 No. 6319, both former Pennsylvania Railroad locomotives. That seemed appropriate given that much of the route of the National Limited across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois was former PRR trackage. The exception was the track between Indianapolis and Terre Haute, Indiana, which was former New York Central.

I do not know where these freight units were put on. They were on  the train when it rolled in Dayton, Ohio, where I boarded. I can only guess that Amtrak E8A No. 477 had mechanical problems en route. By coincidence, No. 477 was also a former PRR diesel, No. 5790.

There were limits to the crew’s tolerance. After we crossed the Mississippi, the conductor came back and shooed us into the coach. I remember him saying, “I let  you ride [in the vestibule] across the river.”

Indeed he had and I was grateful for that. I returned to my seat where I remained for the rest of the journey to Kirkwood, Missouri.

Amtrak Passenger’s Death Remains Mystery

May 31, 2017

Colorado authorities are still searching for the cause of death of a woman who was found unconscious aboard an Amtrak train in Denver last September.

That has frustrated Denver Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James Caruso, who said, “We sort of feel like we failed. The autopsy for us is the deceased person trying to tell us their story. How’d they end up in our suite?”

What is known is that the deceased is 28-year-old Marina Placencia, of Racine, Wisconsin.

Her death was being investigated by Denver police because Placencia had suffered blunt force trauma injuries.

An autopsy found 35 instances of injuries, including a large number of contusions, bruises, 10 broken ribs and bleeding in her stomach.

Police said Placencia had suffered physical abuse from a boyfriend in Wisconsin.

Witnesses and available public records showed that Placencia bought an Amtrak ticket and traveled from Milwaukee to Denver, changing trains in Chicago.

Tickets show Placencia and her four children were with her on California Zephyr.

A passenger who was not identified in a Denver Post story said that she boarded No. 5 in Holdrege, Nebraska, and didn’t hear any disturbances.

However, as the train approached the Denver station, “over the speaker, I heard somebody saying, ‘Is there a doctor?’” she said.

“I saw her [Placencia] in the aisle on the floor. Nobody was around her. I assumed she had already passed away,”

Paramedics tried to resuscitate Placencia before police arrived.

“They said they were waiting for the detectives and make sure nobody had killed her on the train. Their words not my words. They just wanted to make sure. Have an investigation,” the passenger said.

Caruso told the Post that he has continued to question the case even after the “undetermined” ruling was made of the death.

“There’s all kinds of red flags in the history here,” Caruso said. “We knew that going in. We’d like nothing more than to come up with another manner of death in this case.”

Caruso said he supported the cause of death as unknown because none of the bruises, contusions or broken bones were likely fatal.

However, he didn’t rule out further investigation as new facts become available.

“If new information comes about, I am certainly willing to change my opinion,” Caruso said.

Florida Safety Patrol Trips by Rail Fading Away

May 30, 2017

Since 1948, members of the school safety patrol in Palm Beach County, Florida, have been riding the train from the Sunshine State to Washington in the spring on sightseeing trip that is a reward for the work the safety patrollers put in during the school year.

Some safety patrollers still ride the train, but increasingly they are flying to Washington or taking a bus.

School officials say the student like riding the train, but their parents prefer flying because it allows for more sightseeing time in Washington and doesn’t require as much travel time.

“The kids love the train, it’s a rolling slumber party,” said Jim Pegg, a school district administrator and the president of the Palm Beach County Safety Patrol Association.

It once required four trains to move the safety patrollers to Washington, but now it requires just two.

The number of students riding the rails has fallen from 4,800 to just over 1,000.

“It’s mostly because the adults don’t want to ride the train for two whole days,” Pegg said. The train leaves Thursday at noon and arrives Friday morning. The return trip is invariably longer, arriving in West Palm Beach about 5:30 p.m.

The Washington trips were initially organized the American Automobile Association as a reward for sixth-graders and their school service.

School officials segregate the children by gender with one car filled with boys and another car filled with girls.

They turn their seats into makeshift tents, play games, listen to music and give notes to teacher to pass to the girls or boys in the other car.

Three years ago, Principal Laura Green asked the parents if they preferred for their children to ride the train or fly to Washington. The cost of riding Amtrak versus flying was comparable.

“It was time spent in the city that swung the vote,” Green said. “On the train, you’re gone five days, but you’re in D.C. three.

If the student flew, they would arrive by 10 a.m. Tuesday and leave late in the day on Friday.

“The extra day gives us time to go to an extra Smithsonian,” Green said.

Another advantage of flying was the ability to pick dates that better fit the school schedule. “Nothing against the train, but there’s a set pattern to their itinerary. I can maneuver the trip through what I want to see. For the past two years, we’ve taken the children to the Pentagon and that’s a great trip. And you couldn’t do it on the train.”

Downeasters to Skip Woburn June 10-11

May 30, 2017

Amtrak Downeaster Service will not be serving Woburn, Massachusetts, on June 10 and 11 due to weekend track work being performed by Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said southbound trains will operate normally between Brunswick, Maine, and Haverhill, Massachusetts. At Haverhill, customers will transfer to a bus that will operate nonstop to Boston North Station.

Northbound trains will be replaced with buses operating nonstop from Boston North Station to Haverhill. At Haverhill, customers will transfer to Downeaster trains, serving all remaining stations on the route

Master Developer Chosen for CUS Project

May 26, 2017

Amtrak said it has chosen Riverside Investment & Development Company to be the master developer for a planned project at commercial expansion of Chicago Union Station nearby properties that Amtrak owns.

In a news release, Amtrak said that the initial conceptual design proposed by Riverside, in conjunction with co-developer and co-venture partner Convexity Properties, will include three phases that are to be completed in about six years.

This will include improved street entrances and pedestrian traffic flow entering and leaving Union Station, as well as improved pedestrian-friendly landscaping and open spaces.

Key components of the first phase of the project, which will involve 3.1 million square feet in the station’s headhouse and concourse, include:

  • 110,000 square feet of new and reconfigured retail with a new food hall
  • Street level retail to be added to enhance the pedestrian experience
  • Renovation of the headhouse and Great Hall
  • 100,000 square feet of office space and a new proposed hotel above the Great Hall
  • Two new 12-story residential towers above the headhouse

The second phase will involve construction of two new office towers along with retail and parking. This includes:

  • Two new 750,000 square foot office towers with ground floor retail and approximately 800 parking spaces
  • Ample publicly-accessible green spaces including terraces and plazas, including above the current Union Station Transit Center.

The final phase of the project will involve a plaza and tower on southeast corner of Jackson and Canal that will have 500,000 square foot retail and a residential tower developed over active rail lines with open space and plazas at street level

Amtrak said the development of Union Station was made possible through the City of Chicago’s agreement to modernize and transform the transportation infrastructure though the Amtrak Chicago Union Station Master Plan.

The project will not require any federal, state or local funding and is subject to further revision and consideration by the City of Chicago Plan Commission, Landmark Commission, Zoning Committee and City Council.

“This building was envisioned by Daniel Burnham in the 1909 Plan for Chicago as the city’s primary rail station. It is in that spirit, we have big plans for both this Headhouse building and nearby properties owned by Amtrak,” said Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman in a statement. “We have initiated real estate developments such as this to create revenue streams to invest in our core business, to improve facilities, to provide amenities to all users of the station – and to attract new ones. We are certain we will do that here in Chicago.”

Illinois Judge Orders Mental Health Evaluation of Suspect Charged in Shooting of Amtrak Conductor in Naperville

May 26, 2017

An Illinois judge on Thursday ordered a suspect in the shooting of an Amtrak conductor to receive a mental health evaluation.

DuPage County judge Daniel Guerin made the ruling in granting a motion from a defense attorney representing Edward Klein, who is charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault.

Klein, 79, of West Allis, Wisconsin, is charged in connection with the shooting of Michael Case of Homewood, Illinois, as he worked on the platform at Naperville, Illinois, after the eastbound Southwest Chief came to a halt there.

Case, who remains hospitalized, was shot once in the abdomen during the May 16 shooting.

Prosecutors have said in court filings that Klein became angry when he was denied permission to disembark from the train in Naperville rather than continue to Chicago Union Station as he was ticketed.

Amtrak personnel kept the door of the car in which Klein was riding closed to prevent him from disembarking because they were concerned about his welfare.

Some passengers have told reporters that Klein was exhibiting disturbing behavior before the train reached Naperville and that he had caused a disturbance in Kansas City, when Train No. 4 was late in arriving at the station there.

A news report indicated that during a May 19 court hearing, Klein seemed unable to grasp the severity of the situation.

He said several times that he was leaving the next day and said he would not need the public defender to represent him because he would soon be leaving.

During the Thursday hearing, Klein spoke several times, telling the judge at one point that he had an appointment.

Judge Guerin, though, ordered the public defender’s office to represent Klein, who is being held in lieu of $1.5 million bail.

“After meeting with our client, we had immediate concerns about his fitness to stand trial,” said Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Maples.

Klein could be sent to a security facility if he is found mentally unfit. He might be sent to Elgin Mental Health Center, to receive treatment.

If doctors later determine that he is mentally fit, the criminal court proceedings against Klein would continue.

Klein is a former officer with the Federal Protective Service, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. His next court date has been set for late June.

Locomotive Failures Raise Concerns in N.Y.

May 26, 2017

Deteriorating track conditions at New York Penn Station isn’t the only source of frustration with Amtrak these days in New York State.

New York State Department of Transportation officials are noting that the locomotives used to haul Empire Corridor trains from upstate New York are breaking down, stranding passengers on some trips.

Two locomotives have malfunctioned this spring in the tunnels leading out of Penn Station, marooning hundreds of passengers on Empire Service trains. The locomotive of a third train broke down in the Mohawk Valley.

NYDOT officials wants new locomotives ordered before the breakdowns become chronic, but have been rebuffed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The locomotives in question are P42DMAC units, most of which were built in 1995 but some of which were constructed in 1998.

The locomotives were designed to be dual mode, meaning they could operate as diesel-electrics or as straight electrics in third-rail territory.

The locomotives pull some Empire Service trains as far as Niagara Falls, New York.

“GE [Transportation] has … stopped manufacturing new replacement components, which combined with age and intense use makes it difficult and costly for Amtrak’s Rensselaer Maintenance Facility to keep these locomotives in service,” said Jack Madden, a retired engineer at the NYDOT’s rail division, who argued for replacing them in an opinion piece in The Daily Gazette of Schenectady. “The average failure rate in service for the (dual-mode) fleet is increasing, leading to more frustrating delays to passengers.”

Empire Builder Subject to Delays in Montana

May 25, 2017

Amtrak’s Empire Builder will be subject to delays as long as two hours through June 16 due to BNSF track work being undertaken in Montana.

The work will take place on the route of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland train between Glasgow and Whitefish.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said westbound No. 7/27 may encounter delays of up to two hours at stations west of Glasgow. Eastbound No. 8/28 may encounter delays of up to two hours at stations east of Whitefish.

Amtrak noted that trains can make up time and passengers are encouraged to  check the status of their train before heading to the station.