Archive for May, 2017

Lake Forest Hopes Pedestrian Tunnel Will Help Attract an Amtrak Hiawatha Service Stop

May 23, 2017

Lake Forest, Illinois, is seeking to get a pedestrian underpass built beneath the tracks carrying Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains.

Aside from safety reasons, the underpass might strengthen the city’s efforts to get Amtrak to stop in the northern Chicago suburb.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier would consider a number of factors before agreeing to establish a stop in Lake Forest.

Magliari said these include potential passenger traffic and how a stop might affect current or future operations of Amtrak, Metra or Canadian Pacific freight trains.

He said having a pedestrian underpass would make the Metra station in Lake Forest more accessible.

“We’d want both tracks to be accessible,” Magliari said. “Operationally, if there was only a platform on one side, you’re delaying trains. We’d want to be able to stop on both tracks. There would be less interference with our operation and Metra and freight operations to have safe access on both sides of the track for all people.”

Amtrak would also need to consult with the departments of transportation in Illinois and Wisconsin, which provide funding for the Hiawatha Service trains.

The station underpass has been discussed since at least 2009 and the city council has approved paying a consultant to create a preliminary engineering design.

Lake Forest has been interested in becoming an Amtrak stop since January 2010 when the city council approved a recommendation supporting an Amtrak stop at its west train station.

PennDot Might Sponsor Buses Before Amtrak Service Expands from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh

May 23, 2017

As the Pennsylvania Senate considers approving legislation designed to increase Amtrak service to Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is eyeing sponsoring bus service until Amtrak service can be expanded.

The state funds the Pittsburgh-New York Pennsylvanian and is considering funding additional Amtrak service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The Senate Transportation Committee recent voted unanimously in favor of a nine-month review study into adding two more passenger trains between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. The full Senate is expected to vote on the study proposal by the end of June.

The study would be conducted within nine months by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee.

The resolution also calls for looking at the prospect of adding service between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

A number of steps would need to be taken before the service could become a reality, including making improvements to the Norfolk Southern tracks that the trains would use and negotiating agreements with Amtrak and NS. The route to be used is a busy NS freight line.

Western Pennsylvania interests have long noted that since 2000, the state has invested $400 million to increase passenger service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia from six trains to 14.

PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said the agency welcomes the review of what it would take to increase passenger service but that earlier studies have shown it would cost $3.75 million to $6 million to add one more passenger train, plus capital improvements estimated at $100 million in 2005.

Kirkpatrick said that in other regions of the country bus service has been paired with Amtrak service.

He said a dedicated bus could connect western Pennsylvania cities with Amtrak’s Keystone Service in Harrisburg to New York and Philadelphia.

Man Charged in Amtrak Conductor Shooting

May 22, 2017

As an Amtrak conductor continues to recover from being shot by a disgruntled passenger last week, a retired law enforcement official now living in Wisconsin.

Edward Klein, 79, of West Allis, Wisconsin, has been charged in DuPage County, Illinois, with attempted murder and aggravated battery charges. During a bond hearing on Friday, Klein was ordered held in lieu of $1.5 million bail.

Edward Klein

Klein is charged with shooting Amtrak conductor Michael Case as he worked the platform during a stop in Naperville, Illinois, on May 16.

Authorities have said Klein was angry because he wasn’t allowed to disembark from the eastbound Southwest Chief at Naperville.

Prosecutors said Klein fired a single shot from a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver through an open window of the train.

According to a police report, Klein was ticketed to go to Chicago. When he was told he couldn’t get off at Naperville, which is located 28 miles west of Chicago Union Station, Klein allegedly pulled out a revolver, leaned from the  train window and fired, hitting Case in the abdomen.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Klein told investigators: “I had built up all this anger, and I blew him away.”

News reports said that Klein once worked for the Federal Protective Services, a branch of Homeland Security responsible for protecting federal buildings. He lived in an independent living facility in the Milwaukee region.

In a court hearing, prosecutors said Klein had been traveling to Las Vegas to visit a friend, but instead got off an Amtrak train in Kansas City, Missouri. He later boarded Amtrak No. 4 for Chicago in Kansas City.

Amtrak personnel who had become concerned for Klein’s welfare had helped arrange for someone to pick him up in Chicago to take him home, authorities said.

After the shooting, Klein tried to get off the train by climbing through a window, but other passengers and Amtrak personnel restrained Klein until police arrived.

Klein said in court that he didn’t need a public defender but didn’t indicate if he had hired an attorney. A status hearing will be held on June 12.

In the meantime, Case continues to recover in a hospital where doctors say he is improving but his body is still responding to the effects of the shooting.

The bullet wound caused injuries to multiple organs and he underwent an arduous six hours of surgery at Edward Hospital in Naperville.

“His injuries are stabilized, but the body’s response to injuries is still going,” said Dr. David Piazza, trauma director at Edward Hospital. “He was critically injured and he’s recovering from that state at this point. We are heading in the right direction, but he has a long way to go.”

Case has been sedated and is on a ventilator. His wife, Sara Case, told reporters in Chicago that she has not been able to talk to her husband since his surgery.

However, he did speak with her by phone before the surgery. “He just said to me ‘I love you, I love you, I love you,'” Sara Case said. “You never think your husband is going to go to work and be shot.”

Michael Case, 45, has worked at Amtrak for about a decade and is a father of four. He and Sara Case have been married for nine years.

Case’s family says the outpouring of support from friends, family and even strangers has been overwhelming.

In another development, a witness to the shooting said that a Naperville station worker did little to let her and other passengers seek cover in a secure area.

The witness told a Chicago television station that shortly after the Southwest Chief pulled into the station, she and others heard a loud pop.

The woman, who was waiting for a Metra train bound for Chicago, said she saw the Amtrak conductor fall to the ground.

“I heard a loud pop, looked over to see what it was, and I saw what looked like a conductor fall towards the train station. And I was going to go help him when I realized it was gunshots,” she said.

Metra passengers alerted the Amtrak agent at the station and looked for cover, unaware that the gunman was aboard the train.

“She [worker] was trying to open the door,” the witness said. “When she opened it, we tried to follow her in because we would be protected there, because we were scared. And she closed the door and locked it, and said, ‘You can’t come in here.’ And I said, ‘What are we supposed to do?’ And she said, ‘Go to the bathroom.’ ”

The witness said employees seemed unprepared to deal with an emergency situation.

In response, an Amtrak spokesperson said, “This was traumatic for everyone involved. We’ll look at lessons learned from the incident.”

Signs Point to Shift to Grand Central for Amtrak

May 22, 2017

Amtrak has yet to comment on reports that it plans to shift some Empire Corridor trains this summer to New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, but there are increasing signs that it will happen.

Gary Prophet of the Empire State Passengers Association told New York radio station WCBS that he has spoken with Amtrak train crews who said they are being trained to operate on the route to Grand Central Terminal.

A New York state legislator who represent the Albany, New York, area, said Amtrak using Grand Central is a real possibility.

“The fact that there’s ongoing discussion and communication . . . indicates that it’s still very much in play,” he said.

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman didn’t address using Grand Central in speaking to a state legislative panel last week, but said that “for perspective on this, Grand Central Terminal handles only roughly two-thirds the number of daily trains on double the number of train tracks, compared to Penn Station.”

Amtrak has announced that it plans to conduct a track repair project at New York’s Penn Station this summer and that during that work 25 percent of the station’s track capacity will be out of service. That project will begin on July 7.

Penn Station handles 1,300 passenger trains a day. Amtrak has not used Grand Central Terminal since 1991.

High-Speed Rail Won’t be Inexpensive

May 22, 2017

High speed passenger rail service in America is going to cost a lot of money two railroad leaders said last week.

On that point Amtrak CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman” and Association of American Railroads Present Ed Hamberger both agree.

The two railroad executives appeared on Washington Journal, a daily C-SPAN cable network’s public affairs program.

AAR represents the interests of freight railroads so it is seeking different things in the pending Trump administration’s transportation infrastructure revitalization plan.

“The key issue with high speed trains which people don’t always recognize is that they essentially require [a] completely new right-of-way,” Moorman said. “The Europeans, the Chinese, the Japanese, and others have made significant commitments in the order of hundreds of billions of dollars, and that’s the kind of commitment it takes.”

Noting that Amtrak wants to boost train speeds in the Boston-New York-Washington Northeast Corridor, Moorman said that “will take huge amounts of infrastructure renewal and expenditure” to do so.

For his part, Hamberger made a pitch for freight rail. “Everybody says why can’t we have railroads like they have in Europe or Japan,” he said. “We have the best freight rail system in the world. We’re the envy of the world.”

Hamberger said freight railroads want changes in regulations of the industry, saying it now takes six to eight years to get government agencies to approve a capital investment such as a new bridge or intermodal yard.

“We need to compress that. You still have to go through the studies, you still have to get the permits, but let’s do it in a smart way so the different agencies are operating concurrently not in consecutive fashion,” Hamberger said.

Moorman also called for a balanced approach in providing passenger rail on long-distance and corridor routes.

“I view Amtrak as a government contractor,” Moorman said. “To date, the decision has always been made that Amtrak should be in the businesses that it’s currently in, and we continue to do what we do best, which is to promote the idea of passenger rail transportation across the country.”

S.W. Chief Conductor Reported in Critical Condition, Charges Pending in Shooting

May 18, 2017

The Amtrak conductor wounded in a shooting in Naperville, Illinois, on Tuesday was still in critical condition authorities said Thursday afternoon.

The conductor of the Southwest Chief was identified as Michael Case, 45, of Homewood, Illinois. He was being treated at Edward Hospital in Naperville.

Authorities have taken a suspect into custody but have yet to identify him other than being a man in his 70s from Wisconsin.

Case underwent surgery on Wednesday morning to treat wounds that he suffered in his torso. The shooting occurred after he stepped down to the platform during a scheduled station stop for Amtrak train No. 4.

Police said that Case and a passenger had gotten into an argument before the shooting occurred.

Reports indicate that the suspect shot the conductor from aboard the train. Other passengers restrained the suspect until police arrived.

Naperville police Cmdr. Lou Cammiso said officers have interviewed witnesses and reviewed surveillance footage at the station. Charges are expected to be filed by the DuPage County prosecutor’s office.

“The suspect was on the train; the victim was off the train,” Cammiso said. “Not knowing the intention of the suspect, not knowing what further acts he was capable of, I think it was key that the other passengers did restrain him for police. I think that possibly could have saved lives.”

According to police, the suspect fired one shot during the incident.

A passenger, Mike Leming, of Lake Forest, California, was en route to Chicago where he planned to connect with an Amtrak train to Boston.

He said the argument that preceded the shooting had to do with luggage.

Amtrak officials said over the station’s public address system that police needed to interview passengers who possibly saw something before they could leave.

The announcement said the priority was to get buses for passengers seeking a connecting ride to Cleveland, then “sleepers,” and then everyone else. No. 4 was running two late at the time of the Naperville stop.

“With the assistance of the assistant conductor and several passengers, a suspect was taken into custody by the Naperville Police Department without further incident,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “This senseless and random act of violence is under investigation, and [Amtrak police are] working closely with local law enforcement personnel.”

The Southwest Chief had 239 passengers aboard when it arrived in Naperville and the train was delayed another three hours while police investigated the shooting.

Magliari said Amtrak held connecting passengers at Union Station until passengers from No. 4 could arrive.

He would not speculate about whether Amtrak will change its security procedures.

The passenger carrier prohibits firearms in carry-on baggage along with such other items as archery or martial-arts equipment, corrosive chemicals, hoverboards, flammable liquids or gases and sharp objects such as scissors, nail clippers, corkscrews and razors.

Discounted Tickets Will No Longer be Sold Aboard Carolinian, Piedmont Trains Effective June 5

May 18, 2017

Amtrak said this week that effective June 5 that discounted fares will no longer be sold aboard the Carolinian or Piedmont trains.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that only the full undiscounted, unrestricted fare will be available for purchase and that conductors will only accept cash payments on board the train.

All Piedmont and Carolinian trains are reserved trains and seating on reserved trains is only guaranteed with a reservation.

Amtrak said passengers wishing to pay with with credit cards can make reservations and obtain eTickets at Amtrak.com, by using the Amtrak mobile apps, or by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).

eTickets can be printed at home or displayed using a smartphone. Tickets can be purchased with a credit card at stations with Quik-Trak kiosks and at Amtrak ticket offices.

Amtrak Conductor Shot in Naperville

May 18, 2017

A conductor working Amtrak’s Southwest Chief was hospitalized on Tuesday with non-life threatening injuries after he was shot on the platform at Naperville, Illinois.

The incident occurred in late afternoon and police were still seeking a motive for the shooting.

News accounts indicated that a Wisconsin man in his 70s was taken into custody in connection with the incident after being tackled and held by passengers.

The man was aboard the train when the shooting occurred.

“The conductor had stepped off the train when the suspect reached through the window and shot him,” said Naperville Police Commander Lou Cammiso.

BNSF and Metra rail traffic was halted at the station while police investigated the crime and passengers aboard the train were put on buses.

 

Texas Eagle to Detour in Texas May 24-June 21

May 16, 2017

The detours just keep coming for Amtrak’s Texas Eagle. Nos. 21 and 22 will detour in in Texas between Longview and Taylor starting May 24 and extending through June 21.

Passengers at intermediate stations will begin or end their journey on a chartered bus.

The buses will travel southbound from Longview and northbound from Austin.

The Eagle will not be serving Dallas or Fort Worth, but will be using a freight-only route that will be faster than the train’s normal route.

No. 21 will use a former Cotton Belt route between Big Sandy and Tyler, then a former Southern Pacific route to Corsicana, then the former Texas & New Orleans to Hearne, Texas, before getting on the former Missouri Pacific west to Taylor.

No. 22 will use the ex-MoPac from Taylor to Longview via Hearne, Buffalo, Palestine and Jacksonville.

“This detour will provide the opportunity for some unusual mileage for rare mileage fans,” Amtrak said in an email sent to ticketed passengers affected by the Texas detour.

No. 21 will depart all stations between Chicago and Longview one hour later than scheduled, but is expected to resume its regular schedule at Taylor.

No. 22 will operate on its regular schedule from San Antonio to Taylor, but run an hour earlier from Longview to Chicago.

The detour has been prompted by extensive track work by Union Pacific between Longview and Dallas.

The Texas detour will come on the heels of a detour between Chicago and St. Louis between May 16 and May 23, although No. 22 will use the detour route through May 24.

That rerouting involves the former Chicago & Eastern Illinois passenger route via Pana and Villa Grove, Illinois.

Amtrak Might Return to Grand Central Terminal

May 15, 2017

Amtrak is considering terminating some of its Empire Corridor trains at New York Grand Central Terminal this summer as one way to deal with limited track capacity as an emergency repair program is undertaken at Penn Station.

It is not clear if the move would affect all trains operating via Albany, New York, including such long-distance and medium-distance trains as the Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf and Ethan Allen Express.

Amtrak used Grand Central until 1991 when it opened a line to feed trains using the former New York Central Water Level Route into Penn Station.

The Penn Station track and switch replacement project is expected to reduce that station’s train capacity by as much as 25 percent when it gets underway on July 7 and lasts for 44 days.

A news report in the Times-Union of Albany, New York, indicated that at least some Empire Corridor trains would use Grand Central, suggesting that some trains would continue to originate and terminate at Penn Station.

The newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying that Amtrak crews are being offered the opportunity to bid for job operating trains running to Grand Central.

Grand Central is used by Metro North Commuter Railroad trains.

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman has noted that Penn Station serves 1,300-plus weekday train movements using an infrastructure network designed in 1910 to accommodate less than half of its current volume.

Also using Penn Station are New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Railroad.

Grand Central serves about two-thirds the volume of Penn Station.

One advantage of using Grand Central for Amtrak is that the terminal has a loop track that can be used to turn inbound trains after they have unloaded their passengers.