Archive for June, 2017

Amtrak Discounting Fares for Solar Esclipse

June 30, 2017

Amtrak is offering a 30 percent discount on certain tickets for trains serving Carbondale, Illinois, which will experience a total solar eclipse on Aug. 21.

The discounts will apply for travel aboard the Illini and Saluki between Aug. 16 and 22. Both trains are funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The eclipse will have its longest duration near Carbondale, lasting 2 minutes, 38 seconds.

It will be the first total coast-to-coast solar eclipse in North America in nearly a century, moving at a speed of greater than 930 mph from Oregon to South Carolina.

The prime viewing near Carbondale will be no later than noon CDT.

Amtrak is a sponsor of the Carbondale Eclipse event, so the Amtrak logo is on viewing glasses distributed at the Eclipse Marketplace. Space for bicycles on the trains is limited, as are supplies of the souvenir glasses.

In a news release, Amtrak said that fares from Chicago to Carbondale are still available for as low as $24 each way, plus $10 each way for a bicycle.

Amtrak also serves Carbondale with its City of New Orleans, which operates between Chicago and New Orleans.

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LSL Boston Section Faces Service Disruptions

June 29, 2017

CSX track work will disrupt the operations of the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited through July 27,

Passengers traveling to Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester, Framingham and Boston (South Station) will take a bus from the Albany-Rensselaer station on the following dates:

  • June 24-29
  • July 8-13
  • July 26-27

Train 449 will not operate between Boston (South Station) and Albany on the following dates with passengers being bused from Boston (South Station), Framingham, Worcester, Springfield, Pittsfield.

  • June 25-29
  • July 9-13
  • July 27, 2017

No alternative transportation will be provided to Boston Back Bay. Passengers are urged to contact MBTA for travel to and from Boston Back Bay.

Passengers at Boston South Station should go to the Amtrak Information Desk for instructions on boarding the buses while Framingham passengers will board buses at the drop-off/pick-up area track 2 platform (at Waverly Street).

In Worcester, passengers should go downstairs to the intercity bus area and board the bus marked Premier Bus.

NB Saluki to Operate 2 Hours Earlier

June 29, 2017

Amtrak’s northbound Saluki will operate two hours earlier on weekdays between July 19 and Aug. 4.

The schedule change is due to Canadian National track work. The schedule change will not affect the operation of No. 390 on weekends when it will depart its originating station in Carbondale, Illinois, at 7:30 a.m.

The weekday schedule of the Saluki during the affected time period will put it two hours behind the scheduled times of the northbound City of New Orleans.

The Saluki makes stops in Du Quoin, Rantoul and Gilman, Illinois, that are skipped by No. 58.

Southwest Chief Subject to Delay Due to Track Work

June 29, 2017

Track work being performed between Albuquerque and Lamy, New Mexico, is expected to delay Amtrak’s Southwest Chief through July 22.

In a service advisory, Amtrak No 3 may encounter delays of up to 2.5 hours at all stations west of Lamy while No. 4 may encounter delays of up to two hours east of Albuquerque.

The service advisory said that alternative transportation may be provided to passengers missing connections to Amtrak trains and Thruway buses at Kansas City, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Observers Give Their Take on Amtrak’s new CEO

June 29, 2017

So who is this former airline executive that Amtrak has chosen to take over as its CEO later this year when Charles “Wick” Moorman retires?

Richard Anderson

Richard Anderson was the head of Delta Air Lines, but he also at one time served as a prosecutor and the vice president of an insurance company, United Health.

His father, Hale, worked for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe in Texas and the family moved multiple times as the elder Anderson held office jobs at posts from Galveston to Dallas and Amarillo.

When he was in college, the younger Anderson’s parents died of cancer and he subsequently had to raise his two younger sisters as he worked to earn college tuition money.

After earning his law degree, Anderson worked in Texas for nearly a decade as a prosecutor.

His entry into the airline industry began in the legal department of Houston-based Continental Airlines.

He would later join Northwest Airlines and became its CEO three years later. As Delta Air Lines was emerging from bankruptcy in 2007, its board of directors asked Anderson to become its CEO, which meant that he succeeded Gerald Grinstein, a former CEO of the Burlington Northern Railroad.

“Richard has a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves, let-me-see-how-this-thing-really-works kind of approach,” John Dasburg, Northwest’s former president, told USA Today in 2008.

During his time at Delta, Anderson sometimes sought unconventional solutions to solve problems.

For example, in an effort to cut fuel costs, Delta purchased an oil refinery near Philadelphia in 2012.

Industry reaction to Anderson being named co-CEO of Amtrak – Moorman won’t be retiring until late December – has been mostly positive.

He received unqualified endorsements from Linda Bauer Darr, president of the American Short Line and Regional Rail Road Association, and from Ed Hamberger, the president of the Association of American Railroads.

Jim Mathews, head of the National Association of Railroad Passengers lauded Anderson’s transportation experience.

“NARP is very pleased Amtrak is making the sensible move of bringing in an executive with strong management experience in a customer-service oriented transportation company,” Mathews said.

Former NARP executive director Ross Capon said the fact that Moorman will be Amtrak’s co-CEO through December shows the two men will likely have a good working relationship and that Anderson will be able to learn from Moorman.

Not all advocacy groups were enthusiastic about Anderson’s appointment.

Charles Leocha, chairman of Travelers United and an airline consumer advocate, said in an interview with Trains magazine that Anderson is “a real charger” who “has not been a friend of consumers, but ran an efficient airline as consolidation was completed . . .”

Richard Rudolph, the president of the Rail Users Network, said Amtrak needs someone who knows railroads, knows how to run a company and can stand up against Congress and President Donald Trump.

Also expressing skepticism was former Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn.

“If he can’t coax people at Amtrak who know how to run a railroad out of their fox holes, he’s doomed,” Gunn said in an interview with Trains. “And you have to convince them you have a plan that makes sense operationally and is not driven by politics.”

Gunn said the best hope is that Anderson has some knowledge of railroad operations.”

Jackson McQuigg, a railroad historian and passenger advocate based in Atlanta, told Trains that he sees in Anderson a man with a demeanor similar to that of W. Graham Claytor Jr. between 1982 and 1993.

“He had a stellar reputation in Atlanta and cared about the city and its history,” McQuigg told Trains.

While at Delta and Northwest, McQuigg noted, Anderson had a reputation for being a tough guy who wasn’t afraid to mix it up with the airline unions.

“Maybe that bunch in the White House will listen to him,” McQuigg said of Anderson. “It will be interesting to see if that happens or if Anderson presides over dismemberment instead. All I know is that the long-distance trains had better be preserved or the whole thing will go up in political flames.”

Richard Anderson to Become co-CEO of Amtrak July 12, Wick Moorman to Retire Dec. 31

June 26, 2017

Amtrak will be getting a co-president and CEO next month. Charles “Wick” Moorman will be joined by Richard Anderson, who has 25 years of experience in the airline industry.

This arrangement will continue until Dec. 31, when Moorman plans to step down from his position at Amtrak but continue as an adviser to the company.

The announcement was made in an internal memorandum sent to Amtrak employees and confirmed by a statement issued by Amtrak.

In the memo to employees, Moorman noted that he promised his wife that he time at Amtrak would be short.

Moorman said he said he would stay at Amtrak only as long it took to achieve three goals: Making the company more efficient, developing a stronger safety culture and working with the board of directors to find an executive to lead the railroad long term.

Anderson is a former chief executive at Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines, the latter having been acquired by the former.

“Richard has a proven track record of driving growth while enhancing the customer experience,” Moorman said. “What I really admire about Richard is he faces difficult challenges head-on. He has helped companies navigate bankruptcy, a recession, mergers and acquisitions, and 9/11. In total, Richard is a leader with the strategic vision and tactical experience necessary to run a railroad that benefits our partners, our customers and our employees.”

The statement noted that Anderson’s father worked for the Santa Fe.

Anderson, 62, most recently was executive chairman of the Delta Air Lines board of directors after serving as the airline’s CEO from 2007 to 2016. He was executive vice president at United Healthcare from  2004 to 2007 and CEO of Northwest Airlines from 2001 to 2004.

He also served in the legal division at Continental Airlines and was a former county prosecutor.

“It is an honor to join Amtrak at a time when passenger rail service is growing in importance in America. I look forward to working  alongside Amtrak’s dedicated employees to continue the improvements  begun by Wick,” Anderson said in a statement.

Anderson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Houston at Clear Lake City and a Juris Doctorate at South Texas College of Law. He is a native of Galveston, Texas.

Ann Arbor Sets New Schedule for Station Study

June 24, 2017

Although Ann Arbor officials have already missed one of their self-imposed deadlines, they continue to insist that there is still time to finish an environmental assessment for a new Amtrak station by late July.

That report will narrow three potential sites for the new depot to one.

Last month Ann Arbor City Administrator Howard Lazarus said the goal was to have the assessment ready for public release by June 19.

That didn’t happen but Lazarus told the Ann Arbor City Council this week that staff has made progress on the report and is working with the Federal Railroad Administration and the Michigan Department of Transportation to get it finished as soon as possible.

Among the locations being reviewed for the new station are the existing Amtrak station site on Depot Street, a location in Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital and the former Michigan Central station on Depot Street that now houses the Gandy Dancer restaurant.

Lazarus said city staff and AECOM, a consultant helping the city prepare the environmental assessment report, have completed various revisions and are expected to have a complete draft ready to send to the FRA shortly after June 22.

“FRA will complete their review of the resubmitted and revised documents and schedule a call with the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office,” Lazarus wrote in a memo to the council. “MISHPO has the authority to make determinations on the implications of the proposed design alternatives on historic resources. The current draft documents reflect the current state of consideration recognizing specific detail regarding impacts on historic resources.”

The FRA review of the assessment is expected to take a couple of weeks.

“Once the FRA management signs off on the document, the materials are ready for public review,” he wrote in the council memo.

The environmental assessment will be made available on a project website, at city hall and during three public meetings.

Ann Arbor is facing a Sept. 30 deadline to use a federal grant to pay for preliminary engineering designs. Any money not spent by that date will revert back to the federal treasury.

Lazarus said the preliminary engineering work began on May 22.

City officials hope to begin a 30-day public comment period about the environmental assessment on July 30 with public meetings held in August.

The preliminary engineering work would continue into December.

Lazarus said the city, MDOT and the FRA have agreed to a “tapered match” approach for having federal funds cover all of the costs of ongoing work through the grant-funding period, after which the city will spend more local dollars to complete the remaining work.

That anticipates that 80 percent of the work will be federally funded and 20 percent locally funded.

After the FRA has approved a plan for a new station, Ann Arbor officials will put the project to a vote in an election. The city plans to seek federal funds to cover  most of the costs for final design and construction.

 

The Opposite of the Short Season of Summer

June 23, 2017

The calendar officially rolled over to summer this week. But if you live in the northern regions of the United States you know that scenes such as this one of a very late Lake Shore Limited in Berea, Ohio, are never far from mind and will be here all too soon.

This image was made on April 7, 2007. I didn’t know No. 48 was coming until it showed up.

Usually the first week of April is the season of spring, but in Northeast Ohio having snow, including heavy snow, is not unheard of during early April.

But as I post this summer has arrived and its time to get out and enjoy it.

Memphis Station to Get Hotel

June 23, 2017

Developers plan to create two hotels to serve Memphis Central Station, one of which will be contained within the 103-year-old depot.

The latter will be a boutique hotel within the historic station while the other will be a 115-room Holiday Inn Express to be built on what is now a parking lot at the corner of Fourth and Union.

Developers for both hotels have applied for building permits for work totaling $24.5 million.

The hotel inside the station will transform what are now apartment into the 124-room Central Station Hotel. Plans show that it will have a lobby, bar, ballroom, guest rooms, restaurant and retail.

McLean Wilson, an executive with Kemmons Wilson Companies, said the objective is to make the hotel “an extremely special experience.”

The hotel’s full name will be Central Station Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton.

Wilson said this includes transforming the station’s waiting area into a large bar that will be like a “living room”’ for the South Main neighborhood.

The Amtrak lobby and ticket office will be used to create the hotel lobby. Replacement facilities for Amtrak will be moved further east within the depot.

The existing ground-floor meeting rooms and offices will become a 3,500-square-foot restaurant and 6,000 square feet of retail that will likely include a coffee shop.

Memphis is served by Amtrak’s City of New Orleans.

Planning Continues for Louisiana Rail Route

June 23, 2017

The rejection of a proposed gasoline tax increase will not necessarily stop a proposed passenger train service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, officials say.

The 17-cent tax hike would have raised $510 million for transportation projects, but officials say the rail service was only in the planning stages.

The officials acknowledged that for the service to begin, transportation officials will need to find funding for it.

Shawn Wilson, the Louisiana secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development, said federal funding might be able to cover most of the roughly $260 million cost of launching the service with public-private partnerships picking up some of the rest of the cost.

Louisiana would have to pay some costs and is responsible for coordinating the project.

Had the tax increase been approved, $30 million of it would have gone toward multimodal transportation, including rail service.

“We will continue to try and work to deliver it,” Wilson said. He acknowledged it could take longer to find the funding now. “It would be unfair to say this initiative relies solely on the state.”

Tommy Clark, commission of the Office of Multimodal Commerce, said the state has made some progress in convincing Amtrak and Kansas City Southern, which would have hosted the train, that the service would be worthwhile.

Clark said state officials tried to pitch to KCS that capital improvements to the rail line would provide benefit for freight transportation as well.

“We’re just at the baby steps of having those dialogues,” he said. “There are so many milestones that have to happen before even one train moves.”

The Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority has received a $250,000 federal grant to design a train station for the project, and the city-parish put up matching funds.

A request for proposals is expected to be issued in the next two months.