Archive for July, 2017

Second Track Opens on Amtrak Empire Corridor

July 14, 2017

Work to install a second track on a CSX route in New York State heavily used by Amtrak has been completed.

The $91.2 million project involved building the second track between Schenectady and Albany in order to eliminate a bottleneck that often delayed Amtrak trains on a 17-mile stretch of single track.

The track went into service on June 26 to conclude a three-year project.

Some trains waited as long as 20 minutes in Schenectady or Rensselaer for opposing traffic to clear.

The track had been removed when the rails were owned by Penn Central.

Overseeing the project were the New York State Department of Transportation, Amtrak and CSX.

In a related development, New York officials released design details for a new $23 million Amtrak station in Schenectady. The station is expected to be completed in late 2018.

The design will feature a wraparound awning outside the building, a weather vane in the shape of New York state on top of a gold dome on the roof, and over-sized arched windows similar in design to those of the 1910-era Union station that once sat at the site.

Earlier this year, Amtrak finished work to improve its station serving Albany-Rensselaer.

That $50.5 million project involved construction of a fourth passenger loading track, extending the loading platforms and upgrading block signals.

Much of that work will benefit the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited, which splits at the Albany-Rensselaer station.

Still to be completed is a $3.5 million state-funded project to rebuild platform elevators and replace the escalators.

Other work that remains in the Empire Corridor includes making grade crossing and signal improvements south of Rensselaer on the route to New York City.

Most of the funding for the work in the Capitol Region of New York came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The Federal Railroad Administration in a separate allotment had granted New York $33 million to be used to install positive train control technology between Poughkeepsie and Schenectady.

Norman Depot Renovations Completed

July 13, 2017

Renovation work has been completed to the former Santa Fe Depot in Norman, Oklahoma, that is used by Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer.

The depot was built in 1909. A grand reopening festival will be held on Friday to commemorate the completion of the renovation work.

The Back on Track celebration will coincide with the city’s monthly art walk. A schedule of events is available at http://www.2ndfridaynorman.com

There will be an opening reception for “Variations on Themes,” a collection of paintings by artist Jim Cobb. Free appetizers will be served, along with libations provided by Norman’s 405 Brewing Co. and Native Spirits Winery. Live music will be provided in the portico by members of the Songwriters Association of Norman.

A raffle to raising money to pay for gallery lighting and stages will have as one of its top prizes an Amtrak voucher for a round trip to Fort Worth, Texas, for two.

The Heartland Flyer operates daily between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.

Amtrak Eyes Reducing Seat Pitch in Coaches

July 13, 2017

Amtrak may take a page out of the airlines playbook and try to squeeze more passengers into its coaches.

Co-CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman said this week that Amtrak is studying the creation of a new economy class that would have less room between seats, known as seat pitch.

“We are looking at doing some creative things in terms of creating an economy class,” Moorman told the National Press Club in Washington.

For years the airlines have been reducing seat pitch in an effort to increase seating and therefore increase the amount of revenue earned per flight.

Moorman said the carrier has not decided whether to implement the idea, but acknowledged “there will be some other things that just don’t make it quite as comfortable.”

For years, Amtrak has touted how it offers more leg room than the airlines and that its trains do not have a center seat as do many jetliners.

“We compete very well with the airlines,” Moorman said, adding that travelers in the New York-Washington who take Amtrak avoid New York’s LaGuardia Airport and lengthy airport security lines.

The tighter seat proposal was revealed on the same day that Moorman began sharing the CEO post with Richard Anderson, a former Delta Air Lines head.

Illinois Trains Making Detour in Galesburg

July 13, 2017

Amtrak’s Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg are making a 5.7 mile detour in Galesburg, Illinois, due to work on the new Main Street underpass.

As part of that project, a bridge is being built under the BNSF mainline for Main Street and tracks 2 and 3 are removed until at least noon on Friday.

The regular route for Nos. 380, 381, 382 and 383, uses Track No. 2 through the Galesburg Amtrak station, thus making a detour necessary through the Galesburg yard even it is never more than a half-mile away from the normal route.

Using an eastbound train as an example, the detour route begins at Saluda, the south end of the Galesburg yard complex, and takes the lead to the Graham Cut-off Line.

At the Graham Cut-off connection, Amtrak trains continue compass north, passing beneath the Waterman lead to the Graham Cut-off.
North of the underpass, Amtrak stays on the westernmost (compass direction) track, passing west of the hump and immediately east of the locomotive tracks at the Galesburg shops.

Amtrak trains then stay to the west, pass the Prospect Street switch under the West Third Street overpass, and turns northeast to enter the Ottumwa Subdivision mainline at the west end of A-Plant.

At that point, the trains cross over from Track 3 to Track 1 to serve the Amtrak station, which is unusual for these trains. Track 1 is currently the only open track through town on the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy mainline.

Track Work to Affect Service in North Carolina on July 19

July 13, 2017

Track work in Raleigh, North Carolina, will affect the operation of Amtrak’s Piedmont, Carolinian and Silver Star trains on July 18 and 19.

On July 18, Train 1092 will depart Miami at 9:15 a.m., two hours and 35 minutes earlier than its current schedule, and operate on the earlier schedule through its arrival into Philadelphia at 2:20 p.m.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said Train 92 will wait in Philadelphia until it departs at 5:10 p.m, then operate according to its normal schedule at all remaining stations on the route.

Due to the earlier train departure, the train number for northbound Train 92 departing Miami on July 18 has been changed to Train 1092.

The earlier schedule for the Silver Star will also affect certain Thruway Bus routes.

Thruway Bus 6292 will depart earlier from Lakeland, Florida, while Thruway Bus 6092 will depart earlier from Fort Myers, Florida.

Passengers ticketed on those routes are urged to contact Amtrak for updated schedules by visiting Amtrak.com, using the Amtrak mobile apps or by calling 800-USA-RAIL (800-872-7245).

On July 19, the Carolinian and Piedmont service will be cancelled and no alternative transportation provided. This affects Trains 73, 74, 75, 76, 79 and 80.

Hiawatha Service Restored Wednesday Afternoon

July 12, 2017

Amtrak restored Wednesday afternoon its Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service after it had been canceled earlier due to flooding.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that service resumed with the departure of Train 338 from Milwaukee at 3 p.m. and Train 337 from Chicago at 3:15 p.m.

The flooding occurred after heavy rain fell along tracks in both directions from Rondout, Illinois.

The tracks in the area are used by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific and are located in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and Lake County, Illinois.

Metra temporarily suspended service on its Milwaukee District North Line between Chicago Union Station and Fox Lake, Illinois.

Metra said the interlocking plant was flooded at Rondout. Ballast was washed away and a downed tree blocked tracks just west of Libertyville.

The commuter rail agency sent ballast cars and machinery to the location of the washout to lay a new track structure.

The Milwaukee District North Line serves 22,900 passengers a day on 60 trains. Also using the route is Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Amtrak Sends AEM-7s West on Capitol Limited

July 12, 2017

Online reports indicate that Amtrak sent two AEM-7 electric locomotives west on Tuesday to Chicago via the Capitol Limited.

The locomotives Nos. 928 and 942, have been retired from service and are reportedly being sent to the railroading testing center near Pueblo, Colorado. It is clear what purpose the locomotives will serve at the testing center.

The motors pulled an AEM-7 farewell excursion from Washington to Philadelphia in June 2016.
The locomotives were built by EMD between 1978 and 1988 in LaGrange, Illinois, and later rebuilt by Amtrak.

Carolinian Multi-Ride Restrictions Remain in NEC

July 12, 2017

Amtrak advises that its multi-ride ticket restrictions for Train No. 79, the Carolinian, remain in effect.

The carrier made the announcement because Train 79 departs New York Penn Station at 7:25 a.m. and Northeast Regional Train 183, which departs New York at 7:05 a.m. has been cancelled through Sept. 1.

Amtrak said in a service advisory that additional seating has been provided on select Northeast Corridor trains for multi-ride tickets holders.

Passengers are urged to contact Amtrak for other schedule options.

Multi-Ride Tickets are available for travel on many routes, but restrictions vary by route, destination and time of day. Multi-ride tickets may not be used on long-distance trains, certain segments of short-distance trains or Acela Express trains.

Another Sunday Another Very Late Amtrak Train

July 10, 2017

Well another Sunday and another late Amtrak train. This week it was the Capitol Limited’s turn. The lead engine had a traction motor fire while going up Sand Patch grade Saturday evening, disabling the unit and necessitating a freight unit to continue.

This made it about 10 hours late into Pittsburgh where Norfolk Southern 7630, a GE ES40DC,  took over duties. With a freight engine leading, No. 29 could only go about 50 miles per hour and continued to lose more time en route.

I caught it at the sag near Beloit, Ohio, about 11:30 a.m. It cleared Berea about 2 p.m. and as I write this article at about 9:30 p.m. the train has still not arrived in Chicago.

It would later arrive at Chicago Union Station at 9:52 p.m., 13 hours and 7 minutes late.

Besides the late train doing a daylight run across Ohio and Indiana, which is interesting itself, the train had five private cars trailing including a former Union Pacific dome observation car bringing up the rear.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

Normal to Buy Vehicle to Transport Passengers at Station

July 7, 2017

The Normal, Illinois, city council has approved the purchase of an electric vehicle to shuttle Amtrak passengers between the station and a platform that is currently under construction.

The vehicle, which will cost $26,000, will be used to transport passengers with disabilities or limited mobility.

However, the platform that the vehicle will serve isn’t expected to open for service until late October or early November.

City Manager Mark Peterson said the vehicle needed to be ordered now because it will be three months before it is delivered.

The vehicle will transport passengers to and from the south platform from the station via the Broadway Avenue or Linden Street crossings.

The vehicle will be operated by Amtrak employees and Peterson said Amtrak asked the city to buy the vehicle.

When some council members questioned why the city would spend its funds for the vehicle, Peterson said, “Amtrak has a very inflexible budget.”

He said Amtrak doesn’t pay rent at the station, although it does pay for its use of utilities, and city officials consider that a reasonable cost of having the service.

“We see other uses in the uptown area if the Amtrak use goes away,” said Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich.

The $2.5 million new platform is being funded by federal money as part of a high-speed rail project that is wrapping up this year.

Normal is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.