Archive for August, 2017

Statehouse at Joliet

August 11, 2017

The southbound  St. Louis-bound Statehouse rolls into Joliet Union Station on June 19, 1998. Aside from the Phase III livery on the P42DC locomotive, the scene is similar in appearance to today in that some Chicago-St. Louis passenger trains feature a mix of Horizon coaches and Anfleet food service cars.

The Statehouse was funded in part by the State of Illinois and at the time operated on a mid-day schedule.

Bus Service Begins at New Alton Station

August 10, 2017

The new intermodal station has opened in Alton, Illinois, but no date has been set as to when Amtrak will begin using it.

The local transit system in Madison County, Illinois, began using the facility on Aug. 6 and Amtrak expects to begin stopping there within the next few weeks.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier is likely to begin using the new facility in September but first must inspect it and agree to a lease with the City of Alton.

The new station is located at the site of the old city golf course near Homer Adams Parkway and is about two miles northwest of the existing Amtrak station.

Amtrak currently uses the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio depot at 3400 College Avenue. The 89-year-old station is in danger of being razed once Amtrak pulls out of it.

Union Pacific has offered to give the station away to a group that will move it from the site.

But that will cost at least $150,000 and thus far no one has offered a plan to save the station, said Terry Sharp, president of the Alton Area Landmarks Association.

“Maybe it’ll take bringing the wrecking ball right up against the building to get people interested,” Sharp said.

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

Among the features of the new Alton station  are lockers for bicyclists, a pay parking lot and surveillance cameras. Nearby is green space and biking and hiking trails.

City officials hope the 55-acre former golf course site will draw development of new stores, offices and housing.

The project, including associated road improvements, cost about $24 million, which includes the $3.4 million value of the land.

The American Association of Railroaders is planning an outing to mark the end of Amtrak service at the ex-GM&O station and the startup of service at the new Alton station.

“We like to do firsts and lasts related to transportation,” President Rich Eichhorst said, adding that his group’s members rode the last train from St. Louis Union Station in 1978.

Eichhorst believes the last Amtrak train from the Alton GM&O station will be a late-night run from Alton to St. Louis.

The AAR plans to ride from St. Louis to Alton or vice versa or from Alton to Carlinville or the reverse.

The AAR will will sell tickets covering a short train-trip leg and a ride back on its bus with Eichhorst providing commentary.

Tickets are expected to be $25 and limited to 40 people.

Anyone interested  should send a self-addressed stamped envelope to AAR, 9600 Tesson Ferry Road, St. Louis, Mo., 63123, and indicate preference for the last train from the old station or the first train using the new one or both.

Prospective riders should also include their telephone number in case only short notice is given regarding Amtrak’s station change.

Capitol Limited at Harpers Ferry

August 8, 2017

Amtrak’s westbound Capitol Limited is shown crossing the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, on July 25, 2017.

Nearly a week later, the Nos. 29 and 30 began operating only between Chicago and Pittsburgh after a CSX freight train derailment on Aug. 2  closed the Keystone Subdivision at Hyndman, Pennsylvania, for several days.

Rail traffic began moving through the area on Sunday, Aug. 6. The Capitol resumed serving Harpers Ferry and other points east of Pittsburgh that day.

In the interim, passengers had been accommodated by a bus.

Amtrak to Operate Special Train for Solar Eclipse

August 7, 2017

Amtrak will operate a special sold-out train offering passengers the opportunity to make a day trip to Southern Illinois to view the solar eclipse on Aug. 21.

The Eclipse Express sold out within 24 hours, Amtrak said. The train will depart Chicago Union Station at 3 a.m. and arrive in Carbondale, Illinois, at 8:30 a.m. after making an intermediate stop in Champaign-Urbana at 5:05 a.m.

The return trip is scheduled to depart Carbondale at 5:15 p.m., stop in Champaign at 7:55 p.m. and arrive back in Chicago at 10:45 p.m.

The Eclipse Express will not carry pets or bicycles. There will be a café car although it won’t have business class seating.

Due to the middle of the night departure, Amtrak said the overhead lighting in the coaches will be turned off.

Amtrak said it conducted protracted negotiations with host railroad Canadian National to schedule the special, which will operate as Nos. 399 and 398.

Although the eclipse will affect much of the United States, its longest duration of totality will be over Makanda, Illinois, which is located south of Carbondale on the former Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and New Orleans.

The first phase of the eclipse begins at 12:52 p.m., reaching totality between 1:20:07 p.m. and 1:22:44 p.m., with the partial phase ending at 2:47 p.m.

Tickets for the Eclipse Express went on sale in the Amtrak reservation system on Sunday.

Amtrak operates three daily trains between Chicago and New Orleans, but the first of those, the southbound Saluki is not scheduled to arrive in Carbondale until 1:45 p.m.

No. 390 has arrived in Carbondale more than 30 minutes late half the time during the past two weeks.

The travel time of the Eclipse Express is the same as the Saluki even though the special train will make eight fewer station stops.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the special was scheduled so as to not affect the operation of other Amtrak trains serving Carbondale.

Among the events being held in Carbondale is an “Eclipse Day” festival at Saluki Stadium on the campus of Southern Illinois University.

There will also be a Family Fun Zone area and Shadowfest held in Carbondale within walking distance of the Amtrak station.

Many eclipse watchers are also expected to ride the northbound Illini from Carbondale to Chicago. No. 392 has been sold out for several weeks and will have an extra coach.

Passengers riding the southbound Eclipse Express will be given special glasses that are needed to prevent permanent eye damage from viewing the sun in its partial eclipse phase.

FRA Publishes Rules for Passenger Trial Program

August 5, 2017

The Federal Railroad Administration has established its rules for seeking competitor bids to replace Amtrak on up to three long-distance routes.

The agency published the rules in the Federal Register and they take effect on Sept. 5.

The pilot program is mandated by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The rules establish a petition, notification and bid process as well as establish deadlines for filing petitions and bids and the execution of contracts with winning bidders.

The FAST Act described an “eligible petitioner” for the pilot program as one that owns the relevant rail infrastructure on the route or has a “written agreement” with the rail infrastructure owner.

A winning bidder who doesn’t own the infrastructure must obtain from the owner a written agreement that governs access issues.

Amtrak Offering $5 Tickets to Detroit

August 3, 2017

Amtrak is offering $5 tickets for travel to Detroit through Sept. 4. The fares are good for travel originating on the Wolverine Service route at Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Pontiac, Royal Oak and Troy.

Once in Detroit, passengers can ride the new QLine, a streetcar route that is offering free rides through Labor Day.

The 3.3-mile route on Woodward Avenue features 12 stops, including Comerica Park, the Fox Theatre and Midtown.

QLine streetcars operate Monday through Saturday between 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In another travel promotion, the Detroit People Mover is offering free rides on Monday between 6:30 a.m. and midnight, in celebration of its 30th anniversary. The fare is normally 75 cents.

Suspect in Amtrak Shooting May be Unfit For Trial

August 3, 2017

The Amtrak conductor who was shot in May during a station stop in Naperville, Illinois, has returned home while the man charged in his shooting has been described as not mentally fit to stand trial.

Klein

A court-appointed psychologist reached that conclusion after examining Edward Klein, 79, of West Allis, Wisconsin.

The report is considered private, but was discussed in general during a court status hearing this week.

Klein has been charged with attempted murder and other felonies. He has been held in the DuPage County Jail since the May 23 shooting.

The conductor, Michael Case, was hospitalized for 10 weeks as he recovered from injuries to his abdomen. Case, 45, resides in Homewood, Illinois, and was working the inbound Southwest Chief when he was shot.

Hospital officials have said Case now faces months of additional rehabilitation.

During the court proceedings, discussions between attorneys and the judge indicated that it is unlikely that Klein can be returned to mental fitness within a year. Another hearing will be held on Aug. 7.

Public Defender Jeff York contended during a hearing last month that Klein was unfit for trial, but that determination will be made by a judge.

Defendants declared unfit to stand trial are usually committed temporarily to a mental health facility to receive treatment intended to restore mental fitness.

In cases in which a defendant is ruled to be unlikely to regain fitness, a longer term involuntary commitment may be imposed.

Police have said that Klein, a retired federal law enforcement officer, was returning to Wisconsin after deciding en route to cancel a planned trip to Las Vegas.

Officials have said Klein was apparently angry because Case has refused to allow him to disembark at Naperville. Amtrak officials had become concerned about his behavior aboard the train and were watching him to ensure that he made his connection in Chicago to a Milwaukee-bound train.

Klein is alleged to have taken a revolver from his carry-on bag, leaned out a train door window and fired at Case.

Hoosier State Struggled to Run on Time in June

August 3, 2017

Amtrak trains are struggling to operate on time in the Chicago to Indianapolis corridor and the passenger carrier says its contract railroads are to blame.

Just one in three trains bound for Indianapolis arrived on time in June. On the other hand, the on-time performance of trains running from Indy to Chicago was nearly 90 percent during the month.

Combined, that represents an on-time rate of 62 percent, which is down from the 80 percent rates that the route had been posting.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said almost all the delays have been caused by freight-train interference and dispatchers giving priority to freight trains over Amtrak trains.

“We made it clear to them that we’d like June to be an outlier performance,” Magliari said.

Since taking over the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State from Iowa Pacific Holdings earlier this year, Amtrak has launched business class, food and beverage services, free Wi-Fi and the ability to make reservations for carry-on items in an effort to match the level of service that IP provided.

The Indiana Department of Transportation is working with an engineering firm to study the ways to shorten the travel time, including the possibility of using a different route.

The Hoosier State operates on days that the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.  Both trains serve intermediate stations in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer.

Some Michigan Trains Subject to Delays

August 3, 2017

Amtrak has warned that some Michigan corridor trains are subject to delay due to the performance of system maintenance.

Affected are Wolverine Service trains 350, 355 and Blue Water trains 364 and 365. The service advisory said the trains may experience delays of 15 to 30 minutes.

Amtrak did not say how long the maintenance program would last.

NC Puts Rebuilt Locomotives Into Service

August 3, 2017

Amtrak and North Carolina officials this week christened two rebuilt locomotives that are used in Piedmont Service between Charlotte and Raleigh.

The rebuilt locomotives have been named Town of Cary and the City of Kannapolis, both of which are served by the Piedmonts as well as the New York-Charlotte Carolinian.

Each engine was rebuilt mechanically and electrically. The Kannapolis locomotive’s 3,000 horsepower engine was upgraded to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier 0+ emission standards.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation noted that the purchase and rehabilitation of the locomotives cost $2.15 million each. New units would have cost $6 million to $7 million.

The North Carolina locomotives were built in 1990 for Toronto’s GO Transit system.