Archive for August, 2017

Some Hiawatha Change to Change Skeds

August 30, 2017

Certain Hiawatha Service schedules will change on Sept. 29, Amtrak said in a service advisory.  Train 330 will once again operate on Saturday mornings, in addition to weekday mornings.

It departs from Milwaukee at 6:15 a.m. and arrives in Chicago at 7:57 a.m.

Train 343 will operate on Friday evenings, providing a late-night train from Chicago at 11:25 p.m. and arriving in Milwaukee at 12:54 a.m.

Amtrak said the later schedule will enable passengers to have more time for business and pleasure, including dining, music, theatre and sports.

Late night trains 343 & 344 will no longer operate on Saturdays.

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Chargers to Sport Amtrak Midwest Logo

August 30, 2017

The new Charger locomotives that are entering service on Amtrak’s Midwest corridor route will sport an Amtrak Midwest logo on their noses.

Amtrak showed off the new locomotives earlier this week at a press conference in Chicago.

The passenger carrier in a news release touted the SC-44 locomotives built by Siemens for their enhanced smoothness, speed capability and safety features.

The locomotives are owned by the state departments of transportation that pay for the corridor trains that will use the new units.

Thirty-three Chargers will be based in Chicago to serve trains that carried more than 2.6 million Amtrak passengers last year.

Chargers will also be assigned to the Missouri River Runner trains between St. Louis and Kansas City.

The locomotives were built in Sacramento, California, and are being promoted for their lower maintenance costs, reduced fuel consumption and quieter operation.

The SC-44 is powered by a Midwest-made 4,400 horsepower Cummins QSK95 diesel engine.

The locomotives came operate at speeds up to 125 mph, with faster acceleration and braking for better on-time reliability.

They are the first higher-speed passenger locomotives to meet the EPA Tier 4 standards, meaning a 90 percent reduction in emissions and a reduction in fuel consumption of up to 16 percent compared to the previous locomotives.
The locomotives were purchased with $216.5 million in federal funds.

Troy Station Battle Comes to Quiet End

August 30, 2017

A dispute that lasted for 20 years over building an Amtrak station in Troy, Michigan, came to an end recently with the city council formally accepting the final $1.7 million in federal funding for the Troy Multi-Modal Transit Center.

The money was used to finish paying for a transit center that is used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) and local buses.

Troy, a suburb of Detroit, is known for its conservatism and many fights took place in city council chambers over whether to accept federal funding for mass transit.

The struggle also included a lawsuit over who owned the land beneath the transit center.

The city contended that it did, but shopping center developer Gary Sakwa disputed that and filed suit.

It was eventually settled with Troy paying Skawa $4.2 million to get clear title to the property.

At one time Troy and the neighboring city of Birmingham made plans to create a joint station for Amtrak and transit on the city borders. But Birmingham backed out of the plan and Troy went it alone.

Megan Owens, the executive director of Transportation Riders United in Detroit said transit has never been an easy issue in metro Detroit.

“But I think it’s gotten easier,” she said about the long fight over the Troy station.

Some critics of the station remain convinced it was not worth its $12 million cost.

One of them is the former mayor of Troy, Janice Daniels, who fought against it and ended up being recalled amid the dispute.

Daniels said it angered her that promoters of the center said it wouldn’t cost the city anything.

Troy ending paying $1.8 million, although those funds came from cash left over from federal reimbursement of road projects.

Last year Amtrak handled 23,714 passengers in Troy, a 9 percent drop from 2015.

However, some believe that with plans in the works to increase the speed of Wolverine Service trains to 110 mph in some places that ridership will grow.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said 80 miles of the Chicago-Detroit route is good for that top speed with another 25 miles slated to become high-speed in the coming months.

Sunset Ltd. Equipment Moved from NOLA

August 30, 2017

Amtrak has moved equipment assigned to the Sunset Limited out of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Harvey curtaining operation of the train.

An online report said that the equipment was moved to Chicago on the City of New Orleans. No. 58 had its usual consist plus the cars being ferried from New Orleans.

The Sunset equipment included P43DC Nos. 60, 68 and 4.

Also evacuated were Superline cars 39008, 32053, 37016, 33024, 31012, 34005, 34138, 31018, 34090, 33049, 38062, 32019 and 39017, and Viewliner baggage car 61063.

Sunset Ltd. Now Operating to San Antonio

August 29, 2017

In a service advisory issued Monday afternoon,  Amtrak said its New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited is now operating between San Antonio, Texas, and Los Angeles.

Flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey has resulted in track closures in Texas in Houston and vicinity.

No alternative transportation is being provided on the Sunset route between New Orleans and San Antonio.

The Texas Eagle is operating between Chicago and Fort Worth, Texas, with alternate transportation being provided between Fort Worth and San Antonio.

Amtrak Thruway Buses in central and southern Texas (Routes 6021 & 6022, 8721 & 8722, and 8821 & 8822) remain canceled and the Amtrak station in Houston is closed.

Amtrak to Put More Chargers Into Service

August 29, 2017

Amtrak will soon place into service its new Charger locomotives on three more Midwest corridor routes.

The Siemens-built SC-44 locomotives have already entered revenue service on the Hiawatha Service route between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Amtrak officials said the units are expected to enter service this week on Chicago-Quincy, Illinois, trains

In the near future, Chargers are expected to be assigned to Chicago-Carbondale, Illlinois, service and to the Pere Marquette to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The new locomotives are being withheld from Chicago-St. Louis trains, and the Blue Water and Wolverine Service trains pending testing of Wabtec’s I-ETMS positive train control system and the two versions of Incremental Train Control installed on the routes of those trains.

“These are new installations, it’s a different locomotive, and the systems have to be merged and integrated with the Siemens software, so we will continue to run 110-mph between Porter and Kalamazoo with the existing P42  locomotives until testing is completed,” said Tim Hoeffner, director of Michigan’s rail office.

A similar situation exists in Illinois on Union Pacific track in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor. A 110-mph section between Dwight and Pontiac is reverting to 79 mph until the new system is in place.

The maximum speed of Lincoln Service trains will increase to 90 mph after track and signal work are completed.

Once the Federal Railroad Administration certifies that the positive train control system on the route is reliable, then top speeds will rise to 110 mph.

Amtrak superintendent of locomotives Mike Yates said that 12 of the 33 Chargers that were ordered are now on Amtrak property and 10 are ready to be put into revenue service.

Cal. Zephyr Expected to Detour in Wyoming

August 29, 2017

Amtrak’s California Zephyr is expected to detour through Wyoming in September and October due to Union Pacific track work on its regular route in Colorado.

Trains magazine reported Monday that it has learned that Nos. 5 and 6 will have a modified schedule starting Sept. 4.

After 11 days, the California Zephyr will detour for eight days, resume its modified schedule for seven days and finish with eight more days of operating through Wyoming.

Trains departing Chicago between Sept. 6-16, and Sept. 25 to Oct. 1 will operate at least 4.5 hours later than the published schedule west of Denver.

Trains departing Emeryville, California, Sept. 4-12 and Sept. 23-29 will leave 1.5 hours later than the published schedule.

The detour route via Wyoming is shorter than the Zephyr’s regular route and the train might have additional layover time in Denver eastbound and Salt Lake City westbound.

The temporary route will pass through Fort Collins, Colorado, and the Wyoming cities of Laramie, Rawlins, and Evanston.

Many Amtrak Trains on CSX Tracks Took Taken Hit in Timekeeping in July, But Not all of Them

August 29, 2017

Not all Amtrak trains that run on CSX rails were plagued by poor timekeeping this past July, but many of them were.

An analysis by Trains magazine found that the Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Palmetto, Cardinal, Hoosier State and Maple Leaf suffered serious deterioration in their on-time performance in July compared with the previous 12 months.

The Silver Service and Palmetto ran late 80 percent of the time compared with 56 percent of the time over the past 12 months.

The Cardinal was late 77 percent of the time compared with 43 percent in the previous 12 months.

The on-time performance of the Hoosier State dipped to 54 percent in July, down from 77 percent over the past 12 months.

The Maple Leaf’s timekeeping declined from 77 percent over the past 12 months to 61 percent in July. However, issues on Metro-North in the New York City region caused some of the delays.

Emerging relatively unaffected by the CSX troubles were the Auto TrainCapitol LimitedLake Shore LimitedEmpire Service, and Carolinian/Piedmont. The on-time performance of those trains either improved or held steady.

When the on-time performance did decline, it has more to do with factors other than CSX dispatching.

For example, the Capitol Limited was late 66 percent of the time in July compared with 58 percent during the previous year.

Much of the delay to Nos. 29 and 30 occurred on Norfolk Southern between Chicago and Pittsburgh.

Likewise, most of the delays to the Lake Shore Limited could be attributed to NS.

The Lake Shore Limited was late 64 percent of the time in July, which was down from 53 percent in the past 12 months.

Half of the delays to Nos. 48 and 49 occurred between Chicago and Cleveland, which is owned and dispatched by NS.

Thirty-percent of the delays to the Boston section of the Lake Shore were due to CSX freight train interference.

On the Empire Corridor, trains posted a 78 percent on-time performance in July, down from 84 percent over the past 12 months. However, most of the delays occurred on Metro North tracks.

The Auto Train’s timekeeping improved in July to 66 percent versus 56 percent over the past year.

The Carolinian/Piedmont service posted a 57 percent on-time record in July, which was up from 54 percent over the past year.

Although Amtrak would not say if poor on-time performance has affected ridership, spokesman Marc Magliari said arriving on time is the biggest single factor in customer satisfaction.

“Amtrak performance on a route is often the ‘canary in the coal mine,’ ” Magliari said. “If our trains are not running well, the freight trains are often not running well.

“The numbers speak for themselves every month. Host railroads make operational and dispatching decisions that can result in delays to our trains and cause our trains not to make the times on the schedules the host railroads have agreed to meet.”

For its part, CSX acknowledges Amtrak trains have been delayed, but spokesman Rob Doolittle compared it to the undesired effects that CSX customers have had as the railroad implemented a new operating plan.

“We value all of our customers, including Amtrak, and we have worked diligently to resolve those issues as they have emerged.”

Doolittle insisted that CSX dispatcher continue to provide Amtrak trains with preference in accordance with federal law.

Amtrak Curtails Service Following Hurricane Harvey

August 28, 2017

Amtrak has curtailed some service in Texas in the wake of continued high winds and heavy rainfall from Hurricane Harvey.

The Sunset Limited has been canceled between New Orleans and El Paso, Texas.

Nos. 1 and 2 will continue to operate between El Paso and Los Angeles with no alternative service provided east of El Paso.

The Texas Eagle is operating only between Chicago and Fort Worth, Texas. Some alternative transportation is being provided between Fort Worth and San Antonio, but not west of San Antonio.

The Amtrak station in Houston is closed and Thruway Bus routes 6021 and 6022 are canceled between Galveston and Longview, via Houston.

27 Ski Train Pairs to Operate in 2018

August 28, 2017

Amtrak will operate 27 trips of the Winter Park Express ski train next winter.

The service between Denver Union Station and the Winter Park ski resort west of Moffat Tunnel will begin on Jan. 5, 2018 and operate on Saturday and Sunday through March 25. Additional trips will run on Feb. 2 and March 2, both Fridays.

Tickets will cost as low as $29 for some trips. The Friday trips are designed to accommodate group travel.

With a capacity of 500, the ski train discharges and boards passengers at a platform adjacent to Winter Park’s slopeside village.

Visit amtrak.com/winterparkexpress for further information and to buy tickets.