Archive for August, 2017

Mechanical Problems Delay Amtrak 29

August 25, 2017

Amtrak’s westbound Capitol Limited arrived nearly five hours late in Cleveland today due to mechanical problems encountered shortly after the train left Washington.

No. 29 departed from Washington and Rockville, Maryland, on time, but got hung up in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, due to an emergency brake application east of the station in the vicinity of Sandy Hook that the crew was unable to release.

An on-line report said that the culprit was a trailing locomotive, P42DC No. 173, which was dead-heading to the Beech Grove Shops near Indianapolis for a repair.

No. 173 was damaged in a collision at Patrick, South Carolina, between the northbound Silver Star and a truck.

Amtrak mechanical department personnel were called to the scene

The train also had a dead-heading heritage dining car (8532) between the locomotives and baggage car. The other locomotives on train were 196 and 169.

No. 29 arrived in Cleveland at 7:38 a.m., which is 4 hours, 45 minutes off schedule.

CSX Denies Deliberately Delaying Amtrak

August 25, 2017

CSX is denying that it has been short-changing Amtrak trains in favor of its own freight trains.

In a statement, a CSX spokesman said that the railroad “recognizes the important benefits that passenger rail service can provide to the public.”

Spokesman Rob Doolittle said that CSX has a long history of supporting passenger service across its network and that it provides Amtrak preference in accordance with federal law.

But the Lafayette (Indiana) Journal & Courier reported that those comments are at odds with a directive given by a CSX supervisor to dispatchers.

“Give high priority to [freight trains] Q031/Q032,” the supervisor  wrote in an email obtained by the newspaper. “If we are meeting with Amtrak make the delay on Amtrak first. If Amtrak is running down one of these trains go ahead and get to the point Amtrak is seeing the (end of the freight train) before we get them around.”

The Journal & Courier said that Amtrak’s own on-time performance statistics show that delays have become frequent while on CSX.

“We are one of the customers who have been disappointed by CSX’s performance on this and other routes around the country,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said, making a specific reference to the Chicago-Indianapolis corridor used by Amtrak’s Hoosier State and Cardinal.

“CSX has made a series of operational decisions and dispatching decisions that have not given these trains the priority to which we’re entitled and the reliability that we  expect.”

Magliari said Amtrak has begun tracking how much money it has lost across its network due to CSX’s problems. That includes compensation for displaced passengers, the cost of getting passengers to other train stations to make connections, and additional crew costs.

“There has not been improvement in August thus far [in on-time performance], and there’s only a few days left,” Magliari said.

Amtrak crews will communicate to passengers why delays are occurring. “The proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and we are very transparent about how sweet or sour this pudding is,” Magliari said.

Hiawatha Route Hosts Solo Charger-led Trip

August 25, 2017

A new Siemens SC-44 Charger locomotive operated solo for the first time on Thursday, pulling Amtrak Hiawatha train No. 329 from Chicago to Milwaukee.

No. 4620, which is owned by the Illinois Department of Transportation, became the first Charger to make a solo revenue trip since arriving in Chicago last spring.

IDTX Nos. 4611 and 4604 were the first to arrive in Chicago from Seattle following several months of testing in the Pacific Northwest.

Altogether, 69 Chargers have been built for the departments of transportation in Illinois, California, Michigan, Missouri, Washington and Maryland.

The Illinois-owned Chargers will be used on state-funded Amtrak routines radiating from Chicago.

NY Penn Station Rebuilding on Schedule

August 25, 2017

Amtrak said this week that work to rebuild tracks and station infrastructure at New York Penn Station is on schedule and regular operations at the venerable terminal should resume on Sept. 5.

In a news release, Amtrak said it has completed nearly seven of the eight weeks of the summer infrastructure renewal work.

That work concentrated on “A Interlocking,” which controls incoming and outgoing trains that enter and exit Penn Station from the Hudson River tunnel and the Long Island Rail Road’s West Side Yard.

The work in A interlocking includes track and switch replacement, which is expected to improve the reliability of train service.

The resumption of regular schedules on Sept. 5, includes all previously announced modified routes at New York Penn station as well as Empire Service trains that will be returning to Penn Station.

Additional work will be undertaken that will last through approximately June 2018, with most of it taking place on weekends, resulting in minimal impacts to service or disruptions to customers.

Columbus Named Transportation ‘Pocket of Pain’

August 25, 2017

Columbus has been identified in a study as one of the nation’s most prominent “pockets of pain” when it comes to intercity public ground transportation.

The capital of Ohio made the list because of its lack of Amtrak service and express bus service.

It was joined up there by another state capital, Phoenix, which also lacks Amtrak service. Also on the list was Akron and Dayton.

Amtrak’s New York-Kansas City National Limited halted in Columbus and Dayton for the last time on Oct. 1, 1979. Megabus pulled out of Columbus this past Janauary.

The study was released by Chicago-based DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.

It focused on large cities that lack rail and express bus connections to other major cities. Cities outside Ohio that also made the list were Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Fort Myers, Florida.

“Columbus has been cursed in terms of ground transportation, largely because of geography,” said Joseph Schwieterman, co-author of the study and director of the Chaddick Institute. “It’s a little far from cities such as Chicago and Washington to make bus service a good success.”

Among the study’s findings:

  • Cleveland-to-Columbus is the fourth-busiest route (ones with the most point-to-point travel) in the country that lacks both intercity express bus service and rail service.
  • Chicago-to-Columbus is the seventh-busiest such route.

“The study validates what we already knew: The central Ohio region does have gaps in ground transportation options for passengers connecting to other regions,” said William Murdock, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. “That is why we are working hard with our community partners across four states, including Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

“These efforts include a Columbus-to-Chicago passenger rail connection and the Midwest Connect Hyperloop Corridor (Pittsburgh to Chicago via Columbus), as well as (other) regional efforts.”

Last year Columbus won the national Smart City Challenge and was awarded $40 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation and $10 million by Vulcan Inc. Another $90 million has been pledged by a Columbus public-private partnership, bringing the total to $140 million.

That funding was not intended to go toward development of conventional rail or bus intercity service.

However, Schwieterman said the Smart City projects can only help.

“Innovation in urban areas could morph into providing true intercity service,” Schwieterman said. “It’s only a matter of time before services like Uber and Lyft start offering van service between cities, for example.”

He also believes the federal government should track ridership of private express bus services the way it does with airline passengers, to better understand the demand on various routes.

Schwieterman would like to see local governments encourage bus service by helping companies establish convenient curbside stops and providing incentives to renovate bus stations.

“Some people will consider an express bus, but are resistant to taking Greyhound,” Schwieterman said. “It’s a culture change.”

To see the study, go to http://bit.ly/2xd2LEb

The Double Edge Sword of Higher Gas Prices

August 25, 2017

Lower gasoline prices present a dilemma for public transportation agencies.

On the upside, that means lower operating expenses for their buses. On the downside it means that more people are likely to drive than take public transportation.

It is not just local public transit that is suffering. Amtrak and intercity bus services have seen their ridership tumble due to lower gas prices.

A DePaul University study released this week found that eight of the 50 most heavily-traveled routes between cities 120 to 400 miles apart in America have lost express bus or Amtrak service since 2014.

Nine metropolitan areas in the United States with populations above 700,000 have no Amtrak passenger rail service or express bus service at all.

The decline of ridership on Amtrak and bus services such as Megabus and BoltBus has declined since 2015 in rough tandem with a decline in U.S. gasoline prices, the DePaul study found.

It concluded that so long as gasoline remains cheap, public transportation is bound to suffer.

When gas prices rose past $4 per gallon a few years ago, many transportation companies added a fuel surcharge to their normal pricing to cover their increased costs.

Ridership of public transportation and public intercity transportation typically rises when gas prices increase.

But gasoline prices this week across the United States averaged $2.34 per gallon, the American Automobile Association reported.

The DePaul study said the low cost of gasoline made driving cars an inexpensive transportation option, which led to the loss of intercity bus service in particular.

Joseph Schwieterman, co-author of the study and director of the Chaddick Institute at DePaul said there is wide agreement that gasoline taxes eventually will have to go up to help fund aging road infrastructure.

Although more expensive gasoline could lead more people to consider taking the bus, he said it could be a “double whammy” for bus operators because ridership gains could be offset by higher fuel costs to operate their fleets.

The DePaul study found that travelers tend to favor airplanes for trips of more than 400 miles. They favor their own automobile for trips of less than 100 miles.

Hearing Set on Heartland Flyer Extension

August 24, 2017

The Oklahoma legislature will conduct a hearing on Sept. 6 to discuss extending the Heartland Flyer into Kansas.

The train currently operates between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, but a movement is underway to extend operation of the train to Newton, Kansas, where it could connect with Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

There has also been discussion about extending the Flyer to Kansas City, Missouri.

Newton Mayor Barth Hague and Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell plan to travel to the hearing to testify in support of the extension. Wichita has been without Amtrak service since October 1979.

Oklahoma is looking to build on an earlier study done by the state of Kansas.

The Heartland Flyer is funded primarily by Oklahoma with some funding coming from the state of Texas.

“Right now that train is funded by Texas and Oklahoma, so we certainly cannot do anything without working with them, and they want to work on it,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

The move to extend the Heartland Flyer into Kansas dates back to at least 2008.

A 2012 study conducted by the Kansas Department of Transportation estimated the cost of improvements needed for extension to Newton route would be $87.5 million.

Extending the Flyer to Kansas City would cost about $245.5 million.

“There will be need for an effort to put some good, positive advocacy pressure on our state to jump forward to provide funding,” Hague said.

Hague noted that the 2012 cost estimates have been changed several times.

“What Amtrak and BNSF have figured out is there might be a way to extend the line without ($100 million) in track improvements,” Hague said.

Amtrak ran an inspection train on the route on June 9.

Taking Amtrak to the Eclipse

August 24, 2017

About 400 people boarded an Amtrak train in Chicago at 3 a.m. this week to go see the solar eclipse in Carbondale, Illinois.

The Amtrak special followed the former Illinois Central Railroad route used by Amtrak trains between the two cities.

The first visible coast-to-coast eclipse in the United States since 1918, had the longest lasting totality over Carbondale.

The special sold out in 22 hours once ticket sales were announced. It also stopped in Champaign-Urbana where 55 passengers boarded.

News accounts quoted passengers as saying the trip was convenient.

“When Amtrak announced it, we thought it was a great idea; and going down and coming back in a day is great,” Tim Costello said. “It’s going to be a great experience to see a total eclipse; everything being quiet, and things getting dark, and things like that is just once in a lifetime.”

Christine Chavez said she was happy to going to Carbondale because clouds were threatening to obscure the eclipse in Chicago.

“We’re actually doing it, because my daughter is really into space; and she’s been wanting to go ahead and see the eclipse, because she heard about it in school,” she said. “It’s definitely a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity, especially for my family. So we’re very excited, and excited that my daughter gets to experience this as well.”

The train had P42DC No. 64 pulling the train southbound while No. 36 pulled the return trip. The passenger car consist was Nos. 48187, 54562, 82543, 54000, 82536, 54555, 54575.

New Station Being Built in N. Charleston, SC

August 24, 2017

A groundbreaking ceremony was to be held today to launch construction of a new intermodal station in North Charleston, South Carolina.

The new city-owned facility will be built next to the existing Amtrak Station on Gaynor Street.

Once opened in late 2018, the 15,000-square foot facility will serve Amtrak, Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority buses and Southeastern Stages. Uber and taxi companies will have access to the facility.

The North Charleston Intermodal Transportation Center is projected to cost $15 million.

Much of the funding is being provided by the Federal Transit Administration, with Charleston County, North Charleston and the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority also contributing.

“We were, quite honestly, ashamed 20 years ago of where people got off the train in North Charleston,” Mayor Keith Summey said. “Now, people who travel out of Charleston and into the area will have a great place to stop that we as citizens can be proud of as a welcoming area.”

The railroad station was built in the 1950s with separate waiting rooms, restrooms and water fountains for whites and blacks.

A rash of burglaries in the 1980s prompted the station to be enclosed by a fence topped with barb wire that some said made it look more like a jail than a railroad depot.

“We anticipate not having barbed wire up at the new building,” said North Charleston Project Manager Adam MacConnell. “It will be more of a park-like setting. There will be little walking trails where people can get out and sit on benches under some of the grand oaks that are out there.”

The city will kick in about $100,000 annually to make up for an anticipated shortfall in operating costs.

The station will have offices for the tenants, a meeting room and a room for a history display on the surrounding Liberty Hill neighborhood, North Charleston’s oldest community.

A plan 10 years ago to establish an Amtrak station on land owned by CARTA on West Montague Avenue failed to pan out because CSX feared that Amtrak trains might impede rail freight traffic at its nearby Bennett Yard.

Instead, the proposed intermodal facility was revived for the Gaynor Avenue site and scaled back to about half its original planned size.

The current Amtrak station will continue in service until the new intermodal facility is complete.

Amtrak serves North Charleston with its New York-Miami Silver Meteor and New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto.

Consultant to Study NY Penn Station Operations

August 24, 2017

Amtrak said it has hired AECOM, in partnership with Network Rail, to conduct an independent review of the interaction, coordination, and collaboration among the various passenger concourses within New York Penn Station.

The study will provide recommendations to improve the design, functionality, communications, and coordination at the station.

“New York Penn Station is the busiest rail hub in the country, and Amtrak is dedicated to making improvements to the railroad and the station that will improve the passenger experience,” said Amtrak co-CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman in a news release. “We have made significant progress in renewing rail infrastructure at Penn Station and are now taking steps to improve the passenger areas. We have assembled a top-notch team of national and international experts to work with the railroads on delivering solutions that will greatly improve the passenger experience at New York Penn Station.”

Amtrak is the owner of Penn Station, which is also used by the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit.

Amtrak said in a news release that it has created a working group of Amtrak, LIRR, and NJT staff to support the study.

The study will review management of daily operations within the three station concourses, including during service disruptions, as well as look for opportunities to strengthen coordination between all parties to improve the passenger experience, safety, and security.