Archive for October, 2017

Hiawatha Passengers Need Reservations for Thanksgiving Travel

October 31, 2017

Amtrak will require reservations for travel aboard its Hiawatha Service trains during the Thanksgiving holiday period

In a service advisory, Amtrak said reservations will be required on all Chicago-Milwaukee trains from Tuesday, Nov. 21 through Monday, Nov. 27.

During that period, a ticket will only be valid on the train for which a passenger holds a reservation.

Amtrak said it is adding cars to provide overflow seating on selected trains on Nov. 21 and Nov. 22.

Monthly and 10-ride ticket holders will not need reservations.

Advertisements

Amtrak Adds NEC Trains for Thanksgiving

October 31, 2017

Amtrak is adding trains and capacity to its Northeast Corridor service for the Thanksgiving holiday travel period.

The carrier said will operate every available passenger railcar to handle the surge in patronage.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said its Acela Express and Northeast Regional services will operate with extended schedules with additional frequencies and added capacity during the week of Thanksgiving. Regular Amtrak booking procedures apply.

Last year, Amtrak carried 760,755 passenger throughout its national network during the Thanksgiving travel period. Similar business is expected this year.

On the other coast, Amtrak said passengers riding Pacific Surfliner trains in California between Wednesday, Nov. 22 and Sunday, Nov. 26, will need reservations

During that period, a ticket will only be valid on the train for which a passenger holds a reservation.

Reservations will be not required for our monthly and ten-ride ticket holders.

Additionally, both Rail2Rail programs (Coaster and Metrolink) will observe a blackout period for the same dates, Nov. 22 through Nov. 26.

Budget Plans Saves Pennsylvanian Funding

October 30, 2017

A budget plan agreed to by Pennsylvanian lawmakers will keep intact funding for Amtrak’s Pittsburgh-New York Pennsylvanian.

That funding had been in danger after some lawmakers proposed transferring money from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation budget to cover a $2 billion budget deficit.

The budget plan still must be approved by Gov. Tom Wolf. It seeks additional revenue by expanding casinos in the state.

The proposal would allow for $200 million in the current fiscal year and more funding later by allowing the development of 10 new “mini-casinos” around the state.

The Pennsylvanian is funded through the Multimodal Transportation and Public Transportation Trust Funds. If that funding had been removed, the Pennsylvanian would have been at risk of being discontinued.

Port Huron Area Officials Debate Where to Put a New Amtrak Station

October 30, 2017

Officials in Port Huron, Michigan, are at odds over what to do about the town’s Amtrak station. Some want a new station, but where to place it has triggered disagreements.

The current station is located in an out-of-the-way location in the southern part of town, is not lighted well and is easy to miss.

Other gripes include lack of adequate parking, no room for a bus turnaround or access to other travel options, and no nearby restaurants or overnight amenities.

However, there is wide disagreement about what to do about that, including whether to renovate the current depot or build a new station closer to freeways or downtown Port Huron.

And the City of Port Huron thinks that some government entities are conspiring to move the station outside the city.

For now, a $125,000 study is underway to evaluate the current station and potential locations for a new one.

The station is the eastern terminus of the Blue Water from Chicago, a service funded by the State of Michigan.

Heading the station study is the Blue Water Area Transit, which hired Bergmann Associates to do the study.

Dave McElroy, assistant general manager and finance director for BWAT, said resolving the station situation will take time and it will not be inexpensive. As for what is likely to happen, he is not sure.

“It just depends on what the study comes up with,” he said. “Where it is, what the community decides they’d really like to see.”

Talks about a new Port Huron station have been going since at least 2011.

Former Port Huron City Manager Bruce Brown spoke with Amtrak, the Michigan Department of Transportation and Canadian National Railroad about new station sites.

One was the Thomas Edison Depot Museum while the other was near the former Thomas Edison Inn property. But those proposals went nowhere.

Various the agencies got involved, including Port Huron Township.

After Amtrak said it had talked with the township about relocating its Port Huron station, Port Huron City Manager James Freed objected.

“I think they’re trying to move our train station outside the city without talking with our city residents, let alone those around that neighborhood,” he said.

Freed expressed similar sentiments during the first of two public hearings led by Bergmann Associations on Oct. 19.

Freed noted that property owned by CN was mentioned by station study project manager Jeremy Hedden in a presentation as a potential site candidate.

“My concern with the guy doing the study is he shows up, (says) that no decision has been made yet, that they want an open and fair conversation,” he said. “Yet, he starts the conversation off with several statements like this spot’s closer to the highway than this spot.”

The site in question is along Griswold Road between 24th Street and Michigan Road near Interstate 69.

Port Huron Township Supervisor Bob Lewandowski said that just because that site was at a hearing discussed doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee to be the location of a new station.

Lewandowski would like to see the township get the station. Some have argued that the station site selection process needs to take into account the greater needs of the region.

“For us right now, we’re advocating we would like to see it out here,” Lewandowski said. “We think we’ve got a better space to be able to provide more for a station as far as if we can’t get them to do the maintenance on the train here. (We could) have a few more jobs here. The space is there to have a platform to move (the train) to some sort of maintenance facility.”

Lewandowski said there’s also more space to accommodate other amenities for travelers — which could jump-start economic growth, such as a small hotel or restaurant nearby.

Freed is concerned about economic development as well, saying Port Huron uses its status as a city serviced by Amtrak “to the fullest of its capabilities” — both keeping the city a destination and making an transportation travel option available to a local population who needs it.

He said he thinks passenger rail is going to grow and that will bolster hotels and restaurants.

If the station were to remain in Port Huron, Freed said the current station on 16th Street could be upgraded, the original Grand Trunk Western station could be used or a new site could host a depot

Some have even advocated establishing a station in a location that would attract passengers from Sarnia, Ontario.

Mabel Higgins, vice president for Rail Advocacy in Lambton, said at the Oct. 19 hearing that a station in Port Huron Township would be accessible to Canadians coming by highway for travel to Chicago.

The station study underway is expected to be completed by February or March. The next step would be to conduct an environmental assessment of various station options.

In a best case scenario, construction on a new or renovated station is no closer than two years and it may be five years before completion.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said station renovations and replacements are almost always locally-driven projects.

He said Amtrak has many ongoing discussions with various communities, including Port Huron, about station renovation or replacement.

Magliari said transit agencies are often the “perfect group” to lead Amtrak station projects.

“They already have the transportation focus and willing people,” he said. “In some cases, it’s led by community groups who have an idea. That can work too. (Or it can be) a regional planning organization or council of governments.”

McElroy said BWAT expects to continue to lead the station project and that the two public hearing held thus far won’t be the public’s last opportunity to comment.

“Any input that Bergmann gets that is meaningful, there will be follow up, I’m sure,” McElroy said. “And like they tried to point out, if anything transpires from this study, there’s a lot more input that takes place. A lot more in depth, a lot more detail.”

Freed agreed that having BWAT take the lead makes sense. CN and MDOT are also expected to play a role in the process.

CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said he was familiar with discussion of a new station previously but wasn’t up to date if anything has resurfaced more recently.

Regional MDOT spokeswoman Jocelyn Hall said frequency, passenger boards, and community size are among the “many considerations when building a station.”

One of those is ridership history. MDOT said ridership at Port Huron rose from 13,162 in 2009 to 29,792 in 2013, a 125 percent plus increase.

However, Amtrak patronage has declined since then to 22,682 in 2015, 20,205 in 2016 and 15,850 through September of this year. The lowest ridership in the last decade was at 12,619 in 2007.

Another factor is where the money to pay for a new station will come.

“That’s a great question because funding for that has not been identified yet,” McElroy said. “The community, I’m sure we’ll go out and try to receive some federal and state grants. To be competitive, sometimes you have to throw in local money as well.”

Colorado Board OKs Matching Funds for TIGER Bid

October 30, 2017

The Pueblo [Colorado] Board of County Commissions has approved a resolution pledging $12,500 in matching support toward a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant application.

The money, if awarded, would be used to repair tracks used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

A news report indicated that 23 communities in three states have passed similar resolutions or submitted letters of support to pledge matching funds totaling nearly $9.2 million.

The TIGER grant bid is being submitted by Colfax County New Mexico, and is seeking $25 million from the federal grant program.

Also pledging money have been The City of La Junta and Otero County, which have agreed to put up $12,500 each.

It is the fourth time communities served by Amtrak Nos. 3 and 4 have rallied matching support funds for a TIGER grant.

Officials have said that the latest grant bid would wrap up necessary repairs in Colorado to save the Southwest Chief, which carried 367,267 passengers in 2016.

The route of the Chicago-Los Angeles train needs more than $50 million in rail repairs to the BNSF tracks.

In a related development, the Front Range Rail Commission of Colordao is working on getting a through car that would travel between the Pueblo Union Depot and the city of La Junta, offering a daily connection from Pueblo to the Southwest Chief.

Woman Says Amtrak Agent Told Her to Remove Pin

October 30, 2017

Amtrak has apologized to a Chicago woman who claims that an Amtrak gate agent told her to remove a “love trumps hate” button before boarding a train to Seattle last Friday.

In issuing the apology, Amtrak said its employee misinterpreted a company policy.

The incident came to light after Melissa Stone wrote about it on Twitter.

She said the Amtrak agent told her that because the passenger carrier is “federally funded,” that Stone would have to remove the pin or “stay in her cabin” during her trip.

Stone said an Amtrak manager confirmed that the action of the Amtrak agent wasn’t proper.

In a facebook post, Stone said she and her partner, Chase McClure, were traveling to Seattle to celebrate their 10th anniversary.

She said the agent said Amtrak asks passengers to remove such pins to prevent fights from breaking out on trains.

McClure also weighed in on the dust-up on social media, saying she would be just as angry if the agent had asked another passenger to remove a “Make America Great Again” hat, which is commonly worn by supporters of President Donald Trump

“Love trumps hate” was a slogan used by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and continues to be used by some who dislike Trump.

Trump Might Back 7-cent Gas Tax Hike

October 30, 2017

The Trump administration might seek an increase in the federal gasoline tax as a way of paying for a proposed $1 trillion infrastructure program.

That point was made by Trump’s economic adviser Gary Cohn during a meeting with House lawmakers last week.

The proposed 7-cent increase would be used to fund public work projects, such as railways, roads, waterways and bridges.

Trump had said earlier this year during an interview with Bloomberg News that he was open to a gas tax increase. The last gasoline tax increase came in 1993.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has said there is little interest in a gas tax hike now, but committee members might support one if the White House gets involved and supports the increase.

Although the Trump infrastructure plan has received widespread attention, the administration has yet to reveal any hard details about it.

Roanoke Set to Welcome Back Amtrak, Bedford Wants to be a Station on the New Route

October 27, 2017

A welcome ceremony to celebrate Amtrak’s return to Roanoke, Virginia, will be held on Monday on the new boarding platform.

The event will feature speeches by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, who championed the project, members of the Roanoke City Council and Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The ceremony and a ribbon-cutting are scheduled at 12:20 p.m.

At 1:30 p.m., the platform and train will open for tours. Regular service will begin on Oct. 31.

In a related development, authorities in the Bedford, Virginia, area are making a push to get Amtrak service.

On Nov. 9 they plan to hold a rally to show Amtrak and state leaders their interest in reviving rail passenger service to the region.

“We just want to show, at the state level and Amtrak, that there is support for this stop,” said Susan Martin, president and CEO of the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation began surveying the town for a train station years ago.

Bedford is located on the route of the soon to be launched Amtrak Northeast Regional Service to Roanoke.

Like Roanoke, it was served by Amtrak until 1979 when the Hilltopper was discontinued.

The former Norfolk & Western station in Bedford has since been converted into a restaurant, but its owner, Harry Leist says the potential for more folks in his restaurant is a positive.

“When you increase activity, it’s a trickle-down effect, if I may use that term, and everyone benefits from it,” Leist said.

The New York-bound train is scheduled to pass through Bedford at 6:55 a.m. The Next Stop Bedford rally is set to begin at 6:30 a.m. at the proposed site of the Bedford stop.

Missouri Man Due in Court Monday in Connection With Stopping California Zephyr in Nebraska

October 27, 2017

A Missouri who got into the trailing locomotive of the eastbound California Zephyr last weekend faces a preliminary hearing on Monday in a Nebraska courtroom.

Taylor M. Wilson, 25, of St. Charles, Missouri, is due in court in Furnas County, Nebraska.

He is facing charges of possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony, felony criminal mischief, and trespassing.

Bond was set at 10 percent of $25,000 and a judge has appointed a local attorney to represent Wilson.

Armed with a loaded Smith and Wesson .38 revolver, Wilson is alleged to have engaged an emergency brake, causing train No. 6 to stop.

Police said that when he was arrested, Wilson also had in his possession a speed loader in his pocket and two bags containing three speed loaders, a box of ammo for the revolver, a knife, tin snips, scissors and a ventilation mask.

No. 6 was nearing its scheduled station stop in Holdrege, Nebraska, when the incident occurred early on the morning of Oct. 21.

“We lunged forward in our seats and all the power went out, it went completely black in the train car and the emergency lighting came on which is just at your feet and it’s really sparse so we couldn’t see anything and we could smell something burning and I’m going to guess that was the brakes,” said passenger Bobbie Garris.

Garris said passengers sat in quiet darkness for over an hour. During that time, Amtrak staff rushed past toward the head end. They never explained what was happening.

Authorities are still unsure as to what Wilson’s plan was.

Amtrak released a statement saying, “The circumstances of the incident are under active criminal investigation at this time. Amtrak is working with law enforcement in Nebraska and will continue to cooperate fully in the investigation.”

Amtrak Offering Managers, Employees Buyouts

October 27, 2017

Amtrak is offering a buyout of managers and employees not covered by a union contract.

Employees must have been with the company for at least a year and must declare their intention to take it between Nov. 6 and 17.

Those approved for the buyout will leave their post by Dec. 31 although some workers may be asked to stay for a transition period.

The buyouts will be paid in a lump sum ranging from $15,000, up to a maximum of two weeks gross pay for each year of service, up to 26 weeks gross pay.

Amtrak has indicated that it is trying to reduce its employment count and if not enough employees agree to a buyout it will lay off employees starting in January.

All employees taking buyouts or who are laid off are expected to be gone from Amtrak by the end of January.