Archive for November, 2017

RTA Warns of Need for More Capital

November 30, 2017

The head of Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority warned on Wednesday derailments such as the one that snarled rail traffic in and out of Chicago Union Station this week may occur again because Illinois has no capital infrastructure program.

“We need help. We definitely need help,” said Don Orseno. “You can look at the numbers and see where we’re at. We’re not in a good position.”

Orseno said the situation today could deteriorate to what it was in the 1970s when the Rock Island and the Milwaukee Road were in bankruptcy and  many of whose commuter trains were so dilapidated that riders could see the tracks below through the rusted-out floors.

Jim Derwinski, who will soon replace the retiring Orseno said RTA has inherited a system that relies on 40-year-old engines, 110-year-old bridges, and bi-levels cars averaging 30 or more years. The oldest bi-levels cars have been in service for 64 years.

Derwinski said Metra has $196 million available for its capital programs next year, but needs six times that just to stay even.

In the aftermath of the derailment, Metra passengers traveling from Union Station to the southwest suburbs faced delays of up to 30 minutes during the Wednesday evening rush hour as crews cleared a Metra derailment/

Amtrak trains faced delays of up to 45 minutes. The derailment damaged some track, switches signals.

The derailment occurred at about 10:50 p.m. when an eight-car inbound SouthWest Service train arriving at Union Station derailed in a tunnel, which made removing the derailed cars challenging.

No passengers or crew members were injured in the incident, during which the train was traveling at about 9 mph. The derailed cars remained upright.

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New Tacoma Station to Open Dec. 18

November 30, 2017

The new Tacoma Dome Station in Tacoma, Washington, will open on Dec. 18, the same day that additional Cascades Service begins.

Amtrak is adding two more daily roundtrips between Seattle and Portland, Oregon, thereby increasing the level of service between the two cities to six roundtrips a day.

The new service will coincide with a route change whereby Amtrak trains begin using the inland bypass between Tacoma and Olympia.

The Tacoma Dome Station is located in Freighthouse Square at 422 East 25th Street, about a half-mile west of the existing station on Puyallup Avenue.

Trains will stop at Puyallup Avenue station for the final time on Dec. 17

Passengers leaving motor vehicles at the Puyallup Avenue station on or before Dec. 17 and who return on or after Dec. 18 will be provided a courtesy shuttle to retrieve their vehicle during the first week after the move.

Effective Dec. 26, passengers will need to make their own arrangements to travel from the new station to the Puyallup Avenue station to retrieve their vehicle.

Amtrak said in a service advisory that once the station change occurs there will be no security at the old station parking lot.

All vehicles must be moved from the Puyallup Avenue station by Dec. 30, 2017,  or be subject to being towed at the owner’s expense.

A limited number of free short-term parking spaces are available across the street from the station at the Pierce Transit parking garage.

Passengers needing overnight parking are being directed to a pay lot at the corner of D Street and East 25th Street.

To reserve a space, visit www.calltopark.com for more information on other nearby parking options.

Amtrak passenger/guest parking is not permitted in the short-term parking stalls in front of Freighthouse Square Marketplace.

After Amtrak begins serving the Tacoma Dome station, Northwestern Trailways buses will not directly serve the new Amtrak station.

Passengers will instead board and disembark from buses at the Tacoma Greyhound station, located at 510 Puyallup Avenue, one block from the new Tacoma Dome Amtrak station.

New Thruway Terminal in Rockford

November 30, 2017

The Amtrak Thruway buses serving Rockford, Illinois, have a new terminal.

The buses are now stopping at the Rockford Mass Transit District East Side Transfer Center at 725 N. Lyford Road. Passengers traveling from Rockford to Chicago Union Station will board at Location H.

Downeasters to Skip Woburn on Dec. 2-3

November 30, 2017

Track work being performed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority on Dc. 2 and 3 will result in some Downeaster skipping the stop at Woburn, Massachusetts on those dates.

Southbound Trains 690, 692, 694, 696 and 698 and northbound Trains 691, 693, 695, 697 and 699 will detour between Boston North Station and Haverhill, Massachusetts, and will not stop at Woburn.

Alternate transportation will not be provided to or from Woburn.

Extra Helping of Wolverines for Thanksgiving

November 28, 2017

Amtrak in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Transportation operated 10 extra trains to handle Thanksgiving travelers this year.

That included an extra section of the Pere Marquette that ran on two days between Chicago and Holland, and an extra section of the Wolverine Service that operated on three days between Chicago and Ann Arbor.

I ventured up to Ann Arbor for the opportunity to catch three Amtrak trains in a single day during daylight hours.

Shown is eastbound No. 356, the extra section of the Wolverine, crossing the Huron River in Barton Park on the northwest side of Ann Arbor.

In the top photo, the head end of the train is crossing the river. In the middle is part of the consist, which was a mixture of Amfleet and Horizon equipment.

In the bottom photograph, P42DC No. 33 brings up the rear. Unlike the regularly scheduled Wolverines that operate between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac), the Wolverine Extras operated with locomotives on each end due to the lack of turning facilities in Ann Arbor and a turnaround time of 51 minutes.

No. 356 arrived into Ann Arbor about 12 minutes late on the day that I saw it.

New Carlinville Station Now Open to Passengers

November 28, 2017

The new Carlinville, Illinois, Amtrak station is now serving passengers and a grand opening has been set for Dec. 11 at 1 p.m.

Work on the station began more than a year ago and the depot opened on Nov. 16.

“It’s been a long journey,” said Mayor Deanna Demuzio.

Construction was completed two months ago, but negotiations between the city and Amtrak over a lease kept the station from opening. Primarily, the talks focused on liability insurance.

Speakers and entertainment for the grand opening event will be announced at a later date.

Among those expected to appear are Illinois Secretary of Transportation Randall Blankenhorn and Abraham Lincoln impersonator Randy Duncan.

The new station is open from 5 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. daily. The doors lock automatically once travelers from the last scheduled train have had time to depart.

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

Alton Road Depot Being Razed in Alton

November 28, 2017

Demolition of the former Amtrak station in Alton, Illinois, began this week after efforts to find a nonprofit organization to buy and move the station failed.

The 89-year-old depot was once operated by the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad, but is now owned by Union Pacific, which owns the former GM&O tracks through Alton.

The station was built by the Chicago & Alton Railroad and opened in May 1928.

Kristen South, UP director of media relations, said the demolition is expected to take two weeks.

Amtrak had leased the 1,602-square-foot brick structure and parking lot until it began using the Alton Regional Multi-Modal Transportation Center on Sept. 13.

UP had said it didn’t want the depot to be used at its current location due to potential liability issues.

Preservationist Terry Sharp sought to save the station. He established a Facebook page devoted to the cause that had 418 members.

Sharp, the president of the Alton Area Landmarks Association, expressed disappointment that the station could not be saved. “I guess I will go out there and take some pictures,” he said.

The AALA included the depot in its house tour brochure in recent years in an effort to spark interest in saving it.

“I would talk to people, but no one, nothing, came up,” he said. “It was about money, and where to put it (station). There was always a circle of questions. It had to go to a not-for-profit, and it had to be moved. To move it would cost $150,000. We tried, but nothing came up. It’s too bad, it would have been nice to save it. It is going to be sad to see an old building torn down.”

In May 2013, the City of Alton signed a memorandum of agreement with the Federal Railroad Administration, Illinois State Historic Preservation Agency, Illinois Department of Transportation and Union Pacific to develop a marketing plan and attempt to help sell the building.

UP agreed to sell the station to a not-for-profit for $1 as a tax write-off provided that the buyer moved the depot at its own expense. UP also demanded that the platform and foundation be removed.

Had a group offered to take possession of the building it would have had up to 12 months to move the structure.

The city in the meantime is documenting the structure in accordance with the Illinois Historic American Building Survey Standards and Guidelines. That work will be placed in archives at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield.

“People talk about how great old train stations are that are still around, but we haven’t gotten a lot of public sentiment,” Sharp said last summer. “I was hoping this would be part of the (April 4) election, but none of the candidates brought it up. We’ve tried, I said I would try, but nothing has clicked.”

The station is located at 3400 College Avenue. Amtrak now uses a facility off Homer Adams Parkway.

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

Iowa Passenger Advocates Undaunted in Push to Get Intercity Rail Service to Iowa City, Des Moines

November 28, 2017

Iowa passenger train advocates continue to push for service to Iowa City and Des Moines, but expansion of Amtrak to those cities is unlikely to occur anytime soon.

Officially, the prospect of providing intercity rail passenger service to the home of the University of Iowa (Iowa City) and the capital (Des Moines) remains under study by the Iowa Department of Transportation, but the state legislature thus far has declined to approve funding for the service.

Christopher Krebill of Davenport is the head of the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers and remains optimistic about the prospects of implementing twice-daily service between Chicago and Iowa City within the next five years.

“I love this state and I love the rail service that we have now,” Krebill told the Des Moines Register. “I believe that having train service in central and northern Iowa, and doubling train service on Amtrak’s current two routes would do great things for Iowa’s transportation network and Iowa companies and people.”

The proposed service to Iowa City would serve the Quad Cities region of Iowa and Illinois and was being pushed for a time by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The service was projected to draw 187,000 passengers annually. A federal grant of $230 million has funded earlier studies of the proposed service.

Although a 2015 start-up date was eyed, Iowa lawmakers would not approve that state’s share of the funding, estimated at $20 million plus annual grants for operating expenses.

Many Iowa legislators argued that if passenger trains are viable they should be operated by the private sector.

The proposed Amtrak service to Iowa City was expected to eventually be extended to Des Moines and Omaha.

At one time, rail service operated via Iowa City and Des Moines on the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad.

Amtrak has never operated scheduled passenger trains to Iowa City, which lost passenger rail service in 1970. Des Moines has been without passenger trains since May 31, 1970, when the Rock Island’s Cornbelt Rocket was discontinued there.

The Rock Island continued passenger service to the Quad Cities from Chicago until 1978.

Those former Rock Island rails are now owned by the Iowa Interstate Railroad and would be used within Iowa for the Chicago-Iowa City route.

Iowa is currently served by two Amtrak long-distance trains, the California Zephyr between Chicago and Emeryville, California; and the Southwest Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles.

The Chief’s only stop in Iowa is at Fort Madison while the Zephyr serves the Iowa cities of Burlington, Mount Pleasant, Ottumwa, Osceola and Creston.

In fiscal year 2017, Amtrak had ridership of 60,585 passengers, which was a decline of 1.3 percent when compared with FY2015. Amtrak’s high water ridership mark in Iowa occurred in 2010 when it carried 68,744.

During the administration of Gov. Chet Culver, Iowa officials examined the Chicago-Iowa City proposal in 2010.

Jim Larew, who was policy director and chief legal counsel to Culver, still believes that the route would be appealing to such key demographic groups as college students, young professionals and older Iowans.

“My own view is that this is just a matter of when, not if,” Larew said. “The model will always fit to have passenger rail service from Chicago to Iowa City, and then over to Des Moines and possibly Omaha.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation continues to work on preliminary engineering and environmental studies of proposed rail passenger service between the Quad Cities and Iowa City on the Iowa Interstate Railroad’s tracks, said Amanda Martin, the agency’s railroad passenger and freight policy coordinator. She said that work is expected to continue into 2018.

In Illinois, that state’s DOT was able to get an extension of the federal grant until June 2018.

Kelsea Gurski, IDOT’s bureau chief of communications services, said that will enable the agency to continue working with the Iowa Interstate Railroad on preliminary engineering studies that will determine the full scope of improvements necessary to host passenger trains between Wyanet and Moline, Illinois.

“A timeline for the overall project will be ready once these studies are completed and construction and service agreements are in place with the Iowa Interstate Railroad,” Gurski said.

Current Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has not yet taken a position on expanded passenger rail service in Iowa, said Brenna Smith, Reynolds’ spokeswoman.

Smith said it’s too soon to begin discussing state funding because the Iowa DOT’s studies are still underway.

State Sen. Matt McCoy of Des Moines continues to advocate for passenger trains to the state capital and sees a potential opportunity if a much talked about federal infrastructure program comes to fruition.

“That doesn’t mean that Iowa will participate in a state share of money for the project, but I get the feeling that Illinois would at least bring the train to the Quad Cities. Then it would be up to us to determine if we want it to go any further,” he said.

In its most recent report on FY2017, Amtrak said ridership figures for Iowa stations were: Burlington: 8,430; Mount Pleasant: 13,736; Ottumwa: 12,209; Osceola: 15,752; Creston: 3,797; and Fort Madison: 6,661.

Charges Assigned to Cascades Corridor

November 27, 2017

Eight Siemens Charger locomotives have been assigned to the Cascades corridor between Eugene, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia, via Seattle and Portland.

Amtrak expects to assign the 4,400-horsepower engines to all Cascades routes over the next few weeks.

The locomotives are jointly owned by the Washington and Oregon departments of transportation.

The engines are said to be lighter and quieter than the motive power currently assigned to the corridor.

110 mph Running Delayed Until Next Year

November 25, 2017

Top speeds of 110 miles per hour are not expected to come to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor until 2018, the Illinois Department of Transportation has said.

IDOT said construction of the $2 billion high-speed rail project has taken longer than expected.

The original goal when the project began seven years ago was to have the higher speeds in place by late 2017.

Officials have not said when in 2018 the higher speeds will be allowed.

The latest delays have occurred in Springfield where five crossings have been closed while workers install safety fencing and make signal and gate upgrades.

The city of Springfield is seeking federal approval to establish a “quiet zone” of no train horns once the safety improvements are completed.

Trains began running at speeds up to 110 mph in 2012 between Pontiac and Dwight.