Archive for December, 2017

Will Horizon Fleet Get a New Look?

December 29, 2017

Amtrak has gotten a fair amount of publicity about its revamping of the interiors of its Amfleet equipment. But will that look be applied to the interiors of Heritage fleet coaches that are ubiquitous on Midwest corridor trains? And will Superliner equipment get a new look? Goodness knows it sure could use it.

It is not that these interiors look bad or are unappealing. But Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson has indicated that he learned during his airline industry days that the interior needs to be refreshed every once in a while so that passengers don’t feel like they are riding in something that is multiple decades old.

Shown is a Horizon fleet coach assigned to the southbound Illini, which is sitting in Chicago Union Station waiting to depart for Carbondale, Illinois.

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Swinging Around the Curve

December 28, 2017

Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited was late. OK, I hear some of you saying “so what’s new?” They don’t call it the Late Shore Limited for nothing.

But on this day 2007, No. 48 was several hours late when it came through Berea, Ohio, in a snowstorm.

But this snow didn’t fall in December or January or February. It fell on April 7. Snow in April in Northeast Ohio isn’t rare, even if it tends not to last long.

I’m not sure why No. 48 was so late on this day. By the time it reached Cleveland it was late morning. Maybe the weather had something to do with it.

PTC Progress Has Been Uneven

December 27, 2017

Less than a quarter of passenger rail lines have positive train control systems in operation on the track that they own, the Federal Railroad Administration reported.

The FRA said freight railroads have implanted PTC on 45 percent of their route miles that are required to have it.

The figures show progress through Sept. 30. The FRA has given conditional certification to eight of 37 railroads required to implement PTC by a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline.

There are 41 railroads that must meet that deadline.

The FRA date showed that 68 percent of freight and 50 percent of passenger locomotive fleets have PTC controls. It also showed that 82 percent of freight and 66 percent of passenger railroad employees have received PTC training.

Among freight railroads, BNSF has made the most progress while among transit systems, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority is nearly ready.

A handful of railroads have reported making little to no progress in installing and implementing PTC.

States Balk at FRA Passenger Safety Plan Rule

December 27, 2017

Transportation officials in several states are resisting a Federal Railroad Administration rule that requires passenger carriers to develop a System Safety Plan.

The states are not opposed to safety plans per se, but object to who is responsible for the plans, particularly in cases in which a state owns the rails over which a carrier such as Amtrak operates.

The FRA rule applies to “states, state agencies and instrumentalities, and political subdivisions of states that own [but do not necessarily operate]” railroads, railroad equipment, or provide financial support for passenger trains.

An analysis published on the website of Trains magazine observed that states are arguing that safety is the purview of the railroad tenant, not the landlord, and forcing a state to create a safety plan imposes a financial burden.

Some states have contended that they lack the experience and expertise to create safety plans. The Vermont Agency of Transportation, which owns a portion of the route used by Amtrak’s Downeaster said that its officials aren’t even allowed on the right-of-way without the railroad’s permission.

Also protesting to the FRA have been the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin joint power authorities in California, Indiana Department of Transportation, Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

The FRA issued the rule in August 2016, saying that an “intercity passenger railroad” must create a safety plan that “continually and systematically evaluates railroad safety hazards on its system and manages the resulting risks to reduce the number and rates of railroad accidents, incidents, injuries, and fatalities.”

The deadline for creation of these safety plans has been delayed five times in the past 16 months. It is now set to take effect in December 2018.

Some states have also said the rule raises a constitutional question of how far the federal government can go to regulate state behavior.

“In opening the door to application of its [safety plan] rule … the FRA plainly has overreached its grant of enabling authority from Congress,” the Vermont petition states. “Moreover, by exposing such state entities with the untoward consequences of ‘railroad carrier’ status, the FRA will have a chilling effect on activities encouraged by Congress …” including state acquisition of lines threatened by abandonment.

In the meantime, Amtrak said it continues to create its own safety plan. “We are taking action independent of the stay of the rule. We are building a Safety Management System which includes the development of a System Safety Program,” an Amtrak spokeswoman said.

Crescent Passengers Will Ride Bus Between Atlanta and New Orleans on Most Days in January

December 27, 2017

Track work being performed by Norfolk Southern will send passengers traveling on the Crescent between Atlanta and New Orleans aboard a bus on most days between Jan. 7 and Feb. 8, 2018.

Nos. 19 and 20 will not operate on the following dates beyond Atlanta:  Jan.8 through Jan. 11; Jan. 15 through Jan. 18; Jan. 22 through Jan. 25; Jan. 29 through Feb. 1; Feb. 5 through Feb. 8.

On these dates, No. 19 will terminate in Atlanta and passengers put aboard buses to Anniston, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Meridian, Laurel and Hattiesburg, Mississippi;  and New Orleans. There will be no service to or from Picayune, Mississippi; or Slidell, Louisiana.

On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays No. 19 will operate normally, serving all stations on the route.

No. 20 will originate in Atlanta on the aforementioned days. It will originate in New Orleans on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and serve all stations en route.

That 90s Look at Lewistown

December 26, 2017

I made this image of  Amtrak’s eastbound Broadway Limited at Lewistown, Pennsylvania, in 1992. In my mind, it was’t that long ago. Yet its been 25 years since this photograph was made on color negative film.

Much can change in a quarter century and there is much to be seen here that is gone.

That starts with the Broadway Limited itself, which would made its last trips between Chicago and New York in September 1995.

On the point on this day is GP40TC No. 192, one of eight such units that Amtrak operated in the 1990s. All were built for Toronto’s GO Transit agency and were purchased by Amtrak in October 1988.

The locomotives could be found in service on routes east of the Mississippi River, but have since been retired.

Behind the GP40TC is an F40PH. Most of those have been retired by Amtrak, but a handful have survived as cab cars while others have gained second lives on other railroads.

The consist includes seven material handling cars, which were common on long distance trains in the 1990s. Amtrak had begun earning additional revenue hauling mail and the MHCs were acquired for that purpose. They’ve since been retired and Amtrak no longer carries mail.

Most of the passenger cars in the consist of No. 40 are Heritage Fleet cars, including the baggage car. Most of those have been retired although in late 2017 a handful of Heritage dining cars continue to work in revenue service.

That ’70s Look

December 22, 2017

It is the summer of 1978. Amfleet equipment and F40PH locomotives have been operating on Amtrak’s Midwest corridor trains for nearly two years so the equipment can’t be said to be brand new anymore.

Still it is relatively new enough to be the look of the future having come to pass.

Steam-heated passengers cars are a thing of the past on the corridor routes, but still see service on some long-distance trains in the region.

But on the Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans route head-end power is the rule. Steam-heated equipment is not coming back.

Shown is the northbound Shawnee, train No. 392, arriving in Mattoon, Illinois, in early evening. The equipment is state of the art for its time with an F40, two Amfleet coaches and an Amcafe. The train will halt at Chicago Union Station in more than three hours.

WSDOT Says Point Defiance Bypass Won’t Be Put Back Into Service Until PTC System is Operational

December 22, 2017

Passenger trains won’t use the Point Defiance Bypass in Washington State until positive train control is activated on the line.

The Washington State Department of Transportation made the announcement in the wake of an Amtrak derailment near Olympia, Washington, last Monday that left three dead.

Investigators have said the train was running at 80 miles per house in a 30 mph zone when it derailed.

The accident occurred on the first day of revenue service on the 14.5-mile line, which is owned by Sound Transit.

No timetable has been set for finishing the installation of PTC on the route. Amtrak’s Cascades Service and Coast Starlight trains will use the Point Defiance route, which runs along Puget Sound and also lacks PTC.

In the meantime, the National Transportation Safety Board said the engineer of Cascades Service Train No. 501 began applying the brakes just before the train derailed.

The NTSB said that an initial review of an in-cab camera in the lead unit of train 501 showed that about six seconds before the accident the engineer made a comment regarding an “over speed condition” and began applying the locomotive brakes.

Aside from the engineer, an Amtrak conductor training to work on the route was in the cab of the locomotive.

Neither crew members was using a personal cell phone in the minutes before the derailment and the video showed both bracing for impact in the final frame of the video.

The locomotive’s event recorder showed the train traveling at 78 mph as its final recorded speed.

NTSB officials said the investigation of the accident may take up to two years to complete.

Amtrak will continue to operate its expanded schedule of Cascades Service despite an equipment shortage caused by the derailment.

Even before the derailment occurred, equipment had been in short supply because a Talgo trainset owned by the State or Oregon was out of service for repairs.

A set of Superliner equipment had been sent to the Pacific Northwest to cover one of two daily Seattle-Vancouver, British Columbia, trains.

The Oregon-owned Talgo set was involved in an accident last July 2 and had to be sent to the Talgo factory in Milwaukee for repairs. It is expected to return to service in March 2018.

To meet schedules, Amtrak is now turning all Talgo trainsets at Portland, Oregon, rather than in Eugene, Oregon.

Amfleet equipment has been assigned to trains operated between Eugene and Portland with passengers making connections in Portland for points north.

Amtrak Conductor Testifies He was in Shock That Passenger Shot Him Last May at Naperville Station

December 21, 2017

The Amtrak conductor who was shot by a passenger last May near Chicago said in court this week that he was “in shock” when his assailant pulled out a gun and shot him.

Michael Case testified during a discharge hearing for the alleged gunman, Edward Klein.

A judge earlier had determined that Klein was not fit to stand trial, but DuPage County judge Jeff McKay will determine if the 80-year-old Klein will be acquitted or that there is sufficient evidence to prove his guilt.

If the latter, Klein would likely be sent to a state mental health facility. He would not face a prison sentence because of his mental health. McKay said on Wednesday that he will announce his decision on Jan. 5.

Testifying in court, Case, 46, of Homewood, Illinois, said he was trying to help an elderly passengers aboard the eastbound Southwest Chief when the man opened fire.

Case said he doesn’t remember if he felt pain after being shot once in the abdomen.

The shooting occurred last May during a scheduled station stop in Naperville, Illinois.

Medical professionals who have examined Klein have said he is displaying dementia-like symptoms and is unlikely to regain mental fitness.

Case testified that Klein seemed “discombobulated” when he entered a sleeping car and asked where he could find the library.

Klein was ticketed to travel to Milwaukee with a connection at Chicago Union Station. Case said he prevented Klein from disembarking in Naperville because he knew he was traveling to Milwaukee.

Case said he had unloaded baggage and when he returned to the doorway of a Superliner car he said Klein was standing inside, holding a snub-nosed revolver, and showing “a look of anger.”

After being shot, Case said he turned and ran a short distance. A passer-by and station agent came to his aid while others wrestled Klein to the ground and kept him immobile until police arrived.

Naperville police Officer Anthony Cimilucca took Klein into custody and recovered a gun from him.

Cimilucca testified that Klein said he was angry because he was prevented from leaving the train.

“I was so frustrated,” Klein said on video recorded in the backseat of Cimilucca’s squad car. “I had no alternative,” Klein said at another point, later adding, “I’m not crazy, OK?”

Case was hospitalized for two months and will have another surgery in January.

He said in court this week that he hopes that Klein is placed where he can get help but not allowed to leave. “I really want to put this behind me — in the rear view mirror,” Case said.

During closing arguments, assistant state’s attorney Michael Fisher described the incident as a no good deed goes unpunished case.

“Case was simply trying to do the right thing by helping an elderly man get off at the right train stop, and he paid dearly for it,” Fisher said.

Assistant Public Defender Jen Maples called the shooting the result of a “general, unfocused chaos.”

She said prosecutors had not provided sufficient evidence of intent, a key element of an attempted murder charge, and said that mental evaluations done on Klein after he was arrested showed him to be “an incredibly confused man suffering from neuro-cognitive disorder.”

Anderson Promises to Improve Safety

December 21, 2017

Amtrak co-CEO Richard Anderson has promised to improve safety at the carrier and implement any recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board after it concludes its investigation into a derailment in Washington state that left three dead about 100 injured.

“This is a wakeup call and it is not acceptable to have these types of accidents,” Anderson said during a news conference in Tacoma, Washington.  “We must get to the bottom of this, figure out what happened and make it sure it never happens again.”

Thus far investigations have determined that Amtrak Cascades train No. 501 was traveling more than twice the posted the speed limit moments before it derailed near Olympia on Monday morning.

Investigations are probing if the engineer was distracted just before the crash by the presence of a conductor trainee in the cab.

The train was making the first revenue run on a new route known as the Point Defiance Bypass that is owned by Sounder Transit and had recently been rebuilt.

Thirteen of the 14 cars on the train left the tracks on a curve that crosses over Interstate 5. The train was carrying 86 people, including the crew members.

At least five vehicles on the interstate highway was struck by falling train cars, but none of those killed were in those vehicles. On Wednesday night, authorities said 24 people were still hospitalized.

The locomotives and passengers have been removed from the cash site to a nearby military base where the NTSB will continue its investigation.

Amtrak has resumed service between Seattle and Portland, Oregon, using the Point Defiance route.

However, due to equipment shortages, Cascades Service between Eugene, Oregon, and Portland will have substitute equipment.

There will be no food service, checked baggage service, business class or bikes.

Nos. 505 and 508, which were scheduled to operate between Eugene and Seattle, will operate only between Seattle and Portland.

New trains Nos. 515 and 510 will be introduced on the segment between Portland and Eugene with a cross platform connection at Portland for passengers traveling north of there.

These schedules are expected to be in place through at least Jan. 2.