Archive for January, 2018

Amtrak Special Carrying GOP Congressmen to Political Retreat Strikes Truck in Virginia, 1 Dead

January 31, 2018

One person was killed and five others injured when an Amtrak train carrying 100 Republican members of Congress, their aides and their families to a political retreat struck a garbage truck in Virginia on Wednesday.

Killed was an occupant of the truck. Three people were transported to the University of Virginia Medical Center, including one who the hospital reported was in critical condition. Two others were taken to another medical facility.

None of the members of Congress, which included House Speaker Paul Ryan, were seriously injured, although Rep. Jason Lewis of Minnesota was taken to a hospital for a possible concussion.

News reports said that three congressmen who are doctors tended to the injured before emergency personnel arrived. They included Reps. Larry Bucshon of Indiana, Roger Marshall of Kansas and Brad Wenstrup of Ohio

The congressmen were traveling to a conference being held at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The accident occurred at 11:20 a.m. on the Buckingham Branch Railroad in Crozet, Virginia, near near Lanetown and Marymart Farm roads.

The route is used by Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, which is scheduled to depart and arrive in New York on Wednesdays.

“Today’s incident was a terrible tragedy,” Ryan tweeted later. “We are grateful for the first responders who rushed to the scene and we pray for the victims and their families. May they all be in our thoughts right now.”

Amtrak issued a statement saying that two of its crew members and two passengers on the train were taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

The train remained upright and did not derail. Photographs made at the scene showed damage to the lead locomotive.

The train had departed from Washington for the retreat, which is to start today and run through Friday.

The train was pulled by P42DC No. 145, the Phase III heritage locomotive. The train of Amfleet equipment had a trailing P42DC, No. 4

A GOP spokesman said the retreat will continue as scheduled.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it sent a Go-Team to the scene to investigate.

News reports said that U.S. Capital Police were on the scene. One account said that following the crash, police wearing dark clothing surrounded the train with weapons drawn.

They had been aboard the train and got off shortly after the train stopped.

Passengers aboard the train were put aboard buses to be taken the rest of the way to the Greenbrier.

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Amtrak Holding Winter ‘Flash Sale’

January 30, 2018

Amtrak announced today a three-day “flash sale” on tickets for several long-distance routes, offering 25 percent if purchased through Thursday, Feb. 1.

Fares will be automatically discounted from the standard coach fare and cannot be combined with other discount codes.

The sale doesn’t apply to one-way travel and upgrades to business class are not allowed. Sale prices are not available on all trains at all times and tickets are non-refundable.

Tickets must be bought at Amtrak’s website for travel between Feb. 13 and March 22, and includes nine long-distance routes:

  • Auto Train (Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida)
  • The Capitol Limited (Chicago and Washington)
  • The Cardinal (Chicago and New York)
  • The City of New Orleans (Chicago and New Orleans)
  • The Crescent (New York and New Orleans)
  • The Lake Shore Limited (Chicago and New York/Boston)
  • Silver Service/Palmetto (New York-Savannah, Georgia-Miami)
  • The Sunset Limited (New Orleans and Los Angeles)
  • The Southwest Chief (Chicago and Los Angeles)

CSX to Keep Route of Boston Section of LSL

January 30, 2018

CSX plans to retain ownership of a route in Massachusetts used by the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited.

“I can definitively say that this line is not for sale,” a CSX spokesman told the Albany (New York) Times Union.

The comment came following a report on the website of Trains magazine that the former Boston & Albany line between Albany and Worcester, Massachusetts, was among several that the railroad was considering selling or leasing.

CSX has acknowledged launching a review of its route network “to be sure our assets are maximized for efficiency and add value to the company’s long-term business needs,” the spokesman told the Times-Union.

The Trains report had reported that up to 8,000 miles could be sold or leased, but indicated that it was unlikely that not all routes said to be under review would be ditched by the Class 1 railroad.

Amtrak Employees Say Training Was Inadequate

January 30, 2018

Cable news channel CNN has reported that some Amtrak engineers and conductors raised concerns about the lack of adequate training before the passenger carrier launched revenue service on a new route in Washington state last month.

The report said that during practice runs some trainees rode backward, which prevented them from seeing landmarks that they could use to identify locations where they would need to reduce speed.

The training runs were also conducted at night, the employees said, because construction workers were rushing to finish work on the Point Defiance bypass during the day.

The news broke in the wake of a Dec. 18 derailment near DePont, Washington, of a Portland-bound Cascades train in which three passengers were killed.

The derailment occurred on the first day of revenue service on the Point Defiance bypass via Tacoma, Washington.

A preliminary National Transportation Board report has indicated that the train was traveling twice the speed limit that it should have been going into a 30-mph curve.

Other news outlets also have reported that some Amtrak employees have said the carrier lacks a good safety culture and that they did not receive enough training on the new route.

A former Amtrak conductor described the safety culture as virtually non-existent.

“If you talk about safety to your manager you’re punished,” said Michael Callanan, who worked at Amtrak for nine years and is now a railroad safety consultant. He said the lack of training at Amtrak has been going on for as long as he can remember.

Callanan said conductors should do at least three to five roundtrip runs of the route to become familiar with it and those trips need to be done during daylight hours.

The NTSB has said that the engineer of the train that derailed did not feel that he had enough training on the new route. The agency has said it will examine the training that Amtrak employees received as part of its investigation.

Amtrak has not responded to new media requests to comment on its training and safety programs.

 

Mudlsides Close Cascade Route in Washington

January 30, 2018

Due to a mudslide, Amtrak Cascades Service between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Bellingham, Washington, has been suspended until Wednesday afternoon.

Amtrak says BNSF has closed a track on the route, but expects it to reopen by 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday.

Passengers will ride chartered buses to stations affects by the track closure. Train service south of Bellingham to Seattle is unaffected.

Pere Marquette to Run Faster

January 30, 2018

Amtrak said in service advisory that the running time of the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette will be shortened on Feb. 19.

The schedule changes have not yet been shown on the Amtrak website.

Amtrak said the changes are being prompted by higher speeds being allowed by host railroad CSX between Grand Rapids and Porter, Indiana.

Super Bowl to Affect Amtrak’s St. Paul Station

January 30, 2018

Amtrak has advised that some restrictions are in place at its station in St. Paul, Minnesota, due to the Twin Cities hosting the 2018 Super Bowl.

Passengers going to and from the station are advised to allow extra time due to the added security surrounding the game and its festivities.

The game will be played on Feb. 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

On Thursday (Feb. 1) a private party is being held at St. Paul Union Depot and only ticketed passengers will be allowed inside.

Passengers will be escorted to a secure seating area and there will be an alternate boarding route.

For passengers who need assistance, Amtrak personnel will be available to escort them to their train. St. Paul is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Kansas Seeks Study of Heartland Flyer Extension

January 30, 2018

The Kansas Department of Transportation has asked Amtrak to undertake a study of extending the Heartland Flyer to Wichita and Newton, Kansas.

The Flyer, which is funded by the states of Oklahoma and Texas, currently operates between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas.

The study would review projected costs and ridership numbers. At Newton, the Flyer would connect with Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

It would not be the first study of extending the Heartland Flyer. An Amtrak inspection train operated over the route to Kansas City last year.

Between 1971 and 1979, Amtrak’s Chicago-Houston Lone Star used the route that is being eyed for the Flyer extension.

The Lone Star was discontinued amid a route restructuring prompted by congressional desire to reduce Amtrak funding.

Kansas and Amtrak officials are said to be optimistic about establishing the extension. Amtrak noted that a connecting bus service to Wichita that began in 2016 has had good ridership.

State officials see the Flyer extension as having potential to boost tourism and provide transportation to students attending Wichita State University, Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma.

The latter, located in Norman, is already a stop on the Heartland Flyer route.

Extension of Maine Service Could Begin in Summer

January 30, 2018

The extension of Amtrak’s Downeaster service to Rockland, Maine, could begin operating as early as this summer.

In a presentation to the Newcastle Select Board, Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority said the service would need financial support from her agency and the communities to be served, but passenger trains could use the infrastructure already in place.

Quinn said the tracks are mostly in good condition. Intermediate stops would be established at Bath, Wiscasset and Newcastle.

“The line was rehabilitated by a state and federal project back about 15 years ago, and is really in very good shape,” Quinn said. “It’s a solid piece of infrastructure that has been maintained.”

Rail passenger service to Rockland ended in 2015, after a contract between the state and Maine Eastern Railroad ended.

Quinn said that if her agency can obtain funding, it will sponsor one trip on Friday evenings and two trips on Saturday and Sunday.

NNEPRA will seek to get Amtrak’s Great Dome Car on the route to show off the state’s scenery.

Brightline Increases Safety Measures

January 30, 2018

Florida passenger operator Brightline has placed large electronic signs at several busy rail crossings in an effort to address problems with pedestrians going around or under crossing gates.

The signs remind pedestrians that passenger trains are now using the Florida East Coast route and traveling at higher speeds.

Brightline has also assigned “safety ambassadors” at key crossings to let people know to be aware of trains and stay off the tracks.

During the first week of Brightline service in January, three pedestrians were struck by trains with two of them being killed.

Police have said that in all three incidents that the people who were hit had not paid attention to warning lights and crossing gates.