Archive for February, 2018

Pa. Trains Need Reservations for Easter Travel

February 28, 2018

Amtrak will require reservations for travel aboard the Pennsylvanian and Keystone Service trains for travel during the Easter travel period of March 29 to April 2.

In a service advisory, the passenger carrier said monthly and 10-ride tickets will be accepted on these dates.

 

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Track Work to Affect Pacific Surfliners

February 28, 2018

Track work being performed by the North County Transit District will affect Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner Service on weekend between March 2 and11.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that on March 2 and 9 that Train 590 will be cancelled and bus service will provided Los Angeles to San Diego.

Intermediate stops will be made at Oceanside, Solana Beach, Old Town and San Diego, but not at Fullerton, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Irvine, San Juan Capistrano, Carlsbad Village and Sorrento Valley.

On March 3, 4, 10 and 11 Trains 562, 565, 572, 573, 583, 1566, 1567 and 1588 will be cancelled and passengers are being directed to ride other Amtrak trains that will operate.

Train 782 will operate normally to Los Angeles, but no alternate transportation will be offered between Los Angeles and San Diego. Passengers can make reservations aboard other Pacific Surfliner trains.

Train 796 will operate normally to Los Angeles with bus service will be provided for all missed stops, except Carlsbad Village and Sorrento Valley.

Trains 564, 580, 584, 768, 774 and 792 will operate normally to Irvine, where bus service will be provided from Irvine to San Diego. Express buses will run from Irvine to San Juan Capistrano, Oceanside, Solana Beach, Old Town San Diego and downtown San Diego only.

Trains 579, 591, 595, 763, 769, 777, 785 and 1761 will originate in Irvine. Bus service will be provided from San Diego to Irvine to connect with the trains listed above with the exception of Train 1761. Buses will depart downtown San Diego, Solana Beach, Oceanside and San Juan Capistrano earlier than the train schedule to allow time to connect with trains in Irvine.

Amtrak advises passengers for Old Town San Diego to take the trolley to downtown San Diego to board buses to Irvine.

Bus service will not be provided to connect with Train 1761 and Metrolink will honor Amtrak tickets between San Juan Capistrano and Los Angeles.

Checked baggage service is not available south of Santa Ana on these dates.

 

 

 

Gas Tax Hike Idea Dividing Public

February 28, 2018

The prospect of raising the federal gasoline tax has drawn mixed reviews, the Quinnipiac University poll found.

Although 46 percent think it is a good idea, 44 percent think it is a bad one. Unlike many policy proposals, there is no sharp partisan split.

Forty-eight percent of Republicans, 49 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of independents believe raising the gas tax helpful in paying for infrastructure projects involving railroads, bridges and roads.

Congress last increased the gasoline tax in the 1993 and some have been floating the idea of increasing it again.

The Quinnipiac poll was conducted from February 16-19 and surveyed 1,249 voters. The survey has a 3.4-percentage-point margin of error.

Silver Star, Detours Due to Track Work

February 27, 2018

CSX trackwork resulted in a detour for Amtrak’s Silver Star between Hamlet and Savannah, Georgia, thereby missing station stops at Camden, Columbia and Denmark, South Carolina.

No alternate transportation was provided to the missed stops, which occurred on Feb. 26 and 27. In a service advisory, Amtrak the detour is expected to add two hours to the running time of Nos. 91 and 92.

Special Counsel Recommends Discipline for Lake Forest City Manager in Amtrak Lobbying

February 27, 2018

The city manager of Lake Forest, Illinois, should be disciplined, but not fired, for an unauthorized spending of money on a lobbying efforts to land a stop on the route of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

That recommendation was made by a special counsel appointed to investigate how City Manager Bob Kiely, former Mayor Don Schoenheider and current Mayor Rob Lansing spent $192,000 on the lobbying effort without the knowledge or approval of the city council.

Special Counsel Leigh Jeter did not specify what discipline that Kiely should receive other than it should be short of termination and that it should be appropriate.

Jeter’s 11-page report said the payments were made to a Washington law firm by city attorney Vic Filippinni in increments of $9,500.

This was in violation of the city code that requires payments of $20,000 or more to have city council approval. The payments were brought to the council’s attention by a group of citizens.

Lake Forest has been seeking the Amtrak stop since 2012. The north Chicago suburb is served by commuter rail agency Metra.

The report by the special counsel said the payments were channeled through Filippini’s law firm in Evanston, Illinois, to keep the lobbying activities “as close to the vest,” Filippini said.

Jeter’s report said none of the city officials involved in the payments profited from the arrangement or intentionally misled aldermen or the public.

Lake Forest has since changed its financial procedures.

The report said Finance Director Elizabeth Holleb knew that the lobbyist payments were coming out of the general fund contingency account.

Although she had concerns about the practice, Holleb said she never questioned the directive from the city manager or reported it to the finance committee of the council.

Holleb told the special counsel that she “did not feel it was her place to question” the mayor, city manager and city attorney, who she knew to be in agreement about the arrangement, according to the report.

In response to the special counsel’s report, Kiely said in a statement that he was sorry for what he termed a purchasing procedure oversight and the disruption that it has caused.

“But I want to assure you, and I’d like to assure the community, that this is not reflective of who I am or who this organization is. I’d like to underscore that my oversight should not reflect poorly on our finance department or our city employees.”

Mayor Lansing declined to comment on the report other than to tell the Lake Forester it “speaks for itself.”

Supreme Court Won’t Intervene in On-time Case

February 27, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a request by Amtrak to review a lower court decision that found the Surface Transportation Board cannot assume regulatory authority that is granted to Congress.

The high court’s decision means that a last effort by the federal government to revive the delegated authority will be decided by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

In a July 2017 decision, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the STB lacked the authority to establish regulatory standards for “on-time performance” in exercising its power to require freight railroads to give “preference” to Amtrak trains. See, Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Surface Transportation Board, 863 F.3d 816 (8th Cir. 2017).

The Union Pacific case was one of two in which courts considered challenges to a portion of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

That law delegated to the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak the joint power to establish metrics and standards to define “on-time performance,” and gave the STB power to penalize railroads that fail to meet the standards.

The other case was Association of American Railroads vs. U.S. Department of Transportation.

In the latter case, the railroad trade organization challenged the joint FRA/Amtrak authority as an unconstitutional delegation of governmental power to Amtrak because it is a for profit entity.

The appellate court in that case sided with the AAR, ruling that the law constituted a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause to give Amtrak, “an economically self-interested actor,” the power to regulate its competitors.

Following that decision, the STB sought to establish the on-time standards itself, which led to the Union Pacific case.

The district court in Washington has set oral arguments for March 5 in what remains of the AAR case.

During that hearing, the federal government and Amtrak will be seeking to have the court reinstate the joint rule-making authority of the FRA and Amtrak by narrowing the court’s previous decision and striking down only a portion of the offending PRIIA provision.

PTC Issues Could Sideline Vermont Trains

February 27, 2018

Amtrak service to Vermont could become a casualty of the wrangling over the installation and implementation of positive train control.

The state funds the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Express, both of which link the Green Mountain State with New York City.

In testimony given on Feb. 15 to a congressional committee, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson noted that the tracks Amtrak uses in Vermont are exempt from a federal law that requires that PTC be installed by the end of 2018.

In his testimony, Anderson said he doubted that the Vermont services would continue operating as a result, but Amtrak later clarified that the passenger carrier has yet to make a decision on that.

Anderson had said that Amtrak won’t operate over tracks that are not in compliance with federal law pertaining to PTC.

“[f]or those instances, where we will not have PTC even after the 12/31 deadline because It’s not required by statute, we have a question about whether we’re going to operate at all, and I doubt we will,” Anderson told the committee.

The next day, though, Amtrak assistant vice president for operations Chris Jagodzinski said the carrier is launching a risk analysis of its 21,000 miles of routes.

Jogodizinski spoke at a meeting in Washington with the States for Passenger Rail Coalition with some state officials listening in via a conference call.

“They’re just having their first risk analysis meeting today,” said Dan Delabruere, who heads up Vermont’s passenger rail program at the Agency of Transportation.

Delabruere said Amtrak officials said that the scope of that analysis remains to be determined.

“There certainly wasn’t a hard, fast, ‘We’re going to stop’,” he said, referring to Jagodzinski’s comments in regards to Amtrak’s Vermont service.

Vermont public officials have rallied in support of saving the state’s service.

Senator Patrick Leahy said in an email statement, that Amtrak’s managers “have not made any decisions to halt service in Vermont or elsewhere. I will keep working to secure sufficient funding support for Amtrak so it has the resources it needs to continue providing safe service for Vermonters.”

Dan McLean, press representative for Senator Bernie Sanders, wrote, “Bernie does not want to see service suspended. But he does want to see PTC on all passenger and freight trains as soon as possible” as a matter of upgrading infrastructure.

The track used by the Vermonter is owned by the New England Central Railroad while Vermont Rail System owns rails used by the Ethan Allen Express.

Lee Khan, chairman of the Vermont Rail Action Network rail passenger service advocacy group thinks that Anderson is overreacting.

“It’s ridiculous. Our railroads have been safe – we have two of the safest short lines in the country,” she said. “It’s frightening . . . to cancel service. This is an economic driver in this state. It’s hard to imagine that Amtrak would do this. We’ll fight it every step of the way.”

Commuter Friendly Pacific Surfliner to Begin April 2 in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties in California

February 27, 2018

Amtrak will launch a new Pacific Surfliner train on April 2 that will enable Ventura County residents to commute to Santa Barbara County for work five days a week.

The new service is being billed as an effort to reduce traffic congestion on Highway 101.

The Lossan Rail Corridor Agency board has approved the new schedules for the 351-mile coastal Lossan Corridor rail line that travels through San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.

Northbound No. 759 will leave Simi Valley at 5:19 a.m., Moorpark at 5:31 a.m., Camarillo at 5:46 a.m., Oxnard at 5:58 a.m., Ventura at 6:12 a.m., Carpinteria at 6:34 a.m., Santa Barbara’s two stops at 6:47 a.m. and 6:50 a.m., and Goleta at 7:16 a.m.

Southbound No. 792 will leave Goleta at 4:25 p.m., Santa Barbara at 4:37 p.m. and 4:40 p.m., Carpinteria at 4:55 p.m., Ventura at 5:26 p.m., Oxnard at 5:40 p.m., Camarillo at 5:56 p.m., Moorpark at 6:25 p.m. and Simi Valley at 6:41 p.m.

Other Pacific Surfliner operate through the two counties on different schedules.

A Lossan staff report found that more than 15,000 people commute daily between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

The $5 million cost of the new service will be divided between the California State Transportation Agency and the Santa Barbara County. The new train is operating for a two-year trial period.

California City Wants to be Amtrak Stop

February 27, 2018

A California city is seeking to become a stop for Amtrak’s Coast Starlight and may use a California gas tax to do it.

King City in southern Monterey County wants the Los Angeles-Seattle train to stop at its recently renovated train station.

“Like all early California cities, when the train station came to King City, it built our city, that was the impetus for us to grow,” said Mayor Mike LeBarre said. “What we see this as, is reestablishing that historic stop.”

LeBarre said having Amtrak service would enable residents of the city of 14,200 to participate in meeting California greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and bring more tourists to the town, which is one of the gateways to Pinnacles National Park.

Amtrak has studied adding King City and Soledad to its network.

“They had some estimates of timetables, which basically showed that we could get from King City to San Francisco . . . in about a three hour and 15 minute trip, which to me is very auto-competitive,” LeBarre said. “Especially if you factor in the [Bay Area] traffic.”

King City officials expect to learn in April if the city will receive gas tax funding to be used toward establishment of a multi-modal station.

Amtrak Seeking $1.7B in FY 2019

February 26, 2018

Amtrak is seeking $1.7 billion in federal funding for fiscal year 2019, which is considerably more than the Trump Administration has proposed that it receive.

The passenger carrier’s budget request is similar to what Congress authorized for it in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015.

The funding request includes a long list of proposed capital improvement needs, including $6.272 billion for the proposed new Hudson River tunnels, and seeks changes to federal law that the carrier said will improve its cost recovery and operations.

The administration has proposed slashing Amtrak funding by almost two-thirds, from $1.5 billion to $538 million.

Amtrak usually does not receive all of what it requests from Congress. Due to the inability of lawmakers to approve an appropriations bill, Amtrak’s current funding is based on its fiscal year 2017 allocation because FY 2018 spending has been handled in a series of continuing resolutions. The federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

The Fiscal Year 2019 General and Legislative Annual Report to Congress projects that Amtrak’s funding needs will increase to $2.1 billion by fiscal 2023.

Northeast Corridor funding will rise from $543 million in FY 2018 to $966 million in 2023. The National Network, which includes long-distance and state-supported corridor trains, is expected to see its funding needs drop from $1.157 million to $1.134 million.