Archive for March, 2018

Minnesota City Backs Added Amtrak Train

March 28, 2018

A Minnesota city is backing an effort to create a second Amtrak train between Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The La Crescent City Council adopted a motion to support the effort to create another train that would supplement service now provided by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Mayor Mike Poellinger will send a letter in favor of the service addressed to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.

The mayors of Red Wing, Goodview and Winona have also urged Dayton to back a $4 million bonding request to fund the service.

The train would operate in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which has helped in a study of the service but not committed to funding it.

Rail passenger advocacy group All Aboard Minnesota estimates the additional train would draw 155,000 passengers annually.

Wichita Eyes Grant to Lure Back Amtrak

March 28, 2018

The city of Wichita, Kansas, is seeking a federal grant to be used to lure Amtrak back.

City officials , including the the mayor, city council, and others, traveled to Washington to meet with Trump Administration officials and other government agencies to discuss infrastructure need and other issues.

While in the capitol, they also met with Amtrak executives to discuss the proposal to return Amtrak to Wichita, possibly by extending the Heartland Flyer there from Oklahoma City.

Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said the city may qualify for a Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements or CRISI grant.

He said the grant could cover most costs of getting Amtrak to Wichita.

Amtrak has studied extending the Flyer to Kansas City via Wichita but has no firm plans to do so.

Wichita has been off the Amtrak map since October 1979 when the Chicago-Houston Lone Star was discontinued during a massive route restructuring.

Ford May Buy Detroit Train Station

March 28, 2018

Ford Motor Company may purchase the long vacant and dilapidated Michigan Central Station in Detroit.

The station, which was once used by New York Central and later Penn Central and Amtrak passenger trains, is owned by billionaire trucking mogul Manuel “Matty” Moroun and his son, Matthew.

Ford has neither confirmed nor denied a news report by Crain’s Detroit Business that Ford is talking with the Morouns about buying the depot.

Crain’s said an announcement about the sale could come as early as sometime in April.

The report indicated that Ford would use the former station site for offices that could be used by upwards of 1,000 employees.

The business newspaper said a source familiar with Ford’s pursuit of the station said Ford wants to establish a workplace in an urban setting that can attract younger workers.

“Our young people love . . . living and working in urban areas,” said Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. in January at the Detroit auto show.

The news has triggered widespread interest in the purchase of properties surrounding the station site in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood southwest of downtown.

Real estate broker James Tumey said he has received several cash offers, even at the full $540,000 price, for the properties that look out on the 500,000-square-foot depot.

“After this news, people are going crazy. They are buying just based off of Ford maybe coming in, throwing out offers on properties they haven’t even seen,” said Tumey, a Corktown resident who is vice president for Farmington Hills-based Friedman Integrated Real Estate Solutions.

The abandoned railroad station has been an eyesore in Detroit since the last Amtrak train pulled out in 1988 in favor of a new and smaller station in the New Center neighborhood.

Crain’s cited unnamed sources in saying that Ford is also interested in acquiring the former Detroit Public Schools book depository immediately to the east.

The auto company based in Dearborn has reportedly also looked at other properties not owned by the Morouns in the area for purchase.

Developers say that redevelopment of Michigan Central Station and its office building would cost at least $400 million.

Ford has already announced plans to establish offices for its autonomous/electric vehicle division along Michigan Avenue in Corktown.

Matthew Moroun told Crain’s last year that he has broached the idea of Amtrak returning to Michigan Central Station with Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Steudle has said he’s receptive to the idea and connecting the old train station to the central business district in the same way the QLine streetcar system connects the New Center area with downtown.

The Maroun family has reportedly spent more than $8 million over the past five years rehabilitating the building, including installing a freight elevator in the shaft of the depot’s original smokestack and installing 1,100 windows.

Track Work Disrupts Northeast Region, Vermont Trains

March 27, 2018

Track work being undertaken between April 6 and 8 will result in Amtrak service cancellations and substitute bus service between Springfield, Massachusetts, and New Haven, Connecticut.

Affected will be Amtrak service to the intermediate stations of  Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Hartford, Windsor and Windsor Locks.

On April 6, Northeast Regional Trains 136 and 148 will operate normally from Washington to New Haven with passengers riding a bus to all stations from New Haven to Springfield.

On April 7,  numerous trains will see service disruptions. Northeast Regional Trains 140, 143, 146 and 147 will operate normally between Washington and New Haven, but passengers will be provided bus service at all stations between New Haven and Springfield.

The Vermonter will operate normally between Washington and New Haven with passengers riding a bus to most scheduled intermediate stations between New Haven and St. Albans, Vermont. However, the bus will not stop at Claremont, Windsor and Randolph.

Springfield Shuttle Trains 401, 405, 450, 460, 463, 464, 467 and 488 will be cancelled, and bus service will be provided all stations on the route.

On April 8 Northeast Regional Trains 143 and 157 will operate normally from New Haven to Washington, but passengers originating from points north of New Haven will be provided bus service.

Track Work Disrupts Coast Starlight

March 27, 2018

Track work being undertaken this week by Union Pacific through March 29 is disrupting operations of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight.

Train No. 14 will miss its connection to Train No. 28 (Empire Builder) at Portland, Oregon, with no alternative transportation provided except on March 25.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that Train No. 14 will also miss its connection to Bus 8914. Passengers with tickets for Bus 8914 on these dates should call 800-USA-RAIL to change their reservation.

Amtrak Launches Fare Sale This Week

March 27, 2018

Taking yet another page from the airlines fare sale playbook, Amtrak has launched a discount sale of its highly restrictive “saver” advance purchase fares.

The National Spring Sale Campaign, which began Monday and extends through March 29, is offering discounts of 20 percent to 33 percent for tickets purchased online only at Amtrak’s website.

The fares are good for coach travel between April 15 and June 21. There are no blackout dates, but the cheaper fares are not be available on every day or train.

They cannot be upgraded later to business class or sleeping-car travel and are “non-refundable.”

Making a change in your travel plans once you purchase a ticket will subject you to a 25 percent cancellation fee.

The Chief Has Arrived

March 26, 2018

The inbound Southwest Chief has arrived from Los Angeles and intermediate points at the bumper post at Chicago Union Station. On ad adjoining track is a corridor train with a former Metroliner cab car facing the station. It is probably one of the Chicago-Detroit line trains.

Amtrak Takes Host Railroads to School

March 26, 2018

Amtrak has launched a quarterly “report card” on its website that evaluates the delays that it incurs on the tracks of its host railroads.  In the first report card, Amtrak said most delays are due to freight trains interference.

The implication is that such delays violate a federal law that gives Amtrak passenger trains preference over freight trains. However, the law has some exceptions.

Amtrak assigned letter grades to six Class 1 railroads that were based on delays per 10,000 train miles.

Amtrak defines that as the number of minutes of host-responsible delay, divided by the number of Amtrak train miles operated over that host railroad, times 10,000.

Canadian Pacific received the only A on the report card. Other railroad grades included a B+ for BNSF, a B- for Union Pacific and a C for CSX. Norfolk Southern and Canadian National both “flunked” by receiving grades of F.

Following are some Amtrak comments regarding hosts railroad performances on specific routes:

• 97 percent of passengers on Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee arrived at their destinations on time. Ninety percent of trips experienced no freight train interference.

• 90 percent of passengers on Carl Sandberg/Illinois Zephyr service arrived on time with less than 4 minutes of delay by BNSF freight trains.

• More than 57 percent of passengers arrived late abroad the Coast Starlight. On an average trip on this route, passengers experienced four separate instances of delay caused by UP freight trains, accounting for 48 minutes of delay on average.

• 50 percent of passengers traveling on the Cardinal arrived late by an average of 1 hour and 27 minutes. On 85 percent of trips, the Cardinal’s 350 passengers are delayed by CSX freight trains.

• Over 67 percent of passengers arrived late at their destinations while traveling on the Crescent. The typical Amtrak train, carrying 350 passengers, is delayed over 1 hour and 40 minutes due to NS freight trains. Many Amtrak trains wait as long as 3 hours and 12 minutes for NS freight trains using this route.

• More than 200,000 passengers arrived late at their destinations on the Illini and Saluki, which operate between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois. Amtrak trains were delayed by CN freight trains on nearly 90 percent of their trips.

FY2018 Budget Gives Amtrak Funding a Boost

March 26, 2018

A federal budget bill approved by Congress last week contained an increase in funding for Amtrak, although that funding boost is expected to be used to help pay for the Gateway project in New York-New Jersey.

However, Amtrak’s long-distance trains would also receive an upward bump in funding.

News reports indicate that Amtrak will receive a minimum of $388 for the Gateway project, which involves replacement of tunnels leading into New York City beneath the Hudson River.

The $1.3 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 allocates more money for passenger rail projects than Congress has approved since the 2008 economic stimulus spending programs ended.

The budget directs $650 million to the Northeast Corridor while Amtrak’s national network will receive $1.292 billion. Those are both increases from 2017 funding of $328 million for the NEC in 2017 and $1.1 billion for the national network. Amtrak’s total appropriation will be $1.942 billion, up from $1.428 billion.

Other transportation programs also fared well in the budget bill.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program was given a $1 billion boost over 2017 levels to $1.5 billion available. At least 30 percent of these grants will go to rural communities.

Federal investments in rail infrastructure and safety programs was funded at $3.1 billion.

Also included is funding for the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants at $250 million to address critical rail investments nationwide and on the NEC.

Rail safety and research programs received $287 million to fund inspectors and training, plus maintenance and safety investments to the physical rail infrastructure.

Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants were given $593 million to fund capital and safety improvements, planning, environmental work and research. There is also $250 million included for grants available to rail operators for the installation of positive train control.

The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan program received a $25 million allocation for the first time and $350,000 has been set aside to help short line and regional railroads participate in the program.

The Federal Transit Administration received $13.5 billion, which includes $9.7 billion “to help local communities build, maintain, and ensure the safety of their mass transit systems.”

Within the $9.7 billion is $2.6 billion for Capital Investment Grants transit projects. “New Starts” projects are funded at $1.5 billion, Core Capacity projects at $716 million and Small Starts projects at $400 million.

The Trump administration and President Donald Trump in particular have opposed federal funding of the Gateway project, saying that the states of New York and New Jersey needed to spend more of their own money for most of the project.

The project involves building a new Tunnel under the Hudson River and replacing the century-old Portal Bridge on the NEC.

There has been speculation that Trump opposed the Gateway project as retribution to New York and New Jersey Congressmen and Senators who opposed a tax cut bill that he favored and which Congress passed last December.

At one point Trump had threatened to veto any bill containing federal funding for Gateway.

The 2018 budget will circumvent the Trump administration’s opposition to federal funding of the Gateway project.

Amtrak is likely to contribute a minimum of $388 million to Gateway though its Northeast Corridor Account, while New York and New Jersey will receive $153 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s High-Density States and State of Good Repair grant programs.

Gateway is projected to receive 60 percent of the original federal dollars intended for it.

The budget bill ensured that the U.S. Department of Transportation will have limited ability to withhold the $650 million earmarked for the Northeast Corridor Account, which also funds projects throughout the region.

Rochester Amtrak Station to be Named in Honor of Louise Slaughter

March 23, 2018

The new Amtrak station in Rochester, New York, will be named after the late U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, who recently died from injuries suffered during a fall in her Washington home.

Amtrak said in a news release that Slaughter, 88, will be honored for her career in public service and commitment to leading several projects in northern New York, including the station’s development.

“To celebrate her legacy and impact on the station, city of Rochester, and state of New York, we are pleased to announce that we will be naming Rochester Station in her honor through a commemorative plaque at the station or other appropriate means,” said Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia.

Slaughter was instrumental in securing $15 million in TIGER funding to build the station, which opened in October 2017.

She was serving her 16th term in Congress when she died.The Rochester station served more than 127,000 last year.

It is served by Amtrak’s Empire Service, Lake Shore Limited and Maple Leaf trains.