Archive for April, 2018

Schenectady Station to Open in Fall

April 30, 2018

The New York State Department of Transportation expects to open the new Amtrak station in Schenectady in a few months.

In a project update, NYSDOT said the station front is starting to resemble the architect drawings and that steel is going in on the platform.

“They’re working on the head house now, which is the part of the station you encounter when you come off the train, the entryway into the station,” said NYSDOT spokesman Bryan Viggian.

“We’re pleased with the progress. It’s moving on time and on schedule.

The facility replaces a 1970s era station build by Amtrak was razed last summer. “It had reached its time. Schenectady deserved a nice, more modern station here,” Viggiani said.

The station will resemble a former Union Station that was built in 1910 but demolished several decades later.

Viggiani said the $23 million station would be finished in the fall and is part of a 15-year plan to transform Erie Boulevard.

“It took us a longer time to get it going than I would’ve liked, but the governor was a big help in terms of finally putting that package together,” said Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy.

Near the station are the Rivers Casino, Riverhouse apartments and restaurants and offices on the Mohawk riverfront.

“The train station is really just the cherry on top of the sundae there,” said Schenectady County Legislator Gary Hughes.

Schenectady is served by Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, Ethan Allen Express, Adirondack, Maple Leaf and Empire Service trains to Niagara Falls, New York.

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New Raleigh Station Dedicated

April 30, 2018

A dedication ceremony was held on Monday for the new Raleigh (North Carolina) Union Station.

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said the facility will serve as a transportation hub and activity center in downtown.

The facility is expected to open in early June and cost $100 million to build.

The 26,000 square foot building will be available for public events. City officials expect restaurants and stores may open there in time.

Amtrak Sets Round of Ticket Office Closings

April 30, 2018

Amtrak is closing at least five more ticket offices across the nation. The latest stations slated to lose their ticket agent are Cincinnati; Charleston, West Virginia; Texarkana, Arkansas-Texas; Marshall, Texas; and Lamy, New Mexico.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the stations in all cities will remain open.

Magliari said the closing is being done to save money and because the volume of business done at ticket counters continues to decline.

“Nine out of 10 tickets across the country are purchased online,” he said.

In most cases the stations will open for a period of time before train time and be maintained by a caretaker.

“However, stations under this status have the option of partnering with Amtrak to host a station. Hope, Arkansas, does this,” Magliari said.

Magliari said the Lamy ticket agent is expected to transfer to an open position in Albuquerque after the Lamy office closes on June 1.

The Texarkana window in Union Station will close on May 15 and the Marshall office on June 29. It is not known if the agents in Texarkana and Marshall will lose their jobs.

“Other positions could be found for them,” Magliari said.

Main Street Texarkana recently provide funding and volunteer labor to beautify Union Station with new landscaping. More work is also planned.

Arkansas-side Mayor Ruth Penny-Bell said she understands Amtrak’s need to cut expenses, but regretted the changing business model.

“I was glad to hear we will still have our station, but I was not happy with the ticket counter closing,” she said. “But from those of us of an older generation, it hurts not being able to go to the station and buy your ticket there.

“Sometimes it feels like the world is moving too fast, and many of us are being left behind.”

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones expressed similar regrets when he said that city’s Amtrak ticket office will close on June 6.

Jones said after that date, anyone who wants a ticket in Charleston will have to buy it online. He

Jones said not having a ticket window will be a terrible inconvenience for anyone who rides trains, adding that a lot of people are not Internet savvy and information about trains is not always up to date.

The Cincinnati ticket office is also set to close on June 6.

Limited Parking in Springfield

April 30, 2018

Construction work in Springfield, Illinois, has resulted in limited parking availability at the Amtrak station through May 3.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the station parking lot may be closed at times. The work is connected with the Illinois Department of Transportation High Speed Rail Project.

Amtrak is advising passengers to be dropped off or picked up if possible rather than leaving their vehicle at the station.

Alternative parking is available in the City of Springfield’s parking garage at Fourth Street and Washington Street (immediately south of the station) for $5 a day. Metered street parking is also available along Washington Street, Fourth Street and Jefferson Street. Metered spaces are free after 5 pm Friday until 7 am Monday.

Long term parking passes can be obtained in advance for the surface parking lot at the southeast corner of Fourth and Washington by contacting Springfield Downtown Parking, Inc at 217-522-2712.

Taxi, mass transit and ride-share services are also available to and from the station, which is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle.

Track Work to Affect Lincoln Service, Texas Eagle

April 30, 2018

Track work being performed on May 4 by Union Pacific will affect certain Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle between Chicago and St. Louis.

Train 300 will be cancelled with no alternate transportation provided. Train 302 will be canceled with bus service being provided to intermediate stops in Illinois at Alton, Carlinville, Springfield, Lincoln, Bloomington-Normal, Pontiac, Dwight, Joliet and Summit.

Bus 5002 will make limited intermediate stops at Alton, Springfield, Bloomington-Normal and Joliet.

Trains 301 and 303 will be cancelled. Alternate transportation will be provided for missed stops will be as follows

Bus 3301 will make all stops for Train 301 at Joliet, Pontiac, Bloomington-Normal, Springfield and Alton. Bus 3303 will make all stops for Train 303 at Summit, Joliet, Dwight, Pontiac, Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville and Alton. Bus 5003 will make limited intermediate stops at Joliet, Bloomington-Normal, Springfield and Alton.

The Texas Eagle will detour between Chicago and St. Louis and miss all scheduled intermediate stops. Passengers traveling to points other than intermediate stations in Illinois will remain on the train.

No alternative transportation is being provided to the missed intermediate stations in Illinois. However, passengers for those points will be able to ride Lincoln Service trains or buses.

Nos. 21 and 22 may experience up to an hour of delay on the detour route. Buses may arrive or depart stations earlier than the train schedule.

 

Group Wants Michigan Demonstration Trains

April 25, 2018

A Michigan environmental group is pushing for special demonstration trains to operate in summer 2019 between Traverse City and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Ground Center for Resilient Communities has been seeking intercity rail passenger service on the route for several years.

The group has raised $100,000 to conduct a study of the route’s potential that it expected to be completed this summer.

Preliminary findings have shown that the A2TC route as it has been dubbed could generate enough ridership to support a passenger train.

Much of that is based on the projection that tourism in Traverse City is expected to double from 6 million a year to 13 million by 2045.

“It could provide options for baby boomers moving up to the region and for college students at Baker, Alma, CMU, U of M,” said Jim Bruckbauer, deputy director of the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. “We see the potential for what this can do for the downtowns between Traverse City and Ann Arbor — Owosso, Clare, Cadillac.”

Permanent rail service on the route is years away, but the group is eyeing operating some specialty trains in summer 2019.

W.Va. Officials Optimistic About Saving New River Train

April 25, 2018

West Virginia officials say they had a productive meeting with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson about continuing the annual New River Train and expressed optimism that a deal will be worked out.

In a news release, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said the service has had a stellar record with no operational issues or citations

“I made sure that Amtrak knew the impact this would have on our economy and local non-profit,” Manchin said in the release. “Richard Anderson and I both agree that we need to find a solution and I received a commitment from him that they are committed to continuing their partnership with Collis P. Huntington and finding a solution that both sides are happy with.”

Echoing that was Rep. Even Jenkins who said the meeting has moved the New River Train one step closer to operating.

“There are still some issues that remain to be resolved, but every single person in the room wants to keep the New River Train running,” he said in a news release. “I will continue to work to ensure the New River Train runs for a 52nd year this fall and am encouraged by the results of today’s discussion.”

The New River Train has operated for 51 years, most recently between Huntington and Hinton.

It continued existence has been threatened by a new Amtrak policy that bans most special and charter movements.

Of late, Amtrak has expressed some willingness to allow a limited number of specials that use routes covered by scheduled Amtrak trains.

In the case of the New River Train, it uses CSX tracks also used by Amtrak’s Cardinal.

West Virginia interests have said the New River Train generates $5 million in tourism dollars.

Jenkins said that Anderson understands that the New River Train has a 50-year history and economic impact that distinguishes it from other charter trains.

As Political Winds Blow, Long Distance Trains Go

April 25, 2018

As a general rule I don’t put much stock in opinions on railroad chat lists that “predict” the imminent demise of Amtrak’s fleet of long-distance trains.

Such predictions have been made for decades and yet long-distance trains have survived.

Yes, some have fallen by the wayside over the years, most notably in 1979 and 1995. But numerous efforts to kill off all long-distance trains have fallen short.

With the planned discontinuance of full-service dining cars on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited the prophets of doom are at it again.

But then I read a column by William C. Vantuono, the editor of Railway Age, in which he said he thinks the dining changes being made on the Capitol and Lake Shore are part of a plan to shut down the Amtrak national network and leave only the Northeast Corridor, Midwest corridor trains, California corridor trains and other state-supported services.

Vantuono is not one to make dire predictions, but I took notice when he wrote, “I’ve been hearing about internal plans within Amtrak to discontinue long-distance trains. The best way to do that, of course, is to make the service so unpalatable that people stop riding them. Are we looking at a veiled attempt to drive passengers away? I believe we are.”

But then I read the rest of his column and noticed that he had qualified his “prediction” by saying “maybe, maybe not.”

I later received an email from a friend who sent a link to meeting notes of a presentation in which Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson reportedly said to an audience of 150 passenger rail officials that he wanted to kill the long-distance trains and only operate corridor service of 400 miles or less with DMU equipment.

But when I read those notes I found the rail passenger advocate who took them said, “I noted that he (Anderson) did not specifically say that the long-distance trains would go, only that corridors are the future.”

Finally, I read Trains columnist Fred Frailey’s view that Anderson won’t try to scuttle the long-distance trains this year.

“If Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump couldn’t axe them, why would Richard Anderson even try?” Frailey wrote.

The fact is no one knows the future of Amtrak’s long-distance passenger trains.

Anderson may believe that corridors provide the best marketing opportunities for intercity rail service, but neither he nor Amtrak’s board of directors are free agents in overseeing a company that depends on public money to pay its operating and capital expenses.

Amtrak is, has always been and always will be a political creature subject to decisions made by Congress and, to a lesser extent, state legislatures.

Congress has acted to kill some long-distance trains over the years and has acted to save them in others.

That said there may be good reason to believe that long-distance trains might be on slippery rails.

Anderson told Congress earlier this year that Amtrak won’t operate on routes that fail to meet the federal mandate that positive train control be installed by the end of this year. He also suggested Amtrak might not use routes that aren’t required to have PTC.

Much of this probably is political posturing. At the time of his testimony Anderson was still smarting from the Cascades and Silver Star crashes, which might have been avoided had PTC been in operation.

Yet some segments of long-distance routes either might not meet the PTC deadline. Is Amtrak going to chop up those routes?

Another potential threat is that the equipment devoted to long-distance service is wearing out. Will Amtrak seek to replace it?

Amtrak has rarely shown much, if any, interest in creating additional long-distance routes or expanding service on the long-distance routes it does operate.

Various Amtrak presidents probably have viewed the long-distance network, skeletal as it might be, as insurance for widespread political support.

In his talk to the passenger train officials, Anderson repeatedly said he must follow the law, meaning Passenger Rail Reform & Investment Act of 2015, saying it requires Amtrak to operate at lower cost and more efficiently.

In particular this applies to food and beverage service and an Amtrak inspector general’s report of seven years ago found that the lion’s share of losses on that could be attributed to the long-distance trains.

Anderson and perhaps the Amtrak board of directors might see long-distance trains as a hindrance to their ability to cut costs and operate more efficiently. They also might see the long-distance trains as dinosaurs.

Amtrak will turn 50 in three years. A half century is a long time for any one company to operate with essentially the same business model.

But most companies are not as subject to political pressure as Amtrak. As the political climates goes, so goes the future of long-distance trains or, for that matter, any intercity passenger trains.

Nabbing Amtrak’s Silver Service

April 24, 2018

My travels during my Florida vacation took me to the city of Lakeland, Florida. This is the Junction of the CSX A line and S line.

We set up at the abandoned former Atlantic Coast Line station. First we got Amtrak train 91, the Silver Star, going to Tampa. About an hour and a half later it returned on its way to Miami.

A pair of CSX freights went through, one north, one south, but that was the extent of activity in Lakeland.

On our way east we pulled up to a crossing only to watch the northbound Amtrak No. 92 fly by with no time for photos. Our next stop was Davenport where we just caught the southbound Silver Meteor, this time getting photos.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

Some Private Car Owners Disappointed in Amtrak Policy, Fee Changes

April 24, 2018

In the aftermath of a change in Amtrak policy for handling of private rail cars, some car owners told Trains magazine they are disappointed in the new policy and how the passenger carrier is jacking up the fees it charges to haul and service their cars.

Amtrak’s new policy restricts where private rail cars will be handled and in particular limits where the cars can be added or removed from Amtrak trains at intermediate stations.

Some car owners said the higher tariffs and operating restrictions will make their business more challenging and expensive.

Some car owners are trying to be philosophical with Altiplano Railtours owner Adam Auxier telling Trains it is better to have bad news you know than good news you don’t know.

Auxier said private car owners need to be able to plan their trips nearly a year in advance.

Many private car owners sell tickets to the public to ride in their cars on set dates.

Railroad Passenger Car Alliance President Roger W. Fuehring told Trains that some changes in how Amtrak handled private cars is disappointing.

In particular he cited the inability to store cars near Washington Union Station, the ending of some mechanical services, and a sudden increase in fees.

Fuehring said Amtrak had increased its tariffs every October, but now has warned private car owners that those fees can be increased at anytime at Amtrak’s discretion.

“How can anyone plan their business with such small margins when we don’t know what the tariff rates will be day to day?” Fuehring said. “What does the tariff matter if Amtrak has the ability to adjust the rates again?”

Burt Hermey owns four original California Zephyr cars that he stores in Los Angeles.

He said the fee increases are putting him into the difficult position of having to tell his customers they need to pay more for upcoming trips.

Hermey said he created fares based on the October 2017 tariffs.

He explained that Amtrak will now only do what is necessary to bring a car that is in the middle of a trip back into FRA compliance.

“A strict reading of that would seem to indicate that defects identified during an annual inspection would need to be repaired elsewhere,” Hermey said.

Hermey believes that the rule changes show that, “Amtrak management wants us off the property despite the multiple millions of dollars we pay each year, most of which flows to their bottom line. It’s also clear how little they value that segment of their business.”