Archive for May, 2018

Taking Dinner Orders on No. 7

May 25, 2018

An Amtrak server takes dinner orders from a table in the dining car of Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder as it cruises through Wisconsin.

It is May 2014 and the train and this is the first meal to be served in the diner after leaving Chicago more than an hour late due to waiting for connecting passengers from a tardy inbound Lake Shore Limited.

In fact, I would have dinner with one of those passengers during the dinner hour. I even recall ordering the steak dinner, one of the few times I’ve ordered it when dining in an Amtrak dining car.

NTSB Sets Hearings in 2 Amtrak Crashes

May 25, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board will hold hearings on July 10-11 into two Amtrak crashes that resulted in multiple fatalities.

The hearing will be held in Washington and may be watched live via webcast.

Testimony will be taken from the Federal Railroad Administration; the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers; the Brotherhood of Locomotives Engineers and Trainmen; the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; CSX; Sound Transit; Amtrak; the Washington State Department of Transportation; and the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission.

One of the derailments involved a Cascades train going off the rails on Dec. 18, 2017, in DuPont, Washington, killing three passengers.

The other crash occurred on Feb. 4 near Cayce, South Carolina, when the southbound Silver Star collided head-on with a CSX auto rack train in a siding. That crash killed two Amtrak crew members.

Chicago-St. Louis Route Rebuilding Nearly Complete

May 25, 2018

The Illinois Department of Transportation says that rebuilding of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor is substantially complete.

“The remaining work primarily [is] focused on the installation of fencing in Springfield and at the southern end of the corridor; crossing improvements in Springfield; and the completion of the Kankakee River Bridge in Wilmington,” said Guy Tridgell, an IDOT director of communications based in Chicago.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the current top speed of the Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains on the route is still 79 p.m. although that is expected to increase to 90 mph by the end of the year.

“We had a section of 110 mph but it was not meant to be permanent,” he said referring to a stretch between Pontiac and Dwight. “The system is being installed, not just to be faster, but more reliable.”

Some Say They are Racially Profiled Aboard Trains, Buses

May 25, 2018

Some Michigan residents have complained that they are being racially profiled by U.S. Border Patrol agents at stations and aboard buses and Amtrak trains.

Those unable to prove their immigration status are being detained.

The American Civil Liberties Union said 82 percent of foreigners stopped in Michigan have been Latinos.

After agents boarded an Amtrak train in Dearborn, Jeffrey Nolish, a 37-year-old U.S. citizen who is Latino and serving in the military, told the Detroit Free Press that he was the only person on the train interrogated by two Border Patrol agents.

Federal law allows Border Patrol agents to work within 100 miles of the U.S. border.

This encompasses all of Michigan, northern Ohio and Indiana, and a large swath of Northwest Pennsylvania.

In Ohio the limits of the 100-mile zone extend as far south as Columbus.

Within that zone Board Patrol agents have additional authority to search people or vehicles.

Because agents were regularly patrolling the Greyhound bus terminal in Detroit, the ACLU of Michigan and other ACLU branches asked Greyhound last March to stop allowing immigration agents to board buses to questions passengers

The ACLU has also filed a lawsuit seeing to force the Border Patrol to provide data on its stops in Michigan.

In its letter to Greyhound, the ACLU said it has found that Border Patrol agents operating on Greyhound buses focus on people of color and never give passengers a reason for the stop,

The Border Patrol denies it targets people based on race, saying its policies prohibit the consideration of race or ethnicity in law enforcement, investigation, and screening activities, in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

A Greyhound spokesperson told the Free Press that the company understands the ACLU’s concerns but Greyhound is required to comply with the law.

Greyhound said it has been talking with the Border Patrol to see whether there is anything that can be done to balance the enforcement of federal law with the dignity and its passengers.

However, the Greyound spokesperson said the law affords federal agents more power within the 100-mile zone to inspect vehicles, aircraft, and rail cars.

A Border Patrol spokesperson also cited the the 100-mile zone in saying that agents conduct searches away from the immediate border as a means of “preventing trafficking, smuggling and other criminal organizations from exploiting our public and private transportation infrastructure to travel to the interior of the United States.

The spokesperson said agents “have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence.”

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the rail carrier cooperates fully with federal authorities and federal law. He noted that Amtrak passengers age 18 and older must carry valid photo identification but would not comment on the issue of racial profiling.

Amtrak Stops Paying Medical Claims of Crash Victims

May 25, 2018

Amtrak has stopped paying medical bills of those injured during a February train crash in South Carolina that left two dead and more than 100 injured.

Attorneys for the victims said Amtrak said it would no longer pay medical claims starting on May 1.

“Folks that were injured, it’s hard for them to get well by a specific deadline,” said attorney Bob Pottroff.

Another attorney, Jamie Holland, said Amtrak contacted him with the same message of no more payments for medical costs as of May 1.

The crash occurred when Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star was routed into a siding near Cayce, South Carolina, and collided head-on with a parked CSX auto rack train.

A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report found that a CSX crew member failed to restore the switch to the normal position. Block signals in the area had been turned off as work progressed to install positive train control.

Pottroff said Amtrak had assumed responsibility for paying the medical claims of the injured who wre aboard the train.

“I can tell you most of my clients, if not all, are still seeking medical treatment and trying to resolve issues that are relatively long term,” Pottroff said.

An Amtrak spokeswoman told The State of Columbia, South Carolina, that the passenger carriers “continues to support” those injured but would not say whether that included money.

The attorneys for the injured said the injuries included traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress syndrome, broken bones and soft-tissue injuries.

Pottroff said his clients will get some compensation for their medical injuries through pending and future lawsuits.

Legacy of the Broadway Limited

May 22, 2018

All of America’s premier passenger trains had dining cars, but only the most elite trains had twin-unit diners in which one of the cars contained the kitchen and the other a dining room.

Twin-unit diners operated on the New York Central’s Twentieth Century Limited and the Pennsylvania’s Broadway Limited for many years.

Amtrak had four sets of twin-unit diners, all of them built in 1949 by Budd for the Pennsy.

These cars were assigned to the Broadway Limited in the early to mid 1970s.

One set of those diners now resides at the Midwest Railway Preservation Society in Cleveland.

It is former PRR 4610-4611, which carried Amtrak roster numbers 8800-8801.

The cars still wear Amtrak’s Phase I livery but the effects of wear and tear from sitting in the elements over the years has taken a toll.

A PC herald is bleeding through the Amtrak red, white and blue paint on one end of the cars.

This twin-unit diner set was retired by Amtrak in October 1983. Presumably it was stored for several years before that.

Like so many pieces of equipment sitting outside the MRPS roundhouse the fate of these twin-unit diners is uncertain.

Presumably they will be at least cosmetically restored some day when money for that becomes available.

That day may be a long time in coming, but in the meantime they serve as reminders of what once was in another time and era that increasingly seems like a lifetime ago.

Senators Plead to Keep Ticket Offices

May 22, 2018

Two U.S. senators are seeking to get Amtrak to delay plans to close ticket offices in their states.

Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) wrote to the passenger carrier to express “serious concerns” about the criteria Amtrak used to determine which ticket offices to close.

In a letter to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, Manchin said removing the ticket agent from Charleston on June 6 “will not only deprive the state of West Virginia of its last Amtrak ticket agent, but will also compromise safety and upkeep of the facility, and make access more difficult for potential customers.”

Manchin said that Charleston handled 9,749 passengers in federal fiscal year 2017, which works out to more than 62 passengers per day for each day that the tri-weekly Cardinal operates there.

He said Amtrak’s decision to calculate ridership on a weekly basis ignores the fact that the Cardinal does not operate daily. “The policy penalizes Charleston’s station for part-time service without allowing it to be a full-time station.”

Manchin also said 30 percent of West Virginia lacks Internet access and that mobile broadband access is limited in many parts of the state.

Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) sought to keep the ticket offices in Havre and Shelby open during a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

He also called on Amtrak to create a station stop in Culbertson.

“The Empire Builder is critically important to keeping our rural communities connected, transporting out-of-state visitors to some of Montana’s pristine landscapes and supporting local economies,” Daines said. “Amtrak must take action to ensure the needs of Montanans and rural travelers are met.”

Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer of Amtrak, said during the hearing the carrier is supportive of adding a stop at Culbertson once station infrastructure is in place.

Amtrak Moves Trigger Anxiety on SW Chief Route

May 22, 2018

Some recent actions by Amtrak have triggered anxiety along the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

Some fear that Amtrak is seeking to discontinue the Chicago-Los Angeles train.

The Pueblo Chieftan published a recent story that raised the prospect that a hoped-for section or reroute of the Chief to serve Pueblo will fall by the wayside due to changes in Amtrak policy.

La Junta, Colorado, city manager Rick Klein said Amtrak’s plans to close ticket offices along the train’s route has alarmed him.

La Junta is one of those stations losing its ticket agent along with Garden City and Topeka, Kansas, and Fort Madison, Iowa.

“We’ve been working to save the [Southwest Chief] for seven years, and now Amtrak is going in a different direction,” he said. “The Southwest Chief is vital across this region and northern New Mexico.”

Further causing anxiety was a letter sent to public officials along the route of the Chief stating Amtrak will not provide matching funds for a federal grant obtained by Colfax County, New Mexico, until a comprehensive plan is in place to fund the completion of the rebuilding of the train’s route.

Amtrak had earlier said it would provide $3 million for the track rehabilitation in northern New Mexico.

The letter renouncing the funds said the Southwest Chief only carried 364,000 passengers and ridership is declining.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace has led the efforts to extend the Chief to Pueblo and has been involved in the efforts to gain federal, state and local grant money to rebuild the route of Nos. 3 and 4 in western Kansas, southeast Colorado and northern New Mexico.

The chairman of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Rail Commission believes that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson is hostile toward the Chief.

“It’s my understanding this change in direction is coming from Anderson,” Pace said. “Communities in Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico have secured $71 million in rail upgrades over the past four years along the route of the Chief, and now Amtrak is threatening to withhold its contribution. It’s one individual stepping in to unravel all this work.”

Amtrak declined to comment to the newspaper about the issue.

Former Amtrak President Joesph Boardman has asserted that Amtrak is seeking to torpedo the Chief and long-distance trains generally in favor of short-haul corridors, including the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

Writing in the trade publication Railway Age, Boardman contended that the battle for the future of long-distance passenger train is occurring in private and that the Southwest Chief will be the first western train to be targeted.

Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico lawmakers have been supporting the cooperative effort to protect and repair the Southwest Chief’s route across their states.

During a recent committee hearing, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner pressed Joseph Gruters, a nominee of President Donald Trump to the Amtrak board of directors, on Amtrak’s commitment to the matching grant toward rebuilding the Chief’s route.

“That grant was awarded and the announcement was made,” Gardner said during the hearing. “Colorado, Kansas and New Medico have made significant commitments to this. Do you believe in keeping that commitment?”

“If (Amtrak) made the commitment, they should do that,” Gruters said in response.

Amtrak Expects Large Memorial Day Ridership

May 22, 2018

Amtrak is projecting that it will carry more than more than 320,000 passengers during the Memorial Day weekend, which is considered the traditional start of the summer travel season.

In a news release, the carrier said it expects heavy ridership during the summer months due to a spike in gasoline prices.

The news release touted Amtrak has a way to explore a new city, catch a baseball game, experience a summer musical festival or make your way to the beach.

CN Track Work to Affect CONO

May 22, 2018

Track work being performed by Canadian National on the southern end of its route will affect operations of Amtrak’s southbound City of New Orleans between May 29 and July 11.

No. 59 will depart Chicago as scheduled at 8:05 p.m. and operate normally between Chicago and Jackson, Mississippi.

The train will depart from all stations from Jackson to New Orleans, two hours later than the current schedule, Monday through Friday.

However, No. 59 will operate on its normal schedule between Jackson and New Orleans on Saturdays and Sundays.

It will also operate on the normal schedule between Chicago and New Orleans for the Independence Day holiday period on July 2.