Archive for June, 2018

Train Time in New Orleans

June 30, 2018

Three times a day, Amtrak personnel announce the boarding of a train at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, the terminus of the City of New Orleans, Crescent and Sunset Limited.

The latter operates only three days a week, departing on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, but the City and Crescent depart daily.

Of the three trains, the City of the New Orleans is the only one to depart NOUPT in the afternoon.

In the photo above, it is March 2012 and passengers are waiting for the boarding announcement of No. 58 to Chicago and all intermediate stops.

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Another Senator Describes Meeting With Anderson to Discuss the S.W. Chief as Unsatisfactory

June 30, 2018

Add U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) to the list of those who were not satisfied with the meeting they recently had with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson pertaining to the future of the Southwest Chief.

It was during that meeting, which also included elected officials from Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado, that Amtrak unveiled its plans to operate charter buses in lieu of the train between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Garden City, Kansas.

During his presentation, Anderson cited the high cost of installing positive train control on a portion of the Chief’s route as the justification for the bus service.

Anderson also mentioned the high costs of maintaining the route.

Moran, through, said he is not supportive of this position and will push Amtrak to provide an appropriate level of passenger service.

The meeting had come about because the congressional delegations from the three states had been dismayed by an Amtrak announcement that it would not provide $3 million as a matching grant to a federal TIGER grant obtained by Colfax County, New Mexico, to be used to rebuild the tracks used by the Chief in that state.

In a letter to public officials along the route Amtrak said he wanted to see a comprehensive funding plan to rebuild the entire route in western Kansas, southeast Colorado and northern New Mexico before committing the money.

Also attending the meeting were senators Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico).

Moran described the meeting as unsatisfactory and said the senators “wanted to make it clear that from our perspective they needed to keep their commitment. Nothing came from the meeting that said they were willing to do that. The result we were looking for did not occur.

“The end result of the meeting with Mr. Anderson and a bunch of his staff was certainly no suggestion that their mind had been changed,” Moran said. “Then the conversation devolved into a slide presentation and conversation by Mr. Anderson about the financial challenges of the system and systemic issues of the current Southwest Chief route.”

Amtrak contends that the cost of installing PTC on 219 miles of BNSF track of which the Chief is the sole user in Colorado and New Mexico would cost $55 million.

The carrier said it didn’t want to be involved in the installation of PTC on another section of tracks used by the Chief in New Mexico that are owned by commuter operator Rail Runner.

Moran said the actions that he is considering taking to pressure Amtrak include placing a hold on two nominations for the Amtrak board of directors and placing language in an appropriations bill that would require consultation with affected communities before Amtrak can make any changes to its “terms of service.”

Heinrich of New Mexico criticized Amtrak for not being upfront about its plans to institute the bus bridge.

Like Moran, Heinrich described the meeting with Anderson as unsatisfactory.

“The lack of transparency by Amtrak management about its changing position on the Southwest Chief is deeply troubling, particularly for a government-sponsored enterprise entrusted with an important public transportation mission,” Heinrich said. “We have a strong, bipartisan coalition working together to protect the Southwest Chief and we are going to do everything we can to ensure its continued success.”

In the meantime, Trains magazine reported that BNSF officials have said it remains committed to honoring its financial and maintenance commitment to the Chief’s route as soon as Amtrak honors its $3 million TIGER grant match.

“We stand ready to proceed with our match and the same arrangement — maintaining the line at a Class 4 (79 mph maximum speed) for 20 years once all the bolted rail is replaced — for this TIGER 9 grant as we have promised for the TIGER 6 and 7 grants,” said Rich Wessler, BNSF Railway’s Director of Passenger Operations,

Amtrak had matched TIGER funding provided for two previous projects to rebuild the route used by the Chief.

Some local officials who have championed saving the Chief now feel betrayed by Amtrak.

“Amtrak came to us years ago and asked us for help, and this is what we get?” said Rick Klein, city manager of La Junta, Colorado. “The only way rural America becomes flyover country is if Amtrak makes it. The U.S. is not a nation of coasts or sharply defined corridors. It’s one nation.”  Klein said he received personal assurances from BNSF assistant vice president D. J. Mitchell that BNSF will provide its share of funding once Amtrak hands over its funding share.

Opening of Raleigh Station Delayed Again

June 30, 2018

Failure to complete construction of the platforms on time has further delayed the opening of Raleigh Union Station.

The new facility was to have opened on June 27, but the slope of the platforms still does not meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation now expects the station to open sometime in July.

The issue is that the slope cannot be more than 2 percent. That would allow water to run off, but not be too steep as to cause such wheeled objects as strollers and wheelchairs to roll.

Officials said warm weather has hindered work to place concrete in places to fix the slope problem.

The station was originally planned to open last year, but was then delayed to a May 2018 opening, which slipped to June.

Raleigh is served by Amtrak’s Silver Star, Carolinian and Piedmont Service trains.

Ivey Boots Outspoken Member of SRC

June 30, 2018

Not only did Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reject state funding to reinstate Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast region, she also removed one of the state’s representative to the Southern Rail Commission.

Jerry Gehman, who had been appointed to the SRC in 2016 by former Governor Robert Bentley, had strongly supported the rail expansion.

His removal from the board is immediate, Ivey wrote in a letter to SRC Chairman John Spain.

Gehman said he wasn’t given a reason for his termination from the SRC, but it came a week after he strongly urged the governor to support the state’s providing $5.3 million for the rail expansion.

He told reporters in Alabama that he wasn’t surprised that Ivey had removed him. “There is no regret. I leave 100-percent or 110-percent of my energy and effort at the table. I’ve done everything I can for the people of Alabama,” Gehman said.

Gehman said he will continue to lobby for restoring Amtrak service to Mobile, Alabama.

“I’m going to speak out for it,” he said. “I hate for the Southern Rail Commission that this occurred, but from that perspective, I’m proud of the fact at least as an American that we can stand up and say here is an option like it or not we have a certain limited time. Now all Alabamians, I trust, know that there was an option on the table.”

However, Gehman said that given the tenor of Ivey’s comments in rejecting the state contribution to reviving Amtrak service, he is not optimistic that it will happen during her term.

In a statement issued at the time that Ivey rejected the funding, she said the service would result in some economic benefit, but reviving Amtrak “will have an outsized detrimental impact on other types of rail service.”

Gehman noted that neither Ivey nor anyone in her administration has consulted with the SRC about how to attract Amtrak service.

Ivey is running for reelection this year and her Democratic opponent, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, has been outspoken in his support for helping to fund an Amtrak service revival.

The revival of Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast suffered another setback when Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant also declined to support state funding of the service revival.

Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana collectively would have needed to provide $35 million in state funding for the service to match federal funds set aside for the project in the federal budget approved last spring.

Gehman also told reporters that Bryant had been involved with the SRC and had shown interest in the SRC’s work.

However, another Alabama representative to the SRC, Wiley Blankenship, said members of Ivey’s staff had met with the SRC numerous times.

“They’ve been more than accommodating and more than open to meet with us and talk with us,” Blankenship said. “I hope that the governor does not view statements by one commissioner to reflect on the whole.”

The SRC has 21 members, five of which are appointed by the governor of Alabama.

Although Gehman’s term didn’t expire until 2020, the terms of the four other Alabama representatives expire on July 31.

“The governor plans to review all of the appointments before making a decision,” said Ivey spokesman Daniel Sparkman when asked if any of the state’s SRC members would be reappointed.

Regardless of what Ivey decides, Alabama representative Claire Austin won’t be returning because she is a registered lobbyist and Ivey signed an order last year barring registered lobbyists from serving in executive branch positions.

Richmond Parking Expansion Completed

June 30, 2018

Expansion of the parking lot at Richmond’s Staples Mill Road has been completed and the additional spaces are now available for public use.

The project, which cost $8.5 million, resulted in an additional 299 parking spaces to bring the total to 587 and a new rear entrance to the station off Bremner Boulevard.

Also included in the work were bike racks, taxi and ride-share parking and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant parking spaces.

More than 370,000 passenger rail customers used the Staples Mill station in fiscal year 2017, which is served by 16 trains a day including the Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Carolinian, Palmetto and Northeast Regional services.

Brightline Wants to Expand to Tampa

June 30, 2018

Florida-based Brightline plans to submit a proposal for development of a higher-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa, Florida.

Brightline’s interest in the service followed an announcement by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Central Florida Expressway Authority that they have started the process of considering proposals for construction and operation of a rail passenger service between the two cities.

Brightline had earlier submitted an unsolicited bid to use CFX right of way for service between Orlando and Tampa.

That prompted FDOT to open a procurement process for any private entities to provide the service.

Brightline President and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Goddard called service to Tampa a “natural extension” for the company, which now operates intercity rail service between Miami and West Palm Beach.

Brightline plans to launch service between West Palm Beach and Orlando in 2021.

Remember the Old CUS Metropolitan Lounge?

June 28, 2018

It is May 2014 and passengers are lined up waiting to board the California Zephyr, which will be leaving soon for the San Francisco Bay area.

These passengers are holding sleeping car accommodations and were waiting in the former Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago Union Station.

A new lounge has replaced this facility, but the old lounge should be a familiar sight to those who rode Amtrak sleeping cars to and from Chicago during the past couple of decades.

When it was time to board your train, you went through a door toward the back of the lounge and an Amtrak agent escorted you to the track where your train was waiting.

CN Track Work Work Delaying Illini, Saluki

June 28, 2018

Amtrak’s Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, trains have long been subject to delays on their host railroad, Canadian National, but now the carrier has formally acknowledged that.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that track work being performed by CN will subject the Saluki and Illini to be delayed 60 minutes or more through July 2

Trains 390, 391, 392 and 393 are funded in part by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The route also hosts the Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans, which is operating on an alternative schedule through mid-July due to CN track work.

 

Amtrak Takes Step Toward Replacing Amfleet

June 28, 2018

Amtrak this week issued a request for information that is the first step toward replacement of its Amfleet I passenger cars.

The notice posted on the carrier’s website said that once the information received is reviewed that it expects to issue in 2019 a request for proposals to interested companies.

The information Amtrak is seeking is due by Oct. 11 and may pertain to propelled or non-propelled cars.

In the meantime, Amtrak is hold meetings with would-be bidders at its headquarters in Washington to discuss the request for information.

In a news release posted on its website, Amtrak said the new equipment is intended to replace Amfleet I cars used primarily east of the Mississippi River and cited such routes as the Keystones, Illinois corridor routes, the Carolinian and the Northeast Corridor.

Although the cars recently have had their interiors refurbished with new carpets, seats and lighting, Amtrak said in the news release that its Amfleet equipment is 40 years old and has reached the point where replacement is more cost efficient than maintenance.

The Amfleet cars were built by Budd between 1975 and 1977 and their curved design was based on the Metroliners developed by the same company in the 1960s.

“New equipment will provide our customers with a more modern experience, while improving ride quality and reliability,” said Amtrak Vice President of Corporate Planning Byron Comati said in a statement.

Roanoke Ridership Meeting Expectations

June 28, 2018

Amtrak said recently that ridership of its Northeast Regional service to Roanoke, Virginia, has met expectations.

Since service began last late last October, 14,178 passengers have boarded the once daily train in Roanoke through April 30. The service has seen 13,591 passengers travel to Roanoke, which lost Amtrak service on Oct. 1, 1979, when the Hilltopper was discontinued.

Until the service was restored, many in the Roanoke region had traveled to Lexington, Virginia, to board Amtrak.

Ridership from Lexington has fallen since Amtrak began operating to Roanoke.

Statistics kept by the state of Virginia, which helps fund the service, shows that the record ridership from Roanoke was 3,288 in December with 2,941 traveling to the city.

This past April, ridership was 2,343 arriving and 2,327 departing.