Archive for June, 2018

Station Work Affects Keystone Skeds

June 28, 2018

Station construction at Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, will result in schedule changes for Amtrak’s Keystone Service on June 30.

Train 661 will operate five minutes earlier from Philadelphia to Lancaster, six minutes earlier from Lancaster to Middletown and five minutes earlier into Harrisburg.

Train 662 will operate 10 minutes later from Harrisburg to Philadelphia while Train 664 will operate five minutes later from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

CUS Addition Unveiled by Developer

June 27, 2018

Chicago Union Station will get a quite different look if Amtrak and a developer follow through on plans to build an addition atop the station that will house apartments, retail space and a hotel.

The seven-story addition of steel and glass would be built on top of the existing head house.

It is the second time that a developer has proposed an addition to Union Station, the first having come in 2002 and failed to materialize.

The latest plan, which is expected to cost $1 billion, seeks to make Union Station a seven-day-a-week, year-round “destination.”

Already the proposed addition, which was designed by Riverside Investment & Development and Convexity Properties, has drawn the ire of some who say it is at odds with the original appearance of the station.

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin described the addition as “utterly underwhelming” and added that the exterior of the addition is “a skeletal metal and glass grid [that] is at odds with the station’s carefully composed classical aesthetic.”

Kamin said the addition is “one era of architecture [that] had been piled, willy-nilly, atop another.”

Amtrak owns Union Station and hired Riverside Investment in May 2017 to create a plan for further commercial development of the depot.

As part of the construction of the addition, natural light would still be allowed to illuminate the Great Hall because the skylight would be retained.

Completed in 1925, Union Station served the Pennsylvania; Alton Road (later Gulf, Mobile & Ohio); Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; and the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific railroads.

The station was designed by Daniel Burnham and successor firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White.

The addition would not affect operations of Amtrak and Metra commuter trains in the Concourse building located across the street from the Head House.

The redevelopment of Union Station must be approved by the Chicago City Council and Amtrak’s board of directors.

Developers are optimistic that construction can begin in spring 2019.

If built, the addition would be similar to one proposed in 2002 by Chicago architect Lucien Lagrange that called for a 400-foot tower atops the station.

Kamin noted that Burnham envisioned Union Station as a gateway to Chicago’s west loop neighborhood and planned for an office building to be built atop the station. The foundations for that structure were laid, but it was never built.

Amtrak Buzz Score Slowly Improving

June 26, 2018

Recent surveys have found that Amtrak’s public image is recovering from the battering it took in recent months following a series of accidents that resulted in fatalities.

Data gathered by the YouGov Brand Index shows that Amtrak’s Buzz score has been rising whereas it had dropped following the derailments.

It fell by 12 points from a 5 to a minus 7 following a December derailment in Washington State that left three passengers dead.

It plunged even further to minus 9 after a Miami-bound train collided in South Carolina with a CSX freight train parked on a siding. A misaligned switch routed the Silver Star into the CSX auto rack train, killing two Amtrak crew members and injuring 100 passengers.

The Buzz score climbed back into positive territory in April and this month it was almost up to 5.

Amtrak’s Quality score, which asks consumers if they think a brand represents either good or poor quality, followed a similar pattern, dropping following the derailments until reaching a low of 8 in early March.

The current Quality score is 16. YouGov Profiles said that 10 percent of Americans said they traveled by train for a leisure trip in the past year while 4 percent traveled by train for business.

Those living in the West are most likely to have an overall positive impression of Amtrak while those living in the South are least likely to have a positive impression of the rail passenger carrier.

Amtrak to Renovate Jackson Station

June 25, 2018

Amtrak plans to rehabilitate the 144-year-old Michigan Central station in Jackson, Michigan, this summer to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The work also includes re-pointing the brick on the chimneys and working on the roof.

Other improvements include bathrooms being made ADA compliant, installing signs with braille markings and creating an ADA accessible path from the parking lot to the station.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said cost estimates won’t be available until the project is finished.

Amtrak has owned the station since 1973. It is served daily by six Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The Victorian-Italianate-style structure opened on Sept. 1, 1873, and is one of Amtrak’s oldest stations that has been in continuous use as a passenger facility having served the Michigan Central, New York Central and Penn Central.

Other renovations were made in 1978, 2008 and 2013.

Glenview to Lobby Against Third Track

June 25, 2018

Glenview, Illinois, plans to spend $400,000 to lobby against a component of plan to expand Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

The Chicago suburb, which also hosts an Amtrak station, is seeking to stop installation of a third track on the line between Glenview and Northbook that is used by Metra, Amtrak and Canadian Pacific.

Glenview will lobby the governor of Illinois and others in an effort to win a requirement that an environmental impact statement be required for all proposed Illinois rail projects with new freight train holding tracks near residential areas.

The Federal Railroad Administration had earlier completed an environmental assessment of the proposal by the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin to expand Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee to 10 daily roundtrips from the current seven.

The third track is expected to be used by CP freight trains and residents of adjacent housing developments have expressed fears about pollution from idling locomotives and potential lower property values.

They decried the environmental assessment study, which is not as in-depth as an environmental impact statement.

Glenview Deputy Village Manager Don Owen said the money will be spent on legislative services in order to influence individuals “at a higher level,” such as the governor and the Illinois secretary of transportation.

The village has hired a public relations firm and a lobbying firm.

Owen said the village is frustrated because the two departments of transportation have refused to study the impact of freight traffic on Glenview and other north Chicago suburbs. The departments have said the Hiawatha expansion plan will not lead to an increase in freight traffic.

“They are significantly changing how freight trains impact Glenview,” Owen said. “Instead of purposefully planning for them to come through our town at 30 to 40 miles an hour and get through our town quickly  . . . they’re planning on building a two-mile long holding track and stopping freight trains and creating a mini freight yard in Glenview.”

Track Work to Disrupt Downeasters

June 25, 2018

Downeaster Service will be suspended at Woburn, Massachusetts, on weekends between July 7 and Aug. 26 due to track work being done by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Southbound Trains 690, 692, 694, 696 and 698 and northbound Trains 691, 693, 695, 697 and 699 will detour between Boston North Station and Haverhill and will not stop at Woburn on Saturdays and Sundays.

Alternate transportation will not be provided to or from Woburn. MBTA will operate a normal schedule via the Lowell Line July 28-29.

Taking Breakfast Orders

June 23, 2018

An Amtrak server writes the breakfast orders of passengers as the Empire Builder makes it way west through North Dakota.

During this May 2014 trip, No. 7 was detouring via the former Great Northern Surrey cutoff due to traffic congestion on the train’s regular route via Grand Forks.

The Surrey cutoff was the route used by GN’s Empire Builder in pre-Amtrak days.

During the days of the original Empire Builder passengers would have written their orders on the check and server would tear off the top copy and take it to the kitchen.

N.M. Senator Rips Plans for S.W. Chief

June 23, 2018

A New Mexico lawmaker has blasted Amtrak’s proposals to truncate the Southwest Chief and described a meeting held with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson to discuss the Chief as having been unproductive.

“I think this was one of the most unproductive meetings with an agency level official that I’ve ever experienced,” said U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich. “To learn that not only are they planning to pull back their commitment to the TIGER grant, but that they’re going to abandon the route I think is just outrageous.”

Anderson recently met with the congressional delegation from New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to describe a proposal to operate the Chicago-Los Angeles train between Los Angeles and Albuquerque, New Mexico; and between Chicago and Dodge City, Kansas, or La Junta, Colorado.

Passengers would be transported on charter buses between Albuquerque and La Junta/Dodge City.

The meeting with Anderson had been requested by members of Congress after word got out about Amtrak’s plans.

Anderson told the lawmakers that the signals and track between Raton Pass and Lamy, New Mexico, are outdated.

Rebuilding those is the purpose of U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant that was won by Colfax County, New Mexico.

But Amtrak has said it won’t provide its $3 million match to the grant without a “comprehensive plan from other stakeholders.”

Amtrak contends that passengers will still be able to travel to rail between Chicago and Los Angeles and to all intermediate points, but part of their journey may be on a bus.

Heinrich said the fight over the Chief is far from over.

“There are very active conversations going on right now to figure out what our appropriations strategy is and to push back forcibly and vigorously,” he said. “We’ve had to fight for the Southwest Chief before and we will fight for the Southwest Chief again.”

In a statement, Amtrak  said that it is considering “various service options for the Southwest Chief in response to the significant host railroad costs facing Amtrak for continued use of the middle portion of the route between Dodge City and Albuquerque.”

The statement cited significant costs that Amtrak faces to rebuild the track, which is owned by BNSF but used only by Amtrak in some places.

It also said Amtrak wants to continue providing transportation to all communities served by the route.

“Amtrak is thoroughly analyzing the route and considering the appropriate strategies for enhancing safety for operations after the December 2018 federal deadline for Positive Train Control,” the statement said.

See an earlier related post below on this subject.


Proposals Sought for OK Passenger Service

June 23, 2018

Watco Companies has issued a request for proposals to provide intercity rail passenger service between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The request came from Watco subsidiary Stillwater Central Railroad and proposals are due by July 27.

The request for proposals seeks comprehensive proposals from providers of passenger rail services to operate passenger rail service to be known as the Eastern Flyer between Sapulpa and Del City on the Sooner Subdivision.

Oklahoma City currently is served by Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer while Tulsa has never had Amtrak service.

The last passenger trains to Tulsa were provided by the Santa Fe and discontinued with the coming of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.

Dearborn Expected to be Named to Amtrak Board

June 23, 2018

A former member of President Donald Trump’s staff is expected to be nominated to serve as a member of Amtrak’s board of directors.

Rick A. Dearborn served as deputy chief of staff for Trump between January 2017 and March 2018.

He was executive director of the presidential transition team and has connections with conservative groups having served as the director of congressional relations for the Senate at The Heritage Foundation.

If approved, Dearborn would serve a five-year term.