Archive for September, 2018

Amtrak Restoring Service After Florence

September 18, 2018

Amtrak began returning to normal on Tuesday with the restoration of Northeast Regional service to the Virginia Tidewater.

That service as well as other trains serving the Southeast had been canceled last week as Hurricane Florence approached last week.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said it would continue to operate a reduced schedule through Saturday.

It has canceled the Auto Train and Silver Meteor. The Silver Star will operate on a modified schedule between Miami and Jacksonville, Florida, through Sept. 22.

Also operating on a modified schedule will be the Palmetto between New York and Washington through Sept. 22.

The Carolinian will operate starting Wednesday between Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday.

Utah Wildfire Disrupts California Zephyr

September 17, 2018

A wildfire disrupted operations of Amtrak’s California Zephyr on Monday in Utah.

The fire temporarily closed Union Pacific’s former Denver & Rio Grande Western route east of Provo.

No. 5 that that left Chicago on Sept. 15 was halted at Grand Junction, Colorado, on late Sunday.

No. 6 that left Emeryville, California, on Sept. 16 was able to make it through the fire zone after the tracks briefly reopened, but railroad officials quickly closed them for safety reasons.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the CZ section that halted at Grand Junction later returned to Denver on Monday morning.

That equipment will remain in Denver and became No. 6 on Tuesday. The section that left  Emeryville on Monday will operate only as far east as Reno, Nevada.

The westbound Zephyr that departed Chicago on Sunday will take the Overland Route via the Borie Cutoff and operate via Rock Springs, Wyoming, and Ogden, Utah to Salt Lake City.

Passengers going to intermediate stops between Denver and Salt Lake City will be taken to their destination by bus.

Trains leaving Chicago on Monday and Emeryville on Tuesday will operate via the Overland detour if the normal route east of Provo remain closed.

“For the next few days, detours or service cancellations will affect Amtrak travel between Reno and Denver, including Salt Lake City. Customers can cancel and reschedule without penalties,” Magliari said.

Florida City Considers Becoming Brightline Stop

September 17, 2018

Officials in Stuart, Florida, are eyeing development of a station for Brightline service.

Stuart is one of four cities that Brightline is considering adding to its network.

However, some Stuart officials are either opposed to or lukewarm about the Brightline station proposal, including Interim City Manager Dave Dyess who said the city continues to oppose the train

Mayor Kelli Glass Leighton said that the city will gauge public opinion before making a decision.

Stuart might have to compete with nearby Fort Pierce for Brightline stop. Also being considered for a stop are Sebastian and Vero Beach, but neither of those cities is seen as likely to submit a proposal.

Very Late No. 29

September 17, 2018

A very late westbound Capitol Limited charges through Olmsted Falls, Ohio, in July 2017.

I’m not sure why the train was behind schedule, but it should have come through here about eight hours earlier.

There will be a lot of missed connections today in Chicago.

Wild Fires Affect Coast Starlight

September 17, 2018

Amtrak has warned in a service advisory that wildfires north of Redding, California, may disrupt operations of the the Coast Starlight.

Delays and other service disruptions are still possible and a temporary track closure in the area might force Amtrak to halt service at Sacramento, California, and Klamath Falls, Oregon, without substitute transportation to and through Chico, Redding and Dunsmuir, California.

Passengers were directed to visit the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection website for the Delta Fire.

Amtrak also urged passengers to to check train status on Amtrak.com or its  smartphone apps prior to departing.

Amtrak Walks Back PTC ‘No Operation’ Pledge

September 17, 2018

Amtrak appears to have done an about face on an earlier vow to refuse to operate passenger trains on routes that lack an operating positive train control by Dec. 31.

During a hearing of a House committee, Amtrak Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek said the carrier will seek a deadline extension from the Federal Railroad Administration in order to operate all its trains.

Naparstek told the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials that Amtrak decided to seek the extension because of interoperability issues with other railroads that operate on Amtrak tracks and with railroads whose tracks Amtrak uses.

“When 2019 arrives, we will have our track, computer, training and locomotive PTC work complete and will be operating PTC across all of the tracks we control and across much of the host railroad network,” Naparstek said.

Naparstek said 222 of Amtrak’s 315 daily trains now operate with PTC on some or all of their routes. That figure is expected to rise to 283 by Dec. 31 when the railroad industry faces a federal deadline to implement PTC or qualify for an extension of up to two years.

Amtrak is studying how it might operate on rail lines that do not have PTC in place by next January.

Naparstek said the carrier’s goal is to continue to operate all its current routes.

“Exactly how we accomplish this will vary across our network, based on the specifics of each route,” he said. “But . . . we believe we will have strategies in place that will permit us to continue operations until operational PTC or PTC-equivalency is achieved for all our network.”

He describes the interoperability of PTC whereby the PTC equipment of one railroad works on another railroad’s routes, as a work in progress.

In a follow-up statement, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said, “The testimony makes it clear Amtrak is planning to operate the current network in the coming fiscal year, with additional safety actions for some segments, as we strive for the goal of positive train control or an equivalent on all our routes.”

That suggests that Amtrak will not discontinue operating trains that use routes that lack a fully functioning PTC system.

Naperstek also said Amtrak is working with tenant railroads on the Northeast Corridor and other Amtrak-owned lines to ensure that they are able to maintain their operations.

“Our aim is to ensure that all of our tenants have an operational system as soon as possible,” he said. “We are mindful of the impacts that any disruption of commuter service may have on the regions we serve and the potential safety consequences that could follow.”

In progress report, Naperstek said that through Sept. 10, Amtrak had installed PTC systems on  88 of its locomotives required for revenue service.

Furthermore, 122 of 142 installations have been made on 114 state-owned locomotives and cab cars that Amtrak operates or maintains.

He also said that 53 units are being tested and are PTC operable; eight of 11 installation/track segments have been completed; 132 of 140 radio towers are fully installed and equipped; all employees required to be trained in PTC operations have been trained; 607 of 901 route-miles are in PTC operation, and 480 route-miles are in testing.

Naperstek’s testimony was in contrast to the remarks of Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson during a February House Railroad Subcommittee hearing at which Anderson said Amtrak would not operate trains on lines not equipped with fully operational PTC in 2019 if its host freight railroads failed to meet the Dec. 31 interim deadline for installation. He also said that Amtrak would prohibit non-PTC-compliant equipment from operating on the lines it owns, primarily on the Northeast Corridor.

Point Defiance PTC Testing Begins

September 17, 2018

Testing began last weekend of the positive train control system on the Point Defiance Bypass in Washington State.

The route is used by commuter trains serving Seattle-Tacoma and is expected to be used by Amtrak starting next spring.

Amtrak began using the line last December but on the first day of operation a southbound Cascades train derailed near DuPont, Washington, killing three passengers.

Investigators have said the train was speeding as it entered a curve.

Amtrak officials subsequently said the carrier would use its original route between Tacoma and Nisqually, Washington, until the PTC system had been placed in service.

Texas Central Secures $300M Loan

September 17, 2018

The developers of a Texas high-speed rail passenger system have secured a $300 million loan.

Texas Central Partners will use the money to work toward getting permits for the rail line as well as engineering work.

A Dallas newspaper said the loan is being backed by financiers in Japan.

The 240-mile rail line would link Dallas and Houston and become the first privately owned high-speed train in the United States.

Texas Central has said it plans to use Japanese Shinkansen technology for the train.

“This is a loan to be paid back with interest,” the company said in a statement. “It does not change the train’s majority-Texan ownership.”

Texas Central has also received funding from investors living in Texas. The project is expected to cost between $12 billion to $15 billion.

House Committee Warns About PTC Deadline

September 17, 2018

Members of a Congressional committee spent part of a hearing last week rattling their sabers about the implementation of positive train control, saying that railroads that failed to meet a Dec. 31 deadline will face fines.

Forty railroads are required to meet the PTC deadline, which is specified by federal law. But the Federal Railroad Administration has said that nine railroads are at risk of missing the deadline or even qualifying for an extension.

“Patience is growing thin on PTC implementation,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-California, chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Massachusetts, the ranking minority member of the subcommittee, said he had no sympathy for the commuter lines that were at greatest risk.

“I don’t think you’re going to find too many open minds on this side of the table,” if railroad officials offer excuses for not complying with the law, Capuano said.

“If people are not complying, you change the business calculation,” by forcing companies to factor in financial sanctions, said Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Connecticut.

Committee members did, though, heap praise on railroads that are poised to meet the deadline and/or qualify for an extension of time to fully implement PTC.

FRA Administrator Ronald Batory said fining non-compliant railroads is a possibility, but said it would be one of many actions the FRA might take. The fines could be as much as $27,904 per day.

“I’d like not to have to use that tool. But if that’s the one you have to use in combination with everything else that we’ve invoked, I think we should do nothing less,” he said.

Batory said the FRA has begun enforcement actions against 13 railroads that had not met hardware installation deadlines set down at the end of 2017.

He said that it is important for the FRA to focus on a “concentrated, concise, collaborative communication” process to help expedite each railroad’s progress toward compliance.

Amtrak Looking to Revamp Food Service

September 14, 2018

Amtrak appears to be poised to undertake a revamp of its food services systemwide.

The passenger carrier recently issued a request for information that seeks “transformational service models and industry best practices for managed food and beverage service.”

The information netted in response to that request will be used to draft a request for proposals to create a new model for providing food and beverages that is less costly.

That could be a first step toward turning over its food and beverage service to an outside contractor.

Submissions to the request for information are due by Oct. 16.

The request for information said that Amtrak is seeking models similar to the luxury service options offered on VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian and the Rocky Mountaineer excursion service based in Canada.

Amtrak said in the request for information it is reviewing its current service model and wants to hear how the respondents “might address food and beverage service onboard all trains through examples of similar services offered elsewhere or new and innovative approaches that might fit Amtrak’s environment.”

This will include proposals for operating café/lounge cars, dining cars, and Acela First Class service with and without Amtrak employees performing the work.