Archive for November, 2018

Late Broadway Limited in Massillon

November 30, 2018

Amtrak F40PH No. 282 heads a late westbound Broadway Limited as it goes through Massillon, Ohio, on June 22, 1978.

At the time Conrail was doing quite a bit of track work, and that may have been the reason the Broadway Limited was late.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Oregon DOT Seeks Public Comment on Proposal

November 30, 2018

Public comment is being solicited by the Oregon Department of Transportation on a draft environmental impact statement concerning a proposed passenger-rail service expansion between Portland and the Eugene-Springfield area.

Public hearings will be held in December in Oregon City, Albany, Salem and Eugene. Comments can also be posted on the agency’s website through Dec. 18.

The proposal outlines two routes for the 125-mile service.

One alternative is to use the existing Amtrak Cascades route while another route would be established along Interstate 5 between Springfield and Oregon City.

Oregon transportation officials and the Federal Railroad Administration have expressed a preference for the existing Cascades route.

ODOT has been studying ways to improve the frequency, convenience, speed and reliability of intercity passenger-rail service between Portland and Eugene.

Aside from Cascades Service trains, the route also is served by the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight.

Toys For Tots Train to Run Dec. 1 in New York State

November 30, 2018

Bennett Levin’s former Pennsylvania Railroad E8A locomotives pull a private car charter train on Norfolk Southern tracks at Lowellville, Ohio, on Aug. 7, 2011.

The New York Capital Region Toys for Tots train might be the last hurrah for Bennett Levin’s Pennsylvania Railroad E8A locomotives.

Levin’s locomotives, PRR Nos. 5711 and 5809, will help pull an eight-car “South Distribution Train” on Dec. 1 from Binghamton to Delanson, New York.

This train, which is part of a U.S. Marine Corps charity program will provide gifts to children.

The train in past years has been operated as an Amtrak charter, but the passenger carrier decline to do that this year, citing its new policy prohibiting most charter operations.

The train was saved through the intervention of Levin and others. Those efforts are detailed in a column written by veteran transportation reporter Don Phillips at the Railway Age website.

The column can be found at

Levin has said that his E units will be retired from mainline travel after the completion of Saturday’s trip.

He has said he doesn’t want to invest in installing a positive train control system in the locomotives. The units are expected to be put into long-term storage.

The Toys for Tots train will operate on Norfolk Southern tracks and be led by an NS locomotive.

Other equipment is being provided by the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad and the Morristown & Erie Railroad. Amtrak has agreed to provide two baggage cars to the train.

The train schedule is: 10-10:30 a.m., Binghamton Yard; 11:45 a.m.-12:20 p.m., Bainbridge; 1:15-1:45 p.m., Oneonta; 3-3:25 Cobleskill; and 4-5:30 Delanson.

STB Wants Info From NS About PSR Implementation

November 30, 2018

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has asked management of Norfolk Southern to brief it in weekly conference calls about the progress it is making toward implementing the precision scheduled railroading operating model.

The STB held similar conference calls with CSX management in 2017 when it encountered service problems after implementing PSR and has asked Union Pacific to provide information about its move toward PSR.

STB Chairman Ann Begeman said in a letter sent to NS that the board has “strong concern about the potential dislocation that can result when a railroad makes wholesale operating changes, particularly railroads that have been confronting prolonged service challenges.”

Begeman said the STB wants to see NS avoid the type of service problems that CSX had.

NS has said it plans to implement PSR principles gradually and work with its customers in the process in order to minimize the potential for disruption.
The PSR plan is not expected to be fully implemented until sometime in 2019.

Waiting to Board One Last Time in Roanoke

November 29, 2018

A crowd of passengers waits to board Amtrak’s last eastbound Hilltopper in Roanoke, Virginia.

The date is Sept. 30, 1979, and No. 66 is making it final jaunt from remote Catlettsburg, Kentucky, to Boston by way of West Virginia and Virginia.

I rode the train from Catlettsburgh to Richmond, Virginia, before disembarking.

For much of its history, the Hilltopper was lightly patronized. So it was amazing how many people turned out to ride it on its last day.

This would not be the last passenger train in Roanoke, though. Westbound counterpart No. 67 would make its last stop here later in the day.

Also, many excursions trains, some pulled by home-built Norfolk & Western No. 611 would depart from Roanoke over the years during the two iterations of the Norfolk Southern steam program.

Amtrak itself would return to Roanoke 38 years after the demise of the Hilltopper when it extended a Northeast Regional train there in October 2017.

Perhaps some of those in this crowd were on hand to welcome Amtrak back that day.

Amtrak, MDOT at Odds Over Bridge Repairs

November 29, 2018

A conflict between Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation has halted a bridge repair project in Kalamazoo.

At issue are the northbound and southbound U.S. Route 131 bridges over KL Avenue and tracks owned by Amtrak.

MDOT spokesman Nick Schirripa said the dispute centers on a construction agreement.

He said Amtrak has been making “unreasonable” demands.

“There is some consideration being given to Amtrak here, we are going to have an impact on their railroad, that is fair. But I think it’s only fair they make reasonable requests of us. And so far, the requests Amtrak is making of MDOT are unreasonable,” Schirripa said.

One of Amtrak’s demands is a clause to let Amtrak add anything to the project they it wants and to charge MDOT for anything the passenger carrier deems necessary.

The bridge were to be replaced in 2019, but that has been moved back to 2023.

In the meantime, workers have installed netting and screens beneath the bridges to catch any falling debris.

The 55-year bridges are in fair condition but structurally deficient.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the carrier is working with MDOT to solve the dispute, but declined to offer any further information.

Schirripa said the bridges handle 50,000 vehicles a day. He said that the bridges will be closed if MDOT engineers see that the structures may be failing.

4 to Vie to be Philly Station Master Developer

November 29, 2018

Four firms have been chosen as finalists to become the master developer for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor station project in Philadelphia.

The teams are Brandywine Realty Trust: Brandywine, Pelli Clarke, Pelli Architects, WSP, CBRE; G30 Collaborative: Meridiam, Gensler, Gannett Fleming, Turner Construction, Aramark, MarketPlace, and WeWork; PHL 30 Vision LLC: JLL, FXCollaborative, AKF, Pennoni, ARUP, Jingoli, JLL Plenary Infrastructure, and PHL: Plenary, SOM, Pennoni, Arora, Urban, AKRF, Gilbane Building, Johnson Controls, Vantage, and Republic

Amtrak is seeking to update its William H. Gray III 30th Street Station by introducing new passenger amenities, enhancing retail and commercial operations, improving transit and pedestrian traffic flow, and expanding the station’s concourses to accommodate anticipated increases in ridership.

“The selection of the four teams is a significant milestone, as it represents the next step in realizing the future vision of the William H. Gray III 30th Street Station,” Amtrak Senior Program Manager Natalie Shieh said. “By partnering with the right development team, Amtrak will update this major transportation hub as a world-class gateway for the traveling public and Philadelphia.”

The Pennsylvania Railroad opened the station in 1933 at 2955 Market Street. It is Amtrak’s third-busiest station in Amtrak’s network, serving 12 million Amtrak, SEPTA and NJ Transit passengers annually.

Recent work at the station has included spending $100 million to refurbish the building facade, renovating the public restrooms, replacing elevators and escalators, and restoring the historic bronze entrance doors.

Amtrak will issue a Request for Proposals from the four teams, and award a contract in 2019.

Cuomo, Trump Meet to Discuss Gateway Project

November 29, 2018

The proposed Gateway Project in New York City may be getting a makeover following a meeting on Wednesday between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump.

Cuomo met with Trump to seek federal funding for construction of new tunnels under the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey that are used by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.

In a news conference following the meeting, Cuomo said Trump appears amendable to separating the tunnel component of Gateway from other proposed infrastructure improvements to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

The Trump administration has been loath to commit to providing a significant level of federal funding for the $30 billion Gateway project, calling it primarily a local project.

New York and New Jersey officials have in turn pointed to a commitment by the federal government to fund half of Gateway made by the Obama administration.

But the Trump administration has claimed there was no such agreement. It also has rejected an application from New York and New Jersey for a federal loan to pay for Gateway.

Some observers believe that Trump is using funding for Gateway as a bargaining chip to get other things from Congress, including funding for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Cuomo said the stalemate can be broken by “breaking the tunnel away from Gateway,” removing Amtrak’s representative from overseeing the Gateway Project Development Corporation, replacing Amtrak’s rep with a federal representative and immediately putting the project out to bid.

The latter would occur without completing an environmental impact study or having federal funding in place.

Amtrak has estimated that the cost of building the tunnel at $13 billion.

“I’m not signing the check on an Amtrak estimate. And the president’s not signing a check based on an Amtrak estimate. So we need real bids,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo described his meeting with Trump as positive and all good.

The New York Democrat has been a frequent Amtrak critic, particularly in 2017 when the passenger carrier launched a series of emergency repairs at New York’s Penn Station.

The Gateway Project dates to 2011 and calls for a new Portal Bridge and replacement of track in New Jersey.

Cuomo said building new tunnels should have a higher priority that those projects, saying the tunnels sustained severe damage from super storm Sandy in 2012.

“I’m focused on the tunnels, number one from a safety point of view, number two, if we lose one of those tunnels, lose use of the tunnel, it will have a devastating impact,” he said, noting that the failure of the current link would cut off New York and Boston from points south, and impact a fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product. “You’re talking about economic catastrophic circumstances if these tunnels fail.”

Reservation Agents to be Offered Relocation Option

November 29, 2018

Amtrak said it will offer employees in the soon to be closed reservations center in Riverside, California, an opportunity to relocate to another center across the country.

The Riverside reservation center is set to close on Jan. 18, 2019, and Amtrak has said that its operations will be consolidated at another center located in Philadelphia.

An Amtrak spokesman said the carrier is negotiating with union representatives a relocation package.

Although terms of that package remain unsettled, the spokesman said Amtrak can accommodate all of the 500 employees in Riverside if they chose to move and that they will receive the same pay and benefits if they take jobs in Philadelphia.

Amtrak had told the employees earlier this month that it will “will work with each employee individually to review their options going forward, which may include transferring to Philadelphia or pursuing open Amtrak positions, as their union contract permits.”

Amtrak Offering 99 Cars for Sale or Donation

November 29, 2018

Amtrak plans to offer another 99 passenger and baggage cars for sale, although some might end up being donated to museums or preservation groups.

The cars have been deemed surplus by the passenger carrier include 19 heritage dining cars, which Amtrak began retiring in 2015.

Also up for sale or donation are 51 baggage cars, seven refrigerated express cars, four Hi-level coaches and 18 crew dormitory cars.

The baggage cars were built between 1946 and 1962 while the Hi-level coaches date to 1956 when they were built by Budd for use on Santa Fe’s El Capitan.

The crew dorms are former Union Pacific 10-roomette, six bedrooms sleepers while the express cars were used by ExpressTrak in the late 1990s during a time when Amtrak was actively seeking to boost its mail and express business.

Amtrak said it will consider donating some of the cars to museums or preservation groups that submit a letter “stating the reason for the donation request and the intended use of the equipment should the donation be granted.”

Trains magazine reported that Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the “donation requests will be evaluated within the finance department.”

Magliari would not say what criteria will be used to decide what donation proposals will be accepted or rejected, particularly when there are competing proposals.

The cars will be available for inspection starting next week at the Beech Grove Heavy Maintenance Facility near Indianapolis.

However, the refrigerated express cars and one crew dormitory are being stored elsewhere.

All cars are being sold or donated in an “as is-where is” basis with Amtrak saying it will off no performance guarantees nor will it agree to  perform any work required to make the cars acceptable for interchange by a freight carrier.

Amtrak also said the equipment may not leave the property in Amtrak service and must be removed or scrapped on site within 90 days of the transfer of ownership.

The closing date for bids or requests for donations is Jan. 4, 2019.