Archive for November, 2018

Kansas Firm Admits Negligence in SW. Chief Wreck

November 29, 2018

A court trail over the 2016 derailment of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief in Kansas has been canceled after an agriculture company conceded that one of its truck was maintained negligently, causing it to runaway and damage the BNSF tracks used by the train.

Cimarron Crossing Feeders admitted one of its trucks caused the derailment because an employee was negligent in not setting its brakes.

The truck, which was unattended when it broke loose, rolled downhill and struck the rails. The incident occurred near Cimarron, Kansas.

In a previous ruling, a federal judge determined that there was no legal fault on the part of Amtrak or BNSF for the March 14, 2016, derailment.

The train was traveling 60 mph when it hit a kink in the track. The derailment resulted in injuries to 28 passengers and crew members.

Amtrak and BNSF said the derailment caused $1.4 in damage.

Amtrak Performed Well Overall During Holiday Period

November 29, 2018

Amtrak performed reasonably well in winter weather conditions in Chicago during the Thanksgiving travel period, Trains magazine reported.

On the day before Thanksgiving 28 of the 32 trains departed on time with just one significant delay.

The Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois, Saluki was two hours tardy leaving from Union Station due to a mechanical problem with the equipment.

Trains reported that three other delayed trains were prompted by an ambitious turn of equipment arriving on late inbound trains.

Primarily, this occurred with extra holiday trains operating on the Wolverine Service, Pere Marquette, Lincoln Service and Chicago-Quincy, Illinois, routes.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving Amtrak trains largely departed without incident despite blizzard conditions in Chicago.

The Illinois Zephyr left 26 minutes late when it’s equipment arrived later than scheduled on an extra move from Quincy.

A locomotive compressor failure that occurred on Lincoln Service train No. 304 near Dwight, Illinois, led to that train being combined with No. 306 to complete the trip to Chicago.

Amtrak extra cars to some trains. The Blue Water had six coaches and two business-class cars. The Texas Eagle operated with an additional coach between Chicago and St. Louis.

Amtrak elected not to add a fifth coach to the Empire Builder between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Falling Ridership Doesn’t Deter Iowa Rail Advocates

November 26, 2018

Despite falling Amtrak ridership in the state, Iowa rail passenger advocates are pressing ahead with proposals for additional service.

The advocates have been pushing for intercity rail service to Iowa City and Des Moines, both cities that have never had rail passenger service in the Amtrak era.

The last trains to those cities were operated by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific and had been discontinued before Amtrak began operations on May 1, 1971.

The last train to Des Moines was the May 31, 1970, trip of the Corn Belt Rocket between Chicago and Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Rock Island continued passenger trains through late 1978 between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois.

The Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers wants to see new routes established between Chicago and Omaha via Des Moines and Iowa City; and a Minneapolis/St. Paul-Kansas City route via Des Moines.

Since 1981, Iowa’s only intercity passenger service has been to the southern third of the state where Amtrak stops at six stations.

Five of those stations are served by the Chicago-Emeryville California Zephyr while a sixth station, Fort Madison, is a stop for the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Between 1974 and 1981, Amtrak’s Black Hawk originated and terminated in Dubuque, Iowa.

That service was largely paid for by the State of Illinois, which funded it to East Dubuque, Illinois.

But the lack of service facilities in East Dubuque resulted in the train crossing the Mississippi River to Dubuque.

Ridership figures provided by Amtrak show that 57,955 boarded its trains in Iowa during fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 20.

That’s a decline of more than 4 percent from FY 2017 and nearly 16 percent off Iowa’s record year for Amtrak ridership of 68,744 in 2010.

During FY 2018, Amtrak said ridership in Iowa by station was Burlington, 8,668; Mount Pleasant, 12,584; Ottumwa: 11,043; Osceola, 16,064; Creston, 3,745; and Fort Madison, 5,891.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Des Moines Register  that problems with on-time performance and stable gasoline prices at less than $3 a gallon have probably hurt Amtrak ridership in Iowa.

“Our competition, for the most part, is driving, and as people buy newer cars that get better mileage, part of me wonders if people aren’t finding themselves driving because their cars are higher performing than they were 10 years ago,” Magliari said.

The Iowa Department of Transportation said traffic volume on the state’s highways has risen in recent years as use of public transportation has fallen.

Christopher Krebill, interim president of the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers, argues that Amtrak also is to blame for falling ridership.

He said the passenger carrier has removed all of its ticket agents from Iowa.

“There are still people who come into the station wanting to buy a ticket and who maybe have never ridden Amtrak before,” Krebill said. “When there is no ticket agent, there is really no one there to answer questions and tell people how to get on a train and where to get on a train.”

Landing additional trains is likely to Iowa going to require state funding, which might be a hard sell.

Iowa policy makers have rebuffed previous proposals to fund service to the state from Chicago, including extending the Black Hawk west of Dubuque.

In the meantime, Illinois officials have resumed work toward creating new services that will come close to Iowa, including a Chicago-Quad Cities route and a resumption of service on the former Black Hawk route.

Krebill said there is interest in Iowa in passenger rail, especially in central Iowa, but that will require support from the state’s department of transportation and state legislators.

Proposed Bar Next to Amtrak Station Raises Concerns

November 26, 2018

Plans to establish a bar with a limited restaurant menu next to the Amtrak station in Effingham, Illinois, have raised a few eyebrows.

The proposed bar, which would be known as Jennie’s Place, would be located in a former Illinois Central baggage and express building that is also used by Amtrak.

The bar would be located in the south half of the building. Amtrak uses the north half.

Plans for the establishment sparked a lively conversation at a recent Effingham City Council meeting. The council, though, has not yet acted on a request for a liquor license that was filed by Jennifer and Robert Howell

The bar would have live entertainment and, possibly, a few video gaming machines.

It would be open late at night but closed on Sunday. Jennifer Howell told the council that she expects to draw business from Amtrak patrons or those waiting to pick up passengers coming to town by rail.

“We want to have a place for the people who are waiting for the Amtrak train, or those getting off the train, so they can have some place warm to go and sit – or wait and eat, while they are waiting on their loved ones to get off the train,” she said.

The bar would have seating for 30 inside and seating for 12 in an outdoor area that would be fenced off with the only entrance and exit being through the business.

Effingham Mayor Jeff Bloemker said the city wanst to see economic development in the area near the station, but expressed concern about the bar’s close proximity to active rail lines of Canadian National and CSX.

“There has been hope that someone would come along and invest in that area,” Bloemker said. “It is admirable, but it is a tricky area.”

Commissioner Don Althoff asked about parking because, he said, it is his understanding that Amtrak passengers take up most parking in the area.

But the Howells said there should be enough parking in a nearby gravel lot.

Effingham Police Chief Jeff Fuesting called for additional signs being placed in the area to warn bar patrons about oncoming trains.

“I would want to ask about the lighting and the height of the fence and proximity to the tracks,” Fuesting said. “I would just want to ensure that nobody accidentally steps out in front a train, or gets confused where the parking lot is located, and something of that nature.”

Effingham is served by Amtrak’s City of New Orleans and two pairs of Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois trains, the Illini and Saluki.

The latter two trains are funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Rome Station Set to Reopen in December

November 26, 2018

The Amtrak station in Rome, New York, is expected to reopen by Christmas after the city performed temporary repairs.

The station has been closed since July 4 when a portion of the ceiling in the platform access tunnel collapsed.

State funding helped pay for the repairs to the facility, which is owned by the City of Rome.

Those repairs are being described as temporary but will enable the station to operate until a longer-term repair is performed.

Amtrak had been directing Rome passengers to use the station in Utica, New York.

Rome is served by two daily New York to Niagara Falls round-trip Empire Service trains and the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf.

FRA Issues New High-Speed Rail Rules

November 26, 2018

A final rule recent issued by the Federal Railroad Administration is expected to enable high-speed passenger trains to use existing railroad infrastructure.

The agency described the rule as seeking to promote safe and efficient operation of high-speed rail while also alleviating the cost of building new rail lines.

Under the rule, Tier III passenger trains can operate over the shared track at conventional speeds and as fast as 220 mph in areas with exclusive rights of way and without grade crossings.

The rule establishes minimum safety standards for Tier III trains, focusing on core, structural and critical system design criteria.

In a news release FRA officials said the rule will improve safety because of expected improvements made by the railroads to accommodate the operation of high-speed rail equipment in shared rights of way.

It is also expected to save more than $475 million in net regulatory costs.

“These new regulations were made possible by a wealth of FRA research, reinforcing our unwavering commitment to safety,” said FRA Administrator Ronald Batory. “FRA’s safety experts solicited input from industry stakeholders at numerous levels and took those ideas to develop standards supporting a new era in public transportation.”

Previous federal regulation gave U.S. rail companies limited procurement options or forced them to seek waivers from regulations to use newer technologies.

The FRA continues to define Tier I trains as those operating in shared rights-of-way at speeds up to 125 mph.

It also allows “state-of-the-art” alternative designs for equipment operating at those conventional speeds. Tier II trains are defined as those traveling 125-160 mph, an increase from the previous 150 mph limit.

No Injuries in Adirondack Separation

November 26, 2018

Amtrak officials are still seeking a cause as to why the southbound Adirondack separated at speed last week.

The incident occurred on Nov. 21 in Stuyvesant, New York. There were no injuries to any of the 287 passengers and crew aboard the train.

In a statement, Amtrak said the separation occurred between the first and second passenger cars of the six-car train.

The statement said emergency brakes immediately activated and brought the train to a halt.

However, the Albany Times-Union reported that a passenger said two of the separated cars were gaining speed until another passenger used an emergency brake to stop the cars.

Another media report said the National National Transportation Safety Board will not investigate the incident because there were no injuries and the train did not derail.

FRA Issues Advisory on Signal Suspension Operations

November 26, 2018

A collision earlier this year involving Amtrak’s Silver Star has helped lead to the issuance by the Federal Railroad Administration of a safety advisory for railroads operating under temporary signal suspensions.

The voluntary safety advisory recommends that railroads develop and implement procedures and practices consistent with identified “best practices,” and take other actions to ensure the safety of railroad operations during temporary signal suspensions.

Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star was mistakenly routed into a siding at Cayce, South Carolina, on Feb. 4, where it collided head-on with a parked CSX auto rack train.

Killed in the collision were the engineer and conductor of the Amtrak train while 115 passengers were injured.

Although federal investigators have yet to issue a final probable cause finding on the accident, the FRA indicated that a CSX crew reported to a train dispatcher that the switch had been lined correctly when in fact it had not been restored to its normal position as required by federal regulation and CSX’s own operating rules.

The advisory published last week in the Federal Register came after the FRA solicited comments from at Amtrak, freight railroads, rail labor organizations and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Railroads Continue to Make PTC Progress, FRA Says

November 26, 2018

The latest positive train control implementation report by the Federal Railroad Administration shows that just five railroads are at risk of missing a Dec. 31 deadline with all five of them passenger operations.

The at-risk railroads as of Sept. 30 are Amtrak, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Altamont Corridor Express, New Jersey Transit and Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain).

The FRA said those carriers own or control about 1,302 of the 58,000 route miles subject to the PTC mandate.

In its latest report, the FRA said 24 railroads had installed all of their system hardware, 11 others had installed between 95 percent and 99 percent of the required hardware, and all railroads have acquired sufficient radio spectrum.

In a news release the FRA said more than three dozen freight and commuter railroads qualify for a two-year deadline extension because they have met statutory regulations.

The FRA considers any railroad that has installed less than 95 percent of system hardware to be at risk of not meeting either the Dec. 31, or the statutory extension criteria.

At the end of the third quarter of 2018, the FRA said, PTC was in operation on 71 percent of freight railroads’ required route miles and 26 percent of commuter railroads’ required route miles.

New Las Vegas Rail Service Plan Surfaces

November 26, 2018

A private company has revived an earlier idea to offer intercity rail passenger service between Southern California and Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Railway Express said it plans to acquire and rebuild Bombardier commuter rail passenger cars that it will operate between Las Vegas and San Bernardino, California, on Union Pacific and BNSF tracks.

The company had in 2013 proposed a similar service known as X Train.

The latest idea could get underway next year, the company said.

The route has been without intercity rail service since May 1997 when Amtrak discontinued is Desert Wind, which carried through cars between Chicago and Los Angeles.

The cars were conveyed between Chicago and Salt Lake City on the California Zephyr.

Michael Barron, who is leading Las Vegas Railway Express, told Trains magazine that he has yet to reach agreements with the Class 1 railroads involved as well as the Las Vegas’ Plaza Hotel and Casino where Amtrak once had a station.

If the service materializes, Barron expects to operate a weekly round trip that would leave San Bernardino around noon on Friday and return late Sunday afternoon.

Connections are expected to be available in San Bernardino with Metrolink commuter trains.

Barron told Trains that Metrolink has 56 stations and 12 million existing riders and is looking for opportunities to promote weekend traffic.

The 226-mile trip to Las Vegas is expected to take 4½ hours even though UP and Amtrak passenger trains didn’t cover that distance in less than five hours.