Archive for December, 2018

Amtrak, Union Agree on Call Center Worker Benefits

December 23, 2018

Amtrak and the labor union representing employees at a reservations call center in California have reached an agreement on a benefits package for those employees after the center closes next month.

The Transportation Communications Union, which represents 500 workers in the Riverside, California, call center, said the package will include a range of options.

However, few details of the agreement have been released.

The agreements calls for some moving expenses to be paid for workers taking jobs at another calls center in Philadelphia. Those opting not to move will receive severance pay.

The California call center is scheduled to close on Jan. 18, 2019.

“This new agreement will help make sure that all union Riverside employees will have a broad range of options to help them meet their individual needs,” Amtrak spokesperson Olivia Irvin said. “The agreement includes full-time employment opportunities with Amtrak in Philadelphia, and more substantial allowances for relocation or voluntary separation.”

She said efforts will be made to find employees other job opportunities in California with Amtrak or another employer.

Jack Dinsdale, national vice president of the union, confirmed that a deal had been reached declined to discuss it became union members had not yet been briefed on it, a process not expected to conclude until after Christmas.

Utah Advocates Pushing for More Rail Service

December 23, 2018

The Utah Rail Passengers Association is pushing to expand intercity rail service within the state, including to Moab, Utah.

They have proposed a new Amtrak route that would link the Wasatch Front north to Logan, southwest to Cedar City and southeast to Grand Junction, Colorado.

Moab would need to be served via a bus from Green River, Utah, but Utah advocates say they can see Moab eventually being connected by rail.

Currently the only intercity rail passenger service in Utah is the California Zephyr which serves Green River, Helper, Provo and Salt Lake City.


Berkshire Flyer Group Already Seeking Brand Identity

December 23, 2018

The train isn’t expected to begin until 2020, but members of the Berkshire Flyer committee are already brainstorming ideas for branding the service, transporting passengers who arrive in Pittsfield, and fretting about whether the train will operate on time as it travels CSX tracks.

The Berkshire Flyer is expected to begin seasonal weekend trial service between New York City and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with funding from the state.

It is expected to make the trip in 3.5 hours and offer a fare of $80 one way.

Trains would depart New York on Fridays at 2:20 p.m. and arriving in Pittsfield at 6:10 p.m.

The Sunday train will depart Pittsfield at 2:45 p.m. and arrive in New York at 6:45 p.m.

Pittsfield is already a stop for Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and Boston and some on the committee are already concerned that the Berkshire Flyer might run late as Nos. 448 and 449 often do.

But the primary issue that the committee is seeking to tackle is transportation for those who arrive from New York by rail.

Pittsfield has limited public transportation, including taxi service and rental car options.

The city of Pittsfield has said it will provide space for Enterprise Rent-A-Car vehicles.

Another option is to make use of such ride-share services as Zipcar, Uber and Lyft.

Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority’s Robert Malnati said the authority has applied for grants to create different routes.

Berkshire Regional Planning Commission member Anuja Koirala also has been examining transportation options and said Transport the People is willing to carry passengers from the Intermodal Center in Pittsfield to other points.

Committee member Jonathan Butler, president and CEO of 1Berkshire, expects ride-share options to increase, saying that during the peak season there is relatively decent Uber service in the more metro areas of the Berkshires during the day.

But one issue is that it is unclear where in the Berkshires most of those riding the Berkshire Flyer will want to go.

The Berkshire Flyer is expected to use existing Amtrak routes, including that of the Lake Shore Limited between Pittsfield and Albany-Rensselaer, New York, and the Empire Corridor into New York City.

Arizona Group Pushing Brightline-Type Service

December 23, 2018

An Arizona rail passenger advocate group is renewing its push to launch service between between Phoenix and Tucson by looking toward the private sector.

All Aboard Arizona is hoping to drum up interest in a Brightline type of rail commuter service between the state’s two largest cities as an alternative to driving on Interstate 10.

The group said the proposed service would cost $6 billion to develop. Money to pay for that would have to come from the state’s general fund because the Arizona Constitution prohibits funds raised by fees or taxes on motor vehicles from being used for any use other than streets and highways.

However, Anthony Trifiletti, the executive director of AAE, said the political climate in the state is hostile toward using money from the general fund for rail service, hence the effort to entice Brightline into the state.

Brightline operates rail service in Florida and has announced plans to develop a route between Las Vegas and Southern California.

“Our goal is to become the next one that they have an interest in, because this is something that can be done without state money,” Trifiletti said.

Trifiletti said a dedicated rail service would make the trip between Phoenix and Tucson in two hours, 15 minutes, which he said is competitive with driving and “a lot less stressful.”

Brightline officials plan to visit Arizona next spring to determine interest in offering rail service there.

The last rail passenger service between Phoenix and Tucson was Amtrak’s tri-weekly Sunset Limited.

Nos. 1 and 2 continue to service Tucson on their trek between New Orleans and Los Angeles, but were rerouted away from Phoenix to a more southerly route on June 2, 1996.

Amtrak operates a Thruway bus route between Phoenix and Maricopa, Arizona, that also stops in Tempe, a Phoenix suburb that is home to Arizona State University, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

All Aboard Arizona has lobbied Amtrak to increase the frequency of the Sunset Limited to daily operation and to restore service to Phoenix.

The cost of upgrading the route between Maricopa and Phoenix has been estimated to be at least $500 million.

If Brightline were to show an interest in establishing service in Arizona, Tifiletti said it would take three years to get the trails rolling.

Shutdown Does Not Yet Affect Amtrak

December 22, 2018

The partial shutdown of the federal government that began at midnight on Dec. 22 will not affect Amtrak for the time being.

The passenger carrier will continue to operate with cash on hand and revenue that it continues to take in.

Some federal employees will be furloughed while others will work without pay because their jobs are considered to be essential.

Of the 420,000 government employees who will remain on the job despite not receiving a paycheck are 53,000 Transportation Security Administration  employees and 54,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and customs offers.

About 30 percent of those working for the U.S. Department of Transportation are expected to be furloughed, which is 18,300 workers.

Lake Shore Limited State of the Art 2010

December 22, 2018

Amtrak’s westbound Lake Shore Limited rolls through Palmer, Massachusetts, on May 22, 2010, showing the look that it had in the second decade of the 21st century.

No. 449 doesn’t look a whole lot different from its current appearance save for the presence of a Heritage fleet baggage car.

The Heritage baggage car has since been replaced by a Viewliner baggage car that starting in early January 2019 will no longer operate on Nos. 448 and 449.

Boston LSL Section to Lose Check Baggage Service

December 22, 2018

Checked baggage service will end on the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited on Jan. 7, 2019.

That will leave Northeast Regional Nos. 65, 66 and 67 as the only trains serving Boston South Station with checked baggage service.

Affected by the change to Nos. 448 and 449 will be passengers traveling to South Station and stations in Massachusetts in Worcester and Springfield.

Amtrak’s national carry-on baggage policy limits passengers to two bags not exceeding 50 pounds each plus two personal items not exceeding 25 pounds each.

The New York section of the Lake Shore Limited will continue offering checked baggage service between Chicago and New York and at select intermediate stations.

Amtrak Use of Point Defiance Bypass Unlikely Soon

December 22, 2018

Washington State transportation officials say it will be late spring 2019 at the earliest before Amtrak service resumes on a route where a derailment that left three dead occurred on the first day of service on the route.

The 14.5-mile Point Defiance bypass was to be used by Amtrak and Sounder commuter trains south of Tacoma, Washington, and away from the long-used route next to Puget Sound.

But on the morning of Dec. 18, 2017, Cascades No. 501 derailed on a curve near DuPont, Washington.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators have said the train was traveling nearly 80 mph as it entered a 30-mph curve.

The accident ramped up the calls for installation of positive train control systems on routes used by passenger trains.

PTC has since been installed on the Point Defiance route and been undergoing testing and crew training this year.

A Washington State Department of Transportation official told Trains magazine that revenue service on the Point Defiance route is not expected until late spring at the earliest.

“We do not have a specific date yet for our return to the Point Defiance Bypass,” says Janet Matkin, WSDOT communications manager.

The spokesperson indicated that officials are awaiting the release of the final NTSB report on the Cascades 501 crash. The NTSD has said its investigation is about two-third completed.

Investigators are examining a number of areas, including the crashworthiness of the Tago equipment used in Cascades service, the emergency response to the crash and Amtrak’s decision to begin using the Point Defiance Bypass before PTC had been installed.

WSDOT has said that PTC has now been installed over the entire length of the Cascades corridor between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Eugene, Oregon.

A lawsuit filed after the derailment contends that Amtrak failed to adequately train employees before revenue service began.

Amtrak has denied that charge, but is defending itself in 35 lawsuits stemming from the crash.

Climate Change Could Endanger Amtrak’s NEC

December 22, 2018

Climate change could lead to rising water that could endanger Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in several locations a report prepared for Amtrak has found.

The report was completed in April 2017 and obtained by Bloomberg News through a public records request.

The news agency said it obtained a partially redacted copy of the report, which said a significant risk could occur in a 10-mile stretch near Wilmington, Delaware, adjacent to the Delaware River.

Amtrak’s Consolidated Operations Center is also at risk because it is located near the Christina River.

The report is titled Amtrak NEC Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and recommends the construction of temporary flood barriers that can be installed in advance of a storm and removed afterward.

The cost of those walls was put at $24 million per track mile. The estimated expense of protecting the NEC in Wilmington was found to be $78 million.

Other potential trouble spots in the NEC include New Haven, Connecticut; New York and New Jersey.

In November, Bloomberg quoted Stephen Gardner, Amtrak executive vice president and chief commercial officer as saying, “We don’t see any fundamental risks to the integrity of the corridor.”

Report Targets Federal Funding of Amtrak, FTA

December 22, 2018

A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office targeted federal funding of the Federal Transit Administration and Amtrak.

The report said the federal government would save $127 billion from 2021 through 2028 by ending funding of the FTA and save $19.8 billion in projected federal spending by not funding Amtrak.

The report drew a rebuke from the American Public Transportation Association.

“Eliminating federal funding for public transportation will drastically reduce mobility and job opportunities for Americans and will make our country less competitive,” said Paul P. Skoutelas, president of APTA.

The nonpartisan budget office said the case against the FTA is that public transit systems serve local or regional riders and should be financed at the local or state level.

However, it also presented a counter-argument that stated, “without continued federal funding, transit services would be trimmed and systems would deteriorate, leading to increased road use, with its attendant problems of traffic congestion, accidents, and emissions of local air pollutants and greenhouse gases.”

In arguing in favor of ending funding for Amtrak, the budget office noted that Amtrak funding was originally viewed as a temporary move “intended to help Amtrak become self-supporting.”

However, the report said ending Amtrak’s federal funding would cause hardship for passengers who rely on intercity trains.

It went on to say ending federal support for Amtrak “could undermine the future viability of passenger rail service in the United States.”

The budget report was created to offer policy options to reduce the growing federal budget deficit.

Ending support for Amtrak and the FTA was on a list of 121 cuts, many of which are not expected to be made due to lack of political support for the cuts.