Archive for February, 2019

Carolinian at Raleigh

February 27, 2019

Back in June 1996 the National Railway Historical Society held its annual convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

One of the excursions planned for the convention was a rare mileage trip on CSX toward the coast. But it fell through due in part to CSX opposition.

That left me with a day open for which there might have been a scheduled alternative activity, but I don’t recall.

Instead, I created my own excursion riding Amtrak’s Carolinian to and from Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

There was enough time at Raleigh to get off the train and make a few photographs, including this one.

Amtrak has since moved to another station in North Carolina’s capitol city.

Fallen Trees Strand Coast Starlight 3 Days

February 27, 2019

Fallen trees created a chain of events that led to an ordeal for Coast Starlight passengers last weekend that lasted for three days.

The southbound Coast Starlight was halted near Oakridge, Oregon, after trees fell on Union Pacific rails in southern Oregon.

That occurred on Sunday but it wasn’t until Tuesday that the passengers were moved to Eugene with Union Pacific ES44AC No. 5478 pulling the train there.

The lead locomotive of the Starlight struck a tree and became disabled at about 6:19 p.m on Sunday.

Closed highways precluded evacuating the stranded passengers, but the train continued to have head end power for lights and heat for the 184 passengers.

Heavy snow also had to be plowed from nine miles of track before the Starlight could be moved back to Eugene.

Amtrak said during the time the Starlight was stranded it had ample food and beverages and that passengers received complimentary meals.

It is Amtrak’s practice to stock trains with an emergency food supply in the event of a situation such as this.

However, passengers who contacted news media organizations via cell phone reported that the food had run out by Tuesday morning.

The UP rescue locomotive had arrived on Monday night.

“We sincerely regret the extended delay customers on the southbound Coast Starlight experienced due to extreme weather issues while traveling with Amtrak,” said Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek in a statement to Trains magazine.

“With more than a foot of heavy snow and numerous trees blocking the track, we made every decision in the best interest of the safety of our customers during the unfortunate sequence of events.

“With local power outages and blocked roads, it was decided the safest place for our customers was to remain on the train where we were able to provide food, heat, electricity and toilets.”

Naparstek said Amtrak will offer the stranded passengers refunds “and other compensation as appropriate.”

In the meantime, the Coast Starlight that left Los Angeles on Sunday was held at Dunsmuir, California.

Amtrak later sent that train back to Los Angeles with its passengers still on board. It reached Los Angeles at 4:45 a.m. on Tuesday.

The scheduled northbound departure of the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles was cancelled.

Some passengers affected by the service disruption were rebooked on San Joaquins, Pacific Surfliners, Capitols, or Thruway buses.

On Tuesday and Wednesday the Starlight was to operate between Los Angeles and Sacramento, California.

Amtrak Cascades trains did not operate between Portland and Eugene due to a fire on a BNSF bridge over the Columbia River on Tuesday.

SW Chief, Builder Have Rough Weekends

February 27, 2019

Heavy snow and a freight train derailment hindered operations this week of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief and Empire Builder.

The Empire Builder in both directions was delayed more than 10 hours after a Canadian Pacific freight train derailed near Tomah, Wisconsin, on Sunday.

No. 8 was already seven hours late when it was held another seven hours in La Crosse, Wisconsin, until the derailment could be cleared. It finally reached Chicago after 9 a.m. on Monday.

No. 7 was held at Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. By the time it passed the derailment site it was 11 hours behind schedule.

The Empire Builders that were to originate on Monday in Chicago and on the West Coast were canceled.

Heavy snow that fell in Flagstaff, Arizona, didn’t lead to any cancellations of the Southwest Chief, but Nos. 3 and 4 encountered delays of two hours fighting their way through the conditions.

Flagstaff received three feet of snow, which officials said was a record for the most snowfall in a single day.

Although not related to the Arizona storm, mechanical issues delayed the departure of No. 3 Friday Chicago on Sunday for 7.5 hours.

Rising Amtrak Fees Prompt New River Train Cancellation

February 27, 2019

Amtrak’s changing practices pertaining to private rail cars have claimed another victim, the New River Train.

The Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society said this week that it will not operate the train this year due to high fees demanded by Amtrak.

The excursions have operated for 52 years, usually between Huntington and Hinton, West Virginia, during two weekends in October.

Trains magazine reported that the society said Amtrak jacked up its fees to operate the train by 9.6 percent two weeks after it gave the organization a price quote in January operate the service.

Society officials decided that the fees would make it uneconomical to run the excursion this year.

Amtrak said rising labor costs attributed to its increasing its initial price quote.

The 2018 New River Train lost more than $100,000, which society officials attributed to Amtrak’s raising fees after the trip had been announced.

The 2018 trip had been budgeted based on Amtrak’s published Oct. 1, 2017, tariffs.

The New River Train was the last scheduled mainline passenger operation in the United States. Earlier this year the last scheduled steam mainline excursion, the Denver Post train to Cheyenne, Wyoming, over Union Pacific rails, was canceled for this year.

The New River Train typically carried 4,800 passengers in 30-car consists. Many of those cars were privately owned rail cars.

At various times during its five-decade run the New River Train was pulled by steam locomotives, including Nickel Plate Road No. 765, Milwaukee Road No. 261, Chesapeake & Ohio No. 614, and Pere Marquette No. 1225.

The train provides an estimated $8 million annual economic benefit to West Virginia, particularly to Hinton where it lays over during its daylight run.

Society officials said they hope the suspension of the New River Train is only temporary.

Waiting Room Hours Expand in Alton

February 27, 2019

Amtrak has expanded the hours that the waiting room is open at its station in Alton, Illinois.

The waiting room in the Alton Regional Multimodal Transportation center will now be open until 7 p.m. Previously, it had closed at 4:30 p.m.

Passengers were still able to board trains after the waiting room closed, but often had to stand in the cold if they were waiting for the last train of the day to Chicago.

The waiting room opens at 5 a.m. for the station that is served by Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Another change was the reinstatement of checked baggage and small package shipping service for the Texas Eagle riders.

Checked baggage had ended upon the closure of the College Avenue station more than a year ago.

The City of Alton has agreed to provide security for the station in the evenings.

Early Bridge Work Completed in New Jersey

February 27, 2019

Early construction work has been completed on a bridge in New Jersey used by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.

In a news release, NJ Transit said that is has completed early construction work on the Portal North Bridge replacement program.

The work was funded by a $16 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant and a $4 million contribution from New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund.

The work included installation of new fiber optic poles, construction of a utility protection structure, construction of a finger pier to support future construction activities, installation of two high voltage transmission poles, and construction of a retaining wall west of Secaucus Junction to support the new bridge alignment.

The commuter agency said the remaining construction of the 2.3 mile-long bridge project will begin following the U.S. Department of Transportation’s approval of a funding application that NJ Transit submitted last year.

The new bridge will increase NJ Transit’s capacity by 10 percent and allow trains to move faster and more reliably over the Hackensack River.

Texas Central Hires Advisers

February 27, 2019

Texas Central had hired Citi and MUFG to serve as its  financial advisers and lead capital-raising activities.

The two firms will help Texas Central acquire financing across debt and equity to finance a privately funded high-speed rail service between Houston and North Texas.

In a news release, Texas Central said that Citi will serve as the sole global coordinator and lead financial adviser, while MUFG will be a co-global financial adviser.

Still No Date for Reopening Clemson Amtrak Station

February 25, 2019

South Carolina officials are still unsure when the Amtrak station in Clemson will be able to reopen.

It closed in 2016 due to a bridge project that remains ongoing. The South Carolina Department of Transportation is replacing a bridge carrying State Route 133 over Norfolk Southern tracks used by Amtrak’s Crescent in Clemson.

State officials denied that the station had been expected to reopen by July 2018. Since the station closed, Clemson passengers have been riding a shuttle to nearby Greenville to board the Crescent, which operates between New York and New Orleans.

As part of the bridge project, the station platform is also being rebuilt. The bridge project began in 2014.

A SCDOT engineer working on the project said that the state is waiting on NS to finish constructing a new track that will be located adjacent to the rebuilt platform.

After that work is completed, a contractor will finish the project, including finishing waterproofing and bridge beam painting.

SCDOT said it plans to meet with NS officials on March 1 to discuss when the railroad expects to finish its track work.

Trial Begins in Case of Truck Driver Struck by Amtrak Train that Carried GOP Congressmen in January 2018

February 25, 2019

A Virginia court began hearing evidence on Monday in the trial of a truck driver charged in connection with a Jan. 31, 2018, crash involving a chartered Amtrak taking Republican members of Congress to a political retreat in West Virginia.

Dana William Naylor Jr., the driver of the truck, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and maiming while driving under the influence in connection with the incident that left one passenger in the truck dead and another seriously injured.

Prosecutors said in court that Naylor drove the truck around downed crossing gates on tracks operated by the Buckingham Branch Railroad near Crozet.

Albemarle County assistant commonwealth’s attorney Juan L. Vega said in his opening statement that Naylor was impaired by THC, typically derived from marijuana, at the time of the collision.

Vega said that after the collision Naylor told EMTs called to the scene that he had tried to beat the train and that “his life was over.”

Defense attorney William Tanner countered that the crash was a “horrible tragedy,” but that Naylor had not tried to drive around the crossing gates.

Rather, Tanner said, the crossing gates came down on the truck as it passed over the crossing and that Naylor panicked when he was unable to drive around the gate on the other side of the crossing.

Tanner contended that video evidence of the collision will support that argument and that Naylor’s conduct was not a crime.

During Monday’s proceedings, three witnesses testified about Naylor’s behavior at the scene of the collision after it occurred.

EMT Emma Freeauf said she treated Naylor who repeatedly asked about the condition of his coworkers.

She also testified that Naylor said he “tried to beat the train” and that the collision “was all his fault.”

Nayor and the two other men in the truck, which was hauling garbage, were all employees of the same company.

No one aboard the chartered Amtrak train, which was following the route used by Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal, were injured.

Ashville May Get Amtrak Bus Connection

February 25, 2019

North Carolina lawmakers are considering funding a bus connection from Asheville, North Carolina to the Amtrak network.

The transportation committee of the House of Representatives is considering two-year program to spend $890,000 for the bus connection between Asheville and Salisbury, which is served by Amtrak’s Piedmont Service, Carolinian and Crescent.

Asheville regional public officials are hoping that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will agree to the funding.

If the funding is approved, the bus connection could begin in 2020. Longer term, Asheville interests hope to see a rail connection established.

Asheville was served by the Southern Railway until that service ended in 1975.