Archive for March, 2019

River Runners to be Restored on Monday

March 30, 2019

Amtrak will restore operation of the Missouri River Runners between St. Louis and Kansas City on Monday.

Nos. 311, 313, 314, 316 had been suspended for the past two weeks due to freight train congestion on their route.

Flooding in Missouri, Iowa and Nebraskas had led to surge in freight traffic using the former Missouri Pacific mainline between Missouri’s two largest cities.

Amtrak agreed to replace the trains with chartered bus service after UP said Union Pacific said it would be unable to handle the trains in a timely matter.

Flooding has washed out some routes in the Midwest but the no washouts have been reported on the St. Louis-Kansas City line, which follows the Missouri River in part.

California Zephyr to Resume Operating to Chicago

March 30, 2019

The California Zephyr will return to its normal route between Chicago and Denver next week, but will bypass the Omaha, Nebraska, station through late April.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that trips originating March 30 from Emeryville, California, and on April 1 from Chicago use most of the normal route east of Denver.

Nos. 5 and 6 will detour in Omaha because the regular route over the Platte River was destroyed by flooding and is not expected to be rebuilt and reopened for several weeks.

Plans are for the Zephyr to detour between Ashland and Oreapolis, Nebraska.

Omaha passengers will be transported on chartered buses between Omaha and the Amtrak station in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Amtrak is working to create a bus connection between Omaha and Creston, Iowa, for eastbound passengers starting their journey in Omaha.

However, in the meantime, Omaha passengers traveling eastbound on No. 6 will have to leave at 2 a.m. to travel to Lincoln to catch their train.

The scheduled Omaha departure time of No. 6 is 5:14 a.m.

The rail travel time between Lincoln and Creston is shorter than the normal route via the Omaha station so No. 6 will be held in Creston until its scheduled 7:04 departure time if it is operating on time.

The California Zephyr detoured for a week between Chicago and Omaha on a former Chicago & North Western route, but that was ended in favor of Denver-Emeryville operation due to chronic lateness and equipment issues.

New Siding to Cut Pacific Surfliner Delays

March 30, 2019

Construction of a passing siding is expected to reduce delays for Amtrak trains on Los Angles-San Diego route.

The $34 million project is being overseen by the Orange County Transportation Authority and involves a 1.8-mile siding from the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo Metrolink station to San Juan Capistrano.

The route is used by 60 Metrolink and Amtrak trains and will eliminate a practice whereby one train has to stop and wait for an opposing train near the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo station.

A study conducted by OCTA found that southbound trains sometimes must wait up to five minutes for northbound train to clear.

Construction is expected to be completed by early 2021.

The work is not expected to significantly affect rail travel although officials said there may be intermittent service disruptions on weekends.

Most of the cost of the project is being provided by state and federal funding.

Once the project is completed, the Los Angeles-San Diego corridor will still have single track between San Juan Capistrano and the San Diego County line.

Texas Central Seeking STB Hearing

March 30, 2019

Would-be high-speed operator Texas Central is asking the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to hold a public hearing on the question of whether the agency has jurisdiction over the proposed Dallas-Houston rail line.

Opponents of the project have sought to block it by arguing that the STB does not have jurisdiction.

In its brief presented to the STB, Texas Central has asked the agency to interpret its jurisdiction over high speed rail and whether that will  will establish a significant precedent as additional high-speed rail projects are developed in the United States.

Texas Central hopes that this will allow STB members to examine the arguments and claims in back-and-forth questioning.

The case hinges on how the STB views a through-ticketing arrangement that it reached with Amtrak.

The STB could view this as evidence that Texas Central’s service is part of an interstate rail system, thus giving the STB jurisdiction.

Hearing Set on Virgin Trains Bond Sale

March 30, 2019

A Florida agency will hold a public hearing on April 5 to consider the plans of Virgin Trains USA to sell $1.5 billion in bonds that will be used to finance expansion to Tampa and Orlando.

The Florida Finance Corporation Board of Directors will consider arguments for and against the bond sale during a meeting in Orlando at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at the Orlando International Airport.

Opponents of the bond issue, most of them resident of Indian River County, are expected to speak against the sale.

That county, which lies on Virgin’s proposed route to Orlando, has long opposed expanding the formerly known Brightline service.

After public comments, the board is expected to vote on the bond sale.

Agency Wants CN to Assess Safety For VIA

March 30, 2019

After two VIA Rail Canada trains were damaged by track work materials that had been placed along their route, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada issued a safety advisory letter.

The Safety Board suggested that host railroad Canadian National conduct a risk assessment to come up with safety measures that will prevent VIA equipment from being damaged.

The materials had been placed along the tracks in advance of track work projects.

The Safety Board took action after two incident occurred.

On first of those occurred on Feb. 2 near Brighton, Ontario, when combined trains 52 (Toronto-Ottawa) and 62 (Toronto-Montreal) struck tie plates plated between the rails.

A locomotive fuel tank ruptured and 1,600 gallons of diesel fuel was spilled.

Debris from that incident also resulted in a CN employee in a hi-rail vehicle parked near the track being seriously injured.

The train struck the tie plates while traveling at 95 mph.

The second incident occurred March 20, near Truro, Nova Scotia, when the westbound Ocean was damaged by materials, including tie plates.

In that incident, the second locomotive in the two-engine, 14-car consist also sustained a punctured fuel tanks. Some windows in passenger cars were broken, but there were no injuries.

Grant to Fund Lackawanna Cut-Off Engineering Work

March 30, 2019

Work is proceeding to restore the Lackawanna cut-off in preparation for restoration of rail passenger service between New York City and Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority recently awarded a $400,000 grant for engineering work connected with the project.

New Jersey Transit is currently working to put the cut-off back in between Port Morris and Andover, New Jersey.

“The remaining 21 miles in New Jersey and Pennsylvania will require state and federal funding to complete the full restoration of the famed Lackawanna Cut-Off trackage and complete the through route which will be instrumental in taking cars and congestion off of Interstate 80 in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, especially during peak travel periods,” said PNRRA President Larry Malski in a statement.

The $400,000 is in addition to $300,000 in federal funding that PNRRA received from the Appalachian Regional Commission that is being used to pay for engineering work.

Ready For the Dinner Crowd

March 29, 2019

A table in the dining car of the westbound Empire Builder is ready to accept passengers for dinner as they view the passing countryside in Wisconsin.

Napkins and silverware are in place, and menus have been set at each of the four seats. Water glasses have been filled and dinner checks are waiting on the edge of the table.

Although this image was made long before the most recent downgrading of on-board meal service on Amtrak’s eastern long-distance trains, it still reflects a certain level of austerity.

The water is served in plastic cups, for example, although the napkins and table covering are still cloth. That won’t be the case for lunch and breakfast.

Images such as this are ingrained in the imaginations of those who ride trains and/or advocate on their behalf.

Quincy Station Platform Improved

March 29, 2019

Workers have finished raising the height and width of the boarding platform at the Amtrak station in Quincy, Illinois.

The higher platforms will mean that step boxes will no longer be needed to board or detrain.

The project also involved extending the length of the platform, installing new lighting on the platform and creating a structure for the handicap lift.

Amtrak has said future improvements will include improvements to the parking lot.

The station was built in 1985 and serves the Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg, both of which operate between Chicago and Quincy.

The station is open daily between 5:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m.

Glenview Discount Hiawatha Ridership Increase

March 29, 2019

Officials in Glenview, Illinois, are seeking to downplay the announcement by Amtrak that its Chicago-Milwaukee trains saw a ridership increase in 2018.

Don Owen, the village’s deputy manager, acknowledged the increased but countered that the existing service is still operating at less than 40 percent of capacity.

Amtrak said recently the Hiawathas, which stop in Glenview in north suburban Chicago, carried a record-setting more than 858,000 passengers last year, an increase of 3.6 percent over 2017.

Glenview and other nearby communities have been embroiled in a fight over the past couple of years over a proposal by the departments of transportation of Wisconsin and Illinois, to expand Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 daily roundtrips.

Owen said rather than add additional trains, Amtrak should add another coach to peak travel demand trains to alleviate standing room conditions.

He did not say what source he used to conclude that the Hiawatha are operating under capacity other than to describe it as “the data we have seen.”

The resistance to the Hiawatha expansion has been triggered by a plan to add a holding siding for Canadian Pacific freight trains that is a component of the expansion project.

Homeowners in subdivisions adjacent to the track has expressed fears that CP trains will sit for hours in the siding, causing noise and pollution issues.

They’ve noted that plans are to build a retaining wall as part of track construction. That would eliminate some green space between their homes and the tracks, which are also used by Chicago commuter rail agency Metra.

An environmental impact statement has said the siding would be built between Glenview and Northbrook.

Wisconsin transportation officials have contended that the Hiawatha trains are near capacity and over capacity at peak travel times.

They’ve described the additional trains as a way to provide passengers more train time options and address “inadequate service reliability” because of conflicts with freight and other passenger traffic in the corridor.

Glenview officials have long disagreed with an Amtrak statement that Hiawatha ridership has more than doubled since 2003.

Amtrak figures show that between 2014 and 2015 Hiawatha ridership fell from from 804,900 to 796,300.

But Amtrak has said ridership has increased from 815,200 to 858,300 between 2016 and 2018.

Glenview has approved spending more than $500,000 on its campaign to oppose the Hiawatha expansion project.

That has included hiring consultants to create an alternative to the proposed siding.