Archive for April, 2019

UP Sets Consist for 844, 4012 Double-Header

April 26, 2019

Union Pacific has scrapped plans to move its 4-8-4 to Ogden, Utah, in a special move that was to have begun on Saturday.

Instead, it plans to move No. 844 and 4-8-8-4 No. 4014 in a double-header move that will begin in Cheyenne, Wyoming, on May 4.

“The plan is to have No. 4014 in the lead,” said UP spokeswoman Kristen South.

The Big Boy locomotive this week was still undergoing painting and mechanical work. Test runs are expected to be done soon.

Trains magazine reported on its website that the two steam locomotives will pull a consist that includes nine passenger cars.

The consist will also have water cars for each steam locomotives and a UP flag diesel.

The train is operating as part of the 150th anniversary of the driving of the golden spike to complete the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.

The original plan had been for No. 4014 to run solo from Cheyenne to Ogden.

UP plans to display both locomotives in Ogden between May 9 and 11, including a nose-to-nose pose on May 9 that will duplicate the famous photograph of Central Pacific Jupiter and UP No. 119 made at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869.

The tentative consist for the train to be pulled by UP 844 and 4014 is: No. 4014 and water car Jim Adams (UPP 809); No. 844 and water car Joe Jordan (UPP 814); a UP diesel locomotive; tool car Art Lockman (UPP 6334); boiler car Howard Fogg (UPP 209); baggage car Lynn Nystrom (UPP 5714); power car 207; crew car Willie James; crew car Omaha; dome lounge City of San Francisco; diner Overland; and observation car Idaho.

The ‘Abe’ In Joliet Once Upon a Time

April 25, 2019

The Abraham Lincoln was one of the top passenger trains operated between Chicago and St. Louis by the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio before the coming of Amtrak in 1971.

The new passenger carrier kept the Abe and another GM&O running mate, The Limited, when it began operations on May 1, 1971.

The Limited name, which had been shorted years earlier from The Alton Limited when the train was operated by the Alton Railroad, vanished on Nov. 14, 1971, when Amtrak began operating its Chicago-St. Louis trains between Milwaukee and St. Louis.

But the Abraham Lincoln name stayed, probably because it was well suited for a train whose route was primarily within the Land of Lincoln as Illinois as long called itself.

The photo above was made at Joliet, Illinois, on Aug. 11, 1972, and shows former Milwaukee Road 31A and 31B. Note the “rainbow era” consist that includes Milwaukee Road and Great Norther cars still wearing their original colors.

The Abraham Lincoln name vanished from Amtrak timetables on Oct. 1, 1973, when RTG Turboliner equipment was assigned to the Chicago-St. Louis trains.

The Abe name returned on Oct. 26, 1975, when conventional equipment replaced the Turboliner equipment on Nos. 302 and 303.

The Abraham Lincoln became the Ann Rutledge two years later. The GM&O had had a train named Ann Rutledge at one time. Ann is thought to have been a love interest of Lincoln at one time.

Although Amtrak had never again had a train named Abraham Lincoln, it did rename its Chicago-St. Louis trains Lincoln Service in 2006 so the spirit of the name continues to live on.

Bedford’s Efforts to Get Amtrak Station Derailed

April 25, 2019

Effort to create an Amtrak station in Bedford, Virginia, suffered a setback when a state transportation official recommended against funding the $10 million project.

Michael McLaughlin, the chief of rail for the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation opposed building a boarding platform in in Bedford because of projected low ridership.

McLaughlin said studies found a Bedford station would generate a net gain of 2,800 additional riders passengers on the Northeast Regional service that operates through the city.

Those trains also serve stations in Roanoke and Lynchburg, and creating a Bedford stop could potentially divert passengers from those stations, he said.

“Our data shows a lot of those riders would come from the Roanoke and Lynchburg areas,” McLaughlin said. “It would not be a wise return on the investment to have another station in Bedford.”

A final decision on Bedford’s bid for state funding for an Amtrak station will be made in June by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

Members of the Bedford/Franklin Regional Rail Initiative committee are continuing to lobby for funding of a Bedford station.

“We are just trying to process this new development,” Bedford’s Economic Development Coordinator Mary Zirkle said of the recommendation that funding be denied. “We thought things were going in one direction and now it looks like it could be going in another.”

McLaughlin said the state is expected to spent $1.6 billion for rail projects and Bedford authorities want a share of that.

They contend that Bedford’s location between Lynchburg and Roanoke makes sense for a station.

The BFRRI said its feasibility studies showed more than 12,000 new passengers would be generated each year if there were a station in Bedford.

Assault on Amtrak Conductor Results in Arrest

April 25, 2019

A man on parole was arrested after allegedly assaulting a conductor on Tuesday aboard a an Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train.

Police said the man had boarded Train 565 and allegedly grabbed the conductor pushed him against a wall after the conductor asked to see the man’s ticket.

Authorities said the incident happened as the train was nearing Oceanside, California.

As Oceanside police sought to take the man into custody, he began struggling with an officer and sought to escape on foot. The man reportedly did not have a ticket to ride the train.

The suspect’s name has not been released, but authorities said he lives in Los Angeles and was arrested on suspicion of assault and violating his parole.

The Amtrak conductor was reported to have a sore shoulder but did not need medical care.

The incident delayed Train 565 for about a half-hour.

Last Ditch Rally Seeks Hoosier State Funding

April 25, 2019

Backers of the beleaguered Hoosier State met at Amtrak’s Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis on Wednesday in what they termed a last-ditch attempt to secure state funding for the train.

They met with elected officials hoping to somehow secure funding of the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb recommended earlier this year ending the state’s $3 million funding for the service and neither chamber of the Indiana General Assembly has added funding to its version of the state’s biennium budget that will take effect July 1.

The budget is now being worked out by a House-Senate conference committee and is expected to be approved by April 29.

In the meantime, Amtrak has posted noticed that the Hoosier State will be suspended after that date.

Holcomb cited declining ridership, saying it fell 18 percent between 2014 and 2018.

But Steve Coxhead, president of the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance, said the train faces a dilemma because the state has done little to improve the service.

Coxhead said the route needs to have at least two roundtrips a day and possibly three in order to generate enough ridership to cover its operating costs.

Also attending the meeting were officials with Amtrak Midwest, Indianapolis and the Beech Grove shops.

Coxhead called the $3 million cost for the Hoosier State a relatively small part of a $34 billion budget.

“The governor is planning to spend something like $80 million on hiking and bike trails in the state and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with that and they’re probably needed, it seems disproportionate when you talk about what’s potentially the most important passenger rail corridor in the state,” he said.

Supporters of the train have argued that it generates about $10 million annually for local communities.

Greater Lafayette Commerce Transportation Chair Arvid Olson said nearly one-third of the Hoosier State ridership is to Purdue University in West Lafayette.

“For many of them, this is a lifeline to communication, especially for international students, this is their lifeline back to O’Hare to go international, back to the Pacific countries they come from,” said Olson.

Senator Ron Alting of Lafayette unsuccessfully sought to offer an amendment to restore Hoosier State funding.

Although he has continued to support efforts to save the Hoosier State, he said Wednesday’s rally might be a little too late.

“We are going to do a full court press and try to get out of here tomorrow night, so that means the budget will probably be printed and out no later than possibly noon tomorrow,” he said. “That’s going have to be put in that budget by noon tomorrow [Wednesday] or it’s probably not going to be put in.”

It was the second rally for the Hoosier State following one held at the Statehouse on April 17 that was sponsored by the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance.

All of the stations served by the Hoosier State will continue to have Amtrak service by the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Cleaner Chargers Touted on Earth Day in California

April 25, 2019

Amtrak celebrated Earth Day this week by touting the inauguration of 14 new Siemens Charger locomotives in Pacific Surfliner Service.

The locomotives are not actually new, having been shown off at a media event last October.

Amtrak, the California Department of Transportation, and the Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor Agency said that Chargers now pull most of the 24 daily Pacific Surfliner trains.

The locomotives were built in Sacramento, California, and have been certified as meeting the Tier IV emissions standards of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Officials have said the Charges are 90 percent cleaner than the 20-year-old locomotives that they replaced.

Caltrans funded the locomotives with $100 million in state, federal and local funds.

The North Country Transit District plans to buy Chargers for use on its Coaster trains between Oceanside and San Diego.

Amtrak Workers Protest Outsourcing

April 25, 2019

Three Chicago area Congressmen joined Amtrak workers on Wednesday for a rally to protest what the workers have described as “a hostile turn” in labor relations.

Reps. Dan Lipikski, Chuy Garcia and Jan Schakowsky appeared at a Unite Here rally conducted by the Transportation Communications Union and the Transport Workers Union.

The unions are decrying Amtrak’s decision to outsource work and proposals by the Trump administration to reduce Amtrak funding, particularly for long-distance routes.

Would Any Message Have Been Successful?

April 24, 2019

The pending discontinue of Amtrak’s Hoosier State has been greeted by the type of hand wringing and indignity that is typical of the rail passenger advocacy community whenever a passenger train is in jeopardy of ending.

It also has triggered the typical overwrought comments of self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives.

Advocates have been sharply critical of the decision by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to end funding for the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train and the refusal of the Indiana General Assembly to reinstate it.

Both the Indiana House and Senate have declined to fund the Hoosier State beyond June 30 and Amtrak has announced that the train will be “suspended” on July 1.

The passenger carrier used “suspended” rather than “discontinued” because at the time the notice was issued there was a slim chance the legislature might funding the Hoosier State after all.

Last Friday the Rail Passengers Association weighed in. RPA described the legislature as “throwing the baby out with the bathwater by cutting their state train’s operating funds.”

After recounting the perils of Pauline struggle the Hoosier State has faced since 2013, RPA commented, “the Indiana state legislature is responding with apathy, doing the shortsighted, pound-foolish thing.”

And what does RPA mean by that? It argues that the Hoosier State saves the state $3,154,432 in road maintenance and congestion costs.

The number was arrived at by figuring that the loss of the train will add 1.6 million vehicle miles traveled to Indiana highways.

If you wish to read further about how this figure was computed, read the RPA post at https://www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/hotline/hotline-1-113/

It is an argument that goes over well with rail passenger advocates and their allies, but does nothing to persuade governors and state legislators to appropriate public funds to underwrite the cost of a four times a week passenger train.

Likewise, the argument that the Chicago-Indianapolis market is ripe for development as a rail corridor “if given a chance” won’t change their minds either.

As they see it, ridership of the Hoosier State has declined by double digits in recent years and the travel time is slower than driving.

The statistic about saving road maintenance and congestion will be dismissed as irrelevant assuming they reached lawmakers at all.

You have to wonder if there are any arguments that rail passenger advocates could have made that would persuaded Holcomb and the legislature to continue Hoosier State funding.

This reality is not unique to Indiana. It is the same dilemma passenger advocates face throughout the United States.

Intercity rail passenger service is not a growth industry. It faces entrenched opposition that does well at hiding its motives even if those can gleaned somewhat by careful study of how transportation policy in this country is and is not made.

Amtrak has been giving signals that its vision for the future is a series of corridors linking urban areas, particularly in the South and West.

Federal law requires that routes of less than 750 miles must be funded by state and/or local governments.

Assuming that Amtrak is serious about developing these corridors – and I’m not sure that it is – it will have to win hearts and minds of legislatures in places that have never funded intercity rail passenger service.

This 750 mile rule is what got the Hoosier State into trouble in the first place. It was discontinued in 1995 but restored in 1998 because Amtrak needed a way of ferrying equipment to and from its Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis that did not delay the tri-weekly Cardinal during its Indianapolis station stop.

RPA probably is correct in saying the Chicago-Indianapolis corridor “may now take a generation to be revealed.”

There is also much truth to RPA’s assertion that the Hoosier State “has been treated like an ugly stepchild  . . . acts like it.”

I don’t want to be too critical of RPA because beyond rhetoric and calls for its members to contact their legislatures it doesn’t have many weapons to overcome the entrenched opposition to its vision for intercity passenger rail.

I’m reminded of a comment made by the president of a Jesuit university where I once taught.

He wanted to get the city to close a street that ran through the campus, but the mayor was opposed.

The president said every time he met with the mayor he would mention closing that street because “the more you hear something the less it seems like a foreign idea.”

Alas, the president died before he could persuade the mayor to close the street and to this day it remains open through the campus.

It may be that it takes repeated exposure for a message to sink in and be taken seriously. But they also say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Maybe if rail advocates keep repeating their vision for intercity rail service it will begin to gain traction. But a generation can be a long time and time is running out for the current generations who have dutifully repeated the “we need passenger trains” message for decades now.

Life After Amtrak

April 24, 2019

Amtrak’s SDF40F locomotive fleet had a troubled life at the passenger carrier in the 1970s, but a handful of the units went on to have second lives.

Such was the case with No. 633, which was sold in 1984 to the Santa Fe which rebuilt it in March 1985 into SDF40-2 No. 5259.

By the time it arrived on the Santa Fe, No. 633 had been repainted into Amtrak’s Phase III livery.

The Santa Fe acquired 18 of the SDP40Fs, perhaps because of their similarity to an SD40-2, although the SDP40F was longer and heavier. That was largely a product of the passenger units having water tanks mounted toward their year for steam boilers.

The steam was used for heating and cooling the trailing passenger cars.

When I caught up with No. 633, it has had been renumbered by BNSF to 6969.

It is shown as a trailing unit pulling an eastbound intermodal train at Joliet, Illinois, on June 16, 1998.

By that time the SDF40-2 fleet had been relegated to trailing duties due to the lack of ditch lights.

BNSF did not figure the SDF40-2 fleet would be working much longer. In February 2000 the units were sidelined, placed in a surge fleet that was occasionally pressed into service over the next two years.

But the end for No. 6969 came on May 2, 2002, when it was retired. Presumably it was subsequently scrapped.

No. 6969 (nee 5259, nee 633) was built by EMD in July 1974 as part of the second order of SDP40F units.

My travel records show I rode behind No. 633 once, on Dec. 11-12 from Washington to Miami aboard the Silver Meteor.

It’s possible that No. 633 pulled Amtrak trains through Joliet on the former Santa Fe during its years of Amtrak service.

More than likely, though, most of its trips through Joliet were made pulling Santa Fe freight trains just as it was doing on this day when I caught up with it.

Amtrak Named to Forbes Best Employers List

April 24, 2019

Forbes magazine has named Amtrak to its list of America’s best large employers for 2019.

In a news release Amtrak said it is the fifth consecutive year that it has won the honor.

The magazine lauded 500 employers in 25 industries. Amtrak has 20,000 employees.

It was named among companies in the transportation and logistics category.

Those chosen must have had at least 1,000 workers in the United States. Employees were asked to respond to open-ended questions regarding their employer.