Archive for June, 2019

Hoosier State to Make Final Trips on Sunday

June 29, 2019

Amtrak’s Hoosier State boards passengers at Indianapolis Union Station on June 25 during its last week of operation.

The Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State will make it last trips on Sunday.

Amtrak is “suspending” the train effective July 1 because the State of Indiana declined to renew its funding.

Nos. 850 and 851 operate on the days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

From Indianapolis to Chicago, No. 50 runs on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. In the other direction No. 51 operates on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The Cardinal will continue to operate after the Hoosier State is discontinued.

The Hoosier State appeared to be doomed once Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb sent a budget request to the state legislature last February that omitted funding for the train, which was also funded in part by various online cities and counties.

Holcomb cited falling ridership for ending the funding.

The Hoosier State began in October 1980 as a demonstration route. It was discontinued in September 1995 as part of a major Amtrak service restructuring and retrenchment but reinstated in July 1998 in part to give Amtrak a more reliable means of ferrying equipment between Chicago and the Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis.

The Hoosier State has skated on thin ice since 2013 when Indiana became the last state to agree to a funding plan mandated by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 that required state and local governments to pay for Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles.

Initially, the Indiana Department of Transportation chose Corridor Capitol, a Chicago-based rail passenger services development company, to manage and operate the Hoosier State.

However, INDOT severed ties with Corridor Capitol in November 2014 and Amtrak continued to operate Nos. 850 and 851 on a short-term contract.

INDOT said the following spring that the Hoosier State would end on April 1, 2015, due to regulations of the Federal Railroad Administration that would have required the state to act as a rail carrier, despite the state owning no tracks or trains.

INDOT appealed to the FRA and the Hoosier State continued to operate under a short-term agreement.

In August 2015, INDOT reached a four-year agreement with Iowa Pacific and Amtrak to operate the train.

IP was to provide providing and maintain the rolling stock as well as provide food service and marketing.

Amtrak would provide ticketing services and train operating crews.

Iowa Pacific said in January 2017 it was withdrawing from the contract after INDOT refused to increase its financial compensation.

Starting March 1, 2017, the Hoosier State became an all Amtrak operation.

Efforts to emend the budget in the legislature to put back funding for the Hoosier State failed and Amtrak said in April that the train would be “suspended” on July 1.

At one point Amtrak said it has reached an agreement with CSX to reduce the running time and that the Hoosier State would be rescheduled in late April to provide better times at Indianapolis.

But those changes were never made and it is unclear if they will eventually be applied to the Cardinal.

The Hoosier State is thus poised to become the Amtrak train to be discontinued in several years and the first to end due to PRIAA requirements.

Lawmakers Seek Grant Spending Deadline Extension

June 29, 2019

Illinois lawmakers are asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to extend the deadline for use of a federal grant to establish Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The letter was sent by Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, as well as Representative Cheri Bustos.

It came on the heels of a commitment by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to revive the efforts to establish the service, which would terminate in Moline, Illinois.

A recent capital funding bill approved by Pritzker and the state legislature allocated $225 million in state funding for the project.

The federal grant was originally awarded in 2010. The City of Moline has since created a station facility for the train and the Illinois Department of Transportation has held discussions with host railroad Iowa Interstate about infrastructure upgrades needed for the service.

House Approves Transportation Funding Bill

June 29, 2019

The House this week approved a $137.1 billion appropriation bill that includes funding for Amtrak and other transportation programs.

Amtrak would receive $700 million for its Northeast Corridor, $1.3 billion for the national network, $350 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants, and $350 million for Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants.

The Federal Railroad Administration would receive $3 billion and the Federal Transit Administration would get $13.5 billion.

The bill also states that Congress views the Gateway Project in the Northeast Corridor as a priority for federal investment, particularly the Hudson River rail tunnels and the Portal Bridge replacement.

Language was also placed in the bill requiring Capital Investment Grants for rail transit to be spent within a set time frame.

This mirrors language included in last year’s bill and reflects discontent with how the FTA has responded.

The latest language requires that if if transit grant funds aren’t distributed to new projects by Dec. 31, 2021, the FTA will be forced to redistribute that money to projects already in the engineering phase or face consequences.

Funding Set for Study of New VIA Rail Corridor

June 29, 2019

The proposed new corridor for VIA Rail Canada service between Toronto and Quebec City.

Funding has fallen into place to conduct a study of the creation of a dedicated rail corridor for VIA Rail Canada trains between Toronto and Quebec City.

C$55 million in funding for the study is being backed by the Canada Infrastructure Bank while another C$16 million will come from Transport Canada.

A joint project team of the bank and VIA will develop a plan to pitch to private-sector investors, notably, the country’s public pension funds.

The cost of a passenger-only corridor have ranged between C$4 billion, for a diesel-powered service to C$6 billion for an electrified line.

The passenger line would also use a patchwork of operational and abandoned rights-of-way.

The route would run from Quebec City to Montreal over former Canadian Pacific tracks now operated by Genesee & Wyoming’s Quebec Gatineau Railway.

From Montreal, the line would run north from Montreal Central Station to Ottawa, perhaps connecting with VIA Rail’s existing line from Coteau-du-Lac to Ottawa. Alternatively, it could simply follow Quebec Gatineau’s existing line all the way to Ottawa.

VIA currently used a Canadian National line between Montreal and Toronto that is shares with CN freight trains.

About 72 percent of VIA’s ridership is in the Quebec City-Toronto corridor in 2018. It accounts for 66 percent of the railroad’s revenue.

The idea of a new passenger route was advanced in 2015 by former VIA President Yves Desjardins-Siciliano.

He said at the time that this would enable VIA to increase frequencies and have better reliability.

The announcement of the funding agreement did not come with a date for when the study will be completed.

Mobile Delays Seeking State Funds for Amtrak Train

June 29, 2019

The Mobile (Alabama) City Council has delayed its plans seek state funds to help pay for a resumption of Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast.

Mayor Sandy Stimpson is worried that passenger trains could block access to the city’s cruise ship terminal while council member Joel Daves said there are too many unanswered questions about the proposed service.

The council is considering a resolution asking Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to commit state funds for Amtrak service.

Her support for that is iffy given that she had earlier echoed the concerns of the CEO of the Alabama State Port Authority about Amtrak interfering with freight train service to the port.

The proposed service would link New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida, on a route once used by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited.

Leading the effort has been the Southern Rail Commission, which has helped to win a $33 million federal grant for the service.

Mississippi has pledged $15 million toward the service while Louisiana has agreed to pay $10 million. Alabama’s share would be $2.7 million share.

Virgin Holds Groundbreaking on Orlando Extension

June 29, 2019

A groundbreaking ceremony was held this week by Virgin Trains USA to kick off construction of an extension of its route in Florida from West Palm Beach to Orlando.

Virgin, formerly known as Brightline, is building 170 miles of new track to Orlando International Airport.

Construction actually began, though, a month ago and has been divided into four zones.

In a news release, Virgin said the project will require 225 million pounds of U.S. steel, 490,000 ties, and 2.35 million tons of granite and limestone for ballast.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held in Orlando, which a terminal has already been established at the airport.

Virgin said the extension to Orlando is an investment of $4 billion. The carrier currently offers intercity passenger service between Miami and West Palm Beach.

Derailment Disrupts Norfolk Service

June 27, 2019

Amtrak service to Norfolk, Virginia, was suspended after a Norfolk Southern coal train derailed on Tuesday morning.

One pair of Amtrak Northeast Regional Service (Nos. 93 and 94) that normally operated between Norfolk and Boston terminated and originated in Richmond, Virginia.

Another pair of trains (Nos. 84 and 95) were operating between Boston and Washington.

The derailment occurred in Chesapeake, Virginia. There were no injuries.

Resumption of Amtrak service hinged upon the derailment site being cleaned up and the tracks reopened.

NTSB Wants FRA to Implement Safety Rule Now

June 27, 2019

The National Transportation Safety Board is demanding that the Federal Railroad Administration implement immediately a passenger-rail operations safety program.

The statement, which is a recommendation and not a legally-binding mandate, followed the NTSB’s release of a report into the derailment of an Amtrak Cascades Service train in December 2017 that killed three and injured 65 others.

The safety agency concluded that a failure to provide effective mitigation of a hazardous curve combined with inadequate training of the locomotive engineer led to the derailment.
The NTSB report found the derailment occurred when the southbound train entered a 30-mph curve traveling at 78 mph.

In its report, the NTSB made 26 new safety recommendations and reiterated three existing safety recommendations, one of which is enactment of a federal regulation known as the “System Safety Program.”

Although the FRA published a rule mirroring the NTSB recommendation, implementation of the rule has been delayed six times, most recently to Sept. 4, 2019.

End of Track at NOUPT

June 24, 2019


Depending on your perspective, this is either the end of the route of Amtrak’s City of New Orleans or the first few feet of the route north to Chicago.

The view is from the rear car on No. 58, which is boarding at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal.

The photo was made in March 2012.

Amtrak Wants Passengers to Agree to Arbitration

June 24, 2019

Amtrak has joined a growing movement of forcing dissatisfied customers to go to arbitration to resolve dispute.

However, the Rail Passengers Association said the policy leaves a lot of unanswered questions, including for group travel because there is no legal authority to accept arbitration terms on behalf of individual travelers.

On it website, RPA said Amtrak’s consumer-arbitration provisions are drawing attention, but the current political climate had made it nearly impossible to fight back.

RPA said arbitration has become the de facto standard throughout the U.S. economy and the courts, Congress and executive branch have all shown little willingness to change it.

Companies typically require customers to sign an agreement when purchasing a produce or service to take disputes before an American Arbitration Association arbitrator rather than going to court.

In a statement posted on its website earlier this year, Amtrak contended that arbitration is more efficient than drawn out legal proceedings and less costly. The statement also contended that passengers could contact Amtrak directly to work out claims rather than go to arbitration.

Consumer advocacy groups argue that forcing customers into binding arbitration agreements effectively means they are signing away their right to civil remedies in court.

They say that the results of arbitration are often worse for consumers than civil court proceedings.

RPA said passengers have few options to avoid arbitration. They could refuse to buy tickets under those terms but that would mean not being able to travel.

They could also file suit in a federal court and argue that their claim or dispute is barred from arbitration by federal law.