Archive for March, 2020

Amtrak Service Cuts Just Keep Coming

March 19, 2020

Amtrak service to Michigan will be reduced to two pairs of trains and service cuts will be imposed on three corridor routes in Illinois.

However, no service reductions are being planned for the long-distance network Amtrak spokesman Marc Magilari told Trains magazine.

Michigan trains that will continue to operate are the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water while Wolverine Service will consist of No 352, which departs Chicago at 1:25 p.m. and arrives in Pontiac at 8:32 p.m. and No. 351, which departs Pontiac at 5:50 a.m. and arrives in Chicago at 10:32 a.m.

Canceled are the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette and two Wolverine Service roundtrips.

On the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini will continue to operate while their counterparts are canceled.

The corridor is also served by the City of New Orleans which provides service northbound in the early morning hours and southbound in late evening.

Between Chicago and Quincy the Carl Sandburg will be canceled while the Illinois Zephyr will continue to operate.

Part of the Chicago-Quincy corridor will continue to be served by the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief.

The Chicago-Milwaukee corridor will be reduced to one Hiawatha Service roundtrip with the Empire Builder picking up some of the slack.

The one Chicago to Milwaukee Hiawatha will depart at 5:08 p.m. for a 6:45 p.m. arrival in Milwaukee.

There will also be a late night bus from Chicago to Milwaukee that leaves Chicago at 9:15 p.m.

The Milwaukee to Chicago Hiawatha will depart at 8:05 a.m. and arriving in Chicago at 9:34 a.m.

The Empire Builder will handle local passengers at all stops, including at Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and Milwaukee airport station, both of which Nos. 7 and 8 normally do not serve.

However, the Empire Builder is an afternoon operation in both directions between Chicago and Milwaukee so passengers will not be able to travel northbound in the morning or southbound in the evening.

On the Chicago-St. Louis corridor the southbound 7 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. departures from Chicago will be cut.

Lincoln Service trains will continue to depart Chicago at 9:25 a.m. and 7 p.m.

From St. Louis, Lincoln Service trains will depart at 4:35 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

The Texas Eagle will also continue operating in the corridor. Canceled are northbound Lincoln Service departures from St. Louis at 6:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.

For now Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City will continue operating on its current level of service of two roundtrips per day.

On the West Coast, the Capitol Corridor route will see a reduction from 15 to five weekday departures in each direction between Sacramento and Emeryville, California, effective March 23.

This does not include the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight, which uses part of the corridor.

Service reductions on the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner corridors have not yet been announced.

Cascades Service is no longer operating north of Seattle and will see the last round trip of the day canceled.

A presentation by the Chaddick Institute at DePaul University in Chicago said Amtrak’s current bookings are down 60 percent, future reservations are off 80 percent, and passenger cancellations are up 400 percent compared with the same period last year.

In a related development the Trump administration has proposed that Amtrak receive $500 million in emergency aid.

The carrier had said it needs $1 billion to cover losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding is part of a supplemental appropriation proposal the administration has sent to Congress totaling $45.8 billion.

Amtrak Continues to Pare Service

March 19, 2020

It remains to be seen if Amtrak will suspend or reduce the operations of its long-distance trains, but an online report quoting a union official indicated that onboard service cuts are coming.

The official from the SMART Transportation Division said he has been told to expect sleeping car service to be suspended and dining removed from some trains.

However, the official said he has not been advised by the carrier if it plans to suspend any long-distance trains.

Amtrak has suspended several Midwest corridor trains including three roundtrips in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor and one roundtrip between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette has also been suspended.

Service reductions for corridors in Illinois are expected but as of early Thursday morning had yet to be formally announced by Amtrak.

Amtrak operates three corridors in Illinois linking Chicago with Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis.

The Chicago-Carbondale corridor has two roundtrips plus the Chicago-New Orleans City of Orleans.

The Chicago-Quincy corridor has two roundtrips while the Chicago-St. Louis corridor has four roundtrips plus the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

An online report indicated that effective March 21 Chicago-Carbondale service will be reduced to the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini.

A similar service pattern is expected to be implemented for the Chicago-Quincy corridor with service to Chicago in the morning and returning service in the evening by trains 381 and 381 respectively.

In both corridors, the remaining trains could be covered with one equipment set.

The Empire Builder is also expected to begin carrying local passengers to and from Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee Airport station. Neither are regular stops for Nos. 7 and 8.

The New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian also has been suspended along with all Keystone Service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Service reductions have been made in all other eastern corridors as well.

In a service advisory Amtrak said some stations that have ticket agents may not be staffed for all train arrivals and departure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amtrak said passengers should proceed to the platform for boarding if they encounter an unstaffed station that normally has agents directing the boarding process.

Other online reports indicated that Cascade Service between Portland and Eugene, Oregon, will be reduced to one roundtrip with trains 500 and 505 providing the service.

Midwest Corridor Services Being Curtailed

March 18, 2020

Amtrak has announced its first service reductions due to the COVID-19 virus to effect service in the Midwest.

Effective March 19 the carrier will cancel the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette and reduce service on the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) route from three daily roundtrips to two.

Service on the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service route will also be reduced to four daily roundtrips.

Wolverine Service trains will leave Chicago in early morning and early afternoon with the evening trip canceled.

Westbound trains will depart from Pontiac in early and mid morning with the evening trip to Chicago canceled.

Hiawatha Service will depart from Chicago at 6:10 a.m., 8:25 a.m., 3:15 p.m., 5:08 p.m. and from Milwaukee at 6:15 a.m., 8:05 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7:35 p.m.

There will be an 11:40 p.m. bus from Chicago to Milwaukee but not returning bus service is shown on the Amtrak website.

Amtrak earlier had announced that the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian would be canceled between March 19-29.

Other eastern corridor service has also been curtailed with some trains operating on shortened routes.

Bike Racks Added to Michigan Amtrak Trains

March 18, 2020

Amtrak is providing limited onboard bicycle storage on three routes linking Chicago and cities in Michigan.

The passenger carrier is allowing passengers to store bikes in an open area at end of a coach. No reservation is needed.

The cars have been assigned to the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette, the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water, and the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains.

“We are receiving lots of requests from the cycling community, both the consumers and the advocacy community, and we’ve been wanting to be able to accommodate that,” said Derrick James, Amtrak’s senior manager of state government affairs.

Jeff Martin of the Michigan Department of Transportation said new cars on order for Midwest corridor services will come with bike racks that will increase the number of bikes that can be carried per train.

Looking Down on an F40 Cab

March 17, 2020

Amtrak’s northbound Shawnee has arrived in Mattoon, Illinois, for its early evening station stop. Most of the boarding passengers are traveling to Chicago.

I’m standing on the bridge that once carried the tracks of the New York Central’s St. Louis line over the Chicago-New Orleans mainline of the Illinois Central.

It is July 1983 and the previous spring workers had removed the former NYC tracks through Mattoon.

Also at the time the Shawnee used F40PH locomotives and the engineers were employees of the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad.

The hogger is awaiting a highball to proceed to the next station stop, which is Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. He’ll got off duty there and another crew will take Train No. 392 into Chicago.

Missouri River Runner Schedule to Change as Funding Debate Continues in Budget Committee

March 17, 2020

Amtrak will change the schedule of Missouri River Runner No. 311 to operate an hour earlier effective March 23.

In a service advisory Amtrak said the changes were being made in a bid to improve the train’s n-time performance and passenger satisfaction.

In the meantime, Missouri legislatures are grappling with whether there will be two or four River Runners when the state’s next fiscal year begins on July 1.

A budget plan approved by a House committee would retain the present two daily roundtrips between St. Louis and Kansas City, but a news report indicated that how to pay for that level of service remains an unresolved issue.

Missouri owes Amtrak $12 million for service provided but not paid for over the past decade.

The unpaid balance has been ringing up 12 percent interest in the meantime.

The chairman of the House budget committee, Cody Smith, offered an amendment to direct the Missouri Department of Transportation to pay for no more than one daily roundtrip.

Smith’s amendment directed Amtrak to operate the current level of service but making up the difference between what the state is willing to pay and how much the service cost by increasing fares.

However, the committee voted 19-16 to strike Smith’s amendment before sending the budget on to the full House.

Lawmakers continue to discuss whether to reduce service and pay off the debt to Amtrak or to keep service at its existing level.

Since 2017, the legislature has approved $9.1 million each year for Amtrak service.

The budget for next year also calls for that same level of funding.

However, the service actually cost $10.6 million in 2017 and expected to cost $12 million next year.

Paying the debut to Amtrak and funding two daily roundtrips would cost an additional $12.2 beyond the $9.1 million now in the budget bill.

Smith said he wants the state to pay off its debut to Amtrak but limit the service to what the legislature ends up appropriating for it.

He said that would prevent Missouri from getting into debt to Amtrak again.

In 2014 MoDOT accepted $50 million in federal funding for station improvements and ending the River Runners would put the state on the hook for paying back $36 million of that funding.

Rep. Aaron Griesheimer, who represents Hermann and Washington, both stops for the River Runners joined with lawmakers from St. Louis and Kansas City in arguing that Amtrak service is good for commuters and tourism, keeps traffic off the highway and bringing visitors to spend money.

He also cited the value of connecting Missouri’s two largest cities.

If River Runner service fell to one roundtrip per day it would be impossible for commuters to use the trains because they would have to find another one-way transportation for the other leg of their trip, Griesheimer said.

State Rep. Deb Lavender of Kirkwood said people in her district frequently ride Amtrak for day trips to Hermann or Washington.

She said every dollar the state spends on tourism results in tourists spending more money within the state, she said.

Lavender suggested using state tourism funds to cover the remaining balance, but she withdrew her amendment after Lynn Struemph, director of finance for the Division of Tourism, testified that they would have to cut advertising and promotions if the money was diverted from that fund.

Amtrak funding is makes up a small slice of MoDOT’s $3.66 billion budget. Transportation funding in Missouri is paid for by dedicated user fees, fuel taxes and federal funds, but Amtrak service is funded by the state’s general revenue.

Keystone Service, Pennsylvanian to be Suspended

March 17, 2020

Amtrak said today that effective March 18 it will suspend all Keystone Service trains.

The New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian will be suspended effective March 19.

A service advisory said the decision was made in coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

More Amtrak service suspensions are expected as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. This will likely include corridor services in California and possibly elsewhere.

Also service cuts that have recently been announced include the Ethan Allen Express between New York and Rutland, Vermont.

Downeaster Service between Boston and Maine has seen the suspension of Trains 688 and 689 effective March 17.

Effective March 21 Downeaster Service will be covered by two train sets.

A news report also indicated that Amtrak will seek $1 billion in assistance to cover revenue lost from the pandemic.

The carrier said bookings are down by 50 percent and reservation cancellations are up by 300 percent.

Palmetto Route to be Reduced Due to Track Work

March 17, 2020

CSX track work will affect operations of some Amtrak trains, most notably the Palmetto, between March 23 and April 9.

Train 89 during that period will operate only between New York and Washington with no alternate transportation being provided between Washington and Savannah, Georgia.

Train 90 will not operate from Savannah to Washington and no alternative transportation is being provided. No. 90 will operate from Washington to New York.

The track work is expected to cause delays of 30 minutes for the Auto Train and Silver Meteor between Savannah and Florence, South Carolina.

VIA Suspends Trains, Reduces Service Levels

March 17, 2020

VIA Rail Canada has also announced that it has suspended its Canadian, Ocean and long distance eastern and western routes until March 27 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Canadian intercity rail passenger carrier has also reduced service in its corridor linking Windsor, Ontario, and Quebec City by 50 percent.

Onboard meal service has been modified to conform to social distancing guidelines.

Aditional workers are being added to conduct sanitization procedures, which may result in trip delays and late departures.

Cascades, Downeaster Latest Amtrak Service Cuts

March 17, 2020

Amtrak announced a few more service reductions on Monday due to the COVID-19 pandemic but thus far none of those involve service in the Midwest or long-distance trains.

It may be a matter of time before corridor services are curtailed. Amtrak is reportedly talking with states that fund corridor service about service reductions.

The latest cutbacks affect the Cascades Service in the Pacific Northwest and the Downeaster Service to Maine.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the closing of Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, British Columbia, has mean that Cascades service north of Seattle has been suspended.

Daily thruway bus service between Seattle, Everett, Mt. Vernon and Bellingham will still operate.

On the Downeaster route service is being reduced between March 17 and March 22.