Archive for April, 2020

Empire Builder in Portland

April 28, 2020

The Empire Builder is well known as a Chicago-Seattle train, but it also has a section that splits at Spokane, Washington, and operates to Portland, Oregon.

In the photo above Train No. 27 has arrived at Portland Union Station and discharged its passengers.

The equipment will be turned, cleaned and restocked before going out later today as Train No. 28.

P42DC No. 1 not only led No. 27 into Portland but it also will lead No. 28 out. At Spokane, No. 1 will become the lead unit for the combined Empire Builder all the way to Chicago.

More Station Waiting Rooms Closed

April 28, 2020

More Amtrak station waiting room closing and other adjustments have been made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The waiting room in Independence, Missouri, has been closed until further notice.

Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner trains will continue to stop and passengers will have access to the boarding platforms.

In Philadelphia, the William H Gray, III 30th Street station has a reduced number of entrances and modified station hours

Acess to the station is limited to a single entrance in the 30th Street Portico, the SEPTA concourse from 30th street and through the parking garage.

The station will be closed between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. to all non-Amtrak personnel while workers clean and disinfect the facility.

In California, changes have been made to station operations along the Pacific Surfliner corridor.

Closed stations include San Juan Capistrano and Solana Beach although trains will continue to stop there.

The Anaheim and Irvine station waiting areas are open, but the Amtrak ticket window is closed, until further notice.

Stations in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Oxnard, Van Nuys, Los Angeles, Fullerton, Santa Ana, Oceanside and San Diego Downtown (Santa Fe Depot) are operating with modified hours.

Los Angeles Union Station is only open to ticketed passengers.

Illini to Run Earlier on Fridays

April 28, 2020

Canadian National track work is resulting in Amtrak’s southbound Illini operating 30 minutes earlier on Fridays through May 22.

Train 393, which operates from Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois, will continue to run on its normal schedule on all other days of the week.

Baltimore Station Redevelopment to Continue

April 28, 2020

Amtrak plans to continue redevelopment of Baltimore Penn Station even though it has suspended some capital spending during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a press briefing last week Amtrak Senior Executive Vice President Stephen Garnder said

Redevelopment of the Baltimore station is critical and would continue.

Plans are to make the station a mixed use center that would include a hotel.

Amtrak is contributing $90 million to the project, which is using a mix of government development funds and private capital.


Grant to Improve Pacific Surfliner Facilities

April 28, 2020

The Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo passenger-rail corridor agency has received a $38.7 million state grant that it will use to improve Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner service.

The funding is coming from the California State Transportation Agency’s 2020 Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program.

The grant to LOSSAN includes funding to help overhaul and modernize rail cars used by Pacific Surfliner trains and to build two layover facilities in San Luis Obispo County and San Diego.

The San Diego layover facility will include maintenance bays and space for overnight storage of Pacific Surfliner equipment.

Law Firm Hired to Probe Negative News Suppression

April 28, 2020

A consulting firm working with the California High Speed Rail Authority has hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation into allegations that the agency retaliated against employees for reporting negative information.

The investigation follows a news report that several current and former officials with the consulting firm were told they were told to suppress negative news.

In an unrelated development, CHSRA said it will release the first project-level Draft Environmental Document for a project section in Northern California.

The document covers the 90-mile extent of the 145-mile San Jose to Merced Project Section from Scott Boulevard in Santa Clara to Carlucci Road in Merced County.

CHSRA is accepting public comment starting on the report through June 8.

The San Jose to Merced Project Section will connect Silicon Valley and the Central Valley of the state.

Communities served include Santa Clara, San Jose, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, and Los Banos.

The project comprises high-speed rail system infrastructure, high-speed rail stations at San Jose Diridon and Gilroy, a maintenance of way facility either south or southeast of Gilroy, and a maintenance of way siding west of Turner Island Road in the Central Valley.

Stations at San Jose Diridon and Gilroy would provide links with regional and local mass transit.

No Stopping in Sturtevant

April 25, 2020

Amtrak’s eastbound Empire Builder blasts past the former Milwaukee Road passenger station in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, in May 2006.

Although Sturtevant is scheduled stop for Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service trains, the Empire Builder just passes through.

Amtrak Looking Toward Post Pandemic World

April 25, 2020

Amtrak management is studying a number of scenarios for ramping service back up once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

In the meantime, though, the passenger carrier expects to lose $700 million in adjusted operating earnings as a result of the pandemic.

Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia along with new CEO William Flynn and Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner gave those assessments during a conference call with news reporters.

Amtrak ridership across its system has fallen by 95 percent and it has suspended 57 percent of its services.

Amtrak is receiving $1 billion in emergency federal aid and Coscia said that assistance will enable Amtrak to avoid having to tap its capital reserves and avoid employee layoffs.

He said that before the pandemic began Amtrak was “on track” to break even in operating earnings by Fiscal Year 2021 for the first time in the railroad’s history.

That figure counts as revenue funding that Amtrak receives from various state governments to operate corridor service.

Flynn said the carrier has been taking advantage of the lower ridership period to perform track work and other “critical” projects.

In looking to the future, Flynn said Amtrak officials are studying touchless technology at fare gates and changing some food service.

One idea being explored is enabling passengers to pre-order food and beverages from café cars.

Flynn said Amtrak expects it will take three months or more for ridership to return to pre-pandemic levels.

It is not clear when that clock would start. Some governors have been talking in recent days about easing social distancing restrictions on or after May 1, although some forms of social distancing are expected to remain in place either by mandate or recommendation.

Flynn said Amtrak has been researching various ideas of what the pandemic recovery will look like and have created several service plans based on “surveys of customer sentiment.”

In some instances, Flynn indicated, Amtrak will “introduce product ahead of demand.”

“We have to demonstrate to our customers that we have an attractive product that they will value when they come back,” Flynn said.

Gardner said Amtrak is looking at implementing new ticketing kiosks and text messaging to inform passengers where to head once they arrive at their station.

The downloadable schedules that have been removed from the Amtrak website will be reintroduced once services are restored.

Flynn said none of Amtrak’s unions have thus far shown an interest in delaying or giving up negotiated wage increases.

“But we continue to work with union leadership so they understand where we are in this crisis and how we are going to move forward,” he said.

Trains magazine reported that Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said 58 percent of onboard service employees are on an extra board that guarantees them 150 hours per month of work.

Regularly assigned employees are guaranteed a 180-hour month, so their pay cut works out to about 16 percent.

“Engineers and conductors have a 40-hour-a-week guarantee, but many of them previously worked assignments that included overtime, which has been reduced,” Magliari said.

Bus to Replace Hiawathas Through May 25

April 23, 2020

Amtrak will suspend its Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service on Friday and replace it with a bus.

The service, which had been seven daily roundtrips, has been reduced to one roundtrip during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The carrier said falling ridership prompted it to institute a Thruway Bus in lieu of a train.

The bus will depart from Milwaukee at 7:55 a.m. and arrive at Chicago Union Station at 9:54 a.m.

The bus to Milwaukee will depart Union Station at 5 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station at 6:59 p.m.

In order to maintain social distancing aboard bus passengers must have reservations.

Amtrak said the bus will operate in place of a train through May 25.

The only intercity rail service now operating between Chicago and Milwaukee is the Empire Builder, which links Chicago with Seattle and Portland.

All Aboard in Joliet

April 22, 2020

The conductor of Amtrak’s southbound State House is picking up the step box on the platform in Joliet, Illinois, in preparation for departure.

Although several passengers boarded Train No. 303 here on this July 1998 day, they didn’t need the step box to reach the steps of the Horizon coach.

The State House was funded in part by the Illinois Department of Transportation and was the first state-funded train on the Chicago-St. Louis route.

Today all trains between Chicago and St. Louis except the Texas Eagle are funded by IDOT and have been renamed Lincoln Service.