Archive for May, 2020

Amtrak’s Cardinal Flies on the Old Monon

May 30, 2020

Amtrak’s westbound Cardinal is on the money as it flies along northbound on former Monon Route tracks just south of Linden, Indiana, on a Saturday morning.

About 10 minutes earlier No. 51 had made a station stop at Crawfordsville.

The consist is P42DC No. 45, two Amfleet II coaches, two Amfleet food service cars, a Viewliner sleeper and a Viewliner baggage-dorm car.

The road is old U.S. Route 231. The image was made on May 30, 2020.

Pacific Surfliner Skeds to Change June 1

May 30, 2020

Amtrak plans to implement on June 1 some service changes to Pacific Surfliner service that will restore some previously suspended service.

Three trains in each direction will operate north of Los Angeles with two terminating in Santa Barbara/Goleta and terminating in San Luis Obispo.

Thruway bus service will provide supplemental travel options connecting with trains in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.

Effective June 2, Train 774 will originate in San Luis Obispo instead of Los Angeles.

Thruway bus connections will be retimed to improve spacing of departure options and shorten layovers.

Two bus trips will operate from Oakland to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. One bus trip will operate between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.

Trains 562, 566/1566, 572/1572, 578, 590/1590, 782 and 792 remain canceled.

Train 777 will terminate in San Luis Obispo instead of Goleta. Train 785 will terminate in Goleta instead of Los Angeles.

Thruway bus connections will be retimed to improve spacing of departure options and shorten layovers.

One bus trip will operate between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and two bus trips will operate between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo to Oakland.

Trains 561/1761, 565/1565, 569/1569, 573/1573, 583, 591/1591, 595 and 759 remain canceled.

The Coast Starlight will continue to operate one trip daily through San Luis Obispo.

Waiting Room to Reopen in Washington State

May 30, 2020

The waiting room of the Amtrak station in Olympia-Lacey, Washington, will re-open on June 1. The station will be open daily from 9 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

If the northbound Coast Starlight is late, the station will remain open until its arrival.

Amtrak said station hours may change based on service adjustments.

In other station news, the Amtrak station at Camarillo, California, on the Pacific Surfliner route will have new boarding procedures effective June 1.

All southbound trains and northbound train 759 will use Track 2. All other northbound trains will use Track 1

Track 2 will be accessible from the pedestrian bridge located at the end of the platform near the freeway overpass and the street at 71 N. Dawson Drive.

Amtrak said it is an approximately 10 minute walk from one track to the other.

FRA Releases Final EIS of Texas High-Speed Route

May 30, 2020

The Federal Railroad Administration has released the final environmental impact statement for the proposed Dallas-Houston high-speed rail line.

The review concludes with a draft plan issued in 2017 that building alternative A is preferred and there are no red flags that could stop the project.

However, the review said Texas Central, the company that plans to build and operate the service, will have to pay to relocate 12 businesses and 49 homes on the 240-mile route.

The review said the service is expected to shift 26 percent of travelers in the Dallas-Houston corridor off the highways and divert 2 percent from air travel while generating $14 billion of dollars in economic benefits between the time construction begins and 2040.

Other expected benefits of the project include an increase in property values, a $7.8 million annual increase in property tax revenue and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The FRA is accepting public comment on the study.

RPA Fighting Amtrak Plans to Reduce Service

May 30, 2020

The Rail Passengers Association is launching a lobbying campaign to try to persuade Congress to approve the supplemental $1.475 billion in funding that Amtrak is seeking in fiscal year 2021 from Congress.

That money would be on top of the passenger carrier’s regular funding request for the FY2021.

The passenger advocacy group said that it will seek to prod Congress to approve the funding with statutory mandates that service continue to operate daily on routes where that is now the case.

A letter from Amtrak President William Flynn said that even with the supplemental appropriation all but one of Amtrak’s long-distance routes would be reduced to less than daily operation.

Without the supplemental funding, Flynn warned, all of the long-distance routes are “at risk,” which presumably means of being suspended or discontinued.

RPA is appealing to its members to contact members of Congress to demand daily service and to protect Amtrak’s workforce.

The carrier has said it expects to reduce its workforce by 20 percent.

Flynn’s letter has draw a sharp rebuke from Rep. Dan Lipinski, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads.

In a statement, Lipinski was particularly critical of Amtrak’s plans to cut its workforce.

The statement cited the $1 billion that Amtrak received from the CARES Act.

“It was my understanding that Amtrak did not plan to furlough any workers due to COVID-19,” Lipinski said.

RPA said Flynn’s letter left a number of unanswered questions including how Amtrak could restore service to pre-pandemic levels if one in five employees will be gone either through voluntary retirement or furlough.

Other unanswered questions are what level of less than daily service Amtrak envisions for its long-distance trains whether it would be every other day, five days a week or tri-weekly.

RPA is calling for Amtrak to explain how much the carrier expects to save with less than daily service, how much revenue would be lost and what threshold of ridership would trigger full restoration to daily service.

The rail passenger advocacy group said Congress should up the supplemental funding for Amtrak to at least $1.5 billion for a total of $3.54 billion in total funding on the condition that clear protections for passengers and workers imposed.

Amtrak Seeking Retirement Volunteers as First Step Toward Reducing its Workforce by 20%

May 30, 2020

An Amtrak employee advisory posted on a railfan chat list shows that the passenger carrier plans to offer employees a buyout package in June and July in an effort to cut its payroll.

The memo reiterated a point that Amtrak President William Flynn made in a letter to Congress last week that the passenger carrier plans to trim its workforce for 20 percent in anticipation of large revenues losses over the next several years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If not enough employees take the buyout, the memo warns, the company will resort to furloughs.

A retirement incentive is being offered to employees eligible under Railroad Retirement Board rules for retirement by Dec. 31, 2020, who are in active service on June 19, 2020, holding positions at locations where the company does not see operational needs.

Those employees should submit an irrevocable application between June 1-19 and will receive a notification by July 10.

Those granted a retirement will receive their individual compensation and departure date at that time but they are expected to leave Amtrak by July 24.

Those not eligible for retirement by July 24, but who will be eligible by Dec. 31, 2020, and those who can receive an increased retirement benefit if they work between August and Dec 31, 2020, can request a “bridge” under this program to be eligible for those additional service months.

Those workers will stop reporting to work as of July 24, 2020, but will remain active employees and receive their payout as a dismissal allowance, payable in increments until their retirement date, which must be prior to December 31, 2020.

The memo said furloughs will be implemented after Oct. 1, the day that fiscal year 2021 begins.

It said management will determine furloughs based on the carrier’s projected operating plan and its needed staffing levels.

Those covered by union contracts will have their employment benefits continued for four months after the date of furlough.

“To this point, Amtrak has made the policy decision that any [union] agreement employee who is involuntarily furloughed between October 1 and December 31, 2020, will have their benefits continued until September 30, 2021 at Amtrak’s expense,” the memo said.

State of the Silver Service

May 29, 2020

Due to CSX track work in North Carolina, the Silver Star is now operating Thursday through Sunday and the Silver Meteor is running Sunday through Thursday.

The idea is just one train operates each day although there is some overlap on some days.

For instance the Star runs northbound on Thursday but not southbound while the Meteor runs in both directions. This schedule is temporary and will last through June 2.

Train consists are smaller with the Star running with typically five cars although I did see a four-car train. The Meteor is typically six to seven cars.

The top photograph shows the southbound Silver Meteor at Folkston, Georgia, while the bottom image shows the northbound Meteor at Hardeeville, South Carolina, running with three P42DC locomotives and six cars.

Interestingly, all Amtrak trains that I saw had at least two engines even the four-car train.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

FRA Award Grants for Passenger Projects

May 29, 2020

Amtrak and commuter rail agencies are expected to benefit from $302 million in Federal Railroad Administration grants that were made this week.

The grants are part of a federal-state partnership for the State of Good Repair Program to help repair railroad infrastructure.

The grants will fund 12 projects in nine states for capital projects to repair, replace or rehabilitate publicly or Amtrak-owned or controlled railroad assets.

The fiscal year 2019 program selections total $302.6 million of the $396 million made available for grants under the 2019 Consolidation Appropriations Act.

The FRA will make the remaining $93.4 million available with a notice of funding opportunity for FY2020 partnership program funds.

The grants, recipients and projects included:

  • $80 million to the North Carolina Department of Transportation to purchase six locomotives and 13 passenger coaches to replace existing state-owned equipment that are 30- and 50-years old, respectively. The equipment will serve Amtrak’s Piedmont service between Charlotte and Raleigh.
  • $55.1 million to Amtrak and New Jersey Transit for the Portal North Bridge project, which replaces the existing two-track movable Portal Bridge with a new 2.4-mile, two-track fixed span crossing the Hackensack River in northern New Jersey.
  • $36.4 million to NJ Transit and Amtrak to reconstruct Substation 41, an Amtrak-owned electrical facility in Kearny, New Jersey, that powers the Northeast Corridor main line in northern New Jersey into Penn Station in New York City.
  • $30 million to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to replace 210 catenary structures on Amtrak’s Hell Gate Line between Penn Station in New York City and New Rochelle, New York.
  • $29.9 million to the Connecticut Department of Transportation and Amtrak to replace the existing movable Norwalk River Bridge with two independent two-track vertical lift bridges. The project is a regional priority in the Northeast Corridor Commission’s five-year capital plan.
  • $17.5 million to MTA to rehabilitate platforms 7 and 8 at Penn Station in New York City.
  • $12.5 million to Metra to rehabilitate and modernize three interlockings on the Metra-owned Milwaukee North Line in Illinois, which is used by Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service and Empire Builder.
  • $11.6 million to the San Diego Association of Governments and North County Transit District to upgrade a section of district-owned track located on sensitive coastal bluffs in Del Mar, California, that is used by Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner service, NCTD’s Coaster service and freight carriers.
  • $8.3 million to Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to rehabilitate and upgrade Track 2 from Glen Interlocking to Thorn Interlocking in Chester County on the Amtrak Harrisburg Line between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. The corridor serves Amtrak, SEPTA and freight trains.
  • $8 million to Amtrak and the Maryland Department of Transportation/Maryland Transportation Authority to rehabilitate and upgrade five miles of the Northeast Corridor mainline near Baltimore. The project will enable high-speed operations on all four tracks on this segment, as well as enable service to be maintained while tracks are taken out of service to allow repairs to the B&P Tunnel.
  • $6.75 million to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, for rehabilitation and scour mitigation on four existing bridges on the authority-controlled Ventura Subdivision, used by Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and Metrolink’s Venture County Line service.
  • $6.5 million to the Michigan Department of Transportation to rehabilitate and upgrade track infrastructure on the state-owned Kalamazoo-Dearborn corridor, which is used by Amtrak’s Wolverine and Blue Water trains, as well as multiple freight operators.

Amtrak Takes CUS Dispute to STB (Again)

May 29, 2020

For the third time a dispute between Amtrak and Chicago commuter railroad operator Metra has landed before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

Amtrak has asked the agency to settle a dispute between the two over terms and compensation for Metra’s use of Chicago Union Station, which Amtrak owns.

The STB in 2018 turned aside a request from Metra to settle dispute, calling Metra’s request premature.

The agency has yet to act on a 2019 request by Amtrak to help settle the dispute.

Amtrak’s latest STB petition is seeking more than $17 million annually from Metra and includes a list of 17 terms that the intercity passenger carrier wants to impose on Metra in a contract that would last 10 years.

A Metra spokesman said his agency will have a response to the Amtrak petition by late June and that discussions between the two sides are ongoing.

Amtrak contends that Metra should be paying $15.3 million under its allocation formula for operating costs, including maintenance of way, dispatching, station operation and maintenance, and policing.

Another $1.7 million would be Metra’s fee for “tier 1” capital expenditures with an amount to be determined for “tier 2” expenditures.

Amtrak has long argued that Metra is “drastically under contributing” to the station complex’s capital costs.

Although Amtrak provided an exact dollar figures of how much it argues that Metra should be paying, it along with other information was redacted from the petition.

As recently as 2018, Metra paid Amtrak $9.66 million to use CUS.

Among the terms that Amtrak wants the STB to impose upon Metra are providing a written request to increase or modify service levels.

Currently Metra can add service at its discretion but Amtrak wants the two sides to evaluate the station’s ability to accommodate service changes before they are made.

Other conditions sought by Amtrak include basing Metra’s annual fee on the operation of 111,497 trains annually with with additional fees for each additional train, including specials and test trains.

Amtrak is seeking the right to remove from service any Metra equipment “that does not meet Amtrak’s written safety or operation standards, or legal or regulatory requirements.”

The copy of the petition available to the public redacted such information as the percentage of trains using the station by each carrier.

It is widely believed that Metra accounts for 90 percent of that total.

Also redacted is the percentage of passengers for each carrier who use the station, the portion of the station’s 489,555 square feet used by each carrier and the number of Amtrak police offices assigned to CUS.

Acela Trainset Makes Test Run on Keystone Corridor

May 29, 2020

New equipment built for Amtrak’s Acela service made a test run on the Keystone Corridor on Thursday.

The train operated from the Penn coach yard in Philadelphia to Thorndale, Pennsylvania, some 35 miles west of Philly.

Another Acela trainset is being tested in Colorado at the Transportation Technology Center where it recently hit a top speed of 165 miles per hour.

Amtrak wants to place the new Acela equipment into revenue service next year.

It has bought 28 Acela trainsets that are being built in Hornell, New York, by Alstom.