Archive for June, 2020

It Made it to Amfleet

June 30, 2020

Amtrak’s E and F units are not commonly associated with having pulled Amfleet equipment but a handful of them did.

Five Amtrak E8A units were converted by Penn Central shops in Altoona, Pennsylvania, to be compatible with passenger cars operating with head end power.

No, 499, shown above in Springfield, Massachusetts, on May 3, 1977, was the first conversion to be undertaken and was completed in May 1974.

That was followed by three more conversions that year and one more conversion in August 1975.

Once the program was completed the five HEP compatible E unit were given roster numbers 495-499 but for some reason the sequence does not show the order in which the units were converted.

Like many of Amtrak’s early locomotives, No. 499 had a long history.

It was built in October 1952 for the Pennsylvania Railroad as No. 5711A. It subsequently became Penn Central No. 4311 and Amtrak renumbered it as 317.

It remained on the Amtrak roster until May 1983 when it and No. 498 were retired. The last three E8HEP locomotives, as Amtrak designated them, were retired in October 1985.

Photograph by Joe Snopek

 

Senators Push Back on Amtrak Service Cuts

June 30, 2020

Some members of the Senate have told Amtrak that they will not support its request for $1.475 in additional money in fiscal year 2021 without receiving more information about how costs and revenues will be affected by the carrier’s plans to pare service of its long-distance trains and reduce its workforce by 20 percent.

In three separate letters to Amtrak President William Flynn, 16 senators expressed concerns with Amtrak’s plans to reduce the frequency of service on nearly all long-distance trains to less than daily starting Oct. 1.

Amtrak plans in early July to reduce the frequency of operation of the Silver Star and Silver Meteor in the New York-Miami corridor to less than daily operation.

The letters were written by nine Republican and seven Democratic senators from Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Indiana.

One of the letters, written by Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) seeks the data Amtrak is using to justify reducing most long-distance trains to tri-weekly operation as well as the benchmarks that will trigger a specific plan for reinstating daily trains.

“We would like to ensure that reductions in frequencies for long-distance routes do not unnecessarily extend beyond the COVID-19 crisis,” the letter said.

Steve Daines (R-Montana) and other senators said Amtrak’s proposal “raises serious doubts about whether a realistic plan exists for fully restoring service in a timely fashion.”

The letters have been critical of less than daily service, saying it will hurt hundreds of communities that rely on Amtrak.

Another letter asked what the passenger carrier would consider to be “adequate funding” needed to to restore frequencies.

Flynn has said little in public about the proposed service cuts, which became known when a memorandum written by Amtrak Vice President Roger Harris to Amtrak employees was leaked.

During an interview Monday morning that was livestreamed by on YouTube by The Washington Post, Flynn said little about the planned cuts.

He said Oct. 1 date was chosen because Amtrak experiences its lowest ridership during the winter in the long distance network.

Without being specific, Flynn said Amtrak will evaluate the long-distance trains, including unidentified indicators.

Flynn said this review would look at restoration on a service-by-service plan ahead. He noted that summer is when the long-distance trains enjoy their highest levels of ridership.

“We’re looking at bookings and level of ridership; we’ll just have to look at where we are in terms of COVID-19 and the pandemic — God forbid there is a second wave,” he said.

Although he didn’t provide any details, Flynn said Amtrak would be communicating to Congress its criteria and plans for restoring long-distance service.

Changes Made in Thruway Services

June 30, 2020

Starting July 1 Amtrak will make changes to some San Joaquins Thruway service.

Buses 5710, 5712 and 5719 will no longer serve Long Beach and San Pedro bus stops.

On the same date Buses 5910, 5912, 5915 and 5919 will no longer serve Torrance, El Segundo, Westchester, Westwood (UCLA) and Van Nuys bus stops.

However, a new stop has been added at Los Angeles Union Station.

In a related development, Amtrak has relocated the location of its Thruway bus stop in the St. Petersburg, Florida, region.

The stop is now located at 12759 34th Street North in Clearwater.

VIA Takes Steps to Improve Accessibility

June 30, 2020

VIA Rail Canada said last week that it is taking additional steps toward ensuring universal accessibility in order to meet requirements of the Canadian Transportation Agency.

The actions include creating a telephone reservations for riders with disabilities or functional limitations unable to make reservations on the website’ providing curbside assistance from select station entrances to the platform, which includes wheelchair assistance, guiding assistance and assistance carrying baggage; establishing relief areas for service animals at 80 stations; an improved digital strategy to make information more accessible; and on-demand availability of menus and safety cards in braille or large print on board trains.

VIA said it has launched a universal accessibility policy to guide its actions and decisions, and support its efforts to meet and exceed government regulations.

Twilight Years of the F40PH

June 24, 2020

For several years starting in the late 1970s the F40PH was the workhorse of the Amtrak motive fleet outside electrified territory in the Northeast.

There were a handful of P30CH locomotives in service then as well as a few GP40TC units acquired from Toronto’s GO Transit, some P32-8s and a few FL9s in the East.

But chances are through the early to middle 1990s your train was pulled by an F40, particularly if it was a long-distance train.

By the late 1999s the Genesis models P40DC an P42DC had begun taking over primary motive power duties.

A handful of F40s hung on in service, but they seldom were leading units.

Such is the case above with the eastbound California Zephyr making its station stop in Sacramento, California, where F40PH No. 302 is the third unit behind a pair of P42DC units.

No. 302 was built in April 1979 and still in active service until being retired by Amtrak in December 2001.

Pere Marquette to Return June 29

June 24, 2020

Amtrak’s Pere Marquette will resume service on June 29 with its departure from Chicago en route to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The train had been suspended on March 21 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amtrak said Nos. 370 and 371 will both operate starting June 30.

The Pere Marquette is primarily funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

MDOT and Amtrak said anticipated ridership demand led to the Pere Marquette being reinstated.

No. 370 is scheduled to depart Chicago at 6:30 p.m. and arrive in Grand Rapids at 11:34 p.m.

No. 371 is scheduled to depart Grand Rapids at 6 a.m. and arrive in Chicago at 9:08 a.m.

Union Urges Caution Among its Members

June 24, 2020

A union representing track maintenance workers is urging its members to take precautions while working to avoid contracting COVID-19.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters also took aim at Amtrak and Chicago commuter railroad Metra for being negligent in testing and tracing employees for COVID-19.

The union said there has been a rash of positive coronavirus cases among its members at several railroads, estimating 109 members have been affected by a coronavirus exposure.

Of those 15 individuals tested positive and remaining 94 are in a self-contained quarantine.

In a statement, union officials said doctors expect many of those in in quarantine will test positive in the coming days.

Those workers were employed by Amtrak, BNSF, CSX, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern.

Three union members have died from COVID-19.

The union said some of the spread of COVID-19 has come from post-work socializing. It urged its members to be more cautious by isolating and separating as much as possible.

“Go outside to hang out. Keep some distance,” the union told its members.

In the meantime, some union members have established informational picketing in front of the home of Amtrak board chairman Anthony Coscia.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said the passenger performs contact tracing in accordance with federal Center for Diseases Control guidelines and performs no-expense testing for those with symptoms or possible exposure.

However, the union said social distancing is often impossible in its work and it wants monthly testing as well as temperature screenings before work.

After accusing Metra of putting employees and passengers at greater risk, the rail commuter railroad said in a statement that the union’s views were “distorted.”

VIA Carried 5M Passengers in 2019

June 24, 2020

VIA Rail Canada said this week it carried 5 million passengers last year, its highest ridership in 30 years and a 5.5 percent increase over 2018 levels.

The carrier said that 96 percent of passengers traveled for inter-city travel, 3 percent for long-distance travel and 1 percent for regional travel.

The Quebec City-Windsor Corridor recorded ridership of 4.7 million riders, a 5.5 percent year-over-year increase.

Revenue for 2019 totaled CA$411.1 million, an increase of CA$18.5 million compared with 2018. Total operating expenses reached CA$691.8 million, a nearly CA$27 million increase.

VIA is not expecting 2020 ridership to be a bountiful due to substantial ridership declines during the COVID-19 pandemic and protest blockades earlier in the year that led to service suspensions.

“Our immediate challenge is to convince Canadians that we are the safe way to travel as our response to the COVID-19 virus evolves,” said VIA Rail President and CEO Cynthia Garneau said in a news release.

 

Daylight Capitol Limited in Berea

June 23, 2020

My recollection is that it was late afternoon when I made this photograph of Amtrak’s westbound Capitol Limited in Berea, Ohio.

That would make Train No. 29 about 12 hours late. I don’t know what happened to cause the delay.

It is July 1996 and the Capitol reflects a transition period for Amtrak motive power.

On the point is a new P40 locomotive wearing the Phase III livery. Behind it is an F40PH.

Between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s the F40 was the primary road locomotive used to pull Amtrak’s long-distance trains. Most corridor trains  outside the Northeast Corridor also F40s on the point.

This mixing of Genesis units and F40s would not last long. The P42DC began to join the fleet and away went Phase III paint and F40s aside from a few that were rebuilt into cab control units without prime movers.

Service Cuts Mean Fewer Connections

June 23, 2020

Amtrak’s plans to reduce the frequency of operation of its New York-Miami trains will mean there will be no connections to and from Florida on some days in Washington or New York.

The passenger carrier plans on July 6 to begin operating the Silver Meteor four times a week and the Silver Star three times a week.

It is the first step of a larger plan to reduce operations of all long-distance trains except the Auto Train to less than daily service on Oct. 1.

The Silver Meteor will depart New York Monday through Thursday, and Miami Sunday through Wednesday.

The Silver Star will operate Friday through Sunday southbound and Thursday through Saturday northbound.

The New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto will for now continue to operate daily.

The July schedule changes will preclude connections on some days to Florida from the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, and Cardinal.

Cross-Florida travel and service to South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia, will only be possible on different days around weekends.

A Trains magazine analysis noted that during May the combined ridership of the Silver Star and Silver Meteor was 7.2 million passenger miles generating $1.4 million of revenue.

That compares to 5.2 million passenger miles and $2.4 million in revenue for all Northeast Corridor trains between Boston and Washington.

In an unrelated development, Amtrak is offering a 20 percent off sale on roomette accommodations for its Auto Train.

The sale is good through June 24 for travel through Aug. 31.

The sale does not apply to any other trains that provide sleeping car accommodations.