Archive for June, 2020

Service Suspended at Holdrege

June 23, 2020

Construction on the boarding platform at Holdrege, Nebraska, will result in a suspension of service to that station effective July 1.

Amtrak said in a service advisory the project involves building a new accessible platform.

The work is expected to take three months during which time there will be no public access to the station platform.

Holdrege is served by the California Zephyr and Amtrak has suggested that passengers travel to Hastings, Nebraska, approximately 60 minutes east, or McCook, Nebraska, approximately 75 minutes west, to board Nos. 5 and 6.

Track Work to Disrupt San Joaquin Service

June 23, 2020

Amtrak’s San Joaquin service will be disrupted by track work between July 7 and 29.

During that period, Trains 701, 702, 703, 704, 714 and 717 and their respective Thruway Bus connections are canceled.

Also canceled will be Thruway buses 3512 and 3519 between Bakersfield and Las Vegas.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers should visit  https://amtraksanjoaquins.com/amtrak-san-joaquins-covid-19-service-adjustments/ for the most up to date Thruway schedules.

Train 718 will terminate at Wasco with Thruway Bus 5818 providing alternate transportation between Wasco and Bakersfield.

Train 711 will originate at Wasco with Thruway Bus 5811 providing alternate transportation between Bakersfield and Wasco.

Bus 5811 will depart all station stops from San Diego to Bakersfield 15 minutes earlier than normally scheduled.

Another Montana County Joins Rail Effort

June 23, 2020

Another Montana county has joined the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, which is seeking to restore Amtrak service to the former route of the defunct North Coast Hiawatha.

Dawson County joined with Missoula County in the agency thus enabling it to meet Montana law that provides that at least two counties must join an organization for it to have agency status.

Dawson County, with its county seat in Glendive, voted on June 16 to join the Big Sky agency.

Officials are seeking to entice other counties to join the effort to restore rail passenger service to Montana’s southern tier.

The North Coast Hiawatha was discontinued in early October 1979 as part of a massive Amtrak restructuring effort that resorted in the discontinuance of several long-distance trains.

Amtrak’s only service to Montana is provided by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Philly Station Project Gets Leader

June 23, 2020

Amtrak said it has selected the North American affiliate of Australia infrastructure investment firm the Plenary Group to lead the project to develop Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

The passenger carrier said the Plenary team, which also includes Gilbane Building Co. of Rhode Island, was chosen based on its proposal and it record of project delivery, extensive experience with complex mixed-use properties and adaptive reuse of historic buildings.

Officials are still talking about financial terms for the project, which is part of the 30th Street Station District Plan involving long-term redevelopment of 175 acres around the terminal.

FTA Commits to Funding New Portal Bridge

June 23, 2020

New Jersey officials say they have received notice from the Federal Transit Administration of a commitment to fund nearly half the project to replace the Portal Bridge on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

The bridge over the Hackensack River is used by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains alike.

State officials said the engineering phase of the project can now begin and will be fully funded by federal money.

The FTA wrote recently to NJ Transit CEO Kevin Corbett that the federal agency has elevated the $1.8 billion project to the engineering phase, making it eligible for $766.5 in federal funding. The letter also said NJ Transit must submit a revised financial plan and show it could cover a cost increase or funding shortfall.

New Jersey and Amtrak have agreed to their respective funding shares for the project.

The century-old bridge long has been a traffic chokepoint due to frequent mechanical failures.

VIA Publishes New Schedule

June 23, 2020

VIA Rail Canada has updated the timetables that it posts to its website to show current services that are being operated.

The number of trains available are limited given that VIA has suspended several services including its flagship Toronto-Vancouver Canadian until late this year.

The timetables show what days of the week that trains operate and how routes connect with each other on the Quebec-Windsor corridor.

VIA’s action is in contrast to Amtrak, which removed online timetables about three months ago.

Cardinal Grounded in West Virginia Today

June 20, 2020

Amtrak’s westbound Cardinal is shown at Cherry Grove, Indiana, on June 18, 2020. It was operating on schedule.

Amtrak tweeted this morning (June 20) that the westbound Cardinal will terminate in Huntington, West Virginia, with passengers put on a bus for the destinations between there and Chicago.

The Tweet cited unspecified weather issues. An online report on a railfan chat list said there had been flooding in Greenbrier County in West Virginia.

Amtrak had earlier Tweeted that No. 51 had stopped at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, due to a “mechanical issue.”

That was later updated to say the Cardinal would terminate in White Sulphur Springs.

The train had originated in New York on Friday morning and the equipment normally makes a same-day turn in Chicago on Saturdays.

Presumably, No. 50 will originate in Huntington tonight rather than Chicago. However, it turned out that Amtrak had enough equipment to make up the eastbound Cardinal in Chicago and it operated as scheduled.

On Sunday (June 21) the eastbound Cardinal picked up the equipment from the stranded westbound train of a day earlier to take it eastward.

The Amtrak Tweet said the alternative bus service to Chicago would only discharge passengers. No passengers will be picked up by those buses.

Amtrak Eyes Florida Service Cuts July 6

June 20, 2020

A Florida rail advocacy group told its members this week that Amtrak plans to reduce the frequency of operation of its Silver Service trains on July 6.

On that date, the group said, Amtrak plans to begin operating the Silver Star and Silver Meteor on alternating days between New York and Miami.

The group cited an Amtrak memo saying the Silver Meteor will depart New York on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and leave Miami on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Silver Star will depart New York on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and leave Miami on Miami on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The memo said both trains will offer expanded capacity for each departure that will include five Amfleet II coaches, three Viewliner sleeping cars, an Amfleet café car, and a Viewliner II sleeper class passenger lounge.

Daily service to Tampa will be provided by a bus connection at Orlando to and from the Silver Meteor on the days the Silver Star does not operate in Florida.

The service changes will not affect operations of the Palmetto, which will continue to operate daily between New York and Savannah, Georgia.

The Florida group is disputing assertions by Amtrak that the service reductions are temporary until ridership rebounds in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group said the planned July changes will mean that Florida stations in Tampa, Okeechobee, Lakeland and Palatka will only have tri-weekly rail service.

Amtrak has not yet announced the changes to operations of the Florida trains on its website.

House Committee Completes Markup on Transportation Authorization Bill

June 20, 2020

The House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure completed a markup this week of the $494 billion INVEST in American Act, which is the proposal by committee Democrats to create a reauthorization of surface transportation programs to replace a current authorization that expires on Sept. 30.

The INVEST legislation would authorize $58 billion in rail operations over the next five years and provide a series of reforms to Amtrak’s governance, operations, and onboard services.

Political observers, though, do not expect the bill to become law. The Senate is expected to adopt its own legislation and difference between the two bills will need to be hashed out in a conference committee.

Republican members of the House committee named the Surface Transportation Advanced through Reform, Technology, & Efficient Review Act.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Missouri), the ranking GOP member of the House Transportation Committee, described the Democratic bill as a nonstarter.

Graves said the GOP proposal is a five-year surface transportation reauthorization bill that reflects Republican surface transportation principles.

During the markup sessions, Republicans took exception to some climate change programs introduced by Democrats that the latter said were designed to reduce carbon emissions.

The committee also considered hundreds of amendments, and adopted 34 Republican amendments and 23 Democratic amendments.

Among the amendments approved was a proposal to reinstate the recently eliminated dining car service on Amtrak long-distance routes.

It also adopted an amendment to eliminates $100 million per year in funding from Amtrak’s National Network authorization in a newly created fund designed to help states cover the costs of providing state-supported services.

Instead that funding is to be transferred to a program to subsidize loans to freight rail and passenger rail projects.

The INVEST Act bill will now move to the House floor on June 30 where House leaders want to see it adopted before the July 4th recess.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is working on its own surface transportation authorization legislation.

There is some thought in Washington that pressure building on various front for an infrastructure investment bill may help pave the way for passage of the surface transportation legislation.

The Trump administration has suggested a $1 trillion infrastructure plan but has not released details about what it might include.

Congressional Democrats will seek to merger the INVEST in America Act into a larger $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan designed to provide economic stimulus and hoping to work with the Trump administration to find a compromise package that works for both parties.

Texas Central Opponents Try New Argument

June 20, 2020

A group seeking to thwart development of the Texas Central line high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas is trying to take advantage of planned Amtrak service reductions as a new way to attack the project.

The opponents of the Texas Central project are citing Amtrak plans to reduce the frequency of operation of long-distance trains as a rational to hinder if not kill the project.

They are calling for Texas Central to submit new ridership projections to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board because connecting service by Amtrak may be sharply reduced if not eliminated.

They cited the letter sent May 25 from Amtrak CEO William Flynn to Congress saying that long-distance routes are at risk unless Congress approves a $1.4 billion supplemental appropriation for fiscal year 2021 on top of the carrier’s funding request.

The foes say connections with Amtrak were part of the rational for Texas Central to receive federal funding because that would make it part of the U.S. interstate passenger rail network.

In response, Texas Central said that whatever actions that Amtrak might take in regards to its long-distance service to Texas is irrelevant.

It noted that it plans to begin service in 2026, six years after the COVID-19 crisis.

Texas Central also said that it will need a three-year period to reach the long term through-passenger volumes projected by Amtrak’s proprietary ridership model.

It also said that Amtrak has said it hopes to restore service quickly, possibly as soon as the summer and has not said coronavirus-driven declines would last five years beyond Fiscal 2021.