Archive for November, 2020

Biden Appoints Team to Review Transportation Programs

November 24, 2020

A Los Angeles public transit executive has been appointed to lead a team reviewing transportation programs for President-Elect Joseph Biden.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Phillip A. Washington will lead the 18-member team which includes members from labor unions, academia, public transportation agencies, retired members of Congress, think tanks, private consultants, and the aviation field.

The team will advise the incoming Biden administration  on the U.S. Department of Transportation, Amtrak, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Maritime Commission among other transportation programs and agencies.

It is one of 39 agency review teams that have been established to advise Biden. All members of the transportation team will be volunteers.

The transportation review team will meet with former agency officials and experts who closely follow federal agencies, and with officials from think tanks, labor groups and trade associations.

Maple Leaf Leaving Toronto in 1984

November 10, 2020

Amtrak’s Maple Leaf is leaving Toronto Union Station on March 28, 1984, bound for New York City. On the point is F40PH No. 352. As it picks its way through the terminal complex, it passes a VIA Rail Canada train that is backing up. The photographer thought it might have been headed for the wash rack.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Lamy Station Now Staffed

November 10, 2020

Amtrak has assigned customer service representatives to its station in Lamy, New Mexico.

The representatives will assist passengers in booking travel, and boarding and disembarking from trains.

However, they will not be selling tickets directly. Passengers booking travel on Amtrak must pay for it using a credit card, reloadable credit or debit card, or an Amtrak gift card.

The passenger carrier is currently not accepting cash for ticket purchases at this time.

Lamy is served by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Amtrak Suggests Travelers Buy Tickets Now for Thanksgiving Travel

November 10, 2020

Amtrak is urging travelers to buy tickets for Thanksgiving travel now although its announcements have not said whether additional cars will be added to trains during the holiday travel period.

A news release posted on the Amtrak website referenced “available seats added on many routes to maintain distancing.”

That may suggest additional coaches will be added to some trains.

In the past, Amtrak has indicated in its holiday travel news releases that all available equipment would be used during the Thanksgiving travel period.

However, concurrent with the intercity passenger carrier’s reducing the frequency of operation of nearly all long-distance trains to tri-weekly, Amtrak also has reduced the number of cars assigned to most trains.

In recent years, additional trains have operated for the Thanksgiving travel period in Illinois and Michigan, but that seems unlikely this year.

Those states have reduced their funding of Amtrak service and the number of trains on most Midwest corridor routes has been reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In its latest news release, Amtrak has reiterated that trains will not be operating at full capacity in order to maintain social distancing during the pandemic. Seating will be half of capacity in coaches.

Ex-Amtrak President Says it May be a While Before Biden Puts his Stamp on Amtrak

November 10, 2020

During his time in Congress, Joseph Biden often traveled on Amtrak to and from Washington from his home in Delaware, thus earning him the moniker “Amtrak Joe.”

Although he won’t become the nation’s next president until late January, speculation has already begun as what effect his election will have on Amtrak.

Former Amtrak President Thomas M. Downs told Trains magazine he believes Biden will be supportive of the national network.

Downs recalled riding with Biden in 1994 aboard a Metroliner and discussing Amtrak’s funding needs.

“‘Listen, Tommy. I can count!” Downs recalls, quoting Biden. “‘I need 51 Senators who support funding for Amtrak. And they come from around the rest of the country. If they don’t have a dog in the fight, Amtrak can’t survive,’ he told me.”

However Downs also believes it may be some time before Biden might begin to exhort any influence over Amtrak.

Downs believes Biden will not be supportive of the current management’s scaling back most long-distance trains to tri-weekly operation.

Noting that Biden once visited the Amtrak maintenance facilities in Wilmington and Bear, Delaware, Downs recalled Biden saying during his visit,  “‘I know Amtrak stops at 542 communities and all of those folks are important to Amtrak.’”

Downs, who headed Amtrak between 1993 and 1997, was critical during his interview with Trains about reducing the frequency of service of the long-distance trains.

“My immediate concern is [management’s] dismemberment process of pulling apart the long-distance trains. You start with the dining car, reducing service to three days per week where you kill the network effect, and then for reasons I can’t begin to understand there are no online schedules available for all the trains — this is an intentional attempt to kill the long-distance train service.”

He predicted that if the service cuts are not reversed soon “there won’t be any service to save.”

Amtrak’s fifth president described the long-distance trains as “an odd mix of essential service linking rural and urban communities and a land-cruise business; if you cut both of those, I don’t know how you ever get them back.”

Man Arrested for Threatening Amtrak Crew With Knife

November 10, 2020

An Oregon man was arrested for threatening Amtrak crew members aboard the Empire Builder as it crossed Wisconsin last Saturday.

Police said Timothy Isaiah Thomas, 31, of Portland tried to use a knife to get into a secure part of the train.

He was arrested during a stop near Oakdale, Wisconsin. Although Thomas reportedly ran away after the train stopped, he was apprehended by shortly thereafter by Wisconsin State Patrol officers after he was spotted walking along a nearby highway.

No one was injured during the incident, which continues to be under investigation.

New Buffalo Amtrak Station Opens

November 10, 2020

A ceremony featuring state and local officials was held on Monday to mark the opening of a new Exchange Street Station in downtown Buffalo, New York. 

The station was built on the site of the former 66-year-old New York Central facility of the same name.

The new $29.8 million Amtrak station, though, is elevated, located closer to the street and is twice the size of the depot it replaced.

Amtrak passengers will be able to make connections to local bus and light-rail service.

The low-level platforms of the station were redesigned to comply with Americans With Disabilities Act standards. The station features a covered pedestrian plaza.

The project was overseen by the New York State Department of Transportation.

The station is served by Amtrak’s Empire Corridor trains between New York and Niagara Falls, New York. The New York-Toronto Maple Leaf also stops at the station.

The Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited, however, does not use the tracks passing Exchange Street station.

Michigan Passenger Proposal Still Alive

November 10, 2020

Michigan transportation officials say they continue to pursue a proposal to institute rail passenger service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City, Michigan.

But their efforts have been hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hans Voss of the Ground Center for Resilient Communities said the tracks to be used by the train, which has been dubbed ARTC, largely have been upgraded to accommodate passenger trains.

Funding for the service remains unresolved. Voss said the long-term effects of the pandemic on rail passenger travel are also a major question mark.

Initially, the service is envisioned as being operated as excursions for major events, such as the events like Traverse City’s National Cherry Festival, and for fall foliage excursions.

Amtrak Renews Pleas for Pandemic Aid

November 10, 2020

Amtrak has renewed its effort to get pandemic emergency relief aid.

In a statement issued over the weekend, the carrier called for Congress to adopt pandemic relief legislation although it did not say how much aid it was seeking.

“Amtrak looks forward to working with President-elect Biden and Congress,” the statement said.

The passenger carrier said it needs additional funding “to recall furloughed employees, restore service frequency on long-distance and state-supported routes, and make investments that will advance critical capital projects such as bridges and tunnels on the Northeast Corridor and new equipment, infrastructure improvements and major station upgrades throughout our network.”

There have been some rumblings in Washington about another pandemic relief bill now that the election is past.

Downeasters to Miss Woburn due to Weekend Track Work

November 7, 2020

Track work being performed on Saturdays and Sundays will disrupt Downeaster service to Woburn, Massachusetts between Nov. 7 and Dec. 20.

The work is being done by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and will result in Amtrak trains having to take a detour route.

Trains 690, 692, 694 and 698 and Trains 691, 693, 695 and 699/1689 will detour between Boston North Station and Haverhill and will not stop at Woburn.

Alternate transportation will not be provided to or from Woburn. Trains will operate normally December 26-27.