Archive for February, 2021

Winter Leads to Delays, Cancellations

February 17, 2021

Harsh winter weather led to lengthy delays for Amtrak’s eastern long-distance trains and the cancellation of some western long-distance services.

Among the trains that were canceled were the Heartland Flyer, Feb. 14-16; Texas Eagle, Feb. 14 and Feb. 16 in both directions; Sunset Limited, eastbound on Feb. 14 and westbound on Feb. 15; Coast Starlight, cancelled between Portland, Oregon, and Sacramento, California, on Feb. 15; Southwest Chief, Feb. 14 in both directions; and the City of New Orleans, southbound on Feb. 15 and northbound on Feb. 17.

Some trains that continued to operate were subject to lengthy delays.

The Coast Starlight that departed Seattle last Saturday was more than 15 hours late arriving in Los Angeles and more than 25 hours late reaching Seattle on Sunday.

The delays were prompted by heavy snow and downed trees between Portland and Eugene, Oregon.

Those same conditions led to the lone daily Cascades Service train between Seattle and Eugene to operate only between Portland and Seattle on Saturday and to be cancelled on Sunday.

The Empire Builder was more than six hours late reach both Chicago and Seattle on Saturday.

The eastbound Lake Snore Limited was held for 39 minutes on Saturday to accommodate connecting passengers from inbound No. 8.

The eastbound California Zephyr was more than four late into Chicago on Monday.

Trains along the Atlantic Seaboard also suffered lengthy delays, including the Carolinian from New York and Charlotte, North Carolina; and the Palmetto between New York and Savannah, Georgia.

The northbound Palmetto that is scheduled to reach New York at 11:56 p.m. on Sunday arrived Monday at 8:03 a.m.

Aside from weather issues the train was stalled by freight train interference and delays in changing crews en route.

Also affected were the Auto Train and Silver Star.

Amtrak Trying to Drum Up Support for Corridor Service Plan

February 14, 2021

Although it has yet to release its proposal, Amtrak has been talking with state and local officials about its ideas for creating a network of corridor services.

The passenger carrier has in those meetings described it as a long-range plan that it has billed as The Amtrak System 2035.

Among the Amtrak officials who have been touring the country is Ray Lang, the carrier’s senior director for national state relations.

Lang has described the plan as a five-year $25 billion proposal in which Amtrak would pay capital and operating costs upfront but with funding of operations shifting to state and local governments over a five-year period.

He has said during his presentation that the “price of admission for new corridor service has gotten to be really, really expensive.”

Therefore Amtrak wants to use federal money to cover those costs.

Amtrak’s vision is connecting urban centers that are hundreds of miles apart with frequent train service. 

Most of the routes Amtrak is looking to create are in the South and West, although recent news reports have indicated that Amtrak has talked with Ohio officials about creating new corridor service in the Buckeye State.

Ohio is currently served by three Amtrak routes and has no corridor service.

Some of the service to Ohio would involve extending existing corridor-oriented routes into the state, including the Empire Corridor that now operates between New York and Niagara Falls, New York, via Buffalo.

The idea is to extend some Empire Service trains to Cleveland and Detroit.

In their talks with Ohio officials, Amtrak has floated the idea of developing a corridor between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

Other possible corridors include New York City to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and possibly north to Binghamton, New York.

The Vermonter, which now terminates at St. Albans, Vermont, would be extended to Montreal and the Ethan Allen Express, which now terminates at Rutland, Vermont, would be extended north to Burlington, Vermont.

In the South, Amtrak has proposed corridors connecting Atlanta with Chattanooga and Nashville in Tennessee, with Charlotte, North Carolina; and with the Florida cities of Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa and Miami

In the West, corridors would link Los Angeles with Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson; and Denver with communities along the front range of the Rocky Mountains.

Additional service would be added along the route of the Coast Starlight, which links Seattle and Los Angeles, although Amtrak is not necessarily talking about one more trains being added to serve the length of that route.

In his presentations, Lang has said individual states “would have the ability to do what they want.”

He also indicated that some proposed routes are likely to have higher priority to get done sooner than others. That includes the Atlanta-Nashville route and service along the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Amtrak’s plan faces numerous challenges and any of them could thwart corridor development.

First and probably foremost is that Congress must approve the funding for the plan.

Other challenges include resistance from the freight railroads that would host these trains and the reluctance of state transportation officials to agree to continue paying the operating costs of corridor services once they are established.

When Ohio was awarded a grant in 2009 to fund establishment of Cleveland-Cincinnati service, some Ohio legislators objected to the state having to commit to funding the operating costs of the route.

It is far from certain that all of the states that would benefit from Amtrak’s new services are on board with taking over funding of them.

There is a risk that state legislatures would decline to provide funding for a corridor service after Amtrak paid to establish.

Biden Talks Infrastructure Plan With Senators

February 14, 2021

A recent meeting between President Joseph Biden and four U.S. Senators provided a preview of the challenges that lie ahead for efforts to approve an infrastructure plan this year.

The bi-partisan group of Senators agreed with Biden that improving infrastructure should be framed as a way to improve the competitiveness of the United States in the global economy, particularly in competition with China.

“If we don’t get moving, they’re [China] going to eat our lunch,” Biden told reporters during a post-meeting news conference.

Biden noted that China has made massive investments in its rail network, automobile manufacturing and renewable energy capabilities.

Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) agreed that the U.S. needs to revitalize its economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was very good, very good and one reason is that I’ve known the president forever, and we’ve worked together before,” Inhofe said.

At the same time, Inhofe said he would not support a plan that is a vehicle to reduce carbon emissions, something that Biden and many Democrats are sure to seek.

“A surface transportation reauthorization bill can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs to strengthen our economy, and move us to a cleaner, safer future,” said Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware) in a statement after the meeting.

Carper, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said he was optimistic about reaching a bi-partisan consensus on an infrastructure bill. He said the current surface transportation authorization law expires on Sept. 30 and Congress doesn’t have time to waste.

House Committee OKs Pandemic Aid for Amtrak

February 14, 2021

A congressional committee on Wednesday approved transportation funding for a COVID-19 relief bill.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved a plan put forth by committee Democrats to provide $1.5 billion for Amtrak and $30 billion for public transit.

The committee also approved a policy rider directing Amtrak to restore without 90 days daily service for long-distance trains that operated daily before last fall.

The Amtrak funding had to survive two efforts by committee Republicans to eliminate it.

The committee defeated a motion by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania) to cut the Amtrak funding from the bill.

Another committee member, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) withdrew an amendment to transfer the Amtrak emergency funding to a highway-rail grade crossing program.

Crawford withdrew his amendment after Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) agreed to work with Crawford on the grade crossing issue in the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization bill.

The bill now advances to the full House. The Senate is expected to consider a counterpart COVID-19 pandemic relief bill.

Amtrak funding as approved by the House committee would be broken down to $820,388,160 for the Northeast Corridor and $679,622,840 for the national network.

The bill directs that not less than $165,926,000 of the combined amounts of the NEC and national network is to be used to restore all long-distance service in effect as of July 1, 2020, and to recall all workers put on furlough on or after Oct. 1, 2020.

Another clause provides that not less than $109,805,000 from the combined amounts of the NEC and national network shall be used in lieu of capital payments that the state-supported routes and commuter authorities were required to pay.

Amtrak is to use $174,850,000 from the national network funds to offset amounts required to be paid by states for covered state-supported routes.

The $30 billion earmarked for public transit is to be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic and includes eligibility for operating expenses to prevent layoffs and avoid cuts to service.

The legislation includes mandates for how the funding it to be allocated among urbanized areas, rural areas and for services for seniors and those with disabilities.

Some of the public transit emergency aid can also be used for planning purposes.

Waiting to Highball Memphis

February 9, 2021

Amtrak P42DC No. 60 is on the point tonight as the northbound City of New Orleans does its station work in Memphis.

This is a crew change point so a new locomotive engineer will board here to take Train 58 to Carbondale, Illinois, where another engineer will board for the final leg into Chicago.

The station here was built by the Illinois Central and was once known as Grand Central Station.

CONO Sked Changed for Track Work

February 9, 2021

Track work being performed by Canadian National will result in Amtrak’s City of New Orleans operating later on certain days between Feb. 9 and March 12.

On Wednesdays and Fridays,Train 58 will operate as Train 1158 and depart New Orleans at 2:45 p.m, 60 minutes later than normal and operate on a later schedule at all stations from New Orleans to Jackson, Mississippi.

Train 1158 will hold at Jackson until 7:14 p.m., 90 minutes later than normal and operate on a later schedule at all stations between Jackson and Chicago.

Train 58 will operate normally on Sundays during this period of time.

COVID-19 Transportation Aid Levels Proposed

February 9, 2021

Democrats in the House of Representatives have reportedly settled on funding levels for transportation that would be included in a proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

Under the proposal, transit agencies would receive $30 billion, Amtrak would get $1.5 billion, airlines would receive $14 billion and airports would get $8 billion.

The COVID-19 aid funding for transit falls short of the $39.3 billion that transit systems were seeking.

Amtrak funding would nearly match the $1.541 billion that the intercity passenger carrier is seeking from Congress.

However, it exceeds the $20 million that President Joseph Biden had proposed.

Biden’s initial proposal contained no funding for Amtrak or airlines.

A House committee is expected to begin working this week on the COVID-19 pandemic aid proposal.

Buttigieg Makes Pitch for High-Speed Rail

February 9, 2021

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg called for the United States to invest in high-speed rail during an interview with MSNBC, but stopped short of predicting when or even if that will happen.

Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg spoke in response to a question of when the U.S. would get high speed rail.

In response, Buttigieg said President Joseph Biden is a “big believer in passenger rail” and pointed out that various other nations have invested in fast passenger train services.

“I want the U.S. to be leading the world when it comes to access to high-speed rail, and I think we have an opportunity to do that, especially with the bipartisan appetite for real investments that we have before us this year,” Buttigieg said.

He was referring to an infrastructure development program the Biden administration plans to push later this year.

Details about that proposal have yet to be announced.

“Look, we’ve been asked to settle for less in this country, and I just don’t know why people in other countries ought to have better train service and more investment in high speed train service than Americans do,” Buttigieg said.

Calif. High-Speed Cost Rises, Completion Date Extended

February 9, 2021

The completion date for the segment of the California high-speed rail network currently under construction has been moved back to 2023.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority, which is overseeing the project, also has increased the cost of finishing the work to $13.1 billion. The Authority had projected the cost to be $12.4 billion.

Work is underway on 119 miles in the Central Valley between Bakersfield and Madera.

The Authority attributed the increases in cost and time needed to complete the work to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in worker quarantines, delayed right-of-way procurement, and loss of revenue from the cap-and-trade carbon reduction program.

The new cost estimates and completion timetable is part of a request the Authority is expected to make to the federal government for a one-year extension on a funding deadline.

New York Express in Lancaster

February 3, 2021

The New York Express is makings its station stop in Lancaster, Pennsylvania July 2, 1995. Although known as Train No. 644, today this train is simply known as Keystone Service.