Archive for March, 2021

Restoration of State-Funded Corridor Services Presents a Mixed Picture

March 27, 2021

Passengers board Amtrak’s Chicago-bound Saluki at Effingham, Illinois, on March 21. The Chicago-Carbondale corridor lost one roundtrip since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago

Although Amtrak plans to restore daily service to most long-distance routes starting in late May, the restoration of corridor service cut during the COVID-19 pandemic presents a more mixed picture.

Some states might restore service by summer but that is not guaranteed.

Michigan Department of Transportation Rail Director Peter Anastor said he didn’t known when two suspended Wolverine Service roundtrips between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) would return.

He indicated it will hinge in part on ridership and revenue trends.

“The CARES Act and the second stimulus bill helped fill the gap caused by fixed costs that stay the same whether you have 10 or 100 riders,” he said.

Michigan also funds the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water and the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette.

Although the Blue Water continued to operate throughout the pandemic, the Pere Marquette was suspended between March and last summer.

Anastor indicated new Venture coaches are expected to be assigned to Wolverine Service this spring, making it the first Midwest corridor train to have the new cars.

On other Midwest corridor routes, Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee is expected to increase to seven round trips on May 21.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Rail Division head Arun Rao said the service expansion will be promoted with an extensive advertising push and increased social media activity.

Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Speegle said his agency will decide in April when some other corridor services will be restored.

IDOT has suspended one round trip on the Chicago-Carbondale route, one roundtrip on the Chicago-Quincy route and two roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis.

“We anticipate resuming full service no earlier that mid-July; the final decision on that time frame will be made in April, approximately 12 weeks prior to resumption of service,” he said.

Speegle said IDOT will review ridership and revenue numbers for the current service, anticipated costs, and the level of federal support.

Whether a second St. Louis-Kansas City Missouri River Runner will resume operating will depend on how much funding the Missouri legislature approves.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has requested funding for two daily roundtrips but the chair of a House budget committee has proposed funding just one roundtrip.

In the East, New York State has not announced its intentions in regards to restoring any suspended Empire Corridor trains.

Two routes funded by New York, the Maple Leaf to Toronto and Adirondack to Montreal have been suspended due to the U.S.-Canadian border being closed during the pandemic.

Elsewhere in the East, North Carolina will begin a fourth roundtrip starting April 5 in the Charlotte-Raleigh corridor.

Amtrak and the North Carolina Department of Transportation are reinstating a third Piedmont Service roundtrip, making this the first multi-frequency state corridor to be fully restored.

North Carolina reinstated a second and third round trip last August and December, respectively.

Another Downeaster trip to Maine is expected to resume in May after schedules are worked out with Amtrak and host railroad Pan Am Railways.

Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority Executive Director Patricia Quinn said the new schedule will be a little different.

“Instead of just plugging two midday trains back into their old slots, we’re adding a 10:30 a.m. departure from Brunswick, which will turn as a 3 p.m. departure from Boston,” she said.

“Given the change in commute patterns, we decided to try something different, assuming we won’t need two trains leaving Boston for the evening rush hour, but the additional round-trip means we will again have a flex schedule for the late-night train from Boston to accommodate sports fans and concert goers.”

Quinn said weekday and weekend schedules will now be identical.

In the West, one Capitol Corridor roundtrip will on March 29 be extended from Oakland to San Jose.

Capitol Corridor managing director Rob Pagette said there will be a change in departure times based on the way customers now use the trains.

“We’re about at 15 percent of where we were in February 2020 but we are looking to have a more robust service by September,” he said.

“We’ve seen more demand spread throughout the day, and this has allowed us to improve the efficiency of how we use our equipment by (temporarily) going from seven to six consists.”

Pagette said officials will be watching to determine where people are riding after the schedule change to determine where we add back the seventh consist.” An eighth trainset will be added later.

The extended round trip to San Jose will originate in Auburn because there appear to be increasing numbers of “super commuters” who ride 80 miles or more to their jobs.

Ridership trends during the pandemic have shown that if passengers are less likely to travel every day, more will opt for less-costly housing further away from the Silicon Valley.

In the San Joaquin corridor, a fifth roundtrip is expected to be added in in the fall. However, the two round trips to Sacramento aren’t likely to return until early 2021 at the earliest.

Those plans, though, are contingent on ridership stabilizing.

In Southern California, the LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency expects to restore one Pacific Surfliner roundtrip between San Diego and Goleta in July or August.

The date of that service restoration is dependant on available funding.

In the Pacific Northwest, the Washington Department of Transportation is eyeing returning two Seattle-Portland roundtrips in mid May.

Currently, the Cascades Service is operating with one Seattle-Eugene, Oregon, round trip.

Officials are considering increasing Portland-Eugene service to two roundtrips.

Track Work to Disrupt Boston LSL Section

March 27, 2021

Track work being performed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will affect operations of the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited on March 28.

Train 448 will terminate at Albany-Rensselaer, New York. Alternate transportation will be provided to Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester and Boston South Station but no alternate transportation is being provided to Framingham.

Passengers traveling to Boston Back Bay station will be bused to Boston South and take an Amtrak or MBTA commuter train to Back Bay.

Train 449 will originate in Albany with alternate transportation being provided from Boston, Worcester, Springfield and Pittsfield.

No alternate transportation will be provided from Back Bay or Framingham.

Passengers originating at Back Bay have the option of boarding at Boston South or traveling another date.

Passengers boarding at Boston South Station should go to the Amtrak Information Desk for instructions on boarding the buses.

Passengers boarding at Worcester will board the bus at the main entrance in front of the station. Boarding will not take place at the bus terminal.

There will be no business class or sleeping car between Boston and Albany on the affected date.

3rd Piedmont Service RT To be Reinstated

March 27, 2021

Amtrak in cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Transportation will restore the third daily Piedmont Service roundtrip on April 5 in the Charlotte-Raleigh corridor.

In a news release, Amtrak said this will restore Piedmont Service to its pre-pandemic level.

The state also funds a fourth pair of trains in the corridor, the Charlotte-New York Carolinian.

Intermediate stops include Cary, Durham, Burlington, Greensboro, High Point, Salisbury and Kannapolis. 

Keystone Service Schedules Modified

March 27, 2021

Effective through April 16 Amtrak Keystone Service schedules will change due to construction along the route.

Train 664 will depart Harrisburg at 9:20 a.m., operating 10 minutes earlier from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

Train 611 will operate 20 minutes later from Ardmore to Harrisburg, arriving in Harrisburg at 9:35 a.m.

Train 615 will operate 20 minutes later from Paoli to Harrisburg, arriving in Harrisburg at 4:02 p.m.

Train 661 will depart 5 minutes earlier from Philadelphia and operate 15 minutes later from Ardmore to Harrisburg, arriving in Harrisburg at 10:35 a.m.

Train 663 will depart 5 minutes later from Philadelphia and operate 25 minutes later from Ardmore to Harrisburg, arriving in Harrisburg at 1:10 p.m.

Train 665 will depart 5 minutes later from Philadelphia and operate 25 minutes later from Ardmore to Harrisburg, arriving in Harrisburg at 5:00 p.m.

Train 667 will operate 20 minutes later from Ardmore to Harrisburg, arriving in Harrisburg at 7:05 p.m.

Train 669 will operate 20 minutes later from Ardmore to Harrisburg, arriving in Harrisburg at 9:05 p.m.

Train 646will depart Harrisburg at 9:04 a.m., operating 5 minutes later from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

Train 666 will depart Harrisburg at 11:35 a.m., operating 15 minutes later from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

Train 652 will depart Harrisburg at 3:05 p.m., operating 10 minutes later from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

Train 620 will depart Harrisburg at 8:35 p.m., operating 5 minutes later from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

Train 605 will operate 10 minutes later from Coatesville to Harrisburg, arriving in Harrisburg at 8:25 a.m.

Train 641 will operate 10 minutes later from Coatesville to Harrisburg, arriving in Harrisburg at 10:56 a.m.

Train 645 will operate 10 minutes later from Coatesville to Harrisburg, arriving in Harrisburg at 3:45 p.m.

Passengers traveling on Trains 605, 641 and 645 will need to board on the normal eastbound platform at Coatesville and Parkesburg.

Biden Administration Expected to Move Gateway Project Along

March 27, 2021

The Biden administration plans to approve the long-stalled Gateway Project to build new tunnels under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made the announcement this week during a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Buttigieg said the U.S. Department of Transportation hopes to complete the project’s environmental impact statement by the end of June.

“I share your sense of urgency,” Buttigieg told the committee. “This is a regional issue but one of “national significance because if there was a failure in one of those tunnels, the entire U.S. economy would feel it.”

The existing tunnels are more than a century old and suffered severe damage in 2012 during superstorm Sandy.

Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains use the tunnels.

Bill Would Create Regular Amtrak Funding

March 27, 2021

Two members of Congress have introduced legislation that would create a dedicated funding source for Amtrak.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumental (D-Connecticut) and U.S. Rep Danny Davis (D-Illinois) said their proposed Intercity Passenger Rail Trust Fund Act would create provide $5.4 billion annually for repairs, service improvements, fleet modernization and other needs.

The bill earmarks 40 percent of its funding for the Northeast Corridor and 60 percent for the national network. The funds could be used for capital and operating expenses.

 “This bill envisions the long-term, steady funding commitment to our nation’s intercity passenger rail system necessary to ensure it is safe and reliable for passengers today and long into the future,” Blumenthal said in statement.

The statement said intercity passenger rail is the only major form of transportation without a dedicated funding stream.

Amtrak CEO William Flynn in his own statement said the legislation is “a game changer for America and for Amtrak.”

Corresponding legislation was introduced in the House.

2 California Thruway Bus Stops Changing

March 27, 2021

Effective March 29, the Amtrak thruway bus stops for Petaluma and Vallejo in California will change.

The Vallejo stop will move from the Curtola Park-n-Ride to the Vallejo Transit Center at 311 Sacramento Street,

The Petaluma stop will move from the library to the Copeland Transit Mall, sharing space with Golden Gate Transit. The location is 19 Copeland Street.

Elevators Out of Service at 2 Amtrak Stations

March 27, 2021

Elevators at Amtrak stations in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, and Marshall, Texas, were reported to be out of service.

No date was given in an Amtrak service advisory for when either elevator would be back in service.

At Mount Joy the elevators lead to the boarding platforms. Passengers requiring an elevator should board at Elizabethtown station, approximately seven miles away or Lancaster, approximately 11 miles away.

The service advisory said the closet alternative boarding site for Marshall, which is served by the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle, is Longview, approximately 30 minutes west of Marshall.

Missouri Lawmakers Mull Cutting Amtrak Service

March 25, 2021

Missouri lawmakers are considering making Missouri River Runner Service just one roundtrip a day, which is what it has been since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Before the pandemic Missouri funded two daily roundtrips between St. Louis and Kansas City.

But a proposal before the House Budget Committee would only pay for one roundtrip even though the Missouri Department of Transportation is seeking funding for double daily service.

MoDOT said the River Runners handled 172,000 passengers annually before two years of service disruptions.

These included flooding that led Amtrak to transport passengers by bus rather than the train.

The route itself was unaffected by the flooding but host railroad Union Pacific routed freight trains off other route that were closed by high water.

Ridership also has fallen during the pandemic transportation officials said.

Amtrak, Vermont Talking About Service Revival

March 25, 2021

Vermont transportation officials are talking to Amtrak about reviving the Vermonter and the Ethan Allen Express.

Both trains were suspended last year during the CVOID-19 pandemic.

During a briefing about the pandemic, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said the state has had has had “preliminary discussions” with Amtrak about restoring both trains.

“We just don’t know exactly when it’s going to be,” Scott said.

Vermont Agency of Transportation spokeswoman Amy Taiko said her agency hopes to make an announcement within the next several weeks as to when the service might return.

Before being suspended, the Vermonter operated between St. Albans and Washington while the Ethan Allen Express ran between Rutland and New York.

State officials said that Amtrak has made non revenue runs in Vermont to keep the operating crews qualified.