Archive for April, 2021

New Charges Set to Debut in Capitol Corridor

April 28, 2021

New environmentally friendly Charger locomotives are being placed in service in the Capitol Corridor in California.

The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority said it recently retired two F59 locomotives in favor of the Chargers, which are EPA-certified Tier 4 rated.

The new motive power was funded by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and co-funded by Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District and Placer County Air Pollution Control District through the Carl Moyer Grant Program.

The new units are expected to enter revenue service as early as this week but no later than June 1.

The Chargers were built by Siemens and are said to provide a 90 percent reduction in particulate matter emissions and 80 percent NOx reduction compared to the soon-to-be-retired Tier 2 engines.

The Tier 4 engines are also equipped with electronically controlled, regenerative braking systems that use energy from the traction motors during braking to minimize fuel consumption.

NEC Passengers to Get Carbon Emissions Data

April 28, 2021

Amtrak will provide passengers using the Northeast Corridor trip-specific carbon emissions savings information.

The data will be for trains traveling between Boston and Washington. It will be calculated by showing riders how much they saved by not driving, as well as how much they saved by not flying.

In a news release, Amtrak said the difference between train travel and driving or flying is the passenger’s carbon emissions savings (Co2e).

Amtrak said its trains produces 83 percent fewer emissions than driving alone and up to 73 percent less than flying.

The NEC program is a pilot that will eventually be phased in across the national network.

The emissions calculations are generated from the EPA’s GHG Emission Hub, which multiplies the mode of travel factor (kg CO2e/pm) by passenger miles (pm) and equals total kgs of CO2e (per passenger).

Penn Station Renovation Outlined

April 28, 2021

New York officials have revealed options to redevelop New York Penn Station as part of the proposed $16 billion Empire Station Complex.

Amtrak, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New Jersey Transit are working to together to establish a plan to unify the separate railroads’ concourses into one space.

This project would new tracks and platforms to accommodate growing ridership, expected to increase by 54 percent to 830,000 daily users by 2038.

The first step in project is to rebuild the station’s existing Penn Station layout. That would involve  creating a central atrium and giving NJ Transit some space now used by Amtrak.

However, officials said they are also considering creating an open, single-level concourse that would eliminate all low ceiling heights.

This work would simplify entry and exit routes from trains and the street level while also creating new large circulation areas bigger than the Great Hall of Grand Central Terminal.

Fighting Continues at STB over Gulf Service

April 28, 2021

Amtrak has asked the U.S. Surface Transportation board to dismiss the objections of CSX and Norfolk Southern to a case the passenger carrier filed in March seeking to force them to allow new service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The two Class 1 railroads and Amtrak have long been at odds over what improvements are needed to allow the Mobile service to begin.

In its latest filing Amtrak refered to federal law pertaining to use of railroad facilities and providing service to Amtrak.

The law in question, the Amtrak filing said, allows it to operate additional trains over a rail line of the carrier.

The law allows Amtrak to seek an STB order requiring the carrier to provide or allow for the operation of the requested trains.

CSX and NS contend that Amtrak must complete a traffic study begun last year of how the Mobile service would affect their operations.

That study has yet to be completed and Amtrak wants both host railroad to be forced to explain why they cannot host the new Amtrak service.

Amtrak is also seeking to force the host railroads to explain what infrastructure improvements are needed to enable the new service to begin.

The line in question was used by Amtrak until August 2005 when it was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

At the time, Amtrak suspended operates of its Sunset Limited east of New Orleans.

In a related development U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) has asked the STB to allow Amtrak to expand service along the Gulf Coast.

Wicker’s letter was sent in response to Amtrak’s petition to restore the service along the coast.
“Implementing twice-daily service between New Orleans and Mobile would provide a huge economic lift to Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula, and other cities along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. It would serve as the culmination of Mississippi’s efforts to recover from Hurricane Katrina,” Wicker wrote.

In a contrary position, the Port of New Orleans and New Orleans Public Belt Railroad Commission have asked the STB to complete the traffic study of how Mobile service would affect host railroads CSX and NS.

In their letter, the two entities asked the STB to order Amtrak to complete the traffic control study with supplemental engineering and cost report.

The agencies said they are not opposed to the new Amtrak service but said the study “is needed to adequately understand the impact the passenger-rail service will have on current and future freight service through the region.”

Capitol Corridor Service to Expand June 7

April 28, 2021

Capitol Corridor passenger service will increase on June 7, officials said this week.

The announcement said growing ridership demand, funding support and improving public health conditions are making the expansion possible.

Service will increase to 22 weekday and 18 weekend trips. The current level of service is now 16 weekday and 10 weekend trips.

The schedule change will result in a return to  pre-pandemic service between Oakland and San Jose.

However, officials do not expect complete pre-pandemic schedules to be in effect until sometime in 2022.

Stimulus Money Conveyed to Amtrak

April 28, 2021

The U.S. Department of Transportation said this week that it has conveyed to Amtrak $1.69 billion in economic stimulus funds authorized by the American Rescue Act of 2021.

The funding includes $728.6 million for Amtrak’s long distance and regional trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak was directed by Congress to allocate $174 million of that total to offset what the carrier charges states for corridor services.

However, the law does not require states to restore their Amtrak corridor services to pre-pandemic levels.

Most states reduced their corridor services during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a plunge in ridership.

Several states have begun restoring suspended services but others have yet to announce their plans.

Among the routes yet to be fully restored is the Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The route had three roundtrips pre-pandemic, but since March 2020 the level of service has been a single daily roundtrip.

Some Illinois and Missouri routes also continued to operate below pre-pandemic levels.

The directive also mandated that Amtrak return long-distance service to daily operation if they operated as such before last year.

Amtrak has said daily operation will be phased in over a three-weekly period beginning May 24.

The Northeast Corridor will receive $969.4 million of which $109.8 million will go to states and commuter railroads to cover their share of capital costs Amtrak charges them for using the Northeast Corridor.

Another $100.8 million will be used for debt relief that Amtrak incurred before the legislation was adopted on March 11.

Amtrak Releases 2020 Sustainability Report

April 28, 2021

Amtrak released its fiscal year 2020 sustainability report this week to highlight projects it undertook to meet its annual and long-term environmental goals.

During a year of falling ridership, Amtrak said it still conducted climate resilience research and developed its first solar-power purchase agreement contract.

The report also cited initiating internal climate roundtables across various departments.

Specific projects cited in the report included the opening on Jan. 1, 2021, of the Moynihan Train Hall in New York City, which uses natural light from overhead parabolic skylights that were created by reusing the building’s steel trusses.

Train information displays use LED lights, and escalators are equipped with smart features, including heaters, to ensure reliability during cold weather, and with a “sleep mode” to save energy and increase durability,

Amtrak said that since 2006, it has lost more than $127 million in revenue due to severe storms and weather disruptions, with a projected loss (based on historic costs) of an expected additional $220 million by 2030.

“Based on predicted storm surge and flood maps, if we continue business as usual, we are exposed to increasing operational, financial and reputational risk,” the report said.

This has led the carrier to develop a Climate Resilience Strategic Plan in an effort to better understand current business practices, available data, vulnerabilities, and climate risks.

 “As we identify goals and objectives for ensuring resiliency in our supply chain, operations and infrastructure, we will establish priorities and metrics to track progress,” Amtrak reported.

The first phase of the plan will focus on the Northeast Corridor.

Sagging ridership also led to less food and beverage offered by the carrier being consumed by passengers.

Rather than see these go to waste, Amtrak said it used Food Finders, a nonprofit agency, to collect those items, as well as linens and towels, and distribute them, free of charge, to local food pantries, shelters and community centers.

This was done in Washington, Seattle, Chicago, Oakland, New Orleans, Boston, New York, and Miami.

Publishers Announce Books About Amtrak

April 26, 2021

Two publishers have announced the coming release of books tied to the 50th anniversary of Amtrak.

White River Productions said Fifty Years of Amtrak Trains will be a detailed summary of every route operated by Amtrak.

Authored by Bruce Goldberg and David Warner, the book will have 256 pages and numerous color and black and white photographs.

It is priced at $79.95 but is available for $70 at the publisher’s website through May 31.

A promotion for the book on the publisher’s website said many of the photographs have never been published.

Other illustrations will include route maps and illustrations of brochure art. The contents also include detailed tables showing train schedules and station stops at 10-year intervals.

Goldberg and Warner have written about Amtrak in previous works.

Warner was the co-auithor with Elbert L. Simon of Amtrak by the Numbers, a review of the passenger carrier’s locomotive and rolling stock rosters.

That book was published by White River in 2011.

Goldberg and Warner were co-author of The Metroliners, which was published by White River in 2016. He also authored a long out of press book titled Amtrak: The First Decade.

Ordering information about Fifty Years of Amtrak is available athttps://shop.whiteriverproductions.com/products/am50

Indiana University Press plans to release in October Amtrak, America’s Railroad: Transportation’s Orphan and Its Struggle for Survival, by Geoffrey Doughty, Jeffrey Darbee and Eugene Harmon.

A publisher’s summary said the book explores how Amtrak’s has been a company hindered by its flawed origin and unequal quality of leadership, subjected to political gamesmanship and favoritism, and mired in a perpetual philosophical debate about whether it is a business or a public service.

The authors interviewed former Amtrak presidents and explore the current problems and issues facing the passenger carrier while offering proposed solutions.

The book concludes that Amtrak was created in the absence of a comprehensive national transportation policy but managed to survive its inherent flaws due to the public’s persistent loyalty.

The book has 264 pages and 42 color illustrations. It is priced at $40. The cover has yet to be displayed on the publisher’s website.

Ordering information is available at https://iupress.org/9780253060631/amtrak-americas-railroad

Siemens to Build New Cars for Amtrak

April 21, 2021

Amtrak will contract with Siemens for new equipment that will be assigned to service in the Northeast Corridor, on some state-supported trains and for the New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto.

The passenger carrier said Siemens was chosen as the “preferred bidder” to build 83 intercity trainsets.

Siemens is already constructing new Venture cars to be used for Midwest and California corridor services.

Amtrak said it chose Siemens as part of a competitive procurement process that began in January 2019.

The new equipment will feature dual power in some cases and will replace Amfleet I and Metroliner cab cars.

The equipment is also expected to replace existing equipment used in Cascades Service in the Pacific Northwest.

Siemens and Amtrak are talking about a contract for construction and long-term service that both parties hope to sign this summer.

The contract would also include technical support, spares and material supply.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said the carrier would not release any other information about the equipment order beyond what was reported in a news release.

STB Forms Passenger Working Group

April 17, 2021

A working group has been created by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to develop plans to enforce on-time performance rules for intercity passenger-rail service.

The STB said the group will oversee a rule formulated in November 2020 by the Federal Railroad Administration that established metrics and minimum standards.

In a news release, the STB said Frank O’Connor will serve as chair of the passenger rail working group.

Frank O’Connor is deputy director of the STB’s Office of Economics.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 gave the STB authority to investigate and adjudicate issues related to on-time performance of Amtrak’s intercity service under the new metrics and standards.

Those rules will be implemented on July 1, with quarterly reporting by the FRA to begin the following month.

The FRA rule defines on-time as the arrival of passengers at their destination station no later than 15 minutes after their published scheduled arrival time.

The FRA’s rule requires Amtrak and its host railroads to certify Amtrak schedules and sets an on-time performance minimum standard of 80 percent for any two consecutive calendar quarters.

Under federal law, the STB is authorized to investigate a failure to meet the on-time performance standard, either on its own initiative or upon complaint by Amtrak or another eligible complainant, to determine whether and to what extent that failure is due to causes that could be reasonably addressed by a rail carrier over whose tracks the intercity passenger train operates or by Amtrak or other intercity passenger rail operators.

The STB may identify reasonable measures and make recommendations to improve train service, quality and on-time performance.

Federal regulators may also award damages and prescribe other relief should the STB determine that failure to meet the on-time performance standard was attributable to a host railroad’s failure to provide preference to Amtrak over freight transportation.

The on-time passenger standards have been a decade in the making.

Earlier attempts to create an on-time standard were challenged by the Association of American Railroads in court and the case twice reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The working group will also “explore the feasibility of creating an office at the STB focused on passenger rail issues and the creation of a Passenger Rail Advisory Committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act,” among other functions.