Archive for December, 2021

Racing North Near Leverett

December 22, 2021

To appreciate this image it probably helps if you grew up in a place with a lot of flat farmland.

Shown is Amtrak’s City of New Orleans racing northbound toward Chicago near Leverett, Illinois, shortly after sunrise on a Sunday morning.

No. 58 was more than an hour behind schedule leaving Champaign. The train is on the Chicago Subdivision of Canadian National, which at one time was the mainline of the Illinois Central between Chicago and New Orleans.

As for what I, an east central Illinois native, see in this photograph, I see familiarity. There are no striking physical features such as mountains and valleys, just farmland and in the distance traces of urbanization in Champaign-Urbana. Above the Superliner cars you also can see the top of the grain elevator at Leverett.

This is all familiar to me and in a way comforting.

I would not have been able to get this image had No. 58 been on time as it would have been dark as it passed through here. It was a nice way to get a day of railfanning off to a good start.

If you look closely, you will see there is frost on the crossties of the CN track. Temperatures were in the 20 when I made this photograph on a winter morning.

I later checked and determined No. 58 halted at Chicago Union Station 58 minutes late.

Amtrak to Repair NYC Tunnels

December 22, 2021

Amtrak will repair its tunnels between New York City and New Jersey as a prelude to constructing two new tunnels.

The passenger carrier said repair work in the $150 million program will be undertaken at night and on weekends and occur over a two-year period.

The tunnels were damaged in 2012 by flooding triggered by Superstorm Sandy. The damage included deteriorating concrete and cable corrosion.

Eventually, Amtrak plans to rebuild the two existing tunnels, which were built in the early 20th century, after completing construction of two new tunnels as part of the Gateway tunnel program.

Once the Gateway project is completed, train capacity in the Northeast Corridor will be significantly increased.

Amtrak plans to fund the work with funding contained in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Train Time in Stamford

December 16, 2021

Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 131 rolls into the station in Stamford, Connecticut, on July 13, 2000, behind a pair of AEM-7s. Note that the motors, which some dubbed “toasters” and others called “Swedish meatballs,” are wearing different liveries. Although the AEM-7 has been retired from Amtrak’s motive power roster for several years now, one of them recently was rebuilt by Caltrans for use as a catenary test vehicle.

Missouri Runner Service to be Halved Jan. 3

December 16, 2021

Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City will be cut in half on Jan. 2, 2022, to reflect state funding of the service.

Set to be discontinued are the morning train from Kansas City to St. Louis and the afternoon return trip.

That will leave a morning departure from St. Louis to Kansas City and a return trip in the evening.

The Missouri Department of Transportation said the projected cost to operate one daily roundtrip is $9.1 million. Two daily roundtrips would cost $13.25 million.

Earlier this year the Missouri legislature approved $10.8 million for Amtrak service.

Some of that funding is being used to pay for the second roundtrip for half of the state’s current fiscal year.

A MoDOT spokeswoman said restoration of the second roundtrip will depend on how much funding the legislature approves for Amtrak service in subsequent fiscal years.

“Our funding has to go through the legislative process,” said Linda Wilson Horn.

Also left hanging is funding to restore the building that formerly hosted the Amtrak station in Jefferson City. No funding is available to finish that work.

Since 2019 Jefferson City passengers have been using a converted mobile office building after the historic station was closed due to structural instability.

The COVID-19 pandemic combined with service disruptions prompted by flooding of the Missouri River have hindered ridership in the past two years.

Last year 58,000 rode the Missouri River Runners but previous ridership had been in the 170,000 range.

Amtrak Has New Fort Madison Stop for SW Chief

December 16, 2021

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief is now using a restored former Santa Fe depot in Fort Madison, Iowa, that was last used as a passenger stop in 1968.

The depot, built in 1910, had been sold by the Santa Fe to the city for $1 and since 1972 has been used by the North Lee County Historical Society.

To make the structure suitable for Amtrak use, a new platform was built that conforms to Americans With Disabilities Act standards and the depot itself was raised above the Mississippi River floodplain. That involved placing it on a new 5-foot tall concrete foundation.

The work cost $4.5 million with funding provided by the BNSF, Amtrak and grants from city, state, local and federal sources.

The depot is located in downtown Fort Madison. After closing the station in 1968, Santa Fe had boarded Fort Madison passengers in its freight yard located more than a mile away.

Restoration of the original Santa Fe depot was a 14-year effort by the city.

Flynn to Retire As Amtrak CEO in January

December 16, 2021

Amtrak announced on Wednesday that CEO William J. Flynn will retire from his post on Jan. 17, 2022, and be replaced by company president Stephen Gardner.

Gardner will assume the positions of president and CEO, an arrangement that Amtrak has used in the past. He will be the fourth CEO at Amtrak in the past five years.

Flynn has served as Amtrak CEO since April 15, 2020, when he replaced Richard Anderson. At the time of his hiring, Flynn assumed the positions of CEO and president.

He dropped the latter title when Gardner was promoted to president in December 2020 with responsibility of overseeing the passenger carrier’s daily operations and modernizing its services and equipment fleet.

Flynn, 67, came to Amtrak after having served as CEO and president of Atlas Air World Holdings, a charter and freight carrier. He was at Atlas for 13 years.

He also held senior positions at CSX Transportation, Sea-Land Services, and GeoLogistics Corporation.

Amtrak said Flynn will continue to serve Amtrak as a senior advisor through the end of the federal fiscal 2022 budget year.

Gardner, 45, has a largely political background having served as a staff member for two Democratic members of Congress and as a senior staff member of a congressional committee overseeing transportation.

He is credited with having written much of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

Earlier in his career, Gardner held operating and management positions at Maine Central, and the Buckingham Branch Railroad.

Amtrak Lost $1.08B in FY2021

December 16, 2021

Amtrak lost $1.08 billion in adjusted operating earnings during fiscal year 2021.

In a report summarizing its FY2021 activities, the passenger carrier blamed the loss largely on lost revenue from ridership plunges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report said Amtrak provided 12.2 million passenger trips, an increase of 4 million over FY2020 ridership.

Ridership in FY2021 was 42 percent over the goal and has now reached 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels.  More than half of the FY2021 ridership came in the second half of the fiscal year.

Amtrak said it expects ridership in FY2022, which runs through Sept. 30, 2022, to be 80 percent of its pre-pandemic level.

The report emphasized that the fiscal results are preliminary. The adjusted operating earnings were $400 million “ahead of plan,” Amtrak said.

During FY2021, Amtrak said it advanced $2.2 billion in capital spending, including major milestones such as the acquiring property for the Hudson Tunnel Project between New Jersey and New York City and buying new multi-powered trainsets from Siemens Mobility.

Running Late in Massillon

December 15, 2021

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Amtrak’s Broadway Limited wasn’t scheduled to see daylight in Massilon, Ohio. But Nos. 40 and 41 sometimes ran hours late and thus it was possible to photograph them. Such was the case on April 30, 1978, when the westbound Broadway made an appearance in daylight. On the point is F40PH No. 255 followed by E9B No. 475, and E8A No. 228.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Amtrak January Service Cuts Likely Averted

December 15, 2021

Amtrak service cuts in January have been averted. Amtrak CEO William Flynn advised employees on Tuesday that the company will refrain from enforcing a company decree that workers who were not fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus by early January would be terminated.

Consequently, he said in a memo to Amtrak workers, the passenger carrier does not anticipate reducing its level of service next month.

Flynn said the company will allow unvaccinated workers to remain on the job if they are able to submit a negative COVID-19 test weekly or more frequently if needed.

Amtrak has been warning for weeks that service frequency reductions were possible unless it achieved 100 percent compliance with a vaccination rule it announced last summer.

Last week Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said in a congressional hearing that service reductions were likely on long-distance trains because some crew bases serving those trains had a relatively high rate of noncompliance with the vaccination mandate.

However, the passenger carrier is now pointing to court action staying enforcement of an executive order issued by President Joseph Biden ordering federal contractors to require that their employees be fully vaccinated.

In the wake of those court orders, the three Class 1 railroads that had ordered their workers to be vaccinated – Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and BNSF – have rescinded enforcement of those rules, at least temporarily.

But Amtrak had said it planned to go ahead and enforce its vaccination requirement, noting that the carrier had announced its rule before the executive order had been issued by the Biden administration.

Amtrak’s original rule had allowed testing as an alternative to vaccination. The rule also permitted certain exemptions to the vaccination requirement.

Workers who have been granted an exemption will be able to continue working, Flynn said in his memo.

This is a change from a previous proviso that those who were exempted would be placed on unpaid leave.

The Flynn memo said workers who failed to submit to COVID-19 testing  will be initially placed on a leave of absence and could face termination.

Thus far nearly 96 percent of Amtrak’s workforce has reached compliance with the vaccination rule or received an accommodation while 97.3 percent has received at least one immunization. That leaves fewer than 500 workers in noncompliance. Flynn’s memo has been posted on the website of Railway Age and can be read by clicking on the following link.

Looking Good in the Florida Sun

December 14, 2021

It is December 1979 and I’ve made a trip to and from Miami on the Silver Meteor southbound and the Silver Star northbound. In that era the trains on the route were pulled by SDP40F locomotives. No. 645 shown in the top image was assigned to pull the northbound Star out of Miami and I was to make a few photographs of as the train was boarding.

The bottom image was made in Jacksonville, Florida, in July 1977. I had just arrived on the southbound Floridian, which split at Jacksonville into Miami and St. Petersburg sections.

SDP40F No. 638 would lead the Miami section on this day. It parked on a station track when I photographed it.

In this era the Phase I paint scheme was still widely seen although the Phase II livery was already being applied to F40PH and P30CH locomotives.