Archive for May, 2022

Capitol Limited Consist Expanded

May 29, 2022

Amtrak has increased the capacity of its Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited. Nos. 29 and 30 are now operating with two sleeping cars, three coaches and a food service car, all of it Superliner equipment.

Also added to the consist was a Viewliner baggage car. The trains continue to be pulled by a single P42DC locomotive.

The train’s consist earlier this year shrunk to four cars, a sleeper, food service car and two coaches. In recent weeks the consist has been five cars with the extra car being a coach.

The Capitol Limited still is without a Sightseer lounge. Earlier reports blamed the lack of a lounge car on a car shortage prompted by a shortage of mechanics who can get cars that were stored during the pandemic back into operating condition.

As the pandemic sent Amtrak ridership plummeting, the passenger carrier reduced the consists of trains, sidelined dozens of cars, and reduced the frequency of operation of most long-distance trains to less than daily.

In late 2020 and early 2021, most long-distance trains fell to tri-weekly operation. Although daily operation was restored to those trains last summer, most trains began operating five days a week in late January.

At the time, Amtrak cited crew shortages for the service reductions. The Capitol Limited was restored to daily operation in late March.

In a related development, the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited resumed daily operation this week.

Nos. 48/49 and 448/449 had been operating five days a week, not departing its endpoint cities on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

The makeup of the Lake Shore is two P42DC locomotives, three Viewliner sleepers, a Viewliner dining car for sleeping car passengers, an Amfleet food service car, four to five Amfleet coaches and a Viewliner baggage car.

Ohio Amtrak Expansion Prospects Uncertain

May 23, 2022

Whether Ohio seeks federal funding to develop new Amtrak services in the state may hinge in part on who wins this year’s governor’s race.

Democrat Nan Whaley has said she would seek the funding to create the service while incumbent Republican Mike DeWine has been noncommittal although he did order the Ohio Rail Development Commission to conduct a study of Amtrak’s proposals to launch new service in Ohio.

Through its Amtrak Connects US plan, the passenger carrier has proposed developing service between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

Amtrak would also create service between Cleveland and Detroit, boost service between Cleveland and New York City, and between Cincinnati and Chicago.

Amtrak has proposed fronting the money to develop routes and pay at least some of the operating expenses not covered by ticket revenue for up to five years.

After five years, the state would be expected to pick up the costs of the routes.

A story published by The Plain Dealer quoted Ohio Senate president Matt Huffman (R-Lima) as expressing doubt that intercity passenger trains are needed in Ohio.

He said it might make sense to have trains in large, dense cities such as New York, but said there’s a question about whether enough Ohioans would prefer to travel via a train instead of by car.

“I’m not enthusiastic about it,” Huffman said of the Amtrak expansion proposal. “It’s kind of fun to talk about, but until someone can figure out why it’s better than taking a car, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) said when asked about the Amtrak proposals, “At this point, I don’t have any thoughts.”

DeWine said he has an open mind about passenger train development in Ohio and noted he and his family have traveled on Amtrak to go on camping trips in the West.

He added that he wants to see the results of the ORDC studies before taking a position on seeking federal funding for development of Amtrak routes.

More than a decade ago, the Federal Railroad Administration awarded Ohio $400 million to develop the Cleveland-Cincinnati route.

But after being elected governor in 2010 John Kasich returned that money to the federal government and plans to develop the 3-C corridor collapsed.

There have been no serious efforts to develop the corridor or any other intercity rail passenger route in Ohio since then.

The funding Amtrak plans to use to develop new routes comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act approved by Congress last year.

However, the $66 billion in the IIJA that was dedicated toward passenger rail is not enough to fund development of all of the routes shown in the Amtrak Connects US plan.

The route development funding is being funded through the FRA, which earlier this month released guidelines for those interested in seeking funding to develop routes.

The FRA is not expected to begin accepting proposals until this fall.

The ORDC study is expected to take eight months, although an ORDC spokeswoman told The Plain Dealer it is not clear how long the study will take because it is in “the very, very early stages.”

DeWine’s mandate to the ORDC was to determine the feasibility and cost of expanding passenger rail service in Ohio.

During a meeting with news reporters this week, DeWine did say that if the ORDC finds the 250-mile Cleveland-Cincinnati route would run at an average speed of 39 miles per hour, “that’s just not going to work.”

The 39 mph average speed figure came from the 2010 proposal. In its Amtrak Connects US plan, Amtrak said it envisioned three day roundtrips between Cleveland and Cincinnati with a running time of 5.2 hours.

In a statement, Whaley, a former mayor of Dayton, said she has been a long-time supporter of the Cleveland-Cincinnati route and pledged that if elected to “use the full power of her administration to make these proposed routes a reality.”

Earlier, 11 Ohio House Democrats and one House Republican introduced a resolution in support of expanding Amtrak service in Ohio, but it has yet to receive a hearing or a vote in the House.

In a related development, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and Columbus Partnership announced support of the development of the Cleveland-Cincinnati route.

MORPC executive director William Murdock said Columbus is one of the largest regions in the country without access to a rail system.

“What we’re proposing is multiple trips a day from Columbus to Cleveland, Columbus to Dayton and Cincinnati,” Murdock said. “And we’re even investigating lines from Columbus to Pittsburgh and Columbus to Chicago.”

Amtrak has three routes in Ohio with stations in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Sandusky, Elyria, Toledo, Bryan and Alliance.

All three routes link Chicago with cities on the East Coast, including Boston, New York and Washington.

The Chicago-New York route via Cincinnati operates tri-weekly while the other two routes operate or soon will operate daily.

Garneau Steps Down as VIA CEO

May 23, 2022

VIA Rail Canada CEO Cynthia Garneau has left her post.

She has headed the Canadian intercity rail passenger operator since May 2019. Before coming to VIA Garneau has been president of Bell Helicopter Textron Canada and worked in the aerospace industry for 20 years.

In a statement she said leaves VIA with a “sense of accomplishment.”

“I had given myself the objective to obtain confirmation for the HFR [high frequency rail] project, and with the procurement process now underway, my train has arrived at its destination. It will now be up to another driver to lead the organization through the next steps,” Garneau said in the statement.

The comment was in reference to a proposed passenger-only right-of-way in the Toronto-Quebec City corridor. Construction on the project, though, remains years away.

Francoise Bertrand, chairwoman of VIA’s board of directors, said Martin R. Landry, chief commercial affairs officer for the past eight years will oversee VIA.

Unusual Visitor in Cheyenne

May 19, 2022

It is August 1971 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, during Amtrak’s first summer of operation. The City of San Francisco is making its tri-weekly appearance on the Union Pacific leg of the Chicago-Oakland route.

By now Amtrak consists have entered the rainbow era with passenger cars being mixed from the various host railroads and still wearing whatever livery they had when Amtrak took them over.

But there is something out of the ordinary about this train. Look at the rear car. It is painted in Illinois Central colors with the word “Pullman” in the letterboard.

Very few cars from former IC passenger trains operated on Amtrak outside the Chicago-New Orleans line in IC colors. But it as not unheard of. I recall riding in a coach on the National Limited in December 1972 painted in IC orange and chocolate brown with “City of Miami” on the letter board.

But getting back to the City of San Francisco, in summer 1971 it usually ran in two sections. Daily service was provided between Chicago and Denver, but the train ran tri-weekly between Denver and Oakland, leaving both terminals on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Initially, Amtrak operated one train east of Denver on days when the Oakland section also ran. But this resulted in a consist of up to 23 cars so most days during the summer the Oakland and Denver sections operated separately between Chicago and Denver.

The two sections operating independently between Chicago and Denver ended in fall 1971.

Most of the equipment assigned to the City of San Francisco during Amtrak’s first summer was of Burlington Northern and UP heritage. The BN equipment included cars built for the Burlington Route, Northern Pacific and Great Northern.

One notable type of ex-BN car that was not operated on the Oakland section were Budd-built domes. Southern Pacific, which hosted the train between Ogden, Utah, and Oakland wouldn’t allow them, citing clearance issues.

So if you look at the image above, you’ll see an SP full dome bar-lounge car. You’ll also see an SP sleeper. However, SP equipment tended to be in a minority among first summer City of San Francisco consists.

A typical consist in August 1971 was a baggage-dorm, five coaches, a lunch counter lounge, diner, the SP dome and three sleepers. All of these cars operated between Chicago and Oakland.

As for that IC sleeper, it might have once operated on the Panama Limited and City of Miami. I couldn’t make out the car number so I don’t know if it made it onto Amtrak’s roster. As it turned out few ex-IC passengers were picked up by Amtrak.

Ohio Will Study Development of Amtrak Routes

May 19, 2022

The Ohio Rail Development Commission will talk with Amtrak about the feasibility and costs of establishing the routes specified in the passenger carrier’s Amtrak Connects US proposal.

Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the action, which is his first indication that the state is willing to at least consider development of the routes.

Amtrak has proposed establishing service between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

It also would connect Cincinnati and Chicago and add service between Cleveland and Detroit and New York City; and extend the route of the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian to Cleveland.

The governor’s spokesman, Dan Tierney, said in a statement that the feasibility determination is still in process.

Speaking on Tuesday, Tierney told reporters that previous administrations had determined these routes to be unfeasible.

“An updated feasibility determination is wise before proceeding with significant public expenditures of this nature,” he said.

Stu Nicholson, executive director of passenger rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio, said the group is “cautiously optimistic” about DeWine’s request.

“We’re also, at the same time, grateful to the governor for taking this step,” Nicholson said.

The ORDC study would be a first step in a long process. Although Amtrak has said it would help states fund route development and provide operating support for up to five years, the passenger carrier also expects states to eventually cover all operating losses.

Ohio has never funded Amtrak service although in 1971 is approved its share of paying for the short-lived Chicago-New York Lake Shore, a service that was discontinued in January 1972 because the states served declined to help fund it.

In 2010 newly-elected Ohio Gov. John Kasich returned to the federal government a grant that was to have been used to establish the Cleveland-Cincinnati route.

Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner had said last year that developing the Cleveland-Cincinnati route would cost approximately $100 billion.

The Amtrak Connects US proposal projects that three daily roundtrips on the route would carry an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 passengers annually.

DeWine’s directive to the ORDC comes a week after the Federal Railroad Administration published its guidelines for a corridor development program created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The FRA plans to solicit proposals for corridor development later this year.

The Ohio study is expected to take between eight months and a year to complete.

Nicholson said he expects the study to show why passenger rail will work in Ohio, the need for such a system, its environmental impacts and what needs to be done to the rail corridor to make it usable by faster, more frequent trains.

“I think Amtrak’s plan is frankly an even better plan in a lot of respects because it really opens up more of the state, not just the 3C+D,” he said. “You’re looking at being able to create mini-hubs for Amtrak … as well as restoring service to the most heavily traveled and densely populated corridor in the state.”

No Amtrak Long Distance Train Met FRA OT Threshold During the First Quarter of 2022

May 19, 2022

The Federal Railroad Administration reported that during the first quarter of 2022 no Amtrak long-distance train met the 80 percent on-time performance mark.

The FRA report said just 16 of Amtrak’s 43 routes met the 80 percent threshold.

The agency measures on-time performance, train delays, customer service, financial performance and public benefits.

The best Amtrak route for on-time performance was the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service, which posted a rate of 95 percent. The worst was the Auto Train at 24.2 percent.

Other high performers included the Ethan Allen (93.3 percent) and Keystone Service (93.2) percent). Other low performers included the Capitol Limited (35.0 percent), and Sunset Limited (40.0 percent).

Eight long-distance trains rated at less than 50 percent with the best performance being turned in by the City of New Orleans at 79.9 percent, just below the FRA’s 80 percent threshold.

The FRA defines on time as no later than 15 minutes after the scheduled arrival time.

The first quarter report found Amtrak trains experienced 1.3 million minutes of delay during the quarter.

Freight train interference was the most common source of delay during the quarter, accounting for 299,252 minutes (22 percent) of total delay minutes. That was a 12 percent increase over the fourth quarter of 2021.

Freight train interference on Union Pacific was 84,000 minutes followed by Norfolk Southern (69,116 minutes), BNSF (69,079 minutes), and CSX (54,810 minutes).

Other significant causes of delay were unused recovery time, passenger train interference and slow orders.

The FRA report said passengers rated the majority of routes (31 of 41) as 80 percent or higher in overall satisfaction.

The only route falling below 70 percent passenger satisfaction was the Auto Train.

System-wide, Amtrak earned $672 million in adjusted operating revenue and incurred $823 million in fully allocated operating expenses, achieving a cost recovery ratio of 82 percent, the FRA report said.

Routes that operated with high cost-recovery ratios include the Auto Train (131 percent), Illini/Saluki (124 percent), Northeast Regional (115 percent), and Hiawatha (114 percent).

Ridership was up 7 percent to 5.5 million in the first quarter compared with the fourth quarter or 2021.

The highest ridership was reported by Northeast Regional (1,706,419 riders), Acela Express (478,441 riders), and Pacific Surfliner (349,304 riders).

The FRA report said during federal fiscal year 2021, which ended on Sept. 30, 12.4 percent of Amtrak trips included a connection to another route: 6.4 percent of Northeast Corridor trains, 16.6 percent of State-supported trains, and 17.7 percent of long distance trains.

Of all multi-segment Amtrak trips, 2 percent included a missed connection, with the highest number on the San Joaquins, Pacific Surfliner, and Southwest Chief routes.

In FY2021, Amtrak served 67,835 riders (0.56 percent of all riders) in areas not well-served by other modes of intercity transportation, “such as air or intercity buses.

Pets to be Allowed Aboard Pacific Surfliners

May 19, 2022

Pets will be allowed aboard Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner trains starting May 20.

In a news release, The LOSSAN Agency, which manages the route, said dogs and cats weighing up to 20 pounds may be brought aboard in a carrier which should remain under the passenger’s seat.

Passengers with pets must pay a $26 fee and will be limited to one pet reservation per trip.

“We’re always looking for ways to better serve the needs of our passengers, and allowing pets to come along for the ride is something our customers have expressed a strong interest in,” said Jason Jewell, interim managing director of LOSSAN.

Brightline Tests at Orlando Airport Station

May 19, 2022

Florida passenger operator Brightline saw its first train arrive at its Orlando International station this past Tuesday.

The train conducted testing of the 170-mile extension of Brightline’s service territory to the airport from West Palm Beach.

Brightline currently operates between West Palm Beach and Miami.

Brightline said the Orlando extension is nearly 80 percent complete and construction is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Crew training and qualifying between West Palm Beach and Cocoa began in January.

The test train this week operated between the airport station and a maintenance facility located south of the airport.

Brightline Train Tests at Orlando Airport Station

May 19, 2022

Florida passenger operator Brightline saw its first train arrive at its Orlando International station this past Tuesday.

The train conducted testing of the 170-mile extension of Brightline’s service territory to the airport from West Palm Beach.

Brightline currently operates between West Palm Beach and Miami.

Brightline said the Orlando extension is nearly 80 percent complete and construction is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Crew training and qualifying between West Palm Beach and Cocoa began in January.

The test train this week operated between the airport station and a maintenance facility located south of the airport.

One Day in Jackson

May 16, 2022

Amtrak’s southbound Panama Limited is sitting in the station in Jackson, Mississippi, on May 14, 1977. But the train with the dome cars is not No. 59. Look down the tracks to the train with an Amfleet consist. That’s No. 59.

The train that everyone is paying attention to is the Amtrak Transcontinental Steam Excursion that ran from Birmingham, Alabama, to Portland, Oregon, making an overnight stop in Jackson. It was pulled by former Southern Pacific 4-8-4 No. 4449.

The excursion was prompted by the need to move No. 4449 back to its home in Portland after it had finished pulling the American Freedom Train in 1976. That saw the 4449 end its journey in Miami.

The transcontinental excursion ran in two segments. One ran from Miami to Birmingham in January 1977. In Birmingham the 4449 spent time in the shops of the Southern Railway.

The second section left Birmingham on April 13 bound for Jackson. After spending the night in Jackson, the excursion departed the next morning at 10 a.m. for New Orleans. The Panama Limited was scheduled to depart Jackson for the Crescent City at 8:17 a.m.

Although Nos. 58/59 were supposed to have sleeping and dining cars, the consist changed dramatically in January 1977 when severe winter weather knocked about a third of the long-distance fleet out of service. Trains were suspended or had their routes temporarily shortened. The Panama Limited received Amfleet equipment, which turned out to be a permanent change.

As for the consist of the steam excursion, it included parlor car 3644, Nathan Hale; baggage car 1117; dome coach 9545, Silver Vision; coach 6008; counter-diner 8399; dome coach 9542, Silver Stream; snack bar coach 3965; snack bar coach 3925; coach 6024; and observation-dome lounge 9310.

The excursion train reached Portland on May 1 traveling over the routes of the Sunset Limited and Coast Starlight. It traveled 9,700 miles and made stops in 61 cities. Amtrak sold 3,655 tickets with many riding a short distance but a few hardy folks rode the entire distance.

Given the state of Amtrak today it seems unimaginable to envision such as excursion as this operating now.