Archive for November, 2022

Amtrak Crows About Ridership Gains

November 30, 2022

Amtrak on Tuesday touted ridership gains during fiscal year 2021 in a news release issued two days before a public meeting of its board of directors.

The release, though, presented a mixed picture of the passenger rail carrier’s finances.

Although ridership was up substantially on Amtrak’s three business lines, revenue fell in two of the three.

The report covers the period of Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept.30, 2022, which mirrors the federal fiscal year.

Ridership in the Northeast Corridor rose 110 percent while state corridor services ridership was up 85 percent and long-distance train patronage was up 56 percent.

However, the operating revenue of $2.8 billion in FY2022 was 15 percent below that of FY 2019, the last period to begin before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March 2020 and sent ridership and revenue plummeting across all business lines.

The report sought to put a positive spin on revenue by saying the adjusted operating earnings at $884.9 million were an 18.2 percent improvement over fiscal 2021 and “$145 million ahead of Amtrak’s FY22 plan due to strong ticket revenue growth.”

The report will be presented to Amtrak’s directors at a meeting on Thursday in St. Louis.

The report released on Tuesday does not provide revenue information by route or business category.

That is consistent with past practices of the carrier to omit this information from public reports.

Earlier this year, Trains magazine reported that information it obtained showed long-distance revenue was up 23 percent in FY2022 compared with FY2019 while revenue for the Northeast Corridor and state corridor services were both down about 30 percent.

The report Amtrak released this week said it expects ridership and revenue to improve above 90 percent of pre-COVID levels by the end of FY2023.

House Expected to Vote Today to Thwart National Rail Stoppage

November 30, 2022

The House of Representatives was expected to vote today on a resolution that would forestall a national railroad work stoppage that could begin as early as Dec. 9.

Throughout Tuesday members of the House and Senate expressed support for the resolution, which would impose the terms of an amended contract agreed to in late September by leaders of 12 railroad labor unions and the National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents railroad management.

Some members of Congress, though expressed reservations that the resolution will not address the issue of sick days for unionized railroad workers.

The Politico website reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (R-California) plans to address that in part by having the House vote on two resolutions.

One resolution will impose the September tentative contract agreement while the other would grant seven sick days to railroad workers.

The sick days resolution was characterized by the Politico report as a way to appease House Democrats who have sided with rail labor unions on the sick days issue, but don’t want to an economy-damaging railroad work stoppage.

The resolution is expected to pass the House and probably will be approved by the Senate although there could be bumps in the road to passage.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said Tuesday that Congress needs to act soon, saying that without congressional action shipments of critical freight will halt in preparation for a shutdown.

That includes chemicals used to treat drinking water, feed for livestock, and “just in time delivery” of components used in manufacturing.

On Monday President Joseph R. Biden called for Congress to act, saying that a negotiated settlement of the contract dispute was unlikely to occur.

Members of four railroad labor unions have voted to reject the amended contract while members of eight unions have ratified it.

Secretary of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh will meet with Senate Democrats on Thursday about averting a rail strike, Politico reported.

He will reportedly tell lawmakers that the September tentative agreement is the best possible contract that could be achieved through negotiations.

Walsh was involved in brokering that agreement during an all-night negotiating session.

McConnell said Congress needs to head off a railroad work stoppage but said some of his members have mixed feeling about the matter

“I think some may be inclined to vote against it,” McConnell said. “And others are arguing that the economic price of doing that is too great.”

Schumer said he and McConnell both want to see the resolution pass the Senate quickly, but did not say how soon that will likely occur.

Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont said he will push for a vote on a resolution to give rail workers more paid sick leave.

In pressuring Congress to act quickly, various trade groups representing railroad shippers have said that carriers are likely to begin to embargo shipments of some freight this weekend ahead of a possible work stoppage.

At least one of the railroad labor unions whose members rejected the tentative agreement, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, issued a statement disagreeing with Congress imposing a settlement of the contract dispute.

The statement noted that Congressional action would not resolve the sick leave issue and would deny union members their right to strike.

The last national railroad work stoppage occurred in 1992 and was ended by congressional action.

Railway Age reported on its website that it had obtained a draft of the joint resolution that will be voted on by the House today.

The resolution cites the Commerce Clause of the Constitution as giving Congress the authority to ensure the uninterrupted operation of essential transportation services.

The magazine’s report said House rules require only 15 minutes of debate on each side and do not provide for “holds” or “filibusters.”

But the Senate does allow for unlimited debate although Senate Majority Leader Schumer is expected to seek unanimous consent  to send the House resolution to the Senate floor for a vote, where it would need only 51 votes for passage.

If even one senator objects to the call for unanimous consent, Senate rules require 30 hours of debate, one intervening day and 60 votes to cut off debate and advance the bill to the floor for a vote.

Railway Age reported that if the bid for unanimous consist fails, there is expected to be enough Republicans in favor of cutting off debate although that might mean the proceedings will linger into the weekend.

The Railway Age report said that as of Tuesday night neither of the two largest railroad labor unions or the National Carriers’ Conference Committee had issued statements on the prospect of congressional action to avert a railroad work stoppage.

Adirondack to Return in 2023

November 29, 2022

Amtrak recently said it would resume operating the New York-Montreal Adirondack in 2023 but did not give a date.

The service, which is funded by the State of New York, has been suspended March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. At the time, the border between the United States and Canada was closed.

It has since reopened and Amtrak service to Toronto and Vancouver, British Columbia has resumed.

A New York state legislator told local news media that Amtrak is working to get its crews re-qualified to operate in Canada.

BNSF Replaces Semaphores on SW Chief Route

November 29, 2022

Twenty-two semaphore signals have been replaced in New Mexico by BNSF on the route used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The signals, which originally had been installed by the Santa Fe, were removed on Nov. 18-19 on the BNSF Glorieta Subdivision.

They stood between Las Vegas and Bernal, and were the last of their type still in use on a Class I railroad in the United States. 

BNSF has been replacing in recent years semaphore signals used on the Chief’s route.

There remain 11 semaphore signals still in use on the route between Colmor and Wagon Mound, New Mexico, on the Raton Subdivision. Another five working semaphore signals are located west of Lamy on the State of New Mexico’s Albuquerque Subdivision.

Replacement signals for the western stretch on the Albuquerque Sub are already in place.

NEC Susquehanna River Bridge Replacement Advancing

November 29, 2022

Two contracts are expected to be awarded next year for replacement of the Susquehanna River bridge on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

Plans calls for building a pair of two-track fixed bridges that will replace the existing movable bridge.

An Amtrak news release said the project also involves realigning five miles of track. The project is expected to cost $1.5 billion and involves the passenger carrier, the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration.

The current bridge handled more than 110 trains a day for Amtrak, MARC and Norfolk Southern. It is the longest moveable bridge in the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak said it will issue several key solicitations, including construction manager at risk for the construction of the new bridges and a design-bid-build contract for enabling works.

FRA Administrator Amit Bose said federal funding for the project is expected to come from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

MDOT has committed $3 million toward a design grant that was recently awarded. Amtrak and MDOT are in discussions about jointly pursuing additional grant funding for the cost of construction under the Federal State Partnership Program.

The current bridge was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad and remains safe but Amtrak said it is a “significant bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor,” said Laura Mason, Amtrak executive vice president of capital delivery.

Cities Eye, Support New Amtrak Service

November 29, 2022

Although there no plans yet by Amtrak to serve Madison, Wisconsin, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, both  cities are supporting bids to create Amtrak stations.

Officials in Madison said they will begin a study in early December that will identify potential station sites.

The study will be the subject of a meeting on Dec. 7 in the Madison Municipal Building at 4:30 p.m.

Madison officials noted that extending Hiawatha Service to Madison from Milwaukee is part of the Amtrak Connects US plan. They also cited funding allocated by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for new Amtrak service.

In Vicksburg the Board of Mayor and Alderman have approved a resolution supporting development of a new Amtrak route that would serve the city.

The route would link Meridian, Mississippi, with the Dallas-Fort Work region and is part of the Louisiana 2020 Rail Plan developed by the state’s department of transportation.

The state is seeking a federal grant that would fund development of the route.

Aside from Vicksburg, the proposed service would also serve Jackson and Monroe, Mississippi, and Shreveport, Louisiana.

Discussions of the service have focused on creating a section of the Crescent, which operates between New York and New Orleans.

Gulf Coast Case Settlement Reported

November 29, 2022

Amtrak, CSX and Norfolk Southern told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board last week that they have reached an agreement that would allow new passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The announcement came in the form of a motion asking the STB to hold in abeyance hearings regulators had set for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in the case.

Amtrak brought the case in 2021 when it asked the STB to order NS and CSX to host the proposed double-daily service.

The host railroads had demanded infrastructure improvements that Amtrak considers excessive. Hearings were held earlier this year.

Also a party to the case is the Port of Mobile, which has expressed concern that the proposed Amtrak service would interfere with freight rail operations to the port.

Thus far the terms of the agreement have not yet been revealed nor has a date been set for when the service would commence.

The filing with the STB said, “The Parties have agreed to settlement terms that, when fully implemented, will lead to a complete resolution of this proceeding.”

The parties said they considered the settlement to be confidential and they would not comment upon it for the time being.

Earlier attempts to resolve the case through mediation had failed.

VIA Extends Fuel Saving Pilot Program

November 29, 2022

VIA Rail Canada recently announced that it will extend a pilot program using artificial intelligence to reduce fuel consumption.

The program has been in a trial period over the past six months and as produced potential fuel savings of up to 15 percent.

It is a collaboration with Transport Canada and Innovative Solutions Canada Testing. The trial program used simulators. In the next phase the application will be tested in actual train operations.

The software monitors driving behavior between stations to seek improvements that will allow for reduced fuel use. It takes into account such factors as equipment use, season, and schedule, to recommend train-handling behavior without impacting travel time.

Sights We Won’t See in the Midwest This Year

November 21, 2022

Amtrak ran an extra section of its Wolverine Service over three days during the Thanksgiving 2017 travel period.

It was able to use equipment that would otherwise be laying over in Chicago before its next assignment to hit the road and add capacity during a busy holiday travel period.

But these extra sections of Midwest Corridor trains won’t be running this year due to shortages of equipment and operating personnel. As it is suspensions on three Midwest Corridors will result in less capacity than normal and there are few if any additional cars that Amtrak can add to trains that are running as scheduled.

The train shown above, operating as No. 356, is shown crossing the Huron River in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in Barton Park. P42DC No. 33 is trailing in this image. The train will turn back to Chicago in Ann Arbor thus there is a locomotive on each end.

LSL, Empire Service Return After Storm Suspensions

November 21, 2022

Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited returned to service on Sunday following its suspension since late last week in advance of a snowstorm in the Buffalo, New York, region that dumped up to six feet of lake effect snow.

Also restored to service were Empire Service trains to Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New York.

Nos 48/448 and 49/449 were cancelled between Wednesday and Saturday from Chicago, and Thursday through Saturday from New York City.

The last train to operate west of Albany-Rensselaer, New York, was Empire Service No. 283, which terminated on Thursday in Syracuse.

It turned at Syracuse on Friday to return to New York’s Penn Station. Trains that were scheduled to operate between New York and Niagara Falls instead operated only between New York and Albany-Rensselaer through Saturday.

In an unrelated situation, two westbound Wolverine Service trains were cancelled on Friday due to stranded equipment and lack of operating personnel.

The situation arose from a Thursday incident in Kalamazoo, Michigan, when westbound Train 355 struck a trespasser.

Passengers completed their trip to Chicago by bus but Nos. 350 and 355 from Detroit (Pontiac) to Chicago on Friday were cancelled.

Finding space on Amtrak trains during the Thanksgiving travel period this week may be difficult as the passenger carrier continues to grapple with shortages of serviceable equipment and operating personnel.

Midwest corridor trains on the St. Louis-Kansas City; Chicago-Quincy, Illinois; and Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridors are suspended due to those issues, meaning there is not as much capacity as there has been in previous years.

Amtrak also lacks the ability to do as it did in previous years of adding extra sections of some Midwest Corridor trains during the Thanksgiving travel period by having equipment and personnel make additional trips during hours when the equipment would be having downtime in Chicago before its next assignment.

Even trains that are operating this week will have less capacity because they have been operating for several months with fewer cars than normal.