Archive for the ‘Amtrak News’ Category

Agencies Still Seeking Additional Hiawatha Service

May 21, 2019

Officials of the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin are still pursuing an expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

Both made that point in the wake of the decision by the Illinois Department of Transportation not to support construction of new tracks in the north Chicago suburbs that an earlier study said was an key component to making the expansion feasible.

A 3-mile siding has been proposed to be built in Lake Forest and a 2-mile holding track would be built in Glenview and Lake Forest.

The tracks would enable Canadian Pacific freight trains to get out of the way of Amtrak and Metra trains as the CP trains awaited permission to enter a Union Pacific line used by CP to reach its yard in Bensonville.

The siding had been opposed by residents of the two suburban communities.

Arun Rao, passenger rail program manager of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said his agency met with their Illinois counterparts who reiterated their commitment to expanding service in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

“We need a few more conversations with the railroads to see what direction we’re going and have a better idea of an [implementation] timetable,” he said.

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said his agency will continue to work with WisDOT in its efforts to seek federal infrastructure grants for the expansion and added that IDOT “is a strong supporter of service on this line.”

Hiawatha ridership rose 11 percent in April and is poised to carry 900,000 passengers in fiscal year 2019. The route saw a record  858,000 passengers in FY 2018.

The expansion proposal would increase Hiawatha service from seven to 10 daily roundtrips.

Rao said the equipment needed for the expansion will include a six car trainset for Hiawatha service that will come from an 88-car order for new cars placed with Siemens by the Midwest states that fund Amtrak corridor service.

WisDOT is seeking a federal grant to be used to pay for two other consists.

Rao said there weren’t any details yet on what an alternative plan for the expansion might involved.

He said there is no timeline for the project and there is no danger of losing out on federal money or losing federal approvals.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers included $45 million in bonding authority for the Hiawatha expansion project as part of its 2019-2021 budget plan,

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the growing ridership of the Hiawathas means the current service level cannot sufficiently meet current demand.

Track Work to Affect Empire Service Train

May 19, 2019

Track work will result in a temporary schedule change for Empire Service Train No. 288 on May 19 and June 2.

On those dates No. 288 will operate from Niagara Falls to Croton-Harmon, New York, with passengers reaching New York City on a special Metro North train.

That train will terminate at Grand Central Terminal whereas No. 288 terminates at New York Penn Station.

Amtrak said in a service advisory that Metro-North will honor Amtrak tickets on the special train. No Amtrak staff will be aboard that train or at Grand Central.

Passengers will be responsible for making their own arrangements to transfer from Grand Central to Penn Station if they so desire.

Downeaster Train-Bus Passes Launched in Maine

May 19, 2019

A plan has been announced to enable Amtrak Downeaster Service passengers to transfer to public transportation in Maine at no additional fare on a route served by trains and buses.

The agreement involves the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority and the Greater Portland Metro.

NNEPA oversees the Downeaster Service whereas Portland Metro operates the METRO BREEZ bus network.

The two agencies have coordinated scheduling and fares so that passengers will be able to buy one-way, 10-ride and monthly passes that enable them to transfer between train and bus or vice versa for no extra cost.

Amtrak operates five daily roundtrips between Portland and Brunswick, Maine. METRO BREEZ operates 13 express weekday bus roundtrips between Portland and Yarmouth, Freeport and Brunswick, and seven Saturday roundtrips.

A one-way pass will cost $3, a 10-ride pass $27 and a monthly pass $90.

“This schedule and fare structure make it easy for passengers to travel on the mode or schedule that best meets their needs. Take the train one-way and the bus the other.” said Natalie Bogart, marketing director at NNEPRA, in a news release.

The five Downeaster roundtrips between Portland and Brunswick originate or continue to Boston North Station.

Additional information is available at gpmetro.org or by calling 207-774-0351.

Road Work Affects Cascades Thruway Bus Schedules

May 19, 2019

Construction on Interstate 5 in Oregon will affect Thruway bus service provided by Oregon POINT bus service to Cascades Service trains between Eugene and Portland.

Amtrak has announced schedule changes that take effect May 20 and extend through Sept. 30.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the changed will allow time for connections to the Cascades trains.

Bus 5502 will depart Eugene Willamette Station 15 minutes earlier at 5:15 a.m., on Saturday and Sunday. The Eugene station will not be open for the departure of Bus 5502 and no checked baggage will be available for Bus 5502 at any stop.

Bus 5504 will depart Eugene 1 hour earlier, at 7:25 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Bus 5506 will depart Eugene 30 minutes earlier at 2 p.m. Bus 5518 will depart Eugene 1 hour earlier at 10:55 a.m.

Bus 5528 will depart Eugene 1 hour earlier at 12:15 p.m. Bus 5544 will depart Eugene 15 minute earlier at 7:15 a.m.

Bus 5541 will depart Portland Union Station 1 hour earlier at 6 a.m. Passengers boarding at Woodburn, Salem or Albany should check for updated schedule changes to their times at those points prior to travel.

Summer Discount Fares Announced

May 19, 2019

Amtrak has announced two summer fare programs, including a buy one get one free sale seeking to boost off-peak ridership on Saturdays in the Northeast Corridor.

The special fares will be available on both Acela Express (in business class) and Northeast Regional (in coach class) trains between May 18 and Sept. 7.

Reservations must be made by June 5th and require a three day advance purchase.

In partnership with New York State, Amtrak will offer 15 percent discounts on regular coach fares for travel across New York State on Empire Service trains on the Maple Leaf, Ethan Allen Express and Adirondack.

Travel on the Maple Leaf and Ethan Allen Express must be within New York State, but the fares on the Adirondack apply to travel to and from Montreal

A five-day advance purchase is required and black-out dates will apply.

CSX Track Work Leads to Boston LSL Suspension

May 18, 2019

Track work being performed by CSX will result in the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited being replaced with a charter bus on select dates between May 19 and Aug. 1.

The track work is being done between Sundays and Thursdays. On the affected dates, passengers will be transported by bus between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

The dates involved are May 19-23, 27-30; June 2-6, 9-13, 16-20, 23-27, 30; July 1-3, 7-11, 14-18, 21-25, 28; and Aug. 1.

Passengers holding tickets on Train 448 for travel beyond Albany, will disembark at the Albany-Rensselaer station and board a bus for stations in Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester and Boston (South Station), Massachusetts on the above dates.

Boarding passengers at these stations will board a bus at the station for Trains 448 and 449.

No alternative transportation is being provided to Framingham, Massachusetts, or to Boston Back Bay Station, both scheduled stops for Nos. 448 and 449.

In a service advisory Amtrak said passengers traveling to or from Back Bay station should take an MBTA or Amtrak commuter train between Boston South Station and Back Bay.

Trains 448 and 449 will operate normally on May 26 (Memorial Day) and July 4 (Independence Day) when the track work will be on a holiday hiatus.

Passengers ticketed for No. 449 from Boston South Station should go to the Amtrak Information Desk for instructions on boarding the buses.

Passengers at Worcester will board the bus at the main entrance in front of the station and not at the bus terminal.

Amtrak said the Boston section will not have business class or sleeping car service during this time.

CONO Passengers Back on the Bus to NOLA

May 18, 2019

Passengers riding Amtrak’s City of New Orleans are back on board a bus due to flooding in the South.

In a service advisory Amtrak said passengers will ride a bus between New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi, until further notice.

The advisory said Canadian National has closed the route used by Nos. 58 and 59 due to a planned emergency flood control endeavor.

It is the second time this year CONO passengers have had to ride a bus between New Orleans and Jackson due to flooding.

Amtrak said train service will be reinstated as soon as possible.

Affected are passengers traveling to and from the intermediate stations in Hazlehurst, Brookhaven, McComb, Mississippi; and Hammond, Louisiana.

Passengers departing from New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal are being advised to arrive at the station by 12:15 p.m. to board the charter buses.

IDOT Drops Support of Controversial Siding Plan

May 18, 2019

The Illinois Department of Transportation said it will no longer push for construction of a 2-mile long siding in the Chicago suburbs that is part of a proposal to expand Hiawatha Service.

The announcement was a victory for north suburban Chicago residents, particularly in Glenview and Lake Forest, who have fought the proposed siding.

The siding was intended to be a holding track for Canadian Pacific freight trains waiting for permission to enter a Union Pacific line that enabled CP trains to take a shorter route to the CP yard in Bensonville, Illinois.

In a letter to those communities from acting IDOT Secretary Omer Osman, the agency said it would not agree to the freight holding tracks in either Glenview or Lake Forest, and you have my commitment that IDOT will not be moving forward seeking federal support for this project.”

The Hiawatha expansion plan, which was announced in 2016, would increase the daily frequency of Chicago-Milwaukee trains from seven to 10.

The expansion was a joint project or IDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Both agencies currently fund Hiawatha Service.

Many of the opponents of the siding own homes next to the tracks used by Amtrak, CP and Metra and said idling freight trains would create noise and air pollution that would depress the value of the property as well as hinder the quality of their lives.

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said he agency is seeking other options that would allow the expansion of Hiawatha Service.

“The department is a strong supporter of passenger rail service on this line and will be working with the lead agency on the project, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, on other possible solutions to improve service,” Tidgell said in an emailed statement sent by Tridgell.

He also said IDOT will not oppose any federal grant applications that WisDOT submits related to the Hiawatha expansion.

Arun Rao, passenger rail manager at WisDOT, said the agency is aware of IDOT’s concerns about the proposed siding.

“We are continuing to proceed with plans to increase frequencies with the Hiawatha service and are working with IDOT and the railroads to continue to do that,” he said.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has proposed $45 million in bonding to move Hiawatha expansion ahead.

Those funds would be used as matching funds for federal grants that would cover the remaining project costs.

Trails and Rails Schedule Set for 2019

May 18, 2019

Amtrak and the National Park Service have reached a five-year agreement that will extend operation of the Trails and Rails program.

The program, which began in 2000, had been curtailed within the past year after Amtrak ceased to provide meals and lodging for the personnel who provided commentary aboard select Amtrak trains.

The agreement has redefined the program, which involves volunteers who provide commentary about the history and culture of regions through which Amtrak trains pass.

“It seems like we now have a steady source of contact folks at Amtrak in Washington, D.C., to serve as liaisons that can help move the program along,” said Trails and Rails National Director Jim Miculka.

Volunteers participating in the program will come from national parks and their itineraries have been reset so that they will cover portions of many routes in a manner to make a roundtrip in one day.

“When Amtrak dropped the onboard meals and the National Park Service expense allotments didn’t change, the parks needed to prioritize how they use the same limited funds – varying from $500 to $2,500 annually – now that meals had to be covered,” Miculka said. “There was never enough money for overnight lodging.”

Most of the commentary provided by the volunteers is given in a café car. However, the volunteers will also walk through the train to answer questions and carry props to use as conversation starters.

Trains and routes slated to participate in the Trails and Rails include the Capitol Limited (Washington and Cumberland, Maryland); Crescent (Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama); Heartland Flyer (entire route); Southwest Chief (La Junta, Colorado, and Las Vegas, New Mexico); Empire Builder (Seattle and Wenatchee, Washington); Coast Starlight (Seattle and Portland, Oregon; and San Jose and Santa Barbara, California); Pacific Surfliner (Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, California, and Los Angeles and San Diego); Lincoln Service (St. Louis and Springfield, Illinois, and Springfield and Chicago); Texas Eagle (Chicago and Springfield);

Wolverine Service and Blue Water (Chicago and Niles, Michigan; and Chicago and New Buffalo, Michigan); and Adirondack (various segments between New York and Westport, New York).

Select Northeast Regional trains will also have Trails and Rails commentators between Washington and New York on Saturdays.

The frequency of commentary will vary from Saturday only to daily. In most cases the commentary appears primarily on weekends.

Amtrak, NJT to Rebuild NEC in New Jersey

May 18, 2019

New Jersey Transit and Amtrak have announced plans to spend $31 million this year on infrastructure projects in the Northeast Corridor in New Jersey.

The work, which will get underway this spring and extend into the summer, is a result of an agreement reached between Amtrak and NJT in February whereby NJT agreed to pay Amtrak all withheld funds owed.

Projects to be under taken include a block tie replacement project that starts May 20 at Newark Penn Station.

The initial work will affect Tracks 1 and 4, which are the most used inbound and outbound track. Workers will replace wood ties with concrete ties on 95 feet on Track 1 and 1,100 feet on Track 4.

Also slated for rebuilding is the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River. Amtrak workers will replace timber decks on Tracks 2 and 3 this summer with more than 500 timbers per track being replaced.

A project to rebuild the Fair Interlocking north of the Trenton Transit Center Station will get underway on Aug. 5.

Workers will replace timbers and switch equipment, including total switch replacement for six switches.

Other work will include upgrading switch machines from air to electric, adding new electric switch heaters and replacing more than 700 ties and 350 switch timbers.

Catenary rebuilding will be undertaken on all four tracks between County Interlocking in New Brunswick and Ham, a distance of 20 miles.

This work is being done in preparation for high speeds as new Acela Express equipment enters service in 2021.

The work will include equipment removal, replacement, and new installation of constant tension catenary.