Archive for the ‘Amtrak News’ Category

Amtrak Moves Trigger Anxiety on SW Chief Route

May 22, 2018

Some recent actions by Amtrak have triggered anxiety along the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

Some fear that Amtrak is seeking to discontinue the Chicago-Los Angeles train.

The Pueblo Chieftan published a recent story that raised the prospect that a hoped-for section or reroute of the Chief to serve Pueblo will fall by the wayside due to changes in Amtrak policy.

La Junta, Colorado, city manager Rick Klein said Amtrak’s plans to close ticket offices along the train’s route has alarmed him.

La Junta is one of those stations losing its ticket agent along with Garden City and Topeka, Kansas, and Fort Madison, Iowa.

“We’ve been working to save the [Southwest Chief] for seven years, and now Amtrak is going in a different direction,” he said. “The Southwest Chief is vital across this region and northern New Mexico.”

Further causing anxiety was a letter sent to public officials along the route of the Chief stating Amtrak will not provide matching funds for a federal grant obtained by Colfax County, New Mexico, until a comprehensive plan is in place to fund the completion of the rebuilding of the train’s route.

Amtrak had earlier said it would provide $3 million for the track rehabilitation in northern New Mexico.

The letter renouncing the funds said the Southwest Chief only carried 364,000 passengers and ridership is declining.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace has led the efforts to extend the Chief to Pueblo and has been involved in the efforts to gain federal, state and local grant money to rebuild the route of Nos. 3 and 4 in western Kansas, southeast Colorado and northern New Mexico.

The chairman of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Rail Commission believes that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson is hostile toward the Chief.

“It’s my understanding this change in direction is coming from Anderson,” Pace said. “Communities in Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico have secured $71 million in rail upgrades over the past four years along the route of the Chief, and now Amtrak is threatening to withhold its contribution. It’s one individual stepping in to unravel all this work.”

Amtrak declined to comment to the newspaper about the issue.

Former Amtrak President Joesph Boardman has asserted that Amtrak is seeking to torpedo the Chief and long-distance trains generally in favor of short-haul corridors, including the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

Writing in the trade publication Railway Age, Boardman contended that the battle for the future of long-distance passenger train is occurring in private and that the Southwest Chief will be the first western train to be targeted.

Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico lawmakers have been supporting the cooperative effort to protect and repair the Southwest Chief’s route across their states.

During a recent committee hearing, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner pressed Joseph Gruters, a nominee of President Donald Trump to the Amtrak board of directors, on Amtrak’s commitment to the matching grant toward rebuilding the Chief’s route.

“That grant was awarded and the announcement was made,” Gardner said during the hearing. “Colorado, Kansas and New Medico have made significant commitments to this. Do you believe in keeping that commitment?”

“If (Amtrak) made the commitment, they should do that,” Gruters said in response.

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Amtrak Expects Large Memorial Day Ridership

May 22, 2018

Amtrak is projecting that it will carry more than more than 320,000 passengers during the Memorial Day weekend, which is considered the traditional start of the summer travel season.

In a news release, the carrier said it expects heavy ridership during the summer months due to a spike in gasoline prices.

The news release touted Amtrak has a way to explore a new city, catch a baseball game, experience a summer musical festival or make your way to the beach.

CN Track Work to Affect CONO

May 22, 2018

Track work being performed by Canadian National on the southern end of its route will affect operations of Amtrak’s southbound City of New Orleans between May 29 and July 11.

No. 59 will depart Chicago as scheduled at 8:05 p.m. and operate normally between Chicago and Jackson, Mississippi.

The train will depart from all stations from Jackson to New Orleans, two hours later than the current schedule, Monday through Friday.

However, No. 59 will operate on its normal schedule between Jackson and New Orleans on Saturdays and Sundays.

It will also operate on the normal schedule between Chicago and New Orleans for the Independence Day holiday period on July 2.

Amtrak Committed to Long-Distance Trains For Now, But Not Necessarily Forever

May 21, 2018

Amtrak has indicated to lawmakers and the Rail Passengers Association that it is not planning additional actions that would have the effect of changing its long-distance routes in ways to favor shorter distance travel.

Writing on the RPA website, RPA President Jim Mathews said that “Amtrak is taking steps to commit publicly to a robust nationwide rail service with a national footprint.”

He said those assurances have been made by the passenger carrier in conversations with the RPA and congressional staff, and during congressional testimony.

Matthews cited the example of reports that the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder would be made into a tri-weekly train as part of a strategy to focus on short-haul corridors.

Many passenger advocates have been alarmed by some recent Amtrak changes, including removing full-serving dining service with fresh meals prepared on board from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited effective June 1.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during an April 19 California Rail Summit that the future of Amtrak lies with 300- to 400- or 500-mile corridors.

RPA has also learned that Amtrak management has begun discussing the long-term future of the carrier’s long-distance routes and that some Amtrak executives are discussing the possibility of allocating more resources to short-distance state corridors. It is not clear how far those discussions have advanced.

Matthews said Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) asked Amtrak Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner point-blank whether there were plans to reduce the Builde.

“We do not plan to institute tri-weekly service on the Empire Builder,” Gardner replied during a committee hearing on May 16. “Obviously we’re operating under the FAST Act authorization in which Congress authorized our network, any conversations about the broad future of our network is best placed in our authorization context as we approach our next authorization. Amtrak is operating all of our long distance routes, we intend to do that and we will consider any future changes collectively between the Congress, the Administration, and Amtrak as we look at the network ahead.”

Matthews noted that he visited with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia earlier this year and received similar assurances.

Coscia said during that meeting that Amtrak has a “mission” beyond the balance sheet, and pledged that top management is “committed to the mission.”

He also said that Amtrak has a responsibility as a recipient of federal funds to make sure that its long-range plans serve the maximum number of Americans possible, especially those who need mobility and have fewer options such as the elderly, the disabled and rural residents.

However, Coscia said that demographic shifts that are leading more people to live in dense mega-regions may result in a time when the “legacy national network routes no longer meet the mission, but looking at the map today I can’t identify any that don’t.”

Coscia said Amtrak sees “corridors hanging off the legacy national network routes like a necklace.”

He cited as examples such corridors as Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Minneapolis as having strong growth potential.

During his April appearance in California, Anderson said “there is a place for the long-distance, ‘experiential’ train.”

Anderson said Amtrak has “a responsibility to figure out how to keep that experiential piece of the pie in place” while simultaneously “figuring out how we discharge our mission under PRIIA”—the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008—“to serve the short-haul markets.”

Senators Support Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

May 17, 2018

Some senators went to bat this week for Amtrak’s long-distance trains during a hearing on the nomination of Joe Gruters to the carrier’s board of directors.

During the hearing before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi ) invited Gruters to join him on a trip aboard the City of New Orleans between McComb, Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee, so he could see the number of people who depend on the train.”

Gruters said he would “welcome the opportunity to ride a train with you for a couple hours.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) used the hearings to express their concerns that Amtrak will seek to discontinue the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

They criticized Amtrak’s decision to withhold a $3 million match from a recently-approved $16 million TIGER grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, that is to be used to repair the tracks used by the Chief in Northern New Mexico.

“In my view, Amtrak has reneged on what it committed to do … and I believe federal agencies have an obligation to behave with integrity; I don’t see that at the moment,” Moran said.

He read excerpts from an email written by former Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman that charged that Amtrak is seeking to end the train and submitted the entire email for the record.

“This suggests to me that there may be a change of attitude and approach at the Amtrak board and its senior leadership that would be contrary to the congressional mandate about national rail passenger service,” Moran said.

Gardner asked Gruther if, as an Amtrak board member, he would make sure Amtrak followed through on its commitments while accusing Amtrak of not doing so.

He based those accusations on a letter of support for the TIGER grant that Amtrak submitted in October 2017.

Gardner also submitted a Rail Passengers Association statement pointing out that the Southwest Chief’s ridership is up 14 percent from eight years ago.

Wicker also joined ranking minority committee member Bill Nelson (D-Florida) in expressing their desire to see Amtrak return to the Gulf Coast.

Gruters, who owns a public accounting firm in Sarasota, Florida, acknowledged having heard from officials and residents of many Florida communities in support of such service.

[Amtrak board members] “have a fiduciary responsibility to the company but we have our mission set forth by Congress, so I will look forward to working with your team to make sure agreements are upheld and we do the right thing at the end of the day.” Gruters said.

Moran also was critical of Amtrak’s decision to close its ticket office in Topeka, Kansas.

“You cannot reduce service and expect customers to arrive at your doors, and Amtrak is demonstrating that in my view in both instances,” he said.

Some senators, including Maria Cantwell, (D-Washington), used the hearing to trumpet support for positive train control.

Gruters said PTC “is the baseline standard we need to work up to.”

All but one member of the current Amtrak board lacks railroad experience. Member Jeffrey Moreland led the public affairs and legal departments at BNSF.

Like most Amtrak board members, Gruters is a political appointee who helped lead the presidential election campaign for Donald Trump in 2016.

Signal Workers OK Pact With Amtrak

May 15, 2018

Members of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen have ratified a new contract with Amtrak, which became effective May 3

The agreement covers nearly 700 members who work in the communications and signal departments.

In a news release, the BRS said the new pact calls for wage increases through 2021 and retroactive back pay, which is expected to be paid before July 1.

Each member’s monthly health-care contribution was slightly decreased and will remain frozen until changed in the next round of bargaining.

New benefits include a new-hire alternative health-care plan starting in 2019.

Amtrak Touts Student Discount Fares on Midwest Corridor Routes

May 15, 2018

Amtrak caught some flack earlier this year by phasing out some everyday discount fare programs.

But discount fare programs are still around, although in a different form.

In a news release, the passenger carrier sought to entice college students into make trips home by taking advantage of its student discount fares.

Amtrak even suggested that students can take their dirty laundry home to be cleaned, noting passengers are allowed up to 150 pounds of carry-on luggage at no cost.

The fare program is available to students ages 13-25 with a valid student ID.

They will receive 15 percent off the lowest Value or Flexible Fare when making reservations on the Amtrak website at Amtrak.com/MidwestStudentDiscount or by entering Promo Code V307 at time of purchase.

The fares are available on the Illini, Saluki, Illinois Zephyr, Carl Sandburg, Lincoln Service, Hoosier State, Wolverine Service, Blue Water, Pere Marquette, Missouri River Runner and Hiawatha Service trains.

Student discount fares are also available with Amtrak Thruway buses associated with these trains, all of which are funded by the state departments of transportation of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri.

Late Night Concert Venue Service Set

May 15, 2018

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner will offer late night service to patrons attending events at the FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine, California.

The specials will operate through Sept. 30 on select concert dates. The concert venue is located adjacent to Amtrak’s Irvine station.

Passengers who present a valid Pacific Surfliner ticket at the gate will receive expedited entry to the venue.

The late night service will operate from Irvine to Los Angeles and San Diego with trains departing approximately 20 minutes after most concerts.

Northbound No. 597 will depart Irvine at 11:20 p.m. en route to Santa Ana, Anaheim, Fullerton and Los Angeles.

The final southbound, No. 796, will depart Irvine at 11:19 p.m. en route to San Juan Capistrano, Oceanside, Solana Beach and San Diego.

For more information, including a full list of concerts, promotional fares and detailed train schedules, visit www.pacificsurfliner.com/livenation

NEC Wi-Fi Getting an Upgrade

May 15, 2018

Amtrak is upgrading Wi-Fi service in the Northeast Corridor by installing new equipment on its passenger cars.

In a news release, the carrier said the upgrades will provide a more reliable and easier connection to high-speed broadband.

The cars will receive upgraded processors and modem cards, and new antennas that will improve speed.

Amtrak said this will allow for quicker loading times for webpages and other content, the ability to send and receive files faster, and improved video streaming and audio performance.

The carrier said that passengers cars used by Acela Express trains are already benefiting from performance tuning, including improved stability and reliability of VPN connections for passengers accessing corporate networks.

Later this summer, Amtrak will roll out a new, simplified Wi-Fi home page.

Amtrak said that on average, there are 20,000 Wi-Fi sessions daily on NEC trains with more than 70 percent of devices aboard Acela trains connected to Amtrak’s Wi-Fi network.

The average session time on Northeast Regional trains is 1 hour, 41 minutes, while on Acela it is 2 hours and 9 minutes.

Amtrak is also upgrading Wi-Fi at 29 stations throughout its national network.

Acela Trainsets Getting Refurbished

May 15, 2018

Amtrak plans to refurbish the interiors of its 20 Acela Express trainsets over the next 10 months.

The program will involve 100 cars and 6,080 seats with each receiving new cushions and covers for all business class and first-class seats, new carpeting for the aisle runner and a deep clean. The project will cost more than $4 million.

The first refurbished trainset will enter revenue service this month with two train sets per month being renovated and returned to service.

In a news release Amtrak said schedules will no change during the program.

Materials from the existing Acela cushions and covers will recycled and turned into carpet padding while the leather will be recycled into handbags, wallets and other consumer goods.

Amtrak is in the process of acquiring new equipment for Acela Express service with the first prototype expected to begin testing next year.

The first new trainset is expected to start revenue service in 2019 and all existing Acela Express trainsets are expected to be retired in early 2022.