Archive for the ‘Amtrak News’ Category

Amtrak to Change Fare Rules March 1

February 24, 2020

Amtrak plans to make some of its most popular discounted tickets non-changeable and non-refundable on March 1.

The changes to the terms of the “saver” tickets mirror the rules applied to discounted airline fares.

Amtrak also plans to tighten the rules on standard fare tickets at the same time.

Currently, passengers buying “saver” tickets have some flexibility to change their travel plans and to get a refund if they cancel their trip.

Amtrak Executive Vice President Roger Harris, who is the carrier’s chief marketing and revenue officer, said tightening the rules for discounted tickets is a trade-off that will allow the railroad to make “the very lowest fares even lower.”

But no longer will passengers be able to get refunds for discounted tickets. “In other words, once you buy it, you use it or you lose it,” Harris said.

The changes in the fare rules had been expected after Business Insider last December published a leaked internal Amtrak memo describing plans for fare restrictions.

This isn’t the first time that Amtrak has cracked down on refunds and cancellations.

The carrier two years began imposing a 25 percent cancellation penalty.

Ticket change penalties are standard in the airline industry and in 2018 the airlines raked in $2.7 billion in reservation-change and cancellation.

Amtrak expected to gain $10 million dollars a year from the rule changes.

The new fare rules that become effective next month will affect “saver” and “value” tickets by establishing a 24-hour window for passengers to change their travel plans once ticketed.

After 24 hours, the ticket will become nonrefundable, and no changes or upgrades will be allowed.

Currently rules allow discounted tickets to be changed at any time before departure subject to a 25 percent cancellation fee.

Standard and value fares will come with a 25 percent penalty for cancellations or a 15 percent penalty for changes made within two weeks of departure, unless the passenger is changing or upgrading the reservation on the same train or day as the original reservation.

Standard fares currently are fully refundable if canceled eight days or more before departure. If canceled less than eight days before departure, the 25 percent cancellation fee applies.

Flexible, business and Acela First-Class Premium tickets are still refundable up to the moment of departures and changes can be made at any time.

Amtrak said that in the wake of its fare rule changes it will promote even more discounted fares for travel aboard its Acela and long-distance trains.

One area in which Amtrak continues to distinguish itself from the airlines is with add-on fees.

The carrier said it has no plans to charge passenger fees for baggage.

But Harris said that doesn’t mean it will never impose such fees.

“Frankly, we should review it,” he said. “But I don’t think we’re going to be like an airline that suddenly says give me $30 for your bag. I don’t think that’s the value proposition that we offer.”

Amtrak allows passengers two personal items and two carry-ons, plus two checked bags free.

Amtrak Sends Its FY2021 Funding Wish List to Congress

February 22, 2020

Amtrak has submitted its wish list to Congress, which includes funding in fiscal year 2021 of $1.33 billion for the National Network and $714 million.

The passenger carrier also is seeking $300 million to develop new corridors and contains various capital requests to cover the costs of replacing diesel locomotives and rebuilding passenger cars used on long-distance trains.

The carrier said it is “on track to achieve operational breakeven in FY2020.”

What Amtrak is seeking is far below what the Trump administration has proposed that it receive.

The administration’s budget request for FY2021 seeks $936 million for Amtrak, which the carrier notes is a 53 percent cut in the $2 billion funding it received from Congress for FY2020.

Amtrak said it appreciated the Trump administration’s focus on expanding intercity rail passenger service to underserved cities and corridors, but the carrier said that if its funding falls to what has been proposed by the administration that would “have significant negative impacts on vital capital projects and initiatives across Amtrak’s network and put at jeopardy the Corporation’s continued strong financial and operating performance.”

The budget request contains $4.9 million for Amtrak’s share of the rebuilding of the track used in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The Rail Passengers Association said its review of the Amtrak’s budget request found that the carrier is seeking $2 billion toward replacement of Superliner and Amfleet II equipment, which is used most of the time for long-distance trains, and $1.5 billion for the replacement of locomotives used in the national network.

Amtrak is also seeking $510 million for equipment that would be used in new corridors.

Although the budget request does not name any specific new corridors that Amtrak wishes to develop, it gives some detail about how the carrier proposes to fund those services.

Amtrak would fund up to 100 percent of the initial capital costs to develop new corridor services.

Operating and ongoing capital costs would be funded on a sliding scale over the next five years ranging from 100 percent by Amtrak in the first two years to 50 percent in the fifth year.

State support would begin in the third year at 10 percent, increase to 20 percent in the fourth year and 50 percent in the fifth year.

The budget document said these shares are of fully-allocated operating losses and capital costs.

After the fifth year of operation the expenses of a corridor would become subject to the terms of Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act which requires that routes of 750 miles or less must be state-supported routes.

As for when Amtrak will begin to identify the emerging corridors, the budget request said that process will begin within one year after the date of enactment of Amtrak’s reauthorization.

The FAST Act that authorizes Amtrak expires on Sept. 30. Although Congress may adopt a new surface transportation authorization law by that date, some observers have suggested lawmakers may extend the existing authorization via a continuing resolution as they continue to hammer out the contentious political issues surrounding a new transportation authorization law.

That means a new authorization could be pushed into 2021.

Amtrak said in its budget request that once it has been reauthorized, it will consult with state departments of transportation, local municipalities, host railroads, and other stakeholders.

Those conversations will lead to the development of plans that Amtrak will submit to the U.S. Department of Transportation as well as the House and Senate authorizing committees for high-potential corridors.

Amtrak said that at that time it will show proposed routes, schedules and frequency of service information. It will also provide estimates of ridership, revenue and capital investment requirements.

“Amtrak shall consider market conditions, stakeholder funding commitments, public subsidy per passenger, and host railroad cooperation when selecting routes,” it said.

It is noteworthy that the budget request said Amtrak may (emphasis added) cover up to 100 percent of the capital costs needed to launch a route.

It will negotiate memorandums of understanding with state sponsors and, presumably, those negotiations will involve capital costs to be contributed by the states.

“As the nation’s passenger rail provider, Amtrak takes a system-wide lens to these investments to ensure efficiencies in operations, procurement, and supporting services,” the budget document said.

It is likewise noteworthy that the budget request in describing the new corridors program does not say per se that these corridors are intended to replace the long-distance trains.

At the same time, the budget request does not specifically say, as does the Trump administration FY2021 budget request does, that long-distance trains should be phased out in favor of new corridor services.

It does say that the funding being requested for new corridors is intended to supplement the funding requests for the Northeast Corridor and national network in FY2021.

That appears to be a way of saying that Amtrak will put off for at least another fiscal year the matter of carving up the long-distance routes into a series of corridor services.

The Amtrak budget request seeks to frame the new corridors program as an expansion of the Amtrak network and uses such language as the need to provide efficient and effective service.

It also repeats the boilerplate language that Amtrak President Richard Anderson has been espousing about the need to keep up with a changing and evolving transformation of population, demographic and travel needs.

Amtrak’s budget request can be found at https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/projects/dotcom/english/public/documents/corporate/reports/Amtrak-General-Legislative-Annual-Report-FY2021-Grant-Request.pdf

Portal Bridge Rules to Become Permanent

February 22, 2020

The U.S. Coast Guard will make permanent next month a practice of keeping the Portal Bridge on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor closed during rush hour.

The 110-year-old structure over the Hackensack River in New Jersey has been prone to malfunctions after being opened for marine traffic, which has resulted in delays to Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains.

Last year the Coast Guard began keeping the swing bridge closed between 5 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on an interim basis with limited exceptions.

Replacement of the bridge is a key component of the Gateway Plan that would make other infrastructure improvements including construction of new tunnels under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York City.

Charger in Test Service Damaged in Crossing Collision

February 22, 2020

A Siemens Charger locomotive being tested on the westbound California Zephyr was damaged this week in a collision at a grade crossing near Sparks, Nevada.

Two Amtrak crew members suffered minor injuries in the incident and were treated at a local hospital. None of the 78 passengers on board were hurt.

Amtrak has been testing the Charger locomotives on select long-distance trains. It has ordered 75 of them with the expectation that they will replace P42DC locomotives now pulling long-distance trains.

An online reported indicated that Union Pacific freight locomotives pulled No. 5 into the Sparks station with one of the UP units continuing to lead the train to its western terminus in Emeryville, California.

The Charger was reported to have been damaged in the collision with a cement truck but did not derail.

Charger locomotives are now operating on some Amtrak corridor trains.

Amtrak Keystone Corridor Schedules to Change

February 21, 2020

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the changes are due to construction at the station in Middletown, Pennsylvania.

Train 620 will operate five minutes later from Harrisburg to Elizabethtown, will now stop at Mt. Joy, and will operate six minutes later from Lancaster to Philadelphia.

Train 622 will now stop at Mt. Joy and will operate one minute later from Lancaster to Philadelphia.

Train 646 will operate one minute earlier from Harrisburg to Elizabethtown, will now stop at Mt. Joy, and will operate on the current schedule from Lancaster to Philadelphia.

Trains 652 and 654 will operate 10 minutes earlier from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

Train 605 and 607 will operate 10 minutes later from Philadelphia to Harrisburg.

Train 607 will operate 10 minutes earlier from Philadelphia to Harrisburg.

Train 645 will operate 10 minutes later from Lancaster to Harrisburg.

Train 669 will operate 5 minutes later from Elizabethtown to Harrisburg on weekends.

Track Work to Affect San Joaquins on Feb. 23

February 19, 2020

Trains 704, 712, 714, 716 and 718 will terminate at Stockton. Passengers will be provided bus service via Buses 4304, 4312, 4314, 4316 and 4318 between Stockton and Merced, making intermediate stops at Modesto and Turlock-Denair.

At Merced, passengers can board their respective 1700-series train to Bakersfield and intermediate stations.

Trains 703, 713, 715, 717 and 719 will originate at Stockton. At Bakersfield, passengers can board their respective 1700-series train to Merced and intermediate stations.

Passengers will be provided bus service via Buses 4303, 4313, 4315, 4317 and 4319 between Merced and Stockton, making intermediate stops at Turlock-Denair and Modesto.

At Stockton, passengers can board their respective 700-series train.

Train and bus schedules from Merced to Bakersfield, Stockton to Sacramento and Stockton to Oakland have been adjusted to depart up to 60-minutes later than normal times.

Menus on Full-Service Diners Changed

February 19, 2020

Amtrak has changed the menu on its full-service dining cars for the first time in nearly a year.

Although menu prices are largely unchanged the carrier has swapped out a few offerings while retaining others.

New to the menu are French Toast at breakfast in place of pancakes. At dinner, a cod entre has replaced Norwegian salmon while two vegetarian options are now available.

A baked three-cheese manicotti has replaced rigatoni and the vegan compliant selection is now a Cubana bowl. Also new at lunch and dinner are BBQ pork wings.

The full-service dining cars operate on the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle.

The new menus are dated January 2020 and Amtrak did not announce the changes.

The menu of flexible dining fare served on Eastern long-distance trains is dated November 2019 but remains unchanged from what was implemented last October.

This service is available to sleeping car passengers only aboard the Lake Shore Limited, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent and Silver Meteor. It will be extended to Silver Star sleeping car passengers on May 1.

Coach passengers on those trains must buy food and drink from the cafe car.

In spring 2019 Amtrak dropped train specific images from dining car menus.

Although the dining car menu offerings had been standard for several years there had been some slight variations by route. That ended in spring 2019.

The latest change means there are now seven entrée selections at dinner.

Some tweaks also have been made to the full-service dining car lunch menu. Gone are baked chilaquiles and steamed mussles. New are BBQ pork wings.

The entrée salad at lunch has been replaced with a Caesar salad. Like the entrée salad, the Caesar salad offers the option of being served with chicken breast strips for an additional charge of $3.50.

The complete full-service dining car menu offerings and prices paid by coach passengers are as follows.

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs ($8.50), continental breakfast ($8.75), French toast ($10.50), three-egg omelet ($13.75), and Southwestern breakfast quesadillas ($13.50).

Lunch: Ceasar salad ($12.50), black bean and corn veggie burger ($12.50), Angus burger ($12.50), BBQ pork wings ($14), garden salad ($3.50).

Dinner: Land and sea combo of Black Angus flat iron steak and crab cake ($39), Amtrak signature flat iron steak ($25), garlic herb cod ($23), thyme roasted chicken breast ($18.50), BBQ pork wings ($21), baked manicotti ($18.50), Cubano bowl ($6.50).

A garden salad is available for $3.50 but comes standard with meals served to sleeping car passengers.

The manicotti is described as filled with mozzarella, Parmesean and ricotta cheeses and comes with a vegetable medley and Roma tomato sauce.

The Cubana bowl is described as black beans, quinoa, mango, onion, red and green peppers, and jalapenos.

Amtrak said the Cubana bowl is a healthy option for those seeking reduced calories, fat and sodium.

The BBQ pork wings are described as braised bone-in pork shanks in Stubs smoky BBQ sauce with red skinned garlic mashed potatoes.

The land and sea combo comes with a choice of baked or mashed potatoes. The flat iron steak comes with a baked potato, the cod entree comes with rice pilaf and the chicken selection comes with mashed potatoes. All entrees come with a vegetable or vegetable medley.

The children’s lunch and dinner menu are the same and priced at $7.50. The options are a Hebrew National all-beef hot dog or macaroni and cheese.

At dinner those both come with a vegetable medley. At lunch the hot dog comes with kettle chips while the mac and cheese comes with a roll.

The children’s breakfast menu includes a scrambled egg with roasted potatoes or grits, and a croissant ($4.25) or French Toast ($5.25)

Deserts range from $7.25 for the Amtrak seasonal desert to $2.75 for vanilla pudding. The Amtrak specialty deserts are priced at $6.50 and include a flourless chocolate torte, New York style cheesecake or a rotating selection.

The Auto Train sleeping car passenger dinner menu is a stripped-down version of what is offered in other long-distance trains full-service dining cars.

Dinner entrees include flat iron steak, garlic and herb cod, pan roasted chicken breast and baked three-cheese manicotti.

All entrees come with a vegetable medley. The steak comes with baked potato, while the cod and chicken come with rice pilaf. Each entrée is accompanied by a salad and dinner roll.

The children’s dinner is chicken tenders or macaroni and cheese, with both coming with a vegetable medley.

There is a signature desert item that rotates but otherwise the choices are New York style cheesecake, vanilla ice cream or sugar free jello. Optional toppings include chocolate syrup, fruit toppings and whipped cream.

As is the case with on long-distance trains with flexible dining, the Auto Train offers sleeping car passengers at each meal a single complimentary beverage, including alcoholic beverages.

However, the cocktail, wine and beer selections on the Auto Train are more limited than what is available on full-service or flexible dining cars.

There is no breakfast offered in the dining car to sleeping car passengers aboard the Auto Train although an earlier Amtrak news release had said passengers receive a continental breakfast before arriving at their destination in Florida or Northern Virginia.

Capitol Corridor Set Ridership Record in FY2019

February 19, 2020

Capitol Corridor trains in California reported record ridership in fiscal year 2019.

The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, which oversees Amtrak service in Northern California said the trains carried 1,777,136 between Oct. 1, 2018 to Sept. 30, 2019.

The previous record was 1.7 million in fiscal year 2018.

CCJPA said that during FY2019 it earned $38 million in revenue a 5 percent increase over the $36.2 million earned in FY2018.

In a news release, CCJPA said it has had five consecutive years of record-breaking ridership and revenue.

In 2019, rider satisfaction also reached 90 percent for the first time since 2012.

The news release said CCJPA is seeking such improvements as upgraded Wi-Fi service later this year.

 

Blockade Disrupts Amtrak Service to Canada

February 18, 2020

A blockade of Canadian National tracks in Canada disrupted last weekend Amtrak service to that country.

Amtrak’s Maple Leaf, which ordinarily operates between New York and Toronto, was halted at Niagara Falls, New York.

The New York-Montreal Adirondack did not operate north of Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

Also affected was Cascades Service in the Pacific Northwest although some trains did operate all the way to Vancouver, British Columbia.

The blockades, which have lasted more than a week, are being staged to protest construction of a natural-gas pipeline that crosses Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia and is opposed by the First Nation’s hereditary chiefs.

CN has shut down freight service in eastern Canada after blockades sprang up in that region.

VIA Rail Canada has also canceled most of its services within Canada.

Mudslide Grounds the Cardinal

February 16, 2020

Saturday was a rough day for Amtrak trains serving Ohio.

The westbound Cardinal was halted on Friday at Thurmond, West Virginia, due to a mudslide.

The train was moved back east to Prince, West Virginia, and the passengers put aboard buses to continue their journey.

No. 51 did not operate to Cincinnati, Indianapolis or any intermediate points on Saturday.

As a result the eastbound Cardinal that was due to leave Chicago on Saturday night was canceled.

Amtrak Tweeted that alternative transportation was being provided only for passengers traveling between Chicago and Cincinnati.

The Cardinal is next scheduled to operate today westbound and it departed New York on time.

Mechanical issues on Saturday afternoon delayed the departure of the westbound Capitol Limited from Washington for nearly four hours.

No. 29 didn’t arrive in Cleveland on Sunday until 6:17 a.m., making it three hours, 24 minutes late.

It is projected to reach Chicago at 11:40 a.m, but actually arrived at 1:38 p.m., nearly five hours late.

Also on Saturday the westbound Lake Shore Limited was stopped west of Toledo due to mechanical problems.

When No. 49 resumed its journey it was an hour late, which became 3 hours, 28 minutes late by the time it reached Chicago Union Station at 1:18 p.m.