Archive for the ‘Amtrak News’ Category

Track Work to Affect San Joaquins

November 17, 2019

On Nov. 22, Train 704, will terminate at Wasco. Amtrak Thruway Bus 5804 will originate at Wasco and provide alternate transportation from Wasco to Bakersfield.

Also on that date, Train 718, will terminate at Wasco. Amtrak Thruway Bus 5818 will originate at Wasco and provide alternate transportation from Wasco and Bakersfield.

On Nov. 23, Train 711 will originate at Wasco. Amtrak Thruway Bus 5811 will operate through to Wasco, providing alternate transportation from  Bakersfield to Wasco.

Bus 5811 will depart all station stops from San Diego to Bakersfield 15 minutes earlier than normally scheduled.

Pacific Surfliners Are All-Reserved for Thanksgiving Travel

November 17, 2019

In a service advisory, Amtrak said during this period a ticket will only be valid on the train for which you are holding a reservation.

Amtrak said it is adding cars to select trains to provide more seating during the period.

Both Rail2Rail programs (Coaster and Metrolink) will observe a blackout period for the same dates of Nov. 27 through Dec. 2.

Reservations are not required for monthly and 10-ride ticket holders.

Amtrak Board Nomination Moves on to Full Senate

November 16, 2019

A nomination of a former Indiana congressman to the Amtrak board of directors has been sent to the full Senate for consideration.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved the nomination of former U.S. Rep Todd Rokita on a voice vote.

Rokita, who was nominated to the Amtrak board last May for a five-year term, was attacked by some rail passenger advocates for his having twice voted to end Amtrak’s federal funding.

During a July hearing before the committee, Rokita said he voted against Amtrak funding to “send a message” to the carrier.

Rokita said that as a congressman he was sometimes limited to voting yes, no or present.

“I believe in fiscal responsibility for all of us,” Rokita said. “I believe my votes against these funding provisions sent a message to Amtrak.”

He also said during his testimony that he voted for the 2015 FAST Act, which helped create grant funding for Amtrak.

Three other nominations to the Amtrak board remain on hold due to the objection of Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas).

They include Rick Dearborn, a former deputy chief of staff for President Donald Trump; Joseph R. Gruters, a former Florida state representative who was co-chair of Trump’s 2016 Florida campaign, and former U.S. Rep. Leon A. Westmoreland of Georgia

Westmoreland also voted twice against Amtrak funding while in Congress.

Woman Awarded $4.5M in Cascades Lawsuit

November 14, 2019

A jury has awarded a woman injured in the December 2017 of an Amtrak Cascades train $4.5 million in damages.

The award was made in a Federal District Court in Tacoma, Washington, to Madeline Garza.

She was a passenger aboard the southbound train No. 501 when it derailed on a curve in DuPont, Washington.

A news release issued by Garza’s attorney said she was found lying on her back on the ceiling of an overturned passenger car.

The news release said Garza, who was 18 at the time of the crash, suffered a major injury to her pelvis and lower spine, as well as three fractured ribs and a lacerated liver.

Her case was the second to go to trial stemming from the derailment.

Three other plaintiffs who sued Amtrak were in September awarded nearly $17 million combined for pain and suffering.

The derailment had sent part of the train tumbling off a bridge onto Interstate 5. Three passengers were killed and more than 60 others injured.

A National Transportation Safety Board Investigation determined that the train was going faster than the posted speed limited for the curve when the derailment occurred.

The train was making the first revenue run on the Point Defiance Bypass at the time.

Amtrak immediately returned its Cascades Service trains to the previous route and has yet to resume using the Point Defiance route.

EB California Zephyr Detours After BNSF Derailment

November 14, 2019

Amtrak’s California Zephyr detoured between Chicago and Omaha, Nebraska, on Wednesday due to a derailment on its BNSF route in western Iowa.

The train operated on the former Chicago & North Western, a line now owned by Union Pacific.

BNSF said the derailment occurred near McPherson about 3:30 a.m.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the eastbound Zephyr passengers detoured on the UP route with passengers taken by bus to missed intermediate stops.

Westbound passengers were expected to ride the Southwest Chief to Galesburg, Illinois, where they would board chartered buses to travel across Iowa.

However, an online report said No. 5 departed Chicago at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

House Committee Gets Earful about Amtrak Practices

November 14, 2019

A House committee that held a hearing to consider the future of Amtrak got an earful from witnesses who were critical of the passenger carrier’s practices.

But Amtrak’s host railroads also came under fire for poor dispatching of passenger trains in the hearing held by the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

That led committee chairman Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois) to observe that most witnesses seemed to favor giving Amtrak a right of action in dealing with its host railroads to force them to provide better dispatching so that trains are not habitually late.

Among those appearing before the committee were Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, representatives of three railroad labor unions, the president of the Rail Passengers Association, an Oregon state legislator, and a California corridor operator.

“The bottom line is we need [on-time performance] standards and metrics completed by the FRA with a real enforcement mechanism and we need a private right of action because freight railroad delays are our biggest single threat,” Anderson said.

Anderson said Amtrak could grow its national network if it could partner with its host railroads and co-invest to rebuild tracks for higher speeds while removing congestion bottlenecks.

“If you allow us to operate at 125 mph in a 100-mile zone, you’ll take a lot of cars off the highway,” Anderson said.

Amtrak’s onboard service was a frequent topic addressed during the hearing.

Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) was critical of crowded lounge cars on the Coast Starlight since Amtrak removed from service the Pacific Parlour car on the Seattle-Los Angeles run.

He also told Anderson that Amtrak is at risk of losing its high-end passengers because of changes in onboard food and beverage services.

RPA head Jim Mathews said comments his organization has received from Millennial age passengers is, “the idea of sitting at a table with no tablecloth, a plastic bag, and plastic trash, is not what they were looking for and certainly not what they paid for.”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) called Amtrak meals “paper sack food” and strongly disagreed with Anderson’s contention that it changed food and beverage service in response to market survey data

Anderson had said Amtrak doesn’t make changes based on anecdotes.

“That wasn’t true,” said Cohen, adding that he hopes Amtrak executive will “consider the humanity, the romance, and the appeal of train travel with food, and not do it like Delta Airlines that took all the meals away.

“I hope you don’t continue that on Amtrak,” Cohen said.

RPA head Jim Mathews held up what he termed a “survival pack” that he takes with him while traveling on long-distance trains.

It included duct tape, plastic and wooden shims (to stop rattles), Velcro (to hold curtains together), hand sanitizer, and a power strip.

“Everyone has their own version of this,” he said.

Anderson said Amtrak is replacing the P42DC locomotives that pull long-distance trains with new Charger locomotives and it is taking other steps to improve service.

This includes replacing pillows and bedding in the sleepers, and refurbishing Superliner II coaches at the Beech Grove Heavy Maintenance Facility near Indianapolis.

San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority Executive Director Stacey Mortenson expressed frustration with Amtrak’s lack of information about why it makes changes, saying her agency often can’t get a rational explanation of why Amtrak has made those changes.

She compared that with working with Herzog, the company that operates the Altamont Commuter Express.

“We are able to work with Herzog but have no control over what it costs to maintain our own equipment with Amtrak,” she said.

Mortenson said part of the problem is Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act allows Amtrak to hide what it considers proprietary information while pushing costs on the states to “treat everybody the same.”

2 Midwest Routes Get Extra Trains at Thanksgiving

November 13, 2019

Amtrak will be operating additional trains on two Midwest Corridor routes during the Thanksgiving travel period.

On the Lincoln Service route a pair of extras will operate between Chicago and Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.

Lincoln Service No. 309 will depart Chicago Union Station at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 27 and Dec. 1 and arrive in Normal at 12:58 p.m.

The equipment will turn and become Train No. 398 scheduled to depart Normal at 1:15 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 3:41 p.m.

Additional Carl Sandburg trains will operate on the same dates between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois.

No. 385 will depart Chicago at 11:30 a.m., using the equipment of inbound regularly scheduled Illinois Zephyr No. 380. No. 385 is scheduled to arrive in Quincy at 3:53 p.m.

The equipment from regularly scheduled Chicago to Quincy Carl Sandburg No. 381 will turn and operate as No. 384, departing Quincy at 1 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 5:22 p.m.

The equipment that ran to Quincy as No. 385 will become the regularly scheduled Carl Sandburg No. 382, which is scheduled to depart Quincy at 5:30 p.m.

All of the trains are funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

House Committee to Discuss Amtrak Today

November 13, 2019

Amtrak’s future will be discussed today in a hearing being conducted by the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

Witnesses appearing before the committee are expected to express their concerns about how Amtrak’s management is doing business.

This includes changes in food and beverage service that have been made in the past year aboard overnight eastern long-distance trains, removal of ticket agents at some stations, the stated desire of Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson to transform long distance routes into disconnected short corridors, and Amtrak’s imposition of mandatory arbitration in lieu of the ability to sue the carrier following catastrophic events such as derailments.

Anderson is scheduled to speak to the committee at the hearing that begins at 10 a.m. and be live streamed online.

A statement released by subcommittee chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-Illinois) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) said the hearing will review recent Amtrak service changes and ponder the needs of the carrier “to sustain and strengthen its existing network.”

Among the witnesses who have been reported as scheduled to testify before the committee are Oregon state legislator Nancy Nathanson, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority Executive Director Stacey Mortenson, Rail Passengers Association President and CEO Jim Mathews, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department Secretary-Treasurer Greg Regan, Transportation Communications Union National Vice President Jack Dinsdale, and Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation Division Illinois Director Bob Guy.

CN Track Work to Disrupt Saluki on Nov. 19

November 12, 2019

Amtrak’s Saluki will operate only between Chicago and Champaign, Illinois, on Nov. 19 due to Canadian National track work.

Nos. 390 and 391 normally operate between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

In a service advisory, No. 391, which is scheduled to depart Chicago at 8:15 a.m. and arrive in Champaign-Urbana at 10:25 a.m. will turn back there to become No. 390.

No. 390 will depart Champaign at 10:45 a.m., which is 31 minutes later than its normal schedule and operate on that schedule through to Chicago.

Passengers boarding or disembarking at Mattoon, Effingham, Centralia, DuQuoin and Carbondale will ride a bus to and from Champaign.

2nd Train to Pittsburgh Hinges on NS Study

November 12, 2019

Norfolk Southern is conducting a study that it expects to complete in the second half of 2020 of capital improvements it wants to see before agreeing to host a second Amtrak train between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Amtrak currently operates the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian over the route and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation along with local officials have been pressing for several years for additional service.

Communities along the route want the option of being able to travel to Pittsburgh on day trips.

The Pennsylvanian is scheduled to depart Pittsburgh in early morning and arrive in the evening.

Jennie Granger, PennDOT’s deputy secretary for multimodal transportation said this week that her agency has asked Amtrak to consider adding a second train between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

“What would it take?” she said PennDOT asked the national passenger carrier. “What would a second round-trip train a day look like? Give us a timetable. Ideally, how would this work with the Keystone trains on the eastern part of the state? How would we make it work with Penn Station, going into New York?”

In response Amtrak gave PennDOT a proposed timetable that it presented to Norfolk Southern.

Granger said NS responded that it would need to do a study that the state would need to fund. “The study itself is a lot like a traffic study,” Granger said. “It takes into account their freight movements, both historically and what they’re projecting going forward … and then, how does that interact with our proposed two trains a day?”

Granger told a luncheon meeting of the Cambria Regional Chamber of Commerce in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, that because NS owns the track, it can say who does or does not run on it.

“If they don’t want Amtrak on it, they don’t have to let them run another train a day. That’s all there is to it,” she said.

Once the NS study had been completed and presented to PennDOT, Granger said the agency will “have a better-educated idea of how to proceed with that service.”

The demands that NS is likely to make will be hefty.

During a August 28 Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee meeting in Altoona NS spokesman Rudy Husband said the Pittsburgh Line is already stretched to capacity with 40 to 60 trains a day.

He said adding more passenger rail service could require the construction of separate portions of track or of an entire separate track.

Husband argued that NS is not opposed to passenger rail, but that adding more service is complicated.