Archive for the ‘Amtrak News’ Category

Amtrak OIG Report Seeks Better Workload Management

November 20, 2018

Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General has recommended that the company save money by adjusting workloads and staffing, and better managing overtime.

The recommendations were made in an audit released earlier this month that estimated that Amtrak could put an estimated $2.3 million to $6.4 million to better use.

The audit focused on 62 locations where Amtrak services and inspects trains.

Those sites include 12 preventative maintenance facilities and 50 smaller outlying sites that service trains between runs.

It is the latter that occupied most of the attention of the recent OIG report because they offer the greatest opportunity for cost cutting.

These sites perform such Federal Railroad Administration-required safety inspections as cab signal tests, brake tests and interior and exterior inspections.

Workers also clean restrooms and café cars, wash windows, vacuum the cars, pump waste from toilets and replenish cars with potable water.

This work is done by Amtrak employees at 16 sites while contract employees work at 34 sites.

The OIG concluded that some work performed at facilities in Michigan and Missouri could be done at Amtrak’s service facilities in Chicago.

The audit found that schedules for several trains that originate or terminate in Chicago find the equipment assigned to them laying over in Chicago every 24 hours.

Chicago maintenance workers are already responsible for cleaning trains and have the capacity to conduct the FRA-mandated safety inspections.

Although the Michigan and Missouri sites may still be needed for train cleaning, the OIG said a minimized workload would enable staffing adjustments for service and inspections.

The OIG also singled out potential savings opportunities at 11 other maintenance facilities that, depending on the amount of additional inspection work that could be performed, could result in a better use of $1.4 million to $3.9 million.

The OIG audit found that employees worked standard eight-hour shifts even though the sites did not have enough service and inspection work to fill a full shift.

The audit quoted Amtrak managers as saying that staffing levels were based on a historical preference to ensure that sites had a full complement of staff to quickly mitigate incidents that might arise at a site or along a train’s route.

This resulted in inefficiencies, the OIG report said.

Likewise, the OIG found that at four of Amtrak’s 16 major service and inspection sites, there is not enough service and inspection work to fill an eight-hour shift.

Overtime payments above base wages ranged from 11 percent to 38 percent per employee at the sites. Managers at some sites did not know why or how much overtime their employees were earning.

Managers were unable to manage employee overtime or ensure that overtime was necessary.

Better management of overtime could result in an estimated $900,000 to $2.4 million being put to better use.

In a statement, Amtrak officials agreed to implement all of the OIG recommendations contained in the audit.

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Amtrak Touts FY2018 Performance

November 19, 2018

Amtrak proclaimed in a news release last week that it posted the best performance in its 47-year history.

The carrier said that it ended the fiscal year on Sept. 30 with an operating loss of $168 million, which it said was a 13 percent improvement over FY2017

The loss is based on adjusted earnings and excluded depreciation and other expenses.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told Bloomberg News that the railroad’s losses would likely have been less than $100 million if not for a December 2017 derailment of a Cascades train in Washington state and a February 2018 derailment in which the southbound Silver Star was inadvertently routed into the path of a parked CSX auto rack train.

Amtrak said its ridership in FY2018 narrowly missed setting a record with 31.7 million trips. Revenue increased 2.2 percent to $3.4 billion.

Other points that Amtrak made in its news release included spending in $1.46 billion in capital investment, which it called  “the highest level . . . in recent history.

In the past year Amtrak has installed positive train control on more than 13,000 miles of the Amtrak network and spent more than $51 million spent on ADA-related projects at more than 100 locations nationwide.

Ridership aboard regional and state-supported trains posted gains, but long-distance train ridership fell 3.9 percent.

Amtrak attributed that loss “to the hundreds of trains truncated or canceled due to weather events, infrastructure outages, planned repairs, and poor on-time performance across much of the host railroad network used by Amtrak trains.”

Amtrak to Close California Reservations Center

November 16, 2018

Amtrak plans to close a telephone reservation center in Southern California on Jan. 18, 2019, ending the jobs of 550 people employed there.

The carrier told employees in an email message that operations at the California call center will be consolidated in Amtrak’s other call center located in Philadelphia.

However, a union leader told reporters that Amtrak also plans to contract with a third-party company in Florida to take reservation calls.

Sal Rodriguez, president of Local 2511 of the Transportation and Communication Union, said those working for the Florida firm will be paid less than Amtrak pays its own employees.

Rodriguez also argued that workers believe Amtrak misled them by claiming it would only route overflow work to the Florida call center.

As happened when Amtrak removed ticket agents earlier this year from about 20 stations, management cited a decline in the need for the service being ended.

In the email to employees, Amtrak Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Tim Griffin said about 90 percent of Amtrak reservations are made online.

In the past five years, calls to Amtrak reservation centers have fallen by 3 million.

Fate of Amtrak Great Dome Car Uncertain

November 16, 2018

Amtrak retired all but one its dome cars several years ago, but a former Great Northern great dome has continued to operate in seasonal service in recent years, most recently on the Adirondack and Downeaster trains during the fall foliage season.

The car was built in 1955 and with Amtrak having retired and now seeking to sell its former Pacific Parlour cars once assigned to the Coast Starlight there has been concern raised about the future of the great dome.

Amtrak management is reportedly considering if the attractiveness of the car is worth the cost of refurbishing it, including fabricating parts.

Amtrak has said it will take into account ticket sales on the Adirondack and Downeaster when deciding if the benefits outweigh the costs.

Cardinal Resumes Operating to New York City

November 15, 2018

Withing giving notice, Amtrak has resumed operating the Cardinal to New York City.

The Chicago-New York tri-weekly train had been terminating and originating in Washington since March 29 westbound and April 1 eastbound due to track work and other construction at New York’s Penn Station.

Amtrak said the curtailment of the Cardinal to Chicago-Washington was a temporary move, even though it was the last train affected by the construction to resume serving Penn Station.

The Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited also took a hiatus from Penn Station between late May and early September.

Service stopped operating eastbound to New York on March 29, and westbound from New York on April 1.

Amtrak said Nos. 50 and 51 stopped operating to New York in order to help ease congestion during the Penn Station project.

Reservations Needed for Holiday Travel on Some Trains

November 15, 2018

Reservations will be required for travel on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner trains between Nov. 19-25 during the Thanksgiving holiday period.

Reservations will also be needed for travel aboard the San Joaquin trains between Nov. 18-26.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said a ticket aboard these trains will only be valid if the passenger has a reservation.

Multi-ride tickets are valid during this holiday period but do not guarantee a seat without a reservation.

S.W. Chief Adorns 2019 Amtrak Wall Calendar

November 15, 2018

Amtrak’s beleaguered Southwest Chief will adorn the 2019 wall calendar that the passenger carrier sells to the public.

The calendar’s image features a nine-car No. 3 passing red rock mesas at Mesita, New Mexico, on the Laguna Indian Reservation on tracks of BNSF.

“We always look for an image that inspires travel and showcases the beauty and splendor of our country that can be seen from Amtrak trains, hence our tag line printed at the bottom, ‘See where the train can take you,’ ” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Trains magazine.

Magliari noted that the image shown is west of Albuquerque. That is significant because the controversy surrounding Nos. 3 and 4 this year has been focused on the route between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, where Amtrak proposed discontinuing the train in favor of bus service.

That idea was knocked down by opposition in Congress, but Amtrak has only committed to operating the Chief over its current route through the end of fiscal year 2019.

The calendar costs $8 and can be purchased at store.amtrak.com. It is expected to be in stock are the week of Dec. 9.

In an unrelated development, Magliari said Amtrak has no plans to end full-service dining aboard the Southwest Chief.

He was responding to rumors that Amtrak planned to remove the dining car and substitute the type of boxed meal service that it instituted for sleeping car passengers earlier this year aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited.

Magliari insisted that Amtrak is not considering ending full-service dining aboard the Chief.

The rumors aboard the removal of the dining car from the Chief followed Amtrak seeking a request for proposals to provide information about catering services that would include a variety of different prices for food served aboard trains.

John Feltz, a vice president for the Transportation Workers Union, said Amtrak has not notified the union about any changes under consideration for food service aboard the trains.

“At the end of this RFI they asked their vendors to give them ideas and costs with, and without, Amtrak employees,” Feltz said. “That gives me a hint that they are looking at getting rid of the on-board service people.”

Extra Midwest Trains Set for Thanksgiving Travel

November 15, 2018

Amtrak will operate additional trains in the Midwest between Nov. 20-25 to accommodate an expected surge of Thanksgiving holiday travelers.

Other Midwest corridor trains are expected to operate with increased capacity.

During the holiday travel period, reservations will be required for travel aboard the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service trains.

Holders of monthly or 10-ride tickets are exempt from the reservations requirement, but seating is not guarantee.

On the Wolverine Service corridor, additional trains will operate on Nov. 21, 24 and 25 between Chicago and Ann Arbor, Michigan, with intermediate stops in the Michigan cities of New Buffalo, Niles, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Jackson.

Extra No. 356 will depart Chicago at 9 a.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Ann Arbor at 2:25 p.m. It will depart Ann Arbor at 4:28 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 8:04 p.m.

On the Pere Marquette route, extra No. 372 is scheduled to depart Chicago at 10 a.m. and arrive in Holland, Michigan, at 2:11 p.m. with intermediate stops in St. Joseph and Bangor, Michigan.

No. 373 is scheduled to depart Holland at 3:10 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 5:27 p.m. These trains will operate on Nov. 21 and 25.

An extra section of the Carl Sandburg will operate between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois, on Nov. 21 and 25.

No. 385 is scheduled to depart Chicago at 11:30 a.m. and make all scheduled intermediate stops en route to Quincy, where it is set to arrive at 3:53 p.m.

No. 384 is scheduled to depart Quincy at 1 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 5:22 p.m.

On the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, extra Lincoln Service trains will operate between Chicago and Normal, Illinois, on Nov. 21 and 25.

Extra No. 309 is scheduled to depart Chicago at 10:30 a.m. and make all scheduled intermediate stops en route to Normal-Bloomington, where it is set to arrive at 12:58 p.m.

No. 308 is set to depart Normal at 1:15 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 3:41 p.m.

Most Downeasters to Terminate in Brunswick

November 5, 2018

Effective Nov. 12 all weekday Downeaster trains originating in Boston and all but one on the weekend are being extended to Brunswick, Maine, rather than terminating at Portland.

Only one midday weekend round-trip will terminate and originate at Portland.

Officials said that the changes mean that all equipment will be serviced inside a climate-controlled maintenance building in Brunswick.

Currently, equipment laying over in Portland is serviced outside.

The first weekday Downeaster will depart Brunswick at 4:30 a.m., rather than 7:30 a.m., and the first weekday arrival from Boston will be at 12:25 p.m., instead of 4:25 p.m.

The new schedules are available at http://amtrakdowneaster.com/printable-schedules

To promote the schedule change, Amtrak is offering a “buy one, get one free” promotion good on the first two Boston departures and last return train each day on tickets purchased three days in advance with promo code v235.

Officials said that track work in September resulted in a 20 percent ridership and 30 percent revenue drop that month, but Downeaster trains carried more than 540,000 passengers (up 2.7 percent from 2017) who spent more than $10 million on tickets (up 11.7 percent) for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2018.

Amtrak to Increase Private Car Fees Again

November 5, 2018

Amtrak has told private car owners that it plans to increase various fees that it charges them to haul and store their cars effective Jan. 1, 2019.

The increases are part of another round of rule changes being implemented by the passenger carrier.

It is the second time in the past eight months that Amtrak has increased its private-car tariffs.

The new rate will become $3.67 per mile, an increase of more than 12 percent from the $3.26 fee imposed on May 1, 2018.

In the past year, Amtrak has increased the cost of hauling a private car 77 cents per mile for an increase of 26 percent.
Overnight parking rates will become $174 per night. They had been $155.

The monthly parking rate at Amtrak terminals will increase to $3,516 per month, up from $3,125.

If another locomotive is added to a train that has added private cars that fee will increase to $5.74 per mile. The previous rate had been $5.10 per mile.

Other charges that Amtrak is imposing include daily locomotive charge of $1,970 and a head end power daily charge of $2,692.

Further, Amtrak said it “reserves the right to change the terms and rates contained herein at any time.”

The carrier did agree to honor the rates contained in a confirmation agreed to before any rate increases go into effect.

In a win for private car owners, Amtrak has restoring Oakland, California, as a connecting point at which cars can connect between the Coast Starlight and the California Zephyr. Making that connection will cost $2,065 per occurrence.

The rule changes slated to go into effect includes a clause that private car owners or the person in charge of a private car shall not offer business courtesies to any Amtrak employee.

This includes such things as “presents, gifts, hospitality, or favor for which fair market value is not paid by the recipient.”

The rules also cite meals, drinks, entertainment, door prizes, and transportation as examples of business courtesies, among any gifts or services with a value greater than $10.

The new guidelines also contain additional details regarding professional conduct, inspection and repair guidelines, and insurance and liability requirements.