Archive for the ‘Amtrak News’ Category

CSX Track Work to Disrupt Amtrak Southeast Trains

July 16, 2019

CSX track work will cause widespread service disruptions, particularly in North Carolina, starting on July 22 and extending to Sept. 19.

The New York-Charlotte Carolinian will operate only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday over the length of its route.

On Monday through Thursday Nos. 79 and 80 will operate only between Raleigh and Charlotte.

No alternative transportation is being provided to missed stations.

Starting July 21, the northbound Silver Star will depart Miami at 3:40 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and operate as No. 1092.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said No. 1092 will operate two hours later than its published schedule from Miami to Jacksonville, Florida; three hours later from Jacksonville to Savannah, Georgia; and four hours later north of Savannah.

The northbound Star will operate on its regular schedule from Miami to New York on Thursday through Saturday. No. 1092 will stop at Wilson, North

The southbound Palmetto will operate on its normal schedule from New York to Richmond, Virginia , but starting July 22 will depart Richmond an hour later than the current schedule Monday through Thursday and continue that schedule to Savannah.

The Palmetto will operate normally Friday through Sunday.

The southbound Silver Star and northbound Palmetto will operate normally throughout the period that track work is being conducted.

Adirondack Sked Temporarily Changes

July 16, 2019

The schedule of the New York-Montreal Adirondack has changed through Aug. 30 due to expected heat restrictions being imposed by host railroad Canadian National.

No. 68 will depart Montreal 10 minutes earlier, arrive 10 minutes earlier at St. Lambert, Quebec, and arrive at current time in Rouses Point, New York.

No. 69 will depart St. Lambert 10 minutes later and arrive 10 minutes later in Montreal.

 

NOLA Service Restorations Underway

July 16, 2019

Amtrak said service to New Orleans will be restored this week now that Hurricane Barry has passed.

The Sunset Limited between New Orleans and Los Angeles will resume with the eastbound departure of Train 2 from Los Angeles on July 17, and the westbound departure of Train 1 from New Orleans on July 20.

The New York-New Orleans Crescent resumed with the westbound departure of Train 19 from New York on July 15 and the eastbound departure of Train 20 from New Orleans on July 16.

The Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans resumed normal service southbound on July 15 and northbound on July 16.

However, Nos. 58 and 59 are only operating between Chicago and Jackson, Mississippi, because host railroad Canadian National is still not allowing Amtrak to operate south of Jackson due to flooding.

Passengers between Jackson and New Orleans are riding chartered buses.

More Amtrak Full-Service Dining Expected to End

July 16, 2019

Amtrak is expected to end full-service dining on all eastern long-distance trains the Rail Passengers Association reported last week.

That means that sleeping car passengers traveling on the New York-Miami Silver Meteor and New York-New Orleans Crescent will be served the same fare that passengers receive on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

In early 2020, Amtrak will also end the practice of providing complimentary dinner to coach passengers aboard the Auto Train between Virginia and Florida.

Instead, coach passengers will be given the option of buying café car fare onboard or purchasing meals from food trucks at terminals in Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida.

An Amtrak news release said all Auto Train passengers will receive a continental breakfast before their arrival.

Sleeping car passengers will continue to be served in their own dining car with “a new menu and the addition of complementary wine to the dinner service,” the news release said.

A spokesperson told Trains magazine that menus for Auto Train sleeping car passengers are still being worked out.

The Amtrak news release said other enhancements will be made to the Auto Train’s sleeping cars including “upgraded towels and bed linens and other pleasantries in each room.”

Amtrak also said it will expand sleeping-car accommodation availability to meet demand.

It is not clear how the food service changes will affect sleeping car passengers on the Chicago-New York Cardinal.

That train has not had meals prepared on board for several years, but offers a much more expansive menu for sleeping car passengers than is available on the Lake Shore Limited or Capitol Limited.

Since June 2018 sleeping car passengers aboard the Lake Shore and Capitol have received box meals with just one offering being served hot.

One complimentary alcoholic beverage is also provided per passenger per meal.

The meals are served in dedicated cars open only to sleeping car passengers. Passengers also have the option of having the meal delivered to their room.

The range of food items available, though, is limited.

RPA said the changes to food service on eastern trains other than the Auto Train will become effective on Oct. 1, the first day of the 2020 federal budget year. The Auto Train changes take effect on Jan. 15.

Food service provided on western long-distance trains will not be affected by the changes.

The New York-Miami Silver Star has not provided meals to sleeping car passengers since July 1, 2015.

Auto Train coach passengers would no longer have separate dining and lounge/cafe cars and given that Amtrak prohibits passengers from consuming in dining and café cars any food brought board the train that means anything purchased from a food truck will need to be consumed at the passenger’s coach seat.

In its news release, Amtrak said Auto Train coach passengers would be able to buy food and beverages from a cross country café car.

The coming changes drew criticism from RPA President Jim Mathews.
“The problem isn’t the food itself, it’s the way the whole experience is handled,” he said on RPA’s website. “We understand the need to make lighter fare available to match the tastes of many modern travelers. But as it’s currently executed on the Capitol and the Lake Shore, too often food items run short, there aren’t enough hot options, and the presentation is perfunctory and off-putting.”

RPA said that the food service changes are part of a strategy to “improve the financials on these routes.”

Buses to Replace Select Wolverines July 16, 17

July 16, 2019

Certain Amtrak Wolverine Service trains will be replaced by chartered buses on July 16 and 17.

Workers are conducting track work and replacing a bridge in Michigan.

On July 16, Train No. 354 from Chicago to Pontiac (Detroit) will terminate at Albion, Michigan, with bus service provided to passengers traveling to Jackson, Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Detroit, Royal Oak, Troy and Pontiac via Bus 3354.

On July 17 Train 353 will originate in Battle Creek, Michigan, with Bus 3353 picking up passengers at Pontiac, Troy, Royal Oak, Detroit, Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Jackson.

Bus 3353 will not connect to Train 353 and will not stop at Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Dowagiac, Niles, New Buffalo and Hammond-Whiting.

Bus schedules will follow train schedules. All other Wolverine Service trains will operate as scheduled.

NOLA Service Suspensions Extended

July 12, 2019

In an updated service advisory, Amtrak has extended the service suspensions for trains serving New Orleans as tropical storm Barry heads for the Crescent City this weekend.

The New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited will terminate and originate in San Antonio through July 16.

The New York-New Orleans Crescent will terminate and originate in Atlanta through July 14.

The New Orleans-Chicago City of New Orleans will terminate and originate in Jackson, Mississippi, today. On July 13 and 14 Nos. 58 and 59  will originate and terminate in Memphis, Tennessee.

No substitute transportation is available between New Orleans and the points where these routes will temporarily originate and terminate.

Ridership Up in May on Virginia Trains

July 12, 2019

Ridership of Amtrak Northeast Regional trains serving Virginia increased by 10 percent in May 2019 when compared with the same month a year ago.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which funds the service, said the ridership numbers also mark a year-to-date increase of more than 5 percent over the same travel period last year.

In a news release, DRPT officials attributed the ridership increase to discounted ticket prices for last-minute trips to Virginia destinations, a promotion for Lyft riders to receive a discount to Amtrak stations, improved communications, cleaner trains and the offering of Virginia-based food options.

“Passenger rail is a critical component of Virginia’s multimodal transportation network,” said Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine in a statement. “More affordable tickets, improved on-board amenities and better ground transportation connections are making travel by rail more reliable and enjoyable.”

The agency said upgrades are coming to the onboard Wi-Fi service.

Virginia-funded trains link Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor with the Virginia cities of Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond and Roanoke.

Flooding Halts CZ in Nebraska

July 11, 2019

Flooding in Nebraska this week brought Amtrak’s California Zephyr to a halt.

No. 6 was held in McCook, Nebraska, on Monday night for 12 hours due to flooding on host railroad BNSF between there and Holdrege.

One report said the flooding washed out part of the track but another report said it was a case of water being over the rails.

Passengers were allowed to disembark during the delay.

The train finally left McCook about 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

At the same time the westbound Zephyr was marooned in Lincoln, Nebraska, early Tuesday morning.

No. 5 was given permission to continue westward around 10:45 a.m. By then it was operating 10 hours and 15 minutes late.

Amtrak tweeted that No. 5 would hold at Holdrege for an open track.

News reports indicated that Holdrege received four inches of rain starting Monday night.

 

Service Suspended Ahead of Severe Storm

July 11, 2019

Gleaning Insights Into Mr. Anderson

July 11, 2019

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson is not one for giving interviews so much of what we know about his views of the future of his railroad must be gleaned from his public behavior and statements made in Congressional hearings.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a profile of Anderson that portrayed him as being stubborn, focused and the type of person who loves a good fight.

The article mentioned a June 2018 meeting that Anderson had with a group of six U.S. senators and one congressman about the fate of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

At the time, Amtrak was proposing operating the train between Chicago and Dodge City, Kansas; and between Los Angeles and Albuquerque.

Passengers would ride a bus for the 475-mile gap between Kansas and Albuquerque.

The sticking point was Amtrak’s refusal to pay to install positive train control on the BNSF route over Raton Pass near the Colorado-New Mexico border.

BNSF has little to no freight traffic on the route and won’t pay for it and Anderson told the lawmakers that the PTC issue was for Amtrak a “math problem.”

Anderson repeatedly insisted Amtrak would implement “alternative solutions.”

The Amtrak CEO’s intransigence angered Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. He angrily walked out of the meeting after saying, “These are not solutions. “These are not solutions our constituents deserve!”

The newspaper suggested the meeting illustrated how Anderson’s doggedness can become arrogance.

“There was zero deference [on Anderson’s part],” the newspaper quoted one person who was in the Southwest Chief meeting as saying of Anderson.
As it turned out, the senators pushed through a clause in Amtrak’s fiscal year 2019 appropriation mandating the Chief to remain an all-rail operation until at least Sept. 30, 2019.

There are a number of takeaways from the article that provide some insight into Mr. Anderson’s thinking.

He came to the passenger carrier determined to cut costs, streamline operations and reduce Amtrak’s deficit.

In short, Anderson is laser focused on efficiency, increasing revenue and seeking to do something that has never been done at Amtrak in its 48-year history even if his predecessors often talked about it: Breaking even.

The article suggested that Anderson was brought aboard at Amtrak after an airline career that included serving as CEO at Delta and Northwest specifically to stabilize the railroad’s finances and improve its reliability.

Anderson said that by cutting costs and teasing new revenue from the carrier’s commercial partners Amtrak could reduce its operating loss from $170.6 million in 2018 to zero by 2021.
The article said Amtrak’s annual adjusted operating loss, which excludes capital expenditures and some other costs, will fall to zero over the next year.

“We took many steps to streamline the company so that we could free up investment in the core product,” Anderson in an interview with a WSJ reporter.
The carrier has been building up cash as it prepares to invest in infrastructure repairs and new equipment.

Anderson is not opposed to public funding and noted that all modes of transportation benefit from it.

He told the WSJ reporter in an interview that he knows from his experience in the airline industry about dependence on government-funded infrastructure.

“No one thinks twice about the fact that the federal government maintains the locks and dams system on the Mississippi River, right?” he said.

As Anderson sees it, what is at stake is credibility with Congress. That, in turn, will result in a greater likelihood that lawmakers will agree to requests for funding for new rail passenger cars and infrastructure projects in the Northeast Corridor.

He also argues that if Amtrak is in a better financial position it will be better able to attract private investors to help fund those projects.

Next year Congress will take up reauthorizing Amtrak and there are bound to be conflicts over its finances and the level and type of services that it provides.

In Anderson’s eyes, the Northeast Corridor is profitable and the long-distance routes are not. Hence, Anderson may believe that the latter are a barrier that needs to be surmounted to reach the break-even point if not profitability.

Critics have taken issue with Anderson and Amtrak’s assertions of how profitable the Northeast Corridor is and how much money the 15 long-distance trains lose. But that is a debate for another time.

The WSJ article listed a number of cost cutting measures that Anderson has imposed since coming to Amtrak in July 2017.

It has quit some travel industry trade groups, cut nearly 200 consultants and ended 400 management positions in a 2017 buyout.

Scores of phone and fax lines were removed and Anderson canceled a plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building a dedicated wireless network along the Northeast Corridor to improve Wi-Fi service.

He also discarded a project to place TV screens in the seat backs of Amfleet cars.

Some cost cutting moves have raised the ire of unions representing Amtrak workers including the closing of a California call center and plans to reduce the ranks of the Amtrak police department.

Private car owners howled in protest when Amtrak increased charges to carry private rail cars and sharply decreased the number of stations at which private cars could be added or removed from a train.

As Anderson saw it, doing the latter at intermediate points was a source of delay to Amtrak trains.

And, of course, there is the on-going fight over the carrier’s long-distance trains.

Anderson acknowledged that he hasn’t won every battle.  “Everything takes longer than I want it to take,” he said.

The article portrayed Anderson as unapologetic about his efforts to force Amtrak to change and his willingness to forge his own path forward even if that makes him something of a lone wolf.

While at Delta he pulled the airline out of an industry trade association because he disagreed with its position of privatizing the air traffic control system in the United States.

Safety has been a major concern of Anderson’s but his airline centric views have raised hackles in a railroad world used to doing things in certain ways.

Anderson has pushed Amtrak’s host railroads to work harder and faster to install and implement positive train control systems.

Under his watch, Amtrak has sought to borrow some safety practices from the airline industry, notably imposing a no-fault method of reporting risks and near misses.

But implementing another proposal that Anderson favors will require talking the Federal Railroad Administration into changing its rules. That could be a tall order.

The FRA prohibits the use of cell phones, tables and screens in locomotive cabs, arguing that they could be a distraction to locomotive engineers who must remain focused on the track ahead of them.

Those rules were adopted after cell phone use and texting were implicated in a series of fatal accidents.

Anderson believes that tablets containing moving map displays would help locomotive engineers in the same manner that use of tablets in airplane flight decks provide pilots with weather alerts and other advisories.

Yet one locomotive engineer quoted by the WSJ who opposes the idea underscored the challenge facing Anderson in trying to change railroad safety culture. “A cow can’t walk in front of you at 30,000 feet,” he said.