Archive for the ‘Amtrak News’ Category

Amtrak Seeks $75B for New Service

May 28, 2021

Amtrak elaborated this week on its “Connect US” plan, which calls for a 15-year $75 billion federal investment to add 39 new routes and enhance service on 25 other routes.

Calling the plan “Corridor Vision,” Amtrak said it would lead to the carrier providing intercity rail passenger service in 47 of the 48 contiguous states and new stations in more than half of those states.

If implemented, the network expansion would generate $8 billion in annual economic benefits by 2035 and an additional $195 billion in economic activity resulting from capital projects during the same period.

In a letter to Congress, Amtrak CEO William Flynn outlined details of the plan, many of which have already been reported.

This includes Amtrak paying all initial costs for new or improved service but with states eventually assuming responsibility for those costs.

Amtrak proposed to pay upfront the estimated cost for stations, railcars, locomotives, and infrastructure.

Amtrak also is seeking a dedicated funding source, the Passenger Rail Trust Fund, and called for passage of the Rail Passenger Fairness Act, which would enhance Amtrak’s ability to enforce its right of operating preference over freight trains.

In an effort to prevent host railroads from stalling the launch of new routes, Amtrak wants Congress to clarify existing law that provides Amtrak has access to host railroads.

“Too often host railroads resist and stall any efforts to expand service,” Flynn wrote.

In a statement issued with a news release, Flynn said new and improved rail service has the ability to change how Americans move while providing cleaner air, reducing highway congestion and providing a more connected country.

Details of the Connect US plan are contained in a report Amtrak issued titled  Amtrak’s Vision for Improving Transportation Across America.

Among the cities that would receive new or improved service are Houston, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Nashville, Columbus, Phoenix, and Wichita.

Amtrak said the added service could increase its ridership by 20 million riders annually.

Amtrak said the plan is not a final proposal and does not lay out a specific order or priority ranking for route development.

It said many factors, including available funding levels, post-pandemic travel demand, state interest, host railroad conditions, and equipment availability, will play a role in determining final implementation plans for the Connect US program.

If a corridor is not mentioned in the plan, Amtrak said that doesn’t mean it opposes development of that service.

The passenger carrier cautioned that just because a corridor is shown in its plan doesn’t mean it is certain to be implemented.

“The corridors proposed here are intended to be additive to Amtrak’s pre-COVID-19 route network,” Amtrak said.

Amtrak expects to implement its corridor services over a 15-year period.

The Amtrak report also sought to downplay the idea that these will be high-speed routes.

“While high speed rail service may be right for certain corridors, current state-supported Amtrak services such as the Pacific Surfliner and the Hiawatha show that intercity passenger rail can be successful with conventional operating speeds,” Amtrak said.

“As corridors which begin at conventional speeds build ridership and demand, they can be considered for future conversion to high speed service.”

Funding for Connect US would come from a variety of sources, including direct federal funding to Amtrak for corridor development and operation, and discretionary grants available to states, Amtrak and others for corridor development, the report said.

 “This vision does not propose to replace existing grant programs. Rather, it would augment them with dedicated and reliable funding from an intercity passenger rail trust fund … or other source needed to execute on a long-term vision.”

Tags: Amtrak, Amtrak Connect US, Amtrak funding, Amtrak funding request, Congress, William Flynn

Reservations Required on Pacific Surfliners During Peak Summer Weekends

May 27, 2021

Reservations will be required for travel aboard Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner trains on peak weekends this summer.

The carrier said this will help it manage capacity when more travelers are anticipated.

Among the weekends when reservations will be needed are Memorial Day weekend (May 28-June 1), Fourth of July weekend (July 2-5), the opening weekend at Del Mar racetrack (July 16-19), and Labor Day weekend (Sept. 3-7).

The program allowing use of Metrolink and Coaster tickets on Pacific Surfliners will be suspended on most of these dates, although Amtrak said monthly and 10-ride passes may still be used with a reservation.

Additional dates could be added depending on travel demand.

New Amtrak VP Will Oversee Infrastructure, Fleet, Station Projects

May 25, 2021

Amtrak has appointed an executive vice president who will be overseeing infrastructure, fleet and station programs.

Laura Mason will report to Amtrak President Stephen Gardner. She begins her post on June 28.

In a news release, Amtrak said Mason will lead strategy in developing the railroad’s largest and most complex projects.

The news release said Mason will work with Amtrak’s stakeholders and ensure that programs are implemented in adherence with safety, regulatory, program-management and reporting requirements.

Mason is currently executive vice president of capital delivery at the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority where she has been responsible for project management, engineering and construction of major capital projects, infrastructure renewal, capital-program planning, and the scheduling and contracting strategies.

Lounges to Remain Absent from 2 Trains

May 24, 2021

Sightseer Lounge cars won’t be returning to two long distance trains when they resume daily operation.

The Rail Passengers Association reported on its website that it has been told by Amtrak that the absence of the popular cars from the Capitol Limited and Texas Eagle is temporary.

“While temporary, we do not yet have a defined timeline for increasing Sightseer Lounge availability, and have placed the other five Western [long distance] routes at a higher priority for deploying these popular cars,” said Larry Chestler, Amtrak’s vice president of the Long-Distance business unit. “We also are maintaining the Sightseer Lounge on the City of New Orleans due to our long-standing axle count requirements in Illinois.”

That means the Capitol Limited and Texas Eagle will will continue to operate with a single food-service car.

Chestler said Amtrak has a shortage of the lounge cars due to coronavirus contingencies. He said the cars will be restored once it’s possible to do so.

The Capitol Limited is scheduled to return to daily operation on May 31 while the Texas Eagle will resume daily operation today (May 24).

In a related development, Amtrak expects to resume full-service dining aboard Western long distance trains as early as June. Last May it switched to the contemporary dining model as a response to COVID-19 pandemic.

The passenger carrier is recalling furloughed workers and getting them qualified.

RPA said it was told that once traditional dining returns to the Western trains, Amtrak will begin work on “improvements to dining services on other [long-distance] routes, including the Eagle.”

Tags: Amtrak onboard service, Amtrak Sightseer Lounge, Amtrak’s Capitol Limited, Amtrak’s Texas Eagle, Capitol Limited, COVID-19 pandemic, dining aboard Amtrak

Illinois, Vermont Trains Coming Back July 19

May 21, 2021

Suspended Illinois-funded corridor trains will resume operation on July 19. On the same day, the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Express will also return to service.

The Illinois Department of Transportation said that it is restoring service as part of its Rebuild Illinois capital plan.

One daily roundtrip each will be added to the Chicago-Quincy and Chicago-Carbondale routes while two roundtrips will be restored to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Chicago-Quincy Carl Sandburg was suspended along with the Chicago to Carbondale Saluki and Carbondale to Chicago Illini.

Those suspended trains left Chicago in the morning and returned in the evening.

In Vermont, the Vermont Agency of Transportation said the Vermonter will return between St. Albans, Vermont, and Washington.

Also coming back is the Ethan Allen Express between Rutland, Vermont, and New York.

Sked Change Set for Crescent, Roanoke Train

May 21, 2021

Amtrak will modify the schedules of some trains serving Roanoke, Virginia, and the New York-New Orleans Crescent.

Effective May 29 Train 156 will depart Roanoke 15 minutes later at 8:55 a.m.

The Crescent’s schedule will change on June 6. Train 19 will depart Washington at its current scheduled time and arrive in New Orleans at 9:02 p.m., which is two hours later than the current schedule

En route arrival and departure times will be adjusted accordingly.

Train 20 will depart New Orleans at 9:15 a.m., 2 hours and 15 minute later than the current schedule. It is being rescheduled to arrive in Washington at 1:45 p.m.

Amtrak said Train 20 will leave Washington at 2:42 p.m. Monday through Friday and at 2:12 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Sleeping car passengers will continue to be offered breakfast upon leaving New Orleans and will now be offered dinner upon departing Philadelphia and Trenton.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the changes are being made to improve customer satisfaction and on-time reliability.

New LA-Vegas Thruway Route Launched

May 21, 2021

Amtrak has established a new daily Thruway route linking Los Angeles with Las Vegas.

The bus route connects with Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner service and operates twice daily.

Intermediate stops are made at San Bernardino, Victorville, and Barstow, as well as two stops in Las Vegas.

Passengers are guaranteed a connection to Surfliner trains. However, Thruway passengers can buy bus tickets without a train segment if they so choose.

Amtrak Says 3C+D Could Start in 2 Years

May 21, 2021

Amtrak service between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton could be up and running in as little as two years, company executives said this week.

Amtrak Chairman William Flynn and President Steven Gardner joined several Ohio elected and civic officials in an online roundtable designed to build support for the proposed service.

However, getting the service out of the station hinges on Congress appropriating the billions the passenger carrier is seeking to develop a series of new corridors across the country.

Gardner also noted that Amtrak needs to negotiate agreements with the host railroads whose tracks it will use on the 250-mile route.

“We believe we could start initial service, maybe one round-trip or a few, without much initial investment, using current track speeds,” Gardner said. “We believe we could get started here in hopefully what would be a relatively short period of a couple of years.”

In the meantime, what was once called the 3C corridor is now being branded as the 3C+D route to include Dayton in the nomenclature.

Garnder said the length of the route is is the sweet spot for successful intercity passenger rail service.

“This service is the type of service we should have for major cities, and for an important state like Ohio,” he said. “Frankly, it should have happened a long time ago.”

The 3C+D corridor is part of an ambitious plan by Amtrak to expand intercity service.

Aside from the Cleveland-Cincinnati route, Amtrak has proposed creating additional service on existing routes through Cleveland to Detroit and Buffalo.

The passenger carrier would front the money to be used for capital costs to develop the routes and initially pay the operating costs of the trains.

But state and local governments would be expected to assume operating costs on a sliding scale with Amtrak’s share declining until states would pay all of the operating costs.

Although the proposed 3C+D service received endorsements from various mayors who joined the call, Ohio Gov. Michael DeWine has been noncommittal about it.

Last month DeWine said he was reserving judgment on the plan until he could learn more about it, including its potential cost to the state.

Although neither DeWine nor a representative of the Ohio Department of Transportation participated in this week’s online roundtable, Gardner said Amtrak is “anxious to work with the state to look at what that partnership could be and put together a model that makes sense for Ohio.”

During the roundtable, Amtrak said the3C+D route would have stations in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati as well as at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Crestline, Delaware, Springfield and Sharonville.

Service is expected to be three round-trips per day with additional trips being added as ridership grows.

The route is expected to draw as many as 500,000 passengers annually and provide an economic impact of $130 million.

The Cleveland-Cincinnati travel time would be about 5.5 hours, but track improvements could cut that to 4 hours and 55 minutes.

Gardner said that a train does not need to be faster than car travel, but does need to be competitive. “The time on the train is productive time, which is not the same as driving time,” he said. “You can work, you can have access to wi-fi, you can socialize, you can walk around. It’s a much more comfortable and productive method,” he said.

Cleveland has the most current Amtrak service of the cities in the 3C+D corridor being served by the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited and the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited.

Trains on both of those routes, though are scheduled to pass through Cleveland between midnight and 6 a.m.

Cincinnati has a similar situation with the Chicago-New York Cardinal. Dayton and Columbus have lacked Amtrak service since the Oct. 1, 1979, discontinuance of the New York-Kansas City National Limited.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson was one of the participants in the roundtable and gave the 3C+D a hearty endorsement.

“We simply don’t have the luxury of choosing not to do this,” he said. “It is about positioning Ohio for the future. It’s not a question of rural or urban or suburban or Democrat or Republican. It’s about do we as Ohioans want to be competitive in the world, in this nation?”

Also participating in the roundtable were Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley; Crestline Mayor Linda Horning-Pitt, and William Murdock, the executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

Columbus is the second-largest metro area in the country without Amtrak service. Phoenix is the largest. 

“Not being in that network puts us at a disadvantage,” Murdock said. 

“Businesses and residents are clamoring for this,” he said. “We know the community is behind it. Investing in Ohio, it makes a lot of sense. It’s grounded not just in major cities, it’s really important to rural areas and smaller metros.”

Murdock said when young people arrive in Columbus one of the first questions they ask is, “Where’s the train stop?”

MORPC released 30 letters of support from community leaders who want expanded Amtrak service in Ohio.

Some of the funding Amtrak hopes to land to develop the 3C+D route would come from the $80 billion earmarked for Amtrak by President Joseph Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal.

However, other funding would be contained in a surface transportation bill Congress is expected to take up later this year.

That bill, though, would merely authorize spending. Other legislation would need to be adopted to appropriate federal funding for Amtrak expansion.

The 3C corridor has been the subject of numerous studies and failed attempts to launch service.

The most recent occurred 11 years ago when the state received a $400 million grant to start the route.

However, John Kasich campaigned for governor on a pledge to refuse the funding, which he made good on after being elected in 2010.

Before that ODOT proposed a Cleveland-Columbus service during a rebuilding of Interstate 71. That also failed to launch.

During the roundtable, Amtrak CEO Flynn said the carrier has spent the past three years developing a strategy to expand service.

Known as Amtrak Connect US, the expansion would touch up to 160 communities in 25 states on more than 30 routes It would be developed over the next 15 years.

Also included in the proposal is additional service between Cincinnati and Chicago via Indianapolis. That route would have an extension from Indianapolis to Louisville, Kentucky.

Although not part of the Amtrak Connect US network, studies are underway of a route between Chicago and Pittsburgh via Columbus.

Although no ODOT officials joined this week’s roundtable, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier has spoken with ODOT and Ohio Rail Development Commission members.

Gardner acknowledged said that much work needs to be done to bring the 3C+D service to fruition.

“These are not insurmountable challenges,” he said.

Wolverine Service Frequency to Rise July 19

May 19, 2021

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak have agreed to add back an additional daily roundtrip to the Chicago-Detroit corridor that was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chicago-Pontiac Wolverine Service train will begin operating July 19, going westbound in the morning and eastbound in the evening.

The two parties also said that effective May 25 speed limits on 45 miles of the corridor will ncrease to 110 miles per hour.

The faster speeds were authorized between Kalamazoo and Albion, Michigan, on track owned by MDOT

The higher speeds are being allowed following completion of Federal Railroad Administration certification of the signal system.

Officials said additional track infrastructure work is needed before the top speed can be increased between Albion and Dearborn in the Detroit suburbs.

The faster speeds will not reduce the scheduled travel time in the corridor but MDOT and Amtrak officials contended in a statement that improved on-time performance can be expected because the higher speeds will enable trains to make up time lost elsewhere.

This includes segments shared with freight railroads in Chicago and Northwest Indiana, and in the Detroit region.

Speeds of up to 110 mph have been in place since 2012 in the corridor on the Amtrak-owned segment between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

That segment uses an Incremental Train Control System signaling system.

That system has since been placed into operation east of Kalamazoo as an overlay to the interoperable I-ETMS positive train control system.

The schedule effective July 19 will have Wolverine Service trains 350 and 354 departing Chicago at 7:20 a.m. and 5:50 p.m., respectively.

Westbound trains 351 and 355 will depart Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and 5:35 p.m., respectively.

The new schedule will restore connections from western long-distance trains to Michigan points that were lost during the pandemic.

Currently, the lone Wolverine Service on the corridor departs Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and arrives in Chicago in late morning.

The return trip, though leaves Chicago at 1:25 p.m., which is too late to make connections from inbound Western long distance trains.

An MDOT official said the agency will consider adding back the third roundtrip to the corridor “as travel demands increase and COVID-19 vaccination rates rise in Michigan.”

Before the pandemic, trains departed Pontiac in early morning, mid morning and late afternoon. Trains departed Chicago in early morning, early afternoon and early evening.

Boston LSL Section Disrupted by Track Work

May 10, 2021

Track work being performed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will disrupt operations of the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited through June 17 east of Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

On Monday through Thursday Train 448 will terminate at Albany. Alternate transportation will be provided to the missed stops of Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester and Boston South Station. No alternate transportation will be provided to the missed stop of Framingham.

Passengers bound for Boston Back Bay station will be bused to Boston South Station and then take an Amtrak or MBTA commuter train between South Station and Back Bay.

Train 448 also will observe these schedule changes on June 5 and 12, both Sundays.

Train 449 will originate in Albany with alternate transportation provided to the missed stops of Boston, Worcester, Springfield and Pittsfield.

 No alternate transportation will be provided for the missed stops of Back Bay and Framingham.

Passengers traveling from Back Bay have the option of boarding at Boston South or traveling on alternate dates.

At Boston South Station passengers should go to the Amtrak Information Desk for instructions on boarding the buses.

At Worcester, passengers will board the bus at the main entrance in front of the station. Boarding will not occur at the bus terminal.