Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Montana Rail Agency Has 12 Member Counties

November 27, 2020

The agency seeking a return of Amtrak service to southern Montana now has 12 counties as members.

The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority could hold its first meeting next July at which it will appoint officers and begin strategic planning.

Half of the 12 counties that comprise the Authority are located along the route of Amtrak’s former North Coast Hiawatha, which operated between Chicago and Seattle until being discontinued in early October 1979.

The agency needed 10 member counties to qualify as a government entity under Montana law.

Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said the agency will work with Montana State University’s local government center.

3 Generations of Amtrak Power in Salt Lake City

October 10, 2020

Its October 1993 at the Amtrak (ex-Denver & Rio Grande Western) station where three locomotive models are on site to serve the Amtrak trains out of Salt Lake City, the California Zephyr, Pioneer and Desert Wind.

In the top photograph F40PH No. 293 reposes with the Delta Center, then the home of the Utah Jazz, in background.

In the middle photograph P32-8 No.511 is paired with a Superliner coach. In the bottom photograph is P40DC No. 822 sporting the Phase III livery.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Amtrak Memories From a July 1993 East Coast Trip

September 29, 2020

In July 1993, the photographer and a friend ventured East from their homes in Northeast Ohio on a photography expedition.

Among their stops were Princeton Junction, New Jersey, on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. They also stopped on their way home at Horseshoe Curve and caught Amtrak’s Broadway Limited.

Much has changed with Amtrak’s motive power since then. In the early 1990s Northeast Corridor trains were still pulled by AEM-7 locomotives and long-distance trains outside the corridor were handled by F40PH locomotives.

In the top photograph the Silver Meteor comes thundering by Princeton Junction, led by a GE E60 electric engine.

Next up the Pennsylvanian makes an appearance hauling a deadheading slumbercoach.

The last image from Princeton Junction shows the Silver Star.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Amtrak Wants $4.9B for FY2021

September 10, 2020

Amtrak has named its price of keeping long distance trains running daily and preventing employee furloughs: $4.9 billion.

William Flynn

Amtrak President told a congressional committee on Wednesday that Amtrak would need that much in federal fiscal year 2021 to avoid service cuts and job furloughs.

Flynn told the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Rail Subcommittee that Amtrak is experiencing a “cash burn” of nearly $250 million a month right now.

Without supplemental funding, Flynn said Amtrak “would have to make very dramatic reductions across the company to stave off bankruptcy.”

Those would include even more substantial service cuts than it has already imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the planned reductions in frequency of most long-distance trains to tri-weekly operation in October.

Flynn said some long-distance trains would cease operating “if that’s the cash burn we’re having with no supplemental funding.”

During his testimony, Flynn argued that Amtrak generates a surplus in the Northeast Corridor and breaks even on state-funded corridor service but loses money on long-distance trains.

“So the vast majority, if not all, of that subsidy, if we were to do it on a service line basis, would be on the long-distance service,” Flynn said.

Flynn faced sharp criticism from some committee members over such things as Amtrak’s plans to reinstate making contributions to the 401K plans of top managers effective Oct. 1 and a request for proposals for communications services that would allow bidders to shift jobs outside the United States.

The Amtrak president defended the 401K contributions as necessary to keep key employees from leaving the company, but agreed to withdraw the request for proposals that would allow offshoring.

Committee Chair Dan Lipinski also rebuked Amtrak for not submitting a supplemental appropriations request to Congress for FY2021 until this week.

He noted that congressional staffers have been asking Amtrak since June to no avail for a figure of how much it would take to prevent the service cuts to long-distance trains and avoid employee furloughs.

Lipinski noted that the next federal fiscal year begins in less than a month.

Earlier this year Amtrak sought $2.04 billion for FY2021. In late May the passenger carrier told Congress it would need another $1.4 billion to avoid service cuts.

However, that supplemental request was based on the premise that most long-distance trains would operate less than daily starting in October.

In the meantime, a budget for FY2021 adopted by the House includes $10 billion for Amtrak with a mandate to keep the long-distance trains operating daily.

Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passengers Association, said in his prepared statement that reducing the frequency of operation of long-distance trains to three times a week would result in a $2 billion economic loss to the communities served by those trains.

Mathews’ figures were based on a model developed in part by Transportation 4 America.

RPA has acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has depressed Amtrak revenue by 83 percent compared with the same period last year and that travel on all modes of public transportation has fallen precipitously.

But Mathews contended that Amtrak service is essential, particularly in some of the smaller communities the intercity passenger carrier serves.

Flynn also said during his testimony that Amtrak has no plans to furlough workers at its Beech Grove shops located near Indianapolis.

He said Amtrak had to hire additional workers at Beech Grove after some employees took a buyout offer.

Some Pacific Surfliner Service to Undergo One Day Schedule Change to BNSF Freight Move

May 22, 2020

Amtrak said that a specialized equipment move by freight carrier BNSF will result in a one day schedule change for some Pacific Surfliner service.

On May 24, Train 785 will be canceled. Train 796, which normally operates between Goleta and San Diego, will terminate at Los Angeles.

Thruway Bus 3596 will provide alternate transportation between Los Angeles and San Diego, serving all intermediate stops.

Other schedule changes that day include Thruway Bus 4591 departing Los Angeles at 9:55 p.m., 2 hours and 25 minutes later than normal to connect to Train 593, operating later at all stations from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara.

Bus 5885 will connect to earlier Train 579 at Los Angeles. Bust 5710 will not stop at San Pedro or Long Beach.

VIA to Restore Some Service on June 3

May 22, 2020

VIA Rail Canada will restore on June 3 some service in Québec and Ontario that has been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resuming service will be Trains 62 and 669 (Toronto-Kingston-Montréal) and Trains 52, 48, 59 (Toronto-Kingston-Ottawa).

The passenger carrier also said it expects to restore service in July on the Prince Rupert-Prince George-Jasper route.

In a news release, VIA said this service has been suspended due to “infrastructure and maintenance improvements” being performed by host railroad Canadian National.

Travel Downturn Keeping Some Amtrak Fares Lower

March 17, 2020

Aside from fewer people traveling, the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Amtrak has meant greater availability of fares at lower levels, an analysis by Trains magazine has found.

The analysis found that coach and sleeping car fares are at their lowest price level on most routes.

Amtrak fares vary depending on demand on a given day. The higher the demand the more likely that fares are to be higher.

Trains reported that passengers who believe they will be able to travel during historic busy travel periods will find sleeping car fares higher than what can be had now but still lower than what those fares would be under normal circumstances when sleeping car rooms are often sold out.

A roomette this summer on the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited can be had for $310, which matches the current adult roomette fare.

On the Chicago-New York Cardinal, roomettes are selling for $595 whereas last year during the summer they sold for $900.

The Cardinal has long had less sleeping car space than other eastern long-distance trains and thus its sleeping car fares have tended to be higher and space is harder to get.

Nos. 50 and 51 typically operate with one Viewliner sleeper although in recent weeks sleeping car space on the route has increased slightly with the assignment of a Viewliner baggage-dormitory car to the train.

The Trains analysis spot check found that a sleeping car accommodation on the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief can be had this summer for $740 whereas it current is priced at $604.

The respective fares for the California Zephyr (Chicago-Emeryville, California) are $685 for the summer versus $547 now and for the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder they are $900 versus $513 now.

The COVID-19 has resulted in sleeping car accommodations being sold out northbound on the Auto Train through March 23 whereas southbound plenty of space is available.

When demand for the Auto Train is strong Amtrak has the option of expanding sleeping car consists from seven cars to eight.

The Auto Train equipment pool includes Amtrak’s only two Superliner sleepers that have only bedrooms on the upper level.

House Draft Transportation Bill Due Before Summer

January 11, 2020

A draft surface transportation bill is expected to be released by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure before summer but not this month as reported earlier.

Committee Chair Peter DeFazio said the committee would “release more specifics in the not-too-distant future.” He did not elaborate on when that would be.

The current law that authorizes spending on highways, transit, and passenger rail programs expires on Sept. 30.

“This is like the beginning of the beginning of the year,” DeFazio said. “We’re talking about the middle of the beginning of the year. That’s earlier than June but later than January.”

In the meantime the Senate Finance Committee has been considering its own surface transportation legislation and has found finding new revenue to be a struggle.

A draft highway reauthorization bill the committee is considering calls for spending $287 billion on highways but stagnant revenue in the Highway Trust Fund means the committee is $113 billion short of paying for the proposed authorization.

Legislation in the Senate reauthorizing public transit and passenger rail is not expected to be drafted until later this year.

FRA Extends Deadline for Passenger Rail Grants

December 24, 2019

The deadline for a passenger rail grant program overseen by the Federal Railroad Administration has been extended to Feb. 5, 2020.

FRA had $24 million in Restoration and Enhancement Grants for “initiating, restoring, or enhancing intercity passenger rail service.”

The money was authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The deadline had been Jan. 5, 2020, but was extended by a month after another $1.92 million was authorized by Congress for fiscal year 2020.

That brings the total amount of available grant money for the program to $26.3 million.

Funding in the program can be used for staffing, fuel, electricity, station expenses, rolling stock lease payments, routine planned maintenance, host railroad access costs, train yard operation and administrative costs.

Grants may be awarded to states (individually or collectively), cities and other government entities, Amtrak and other intercity passenger rail companies.

By law the FRA must give priority by application type, including those supporting projects that “foster economic development, expand transportation options in under served communities, and restore former Amtrak routes.”

Maine State Employees To Get Downeaster Discounts

December 24, 2019

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is giving a 15 percent discount to Maine state employees who use Amtrak’s Downeaster for travel within or outside the state.

The discount is available on all Downeaster trains. State employees must purchase tickets three days in advance of travel and reference promotion code v503.

A state identification card is required for travel.

The Downeaster operates five round-trips daily between Brunswick, Maine, and Boston.

More information is available at AmtrakDowneaster.com.

“We hope this discount will encourage state employees to choose a cleaner method of travel for both work-related and personal travel,” said Natalie Bogart, marketing director at NNEPRA. “It also makes travel time more productive and less stressful than driving.”