Talks to Resume on Infrastructure Plan

May 19, 2019

Talks between Congress and the Trump administration over a proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan are expected to resume on May 22.

The session is expected to include President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The trio had announced the infrastructure proposal following an April 30 meeting. However, Republican Congressional leaders have reacted coolly toward the plan with some questioning where the funding would come from.

One proposal has been an increase in the federal gasoline tax, but GOP leaders have signaled they won’t support that.

Some in Congress on sides of the aisle have expressed skepticism that there is enough time to get a bill approved before the end of July.

“It’s premature for me to think we’re going to get something on the floor until we have something to get on the floor, and we haven’t gotten there yet,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said. “It would be unrealistic to expect next week, one meeting everybody agrees.”

A Little Out of the Ordinary

May 18, 2019

Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited usually has two P42DC locomotives pulling it over most of its route, but on May 16-17, it had three.

The lead unit may have been added at Albany-Rensselaer, New York, as online reports indicated that No. 145 was leading the train out of Boston.

No. 48 was running more than three hours late when I photographed it charging through Olmsted Falls, Ohio, on the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern.

Aside from the trio of P42DCs operating elephant style another out of the ordinary feature of this train was a second Viewliner sleeper in the Boston section.

For those wondering, the train had P42DC Nos.  95, 145 and 28 in that order. The Viewliner dining car was the Dover, which seems these days to be regularly assigned to an equipment set of Nos. 48 and 49.

CSX Track Work Leads to Boston LSL Suspension

May 18, 2019

Track work being performed by CSX will result in the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited being replaced with a charter bus on select dates between May 19 and Aug. 1.

The track work is being done between Sundays and Thursdays. On the affected dates, passengers will be transported by bus between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

The dates involved are May 19-23, 27-30; June 2-6, 9-13, 16-20, 23-27, 30; July 1-3, 7-11, 14-18, 21-25, 28; and Aug. 1.

Passengers holding tickets on Train 448 for travel beyond Albany, will disembark at the Albany-Rensselaer station and board a bus for stations in Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester and Boston (South Station), Massachusetts on the above dates.

Boarding passengers at these stations will board a bus at the station for Trains 448 and 449.

No alternative transportation is being provided to Framingham, Massachusetts, or to Boston Back Bay Station, both scheduled stops for Nos. 448 and 449.

In a service advisory Amtrak said passengers traveling to or from Back Bay station should take an MBTA or Amtrak commuter train between Boston South Station and Back Bay.

Trains 448 and 449 will operate normally on May 26 (Memorial Day) and July 4 (Independence Day) when the track work will be on a holiday hiatus.

Passengers ticketed for No. 449 from Boston South Station should go to the Amtrak Information Desk for instructions on boarding the buses.

Passengers at Worcester will board the bus at the main entrance in front of the station and not at the bus terminal.

Amtrak said the Boston section will not have business class or sleeping car service during this time.

CONO Passengers Back on the Bus to NOLA

May 18, 2019

Passengers riding Amtrak’s City of New Orleans are back on board a bus due to flooding in the South.

In a service advisory Amtrak said passengers will ride a bus between New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi, until further notice.

The advisory said Canadian National has closed the route used by Nos. 58 and 59 due to a planned emergency flood control endeavor.

It is the second time this year CONO passengers have had to ride a bus between New Orleans and Jackson due to flooding.

Amtrak said train service will be reinstated as soon as possible.

Affected are passengers traveling to and from the intermediate stations in Hazlehurst, Brookhaven, McComb, Mississippi; and Hammond, Louisiana.

Passengers departing from New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal are being advised to arrive at the station by 12:15 p.m. to board the charter buses.

IDOT Drops Support of Controversial Siding Plan

May 18, 2019

The Illinois Department of Transportation said it will no longer push for construction of a 2-mile long siding in the Chicago suburbs that is part of a proposal to expand Hiawatha Service.

The announcement was a victory for north suburban Chicago residents, particularly in Glenview and Lake Forest, who have fought the proposed siding.

The siding was intended to be a holding track for Canadian Pacific freight trains waiting for permission to enter a Union Pacific line that enabled CP trains to take a shorter route to the CP yard in Bensonville, Illinois.

In a letter to those communities from acting IDOT Secretary Omer Osman, the agency said it would not agree to the freight holding tracks in either Glenview or Lake Forest, and you have my commitment that IDOT will not be moving forward seeking federal support for this project.”

The Hiawatha expansion plan, which was announced in 2016, would increase the daily frequency of Chicago-Milwaukee trains from seven to 10.

The expansion was a joint project or IDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Both agencies currently fund Hiawatha Service.

Many of the opponents of the siding own homes next to the tracks used by Amtrak, CP and Metra and said idling freight trains would create noise and air pollution that would depress the value of the property as well as hinder the quality of their lives.

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said he agency is seeking other options that would allow the expansion of Hiawatha Service.

“The department is a strong supporter of passenger rail service on this line and will be working with the lead agency on the project, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, on other possible solutions to improve service,” Tidgell said in an emailed statement sent by Tridgell.

He also said IDOT will not oppose any federal grant applications that WisDOT submits related to the Hiawatha expansion.

Arun Rao, passenger rail manager at WisDOT, said the agency is aware of IDOT’s concerns about the proposed siding.

“We are continuing to proceed with plans to increase frequencies with the Hiawatha service and are working with IDOT and the railroads to continue to do that,” he said.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has proposed $45 million in bonding to move Hiawatha expansion ahead.

Those funds would be used as matching funds for federal grants that would cover the remaining project costs.

Trails and Rails Schedule Set for 2019

May 18, 2019

Amtrak and the National Park Service have reached a five-year agreement that will extend operation of the Trails and Rails program.

The program, which began in 2000, had been curtailed within the past year after Amtrak ceased to provide meals and lodging for the personnel who provided commentary aboard select Amtrak trains.

The agreement has redefined the program, which involves volunteers who provide commentary about the history and culture of regions through which Amtrak trains pass.

“It seems like we now have a steady source of contact folks at Amtrak in Washington, D.C., to serve as liaisons that can help move the program along,” said Trails and Rails National Director Jim Miculka.

Volunteers participating in the program will come from national parks and their itineraries have been reset so that they will cover portions of many routes in a manner to make a roundtrip in one day.

“When Amtrak dropped the onboard meals and the National Park Service expense allotments didn’t change, the parks needed to prioritize how they use the same limited funds – varying from $500 to $2,500 annually – now that meals had to be covered,” Miculka said. “There was never enough money for overnight lodging.”

Most of the commentary provided by the volunteers is given in a café car. However, the volunteers will also walk through the train to answer questions and carry props to use as conversation starters.

Trains and routes slated to participate in the Trails and Rails include the Capitol Limited (Washington and Cumberland, Maryland); Crescent (Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama); Heartland Flyer (entire route); Southwest Chief (La Junta, Colorado, and Las Vegas, New Mexico); Empire Builder (Seattle and Wenatchee, Washington); Coast Starlight (Seattle and Portland, Oregon; and San Jose and Santa Barbara, California); Pacific Surfliner (Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, California, and Los Angeles and San Diego); Lincoln Service (St. Louis and Springfield, Illinois, and Springfield and Chicago); Texas Eagle (Chicago and Springfield);

Wolverine Service and Blue Water (Chicago and Niles, Michigan; and Chicago and New Buffalo, Michigan); and Adirondack (various segments between New York and Westport, New York).

Select Northeast Regional trains will also have Trails and Rails commentators between Washington and New York on Saturdays.

The frequency of commentary will vary from Saturday only to daily. In most cases the commentary appears primarily on weekends.

Amtrak, NJT to Rebuild NEC in New Jersey

May 18, 2019

New Jersey Transit and Amtrak have announced plans to spend $31 million this year on infrastructure projects in the Northeast Corridor in New Jersey.

The work, which will get underway this spring and extend into the summer, is a result of an agreement reached between Amtrak and NJT in February whereby NJT agreed to pay Amtrak all withheld funds owed.

Projects to be under taken include a block tie replacement project that starts May 20 at Newark Penn Station.

The initial work will affect Tracks 1 and 4, which are the most used inbound and outbound track. Workers will replace wood ties with concrete ties on 95 feet on Track 1 and 1,100 feet on Track 4.

Also slated for rebuilding is the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River. Amtrak workers will replace timber decks on Tracks 2 and 3 this summer with more than 500 timbers per track being replaced.

A project to rebuild the Fair Interlocking north of the Trenton Transit Center Station will get underway on Aug. 5.

Workers will replace timbers and switch equipment, including total switch replacement for six switches.

Other work will include upgrading switch machines from air to electric, adding new electric switch heaters and replacing more than 700 ties and 350 switch timbers.

Catenary rebuilding will be undertaken on all four tracks between County Interlocking in New Brunswick and Ham, a distance of 20 miles.

This work is being done in preparation for high speeds as new Acela Express equipment enters service in 2021.

The work will include equipment removal, replacement, and new installation of constant tension catenary.

San Joaquin Schedules to Change May 20

May 18, 2019

Amtrak will release a new schedule for its San Joaquin service on May 20 that will return service to seven roundtrips operating every two hours.

Five trains will operate between Bakersfield and Oakland, and two will run between Bakersfield and Sacramento.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the new schedule is as follows:

Train 701 will depart Bakersfield 4 hours and 3 minutes earlier than Train 1701’s original time. Train 1701 is cancelled.

Train 703 will depart 12 hours and 12 minutes later from Bakersfield. Train 711 will depart 8 minutes earlier from Bakersfield.

Train 713 and 717 will depart 48 minutes earlier from Bakersfield. Train 719 will depart 58 minutes earlier from Bakersfield.

Train 702 will depart 6 hours and 15 minutes earlier from Sacramento. Train 704 will depart 1 hour and 4 minutes earlier from Sacramento.

Train 710, 712 and 714 will depart 2 hours and 1 minute later from Oakland. Train 715 will depart 12 minutes later from Bakersfield.

Train 716 will depart 59 minutes earlier from Oakland. Train 718 will depart 19 minutes earlier from Oakland. Train 1718 is cancelled

David Lipari, marketing manager of the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority said in a statement that the schedule changes are, “Designed to improve on-time performance and connectivity across the Bay Area, Sacramento, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, we are proud to offer a more convenient and timely solution that meets the growing needs of riders.”

Capitol Corridor Station Named for Hannigan

May 18, 2019

The Capitol Corridor station in Fairfield, California, has been named for a state legislature who was instrumental in getting the intercity rail service established.

The Fairfield-Vacaville Station has been renamed the Fairfield-Vacaville Hannigan Station in honor of the late Tom Hannigan.

As a state assemblyman, Hannigan pushed for the development of the Capitol Corridor in the middle 1980s, saying that growth in the region would support a new intercity rail system.

“It is because of Tom’s vision over 30 years ago, that we have this great route between the [San Francisco] Bay Area and Sacramento,” said Fairfield Mayor Harry Price in a statement.

A ceremony will be held this fall to unveil a memorial plaque at the depot to commemorate Hannigan, who died in 2018.

Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor trains average 3,600 trips per month from the station, which opened in November 2017.

NJT Restores Atlantic City Service From Philadelphia

May 18, 2019

Intercity rail service to Atlantic City, New Jersey, has resumed. New Jersey Transit operates the service between Philadelphia and Atlantic City.

At one time Amtrak operated trains on this route.

The service had been suspended last September for the installation of positive train control on the line.

Along with restoring the Atlantic City trains NJT also restored the Princeton Dinky, which links the campus of Princeton University and Princeton Junction on the Northeast Corridor.

Installation of PTC on the two routes was delayed for several months beyond the projected finish date of Jan. 1, 2019.

The return of Atlantic City service saw the frequency of morning service at Philadelphia increase from three roundtrips to five, but a schedule change has led to some grumbling.

On the positive side NJT established a new morning arrival in Philadelphia. But NJT also ended two post-midnight trains from Atlantic City to Philly that had been heavily used by casino workers.

The workers are also upset that a train that had left at 5:45 p.m. has been moved up to depart at 4:55 p.m., which means those working 9 to 5 won’t get off work in time to catch that train home.

They will now have to wait for a 6:45 p.m. train to return home.

The return of the Atlantic City service was welcomed, though, by some who feared the route would not be reinstated because it has been the least patronized NJT route.

NJT said it ended the post-midnight departures from Atlantic City because they averaged fewer than 40 passengers a day and that alternative bus service was available.