Parking Increases at Staple Mill Station

January 17, 2018

Expansion of parking at an Amtrak station in Richmond, Virginia, has added 115 spaces to the facility at Staples Mill Road is now complete.

The project began last August and increase capacity of the parking lot to 403 spaces. Work is underway to add another 200 parking spaces at the station.

“The completion of this phase is indicative of the Commonwealth’s commitment to giving our citizens travel options, and that includes our Staples Mill passengers as we continue construction on our parking lot expansion project. These additional parking spaces will enhance the Amtrak customer experience while we continue to work towards completion,” said Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation Director Jennifer Mitchell.

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Infrastructure Plan Seen as $200B Federal Share

January 17, 2018

Early reports on the size of the infrastructure plan expected to be proposed by the Trump administration indicate that it will earmark $200 billion in federal spending which is well below the $1 trillion figure talked about earlier.

However, administration officials have been saying of late that they believe the federal investment will draw in state contributions and money from private investors that could boost infrastructure spending to $1 trillion.

The plan is expected to be release late this month or in early February.

The ranking Senate Democrat on the committee that will oversee the plan is already talking it down, saying it is far less than what the nation needs.

“I think most people understand if we want to have better roads, highways, bridges, trains  . . . we gotta pay for them,” said Tom Carper (D-Delware), who sits on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Carper also is a member of the Senate Finance Committee that would authorize funding for the infrastructure bill.

Carper, who commutes on Amtrak to Washington, told Politico that he hopes Trump will propose a serious infrastructure proposal that will attract Democratic support.

The infrastructure plan might also allow for an expanded of charging tolls to help pay for the projects.

“I think the idea of using tolling for new road construction is probably a pretty good idea, and acceptable,” Carper said. “Especially now that we have the technology.”

Waiting for His Passengers

January 16, 2018

An Amtrak sleeping car attendant stands on the platform of the north concourse of Chicago Union Station to welcome passengers for his car aboard the westbound Empire Builder.

These tracks were once used by trains of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul and today Amtrak uses the ex-Milwaukee Road route between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Although boarding of No. 7 began on time, the train will depart late from Chicago largely due to late inbound trains, most notably the Lake Shore Limited. Also being held on this day for connecting passengers were the departing California Zephyr and Southwest Chief.

New Middletown Depot Construction Delayed

January 16, 2018

A new Amtrak station for Middletown, Pennsylvania, is not expected to open until sometime in 2021 or 2022.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said it will take a couple years before construction can begin to build a new platform and station.

PennDOT attributed the delay to track work yet to be performed by Norfolk Southern.

NS must relocate about a mile of its track at a cost of about $6.5 million to make room for relocating two tracks that will be used by Amtrak.

“Given the uncertainty of the railroads’ track schedules, a firm completion date was never set,” said PennDOT spokesman Richard Kirkpatrick said. “Track work construction schedules are contingent upon the availability of the Amtrak and Norfolk Southern workforces.”

The new station is expected to cost $24.4 million and replace the existing depot on Mill Street. That facility is not accessible to handicapped individuals. The new facility will be built along Route 230 at the end of Ann Street.

Kirkpatrick said the station design is being reviewed by Amtrak.

A public-private partnership known as Keystone Connections has submitted a preliminary proposal to build the station and related developments.

Keystone has not yet released many details on the project other than it expects to construct a 400-space parking area and that there will be room for retail shops and possibly a hotel.

The station project also includes a pedestrian bridge to be built over Route 230 that will link the Penn State Harrisburg campus to the station and downtown Middletown.

Planning for the station project began in 2009. Middletown is served by Amtrak’s Keystone Service trains between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Amtrak Wants Cascade Route PTC Turned On ASAP

January 15, 2018

Amtrak has told the departments of transportation in Oregon and Washington that that it wants positive train control tested and implemented on the Seattle-Portland route “as soon as possible.”

During a legislative hearing in Washington state last week, Amtrak Senior Government Affairs Manager Rob Eaton said sensors and radio links trackside, on locomotives and on a central server still need to be integrated.

“The testing and interaction of all three of these elements will take place during the second and third quarters of the year, after which PTC will be placed into operation,” he said.

Many believe that had PTC been in operation that derailment of a southbound Cascades Service train could have been avoided.

Three passengers died in the wreck, which authority had linked to the train going 78 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone near Olympia, Washington.

The train was traveling on the first day of revenue service on the Point Defiance bypass route.

Eaton said implementing PTC is complicated by the fact that three different railroads own sections of the route, including BNSF, Union Pacific and Sound Transit.

During the hearing Amtrak officials said PTC is not in operation on any Amtrak route west of the Mississippi River.

Washington state Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar testified that there was not undue pressure to launch high speed rail service before Amtrak locomotive engineers and crews had become qualified on the Point Defiance Bypass route.

“There was no deadline for initiating service,” Millar said, but did say there had been deadlines for completing construction on track and signal upgrades

Millar said those were not a factor in the December derailment.

Illinois Judge Orders Man Who Shot Amtrak Conductor Confined to Secure Residential Facility

January 15, 2018

A judge has ordered the man who shot an Amtrak conductor last year to be confined to a secure residential facility in Wisconsin.

DuPage County Judge Jeffrey MacKay prohibited Edward Klein from leaving the facility in suburban Milwaukee except in an emergency.

Prosecutors said during a court hearing that Klein’s family suggested the facility and a representative of the family said in court that the 80-year-old West Allis resident would be treated and cared for.

Klein had been charged with attempted murder last May after shooting Amtrak conductor Michael Case during a station stop in Naperville of the eastbound Southwest Chief.

Police have said Klein was angry that Case would not let him disembark in Naperville. Amtrak personnel were keeping Klein confined to the train because of his behavior and seeking to make sure that he reached Chicago Union Station and boarded a train for Milwaukee.

Klein has since been released from the DuPage County Jail and driven by police to the Wisconsin facility.

A court had earlier declared Klein unfit to stand trial after doctors determined that he was showing signs of dementia that is suspected to be Alzheimer’s disease.

Case, 46, said he supports how the court resolved the case. “We were ecstatic and we were relieved,” he said. “For us, our idea of justice was that he would get some help and not be able to go out among the general public.”

Case had undergone three surgeries in the wake of the shooting. He said last week in court that he has had some difficult days but bears no ill will toward Klein.

“It doesn’t do me any good,” Case said. “The No. 1 thing is I’m alive. And any day you’re alive is better than every day you’re 6 feet under.”

Amtrak Adds Capacity to Pacific Surfliners

January 15, 2018

Amtrak has added capacity to its 10 Pacific Surfliner trains serving Santa Barbara County in the wake of mudslides closing Highway 101 near near Montecito, California, last week.

The mudslides had shut down Amtrak itself for a few days, but trains resumed operating on Jan. 11.

The Pacific Surfliner has served as the only viable ground transportation option between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, as drive time on alternate routes between the two counties can take nearly four hours. The Pacific Surfliner travels between Ventura and Santa Barbara in about 45 minutes.

To accommodate the increased demand, Amtrak ferried equipment from northern California, including three locomotives and eight cars.

Officials said this will increase capacity on the Pacific Surfliner by 270 seats per train.

Station stops in the affected region include Oxnard, Ventura, Caprinteria, Santa Barbara and Goleta.

CN to Rebuild St. Charles Air Line Bridges

January 12, 2018

Canadian National plans to begin renovating bridges on a rail line in Chicago used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans trains. These include the City of New Orleans, Saluki and Illini.

CN said that it will begin renewing the St. Charles Air Line in Chicago, which is used by Amtrak trains to get from the CN Chicago-New Orleans mainline (former Illinois Central) to the BNSF Chicago-Aurora raceway at Union Avenue interlocking.

Amtrak trains generally back up from Chicago Union Station to reach the Union Avenue interlocking and they back up from Union Interlocking into Union Station.

The St. Charles Airline is also used by CN freight trains, including those going to and from Glenn Yard on the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio and the former Iowa Division of the IC. Some transfer runs of other railroads also use the St. Charles Airline.

Some bridges on the St. Charles Air Line were built in 1899. In total, CN plans to spent $85 million in 2018 and $100 million in 2019 on bridges.

There have been proposals over the years to build a connection at Grand Crossing in Chicago from the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline — now Norfolk Southern — and former IC line in order to avoid the backup moves that use of the St. Charles Air Line entails.

However, no funding source for the connection has yet materialized.

NCDOT Complete Piedmont Rail Project

January 12, 2018

A seven-year project to rehabilitate a rail line used by Amtrak trains in North Carolina has come to a close.

Known as the Piedmont Improvement Program, it sought to upgrade the infrastructure used by passenger and freight trains between Charlotte and Raleigh. This included making the route safer and more efficient and reliable.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation said more than 40 rail projects were completed. This included constructing 13 new bridges over or under highways to prevent train/vehicle collisions, laying 27 miles of double track between Greensboro and Charlotte, making the route between both cities now double track, and closing nearly 40 street-level roadway crossings.

The state also funded the addition of locomotives and passengers cars for Amtrak’s Piedmont service and upgraded four stations between Cary and Kannapolis.

“The Piedmont Improvement Program has put our state on the right path for the future by not only improving connectivity for passenger customers, but also serving as a catalyst for economic improvement through freight rail service, locally and nationally,” said NCDOT Chief Deputy Secretary David Howard in a statement.

Railroads participating in the program included Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern and the North Carolina Railroad Company.

Brightline to Start Revenue Service Jan. 13

January 11, 2018

Brightline will begin revenue service on Jan. 13 between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach,  Florida.

Fares include a “Try Our Train” fare of $10 per segment for basic service and $15 for Select service with larger seats and snacks and beverages. A segment is one way between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale over tracks of the Florida East Coast.

Service will initially be 10 daily weekday roundtrips and nine on weekends. The end-to-end trip will take 35 minutes with trains leaving as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 11 p.m. Schedules will vary between weekday and weekend service.

In an announcement, Brightline said it expects to expand into downtown Miami in the coming months.

Brightline also said it has shaken up its management team, promoting Patrick Goddard to president in replacement of Chief Executive Dave Howard, who was hired in March 2017.

Trains will operate at a top speed of 79 mph operation on the 67-mile section between Miami and West Palm Beach. Trains are projected to operate at up to 110 mph in the next 133-mile phase of the project to Cocoa Beach.