Trains To Make Stops in Thomasville, NC

May 21, 2018

Amtrak has announced that select Piedmont and Carolinian trains will make a special stop at Thomasville, North Carolina, on May 28 for the city’s Memorial Day events.

These include Train 80 at 8:10 a.m., Train 73 at 8:45 a.m.,Train 74 at 1:13 p.m., and Train 75 at 1:45 p.m.

Thomasville is not a scheduled stop for the New York-Charlotte Carolinian or any of the Raleigh-Charlotte Piedmont trains.

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Track Work Affects Downeasters

May 21, 2018

Due to track work being performed by Pan Am Railways, Downeaster Trains 683 and 684 will be cancelled on May 22 and 23, with no alternate transportation provided.

This in addition to track work being performed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority that had led to the cancellation of Downeaster trains at  Woburn on Saturdays and Sundays through May 27.

Affected are Nos. 690, 692, 694, 696, 698, 691, 693, 695, 697 and 699, all of which will detour between Boston North Station and Haverhill.

Alternate transportation will not be provided by Amtrak to or from Woburn.

Brightline Now Serving Miami

May 21, 2018

Brightline began service to Miami on May 19 and has reached an agreement with rideshare provider Lyft to provide transportation to and from Brightline trains.

The launch of service to Miami also coincided with the implementation of quiet zones at grade crossings in West Palm Beach.

Fares for Brightline service are $10 Smart/$15 Select to Fort Lauderdale, and $15 Smart/$25 Select to West Palm Beach.

The quiet zones also affect Florida East Coast freight trains passing through West Palm Beach. The zone extends from from downtown to the southern city limits.

A quiet zone also begins on May 21 in Lake Worth, but other cities in Palm Beach County are decided about whether to allow quiet zones.

The county spend $7 million to create the crossing modification plans for quiet zones and Brightline contributed $60 million for traffic signal coordination and crossing upgrades necessary to gain Federal Railroad Administration approval.

Farewell to Jackson

May 17, 2018

I’m standing at the rear of Amtrak train No. 58, the northbound City of New Orleans, as it leaves the station at Jackson, Mississippi.

I’ve been through this station aboard the CONO a few times, but never seen the station other than the platform.

The waiting room and ticket office are at ground level, but the tracks are elevated through downtown Jackson.

My understanding is that this is the site of the former Jackson Union Station. The Illinois Central was the last railroad to have passenger service here in the pre-Amtrak era.

There were four trains a day on April 30, 1971, the IC City of New Orleans and the Panama Limited.

The next day the train count fell to two where it has remained ever since.

Senators Support Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

May 17, 2018

Some senators went to bat this week for Amtrak’s long-distance trains during a hearing on the nomination of Joe Gruters to the carrier’s board of directors.

During the hearing before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi ) invited Gruters to join him on a trip aboard the City of New Orleans between McComb, Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee, so he could see the number of people who depend on the train.”

Gruters said he would “welcome the opportunity to ride a train with you for a couple hours.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) used the hearings to express their concerns that Amtrak will seek to discontinue the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

They criticized Amtrak’s decision to withhold a $3 million match from a recently-approved $16 million TIGER grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, that is to be used to repair the tracks used by the Chief in Northern New Mexico.

“In my view, Amtrak has reneged on what it committed to do … and I believe federal agencies have an obligation to behave with integrity; I don’t see that at the moment,” Moran said.

He read excerpts from an email written by former Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman that charged that Amtrak is seeking to end the train and submitted the entire email for the record.

“This suggests to me that there may be a change of attitude and approach at the Amtrak board and its senior leadership that would be contrary to the congressional mandate about national rail passenger service,” Moran said.

Gardner asked Gruther if, as an Amtrak board member, he would make sure Amtrak followed through on its commitments while accusing Amtrak of not doing so.

He based those accusations on a letter of support for the TIGER grant that Amtrak submitted in October 2017.

Gardner also submitted a Rail Passengers Association statement pointing out that the Southwest Chief’s ridership is up 14 percent from eight years ago.

Wicker also joined ranking minority committee member Bill Nelson (D-Florida) in expressing their desire to see Amtrak return to the Gulf Coast.

Gruters, who owns a public accounting firm in Sarasota, Florida, acknowledged having heard from officials and residents of many Florida communities in support of such service.

[Amtrak board members] “have a fiduciary responsibility to the company but we have our mission set forth by Congress, so I will look forward to working with your team to make sure agreements are upheld and we do the right thing at the end of the day.” Gruters said.

Moran also was critical of Amtrak’s decision to close its ticket office in Topeka, Kansas.

“You cannot reduce service and expect customers to arrive at your doors, and Amtrak is demonstrating that in my view in both instances,” he said.

Some senators, including Maria Cantwell, (D-Washington), used the hearing to trumpet support for positive train control.

Gruters said PTC “is the baseline standard we need to work up to.”

All but one member of the current Amtrak board lacks railroad experience. Member Jeffrey Moreland led the public affairs and legal departments at BNSF.

Like most Amtrak board members, Gruters is a political appointee who helped lead the presidential election campaign for Donald Trump in 2016.

The Chief’s Way

May 16, 2018

Back in the early 2000s it was a common site to see a string of head-end cars on the rear of Amtrak trains.

They carried perishable produce, mail and any other time-sensitive cargo from shippers willing to pay Amtrak a premium rate.

Amtrak’s host railroads didn’t like it and said so. They saw Amtrak as trying to cut into their own freight business.

The Amtrak CEO at the time, George Warrington, said this revenue would be used to make Amtrak self-sufficient.

Shown is the eastbound Southwest Chief cruising through Riverside, Illinois, on May 20, 2004. No. 4 is 13 miles away from Chicago Union Station.

On the rear is a cut of refrigerator cars that were a mainstay on Nos. 3 and 4.

But not for long. Within a year Amtrak would have a new CEO, David Gunn, and he would discontinue the mail and express gambit.

The only head-end car the Chief carries today is a baggage car.

Rail Consultant Upbraids Boardman

May 16, 2018

Former Amtrak President Joseph Boardman got a lot of favorable reviews for a letter he recently wrote to public officials across the country criticizing current Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson for what Boardman believes is are effort by him and the Amtrak board of directors to dismantle the carrier’s network of long-distance trains.

However, in a column published on the website of Railway Age, a railroad passenger consultant took Boardman to task, saying that he created the situation that current Amtrak management might be exploiting.

M.E. Singer, a principal at Marketing Rail Ltd. in Chicago, argues that it was Boardman and the same board of directors under whom Anderson is serving who left Amtrak in a state of disrepair after years as president and who created the movement to force states to pay to renovate the tracks used in parts of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

In his letter, Boardman had contended that current Amtrak management is drawing a line at the base of Raton Pass as an opening move to curtail long-distance trains.

Boardman was referencing a letter that Amtrak’s government affairs office sent to public officials along the route of the Chief stating that Amtrak would not match a federal grant obtained by Colfax County, New Mexico, to be used to help rebuild the route of the Southwest Chief in New Mexico until all of the parties have agreed on a comprehensive funding plan to complete renovation of the route.

During Boardman’s time at Amtrak, host railroad BNSF said it would no longer maintain the former Santa Fe route used by the Chief in western Kansas, southeast Colorado and northern New Mexico to passenger train standards because the freight carrier seldom used it.

The Amtrak letter noted that in some places Amtrak is the sole user of the line.

“Despite what Boardman said, the irrefutable facts clearly indicate the first attempt ever at shaking down states for funding passenger rail infrastructure (Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico) was designed and initiated on Boardman’s watch, with the support of the same Board of Directors and executive line of management who were in place when he made these decisions . . . ,” Singer wrote.

Singer charged in his column that during the Boardman administration at Amtrak the carrier’s best managers were encouraged to take buyouts “during multiple reorganizations that only depleted vital institutional knowledge.”

Although Boardman in his letter accused Amtrak of a lack of transparency, Singer said Amtrak also worked in secrecy during the Boardman administration.

“In reality, Boardman barely provided lip service to the long-distance routes, as evidenced by the lack of any pro formas to Congress to factually detail the number of passengers turned away, and loss of revenues, due to the lack of space on those trains; and to identify the need for more equipment to expand frequencies and to meet new route opportunities,” Singer wrote.

Singer contends Amtrak’s board of directors and its top management has a “singularly focused” commitment to serve their political patrons of the Northeast Corridor at the expense of the national system.

“What apparently puzzles Boardman is how quickly his inner circle turned their loyalty to the new CEO, Richard Anderson, continuing to focus on ensuring their own survival by placating a very conflicted Board,” Singer wrote.

Singer called for a redefinition of Amtrak to serve all interests, including the national system.

“In the end, what is critical to acknowledge is that given the vast amount of continuing infrastructure investment required for the NEC, the initial action to force those select states along the Southwest Chief route to pay tribute was abhorrently wrong. Now, that should be clearly acknowledged and corrected by federal grants and funds to maintain the national network,” Singer wrote.

Topeka Wants to Save Amtrak Agent

May 16, 2018

The city council of Topeka, Kansas, voted 9-0 this week to ask the state’s congressional delegation for help in keeping the Amtrak ticket office open in that city.

Topeka is one of 15 ticket offices slated to close or which have closed this month nationwide amid a recent cost-cutting move.

Three of those offices (Topeka; Garden City, Kansas; and Fort Madison, Iowa) are on the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The resolution was sponsored by Councilwoman Sylvia Ortiz and directs city manager Brent Trout to provide Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins and Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran a letter asking them “to intercede on the City’s behalf by requesting of Amtrak that it provide full passenger service at its Topeka facility.”

The resolution also directs Trout to write to Amtrak to request that it “retain the current service level including the retention of a customer service representative.”

Amtrak has a single agent assigned to Topeka and that position will be abolished on May 18.

The ticket office in Garden City was closed on Tuesday (May 15).

Topeka attorney Robert E. “Tuck” Duncan was one of five people who spoke Tuesday in favor of the resolution. No one spoke against it.

“Please support the resolution unanimously, and act damn fast,” he said.

Colorado Funding Passenger Fund

May 16, 2018

The Colorado legislature has approved $2.5 million to be used to promote passenger rail development.

The funding will go to the Southwest Chief and Front Range Rail Commission, which is seeking to extend passenger rail service to communities along the Rocky Mountains, including Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

The group is eyeing a section of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Trinidad and Pueblo, Colorado. It is also studying a separate rail service that would extend between Trinidad and Fort Collins via Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Denver.

Cost estimates to implement both rail services are $70 million.

The money appropriated by lawmakers will be used for community outreach, planning and other start-up costs.

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe had a connecting train between Denver and La Junta until the coming of Amtrak in May 1971.

Sleek Acela

May 15, 2018

Amtrak’s Acela Express equipment doesn’t look anything like what used to operate in the Northeast Corridor.

That is by design. Acela more closely resembles the sleek, streamlined look of European or Japanese high-speed trains than it does the boxy Metroliner of the 1960s and beyond.

The equipment used in Acela service is not, relatively speaking, all that old.

Already Amtrak has plans to replace it and the trainset seen above cruising through the Newark Liberty International Airport station is slated to be replaced by early 2023.

Such are the priorities for Amtrak’s top “glamour” train in its most important corridor in terms of traffic.