The Diner Looks Inviting

April 21, 2017

You’ve just spent your first night on the train as part of a three-day journey. It’s early morning and some breakfast would sure taste good along with a hot beverage.

The dining car is right next to your sleeping car. You get up, get dressed and head for the diner. Breakfast is just on the other side of that door.

Amtrak Conducts 1st Midwest Charger Test

April 20, 2017

One of the new SC-44 Charger locomotives that will be assigned to Midwest Corridor trains was tested between Chicago and Milwaukee on Wednesday.

No. 4611 was on the point for test train 941 from Chicago to Milwaukee, running ahead of the regularly scheduled Hiawatha Service No. 329.

It was the first test of a Charger locomotive in the Midwest. Testing has been conducted previously on the east and west coasts.

Two Chargers, Nos. 4611 and 4604 arrived in Chicago late last month.

Siemens built the Chargers at a factory in California as part of an order placed by the departments of transportation of Illinois, California, Michigan, Missouri, Washington and Maryland. The order was for 69 locomotives of which Illinois purchased 33.

Most of the Chargers in the Midwest are expected to operate on corridor routes radiating from Chicago.

Further tests of the Chargers are expected to be performed on other Midwest routes.

SW Chief Commission Gets New Mandate

April 20, 2017

The Southwest Chief Commission in Colorado will study rail passenger service along the front range of the Rocky Mountains between Fort Collins and Trinidad.

The Colorado legislature recently passed legislation that it sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper that extends the life of the Commission, which was set to sunset on July 1.

The legislation also authorizes the Commission to continue exploring the expansion within the state of Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Colorado rail passenger advocates have long sought to extend operation of the Chief to Pueblo.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, who pushed for the legislation, said that as Colorado’s population grows passenger rail is becoming necessary.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that Amtrak’s going to be OK,” said Jim Souby, president of the Colorado Rail Passenger Association. “Nobody knows quite how Congress is going to handle the budget this year. But I think it’s a big policy declaration by the state that we need to take passenger rail seriously. It passed the (Colorado legislature) with bipartisan support.”

The Southwest Chief Commission was created at a time when the future of the Southwest Chief was in doubt due to deteriorating track conditions.

The recently passed legislation will rename the Commission as the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission.

The Commission will be directed to recommend a rail passenger plan by late 2017 to the legislature.

Bristol Eyes Luring Amtrak to Come to Town

April 20, 2017

Public officials in Bristol, Virginia, plan to launch a study of what it would take to entice Amtrak to serve their region.

City officials plan to work with the Community Transportation Association of America in Washington to secure a consulting firm that will undertake a $450,000 economic benefit study of extending Amtrak’s Northeast Regional service from Roanoke, Virginia, to Bristol.

“We’re just about ready to prepare the RFP [request for proposals] for that study, and hopefully it will begin this summer,” CTAA spokesman Rich Sampson said Tuesday. “What we’re hoping our study will do is be a precursor to a second study, by demonstrating the need and the benefits of such a service. DRPT [Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation] would then do a study on the operational feasibility of the service.”

Amtrak expects to begin serving Roanoke later this year by extending a Northeast Regional train that now terminates in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Sampson said the state of Virginia is going to want two years of ridership data of the Roanoke service before it will participate in the Bristol study.

Bristol Mayor Bill Hartley said having Amtrak service would benefit his city in many ways.

“I look at what passenger rail could do for our downtown,” he said. “With two hotels, one hopefully opening this year, and the restaurants and entertainment, the infrastructure is there for people to come and make Bristol more of a destination.”

Some funding for the study will come from a $250,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, a $100,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and $50,000 each from the city and CTAA, with CTAA also providing services as an in-kind contribution.

Once it gets underway, the Bristol study is expected to take six to nine months to complete.

“Virginia is perhaps the leading state right now in investing in new Amtrak service,” Sampson said. “They have three examples of where they have or are going to install new service — the Lynchburg train, the Norfolk train and the extension to Roanoke. Tennessee has not had any state support for inter-city passenger rail, so their level of involvement and interest is uncertain at this point.”

Although Bristol leaders once talked about getting support for service further southward to Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then creating a connecting service to Atlanta and Louisville, those routes won’t be part of the expected study of extending service from Roanoke.

Sampson said that expansion to Tennessee point won’t happen unless rail service first comes to Bristol.

Illini to Run an Hour Later on Weekdays

April 19, 2017

Amtrak’s Carbondale, Illinois, to Chicago Illini will operate an hour later between April 24 and May 12 due to Canadian National track work.

The schedule change affects only trains operating on Monday through Friday. The Saturday and Sunday schedule of No. 392 remains unchanged.

Arrival times at all intermediate stations will be an hour later.

The Illini is funded largely by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

 

Fort Madison Station Upgrades Put on Hold

April 19, 2017

Officials in Fort Madison, Iowa, say that plans for Amtrak to use a different station are on hold.

“We can’t spend tax money on this or the funds we have unless we have a good assurance that it’s going to [go] forward and stay in,” said City Manager David Varley.

He was referring to the lack of a state budget in Iowa and federal budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration that would end all funding for Amtrak long-distance trains.

Fort Madison will pony up 25 percent of the $1.2 million needed to upgrade the Santa Fe Depot for Amtrak’s use.

“We are going to do what we can on our part but at the same time we have to be responsible,” Varley said.

Fort Madison is the only stop in Iowa for Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Sturtevent Sues Amtrak over Unpaid Bill

April 19, 2017

Sturtevent, Wisconsin, officials have launched litigation against Amtrak over what the village describes as unpaid fees for repair work done on the station last year.

The village owns the station and is seeking $45,780.56 plus interest, costs, disbursements and attorney fees.

The work involved replacement of the steel bottoms of four glass shelter buildings at the train station, which had rusted over the years

Village Engineer Jeff Seitz said Amtrak leases the depot from Sturtevent and is responsible for 85 percent of its maintenance costs but not for capital improvements.

Amtrak contends the repair work was a capital improvement not a maintenance matter and has declined to pay for the repairs.

“Despite repeated demands, defendants have failed and refused to pay the remaining balance due,” the lawsuit says.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that the rail passenger carrier is aware of the lawsuit and will respond in court.

Seitz said the lawsuit was expected because the village and Amtrak had been talking about the project, including price quotes, for about a year before the Village Board directed him to get the work performed and then file a claim.

He said it is the first such dispute the village has ever had with Amtrak. Sturtevent officials hopes that a judge will be able to come up with a better definition of what is maintenance and what is a capital improvement at the depot.

The Wisconsin city near Racine is served by Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains.

At Least the Menus Are Still Colorful

April 19, 2017

Amtrak operations have been well photographed over the years, yet less attention seems to have been paid to the way in which is projects itself.

There probably are people out there who collect Amtrak memorabilia such as poster, menu covers and various marketing products.

Some of these items show up for sale at train shows and flea markets.

Amtrak menu covers have spanned the spectrum from plain white covers with nothing more than the Amtrak logo to covers with elaborate art work.

In recent years, the images shown on posters to promote individual trains have been used for menu covers.

Those images tend to have a dominant image that portrays something about the territory served by the train.

Yet I’ve long wondered why the menu covers for the Capitol Limited do not show an image of the nation’s capitol.

Instead, it shows a generic looking city skyline that is not Washington and, if you use your imagination, looks a little like Chicago. But at least it shows a train.

Chicago-St. Louis Corridor Rebuilding Nearing Completion

April 18, 2017

The Illinois Department of Transportation says a $1.95 billion rebuilding of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor is close to being finished.

The project, which began eight years, will conclude with work in the coming months in Madison and Macoupin counties in Illinois near St. Louis.

IDOT officials say that 75 percent of the 284-mile corridor will feature speeds of up to 110 miles per hour.

Among the work yet to be done is temporarily closing 18 grade crossings to allow for the installation of new gates, fencing and other improvements.

Grade crossings will receive “four-quad” gates to block two traffic lanes on each side of the track and keep vehicles from going around the gates

Sidewalk gates will keep pedestrians from crossing while a train is approaching and 3-foot-high pedestrian fences will be installed at to encourage people to cross where they should.

Officials said some service will be suspended between May 16 to 23 for bridge work in the Metro East area of St. Louis.

The suspensions will affect trains operations between St. Louis and Springfield, Illinois. Chartered buses will replace trains during that period.

Much of the route upgrading, which has included laying new rails and putting down concrete ties has been funded by the federal government.

IDOT officials said increasing the maximum speed in open areas to 110 will cut about an hour off the corridor travel time.

“Currently, it’s about five and a half hours from end to end,” said Scott Speegle, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation. “It’ll be about four and a half once the project is finished and we’re able to run the 110 high speed.”

However, officials said that although they expect the higher speed project to be finished this year they cannot yet say when the 110 mph speeds will be allowed.

It could be in 2018, but that will depend on testing the line’s positive train control system.

“They have to be very conservative with testing,” said Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

Speegle said aside from higher speeds, the PTC system will allow for better train flow and increased reliability.

He noted that much of the corridor is a single track line hosting passenger and freight trains.

Some double track and lengthened siding have been added to facilitate meets of opposing rail traffic.

The Chicago-St. Louis corridor is used by Amtrak’s Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle.

Fare Sale Announced for Hiawatha Service Travel

April 18, 2017

Amtrak has announced a buy one get one half off deal for passengers traveling on Hiawatha Service trains on Saturdays.

In a news release, the rail passenger carrier said that a Chicago-Milwaukee roundtrip for two will cost $75.

Up to two children ages 2 through 12 can ride for half-price with a full fare adult.

Tickets must be purchased online using promotion code V451. Amtrak noted that for those wishing to spend a night on the town, the last Hiawatha Service trains depart Chicago at 10:40 p.m. and Milwaukee at 11:10 p.m.

Passengers wanting to take a bicycle with them may do so for $5 and do not need to place their bike in a box. It can be handed to an Amtrak crew member at the baggage car.