Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak charter trains’

AAPRCO Eyes Recurring Trips on Amtrak Routes

February 2, 2019

The American Association of Private Rail Car Owners is pitching to Amtrak the idea of having an annual train that would use existing Amtrak routes.

The group had until 2018 hosted rare mileage trips of private rail cars that were operated by Amtrak, but the carrier has since prohibited such one-time charters that do not use regularly scheduled Amtrak routes.

The excursions typically were combined with the group’s annual convention.

In a recent newsletter, AAPRCO officials said they are still working on the routing and eyeing layovers in some areas that are not accessible to individual private rail cars.

The excursion, if approved by Amtrak, would operate in mid September, a date designed to avoid overlapping other fall charter trips.

The rare mileage excursions have in past years also functioned as a fund-raising activity for AAPRCO.

Amtrak Clarifies Policy on Specials, Private Cars

April 20, 2018

Amtrak has clarified its new policy on special moves and the carriage of private railroad cars and as expected the passenger carrier is largely eliminating moves to and from intermediate points.

The guidelines say Amtrak will only accommodate private car moves at endpoint terminals or intermediate stations where the scheduled dwell time is sufficient to allow switching of the cars.

Amtrak listed 40 intermediate stations where switching will be permitted. The list includes such points as Albuquerque, New Mexico; Denver; Houston; Kansas City; and St. Paul, Minnesota, but no cities in Ohio.

Private cars can also be added or removed from Amtrak trains at Pontiac, Michigan; Indianapolis; and Pittsburgh. However, the latter is limited to the Pennsylvanian, which originates and terminates in Pittsburgh.

Also excluded are Grand Rapids and Port Huron in Michigan, both of which are endpoints for the Pere Marquette and Blue Water respectively.

Nor is Huntington, West Virginia, included on the list. The omission of Huntington is notable because it is the origin of the annual New River Train and the home of the fleet of cars owned by the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society.

Amtrak said it will work with private rail car owners whose cars are marooned at prohibited intermediate switching stops on a one-time, one-way relocation move to a terminal or yard where private cars will still be permitted to operate.

The movement of private cars will also requires case-by-case written approval by Amtrak.

Amtrak plans to limit maintenance service for private-car owners to Federal Railroad Administration mandated repairs of safety appliances as necessary on private cars in the consist of Amtrak trains.

Private car owners will no longer be permitted to pay Amtrak’s maintenance services for preventative maintenance and general repair services. In the past Amtrak staff undertook such repairs and then billed the car owner for the work.

As for special moves and charters, Amtrak said those will be limited to existing Amtrak routes.

The guidelines also said Amtrak will continue to accommodate specials and charters that are already established in the Amtrak system. They must not be one-time trips.

That is good news for the annual New River Train, which uses the route of the Chicago-Washington Cardinal, but not so good news for the rare mileage specials sponsored by the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners.

Would-be operators of chartered trains that use Amtrak locomotives, equipment and personnel will be subject to the availability of those resources and their operation must not adversely affect scheduled operations.

A charter must also generate sufficient financial benefit for Amtrak to justify its use of its equipment and personnel, but the carrier did not explain how it calculates those.

The updated guidelines on charters and special moves do not apply to trains operated by Amtrak on its own or for governmental purposes.

W.Va. Congressman Protests Amtrak Policy Change

April 2, 2018

A West Virginia Congressman whose district includes Huntington, is trying to rally opposition to an Amtrak policy change that will in effect wipe out operation of the New River Train.

Amtrak said in a memorandum sent to employees last week that it will cease handling chartered and special train movements.

Evan Jenkins, who represents West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, has written to Amtrak President Richard Anderson to protest the policy, saying it will hurt the state’s tourism industry.

The New River Train is operated by the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society and has run over former Chesapeake & Ohio tracks for 51 years.

The Society estimates the New River Train has an economic impact of $3.5 million in the Huntington region and $1 million in Hinton, West Virginia, the eastern destination of the train.

About 90 percent of New River Train passengers are from out of state.

Ann Adkins, a spokesperson for the Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau, said losing the train would be devastating to West Virginia in general and particularly to Huntington and Hinton.

The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling. Well, Maybe Not

March 31, 2018

The sky is falling, the sky is falling.

Or so some railroad enthusiasts would have you believe in the wake of a report that Amtrak has decided to ban charters and special moves.

The policy change was announced by Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson in a memo to employees that was leaked to Trains magazine and also posted on railfan chat lists.

In tandem with that, owners of private passenger cars are reporting that Amtrak has been rejecting many requests to move passenger cars.

This particularly has affected car owners who store their cars in the middle of a route because Amtrak has decreed that it will not accept a private car at a station in which the scheduled dwell time is less than 30 minutes.

The implications of this policy change are, indeed, ominous.

It means that such longstanding traditions as the fall New River Train in West Virginia will end.

It means no more Amtrak fall foliage, railfan or rare mileage specials.

It means mainline steam moves are in jeopardy because they operate in cooperation with Amtrak and its liability insurance and use private passenger cars ferried by Amtrak.

It means private car owners who have sunk thousands of dollars into making and/or keeping their cars Amtrak compatible have few, if any, options to run their cars. Seeing a private passenger car or two on the back of an Amtrak train will become an even rarer sight.

Two groups representing private car owners, the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, and the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance have urged their members to contact public officials and opinion leaders to protest the policy change.

It is unclear how much effect that lobbying will have. Owning and operating a private railroad car is a rich man’s game.

Because they tend to be affluent, private car owners might have better political connections than the typical railroad enthusiast or passenger train advocate.

But it is unlikely that public officials will view the Amtrak policy change as a pressing matter of public interest.

Some might see it as rich boys throwing a tantrum because they can’t play with their toys.

Some passenger advocates have applauded Amtrak, which has sought to frame the change as an effort to improve the on-time performance of its trains.

Anderson’s memo referenced trains being delayed due to switching cars and described special moves as a distraction.

He also suggested that specials and hauling private cars hasn’t been all that profitable, but the memo was clumsily worded on this point.

When he wrote that the moves “failed to capture fully allocated profitable margins,” I wonder if he really meant “failed to cover their fully allocated costs.”

The latter was a term railroads used a lot in the 1960s when they wanted to discontinue passenger trains. Using that standard could make a train appear to be losing far more money than the “above the rail” standard which meant that a train earned enough revenue to cover its direct costs.

Some of what Anderson said in his memo few people would dispute. Who would be opposed to Amtrak running on time, operating safely, having clean passenger cars, providing friendly service and offering “great customer-facing technology?” Anderson would have you believe that running special trains are hindering Amtrak’s efforts to do those things.

There is likely more behind this policy change even if Anderson’s memo hints at what that might be when it speaks of focusing on Amtrak’s core mission.

Amid all of the chaff that I read on railfan chat list about the policy change was a thoughtful observation by someone who has seen Anderson use this playbook before.

The poster contended that when Anderson was CEO of Northwest Airlines, it was struggling financially and he discontinued most of the charter flights.

Northwest was devoting seven aircraft to this service, which accommodated professional sports teams among others. Anderson apparently feared that the liability if one of those charters had a catastrophe might wreck the airline.

But the move didn’t turn out to be permanent. After Anderson felt he had sufficiently turned things around the charters returned.

Northwest was later acquired by Delta Air Line, which Anderson also headed. Today Delta is one of the most prominent operators of charter flights for professional sports teams.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, are a regular customer as are many NBA teams.

So the Amtrak policy change might not be permanent, although you never know. One of the first moves that former Amtrak president David Gunn made after taking office was to get the passenger carrier out of the business of hauling mail and express.

Gunn used some of the same arguments that Anderson made to justify banning special moves and charters.

That was more than a decade ago and Amtrak trains still don’t carry any mail. It sold its fleet of express cars.

Anderson may have philosophical reasons for banning special move, believing that Amtrak needs to do more to focus on its core mission.

Yet it is not clear if ending special moves was even his idea. He might have heard from field-level supervisors who have always disliked having to do something that is a non-standard operation.

And Anderson must answer to a board of directors and we don’t know what “direction” they have given him.

There is some thought that Class 1 railroads will follow Amtrak’s lead and impose even more stringent standards on the movement of passenger cars and passenger trains.

We’ve seen how the Wheeling & Lake Erie has banned all excursion trains and with a few limited exceptions won’t move passenger cars in ferry moves.

But I’m reminded of something that W&LE chief Larry Parsons said when I interviewed him for an article I did several years ago for Trains magazine.

The Wheeling had just lost some iron ore traffic and in asking him about it I used the word “forever” as in the business was lost forever.

Parsons responded that “forever is a very long time.”

Management changes and so do situations. People change their minds about how they view things. Some have described the Amtrak policy change as a work in progress and we haven’t heard the last word on the new policy.

Anderson’s memo left an opening for some special moves if they meet the railroad’s strategic goals. Those can be defined broadly or defined narrowly.

We are entering an era in which special moves and mainline steam will be rarer than they are now. But not necessarily nonexistent. Forever is, after all, a very long time.

Amtrak Policy Change Has Private Car Owners Scrambling

March 30, 2018

Amtrak’s recent decision to cease running charter trains and specials as well as to curtail carriage of privately-owned passenger cars on its trains has sent a trade organization scrambling to rally its members to seek to apply political pressure on the passenger carrier to reverse the decision.

The American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners sent a memorandum to its members this week urging them to contact lawmakers and opinion leaders about the significance of private cars but acknowledged that there is little it can do to attack Amtrak’s decision in court.

AAPRCO told its members in the memo that it is “working to get the most accurate information about the full extent of Amtrak’s policy, which may not yet be firmly in place, and to mount the strongest possible effort to push back against it.”

In the meantime, Amtrak’s decision has prompted the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society to delay selling tickets for a planned trip in Chicago in September behind its 2-8-4 Nickel Plate Road No. 765.

The steam locomotive is to pull excursions between Chicago and Joliet, Illinois, on track owned by commuter railroad Metra.

However, the Fort Wayne group relies on privately-owned cars that would use Amtrak trains and facilities to reach Chicago.

Several private car owners have reported in recent weeks that Amtrak has rejected some of their requests to move their cars.

Amtrak’s new policy pertaining to the carriage of private passenger cars will prohibit attaching and detaching those cars to Amtrak trains at points where an Amtrak train is scheduled to dwell for less than 30 minutes.

However, the carrier has yet to spell out in detail how it will handle private cars going forward.

“At this time, we feel it would be imprudent to open ticket sales as previously scheduled before we have more clarity on the situation,” said a Fort Wayne Society news release. “As such, this policy will force us to revisit our contractual agreements with car owners, re-confirm both their availability and costs, and confirm Amtrak’s ability to transport them to our venue. Amtrak’s participation was critical to last year’s Joliet Rocket trips.”

It is not know yet if these development will affect a planned visit of the NKP 765 to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in late September.

For those excursions, the FtWRHS uses CVSR’s own passenger fleet and does not need to bring in private passenger cars.

As for Amtrak’s policy change pertaining to charter trains and special trains, AAPRCO President Robert Donnelley told his members that the association’s annual convention and mid-year special trains are at risk.

“Amtrak’s stated rationale for these changes is that private varnish has the potential to worsen on-time performance, which is a major concern of President and CEO Richard Anderson,” Donnelley wrote. However, he took issue with that.

Another private car owner trade group, the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance said it has contacted Amtrak to express its concerns but it also has told its members that the implications of the Amtrak policy change are ominous.

“The policy as officially released on March 28, 2018, will have drastic effects on many private car owners, excursion operators, private companies, and tourism in many communities that utilize Amtrak’s service,” RPCA President W. Roger Fuehring told Trains magazine.

“As we move forward, we hope to have an open dialogue with Amtrak in regards to discussing this policy. We look forward to returning not only the revenue stream to Amtrak that we produce with our clientele, but the goodwill that we generate on behalf of Amtrak with every trip.”

One point of contention in talks with Amtrak and the private car owners will be how much revenue the national passenger carrier receives from fees charged to handle the cars.

AAPRCO contends that the private car business adds $10 million in gross revenues to Amtrak, but a recent Wall Street Journal article said it was $4 million.

The memo written by Amtrak President Anderson and sent to employees that announced the ban on most special moves and charters suggested that Amtrak has not been recovering its fully allocated costs for those trains and that they have become a distraction.

AAPRCO’s Donnelley has instructed his group’s members to talk up the importance of private passenger cars and the number of jobs associated with the industry.

His memo said this would include employment at shops and other vendor facilities that support private passenger cars.

The railroad preservation community has launched an online petition to protest Amtrak’s decision at the website change.org. The petition has received more than 450 signatures with a goal of 500.

Amtrak to Halt Charters, Specials

March 29, 2018

Amtrak has apparently decided not to agree to operate special trains and certain private varnish movement.

Trains magazine reported on Wednesday that it has obtained a copy of a memorandum sent to Amtrak employees outline the policy change.

“Generally, Amtrak will no longer operate charter services or special trains. These operations caused significant operational distraction, failed to capture fully allocated profitable margins and sometimes delayed our paying customers on our scheduled trains,” the memo read in part.

“There may be a few narrow exceptions to this policy in order to support specific strategic initiatives, for example trial service in support of growing new scheduled service. Otherwise, one-time trips and charters are immediately discontinued.”

Many questions remain as to the scope of the policy, but the magazine said that some private car operators already have had their move requests denied.

Among them is the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society in Huntington, West Virginia, which was told that Amtrak would not longer allow the society’s passenger cars to be attached or detached in Huntington on the tri-weekly Cardinal, effective at the end of April.

“We are trying to better understand if Amtrak will allow the cars to be moved at beginning or end points,” Assistant General Manager Joe Rosenthal told the magazine.

The Huntington group is unsure if it will be allowed to move its cars on any Amtrak train even if they are moved to Chicago or Washington.

Rosenthal said the policy change apparently also spells the end of the 51-year tradition of operating the New River Train.

“West Virginia will be losing a huge economic impact and it’ll be particularly devastating to the cities of Huntington and Hinton,” he said.

The New River Train typically operated on the third and fourth weekends of October from Huntington to Hinton, West Virginia, and in recent years has used Amtrak locomotives and crews.

The New River excursions typically carry 5,000 riders annually and are the largest mainline excursion trains in the United States.

Amtrak Charter Set for Nebraska Football Game

September 3, 2014

 

A chartered Amtrak train will carry football fans to the game on Sept. 20 between the University of Nebraska and the University of Miami.

The 10-car, 500-seat “Big Red Amtrak Special” will travel over BNSF from the Durham Museum in Omaha to Lincoln’s Haymarket district and back

Steel company executive Robert Owen, his business partner, Terry Peterson, and Owen’s son-in-law, insurance man Bob Harry, organized the charter through their company Zephyr Rail, with Omaha travel agency Travel and Transport handling the bookings.

Tickets are $200 for a standard coach seat, including food and drink. A seat in one of the four dome cars on the train will cost $500 and also include catered food and drinks.

The train will also have a food and beverage car.  Amtrak will operate the train, and supply a locomotive and three cars. The train will open for boarding at 2 p.m. at the lower level of the Durham Museum and leave at 3 p.m.

The travel time to Lincoln is approximately 90 minutes. The game starts at 7 p.m.  An hour after the game ends, the train will leave Lincoln, arriving in Omaha about midnight.  For more information, go to www.huskertours.com.