Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak corridor trains’

Amtrak Releases Corridor Development Proposal

April 1, 2021

Amtrak on Thursday revealed its long awaited corridor development plan, which the passenger carrier is seeking to tie in with President Joseph Biden’s infrastructure plan.

Dubbed “Amtrak Connect US,” the corridor plan includes the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati corridor as well as corridor service linking Cleveland with Buffalo, New York, Detroit and Pittsburgh.

Other Midwest corridors include Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati; Indianapolis-Louisville, Kentucky; Chicago-Iowa City, Iowa; Chicago-Rockford, Illinois; Chicago-Green Bay, Wisconsin; Chicago-Milwaukee-Twin Cities via Madison and Eau Claire, Wisconsin; and Detroit-Toronto.

In a statement, Amtrak noted that the Biden administration plan also would enable Amtrak to begin resolving a multi-billion dollar backlog of century-old Northeast Corridor bridge and tunnel replacements.

“President Biden’s infrastructure plan is what this nation has been waiting for,” said Amtrak Chairman William Flynn in a statement.

 “Amtrak must rebuild and improve the Northeast Corridor, our National Network and expand our service to more of America,” Flynn said.

The corridors would be developed with federal funding of capital projects. However, in time states served by those corridors would be expected to pay for the operating costs of the new service.

A fact sheet released by Amtrak includes a map that shows the routes the carrier wants to operate by 2035.

The fact sheet said the added benefits of its plan include “up to 160 more communities served; multiple daily trips in 15 more states; up to 30+ potential new routes; and up to 20+ existing routes with more trips.”

Other new corridors shown on the map include extensions to Las Vegas from California, and between Dallas and Houston.

Missing from the plan is a proposal to revive service in Montana along the route once used by Amtrak’s North Coast Hiawatha.

The routed used by the Sunset Limited until August 2005 between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida, is shown as “suspended.”

The fact sheet indicated that the route expansions hinge on Congress increasing Amtrak’s funding “to support operating and capital costs for new and improved corridor routes.”

Amtrak also wants Congress to create “a streamlined and expeditious process for accessing freight lines and determining reasonable capacity improvements,” and to help the passenger carrier develop “new enforcement tools for Amtrak’s existing right to preference over freight trains to ensure our riders arrive on-time.”

Amtrak Trying to Pressure Host Railroads on Gulf Coast Service

March 2, 2021

Amtrak is trying to pressure two host railroads by announcing its plans to begin service in 2022 on the New Orleans-Mobile, Alabama, route.

In a statement, Amtrak said it continues to discuss with CSX and Norfolk Southern what infrastructure improvements are needed before the service can begin.

The service is expected to operate twice daily over a portion of the route once used by the Sunset Limited until August 2005.

Most funding for the service is already approved and includes state and federal money.

News reports indicate that Amtrak made the announcement even though a traffic study of the route is incomplete.

That study, which Amtrak is paying for, will use a computer simulation program to study how passengers operations might affect freight operations on the route.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the study should have taken just seven months but remains far from complete more than a year after it began.

He told Trains magazine that discussions between Amtrak and the host railroads have been going on for five years with no agreement near.

Amtrak’s announcement said the passenger carrier has “again asked the freight railroads where they believe there are more issues. We safely and successfully operate together elsewhere in the United States, with dependable freight service coexisting with reliable and relevant Amtrak service. That’s what the Gulf Coast deserves, too.”

The Southern Rail Commission has been pushing for a resumption of Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida, for several years.

CSX has said that the traffic study needs to be completed before it will have any further discussion about hosting the Amtrak service.

One sticking point is how Amtrak operations might affect rail traffic at the Port of Mobile.

In its own statement, CSX said it has “prioritized this Amtrak Gulf Coast study, treating each step as expeditiously as possible.”

The statement said CSX wants to ensure that the model is compliant with federal law.

“Not only are we committed to seeing its completion, but the STB [U.S. Surface Transportation Board] has a statutory obligation to determine if a new passenger service unreasonably interferes with freight operations. It is critical that this study and the full infrastructure impact assessment is completed.”

An analysis posted on the Trains website concludes that the CSX statement illustrates why the development of the route has taken so long and why Amtrak has lost patience with the process: The host railroads, particularly CSX, keep changing the parameters.

Trains said none of the three parties was willing to reveal any details of the capacity study, including preliminary findings, specific infrastructure change requests, or the timeline of negotiations.

Nonetheless, a 2017 Federal Railroad Administration report by the Gulf Coast Working Group set forth a list of $66 million of improvements that were needed to resume service between New Orleans and Mobile.

These included a house track at the Mobile station that would enable trains to get off the mainline; a signaled passing track around CSX’s Gentilly Yard in New Orleans; a second main track extension to accommodate long freight trains at Bay St. Louis, Mississppi; an automated junction in Gulfport, Mississippi; and yard capacity expansion at Pascagoula, Mississippi.

The states of Louisiana and Mississippi have set aside capital funds and Mississippi has agreed to help provide operating support.

But Alabama has not committed any funding and Gov. Kay Ivey has expressed opposition to the service, citing how it might disrupt freight access to the Port of Mobile.

The Mobile City County has agreed to spend more than $3 million over three years toward infrastructure improvements to get the Amtrak service started.

Amtrak has tentatively named the New Orleans-Mobile trains Gulf Coast Service and said they would serve four intermediate stations, all in Mississippi: Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula.

The trains would use NS tracks for a short distance within New Orleans.

Magliari said that Amtrak safely and successfully coexists on other rail lines. “That’s what the Gulf Coast deserves, too,” he said.

A story posted on the Railway Age website speculated that the Port of Mobile may have leaked information to local news media over concerns that the new passenger service might hinder CSX freight service.

The Railway Age article said the Gulf Coast service may end up becoming a test case for how the STB will handles future intercity passenger rail proposals involving Amtrak, state entities and host freight railroads when the parties are unable to reach an agreement to allow new or expanded service.

For its part, an NS spokesman said his company’s position is similar to that of CSX.

“There is an established process for introducing new passenger rail service on freight rail lines recognized by both the freight and passenger railroad industries,” said Jeff DeGraff.

“It involves identifying, through a data-driven study, what infrastructure is necessary to ensure that the new passenger service is transparent to freight operations and doesn’t negatively impact the freight rail customers.”

DeGraff said NS welcomes the prospect that this process will be revived and completed in the proposed Mobile-New Orleans service.

Wiley Blankenship, chairman of the SRC, told Railway Age his agency remains “cautiously optimistic about Amtrak’s intention to start running trains again.”

He acknowledged that additional work needs to be done to address the concerns of the Port of Mobile before service can start.

SRC has worked for years to land public funding for Gulf Coast service including federal and state grants.

One federal grant will help pay for the operating costs of the service in its first three years.

Magliari told an Alabama news outlet that “instead of postponing the publicly sought and desired new Amtrak service for an indefinite period, we have notified the railroads that we believe we can start the service. There is money set aside for the capital improvements. There is money granted for the operating costs.”

Amtrak will provide more details about the proposed Gulf Coast service during a March 5 SRC meeting.

Amtrak Trying to Drum Up Support for Corridor Service Plan

February 14, 2021

Although it has yet to release its proposal, Amtrak has been talking with state and local officials about its ideas for creating a network of corridor services.

The passenger carrier has in those meetings described it as a long-range plan that it has billed as The Amtrak System 2035.

Among the Amtrak officials who have been touring the country is Ray Lang, the carrier’s senior director for national state relations.

Lang has described the plan as a five-year $25 billion proposal in which Amtrak would pay capital and operating costs upfront but with funding of operations shifting to state and local governments over a five-year period.

He has said during his presentation that the “price of admission for new corridor service has gotten to be really, really expensive.”

Therefore Amtrak wants to use federal money to cover those costs.

Amtrak’s vision is connecting urban centers that are hundreds of miles apart with frequent train service. 

Most of the routes Amtrak is looking to create are in the South and West, although recent news reports have indicated that Amtrak has talked with Ohio officials about creating new corridor service in the Buckeye State.

Ohio is currently served by three Amtrak routes and has no corridor service.

Some of the service to Ohio would involve extending existing corridor-oriented routes into the state, including the Empire Corridor that now operates between New York and Niagara Falls, New York, via Buffalo.

The idea is to extend some Empire Service trains to Cleveland and Detroit.

In their talks with Ohio officials, Amtrak has floated the idea of developing a corridor between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

Other possible corridors include New York City to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and possibly north to Binghamton, New York.

The Vermonter, which now terminates at St. Albans, Vermont, would be extended to Montreal and the Ethan Allen Express, which now terminates at Rutland, Vermont, would be extended north to Burlington, Vermont.

In the South, Amtrak has proposed corridors connecting Atlanta with Chattanooga and Nashville in Tennessee, with Charlotte, North Carolina; and with the Florida cities of Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa and Miami

In the West, corridors would link Los Angeles with Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson; and Denver with communities along the front range of the Rocky Mountains.

Additional service would be added along the route of the Coast Starlight, which links Seattle and Los Angeles, although Amtrak is not necessarily talking about one more trains being added to serve the length of that route.

In his presentations, Lang has said individual states “would have the ability to do what they want.”

He also indicated that some proposed routes are likely to have higher priority to get done sooner than others. That includes the Atlanta-Nashville route and service along the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Amtrak’s plan faces numerous challenges and any of them could thwart corridor development.

First and probably foremost is that Congress must approve the funding for the plan.

Other challenges include resistance from the freight railroads that would host these trains and the reluctance of state transportation officials to agree to continue paying the operating costs of corridor services once they are established.

When Ohio was awarded a grant in 2009 to fund establishment of Cleveland-Cincinnati service, some Ohio legislators objected to the state having to commit to funding the operating costs of the route.

It is far from certain that all of the states that would benefit from Amtrak’s new services are on board with taking over funding of them.

There is a risk that state legislatures would decline to provide funding for a corridor service after Amtrak paid to establish.

Public Gets Close Look at Charger

May 25, 2017

The public got its first look official look at one of the new Siemens SC-44 Charger locomotives that will be going into service on Amtrak corridor routes this year.

A Charger was displayed at King Street Station in Seattle this week ahead of it being put into service on the Cascades route in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.

Siemens, which built the Chargers in Sacramento, California, has touted the locomotive as among the cleanest diesel-electric locomotives ever built and the first high-speed passenger locomotive to receive Tier IV emissions certification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Chargers have a 16-cylinder, 4,400-horsepower Cummins engine.

Visitors were able to view the exterior of the locomotive close up, but could not see the interior due to safety issues, the Washington State Department of Transportation said in a news release.

FRA Response to Hiawatha Expansion Environmental Report Expected This Summer

February 1, 2017

The Federal Railroad Administration is not expected to release its response to an environmental assessment of Hiwatha Service expansion until this summer.

Hiawatha 2A public comment period pertaining to the assessment ended on Jan. 15.

The departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin want to expand service on the Chicago-Milwaukee route from seven to 10 roundtrips a day and the departments have argued that the environmental assessment has enough information for the FRA to act on the proposed expansion.

But the suburban Chicago communities of Lake Forest, Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Bannockburn have additional questions and want to see the FRA order a complete environmental impact statement.

The focal point of the issue is a proposal to build passing sidings to be used by Canadian Pacific freight trains. The CP freights would take siding to allow Amtrak and Metra trains to pass.

The suburban communities fear the siding will be used to park trains for extended periods of time. They have also raised concerns about pollution, noise, vibration, traffic congestion and a negative effect on property values.

The environmental assessment released last October concluded that the communities along the Hiawatha route would suffer no adverse effects.

But the suburban communities say that the FRA needs to order a more detailed study of the effect the sidings would have on the communities and not just on the railroads.

Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said the answers to the questions that have been asked will be included in the environmental assessment, which was prepared by Quandel Consultants at the behest of the state transportation agencies.

Getting Settled Aboard the Southbound Illini

January 31, 2017

illini-sb-in-chicago

Boarding is well underway for Amtrak train No. 393, the Illini, at Chicago Union Station. En route to Carbondale, Illinois, the train will make intermediate stops in Homewood, Kankakee, Gilman, Rantoul, Champaign-Urbana, Mattoon, Effingham, Centralia and DuQuoin before it ties up for the night.

I’ll be getting off in Mattoon to visit my Dad. It will be my final trip to see him in my hometown for in a couple months he will move top Arizona and my method of conveyance to go see him will be an Airbus or Boeing 737.

Between April 1994 and March 2014, I would regularly ride Amtrak from my home in Cleveland to visit my Dad.

The Illini was a constant during that period of time, leaving in late afternoon at 4 p.m. and later 4:05 p.m.

Most of the time I would ride in a Horizon fleet coach similar to one although during a few trips I bought a business class seat in what was often an Amfleet food service car.

Some day the Horizon equipment might be gone from the Illinois corridor trains and this view will be dated. But as this is posted in early 2017, it remains state of the art.

Faded Slide, Faded Amtrak Glory

January 6, 2017

ann-rutlege-at-joliet-on-october-3-1981

Maybe it is just as well that this slide of Amtrak’s Ann Rutledge at Joliet, Illinois, is faded. The Chicago to Kansas City train is just a faded memory in the minds of those who remember it.

Originally, a Chicago-St. Louis train of the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, Amtrak reprised the name in the 1970s.

After the State of Missouri funded a restoration of Amtrak service between St. Louis and Kansas City, Amtrak extended the Ann Rutledge to K.C. on Oct. 29, 1979.

Originally, Amtrak Nos. 301 and 304 were turboliner trains, departing Chicago in the morning and St. Louis in the late afternoon.

In December 1976, they became the first Midwest corridor trains to receive Amfleet equipment. They were named the Ann Rutledge on Feb. 15, 1976.

The Ann Rutledge name vanished from the Amtrak timetable on Oct. 31, 1976, when the Inter-American was extended to Chicago.

But the Ann Rutledge name returned a year later when Amtrak dropped the Abraham Lincoln name for the evening train from Chicago to St. Louis.

With the April 2, 2007, timetable change, Amtrak renamed all of its Chicago-St. Louis trains Lincoln Service. But Ann Rutledge remained as a name for a St. Louis-Kansas City roundtrip until Oct. 27, 2008.

This image of the outbound Ann Rutledge was made on Oct. 3, 1981.

That Early P42DC Livery Look

September 15, 2016

amtrak-blog-6

It only seems that Amtrak’s P42DC locomotives have worn blue and silver forever. Fact is, when the Genesis series of locomotives was introduced in the early 1990s it featured the Phase III livery.

In case you’ve forgotten what that looked like, take a look at this image of the inbound Illinois Zephyr.

It is a late spring day in Berwyn, Illinois, in 1997. I’ve just disembarked from a Metra train on the Chicago-Aurora, Illinois, raceway.

The IZ is rushing along on the center train, passing a westbound Burlington Northern & Santa Fe manifest freight. BNSF has been in operation less than a year and the BN heritage of this line is still much in evidence.

The Illinois Zephyr has its standard consist for the time with a lone P42DC on the point, three Horizon Fleet coaches and an Amfleet food service car. All of them are clad in the Phase III look. It was the way it was in the 1990s and still is today.

1st Engine Placed in Charger Locomotive

February 20, 2016

Siemens recently installed the first engine and traction alternator into the carbody of a locomotive intended for use pulling Amtrak trains on Midwest and West Coast corridor routes.

The 21-ton Cummins QSK95 diesel engine was placed in a Charger locomotive at the Siemens plant in Sacramento, California.

Amtrak logoSiemens is manufacturing 69 Chargers for the Departments of Transportation in Illinois, California, Michigan, Missouri, Washington and Maryland, and for Brightline, the privately owned and operated express passenger rail service to be offered by Florida East Coast Industries subsidiary All Aboard Florida.

Siemens also is manufacturing at its Sacramento plant passengers coaches for Brightline.

Built in Seymour, Indiana, the Cummins QSK95, is a 16-cylinder, 95-liter-displacement engine rated at 4,400 horsepower.

Siemens described the engine as “engineered with modern technologies and design features that ensure the highest performance, lowest fuel consumption, cleanest emissions, and lowest total cost of ownership of any locomotive engine.”

The Charger locomotives are EPA Tier IV emission compliant and can operate at up to 125 mph.

Amtrak, Illinois Still Talking Funding Pact

October 1, 2013

Amtrak is still talking with the states of New York, Indiana and Illinois about reaching agreements for those states to help underwrite the cost of Amtrak routes serving those states that of less than 750 miles in duration.

The parties are facing an Oct. 1 deadline to reach agreements, although Amtrak has said that will continue to operate the affected trains through Oct. 16 if good faith negotiations are underway.

Amtrak has signed agreements with Virginia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Pennsylvania, Michigan, California and North Carolina.

Amtrak President Joe Boardman said “completed negotiations” have been reached with Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont. The Vermont Agency of Transportation said that New York has agreed to pick up $800,000 of the New York-Rutland, Vt., Ethan Allen’s operating cost. Vermont’s contribution to the Washington-St. Albans, Vt., Vermonter has increased by $2 million.

A federal law requires Amtrak and the states to create a uniform cost and revenue recognition structure among all partner states for operating agreements and use of capital. In New York, the state and Amtrak reportedly are at odds over the amount the state’s contributions for maintenance to operate the Empire Corridor trains between Poughkeepsie and Hoffmans (west of Schenectady) on tracks leased from CSX.

The trains in question are maintained and dispatched by Amtrak and are also used by the Lake Shore Limited. In Illinois, there are four corridors involved, including a joint arrangement with Wisconsin to fund the Hiawatha service.

All of the Illinois corridors host long-distance trains for all or party of the route.

Indiana recently began talks to continue operation of the Hoosier State, just before release of a state-sponsored study that recommends more frequencies, a different route and establishment of a separate managing agency, similar to those created for Maine’s Downeaster and California’s Capitol Corridor, to operate the service.