Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Michigan’

Wolverine Passengers Have ‘Trip From Hell’

October 11, 2022

Passengers aboard an Amtrak Wolverine Service train to Chicago on Friday had a trip from hell experience.

Locomotive failure left the Train 351 from Pontiac to Chicago without power, meaning there was no heat, lighting, food service or operating toilets.

The train finally arrived at Chicago Union Station nearly 14 hours late but not before some passengers had bailed out, including some who opened a door as the train sat near Gray, Indiana, and crossed tracks of Norfolk Southern’s Chicago Line to a nearby expressway and called ride share services to pick them up.

A report posted on the website of said the failure to the SC-44 locomotive began 19 miles west of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

An Amtrak spokesman told Trains magazine the crew was unable to restart the engine or put it on standby to provide head-end power.

Amtrak officials decided to couple No. 351 to Wolverine Service No. 353, which was following behind by three hours, but the crews encountered difficulty doing that.

The combined train didn’t arrive in Jackson, Michigan, until 3;30 p.m. Crew members were never able to get the SC-44 on No. 353 to operate the equipment on No. 351.

Conductors would not permit passengers on No. 351 to ride in the equipment for No. 353, saying there wasn’t enough space to accommodate them.

The combined train was further delayed by an emergency medical situation involving a passenger, battery issues, and sticking brakes.

The passengers who disembarked near Gary did so as the train awaited a relief crew to arrive to continue the journey to Chicago after the original crew had exceeded its maximum hours of service.

MLive quoted some passengers aboard the train as saying they received little to no information about what was going on.

“We’re feeling like we can’t stay on this train anymore,” passenger Michael Bamberry told MLive. “We’re getting no information from Amtrak. Again, we’re cold, hungry, people need to use the bathroom. It smells awful. And a percentage of people are having acute anxiety symptoms and screaming.”

He said he paid $200 to an Uber driver who took him to his hotel in Chicago.

The MLive report said Amtrak sent emails to passengers booked aboard the train apologizing for the experience and offering travel vouchers.

Staffing, Equipment Still Hinder Midwest Trains

September 3, 2022

Equipment and personnel shortages have continued to hinder Amtrak Midwest Corridor trains, Trains magazine reported this week on its website.

On Aug. 28 lack of an available locomotive engineer forced Amtrak to provide bus service for some passengers ticketed to ride the Chicago to Port Huron, Michigan, Blue Water.

The equipment assigned to the Blue Water for that day was combined with Wolverine Service No. 354 as far east as Battle Creek, Michigan.

The 354 operates nearly two hours later than the Blue Water from Chicago to Battle Creek.

In Battle Creek, the equipment for the Blue Water was separated and operated to Port Huron.

Earlier Amtrak had announced that lack of equipment and personnel prompted it to suspend Wolverine Service trains 350 and 355 through Sept. 16.

Trains reported that the Blue Water of Aug. 28 arrived in Port Huron at 1:03 a.m., about an hour and a half late.

Personnel Issues Hinder Midwest Corridor Trains

August 23, 2022

Amtrak cited a shortage of personnel for combining two Michigan trains on Sunday that operated hours late as a result.

Trains magazine reported on its website that the Blue Water to Port Huron, Michigan, was combined with Wolverine Service No. 354 as far as Battle Creek, Michigan.

The combined train left Chicago at 6:31 p.m., which was 2.5 hours late for the Blue Water and 41 minutes late for No. 354.

By the time the combined train reached Battle Creek at 10:38 p.m., the lateness had stretched to three hours for the Blue Water, which maintained that lateness level to Port Huron.

Amtrak cited “mechanical issues” on its Twitter feed as causing the delayed departures.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Trains that the situation was aggravated by a shortage of personnel.

It was among the latest of a series of disruptions to Amtrak’s Midwest corridor services that have occurred this summer.

The Trains report noted that the Illinois Zephyr to Quincy, Illinois, was cancelled last week after an employee assigned to the run became unavailable an hour before departure time.

Passengers instead rode buses between Chicago and Quincy. The cancellations stretched out through Friday and affected four runs of the train.

Earlier, Amtrak cited equipment shortages for suspending one Lincoln Service roundtrip between Chicago and St. Louis.

Magliari told Trains that the suspended Lincoln Service trains will be restored on Aug. 24.

Grants to Benefit Amtrak Route Infrastructure

August 22, 2022

The Federal Railroad Administration announced last week that it has awarded more than $233 million in grants for infrastructure improvements to Amtrak routes.

The funding came from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Program.

Most of the projects are located along the Northeast Corridor, but funding also will pay for projects in Michigan and California.

In the Northeast Corridor, a grant will provide $65.2 million for replacement of a bridge over the Connecticut River, and up to $20 million for replacement of two power substations on the state-owned New Haven Line.

The new bridge will provide additional clearance for marine traffic, allow train speeds to increase from 45 mph to 70 mph, and reduce the number of delays for bridge openings.

The new substations on the New Haven Line, used by more than 350 commuter trains and 60 Amtrak trains, will be more reliable and energy efficient, less costly to maintain, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In New Jersey, up to $45 million was awarded for replacement of the Sawtooth Bridges, two 110-year-old structures in Kearny used by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit. The two existing bridges will be replaced with three new ones, with four tracks providing redundancy for operations during maintenance work or service disruptions.

They will also allow an increase in operating speed above the current 60 mph.

In Maryland up to $20 million was awarded to fund final design for replacement of the 116-year-old, Amtrak-owned Susequehanna River Bridge between Perryville and Havre de Grace.

The new bridge will allow train operation at up to 125 mph, with greater clearance above the river and a movable span that can open and close more efficiently.

In New York, up to $10.7 million was awarded for work necessary in advance of the East River Tunnel Rehabilitation Project, and up to $4.5 million for preliminary stages of the Pelham Bay Bridge Replacment Project.

Before tunnel work can begin, a connection to Sunnyside Yard must be reinstalled and improved, and an electric traction power cable must be relocated.

The Pelham Bay Bridge over the Hutchinson River in the Bronx opened in 1907 and often fails to close properly.

The new bridge will increase clearance for marine traffic and raise operating speeds to 60 to 100 mph.

Also in New York, up to $28.2 million was awarded to replace a 520-foot-long, low-level platform with a high-level platform at Rhinecliff Station on the Empire Corridor.

The project will also include new access to the platform including stairs, elevators, and a pedestrian bridges, as well as track and signal work needed to allow an increase in Empire Service operations.

In California, up to $27.3 million was awarded for improvements in Oceanside on the Surf Line. The project will replace a 100-year-old, single-track bridge over the San Luis Rey River with a two-track structure, as well as improving a grade-crossing, bike path, pedestrian underpass, grading, drainage, and signals.

In Massachusetts, up to $7.6 million was awarded for replacement of the more than century-old South Elm Street Bridge on the MBTA’s Haverhill Line, which is also used by Amtrak.

In Michigan up to $1.6 million was awarded for reconstruction of five deficient bridges on the state-owned rail line between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, used by Amtrak’s Wolverine and Blue Water trains. The work will improve reliability, increase load ratings, and avoid future bridge closures.

Some Wolverine Service Times to Change

March 4, 2022

Amtrak Wolverine Service No. 350 curves off the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern onto Amtrak-owned track at Porter, Indiana, on Feb. 27, 2022.

Amtrak will modify the schedules of three Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) effective March 7, 2022.

In a service advisory Amtrak said the scheduled changes are due to planned track work and other infrastructure projects being sponsored on the segment of the route owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak.

Train 350 will originate in Chicago 35 minutes earlier at 6:45 a.m. It is currently scheduled to depart Union Station at 7:20 a.m.

Train 352 will originate in Chicago 55 minutes later at 2:15 p.m. It is now scheduled to depart at 1:25 p.m.

Train 353 will originate in Pontiac 48 minutes earlier at 8:50 a.m. It now departs there at 9:38 a.m.

Times at en route stations will be adjusted accordingly and Amtrak advised passengers to check for the latest arrival and departure times at those cities.

CP to Allow Amtrak to Use Detroit River Tunnel

February 8, 2022

Canadian Pacific has agreed to allow Amtrak to use its tunnel between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, for one roundtrip per day, but it’s unclear if that will actually lead to any new service on the route.

The agreement was revealed in a filing by Amtrak in the case before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board of CP’s efforts to acquire Kansas City Southern.

Amtrak is supporting the merger and its filing cited a number of new service expansions for which CP has pledged to cooperate.

In theory, use of the Detroit River Tunnel might be a step toward reviving Amtrak service between Chicago and Toronto.

In practice, that concept faces many hurdles. Those begin with a lack of commitment by Amtrak or VIA Rail Canada to operate such a train.

The two passenger carriers once operated a Chicago-Toronto train known as the International, but it ran via Port Huron, Michigan, and Sarnia, Ontario, on Canadian National tracks rather than via Detroit and Windsor.

The International was discontinued in April 2004 and replaced with the existing Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water that is funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

MDOT had not indicated if it would be willing to fund service that extends to Toronto.

Amtrak and/or VIA would need to construct a connecting track between CP track in Windsor and the CN route now used by VIA between Windsor and Toronto.

The existing VIA Toronto-Windsor route ends at a stub-end terminal north of downtown.

In Detroit, Amtrak would need to build a new station in downtown Detroit or else have trains engage in a time-consuming backup move to the existing Detroit station in the New Center neighborhood.

Existing Chicago-Detroit trains terminate and originate in suburban Pontiac and the Detroit Amtrak station is located along that route rather than on the line that leads directly into the CP Detroit River tunnel.

The CP-Amtrak agreement does not require any capital investment from Amtrak for use of the Detroit River tunnel.

Also unclear is where customs inspections for the Chicago-Toronto train would be conducted.

For the International, those inspections were done on each side of the border, which led to longer running times.

A Sight Seen in Kalamazoo No Longer

January 8, 2022

For five decades Amtrak trains have passed Botsford Tower in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Better known as BO, the tower was razed on Dec. 28, after efforts to save and move the century-old structure failed.

The tower was built in 1914 by the Michigan Central to guard an interlocking crossing used by trains of the MC, Pennsylvania Railroad, and Grand Trunk Western.

Until closed in October 2016, BO Tower continued to control a crossing of tracks used by Amtrak, Norfolk Southern and the Grand Elk.

The tower once had a 44-lever interlocking machine. The tower structure itself was owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation, which was not opposed to preservation efforts.

However, Railfan and Railroad magazine reported on its website that the cost of moving the tower to a new location provided to be too much.

MDOT wanted the tower moved because it was too close to the tracks to remain in its current location.

In the photograph above, a westbound Wolverine Service train passes BO on July 16, 2016.

Restoration of State-Funded Corridor Services Presents a Mixed Picture

March 27, 2021

Passengers board Amtrak’s Chicago-bound Saluki at Effingham, Illinois, on March 21. The Chicago-Carbondale corridor lost one roundtrip since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago

Although Amtrak plans to restore daily service to most long-distance routes starting in late May, the restoration of corridor service cut during the COVID-19 pandemic presents a more mixed picture.

Some states might restore service by summer but that is not guaranteed.

Michigan Department of Transportation Rail Director Peter Anastor said he didn’t known when two suspended Wolverine Service roundtrips between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) would return.

He indicated it will hinge in part on ridership and revenue trends.

“The CARES Act and the second stimulus bill helped fill the gap caused by fixed costs that stay the same whether you have 10 or 100 riders,” he said.

Michigan also funds the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water and the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette.

Although the Blue Water continued to operate throughout the pandemic, the Pere Marquette was suspended between March and last summer.

Anastor indicated new Venture coaches are expected to be assigned to Wolverine Service this spring, making it the first Midwest corridor train to have the new cars.

On other Midwest corridor routes, Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee is expected to increase to seven round trips on May 21.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Rail Division head Arun Rao said the service expansion will be promoted with an extensive advertising push and increased social media activity.

Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Speegle said his agency will decide in April when some other corridor services will be restored.

IDOT has suspended one round trip on the Chicago-Carbondale route, one roundtrip on the Chicago-Quincy route and two roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis.

“We anticipate resuming full service no earlier that mid-July; the final decision on that time frame will be made in April, approximately 12 weeks prior to resumption of service,” he said.

Speegle said IDOT will review ridership and revenue numbers for the current service, anticipated costs, and the level of federal support.

Whether a second St. Louis-Kansas City Missouri River Runner will resume operating will depend on how much funding the Missouri legislature approves.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has requested funding for two daily roundtrips but the chair of a House budget committee has proposed funding just one roundtrip.

In the East, New York State has not announced its intentions in regards to restoring any suspended Empire Corridor trains.

Two routes funded by New York, the Maple Leaf to Toronto and Adirondack to Montreal have been suspended due to the U.S.-Canadian border being closed during the pandemic.

Elsewhere in the East, North Carolina will begin a fourth roundtrip starting April 5 in the Charlotte-Raleigh corridor.

Amtrak and the North Carolina Department of Transportation are reinstating a third Piedmont Service roundtrip, making this the first multi-frequency state corridor to be fully restored.

North Carolina reinstated a second and third round trip last August and December, respectively.

Another Downeaster trip to Maine is expected to resume in May after schedules are worked out with Amtrak and host railroad Pan Am Railways.

Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority Executive Director Patricia Quinn said the new schedule will be a little different.

“Instead of just plugging two midday trains back into their old slots, we’re adding a 10:30 a.m. departure from Brunswick, which will turn as a 3 p.m. departure from Boston,” she said.

“Given the change in commute patterns, we decided to try something different, assuming we won’t need two trains leaving Boston for the evening rush hour, but the additional round-trip means we will again have a flex schedule for the late-night train from Boston to accommodate sports fans and concert goers.”

Quinn said weekday and weekend schedules will now be identical.

In the West, one Capitol Corridor roundtrip will on March 29 be extended from Oakland to San Jose.

Capitol Corridor managing director Rob Pagette said there will be a change in departure times based on the way customers now use the trains.

“We’re about at 15 percent of where we were in February 2020 but we are looking to have a more robust service by September,” he said.

“We’ve seen more demand spread throughout the day, and this has allowed us to improve the efficiency of how we use our equipment by (temporarily) going from seven to six consists.”

Pagette said officials will be watching to determine where people are riding after the schedule change to determine where we add back the seventh consist.” An eighth trainset will be added later.

The extended round trip to San Jose will originate in Auburn because there appear to be increasing numbers of “super commuters” who ride 80 miles or more to their jobs.

Ridership trends during the pandemic have shown that if passengers are less likely to travel every day, more will opt for less-costly housing further away from the Silicon Valley.

In the San Joaquin corridor, a fifth roundtrip is expected to be added in in the fall. However, the two round trips to Sacramento aren’t likely to return until early 2021 at the earliest.

Those plans, though, are contingent on ridership stabilizing.

In Southern California, the LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency expects to restore one Pacific Surfliner roundtrip between San Diego and Goleta in July or August.

The date of that service restoration is dependant on available funding.

In the Pacific Northwest, the Washington Department of Transportation is eyeing returning two Seattle-Portland roundtrips in mid May.

Currently, the Cascades Service is operating with one Seattle-Eugene, Oregon, round trip.

Officials are considering increasing Portland-Eugene service to two roundtrips.

Fire Prompts Train Evacuation in Michigan

January 23, 2021

A fire aboard Amtrak’s westbound Blue Water on Friday resulted in the evacuation of 49 passengers and crew members.

The first in the train’s Charger locomotive was reported as the train was passing through Decatur Township in Michigan.  The fire was reported to be small in nature.

The passengers were removed from the train because the head end power had to be switched off and that left the train without any heat.

Amtrak terminated the train at Niles, Michigan, and provided alternative transportation for the displaced passengers to Chicago.

Michigan City Wants to Connect Amtrak Routes

July 29, 2020

The city commission of St. Joseph, Michigan, wants to see a connection built that would enable all of Amtrak’s Michigan services to serve nearby New Buffalo.

Currently St. Joseph is a stop for Amtrak’s Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette, but that train does not stop in New Buffalo even though it passes through it.

City officials said connecting the line used by the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water and the Chicago-Detroit Wolverine Service with the Pere Marquette route would enable residents of St. Joseph to connect in New Buffalo to points in eastern Michigan.

The route used by the Blue Water and Wolverine Service, which is owned by Amtrak, passes through the northeast section of New Buffalo where it crosses the CSX route used by the Pere Marquette.

The city commission asks Mayor Mike Garey to discuss the connection idea with the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission. The vote on the resolution was unanimous.

The Michigan Department of Transportation funds all three Amtrak routes in Michigan.

The Pere Marquette route merges with the Blue Water and Wolverine Service route in Porter, Indiana, and all three services use Norfolk Southern track between Porter and Chicago.