Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Michigan’

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.

Pere Marquette to Return June 29

June 24, 2020

Amtrak’s Pere Marquette will resume service on June 29 with its departure from Chicago en route to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The train had been suspended on March 21 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amtrak said Nos. 370 and 371 will both operate starting June 30.

The Pere Marquette is primarily funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

MDOT and Amtrak said anticipated ridership demand led to the Pere Marquette being reinstated.

No. 370 is scheduled to depart Chicago at 6:30 p.m. and arrive in Grand Rapids at 11:34 p.m.

No. 371 is scheduled to depart Grand Rapids at 6 a.m. and arrive in Chicago at 9:08 a.m.

Track Work Changes Michigan Schedules

May 6, 2020

Track work being performed by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern will result in schedule changes for Wolverine and Blue Water trains.

The Blue Water will arrive in Port Huron, Michigan, 28 minutes later at 11:59 p.m. and depart Port Huron 28 minutes earlier, at 5:52 a.m., arriving in Chicago 17 minutes later at 12:02 p.m.

Wolverine Service No. 351 will depart Pontiac 38 minutes earlier at 5:12 a.m., but is expected to arrive in Chicago at its scheduled time of 10:32 a.m.

Train 352 will depart Chicago 30 minutes earlier at 12:55 p.m. and arrive in Pontiac 7 minutes later at 8:39 p.m.

Amtrak did not say in it service advisory how long the revised scheduled will be in effect.

Amtrak Service Cuts Just Keep Coming

March 19, 2020

Amtrak service to Michigan will be reduced to two pairs of trains and service cuts will be imposed on three corridor routes in Illinois.

However, no service reductions are being planned for the long-distance network Amtrak spokesman Marc Magilari told Trains magazine.

Michigan trains that will continue to operate are the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water while Wolverine Service will consist of No 352, which departs Chicago at 1:25 p.m. and arrives in Pontiac at 8:32 p.m. and No. 351, which departs Pontiac at 5:50 a.m. and arrives in Chicago at 10:32 a.m.

Canceled are the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette and two Wolverine Service roundtrips.

On the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini will continue to operate while their counterparts are canceled.

The corridor is also served by the City of New Orleans which provides service northbound in the early morning hours and southbound in late evening.

Between Chicago and Quincy the Carl Sandburg will be canceled while the Illinois Zephyr will continue to operate.

Part of the Chicago-Quincy corridor will continue to be served by the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief.

The Chicago-Milwaukee corridor will be reduced to one Hiawatha Service roundtrip with the Empire Builder picking up some of the slack.

The one Chicago to Milwaukee Hiawatha will depart at 5:08 p.m. for a 6:45 p.m. arrival in Milwaukee.

There will also be a late night bus from Chicago to Milwaukee that leaves Chicago at 9:15 p.m.

The Milwaukee to Chicago Hiawatha will depart at 8:05 a.m. and arriving in Chicago at 9:34 a.m.

The Empire Builder will handle local passengers at all stops, including at Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and Milwaukee airport station, both of which Nos. 7 and 8 normally do not serve.

However, the Empire Builder is an afternoon operation in both directions between Chicago and Milwaukee so passengers will not be able to travel northbound in the morning or southbound in the evening.

On the Chicago-St. Louis corridor the southbound 7 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. departures from Chicago will be cut.

Lincoln Service trains will continue to depart Chicago at 9:25 a.m. and 7 p.m.

From St. Louis, Lincoln Service trains will depart at 4:35 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

The Texas Eagle will also continue operating in the corridor. Canceled are northbound Lincoln Service departures from St. Louis at 6:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.

For now Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City will continue operating on its current level of service of two roundtrips per day.

On the West Coast, the Capitol Corridor route will see a reduction from 15 to five weekday departures in each direction between Sacramento and Emeryville, California, effective March 23.

This does not include the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight, which uses part of the corridor.

Service reductions on the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner corridors have not yet been announced.

Cascades Service is no longer operating north of Seattle and will see the last round trip of the day canceled.

A presentation by the Chaddick Institute at DePaul University in Chicago said Amtrak’s current bookings are down 60 percent, future reservations are off 80 percent, and passenger cancellations are up 400 percent compared with the same period last year.

In a related development the Trump administration has proposed that Amtrak receive $500 million in emergency aid.

The carrier had said it needs $1 billion to cover losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding is part of a supplemental appropriation proposal the administration has sent to Congress totaling $45.8 billion.

Amtrak Continues to Pare Service

March 19, 2020

It remains to be seen if Amtrak will suspend or reduce the operations of its long-distance trains, but an online report quoting a union official indicated that onboard service cuts are coming.

The official from the SMART Transportation Division said he has been told to expect sleeping car service to be suspended and dining removed from some trains.

However, the official said he has not been advised by the carrier if it plans to suspend any long-distance trains.

Amtrak has suspended several Midwest corridor trains including three roundtrips in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor and one roundtrip between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette has also been suspended.

Service reductions for corridors in Illinois are expected but as of early Thursday morning had yet to be formally announced by Amtrak.

Amtrak operates three corridors in Illinois linking Chicago with Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis.

The Chicago-Carbondale corridor has two roundtrips plus the Chicago-New Orleans City of Orleans.

The Chicago-Quincy corridor has two roundtrips while the Chicago-St. Louis corridor has four roundtrips plus the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

An online report indicated that effective March 21 Chicago-Carbondale service will be reduced to the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini.

A similar service pattern is expected to be implemented for the Chicago-Quincy corridor with service to Chicago in the morning and returning service in the evening by trains 381 and 381 respectively.

In both corridors, the remaining trains could be covered with one equipment set.

The Empire Builder is also expected to begin carrying local passengers to and from Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee Airport station. Neither are regular stops for Nos. 7 and 8.

The New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian also has been suspended along with all Keystone Service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Service reductions have been made in all other eastern corridors as well.

In a service advisory Amtrak said some stations that have ticket agents may not be staffed for all train arrivals and departure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amtrak said passengers should proceed to the platform for boarding if they encounter an unstaffed station that normally has agents directing the boarding process.

Other online reports indicated that Cascade Service between Portland and Eugene, Oregon, will be reduced to one roundtrip with trains 500 and 505 providing the service.

Bike Racks Added to Michigan Amtrak Trains

March 18, 2020

Amtrak is providing limited onboard bicycle storage on three routes linking Chicago and cities in Michigan.

The passenger carrier is allowing passengers to store bikes in an open area at end of a coach. No reservation is needed.

The cars have been assigned to the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette, the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water, and the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains.

“We are receiving lots of requests from the cycling community, both the consumers and the advocacy community, and we’ve been wanting to be able to accommodate that,” said Derrick James, Amtrak’s senior manager of state government affairs.

Jeff Martin of the Michigan Department of Transportation said new cars on order for Midwest corridor services will come with bike racks that will increase the number of bikes that can be carried per train.

Amtrak’s Michigan Trains are Invariably Late

February 26, 2020

Passengers board an Amtrak train bound for Chicago at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Chances are they will arrive late in the Windy City.

If you’re riding Amtrak in Michigan the chances are your trip is going to be late.

A report by the Detroit Free Press said the on-time rate last year in Michigan was 43 percent. On the Wolverine Service route between Chicago and Detroit it was just 33 percent.

That compared with a national average of between 60 and 70 percent.

Amtrak considers a train late if it is 30 minutes or more behind the published schedule.

Figures released by Amtrak show that the performance of the Michigan trains is getting worse.

On-time performance fell from 71 percent in 2016 and 2017 to 62 percent in 2018.

Amtrak is hoping that as part of a renewal of the federal surface transportation law that Congress will strengthen the law giving passenger trains preference over freight trains.

Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman based in Chicago, said such a law would give the passenger carrier legal leverage to better deal with its host railroads, which Amtrak blames for delaying its trains.

“It’s a very important issue to us because our reliability is suffering,” Magliari said.

The Free Press said it tracked the arrival times of six Amtrak trains in Troy, a Detroit suburb on the Wolverine Service line.

The trains from Chicago varied in lateness from 30 minutes to more than two hours.

Amtrak figures show that the afternoon Wolverine from Chicago to Pontiac, the Detroit suburb that is the terminus of the route, arrived in Troy an average of 42 minutes late.

Six times it was more than an hour late and once in mid-January it was two hours behind schedule.

The newspaper said passengers it spoke with who disembarked at Troy said that although they found the delays annoying they still liked train travel.

In its efforts to put pressure on Congress, Amtrak has created a YouTube video titled Your Right to be on Time that urges viewers to contract lawmakers to complain about late trains and urge them to support legislation “that puts people before freight.”

The video contends that Amtrak’s host railroads are giving their freight trains priority over Amtrak trains in dispatching decisions.

“Usually, it’s what we call freight train interference. That’s when our trains are delayed by slow freight trains ahead of them,” the narrator says in the video.

The video acknowledges that delays can also be caused by such things as weather, track maintenance, mechanical problems with trains, and obstructions on the track.

“You can be certain we’ll tell Congress that the original law setting up Amtrak in 1970 does not allow us to bring litigation over the poor handling of our trains by the freight railroads,” Magliari said. “Imagine paying for a service from someone who knows you can’t go after them in court.”

Magliari said one reason why Amtrak trains are getting delayed by freight trains is that the latter are getting longer and sometimes are too long to put into a siding to allow Amtrak to pass.

The Association of American Railroads, which represents the Class 1 railroads that host Amtrak trains, contends the federal government should fund construction of additional tracks and longer sidings

“It would be nice to see the public coming forward” — that is, with federal and state dollars — “where they have an interest in keeping passengers trains operating,” said AAR’s John Gray, senior vice president for policy and economics.

Much of the track Amtrak uses on the Chicago-Detroit corridor, though, is owned by Amtrak or the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Wolverine Service trains, though, use within the Detroit metropolitan area tracks owned by Conrail, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern.

Amtrak’s Michigan trains use the busy NS Chicago Line to reach Chicago from Northwest Indiana.

MDOT, which helps fund Amtrak service in Michigan, said most of the delays incurred by Amtrak’s Michigan trains occur on that 40-mile stretch of NS.

The agency owns 135 miles of the Wolverine Service route between Kalamazoo and Dearborn. Amtrak owns the track from Kalamazoo to Porter, Indiana.

MDOT spokesman Mike Frezell said Amtrak trains using track that it and MDOT own have largely unimpeded travel there.

“We’re hoping within two years to have speeds up to 110 m.p.h. on portions of that, and we’ll be raising all the speeds through that section,” Frezell said.

He said the objective in raising speeds in the Chicago-Detroit corridor is to make train travel competitive with driving and flying.

Wolverines Being Pulled by Chargers

January 9, 2020

An online report this week indicated that all Amtrak Midwest Corridor trains in Michigan are now being pulled by Siemens SC-44 Charger locomotives.

Chargers have been pulling some Amtrak trains in Michigan for several months, most notably the Blue Water between Chicago and Port Huron.

But the units were slow to be assigned to Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The delay in introducing Chargers to the Detroit corridor was due to the need to develop software for positive train control that was compatible with the Incremental Train Control System used on Amtrak-owned tracks between Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Porter, Indiana.

The first Charger to enter revenue service for Amtrak did so on Aug. 24, 2017, on a Hiawatha Service train between Chicago and Milwaukee. The units are not commonly used on corridor trains in Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri.

The Chargers used by Amtrak in the Midwest were ordered by the Illinois Department of Transportation in conjunction with state transportation agencies in Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin that also fund Amtrak corridor service.

Amtrak in December 2018 ordered 75 Chargers that will replace GE P42DC locomotives on long-distance trains starting in 2021.