Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Michigan’

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.

No Extra Amtrak Service to Michigan for Thanksgiving

November 1, 2019

Think Thanksgiving and images of turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie come to mind along with football games on TV and extra Amtrak trains to Michigan.

Well, you can scratch the latter from this year’s list of Thanksgiving traditions.

Amtrak will not be operating extra service to Michigan this year as it has in recent years.

The carrier said this week that rather than operate additional trains on its Pere Marquette (Chicago-Grand Rapids) and Wolverine Service (Chicago-Detroit) routes, it will instead assign additional coaches to existing trains.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Trains magazine that Amtrak made the decision to scrap the extra trains after reviewing ridership data from last year that found travel demand is spread out more evenly across more days than it has been previously.

The passenger carrier also decided to drop additional holiday service to Michigan because of poor on-time performance on host railroad Norfolk Southern in Chicago and northwest Indiana.

NS freight train interference accounted for 58 percent of the 20,143 delay minutes incurred by Amtrak trains traveling on the NS Chicago Line between Chicago and Porter, Indiana, where the routes to Michigan peel off.

About a quarter of the delays have been incurred by Wolverine Service No. 352, which departs Chicago at 1:20 p.m.

“If we try to put additional trains on those tracks and delays occur, this could have a cascading effect delaying outbound trains because inbound equipment didn’t arrive on time,” Magliari said.

So Amtrak will add an additional coach to all Wolverine Service trains operating between Nov. 27 and Dec. 1.

Other trains operating before and after that time period will also gain additional coaches.

Amtrak plans to add a coach to two Lincoln Service between Chicago and St. Louis round-trips, the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, Illini, and all Chicago-Quincy, Illinois, trains.

Extra trains will operate between Chicago and Quincy, and Chicago and Normal-Bloomington, Illinois, on Nov. 27 and Dec. 1.

But falling by the wayside are the additional Chicago-Holland, Michigan, and Chicago-Ann Arbor, Michigan, Thanksgiving holiday trains.

The Art of Black and White Photography

August 15, 2019

Digital photograph has many advantages but one of the most underused one is the ability to transform an image from color to black and white.

I don’t often see this done and I’m just as guilty as anyone else in not thinking about doing it.

What I have learned, though, is that recognizing when to convert an image from color to black and white is an art in itself.

It works well in situations in which the colors are subdued, often to the point of the image virtually being black and white anyway.

When I was processing this image of Amtrak’s westbound Blue Water at Durand, Michigan, it all but called out for conversion to black and white.

There is strong back lighting from the sun that washed out the color anyway.

Making the image black and white helped to draw out the contrast and enhance the mood.

Train No. 365 is waiting for time. It arrived in Durand a little early and all of the passengers have boarded.

A few onlookers are gathered along the fence waiting to see of a Boy Scout troop that boarded.

The conductor is standing by a vestibule waiting to give a highball and accommodate any late arriving passengers.

Note also the contrast in shapes of the Amfleet and Horizon coaches in the train’s consist, a testament to competing philosophies of passenger car design.

Buses to Replace Select Wolverines July 16, 17

July 16, 2019

Certain Amtrak Wolverine Service trains will be replaced by chartered buses on July 16 and 17.

Workers are conducting track work and replacing a bridge in Michigan.

On July 16, Train No. 354 from Chicago to Pontiac (Detroit) will terminate at Albion, Michigan, with bus service provided to passengers traveling to Jackson, Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Detroit, Royal Oak, Troy and Pontiac via Bus 3354.

On July 17 Train 353 will originate in Battle Creek, Michigan, with Bus 3353 picking up passengers at Pontiac, Troy, Royal Oak, Detroit, Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Jackson.

Bus 3353 will not connect to Train 353 and will not stop at Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Dowagiac, Niles, New Buffalo and Hammond-Whiting.

Bus schedules will follow train schedules. All other Wolverine Service trains will operate as scheduled.

Michigan Lawmaker Wants to Divert Amtrak Funding to Road, Infrastructure Projects

June 6, 2019

A Michigan lawmaker has proposed ending state funding of Amtrak service in the state as a way to free up money for road and infrastructure repairs.

Rep. Matt Maddocks, a Republican from Oakland County near Detroit, also has suggested selling the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron that links the state with Canada.

Michigan funds Amtrak service on three routes that link Chicago with Grand Rapids, Port Huron and Pontiac (Detroit).

“Should we continue to subsidize passenger rail? It’s for Amtrak $186 per ticket and at the state level for Amtrak another $40-70 per ticket. Is that right?” he said.

Maddocks estimated that selling the Blue Water Bridge would yield between $500 million to $800 million.

“That can be used to repair the infrastructure, money into replacing lead pipes in our cities and repair our underground infrastructure in cities,” he said.

Maddocks also has proposed selling state-owned airports in Plymouth, Romeo, Linden and Houghton Lake.

He acknowledged that his ideas would be controversial and it is not clear if he could roundup enough votes in support of them.

Selling state assets has drawn disapproval from Rep. Jon Hoadley, the Democratic vice-chair of the House Budget Committee.

Hoadley said the sales would not raise the $2.5 billion a year needed over next 10 years to repair the roads.

“If you’re going to piecemeal a solution like the Republicans are proposing, that’s selling off assets one year and hoping that’s going to take care of our long term solution,” Hoadley said. “I’d say driver beware.”

Tulip Festival Extra Trains Scrapped

May 2, 2019

Amtrak and Michigan Department of Transportation have canceled a planned extra service between Chicago and Holland, Michigan, to take passengers to the latter’s annual tulip festival.

The train had been planned to depart Chicago in the morning and Holland in the afternoon.

An MDOT spokesman said lack of adequate ticket sales led to the cancellation.

“Unfortunately, due to low reservations, we made a business decision with Amtrak to cancel the two special Tulip Time trains for May 4 and May 11,” said MDOT’s Michael Frezell.

He said those who booked travel on the extras will receive full refunds or they can ride Amtrak’s daily Pere Marquette between Chicago and Holland.

However, taking the Pere Marquette to Holland will require an overnight stay.

In fact, it would require a two-night stay because the Pere Marquette departs Chicago at 6:30 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Holland at 10:31 p.m. The return trip leaves Holland at 6:49 a.m.

The tulip festival special had been scheduled to leave Chicago at 7:05 a.m. and depart Holland at 11:28 a.m.

“We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused passengers,” Frezell said.

The Chicago Tribune reported a passenger who had tickets to ride the special received an email from Amtrak saying her trip had been canceled “due to a schedule change.”

Frezel said additional Chicago-Holland tulip festival service has been an on and off proposition over the years.

MDOT also sponsors extra service during the Thanksgiving travel period and until recent years had also underwritten extra trains during the Christmas travel period.

The tulip festival, known as Tulip Time, has been held for 90 years and draws about 500,000 visitors during its nine-day run.

Frezell said it is undecided if MDOT will sponsor future special train service to the tulip festival.

He said that would need to be worked out with Amtrak, the city of Holland and festival organizers.

“If the train does run again we recommend passengers book early,” he said.

Wolverine to Skip Troy on April 25

April 23, 2019

Track work being performed on the route used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains in Detroit will result in Train 353 missing its scheduled stop in Troy on April 25.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers traveling to or from Troy on No. 353 should instead board or detrain at Royal Oak or Pontiac.

Amtrak will also rebook those who request it for travel on alternative dates or other Wolverine Service trains serving Troy that are not affected by the track work.

Sarnia Mayor Wants Proposed New Amtrak Route

April 11, 2019

The mayor of Sarnia, Ontario, is hoping that Amtrak’s interest in starting a Detroit-Toronto route may lead to a restoration of service to Michigan.

Sarnia was a stop for Amtrak’s International, which once ran between Chicago and Toronto via Sarnia and Port Huron, Michigan.

That service ended in 2004, but Amtrak continues to operate the daily Blue Water between Chicago and Port Huron with funding from the State of Michigan.

The International had been a joint venture of Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said the route through the tunnel between his city and Port Huron deserves a closer look.

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak have discussed for years the institution of bus service linking Michigan and cities in Ontario.

Amtrak’s interest in a Detroit-Toronto route was mentioned in its fiscal year 2020 budget request to Congress.

“Amtrak is exploring places it can modernize and expand its services and network,” Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari said. “A Chicago/Western Michigan – Detroit – Toronto corridor is one of the services where we see promise.”

It is not clear if the route east of Detroit would operate via Port Huron/Sarnia or go through Windsor, Ontario, which is opposite of Detroit across the Detroit River.

“At this early stage, speculation would be premature,” Magliari said.

Bradley said his greater interest is to see restoration of passenger rail service lost over the past few decades.

He pointed out that the Sarnia VIA station is located on the Canadian National line running under the St. Clair River while Windsor’s new VIA station has no connection to the Detroit River rail tunnel.

Bradley said that although the market for passengers is bigger in Detroit and Windsor, the rail crossing at Sarnia and Port Huron worked well for many years.

The International was discontinued in part due to long delays in border crossing inspections follow the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Other factors included declining ridership and the desire of Michigan officials for a scheduled that allowed day trips to and from Chicago.

VIA operates just one roundtrip between Sarnia and Toronto.

He acknowledged that border crossing issues would still remain, but those would exist regardless of where it’s located.

Study Mulls Amtrak Return to Iconic Detroit Station

April 5, 2019

Ford Motor Company and others are reportedly studying whether Amtrak could return to Detroit’s Michigan Central Station.

Bridge Magazine reported that the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority has commissioned a $30,000 feasibility study and that talks are underway involving Ford, the city and other transportation officials.

Ford purchased the abandoned train station for $90 million in 2018 and has launched a $1 billion project to renovate it.

For several years the MC Station has become an icon for urban blight with its numerous broken windows and vacant space.

Amtrak used the station, built in 1913, until Jan. 5, 1988, when it began operating from a temporary modular station it built next to MC Station.

On May 4, 1994, Amtrak opened a new station in Detroit’s New Center neighborhood that the carrier said would be temporary until a permanent intermodal station was built across the tracks. That facility has yet to be built.

Ford has ambitious plans for the MC Station and its surrounding neighborhood that includes bringing 5,000 jobs there to work on autonomous and electric cars.

It is not clear how much it would cost to restore rail service to MC Station and how that would be funded. Some questions surrounding that matter are expected to be answered in the feasibility study.

Port Authority officials said Ford approached it about conducting the study.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said he couldn’t confirm those discussions but said in a statement that Amtrak is “exploring places it can modernize and expand its services and network.”

This includes a proposed Detroit-Toronto service that might also be extended to western Michigan.

Current Amtrak service in Detroit is three daily Wolverine Service roundtrips between Chicago and Pontiac that also stop in Royal Oak, Dearborn and Ann Arbor.

Discussions have been held in previous years about returning Amtrak service to MC Station.

The former owner of the depot, Manuel “Matty” Moroun, looked into the idea at one point.

The prospect of returning rail service to the station has captured the attention of some historic preservationists and historians.

“It’s a building no one thought could be saved,” said Dan Austin, the founder of HistoricDetroit.org. “It hasn’t seen anything but vandals and scrappers in years. And to tell you that Ford is coming in there and not only going to renovate it and restore it to all its glory, but make it a train station again? It’s hard to believe.”

Austin, who studies Detroit’s architectural history, called MC Station one of the city’s “most iconic abandoned buildings.” It is located in Corktown, one of Detroit’s oldest neighborhoods.

Canadian Pacific has tracks near the station. Michael Frezell, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation, said his agency, which funds Amtrak’s Wolverine Service, is away of the feasibility study but said it’s too early to know what kind of arrangement could be worked out between Amtrak and CP as well as the costs involved.

Ford has not said whether its renovation plans for MC Station involve removing its existing but unused tracks.

It also has avoided discussing whether it could be used again as a train station.

Extra Trains Set for Holland Tulip Festival

March 15, 2019

Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation are offering additional service on May 4 and 11 to the annual Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Michigan.

The service will use the route of Amtrak’s Pere Marquette, departing Chicago Union Station at 7:05 a.m. and returning at 8:24 p.m.

Times at intermediate stations for Train No. 374 are Hammond-Whiting, Indiana, 7:29 a.m.; St. Joseph, Michigan; 10:01 a.m.; and Bangor, Michigan, 10:37 a.m.

Arrival at Holland is expected to be at 11:28 a.m.

Train No. 375 is scheduled to depart Holland at 5:50 p.m., Bangor at 6:33 p.m., St. Joseph at 7:11 p.m., and Hammond-Whiting at 7:51 p.m.

The festival is billed as as the nation’s “Best Flower Festival” and “America’s Best Small-Town Festival.”

Amtrak said in a news release that more than 1,000 customers rode extra Amtrak trains on this route during festival weekends in 2018.