Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak long distance trains’

Station Stop in Greewood

February 17, 2018


Greenwood, Mississippi, is one of that places that has intercity rail passenger service because of Amtrak.

When Amtrak began service on May 1, 1971, it had been several years since a scheduled passenger train had halted in Greenwood.

It would remain 24 years before that would occur again. But thanks to a rerouting of the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans, Greenwood would join the Amtrak network.

No. 59 is shown at Greenwood during its station stop in March 2012.

Advertisements

2 Dead, 110 Hurt After Silver Star Collides Head-on With CSX Auto Rack Train in South Carolina

February 5, 2018

Two Amtrak crew members were killed and more than 100 injured early Sunday morning when the Miami-bound Silver Star was misrouted into the path of a parked CSX freight train.

The accident happened at 2:35 a.m. in Cayce, South Carolina, about 10 miles south of a the train’s previous station stop at Columbia, South Carolina.

Officials said Train No. 91 had 147 aboard and 110 of them were reported to have suffered injuries ranging from minor cuts to broken bones. Nine of those aboard were Amtrak employees.

Killed were Amtrak engineer Michael Kempf, 54, of Savannah, Georgia, and conductor Michael Cella, 36 of Orange Park, Florida.

Dr. Eric Brown, the executive physician for Palmetto Health,  said six people were admitted to hospitals for more severe injuries, including head trauma.

National Transportation Board Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said on Sunday afternoon that the switch had been manually “lined and locked” to divert the Amtrak train into the freight train.

“Of course key to this investigation is learning why that switch was lined that way because the expectation is the Amtrak would be cleared and would be operating straight down,” Sumwalt said.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during a conference call with reporters that before the crash the Amtrak crew was communicating with a CSX dispatcher by phone because a signaling system that governs traffic in the area was down for maintenance.

Authorities said investigators are still trying to determine how fast the Silver Star was going at the time of the collision, but the top speed there is 59 mph.

Sumwalt said the CSX train had two locomotives and 34 empty auto rack cars. It had unloaded automobiles on the west side of the main line and then used it to back into a siding on the east side of the main line.

“We were able to see that it was actually literally locked with a padlock to make it lined to go into the siding,” Sumwalt said of the switch on the main.

He said investigators will focus on why the switch wasn’t restored to its normal position before Amtrak No. 91 arrived.

NTSB personnel at the scene retrieved a front-facing video camera from Amtrak P42DC No. 47 and sent to their laboratory in Washington for review. The train’s event data recorder had not been located as of Sunday evening.

“I can tell you there’s catastrophic damage to each of the locomotives,” Sumwalt said. “In fact, I would say that the Amtrak locomotive would be not recognizable at all.”

The consist of the Amtrak train included a P42 locomotive, three Amfleet coaches, an Amfleet cafe lounge, two Viewliner sleepers and a baggage car.

Sumwalt said the crash could have been avoided if positive train control had been in operation at the time.

About 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel was spilled after the collision, but authorities said it posted “no threat to the public at the time.”

Passengers who were not injured or had been treated for injuries were taken to a middle school for shelter.

They were later put aboard chartered buses to continue their journey southward.

Amtrak Holding Winter ‘Flash Sale’

January 30, 2018

Amtrak announced today a three-day “flash sale” on tickets for several long-distance routes, offering 25 percent if purchased through Thursday, Feb. 1.

Fares will be automatically discounted from the standard coach fare and cannot be combined with other discount codes.

The sale doesn’t apply to one-way travel and upgrades to business class are not allowed. Sale prices are not available on all trains at all times and tickets are non-refundable.

Tickets must be bought at Amtrak’s website for travel between Feb. 13 and March 22, and includes nine long-distance routes:

  • Auto Train (Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida)
  • The Capitol Limited (Chicago and Washington)
  • The Cardinal (Chicago and New York)
  • The City of New Orleans (Chicago and New Orleans)
  • The Crescent (New York and New Orleans)
  • The Lake Shore Limited (Chicago and New York/Boston)
  • Silver Service/Palmetto (New York-Savannah, Georgia-Miami)
  • The Sunset Limited (New Orleans and Los Angeles)
  • The Southwest Chief (Chicago and Los Angeles)

Heritage In Harpers Ferry

January 4, 2018

Amtrak’s westbound Capitol Limited is coming to a stop in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, on July 16, 2014.

On the point is the Phase IV heritage locomotive wearing a livery that was relatively short-lived on Amtrak in its original incarnation.

The locomotive is not the only heritage to be seen on this train. The baggage car is from the Heritage fleet, having served for decades.

Since this image was made, Amtrak has placed in service its Viewliner baggage cars and most of the heritage baggage cars have been retired.

But the oldest thing in this image is the former Baltimore & Ohio passenger station next to the tracks.  It opened in 1889. Today it is used by the National Park Service and also used by Maryland Area Rail Commuter trains from Washington.

Going in Opposite Directions in New Orleans

January 3, 2018

I’m standing in the rear car of Amtrak’s northbound City of New Orleans. It’s a sleeper and I have a room in this car.

We had left New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal about 20 minutes earlier and have stopped near Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

Our stopping point is just beyond a gate that can be shut during times of flooding. The tracks are now owned by Canadian National but used to be the Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and the Gulf.

I figured we were stopped for a meet with another train so I walked back to the rear door with my camera and waited.

It turned out to be our southbound counterpart, Amtrak train No. 59. I grabbed a few shots and we were on our way.

Pacific Parlour Cars Being Overhauled

December 5, 2017

Amtrak is overhauling its fleet of Pacific Parlour Cars at its Beech Grove shops with many of the former Santa Fe cars being out of service between Jan. 8 and March 14, 2018.

The cars are assigned to the Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight and used as a lounge for sleeping car passengers.

An attendant in the car usually serves as a bartender, provides lunch and dinner, and hosts a wine and cheese tasting each afternoon.

Amtrak said that until the rebuild is completed, Pacific Parlour Car service will only be provided northbound out of Los Angeles on Thursdays and Fridays, and southbound from Seattle on Saturdays and Sundays.

On other days, sleeping car passengers desiring lounge car service will be directed to the train’s Sightseer Lounge, which is available to all passengers.

During the winter travel season, the Coast Starlight typically operates with a transition sleeping/dorm car, two sleepers,  dining car, Sightseer lounge and two to three coaches.

45 Years Later My Memories of My First Amtrak Trip Still Resonate

November 25, 2017

Forty-five years ago today I stood on the platform of the Illinois Central Railroad passenger station in my hometown of Mattoon, Illinois, in the early morning hours awaiting the arrival of Amtrak train No. 58.

It would be my first ever trip aboard Amtrak, a day trip to Chicago. It would mark my first experience riding in a dome car and my first experience eating dinner in an Amtrak dining car.

I’ve since ridden Amtrak dozens of times and had a full range of experiences good, bad and indifferent.

But none can quite compare to that first trip, which I still remember in some detail as though it happened not that long ago.

For example, I still remember the sound of the brake shoes being applied every time No. 58 approached a town where another rail line crossed at grade.

I also still remember the rush that I felt when I spotted the headlight of No. 58 a mile or so out of town as I stood on the platform. Train time was at hand.

The Panama Limited was about a half-hour late when it arrived in Mattoon and I was disappointed when I saw that the lead locomotive was painted in Amtrak colors rather than those of the ICRR.

The trailing unit still wore an IC livery as did the two units that pulled No. 59 that evening back to Mattoon.

Amtrak was 19 months old on Nov. 25, 1972, and still in he rainbow era in which cars refurbished in Amtrak colors and markings mingled with cars still in their as-received condition from Amtrak’s contract railroads.

I was impressed with the interiors of the refurbished cars with their blue seats and walls with paisley accenting. They looked modern. Today, when I see one of those cars in a museum or on an excursion train they look so Seventies.

At the time of my first Amtrak trip, I was a college student and my traveling companion was my sister’s boyfriend. He was still in high school.

In retrospect, I’m surprised that our parents let us travel to the big city by ourselves as neither of us really knew Chicago and we had some difficulty time finding Union Station to return home after a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry.

We had ridden a CTA bus to and from the museum and back but we had had no idea which routes went where.

I had noticed when the train arrived in Mattoon that morning that it had a dome car toward the front of the train.

By chance it was a car or two ahead of the coach in which we had been seated and shortly after the train left Kankakee I asked the conductor if we could sit up there.

“I don’t see why not,” was the reply.

It was dome sleeper and I didn’t know there were such things. It would turn out to be the only time that I rode in one.

As No. 58 made the turn to get onto the St. Charles Air Line in Chicago, I had a view from the dome of the coach yard of the former Central Station.

It was filled with passenger cars wearing IC colors and markings. By November 1972, passenger cars in the IC livery were uncommon on the Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans trains that I saw. IC passenger locomotives, though, were still the norm.

An IC employee was sitting in the dome section and had a radio. It was the first time I had heard railroad radio transmissions.

We halted and the engineer said on the radio, “Weldon Tower would you tell them that 58 is sitting here. Waiting. ”

I guess we didn’t have the signal yet from Union Avenue interlocking on the Burlington Northern.

No. 58 was scheduled to arrive into Chicago Union Station at 9:30 a.m. and we backed in shortly after 10 a.m.

Despite our adventures or misadventures in finding the correct CTA bus routes we got back in plenty of time to catch our train.

I remember a station announcement that still sticks in my mind because I’ve haven’t heard a boarding announcement quite like it since.

It came from the booming voice of man who wasn’t so much announcing the train’s pending departure as commanding passengers to get on board.

“Your attention please! Amtrak train No. 59, the Panama Limited, intends to leave at six ten p.m.”

It was the use of and emphasis on the word “intends” that got my attention.

This was a transition time between the era of passenger trains operated by the freight railroads and the Amtrak culture that was still taking root.

My ticket, which had cost $11, was on Amtrak stock and placed inside an Amtrak ticket envelope. But it had been endorsed with an ICRR stamp and issued by an IC employee.

My next Amtrak trip in December 1972 had a ticket issued on former Pennsylvania Railroad stock and placed inside a Penn Central ticket envelope.

Not long after the Panama Limited left Chicago, we made our way to the dining car. It had angled tables and seating, something I’d never seen and have not seen since.

I don’t remember what I ordered but am sure it was one of the least expensive items on the menu.

I was impressed with the efficiency of the waiters and their business-like approach to the job. They were constantly going back and forth from the dining area to the kitchen and doing so with authority as they carried their trays.

These men probably had worked for the IC or some other railroad before Amtrak and everything about them was old school.

There were a lot more of them than is the case aboard today’s Amtrak dining cars.

After dinner, we took it upon ourselves to go back to the dome car, figuring that the “permission” we had received that morning was still good that evening.

It was neat to see the signal bridges ahead as No. 59 rushed southbound. The green signal would turn to red shortly after the lead locomotive passed it.

A couple of sleeping car attendants – they might have still been routinely referred to as porters then – were sitting in the dome section and asked us if we were sleeping car passengers.

We were not.  One of them replied that the dome was supposed to be for those in the sleepers.

He didn’t exactly order us to leave, but we had gotten the message. We stayed for a few more minutes and then went back to our coach seats.

The trip seemed to end all too quickly. It had been slightly longer than three hours.

I stepped off the train in Mattoon feeling awed by the whole experience. I wanted to do it again and often, but it would be a few more years before I was in a position to do that.

By then Amfleet cars had come to the Midwest and Superliners were on the horizon. The Amtrak culture had taken a firm hold. The private railroad passenger service era had faded away.

Between 1994 and 2014 I would ride Amtrak from Cleveland to Mattoon a couple times a year to visit my Dad.

Every time I stood on the platform in Mattoon to wait for the City of New Orleans or the Saluki for Chicago, I would look to the south for the headlight of the approaching train and be taken back to that morning in November 1972 when my first experience with Amtrak was seeing the headlight of a EMD E unit charging northward into my memory.

Cardinal Ridership Up 7.25% in FY2017

November 21, 2017

Amtrak’s Cardinal saw a 7.25 percent ridership boost in fiscal year 2017.

Figures released by the national passenger carrier show the tri-weekly Chicago-New York train carried 112,432 passengers, up 7,601 from FY 2016.

“It’s been inching up, but to have that kind of an increase is a good thing,” said Chuck Riecks, a vice president with the national Rail Passengers Association and co-chairman of West Virginia-based the Friends of the Cardinal group.

Riecks described the ridership figures as encouraging given the on-time issues Nos. 50 and 51 have had during this year’s operational problems on host railroad CSX.

He said Amtrak’s addition of business class service to the Cardinal in January 2016 helped to boost patronage.

The Cardinal serves eight stations in West Virginia and most of them saw an increase in ridership.

White Sulphur Springs handled 5,878 passengers, a 12.6 percent increase. The station serves passengers headed for the famous Greenbrier resort and was a beneficiary of the business class service, which features 18 leather seats, complimentary beverages and a lounge area reserved for business class and sleeper car passengers.

Thurmond — the smallest town in America with regularly scheduled passenger rail service — saw the largest proportional jump, an 18 percent increase to 345 passengers.

Other stations posting slight increases included Charleston (9,812 passengers), Prince (2,988) and Alderson (449).

The ridership figures for Huntington and Hinton fell in FY 2017, in part because Amtrak had attributed to those stations passengers riding Amtrak coaches on the New River Train.

That added about 2,800 passengers each year to each city’s ridership figures.

Hinton’s Cardinal ridership in FY 2017 dropped by 81 passengers from 7,344 to 4,463.

Huntington’s ridership fell by 14.5 percent from 10,723 to 6,925 passengers, or a decline of 998 passengers.

During the past year Amtrak removed its ticket agents from Huntington, thus ending ticket sales and checked baggage at that station.

“That clearly reflects the loss of the station agent,” Riecks said of the decline in Huntington passengers.

Montgomery also saw a decline in ridership, dropping from 669 to 500 passengers.

In the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited route, the two West Virginia stations posted ridership gains.

Martinsburg handled 11,267 passengers, up 146, while Harpers Ferry saw a 12 percent increase in passengers to 8,267.

Amtrak Head Acknowledges Need for New Equipment

November 15, 2017

Amtrak needs to replace or overhaul the rail car fleet that serves its long-distance trains, its co-CEO told the National Association of Railroad Passengers earlier this month.

Richard Anderson

Co-CEO Richard Anderson said rebuilding or replacing aging Superliners and Amfleet cars will receive a “first priority.”

He also said the diesel locomotive fleet used to pull that equipment also needs replacement and/or rebuilding

Anderson said that the first up will be renovations of  Amfleet I and Amfleet II cars followed by new Acela Express trainsets.

New diesel locomotives are being placed into service on corridor routes in the Midwest and West.

Amtrak also expects CAF USA to complete soon an order for 25 new Viewliner II diners to be completed. Last on the list that Anderson ticked off was overhauling the current Acela fleet.

Despite saying it is a priority, Anderson did not describe a plan to replace or rebuild the Superliner fleet.

Amfleet II coaches are used on single-level long-distance trains such as the Lake Shore Limited, Cardinal, Crescent and Silver Service.

Anderson did, though, describe the importance of long-distance trains by emphasizing their role in “connecting small and large communities and bringing the most utility to the most Americans across the country.”

He said Amtrak’s 15 long-distance trains serve a series of markets with just 6 percent of riders traveling from endpoint to endpoint.

Many of those markets have lost or seen their level of intercity bus and airline service greatly diminished.

Anderson said Amtrak faces “risk points” with host railroads delaying Amtrak trains, the Trump administration’s efforts to end funding of long-distance trains and a dire need for capital.

The latter is most acute in the Northeast Corridor although some might say capital is desperately needed to buy new rolling stock and locomotives.

The former airline executive also said Amtrak needs to become more customer-focused.

NOLA Service Suspended Due to Hurricane Nate

October 9, 2017

Amtrak suspended service to New Orleans on all routes over the weekend due to the approach of Hurricane Nate.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the Sunset Limited would terminate and originate in San Antonio with no alternate transportation available between San Antonio and New Orleans. Trains 1 & 2 normally operate three-days-weekly between Los Angeles and New Orleans.

The Crescent terminated and originated in Birmingham, Alabama with no alternate transportation available between Birmingham and New Orleans.

The City of New Orleans originated and terminated in Jackson, Mississippi, with no alternate transportation available between Jackson and New Orleans.

As of Monday morning, Amtrak had not announced on its website when service to New Orleans and other affected intermediate stations would resume.