Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak long distance trains’

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.

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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.

Group Studies Southern Rail Route

September 7, 2017

A Texas-based group is studying establishment of Amtrak service between Fort Worth, Texas, and Atlanta by filling in a missing link in the route.

The I-20 Corridor Council is seeking to get the states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi to press for restoration of rail passenger service on a 345-mile stretch between Marshall, Texas, and Meridian, Mississippi.

Marshall is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle whereas the Meridian is served by the New York-New Orleans Crescent.

The Eagle runs through Fort Worth while the Crescent runs through Atlanta.

Richard Anderson, chairman of the I-20 Council, said passenger service over the link ended more than 50 years ago.

“The concept is to have all three states pushing for this passenger rail service,” Anderson said. “It would benefit all three states — it would benefit the entire South.”

The I-20 Council is seeking to create a direct route from Mississippi to Texas as well as increase service in communities already served by Amtrak.

Anderson said capacity study is under way and depending what it shows, “ . . . we hope that we can get people to sit down at the table.”

Amtrak studied the Meridian-Marshall route in 2015 and concludes that the connection would not require an annual operating subsidy from any of the three states.

However, launching passenger service would require capital investment “to be paid by the states and/or federal government once the capacity study is completed and negotiations occur between Amtrak and host railroads.”

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier is working with the I-20 Council.

“We’re taking this one step at a time and we’re excited at the prospect,” he said. “There is a great group of people in east Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

“There’s a lot of demand for additional services around the country… Because people don’t like doing what I’m doing — talking while driving. They would much rather be talking to you from a train while riding.”

Also backing the proposal is the Southern Rail Commission, which has listed the Meridian-Marshall link as among its top priorities for expanded rail passenger service.

Approach of Hurricane Irma Prompts Cancellations

September 7, 2017

Amtrak is canceling is Florida trains ahead of Hurricane Irma.

In a service advisory issued last night, Amtrak said the Silver Star and Silver Meteor are canceled Sept. 9-11.

The Silver Star will operate from New York City to Orlando, Florida, today. The Silver Meteor will operate from New York to Jacksonville, Florida. But the Florida trains are are cancelled for Sept. 8-10 the length of their routes.

The southbound Auto Train is cancelled for Sept. 9 while the northbound Auto Train is cancelled on Sept. 10 and 11.

In the meantime, though, the passenger carrier is adding coaches to northbound trains and hosting sellout crowds.

The northbound Silver Star on Friday will leave Miami an hour and five minutes after the Silver Meteor, at 9:15 a.m.

The Silver Service trains have been operating this week with five coaches this week although the northbound Silver Meteor today will have six instead of the usual four.

Amtrak plans to hold its Florida-bound trains at Jacksonville from Friday through at least Monday.

Anderson Talks Amtrak on NPR

September 7, 2017

Amtrak co-CEO Richard Anderson has been making the rounds of national broadcast outlets this week to talk about the rail passenger carrier that he joined earlier this year.

Richard Anderson

He appeared on a CBS news program and also on National Public Radio where he was interviewed by Robert Siegel, a co-host of the afternoon program All Things Considered.

As he did at CBS, Anderson told Siegel that updating aging infrastructure is a top priority at Amtrak.

At the same time, he contended that Amtrak is not broken. “It provides very reliable service to over 30 million people a year,”

Anderson said the United States has made a choice not to pursue high-speed rail except in a few areas. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t take the infrastructure that we have and improve our track speeds, where we offer a product that’s competitive with cars and buses because that’s really, in some sense, what we compete against.”

In response to a question by Siegel as to whether the “real, long-range intercity train travel is finished,” Anderson said that to Amtrak long-distance means more than 750 miles.

“And where we see the most growth over the last couple of decades has been in routes under 750 miles, like Milwaukee to Chicago, Detroit to Chicago, San Francisco to Los Angeles down the coast,” he said. “When you think about infrastructure in the U.S., we have become a very urbanized society – less reliance on automobiles, more reliance on public transportation. There’s an important role for Amtrak to play. And that’s actually been one of the fastest-growing parts of this business and represents over half of Amtrak’s passenger traffic annually.”

Anderson Discusses Amtrak’s Priorities

September 6, 2017

Amtrak has dropped the idea of reducing the distance between its seats.

Appearing on the CBS program This Morning, Amtrak’s co-CEO Richard Anderson said that the spacing between seats, known in the industry as pitch, will remain unchanged.

“One of our great advantages is that there are no middle seats,” Anderson said. “Our coach on Amtrak is much, much better than first class on airlines.”

Anderson is a former president of Delta Air Lines. The airline industry is notorious for its efforts over the years to reduce seat pitch in order to cram more passengers aboard its planes.

During the interview, Anderson said that infrastructure repair is the passengers carriers “first imperative.”

The next priority is better service. “We’ve got to clean up our trains, run our trains on time, fix the interiors of our trains, and grow our services in the regions that provide the highest level of service to the communities around the country,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the new equipment that Amtrak has ordered for its Acela Express service will increase capacity in the Northeast Corridor by 40 percent.

He did not, though, say anything about buying new equipment to replace cars used on long-distance trains. Some of that equipment dates to the 1970s. Instead, Amtrak plans to refurbish that equipment.

Increasing service frequency on some routes is an Amtrak goal, but that appears to be limited to densely populated regions.

“If we could get our train speeds up and operate more densely-populated urban corridors, it would be a great service to the traveling public in America,” Anderson said.

FRA Publishes Rules for Passenger Trial Program

August 5, 2017

The Federal Railroad Administration has established its rules for seeking competitor bids to replace Amtrak on up to three long-distance routes.

The agency published the rules in the Federal Register and they take effect on Sept. 5.

The pilot program is mandated by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The rules establish a petition, notification and bid process as well as establish deadlines for filing petitions and bids and the execution of contracts with winning bidders.

The FAST Act described an “eligible petitioner” for the pilot program as one that owns the relevant rail infrastructure on the route or has a “written agreement” with the rail infrastructure owner.

A winning bidder who doesn’t own the infrastructure must obtain from the owner a written agreement that governs access issues.

Senate Committee OKs Funding for Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

July 29, 2017

A Senate committee voted this week to provide $1.6 billion in funding for Amtrak and to provide funding for some grant programs that the Trump administration wanted to cut.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development said that the funding would assure that Amtrak’s long-distance trains remain in operation during fiscal year 2018, which begins on Oct. 1.

The Amtrak funding was part of a $1.974 billion package for the Federal Railroad Administration and also included $550 million for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.

That contrasts with action by a House committee to end TIGER funding. The Trump administration also sought to end the TIGER program.

In other action, the Senate subcommittee agreed to provide $12 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, marking a $285 million decrease from FY2017 enacted levels.

The bill provides $9.7 billion for transit formula grants consistent with the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act and slots $2.1 billion for the FTA’s Capital Investment Grants (also known as New Starts).

That money would fully fund all current Full Funding Grant Agreement transit projects.

“This bipartisan bill is the product of considerable negotiation and compromise, and makes the necessary investments in our nation’s infrastructure, helps to meet the housing needs of the most vulnerable among us, and provides funding for economic development projects that create jobs in our communities,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the subcommittee.

Senators Express Dismay Over Proposed DOT Budget Cuts

July 17, 2017

Although members of a Senate committee are displeased with the Trump administration proposed cuts of the U.S. Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2018, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao was unmoved during a hearing held last week.

Trump has proposed slashing the DOT budget by $2.4 million. If Congress adopts the administration’s budget proposal, the DOT budget would fall from $18.6 billion to $16.2 billion with major cuts made from the hide of Amtrak and various transportation grant programs.

The budget proposal received a hearing from the Senate Appropriations Committee where some members spoke out in favor of keeping Amtrak as it is now.

“With regard to Amtrak, I am concerned about the impact that elimination of long-distance service would have on shared infrastructure with state-supported routes, such as the Downeaster in Maine,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairman of the subcommittee on transportation.

“Long distance routes contribute in part to the capital expenditures for the Northeast Corridor,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member on the subcommittee. “That’s something of concern to many of us on the committee”

In response to a question asked by Reed as to whether DOT would be able to focus additional resources on the capital infrastructure needs of the Northeast Corridor, Chao said the Northeast Corridor is the only Amtrak route able to sustain itself and that DOT is working closely with Amtrak and local and state authorities in that region.

However, Chao said there is no money available for the Northeast Corridor except what’s in the president’s budget.

In response to a question asked by another senator, Chao suggested that finding more funding for Northeast Corridor repairs is Amtrak’s problem, not DOT’s

“These are repairs which have been delayed and the maintenance requirements are immense,” she said. “There has to be some way of looking at all these repairs, strategically figuring out [how] best to prioritize these repairs, have a program, and then execute [it].

“Amtrak has a new president, and I am very hopeful the president and the board will be able to address some of these issues.”

The Trump administration has proposed diverting money used to pay for Amtrak’s long-distance routes into funding NEC infrastructure work.

Some funding for Northeast Corridor capital projects would come from transit and commuter rail projects under the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program.

Amtrak is relying on a Capital Investment Program grant to finance some costs of building a new tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York Penn Station.

At the same time, the administration has proposed ending the TIGER grant program, which is used to help fund rail capital projects nationwide.

Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., expressed concern that cuts in funding for Amtrak intercity service would increase congestion on the highways.

As Chao sees it, ending funding of long-distance passenger trains would enable Amtrak to focus its resources on what she termed its most vibrant component.