Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Silver Meteor’

Service Cuts Mean Fewer Connections

June 23, 2020

Amtrak’s plans to reduce the frequency of operation of its New York-Miami trains will mean there will be no connections to and from Florida on some days in Washington or New York.

The passenger carrier plans on July 6 to begin operating the Silver Meteor four times a week and the Silver Star three times a week.

It is the first step of a larger plan to reduce operations of all long-distance trains except the Auto Train to less than daily service on Oct. 1.

The Silver Meteor will depart New York Monday through Thursday, and Miami Sunday through Wednesday.

The Silver Star will operate Friday through Sunday southbound and Thursday through Saturday northbound.

The New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto will for now continue to operate daily.

The July schedule changes will preclude connections on some days to Florida from the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, and Cardinal.

Cross-Florida travel and service to South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia, will only be possible on different days around weekends.

A Trains magazine analysis noted that during May the combined ridership of the Silver Star and Silver Meteor was 7.2 million passenger miles generating $1.4 million of revenue.

That compares to 5.2 million passenger miles and $2.4 million in revenue for all Northeast Corridor trains between Boston and Washington.

In an unrelated development, Amtrak is offering a 20 percent off sale on roomette accommodations for its Auto Train.

The sale is good through June 24 for travel through Aug. 31.

The sale does not apply to any other trains that provide sleeping car accommodations.

Amtrak Eyes Florida Service Cuts July 6

June 20, 2020

A Florida rail advocacy group told its members this week that Amtrak plans to reduce the frequency of operation of its Silver Service trains on July 6.

On that date, the group said, Amtrak plans to begin operating the Silver Star and Silver Meteor on alternating days between New York and Miami.

The group cited an Amtrak memo saying the Silver Meteor will depart New York on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and leave Miami on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Silver Star will depart New York on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and leave Miami on Miami on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The memo said both trains will offer expanded capacity for each departure that will include five Amfleet II coaches, three Viewliner sleeping cars, an Amfleet café car, and a Viewliner II sleeper class passenger lounge.

Daily service to Tampa will be provided by a bus connection at Orlando to and from the Silver Meteor on the days the Silver Star does not operate in Florida.

The service changes will not affect operations of the Palmetto, which will continue to operate daily between New York and Savannah, Georgia.

The Florida group is disputing assertions by Amtrak that the service reductions are temporary until ridership rebounds in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group said the planned July changes will mean that Florida stations in Tampa, Okeechobee, Lakeland and Palatka will only have tri-weekly rail service.

Amtrak has not yet announced the changes to operations of the Florida trains on its website.

Amtrak to Cut Long-Distance Service Oct. 1

June 16, 2020

Amtrak told its employees on Monday that all long-distance trains except for the Auto Train will operate on less than daily schedules starting Oct. 1.

The carrier also said that service in the Northeast Corridor and state-funded corridor services will continue to operate at greatly reduced levels through during fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1.

The message indicated that Amtrak will watch unspecified performance metrics with the idea of restoring daily service as demand warrants, possibly by summer 2021.

Amtrak has not released details of the service cuts including what days that trains would operate. Nor has it released information on the service metrics that it will be monitoring.

For example, it is unclear if the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited will be scheduled to operate on the same days or different days between Chicago and Cleveland.

The memo to employees was written by Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president, chief marketing and revenue service officer.

Harris said the Silver Meteor is expected to operate four days a week between New York and Miami while the Silver Star would run tri-weekly.

The memo indicated those trains would be scheduled so that their common stations would receive daily service.

The Meteor appears to be the only long-distance train being eyed for quad-weekly service. All other long-distance trains will operate tri-weekly.

However, operations of two trains that already operate tri-weekly, the Chicago-New York Cardinal and the New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited, will be unchanged.

Amtrak has apparently dropped an idea floated by President William Flynn in a late May a letter to Congress of combining the Palmetto (New York-Savannah, Georgia), Silver Meteor and Silver Star.

The Auto Train, which operates between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida, will continue to operate daily.

The Harris memo said the service reductions are being made in an effort to save $150 million  during a time of expected low ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recession that has depressed travel demand.

Harris also argued that Amtrak’s operating loss has been more than $500 million on long-distance services.

Those losses, though, are under Amtrak’s fully allocated costs accounting method whose accuracy has been criticized by rail passenger supporters.

When pressed for details about the service reduction plans, Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said in a prepared statement that the carrier is still in the planning stages and can’t answer most questions yet about what service will look like starting Oct. 1.

Her statement said Amtrak expects during the next fiscal year to operate 32 percent fewer frequencies on the Northeast Corridor and 24 percent fewer state-supported services.

The service cuts were blasted by Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “Chopping back to triweekly will mute any demand signal before it gets to management,” he said in a statement. “The long-distance services remain essential to the hundreds of small communities across the United States with fewer options than Philadelphia or Boston or New York.”

Mathews said Amtrak’s two worst-performing trains are the Cardinal and Sunset Limited, which operate tri-weekly, and predicted Amtrak’s plans to operate less than daily service on long distance routes will result in a dramatic decline in ridership.

“Moreover, Amtrak may be setting itself up for failure by losing operating slots on host railroads, losing employees it will need to restore service, and possibly losing the rolling stock as well,” he said.

Ross Capon, who headed the then-named National Association of Railroad Passengers recalled that Amtrak went through a similar phase in 1995 during another era of budget austerity.

“Experience from the 1990s shows that Amtrak’s plan to run the entire long-distance network less than daily will not achieve promised savings,” Capon told Trains magazine. “It also will inhibit the return of ridership Amtrak says is prerequisite for service restoration.

Capon called on Congress to grant Amtrak the additional $1.4 billion it is seeking on top of its regular appropriation for FY2021 with the proviso that long-distance trains now operating daily continue to do so.

Amtrak has reported that although ridership and revenue remain down due to the pandemic and recession, long-distance ticket revenues rose 71 percent from $6.8 million to $11.6 million, between April and May.

In the Northeast Corridor, revenue rose about 60 percent from $1.5 million to $2.4 million, and state supported trains generated less than a 50 percent increase, from $2.3 million in April to $3.5 million in May.

The Harris memo to employees opened with a statement that Amtrak remains committed to operating a national network but “we need to be smart about how we deliver our service in this market environment.”

Harris said Congress is unlikely to support Amtrak indefinitely if it continues to operate mostly empty trains.

“We need to demonstrate that we are using our resources efficiently and responsibly,” he wrote.

The memo stated Amtrak ridership is down as much as 95 percent on a year-over-year basis.

Although it continues to rise, “it is going to take a long time to return to normal.”

Harris said the demand for long distance service is down by 70 percent and Amtrak expects systemwide ridership in FY2021to be 50 percent of what it was in 2019.

As did Flynn in his May letter to Congress, Harris said Amtrak said the potential for a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall could further reduce ridership.

State of the Silver Service

May 29, 2020

Due to CSX track work in North Carolina, the Silver Star is now operating Thursday through Sunday and the Silver Meteor is running Sunday through Thursday.

The idea is just one train operates each day although there is some overlap on some days.

For instance the Star runs northbound on Thursday but not southbound while the Meteor runs in both directions. This schedule is temporary and will last through June 2.

Train consists are smaller with the Star running with typically five cars although I did see a four-car train. The Meteor is typically six to seven cars.

The top photograph shows the southbound Silver Meteor at Folkston, Georgia, while the bottom image shows the northbound Meteor at Hardeeville, South Carolina, running with three P42DC locomotives and six cars.

Interestingly, all Amtrak trains that I saw had at least two engines even the four-car train.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

Amtrak Southeast Trains Disrupted by Track Work

May 13, 2020

Amtrak’s northbound Silver Meteor cruises through Folkston, Georgia, last weekend. (Photograph by Todd Dillon)

CSX track work has resulted in altered schedules for four Amtrak trains that started this week and extends through June 2.

The southbound Silver Star will be canceled on Monday through Thursday with no alternate transportation provided.

Train 91 will operate on its normal schedule Friday through Sunday from New York and Miami.

The northbound Silver Star will be cancelled Sunday through Wednesday with no alternate transportation provided.

Train 92 will operate on its normal schedule Thursday through Saturday from Miami to New York.

The southbound Silver Meteor is canceled Friday through Sunday with no alternate transportation provided.

Train 97 will operate on its normal schedule Monday through Thursday from New York to Miami.

The northbound Silver Meteor will be canceled Thursday through Saturday with no alternate transportation provided.

Train 98 will operate on its normal schedule Sunday through Wednesday from Miami to New York.

The Carolinian will be canceled Monday through Thursday through May 17. Starting May 18, the Carolinian will operate between Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Trains canceled between New York and Raleigh will have no alternate transportation provided.

Amtrak Thruway Buses 6079 and 6080 are cancelled through May 31.

The Palmetto through May 21 will operate between New York and Washington daily but are cancelled between Washington and Savannah, Georgia, Monday through Thursday with no alternative transportation provided.

Nos. 89 and 90 will operate as scheduled between New York and Savannah Friday through Sunday.

Amtrak Thruway Buses 6089, 6090, 6189 and 6190 are cancelled on the same dates as Trains 89 and 90.

Trains 52, 53, 97 and 98 can expect up to 45-minute delays between Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and Richmond, Monday through Thursday until May 21.

CSX Track Work Disrupts SE Amtrak Service

May 6, 2020

CSX track work has resulted in numerous schedule changes for Amtrak trains in the Southeast.

Through May 24-25 the Silver Star will be cancelled on weekdays but will operate on its normal schedule on weekend.

The northbound Silver Star will operate Friday through Sunday and Monday through May 24 while the southbound Star will run Thursday through Saturday, and Sunday through May 25.

The Carolinian will be canceled through May 17 except on Friday through Sunday.

Effective May 18 the Carolinian will operate between Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina.

No alternative transportation is being provided between New York and Raleigh and Amtrak Thruway Buses 6079 and 6080 are cancelled.

The Palmetto will not operate on weekdays south of Washington but will run Friday through Sunday.

Nos. 89 and 90 will operate daily between New York and Washington. No alternative transportation is being provided on the day the Palmetto does not operate between Washington and Savannah, Georgia.

Amtrak Thruway Buses 6089, 6090, 6189 and 6190 are cancelled.

The Auto Train and Silver Meteor will operate as scheduled but delays of up to 45 minute may occur between Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia, Monday through Thursday.

CZ Operations Curtailed, Canada Bans Some Travel

March 30, 2020

The first service reduction that is related to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Amtrak’s long-distance network although it was an unintended consequence.

Amtrak said on Sunday it would truncate the route of the California Zephyr to Chicago-Denver because an Amtrak worker assigned to the train has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

An email sent to Amtrak employees said workers exposed to that employee have gone into a 14-day self-quarantine.

That has resulted in Amtrak being short on crew members to staff the train.

On its Twitter feed Amtrak said eastbound No. 6 is to originate in Denver on March 30.

The westbound Zephyr that departed Chicago on Sunday would terminate in Denver.

No. 6 that departed Emeryville on Sunday was to turn at Reno, Nevada, with passengers continuing eastward by bus.

An online report indicated the consist of the Zephyr in recent days has been two P42DC locomotives, two sleepers, two coaches, a dining car and a Sightseer lounge.

Baggage generally cars have been removed from Amtrak trains that had them before the pandemic broke out.

In other related developments, the suspension of the Pennsylvanian, which normally operates between New York and Pittsburgh, and Keystone Service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has been extended to April 5.

Amtrak also has announced that the Auto Train will not originate on either March 30 or 31. No explanation was given, but this train derailed last week in Florida and the cancellations may are likely related to that in some manner.

In a related announcement, Amtrak said the Silver Meteor and Silver Star will originate in Miami on Monday as scheduled.

They had been originating in Jacksonville, Florida, as a byproduct of the Auto Train derailment.

North of the border, Canada has restricted domestic travel by those showing such symptoms of the coronaviras as fever, coughing, or difficulty breathing.

Transport Canada that VIA Rail Canada, intercity rail operators, and airlines screen passengers for symptoms by asking health questions and looking for visible signs of illness.

Would-be passengers showing symptoms will be prohibited from travel for 14 days or until they can present a medical certificate confirming the symptoms are not related to COVID-19.

The order does not affect commuter rail and bus travel.

No Injuries in Auto Train Derailment; Silver Service Not Operating South of Jacksonville

March 28, 2020

No passengers were hurt but an Amtrak crew member suffered a foot injury in the Thursday derailment of the northbound Auto Train.

The derailment occurred less than 20 miles north of the DeLand, Florida, station at about 4:15 p.m.

Nine auto rack cars derailed but all of the passenger cars remained on the tracks.

News reports indicated that an unspecified track problem caused the derailment.

The passenger cars were able to continue their journey after an inspection.

The train was carrying 294 passengers and 23 crew members.

Amtrak canceled the Auto Train in both directions on Friday and the Silver Meteor and Silver Star originated in Jacksonville, Florida, rather than Miami.

Amtrak said this morning in a Twitter service alert that both Silver Service trains of March 28 would continue to originate in Jacksonville and that no alternative transportation is being provided for the missed stations.

The carrier will provide alternative transportation on Saturday south of Jacksonville only to discharge passengers.

Adding Meals For Silver Star Sleeper Class Passengers Will Mean Fared Equal to Those of the Silver Meteor

January 11, 2020

Amtrak’s plans to restore dining service to sleeping car passengers on the New York-Miami Silver Star will mean that any fare differentials between that train and the Silver Meteor will largely vanish.

When Amtrak removed Heritage Fleet dining cars from the Star in early 2016 and ceased to provide sleeping car passengers on Nos. 91 and 92 it also lowered sleeper class fares on that train.

At the time Amtrak said the change was a test of demand for lower sleeping car prices without meals included. The Meteor also operates between New York and Miami although over a different route between Selma, North Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.

An analysis published on the Trains magazine website said Amtrak ensured that fares on the Star were noticeably lower than those charged for sleeper accommodations aboard the Silver Meteor, which continued to have a full-service dining car and provide meals to sleeper class passenger as part of their fare.

However, Trains said there were times when sleeper class fares on the Star were higher than the Meteor if the latter train had more available space. Chalk that up to the vagaries of Amtrak’s revenue yield management system.

The Meteor routinely operates with three Viewliner sleeping cars compared with the two assigned to the Star.

Starting May 1, a Viewliner II dining car will be assigned to each of the four equipment sets used on the Silver Star.

That car will offer Amtrak’s flexible dining service, which has a menu more limited than that available in a full-service diner.

The Silver Meteor has been operating with Viewliner II dining cars since 2017 but saw full-service dining replaced with flexible dining last October.

Amtrak had ordered 25 Viewliner II diners, but they were slow to arrive from the factory due to production problems.

On both New York-Florida trains the dining car is available only for the use of sleeper class passengers.

Coach passengers on both trains must either bring their own food aboard or purchase food and beverages from a café car.

Amtrak has spoken about enabling coach passengers to purchase the meals served to sleeper class passengers, but has not given a date for when that might begin and how it would operate.

Trains said its analysis of fares charged for sleeper class travel on the Silver Star and Silver Meteor before and after May 1 found that sleeper fares between the same destinations are always higher for the Meteor until May 1

But after that date the Meteor and Star have nearly identical fares with some variation due to varying demand on specific dates.

The flexible dining fare is also served to sleeper class passengers traveling on Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent and Lake Shore Limited.

Reviews of the service have been mixed. Some have been critical of the food for its high sodium content and well as limited choices. All but one of the entrees contains garlic.

A Rail Passengers Association staffer writing on that group’s website said in her travels she has noticed that the quality of the food depends on the attention the attendant pays to heating it.

“I have had the same meal coming and going and the quality has been completely different,” wrote Carolyn Cokley. “One was heated to perfection while the other turned to rubber and left a lot to be desired.”

Cokley said in her post that some passengers may not be aware that Amtrak offers a breakfast, lunch and dinner Kosher menu that must be ordered 24 hours in advance for Acela first class and 72 hours, in advance, for overnight routes although she said it unclear if Kosher fare is available on all overnight trains or just those in the flexible dining program.

She said the advantage of the Kosher entrées is they are lower in calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, carbs and sodium compared with non-Kosher entrées on both the flexible dining and traditional menus.

Amtrak Receives Last of Viewliner Dorm-Baggage Cars

November 6, 2019

Amtrak took delivery last week of the last of the 10 Viewliner baggage-dorm cars that it ordered from CAF USA.

The carrier also received the second car of an order of 25 new Viewliner sleepers from CAF.

All of the cars were taken to Amtrak’s Hialeah, Florida, maintenance facility for acceptance inspection and testing.

Some Viewliner baggage-dorm cars have already been placed into revenue service on the New York-Miami Silver Meteor in recent weeks.

In a related development, the first Siemens passenger car that is part of an order to be used on corridor trains in the Midwest and California has been sent to Canada for cold weather testing.

Two other prototype Siemens cars have been sent to the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado, for operational testing.