Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Southwest Chief’

Amtrak PTC Stance Endangers 8 Trains

August 28, 2018

An Amtrak official last week reiterated the carrier’s stance that it will not operate on rail lines lacking positive train control after Dec. 31.

The declaration was made by Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner during a meeting in Raton, New Mexico, to discuss the future of the Southwest Chief.

Garnder also said the Amtrak board of directors has decreed that the policy will stand even in cases where a host railroad has been granted a PTC exemption by the Federal Railroad Administration.

That stance, if not reversed, would endanger eight Amtrak routes. Trains magazine reported on its website that those trains are:

  • Southwest Chief: Between La Junta, Colorado, and Dailies, New Mexico, and through Topeka, Kansas.
  • Cardinal:  Buckingham Branch Railroad between Orange and Clifton Forge, Virginia.
  • California Zephyr: On 152 miles of Union Pacific’s Green River subdivision west of Grand Junction, Colorado.
  • Texas Eagle: On 110 miles of UP’s Desoto subdivision south of St. Louis.
  • Downeaster: North of Haverhill, Massachusetts, to Brunswick, Maine., on Pan Am Railways
  • Vermonter: On the New England Central north of Springfield, Massachusetts.
  • Ethan Allen: On Vermont Railway east of Whitehall, New York.
  • City of New Orleans: On 18 miles of Canadian National in Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans

All Aboard Ohio reported that the Lake Shore Limited might also be in danger because it uses eight miles of CSX track between downtown Cleveland and Collinwood Yard that do not have PTC.

Amtrak and elected officials in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico have been locked in a battle over the Southwest Chief.

The elected officials are angry because Amtrak refuses to release its share of matching funds for a federal TIGER grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, to rebuild the route used by the Chief in New Mexico.

Earlier TIGER grants have been used to rebuild the route of Nos. 3 and 4 in Colorado and Kansas.

Steve Cottrell, the assistant city manager of Garden City, Kansas, attended the meeting and said Gardner insisted that Amtrak “had no preconceived end game in mind.”

However , Gardner’s presentation included the proposed bus bridge between either Dodge City, Kansas, or La Junta, Colorado, and Albuquerque.

A draft schedule shows Nos. 3 and 4 originating and terminating in Dodge City, with the bus service connecting there.

The bus service in turn would connect with a Los Angeles-Albuquerque train.

Amtrak envisions the Chicago-Dodge City, and Albuquerque-Los Angeles trains each having two locomotives, two coaches, one coach-baggage car and a café car.

The passenger carrier estimates it will need to spend between $4 million and more than $13 million to establish layover and turning facilities in Dodge City and Albuquerque.

“I made the statement to him that it would have been a much more pleasant meeting had Amtrak sat down with the [Southwest Chief] Coalition, and state DOT’s prior to making such statements because we want to work out how to get the TIGER 9 [grant, the latest providing funding to maintain the Chief route] off the ground and get a commitment for their share of the money,” Cottrell told Trains.

“If it’s going to take working out another three- to five-year plan for the improvements, either to the railroad or start some phased installation of PTC, so be it, but to get blindsided by this bus bridge thing and then come in and say they have no preconceived idea just kind of set a negative tone to the meeting that shouldn’t have had to be that way,” he said.

RPA Launches S.W. Chief Campaign

July 25, 2018

The Rail Passengers Association is launching a campaign to seek to pressure Amtrak into keeping the Southwest Chief intact.

The campaign comes in the wake of news that Amtrak is planning to bus passengers rather than transport them by rail between western Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

RPA noted that the bus bridge would affect nine stations, leave a 500-mile gap in Amtrak’s rail network and take 7.5 hours to traverse point to point.

The rail passenger advocacy group argues that as much as 70 percent of the Chief’s revenue will be lost.

However, RPA sees the battle to save the Chief as part of a larger effort to save Amtrak’s national network generally.

“The campaign is policy-based and will enable members to make their individual and collective voices heard,” RPA wrote on its website. “Raising awareness in traditional and social media, we’ll generate a firestorm of support for the Southwest Chief and the National Network and show Congress and Amtrak leadership just what losing train service would mean to real Americans.

As part of the campaign, RPA plans to reach out to U.S. senators,mayors, allies, friends and supporters of rail passenger service.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is a critical junction concerning the fate of the National Network. Whether it is the federal budget that makes Amtrak possible, or this very new threat to a part of the system, we have to take action. We appreciate your full support as we move forward with our efforts to protect the Southwest Chief and preserve the National Network,” RPA wrote.

More information about the campaign is available at www.railpassengers.org/swc

Albuquerque Waiting Room Moved

March 13, 2018

The waiting room of the Amtrak station in Albuquerque was moved temporarily due to floor replacement construction work that began on March 6.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the work has meant moving the ticketing, baggage check and waiting area.

The ticket window and baggage check areas were moved by the door north of the main waiting room. After the first week of construction is complete they were moved back to their original location.

The waiting has relocated to the south end of the building to the Greyhound waiting room.

Albuquerque is served daily by Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Illinois Judge Orders Man Who Shot Amtrak Conductor Confined to Secure Residential Facility

January 15, 2018

A judge has ordered the man who shot an Amtrak conductor last year to be confined to a secure residential facility in Wisconsin.

DuPage County Judge Jeffrey MacKay prohibited Edward Klein from leaving the facility in suburban Milwaukee except in an emergency.

Prosecutors said during a court hearing that Klein’s family suggested the facility and a representative of the family said in court that the 80-year-old West Allis resident would be treated and cared for.

Klein had been charged with attempted murder last May after shooting Amtrak conductor Michael Case during a station stop in Naperville of the eastbound Southwest Chief.

Police have said Klein was angry that Case would not let him disembark in Naperville. Amtrak personnel were keeping Klein confined to the train because of his behavior and seeking to make sure that he reached Chicago Union Station and boarded a train for Milwaukee.

Klein has since been released from the DuPage County Jail and driven by police to the Wisconsin facility.

A court had earlier declared Klein unfit to stand trial after doctors determined that he was showing signs of dementia that is suspected to be Alzheimer’s disease.

Case, 46, said he supports how the court resolved the case. “We were ecstatic and we were relieved,” he said. “For us, our idea of justice was that he would get some help and not be able to go out among the general public.”

Case had undergone three surgeries in the wake of the shooting. He said last week in court that he has had some difficult days but bears no ill will toward Klein.

“It doesn’t do me any good,” Case said. “The No. 1 thing is I’m alive. And any day you’re alive is better than every day you’re 6 feet under.”

City Manager Says New Amtrak Station Platform in Fort Madison May be Completed This Year

January 18, 2017

Amtrak is waiting on Federal Railroad Administration approval of a new platform reconstruction project in Fort Madison, Iowa.

Amtrak 4City officials said that although the project was projected to go out for bids in April, that is now more likely to occur in May or June. Construction is expected to take six to eight months.

The project will move the Amtrak stop for the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief to the former Santa Fe passenger station, which has recently been rehabilitated.

Fort Madison City manager David Varley said once the FRA signs off on the project the platform plans will be reviewed by BNSF, which owns the station site.

“The final construction plans have been submitted,” Varley said.

Once BNSF reviews the platform plans, they will be passed on to the Iowa Department of Transportation for its review. “IDOT will be the group that will be bidding out the project,” Varley said.

Also, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must issue a 404 permit because the Amtrak platform will be located in a flood plain.

“We are working on getting that permit, which is required,” Varley said. “We are trying to tie up some of the final paperwork and review of the final plans approved, and once that all gets together, we will get a definitive date as to when it will go on a schedule as to when it will go to be bid out.”

And then the Fort Madison City Council will need to approve the plans.

“We need to clarify what the duties and responsibilities of both parties are,” Varley said. “These have to be approved by both parties before the project goes out to bid and before construction starts.”

Despite having a lot of hoops to jump through, Varley does not expect any problems to crop up that will keep the platform from being built.

Amtrak Adds Vacation Deals to National Parks

November 12, 2016

Amtrak Vacations has introduced 25 new rail-based vacation packages, increasing to about 350 the number of its offerings.

Amtrak logo“There are more than 350 itineraries total, an infinite number of variations,” said Frank Marini, president of Amtrak Vacations. “You can add, build, or change anything you want based on the customers’ needs.”

The new packages are centered around travel to U.S. national parks.

Called the Grand National Parks, the trips originate in Chicago and include visits to Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.

The 13-day package includes eight nights’ hotel accommodation, four nights onboard Amtrak and two meals, and is priced starting at $2,849.

Trains involved include the California Zephyr, Southwest Chief and the Coast Starlight.

“We watch what people are tailor-making and when we see a trend we create a package,” Marini said. “We introduce new programs throughout the year, not just at official launch dates.”

He said Amtrak Vacations has seen an increase in business as domestic travel has increased.

Colorado Official Wins Amtrak Award for His Work to Preserve Existing Route of Southwest Chief

September 14, 2016

A Colorado public official has received recognition from Amtrak for his efforts to save the Southwest Chief.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace will receive the 2016 President’s Service and Safety Award in the Amtrak Champion category.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2Former Amtrak President and CEO Joseph H. Boardman wrote to Pace last month about his winning the award for his work to keep the Chicago-Los Angeles train on its existing route through southeast Colorado.

Boardman said Pace’s support was helpful in the project to save the Chief receiving a Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery grant that was used to rebuild the decaying BNSF tracks used by the train.

“It was a pleasant surprise to be recognized,” Pace said. “It’s the highest recognition for the support of passenger trains in the U.S. Obviously I didn’t earn it myself. There’s other folks in Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico who have been working hard on the Southwest Chief.

“It’s evident that when a dedicated group works together it can get anything accomplished.”

Although Pace was scheduled to receive his award on Sept. 23 in Washington, he will instead be speaking on that day at the behest of Amtrak at a conference in Cincinnati.

That conference will address route issues facing Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal. “They are facing similar issues that the Chief was facing a few years ago,” Pace said.

“I will speak about our coalition and the work we’ve done here in Colorado. Also protecting the Chief and what we have done to enhance it with a stop in Pueblo.”

Pace said he continues to work to have the Chief rerouted via Pueblo.

20 Hurt in SW Chief Derailment in Kansas

March 14, 2016

Approximately 20 people were treated at hospitals after the eastbound Southwest Chief derailed just after midnight in southwestern Kansas.

Media reports indicated that five Superliner cars had turned over onto their sides. Amtrak said that 140 were aboard the Los Angeles to Chicago train at the time of the derailment.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2The accident occurred 20 miles west of Dodge City in Gray County alongside U.S. Route 50. Western Plains Medical Complex in Dodge City said it was treating passengers in its emergency room. The hospital said none of those treated thus far had suffered critical injuries.

Some passengers were taken to St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City, all of whom were reported to have suffered minor injuries.

Amtrak said that those aboard No. 4 included 128 passengers and 14 crew members. The train had two locomotives and nine cars. The train was traveling on tracks owned by BNSF

Passengers not taken for medical treatment were transported to the 4-H Recreation Center in Cimarron. The Red Cress and other relief agencies were providing blankets, drinks and snacks until Amtrak arranged for alternative transportation.

Amtrak said that the westbound Southwest Chief would detour from Newton, Kansas, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for trains originating March 13 and 14.

SW Chief Route Track Work to Begin in Kansas

October 16, 2015

Track rehabilitation will begin next week in western Kansas on the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

The work will be done on BNSF tracks between Holcomb and Deerfield and is expected to be completed by the Thanksgiving holiday.

This portion of an overall project to upgrade several miles of BNSF Railway through western Kansas is expected to be completed before Thanksgiving.

The project involves rehabbing seven switches and improving two grade crossings.

Funding is being provided by a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant awarded to the City of Garden City in 2014.

“This project is the culmination of work by a multitude of people who recognize the importance of passenger and freight rail to our communities,” Garden City Manager Matt Allen said in a statement. “This would not have been possible without the support of our elected representatives at the state level and at the federal level.”

The Southwest Chief operates daily between Chicago and Los Angeles. The route in western Kansas, southeastern Colorado and northern New Mexico has been in danger of being downgraded by BNSF, which operates little freight traffic over it.

BNSF said its current and expected level of freight service over the route does not merit maintaining the line to passenger train speeds.

TIGER grants to be used for track work have been integral to keeping the Chief on its existing route.

The money will be used to rebuild 46.9 miles of the 158 miles of jointed rail between Pierceville, Kansas, and Las Animas, Colorado, to maintain a top speed of 79 mph.

The project will involve the laying of continuous welded rail, new switches and grade crossings improvements.

“Ever since Amtrak and BNSF first met publicly in April of 2012 with Garden City and other communities, your city led a regional partnership to rally matching funds and other support to make the capital investments to preserve and improve this route,” said Ray Lang, senior director, Amtrak Government Affairs & Corporate Communications. “This infrastructure work now underway in Kansas and next in Colorado helps achieve what all of us want: reliable, daily Amtrak Southwest Chief service that is vital public transportation connecting Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to the 500 destinations on the Amtrak network.”

The $12.5 million TIGER grant has been combined with $9.3 million in state, local and private funds to fund the route’s infrastructure improvements.

A coalition of the Kansas cities of Garden City, Dodge City, Newton and Hutchinson along with Colorado communities along the route, BNSF, Amtrak and the Kansas Department of Transportation pledged matching funds toward the $12.5 million grant.

The four Kansas communities each agreed to provide $12,500 while KDOT put up $3 million.

Allen expressed his gratitude to those entities that contributed matching funds to the project. Other contributors included La Junta, Lamar, Trinidad, Bent County, Las Animas County, Otero County, Prowers County and Pueblo County in Colorado; the I-25 Coalition and the Colorado Rail Passenger Association.

The City of La Junta has submitted an application for a 2015 TIGER grant funds.

Bid to Fund S.W. Chief Falls Short in Colorado

April 20, 2015

Supporters of keeping Amtrak’s Southwest Chief on its current route through Colorado fell one vote short last week when the Colorado legislature’s Joint Budget Committee turned down funding improvement to the train’s route.

“General fund support for the Chief came down to one legislator. We couldn’t secure Senator Kevin Grantham’s vote,” said Sal Pace of Pueblo, Colo., who chairs the Southwest Chief Commission.

“I can’t speculate to his rationale, but it underscores how desperately we need someone from Pueblo on the Joint Budget Committee. There are other avenues for funding, which we are aggressively pursuing beginning today,” Pace said.

Earlier, Chief supporters did manage a victory in the Colorado House when two amendments were added to the House version of the state budget bill that set aside $1 million as a match from other sources to obtain a federal grant to upgrade and repair trackage through Trinidad, La Junta, and Lamar.

A $500,000 appropriation would have funded a study of linking the route to Pueblo.

Neither of those measures survived the committee, leaving the delegation from Pueblo and Southern Colorado weighing its options for funding track work that Amtrak and BNSF say is needed to keep the Chicago-Los Angeles train running on its current route past January 2016.