Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak special trains’

Driver of Trash Truck Struck by Amtrak Special in Virginia Indicted for Being Under the Influence

June 8, 2018

The driver of a trash truck that was struck, by an Amtrak special in Virginia in January has been indicted for being under the influence at the time of the collision.

The Amtrak special was carrying dozens of Republican congressmen to a retreat in West Virginia. One employee of the trash-hauling company died in the collision near Crozet, Virginia.

The Albemarle County Police Department said in a statement that 31-year-old Dana W. Naylor Jr. was indicted on one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of maiming another while driving under the influence. It’s not clear what the alleged intoxicant was.

A second passenger of the trash truck was seriously injured. No one aboard the train suffered serious injuries.

Advertisements

Private Car Owner Defends Amtrak Policy Changes

April 18, 2018

In the wake of recent Amtrak policy changes that all but banned special and charter movements and a policy review pertaining to the carriage of private rail cars, reports have surfaced that bad behavior by private rail car owners is one underlying issue motivating Amtrak.

Now a private car owner has come forward to contend that there is some truth to those reports.

Bennett Levin, who owns former Pennsylvania Railroad office car No. 120 and two E8A locomotives painted in a PRR livery, told Trains magazine that the trade groups representing the interests of private rail car owners and operators have failed to address that.

“Things have spiraled out of control. Neither of the private varnish organizations have taken positive steps to address these issues, so now Amtrak has said, ‘Enough,’ ” Levin said. “What Amtrak has done is not draconian. It is prudent.”

Saying the issue of safety is paramount, Levin accused the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners and the Rail Passenger Car Alliance of doing a poor job of self-policing their members and instilling a culture of safety first.

That brought a retort from both groups, which issued a joint statement denying the assertions.

RPCA President W. Roger Fuehring, and AAPRCO President Robert G. Donnelley said their groups each have safety committees that have provided safety manuals to members.

Furthermore, there have been no incidents or accidents that have been reportable to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The two group presidents noted that they have denied membership to car owners who have a poor safety record and that not all private car owners are members of AAPRCO or RPCA.

“Both organizations have investigated and taken action on the occasional violations of our membership,” the statement said.

The groups also took issue with Levin’s call for rail car owners and railfans to curtail contacting elected officials to urge them to take action in response to the Amtrak policy changes.

Levin argued in a letter to the National Railway Historical Society that such lobbying may do more harm than good.

“I would urge everyone who claims to have an interest in this matter, from those who own the equipment to those who stand trackside and record its passing for history, to use reason and restraint, and not add fuel to an already raging fire being fed by ineptness, poor judgment, and short sightedness,” Levin wrote in the letter addressed to NRHS President Al Weber.

Levin told Trains that the reaction of rail car owners and railfans is ill-timed and nearing “hysteria.”

In their joint statement, the presidents of AAPRCO and RPCA said the lobbying has been in response to a policy change that caught many by surprise, particularly in its severity.

“[I]t is not surprising that some tourist railroad organizations, charterers, private car owners, and car owner associations have sought help from their legislators in view of the fact that Amtrak is a government approved monopoly receiving aid from the legislature,” the statement said.

“Despite the extreme hardship that the policy entailed, we continue to respect and understand that, with new leadership, Amtrak is analyzing and reviewing all aspects of train operations. In light of the most recent developments, we have asked formally to meet with Amtrak’s President and CEO, Richard Anderson, in order to see how we can be better partners and support Amtrak where it would be beneficial to both parties.”

The two groups have made suggestions to Amtrak as to how to streamline the process of adding and removing private cars from Amtrak trains, particularly at intermediate stations.

Amtrak’s policy toward special movements and charters allows for exceptions in narrowly defined circumstances.

An Amtrak representative told Trains that the carrier’s policy in regards to hauling private cars continues to evolve and should be announced in the near future.

However, in its communications with rail cars owners, Amtrak has signaled that it wants to restrict the number of trains and routes that carry private cars and limit carriage on others to certain days of the week.

Amtrak also has indicated that it wants to primarily move cars from endpoint to endpoint and avoid adding and removing cars at intermediate stations with scheduled dwell times of less than 30 minutes.

For his part, Levin believes the policy changes pertaining to private cars and special movements is “a matter to be thoroughly considered in the context of the railroad’s regular operations.”

Levin said he fears that Congressional intervention may result in “something far worse than a decrease in the frequency of private passenger car trips on the national rail network.”

In their statement, AAPRCO and RPCA cited some of the hardships that private car owners have endured.

This has included cars stored in formerly permitted locations being “frozen in place” and cars already en route being forced to change their schedules at significantly higher costs.

“Cars on the California Zephyr, for example, were not allowed to transfer to the Coast Starlight and were forced to return to Chicago,” the statement said.

Because the Amtrak policy change in regards to special moves was effective immediately, the groups said this resulted in major costs of disruption.

The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling. Well, Maybe Not

March 31, 2018

The sky is falling, the sky is falling.

Or so some railroad enthusiasts would have you believe in the wake of a report that Amtrak has decided to ban charters and special moves.

The policy change was announced by Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson in a memo to employees that was leaked to Trains magazine and also posted on railfan chat lists.

In tandem with that, owners of private passenger cars are reporting that Amtrak has been rejecting many requests to move passenger cars.

This particularly has affected car owners who store their cars in the middle of a route because Amtrak has decreed that it will not accept a private car at a station in which the scheduled dwell time is less than 30 minutes.

The implications of this policy change are, indeed, ominous.

It means that such longstanding traditions as the fall New River Train in West Virginia will end.

It means no more Amtrak fall foliage, railfan or rare mileage specials.

It means mainline steam moves are in jeopardy because they operate in cooperation with Amtrak and its liability insurance and use private passenger cars ferried by Amtrak.

It means private car owners who have sunk thousands of dollars into making and/or keeping their cars Amtrak compatible have few, if any, options to run their cars. Seeing a private passenger car or two on the back of an Amtrak train will become an even rarer sight.

Two groups representing private car owners, the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, and the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance have urged their members to contact public officials and opinion leaders to protest the policy change.

It is unclear how much effect that lobbying will have. Owning and operating a private railroad car is a rich man’s game.

Because they tend to be affluent, private car owners might have better political connections than the typical railroad enthusiast or passenger train advocate.

But it is unlikely that public officials will view the Amtrak policy change as a pressing matter of public interest.

Some might see it as rich boys throwing a tantrum because they can’t play with their toys.

Some passenger advocates have applauded Amtrak, which has sought to frame the change as an effort to improve the on-time performance of its trains.

Anderson’s memo referenced trains being delayed due to switching cars and described special moves as a distraction.

He also suggested that specials and hauling private cars hasn’t been all that profitable, but the memo was clumsily worded on this point.

When he wrote that the moves “failed to capture fully allocated profitable margins,” I wonder if he really meant “failed to cover their fully allocated costs.”

The latter was a term railroads used a lot in the 1960s when they wanted to discontinue passenger trains. Using that standard could make a train appear to be losing far more money than the “above the rail” standard which meant that a train earned enough revenue to cover its direct costs.

Some of what Anderson said in his memo few people would dispute. Who would be opposed to Amtrak running on time, operating safely, having clean passenger cars, providing friendly service and offering “great customer-facing technology?” Anderson would have you believe that running special trains are hindering Amtrak’s efforts to do those things.

There is likely more behind this policy change even if Anderson’s memo hints at what that might be when it speaks of focusing on Amtrak’s core mission.

Amid all of the chaff that I read on railfan chat list about the policy change was a thoughtful observation by someone who has seen Anderson use this playbook before.

The poster contended that when Anderson was CEO of Northwest Airlines, it was struggling financially and he discontinued most of the charter flights.

Northwest was devoting seven aircraft to this service, which accommodated professional sports teams among others. Anderson apparently feared that the liability if one of those charters had a catastrophe might wreck the airline.

But the move didn’t turn out to be permanent. After Anderson felt he had sufficiently turned things around the charters returned.

Northwest was later acquired by Delta Air Line, which Anderson also headed. Today Delta is one of the most prominent operators of charter flights for professional sports teams.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, are a regular customer as are many NBA teams.

So the Amtrak policy change might not be permanent, although you never know. One of the first moves that former Amtrak president David Gunn made after taking office was to get the passenger carrier out of the business of hauling mail and express.

Gunn used some of the same arguments that Anderson made to justify banning special moves and charters.

That was more than a decade ago and Amtrak trains still don’t carry any mail. It sold its fleet of express cars.

Anderson may have philosophical reasons for banning special move, believing that Amtrak needs to do more to focus on its core mission.

Yet it is not clear if ending special moves was even his idea. He might have heard from field-level supervisors who have always disliked having to do something that is a non-standard operation.

And Anderson must answer to a board of directors and we don’t know what “direction” they have given him.

There is some thought that Class 1 railroads will follow Amtrak’s lead and impose even more stringent standards on the movement of passenger cars and passenger trains.

We’ve seen how the Wheeling & Lake Erie has banned all excursion trains and with a few limited exceptions won’t move passenger cars in ferry moves.

But I’m reminded of something that W&LE chief Larry Parsons said when I interviewed him for an article I did several years ago for Trains magazine.

The Wheeling had just lost some iron ore traffic and in asking him about it I used the word “forever” as in the business was lost forever.

Parsons responded that “forever is a very long time.”

Management changes and so do situations. People change their minds about how they view things. Some have described the Amtrak policy change as a work in progress and we haven’t heard the last word on the new policy.

Anderson’s memo left an opening for some special moves if they meet the railroad’s strategic goals. Those can be defined broadly or defined narrowly.

We are entering an era in which special moves and mainline steam will be rarer than they are now. But not necessarily nonexistent. Forever is, after all, a very long time.

Amtrak to Halt Charters, Specials

March 29, 2018

Amtrak has apparently decided not to agree to operate special trains and certain private varnish movement.

Trains magazine reported on Wednesday that it has obtained a copy of a memorandum sent to Amtrak employees outline the policy change.

“Generally, Amtrak will no longer operate charter services or special trains. These operations caused significant operational distraction, failed to capture fully allocated profitable margins and sometimes delayed our paying customers on our scheduled trains,” the memo read in part.

“There may be a few narrow exceptions to this policy in order to support specific strategic initiatives, for example trial service in support of growing new scheduled service. Otherwise, one-time trips and charters are immediately discontinued.”

Many questions remain as to the scope of the policy, but the magazine said that some private car operators already have had their move requests denied.

Among them is the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society in Huntington, West Virginia, which was told that Amtrak would not longer allow the society’s passenger cars to be attached or detached in Huntington on the tri-weekly Cardinal, effective at the end of April.

“We are trying to better understand if Amtrak will allow the cars to be moved at beginning or end points,” Assistant General Manager Joe Rosenthal told the magazine.

The Huntington group is unsure if it will be allowed to move its cars on any Amtrak train even if they are moved to Chicago or Washington.

Rosenthal said the policy change apparently also spells the end of the 51-year tradition of operating the New River Train.

“West Virginia will be losing a huge economic impact and it’ll be particularly devastating to the cities of Huntington and Hinton,” he said.

The New River Train typically operated on the third and fourth weekends of October from Huntington to Hinton, West Virginia, and in recent years has used Amtrak locomotives and crews.

The New River excursions typically carry 5,000 riders annually and are the largest mainline excursion trains in the United States.

Crossing Gates May Have Malfunctioned

February 3, 2018

The grade crossing gates in Virginia where an Amtrak special carrying congressmen to a political retreat struck a garbage truck on Wednesday may have been malfunctioning at the time of the collision, NTSB investigators have said.

The investigators told reporters that several witnesses have come forward to say that there had been “issues” with the gates in the days before the incident.

The collision occurred on the Buckingham Branch Railroad near Crozet, Virginia. One person inside the truck was killed. None of the congressmen, their aides or family members was seriously injured. They were en route to a Republican conference being held at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The NTSB said that the chartered train was traveling at 61 mph at the time of the accident, which is slightly over the 60 mph top speed for that section of track.

The NTSB investigation is expected to take up to two years to complete.

Amtrak to Operate Special Train for Solar Eclipse

August 7, 2017

Amtrak will operate a special sold-out train offering passengers the opportunity to make a day trip to Southern Illinois to view the solar eclipse on Aug. 21.

The Eclipse Express sold out within 24 hours, Amtrak said. The train will depart Chicago Union Station at 3 a.m. and arrive in Carbondale, Illinois, at 8:30 a.m. after making an intermediate stop in Champaign-Urbana at 5:05 a.m.

The return trip is scheduled to depart Carbondale at 5:15 p.m., stop in Champaign at 7:55 p.m. and arrive back in Chicago at 10:45 p.m.

The Eclipse Express will not carry pets or bicycles. There will be a café car although it won’t have business class seating.

Due to the middle of the night departure, Amtrak said the overhead lighting in the coaches will be turned off.

Amtrak said it conducted protracted negotiations with host railroad Canadian National to schedule the special, which will operate as Nos. 399 and 398.

Although the eclipse will affect much of the United States, its longest duration of totality will be over Makanda, Illinois, which is located south of Carbondale on the former Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and New Orleans.

The first phase of the eclipse begins at 12:52 p.m., reaching totality between 1:20:07 p.m. and 1:22:44 p.m., with the partial phase ending at 2:47 p.m.

Tickets for the Eclipse Express went on sale in the Amtrak reservation system on Sunday.

Amtrak operates three daily trains between Chicago and New Orleans, but the first of those, the southbound Saluki is not scheduled to arrive in Carbondale until 1:45 p.m.

No. 390 has arrived in Carbondale more than 30 minutes late half the time during the past two weeks.

The travel time of the Eclipse Express is the same as the Saluki even though the special train will make eight fewer station stops.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the special was scheduled so as to not affect the operation of other Amtrak trains serving Carbondale.

Among the events being held in Carbondale is an “Eclipse Day” festival at Saluki Stadium on the campus of Southern Illinois University.

There will also be a Family Fun Zone area and Shadowfest held in Carbondale within walking distance of the Amtrak station.

Many eclipse watchers are also expected to ride the northbound Illini from Carbondale to Chicago. No. 392 has been sold out for several weeks and will have an extra coach.

Passengers riding the southbound Eclipse Express will be given special glasses that are needed to prevent permanent eye damage from viewing the sun in its partial eclipse phase.

Denver Ski Train to Operate in Winter 2017

September 7, 2016

Amtrak said it has reached an agreement with Union Pacific to operate the weekend ski train between Denver Union Station and Winter Park, Colorado.

Amtrak logoThe Winter Park Express will operate between Jan. 7 and March 26, 2017, on Saturdays and Sundays with additional roundtrips on Martin Luther King Day and Presidents Day.

The Winter Park Express uses the route of the California Zephyr via Moffat Tunnel.

Adult tickets start at $39 one way and went on sale on Aug. 30

The trains will depart Denver at 7 a.m. and arrive at the resort two hours later. Trains depart for Denver at 4:30 p.m. with an expected 6:40 p.m. arrival time.

Passengers can travel for the day, the weekend or for a week. Two children ages 2-12 can ride for half-fare with each ticketed adult.

For further information, go to Amtrak.com/WinterParkExpress