Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak specials’

Court Documents Show Driver had THC in System

December 7, 2018

A Virginia television station has reported that court documents show the truck driver who drove a garbage truck into the path of an Amtrak special last January carrying Republican Congressmen had THC in his system on the day of the incident.

The documents say that 31-year-old Dana Naylor had THC — the psychoactive component from marijuana — in his system on the day of the crash.

The documents show a urine test was positive for THC at a 606 level at the time of the Jan. 31 incident that killed a passenger in the truck and left another person seriously injured.

A medical doctor at the University of Virginia said Naylor’s test didn’t just come back positive, but that the levels were also elevated.

“It’s certainly gonna make a screening test positive, which makes them do a confirmation test, right?” said Dr. Chris Holstege “It’s above what the cut-offs typically are for screenings, so now I have a level that’s elevated, and significantly so.”

Holstege told the TV station there is no question marijuana was in the driver’s system at the time of the accident.

“They certainly did marijuana,” Holstege said. “The question then comes — how often marijuana? If you’re a chronic user, that can impact your driving, right?”

Naylor was indicted by a Virginia court for manslaughter and DUI maining. He is set to go to trial next February.

The TV station, WVIR in Charlottesville, said in its report that there is no target number for THC like there is with alcohol content in the body.

The station said this gap in the law makes it difficult to say whether a driver was impaired at the time of the crash.

“It’s hard to interpret, and especially from urine to go back and say ‘yes that level’s really high, that must have meant that they were inebriated at the time of the accident,’” Holstege said. “You really can’t do that.”

WVIR said neither Naylor’s attorney or a prosecutor would comment on the pending case.

The Amtrak special was en route from Washington to the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia where the GOP lawmakers were to attend an annual political retreat.

The train was following the route of Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal.

None of the Congressman suffered serious injuries beyond bumps and bruises.

The crash occurred on the Buckhingham Branch Railroad at at a grade crossing near Crozet, Virginia.

Earlier, a judge denied a request from Naylor’s attorney to +suppress the evidence from a blood test.

The attorney argued the test was obtained in a misleading way.

The test was ordered after a detective said several hours after the collision that he smelled alcohol on Naylor.

The defense attorney said EMTs on the scene didn’t notice an odor at the time of the crash, but a judge agreed with a prosecutor who said the defense didn’t present enough evidence to get the information from the blood test thrown out.

In a preliminary report the National Transportation Safety Board said Naylor drove around the railroad crossing gates, ignored signals that a train was coming, and ended up on the tracks as the train arrived.

Toys for Tots Train Cancellation Draws Congressional Ire

August 13, 2018

Amtrak’s decision to cancel a special move in support of a U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots charity drive has drawn the ire of three New York members of Congress.

The three has asked the passenger carrier to reconsider its decision, saying that the annual train helps to collect and distribute donated toys to families in need during the Christmas season.

The Congress members who made the plea to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson are Paul Tonko (D-New York), John Faso (R-NewYork) and Elise Stefanik (R-New York).

They asked Anderson to reconsider the guidelines that Amtrak cited in declining to run the Toys for Tots train this year.

“We are aware that Amtrak has established a new policy for the operation of charter trains and believe it has every right to do so,” the letter said. “However, ending this important holiday charter service will negatively affect the neediest in our communities and discontinue a positive charitable action that has brought great recognition to Amtrak’s reputation in the eyes of many.

“This holiday season would mark the 20th year of this longstanding and generous service. We have been deeply moved by the spirit of community and love for our children that are expressed through this program and we sincerely hope that the tremendous good it does will not be lost this holiday season.”

The policy change Amtrak cited was issued last March and generally to special moves and charter 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.

Amtrak Clarifies Policy on Specials, Private Cars

April 20, 2018

Amtrak has clarified its new policy on special moves and the carriage of private railroad cars and as expected the passenger carrier is largely eliminating moves to and from intermediate points.

The guidelines say Amtrak will only accommodate private car moves at endpoint terminals or intermediate stations where the scheduled dwell time is sufficient to allow switching of the cars.

Amtrak listed 40 intermediate stations where switching will be permitted. The list includes such points as Albuquerque, New Mexico; Denver; Houston; Kansas City; and St. Paul, Minnesota, but no cities in Ohio.

Private cars can also be added or removed from Amtrak trains at Pontiac, Michigan; Indianapolis; and Pittsburgh. However, the latter is limited to the Pennsylvanian, which originates and terminates in Pittsburgh.

Also excluded are Grand Rapids and Port Huron in Michigan, both of which are endpoints for the Pere Marquette and Blue Water respectively.

Nor is Huntington, West Virginia, included on the list. The omission of Huntington is notable because it is the origin of the annual New River Train and the home of the fleet of cars owned by the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society.

Amtrak said it will work with private rail car owners whose cars are marooned at prohibited intermediate switching stops on a one-time, one-way relocation move to a terminal or yard where private cars will still be permitted to operate.

The movement of private cars will also requires case-by-case written approval by Amtrak.

Amtrak plans to limit maintenance service for private-car owners to Federal Railroad Administration mandated repairs of safety appliances as necessary on private cars in the consist of Amtrak trains.

Private car owners will no longer be permitted to pay Amtrak’s maintenance services for preventative maintenance and general repair services. In the past Amtrak staff undertook such repairs and then billed the car owner for the work.

As for special moves and charters, Amtrak said those will be limited to existing Amtrak routes.

The guidelines also said Amtrak will continue to accommodate specials and charters that are already established in the Amtrak system. They must not be one-time trips.

That is good news for the annual New River Train, which uses the route of the Chicago-Washington Cardinal, but not so good news for the rare mileage specials sponsored by the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners.

Would-be operators of chartered trains that use Amtrak locomotives, equipment and personnel will be subject to the availability of those resources and their operation must not adversely affect scheduled operations.

A charter must also generate sufficient financial benefit for Amtrak to justify its use of its equipment and personnel, but the carrier did not explain how it calculates those.

The updated guidelines on charters and special moves do not apply to trains operated by Amtrak on its own or for governmental purposes.

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.

Amtrak, W.Va. Officials to Talk About New River Train

April 16, 2018

Amtrak executives will meet on Tuesday with public officials from West Virginia to discuss the future of the New River Train, which operates annually in the fall between Huntington and Hinton.

The train, which has operated for the past 51 years, was reportedly in danger of being canceled after Amtrak said last month that it would no longer operate specials and charters.

The passenger carrier has also been restricting the use of its trains by privately-owned rail cars although a formal policy in that regard has yet to be announced.

Last week some West Virginia officials indicated that Amtrak had said it would make an exception to its policy to enable the New River Train to continue operating.

There has been discussion that Amtrak might be amendable to allow select specials on routes over which it runs regularly scheduled trains.

The New River Train uses the route of the tri-weekly Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

The train, sponsored by the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, has been touted for its economic impact, which has been put at $5 million.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin asked Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson for a meeting to discuss the future of the New River Train.

“I will continue doing everything I can to fix this problem,” Manchin said in a news release.

Amtrak to Allow New River Train to Roll

April 13, 2018

West Virginia public officials say that Amtrak has committed to operating the New River Train this fall despite a recent policy change that banned such special moves.

Gov. Jim Justice and U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins said Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson agreed after a telephone conversation to allow the train to operate for its 52nd season.

During that conversation, Jenkins and Mike Hall, the governor’s chief of staff, discussed with Anderson the importance of the 300-mile passenger excursion that runs the third and fourth weekends of October between Huntington and Hinton.

“I am very encouraged after our call with Richard Anderson that we have a commitment to resolving issues with the New River Train,” said Jenkins, whose district includes much of the route of the train over the former Chesapeake & Ohio mainline used by Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

Jenkins said Anderson indicated that the passenger carrier is receptive to making “some limited exemptions to its ban on charter trains.”

Amtrak has not yet said what criteria it will follow for allowing special trains and charter moves.

Even before the policy change was revealed last month, owners of private rail cars had reported that Amtrak was increasingly rejecting their requests to have their cars attached to scheduled trains on some routes.

Amtrak also declined to operate a special for the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners between Nebraska and Denver.

W.Va. Congressman Protests Amtrak Policy Change

April 2, 2018

A West Virginia Congressman whose district includes Huntington, is trying to rally opposition to an Amtrak policy change that will in effect wipe out operation of the New River Train.

Amtrak said in a memorandum sent to employees last week that it will cease handling chartered and special train movements.

Evan Jenkins, who represents West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, has written to Amtrak President Richard Anderson to protest the policy, saying it will hurt the state’s tourism industry.

The New River Train is operated by the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society and has run over former Chesapeake & Ohio tracks for 51 years.

The Society estimates the New River Train has an economic impact of $3.5 million in the Huntington region and $1 million in Hinton, West Virginia, the eastern destination of the train.

About 90 percent of New River Train passengers are from out of state.

Ann Adkins, a spokesperson for the Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau, said losing the train would be devastating to West Virginia in general and particularly to Huntington and Hinton.

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 Policy Change Has Private Car Owners Scrambling

March 30, 2018

Amtrak’s recent decision to cease running charter trains and specials as well as to curtail carriage of privately-owned passenger cars on its trains has sent a trade organization scrambling to rally its members to seek to apply political pressure on the passenger carrier to reverse the decision.

The American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners sent a memorandum to its members this week urging them to contact lawmakers and opinion leaders about the significance of private cars but acknowledged that there is little it can do to attack Amtrak’s decision in court.

AAPRCO told its members in the memo that it is “working to get the most accurate information about the full extent of Amtrak’s policy, which may not yet be firmly in place, and to mount the strongest possible effort to push back against it.”

In the meantime, Amtrak’s decision has prompted the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society to delay selling tickets for a planned trip in Chicago in September behind its 2-8-4 Nickel Plate Road No. 765.

The steam locomotive is to pull excursions between Chicago and Joliet, Illinois, on track owned by commuter railroad Metra.

However, the Fort Wayne group relies on privately-owned cars that would use Amtrak trains and facilities to reach Chicago.

Several private car owners have reported in recent weeks that Amtrak has rejected some of their requests to move their cars.

Amtrak’s new policy pertaining to the carriage of private passenger cars will prohibit attaching and detaching those cars to Amtrak trains at points where an Amtrak train is scheduled to dwell for less than 30 minutes.

However, the carrier has yet to spell out in detail how it will handle private cars going forward.

“At this time, we feel it would be imprudent to open ticket sales as previously scheduled before we have more clarity on the situation,” said a Fort Wayne Society news release. “As such, this policy will force us to revisit our contractual agreements with car owners, re-confirm both their availability and costs, and confirm Amtrak’s ability to transport them to our venue. Amtrak’s participation was critical to last year’s Joliet Rocket trips.”

It is not know yet if these development will affect a planned visit of the NKP 765 to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in late September.

For those excursions, the FtWRHS uses CVSR’s own passenger fleet and does not need to bring in private passenger cars.

As for Amtrak’s policy change pertaining to charter trains and special trains, AAPRCO President Robert Donnelley told his members that the association’s annual convention and mid-year special trains are at risk.

“Amtrak’s stated rationale for these changes is that private varnish has the potential to worsen on-time performance, which is a major concern of President and CEO Richard Anderson,” Donnelley wrote. However, he took issue with that.

Another private car owner trade group, the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance said it has contacted Amtrak to express its concerns but it also has told its members that the implications of the Amtrak policy change are ominous.

“The policy as officially released on March 28, 2018, will have drastic effects on many private car owners, excursion operators, private companies, and tourism in many communities that utilize Amtrak’s service,” RPCA President W. Roger Fuehring told Trains magazine.

“As we move forward, we hope to have an open dialogue with Amtrak in regards to discussing this policy. We look forward to returning not only the revenue stream to Amtrak that we produce with our clientele, but the goodwill that we generate on behalf of Amtrak with every trip.”

One point of contention in talks with Amtrak and the private car owners will be how much revenue the national passenger carrier receives from fees charged to handle the cars.

AAPRCO contends that the private car business adds $10 million in gross revenues to Amtrak, but a recent Wall Street Journal article said it was $4 million.

The memo written by Amtrak President Anderson and sent to employees that announced the ban on most special moves and charters suggested that Amtrak has not been recovering its fully allocated costs for those trains and that they have become a distraction.

AAPRCO’s Donnelley has instructed his group’s members to talk up the importance of private passenger cars and the number of jobs associated with the industry.

His memo said this would include employment at shops and other vendor facilities that support private passenger cars.

The railroad preservation community has launched an online petition to protest Amtrak’s decision at the website change.org. The petition has received more than 450 signatures with a goal of 500.