Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak trains’

Some Amtrak Trains in Pennsylvania Will Require Reservations During the Christmas Travel Season

December 14, 2017

Some Amtrak trains in Pennsylvania will require reservations during the Christmas holiday travel period.

Passengers riding Keystone Service trains between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian must have reservations between Dec. 21-28.

This includes travel between Philadelphia and Harrisburg.

Reservations will not be required for monthly and 10-ride ticket holders.

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Amtrak Marks 5 Years in Norfolk

December 12, 2017

Amtrak marked the fifth anniversary of service to Norfolk, Virginia, by saying that it was the highest-performing city pair in the Virginia state-supported system for Fiscal Year 2017.

Norfolk is served by a daily Northeast Regional train that operates to and from Washington.

Last year the route served 155,389 passengers, with ridership for the Norfolk station being 47,493.

“The success of the Norfolk service testifies to the progressive vision the Commonwealth has brought to bringing real alternatives for residents to travel,” said Joe McHugh, Amtrak vice president of state-supported services business development in a statement. “Increasing ridership for all the routes in Virginia speaks to how many people recognize trains as the smarter way to travel.”

Virginia helps to underwrite six Northeast Regional trains that serve Norfolk, Richmond, Newport News, Lynchburg and Roanoke and provide a same-seat trip to other cities along the Northeast Corridor. The Norfolk station is also a stop for the Thruway bus connection for service to the Amtrak station in Newport News.

Amtrak previously served Norfolk with the Chicago-Norfolk Mountaineer. That service ended in 1977.

Soaring Over the Huron River

December 6, 2017

Amtrak train No. 350 crosses over the Huron River in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on a recent Sunday afternoon.

The first Wolverine Service train of the day out of Chicago arrived in Ann Arbor a few minute early on this Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The dam in the background is one of four in the city on the Huron River and the only one that still produces electricity.

Pacific Parlour Cars Being Overhauled

December 5, 2017

Amtrak is overhauling its fleet of Pacific Parlour Cars at its Beech Grove shops with many of the former Santa Fe cars being out of service between Jan. 8 and March 14, 2018.

The cars are assigned to the Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight and used as a lounge for sleeping car passengers.

An attendant in the car usually serves as a bartender, provides lunch and dinner, and hosts a wine and cheese tasting each afternoon.

Amtrak said that until the rebuild is completed, Pacific Parlour Car service will only be provided northbound out of Los Angeles on Thursdays and Fridays, and southbound from Seattle on Saturdays and Sundays.

On other days, sleeping car passengers desiring lounge car service will be directed to the train’s Sightseer Lounge, which is available to all passengers.

During the winter travel season, the Coast Starlight typically operates with a transition sleeping/dorm car, two sleepers,  dining car, Sightseer lounge and two to three coaches.

Moorman Looks Back on Amtrak Tenure

December 5, 2017

You could say that Amtrak co-CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman is a big fan of his fellow CEO Richard Anderson.

Moorman

“We really hit a home run in that Richard Anderson agreed to come on board,” Moorman said during a speech last week at the RailTrends 2017 conference.

Moorman cited Anderson’s leadership skills, saying Amtrak needs his aggressive nature.

During his presentation, Moorman also said Amtrak has made progress in such areas as safety, maintenance and customer service.

The former CEO of Norfolk Southern also singled out the passenger carrier’s new chief financial officer, William Feidt, who Moorman said has brought discipline to Amtrak that was lacking.

Moorman said Chief Marketing Officer Tim Griffin understands marketing a passenger service as well as revenue and yield management. “We have a first-rate management team now,” Moorman said.

Griffin and Anderson have both worked in the airline industry with Anderson having been a former CEO at Delta Air Lines.

Moorman, who will leave Amtrak soon, said that although the passenger carrier is developing a better safety culture, it continues to trail Class I railroads in those efforts.

He also said that Amtrak has a spotty record in delivering on capital projects

Amtrak needs to be a better steward of its assets, including its rolling stock and facilities.

“Shabby chic can be fashionable, but not on a passenger train or in a train station,” Moorman said.

Pointing out that much of Amtrak’s equipment had a worn-out feel to it, Moorman directed the interiors of Amfleet I cars to be refurbished after he learned that it would be relatively inexpensive.

In time, the refurbishment program will be extended to cars used on long-distance trains.

One lesson that Moorman said he learned from Anderson from the airline industry is to consistently upgrade the interiors that passengers see.

“You don’t want to know how many 40-year-old airplanes you’ve flown,” Moorman said.

In fiscal year 2017, which ended on Sept. 30, Amtrak reduced its operating loss to just under $200 million, which covers 95 percent of its expenses. Moorman said the goal is to reduce the operating loss to zero.

It will seek to do that by bumping up ridership and revenue. However, he said that will be a challenge to achieve if the current less than desirable on-time performance means that Amtrak service is unreliable.

Moorman said a two- or three-hour delay for a freight train doesn’t mean much, but is unacceptable for a passenger train.

He said Amtrak and its host freight railroads need to work more closely to reduce delays while the freight railroads need to realize that to a certain extent the public’s perception of American railroading is shaped by Amtrak and the level of service it provides.

45 Years Later My Memories of My First Amtrak Trip Still Resonate

November 25, 2017

Forty-five years ago today I stood on the platform of the Illinois Central Railroad passenger station in my hometown of Mattoon, Illinois, in the early morning hours awaiting the arrival of Amtrak train No. 58.

It would be my first ever trip aboard Amtrak, a day trip to Chicago. It would mark my first experience riding in a dome car and my first experience eating dinner in an Amtrak dining car.

I’ve since ridden Amtrak dozens of times and had a full range of experiences good, bad and indifferent.

But none can quite compare to that first trip, which I still remember in some detail as though it happened not that long ago.

For example, I still remember the sound of the brake shoes being applied every time No. 58 approached a town where another rail line crossed at grade.

I also still remember the rush that I felt when I spotted the headlight of No. 58 a mile or so out of town as I stood on the platform. Train time was at hand.

The Panama Limited was about a half-hour late when it arrived in Mattoon and I was disappointed when I saw that the lead locomotive was painted in Amtrak colors rather than those of the ICRR.

The trailing unit still wore an IC livery as did the two units that pulled No. 59 that evening back to Mattoon.

Amtrak was 19 months old on Nov. 25, 1972, and still in he rainbow era in which cars refurbished in Amtrak colors and markings mingled with cars still in their as-received condition from Amtrak’s contract railroads.

I was impressed with the interiors of the refurbished cars with their blue seats and walls with paisley accenting. They looked modern. Today, when I see one of those cars in a museum or on an excursion train they look so Seventies.

At the time of my first Amtrak trip, I was a college student and my traveling companion was my sister’s boyfriend. He was still in high school.

In retrospect, I’m surprised that our parents let us travel to the big city by ourselves as neither of us really knew Chicago and we had some difficulty time finding Union Station to return home after a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry.

We had ridden a CTA bus to and from the museum and back but we had had no idea which routes went where.

I had noticed when the train arrived in Mattoon that morning that it had a dome car toward the front of the train.

By chance it was a car or two ahead of the coach in which we had been seated and shortly after the train left Kankakee I asked the conductor if we could sit up there.

“I don’t see why not,” was the reply.

It was dome sleeper and I didn’t know there were such things. It would turn out to be the only time that I rode in one.

As No. 58 made the turn to get onto the St. Charles Air Line in Chicago, I had a view from the dome of the coach yard of the former Central Station.

It was filled with passenger cars wearing IC colors and markings. By November 1972, passenger cars in the IC livery were uncommon on the Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans trains that I saw. IC passenger locomotives, though, were still the norm.

An IC employee was sitting in the dome section and had a radio. It was the first time I had heard railroad radio transmissions.

We halted and the engineer said on the radio, “Weldon Tower would you tell them that 58 is sitting here. Waiting. ”

I guess we didn’t have the signal yet from Union Avenue interlocking on the Burlington Northern.

No. 58 was scheduled to arrive into Chicago Union Station at 9:30 a.m. and we backed in shortly after 10 a.m.

Despite our adventures or misadventures in finding the correct CTA bus routes we got back in plenty of time to catch our train.

I remember a station announcement that still sticks in my mind because I’ve haven’t heard a boarding announcement quite like it since.

It came from the booming voice of man who wasn’t so much announcing the train’s pending departure as commanding passengers to get on board.

“Your attention please! Amtrak train No. 59, the Panama Limited, intends to leave at six ten p.m.”

It was the use of and emphasis on the word “intends” that got my attention.

This was a transition time between the era of passenger trains operated by the freight railroads and the Amtrak culture that was still taking root.

My ticket, which had cost $11, was on Amtrak stock and placed inside an Amtrak ticket envelope. But it had been endorsed with an ICRR stamp and issued by an IC employee.

My next Amtrak trip in December 1972 had a ticket issued on former Pennsylvania Railroad stock and placed inside a Penn Central ticket envelope.

Not long after the Panama Limited left Chicago, we made our way to the dining car. It had angled tables and seating, something I’d never seen and have not seen since.

I don’t remember what I ordered but am sure it was one of the least expensive items on the menu.

I was impressed with the efficiency of the waiters and their business-like approach to the job. They were constantly going back and forth from the dining area to the kitchen and doing so with authority as they carried their trays.

These men probably had worked for the IC or some other railroad before Amtrak and everything about them was old school.

There were a lot more of them than is the case aboard today’s Amtrak dining cars.

After dinner, we took it upon ourselves to go back to the dome car, figuring that the “permission” we had received that morning was still good that evening.

It was neat to see the signal bridges ahead as No. 59 rushed southbound. The green signal would turn to red shortly after the lead locomotive passed it.

A couple of sleeping car attendants – they might have still been routinely referred to as porters then – were sitting in the dome section and asked us if we were sleeping car passengers.

We were not.  One of them replied that the dome was supposed to be for those in the sleepers.

He didn’t exactly order us to leave, but we had gotten the message. We stayed for a few more minutes and then went back to our coach seats.

The trip seemed to end all too quickly. It had been slightly longer than three hours.

I stepped off the train in Mattoon feeling awed by the whole experience. I wanted to do it again and often, but it would be a few more years before I was in a position to do that.

By then Amfleet cars had come to the Midwest and Superliners were on the horizon. The Amtrak culture had taken a firm hold. The private railroad passenger service era had faded away.

Between 1994 and 2014 I would ride Amtrak from Cleveland to Mattoon a couple times a year to visit my Dad.

Every time I stood on the platform in Mattoon to wait for the City of New Orleans or the Saluki for Chicago, I would look to the south for the headlight of the approaching train and be taken back to that morning in November 1972 when my first experience with Amtrak was seeing the headlight of a EMD E unit charging northward into my memory.

Trucker Blamed for 2016 S.W. Chief Derailment

November 24, 2017

The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that a truck driver’s failure to properly secure an unattended truck led to the March 2016 derailment of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief near Cimarron, Kansas.

The derailment resulted in 28 people being injured and caused $1.4 million in damage to the tracks of the BNSF La Junta Subdivision.

The NTSB said that the day before the incident, the unattended truck rolled downhill and damaged the BSNF tracks.

The Chicago-bound Southwest Chief derailed when it crossed the misaligned tracks.

In its report, the NTSB said neither the truck driver or his supervisor reported the incident to local authorities.

“Railroads are not required to post emergency contact numbers other than at grade crossings,” NTSB said in its report. “In situations such as this one, the correct approach is to call 911 and report the concern. Using this approach, local emergency officials can notify the railroad about any potential issue with its equipment.”

The Southwest Chief was operating at the time with two locomotives and 10 cars.

Lyft Becomes Amtrak Ski Train Sponsor

November 15, 2017

Ride sharing service Lyft has become a sponsor of Amtrak’s Winter Park Express ski train.

In a news release, Amtrak said Lyft is offering new customers an AMTRAKLYFT promo code for $5 off their first four rides.

Lyft will provide a larger vehicle for snow boards and skis as well as drop off and pick up passengers at Denver Union Station. The arrangement begins on Jan. 5.

The seasonal service begins Jan. 5, and operates every Saturday and Sunday through March 25, with additional service on Fridays on Jan. 5, Feb. 2, and March 2.

The train departs Denver at 7 a.m. and arrives at the Winter Park Resort at approximately 9 a.m. The return trip leaves Winter Park at 4:30 p.m., returning to Union Station at 6:40 p.m.

Also as part of the new partnership, three railcars will be wrapped in Lyft’s hot pink design and remain on display at Union Station during the week.

After the Winter Park Express season ends, the wrapped railcars will continue in service on other national Amtrak routes throughout the West and Midwest.

Defective NS Ties Could Affect Amtrak Operations

November 7, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers is warning that Amtrak passengers on routes hosted by Norfolk Southern could be facing delays as the railroad replaces millions of defective cross ties.

NS recently alleged in a lawsuit filed in a Federal District Court in Alabama that Boatright Railroad Products failed to properly coat 4.7 million wood ties that it sold to NS.

Instead of treating the ties with creosote, the company used such substances as paint and motor oil to make the ties appear to be black. In its lawsuit, NS contends that the ties are deteriorating at faster than expected rate.

NARP said that the scope of work NS faces in replacing the defective ties and how that will affect Amtrak operations is not yet known, but it could affect several Amtrak routes operated by NS.

Deteriorating ties have been implicated in derailments in recent months, which sparked an investigation of the causes.

NARP said additional and more frequent inspections will be needed to prevent potentially catastrophic derailments of trains, including passenger trains and freight trains that carry such flammable materials as oil and ethanol.

Amtrak Expands Holiday Capacity in Pennsylvania

November 2, 2017

Amtrak plans to add capacity to its Pennsylvania routes during the Thanksgiving travel period.

In a news release, the carrier said additional cars will be added to trains operating in the New York-Philadelphia-Harrisburg-Pittsburgh corridor.

This includes Keystone Service between New York and Harrisburg, and the Pennsylvanian between New York and Pittsburgh.

Reservations will be required on all trains between Nov. 20 and 26.