Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak western long-distance trains’

Coast Starlight Route Remains Severed, Amtrak Stops Busing Passengers Around the Site of UP Tunnel Colapse

June 18, 2018

Amtrak has stopped providing bus service to Coast Starlight passengers seeking to travel around the site of a collapsed Union Pacific tunnel in Oregon.

It means that the Coast Starlight for now is operating only Los Angeles and Sacramento, California.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier found it unsustainable to bus people overnight between Sacramento and Eugene.

The tunnel collapsed on May 29 near Oakridge on the Cascade Subdivison. This is a former Southern Pacific route.

The tunnel collapse affected 40 to 50 feet of track and was triggered by maintenance work being done on the tunnel. No one was injured.

UP has said that earliest that service will be restored in the affected area is June 23.

In the meantime, Amtrak said no alternate transportation is being provided to missed stops at Chico, Redding, Dunsmuir, Klamath Falls, Chemult, Eugene, Albany, Salem, Vancouver, Portland, Kelso, Centralia, Olympia-Lacey, Tacoma and Seattle.

Passengers traveling to points between Eugene and Seattle are being directe to Amtrak Cascade Service trains and their connecting Amtrak Thruway buses.

During the service disruption, Nos. 11 and 14 will not have sleeping or dining car service.

 

Advertisements

Legislators Want to Discuss S.W. Chief With Anderson

June 2, 2018

Legislators representing states served by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief are asking the passenger carrier to provide its $3 million in matching funds to be used to repair the tracks used by the train.

Their response came after Amtrak wrote to public officials saying it would not providing the matching funds until a comprehensive funding plan is in place to finish rebuilding the tracks on the route.

Governmental units in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico have sought and landed money in recent years from the U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant program that is being used to rebuild the BNSF route.

Amtrak and BNSF agreed to provide matching funds. The latest issue arose after Colfax County, New Mexico, obtained TIGER funds that Amtrak has thus far failed to match.

The money obtained by Colfax County is to be used to renovate the tracks in New Mexico.

“The Southwest Chief is vital to the economic well-being of our communities,” said a letter sent to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson by the elected officials. “In many cases, the line is the only affordable alternative transportation option to the highways for our citizens, and is an important link to public and private services along the route for rural residents, including the elderly and disabled.”

The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrick (D-New Mexico), Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colorado), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas. Also signing were U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico), Ben Ray Lujan (D-New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-New Mexico, Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas)

The letter contends that Amtrak earlier agreed to provide matching funding for the route rebuilding.

The legislators are also seeking a meeting with Anderson to discuss issues related to the Chief.

“The lack of transparency by Amtrak management about its changing position on the Southwest Chief is troubling, particularly for a government-sponsored enterprise entrusted with an important public transportation mission,” the letter said. “We request Amtrak take the lead in developing cooperate plans to ensure the Southwest Chief’s successful operation, including seeking funds from the various federal grant programs established to address these specific issues.”

The dispute was further cast into a spotlight when former Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman issued a statement accusing Amtrak of taking actions to justify discontinue the train, which operates between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Boardman said the Chief would be the first of other long-distance discontinues to come.

Amtrak Moves Trigger Anxiety on SW Chief Route

May 22, 2018

Some recent actions by Amtrak have triggered anxiety along the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

Some fear that Amtrak is seeking to discontinue the Chicago-Los Angeles train.

The Pueblo Chieftan published a recent story that raised the prospect that a hoped-for section or reroute of the Chief to serve Pueblo will fall by the wayside due to changes in Amtrak policy.

La Junta, Colorado, city manager Rick Klein said Amtrak’s plans to close ticket offices along the train’s route has alarmed him.

La Junta is one of those stations losing its ticket agent along with Garden City and Topeka, Kansas, and Fort Madison, Iowa.

“We’ve been working to save the [Southwest Chief] for seven years, and now Amtrak is going in a different direction,” he said. “The Southwest Chief is vital across this region and northern New Mexico.”

Further causing anxiety was a letter sent to public officials along the route of the Chief stating Amtrak will not provide matching funds for a federal grant obtained by Colfax County, New Mexico, until a comprehensive plan is in place to fund the completion of the rebuilding of the train’s route.

Amtrak had earlier said it would provide $3 million for the track rehabilitation in northern New Mexico.

The letter renouncing the funds said the Southwest Chief only carried 364,000 passengers and ridership is declining.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace has led the efforts to extend the Chief to Pueblo and has been involved in the efforts to gain federal, state and local grant money to rebuild the route of Nos. 3 and 4 in western Kansas, southeast Colorado and northern New Mexico.

The chairman of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Rail Commission believes that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson is hostile toward the Chief.

“It’s my understanding this change in direction is coming from Anderson,” Pace said. “Communities in Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico have secured $71 million in rail upgrades over the past four years along the route of the Chief, and now Amtrak is threatening to withhold its contribution. It’s one individual stepping in to unravel all this work.”

Amtrak declined to comment to the newspaper about the issue.

Former Amtrak President Joesph Boardman has asserted that Amtrak is seeking to torpedo the Chief and long-distance trains generally in favor of short-haul corridors, including the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

Writing in the trade publication Railway Age, Boardman contended that the battle for the future of long-distance passenger train is occurring in private and that the Southwest Chief will be the first western train to be targeted.

Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico lawmakers have been supporting the cooperative effort to protect and repair the Southwest Chief’s route across their states.

During a recent committee hearing, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner pressed Joseph Gruters, a nominee of President Donald Trump to the Amtrak board of directors, on Amtrak’s commitment to the matching grant toward rebuilding the Chief’s route.

“That grant was awarded and the announcement was made,” Gardner said during the hearing. “Colorado, Kansas and New Medico have made significant commitments to this. Do you believe in keeping that commitment?”

“If (Amtrak) made the commitment, they should do that,” Gruters said in response.

Track Work to Disrupt Coast Starlight

May 22, 2018

Union Pacific track work will disrupt the operations of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight late this month and early next month in Oregon.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that on May 28 and 29 and on June 5, Train No. 11 will terminate at Eugene. Buses will transport passengers between Eugene and Klamath Falls, stopping at Chemult.

The train may be delayed between 30 and 60 minutes departing Klamath Falls.

On the same dates, Train No. 14 will terminate at Klamath Falls with buses operating between Klamath Falls and Eugene, stopping at Chemult.

A connection to Train No. 28, the eastbound Empire Builder, at Portland will be made via Bus 5528 at Eugene.

On the days of service disruptions, Train No. 14 may be delayed between 6 and 7 hours.

On June 5, Train No. 14 will not depart Klamath Falls until 10:45 a.m.

The Chief’s Way

May 16, 2018

Back in the early 2000s it was a common site to see a string of head-end cars on the rear of Amtrak trains.

They carried perishable produce, mail and any other time-sensitive cargo from shippers willing to pay Amtrak a premium rate.

Amtrak’s host railroads didn’t like it and said so. They saw Amtrak as trying to cut into their own freight business.

The Amtrak CEO at the time, George Warrington, said this revenue would be used to make Amtrak self-sufficient.

Shown is the eastbound Southwest Chief cruising through Riverside, Illinois, on May 20, 2004. No. 4 is 13 miles away from Chicago Union Station.

On the rear is a cut of refrigerator cars that were a mainstay on Nos. 3 and 4.

But not for long. Within a year Amtrak would have a new CEO, David Gunn, and he would discontinue the mail and express gambit.

The only head-end car the Chief carries today is a baggage car.

Rallies Held for SW Chief

May 14, 2018

Rail passenger advocates held rallies last Saturday in Colorado in support of the Southwest Chief.

The rallies were designed to be spontaneous and were loosely organized by Rick Kleine of La Junta, Colorado, and Jim Souby of ColoRail.

Individuals were encouraged to take pictures of people with signs and post to Twitter, using the hashtag #SaveTheSWChief.

Rail passenger advocates fear that Amtrak is plotting to discontinue the Chief by refusing to award its match of federal funds secured by a New Mexico County that are to be used to rebuild the train’s route in that state.

An Amtrak government affairs official recently wrote to public officials along the route to say Amtrak would not match the funds as it previously agreed to do until there was a comprehensive funding plan in place to finish the route rebuilding.

Former Amtrak President Joseph Boardman warned last week that Amtrak appears to be making moves to discontinue the Chief, which operates between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Another Battle for the SW Chief Underway

May 9, 2018

A few years ago Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief was in danger of being rerouted or seeing its route shortened.

The culprit at the time was a decision by host railroad BNSF to only do minimal maintenance on the Chief’s route in parts of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico that it seldom used for its freight trains.

The route was not being abandoned, but the top speed for the Chief would be no more than 30 mph.

The communities and the states involved worked together to secure TIGER grants to rebuild the tracks to maintain passenger train speed.

Amtrak and BNSF agreed to chip in funds to help pay for the track work, which is ongoing.

Now the Chief is threatened again and this time it is Amtrak that is holding the dagger over the Chief’s head.

Last March Colfax County in New Mexico landed a TIGER grant to help pay for the continuing track work project.

But in a letter sent to various public officials by an Amtrak government affairs officer, the passenger carrier is threatening to withhold its matching funds until the entire cost of the rehabilitation project are spelled out.

Further, the letter lays out what appears to be a preview of the case Amtrak will make to justify discontinuing the train.

The letter, written by Patrick Edmond, Amtrak’s director of government affairs, describes ridership of the Chief as in steady decline and said it is losing $50 million a year for a revenue to cost recovery percentage of 47 percent.

Edmond said the Chief carried 364,000 passengers in fiscal year 2017, which ended last Sept. 30.

He also contended that the Chief was only 40 percent full most of the time and that it ran on time only 45.5 percent of the time at all stations.

What Amtrak apparently wants is a comprehensive financial plan for who will pay for the rebuilding of the rest of the route as well as funding continued maintenance of the Chief route to which the carrier, host railroad, communities served and states are all parties.

“Amtrak is not prepared to address these substantial infrastructure needs for this segment of the Chief on [a] piecemeal basis, particularly on a right of way that it does not own,” Edmond wrote in his letter.

“If the states and local communities desire to retain this segment for operation, there needs to be a comprehensive plan and commitments from other stakeholders and it must address the long term viability of the route, from Hutchinson, KS to Isleta, NM, in order to ensure the route’s performance doesn’t degrade.”

In the meantime, Amtrak is withholding a $3 million matching grant that it pledged toward the TIGER funds that Colfax County has landed.

This recent action prompted former Amtrak President Joseph Boardman to send an email message to various public officials saying that Amtrak’s behavior in the Chief case is a first step toward eviscerating the carrier’s long-distance network.

“For me the Southwest Chief has really become the battleground for the National System. I might be wrong, but I don’t think so,” Boardman wrote.

He said that based on communications he has seen Amtrak will seek to truncate the national network into a series of corridors with long-distance trains divided into city pairs of service that Amtrak will seek to get funded by the states served.

“City pairs could be fine but a connected National System on the surface of the United States is and should continue to be our national policy. And if it is changed it should be informed by both hearings and explanations to Congress,” Boardman said.

Boardman had been supportive of previous TIGER grant applications successfully sought by Garden City, Kansas, and La Junta, Colorado.

Boardman negotiated an agreement with BNSF for the host railroad to maintain the tracks for 20 years at its expense after they were rebuilt with funding from Amtrak and the states and communities served.

Trains magazine passenger train correspondent Robert Johnston said Amtrak’s stance in the Southwest Chief case is curious because it has accepted piecemeal funding and planning for improvements to the Northeast Corridor.

Edmond’s letter notes that the section of the Chief’s route in question is not slated to receive positive train control and that Amtrak is unable to bear the cost of its installation.

Earlier this year Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told Congress that the carrier would not operate over tracks lacking PTC installation by Dec. 31, 2019.

Although Amtrak has said it is conducting a route-by-route safety risk assessment of routes that are not required by law to have PTC or may have a Federal Administration waiver from the PTC mandate, it has hinted that it may choose to suspend service over those routes.

The aforementioned route of the Chief is one of those routes.

Edmond’s letter describes the Chief as “unique in that it is the only route operated by Amtrak on its entire National Network where there is a significant section of infrastructure owned by a host (BNSF) and that is solely used by Amtrak and no other railroads.”

That segment extends from Jansen, Colorado, to a point known as Madrid 20 miles west of Lamy, New Mexico.

“Amtrak’s maintenance costs on the solely-used sections total are approximately $3 million per year. Critical capital investments on the line require more than $50 million in the coming years,” Edmonds wrote noting that does not include the cost of PTC.

For his part, Boardman sees letters such as the one Edmonds sent as part of a strategy by Amtrak “to do surgical communications in a way that does not provide a transparent discussion of what they are doing; instead the plan seems to be to keep the recommendations and briefings small and isolated from each other, just the opposite of transparent.”

The overall objective of Amtrak’s current management, Boardman fears, is the elimination of the long-distance route network as it is currently constituted.

“I think the CEO and the board [of directors] have drawn a line in the sand at the foot of the Raton Pass, believing that they can convince western politicians that providing service on the SWC is ineffective and too costly, making the Southwest Chief as their first major target to cut,” Boardman said.

Amtrak Matching Funds for Rebuild of S.W. Chief Route Coming With Terms and Conditions

April 5, 2018

Amtrak has agreed to contribute matching funds toward the project to upgrade the route of the Southwest Chief, but at a price it has never demanded before.

The passenger carrier will only agree to help fund the track rebuilding if the states promoting the project as well as BNSF submit a comprehensive plan for the remainder of the infrastructure investments and associated costs to rebuild the route in New Mexico.

Amtrak has also demanded that “prior to the obligation of grant funds for this project, the County of Colfax, N.M., BNSF, and Amtrak will enter into appropriate agreements setting forth our roles and responsibilities with respect to the project, with terms acceptable to Amtrak.”

Colfax County is the lead government entity that is seeking a federal TIGER grant to help fund rebuilding of the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

More than two years ago BNSF said it would no longer maintain the route of the Chief in portions of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to 79 mph speeds because freight traffic on the route is light.

Former Amtrak President Joe Boardman said in an interview with Trains magazine that Amtrak’s current approach to matching the funds being put up by government entities to rebuild the route of the Southwest Chief differs from the company’s behavior when he was its head.

Amtrak’s demands for terms that it alone must approve was submitted with the Colfax County TIGER grant application.

Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer William N. Feidt said the passenger carrier “strongly supports” the application as a continuation of improvements and that Amtrak will offer $3 million if the grant application is successful.

Two government entities have been awarded TIGER grants in recent years to pay to upgrade the route of the Chief in Kansas and Colorado.

Those grants to the city of Garden City, Kansas, and La Junta, Colorado, were matched by funds from BNSF, the states involved, Amtrak and other cities with an interest in seeing the Southwest Chief remain on its current route.

Amtrak is the primary user of the route between Hutchinson, Kansas, and a junction west of Lamy, New Mexico.

In his interview with Trains, Boardman said he and former BNSF Chairman Matt Rose agreed that completion of the track work would not hinge on knowing where all the money would eventually come from.

“It was logical that we would do this in pieces,” Boardman said. “Yes, we couldn’t complete everything with the piece of money [from the first grant], but we couldn’t spend that money on construction right away anyway. We had strong commitments from all of the cities along the way. For me, that was enough to just keep going [with subsequent grants] and now the communities have an expectation that the project will continue.”

Colfax County is seeking more than $17.5 million for the track work. Entities other than the federal government are projected to contribute $9.19 million toward the project, including $3 million from BNSF and $1 million apiece from the states of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico as well as pledges from 17 communities in the three states

The American Association of Private Railcar Owners has pledged $10,000 while the Colorado Rail Passengers Association has agreed to contribute $1,000.

The most recent TIGER grant awarded to the project was $16 million, but that and other pledges funds leaves the $26.7 million project more than $1.5 million short.

It has not been determined if, as a result, officials will curtail the scope of the track rebuilding or seek larger matching contributions.

BNSF has reportedly “asked for a final Federal Railway Administration-approved budget in order to determine how much scope we need to reduce.”

The work to be done includes tie and rail replacement, rebuilding the roadbed at the Devils Throne fill area west of Lamy, and signal system improvements in New Mexico.

“One of the things I learned working on these kinds of things, is that if you fail to move when you have an opportunity to move, you’re probably going to fail to get this done,” Boardman told Trains.

S.W. Chief Route Shortened Due to Track Work

April 4, 2018

BNSF track work will cause the Southwest Chief to cease operating between Chicago and Kansas City on April 7 and 8.

The affected stations are Chicago, Naperville, Mendota, Princeton and Galesburg in Illinois, Fort Madison in Iowa, and La Plata in Missouri.

Train No. 4 will operate from Los Angeles to Kansas City as scheduled with alternative bus service being provided for passengers traveling to all of the affected stations except La Plata and Fort Madison.

Amtrak said in a service advisory that the buses will only discharge passengers traveling to Galesburg, Princeton, Mendota, Naperville and Chicago.

Originating passengers in those cities will not be accepted aboard the buses.

Instead, passengers originating in those cities who held tickets aboard Train No. 4 are being advised to use Train No. 6 (California Zephyr) or the Illinois Zephyr or Carl Sandburg, both of which operate between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois.

Passengers should expect delays of up to 1 hour between Kansas City and these stations.

Train No. 3 will originate in Kansas City and operate as scheduled to Los Angeles.

Alternative transportation will be provided from Chicago to Kansas City by bus, departing Union Station at 1 pm, which is two hours earlier than current departure time of No. 3.

No alternate service will be provided at Naperville, Mendota, Princeton, Galesburg, Fort Madison and La Plata.

Passengers originating at the missed stations are being advised to rebook on other Illinois Service trains, the California Zephyr (Train No. 5) or on alternate travel dates.

Track Work Disrupts Cal Zephyr

April 4, 2018

Starting today and extending through April 7 Amtrak’s eastbound California Zephyr will be bypassing Reno, Nevada, due to track work being done by Union Pacific.

Train No. 6 will bypass Reno station, requiring all Reno passengers to board and detrain at Truckee, California, where alternative transportation will be provided to Reno.

The departure time from Reno will temporarily be adjusted to 1:15 p.m. which is 2 hours and 50 minutes earlier than current train departure.

All passengers destined for Reno will detrain at Truckee and transfer to a bus that will take them to Reno. The bus travel time is approximately 50 minutes.

Reno passengers will also have the option of booking travel through Truckee or traveling by train to Reno on an alternate date.