Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak western long-distance trains’

Amtrak’s April Ridership Was Bad, But Bookings for Long-Distance Trains is Looking Promising

May 23, 2020

Amtrak ridership data for April was released this past week and it showed a sharp plunge compared with a year ago.

In April 2020 Amtrak handled 120,000 passengers compared to 2.7 million who rode in April 2019.

The ridership drop is attributed largely to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Northeast Corridor handled 19,000 passengers, a drop of 97.5 percent from a year earlier. It was the steepest ridership plunge system wide on a percentage basis.

Amtrak lost 87 percent of its passengers on the San Joaquin route in California.

Ridership of state-funded corridors fell 96 percent while the long-distance trains saw ridership fall 86.8 percent.

Year-to-date ridership is down 21 percent and revenues has fallen by 19 percent.

Amtrak expects those figures to grow and they might have been larger than they were but for strong ridership and revenue performances earlier in the year before social distancing measures were imposed.

In a related matter, the Amtrak vice president who oversees long-distance trains said the use of prepackaged meals for sleeper class passengers on Western trains will continue for at least another month.

Larry Chestler told the Rail Passengers Association that Amtrak has begun to see some early signs of recovery on many routes.

However, he cited safety and continued lagging ridership for waiting to restore traditional dining car service to the Western trains.

Chestler said the carrier will evaluate ridership data in late June and determine at that time whether to restore traditional dining car service.

The prepackaged meals have been served to sleeper class passengers on Eastern long-distance trains since June 2019 and were extended to all of those trains last October.

Although the long-distance trains have seen steep ridership drops, Chestler said those declines have been smaller than on other routes.

A recent rise in bookings for long-distance trains have given Amtrak some hope that higher demand is coming, Chestler said.

“Whether that means there’s more demand for summer it’s too soon to say,” he said.

In particular, bookings are trending upward for Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief with some growth also starting to show for the California Zephyr and Empire Builder.

Chestler said bookings are coming back “from the bottom of the bottom,” which Amtrak reached during the period of mid April to early May when it averaged 3,000 passengers a day nationwide.

Since then Amtrak ridership has doubled that, but it’s still well below what it would otherwise be at this time of year.

Some of the ridership of long-distance trains has occurred in regions where corridor trains have been suspended or reduced in frequency.

An example would be the Empire Builder between Chicago and Milwaukee where Hiawatha Service was suspended in favor of a once a day Thruway bus.

Before the pandemic, Amtrak operated seven daily roundtrips between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Chestler said Amtrak management considered continuing into the summer the reduced consists that began operating during the pandemic.

But management elected to move from what he termed “a kind of quasi-minimum” to restoring capacity for the summer.

“Had we reduced to the May levels [for the summer] we would have had a number of trains where we would have been essentially sold out already” in coach, Chestler said.

That doesn’t mean all of the seats would have been occupied because Amtrak for now is selling only half of the capacity of each coach assigned to a train in order to maintain social distancing.

“On the [Southwest] Chief and the [California] Zephyr and the [Empire] Builder there’s more sleepers [and] typically one more coach,” he said.

“We’ve balanced the use of baggage coaches and other kinds of cars to put an appropriate amount of capacity” in place “to capture demand signals from customers,” Chestler said.

Amtrak management is mindful that reducing capacity also could dampen the return of demand because the seats aren’t available.

Dining Cars to Remain Sidelined Through June

May 22, 2020

Full-service dining is not expected to return to Amtrak’s western long-distance trains until late June at the earliest, a story in Railway Age reported.

Amtrak in April suspended full-service dining on those trains in favor of the “flexible dining” service it provides on eastern long-distance trains of serving to sleeper class passengers a limited array of meals that are prepared off the train.

No sources were named for the information about full service dining restoration, but the article did quote an Amtrak spokesman as saying that a widely reported company internal planning document was not a final plan for service restorations of suspended services this summer.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the document was not an announcement of any decision by Amtrak or its state partners that fund corridor services.

“Many of the dates written in it are placeholders and nothing more,” he said.

Magliari said Amtrak will continue to operate its long-distance trains with reduced consists but that could change.

“We’re watching the ridership and the boardings,” he said.

Amtrak officials are monitoring ticket purchase patterns and the passenger carrier can adjust consists to meet increased demand.

Magliari said Amtrak is currently handling about 10 percent of the ridership it had before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The carrier has been selling only 50 percent of the capacity of its coaches in order to enable passengers to practice social distancing.

Magliari said Amtrak received enough aid from the federal the CARES Act to keep crew members employed, including a robust extra board.

Track Work Disrupts Empire Builder

May 15, 2020

Track work being performed by BNSF is disrupting operations of the Empire Builder through May 27.

On Monday through Friday No. 7 will terminate in Spokane, Washington, with alternate transportation being provided to the missed intermediate stations of Edmonds, Everett, Leavenworth, Wenatchee and Ephrata.

Thruway Bus 3007 will operate from Spokane to Seattle connecting from No. 7 at Spokane.

Train No. 8 will originate at Spokane with alternate transportation being  provided to Ephrata, Wenatchee, Leavenworth, Everett and Edmonds.

Bus 3008 will operate from Seattle to Spokane connecting with Train 8 at Spokane.

There will be no track work on Saturdays, Sundays or May 25 (Memorial Day).

Document Gives Insight into Amtrak Summer Plans

May 12, 2020

An Amtrak planning document shows that the carrier plans to continue to operate most services this summer with reduced consists and many routes will continue to have reduced frequencies.

The document is dated May 7 and subject to change.

Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service will resume service on June 1 with one roundtrip, Nos. 330 and 339 on weekdays and Nos. 332 and 339 on weekends.

Starting June 14 service will increase to four roundtrips, Nos. 329, 331, 337, 339, 330, 332, 338 and 342.

Before the pandemic service had been seven daily roundtrips.

Lincoln Service between Chicago and St. Louis is slated to be two daily roundtrips, Nos. 300, 303, 306 and 307 with all operating with four coaches.

The corridor previously hosted four Lincoln Service roundtrips.

Chicago-Quincy and Chicago-Carbondale services will remain the same as they are now.

The Illinois Zephyr will operate with two coaches while the southbound Illini and northbound Saluki will have a Superliner consist.

The Chicago-Quincy Carl Sandburg remain suspended as does the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini.

Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City will also remain unchanged at one roundtrip (Nos. 313 and 314). The route previously hosted two roundtrips.

Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service corridor will continue to operate with one daily roundtrip whereas until the COVID-19 pandemic struck it had three daily roundtrips.

There will be no change in operations of the Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan, Blue Water.

The planning document shows the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette not operating, but that appears to be an error.

However, the Amtrak website shows Nos. 370 and 371 as operating starting June 1 and reservations can be made.

Amtrak also plans to restore the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian and gradually ramp up service in the Keystone Corridor in eastern Pennsylvania.

Starting June 1 Amtrak will restore Keystone Service to nine roundtrips operating between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

On July 5 one roundtrip will be extended to New York. On Sept. 5 service between Harrisburg and New York will be restored to all trains.

The level of service planned this summer will be two roundtrips fewer than what Amtrak operated last summer.

Keystone Service trains will operate with their normal consists while the Pennsylvanian will have its normal consist of four coaches, one business class car, a food service car and a baggage car.

Downeaster Service is expected to return on July 1 operating only with one roundtrip on weekedays. Normal service of five daily roundtrips is expected to return on Sept. 5.

Empire Service will be six roundtrips for the summer compared to nine last year. That is an increase of one roundtrip per day compared with the spring.

Service will bump up to seven roundtrips on Sept. 5. However, the Maple Leaf will continue to operate only as far west as Niagara Falls, New York, rather than resume service to Toronoto.

The Vermonter will resume operating to St. Albans, Vermont, on June 1 while the Adirondack is shown as continuing to be suspended between New York and Montreal.

The New York-Charlotte Carolinian will resume regular operations June 1 while Piedmont Service will be one roundtrip between Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina. Piedmont Service had been three roundtrips.

As previously announced, Acela Express will return June 1 with four roundtrips, which is still way down from the normal 15 roundtrips.

Northeast Regional service will ramp up to 10 roundtrips compared to the current eight. Last summer there were 18 roundtrips.

Springfield shuttle service will be three roundtrips between New Haven, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts, with one roundtrip between Springfield and Greenfield, Massachusetts.

Previously service on this route was seven roundtrips between New Haven and Springfield. Normal service is projected to return on Sept. 5.

In the West, Cascades Service between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, will continue to be suspended.

Cascades Service between Seattle and Portland will be two roundtrips compared to the normal four. There will be one roundtrip between Portland and Eugene, Oregon, compared to two previously.

The Capitol Corridor will have eight roundtrips on weekdays and five roundtrips on weekends. Previous service was 14 weekday and 11 weekend roundtrips.

San Joaquin service will be four roundtrips with normal service of seven roundtrips returning in early September.

Pacific Surfliner service is projected to be six roundtrips through July 5. The next day service will rise to nine roundtrips. The previous service level had been 14 roundtrips.

No long-distance services have been suspended during the pandemic, but consists have been reduced in size. That is expected to change this summer.

The Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited is slated to operate this summer with three coaches, two sleepers and a diner-lounge. There will be no separate lounge car or baggage car.

Nos. 29 and 30 currently are carrying two coaches, one sleeper and a diner-lounge.

The Lake Shore Limited summer consist will be three sleepers, four coaches, one dining car for sleeper class passengers, one club dinette and a baggage car.

Nos. 48 and 49 will be the only eastern long-distance train carrying a Viewliner II dining car for sleeper class passengers only.

The Chicago-New York Cardinal will see no change this summer from its current consist of two coaches, one sleeper and a diner-lounge.

The New York-Miami Silver Star and Silver Meteor will both operate with two sleepers, a lounge car and a baggage car. The Silver Star will have three coaches while the Silver Meteor will have two.

The planning document said the Silver Meteor will have three fewer coaches and one less sleeper than it did last summer and will not have a dining car.

The New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto is set to have four coaches and a food service car with tables. That is two fewer coaches than it had last summer but one coach more than it has now. There will be no baggage car as there was last year.

The New York-New Orleans Crescent will have three coaches, two sleepers and a lounge car. That is one less coach and sleeper from its previous consist.

The City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans will have it normal consist

The California Zephyr between Chicago and Emeryville, California, will have three coaches, one sleeper, a Sightseer lounge and dining car.

That is a net gain of one coach from the current consist but one less sleeper than it carried last year. There will be no baggage car.

The Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief will carry three coaches, two sleepers, a dining car and Sightseer lounge. That is a net gain of one sleeper and coach from the current consist but a loss of one sleeper and coach from summer 2019. There will be no baggage car.

The New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited will have two coaches, one sleeper, a dining car and a Sightseer lounge. That is one sleeper less than summer 2019. There will be no baggage car.

The Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle will have three coaches, two sleepers, a dining car and a Sightseer lounge. That is a net gain of one coach and one sleeper from the current consist.

However, the Chicago-St. Louis coach had operated previously continues to be suspended.

The Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder will have four coaches, three sleepers, a dining car and a Sightseer lounge.

That is a net gain of one coach from the current consist but a loss of two sleepers from last summer.

The Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight will have two coaches, two sleepers, a dining car and Sightseer lounge.

That is two fewer sleepers than last summer. There will be no baggage car and the business class coach will not operate this year as it did in 2019.

It does represent an increase of one sleeper over the current consist.

The Auto Train will have four coaches, five sleepers, a dining car, a Sightseer lounge and a diner-lounge.

That is two fewer sleepers than the previous consist but a gain of one coach over the current consist.

The Heartland Flyer (Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas) will have two coaches this summer  but otherwise operate as normal.

The New York-Rutland, Vermont, Ethan Allen will be operate as normal.

Scenic Passage Through the Sierra Nevada Mountains

May 8, 2020

Back in the 1970s Amtrak trains 5 and 6 were named the San Francisco Zephyr, an amalgamation of the names of two trains that were combined to create the route in 1971.

That would have been the City of San Francisco from Union Pacific and the Denver Zephyr from Burlington Northern.

Amtrak wanted to operate the California Zephyr, but by 1971 it’s Western Pacific segment had been discontinued.

That left a “California Service” remnant that used BN, the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and Southern Pacific.

Then the D&RGW declined to join Amtrak thus the amalgamation.

It is July 31, 1979, and I am riding Train No. 5 to Oakland. We’re twisting and turning our way through the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and the crew doesn’t mind if you make photographs from open vestibule windows.

No Stopping in Sturtevant

April 25, 2020

Amtrak’s eastbound Empire Builder blasts past the former Milwaukee Road passenger station in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, in May 2006.

Although Sturtevant is scheduled stop for Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service trains, the Empire Builder just passes through.

Amtrak Suspending Full-Service Dining

April 15, 2020

Flexible dining is being introduced on Amtrak’s western long-distance trains starting April 17 in lieu of full-service dining cars.

The carrier said the changes are temporary and in response to falling ridership on its trains during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flexible dining, which has been implemented over the past two years on all overnight trains operating east of the Mississippi River, involves giving sleeping car passenger pre-packaged meals.

Full-service dining cars have meals freshly prepared on board and table service.

An Amtrak internal memorandum said the flexible dining on western long-distance trains will be in effect at least through May 31.

An online report on a railfan chat list indicated that flexible dining had apparently been implemented already on the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief. But that report could not be verified.

The Amtrak memo, whose contents was reported by Trains magazine, said sleeping car passengers on western trains will be given exclusive access to dining cars as it done on the eastern trains.

Coach passengers on western trains will have to buy food and beverages from café cars.

However, with the Viewliner Sightseer lounge normally assigned to the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited having been removed, the dining car on Nos. 29 and 30 will serve sleeping car and coach passengers alike.

Similar arrangements have been implemented on the New York-New Orleans Crescent and Chicago-New York Cardinal.

The Crescent has lost its Viewliner II dining car and all food service is being handled in an Amfleet Café car.

The Cardinal has never had a Viewliner II dining car but continues to have a single Amfleet food service car serving coach and sleeping car passengers.

The New York-Miami Silver Meteor is set to lose its Viewliner II dining car in favor of a single food service car on April 17.

On all three trains, sleeping car passengers are to get their meals from the lead service attendant in the food service car on a “to go” basis.

Amtrak plans to implement flexible dining on the New York-Miami Silver Star on May 1. Until then, sleeping car passengers are not receiving meals as part of their sleeping car accommodations as is the case on all other trains with sleeper service.

Only the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited will continue to carry a Viewliner II dining car where it is assigned to the New York section.

The café car on the Lake Shore operates on the Boston section.

The implementation dates for flexible dining on western trains as described in the Amtrak memo are:

Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle/Portland, Oregon): westbound, April 20; eastbound, April 17.

California Zephyr (Chicago-Emeryville, California): westbound, April 17; eastbound April 20.

Southwest Chief  westbound and eastbound, April 17.

Texas Eagle (Chicago-San Antonio): westbound, April 17; eastbound, April 19.

Sunset Limited (New Orleans-Los Angeles): westbound, April 20; eastbound, April 17.

Coast Starlight (Seattle-Los Angeles): northbound, April 17; southbound, April 19.

Amtrak said on-board service employees affected by the dining service changes will not be furloughed but instead moved to the extra board, a move that will mean they will receive less pay.

Amtrak conductors, engineers and other operating personnel are already assigned to the extra board.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the changes in western train meal service was also made because flexible dining meals “are designed to be portable and more easily transported back to passengers’ private room accommodations.”

Magliari said Amtrak will review its food service options on all routes before May 31.

Winding Through the Mountains

February 15, 2020

It is July 31, 1979. I’m riding the westbound San Francisco Zephyr en route to Oakland, California, after having boarded in Denver the day before.

No. 5 is twisting and turning through the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California on the tracks of Southern Pacific.

Up front pulling the train is a pair of SDP40F locomotives.

It’s my first trip on this route and I’m not sure where I made this photograph.

But it was out an open vestibule door window. It was quite a warm day and by the time we got out of the mountains the air conditioning has ceased working in some cars.

Standing by an open vestibule window felt good.

Empire Builder Still Disrupted

January 16, 2020

BNSF was still working to reopen its Scenic Subdivision in Washington State that is used by Amtrak’s Empire Builder.

The route has been closed due to downed trees and wires caused by snowslides.

An Amtrak spokeswoman told Trains magazine on Wednesday that the carrier was providing bus service between Seattle and Spokane, Washington. Buses were also being operated for passengers traveling between Spokane and Portland, Oregon.

Olivia Irvin said Amtrak would resume operating west of Spokane when it safe to do and host railroad BNSF give the OK.

The Amtrak website showed that the status of the westbound Builder from Chicago today (Jan. 16) as unavailable due to a service disruption.

The site also shows the same for No. 7 that is scheduled to depart on Friday and Saturday.

The last Empire Builder to operate across the BNSF Scenic Sub ran on Jan. 11.

Trains that originated on or before Jan. 11 headed eastbound were subject to major delays.

No. 8 that left the West Coast on Jan. 10 was delayed for more than nine hours at Leavenworth, Washington, due to weather conditions. Irvin said there were 68 passengers on board that train.

CZ Consists Expand West of Denver

January 16, 2020

A posting on a Facebook page for the the Friends of the California Zephyr said that Amtrak is assigning another coach to the Nos. 5 and 6 west of Denver.

The coach is operating between Denver and Emeryville, California, where the Zephyr originates and terminates.

The reason given for the assignment is to handle increased passenger demand between Sacramento, California, and Reno, Nevada, and between Denver and Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

During the winter the normal consist of Nos. 5 and 6 is two coaches, two sleepers, dining car, Sightseer Lounge, transition sleeper, and a baggage car.

The extra coach will be removed from No. 6 in the evening and added to No. 5 in Denver the next morning, the posting said.