Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak western long-distance trains’

Lamy Volunteers Pick Up Slack After Amtrak Agent Left

October 11, 2018

Volunteers have taken over many of the duties once performance by the Amtrak ticket agent in Lamy, New Mexico.

A report published on the Trains magazine website said that the volunteers greet arriving and departing passengers with luggage carts, help with the shuttle to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and offer a clean waiting room stocked with reading material, snacks, and a station cat.

The latter is Harvey, who is named after Santa Fe Railway restaurateur and hotelier Fred Harvey.

Lamy is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The station Amtrak uses is owned by the Santa Fe Southern Railway and its CEO Karl Ziebarth told Trains that it views Amtrak service as important for the community’s tourist economy.

The volunteers have been known to go above and beyond the call of duty by going out for pizza for a passenger stranded with children or driving people to Santa Fe who could not be accommodated by the shuttle service.

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Service Canceled Due to Hurricane Michael

October 10, 2018

Amtrak is canceling service in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Michael.

In a service advisory issued on Tuesday, the passenger carrier said that the Silver Star (Nos. 91 and 92) will operate between Miami and Jacksonville, Florida, effective Oct. 10.

No alternate transportation is being provided between Jacksonville and New York City.

The Palmetto (Nos. 89 and 90) will operate only between New York and Washington with no alternate transportation provided between Washington and Savannah. This change is effective Oct. 11,

Michael is to come ashore in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday and turn east toward the routes used by the affected two trains.

Flooding earlier affected operations of two other routes.

The Southwest Chief detoured in Kansas due to the threat of flooding along the Little Arkansas River.

No. 3, which departed Chicago on Tuesday, and No. 4, which departed Los Angeles on Monday, traversed a former Rock Island line between Hutchinson and Topeka. Those tracks are now owned by Union Pacific.

Chartered buses served passengers traveling to and from Newton, which was the only missed station.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the detour could continue for multiple days if needed.

The northbound Heartland Flyer was affected by a track washout in southern Oklahoma delayed passengers after heavy rainfall on Sunday afternoon damaged the tracks between Gene Autry and Davis.

The train was halted in Ardmore and passengers were transported by bus to all stops en route to Oklahoma City.

Many passengers aboard the Flyer had attended the annual Red River Showdown football game in Dallas between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas.

SW Chief to Remain Intact for FY2019

October 5, 2018

The proposed 500-mile bus bridge for Amtrak’s Southwest Chief is on hold for at least another year.

During a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee this week Amtrak said it would continue to operate the Chicago-Los Angeles train as it is now through the end of fiscal year 2019, which began on Oct. 1.

Amtrak’s chief operating officer, Scot Naparstek, was noncommittal, though, when prodded by senators representing the states along the route who are seeking to get Amtrak to release $3 million it earlier pledged to use to rebuild tracks used by the train.

Colfax County, New Mexico, earlier won a $16 million federal TIGER grant for the track rebuilding.

“At this point we’re committed to work with the stakeholders and try to reach a conclusion,” Naparstek said.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) said in news release that it is imperative for Amtrak to improve the route of the Chief.

“I reiterate the need for Amtrak to work with the communities impacted to create a real plan for the future of the Southwest Chief,” he said in a statement.

Amtrak has proposed replacing the train with bus service between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, saying the route lacks a positive train control system.

There would have still been rail service between Chicago and Dodge City, and between Los Angeles and Albuquerque.

Utah Wildfire Disrupts California Zephyr

September 17, 2018

A wildfire disrupted operations of Amtrak’s California Zephyr on Monday in Utah.

The fire temporarily closed Union Pacific’s former Denver & Rio Grande Western route east of Provo.

No. 5 that that left Chicago on Sept. 15 was halted at Grand Junction, Colorado, on late Sunday.

No. 6 that left Emeryville, California, on Sept. 16 was able to make it through the fire zone after the tracks briefly reopened, but railroad officials quickly closed them for safety reasons.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the CZ section that halted at Grand Junction later returned to Denver on Monday morning.

That equipment will remain in Denver and became No. 6 on Tuesday. The section that left  Emeryville on Monday will operate only as far east as Reno, Nevada.

The westbound Zephyr that departed Chicago on Sunday will take the Overland Route via the Borie Cutoff and operate via Rock Springs, Wyoming, and Ogden, Utah to Salt Lake City.

Passengers going to intermediate stops between Denver and Salt Lake City will be taken to their destination by bus.

Trains leaving Chicago on Monday and Emeryville on Tuesday will operate via the Overland detour if the normal route east of Provo remain closed.

“For the next few days, detours or service cancellations will affect Amtrak travel between Reno and Denver, including Salt Lake City. Customers can cancel and reschedule without penalties,” Magliari said.

Wild Fires Affect Coast Starlight

September 17, 2018

Amtrak has warned in a service advisory that wildfires north of Redding, California, may disrupt operations of the the Coast Starlight.

Delays and other service disruptions are still possible and a temporary track closure in the area might force Amtrak to halt service at Sacramento, California, and Klamath Falls, Oregon, without substitute transportation to and through Chico, Redding and Dunsmuir, California.

Passengers were directed to visit the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection website for the Delta Fire.

Amtrak also urged passengers to to check train status on Amtrak.com or its  smartphone apps prior to departing.

Amtrak PTC Stance Endangers 8 Trains

August 28, 2018

An Amtrak official last week reiterated the carrier’s stance that it will not operate on rail lines lacking positive train control after Dec. 31.

The declaration was made by Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner during a meeting in Raton, New Mexico, to discuss the future of the Southwest Chief.

Garnder also said the Amtrak board of directors has decreed that the policy will stand even in cases where a host railroad has been granted a PTC exemption by the Federal Railroad Administration.

That stance, if not reversed, would endanger eight Amtrak routes. Trains magazine reported on its website that those trains are:

  • Southwest Chief: Between La Junta, Colorado, and Dailies, New Mexico, and through Topeka, Kansas.
  • Cardinal:  Buckingham Branch Railroad between Orange and Clifton Forge, Virginia.
  • California Zephyr: On 152 miles of Union Pacific’s Green River subdivision west of Grand Junction, Colorado.
  • Texas Eagle: On 110 miles of UP’s Desoto subdivision south of St. Louis.
  • Downeaster: North of Haverhill, Massachusetts, to Brunswick, Maine., on Pan Am Railways
  • Vermonter: On the New England Central north of Springfield, Massachusetts.
  • Ethan Allen: On Vermont Railway east of Whitehall, New York.
  • City of New Orleans: On 18 miles of Canadian National in Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans

All Aboard Ohio reported that the Lake Shore Limited might also be in danger because it uses eight miles of CSX track between downtown Cleveland and Collinwood Yard that do not have PTC.

Amtrak and elected officials in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico have been locked in a battle over the Southwest Chief.

The elected officials are angry because Amtrak refuses to release its share of matching funds for a federal TIGER grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, to rebuild the route used by the Chief in New Mexico.

Earlier TIGER grants have been used to rebuild the route of Nos. 3 and 4 in Colorado and Kansas.

Steve Cottrell, the assistant city manager of Garden City, Kansas, attended the meeting and said Gardner insisted that Amtrak “had no preconceived end game in mind.”

However , Gardner’s presentation included the proposed bus bridge between either Dodge City, Kansas, or La Junta, Colorado, and Albuquerque.

A draft schedule shows Nos. 3 and 4 originating and terminating in Dodge City, with the bus service connecting there.

The bus service in turn would connect with a Los Angeles-Albuquerque train.

Amtrak envisions the Chicago-Dodge City, and Albuquerque-Los Angeles trains each having two locomotives, two coaches, one coach-baggage car and a café car.

The passenger carrier estimates it will need to spend between $4 million and more than $13 million to establish layover and turning facilities in Dodge City and Albuquerque.

“I made the statement to him that it would have been a much more pleasant meeting had Amtrak sat down with the [Southwest Chief] Coalition, and state DOT’s prior to making such statements because we want to work out how to get the TIGER 9 [grant, the latest providing funding to maintain the Chief route] off the ground and get a commitment for their share of the money,” Cottrell told Trains.

“If it’s going to take working out another three- to five-year plan for the improvements, either to the railroad or start some phased installation of PTC, so be it, but to get blindsided by this bus bridge thing and then come in and say they have no preconceived idea just kind of set a negative tone to the meeting that shouldn’t have had to be that way,” he said.

New Platforms in Use in Carlinville

August 13, 2018

New platforms at the Amtrak station in Carlinville, Illinois, are now in use.

In a service advisory Amtrak said its trains can arrive and depart on the west or east platform so passengers should check the station information displays and listen for announcements to know where their train will be arriving or departing.

Passengers are urged to use caution when crossing between platforms on the north ends where the sidewalk and Illinois Route 108 (West Main Street) cross the tracks.

Carlinville is served by Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Amtrak’s Transformation at Work in the Midwest

August 13, 2018

Last week Amtrak touted improvements it has made in its Midwest corridor network, including schedule adjustments to allow for more intra-Midwest connections and implementing student discount fares.

But in Amtrak’s statements was a hint that there might be another agenda at work.

It may be that Amtrak was doing nothing more than trying to get some marketing mileage from a series of relatively small steps. Yet if you view what was announced in a larger context you might see a transformation at work.

Throughout 2018, Amtrak has taken or talked about implementing actions that passenger advocates fear are designed or will weaken the carrier’s long-distance network.

In early June Amtrak yanked the full-service dining cars from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Last spring it sharply restricted the carriage of privately-owned passenger cars and all but eliminated special moves and charter trains.

Amtrak has talked about creating a bus bridge for its Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dodge City, Kansas, rather than continue to operate over a BNSF segment in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico that lacks positive train control and over much of which Amtrak is the sole user and thus responsible for the maintenance costs of the rails.

The carrier also has changed its booking practices to make it more difficult for tour operators to book large blocks of sleeping car rooms.

A Trains magazine columnist wrote last week that he’s been told of Amtrak plans to remove chefs from the dining cars of the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

The columnist said he’s heard from passengers who’ve ridden long-distance trains lately that complimentary juice in sleeping cars is gone and coffee is being limited to one half-pot per day.

Fewer towels and bottles of water are being distributed to sleeping car passengers.

An amendment sponsored by Ohio senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown to force Amtrak to reopen ticket offices closed in a cost-cutting binge last spring was quietly removed from a transportation funding bill recently approved by the Senate.

Some passenger advocate see these and other moves as part of a larger plot to make long-distance trains unattractive so ridership will fall and management can make the case that the need for these trains isn’t there anymore.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson has reportedly told state department of transportation officials that the carrier has studied chopping up long-distance routes into a series of corridors, each of them less than 750 miles in length.

That would force the states to fund those routes under the terms of a 2008 law that requires states to fund corridor routes that Amtrak had previously underwritten.

Those plans are not expected to be implemented immediately, but perhaps Amtrak management is just biding its time.

What does this have to do with the announcement about improvements to Midwest connectivity?

If Amtrak is seeking to re-invent itself as a provider of short- and medium-distance corridors it needs to show that it is developing a network of them.

Most people probably think of the Midwest corridors as ways to link cities in their state with Chicago.

Yes, some travelers connect in Chicago to other Amtrak trains, including the long-distance trains, but how many people think about getting on in Milwaukee and going to Detroit or St. Louis?

Well they might think about it and some do it every day, but Amtrak hasn’t always made such connections convenient. Some layovers last for hours.

The schedule changes made this summer are designed to address that, at least on paper, or in Amtrak’s case on pixels given that paper timetables are a thing of the past.

Amtrak touted its “new” schedules, noting that you can travel between Milwaukee and Detroit twice daily, and Milwaukee and St. Louis three times daily. Of course that means changing trains in Chicago.

To be sure, Amtrak gave a nod to the long-distance trains, noting that in making the departure of northbound Hiawatha train No. 333 from Chicago to Milwaukee later, it enabled connections from long-distance trains from the East Coast.

As for the student discount, it is 15 percent and designed for Midwest travel. Amtrak also plans to soon allow bicycles aboard the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

When the new Siemens Charger locomotives went into service on Midwest corridor trains, they came with the tagline “Amtrak Midwest.”

Those locomotives were purchased by the states underwriting Amtrak’s Midwest corridor routes. Those same states are also underwriting development of new passenger cars to be assigned to the Midwest corridor routes.

It is getting to the point where Amtrak is becoming a middleman of Midwest corridor routes, offering a station and maintenance facility in Chicago; operating, service and marketing support; and a brand.

For now, the state-funded corridors combined with the long-distance trains provide intercity rail passenger service to many regions of the Midwest, including to such states as Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio that do not currently fund Amtrak service.

That might well change if Amtrak follows through on its proposals to chop up the long-distance routes into state-funded corridors. Would Ohio step up to help pay for, say, a Chicago-Toledo, Chicago-Cleveland or Chicago-Pittsburgh  route in lieu of the Capitol Limited?

Would Iowa agree to fund a Chicago-Omaha train in lieu of the California Zephyr?

Would Minnesota agree to fund a Chicago-Minneapolis/St. Paul train in lieu of the Empire Builder? What about Chicago-Fargo, North Dakota, with funding from Minnesota and North Dakota?

I’m not optimistic about that.

Advocates Working to Save, Promote Trains

August 1, 2018

Motivated by fears that Amtrak is laying the groundwork to eviscerate its long-distance trains network, some rail passengers advocates are going to battle to save their favorite train.

Mark Meyer, a member of the Rail Passengers Association created a website to advocate on behalf of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Such efforts long predate the appointment of Richard Anderson as CEO of Amtrak.

Back in the 1990s passengers advocates established The Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization to fight efforts to discontinue the Chicago-San Antonio train.

Since 2011, ColoRail has been fighting on behalf of the Southwest Chief.

Jim Souby, president of ColoRail, told Trains magazine that these grassroots efforts can be critical to saving service.

“These local folks have the ears of their legislature and congressional leaders and that makes all the difference,” Souby said.

Websites created by groups advocating on behalf of specific trains also are used to promote them by trying to drum up patronage along the route.

Meyer told Trains that he created his website because does not believe Amtrak is doing enough to market the Empire Builder.

He plans to spotlight every town served by the Builder as well as provide a history of the train and ways for people to connect with members of Congress to let them know how important the train is to them.
“Someone needs to promote the (long-distance trains) and explain what they do and why they’re needed,” Meyer said.

The TEMPO website has long done the same thing.

Dr. William Pollard of Conway, Arkansas, said every passenger who sees the website and decides to ride the train is a potential advocate for the Texas Eagle and other long-distance trains.

A veteran of many battles for Amtrak funding, Conway said most of those fights have been with Congress. But now advocates find themselves fighting Amtrak itself.

S.W. Chief Travel Time Being Cut

August 1, 2018

Even as a fight is going on about the future of Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, the passenger carrier is decreasing the travel times of Nos. 3 and 4.

Starting July 31, No. 4 will depart Los Angeles 10 minutes earlier at 6 p.m. and arriving earlier in Chicago.

No. 3 will depart Chicago 10 minutes earlier at 2:50 p.m. and arrive earlier in Los Angeles.

Amtrak has yet to post the new schedules on its website.

In a passenger advisory, Amtrak said the faster travel time was made possible by increased speeds in Kansas and Colorado.