Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

Track Work to Affect Keystone Service

August 13, 2018

Amtrak will make minor schedule changes in its Keystone Service route on Aug. 18 and 19.

Track work is prompting the schedule adjustments, which involve all trains all trains departing Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 10 minutes early and arriving in Downingtown, Pennsylvania,  five minutes earlier than originally scheduled.

 

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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.

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.

Greenville Thruway Bus Stop Changes

August 13, 2018

The stop for the Amtrak Thruway bus serving Greenville, North Carolina, has been moved to the G.K. Butterfield Transportation depot

Buses Nos. 6089 and 6090 will now stop at 600 S. Pitt St., located about 10 blocks southwest of the previous stop.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the new stop is an upgraded station with a waiting room and restrooms. Thruway buses will depart from bus slip 2.

Nos. 6089 and 6090 operates to and from the Amtrak station in Wilson, North Carolina, where they connect with New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto. The western terminus of the bus route is in Morehead City, North Carolina.

Lamy Ticket Office Now Closed

August 13, 2018

Another Amtrak ticket office has closed. On Aug. 3 Amtrak pulled its agents from Lamy, New Mexico, on the route of the Southwest Chief.

The closing of the Lamy office had been announced earlier and set for July 31, but the closing was moved back a few days.

In a service advisory Amtrak said passengers for Nos. 3 and 4 will continue to have access to the station waiting area and restrooms for all train arrivals and departures.

The station is open daily from noon to 3 p.m. Amtrak personnel on the train will assist customers boarding and detraining but unaccompanied minors will not be allowed to board at this station.

Ticket options include buying with a credit card from Amtrak reservations or at the Amtrak website. Passengers paying cash can pay for tickets on the train but such tickets will be priced at the highest fare and subject to availability.

Checked baggage is no longer handled at Lamy. Nearest full-service station is in Albuquerque, about an hour southwest of Lamy.

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.

Amtrak Kills Toys for Tots Train

August 7, 2018

Amtrak will not operate an annual Toys for Tots Train in upstate New York this year that has operated for 19 years in support of the charity program of the U.S. Marine Corps.

The carrier cited the change in policy it announced last spring in which it is sharply curtailed operations of charter trains and specials.

In a statement, Amtrak said that although it would no longer operate the train it would support the Toys for Tots program through the collection of toys at participating stations.

The train collects everything from toys to blankets and clothing for those in need. It has served more than 150,000 children over the years.

The donations come from Marines, police officers, fire fighters, Amtrak employees and others.

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Albert Roman, Jr., the Toys for Tots coordinator for the Capital Region of New York, said he was “shocked” to receive an email from Amtrak announcing it would not provide the train this year.

Roman said his organization has already collected tractor-trailers full of donations and is unsure how it will deliver them now.

“It’s going to hurt us in many ways — logistically, financially. That train was where we tell our story. It’s about the kids, the delivery, the community coming together … [Amtrak] just left us on the sidelines,” Roman said.

He added that his group will find a solution to the challenge somehow. “We’re not going to let our community down.”

Amtrak had sought to cancel last year’s Toys for Tots Train, but it was saved due to the intervention of U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko (D-New York) and Elise Stefanik (R-New York).

The train has typically operated between Albany, Oneonta and Binghamton over the former Delaware & Hudson and from Albany north to Plattsburgh and Rouses Point over the ex-D&H route used by Amtrak’s daily New York-Montreal Adirondack.

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.

 

Amtrak to Impose Group Travel Booking Restrictions

August 1, 2018

Amtrak plans to impose restrictions on bookings for group tour travel, a change that will in particular affect tour companies.

Effective Jan. 1, 2019, Amtrak will no longer permit the blocking of space for group travel, will sharply curtail the number of sleeping car rooms that groups can book at one time and will require payment for travel further in advance of the date of departure.

During the peak travel season, tour companies and groups will be limited to booking no more than 10 roomettes and two bedrooms in Superliner sleepers, and eight roomettes and two bedrooms in Viewliner sleepers.

In the off peak season, those limits will be 12 roomettes and three bedrooms in Superliner sleepers, and 10 roomette and two bedrooms in Viewliner sleepers.

Amtrak will require full payment from a group sales agent 90 days before departure whereas it previously was 45 days.

Agents will be unable to hold space on multiple consecutive departures for the same city pair, and can no longer cancel and re-book reservations as a way of avoiding the payment schedule.

Two tour companies, America by Rail and Vacation by Rail are expected to be affected by the changes. Both companies account for a significant part of sleeping car revenue, particularly during the peak season of ‪June 15 to Aug. 20.

Amtrak will no longer operate a help desk for the benefit of tour operators, instead required them to contact the group sales department, which handles reservations for groups of 20 or more passengers.

The head of America by Rail, Tim Swartz told Trains magazine, “It sounds like they think group operators are holding space too long, thus not allowing [Amtrak] to sell that space to the public.”

America by Rail is one of Amtrak’s largest single customers.