Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

Running in a Winter Wonderland

January 22, 2018

When the weather in the upper Midwest turns wintry, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited often runs late.

Earlier this month Nos. 48 and 49 were running as much as six hours or more behind schedule due to the effects of winter conditions. Delays in turning the equipment in Chicago were given some of the blame, but winter operating conditions can also lead to frozen switches, broken rails and freight train emergencies that are not Amtrak’s fault.

If No. 48 leaves Chicago late, it likely will be even later as it rolls eastward toward New York and Boston.

On a sunny but frigid day last week when the early morning temperatures were in the low teens and the wind chill was sub zero, I braved the elements to photograph No. 48 at Geneva, Ohio, which was more than two hours off its schedule.

It was running a few minutes behind an eastbound CSX stack train. I can only speculate that the dispatcher put the intermodal train out ahead of Amtrak because it would not be stopping in Erie, Pennsylvania, but Amtrak would be.

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Shutdown to Have Minimal Effect on Railroads

January 22, 2018

The federal government shutdown that began on Saturday is not expected to have much effect on railroad operations.

Federal safety and oversight oriented agencies such as the Federal Railroad Administration, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and Surface Transportation Board have designated “excepted” employees to perform accident investigations and equipment inspections related to the safety of human life and to issue emergency service orders.

However, those employees will not receive paychecks or be reimbursed for their travel expenses while the shutdown continues.

During past shutdowns, Congress agreed to grant back pay and travel reimbursements after the shutdown ended.

The heads of the agencies are presidential appointees and thus exempt from being furloughed.

Under federal law, presidential appointees have an absolute entitlement to their salaries. If needed, they can use the federal Court of Claims to get paid.

The FRA said that 487 of its 929 employees, including some in the legal department, are excepted from being furloughed due to their responsibilities for safety inspections, investigations, writing emergency orders and representing the agency in court.

Such day-to-day operations as management of federal grants and environmental reviews will not be performed during the shutdown.

Most STB operations will be on hold during the shutdown, but it provides a telephone number to be called “if you believe you have an emergency that requires immediate Board action” such as an emergency service orders.

Amtrak will continue its regular operations during the shutdown. The passenger carrier’s federal funding comes in large block grants that are sufficient to enable it to continue operating.ro

Amtrak Posts New National Sked at its Website; Few Changes Made to Heartland Train Schedules

January 22, 2018

Amtrak has a new national timetable posted online and only a few changes have been made to the schedules of its trains that serve the nation’s heartland, many of them minor.

Most  of the changes affect the six Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac). The running times on the route are being shortened

Effective Jan. 22, No. 350 will depart Pontiac 5 minutes earlier and arrive in Chicago 15 minutes earlier than the current schedule. No. 353 will leave Pontiac 10 minutes earlier and arrive in Chicago eight minutes earlier. No. 355 will depart Pontiac 20 minutes earlier and arrive in Chicago 32 minutes earlier. Times at stations en route have been adjusted.

No. 350 will leave Chicago at its current scheduled time, but arrive in Pontiac 24 minutes earlier. No. 353 will depart Chicago 10 minutes earlier and arrive in Pontiac 27 minutes earlier. No. 354 will leave Chicago 10 minutes earlier and arrive in Pontiac 14 minutes earlier.

The eastbound Blue Water will depart Chicago at its current time, but will be scheduled to arrive in Port Huron, Michigan, seven minutes earlier. There are corresponding changes at intermediate stations.

There are no changes in the schedules of the westbound Blue Water or the Pere Marquette in both directions.

Effective Jan. 8, the Pennsylvanian began arriving in Pittsburgh from New York six minutes earlier.

There are no changes in the schedules of the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited or eastbound Cardinal. The westbound Cardinal is now scheduled to arrive in Chicago five minutes earlier, but there are no changes in time at intermediate stations.

No changes were made in any schedules of trains operating in the Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans corridor. Likewise, all Lincoln Service schedules between Chicago and St. Louis and Missouri River Runner trains between St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, remain the same.

Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee has not changed.

The Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg are scheduled to arrive one minute earlier in Quincy, Illinois, but the rest of the schedules on the route are unchanged.

The counterparts of the same trains will arrive in Chicago two minutes earlier without any changes in times at intermediate stations.

The westbound Southwest Chief is departing Los Angeles five minutes earlier but its Chicago arrival time is unchanged. Some times have changed at intermediate stations. This change became effective last November.

There are no changes in the schedules of the westbound Southwest Chief, or the California Zephyr, Empire Builder or Texas Eagle.

The Heartland Flyer arrives in Oklahoma City from Fort Worth, Texas, four minutes earlier, a change that took effect last October. The southbound Heartland Flyer schedule is unchanged.

Amtrak has not printed a national timetable since January 1916, but has posted one at its website since then.

The latest timetable features an image of the Maple Leaf traveling through snowstorm.

Missing from this timetable is a letter from Amtrak’s president, which had been a standard feature of previous timetables.

The typography is largely the same as in the previous timetables, but the schedule headings have been tweaked. The schedules were compiled before Amtrak said it was discontinuing the Pacific Parlour Car on the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight.

Pacific Parlor Cars Being Retired

January 19, 2018

Amtrak is retiring the Pacific Parlour Cars that have been a mainstay on the Coast Startlight between Seattle and Los Angeles.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said the former Santa Fe hi-level lounge cars will be retired after Feb. 4.

The nation’s passenger carrier had said earlier that it would remove the cars from service for about a month to repair them.

Amtrak said retirement of the cars is part of “an ongoing effort to modernize equipment.”

An employee bulletin sent this week said the cars would not return to service “due to safety concerns and the rising cost of maintenance.”

The last Pacific Parlour Car to run in revenue service will leave Seattle on Feb. 4. The last northbound car will leave Los Angeles on Feb. 2.

Pacific Parlour Car service began in the middle 1990s to offer lounge space and food service to sleeping car passengers.

The cars were among the last cars still in service built before Amtrak’s 1971 creation.

Retirement of the Pacific Parlor Cars will leave only a small fleet of Heritage dining and baggage cars in active service.

A Pacific Parlour Car has an attendant who serves lunch and dinner in the car by reservation, using a unique menu separate from that served in the adjacent dining car, and provides an afternoon wine and cheese tasting on both days of the Coast Starlight’s daily overnight journey.

Although initially offered as part of the sleeping car fare, since 2015 the wine and cheese tasting has cost $7 per person for wine plus an extra $5 per person for cheese, and has been open also to Business Class passengers.

Amtrak has not determined if it plans to replace Pacific Parlour Car service by another dedicated lounge and food-service car for sleeping car passengers, or whether any other substitute amenity will be offered.

“Customers will still continue to enjoy the spectacular views from other areas of the train, including the Dining Car and the renowned Sightseer Lounge Car,” Amtrak’s Kimberly Woods told Trains magazine.

It is not clear if Amtrak will attempt to sell the retired Pacific Parlour Cars or scrap them.

Those Lost Little Touches

January 18, 2018

There was a time when Amtrak offered a number of small touches for passengers holding sleeping car tickets.

Notice this display inside my room in a Viewliner sleeper on the Lake Shore Limited out of Chicago in June 2010. The car attendant has left a printed greeting with his name.

Another touch was the artificial flowers and the chocolate mint. You could also expect to get a newspaper delivered to your room in the morning and a route schedule to be there as well. Back in the day, as they say, Amtrak even provided route guides.

Now all of these things are gone, victims of cost cutting and changes in service philosophies.

Project Manager Being Sought for Elyria Station Project

January 18, 2018

Commissioners in Lorain County, Ohio, are seeking proposals for a construction manager of the long stalled plan to create a new platform in Elyria for Amtrak passengers.

The platform will be located in the former New York Central passenger station, which serves as a public transportation center for local buses.

County Administrator Jim Cordes expects the proposal will go to bid soon.

“It’s been progressing along fairly slowly, but it’s been progressing,” Cordes said. “We’re at the point now where I’m bringing a project manager to get ready to build something.”

Amtrak currently uses a shelter at 410 East River Street. A modular station at that site was destroyed by fire in 2013.

The existing station also has limited accessibility for those with disabilities and Amtrak must use Track No. 2 of the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern.

The new platform, which is expected to cost between $8 million and $10 million, will feature a bridge spanning the two NS tracks.

It also will include elevators and stairways to provide access to two partially enclosed platforms for passengers.

Lorain County will pay 5 percent to 8 percent of the project cost, with the rest of the money coming from federal, state and Amtrak funding.

Cordes said no start of construction date has yet been set, but expects that to change once the project had been awarded.

He said although work on the project has been slow, it never was in danger of ending. Much of the slow pace was due to reviews of the proposal by the county, NS and Amtrak.

“We’d exchange paperwork, then there’d be tweaks, more paperwork and then more tweaks,” Cordes said. “It was easy to lose focus. It had been a slow project to begin with, and the complicated relationships made it even more so.”

Elyria is service by Amtrak’s Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited and Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited.

San Joaquins Have Modified Schedules in January

January 18, 2018

Amtrak said that BNSF track work will affect San Joaquins trains and thruway buses through Jan. 29.

Southbound trains will run 5 minutes late between Merced and Bakersfield, arriving in Bakersfield 20 minutes later than scheduled.

Northbound trains will operate 10-12 minutes later between Martinez and Emeryville, arriving in Oakland/Sacramento 20 minutes later than scheduled.

Train No. 703 will depart Bakersfield 10 minutes later, arriving in Stockton 20 minutes later than scheduled and Sacramento 30 minutes later than scheduled.

The following buses from Bakersfield will operate 20 minutes later at all stops.

  • Train 702 – Buses, 5402, 5602, 5702, 5802 and 5902
  • Train 704 – Bus 5804
  • Train 710 – Buses 3410, 3510, 5410, 5710, 5810 and 5910
  • Train 712 – Buses 5412, 5612, 5712, 5812 and 5912
  • Train 714 – Buses 3414, 5414, 5614, 5714, 5814 and 5914
  • Train 716 – Bus 5816

The following buses from Hanford will operate 5 minutes later at all stops.

  • Train 710 – Buses 4010 and 6715
  • Train 704 – Buses 4004 and 6703

The following buses from Emeryville will operate 10 minutes later at all stops.

  • Train 711 – Buses 3311 and 6611
  • Train 713 – Bus 6613
  • Train 715 – Bus 6615
  • Train 717 – Bus 6617
  • Train 719 – Bus 6619

The following buses from Martinez will operate 10 minutes later at all stops.

  • Train 715- Buses 6315 and 6515
  • Train 717- Bus 6417

 

Amtrak Chicago Maintenance Worker Killed

January 17, 2018

An Amtrak maintenance worker was killed early Tuesday morning near the service and inspection building in Chicago.

The victim was identified as Martin Rivera, 42, of Chicago. The incident occurred at about 7:15 a.m.

No other injuries of Amtrak workers were reported. The National Transportation Safety Board in investigating the death.

News reports indicated that Rivera was already dead and lying on railroad tracks in the 1400 block of South Lumber Street when paramedics arrived.

Rivera was found lying on the tracks by another Amtrak worker who notified authorities.

MnDOT Still Seeking to Improve Rail Service

January 17, 2018

With high-speed rail now sidetracked, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is moving ahead to study increasing the number of stations served by Amtrak’s Empire Builder between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

MnDOT said that increasing Amtrak service and speeding up the existing service between the city urban areas remains a priority.

“There are slow spots along the corridor that if we put some infrastructure investment in, will allow the trains to go through at faster speeds,” said MnDOT passenger rail director Dan Krom.

“Even with a second train, we’re looking at reducing the travel time and shorter dwell times at the stations [by] addressing some of these choke points along the corridor.”

After being prodded by two Minnesota legislatures earlier this month, MnDOT shelved a study of high-speed rail between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

One component of that study was a second train on the route to supplement the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

State officials had said that the second train had not been expected to launch for another three to four years.

“What we’re really wrapping up is some operational modeling to see how the train fits in with the existing freight system,” Krom said.

Bristol Pushing for Amtrak Feasibility Study

January 17, 2018

City officials in Bristol, Virginia, are seeking proposals from consulting firms to study the potential for Amtrak service.

“We have now moved into an RFP (request for proposals) process, and the RFP process is for an economic feasibility study. And the economic feasibility study will give us data on everything from how it is going to affect traffic patterns to how many cups of coffee are going to be sold downtown. So, this is going to be the tool that we use to keep interest in Amtrak and passenger rail in Bristol,” said Bart Poe, assistant director of community and economic development in the city of 17,000 located on the Virginia-Tennessee border.

Proposals are due by Jan. 23 and city officials hope to have the result of the study by late August. The study will be presented to Amtrak and state officials.

“We know that at this point, we are not high on their list of priorities; there is a lot of stuff in the east that needs to be done, but we hope that this will start moving us up the list of their priorities,” Poe said. “And, the great thing is, if you look at the websites, Amtrak’s website, DRPT, we’re listed there. It shows us, it shows us on the track, so it is not something that we’re just throwing up. This is something that they are aware of and interested in.”

Bristol is not current served by Amtrak and city officials hope that it could be added to a new route to Atlanta.

Fueling their optimism about getting into the Amtrak network has been the success of state-funded services to Lynchburg and Roanoke.

Poe said Lynchburg has surpassed expectations every year since Northeast Regional service began in 2009 and Roanoke has had good ridership numbers since serve began there last October.

“That’s the good thing for us. We’re the next logical step toward Atlanta, so what they want to do is they want to connect the lower states to the upper states with a more direct route,” Poe said, “There was a pretty big lag between Roanoke and Lynchburg, and we hope that ours will be shorter. We anticipate maybe four years. We would like to see and Amtrak train roll in and pick up passengers in four years.”

Poe said the renovated Bristol train station has the space to accommodate Amtrak.