Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

Arriving in Crawfordsville

July 6, 2020

Amtrak’s westbound Cardinal is pulling into the Crawfordsville, Indiana, station on Independence Day morning.

On the right is the former Monon passenger station, which today is a banquet facility although it still has a station sign.

The Amshack is down beyond the fenced area and barely visible.

No. 51 has its typical consist of two Amfleet II coaches, an Amfleet food service car, a Viewliner sleeper and a Viewliner baggage dorm car.

About five people got on here on this day.

Back in the 1970s, Amtrak’s Floridian passed by this station, but Crawfordsville was never a scheduled stop for the Chicago-Miami/St. Petersburg train.

Long Distance Trains Could Vanish in October

July 6, 2020

Rail passenger advocates have had much to say about Amtrak’s plans to convert all long distance trains except the Auto Train to less than daily service on Oct. 1.

Some of what advocates have said has struck me as hyperbole, particularly assertions that it is the first step toward the elimination of the long-distance trains.

However, given the general hostility by former Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson and current vice president Stephen Gardner toward long-distance trains, such assertions cannot be dismissed out of hand.

But it wasn’t until I read a column in Railway Age by David Peter Alan that I began thinking that maybe there is something to the notion that making long-distance trains operate tri-weekly is an ominous development.

If Alan is correct in his interpretation of federal law, the situation could be one in which operating the long distance trains tri-weekly is a near best-case situation.

The crux of Alan’s argument is the meaning of the federal law that authorizes Amtrak.

Alan notes that 49 U.S. Code §24706(a) states that Amtrak must give 180 days’ notice before “discontinuing service over a route.”

However, another section of the law, §24706(b)(1)(A), allows Amtrak to discontinue service during “the first month of a fiscal year if the authorization of appropriations and the appropriations for Amtrak are not enacted at least 90 days before the beginning of the fiscal year.”

This might explain why Amtrak CEO William Flynn wrote a May 25 letter to Congress seeking a $1.4 billion supplememental appropriation on top of the regular requested appropriation for fiscal year 2021.

The letter warned that long distance trains were “at risk” without the supplemental appropriation.

Even if Amtrak receives every penny it has requested, Flynn wrote, all long distance trains except the Auto Train would operate on a reduced schedule.

It may be that what Flynn meant is that if the passenger carrier doesn’t get its requested additional funding it will invoke federal law to suspend long distance trains completely during October.

Alan writes in his Railway Age piece that given the way the law is worded “it may already be too late for Congress to increase Amtrak’s appropriation to cover daily operation of the L-D trains and be sure that those trains will, indeed, operate every day.”

He goes on to say Congress has the authority to change or override this law and mandate that Amtrak continue daily operation on long distance trains.

This is what rail passengers advocates are hoping will happen but that is not guaranteed.

There likely are discussions going on between Amtrak and congressional staff members regarding Amtrak funding for FY2021 including the fate of the long distance trains.

It may be that less than daily service of long distance trains is simply a political strategy by Amtrak to maximize its funding in FY2021.

Then again it could be part of a larger strategy to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to do what management has discussed doing in the past couple years.

The pandemic has severely depressed ridership and Flynn’s letter to Congress projects that ridership will continue to be below half of normal through FY2021.

There is, of course, a difference between ridership declines that occur naturally and those that are induced by management actions, such as in the name of safety reducing the capacity of trains by half.

It may be noteworthy that at least one major airline, American Airlines, has said it will cease reducing the capacity of its planes even though it pledged to take other steps to protect its passengers.

Alan, who is an attorney and chairman of the Lackawanna Coalition, believes Amtrak’s objective is to rid itself of the long distance trains and transform itself into a series of disjointed corridors with those outside the Northeast funded by the states they serve.

But even those corridors are in peril. Flynn wrote in his May 25 letter that without the supplemental funding, some state services will be suspended or operate at skeletal levels.

In fact that began happening early on during the pandemic and continues to be the case today even if some services have been reinstated this summer.

Amtrak wants the federal government to underwrite some of the payments that states would have made for corridor services.

The appropriations process is highly political and it remains to be seen what will emerge from Congress for FY2021.

Lawmakers have in past years missed the Sept. 30 deadline to approve a budget for the fiscal year that starts the next day but kept the federal government running through continuing resolutions.

It is unclear how that would affect Amtrak’s long distance trains. Congress could mandate keeping the status quo, but Amtrak management might do what it wants to do anyway.

What we do know is that Amtrak launched a preview of coming attractions today when it implemented less than daily service by the Silver Star and Silver Meteor between New York and Miami.

Amtrak is itself a political creature. That became clear when Congress shut down the carrier’s desire to replace the middle of the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief with an 11-hour bus connection.

Rail passenger advocates may have “won” that battle but that doesn’t mean they have yet to win the greater war.

More often than not management gets its way and if Amtrak management is determined to get rid of the long-distance trains it will continue seeking ways to do that even it if claims to not be doing any such thing.

If you want to read Alan’s article, you can find it at https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/intercity/first-in-a-series-has-amtrak-declared-war/https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/intercity/first-in-a-series-has-amtrak-declared-war/

Welcome, Pennsylvanian, to Cleveland

July 3, 2020

The Pennsylvanian is best known as a New York-Pittsburgh train but between November 1998 and February 2003 it operated between Chicago and Philadelphia.

The thinking was that mail and express business would enable the train to cover its operating costs. That gambit failed and it reverted to New York-Pittsburgh operation.

But on Nov. 7, 1998, there was optimism in the air as the first eastbound Pennsylvanian arrived in Cleveland.

The Pennsylvanian would be the first and thus far only Amtrak train scheduled to operate on a daylight schedule in both directions through Northeast Ohio.

CSX Track Work May Disrupt Capitol Limited

July 3, 2020

The CSX track work window that may affect operations of Amtrak’s Capitol Limited has been extended to July 30.

During the period if Train No. 30 is more than 30 minutes late departing Pittsburgh it will terminate there. Train No. 29 that would have originated later that day in Washington will instead originate in Pittsburgh.

Alternate transportation will be provided between Pittsburgh and Washington to the intermediate stations of Connellsville, Pennsylvania; Cumberland, Maryland; Martinsburg, West Virginia; Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; and Rockville, Maryland.

Buses will only discharge passengers and not allow local travel between the affected intermediate stations.

On days when Nos. 29 and 30 pass through the construction zone between Connellsville and Cumberland, they are subject to delays of up to 30 minutes.

New York-Harrisburg Keystone to be Restored

July 3, 2020

One New York-Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Keystone Service roundtrip will be restored on July 6.

The restoration is part of an ongoing restoration of service funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that began June 1.

All Pennsylvania-funded Amtrak service had been suspended on March 18 during the COVID-19 pandemic after the state imposed stay home orders.

The restored New York-Harrisburg trains include No. 640, which is scheduled to leave Harrisburg at 5 a.m. and No. 653, scheduled to depart New York at 5:10 p.m.

Modified Keystone Service that resumed on June 1 will continue operating between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. That includes nine weekday roundtrips and six weekend roundtrips.

In a news release, Amtrak cited increased travel demand for resuming New York-Harrisburg service.

The New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian also resumed operating on June 1.

House Passes Surface Transportation Bill

July 3, 2020

The U.S. House this week passed a five year reauthorization of surface transportation programs.

H.R. 2, which was named the Moving Forward Act, authorizes spending of $1.5 trillion on various transportation-related programs, including Amtrak.

The legislation approves $500 billion to reauthorize surface transportation programs and funding for infrastructure projects.

That includes $105 billion for public transportation and $60 billion for commuter rail, Amtrak and other high-performance rail service.

The bill has received mixed reviews from railroad trade associations because of various mandates that railroads generally oppose.

H.R. 2 faces considerable opposition in the Senate, which is expected to adopt its own surface transportation reauthorization bill with differences to be worked out in a conference committee.

The current surface transportation law, known as the FAST Act, will expire on Sept. 30.

Aside from specific transportation programs, H.R. 2 also authorizes $130 billion for schools, $100 billion for rural broadband and $100 billion for affordable housing.

Silver Service Changes Coming July 6

July 3, 2020

Amtrak will implement on Monday (July 6) changes to the operations of its Silver Star and Silver Meteor trains between New York and Miami.

Currently both trains operate daily but that will no longer be the case as operation is curtailed so that there will be just one daily train between New York and Miami.

The Silver Star will depart on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; and depart Miami on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

The Silver Meteor will depart New York on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; and depart Miami on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said each train will have five refurbished Amfleet II coaches, three Viewliner sleeping cars, an Amfleet café car and a Viewliner II sleeper lounge for the exclusive use of sleeper class passengers.

Although train service to Tampa will only operate three days a week, an Amtrak Thruway bus connection serving Tampa will connect with the Silver Meteor at Orlando.

The New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto will continue to operate daily as will the Auto Train between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida.

Senators Push Back on Amtrak Service Cuts

June 30, 2020

Some members of the Senate have told Amtrak that they will not support its request for $1.475 in additional money in fiscal year 2021 without receiving more information about how costs and revenues will be affected by the carrier’s plans to pare service of its long-distance trains and reduce its workforce by 20 percent.

In three separate letters to Amtrak President William Flynn, 16 senators expressed concerns with Amtrak’s plans to reduce the frequency of service on nearly all long-distance trains to less than daily starting Oct. 1.

Amtrak plans in early July to reduce the frequency of operation of the Silver Star and Silver Meteor in the New York-Miami corridor to less than daily operation.

The letters were written by nine Republican and seven Democratic senators from Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Indiana.

One of the letters, written by Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) seeks the data Amtrak is using to justify reducing most long-distance trains to tri-weekly operation as well as the benchmarks that will trigger a specific plan for reinstating daily trains.

“We would like to ensure that reductions in frequencies for long-distance routes do not unnecessarily extend beyond the COVID-19 crisis,” the letter said.

Steve Daines (R-Montana) and other senators said Amtrak’s proposal “raises serious doubts about whether a realistic plan exists for fully restoring service in a timely fashion.”

The letters have been critical of less than daily service, saying it will hurt hundreds of communities that rely on Amtrak.

Another letter asked what the passenger carrier would consider to be “adequate funding” needed to to restore frequencies.

Flynn has said little in public about the proposed service cuts, which became known when a memorandum written by Amtrak Vice President Roger Harris to Amtrak employees was leaked.

During an interview Monday morning that was livestreamed by on YouTube by The Washington Post, Flynn said little about the planned cuts.

He said Oct. 1 date was chosen because Amtrak experiences its lowest ridership during the winter in the long distance network.

Without being specific, Flynn said Amtrak will evaluate the long-distance trains, including unidentified indicators.

Flynn said this review would look at restoration on a service-by-service plan ahead. He noted that summer is when the long-distance trains enjoy their highest levels of ridership.

“We’re looking at bookings and level of ridership; we’ll just have to look at where we are in terms of COVID-19 and the pandemic — God forbid there is a second wave,” he said.

Although he didn’t provide any details, Flynn said Amtrak would be communicating to Congress its criteria and plans for restoring long-distance service.

Changes Made in Thruway Services

June 30, 2020

Starting July 1 Amtrak will make changes to some San Joaquins Thruway service.

Buses 5710, 5712 and 5719 will no longer serve Long Beach and San Pedro bus stops.

On the same date Buses 5910, 5912, 5915 and 5919 will no longer serve Torrance, El Segundo, Westchester, Westwood (UCLA) and Van Nuys bus stops.

However, a new stop has been added at Los Angeles Union Station.

In a related development, Amtrak has relocated the location of its Thruway bus stop in the St. Petersburg, Florida, region.

The stop is now located at 12759 34th Street North in Clearwater.

Union Urges Caution Among its Members

June 24, 2020

A union representing track maintenance workers is urging its members to take precautions while working to avoid contracting COVID-19.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters also took aim at Amtrak and Chicago commuter railroad Metra for being negligent in testing and tracing employees for COVID-19.

The union said there has been a rash of positive coronavirus cases among its members at several railroads, estimating 109 members have been affected by a coronavirus exposure.

Of those 15 individuals tested positive and remaining 94 are in a self-contained quarantine.

In a statement, union officials said doctors expect many of those in in quarantine will test positive in the coming days.

Those workers were employed by Amtrak, BNSF, CSX, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern.

Three union members have died from COVID-19.

The union said some of the spread of COVID-19 has come from post-work socializing. It urged its members to be more cautious by isolating and separating as much as possible.

“Go outside to hang out. Keep some distance,” the union told its members.

In the meantime, some union members have established informational picketing in front of the home of Amtrak board chairman Anthony Coscia.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said the passenger performs contact tracing in accordance with federal Center for Diseases Control guidelines and performs no-expense testing for those with symptoms or possible exposure.

However, the union said social distancing is often impossible in its work and it wants monthly testing as well as temperature screenings before work.

After accusing Metra of putting employees and passengers at greater risk, the rail commuter railroad said in a statement that the union’s views were “distorted.”