Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Adirondack’

Capital Region Track To Be Done by Summer

March 20, 2017

Amtrak expects to finish a massive rail improvement project in New York’s Capital Region this summer.

The $163 million program is adding a second track between Albany and Schenectady, New York, in order to eliminate a bottleneck on the single-track route used by the Lake Shore Limited, Empire Service trains, the Adirondack, the Ethan Allen Express and the Maple Leaf.

The work also includes upgrading the signal system and improving grade crossings.

An earlier stage of the project involved lengthening two passenger platforms at the Albany-Rensselaer station, primarily for the benefit of passengers boarding and disembarking from the Lake Shore Limited.

Amtrak officials said the work is nearly finished south of the Capital Region and that the second track between Albany and Schenectady should go into service in late spring or early summer.

A NYDOT spokesman said contractors are still placing ballast on the new track, as well as making deck repairs on the Union Street and Erie Boulevard bridges in Schenectady, cleaning and improving culverts, and removing poles, now that the new signal system is underground.

However, officials say that earlier ides to increase the level of service west and north of the region are uncertain at best.

Michael Franchini, who heads the Capital District Transportation Committee, a government planning organization that oversees the disbursement of federal transportation funds, said there are no serious proposals to extend Empire Service trains now terminating at Albany-Rensselaer to Schenectady or Saratoga Springs.

The New York Department of Transportation will say only that it continues to consider increased service.

Saratoga County residents who are now served by the New York-Montreal Adirondack said that they need additional service to provide them more flexibility in their travel plans.

Some now drive an hour to the Albany-Rensselaer station to take advantage of its higher level of service to New York City.

In a related development, NYDOT officials have been asked to replace the locomotives used between Albany-Rensselaer and New York Penn Station.

The dual model locomotives are able to run on diesel fuel or electric current, but use electric power in the Manhattan tunnels that bring trains into Penn Station.

Replacing the fleet with 25 new locomotives would cost an estimated $250 million.

The current locomotives are old and prone to breakdowns that delay trains.

Schenectady Passengers Might Have to Make Do With a Shelter Until a New Station is Built

February 2, 2017

Schenectady, New York, officials knew that Amtrak passengers in their city would need to use a temporary facility while a permanent station was being built.

But it may be that the temporary facility will provide far less comfort than anyone expected.

Amtrak 4The Albany Times-Union reported that  in a cost-cutting move the New York Department of Transportation is looking at building what would be little more than a shelter that would not have a ticket office or restrooms.

A temporary station with those amenities was to have been completed by late 2016, but work has yet to begin on it other than the construction of stairs and a ramp.

Since 1979, Schenectady has been served by an Amtrak-built modular station that few have liked.

Since 2007, city and state transportation officials have been planning to replace the 1970s Amtrak station with something more modern and attractive.

But that project suffered a setback when the lone bid for the new station came in last year $10 million over the $12 million to $15 million budget for the depot.

The new station remains on track with Gov. Andrew Cuomo allocating $15 million for the project in his proposed state budget. That is in addition to $15 million already in hand, giving planners $30 million for the station project.

The temporary station is expected to be located north of the site for the permanent station, which is expected to open in late 2018.

Bruce Becker, vice president of operations at the National Association of Railroad Passengers and a former head of the Empire State Passengers Association, said he was concerned about the proposed temporary facility.

“Our concerns are for both the benefit and the safety of the passengers,” he said.

Schenectady is served by Amtrak’s Empire Corridor trains, the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited, the New York-Montreal Adirdondack, and the New York-Rutland, Vermont Ethan Allen Express.

Vermont Eyes Extending Vermonter to Montreal

January 18, 2017

Vermont officials are optimistic that a new law expanding customers operations outside the United States will pave the way for extending the Vermonter to Montreal.

The law, which was signed by President Obama last year, will allow the United States to expand the number of pre-clearance facilities it has in Canada.

Amtrak 3One of those new pre-clearance facilities is expected to be established in Montreal Central Station, which is also served by Amtrak’s New York-Montreal Adirondack.

The Vermonter operates between Washington and St. Albans, Vermont. In past years the train operated to Montreal as the Montrealer.

In the pre-clearance program, passengers bound for the United Sates go through customs in Canada. Those who do not pass the inspection are not allowed to board the train.

The program has been used for airline passengers for many years. The U.S. currently has 15 pre-clearance facilities in six countries.

Customs officials say an advantage of preclearance is cost savings. Last year customs turned away more than 10,000 travelers and saved $20 million in detention and repatriation expenses.

The office of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said it will be at least two years before everything is in place to be able to extend the Vermonter to Montreal.

Some sections of track in Canada need to be rehabilitated, union-related crew issues must be worked out and funding for the track work and construction of the Montreal pre-clearance facility has yet to be approved.

If the Vermonter is extended into Canada, there will be no intermediate stops between Montreal Central Station and St. Albans. U.S. and Canadian customs inspections will be done in Montreal.

“This Act is key to the long-term strategy of the United States and Canada to make cross-border transit more efficient, fostering economic development and improving safety and security of our shared border,” said Amtrak’s senior Vice President of Government Affairs Joe McHugh in a statement. “When implemented, Amtrak passengers can look forward to a more reliable, safer and more efficient cross-border experience.”

It is not clear what effect the incoming Trump administration might have on the preclearance expansion plans.

Trump has vowed to tighten border security although he has not commented specifically about the U.S.-Canadian border.

Gov. Pledges Funds for New Schenectady Depot

January 12, 2017

New Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed spending $15 million to build a new Amtrak station in Schenectady, New York.

The funding was mentioned in his State of the State speech given this week.

Amtrak 3Amtrak currently uses a depot on Erie Boulevard. Cuomo cited the Schenectady station project while discussing plans to upgrade transportation hubs across the state.

It is not clear how much new state money will be spent on the new station. Some federal and local funding is also expected to go into the project.

The New York Department of Transportation has budgeted $15 million for the station, but that includes some federal funding that may no longer be available.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said the state is expected to kick in some additional money in order to get the project going and the station open by 2018.

“Anybody that’s gone through that station, it’s an embarrassment,” McCarthy said. “It doesn’t reflect the quality of the community we’re building. We’re doing demolitions in the neighborhoods, working on home ownership, getting the casino online, and that train station is just an embarrassment.”

In March 2016, NYDOT sought bids for a new station, but received just one response. That bid was $10 million over budget, so the state scrapped its plans.

Instead, it decided to split the work into two projects, one involving razing the 1970s era that Amtrak built and now uses and another to build a replacement station.

The Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited, New York-Toronto Maple Leaf, the New York-Montreal Adirondack, the New York-Rutland (Vermont) Ethan Allen Express and four New York-Niagara Falls Empire Service trains serve Schenectady, which handled 61,000 passengers last year.

Amtrak and the NYDOT are building a second track between Schenectady and Albany-Rensselaer to alleviate rail traffic congestion on the route. That track is expected to be completed this spring.

Customs Inspections Improved for Amtrak

December 14, 2016

Congress has approved legislation designed to speed up Amtrak service between the United States and Canada by authorizing U.S. Customs to pre-clear passengers before they reach the border.

Amtrak logoThe bill would apply to Amtrak a practice already in place at some Canadian airports whereby airline passengers bound for the U.S. clear customs before boarding their plane.

Under current practices, Amtrak trains must stop shortly after reaching the United States and customs agents board the train to screen passengers.

Officials say that the border checks on Amtrak trains add an extra hour to the travel time.

The legislation passed by Congress expands the pre-clearance program to include train stations in Canada and passengers would clear customs before boarding their train.

The legislation was pushed by members of Congress and the Senate from New York state.

New York officials are hoping that the Canadian parliament will approve similar legislation allowing its customs officials to work at stations in the U.S.

Expected to benefit from the new practices are the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf and the New York-Montreal Adirondack.

Taste NY Products Added to Select Amtrak Trains

October 5, 2016

New York state has expanded its Taste NY products campaign to Amtrak.

Amtrak logoBeer and snack foods produced in the Empire State are now available for sale on Empire Service trains, the Maple Leaf, Ethan Allen Express and the Adirondack.

In all the New York products will be available on 13 Amtrak trains.

The available products include KIND snack bars made in Manhattan; Always Bagels from Long Island; Chobani yogurt from the Southern Tier region; Sweet Sam’s coffee cakes from the Bronx; Brooklyn Defender IPA; Ommegang Witte Wheat Ale from Cooperstown; and Nine Pin Cider from Albany.

New York officials said the trains chosen carry an estimated 1 million passengers a year.

Great Dome to Operate on Adirondack

September 27, 2016

amtrak-dome

Amtrak is bringing back its Great Dome car for the fall foliage season aboard the Adirondack in update New York.

The car will operate on the New York-Montreal train between Sept. 29 and Nov. 1.

The dome will operate northbound on Train 69 from Albany-Rensselaer, New York, to Montreal on Thursdays, Saturdays and Mondays.

It will return south on Train 68 on Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays. The dome will not operate on Wednesdays.

There is no additional charge to ride in the dome section. Seats are unreserved and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

On some trips, National Park Service Trails and Rails volunteers will offer historical commentary between Saratoga Springs and Westport, New York.

Among the scenic features of the route are Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. Passengers can take advantage of the I Love NY 15 percent discount off the regular (full) adult rail fare, valid for sale through May 2017. Reservations are required.

Up to two children ages 2-12 may accompany each adult at half the discounted rail fare.

New York Trains to Allow Pets Onboard

August 16, 2016

Amtrak is expanding its pets aboard program to four state-supported routes in New York and Vermont.

Amtrak logoTrains that will now allow passengers to carry pets aboard include the New York-Niagara Falls Empire Service, the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf, the New York-Montreal Adirondack and the New York-Rutland Ethan Allen Express.

Pet reservations are now being accepted for all trains for travel beginning Aug. 22.

Dogs and cats travel requirements include:

  • Pet reservations are available for coach accommodations for trips up to seven hours.
  • The maximum weight of pet including the carrier is 20 pounds.
  • Owners can reserve a space for their pet for $25 with one pet per passenger.
  • Pets must remain in a carrier at all times and carriers should remain under a passenger seat.
  • Five pet spots are allotted per train and are booked on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Pets are not allowed on trips to/from Canada.

Amtrak continues to allow service animals on board at no charge.

Amtrak said that more than 10,000 pets have traveled on its trains since the program began in the Northeast Corridor in October 2015.

This past July more than 2,000 pets rode on Amtrak and the program generated more than $1 million in revenue since its inception. Pet service is available on most Amtrak routes.

Great Dome Car Returns to Adirondack

September 21, 2015

Amtrak’s only remaining dome car will begin six-week seasonal service on the New York-Montreal Adirondack.

The “Great Dome” will operate between Sept. 24 and Nov. 3.

The car has upper level windows on all sides. Among the sights to see are Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains.

The dome car will operate northbound from Albany to Montreal on Thursdays, Saturdays and Mondays and returns south from Montreal on Fridays, Sundays, and Tuesdays. The dome car will not operate on Wednesdays.

Passengers are welcome to ride in the car at no extra cost. Seats are unreserved and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

When available, Trails and Rails volunteers will be aboard select dome car trips offering historical commentary between Saratoga Springs and Westport, New York.

Passengers can also take advantage of the I Love NY 15 percent discount off the regular (full) adult rail fare, valid for sale through May 2016. Reservations are required. Up to two children ages 2-12 may accompany each adult at half the discounted rail fare.

2 States Still Talking About Amtrak Funding Pacts

October 12, 2013
Passengers board Empire Corridor train No. 288 at Buffalo Depew station on July 31, 2011.

Passengers board Empire Corridor train No. 288 at Buffalo Depew station on July 31, 2011.

With California having reached a funding agreement with Amtrak to share costs of short-distance routes, there are now just two states left that have yet to reach a pact.

Illinois is reported to be close to coming to terms with Amtrak and negotiators are optimistic that an agreement can be reached with Indiana.

In the meantime, more details have been released about the agreement that the New York State Department and Amtrak reached.

The cost sharing agreements are required by the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

New York state will pay about $22 million in federal fiscal year 2014 to cover operating and capital costs associated with the Empire Service trains between New York and Niagara Falls, the Adirondack (New York-Montreal), Maple Leaf (New York-Toronto), and the Ethan Allen (New York-Rutland, Vt.)

Amtrak and New York earlier had reached a separate agreement to share costs with Vermont on the Ethan Allen in which New York will pay 35 percent of the train’s costs. That is an estimated to be about $800,000, in federal fiscal year 2014.

The latest agreement will fund seven daily round trips between New York Penn Station and Albany, two daily round trips between New York and Niagara Falls, and one daily round trip each between New York and Toronto, Montreal, and Rutland.

State funding will pay for operating costs associated with the lines, including fuel and labor costs., and repair and maintenance of Amtrak equipment.

Amtrak and NYSDOT have established a committee to review and approve maintenance costs for the Hudson line between Schenectady and Poughkeepsie. It costs Amtrak about $100 million per year to operate the four routes.

The $22 million state share helps make up the difference between revenues and Amtrak’s operational costs.

New York and Amtrak will establish performance measures for the state-supported trains, including  on-time performance, cleanliness of the trains and Amtrak-operated facilities, and customer service.

Amtrak and NYSDOT will develop performance program standards over the next 90 days, which will include incentives for meeting and exceeding the agreed-upon standards. The first year of the program will be used to create a baseline for future years.

The states of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont will be establishing identical programs.