Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Blue Water’

Flint Ticket Office Closes

July 11, 2018

Amtrak has removed its station agent and closed the ticket window at its station in Flint, Michigan. The change was effective on July 5.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers waiting to board the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water trains will continue to have access to the station waiting area and restrooms for all train arrivals and departures.

Station hours will be 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. to midnight.

Passengers needing assistance will be helped by onboard Amtrak personnel.

There is no checked baggage service available at Flint.

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Far From Illinois

June 18, 2018

Amtrak equipment is interchangeable, hence I ran across this Amfleet cafe car in the consist of the Blue Water, a Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan train.

It came with a logo for an Illinois high-speed rail program between Chicago and St. Louis.

The car probably has operated in Lincoln Service train consists many times and might wind up back there soon. But for now it is running around in Michigan.

I wonder how many passengers notice the “welcome” greeting in tiny letters that easily are dwarfed by the high-speed logo.

So Long Durand

June 15, 2018

The passengers have boarded Amtrak’s westbound Blue Water and the conductor has given the highball command on the radio.

Train No. 365 is on time as it departs Durand, Michigan, en route to Chicago. The next stop, though, is East Lansing, Michigan.

P42DC No. 126 is the rear of the train since the Blue Water operates with locomotives on each end so as to avoid having to turn the locomotive or the train in Port Huron, Michigan, during its overnight stay.

Amtrak in Durand uses the Durand Union Station, which once had service provided by the Grand Trunk Western and Ann Arbor railroads.

The station also houses a railroad museum.

Anyone Want to Board Here?

June 8, 2018

An Amtrak conductor stands by an open vestibule of the westbound Blue Water in Durand, Michigan, but all of the passengers are lined up at another vestibule father down.

That’s because the far vestibule aligned with the gate allowing passengers through a fence that separates the tracks of Canadian National (former Grand Trunk Western) and Durand Union Station.

Eventually, a few passengers were directed to board farther down the platform, perhaps because they were holding business class tickets. The cafe car on Train No. 365 was located toward the rear.

The Blue Water departed Durand on time en route to Chicago.

Niles Ticket Office Closed

April 4, 2018

The Amtrak ticket office in Niles, Michigan, closed on April 2. In a service advisory, Amtrak said all Wolverine Service and Blue Water trains scheduled to stop in Niles will continue to do so.

Passengers will continue to have access to the station waiting area and restrooms for all train arrivals and departures during normal station hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

However, three of the eight trains serving Niles stop there after 5 p.m.

Amtrak personnel on the train will assist customers with boarding and detraining.

Passengers who pay cash for their tickets may continue to do so aboard the train, but if they have not already made reservations they will pay at the highest fare and it will be subject to availability.

The closest Amtrak station with an open ticket office is at South Bend, Indiana, located 14 miles south of Niles.

Although Amtrak advised passengers to use that depot if they have unaccompanied minors traveling on Amtrak or need other services provided by employees, the Amtrak service advisory failed to say that none of the trains serving Niles also serve South Bend, which is on the route of the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited and the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited.

Michigan Trains Running Faster Now

January 24, 2018

Most Amtrak trains serving Michigan have faster running times, the Michigan Department of Transportation said this week.

Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) have seen 20 minutes cut from their schedules. Blue Water service between Chicago and Port Huron, Michigan, has seen a smaller running time cut.

Both lines use rails owned by Amtrak between Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Porter, Indiana.

Amtrak dispatchers control the Chicago-Detroit line as far east as Dearborn except for a portion of track in Battle Creek that is owned by Canadian National.

MDOT acquired 135 miles of track from Norfolk Southern in 2012 that are used by Amtrak between Kalamazoo and Dearborn except for the CN track in Battle Creek.

The top speed between Porter and Kalamazoo 110 mph. The maximum speed is 79 mph on the MDOT-owned track, but that is expected to rise to 110 mph this year after the completion of positive train control testing and assignment of Siemens Charger locomotives to the route.

The State of Michigan has used $347 million in federal funds to replace rails, smooth curves, upgrade crossings and signals and improve train signaling and communication systems. These improvements are expected to result in higher running speeds.

MDOT funded a connection in West Detroit for a faster route to a CN line that serves Amtrak stations in Detroit, Royal Oak, Troy and Pontiac.

“At MDOT’s direction, Amtrak work crews have corrected years of deferred maintenance and have taken over dispatching,” said Joe McHugh, Amtrak vice president of state-supported services in a statement. “We have created the longest railroad segment outside the northeast that is being made ready for an even more reliable and faster Amtrak service.”

Amtrak Michigan Ridership Up 8% in FY2017

November 16, 2017

Amtrak carried 738,837 passengers on its Michigan routes in fiscal year 2017, an 8 percent increase over FY 2016.

In a news release, Amtrak said completion of track work between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, helped boost patronage. The work had slowed operations in summer 2016 and led to fewer trains being operated between Chicago and Detroit.

“This increase in ridership can be attributed to reduced delays as well as a full schedule of trains operating on the Chicago-to-Detroit/Pontiac Wolverine Service corridor,” Amtrak officials said. This year, trains are operating faster and smoother.”

The fiscal year ended on Sept. 30. The Wolverine Service trains saw the biggest increase, with ridership up 12 percent in 2017. That equates to $20.4 million in ticket sales.

Ridership of the Chicago-to-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette trains increased 4 percent, totaling $3.2 million in sales. The Chicago-to-Port Huron Blue Water trains saw a 2 percent increase I ridership, with $6.5 million in sales.

Port Huron Area Officials Debate Where to Put a New Amtrak Station

October 30, 2017

Officials in Port Huron, Michigan, are at odds over what to do about the town’s Amtrak station. Some want a new station, but where to place it has triggered disagreements.

The current station is located in an out-of-the-way location in the southern part of town, is not lighted well and is easy to miss.

Other gripes include lack of adequate parking, no room for a bus turnaround or access to other travel options, and no nearby restaurants or overnight amenities.

However, there is wide disagreement about what to do about that, including whether to renovate the current depot or build a new station closer to freeways or downtown Port Huron.

And the City of Port Huron thinks that some government entities are conspiring to move the station outside the city.

For now, a $125,000 study is underway to evaluate the current station and potential locations for a new one.

The station is the eastern terminus of the Blue Water from Chicago, a service funded by the State of Michigan.

Heading the station study is the Blue Water Area Transit, which hired Bergmann Associates to do the study.

Dave McElroy, assistant general manager and finance director for BWAT, said resolving the station situation will take time and it will not be inexpensive. As for what is likely to happen, he is not sure.

“It just depends on what the study comes up with,” he said. “Where it is, what the community decides they’d really like to see.”

Talks about a new Port Huron station have been going since at least 2011.

Former Port Huron City Manager Bruce Brown spoke with Amtrak, the Michigan Department of Transportation and Canadian National Railroad about new station sites.

One was the Thomas Edison Depot Museum while the other was near the former Thomas Edison Inn property. But those proposals went nowhere.

Various the agencies got involved, including Port Huron Township.

After Amtrak said it had talked with the township about relocating its Port Huron station, Port Huron City Manager James Freed objected.

“I think they’re trying to move our train station outside the city without talking with our city residents, let alone those around that neighborhood,” he said.

Freed expressed similar sentiments during the first of two public hearings led by Bergmann Associations on Oct. 19.

Freed noted that property owned by CN was mentioned by station study project manager Jeremy Hedden in a presentation as a potential site candidate.

“My concern with the guy doing the study is he shows up, (says) that no decision has been made yet, that they want an open and fair conversation,” he said. “Yet, he starts the conversation off with several statements like this spot’s closer to the highway than this spot.”

The site in question is along Griswold Road between 24th Street and Michigan Road near Interstate 69.

Port Huron Township Supervisor Bob Lewandowski said that just because that site was at a hearing discussed doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee to be the location of a new station.

Lewandowski would like to see the township get the station. Some have argued that the station site selection process needs to take into account the greater needs of the region.

“For us right now, we’re advocating we would like to see it out here,” Lewandowski said. “We think we’ve got a better space to be able to provide more for a station as far as if we can’t get them to do the maintenance on the train here. (We could) have a few more jobs here. The space is there to have a platform to move (the train) to some sort of maintenance facility.”

Lewandowski said there’s also more space to accommodate other amenities for travelers — which could jump-start economic growth, such as a small hotel or restaurant nearby.

Freed is concerned about economic development as well, saying Port Huron uses its status as a city serviced by Amtrak “to the fullest of its capabilities” — both keeping the city a destination and making an transportation travel option available to a local population who needs it.

He said he thinks passenger rail is going to grow and that will bolster hotels and restaurants.

If the station were to remain in Port Huron, Freed said the current station on 16th Street could be upgraded, the original Grand Trunk Western station could be used or a new site could host a depot

Some have even advocated establishing a station in a location that would attract passengers from Sarnia, Ontario.

Mabel Higgins, vice president for Rail Advocacy in Lambton, said at the Oct. 19 hearing that a station in Port Huron Township would be accessible to Canadians coming by highway for travel to Chicago.

The station study underway is expected to be completed by February or March. The next step would be to conduct an environmental assessment of various station options.

In a best case scenario, construction on a new or renovated station is no closer than two years and it may be five years before completion.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said station renovations and replacements are almost always locally-driven projects.

He said Amtrak has many ongoing discussions with various communities, including Port Huron, about station renovation or replacement.

Magliari said transit agencies are often the “perfect group” to lead Amtrak station projects.

“They already have the transportation focus and willing people,” he said. “In some cases, it’s led by community groups who have an idea. That can work too. (Or it can be) a regional planning organization or council of governments.”

McElroy said BWAT expects to continue to lead the station project and that the two public hearing held thus far won’t be the public’s last opportunity to comment.

“Any input that Bergmann gets that is meaningful, there will be follow up, I’m sure,” McElroy said. “And like they tried to point out, if anything transpires from this study, there’s a lot more input that takes place. A lot more in depth, a lot more detail.”

Freed agreed that having BWAT take the lead makes sense. CN and MDOT are also expected to play a role in the process.

CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said he was familiar with discussion of a new station previously but wasn’t up to date if anything has resurfaced more recently.

Regional MDOT spokeswoman Jocelyn Hall said frequency, passenger boards, and community size are among the “many considerations when building a station.”

One of those is ridership history. MDOT said ridership at Port Huron rose from 13,162 in 2009 to 29,792 in 2013, a 125 percent plus increase.

However, Amtrak patronage has declined since then to 22,682 in 2015, 20,205 in 2016 and 15,850 through September of this year. The lowest ridership in the last decade was at 12,619 in 2007.

Another factor is where the money to pay for a new station will come.

“That’s a great question because funding for that has not been identified yet,” McElroy said. “The community, I’m sure we’ll go out and try to receive some federal and state grants. To be competitive, sometimes you have to throw in local money as well.”

Port Huron Wants New or Improved Amtrak Station

October 18, 2017

Port Huron wants a new or renovated Amtrak station and has received a grant to study that prospect.

The Blue Water Area Transportation Commission received the $125,000 that will fund a station site study. Public hearings will be held on Oct. 19 and 26.

It is not clear at this point if a new station would be built at the existing site on 16th Street or elsewhere.

“We’re reaching out to the public to do a couple of things. One, let them know this study is occurring, and two, get their input or feelings on the existing Amtrak station or any potential sites they can think of,” said Dave McElroy, BWAT assistant manager and finance director.

“I think it’s been talked about in the community for a long time. It’s been highlighted in a few community long-range plans. It’s one of the few Amtrak stations that hasn’t been updated in the state.”

Most of the grant funds came from the federal government with the remainder channeled from the Michigan Department of Transportation. The study is expected to be completed next spring.

The primary objective of the study is to identify potential site options and determine what requirements may exist for a new or rehabilitated station.

“There is no predetermined location and it has not been predetermined that an existing station will be replaced,” McElroy said.

Among the complaints that passengers have expressed about the current Port Huron station are parking and security issues, as well as access for those with disabilities.

“I’m not talking about the neighborhood. I’m talking about the lighting, the parking, blind spots, things that make people feel unsafe,” McElroy said. “It’s just the lighting and layout that exists there. If parking’s (an issue) now, and they project ridership to increase, it’s going to be a problem then. But we’ll see when the study comes back.”

Port Huron is the eastern terminus of Amtrak’s Blue Water, which originates in Chicago.

Amtrak to Put More Chargers Into Service

August 29, 2017

Amtrak will soon place into service its new Charger locomotives on three more Midwest corridor routes.

The Siemens-built SC-44 locomotives have already entered revenue service on the Hiawatha Service route between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Amtrak officials said the units are expected to enter service this week on Chicago-Quincy, Illinois, trains

In the near future, Chargers are expected to be assigned to Chicago-Carbondale, Illlinois, service and to the Pere Marquette to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The new locomotives are being withheld from Chicago-St. Louis trains, and the Blue Water and Wolverine Service trains pending testing of Wabtec’s I-ETMS positive train control system and the two versions of Incremental Train Control installed on the routes of those trains.

“These are new installations, it’s a different locomotive, and the systems have to be merged and integrated with the Siemens software, so we will continue to run 110-mph between Porter and Kalamazoo with the existing P42  locomotives until testing is completed,” said Tim Hoeffner, director of Michigan’s rail office.

A similar situation exists in Illinois on Union Pacific track in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor. A 110-mph section between Dwight and Pontiac is reverting to 79 mph until the new system is in place.

The maximum speed of Lincoln Service trains will increase to 90 mph after track and signal work are completed.

Once the Federal Railroad Administration certifies that the positive train control system on the route is reliable, then top speeds will rise to 110 mph.

Amtrak superintendent of locomotives Mike Yates said that 12 of the 33 Chargers that were ordered are now on Amtrak property and 10 are ready to be put into revenue service.