Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Blue Water’

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.

Advertisements

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.

Some Michigan Trains Subject to Delays

August 3, 2017

Amtrak has warned that some Michigan corridor trains are subject to delay due to the performance of system maintenance.

Affected are Wolverine Service trains 350, 355 and Blue Water trains 364 and 365. The service advisory said the trains may experience delays of 15 to 30 minutes.

Amtrak did not say how long the maintenance program would last.

Megabus Leaving East Lansing Market

December 29, 2016

Amtrak will have one less competitor in East Lansing, Michigan, after Megabus stops its service between there and Chicago on Jan. 9.

megabusMegabus currently stops at the Capital Area Multimodal Gateway, which is also used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan Blue Water.

Lack of customer demand and a corporate restructuring were behind the decision to pull out of the East Lansing-Chicago market, said Megabus spokesman Sean Hughes.

He also cited low fuel prices and competition from other bus companies.

Hughes indicated the Megabus next month will be cutting other routes serving Chicago.

Other bus companies that operate between East Lansing and Chicago include Greyhound and Indian Trails.

Megabus currently also serves Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids in Michigan.

News reports have indicated that Megabus will also cease service in Iowa in January where it stops in Davenport, Coralville  (near Iowa City) and Des Moines on a Chicago-Omaha, Nebraska, route.

 

Some Think Parking Too Pricey in East Lansing

December 23, 2016

Some Lansing, Michigan, region Amtrak passengers are grousing about the cost of parking at the East Lansing station.

Amtrak 4It used to be free to park there, but that has not been the case since Amtrak began using the new Capital Area Multimodal Gateway last January.

Capital Area Transportation Authority charges $10 a day with a $50 maximum charge per week. The facility also serves local and intercity buses.

A CATA spokesperson told the Lansing State Journal that the parking fees at the facility were similar to those of other Lansing area parking facilities.

The City of East Lansing charges $15 a day in garages and $20 in surface lots. The City of Lansing charges $10 a day in its parking garages and Capital Regional International Airport has a $12 a day fee in short-term parking lots and $10 a day in long-term lots.

But when compared with the cost of parking at other Amtrak stations in Michigan, East Lansing is pricey.

East Lansing is served by the Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan, Blue Water and parking is free at Amtrak stations on the route in Port Huron, Flint, Durand, Battle Creek, Dowagiac, Niles and New Buffalo.

There is no parking at the station in Lapeer and in Kalamazoo Amtrak passengers are directed to use a city lot that charges $9.70 a night on weekdays and $3 on Saturdays. Parking is free in the Kalamazoo city facility on Sunday.

On Amtrak’s Wolverine Service route in Michigan, parking is free in Dearborn and Ann Arbor.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier is a tenant in East Lansing and has no say over parking fees at the station.

Magliari said it is not unusual for parking at or near Amtrak stations to come with a fee.

Although parking used to be free at the former East Lansing Amtrak station, problems arose when Michigan State University students who were not traveling would park there.

The CATA spokewoman said Amtrak passengers who don’t want to pay parking fees can ride a bus home or get a lift from a taxi or Uber driver. Passengers can even have friends drop them off or pick them up.

The parking rate in East Lansing, though, must seem like a bargain to Chicago residents who pay $26 a day to park at Chicago Union Station.

Self-Parking Lot Open in East Lansing

September 6, 2016

The East Lansing, Michigan, Amtrak station has a self-parking lot that is operated by the Capital Area Transit Authority.

michiganThe lot has 150 parking spaces and can be used for short and long-term parking.

Cash and credit cards are accepted to pay parking charges. The charges range from $1 for 30 minutes to $10 for day parking. A week pass is available for $50. Long-term parking passes are available on sliding scale that ranges to $110 for a 15-day pass.

Amtrak patrons may no longer park in an overflow parking lot on the campus of Michigan State University.

There is no charge to briefly park in front of the station to drop off or pick up passengers.

For more information on station parking, contact CATA at (517) 394-1000.

East Lansing is served by the daily Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan, Blue Water.

Train Time in Durand

August 7, 2016
The westbound Blue Water is running ahead of schedule as it makes its Durand, Michigan, station stop.

The westbound Blue Water is running ahead of schedule as it makes its Durand, Michigan, station stop.

People pulling suitcases were already headed toward the station as I pulled in. In about a half-hour Amtrak’s westbound Blue Water would be making its station stop in Durand, Michigan.

Durand is a small town yet quite a few people boarded No. 365 on this Wednesday morning.

The Blue Water is funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation and operates daily between Chicago and Port Huron, Michigan.

Like many other Midwest corridor trains, No. 365 leaves early in the morning for a late morning arrival in Chicago. The return train departs Chicago in late afternoon.

There isn’t much time to spend in Chicago for a day trip, but if all goes well the schedule enables passengers to connect with western long distance trains and other Midwest corridor services.

The return schedule, though, is less favorable for connecting from the western trains, particularly if your train is late.

No. 365 arrived in Durand several minutes early and had to wait for time before departing.

I’ve seen and photographed Amtrak trains in Durand in the past, but this would be my first time to get the Blue Water in Durand.

I had photographed the Chicago-Toronto International, which was scheduled through Durand in both directions in mid-afternoon.

That schedule didn’t afford passengers the opportunity to make a Chicago day trip nor did it connect with many other Amtrak trains.

The tracks used by the Blue Water are today owned by Canadian National, but were originally part of the Grand Trunk Western.

The GTW was controlled by CN so many Grand Trunk passenger trains interchanged with CN at Sarnia, Ontario, to and from Toronto.

The Blue Water began in September 1974, using the GTW between Port Huron and Battle Creek, Michigan, but then using Penn Central into Chicago on the same route as Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit trains.

At the time, Nos. 364/365 operated as the Blue Water Limited. It became a Chicago-Toronto train in October 1982, initially operating as the International Limited.

The name was shorted to International in June 1983. Border crossing issues ultimately led Amtrak to suggest that the train be shorted to Chicago-Port Huron operation and put on a schedule similar to that of the Blue Water Limited.

Michigan agreed and in April 2004 the change was made and patronage greatly increased.

I don’t know if any of those who boarded the Blue Water on this day know any of this history or, for that matter, any history of GTW passenger service in Durand.

Most of those boarding were younger and probably know little if anything about the Grand Trunk or CN in general.

They probably were pleased that their train departed on time for its next station stop in East Lansing and, ultimately, to Chicago.

Passengers are lined up to board Amtrak train No. 365 in Durand. Most of them are probably headed for Chicago and some might be going via Amtrak beyond there.

Passengers are lined up to board Amtrak train No. 365 in Durand. Most of them are probably headed for Chicago and some might be going via Amtrak beyond there.

Right this way and to your left.

Right this way and to your left. The Blue Water consist is the standard Midwest corridor train offering of Horizon fleet coaches and an Amfleet cafe car offering business class service.

Two gentlemen sit on benches in the foreground and watch the last passengers board Amtrak's westbound Blue Water.

Two gentlemen sit on benches in the foreground and watch the last passengers board Amtrak’s westbound Blue Water.

The conductor chats with the Durand station caretaker and two railfans along the fence as No. 365 waits for time before it can depart from Durand.

The conductor chats with the Durand station caretaker and two railfans along the fence as No. 365 waits for time before it can depart from Durand.

A portrait in black and white of Amtrak train time in Durand.

A portrait in black and white of Amtrak train time in Durand.

Crossing the CN Holly Subdivision as Amtrak train No. 365 departs on time from Durand.

Crossing the CN Holly Subdivision as Amtrak train No. 365 departs on time from Durand.

The Blue Water operates with a locomotive on each end to avoid having to turn the train in Port Huron during the overnight layover.

The Blue Water operates with a locomotive on each end to avoid having to turn the train in Port Huron during the overnight layover.