Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s City of New Orleans’

Trains to New Orleans Suspended due to Storm

June 8, 2020

Amtrak suspended over the weekend operations of its City of New Orleans for several days because of a forecast that tropical storm Cristobal was to make landfall along the Gulf Coast.

The carrier is also temporarily shortening the route of the routes of the Crescent and Sunset Limited.

No. 58 and 59 did not originate in New Orleans on June 7 and 8 while No. 59 did not originate in Chicago on June 6 and 7.

No alternative transportation was provided but passengers who had been ticketed to travel between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, were being referred to Amtrak Nos. 390 and 393 between those cities.

The Sunset Limited that was to originate in Los Angeles on June 5 terminated in San Antonio, Texas.

The train that was to originate in New Orleans on June 8 will instead originate in San Antonio on June 9.

No alternative transportation is being provided between New Orleans and San Antonio.

As for the Crescent, trains that originated in New York on June 6 and 7 terminated in Atlanta. No. 20 was to originate in Atlanta on June 7 and 8.

No alternative transportation was being provided between Atlanta and New Orleans.

Track Work to Affect SB CONO Schedule

May 22, 2020

Track work by host railroad Canadian National has resulted in temporary schedule changes for Amtrak’s southbound City of New Orleans.

On May 22 and 26 Train No. 59 will depart Jackson, Mississippi, at 12:50 p.m, 90, minutes later than normal and operate on this later schedule at all intermediate stops of Hazlehurst, Brookhaven, McComb and Hammond to New Orleans.

The service advisory did not say if the arrival time in New Orleans will be affected.

CONO Back to Running Full Route

May 6, 2020

Amtrak’s City of New Orleans has resumed operating its full route between Chicago and New Orleans.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has closed the Bonnet Carre Spillway whose opening earlier for flood control had led to Nos. 58 and 59 being operated between Chicago and McComb, Mississippi.

Passengers had been taken by bus to and from New Orleans.

Host railroad Canadian National by policy prohibits Amtrak operating over the spillway with passengers aboard whenever it is open.

CONO Route Shortened due to Flood Control

April 7, 2020

Flood control has again resulted in Amtrak’s City of New Orleans stopping short of its namesake city.

Nos. 58 and 59 are now originating and terminating in McComb, Mississippi, after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened portions of the Bonnett Carre Spillway amid rising water in the Mississippi River.

Host railroad Canadian National won’t allow Amtrak to operate the City as far south as Hammond, Louisiana, and has also prohibited Nos. 58 and 59 from stopping in the Mississippi towns of Brookhaven and Hazelhurst.

In past years when the spillway was open, Amtrak passengers transferred to buses at either Hammond or Jackson, Mississippi.

CN in an emailed statement made to Trains magazine would not elaborate on why Nos. 58 and 59 are being prohibited from stopping in Hazlehurst or Brookhaven, both of which are normal stops for the train.

The statement primarily said that when the spillway is opened it does not allow Amtrak to operate with passengers across the spillway bridge for safety reasons.

CN said in the statement that it is planning to build a new bridge over the spillway that will alleviate the issue of Amtrak not being able to cross it when flood control measures are underway.

The current bridge is a wood trestle. Opening the Bonnett Carre Spillway is done to keep flood waters away from New Orleans levees.

The equipment used on Nos. 58 and 59 will continue from McComb to New Orleans empty so it can be serviced.

Although CN said work has begun on the new bridge, Trains quoted eye witness reports from Louisiana as saying that little apparent work had been done.

CN declined to provide Trains with a timeline for when the new bridge will be completed.

The spillway, which allows water to flow into Lake Ponchartrain, has been opened 15 times since it was completed in 1937 and four of those openings have occurred in the past three years including in 2019.

Dining on the City of New Orleans

March 26, 2020

There have been times when Amtrak sought to give the dining cars on its long-distance trains a touch of the cuisine associated with a region served by the route.

In the case of the City of New Orleans that meant food associated with the Crescent City.

But more often than not, the dining car fare on the CONO was the same as it was elsewhere.

Shown is the menu that was in use in 2012. Although not obvious from the dinner entrees shown inside, the diner on a March night that I was traveling from New Orleans to Chicago did feature a catfish dinner that would be similar to one you might find on a menu in a New Orleans restaurant.

And I can say it was tasty and enjoyable.

Service Disruptions Set for March 20 in Illinois Corridor

March 13, 2020

Track work being performed by Canadian National will result in service cancellations and schedule changes in Amtrak’s Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans corridor on March 20.

Trains 390 (northbound Saluki) and 393 (southbound Illini) will be canceled.

Alternative transportation will be provided to all stations between Chicago and Carbondale.

The northbound Illini will depart Carbondale at 7:30 p.m., which is 3 hours, 15 minutes later than normal.

It will operate on that schedule all the way to Chicago where it is expected to arrive at 1:25 a.m.

The southbound City of New Orleans scheduled to depart Chicago on March 20 is also canceled.

It will be replaced by Train 1059, which will leave Chicago at 1:30 a.m., which is 5 hours, 25 minutes later than the normal schedule of Train 59.

It will operate on this schedule all the way to New Orleans.

Earlier this week, CN track work had led to the northbound Saluki operating 30 minutes later than normal on two days from Carbondale to Chicago.

CN Increases Speed Limit for Amtrak in Illinois

February 8, 2020

It might look like the City of New Orleans but this is actually the southbound Saluki racing through Pesotum, Illinois, on Feb. 2, 2020, with Superliner equipment.

Canadian National is allowing Amtrak trains to operate at higher speeds in some locations between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

An online report said CN increased the speed limit for passenger trains between Homewood (MP 23.5) to MP 3 from 65 mph to 79 mph.

The speed was increased on Main Tracks 3 and 4 south of Homewood to Stuenkel from 40 mph to 79 mph.

The report said this has reduced the delays incurred by the northbound Illini meeting the southbound City of New Orleans south of Homewood, which it sometimes does when the Illini is running late.

Nos. 59 and 392 should pass each other north of Homewood if both trains are on time.

On many occasions the trains have met near Kankakee or farther south.

Amtrak also has assigned a set of Superliner equipment to the train set that makes up the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini.

One report is that the set has four coaches and three sleepers although the latter are unoccupied and designed to enable Amtrak trains to meet a CN-mandated minimum axle count.

In the meantime, the train set covering the northbound Saluki and southbound Illini continues to use single-level equipment that CN requires to slow for grade crossings.

Superliner equipment reportedly has no such speed restrictions at crossings.

The Tennessee Passenger Expansion Waltz: A Serious Proposal or Just a Talking Point for Public Consumption?

January 18, 2020

The news this past week that an Amtrak executive spoke to a Tennessee legislative transportation committee is being seen by some as the first tangible step that Amtrak is moving to seek to implement a vision that CEO Richard Anderson has been articulating for more than a year.

Anderson and Amtrak senior vice president Stephen Gardner have spoken in interviews and occasional appearances about transforming Amtrak’s route network to one more focused on corridor service between urban centers, particularly growing metropolitan areas.

They repeatedly have hammered home the point that many of the nation’s fastest growing cities are unserved by Amtrak or underserved by trains arriving at inconvenient hours.

Such talk has alarmed many rail passenger advocates who see is as code language that means dismantling the carrier’s long-distance routes.

Indeed Anderson and Gardner have been bad mouthing long-distance trains, saying they lose money and could be restructured into the type of corridor services they have described in principle.

Amtrak’s aborted efforts to truncate the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief by creating a bus bridge between western Kansas and Albuquerque is often cited as Exhibit A of Anderson’s plan to kill long-distance passenger trains aside from one or two “experiential trains.”

Waltzing in Tennessee

The appearance of Ray Lang, Amtrak’s senior director of government affairs, at a meeting of the Tennessee House Transportation Committee was significant for a number of reasons, but two in particular stand out.

First, it was the first time Amtrak has named a specific route that fits the criteria that Anderson and Gardner have been talking up.

That route would link Atlanta and Nashville, but Lang also talked about extending a pair of Midwest corridor trains to Memphis.

Second, it offered concrete proof that Amtrak expects state and local governments to pay for its vision of the future of rail passenger travel.

It is not clear why Amtrak chose Tennessee as the opening act for what promises to be lengthy process.

Perhaps Amtrak has quietly sounded out other states on their interest in ponying up money for new rail passenger service and we just haven’t heard about it.

Or perhaps Amtrak projects the Tennessee routes as among the most likely to succeed.

The news reports out of the Volunteer State generally portrayed a favorable reception to Amtrak’s proposals with some legislators speaking well of the prospect of rail passenger service where none exists now.

Atlanta and Nashville have never been linked by Amtrak and Tennessee’s capitol has been off the Amtrak route network since the Floridian makes its final trips between Chicago and Florida in early October 1979.

Amtrak probably viewed its road show in Nashville as a first step. It might also have been seeking to gauge the interest of Tennessee lawmakers in funding the service.

An Amtrak spokesman and CSX executive said as much.

“We are also talking to current state partners regarding how additional frequencies might be implemented,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari to Trains magazine.

“This is the first we’re seeing of this,” CSX State Government and Community Affairs VP Jane Covington said during the committee hearing.

Covington said it was her understanding that Amtrak was trying “to simply gauge the state’s interest.”

Whatever the case, nothing is imminent and there is no assurance that the routes discussed will ever operate.

There are numerous hurdles the service needs to clear starting with the willingness of Tennessee legislators to spend the money to underwrite the operating losses of the trains, which have been estimated at $3 million annually.

State and local governments also will likely be asked to advance money for capital expenditures on such things as stations.

Warning Shots Fired

Other players in the process will also play a role in whether the trains operate.

Chief among them is would-be host railroad CSX.

CSX’s Covington fired a warning shot across the bow in saying, “introducing passenger trains to heavily used freight lines will be a complex, costly process.

“And I understand that you guys are hearing from your constituents about the crowded roads, and you’re obviously looking for solutions to that. But we want to make sure you do it in a way to make sure it doesn’t backfire and divert freight off the rails and onto the highways.”

That’s another way of saying that CSX will demand some very expensive infrastructure improvements as the price of agreeing to host the trains.

More than likely the price tag for those projects will be more than state lawmakers are willing to pay for a service that Amtrak said will lose money.

Another player will be the Illinois Department of Transportation, which funds the trains now operating between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, that Amtrak has proposed extending to Memphis.

Amtrak spokesman Magliari said it would be relatively easy to have the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini serve Memphis because Amtrak already has crews based in Carbondale who operate the City of New Orleans on host railroad Canadian National between Carbondale and Memphis.

But what looks easy or even possible on paper may not be so in practice. IDOT will want assurance that its interests won’t be harmed in any rescheduling of the trains.

An unknown about the additional service to Memphis is whether the state of Kentucky would be willing to help fund trains that run through their state.

Looming in the background is the Sept. 30 expiration of the current surface transportation act that authorizes Amtrak funding among other things.

No one in Congress has yet released to the public a draft surface transportation bill and details about what those drafts will ultimately contain have been scarce.

“It’s going to take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to redo the surface transportation bill,” said Amtrak’s Lang in the legislature hearing.

He reiterated the rhetoric that Anderson and Gardner have been using in suggesting that without a restructuring of its route network Amtrak will wither away.

“We think this presents us an opportunity to really transform the company,” Lang said.

Magliari echoed that theme in his interview with Trains when he said the passenger carrier is engaging in outreach efforts to enlist future support from states now underserved by outlining what routes might be viable.

History Lessons

At the time that Amtrak began in May 1971, the only intercity passenger service between Nashville and Atlanta was the former Georgian of the Louisville & Nashville.

That train operated with single coach between St. Louis and Atlanta and had a travel time of seven hours between Nashville and Atlanta.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Florida route served Nashville but not via Atlanta.

The planners who set up Amtrak’s initial route network considered operating between Nashville and Atlanta but declined to do so due to difficult operating conditions, including a top speed of 40 miles per hour between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta.

Another complication was that Amtrak would need to build a station in Georgia’s capitol city.

The Floridian was one of Amtrak’s most troubled trains and then Amtrak President Paul Resitrup said in 1977 that its future was hopeless unless it could be routeded via Atlanta.

In April 1978 Amtrak announced a preliminary plan to route the Floridian via Atlanta, but it fell apart when L&N refused to host the train, citing freight train congestion.

The Southern Railway demanded $20 million in track improvements as its price for hosting the Floridian to Atlanta.

The Floridian never made it to Atlanta before its 1979 discontinuance.

In October 1989 Congress directed Amtrak to study resuming service between Chicago and Florida via Atlanta.

That plan has the support of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, which hosted a conference at which then Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor Jr. said the train would only become reality with financial support from the states along the route.

That never materialized and opposition from CSX and Norfolk Southern torpedoed a demonstration route during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Claytor was involved in another effort to revive passenger service to Atlanta in the early 2000s.

That proposal was to extend the Kentucky Cardinal to Nashville from Louisville and a test train ran over the route in December 2001.

Amtrak told CSX it wanted to extend the Kentucky Cardinal over the 181-mile route once owned by L&N and used by the Floridian.

Claytor told a congressional committee he was bending over backwards and making every effort to get passenger service to Nashville.

Apparently Claytor couldn’t bend far enough or do enough because Amtrak still hasn’t returned to Nashville.

Political Strategy

All involved have been careful to emphasize that the proposed Nashville-Atlanta service is still in the idea stage.

Much needs to happen to make this train a reality and a best case scenario is it will be four to five years – or more – before the Music City Peach or whatever name it is given appears in the Amtrak timetable.

You have to wonder just how serious Amtrak is about its vision of bringing frequent daylight service to unserved or underserved corridors linking growing metropolitan areas.

Lang said this week in Nashville, “Our route map doesn’t really reflect where the nation’s population has shifted to — places like Nashville, Louisville, Columbus and Las Vegas that we don’t serve at all.”

Those make for good talking points, but Amtrak management must know based on its experience in working with host railroads how obstinate and demanding they can be.

It also must know that asking states for money is one thing but getting it is another. Remember the Hoosier State?

The Rail Passengers Association commented on its website on Friday, “CSX is required by law to host Amtrak trains, but has the ability to price state DOTs and Amtrak out of the market if it so chooses.”

RPA, Amtrak and anyone who has paid any attention at all to the behavior of Amtrak’s host railroads knows how they have wielded that power on multiple occasions.

Rail passenger advocates by nature must put on an optimistic face so RPA also said this about Tennessee service expansion proposal: “State officials will have to act accordingly, and work to bring all stakeholder groups onboard.”

That is much easier said than done particularly given that Tennessee has never funded Amtrak service and it is not know how committed state policy makers are to seeing through what Amtrak has proposed.

Has any else noticed that no one is talking about whether the Nashville-Atlanta service will need funding from Georgia, another state that has never funded Amtrak service?

This is not to say it can’t be done, but it won’t be easy and going into this process the odds are stacked against the prospect.

Amtrak’s top management probably has convinced itself that it really can have the type of network that Anderson and Gardner keep harping about.

But are they serious? Or is this just another talking point to be used to strategic advantage to provide political cover as management goes about scuttling the long-distance trains?

Amtrak could offer its plan to, say, carve up the route of the Capitol Limited into a Chicago-Pittsburgh service funded by Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

When that funding fails to materialize, Amtrak can say it tried to “save” service to those states but their elected lawmakers declined to pay for it.

Don’t blame us, go talk to the folks in Harrisburg, Columbus, Indianapolis and Springfield because they’re the ones who made the decision.

It remains to be seen if Amtrak is actually going to release a master plan that spells out what specific new services it envisions.

That plan, if is exists, will look impressive and get a lot of people excited just as the Amtrak road show in Tennessee did this week.

But I can’t help but wonder if it will be just another plan that winds up sitting in a drawer somewhere as Amtrak shrinks to a company with service in the Northeast and a few other state-supported corridors.

One Morning in Memphis

January 9, 2020

We were en route to New Orleans aboard the City of New Orleans in March 2011 when No. 59 halted in Memphis for its scheduled stop.

Memphis is a crew change point and 23 minutes is allotted for the stop.

It was pleasant spring morning and trees at the station were blooming.

That was quite a contrast with what we had seen as the Capitol Limited had left Cleveland the previous morning during a snowstorm.

There was enough time to disembark, stretch our legs and snap a few photographs, including the head end with a few of those flowering trees.

No. 59 had a consist on this day that as a little out of the ordinary. There were two P42DC locomotives pulling the train rather than the usual one.

There also was a baggage car, which is not always assigned to Nos. 58 and 59. Instead, checked luggage typically rides in a baggage compartment of a Superliner coach.

Soon it was time to get back on board and continue on to the Crescent City for a spring vacation.

Peaking Out From Beneath an Old Bridge

December 28, 2019

Amtrak’s northbound City of New Orleans is arriving in the station at Mattoon, Illinois, on May 29, 1997.

The track was still owned by the Illinois Central then and the standard practice was for Amtrak trains to serve the station on what used to be the southbound main. The former northbound main shown at left was now a siding.

Operating practices have since changed so that Amtrak uses the siding in Mattoon because it is closer to the station.

The bridge that train is passing beneath carries Broadway Avenue and was opened in 1916. It was replaced in 2002 by a modern structure.