Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s City of New Orleans’

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.

Parley Held to Discuss Lateness on Carbondale Route

November 27, 2019

Poor timekeeping in the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor appears to correlate with falling ridership at Champaign-Urbana, Amtrak officials recently said at a conference to discuss the route.

“There is a correlation between poor on-time performance and reduced patronage at Champaign, and that affects Illinois taxpayers who help support the service,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

The conference was held Nov. 22 and involved representatives of Canadian National, Amtrak and officials from communities along the route.

Amtrak officials gave a PowerPoint presentation showing how delays to trains at Champaign seem to be correlated with ridership peaks and valleys over the past decade.

The chart shows that on the whole ridership from Champaign-Urbana, home to the University of Illinois and the largest metropolitan region on the route south of Chicago, has been growing since 2008.

However, the chart also shows that delays have been declining since 2013 when about 60 percent of the trains serving Champaign were late.

Delays fell to about 30 percent in 2015. Since then the percentage of trains arriving late at Champaign has varied between 30 to 40 percent.

In the period 2008 to 2013 delays were in the 50 to 60 percent range.

The corridor is home to the State of Illinois funded Illini and Saluki between Chicago and Carbondale, and the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans.

Between 2008 and 2019 ridership crested at 190,000 in 2013 before starting a steady descent that bottomed out at 160,000 in 2018.

However, in the past year, ridership has sharply rebounded to near its 2013 peak. The ridership low point was 2009 and 2010 when the lingering effects of the Great Recession might have had an influence. Ridership in those years was around 140,000.

The on-time performance has not affected all of the six trains in the corridor the same. The Saluki has borne the brunt of the delays, arriving at its endpoints on time just 26 percent of the time in fiscal year 2019, which ended on Sept. 30.

The City of New Orleans has performed better in part because it has more scheduled padding than the state-funded trains.

“Because the distance from Champaign to Chicago is relatively short [129 miles], we are much more vulnerable to leak ridership from there when taking the train becomes unreliable,” Magliari said.

The conference was not open to the news media or the public, but officials held a news conference afterward. The CN representatives did not participate in the news conference.

Amtrak and CN are currently involved in a case before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board regarding the passenger carrier’s contention that CN gives Amtrak trains poor handling.

The host railroad has required Amtrak trains since 2014 to have a minimum of 32 axles to ensure a proper shunt of signals and crossing gates.

CN has said this is necessary because Amtrak’s Amfleet and Horizon equipment might not otherwise activate grade crossing protection devices in a corridor where the top speed is 79 mph.

Amtrak contends that CN track maintenance procedures and not its equipment is to blame for instances in which safety devices failed to activate.

Another source of delay has been CN’s edict that the Saluki and Illini slow to 60 mph over any highway crossings protected by electronic warning devices between University Park and Centralia.

Those trains carry Amfleet and/or Horizon equipment whereas the City of New Orleans is assigned Superliner equipment.

“The schedule for each train has more than a half-hour of buffer – time added in addition to running time – but the delays still occur,” Magliari said.

He disputed CN’s contention that schedules need to be lengthened, saying the trains arrived early 11 percent of the time.

A Trains magazine report about the conference noted that former CN CEO E. Hunter Harrison, sought to prevent Amtrak from instituting the Saluki in 2006 but backed down after U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) intervened.

Harrison was once CEO of the Illinois Central, which owned the tracks before they were acquired by CN in 1998.

Trains observed that delays to the Saluki have been prevalent in each direction since the train began service.

Durbin recently said he is ready to introduce legislation to give Amtrak a right to sue a host railroad for failure to give passenger trains preference.

But one member of Congress from Illinois, Rodney Davis, believes it is too soon for that.

Davis, who sits on the House committee that oversees Amtrak said giving the passenger carrier a right to sue a host railroad would prolong a solution to on-time performance issues.

He attended the news conference that followed the Nov. 22 conference.

“At this point, I want to try and solve (the on-time performance) problem without going to litigation,” Davis said. “When litigation is involved, it will prolong the final solution.”

Amtrak Adds Padding to CONO, WB Lake Shore Limited

November 23, 2019

Amtrak has been quietly adding additional running time to some routes, including the City of New Orleans and Lake Shore Limited.

Most of the changes have involved endpoint terminals, but in some instances time has been added at intermediate stations.

Schedules posted on Amtrak’s website for the City of New Orleans effective Oct. 1 show that 20 minutes has been added to the northbound arrival time of in Chicago since May 2018.

Effective with the May 13 departure from New Orleans, No. 59’s arrival time in Chicago was changed from 9 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.

The Oct. 1 schedule change shows No. 58 is now scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 9:20 a.m.

The times at stations north of Mattoon, Illinois, for No. 58 also have been adjusted with the time at Champaign-Urbana moved from 6:10 a.m. to 6:15 a.m., Kankakee was changed from 7:13 a.m. to 7:18 a.m., and Homewood was changed from 7:44 a.m. to 7:49 a.m.

The arrival time in New Orleans for No. 59 has been lengthened by nine minutes, but times at intermediate stations are unchanged from their earlier schedules.

In fact, the times at intermediate stations for No. 59 are unchanged from Amtrak’s last printed national timetable, which was issued on Jan. 11, 2016.

The intermediate times for No. 58 are unchanged since 2016 from New Orleans to Mattoon.

It is not clear if the recent changes to the schedules of the City of New Orleans are linked to a battle Amtrak has been having with host railroad Canadian National over what Amtrak believes is poor dispatching.

Amtrak has asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to intervene, but thus far the STB has urged the two sides to continue in mediation.

The current schedules posted on the Amtrak website for Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor trains the Illini and Saluki, which use the same tracks as the City of New Orleans show no changes in schedules.

Those schedules were last updated on Sept. 13, 2017. That schedule also continues to show No. 58 scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 9 a.m.

As for the Lake Shore Limited, the only change in the schedule dated Nov. 11 is to change the Chicago arrival time of No. 49 to 9:50 a.m. It had been 9:45 a.m.

Times at intermediate stations served by No. 49 remain unchanged as does the schedule of eastbound Train No. 48.

The Nov. 11 schedule for the Lake Shore Limited continues to show that café car service remains unavailable on Nos. 48 and 49 between New York City and Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

Amtrak has also posted new schedules for the Cardinal, Crescent, Capitol Limited and Silver Meteor that show no schedule changes but reflect the inauguration of flexible dinning service for sleeping car passengers.

Boarding in Memphis

November 17, 2019

Passengers getting onto the northbound City of New Orleans board in Memphis, Tennessee.

It is 10:30 p.m. and Train No. 58 is running on time. It will depart in 10 minutes for Chicago and all scheduled intermediate stops.

Just 2 BUILD Grants Will Benefit Amtrak

November 17, 2019

Only two of the rail projects that recently received federal BUILD grants that were awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation will directly benefit Amtrak service.

Both involve Amtrak stations in Illinois.

A $14 million grant was awarded for building an underpass at the station in Normal, Illinois, that also serves nearby Bloomington.

The federal funds will pay for design and construction of a pedestrian, bicyclist, and passenger underpass and a second boarding platform at the station.

Normal is served by Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains as well as the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

The other grant was $14 million for design and construction of a new multi-modal transportation center in downtown Carbondale.

That station will replace a modular facility Amtrak opened in the 1980s.

Carbondale is the southern terminus of Amtrak’s Illini and Saluki as well as an intermediate stop for the City of New Orleans, which operates between Chicago and New Orleans.

USDOT handed out $900 million in BUILD grants for 55 transportation-related infrastructure projects in 35 states,

Half of the funding went to projects in rural areas of the country and the lion’s share ($603 million) went to highway projects.

Rail projects received $48.3 million or 5 percent of the total. Transit projects received $84.6 million or 10 percent of the total.

Florida received the largest amount of grant funding followed by North Carolina, Maine, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi and Louisiana.

California received two grants while Michigan, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut received no grant funding.

Amtrak Announces Details About ‘Flexible Dining’

September 16, 2019

Amtrak released this image of one of roasted chicken and fettuccine, one of four hot entrees that will be offered to sleeping car passengers on eastern overnight trains starting Oct. 1.

Amtrak has made official what has been discussed for weeks. Effective Oct. 1 it will remove full-service dining cars from two eastern long-distance trains and convert its eastern long-distance trains that offer sleeping car service to the same dining model it implemented in June 2018 aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited.

In the process, Amtrak is rebranding the service and billing is as an improvement. Gone is the “fresh and contemporary” label. The passenger carrier is now describing its food service as “flexible dining.”

In a news release, Amtrak touted flexible dining as offering additional hot entrees at lunch and dinner.

One of the four entrees will be vegan while another will be gluten free.

For the most part, “flexible dining” will be the same as the “fresh and contemporary” model that it is replacing.

It will be offered on the Cardinal, Crescent, Silver Meteor, Lake Shore Limited, Capital Limited and City of New Orleans.

Amtrak’s news release said “flexible dining” will be launched on the Silver Star (New York-Miami) in 2020.

In a post on Friday afternnoon on its website, the Rail Passengers Association said that Amtrak also plans to provide coach passengers on eastern long-distance overnight trains the opportunity to purchase one of the entrees provided to sleeping car passengers.

However, the Amtrak news release made no mention of coach passengers being able to purchase the meals served to sleeping car passengers.

RPA did note in its post that dining service on eastern long-distance trains will continue to evolve following the Oct. 1 implementation of “flexible dining.”

The Crescent (New York-New Orleans) and Silver Meteor (New York-Miami) currently have full-service dining car service with meals freshly prepared onboard.

The Cardinal (Chicago-New York) and City of New Orleans (Chicago-New Orleans) currently have something in between with a wider number of meal options compared with the Capitol (Chicago-Washington) and Lake Shore (Chicago-New York/Boston), but with all food prepared off the train and heated onboard.

Most of the amenities that Amtrak listed in its news release for “flexible dining” have been fixtures of “fresh and contemporary” since it was launched.

This includes unlimited soft drinks and one complementary alcoholic beverage at lunch and dinner, room service provided by a sleeping car attendant, and exclusive use of a dining car as a lounge for sleeper class passengers for eating and socializing.

The flexible dining moniker apparently stems from the fact that breakfast, lunch and dinner will be available during broad serving hours with no reservation needed.

Breakfast will be available between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., lunch will be available between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., and dinner will be available between 5 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Some changes have been made in the menu offerings. There will still be just one hot entrée available at breakfast, a sausage, egg and cheese muffin.

Also available will be oatmeal (two varieties), cold cereal (four varieties), muffins (two varieties), a breakfast bar (Kind bar), yogurt (two varieties), fruit (bananas and seasonal fruit cup), and various beverages.

On the lunch and dinner menu all entrees come with a side salad and dessert although the menu posted online does not indicate what the dessert is.

The Amtrak news release described the deserts as blondies and brownies.

The entrees include red wine braised beef served with pearl onions, carrots, mushrooms, polenta and Haricot vert; Asian noodle bowl (vegan) served with Yaki Soba noodles, carrots, edamane, red peppers, baby corn, scallions and Shittake mushrooms in a garlic-chili sauce; chicken fettuccine served with roasted chicken, broccoli, carrots, red peppers, Parmesan and Asiago cheeses in a garlic cream sauce); and Creole shrimp and Andouille sausage (gluten free) served with yellow rice, peppers, onions, and green onions in a Creole sauce). All dinners come with side salad and dessert.

The children’s meal is pasta and meatballs served with penne pasta, tomato sauce, meatballs and mozzarella cheese.

Also changing is how these meals are presented. Boxes, bags and excessive wrapping materials are being discarded in favor of small trays that will be used to serve the meals.

Amtrak said that traditional dining cars will continue to operate on western long-distance overnight trains, including the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle.

In the east, the Auto Train will continue to have traditional dining car service although Amtrak has announced plans to end providing meals other than a continental breakfast to coach passengers starting in January 2020.

Amtrak is seeking to frame “flexible dining” as part of a larger evolutionary strategy to upgrade long-distance trains in the coming months.

Other improvements that the news release said are coming include “refreshed” Amfleet II cars, which will receive new seat cushions, carpets, curtains and LED reading lights.

These changes are expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Amtrak said sleepers will receive upgraded bedding, towels and linens, starting with the Auto Train.

New Viewliner II sleeping cars will be assigned to eastern long-distance trains in the coming months as well.

In its posting, RPA hailed Amtrak’s plans, describing them as “important improvements” while acknowledging that it will not be a return to the traditional dining car experience.

RPA said restoration of dining service to the Silver Star is being made possible by “efficiencies gained from the new food-service model on Eastern trains.”

As for coach passengers being able to buy food served to sleeping car passengers, RPA said Amtrak plans to implement an order-ahead system so that passengers have the option to make selections at booking

RPA said Amtrak will offer two hot entrees at breakfast, but the menu posted on the Amtrak website showed just one. RPA suggested that the current ham-egg-cheese on a ciabatta roll breakfast sandwich will continue.

Amtrak has told RPA that it will use a combination of processes and technology to ensure that there is enough food on board for service and enough variety so that passengers’ first choice is more likely to be available.

However, Amtrak is still working on solutions for the problems of special meals, including Kosher, vegan, vegetarian, allergies and food sensitivities.

RPA cited a letter that it received from an Amtrak executive to say that menus for traditional dining cars will change in the first half of 2020.

That letter also said that new mattresses, linens, sheets, blankets and towels along with upgraded soap and amenities will be implemented during the coming year.

Amtrak continues to work to overcome mechanical issues that have prevented it from installing convection ovens on food-service cars, but hopes to have that issue resolved by the end of this year.

Ceremony Marks Start of NOLA Station Project

September 10, 2019

A ceremony held recently marked the ceremonial start of platform rebuilding at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal.

The $6.643 million project will bring the boarding platforms in the terminal to ADA standards as well as expand the canopy covering the platform.

Other work will upgrade the air, water and other systems, place fences and gates to improve security, and create facilities to permit trains to be used for evacuation.

Funding for the project is split among a $3.7 million federal grant, $2 million in matching funds from the City of New Orleans and the New Orleans Building Commission, and $943,000 from Amtrak.

New Orleans is terminus of three Amtrak long-distance routes linking Chicago (City of New Orleans), Los Angeles (Sunset Limited) and New York (Crescent).