Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Crescent’

Tennessee Committee OKs Amtrak feasibility Study

February 22, 2020

A Tennessee legislative committee has approved a bill authorizing a study of the launching Amtrak service between Atlanta and Nashville, Tennessee.

The bill will fund a feasibility study to determine how much the service would cost and who would pay for it.

During a hearing earlier, an Amtrak government affairs executive told Tennessee lawmakers that state and local governments would be expected to underwrite any operating losses of the service.

Amtrak has been touting in the past year corridor services between unserved or underserved urban centers.

The website Curbed Atlanta reported that Tennessee Rep. Jason Powell said the Amtrak service would provide a crucial connection between the fast-growing cities, with possible stops in Chattanooga, Tullahoma, and Murfreessboro.

“This corridor is one of those where it’s just glaring that there’s not a connection on the map,” Powell said.

However, he acknowledged that if the study determines the service would be costly “that might lessen the enthusiasm, but I think the appetite is there.”

It is not clear if Amtrak has approached Georgia lawmakers about supporting the proposed service.

A Georgia Department of Transportation spokesperson told Curbed Atlanta it has “not been approached by Amtrak at this time.”

However, the agency has been working on a proposal for high-speed rail service between Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, and, eventually, Washington.

Atlanta is served by Amtrak’s New York-New Orleans Crescent but Nashville has not had Amtrak service since the October 1970 discontinuance of Chicago-Miami/St. Petersburg Floridian.

The proposed Atlanta-Nashville corridor would have multiple trains a day operating with a six-and-a-half hour running time.

Public Hearings Held on Atlanta-Charlotte Corridor

January 25, 2020

Public hearings were recently held on a proposed high-speed rail route that would link Atlanta and Charlotte.

The transportation departments of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina conducted the hearings on a Tier 1 draft environmental impact statement.

The draft compared three alternatives two of which the Federal Railroad Administration would consider to be high speed.

The FRA defines a high-speed rail route as one over which trains travel at between 90 mph and 150 mph or higher.

If built, the 280-mile Atlanta-Charlotte route would be part of a larger Southeast High Speed Rail network that has been proposed between Washington and Atlanta through Richmond, Virginia, and Raleigh, North Carolina.

The draft environmental statement reviewed the area connecting Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the proposed Charlotte Gateway Station.

The study noted that existing public transportation is provided by Amtrak’s Crescent; commercial airline service to airports in Atlanta, Charlotte and Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina; and intercity bus service.

Tuscaloosa New Station Efforts Stall

January 22, 2020

Efforts to create a new Amtrak station in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, have stalled.

Tuscaloosa officials have been trying for years to create a new station, but have been unable to reach an agreement with host Railroad Norfolk Southern.

City officials want to located the station in the Alberta neighborhood, which would put it in close proximity to the campus of the University of Alabama.

The current station, which is served by the New York-New Orleans Crescent, is located on Greensboro Avenue and is in poor condition.

Amtrak has reportedly threatened to cease using the station.

Work on creating a new station began in 2016 but has made little headway.

NS Track Work to Disrupt Operations of Crescent

January 4, 2020

Track work being performed by Norfolk Southern will result in Amtrak’s Crescent being canceled between New Orleans and Atlanta on certain days between Jan. 19 and Feb. 20.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said Nos. 19 and 20 will not operate between those cities on weekdays during the periods of Jan. 20-23, Jan. 23- 27. Jan. 30 to Feb. 3-6, Feb. 10-13, and Feb. 17-20.

On those dates No. 19 will terminate in Atlanta. Passengers will be provided bus service from Atlanta to the scheduled stops of Anniston, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Meridian, Laurel, Hattiesburg, Picayune, Slidell and New Orleans.

No. 19 will operate through to New Orleans on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, serving all stations on the route.

No. 20 on the dates shown above will originate in Atlanta. Passengers will ride a bus if boarding at New Orleans to Slidell, Picayune, Hattiesburg, Laurel, Meridian, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Anniston before transferring to the train in Atlanta.

On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Train 20 will operate normally, serving all stations on the route.

Initial Atlanta-Charlotte High-Speed Study Released

October 26, 2019

A draft study conducted by the Georgia Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration has concluded that high-speed rail service could operate between Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, in just over two hours.

Creating the service would cost up to $15.4 billion.

The study said the service, if implemented, could reduce air pollution and improvement mobility for millions of passengers.

Three routes are being eyed for the service in the 280-mile corridor.

  • Using the Norfolk Southern railroad corridor that hosts the existing Amtrak Crescent.
  • Building along the Interstate 85 right of way between Gastonia, North Carolina, and Suwanee, Georgia, and transitioning to existing railroad rights of way in the approaches to the Atlanta and Charlotte terminals.
  • Developing a new “greenfield” high-speed rail corridor between Atlanta and Charlotte, and transitioning to existing railroad rights of way in the approaches to the Atlanta and Charlotte terminals.

Public comments on the study are being accepted by the GDOT in the next 45 days.

After that, the department will select a preferred route and conduct a final study.

No More Dining Car to the Big Apple

October 7, 2019

An overlooked footnote to the Oct. 1 changes to Amtrak dining service aboard its eastern long-distance trains is that New York City no longer is served by a full-service dining car.

The Big Apple sees hundreds of Amtrak trains a day, many of them offering food and beverage service, but none of them now has a dining car in which meals are prepared freshly onboard.

The last dining car to arrive in New York was the Nashville, which arrived late on the afternoon of Oct. 1 aboard the inbound Crescent from New Orleans.

The Crescent and Silver Meteor were the last trains serving New York to operate with full-service dining cars.

Those trains now have the “flexible dining” that is also offered aboard the Lake Shore Limited, Capitol Limited, Cardinal and City of New Orleans.

For now full-service dining cars continue to operate on western long-distance trains.

The flexible dining service model uses food prepared off the train and reheated onboard or served cold.

Although it has a more expansive menu of offerings than the “fresh and contemporary” model implanted in June 2018 on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited, the number of entrees available at lunch and dinner is four.

Coach passengers are unable to partake of those offerings whereas they could buy meals in full-service dining cars.

Instead, coach passengers who do not bring their own food and drink aboard must buy from the café car.

A report on the Trains magazine website noted that New York’s first dining cars began in the 1880s when the the New York & Hudson River Railroad (a New York Central subsidiary) offered then on its Chicago and St. Louis Vestibule Limited. Those cars operated between New York and Buffalo, New York; and Elkhart, Indiana, and Chicago.

Although some Amtrak trains serving New York, most notably the Acela Express, offer some fresh food to first class passengers, it is prepared off the train.

Take a Ride on the Amtrak Spin Train

September 16, 2019

Having breakfast on the Lake Shore Limited in March 2012 as Train 49 stopped in Bryan, Ohio. Note that the menu featured an image of a couple eating in the dining car while watching the scenery roll by.

In a news release posted last week, Amtrak described changes it was making to dining services aboard eastern overnight trains this way in the opening sentence: “Amtrak continues to evolve the travel experience on long-distance trains with the introduction of a new, flexible dining service for Sleeping Car customers traveling on the Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent and Silver Meteor starting on Oct. 1 and the Silver Star in 2020.”

The next paragraph had a quotation from Amtrak President Richard Anderson saying this “evolution” is being done to meet the needs of today’s customers.

“Traveling on one of our trains has never been just about the destination – the journey is part of the adventure,” Anderson said.

That is the same Richard Anderson who has been trashing his company’s long distance trains by talking about how much money they lose and how they fail to meet the travel needs of those who live along their routes.

But you wouldn’t know that from reading this news release, which used variations of the word “evolution” three times.

That suggests, as the Oxford dictionary defines “evolution,” a process of gradually moving from a simple to a more complex form.

It is notable for what Amtrak is not saying in this release.

It doesn’t say the Crescent and Silver Meteor will no longer offer meals freshly prepared on board the train or that “flexible dining” will offer fewer choices at meal time.

It says nothing about the Amtrak onboard service employees who are losing their jobs.

It says nothing about how these changes are part of an aggressive cost-cutting campaign that Anderson initiated.

Some of the touted “benefits” of flexible dining cited in the news release are already being offered  and are not upgrades in the traveling experience. This includes having meals delivered to your sleeping car room.

If flexible dining service is an improvement it is only because it represents an incremental increase in the number of meal options being offered compared with the “fresh and contemporary” service model introduced last year on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Amtrak, like any other company, is seeking to portray what customers might see as a negative as actually being a positive.

So rather than speak about cost cutting and reducing labor expenses, it instead frames the changes as serving the needs of its passengers without saying what those are.

The news release follows standard public relations practice of focusing on something that is, arguably, of value to a customer while avoiding calling attention to changes that take away something else of value.

It is a standard public relations marketing strategy if you are taking something away to instead focus on something of value you are offering instead.

Therefore sleeper class passengers get one free alcoholic beverage per meal whereas they used to pay out of pocket for any drinks they ordered with lunch or dinner.

And they also get the exclusive use of the dining car as a lounge.

I would not undervalue that “benefit” because on most eastern overnight trains the lounge is an Amfleet car that doubles as the café car for coach passengers. It can get quite crowded and has limited seating.

Many railfans have complained bitterly about the loss of full-service dining on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

No longer can you order an omelet with bacon, potatoes and a croissant when traveling from, say, Cleveland or Pittsburgh to Chicago.

Gone is the end of the communal seating and in is having to make do with less variety on the menu.

Yet, even the Rail Passengers Association in writing about what has been lacking about “fresh and contemporary” has acknowledged that some of its members have applauded some aspects of it including lighter fare and being able to choose your own company while eating.

Some passengers dislike being beholden to the time shown on their meal reservation and not everyone wants to eat with strangers or is looking for a heavy meal for breakfast or dinner.

The changes that Amtrak has made in food service on its eastern overnight trains are not necessarily what the carrier says they are yet are not necessarily a nefarious plot to kill long-distance passenger trains.

It appears that way because these changes are being made at the same time that high-ranking Amtrak managers are trying to portray these trains as relics of bygone era.

The dining service changes also bear a striking resemblance to what freight railroads did in the 1960s when they downgraded service on intercity passenger trains and discontinued dozens of them.

Whatever the future may hold for overnight passenger trains, there is little to no reason to believe that full-service dining cars are going to return to the eastern long-distance trains or that those Amtrak workers who are losing their jobs are going to get them back.

The omelet you had hoped to enjoy for breakfast has been replaced by a Kind bar.

The steak and baked potato you wanted for dinner has been replaced with red wine braised beef and a side salad.

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).

Amtrak Takes Delivery of 2 More Viewliners

August 31, 2019

Amtrak took delivery this week of two more Viewliner II baggage-dorm cars from CAF USA this week, the Rail Passengers Association reported.

The delivery of Viewliner II sleeping cars is expected to get underway this fall.

Viewliner equipment is used on eastern long-distance trains, including the Lake Shore Limited, Cardinal, Crescent, Silver Meteor and Silver Star.

Delivery of the new equipment has been a long time coming and been delayed by production issues at CAF’s New York plant.