Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Empire Builder’

Empire Builder Affected by Mudslides, Too

February 6, 2018

Amtrak’s Empire Builder is also affected by mudslides that have temporarily halted Cascade Service to Vancouver, Washington.

The mudslide occurred Sunday morning near White Rock, British Columbia. In a service advisory, Amtrak said that it is using chartered buses to move passengers in place of its trains in the affected areas north of Seattle.

Service south of Seattle remains unaffected. All trains are expected to resume operating north of Seattle later today.

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Super Bowl to Affect Amtrak’s St. Paul Station

January 30, 2018

Amtrak has advised that some restrictions are in place at its station in St. Paul, Minnesota, due to the Twin Cities hosting the 2018 Super Bowl.

Passengers going to and from the station are advised to allow extra time due to the added security surrounding the game and its festivities.

The game will be played on Feb. 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

On Thursday (Feb. 1) a private party is being held at St. Paul Union Depot and only ticketed passengers will be allowed inside.

Passengers will be escorted to a secure seating area and there will be an alternate boarding route.

For passengers who need assistance, Amtrak personnel will be available to escort them to their train. St. Paul is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Vanishing Sight

January 23, 2018

All of Amtrak’s long-distance trains carry baggage cars. Given that these cars are new Viewliner equipment that went into service in the past few years, it is likely that Amtrak trains will continue to carry baggage cars and offer checked baggage for the foreseeable future.

But rapidly vanishing at intermediate stations is the practice of the local station agent wheeling a baggage cart out to the platform to load and unload bags on the train’s baggage car.

Shown is an Amtrak agent at Minot, North Dakota, loading a box aboard the westbound Empire Builder in May 2014.

As Amtrak tells the story, it has pulled its agents from many stations because most passengers are buying their tickets online. Many passengers are using their smart phones for their tickets rather than using paper.

So, the story goes, there is less need to have agents at stations that sell few tickets. With the disappearance of agents have also come the end of check baggage at those stations.

In some instances, an Amtrak conductor can check items, such as bicycles. But in most towns served by Amtrak, checked luggage has become another relic of history.

MnDOT Still Seeking to Improve Rail Service

January 17, 2018

With high-speed rail now sidetracked, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is moving ahead to study increasing the number of stations served by Amtrak’s Empire Builder between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

MnDOT said that increasing Amtrak service and speeding up the existing service between the city urban areas remains a priority.

“There are slow spots along the corridor that if we put some infrastructure investment in, will allow the trains to go through at faster speeds,” said MnDOT passenger rail director Dan Krom.

“Even with a second train, we’re looking at reducing the travel time and shorter dwell times at the stations [by] addressing some of these choke points along the corridor.”

After being prodded by two Minnesota legislatures earlier this month, MnDOT shelved a study of high-speed rail between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

One component of that study was a second train on the route to supplement the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

State officials had said that the second train had not been expected to launch for another three to four years.

“What we’re really wrapping up is some operational modeling to see how the train fits in with the existing freight system,” Krom said.

Waiting for His Passengers

January 16, 2018

An Amtrak sleeping car attendant stands on the platform of the north concourse of Chicago Union Station to welcome passengers for his car aboard the westbound Empire Builder.

These tracks were once used by trains of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul and today Amtrak uses the ex-Milwaukee Road route between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Although boarding of No. 7 began on time, the train will depart late from Chicago largely due to late inbound trains, most notably the Lake Shore Limited. Also being held on this day for connecting passengers were the departing California Zephyr and Southwest Chief.

Minnesota Rail Study Halted

January 9, 2018

Two Minnesota lawmakers have effectively ended an environmental study of the feasibility of high-speed passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Milwaukee.

Rep. Paul Torkelson and Senator Scott Newman, both Republicans, and chairmen of the transportation committees in their respective chambers, objected to the Minnesota Department of Transportation accepting federal grant money for the study.

Calling it a waste of taxpayer money, the legislators said that the State of Wisconsin opposes high-speed rail.

“Minnesota should not be squandering precious tax dollars — whether local, state or federal — on a wasteful project actively opposed by other states whose support is necessary to proceed,” the legislators wrote in a letter to the commissioner of the Department of Management and Budget.

Dan Krom, director of MnDOT’s Passenger Rail Office confirmed that the study has been halted even though $1 million in state and federal funding has already been spent on it.

The Minnesota lawmakers were objecting to MnDOT spending another $181,682 being provided by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Krom said the study would have created a “framework for the environmental process moving forward and start looking at some general issues. We didn’t get to any detail; this was just the initial money to get the project started.”

More detailed studies were expected to be conducted at a later date.

Funding for the study originated in 2009 during a economic stimulus program started by the Obama Administration.

Wisconsin was to have received $810 million for a Madison-to-Milwaukee service. However, Republican Scott Walker refused the money after being elected in 2010, saying the service would be too expensive to build and maintain.

Governors in Ohio and Florida also refused rail project stimulus money and the funds were re-directed to other states.

Although Wisconsin continues to fund conventional Amtrak service between Milwaukee and Chicago, Walker continues to oppose high-speed rail service.

“It would be rather inappropriate for us to spend federal funds when there’s no chance of it going forward,” Torkelson said.

Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association said it was shortsighted for Minnesota to end its study, which he called “a basic assessment” to understand what’s needed.

“It’s really just fixing the existing track so you can run things faster and more frequently,” he said.

Janice Rettman, a Ramsey County commissioner who is chair of the Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission, called ending the study regrettable.

Senator Scott Dibble, a member of the Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, called the decision unfortunate.

“Do they only want people to have cars and drive? They have a complete disregard for other modes of transportation,” he said.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari  said that although faster and more-frequent trains help build ridership, reliability is the most-important attribute in luring more passengers.

MnDOT has been eying a second daily round-trip passenger train to supplement the existing Amtrak service between the Twin Cities and Chicago via Milwaukee. With funding and political support, that service could begin operation in 2022.

Torkelson contended that he does not oppose “anything that is economically viable. You need to use resources in a fashion with projects that actually have a chance of getting done.”

Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder is the only rail service between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.

NB Coast Starlight Schedule Change to Affect Connections with EB Empire Builder in Portland

September 30, 2017

A later schedule for the northbound Los Angeles to Seattle Coast Starlight will affect that train’s connections to the eastbound Empire Builder.

Track work being performed by Union Pacific will have Train No. 14 operating an hour later between Oct. 1 and 8.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that No. 14 will depart Los Angeles and operate as scheduled through its arrival at Klamath Falls, Oregon, at 8:07 a.m. the following day.

No. 14 will sit in Klamath Falls for up to two hours, departing at 10:17 a.m., operating two hours later at all remaining stations on the route.

The schedule change affects Train 14 that originates in Los Angeles on Sept. 30 through Oct. 7 and arrives in Klamath Falls between Oct. 1 and Oct. 8.

To accommodate the later schedule, service adjustments have been made for passengers connecting to Empire Builder No. Train 28 at Portland, Oregon:

  • October 1 through October 6: Passengers on Train 14 who are connecting to Train 28 at Portland will detrain at Klamath Falls where bus service will be provided to Pasco, Washington. At Pasco, passengers will board eastbound Train 28.
  • October 7 and 8: Connections at Portland from Train 14 to Train 28 will not be available on Saturday and Sunday, October 7 and 8.
  • October Customers boarding at Eugene, Albany or Salem who are connecting to Train 28 from Train 14 will, instead, take Amtrak Cascades Thruway Bus 5528 to Portland and transfer to Train 28.

Amtrak Routes Said to be Eyed by Terrorists

August 20, 2017

Amtrak’s Empire Builder and Lake Shore Limited might be targeted by terrorist groups the Transportation Security Administration has warned.

The TSA has told mass transit agencies, freight, and passenger rail lines to be vigilant in the wake of a propaganda video released by the terrorist group Al Qaeda.

TSA said there are no known plots against transportation operations in the United States, but that the terrorist group has listed dozens of rail routes that it considered to be vulnerable.

Many of those routes serve Chicago Union Station. Al Qaeda listed the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited and the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

“The Al-Qaeda video is an important reminder that mass transit, passenger-rail, and freight-rail operations are a potential target for terrorist activity,” TSA officials said.

The federal agency said employees should keep a close watch on their environments and to exercise caution with equipment and materials that could be used to obstruct or derail trains.

Transportation officials has indicated that airport-style screening systems are unlikely to become common in rail transportation, including mass transit lines, but testing is being conducted of systems that would enhance existing security measures.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Los Angeles conducted a test run of new technology designed to scan passengers to detect firearms or explosive vests.

“While we’ll never become a fully secured environment like you’d have in the airport, we do want to find a way to more effectively screen passengers,” Metro security executive Alex Wiggins said. “We are trying to stay ahead of the threat.”

One reason why airport security measure have not been implemented for rail passengers is because they cannot process transit and intercity rail passengers fast enough.

The technology being tested in Los Angeles can scan up to 600 passengers per hour. Riders are not required to remove their shoes or take out laptops, keys and phones from their bags.

The scanners cost about $60,000 each and 20 would be needed for Union Station alone.

Chicago-Twin Cities Expansion Hearings Planned for September

July 21, 2017

The Minnesota Department of Transportation said this week that it has completed a “purpose and need” statement for a proposed expansion of rail passenger service between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

MnDOT is studying the addition of a second roundtrip Amtrak train between the two metropolitan regions to supplement the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The next step in the review will be a series of public hearings on Sept. 6 at St. Paul Union Depot in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and on Sept. 7 at the La Crosse County Administrative Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Those hearings are part of a process of evaluating alternatives for the project and the needed infrastructure upgrades.

The Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois departments of transportation are working with the Federal Railroad Administration, Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission and La Crosse Area Planning Committee on the initial planning effort for the proposed TCMC project.

Hiawatha Service Restored Wednesday Afternoon

July 12, 2017

Amtrak restored Wednesday afternoon its Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service after it had been canceled earlier due to flooding.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that service resumed with the departure of Train 338 from Milwaukee at 3 p.m. and Train 337 from Chicago at 3:15 p.m.

The flooding occurred after heavy rain fell along tracks in both directions from Rondout, Illinois.

The tracks in the area are used by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific and are located in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and Lake County, Illinois.

Metra temporarily suspended service on its Milwaukee District North Line between Chicago Union Station and Fox Lake, Illinois.

Metra said the interlocking plant was flooded at Rondout. Ballast was washed away and a downed tree blocked tracks just west of Libertyville.

The commuter rail agency sent ballast cars and machinery to the location of the washout to lay a new track structure.

The Milwaukee District North Line serves 22,900 passengers a day on 60 trains. Also using the route is Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.