Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited’

Getting Lucky

February 10, 2019

Photographer Edward Ribinskas describes this photograph of Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited as getting lucky.

Luck was with him in a couple of ways. It started with No. 48 leaving Chicago several hours late in the middle of the night.

Had No. 48 left on time or nearly on time it would have passed through Northeast Ohio in darkness. Of course those aboard the Lake Shore didn’t consider its tardy departure from Chicago as being lucky.

The other luck that with Ed was that an eastbound Norfolk Southern train with Union Pacific motive power came along at the same time as Amtrak, but not too far ahead to block it.

The image was made on Feb. 9 at Davis Road just east of Perry, Ohio.

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Projects to Benefit Amtrak Routes

February 9, 2019

Amtrak stands to benefit from some of the railroad improvement  projects that recently won federal grant funding.

The Federal Railroad Administration said this week that it will award more than $56 million in grants, covering 18 projects in 16 states as part of the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program.

In Florida, the installation of supplemental safety features at 48 grade crossings will benefit the Virgin Trains USA route between West Palm Beach and Miami.

Officials said the work is expected to cut the number of grade-crossing violations by keeping motorists and pedestrians from trespassing as trains approach.

Amtrak’s Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle will see a trip time reduction of three minutes due to a reconfiguration of the Lenox Interlocking in Mitchell, Illinois, located 16 miles northeast of St. Louis.

The project is expected to provide operating flexibility at a junction of four rail lines used by six railroads operating 46 trains per day.

In St. Louis, funding was awarded to replace the Broadway Truss of the Terminal Railway Association of St. Louis’ MacArthur Bridge across the Mississippi River.

The bridge is more than 100 years old and serves as the nation’s second longest railroad bridge. The work will work will increase horizontal clearance of the bridge, which is used by Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle.

In New York, replacement of timber bridge decks with ballast decks on three bridges on the Hudson Line in Dutchess and Columbia counties will eliminate current speed restrictions and allow for future 110-mph operation.

Twenty-six Amtrak trains per day use these bridges, including the Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf, Ethan Allen Express, Adirondack and Empire Service trains.

Work will be performed in Vermont to stablize slopes along an 80-mile section of the New England Central Railroad used by Amtrak’s Vermonter.

The project will lead to the elimination of slow orders that have resulted in 216 hours of annual passenger delays and 520 hours of freight delays as well as decreasing safety risks.

A second second platform, elevator towers, and an overhead pedestrian bridge will be built at the Milwaukee Airport Amtrak station, allowing passenger trains to use both tracks and ease congestion resulting from the current single-track configuration for passenger service.

The station is used by Hiawatha Service trains.

Not a Good Restart for No. 48

February 2, 2019

First there was the severe cold that sidelined Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited for two days.

Although other long distance trains out of Chicago were to resume operations on Thursday night (Jan. 31), the restart of the Lake Shore was held until Friday.

Make that Saturday morning. No. 48 left Chicago Union Station 6 hours and 28 minutes late.

It managed to gain back some time en route but was still 5 hours, 35 minutes down when it reached Cleveland on Saturday morning.

It is shown passing through Olmsted Falls, a Cleveland suburb, just before 11 a.m. on the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern.

Tis The Season for Late Trains

January 23, 2019

Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited is running five hours late as it rushes through Berea, Ohio, on Jan. 22 on Norfolk Southern tracks.

No. 48 was 3.5 hours late leaving Chicago Union Station the night before and was expected to reach New York Penn Station at 11:57 p.m. on Tuesday night, having lost another half hour en route.

Note that No. 48 has its winter consist of one coach for the Boston section and two coaches to New York. The Boston baggage car is gone.

Also in the consist is Viewliner diner Montgomery, a city in Alabama that Amtrak has not served in several years.

Canceled Trains to be Restored Monday

January 20, 2019

Amtrak said on Sunday that all trains canceled on Saturday and Sunday due to a severe winter storm will be restored to normal operation on Monday.

In the meantime the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited will resume service today. Amtrak had canceled Nos. 29 and 30 for Sunday was well as Saturday/

However the Lake Shore Limited remains canceled today from both New York and Chicago.

Nos. 48 and 49 use the same route as the Capitol between Cleveland and Chicago.

Expanded Menu Was Launched Earlier Than Planned

January 19, 2019

The changes that Amtrak made this week in dining service to two eastern long-distance trains occurred earlier than that carrier had expected to make them.

Amtrak also has indicated to the Rail Passengers Association that its long-term vision for its national network is improved service “with more traditional dining options.”

Last year Amtrak ceased offering full-service dining aboard the Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York/Boston) and Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington).

Instead, sleeping car passengers were offered prepackaged meals.

This past week Amtrak expanded the number of hot menu items for lunch and dinner and added a limited hot breakfast option.

In a blog posting on the RPA website, it was disclosed that Amtrak’s original plan was to institute the expanded menu when new high-capacity convection ovens were installed in food service cars that would enable cooking those hot meals in volume.

The ovens have yet to be installed, but Amtrak said is it “remains confident” that the new ovens will installed before the peak summer travel season.

The RPA posting indicated that the more traditional dining options is apparently intended for trains that travel for two nights.

It is unclear what is meant by more traditional options given that those long-distance trains currently have full-service dining cars with table service.

Trains Canceled Ahead of Storm

January 18, 2019

Amtrak has canceled several trains in advance of a coming weekend winter storm expected to slam the Midwest and East while modifying the schedules of several other trains.

The modified schedule will be in effect on Saturday and Sunday (Jan 19-20) with service restored pending improved conditions.

Canceled on Saturday and Sunday are all three eastern long-distance trains, the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited and Cardinal.

However, the Cardinal will operate between Chicago and Indianapolis on Saturday.

Other schedule modifications include the following:

Acela Express: Trains 2250, 2254, 2249, 2251, 2253 will operate only between New York and Boston. Train 2290 is canceled.

Northeast Regional: Trains 160,164, 88,161,135,167 will operate only between New York and Boston.

Keystone Service:  Trains 662, 664, 672, 661, 667, 671 are canceled.

Pennsylvanian:  Canceled over its entire route.

Vermonter:  Trains 54 and 57 are canceled between St. Albans, Vermont, and New Haven, Connecticut.

Northeast Corridor service between New York and Washington and points south will continue to operate as scheduled.

In a service advisory, Amtrak advised travelers to check the status of their train at its website on its smart phone app.

Passengers with reservations on trains that are canceled will typically be accommodated on trains with similar departure times or another day.

Amtrak said it will waive additional charges for passengers seeking to change their reservation.

Upon Further Review, it’s Incremental Change

January 18, 2019

Upon learning the details of Amtrak’s recent change in food service aboard two eastern long-distance trains I was disappointed at what I read but upon further review I was not surprised.

I had thought that the carrier might bring back some semblance of full dining car service to the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited with a contractor using its own employees. In short Amtrak would outsource its food and beverage service.

Instead, Amtrak will increase the selection of prepared meals made available to sleeping car passengers and include a hot breakfast offering.

It also will now provide one complimentary alcoholic beverage to passengers holding business class tickets aboard the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited as well as unlimited complimentary soft drinks. But business car travelers will not receive any meals in the price of their ticket.

In a statement, Amtrak described the changes as an evolution, but I’d describe them as incremental. They are an improvement, but only a slight one.

As expected, Amtrak continues to try to spin the food service operation on the Lake Shore and Capitol with terminology that doesn’t quite fit.

These include “deluxe breakfast choices” and “contemporary dining improvements.”

The carrier also used the term “their private dining car,” which turns out to mean that the new menu offerings are available only to sleeping car passengers. Coach passengers are unable to purchase these items from the café car.

The hot breakfast offering turns out to be a ham and cheese sandwich along with a few other miscellaneous offerings, including hard-boiled eggs. With advance notice, Amtrak will provide a Kosher meal.

Amtrak also framed the changes as being in response to passengers saying they wanted “high-quality food with good variety.”

There probably is some truth to that. At least in the railfan and railroad trade industry press, the contemporary dining” service has been widely criticized.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Railway Age that the carrier is considering making for sale to coach passengers the items provided to sleeping car passengers.

Magliari also acknowledged that all of the food items on the expanded menu items are prepared off the train “with some heating, some plating and presenting taking place on these trains.”

The latest changes are at least the second time Amtrak has tweaked its contemporary dining service on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited.

An earlier change involved adding a hot entrée – a beef short rib – to the dinner and lunch menu.

In its report on the latest food service changes, Trains magazine said it  obtained an internal Amtrak company memo outlining the changes.

One sentence in the memo may be illustrative of management’s view of dining car service: “but customers should still bus and clean the tables they have used.”

In other words, food service aboard Amtrak is more akin to a school cafeteria than a sit-down restaurant.

Passengers will even use trays or plates to take their chosen continental breakfast choices to their table or sleeping car room.

This is designed to cut down on waste, including packaging waste and uneaten food. However, passengers will be able to take as many items as they like within reason.

Of course they can also ask their sleeping car attendant to fetch their meal and bring it to the passenger’s room.

As for outsourcing, that isn’t being done now and it remains to be seen if it will come about as I thought it might.

Amtrak’s unions have been staging public protests to accuse Amtrak of trying to eliminate their jobs.

There is reason to believe that is true. The move to “contemporary dining” resulted in a reduction in staff aboard the trains, notably the elimination of chef and waiter positions.

It may be that Amtrak won’t outsource dining service completely so long as labor contracts with the union onboard service employees exist.

But management no doubt has considered how much money it could save by going to labor provided by a contractor paying non-union employees less compensation and benefits than Amtrak provides its union workers.

It remains unclear if Amtrak management is seriously considering any scenario involving the return of food preparation aboard the eastern long-distance trains whether that is done by Amtrak’s own employees or those of a contractor.

I could see Amtrak management opting for a return to on-board preparation again if—and this is a big if—a contractor could do it for less cost than what Amtrak now pays for “contemporary dining.”

In the short and probably medium term, Amtrak might play around with different contractors to provide food items prepared off the train to see who provides the best value for the least cost.

It may only be a matter of time before that model is extended to the handful of trains with dining cars providing on-board meal preparation.

Amtrak Upgrades Capitol, Lake Shore Food Service

January 17, 2019

Amtrak has upgraded the meal offerings to sleeping car passengers traveling on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Effective this week, those passengers will now have a choice of three hot lunch/dinner options plus a hot breakfast offering.

Dinner and lunch now includes chicken penne alfredo, beef provencal, Asian noodle bowl, antipasto plate and a children’s meal.

Breakfast offerings are deluxe continental breakfast items that include muffins, yogurt, fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, cereal, oatmeal and now a hot breakfast sandwich.

The menu also shows that improved Kosher meals have been included on the menu.

However, the basic concept of the “fresh and contemporary” dining service that Amtrak launched on both eastern long-distance trains on June 1, 2018, remains in place.

That service, which relies on prepared box meals served in a passenger’s sleeping car room or in a dining car devoted to sleeping car passengers, has draw criticism for its limited menu, particularly at breakfast.

The Rail Passengers Association described this week’s changes as a first step toward restoration of “more traditional dining options.”

RPA said Amtrak has outfitted its dining cars with new type of oven that can cook up to 24 meals simultaneously.

That replaces the former practice of heating one meal at a time in a microwave.

The new high-speed convection oven will reportedly cook food more evenly.

Berkshire Flyer Group Already Seeking Brand Identity

December 23, 2018

The train isn’t expected to begin until 2020, but members of the Berkshire Flyer committee are already brainstorming ideas for branding the service, transporting passengers who arrive in Pittsfield, and fretting about whether the train will operate on time as it travels CSX tracks.

The Berkshire Flyer is expected to begin seasonal weekend trial service between New York City and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with funding from the state.

It is expected to make the trip in 3.5 hours and offer a fare of $80 one way.

Trains would depart New York on Fridays at 2:20 p.m. and arriving in Pittsfield at 6:10 p.m.

The Sunday train will depart Pittsfield at 2:45 p.m. and arrive in New York at 6:45 p.m.

Pittsfield is already a stop for Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and Boston and some on the committee are already concerned that the Berkshire Flyer might run late as Nos. 448 and 449 often do.

But the primary issue that the committee is seeking to tackle is transportation for those who arrive from New York by rail.

Pittsfield has limited public transportation, including taxi service and rental car options.

The city of Pittsfield has said it will provide space for Enterprise Rent-A-Car vehicles.

Another option is to make use of such ride-share services as Zipcar, Uber and Lyft.

Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority’s Robert Malnati said the authority has applied for grants to create different routes.

Berkshire Regional Planning Commission member Anuja Koirala also has been examining transportation options and said Transport the People is willing to carry passengers from the Intermodal Center in Pittsfield to other points.

Committee member Jonathan Butler, president and CEO of 1Berkshire, expects ride-share options to increase, saying that during the peak season there is relatively decent Uber service in the more metro areas of the Berkshires during the day.

But one issue is that it is unclear where in the Berkshires most of those riding the Berkshire Flyer will want to go.

The Berkshire Flyer is expected to use existing Amtrak routes, including that of the Lake Shore Limited between Pittsfield and Albany-Rensselaer, New York, and the Empire Corridor into New York City.