Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited’

LSL Boston Section Canceled by Track Work

July 3, 2020

Track work being undertaken by MBTA in Massachusetts will result in the cancellation of the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer, New York, next week.

Between July 5 and July 11, passengers about Train No. 448 traveling to the intermediate stations in Massachusetts of Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester and Boston (South Station) will get off the train at Albany and ride a bus to their destination.

No alternative transportation is being provided to Framingham or Boston Back Bay station.

Passengers for Train 449 at the same intermediate stations will board a bus between July 6 and 12 to travel to Albany-Rensselaer, where they will board the train to continue their journey.

No alternate transportation will be provided from Boston Back Bay station or Framingham.

Passengers boarding at Boston South Station should go to the Amtrak Information Desk for instructions on boarding the buses.

Worcester passengers will board their bus at the main entrance in front of the station and not at the bus terminal.

No business class or sleeper class service will be provided for passengers traveling on Nos. 448 and 449 will be offered between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer.

Service Cuts Mean Fewer Connections

June 23, 2020

Amtrak’s plans to reduce the frequency of operation of its New York-Miami trains will mean there will be no connections to and from Florida on some days in Washington or New York.

The passenger carrier plans on July 6 to begin operating the Silver Meteor four times a week and the Silver Star three times a week.

It is the first step of a larger plan to reduce operations of all long-distance trains except the Auto Train to less than daily service on Oct. 1.

The Silver Meteor will depart New York Monday through Thursday, and Miami Sunday through Wednesday.

The Silver Star will operate Friday through Sunday southbound and Thursday through Saturday northbound.

The New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto will for now continue to operate daily.

The July schedule changes will preclude connections on some days to Florida from the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, and Cardinal.

Cross-Florida travel and service to South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia, will only be possible on different days around weekends.

A Trains magazine analysis noted that during May the combined ridership of the Silver Star and Silver Meteor was 7.2 million passenger miles generating $1.4 million of revenue.

That compares to 5.2 million passenger miles and $2.4 million in revenue for all Northeast Corridor trains between Boston and Washington.

In an unrelated development, Amtrak is offering a 20 percent off sale on roomette accommodations for its Auto Train.

The sale is good through June 24 for travel through Aug. 31.

The sale does not apply to any other trains that provide sleeping car accommodations.

Amtrak to Cut Long-Distance Service Oct. 1

June 16, 2020

Amtrak told its employees on Monday that all long-distance trains except for the Auto Train will operate on less than daily schedules starting Oct. 1.

The carrier also said that service in the Northeast Corridor and state-funded corridor services will continue to operate at greatly reduced levels through during fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1.

The message indicated that Amtrak will watch unspecified performance metrics with the idea of restoring daily service as demand warrants, possibly by summer 2021.

Amtrak has not released details of the service cuts including what days that trains would operate. Nor has it released information on the service metrics that it will be monitoring.

For example, it is unclear if the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited will be scheduled to operate on the same days or different days between Chicago and Cleveland.

The memo to employees was written by Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president, chief marketing and revenue service officer.

Harris said the Silver Meteor is expected to operate four days a week between New York and Miami while the Silver Star would run tri-weekly.

The memo indicated those trains would be scheduled so that their common stations would receive daily service.

The Meteor appears to be the only long-distance train being eyed for quad-weekly service. All other long-distance trains will operate tri-weekly.

However, operations of two trains that already operate tri-weekly, the Chicago-New York Cardinal and the New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited, will be unchanged.

Amtrak has apparently dropped an idea floated by President William Flynn in a late May a letter to Congress of combining the Palmetto (New York-Savannah, Georgia), Silver Meteor and Silver Star.

The Auto Train, which operates between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida, will continue to operate daily.

The Harris memo said the service reductions are being made in an effort to save $150 million  during a time of expected low ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recession that has depressed travel demand.

Harris also argued that Amtrak’s operating loss has been more than $500 million on long-distance services.

Those losses, though, are under Amtrak’s fully allocated costs accounting method whose accuracy has been criticized by rail passenger supporters.

When pressed for details about the service reduction plans, Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said in a prepared statement that the carrier is still in the planning stages and can’t answer most questions yet about what service will look like starting Oct. 1.

Her statement said Amtrak expects during the next fiscal year to operate 32 percent fewer frequencies on the Northeast Corridor and 24 percent fewer state-supported services.

The service cuts were blasted by Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “Chopping back to triweekly will mute any demand signal before it gets to management,” he said in a statement. “The long-distance services remain essential to the hundreds of small communities across the United States with fewer options than Philadelphia or Boston or New York.”

Mathews said Amtrak’s two worst-performing trains are the Cardinal and Sunset Limited, which operate tri-weekly, and predicted Amtrak’s plans to operate less than daily service on long distance routes will result in a dramatic decline in ridership.

“Moreover, Amtrak may be setting itself up for failure by losing operating slots on host railroads, losing employees it will need to restore service, and possibly losing the rolling stock as well,” he said.

Ross Capon, who headed the then-named National Association of Railroad Passengers recalled that Amtrak went through a similar phase in 1995 during another era of budget austerity.

“Experience from the 1990s shows that Amtrak’s plan to run the entire long-distance network less than daily will not achieve promised savings,” Capon told Trains magazine. “It also will inhibit the return of ridership Amtrak says is prerequisite for service restoration.

Capon called on Congress to grant Amtrak the additional $1.4 billion it is seeking on top of its regular appropriation for FY2021 with the proviso that long-distance trains now operating daily continue to do so.

Amtrak has reported that although ridership and revenue remain down due to the pandemic and recession, long-distance ticket revenues rose 71 percent from $6.8 million to $11.6 million, between April and May.

In the Northeast Corridor, revenue rose about 60 percent from $1.5 million to $2.4 million, and state supported trains generated less than a 50 percent increase, from $2.3 million in April to $3.5 million in May.

The Harris memo to employees opened with a statement that Amtrak remains committed to operating a national network but “we need to be smart about how we deliver our service in this market environment.”

Harris said Congress is unlikely to support Amtrak indefinitely if it continues to operate mostly empty trains.

“We need to demonstrate that we are using our resources efficiently and responsibly,” he wrote.

The memo stated Amtrak ridership is down as much as 95 percent on a year-over-year basis.

Although it continues to rise, “it is going to take a long time to return to normal.”

Harris said the demand for long distance service is down by 70 percent and Amtrak expects systemwide ridership in FY2021to be 50 percent of what it was in 2019.

As did Flynn in his May letter to Congress, Harris said Amtrak said the potential for a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall could further reduce ridership.

1,400 Griped About Amtrak Dining in 2014

June 10, 2020

A handful of passengers are ready to enjoy dinner aboard the eastbound Capitol Limited as it rolls through Chicago in March 2014.

Business Insider magazine reported on Wednesday that Amtrak received more than 1,400 complaints last year about its “flexible dining” service aboard overnight trains.

The complaints filled 125 pages that the magazine obtained from Amtrak through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Many of the complaints said Amtrak’s meal service has resulted in lesser quality food.

“We did not take the train to save money, we took the train for the experience,” one complaint said. “The dining car is a huge part of the rail experience.”

For its part, the carrier contended that passengers like the flexible dining service more than the complaints might indicate.

The initial version of flexible dining was implemented on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited in June 2018. It was extended to other eastern long-distance trains more than a year later.

Prior to 2018, most long-distance trains had full-service dining cars with meals freshly prepared onboard.

Meals were included in the price of a sleeping car ticket and available for sale to coach passengers.

Flexible dining has placed full-service dining cars with a limited selection of meals that are prepared off the train.

It is called “flexible” dining because passengers can eat at their leisure during a broad set of hours in either the dining car or in their sleeping car rooms.

The flexible dining meals are not available to sale to coach passengers. Amtrak said several months ago it was studying making those meals available for sale to coach passengers but has yet to do that.

Although full-service dining cars continue to operate on western overnight trains, flexible dining was extended to those trains in April during a steep ridership decline during the COVID-19 pandemic that cost long-distance trains about 85 percent of their ridership.

Business Insider characterized most of the complaints as passengers saying the flexible dining meals are unsatisfying and low-quality.

“It seems the new direction of food service resembles that of air travel,” wrote one passenger.

“Your attendants seemed actually embarrassed [sic] to serve this stuff.”

Many complaints said flexible dining resulted in a lot of waste because the plates and packaging used to serve the meals was largely thrown away.

“The commingling of all waste does not seem to be environmentally sound when all forms of recyclables are combined with food in the trash,” said one passenger.

Several complaints described the water containers in the dining car as unsightly.

Amtrak changed the packaging in October 2019 to reusable trays and said it was “reviewing a plan to use service ware that is more sustainable such as reusable or biodegradable.”

In a statement, Amtrak took issue with the notion that flexible dining was disliked despite the high volume of complaints.

“While there were approximately 1,200 customer service cases on flexible dining over the specified period of time, ridership on these six routes during this period exceeded 800K,” Amtrak said. “On each route with flexible dining, at least 80 percent of customers selected a top range score in customer satisfaction surveys.”

The Amtrak statement said that it is paying attention to passenger comments and making improvements base on those comments.

It cited as an example changing the service in January 2019 to include more hot entrees and additional breakfast options. More hot entrees were added in October 2019.

“We have also adjusted menus to reflect customer’s nutritional and special meal requirements,” the statement said.

Amtrak has said it introduced flexible dining to cut costs. Former Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said the passenger carrier was responding to a Congressional mandate to lower its losses on food service.

Anderson said the easiest way to do that would be to offer a single food car and then have meal choices for passengers.

Amtrak did not initially do. It continues to offer one type of food service for sleeper class passengers while operating a café car service for coach passengers.

On some trains since the pandemic hit, it has offered one food service car.

Amtrak said the removal of full-service dining from Western long-distance trains was temporary and going to last through May 31.

However, the carrier has yet to reinstate full-service dining on Western trains and in the meantime Amtrak CEO William Flynn has said the carrier expects ridership in the 2021 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 to be half of what it would normally be.

Flynn said Amtrak is seeking to pare its workforce by 20 percent, offering incentives for workers to retire or leave and, if needed, furloughing some of them.

Amtrak is also seeking a $1.4 billion supplemental appropriation for FY2021 on top of the more than $2 billion regular appropriation for that year.

Even if it gets that money Amtrak has said long-distance trains will operate on a less than daily level although it has not spell out what that means.

If it doesn’t get the additional money, the carrier has said all long-distance trains except the Auto Train are “at risk.” Presumably that means of being discontinued or suspended.

It would seem to point toward “flexible dining” being the norm for all overnight trains in the future.

Some Amtrak Trains Are ‘Selling Out’

June 10, 2020

Although Amtrak trains continue to run with loads well under capacity, an analysis published on the Trains magazine website reported that some trains are selling out as ridership slowly begins to rise.

Of course Amtrak is only selling half the capacity of its coaches as a way to enforce social distancing and the sell outs or near sellouts have resulted in some high eye popping fares.

That included a coach fare of $260 from Chicago to Dallas, but $251 from Chicago to Pontiac, Illinois, a distance of 92 miles.

Yet a coach seat between Chicago and Normal, Illinois, a distance of 124 miles was available for a fare of $124.

Blame a yield management system that increases fares for segments with the heaviest ridership.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Trains that Amtrak consists changed little between April and May.

However, the consists of some trains have since expanded. The Lake Shore Limited has been reported to now be operating with four Amfleet coaches, two for the New York section and two for the Boston section.

That is double the number of coaches that had been carried.

The Capitol Limited has been reported to have expanded from four cars to five or six.

Trains passenger correspondent Bob Johnston rode Amtrak’s Texas Eagle recently between Chicago and Normal.

His report indicated that the bathrooms, coaches and Sightseer lounge cars were clean on both trains and although passengers wore masks while boarding the train about half removed them after settling into their seats.

Johnston wrote that most passengers wore their masks while walking through the train.

He also said some food items were out of stock in the café car, including all of the fresh deli sandwiches and cheeseburgers.

Few passengers ate their meals in the lounge car after purchasing food there.

A spot check conducted by Trains over a 15-day period found numerous instances in which coach seats were sold out or nearly sold out on some long distance trains.

The westbound Lake Shore Limited had no day-of-departure coach seats on 11 of 15 days out of New York when No. 48 operated with a single Amfleet II coach.

Some seats that were available were priced at twice the normal $112 fare.

The spot check determined that sleeping cars were rarely sold out during the 15-day period.

Amtrak has not yet increased fares for sleepers much above the usual summer rates.

Trains also reported that it has learned that Amtrak on May 29 operated a special train of 15 empty Amfleet II coaches from the Hialeah Maintenance Facility in Miami to Jacksonville, Florida, for storage.

Your Seat in an Amtrak Viewliner Roomette

May 23, 2020

Here is your seat in your Viewliner roomette aboard Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited.

You’ve just boarded and are looking forward to a relaxing trip to the East Coast.

But right now you’re just getting settled in your room as No. 48 sits in Chicago Union Station.

As a sleeper class passenger you were able to board ahead of most passengers so it will be several minutes before the Lake Shore leaves Union Station behind.

One downside to your seat is that it doesn’t recline as much as a coach seat does. But your seat does fold down into a bed, which is a benefit those in coach doesn’t have.

So have a seat and welcome aboard. Your train travel journey is about to begin.

Track Work to Disrupt Boston LSL Section

February 26, 2020

Track work being performed by host railroad MBTA will affect operations of the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited on weekends between Feb. 29 and May 17.

Nos. 448 and 449 will not operate between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer, New York, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the period.

The service disruption will affect passengers traveling to and from the Massachusetts stations of Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester and Boston (South Station).

Alternative bus service will be provided between Boston and Albany.

However, no alternate transportation is being provided to the missed stop of Framingham. Passengers traveling to Boston Back Bay station will taken by bus to South Station or riding an MBTA or Amtrak train between those points.

Passengers at South Station should go to the Amtrak Information Desk for instructions on boarding the buses.

Worcester passengers will board the bus at the main entrance in front of the station. Boarding will not occur at the bus terminal.

During the service disruptions there will be no business class or sleeping car service on Nos. 448 and 449.

Mudslide Grounds the Cardinal

February 16, 2020

Saturday was a rough day for Amtrak trains serving Ohio.

The westbound Cardinal was halted on Friday at Thurmond, West Virginia, due to a mudslide.

The train was moved back east to Prince, West Virginia, and the passengers put aboard buses to continue their journey.

No. 51 did not operate to Cincinnati, Indianapolis or any intermediate points on Saturday.

As a result the eastbound Cardinal that was due to leave Chicago on Saturday night was canceled.

Amtrak Tweeted that alternative transportation was being provided only for passengers traveling between Chicago and Cincinnati.

The Cardinal is next scheduled to operate today westbound and it departed New York on time.

Mechanical issues on Saturday afternoon delayed the departure of the westbound Capitol Limited from Washington for nearly four hours.

No. 29 didn’t arrive in Cleveland on Sunday until 6:17 a.m., making it three hours, 24 minutes late.

It is projected to reach Chicago at 11:40 a.m, but actually arrived at 1:38 p.m., nearly five hours late.

Also on Saturday the westbound Lake Shore Limited was stopped west of Toledo due to mechanical problems.

When No. 49 resumed its journey it was an hour late, which became 3 hours, 28 minutes late by the time it reached Chicago Union Station at 1:18 p.m.

Acela Trainset to Leave For Testing in Colorado

February 14, 2020

Amtrak said this week that the first new Acela trainset will depart on Monday for a testing center in Colorado.

The equipment, which is being built by Alstom in Hornell, New York, will undergo nine months of testing at the Transportation Technology Center near Pueblo, Colorado.

Tests will examine the trainset’s pantograph, railway dynamics, tilting, traction, slip/slide and wayside protection, brakes, and train control management systems.

After the testing has ended the trainset will return to New York for installation of its interiors.

Alstom is building 20 Acela trainsets with the first slated to enter revenue service in 2021.

The prototype set will travel from Buffalo, New York, to La Junta, Colorado, via Chicago between Feb. 17 and 19, using the routes of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited and Southwest Chief.

A second trainset is expected to move to Amtrak’s Penn Coach Yard in Philadelphia for testing in mext month.

A third trainset now being built is tentatively scheduled to travel to Philadelphia for testing in September.

Mass. Rail Expansion Plan Has Costly Numbers

February 8, 2020

A study by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation estimates that expanding rail passenger service between Boston and the western region of the state could cost upwards of $25 billion.

However, the study drew fire from rail passenger advocates who questioned its methodology.

The study laid out six proposals. The lowest cost plan would be to increase service between Boston and Springfield and creating bus connections to Pittsfield.

That plan will cost an estimated $2 billion.

The high end proposal of $25 billion would create 150-mph high-speed service.

MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack described the cost estimates as “sobering” and said federal funding will be needed to “get this done.”

However, former Secretary of Transportation Jim Aloisi criticized the study as containing “questionable modeling” that he said is “unreliable and deliberately negative.”

The only Amtrak service currently linking Boston and the western region of the state is the Lake Shore Limited between Boston and Chicago.