Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited’

Amtrak Workers Contend Jobs in Jeopardy.

October 11, 2018

The union representing Amtrak food service workers believes that as many as 1,700 of its members may lose their jobs if Amtrak outsources its food service to a contractor.

Some of the union workers protested that prospect during a rally outside New York’s Penn Station this week.

Transport Workers Union International President John Samuelsen said Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson is “engaged in a slash-and-burn management plan.”

The approximately 100 Amtrak workers also decried Amtrak’s replacement of full-service dining aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited with boxed meals, most of them served cold.

Amtrak acknowledged in a statement that it has cut 14 chef positions, but that all those affected who wanted another position with Amtrak were able to get one.

The Amtrak statement also contended that the change in meal service aboard the Lake Shore and Capitol has been well received by passengers.

Advertisements

Cold Day in Geneva

September 24, 2018

Outside the temperature is in the single digits, but inside Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited the passengers are nice and warm as their train heads for points in New York and Massachusetts.

The train is shown passing through Geneva, Ohio, with the next scheduled stop being Erie, Pennsylvania.

Amtrak 448 at Bort Road

August 31, 2018

Bort Road is one of those countless rural roads in America that most people will never travel or know about.

It has a timeless quality about it, as though time has forgotten it.

Yet to the engineers in the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Bort Road is well known.

It crosses the CSX Erie West Subdivision on a one-lane bridge that was built decades ago when these tracks were owned by the New York Central.

In recent years the bridge has received some repairs and been closed for several weeks at times.

PennDOT would like to replace the bridge, possibly by moving it closer to the town of North East.

Perhaps some day in the not too distant future they’ll do that. But for now passenger trains continue to pass beneath this bridge just as countless NYC and Penn Central trains did in the years before Amtrak.

Shown is Amtrak’s Boston-bound Lake Shore Limited in late May.

The crossing signals in the background are for the Lake Erie District of Norfolk Southern, which Bort Road crosses at grade.

 

New York LSL Section to Resume Service

August 31, 2018

The Lake Shore Limited will return to Penn Station in New York City on Tuesday, but the Cardinal will not be back in the Big Apple until November.

The New York section of the Lake Shore was suspended in late May due to construction on the train’s route to Penn Station.

Passengers were forced to transfer at Albany-Renssalaer, New York, and take a connecting train to New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

The Boston section continued to operate between Chicago and Boston as usual.

Also shifting back to Penn Station on Tuesday will be Amtrak’s Empire Corridor trains, including the Maple Leaf, Ethan Allen Express and Adirondack.

The construction work in New York included replacement of components of the Spuyten Duyvil swing bridge between The Bronx and Manhattan; track replacement in the Empire Tunnel; rail, crosstie and grade crossing work between the tunnel and the bridge, and work on Track 19 at Penn Station.

As for the Cardinal, an Amtrak spokesperson said it will continue to originate and terminate in Washington due to other work being done in the Northeast Corridor.

Much Longer Lake Shore Limited

August 28, 2018

Since late May Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited has been solely a Chicago-Boston train and on some days it hasn’t operated east of Albany-Renselaer, New York, due to track work on CSX.

The result has been a shorter consists with fewer coaches, sleepers and locomotives. The train has also operated under the 448 and 449 road numbers the length of its journey.

The above photographs were made about a week before the New York section was suspended for the summer of 2018 due to track work in New York City.

Amtrak has said the New York Section will return in early September and, presumably, the Lake Shore Limited will resume its role of being one of Amtrak’s longest trains.

This image was made at North East, Pennsylvania, on the CSX Erie West Subdivision.

Northern New York Gets Amtrak Thruway Service

August 13, 2018

Amtrak has established a new Thruway bus route in New York State to connect with the Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf and Empire Service trains.

The route, operated in partnership with Trailways of New York, will stop at Amtrak stations in Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and Saratoga Springs.

Off line cities to be served by the bus include Cooperstown, Cortland, Ithaca, Glens Falls, Lake George and Oneonta.

“As Northern New York continues to grow as a popular place to visit and live, partnering with Trailways of New York helps Amtrak customers travel where they want to go, even after they step off a train,” said Adam Krom, Director of Transportation Connectivity at Amtrak in a statement.

Amtrak’s Transformation at Work in the Midwest

August 13, 2018

Last week Amtrak touted improvements it has made in its Midwest corridor network, including schedule adjustments to allow for more intra-Midwest connections and implementing student discount fares.

But in Amtrak’s statements was a hint that there might be another agenda at work.

It may be that Amtrak was doing nothing more than trying to get some marketing mileage from a series of relatively small steps. Yet if you view what was announced in a larger context you might see a transformation at work.

Throughout 2018, Amtrak has taken or talked about implementing actions that passenger advocates fear are designed or will weaken the carrier’s long-distance network.

In early June Amtrak yanked the full-service dining cars from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Last spring it sharply restricted the carriage of privately-owned passenger cars and all but eliminated special moves and charter trains.

Amtrak has talked about creating a bus bridge for its Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dodge City, Kansas, rather than continue to operate over a BNSF segment in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico that lacks positive train control and over much of which Amtrak is the sole user and thus responsible for the maintenance costs of the rails.

The carrier also has changed its booking practices to make it more difficult for tour operators to book large blocks of sleeping car rooms.

A Trains magazine columnist wrote last week that he’s been told of Amtrak plans to remove chefs from the dining cars of the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

The columnist said he’s heard from passengers who’ve ridden long-distance trains lately that complimentary juice in sleeping cars is gone and coffee is being limited to one half-pot per day.

Fewer towels and bottles of water are being distributed to sleeping car passengers.

An amendment sponsored by Ohio senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown to force Amtrak to reopen ticket offices closed in a cost-cutting binge last spring was quietly removed from a transportation funding bill recently approved by the Senate.

Some passenger advocate see these and other moves as part of a larger plot to make long-distance trains unattractive so ridership will fall and management can make the case that the need for these trains isn’t there anymore.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson has reportedly told state department of transportation officials that the carrier has studied chopping up long-distance routes into a series of corridors, each of them less than 750 miles in length.

That would force the states to fund those routes under the terms of a 2008 law that requires states to fund corridor routes that Amtrak had previously underwritten.

Those plans are not expected to be implemented immediately, but perhaps Amtrak management is just biding its time.

What does this have to do with the announcement about improvements to Midwest connectivity?

If Amtrak is seeking to re-invent itself as a provider of short- and medium-distance corridors it needs to show that it is developing a network of them.

Most people probably think of the Midwest corridors as ways to link cities in their state with Chicago.

Yes, some travelers connect in Chicago to other Amtrak trains, including the long-distance trains, but how many people think about getting on in Milwaukee and going to Detroit or St. Louis?

Well they might think about it and some do it every day, but Amtrak hasn’t always made such connections convenient. Some layovers last for hours.

The schedule changes made this summer are designed to address that, at least on paper, or in Amtrak’s case on pixels given that paper timetables are a thing of the past.

Amtrak touted its “new” schedules, noting that you can travel between Milwaukee and Detroit twice daily, and Milwaukee and St. Louis three times daily. Of course that means changing trains in Chicago.

To be sure, Amtrak gave a nod to the long-distance trains, noting that in making the departure of northbound Hiawatha train No. 333 from Chicago to Milwaukee later, it enabled connections from long-distance trains from the East Coast.

As for the student discount, it is 15 percent and designed for Midwest travel. Amtrak also plans to soon allow bicycles aboard the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

When the new Siemens Charger locomotives went into service on Midwest corridor trains, they came with the tagline “Amtrak Midwest.”

Those locomotives were purchased by the states underwriting Amtrak’s Midwest corridor routes. Those same states are also underwriting development of new passenger cars to be assigned to the Midwest corridor routes.

It is getting to the point where Amtrak is becoming a middleman of Midwest corridor routes, offering a station and maintenance facility in Chicago; operating, service and marketing support; and a brand.

For now, the state-funded corridors combined with the long-distance trains provide intercity rail passenger service to many regions of the Midwest, including to such states as Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio that do not currently fund Amtrak service.

That might well change if Amtrak follows through on its proposals to chop up the long-distance routes into state-funded corridors. Would Ohio step up to help pay for, say, a Chicago-Toledo, Chicago-Cleveland or Chicago-Pittsburgh  route in lieu of the Capitol Limited?

Would Iowa agree to fund a Chicago-Omaha train in lieu of the California Zephyr?

Would Minnesota agree to fund a Chicago-Minneapolis/St. Paul train in lieu of the Empire Builder? What about Chicago-Fargo, North Dakota, with funding from Minnesota and North Dakota?

I’m not optimistic about that.

Dining Service Tweaking Continues

August 1, 2018

Amtrak continues to tweak its “fresh and contemporary” dining aboard two Eastern long-distance trains, this time making a few changes to the lone breakfast offering.

Trains magazine reported that breakfast now has a low-fat yogurt parfait instead of vanilla Greek yogurt, and no longer offers banana pecan breakfast bread or a Kind-brand dark chocolate, nut, and sea salt bar.

Aside from the yogurt parfait, sleeping car passengers aboard the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited receive a blueberry muffin is sealed in a plastic dish, slicked seasonal fresh fruit and a Kashi bar.

Since mid-July, Amtrak has been offering one hot-meal option, a beef short rib, which replaced the chilled grilled beef tenderloin salad.”

It is served with a plastic-packaged salad and a jar of salted caramel cheese cake

The entrée is described by Amtrak as a “slow braised beef short rib with polenta and mixed baby vegetables in a red wine and beer sauce.”

A Trains correspondent who rode No. 30 from Chicago to Washington recently described it as resembling a round mound of gravy-covered meat with sauce that mixes with the vegetables and polenta in a black plastic bowl.

The “fresh and contemporary” dining service replaced full service dining on June 1.

As part of the change, a dining car was designed as a lounge for sleeping car passengers only.

The Capitol Limited had had a Cross Country Café that served full meals and sold café car fare.

The café lead service attendant has been moved from the Cross Country Café to the lower level of the adjacent Sightseer Lounge.

There is no table service in the sleeping car lounge and Trains observed that the car can become noisy and relatively uninviting when passengers sitting by themselves begin carrying on conversations with people at other tables.   

When the eastbound Capitol Limited is delayed, Amtrak doesn’t serve lunch to sleeping car passengers.

The carrier’s policy is that if No. 30 is more than four hours late sleeping car passengers are entitled to snack packs of cheese and crackers.

Meals will be put aboard only  if the train is running six or more hours late. Those meals are ordered from a restaurant such as Chick-fil-A.

The Trains correspondent connected in Washington to the Crescent, which still has full-service dining.

However, he noted that the menu was dated September 2017, indicating that Amtrak apparently did not change its dining car offerings in the spring as it normally does.

The correspondent said his dinner roll was warm and the chipotle sauce accompanying the perfectly-cooked salmon was excellent.

New Amtrak Meal Service Getting Mixed Reviews

July 7, 2018

Reports are beginning to circulate online about the “fresh and contemporary” meal service being offered by Amtrak on its Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited.

The cold meal service replaced full service dining on both trains on June 1, resulting in at least 30 Amtrak onboard service employees losing their jobs.

One poster on a railroad chat list described the meal offerings as not as bad as some might have thought they would be.

A similar report said that passengers have engaged in extensive trading of food items from their selection, which comes as a package for dinner and lunch.

Some also have commented about how much packaging each meal requires and how that has strained the storage space in the dining cars now turned sleeping car lounges.

The meals are served in a green bag that passengers are allowed to keep.

After eating, passengers must take their waste, separate it and then place it in large cardboard containers lined with plastic garbage bags.

The boxes the meals are served in are being billed as environmentally friendly.

A note in the boxes says “the balsa wood for these boxes is salvaged from tree stumps leftover [sic] from sustainable logging — so no trees are ever harvested or cut down for this product. No chemicals … harmful toxins. No worrying.”

Passengers get one option for breakfast, the Amtrak Breakfast Bistro Box, which comes with a generous serving of fresh fruit, most of which is melon, banana bread, a blueberry muffin, Greek yogurt topped with organic granola in a parfait, a Kashi honey almond flax chewy granola bar, and a Kind-brand dark chocolate nut and sea salt bar.

The dinner/lunch offerings include chilled grilled beef tenderloin salad, chicken Caesar salads, an antipasto plate (processed meat, olives, pickles, and beans); a vegan wrap (with marinated eggplant, vegetables, and hummus); and a children’s turkey and cheese sandwich plate (with orange segments, a string cheese stick and a coloring book).

All except the vegan wrap and child’s meal also come with salted caramel cheesecake.

Passengers receive unlimited complimentary soft drinks and one complimentary alcoholic beverage.

The diner-sleeping car passenger lounge where the meals are serviced has one Amtrak attendant handing out the meals.

That attendant also fills drink orders and wipes down tables after passengers leave.

There is no linen, silverware, or even paper tablecloths and plastic utensils. One commentator said this has resulted in the dining cars having a sterile appearance.

One lesser commented about aspect of the service change was the institution of giving passengers a complementary Gilbert and Soames toiletry kit that includes shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, body wash, soap, a beauty kit (with nail file, Q-Tips, and bobby pins), a sewing kit, and shower cap.

The showers in the sleeper also now offer flat sandals with pop-up attachments for toes and ankles.

NYC Bridge Removed for Repair

June 23, 2018

The Spuyten Duyvil Bridge in New York City has been removed and towed away so that it can be repaired.

The bridge, which spans the Harlem River, lies on the route of the Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf and Empire Corridor service.

Removal of the bridge prompted Amtrak to suspend the New York section of the Lake Shore Limited for the summer.

Once mechanical and electrical work on the bridge is completed, it will be put back into place and reopened by Sept. 3.

The bridge rehabilitation is part of a rebuilding of the Empire Connection, which also included lowering 645 feet of the Empire Tunnel on the route.

During a meeting with reporters, Amtrak’s chief operating office, Scot Naparstek, and its chief commercial officer, Stephen Gardner, gave an update on the work, which is part of a larger project to rebuild infrastructure at New York’s Penn Station.

The two Amtrak executives said the passenger carrier is seeking replacement equipment for the 500-car Amfleet I fleet, most of which is 40 years old.

They did not give a timetable for that replacement, but indicated that it is not imminent.

Amtrak has been refurbishing the interiors of its Amfleet I cars to give them a more modern look. Those cars are used largely on eastern corridor trains with a few assigned to Midwest corridor trains.