Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian’

On Board Friends?

April 27, 2022

I don’t know if these two guys know each other or not. They were chatting by the vestibule of the first eastbound Pennsylvanian to stop in Cleveland on Nov. 7, 1998. It was an extended stop in order to accommodate a welcome ceremony. The conductor is George Sanders. I never did learn the identity of the other guy or even if he was a passenger aboard the train or just talking with the conductor as the train stood on display in the station.

Glide Path to Nowhere

February 25, 2022

When he was president of Amtrak, George Warrington famously talked about how the passenger carrier was on a glide path to profitability. Amtrak was counting on revenue from mail and express business to earn a big chunk of revenue.

Shown is the eastbound Pennsylvanian passing through Berea, Ohio, on Jan. 23, 1999, whose extension west of Pittsburgh to Chicago in November 1998 was a major component of Amtrak’s strategy to achieve profitability.

The two express boxcars on the rear symbolize the business Amtrak was counting on. A material handling car is immediately behind the lone locomotive pulling the train.

The Pennsylvanian was scheduled to meet the needs of the U.S. Postal Service in hauling mail between Chicago and Philadelphia.

At the time this image was made, No. 44 left Chicago around dawn and passed through Cleveland in early afternoon.

Warrington’s glide path plane never landed and the Pennsylvanian would be discontinued west of Pittsburgh in February 2003.

If it Can Happen in Pennsylvania Why Can’t it Happen Along the Gulf Coast?

February 23, 2022

The contrast was striking. In a week in which opposing parties butted heads during a U.S. Surface Transportation Board hearing over proposed Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast, officials held a news conference in Pennsylvania to announce expanded Amtrak service between New York and Pittsburgh.

On the surface, the Pennsylvania announcement appears to be an example of how to go about getting intercity rail passenger service.

One key to achieving such breakthroughs is money to fund capacity expansions for the host freight railroad. Another key is a lot of patience. The second New York-Pittsburgh train is five years away from being inaugurated and it has been discussed for at least as many years.

The announcement indicated that talks with host railroad Norfolk Southern over the scope of the capital improvements have some loose ends to tie up.

In theory, those negotiations could break down and result in a situation much like the one on the Gulf Coast where the host railroads are demanding capital improvements that exceed what Amtrak and its state partners are willing to pay.

Yet it seems unlikely that officials from Norfolk Southern, Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf would have held that news conference to announce the new train if the parties didn’t think that an agreement was close to being finished.

Pennsylvania officials have been seeking a second daily train to Pittsburgh for years to supplement the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian, which uses track east of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that is owned by Amtrak.

The route hosts numerous Keystone Service trains and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority commuter trains.

The operating agreement that NS and PennDOT are working to complete will define project scope, how freight and passenger rail operations will use the Pittsburgh-Harrisburg corridor, compensation for use of NS track, and liability protection.

Officials have said capacity expansion at NS freight yards is expected to cost between $142.8 million and $170.8 million with much of that being provided by the state.

The state is taking money from a fund to buy new passenger equipment to pay for NS capacity expansions.

In turn, the money from the passenger equipment fund is being replaced by federal grants awarded under provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

If it could happen in Pennsylvania why can’t it happen along the Gulf Coast?

There are a number of significant differences in the two situations starting with the political climate.

Somewhat overlooked in the Gulf Coast case is that while the proposed double-daily New Orleans-Mobile, Alabama, service has political support from Louisiana and Mississippi officials, it has faced hostility if not outright opposition from most Alabama officials, particularly at the state government level.

This split political support has, perhaps, emboldened host railroad CSX into being recalcitrant by demanding exorbitant capital improvements that it knows no one will or can agree to pay.

In Pennsylvania, there is unified political support for rail passenger service and state officials have experience paying for and overseeing intercity and commuter rail passenger service.

That level of experience doesn’t exist along the Gulf Coast. The three states involved have funded corridor-type service on the New Orleans-Mobile route in the past, but eventually those trains were discontinued after the states ended their funding.

It is noteworthy that in Pennsylvania the line to be used for the second Pittsburgh train is a far busier freight corridor than the CSX Gulf Coast line.

Yet the parties have been able agree in principle to a capital improvement plan, something that has yet to happen along the Gulf Coast.

During his testimony before the STB, former NS and Amtrak CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman extolled the virtues of additional Amtrak service to Virginia that was developed during his time at NS.

He held that up as an example of what is possible when the parties work together instead of being at each other’s throats as has been the case with the Gulf Coast service.

Moorman also cited the success of the Virginia trains with their growing ridership.

Left unsaid in Moorman’s remarks is that all of those new Amtrak trains into Virginia are extensions of Northeast Corridor service. The same is true of the Pennsylvanian and the proposed second Pittsburgh train.

The Pennsylvania and Virginia trains had the advantage of building upon existing high levels of intercity rail passenger service in a densely populated area. That is not the case along the Gulf Coast.

Amtrak’s host railroads are sensitive to accusations that they are opposed to hosting passenger trains.

CSX CEO James Foote in his testimony before the STB in the Gulf Coast case claimed to not be opposed per se to the proposed New Orleans-Mobile service. He even suggested CSX would have approved a restoration of the tri-weekly Sunset Limited on the Gulf Coast route.

That train ran between New Orleans and Orlando, Florida, via Mobile until August 2005 when the route was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Officially, Amtrak suspended the Sunset Limited but it has yet to return and probably will not.

Last summer a Union Pacific executive wrote a column posted on that railroad’s website noting instances in which UP had cooperated with public agencies and Amtrak to host and expand rail passenger service, primarily in California.

At the same time the UP executive decried wide-ranging passenger train expansion proposals such as the Amtrak Connects US plan that he said host railroads see as efforts to impose passenger service requirements on them rather than being collaborative ventures.

What seems clear is that Amtrak’s host freight railroads do not share the vision of rail passenger advocates of the need for a wide-reaching network of passenger trains in the United States.

Class 1 railroad executive don’t spend much time thinking about the need for rail passenger service in the United States. That is not part of their mission or purpose.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have beliefs about where rail passenger service makes sense and where it doesn’t.

We might be seeing in the Gulf Coast case an example of the latter.

2nd NYC-Pittsburgh Amtrak Train Deal Reached

February 19, 2022

A deal to bring a second Amtrak train to the New York-Pittsburgh route was announced on Friday.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has agreed to pay $170.8 million in infrastructure upgrades to Norfolk Southern’s route between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

The work will involve creating additional capacity for NS freight trains at yards in Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Portage, Altoona and Harrisburg.

The state will also help underwrite the operating expenses of the new train as it does the existing Pennsylvanian between New York and Pittsburgh.

It is unclear when the second train will begin. State officials had said it could be within three years but during a Friday news conference that included Gov. Tom Wolfe and Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose, officials said it could be up to five years before the train begins service.

That estimate takes into account how long it will be before the capital improvement work is completed.

State officials said the infrastructure work will be funded in part with money the state had been saving to buy new passenger equipment.

However, Pennsylvania plans to use federal funding that it expects to receive from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to help pay for new equipment that will be used by Amtrak.

The work on NS property is expected to begin after an operating agreement with NS is completed. Officials expect that process to be finished by June.

Amtral Cancels More Trains Today

January 17, 2022

Amtrak on Sunday posted more service cancellations for Monday (Jan. 17) due to a winter storm in the eastern United States.

Canceled in both directions is the Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington), making for the third consecutive day that No. 30 has not departed from Chicago. No. 29 last left Washington on Saturday.

The Pennsylvanian from Pittsburgh to New York was canceled as were Keystone Service Nos. 660, 661, 662 and 615 between Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and New York. Keystone Service No. 667 will originate in Philadelphia rather than New York.

Also canceled in both directions are the Vermonter (Washington-St. Albans, Vermont) and Piedmont Service Nos. 73 and 74 (Raleigh, North Carolina-Charlotte, North Carolina).

Ethan Allen Express No. 291 (New York-Rutland, Vermont) will terminate at Albany-Rensselaer, New York. Train 290 will originate in Albany-Rensselaer.

On the Northeast Corridor, Northeast Regional train 99 (Boston-Newport News, Virginia) will terminate in Washington. Northeast Regionals 152 and 189 (Washington-New York) are canceled.

Northeast Regional 156 (Roanoke, Virginia-New York) is canceled as is Train 164 (Richmond, Virginia- Boston. Thus far one cancellation has been posted for Tuesday (Jan. 18). Ethan Allen Express No. 290 will originate at Albany-Rensselaer.

The Day the Pennsylvanian Came to Cleveland

November 20, 2021
The first eastbound Pennsylvanian has arrived in Cleveland in November 1998.

It was one of those quintessential November days in Cleveland with gray skies overhead.

But if you were a rail passenger advocate then, metaphorically speaking, the skies could not have been any bluer.

After years of pushing for it, advocates were getting their wish. Amtrak was extending its New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian west of the Steel City.

Finally, Northeast Ohio would see an Amtrak train in daylight hours in circumstances other than an existing scheduled train running several hours late.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s Amtrak would put on show to celebrate the inauguration of new service. On Nov. 7, 1998, it was Cleveland’s turn for that with the Pennsylvanian coming to town.

It was not, though, the first time in the 1990s that an Amtrak publicity train had come to Northeast Ohio.

In fall 1990 Amtrak ran a publicity special through Akron and Cleveland in advance of the rerouting of the Broadway Limited via Akron and the Capitol Limited via Cleveland.

Those publicity trains were greeted by marching bands, speakers and a festive welcoming ceremony.

By contrast, when the Pennsylvanian came to Cleveland the celebration was more subdued.

There was a speaker inside the station and a specially decorated cake. But there were no marching bands and Amtrak did not assign the publicity train an open platform car or a dome car as it had in 1990.

There was a respectable crowd to greet the first No. 44, which arrived on a Saturday from Chicago.

My photographs from that day show people clustered around the vestibules of the Horizon coaches and I’m not sure if they were allowed onboard to tour the train or if some of them were boarding as ticketed passengers.

I struck up a brief conversation with Amtrak conductor George Sanders, noting we shared a last name in common but were otherwise unrelated.

He posed for a photograph and I got his address and later sent him a copy.

The train rolled into the station with two P42DC locomotives, two material handling cars, a Superliner Sightseer lounge, a Superliner transition sleeper, two Horizon fleet coaches, an Amfleet coach, an Amfleet café car and a string of RoadRailers on the rear.

The RoadRailers were a sign of why Amtrak had extended the Pennsylvanian to Chicago.

The Three Rivers, which had replaced the Broadway Limited in 1995 between New York and Pittsburgh and been extended to Chicago in November 1996, had reached its limit of 30 cars, most of which carried mail and express.

To expand its burgeoning head-end business, Amtrak needed another train to Chicago. That would be the Pennsylvanian.

Amtrak had wanted to extend the Pennsylvanian westward before Christmas 1997 but lacked sufficient crews.

Although new operating personnel were hired in spring 1998, Conrail refused to allow the expansion during the summer track work season.

Because the postal service usually dispatched mail around dawn, No. 44 was scheduled to depart Chicago at 6 a.m. while No. 43 left Philadelphia at 6:30 a.m.

The Pennsylvanian reached Cleveland eastbound in early afternoon and westbound in late afternoon.

It was scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 11:59 p.m. and in Philadelphia at 12:25 a.m. That meant no convenient same-day connections in Chicago and few in Philly. 

But passenger traffic was less the objective of the Pennsylvanian extension than head-end revenue.

Then Amtrak president George Warrington said at the time that this would put Amtrak on a glide path to profitability.

Those who understood the realities of passenger train scheduling would have understood that this made the Pennsylvanian’s future in Cleveland rather tenuous.

Nonetheless, there was optimism in the air as Nos. 43 and 44 began serving Cleveland, Elyria and Alliance.

I don’t remember anything the speaker said during the welcome ceremony or even who he was. I was there primarily to make photographs of Amtrak in Cleveland in daylight.

Except during holiday travel periods, ridership of the Pennsylvanian would prove to be light. On many days it had only about a dozen passengers aboard in Ohio and Indiana.

Ridership was stunted by chronic delays that occurred in 1999 following the breakup of Conrail by Norfolk Southern and CSX.

The typical consist for the Pennsylvanian was three coaches and a food service car.

A schedule change on April 29, 2002, moved the Chicago departure back six hours to 11:55 p.m., which made No. 44 the “clean up” train to accommodate those who had missed connections in Chicago from inbound western long distance trains to the eastern long-distance trains.

At the same time, the westbound Pennsylvanian began departing Philadelphia two hours later in order to provide additional connections.

No. 43 now was scheduled to reach Chicago Union Station at 1:44 a.m.

A change of administrations at Amtrak led to the carrier announcing in fall 2002 that it would cease carrying mail and express. As a result the Pennsylvanian would revert to New York-Pittsburgh operation.

On Feb. 8, 2003, I went down to the Cleveland Amtrak station with my camera to make photographs of the Pennsylvanian, the first time I’d done that since the November 1998 inaugural train had arrived.

This time, though, I boarded as a paying passenger, getting off in Pittsburgh and returning on the last westbound No. 43 to run west of Pittsburgh.

There were no crowds, cake or speakers to greet the Pennsylvanian in the Cleveland station on this day.

And that sense of optimism that had hung in the air more than four years earlier had long since dissipated.

Rail passenger advocates in Ohio are still trying to get back that sense of optimism.

Amtrak conductor George Sanders agreed to pose by a Horizon coach vestibule.
Who was that guy who gave the welcome to Cleveland speech? Not only do I not remember his name I also don’t remember anything he said.
What’s a celebration without a cake?
A respectable crowd was on hand to greet the first Pennsylvanian to stop in Cleveland.
Dad is ready to make some photographs but his son is not sure being this close to the tracks is a good idea.
Those RoadRailers on the rear give a hint as to the primary reason why the Pennsylvanian began serving Cleveland. Amtrak expected to make money on mail and express business.

Storms Disrupt Amtrak on East, West Coasts

February 1, 2021

A winter storm on Sunday prompted Amtrak to cancel several services in the East.

Among them was the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian. Keystone Service between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, via Philadelphia operated on a limited schedule.

Also operating on limited or modified schedules was Northeast Regional Service between Boston and Virginia, and Empire Service between New York and Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

All Acela service between Boston and Washington was canceled.

In a related development, storms on the West Coast also caused service suspensions and cancellation over the weekend.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said all service between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, California, has been suspended until further notice because of storm damage on the Union Pacific line along the Pacific Coast.

Pacific Surfliners that normally serve San Luis Obispo originated and terminated in Santa Barbara Sunday and Monday.

Alternative bus service was provided to San Luis Obispo.

Also affected was the Coast Starlight. In a Twitter message, Amtrak said the Starlight would be originating and terminating on Monday in Oakland, California.

Keystone Service Slashed With Little Notice

January 6, 2021

With little advance notice Amtrak on Monday slashed Keystone Service in Pennsylvania, citing low patronage.

The state-funded service between New York and Harrisburg via Philadelphia was cut to seven weekday roundtrips with six on weekends.

Three of the roundtrips will operate between New York and Harrisburg while other trains will operate between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

The new schedule boosts Harrisburg-New York service by one roundtrip.

Six roundtrips plus one additional westbound train have been suspended on weekdays. On weekends, three trains have been suspended.

An Amtrak announcement said the cuts were made “in order to adapt to changing demand.”

It was not the first change to Keystone Service since the COVID-19 pandemic intensified last March.

The service had been cut last spring when the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian also was suspended. The Keystone Service cuts and the Pennsylvanian were restored last June

Weekday trains will now depart Harrisburg for Philadelphia at 5, 6:40 and 8:59 a.m. and 12:05, 3:05, 4:30 and 8:35 p.m.

The 5, 8:59 and 3:05 trains continue to New York Penn Station, which Amtrak is now referring to as the Moynihan Train Hall.

Trains leave Philadelphia for Harrisburg at 5:20, 6:20, and 8:45 a.m. and 1:35, 3:45, 5:35 and 6:42 p.m. Trains leave New York for Harrisburg at 7:17 a.m. and 4:03 and 5:10 p.m.

The schedules and services of the Pennsylvanian are unchanged.

The weekend schedule has trains leaving Harrisburg for Philadelphia at 7:20, 9:30, and 11:35 a.m. and 2:05, 5:05 and 7:05 p.m. The 7:20, 9:30 and 2:05 trains run through to New York.

From Philadelphia to Harrisburg, trains leave at 7:25, 8:30 and 10:50 a.m. and 2:45, 4:55 and 6:55 p.m. rains leave New York for Harrisburg at 9:09 a.m. and 1:05 and 5:17 p.m.

News reports from Pennsylvania media quoted Amtrak spokeswoman Beth Toll as saying Amtrak is experiencing ridership that is 20 percent of what it was before the pandemic.

Railway Age reported that neither Amtrak nor the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation issued a news release in advance of the service cuts to announce the new schedules.

Instead, the intercity passenger carrier and PennDOT cooperated in issuing a service advisory on the morning that the cuts became effective.

The Railway Age report said it remains unclear whether PennDOT or Amtrak decided to made the service cut and when the decision was made.

Crossing Over in Alliance

November 27, 2020

Amtrak’s westbound Pennsylvanian is crossing over to the track closest to the boarding platform in Alliance, Ohio.

The image was made on May 16, 1999. The Pennsylvanian no longer operates west of Pittsburgh but Alliance continues to be served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited.

Photograph by Edward Ribinskas

Federal Grant Awarded to Improve Keystone Line

October 29, 2020

Amtrak and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation have received a $15.9 million federal State of Good Repair grant that will be used on the Keystone Line.

The project involves signal upgrades on the Amtrak-owned line that is used by the intercity passenger carrier’s Keystone Service and Pennsylvanian trains.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority trains also use the line.

The work will occur between Paoli and Overbrook and allow for bidirectional train movement on all tracks and higher operating speeds.

The line is owned by Amtrak.