Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Southwest Chief’

River Runners Suspended Through June 10

June 4, 2019

Amtrak said today that it has extended the suspension of its Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City through June 10.

It cited continued heavy freight traffic on host railroad Union Pacific on the route of the River Runners, which has been the result of flooding in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The service suspension has been in effect since May 22. Passengers are being transported to and from all stations served by the trains via chartered buses that seek to operate close to the schedule of the trains they’ve replaced.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said it along with the Missouri Department of Transportation, which funds the River Runners, is continuing to monitor the situation on a daily basis.

UP officials said that flooding has receded slightly in some areas, but a level break  is expected to cause severe flooding at Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Also out of service for now is Amtrak’s Texas Eagle, which has been suspended between St. Louis and Fort Worth, Texas.

Nos. 21 and 22 continue to operate between Chicago and St. Louis and between Fort Worth and San Antonio.

Flooding in Missouri briefly caused a suspension of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief last week, sending passengers to chartered buses.

Amtrak’s Missouri River Runners use the Sedalia Subdivision between Kansas City and Jefferson City, Missouri, and UP officials have been carefully watching flooding near that route.

Another UP route between Kansas City and Jefferson is closed due to flooding.

A report said the BNSF Ottumwa Subdivision, used by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, had water covering the tracks in Burlington, Iowa.

However, trains were operating through there at reduced speed and the Mississippi River had reportedly crested at 24.5 feet last Saturday.

A breached levy did not affect the BNSF tracks in Burlington because they are outside of the level system used to protect downtown.

BNSF personnel were relaying operating instructions to passing trains via radio because power to switches had been disrupted.

The flooding in the Midwest is the worst the region has seen since 1993.

Flooding Leads to More Service Suspensions

June 2, 2019

Amtrak’s Texas Eagle has been canceled between St. Louis and Fort Worth, Texas, through June 7 due to flooding.

In the interim, Nos. 21 and 22 will continue operating between Fort Worth and San Antonio, Texas, and between Chicago and St. Louis.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the flooding has increased freight traffic on host railroad Union Pacific. The same issue led to the suspension of Missouri River Runner service through June 2 between St. Louis and Kansas City.

No substitute transportation is being provided to the stations between St. Louis and Fort Worth although Amtrak said that Trinity Railway Express offers commuter train service between Fort Worth and Dallas.

Amtrak said some tickets are available for passengers wishing to travel an alternate routing between Illinois or Missouri and Texas using the Southwest Chief and Heartland Flyer  via an Amtrak Thruway Bus connecting Newton, Kan., and Oklahoma City (Routes 8903 & 8904).

Long-Distance Trains Likely Safe Through FY2020

May 27, 2019

Amtrak has signaled to Congress that it may not support continuation of all current long-distance trains when it sends its proposed reauthorization proposal to Capitol Hill this fall.

In a letter to Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said the carrier plans to continue operating the existing long-distance network through fiscal year 2020.

However, Anderson said the carrier intends to have a conversation with Congress and its stakeholders regarding the future of its long-distance network.

Anderson said the carrier believes there is a future for “high-quality long-distance trains,” but it also believes that the size, nature and roles need to be reviewed.

He said Amtrak will include options and recommendations in its reauthorization proposal to improve the national network, including the long-distance routes.

Anderson was responding to a letter sent to him by eleven senators posing questions about the future of the national network.

Moran told the Kansas New Service that he expects Congress to use the annual appropriations process to mandate that Amtrak continue serving its existing long-distance routes.

But Moran cautioned that it will still need a fight.

“I need to make sure that Amtrak, its board of directors, its management has a commitment to long-term passenger services in places in the country in which it’s not probably ever going to be profitable,” he said,.

Moran said he will continue to hold all nominees to Amtrak’s board of directors until he gets assurances that the Southwest Chief will continue to operate over the length of its Chicago to Los Angeles route as is.

Flooding Disrupts Amtrak Service in Missouri

May 25, 2019

Flooding has again disrupted Amtrak operations in Missouri.

The Missouri River Runner trains between St. Louis and Kansas City, and the Southwest Chief between Kansas City and Hutchinson, Kansas, were suspended as a result.

A service advisory posted on the Amtrak website on Friday said that Missouri River Runner passengers would be placed on chartered buses through today (May 25) because host railroad Union Pacific has diverted freight train traffic on the route used by Amtrak Nos. 311, 313, 314 and 316.

Amtrak said the buses will stop at all stations as close to the train schedules as possible, but delays are to be expected.

The suspensions are in effect through Thursday, May 23.

The Missouri River Runner service has been suspended because of increased freight traffic caused by diversion of Union Pacific traffic. The Southwest Chief suspension reflects a temporary track closure on the train’s BNSF Railway route. Chartered buses will substitute for rail service on both routes during the suspension.

The Southwest Chief has been restored to its normal operation in eastern Kansas and the Kansas City region.

Today’s No. 4 arrived in Kansas City 35 minutes late while No. 3 arrived in KC 2 hours, 15 minutes late. The lateness of No. 3 has ballooned to more than three hours by the time it reached Topeka, Kansas.

Amtrak Rejects Reinstating Topeka Ticket Agent

May 14, 2019

Amtrak has turned thumbs down on a request by the City of Topeka, Kansas, to reinstate a ticket agent at the city’s station.

City Manager Brent Trout was not surprised by that response but said the reasoning given wasn’t what he expected.

In his March 7 letter to Amtrak, Trout cited a clause in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 that directed Amtrak “to provide a station agent in each Amtrak station that had a ticket agent in the fiscal year 2018.”

But Amtrak’s definition of a station agent varied greatly from that of Trout. As Amtrak sees it, having a caretaker who opens and closes and the station and keeps it clean enables the passenger carrier to comply with the law.

Trout had in mind someone who sells tickets and helps passengers board and disembark.

Topeka has that type of ticket agent until last year when the position was eliminated in a cost-cutting move that led to the removal of ticket agents in several cities across the country.

At the time, Amtrak said ticket offices in those cities sold too few tickets to justify the expense of maintaining them. The carrier said most passengers now make reservations online and either print their own tickets or present them to the conductor on a smart phone.

“It was a little surprising,” Trout said. “I thought the (legislative) language was clear, but they (Amtrak) view different positions in different ways. … We were hopeful that we could get that back.”

Topeka is one of six stops in Kansas served by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief. Garden City also lost its ticket agent at about the same time the Topeka ticket office closed.

Amtrak said a caretaker in Topeka is on duty between midnight and 2 a.m. and between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Those times correspond to the scheduled arrival times of the Chief.

In his response letter to Trout, Stephen J. Gardner, Amtrak’s senior executive vice president of commercial, marketing and strategy, acknowledged that the caretaker does not sell tickets, but does provide basic information to passengers, including including how to place baggage tags on luggage.

Gardner said the Topeka agent had sold less than one ticket a day and that less than 3 percent of ticket sales came from station sales involving cash.

Trout conceded that ticket sales may have been low at the Topeka station, but access to a ticket agent was an opportunity for people who do not have a computer.

Amtrak figures show Topeka to be the second busiest station in the state with 10,084 passengers in fiscal year 2017, the most recent ridership figures available.

Newton was the busiest with 15,828 passengers. Others included Lawrence (9,834)), Hutchinson (4,294), Garden City (6,966) and Dodge City (5,208). Only Newton still has an Amtrak ticket agent.

In Garden City, the city placed computer terminals at the city-owned Amtrak station so passengers could buy tickets.

“In the global look at things, we saw an opportunity to talk to Amtrak about improved services at our station,” said City Manager Matt Allen said. “What we have set up now is a step in the right direction.”

Allen said city employees maintain and open and close the station. They do not, though, sell Amtrak tickets.

Private Car Trip Celebrates Golden Spike Anniversary

May 8, 2019

In what its organizers have described as likely the last of its kind, four private rail cars are traveling on Amtrak this week as part of the 150th anniversary of the driving of the golden spike in Utah to complete the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.

The cars are Berlin, built by Pullman Standard in 1956 for the Union Pacific; Pacific Union; Cimarron River, built in 1948 as a Pullman sleeping car; and the Milwaukee Super Dome.

Berlin, Pacific Union and Cimarron River are all sleepers.

The cars departed Chicago on May 2 on the Southwest Chief. They transferred in Los Angeles to the Coast Starlight and later transferred to the California Zephyr.

The trip is being sponsored by Altiplano Rail and was marketed as the Golden Spike Rail Tour.

A spokesman for Altiplano Rail told Trains magazine that due to increased Amtrak fees and restrictions on operations of private rail cars “this will likely be one of the last trips we operate.”

Fort Madison Reaches Pact for New Station

April 11, 2019

Amtrak and the City of Fort Madison, Iowa, have reached agreements on moving the city’s station stop to a historic depot in downtown.

The city council approved three separate agreements with Amtrak, including a lease agreement, a sublease agreement, and a revitalization agreement.

City Manager David Varley said the agreements provide that Fort Madison will construct a passenger platform at the downtown depot that Amtrak will lease for 20 years.

The city will be responsible for all maintenance, upkeep and repairs.

Amtrak will pay the city $150,000 for the platform and $400 a month in rent and utilities.

The city will give to the platform to BNSF, which will lease it to Amtrak.

If the lease is terminated, the city will surrender the platform to Amtrak.

Although the city has reached agreements with Amtrak in past on station changes, Varley said these agreements are different because instead of suggesting more changes, “[Amtrak] said it will sign it immediately and then [the agreements] will go to the Iowa Department of Transportation.”

The estimated cost for the new platform is $1.2 million. Past efforts to move the Amtrak stop were thwarted by the city being $400,000 short in funding for the project.

The city was almost ready to give up when the Iowa Department of Transportation said it had grant money the city could use to make up the shortfall.

IDOT is expected to put the platform construction project out for bid this summer once it receives all of the signed agreements.

Fort Madison is served by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which currently stops at a facility on 20th Street.

Ex-Harvey House Hotel Reopened in Las Vegas, NM

April 7, 2019

The former Harvey House hotel near the Amtrak station in Las Vegas, New Mexico, has reopened.

The Hotel La Castañeda, began accepting guests on April 1, although restoration of the facility built in 1898 is ongoing with a saloon expected to open later this month and a restaurant in June.

The hotel closed in 1948 and was sold at least twice, sometimes operating as apartment complex with a bar.

Allan Affeldt purchased the building in in 2014. He also owns and restored La Posada, the popular historic Harvey House in Winslow, Ariz., and the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, built in 1882.

Developers plan to make the La Castañeda the centerpiece of the “railroad district” in Las Vegas, which includes historic buildings that are being restored.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief serves Las Vegas.

6 Senators Awarded RPA Golden Spike Award

April 3, 2019

Six U.S. senators have received the Golden Spike Award from the Rail Passengers Association for their work to save Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

RPA said the award was shared by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas.), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico.

In a news release, RPA said the six were lauded “for the crucial role they played in saving the Southwest Chief train, and for their service to the tens of millions of Americans who depend on a national train network.”

Specifically, they opposed Amtrak’s proposal to replace the train with a bus bridge between Dodge City, Kansas, and Albuquerque.

They were able to get approved in the federal fiscal year 2019 budget a set-aside for preservation work on the route of the Chief.

Amtrak also later reversed an earlier decision to withhold matching funding for a construction grant that will bring an additional $26 million in track rebuilding.

Okla. Hails Inclusion of Heartland Flyer Extension

March 29, 2019

Oklahoma officials are hailing the inclusion of an extension of Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer in the passenger carrier’s budget request for Congress even though much remains to be done before that will occur.

Amtrak’s federal fiscal year 2020 grant request identified as a priority extending the Flyer from its northern terminus of Oklahoma City to Newton, Kansas, where it could connect with the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The Heartland Flyer now operates daily between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, with $3.1 million annual funding from the State of Oklahoma. The Flyer is the only Amtrak service in the Sooner State.

“We have been working with Amtrak on this option for a while, so we are glad it is included,” said Brenda Perry, a spokeswoman with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

The Amtrak budget request does not specify how much money the carrier is seeking for the extension of the Flyer.

Perry said the extension would also need funding from the State of Kansas. The prospects of that occurring are unclear.

She also said extending the Flyer would require more money from Oklahoma as well.

“Funding is always something that has to be worked through because the extension would require more ODOT funding than what we currently pay for the train going from here to Fort Worth,” Perry said.

The Heartland Flyer serves about 68,000 passengers a year.