Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Southwest Chief’

Front Range Service Still Years Away

August 19, 2019

Expanded intercity rail passenger service along Colorado’s Front Range is years away if it ever materializes attendees at a recent Southwest Chief Passenger Rail Commission meeting were told.

The commission recently held a public forum in Pueblo, Colorado, that commission officials described as the largest public turnout they had at such events. Attendance was described as “dozens.”

The commission’s next step is to provide the Colorado legislature with the findings of its feasibility studies during the 2020 legislative session.

The expansion would create new service between Fort Collins to Trinidad, which is a stop for Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

It is being billed as a way to relieve highway congestion in a region that is home to 85 percent of the state’s  population.

The 173-mile Front Range corridor is expected to see population growth of 35 percent in the next 25 years with much of it occurring in El Paso County and counties east and north of Denver.

Pueblo has not had intercity rail service since 1971.

EB S.W. Chief to Run 10 Minutes Later

July 21, 2019

Effective July 22 the eastbound Southwest Chief will operate 10 minutes later from Barstow, California, to Gallup, New Mexico.

Train No. 4 will operate on its current schedule from Albuquerque to Chicago.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the schedule change was being made to improve operating reliability.

No Time to Stop and Smell the Flowers

July 2, 2019

Amtrak’s westbound Southwest Chief has places to go and little time to waste in getting there.

So it can’t afford to stop at the Metra station in Hinsdale, Illinois, so everyone can stop and admire the flowers or the flowering trees that brighten the platform.

The next stop for No. 3 will be in Naperville, Illinois, and then it is on to numerous other stations en route to Los Angeles.

SW Chief Funding Request Tabled

June 24, 2019

Commissioners of Bent County Colorado had tabled for now consideration of a request from La Junta City Manager Rick Klein for a matching funding commitment needed to land a federal grant to continue rebuilding the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

Klein told the commissioners that the grant is needed to finish rebuilding the route, a process that began in 2011 when Amtrak threatened to remove the train from its current route through western Kansas, southeast Colorado and northern New Mexico after BNSF said it would not longer maintain the tracks to passenger train speeds.

Local government interests supporting the route rebuilding have won federal grants in recent years that have gone toward track rehabilitation.

Klein said Amtrak has informed the Southwest Chief and Front Range Rail Commission that the numbers for a through-train from La Junta to Pueblo, Colorado, are feasible.

“We are hoping to have a ballot question for Front Range rail from Cheyenne to Trinidad in 2020,” he said.

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.”