Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Southwest Chief’

Amtrak Not Yet Committing to Keeping SW Chief Intact

February 2, 2019

Amtrak is not committing to keeping operation of its Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief intact beyond Sept. 30.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said there were “too many moving parts” to determine if the Chief will continue to operate over its current route.

Amtrak had talked last year about starting a bus bridge between Dodge City, Kansas, and Albuquerque in lieu of rail service.

The reasons given for that was because that segment of the route lacks a positive control system and Amtrak doesn’t want to pay to install it.

The bus bridge idea was dropped in the face of public and political opposition, but Amtrak has only committed to operating No. 3 and 4 over its current route through the end of the current federal fiscal year.

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Amtrak Still Dragging Feet on S.W. Chief Route Money

January 19, 2019

Officials along the route of the Southwest Chief say Amtrak foot dragging has hindered their ability to apply for additional federal grants to help pay for rebuilding the train’s route.

Amtrak earlier refused to release its matching share of a federal TIGER grant obtained by Colfax County, New Mexico to rehabilitate the line northern New Mexico.

That action also has also stalled work on the $21.5 million project to improve the track and signals there.

Amtrak has said it won’t release its matching funds until there is a comprehensive funding plan and firm financial commitments for an estimated $50 million for track and signal improvements in New Mexico. Amtrak’s match for the New Mexico TIGER grant is $3 million.

That prompted members of the Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico congressional delegations to push for and obtain a measure in a funding bill directing Amtrak to use $50 million of its current appropriation for the maintenance and safety improvements it claims the Chief’s route needs in New Mexico.

That action was also in response to an Amtrak plan to substitute bus service for rail service between Dodge City, Kansas, and Albuquerque.

Senators at an October hearing admonished Amtrak to maintain the Chief as is through the end of fiscal year 2019, which Amtrak has agreed to do.

However, Amtrak continues to withhold its TIGER grant the matching funds.

In a recent report to the La Junta, Colorado, city council, La Junta City Manager Rick Klein said BNSF, Amtrak, and various government entities in three states have invested more than $100 million toward rehabilitating the route of the Southwest Chief, which operates between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Report Examines Effects of SW Chief Bus Bridge

January 19, 2019

Had Amtrak go ahead with its idea to bus passengers over a portion of the route of the Southwest Chief it would have lost $135 in the affected communities a new study has found.

The study, conducted by the University of Southern Mississippi for the Rail Passengers Association said the bus bridge between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, would have led to $180 million in annual losses.

The report, titled Bustituted: The Socioeconomic Impacts of Replacing Southwest Chief Service Over Raton Pass said the annual $180-million economic loss would be the result of “Permanent Direct Economic Losses” totaling $116.4 million, as well as “Permanent Indirect Losses” of $63.7 million.

Direct losses involve such things as cancelled operating spending, fewer visitors and lost income from those visitors, and higher travel costs for families that live along the Southwest Chief route. The indirect losses would be felt through increased pollution control, highway fatalities, increased highway maintenance and forgone trips.

The report said those losses are more than three times what Amtrak requests from Congress to operate the Southwest Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles.

The full report can be found at https://www.railpassengers.org/site/assets/files/8060/southwest_chief_economic_impact_study_final_bbb_1-11.pdf

Amtrak Weathered Winter Storm Fairly Well

January 17, 2019

Amtrak service held up reasonably well during a recent major winter storm that buried the nation’s midsection in double digit measurements of snow last weekend.

Trains magazine reported just two trains were canceled, the morning Missouri River Runners in both directions on Jan. 12 and the Cardinal east of Indianapolis on Jan. 13.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the decision to scrub the Missouri River Runners was made after the passenger carrier consulted with Union Pacific and the Missouri Department of Transportation.

As for the Cardinal cancellation, Magliari said that came because heavy snowfall had been forecast in isolated areas of West Virginia along the route of No. 50.

As it was, No. 50 was two hours late arriving after encountering a mechanical problem near Lafayette, Indiana.

Trains said that most trains on Midwest corridor routes radiating from Chicago to St. Louis and the Illinois cities of Quincy and Carbondale ran on time.

The westbound Southwest Chief, though, lost three hours on Saturday between Galesburg, Illinois, and Fort Madison, Iowa.

Along the Atlantic seaboard, some trains incurred significant delays, including more than two hours for the southbound Palmetto and Carolinian,

The northbound Silver Star was combined with the Carolinian out of Richmond, Virginia.

The southbound Silver Meteor was nearly three hours late when it left Washington.

A blast of frigid arctic air combined with heavy snow in some regions are being forecast for this week.

Amtrak to Match SW Chief Route Grant

January 12, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association reported this week that it has learned that Amtrak will provide matching funds for a federal grant to be used to install positive train control on a portion of the route of the Southwest Chief.

The $9.2 million CRISI grant was awarded to the departments of transportation of Kansas and Colorado in partnership with Amtrak and host railroad BNSF.

The grant money will pay for the design, installation, and testing of PTC on about 179 miles of the Chief’s route between Dodge City, Kansas, and Las Animas, Colorado.

The development appears to represent an about face by Amtrak, which had earlier refused to honor its agreement to provide $3 million in matching funds for a $16 million federal TIGER grant won by a New Mexico county for rebuilding the route of the Chief in that state.

The RPA said it doesn’t know the status of Amtrak’s matching funds for the TIGER grant but it continues to lobby the passenger carrier to honor its agreement.

The Southwest Chief operates daily between Chicago and Los Angeles.

DOT Awards PTC Grant to SW Chief Route

December 21, 2018

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $9.16 million grant to to help pay for installation of positive train control on the route used by the Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Dodge City, Kansas, and Las Animas, Colorado.

The grant came through DOT’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grant Program. It was sought by the Colorado and Kansas departments of transportation and Amtrak.

The two state DOTs and Amtrak will contributed a 20 percent match of $2.29 million to the federal government’s 80 percent contribution toward the PTC project’s cost.

PTC will be installed on 179 miles of the mostly single-track on the line which is part of the BNSF La Junta Subdivision.

Amtrak had indicated earlier this year that it would refuse to operate Nos. 3 and 4 between Dodge City and Albuquerque next year because the route lacks PTC.

Instead, Amtrak proposed putting through passengers on a bus between the two points, which drew the ire of Congress, state policy makers and passenger train advocates

Last October Amtrak said it would continue rail service as-is through the end of fiscal-year 2019 on Oct. 1, 2019.

Metra, BNSF Ripped at Public Hearing

December 12, 2018

A Chicago congressman has accused commuter rail agency Metra and host railroad BNSF of having “failed all to often” to provide reliable service.

The charge was made by U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Illinois, during a public hearing that he described as an effort to force Metra and BNSF to improve service.

“We all understand that problems can occur, but this year the Metra BNSF line has failed all too often. There have been repeated delays, cancellations, broken air conditioners, and other problems,” Lipinski said during the hearing in Western Springs. “I’ve told Metra and BNSF that this is unacceptable and the problems must end.”

Metra CEO James Derwinski and BNSF Vice President for passenger operations D.J. Mitchell told the audience of 80 that their organizations would do their best to address problems on the line.

The BNSF Line between Chicago Union Station and Aurora, Illinois, is the busiest of Metra’s 11 lines, carrying 64,000 riders a day.

The line is also used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, California Zephyr, Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg trains.

Metra operates 94 trains on weekdays while BNSF has up to 60 trains a day.

Kansas Firm Admits Negligence in SW. Chief Wreck

November 29, 2018

A court trail over the 2016 derailment of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief in Kansas has been canceled after an agriculture company conceded that one of its truck was maintained negligently, causing it to runaway and damage the BNSF tracks used by the train.

Cimarron Crossing Feeders admitted one of its trucks caused the derailment because an employee was negligent in not setting its brakes.

The truck, which was unattended when it broke loose, rolled downhill and struck the rails. The incident occurred near Cimarron, Kansas.

In a previous ruling, a federal judge determined that there was no legal fault on the part of Amtrak or BNSF for the March 14, 2016, derailment.

The train was traveling 60 mph when it hit a kink in the track. The derailment resulted in injuries to 28 passengers and crew members.

Amtrak and BNSF said the derailment caused $1.4 in damage.

Falling Ridership Doesn’t Deter Iowa Rail Advocates

November 26, 2018

Despite falling Amtrak ridership in the state, Iowa rail passenger advocates are pressing ahead with proposals for additional service.

The advocates have been pushing for intercity rail service to Iowa City and Des Moines, both cities that have never had rail passenger service in the Amtrak era.

The last trains to those cities were operated by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific and had been discontinued before Amtrak began operations on May 1, 1971.

The last train to Des Moines was the May 31, 1970, trip of the Corn Belt Rocket between Chicago and Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Rock Island continued passenger trains through late 1978 between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois.

The Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers wants to see new routes established between Chicago and Omaha via Des Moines and Iowa City; and a Minneapolis/St. Paul-Kansas City route via Des Moines.

Since 1981, Iowa’s only intercity passenger service has been to the southern third of the state where Amtrak stops at six stations.

Five of those stations are served by the Chicago-Emeryville California Zephyr while a sixth station, Fort Madison, is a stop for the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Between 1974 and 1981, Amtrak’s Black Hawk originated and terminated in Dubuque, Iowa.

That service was largely paid for by the State of Illinois, which funded it to East Dubuque, Illinois.

But the lack of service facilities in East Dubuque resulted in the train crossing the Mississippi River to Dubuque.

Ridership figures provided by Amtrak show that 57,955 boarded its trains in Iowa during fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 20.

That’s a decline of more than 4 percent from FY 2017 and nearly 16 percent off Iowa’s record year for Amtrak ridership of 68,744 in 2010.

During FY 2018, Amtrak said ridership in Iowa by station was Burlington, 8,668; Mount Pleasant, 12,584; Ottumwa: 11,043; Osceola, 16,064; Creston, 3,745; and Fort Madison, 5,891.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Des Moines Register  that problems with on-time performance and stable gasoline prices at less than $3 a gallon have probably hurt Amtrak ridership in Iowa.

“Our competition, for the most part, is driving, and as people buy newer cars that get better mileage, part of me wonders if people aren’t finding themselves driving because their cars are higher performing than they were 10 years ago,” Magliari said.

The Iowa Department of Transportation said traffic volume on the state’s highways has risen in recent years as use of public transportation has fallen.

Christopher Krebill, interim president of the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers, argues that Amtrak also is to blame for falling ridership.

He said the passenger carrier has removed all of its ticket agents from Iowa.

“There are still people who come into the station wanting to buy a ticket and who maybe have never ridden Amtrak before,” Krebill said. “When there is no ticket agent, there is really no one there to answer questions and tell people how to get on a train and where to get on a train.”

Landing additional trains is likely to Iowa going to require state funding, which might be a hard sell.

Iowa policy makers have rebuffed previous proposals to fund service to the state from Chicago, including extending the Black Hawk west of Dubuque.

In the meantime, Illinois officials have resumed work toward creating new services that will come close to Iowa, including a Chicago-Quad Cities route and a resumption of service on the former Black Hawk route.

Krebill said there is interest in Iowa in passenger rail, especially in central Iowa, but that will require support from the state’s department of transportation and state legislators.

S.W. Chief Adorns 2019 Amtrak Wall Calendar

November 15, 2018

Amtrak’s beleaguered Southwest Chief will adorn the 2019 wall calendar that the passenger carrier sells to the public.

The calendar’s image features a nine-car No. 3 passing red rock mesas at Mesita, New Mexico, on the Laguna Indian Reservation on tracks of BNSF.

“We always look for an image that inspires travel and showcases the beauty and splendor of our country that can be seen from Amtrak trains, hence our tag line printed at the bottom, ‘See where the train can take you,’ ” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Trains magazine.

Magliari noted that the image shown is west of Albuquerque. That is significant because the controversy surrounding Nos. 3 and 4 this year has been focused on the route between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, where Amtrak proposed discontinuing the train in favor of bus service.

That idea was knocked down by opposition in Congress, but Amtrak has only committed to operating the Chief over its current route through the end of fiscal year 2019.

The calendar costs $8 and can be purchased at store.amtrak.com. It is expected to be in stock are the week of Dec. 9.

In an unrelated development, Magliari said Amtrak has no plans to end full-service dining aboard the Southwest Chief.

He was responding to rumors that Amtrak planned to remove the dining car and substitute the type of boxed meal service that it instituted for sleeping car passengers earlier this year aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited.

Magliari insisted that Amtrak is not considering ending full-service dining aboard the Chief.

The rumors aboard the removal of the dining car from the Chief followed Amtrak seeking a request for proposals to provide information about catering services that would include a variety of different prices for food served aboard trains.

John Feltz, a vice president for the Transportation Workers Union, said Amtrak has not notified the union about any changes under consideration for food service aboard the trains.

“At the end of this RFI they asked their vendors to give them ideas and costs with, and without, Amtrak employees,” Feltz said. “That gives me a hint that they are looking at getting rid of the on-board service people.”