Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Southwest Chief’

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.”

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Lamy Volunteers Pick Up Slack After Amtrak Agent Left

October 11, 2018

Volunteers have taken over many of the duties once performance by the Amtrak ticket agent in Lamy, New Mexico.

A report published on the Trains magazine website said that the volunteers greet arriving and departing passengers with luggage carts, help with the shuttle to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and offer a clean waiting room stocked with reading material, snacks, and a station cat.

The latter is Harvey, who is named after Santa Fe Railway restaurateur and hotelier Fred Harvey.

Lamy is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The station Amtrak uses is owned by the Santa Fe Southern Railway and its CEO Karl Ziebarth told Trains that it views Amtrak service as important for the community’s tourist economy.

The volunteers have been known to go above and beyond the call of duty by going out for pizza for a passenger stranded with children or driving people to Santa Fe who could not be accommodated by the shuttle service.

Service Canceled Due to Hurricane Michael

October 10, 2018

Amtrak is canceling service in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Michael.

In a service advisory issued on Tuesday, the passenger carrier said that the Silver Star (Nos. 91 and 92) will operate between Miami and Jacksonville, Florida, effective Oct. 10.

No alternate transportation is being provided between Jacksonville and New York City.

The Palmetto (Nos. 89 and 90) will operate only between New York and Washington with no alternate transportation provided between Washington and Savannah. This change is effective Oct. 11,

Michael is to come ashore in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday and turn east toward the routes used by the affected two trains.

Flooding earlier affected operations of two other routes.

The Southwest Chief detoured in Kansas due to the threat of flooding along the Little Arkansas River.

No. 3, which departed Chicago on Tuesday, and No. 4, which departed Los Angeles on Monday, traversed a former Rock Island line between Hutchinson and Topeka. Those tracks are now owned by Union Pacific.

Chartered buses served passengers traveling to and from Newton, which was the only missed station.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the detour could continue for multiple days if needed.

The northbound Heartland Flyer was affected by a track washout in southern Oklahoma delayed passengers after heavy rainfall on Sunday afternoon damaged the tracks between Gene Autry and Davis.

The train was halted in Ardmore and passengers were transported by bus to all stops en route to Oklahoma City.

Many passengers aboard the Flyer had attended the annual Red River Showdown football game in Dallas between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas.

SW Chief to Remain Intact for FY2019

October 5, 2018

The proposed 500-mile bus bridge for Amtrak’s Southwest Chief is on hold for at least another year.

During a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee this week Amtrak said it would continue to operate the Chicago-Los Angeles train as it is now through the end of fiscal year 2019, which began on Oct. 1.

Amtrak’s chief operating officer, Scot Naparstek, was noncommittal, though, when prodded by senators representing the states along the route who are seeking to get Amtrak to release $3 million it earlier pledged to use to rebuild tracks used by the train.

Colfax County, New Mexico, earlier won a $16 million federal TIGER grant for the track rebuilding.

“At this point we’re committed to work with the stakeholders and try to reach a conclusion,” Naparstek said.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) said in news release that it is imperative for Amtrak to improve the route of the Chief.

“I reiterate the need for Amtrak to work with the communities impacted to create a real plan for the future of the Southwest Chief,” he said in a statement.

Amtrak has proposed replacing the train with bus service between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, saying the route lacks a positive train control system.

There would have still been rail service between Chicago and Dodge City, and between Los Angeles and Albuquerque.

N.M. Agency Gets PTC Grant From FRA

August 27, 2018

The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded a $30 million grant to the Rio Metro Regional Transit District to be used to install positive train control.

The agency operates the New Mexico Rail Runner Express over 96 miles that line the cities of Belen, Albuquerque, Los Lunas and Santa Fe.

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief uses a portion of this route network.

Officials said without the funding, rail passenger service would likely have ended because the agency lacks the money to final installing PTC equipment.

Lack of PTC has been one of the reasons given by Amtrak for its idea to operate a bus service between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, in lieu of a train.

The U.S. Senate has approved $2.5 billion for intercity passenger rail service in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2019, and directed Amtrak to preserve service on the Southwest Chief corridor.

N.M. Senators Vows to Continue Fight for S.W. Chief

August 23, 2018

A New Mexico U.S. senator has vowed to continue to fight Amtrak’s purported plans to sever the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Although Amtrak says it has not yet made a decision on the future of the Southwest Chief,  Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) said he will continue to keep the Chief intact.

“I’m proud to stand with the community and continue the fight to save the Southwest Chief,”  Heinrich said at a political rally. “The Southwest Chief isn’t just a railroad route in New Mexico, it is a vital part of who we are and connects places like Raton and Las Vegas to the rest of the nation. The route transports thousands of Boy Scouts from across the country to Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron every summer, generating economic activity for businesses in rural areas along the way. Any effort to undermine the route will go against the will of the people who rely on the Southwest Chief.

Heinrich and senators from New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas have been critical of a review of the trains performance that Amtrak said is losing more than $50 million a year.

They supported and the Senate adopted a $50 million appropriation directing Amtrak to maintain the route.

Lamy Ticket Office Now Closed

August 13, 2018

Another Amtrak ticket office has closed. On Aug. 3 Amtrak pulled its agents from Lamy, New Mexico, on the route of the Southwest Chief.

The closing of the Lamy office had been announced earlier and set for July 31, but the closing was moved back a few days.

In a service advisory Amtrak said passengers for Nos. 3 and 4 will continue to have access to the station waiting area and restrooms for all train arrivals and departures.

The station is open daily from noon to 3 p.m. Amtrak personnel on the train will assist customers boarding and detraining but unaccompanied minors will not be allowed to board at this station.

Ticket options include buying with a credit card from Amtrak reservations or at the Amtrak website. Passengers paying cash can pay for tickets on the train but such tickets will be priced at the highest fare and subject to availability.

Checked baggage is no longer handled at Lamy. Nearest full-service station is in Albuquerque, about an hour southwest of Lamy.

Senate OKs Funding for Passenger Rail, Seeks to Keep S.W. Chief Intact

August 3, 2018

The U.S. Senate has approved on a 92-6 vote $16.1 billion for billion for public transit and intercity passenger rail while also seeking to preserve Amtrak’s national network.

The legislation provides $2.5 billion for intercity passenger rail grants, which are $1.3 billion more than authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

The funding is contained within the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2019.

The bill also funds the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program at $2.5 billion, marking a $92 million decrease from FY18, according to a statement issued by nonprofit advocacy group Transportation for America.

The legislation allocates $1 billion for the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grants program.

The bill also specifically directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to administer the program as it was under 2016 in response to attempted changes that would have added “greater financial and administrative burdens on local communities.”

As for Amtrak’s national network, the Senate approved an amendment by senators Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) to provide $50 million to maintain the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The amendment would provide the resources needed for maintenance and safety improvements along the route as well as “effectively reverse” Amtrak’s plans decision to substitute buses for rail service between Albuquerque and western Kansas.

It is designed to compel Amtrak to fulfill its promise of providing matching funds for the grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, to rebuild the route.

S.W. Chief Travel Time Being Cut

August 1, 2018

Even as a fight is going on about the future of Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, the passenger carrier is decreasing the travel times of Nos. 3 and 4.

Starting July 31, No. 4 will depart Los Angeles 10 minutes earlier at 6 p.m. and arriving earlier in Chicago.

No. 3 will depart Chicago 10 minutes earlier at 2:50 p.m. and arrive earlier in Los Angeles.

Amtrak has yet to post the new schedules on its website.

In a passenger advisory, Amtrak said the faster travel time was made possible by increased speeds in Kansas and Colorado.

 

Senate Prodding Amtrak on S.W. Chief Route

July 30, 2018

The U.S. Senate is turning up the heat on Amtrak to save the Southwest Chief in its current form.

The Senate approved by a 95-4 vote a “sense of Congress” amendment to a fiscal 2019 transportation funding bill that urges Amtrak to maintain its national route system.

Another group of 10 senators wrote to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson to demand that the carrier make good on an earlier agreement to provide a $3 million match to an already-approved $16 million federal Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery grant to Colfax County, New Mexico, that is to be used to rebuild the tracks used by the Chief.

The letter suggests that Amtrak also apply for capital funding to rebuild the route that could come from the $318 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement program.

“Replacing train service through rural communities with buses is troubling, particularly for a quasi-governmental entity entrusted with an important public transportation mission,” the letter said. “The suspension of service along the Southwest Chief route raises serious questions as to whether passenger rail service will be eliminated in rural communities across the country. The connectivity is vital to the people and communities” because it is “the only affordable alternative to highways for many of our citizens and is a critical link to public and private services in larger cities along the route for rural residents.”

The letter came in response to a meeting Anderson held with members of the congressional delegations of several states served by the Chief in which he said Amtrak is considering moving passenger by bus between Albuquerque and western Kansas.

Anderson said Amtrak can’t afford to use a portion of a BNSF route of which it is the sole user and which does not have positive train control.

The letter to Anderson called for him to take “prompt attention to this matter,” but did not say what would occur if Amtrak follows through on its bus bridge idea.