Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Southwest Chief’

Amtrak Holding Firm on PTC View

April 12, 2018

Amtrak is doubling down on an assertion made earlier this year to Congress by its CEO Richard Anderson that it will not operate on routes that are required to have positive train control but which fail to make the deadline to installing it.

Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Stephen Gardner, told a House Appropriations Committee hearing that Amtrak still has not decided if it will use routes that are not required to have PTC.

Gardner said the passenger carrier continues to study whether it can safely operate on PTC-exempt routes, which tend to be on regional railroads.

He acknowledged during the hearing that Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief might be adversely affected by the PTC issue.

However, Gardner qualified his testimony by suggesting that Amtrak might use routes that receive an extension from the Federal Railroad Administration of the Dec. 31, 2018, PTC deadline that is mandated by federal law.

As did Anderson, Gardner said there will be segments of routes used by Amtrak over which the carrier won’t operate if a PTC waiver has not been obtained by the host railroad.

“ . . . We believe PTC is part of a modern passenger rail system and we want to see PTC levels of safety across our network. We’re going to be analyzing those areas where safety improvements can be made,” Gardner said.

When pressed by Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-California) about the Southwest Chief, Gardner said Amtrak “will provide service on the portions of the route that have PTC, but there may be parts of our network where we believe PTC is required – if that route has high operating speeds – and we want to make sure we have a single level of safety across our network.”

Gardner said Amtrak route safety assessment will conclude this summer.

The Southwest Chief route is required to have PTC between Albuquerque and Lamy, New Mexico, where Amtrak shares tracks with Rail Runner commuter trains.

However, the route between Lamy and Trinidad, Colorado, is exempted. The former Santa Fe route used by the Chief across Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico has an automatic train stop system that dates from the 1920s.

It requires a locomotive engineer to acknowledge any restrictive signal indication or suffer a penalty brake application.

Gardner also took a shot at Amtrak’s host railroads for creating an “existential crisis” by delaying its trains through freight train interference.

He called for legislation allowing Amtrak to sue host railroads over failure to give passenger trains dispatching priority.

Asked why Amtrak is giving up special trains and restricting its carriage of private passenger cars, Gardner said the carrier is restricting the number of places that it operates to its core network.

He noted that some specials and charters have used routes not covered by scheduled Amtrak trains and that any additional revenue it made from those moves caused “a minimum amount of disruption and distraction away from our core business.”

He said going off network exposed Amtrak to new operating challenges and safety risks.

Gardner said Amtrak’s goal is to offer services on its current routes “where we can use equipment that we are confident in and the requirements on our end are manageable, not a distraction, and do not divert our core staff from the job of becoming fully PTC implemented, focusing on improving on-time performance, and providing great customer service.”

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Amtrak Matching Funds for Rebuild of S.W. Chief Route Coming With Terms and Conditions

April 5, 2018

Amtrak has agreed to contribute matching funds toward the project to upgrade the route of the Southwest Chief, but at a price it has never demanded before.

The passenger carrier will only agree to help fund the track rebuilding if the states promoting the project as well as BNSF submit a comprehensive plan for the remainder of the infrastructure investments and associated costs to rebuild the route in New Mexico.

Amtrak has also demanded that “prior to the obligation of grant funds for this project, the County of Colfax, N.M., BNSF, and Amtrak will enter into appropriate agreements setting forth our roles and responsibilities with respect to the project, with terms acceptable to Amtrak.”

Colfax County is the lead government entity that is seeking a federal TIGER grant to help fund rebuilding of the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

More than two years ago BNSF said it would no longer maintain the route of the Chief in portions of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to 79 mph speeds because freight traffic on the route is light.

Former Amtrak President Joe Boardman said in an interview with Trains magazine that Amtrak’s current approach to matching the funds being put up by government entities to rebuild the route of the Southwest Chief differs from the company’s behavior when he was its head.

Amtrak’s demands for terms that it alone must approve was submitted with the Colfax County TIGER grant application.

Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer William N. Feidt said the passenger carrier “strongly supports” the application as a continuation of improvements and that Amtrak will offer $3 million if the grant application is successful.

Two government entities have been awarded TIGER grants in recent years to pay to upgrade the route of the Chief in Kansas and Colorado.

Those grants to the city of Garden City, Kansas, and La Junta, Colorado, were matched by funds from BNSF, the states involved, Amtrak and other cities with an interest in seeing the Southwest Chief remain on its current route.

Amtrak is the primary user of the route between Hutchinson, Kansas, and a junction west of Lamy, New Mexico.

In his interview with Trains, Boardman said he and former BNSF Chairman Matt Rose agreed that completion of the track work would not hinge on knowing where all the money would eventually come from.

“It was logical that we would do this in pieces,” Boardman said. “Yes, we couldn’t complete everything with the piece of money [from the first grant], but we couldn’t spend that money on construction right away anyway. We had strong commitments from all of the cities along the way. For me, that was enough to just keep going [with subsequent grants] and now the communities have an expectation that the project will continue.”

Colfax County is seeking more than $17.5 million for the track work. Entities other than the federal government are projected to contribute $9.19 million toward the project, including $3 million from BNSF and $1 million apiece from the states of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico as well as pledges from 17 communities in the three states

The American Association of Private Railcar Owners has pledged $10,000 while the Colorado Rail Passengers Association has agreed to contribute $1,000.

The most recent TIGER grant awarded to the project was $16 million, but that and other pledges funds leaves the $26.7 million project more than $1.5 million short.

It has not been determined if, as a result, officials will curtail the scope of the track rebuilding or seek larger matching contributions.

BNSF has reportedly “asked for a final Federal Railway Administration-approved budget in order to determine how much scope we need to reduce.”

The work to be done includes tie and rail replacement, rebuilding the roadbed at the Devils Throne fill area west of Lamy, and signal system improvements in New Mexico.

“One of the things I learned working on these kinds of things, is that if you fail to move when you have an opportunity to move, you’re probably going to fail to get this done,” Boardman told Trains.

S.W. Chief Route Shortened Due to Track Work

April 4, 2018

BNSF track work will cause the Southwest Chief to cease operating between Chicago and Kansas City on April 7 and 8.

The affected stations are Chicago, Naperville, Mendota, Princeton and Galesburg in Illinois, Fort Madison in Iowa, and La Plata in Missouri.

Train No. 4 will operate from Los Angeles to Kansas City as scheduled with alternative bus service being provided for passengers traveling to all of the affected stations except La Plata and Fort Madison.

Amtrak said in a service advisory that the buses will only discharge passengers traveling to Galesburg, Princeton, Mendota, Naperville and Chicago.

Originating passengers in those cities will not be accepted aboard the buses.

Instead, passengers originating in those cities who held tickets aboard Train No. 4 are being advised to use Train No. 6 (California Zephyr) or the Illinois Zephyr or Carl Sandburg, both of which operate between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois.

Passengers should expect delays of up to 1 hour between Kansas City and these stations.

Train No. 3 will originate in Kansas City and operate as scheduled to Los Angeles.

Alternative transportation will be provided from Chicago to Kansas City by bus, departing Union Station at 1 pm, which is two hours earlier than current departure time of No. 3.

No alternate service will be provided at Naperville, Mendota, Princeton, Galesburg, Fort Madison and La Plata.

Passengers originating at the missed stations are being advised to rebook on other Illinois Service trains, the California Zephyr (Train No. 5) or on alternate travel dates.

The Chief Has Arrived

March 26, 2018

The inbound Southwest Chief has arrived from Los Angeles and intermediate points at the bumper post at Chicago Union Station. On ad adjoining track is a corridor train with a former Metroliner cab car facing the station. It is probably one of the Chicago-Detroit line trains.

Albuquerque Waiting Room Moved

March 13, 2018

The waiting room of the Amtrak station in Albuquerque was moved temporarily due to floor replacement construction work that began on March 6.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the work has meant moving the ticketing, baggage check and waiting area.

The ticket window and baggage check areas were moved by the door north of the main waiting room. After the first week of construction is complete they were moved back to their original location.

The waiting has relocated to the south end of the building to the Greyhound waiting room.

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

$16M Grant Released for S.W. Chief Route Track Work

March 7, 2018

The federal government has released a $16 million grant that will pay for track work on the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

“This should finish off the rail repair between La Junta (Colorado) and Newton (Kansas) as well as the work in Raton Pass,” said Pueblo [Colorado] County Commissioner Sal Pace, who is chairman of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission.

The grant supplements more than $9 million pledged from communities served by the train in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.

The project arose after track owner BNSF said it would decrease its maintenance of the line because it handles little freight traffic.

Pace said the multi-state coalition had earlier obtained grants of $21 million and $27 million.

“With this grant, we’re about 75 percent of the way toward the goal of needing $100 million in rail and route repairs,” he said.

The Southwest Chief runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles.

In a related development, the Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution pledging $12,500 to match support from the latest grant to rebuild the route of the Chief.

The federal money is coming from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program.

Colfax County, New Mexico, submitted the $25 million grant application and 23 communities in three states have passed similar resolutions, totaling about $9.2 million

The Front Range Rail commission is seeking to get route the Chief through Pueblo or get a connecting train that would operate to La Junta.

Amtrak Posts New National Sked Few Changes Made to Heartland Train Schedules

January 22, 2018

Amtrak has a new national timetable posted online and only a few changes have been made to the schedules of its trains that serve the nation’s heartland, many of them minor.

Most  of the changes affect the six Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac). The running times on the route are being shortened

Effective Jan. 22, No. 350 will depart Pontiac 5 minutes earlier and arrive in Chicago 15 minutes earlier than the current schedule. No. 353 will leave Pontiac 10 minutes earlier and arrive in Chicago eight minutes earlier. No. 355 will depart Pontiac 20 minutes earlier and arrive in Chicago 32 minutes earlier. Times at stations en route have been adjusted.

No. 350 will leave Chicago at its current scheduled time, but arrive in Pontiac 24 minutes earlier. No. 353 will depart Chicago 10 minutes earlier and arrive in Pontiac 27 minutes earlier. No. 354 will leave Chicago 10 minutes earlier and arrive in Pontiac 14 minutes earlier.

The eastbound Blue Water will depart Chicago at its current time, but will be scheduled to arrive in Port Huron, Michigan, seven minutes earlier. There are corresponding changes at intermediate stations.

There are no changes in the schedules of the westbound Blue Water or the Pere Marquette in both directions.

Effective Jan. 8, the Pennsylvanian began arriving in Pittsburgh from New York six minutes earlier.

There are no changes in the schedules of the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited or eastbound Cardinal. The westbound Cardinal is now scheduled to arrive in Chicago five minutes earlier, but there are no changes in time at intermediate stations.

No changes were made in any schedules of trains operating in the Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans corridor. Likewise, all Lincoln Service schedules between Chicago and St. Louis and Missouri River Runner trains between St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, remain the same.

Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee has not changed.

The Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg are scheduled to arrive one minute earlier in Quincy, Illinois, but the rest of the schedules on the route are unchanged.

The counterparts of the same trains will arrive in Chicago two minutes earlier without any changes in times at intermediate stations.

The westbound Southwest Chief is departing Los Angeles five minutes earlier but its Chicago arrival time is unchanged. Some times have changed at intermediate stations. This change became effective last November.

There are no changes in the schedules of the westbound Southwest Chief, or the California Zephyr, Empire Builder or Texas Eagle.

The Heartland Flyer arrives in Oklahoma City from Fort Worth, Texas, four minutes earlier, a change that took effect last October. The southbound Heartland Flyer schedule is unchanged.

Amtrak has not printed a national timetable since January 2016, but has posted one at its website since then.

The latest timetable features an image of the Maple Leaf traveling through snowstorm.

Missing from this timetable is a letter from Amtrak’s president, which had been a standard feature of previous timetables.

The typography is largely the same as in the previous timetables, but the schedule headings have been tweaked. The schedules were compiled before Amtrak said it was discontinuing the Pacific Parlour Car on the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight.

Judge Find Man Who Shot Amtrak Conductor Had Intended to Kill Him

January 9, 2018

An Illinois judge has determined that an 80-year-old Wisconsin man was trying to kill an Amtrak conductor last May during a station stop at Naperville, Illinois.

As a result Edward Klein faces confinement in a mental health facility. In an earlier court hearing, Klein had been found unfit to stand trial.

But DuPage County Judge Jeffrey MacKay ruled that Klein was “not not guilty” and “not acquitted” of the multiple charges against him despite being found unfit to stand trial.

MacKay said that prosecutors have proven the charges against Klein beyond a reasonable doubt.

Klein was charged with attempted murder in the shooting of Amtrak conductor Michael Case, who had prevented Klein from disembarking from the eastbound Southwest Chief at Naperville.

Klein was ticketed to travel to Milwaukee, which is near his West Allis, Wisconsin, home.

Amtrak personnel had become concerned about Klein’s behavior during the trip from Kansas City and had been keeping a watch on him.

MacKay found that Klein knew he was doing wrong and intended to kill Case after becoming angry that the conductor would not let him get off in Naperville.

Case had testified at an earlier hearing that he was aware of a plan to escort Klein at Chicago Union Station and get him home safely to Wisconsin. He therefore closed and locked the doors to the car where Klein was located.

Case, who was shot in the abdomen as he assisted other passengers, described Klein as “enraged and belligerent.” He also said Klein was disoriented and frustrated because the crew refused his demand to get off the train in Naperville.

Evidence introduced in court proceedings show that doctors have diagnosed Klein as having an impaired cognition disorder and dementia. He is reportedly suffering from a major neuro-cognitive disorder.

During a court hearing last week, Klein appeared to spend much of the time staring up at the lights while occasionally shaking his head.

Klein has been held on $1.5 million bail after being charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count each of aggravated battery, aggravated discharge of a firearm and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.

Police said Klein reached out an open window and fired at Case with a .38 caliber revolver.

Case was hospitalized for six weeks while recovering from his injuries.

Amtrak Establishes Williams Shuttle

January 9, 2018

Amtrak has established a Thruway shuttle service between Flagstaff, Arizona, and Williams, Arizona, the gateway to the Grand Canyon.

The new service, which accommodates passengers using the Southwest Chief, replaced a now-discontinued station stop at Williams Junction, Arizona.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the shuttle fare is $24 and has a guaranteed connection. The shuttle will stop at the Holiday Inn Express, 1150 W. Cataract Lake Road, in Williams.

Passengers traveling from Chicago and points west on Train 3 to Williams will detrain in Flagstaff and connect to Thruway bus 8953 departing at 10:10 p.m.

Passengers traveling from Williams westbound toward Los Angeles, will take Thruway bus 8853 departing at 8:30 p.m. to connect with Train 3 in Flagstaff.

Passengers on Train 4 traveling from Los Angeles and points east to Williams will detrain in Flagstaff and take Thruway bus 8954 departing at 6:00 a.m.

Passengers traveling from Williams heading eastbound toward Chicago on train 4, will take Thruway bus 8854 departing at 4:15 a.m. to connect with Train 4 in Flagstaff.

 

Grand Canyon Shuttle Ends at Williams Junction

January 2, 2018

Shuttle service between the Amtrak station at Williams Junction, Arizona, and the Grand Canyon ended with the coming of 2018.

The company providing the shuttle said it ended the service because it was becoming too much of a burden to offer, citing wear and tear on its vans due to the rough roads leading to the station.

Xanterra Parks and Resorts decided last year to stop the free shuttle service at Williams Junction.

Company spokesman Bruce Brossman said Amtrak’s inconsistent performance meant that passengers who arrived late at night or before dawn lingered in the hotel lobby at the Grand Canyon, which made guests and staff uncomfortable.

“We really think that it’s going to be a better experience for the train passengers to go to a real train depot in Flagstaff,” Brossman said.

Trace Ward, director of the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the city has been working with Amtrak to let passengers know what’s open around their scheduled arrivals and departures.

Both Williams Junction and Flagstaff are served by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.