Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Sunset Limited’

3 Trains Were Most Delayed, FRA Says

February 16, 2022

Three Amtrak trains led the list of most delayed trains during the fourth quarter of 2021, the Federal Railroad Administration said on Monday.

In a report showing performance and service quality of intercity passenger train operations, the Cardinal (Chicago-New York), Sunset Limited (New Orleans-Los Angeles) and Texas Eagle (Chicago-San Antonio) had the most delays.

The FRA used standards and metrics that it issued in November 2020 to compile the report.

The agency found Amtrak trains experienced more than 1.2 million minutes of delay during the fourth quarter, up 37 percent from the previous quarter.

Delays system-wide rose 33 percent at 8,168,324 train-miles. The FRA rules track delays by 40 categories, but the top three during the fourth quarter were those attributed to a host railroad, those attributed to Amtrak and those attributed to a third party. The latter includes weather-related delays.

The FRA said freight train interference accounted for 22 percent of delay minutes, an increase of 36 percent from the previous quarter.

Delays by train included the Cardinal (87,123 minutes), Sunset Limited (67,300 minutes), and Texas Eagle (42,965 minutes).

The report also found Amtrak ridership increased 48 percent during the fourth quarter to 5.1 million passengers.

USDOT Sides With Amtrak in Gulf Coast Case

January 30, 2022

The U.S. Department of Transportation has urged the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to side with Amtrak in a case involving new intercity rail passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

In a brief filed in December but not made public until last week, DOT said the STB should order the restoration of Gulf Coast Service and accused host railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern of seeking to weaken the interpretation of a federal law that grants Amtrak access to host railroads for new and expanded rail passenger train service.

DOT said the intent of Congress in adopting the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, which created Amtrak and relieved railroads of the obligation of providing intercity rail passenger service, was that a host railroad must prove affirmatively that new service would harm their freight operations.

The legal standard, DOT argued in its amicus brief, is that host railroads must show the new service would create an “unreasonable impairment.”

DOT argued that Congress always intended for new or additional Amtrak service to enjoy a presumption of favor barring that showing of “unreasonable impairment.”

Amtrak has proposed double daily service between New Orleans and Mobile, a route that last hosted passenger trains in August 2005.

That service, the tri-weekly Sunset Limited, operated between New Orleans and Orlando, Florida, but was suspended in the aftermath of damage to the rail infrastructure caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The Sunset Limited continues to operate tri-weekly west of New Orleans to Los Angeles.

CSX and NS have argued that the addition of Amtrak service would harm their freight service and have demanded millions of dollars in track improvements in return for agreeing to host the service.

For the past five years the various parties, including the Southern Rail Commission, have been arguing about the scope and cost of those improvements. They have also argued about a traffic study of how Amtrak service would affect freight operations.

The DOT brief said there is more at stake in the case than just new corridor service to Mobile.

“In the Department’s view, it is important to set a precedent in this case that vindicates the governing statute and the purposes underlying it,” DOT argued. “Rail carriers have obligations in hosting Amtrak service, and these obligations were part and parcel of Congress’s decision five decades ago to create Amtrak and to relieve rail carriers of their obligations to carry passengers. The Board should not countenance an interpretation of the statute that makes passenger rail service illusory.”

DOT described the operational analysis submitted to regulators by CSX and NS to support their assertions of harm as “insufficient” to prove Amtrak service would “impair unreasonably” their freight transportation.

“Congress created Amtrak to provide and promote intercity passenger rail services that were always expected to operate primarily over host railroad infrastructure.,” DOT said “This was part and parcel of an effort to strengthen struggling rail carriers, many of whom were in a precarious financial position, by relieving them of their longstanding common carrier obligations to transport passengers.

 “Since then, Congress has taken numerous steps to reaffirm the importance of Amtrak’s ability to operate over host railroad infrastructure, including through the recent provision of historic levels of funding for Amtrak intercity passenger rail development and related investments in host railroad infrastructure.”

The latter was a reference to funding intended to bolster intercity rail passenger service contained in the infrastructure bill approved by Congress last year.

“Nothing in the governing statute, 49 U.S.C.24308(e), indicates that Congress anticipated a protracted period of time or the expenditure of extraordinary sums as a condition precedent to the addition of passenger trains along an existing rail line,” DOT said.

Phoenix-Tucson Service Gets Mayoral Support

August 5, 2021

Amtrak is proposing to operate service between Phoenix and Tucson, a proposal that has gained the support of 11 Arizona mayors.

Phoenix has been off the Amtrak map since the mid 1990s when the Los Angeles-New Orleans Sunset Limited was rerouted away from the state’s largest city due to track rationalization west of Phoenix.

Trains 1 and 2 continue to serve Tucson on a tri-weekly schedule.

Amtrak has proposed operating three roundtrips per day over Union Pacific rails with the western terminus in Buckeye.

Intermediate stations would include Marana, Coolidge, Queen Creek, Tempe, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix Downtown and Goodyear-Avondale.

Connections would be available in Phoenix with the Valley Metro light rail system. Tucson’s SunLink streetcar system already connects to the city’s Amtrak station.

Amtrak said the service could link with the Sunset Limited to enable passengers to continue on to other points on the Amtrak network.

In a joint letter, the 11 Arizona mayors asked the state’s congressional delegation to “support Amtrak’s reauthorization proposal as Congress considers the future of surface transportation programs.”

Palm Springs Station Temporarily Closed

May 21, 2021

Damage caused by sandstorms has led to the temporary closing of the Amtrak station in Palm Springs, California.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the storms caused sand drifts near the station, which resulted in unsafe conditions.

The advisory said Amtrak is working with host railroad Union Pacific to repair the station area as soon as possible.

Palm Springs is served by the tri-weekly New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited.

CSX, NS Seek Dismissal of Amtrak STB Case Over Gulf Coast Service

April 30, 2021

CSX and Norfolk Southern have asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to dismiss Amtrak’s petition asking regulators to force the two Class 1 railroads to allow operation of new Gulf Coast passenger service next year.

The host railroads said Amtrak’s complaint is not “ripe” because they have not refused Amtrak’s proposed service.

In a filing, the two railroads said they want Amtrak to live up to the commitments it made to complete a joint rail traffic controller modeling study to determine the infrastructure that will be required to support the service Amtrak wants to implement.

Amtrak has proposed operating two daily roundtrips between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The filing by NS and CSX also contends that Amtrak has not submitted an environmental and historic report with its STB petition, and that Congress did not give Amtrak any cause of action that could support its demand for an “interim order” allowing it to enter other railroads’ lines to perform preparations for new service before the STB decides whether the new service will be allowed.

Furthermore, the host railroads argued that Amtrak lacks important state support to ensure success of the proposed service.

At the center of the dispute is Amtrak’s withdrawing from a traffic study the host railroads contend must be completed before they will discuss what infrastructure improvements are needed to accommodate passenger service.

For its part, Amtrak contends the railroads hindered completion of the study by changing its parameters as it was being conducted.

The passenger carrier at the time it filed its request with the STB in February said it was seeking to force NS and CSX to demonstrate why they cannot host the proposed service.

In statement released after the host railroads asked the STB to dismiss the case, Amtrak said the matter is being considered by regulators and the intercity passenger carrier “fully anticipate the STB’s process will be both transparent and data driven. We will respond to all filings through that docket.”

At the time that Amtrak went to the STB, an Amtrak spokesman indicated that discussions about instituting the service have been ongoing for five years with no sign of a conclusion in sight.

Amtrak contends that federal law gives it a right of access to the host railroads for the proposed Mobile service.

In the past week, the STB case has also drawn the attention of various Alabama political officials.

Gov. Kay Ivey called for completion of the traffic study, which she said it critical for protecting the economic interests of the Port of Mobile.

Ivey said she wants the STB to order Amtrak to complete the traffic study before considering Amtrak’s application.

The governor’s statement to the STB also said, “Alabama has withheld funding for new Gulf Coast passenger service because of our concern that any economic benefit from new passenger rail service will be outweighed by the potential harm to freight rail service based on the current infrastructure. I am particularly concerned about the impact to the Port of Mobile. . .”

Mobile Port Authority CEO John C. Driscoll also has asked the STB to order Amtrak to complete the traffic study.

Port Officials have long expressed concern that passenger operations will adversely affect CSX freight service to the port.

Driscoll said in his statement that the port authority “does not oppose passenger rail into the City of Mobile, but we do have deep concerns regarding Amtrak’s impact on servicing current freight rail as well as servicing future freight capacity demand in the CSX corridor.”

Until August 2005 Amtrak served Mobile with its tri-weekly Sunset Limited, which operated along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida.

Operation of Nos. 1 and 2 east of New Orleans was suspended after the route was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Amtrak to Pay for Gulf Coast Station Rehabilitation

March 13, 2021

Amtrak wants to pay to repair station platforms once used by its Sunset Limited east of New Orleans.

The platforms would be used by a proposed new service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, that Amtrak wants to begin in 2022.

The boarding sites were damaged in August 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. Shortly after the storm stuck, Amtrak suspended operation of the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans.

Amtrak is seeking approval from the Federal Railroad Administration to make the station repairs.

Amtrak Vice President of Stations and Accessibility, David Handera, said at a recently meeting of the Southern Rail Commission that the repairs are the first phase of a rehabilitation project Amtrak plans to undertake to ready the route for passenger service.

The stations are located in four Mississippi cities, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Pascagoula, and Biloxi, and Mobile, Alabama.

Handera said a temporary platform is needed in Pascagoula because CSX tracks has seen been related always from the site of the former platform.

“We are working with the FRA on assembling funding sources for the short-term and long-term repairs,” Handera said.

He said Amtrak would develop in a second phase of the project “new accessible, well-lit platforms.”

Amtrak Long-Distance Trains to Resume Daily Service

March 11, 2021

Amtrak said Wednesday it will reinstate daily service on 12 long-distance routes starting in late May.

Trains on those routes shifted last year to tri-weekly or quad-weekly service in the wake of steep ridership declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement of expanded service came hours after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a pandemic relief package that contains increased funding for Amtrak.

The legislation also contains a mandate that routes that had daily service until last year resume daily operation and that furloughed employees be recalled.

President Joseph Biden is expected to sign the $1.9 trillion bill on Friday.

Two routes, the Chicago-New York Cardinal and New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited will be unaffected by the changes because those routes have operated on tri-weekly schedules for years.

Amtrak has already resumed selling tickets for the expanded days of operation on the 12 routes.

Trains returning to daily service on May 24 include the Chicago-Emeryville, California, California Zephyr; Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight; Chicago-Portland/Seattle Empire Builder, and the Chicago-San Antonio-Los Angeles Texas Eagle.

Daily operation returns May 31 for the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited; Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans, Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited, and the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Resuming daily operation on June 7 will be the New York-New Orleans Crescent, New York-Savannah Palmetto, and the New York-Miami Silver Meteor (via Savannah) and Silver Star (via Raleigh).

In a news release, Amtrak said new Viewliner II sleeping cars will be making their debut on the Silver Service trains.

The Auto Train had continued to operate daily and its operations will remain unchanged.

Amtrak will receive $1.7 billion in emergency pandemic aid, which will help fund restoration of daily service on long-distance routes.

Amtrak Trying to Pressure Host Railroads on Gulf Coast Service

March 2, 2021

Amtrak is trying to pressure two host railroads by announcing its plans to begin service in 2022 on the New Orleans-Mobile, Alabama, route.

In a statement, Amtrak said it continues to discuss with CSX and Norfolk Southern what infrastructure improvements are needed before the service can begin.

The service is expected to operate twice daily over a portion of the route once used by the Sunset Limited until August 2005.

Most funding for the service is already approved and includes state and federal money.

News reports indicate that Amtrak made the announcement even though a traffic study of the route is incomplete.

That study, which Amtrak is paying for, will use a computer simulation program to study how passengers operations might affect freight operations on the route.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the study should have taken just seven months but remains far from complete more than a year after it began.

He told Trains magazine that discussions between Amtrak and the host railroads have been going on for five years with no agreement near.

Amtrak’s announcement said the passenger carrier has “again asked the freight railroads where they believe there are more issues. We safely and successfully operate together elsewhere in the United States, with dependable freight service coexisting with reliable and relevant Amtrak service. That’s what the Gulf Coast deserves, too.”

The Southern Rail Commission has been pushing for a resumption of Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida, for several years.

CSX has said that the traffic study needs to be completed before it will have any further discussion about hosting the Amtrak service.

One sticking point is how Amtrak operations might affect rail traffic at the Port of Mobile.

In its own statement, CSX said it has “prioritized this Amtrak Gulf Coast study, treating each step as expeditiously as possible.”

The statement said CSX wants to ensure that the model is compliant with federal law.

“Not only are we committed to seeing its completion, but the STB [U.S. Surface Transportation Board] has a statutory obligation to determine if a new passenger service unreasonably interferes with freight operations. It is critical that this study and the full infrastructure impact assessment is completed.”

An analysis posted on the Trains website concludes that the CSX statement illustrates why the development of the route has taken so long and why Amtrak has lost patience with the process: The host railroads, particularly CSX, keep changing the parameters.

Trains said none of the three parties was willing to reveal any details of the capacity study, including preliminary findings, specific infrastructure change requests, or the timeline of negotiations.

Nonetheless, a 2017 Federal Railroad Administration report by the Gulf Coast Working Group set forth a list of $66 million of improvements that were needed to resume service between New Orleans and Mobile.

These included a house track at the Mobile station that would enable trains to get off the mainline; a signaled passing track around CSX’s Gentilly Yard in New Orleans; a second main track extension to accommodate long freight trains at Bay St. Louis, Mississppi; an automated junction in Gulfport, Mississippi; and yard capacity expansion at Pascagoula, Mississippi.

The states of Louisiana and Mississippi have set aside capital funds and Mississippi has agreed to help provide operating support.

But Alabama has not committed any funding and Gov. Kay Ivey has expressed opposition to the service, citing how it might disrupt freight access to the Port of Mobile.

The Mobile City County has agreed to spend more than $3 million over three years toward infrastructure improvements to get the Amtrak service started.

Amtrak has tentatively named the New Orleans-Mobile trains Gulf Coast Service and said they would serve four intermediate stations, all in Mississippi: Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula.

The trains would use NS tracks for a short distance within New Orleans.

Magliari said that Amtrak safely and successfully coexists on other rail lines. “That’s what the Gulf Coast deserves, too,” he said.

A story posted on the Railway Age website speculated that the Port of Mobile may have leaked information to local news media over concerns that the new passenger service might hinder CSX freight service.

The Railway Age article said the Gulf Coast service may end up becoming a test case for how the STB will handles future intercity passenger rail proposals involving Amtrak, state entities and host freight railroads when the parties are unable to reach an agreement to allow new or expanded service.

For its part, an NS spokesman said his company’s position is similar to that of CSX.

“There is an established process for introducing new passenger rail service on freight rail lines recognized by both the freight and passenger railroad industries,” said Jeff DeGraff.

“It involves identifying, through a data-driven study, what infrastructure is necessary to ensure that the new passenger service is transparent to freight operations and doesn’t negatively impact the freight rail customers.”

DeGraff said NS welcomes the prospect that this process will be revived and completed in the proposed Mobile-New Orleans service.

Wiley Blankenship, chairman of the SRC, told Railway Age his agency remains “cautiously optimistic about Amtrak’s intention to start running trains again.”

He acknowledged that additional work needs to be done to address the concerns of the Port of Mobile before service can start.

SRC has worked for years to land public funding for Gulf Coast service including federal and state grants.

One federal grant will help pay for the operating costs of the service in its first three years.

Magliari told an Alabama news outlet that “instead of postponing the publicly sought and desired new Amtrak service for an indefinite period, we have notified the railroads that we believe we can start the service. There is money set aside for the capital improvements. There is money granted for the operating costs.”

Amtrak will provide more details about the proposed Gulf Coast service during a March 5 SRC meeting.

Winter Conditions Cause More Service Disruptions

February 18, 2021

Harsh winter weather continued to lead to delays and cancellations for Amtrak on Wednesday, including in the Midwest.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said a week of temperatures near zero caused a series of “weather-related equipment issues.”

A Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan Blue Water round trip was cancelled on Wednesday as a result.

Reportedly, the problem involved the train’s two Charger locomotives and Amtrak maintenance was unable to fix the issue.

The same day the Chicago-bound Pere Marquette, which originates in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was terminated at its first intermediate stop in Hollard, Michigan, due to equipment problems.

Passengers were transferred to a bus to complete their journey to their destination.

Several corridor and long-distance trains that did operate on Tuesday and Wednesday encountered lengthy departure delays from Chicago.

After a late Tuesday arrival in Chicago from Carbondale, Illinois, the Saluki was canceled on Wednesday and its counterpart to Carbondale, the Illini, was cancelled that day.

Both trains were cancelled on Wednesday. Reportedly the problem that led to the cancellation of the Illini was a computer issue on the locomotive that locked up the brakes so that they would not release.

Elsewhere, Amtrak canceled trains in Virginia and the Carolinas ahead of a winter storm expected to bring ice and snow to the region.

The Auto Train was cancelled in both directions on today. Also cancelled were trains that terminate at Norfolk, Newport News, and Roanoke in Virginia, and the Palmetto to Savannah, Georgia.

The northbound counterparts to these trains have been cancelled for Thursday and Friday.

In the West the Coast Starlight has resumed operating over its entire route.

However, Wednesday departures of the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles and New Orleans were cancelled.

The Texas Eagle will originate in San Antonio, Texas, on Friday as scheduled. The westbound Texas Eagle will resume departing from Chicago on Friday.

The Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas, Heartland Flyer remains suspended until Feb. 20.

2 Hurt When Sunset Limited Hits Truck

November 7, 2020

Three people were taken to a hospital after Amtrak’s eastbound Sunset Limited struck a dump trunk earlier this week in Duson, Louisiana.

One those treated was an Amtrak passengers. News reports indicated that Train 2 had 27 passengers and eight crew members on board the accident occurred at a grade crossing in and unincorporated area near Lafayette.

The train partially derailed. The driver of the truck was in serious condition at the hospital.