Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Sunset Limited’

Amtrak Files STB Case Against Union Pacific

December 19, 2022

Amtrak wants the U.S. Surface Transportation board to order Union Pacific to give better handling to its New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited.

In a filing earlier this month, the passenger carries described the on-time performance of Nos. 1 and 2 as “abysmal” and blamed it on the operating practices of the host railroad.

According to Amtrak, delays occur most often when Amtrak is forced to follow a freight train that is too long to fit into existing passing sidings on the former Southern Pacific route.

Amtrak is seeking “damages and other relief” from UP. The case is the first of its kind to be brought under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which gave the STB authority to investigate passenger on-time performance issues and how to address them.

The Amtrak STB filing contends that during federal fiscal year 2022, which ended last September, the Sunset Limited averaged more than 15 instances of freight train interference per trip, resulting in an average of more than four hours of delays.

During FY2022, Train No. 1 had on-time performances of 40 percent, 24 percent, 10 percent, and 11 percent for each respective quarter of the fiscal year.

The corresponding figures for Train No. 2 were 40 percent, 35 percent, 11 percent, and 7 percent.

Amtrak said UP was responsible for 74.2 percent of the delays, while the passenger carrier was responsible for 20.8 percent of the delays. Third parties were blamed for the remaining 5.1 percent of delays.

The passenger carrier has suggested that federal regulators consider the case in two phases, starting with an investigative phase to determine the cause of delays and a remedial phase to determine possible damages and corrective action.

Amtrak Station Briefs

December 5, 2022

The Amtrak station in Gallup, New Mexico, is closed and passengers no longer have access to the waiting room or restrooms.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers can still reach the boarding platforms. The advisory did not provide a reason for the closure or say how long it would last.

The station closure began on Dec. 1. Gallup is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Amtrak’s station in Palm Springs, California, continues to be hindered by high winds and sandstorms that cause sand drifts near the station.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said its trains may bypass Palm Springs, which is served by the tri-weekly New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited, when conditions there are hazardous.

Passengers bound for Palm Springs on days when Trains 1 and 2 bypass the station will instead be taken to the Ontario, California, station located 70 miles west of Palm Springs.

No alternate transportation between Ontario and Palm Springs will be provided.

Amtrak said it is working with host railroad Union Pacific to implement a long-term fix.

The Amtrak Thruway stop in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has been moved. The current location is the Hampton Roads Transit Center at 1912 Arctic Avenue.

The new location will be Parks Avenue and 19th Street near the Virginia Beach Convention Center. The bus shelter is located between 19th and 20th Streets.

Texas Interested in New Passenger Rail Service

October 15, 2022

The Texas Department of Transportation has told the Federal Railroad Administration it is interested in receiving federal funding to expand rail passenger service.

The letter said the funding could be used to provide “new and enhanced, conventional intercity options along traffic-clogged Interstate 35, which runs north-south through the state.”

The new service would supplement Amtrak’s daily Texas Eagle between San Antonio and Dallas, and provide additional service on a route used by the tri-weekly Sunset Limited between San Antonio and Houston.

Other potential new service would link San Antonio with the Rio Grande Valley, a route once used by Amtrak’s Inter-American to Laredo.

The FRA earlier this year established a Corridor Identification Program that will funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Agency Working to Expand California Service

July 20, 2022

A California agency is continuing to seek increased intercity rail passenger service between Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley, which includes the cities of Palm Springs and Indio.

The region is now served by Amtrak’s tri-weekly New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited, but the Riverside County Transportation Commission wants to establish two daily roundtrips on the 144-mile corridor between Los Angeles and Coachella.

Five new stations would be established in addition to the one at Palm Springs for the Sunset Limited.

The agency also is eyeing use of an existing Metrolink line and stations in Fullerton and Riverside.

That would require significant infrastructure upgrades on Union Pacific’s Yuma Subdivision, including addition of a third main line, a new bridge at the Santa Ana River, and other projects improvements.

The improvements won’t be realized for at lest 10 years and are expected to cost nearly $1 billion. The commission recently certified the final Tier I environmental impact statement/environmental impact report for the proposed service.

But a Tier 2 environmental review would required before any construction can begin.

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.”