Posts Tagged ‘Bennett Levin’

Levin Wants Pennsylvania to Divorce Amtrak

December 22, 2019

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives Transportation Committee held a hearing last week that drew one witness and he suggested the state take over from Amtrak operation of the passenger service in the Keystone Corridor.

Bennett Levin, who oversees the short line Juniata Terminal in Philadelphia and is the owner of private railroad cars, suggested the Philadelphia commuter operator SEPTA operate Amtrak’s Keystone Service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

He contended that this would lower the state’s costs of providing the service, which is now 13 weekday Keystone Service trains and the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian.

Some Keystone Service trains operate between New York and Harrisburg.

Levin also contended that state operation would lead to increased train service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.

The 103-mile Harrisburg-Philadelphia line is owned by the federal government and it would have to agree to transfer ownership of it to the state.

“SEPTA is one of the best managed commuter rail operators in the nation and there is no reason why their franchise cannot be modified to allow them to run west of Thorndale to Harrisburg,” Levin said. “Therefore the initial step in crafting a solution in the Pittsburgh region is to divorce Amtrak by having the U.S. Department of Transportation gift the Harrisburg Line to Pennsylvania and let SEPTA provide the existing Keystone Service.

SEPTA has 81 weekday trains on the Harrisburg Line that carry 20,000 passengers.

Amtrak’s  26 weekday Keystone trains carry 4,130 people, and the Pennsylvanian carries more than 560 passengers a day.

Levin said his plan would remove Amtrak as a middleman. “We have already paid for the Harrisburg Line; we should own it,” he said.

Levin noted that the state and SEPTA collectively pay Amtrak $1 million a week to operate intercity and commuter rail service on the Harrisburg line.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and SEPTA have paid more than $250 million for infrastructure improvements to the route including new or renovated stations at Paoli, Exton, Downingtown, Mount Joy, Elizabethtown, and Middletown.

Levin acknowledged that under his plan passengers traveling from within Pennsylvania to New York would have to change trains in Philadelphia at 30th Street Station.

“Those folks going to New York, let them walk downstairs,” he said in reference to the upper level and lower level platforms.

Levin was critical of the schedule of the westbound Pennsylvanian, which he said is oriented to passengers connecting to Amtrak’s westbound Capitol Limited to Chicago in Pittsburgh.

But fewer than 10 percent of Pennsylvanian passengers are connecting to Amtrak train No. 29.

With an earlier schedule westbound, the equipment used on the Pennsylvanian could be turned at Pittsburgh to create a new Pittsburgh-Johnstown commuter train.

PennDOT, Amtrak and Norfolk Southern have discussed expanding service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh but thus far those talks have not produced any agreements.

Levin told Trains magazine that all of the parties seem to be talking past each others. “It’s my belief that Norfolk Southern is a perfectly rational partner, once you get Amtrak out of the picture,” Levin said.

Toys For Tots Train to Run Dec. 1 in New York State

November 30, 2018

Bennett Levin’s former Pennsylvania Railroad E8A locomotives pull a private car charter train on Norfolk Southern tracks at Lowellville, Ohio, on Aug. 7, 2011.

The New York Capital Region Toys for Tots train might be the last hurrah for Bennett Levin’s Pennsylvania Railroad E8A locomotives.

Levin’s locomotives, PRR Nos. 5711 and 5809, will help pull an eight-car “South Distribution Train” on Dec. 1 from Binghamton to Delanson, New York.

This train, which is part of a U.S. Marine Corps charity program will provide gifts to children.

The train in past years has been operated as an Amtrak charter, but the passenger carrier decline to do that this year, citing its new policy prohibiting most charter operations.

The train was saved through the intervention of Levin and others. Those efforts are detailed in a column written by veteran transportation reporter Don Phillips at the Railway Age website.

The column can be found at https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/intercity/how-amtraks-grinch-couldnt-steal-christmas/

Levin has said that his E units will be retired from mainline travel after the completion of Saturday’s trip.

He has said he doesn’t want to invest in installing a positive train control system in the locomotives. The units are expected to be put into long-term storage.

The Toys for Tots train will operate on Norfolk Southern tracks and be led by an NS locomotive.

Other equipment is being provided by the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad and the Morristown & Erie Railroad. Amtrak has agreed to provide two baggage cars to the train.

The train schedule is: 10-10:30 a.m., Binghamton Yard; 11:45 a.m.-12:20 p.m., Bainbridge; 1:15-1:45 p.m., Oneonta; 3-3:25 Cobleskill; and 4-5:30 Delanson.

Private Car Owner Defends Amtrak Policy Changes

April 18, 2018

In the wake of recent Amtrak policy changes that all but banned special and charter movements and a policy review pertaining to the carriage of private rail cars, reports have surfaced that bad behavior by private rail car owners is one underlying issue motivating Amtrak.

Now a private car owner has come forward to contend that there is some truth to those reports.

Bennett Levin, who owns former Pennsylvania Railroad office car No. 120 and two E8A locomotives painted in a PRR livery, told Trains magazine that the trade groups representing the interests of private rail car owners and operators have failed to address that.

“Things have spiraled out of control. Neither of the private varnish organizations have taken positive steps to address these issues, so now Amtrak has said, ‘Enough,’ ” Levin said. “What Amtrak has done is not draconian. It is prudent.”

Saying the issue of safety is paramount, Levin accused the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners and the Rail Passenger Car Alliance of doing a poor job of self-policing their members and instilling a culture of safety first.

That brought a retort from both groups, which issued a joint statement denying the assertions.

RPCA President W. Roger Fuehring, and AAPRCO President Robert G. Donnelley said their groups each have safety committees that have provided safety manuals to members.

Furthermore, there have been no incidents or accidents that have been reportable to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The two group presidents noted that they have denied membership to car owners who have a poor safety record and that not all private car owners are members of AAPRCO or RPCA.

“Both organizations have investigated and taken action on the occasional violations of our membership,” the statement said.

The groups also took issue with Levin’s call for rail car owners and railfans to curtail contacting elected officials to urge them to take action in response to the Amtrak policy changes.

Levin argued in a letter to the National Railway Historical Society that such lobbying may do more harm than good.

“I would urge everyone who claims to have an interest in this matter, from those who own the equipment to those who stand trackside and record its passing for history, to use reason and restraint, and not add fuel to an already raging fire being fed by ineptness, poor judgment, and short sightedness,” Levin wrote in the letter addressed to NRHS President Al Weber.

Levin told Trains that the reaction of rail car owners and railfans is ill-timed and nearing “hysteria.”

In their joint statement, the presidents of AAPRCO and RPCA said the lobbying has been in response to a policy change that caught many by surprise, particularly in its severity.

“[I]t is not surprising that some tourist railroad organizations, charterers, private car owners, and car owner associations have sought help from their legislators in view of the fact that Amtrak is a government approved monopoly receiving aid from the legislature,” the statement said.

“Despite the extreme hardship that the policy entailed, we continue to respect and understand that, with new leadership, Amtrak is analyzing and reviewing all aspects of train operations. In light of the most recent developments, we have asked formally to meet with Amtrak’s President and CEO, Richard Anderson, in order to see how we can be better partners and support Amtrak where it would be beneficial to both parties.”

The two groups have made suggestions to Amtrak as to how to streamline the process of adding and removing private cars from Amtrak trains, particularly at intermediate stations.

Amtrak’s policy toward special movements and charters allows for exceptions in narrowly defined circumstances.

An Amtrak representative told Trains that the carrier’s policy in regards to hauling private cars continues to evolve and should be announced in the near future.

However, in its communications with rail cars owners, Amtrak has signaled that it wants to restrict the number of trains and routes that carry private cars and limit carriage on others to certain days of the week.

Amtrak also has indicated that it wants to primarily move cars from endpoint to endpoint and avoid adding and removing cars at intermediate stations with scheduled dwell times of less than 30 minutes.

For his part, Levin believes the policy changes pertaining to private cars and special movements is “a matter to be thoroughly considered in the context of the railroad’s regular operations.”

Levin said he fears that Congressional intervention may result in “something far worse than a decrease in the frequency of private passenger car trips on the national rail network.”

In their statement, AAPRCO and RPCA cited some of the hardships that private car owners have endured.

This has included cars stored in formerly permitted locations being “frozen in place” and cars already en route being forced to change their schedules at significantly higher costs.

“Cars on the California Zephyr, for example, were not allowed to transfer to the Coast Starlight and were forced to return to Chicago,” the statement said.

Because the Amtrak policy change in regards to special moves was effective immediately, the groups said this resulted in major costs of disruption.