Posts Tagged ‘BNSF’

Metra, BNSF Ripped at Public Hearing

December 12, 2018

A Chicago congressman has accused commuter rail agency Metra and host railroad BNSF of having “failed all to often” to provide reliable service.

The charge was made by U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Illinois, during a public hearing that he described as an effort to force Metra and BNSF to improve service.

“We all understand that problems can occur, but this year the Metra BNSF line has failed all too often. There have been repeated delays, cancellations, broken air conditioners, and other problems,” Lipinski said during the hearing in Western Springs. “I’ve told Metra and BNSF that this is unacceptable and the problems must end.”

Metra CEO James Derwinski and BNSF Vice President for passenger operations D.J. Mitchell told the audience of 80 that their organizations would do their best to address problems on the line.

The BNSF Line between Chicago Union Station and Aurora, Illinois, is the busiest of Metra’s 11 lines, carrying 64,000 riders a day.

The line is also used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, California Zephyr, Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg trains.

Metra operates 94 trains on weekdays while BNSF has up to 60 trains a day.

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Kansas Firm Admits Negligence in SW. Chief Wreck

November 29, 2018

A court trail over the 2016 derailment of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief in Kansas has been canceled after an agriculture company conceded that one of its truck was maintained negligently, causing it to runaway and damage the BNSF tracks used by the train.

Cimarron Crossing Feeders admitted one of its trucks caused the derailment because an employee was negligent in not setting its brakes.

The truck, which was unattended when it broke loose, rolled downhill and struck the rails. The incident occurred near Cimarron, Kansas.

In a previous ruling, a federal judge determined that there was no legal fault on the part of Amtrak or BNSF for the March 14, 2016, derailment.

The train was traveling 60 mph when it hit a kink in the track. The derailment resulted in injuries to 28 passengers and crew members.

Amtrak and BNSF said the derailment caused $1.4 in damage.

New Las Vegas Rail Service Plan Surfaces

November 26, 2018

A private company has revived an earlier idea to offer intercity rail passenger service between Southern California and Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Railway Express said it plans to acquire and rebuild Bombardier commuter rail passenger cars that it will operate between Las Vegas and San Bernardino, California, on Union Pacific and BNSF tracks.

The company had in 2013 proposed a similar service known as X Train.

The latest idea could get underway next year, the company said.

The route has been without intercity rail service since May 1997 when Amtrak discontinued is Desert Wind, which carried through cars between Chicago and Los Angeles.

The cars were conveyed between Chicago and Salt Lake City on the California Zephyr.

Michael Barron, who is leading Las Vegas Railway Express, told Trains magazine that he has yet to reach agreements with the Class 1 railroads involved as well as the Las Vegas’ Plaza Hotel and Casino where Amtrak once had a station.

If the service materializes, Barron expects to operate a weekly round trip that would leave San Bernardino around noon on Friday and return late Sunday afternoon.

Connections are expected to be available in San Bernardino with Metrolink commuter trains.

Barron told Trains that Metrolink has 56 stations and 12 million existing riders and is looking for opportunities to promote weekend traffic.

The 226-mile trip to Las Vegas is expected to take 4½ hours even though UP and Amtrak passenger trains didn’t cover that distance in less than five hours.

San Joaquin Service Being Disrupted Oct. 21

October 19, 2018

Due to BNSF track work San Joaquin No. 704 will operate on Oct. 21 only between Sacramento and Fresno, California.

The train ordinarily operates between Sacramento and Bakersfield.

Alternate transportation will be provided from Fresno to Bakersfield, making the missed intermediate station stop at Hanford.

Passengers should board Buses 4704 from Fresno, 5804 from Bakersfield, Bus 3904 to Stockton.

No alternate service will be provided at Corcoran or Wasco.

BNSF Seeks PTC Deadline Extension

June 15, 2018

Over the past year there has been a cascade of reports about the progress that U.S. railroads are making toward installing positive train control systems on tracks that carry passengers or hazardous cargo.

The federal law that mandates PTC be installed by the end of this year also allows for an extension of the deadline if certain conditions are met.

The bid for an extension must be made to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Although the PTC deadline is still several months away, the first request for a two-year extension has been made and it has come from an unlikely source.

BNSF said last December that it had installed and was operating PTC on all subdivisions required to have it, making the western railroad a leader in PTC installation.

But BNSF is seeking the extension because of what it terms how the FRA is interpreting federal law as to the interoperability of PTC, which means that locomotives from one railroad can operate under the PTC systems of another carrier.

In a news release, BNSF said the FRA has interpreted federal law to mean that all other railroads operating across any of BNSF’s PTC-equipped lines must be capable of operating with BNSF’s PTC system, but not all railroads that use BNSF track will have completed their PTC installation by the end of this year.

BNSF also said that interoperability of PTC systems between Class I, commuter and short-line rail carriers “remains a challenge.”

The Fort Worth-based carrier said it has PTC in place on 88 required subdivisions covering more than 11,500 route miles.

Recently Amtrak and BNSF announced that two long-distance passenger trains using BNSF track, the Southwest Chief and California Zephyr, will begin using PTC this summer.

In a series of progress reports, the FRA has indicated that some railroads, particularly commuter carriers, are in jeopardy of not only missing the PTC installation deadline but also failing to make sufficient progress to qualify for an extension of the PTC deadline.

Amtrak, BNSF to Implement PTC on Select Routes

June 12, 2018

Amtrak expected to implement positive control operations this week on trains using BNSF tracks, including the Southwest Chief and California Zephyr

It will be the first activation on host-owned territory used by Amtrak. BNSF and Amtrak expect full activation of PTC operations on BNSF routes that host these two trains to be completed by the end of August.

“This is a great step for Amtrak,” said BNSF Assistant Vice President Network Control Systems Chris Matthews. “We have the infrastructure in place that allows Amtrak to operate on our network. We have partnered with them on the federal mandate and in some cases beyond the federal mandate to install PTC on subdivisions not required of BNSF. We look forward to continuing that partnership as they roll-out PTC along our routes.”

As for its own physical plant, Amtrak said it is making progress toward installing and activating PTC.

To date Amtrak said it has installed PTC on 380 of 444 Amtrak-owned locomotives and that 86 percent of the motive power fleet is PTC operable.

Amtrak said 607 of its 900 routes miles has PTC in operation, 95 percent of employees who require training have completed it, and 104 of 120 radio towers have PTC full installed and equipped.

The passenger carrier said it is working with its host railroads on PTC implementation and expects nearly all of them to qualify for an alternative PTC implementation schedule as allowed under federal law.

A risk analysis study is being undertaken for operating on routes under an extension or under an FRA-approved exemption.

That study is expected to result in developing strategies for enhancing safety on a route-by-route basis.

Reiterating a position that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson stated earlier, Amtrak said that on a very limited number of routes where a host railroad has not met the federal PTC deadline that Amtrak “will suspend service and may seek alternative modes of service until such routes come into compliance.”

IDOT Seeks Extension on Quad City Route Grant

June 8, 2018

The Illinois Department of Transportation is seeking an extension of time to use a grant to help develop intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The grant is to expire on June 30 and if the extension is granted it would be the third time the deadline has been moved.

The Federal Railroad Administration has yet to respond to the extension request.

The grant would be used, in part, to build a connection between BNSF and Iowa Interstate tracks near Wyanet, Illinois.

Other improvements are also needed on the 50-mile portion of the Iowa Interstate line to be used, which was once the mainline of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific.

IDOT last year reached a memorandum of understanding with Iowa Interstate to reimburse it for engineering costs associated with determining the necessary track improvements. That work is in progress.

The federal grant to develop the Chicago-Quad cities route was originally awarded in 2010 and included a $230 million federal grant, including $177 million for the connection.

The project was put on holder after Gov. Bruce Rauner took office in 2014. He later approved $45 million in state matching funds to help keep the project alive.

Legislators Want to Discuss S.W. Chief With Anderson

June 2, 2018

Legislators representing states served by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief are asking the passenger carrier to provide its $3 million in matching funds to be used to repair the tracks used by the train.

Their response came after Amtrak wrote to public officials saying it would not providing the matching funds until a comprehensive funding plan is in place to finish rebuilding the tracks on the route.

Governmental units in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico have sought and landed money in recent years from the U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant program that is being used to rebuild the BNSF route.

Amtrak and BNSF agreed to provide matching funds. The latest issue arose after Colfax County, New Mexico, obtained TIGER funds that Amtrak has thus far failed to match.

The money obtained by Colfax County is to be used to renovate the tracks in New Mexico.

“The Southwest Chief is vital to the economic well-being of our communities,” said a letter sent to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson by the elected officials. “In many cases, the line is the only affordable alternative transportation option to the highways for our citizens, and is an important link to public and private services along the route for rural residents, including the elderly and disabled.”

The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrick (D-New Mexico), Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colorado), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas. Also signing were U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico), Ben Ray Lujan (D-New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-New Mexico, Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas)

The letter contends that Amtrak earlier agreed to provide matching funding for the route rebuilding.

The legislators are also seeking a meeting with Anderson to discuss issues related to the Chief.

“The lack of transparency by Amtrak management about its changing position on the Southwest Chief is troubling, particularly for a government-sponsored enterprise entrusted with an important public transportation mission,” the letter said. “We request Amtrak take the lead in developing cooperate plans to ensure the Southwest Chief’s successful operation, including seeking funds from the various federal grant programs established to address these specific issues.”

The dispute was further cast into a spotlight when former Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman issued a statement accusing Amtrak of taking actions to justify discontinue the train, which operates between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Boardman said the Chief would be the first of other long-distance discontinues to come.

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.