Posts Tagged ‘Canadian National’

Vintage VIA Equipment

June 16, 2022

Like Amtrak, VIA Rail Canada has has its share of vintage equipment that operated for a time before being retired. Here are a couple of examples of that.

The top image shows a Turbo Train that was manufactured by United Aircraft in Brockville, Ontario, for Canadian National. After CN spun off its passenger services to VIA in 1978, the turbos were repainted a bright yellow as shown here in Toronto.

CN and VIA used the Turbos in the Toronto-Montreal market. CN operated five train sets of seven cars each. The VIA turbos made their final runs on Oct. 31, 1982, replaced by new LRC equipment.

The bottom image was made at Bayview Junction in Ontario on June 21, 1980. It shows a former Canadian Pacific Rail Diesel Car train

Unlike the turbos, VIA’s RDC equipment has had a longer and less trouble free existence.

VIA also inherited some RDCs from CN and the 84-car fleet was the second largest RDC fleet in the world.

Most VIA RDCS operated on secondary and feeder routes. Budget cuts over the years reduced the fleet until the last VIA under VIA operation were confined to the Sudbury-White River route in Northern Ontario.

Photographs by Robert Farkas

Amtrak Wants STB to Impose New Operating Agreement with Canadian National

June 2, 2022

Amtrak wants the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to create a new seven-year operating agreement with host railroad Canadian National that would in some instances give the passenger carrier the right to dispatch CN lines.

The new agreement Amtrak is seeking also would change the terms of service under which CN is paid to host Amtrak trains.

CN and Amtrak have since 2013 been locked in a dispute over the freight carrier’s dispatching practices.

In August 2019, federal regulators ordered the two parties to enter mediation overseen by the STB but that failed to reach an agreement to end the dispute.

If the Board accepts Amtrak’s proposal, CN would be paid less money in incentive payments when Amtrak trains on a CN route fail to reach specified on-time standards.

The passenger carrier believes this would give CN an incentive to keep Amtrak trains running on time.

The Amtrak proposal adopting the customer on-time standards set in 2020 by the Federal Railroad Administration that measures the performance of passenger trains based on the percentage of passengers who arrive on time at their destination stations.

Those standards measure the number of passengers who reach their destination no later than 15 minutes after scheduled arrival, and sets 80 percent over two consecutive quarters as the minimum acceptable standard.

The Amtrak proposal acknowledges this “is not a perfect measure of CN’s performance on any of the routes, particularly those where there are other host railroads that host the lion’s share of the track-miles.”

Thus Amtrak is seeking a standard that would not penalize CN for delays incurred by Amtrak trains that CN did not cause.

The FRA standards also measure how much host freight railroads have delayed passenger trains.

Under the Amtrak proposal, incentive payments to CN would increase as the number of passenger-miles on a route increase, and as the number of delays attributable to CN per 10,000 train miles decrease.

The goal, Amtrak said, is to give CN an incentive to minimize delays within its control.

In extreme cases, Amtrak wants to take over dispatching of routes with poor on-time performance.

That would occur when delays occur on a route for four consecutive quarters. In that case, Amtrak or a third party that it designated would take over dispatching for two years or until the delay figure has been below 924 minutes per 10,000 train-miles for 12 consecutive months.

An alternative situation would allow a representative of Amtrak, its inspector general, or the STB to sit alongside CN dispatchers as they dispatched a route. This alternative would require CN to receive Amtrak’s prior approval for non-emergency maintenance work expected to affect Amtrak’s on-time performance.

CN and Amtrak are operating under a 2011 “interim agreement ordered by the STB because the two parties were unable to reach agreement on their own on an operating contract.

CN Bridge Work Affects Saluki, Illini

March 19, 2022

A bridge project being conducted by host railroad Canadian National will affect the operation of Amtrak trains in the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor March 19-21.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said Nos. 390 and 393 will not operate between Chicago and Homewood, Illinois, on all three days.

Passengers will be transported by bus between those two stations.

Train 390, the northbound Saluki, and Train 393, the southbound Illini, will originate and terminate in Homewood.

Train 390 will depart Carbondale at 8 a.m., 30 minutes later than normal while Train 393 will depart Homewood at 5:16 p.m., 30 minutes later than normal.

The bridge work will not affect operations of the City of New Orleans, which operates between Chicago and New Orleans.

Canadians Were Best Amtrak Hosts in 2021

March 12, 2022

Amtrak handed out report cards this week to its host railroads for their ability to keep passenger trains on time during 2021.

The class leaders were Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, which both received A grades.

Other Class 1 host railroads included BNSF, B+; CSX, B; Union Pacific, C+; and Norfolk Southern, D-. 

It was the sixth consecutive years that CP has led the class in report card grades.

Amtrak said freight train interference caused nearly 900,000 delay minutes during 2021.

Federal Railroad Administration standards are that for a train to considered on-time that 80 percent of its passengers must arrive at their destination within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time.

Only one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains, the City of New Orleans (Chicago-New Orleans), met the FRA criteria. It ran on time 83 percent of the time.

The next best was the New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto, which was on-time 62 percent of the time.

The worst were the Sunset Limited and Capitol Limited, which were on time just 28 percent of the time.  

More than half of the state-supported corridor routes fell below FRA standards for on-time performance.

The worst was the Cascades route between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Eugene, Oregon, via Seattle and Portland, which had a 57 percent on-time performance.

Leading state corridors was Hiawatha Service (Chicago-Milwaukee) at 95 percent on time.

The Hiawathas are hosted primarily by Canadian Pacific, which Amtrak honored in a short ceremony on Tuesday at Chicago Union Station.

Amtrak President Stephen Gardner presented CP President and CEO Keith Creel with an award recognizing the carrier’s A grade on Amtrak report cards.

Among the Class 1 hosts, NS has struggled the most with its grades since 2018, ranging from F to C.

CN has shown the most improvement going from a D- in 2018 to an A last year.

The Amtrak report cards can be read at http://media.amtrak.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Host-Railroad-Report-Card-2021-Final-v2.pdf

STB Sets Sked for Amtrak-CN Dispute Case

March 7, 2022

For years Amtrak and Canadian National have been at odds over the handling of Amtrak trains.

Amtrak in 2013 asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to intervene. Six years later regulators initiated mediation proceedings between the passenger carrier and the host railroad.

But the STB-appointed mediator notified the Board in late January that mediation efforts had failed.

Now the STB will proceed with the case and has set a procedural schedule for Amtrak and CN to submit further evidence and arguments.

In the dry language of legalese, the case is about the establishment of reasonable terms and compensation for Amtrak’s use of CN facilities and services.

As a practical matter, Amtrak thinks CN needs to do a better job of dispatching passenger trains in order to keep them on time. The two sides are also at odds over CN required minimum axle counts, which the host railroad said are needed for safety reasons. Underlying that issue is a dispute over how CN mantains its tracks.

CN is the primary host railroad handling Amtrak trains between Chicago and New Orleans, including the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor.

It dispatches much of the route used by the Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan, Blue Water, east of Battle Creek, Michigan, and also dispatches Chicago-St. Louis corridor trains between Chicago and Joliet, Illinois.

The STB’s order noted that in a Jan. 22 filing the parties “have certified 20 of the 26 regularly scheduled daily Amtrak trains that operate over CN’s lines in the United States as being aligned with the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) customer on-time performance metric.”

CN is seeking a “non-binding dispute resolution” for the remaining six Amtrak train schedules, and the two railroads are “working to agree on that dispute resolution process,” the Board said.

The STB said it will follow the procedural schedule in the case:

• May 2, 2022: Opening submissions due; each party’s submission should include a copy of the current operating agreement marked up to show the changes sought.

• July 1, 2022: Reply submissions due; these may include a revised markup of the current operating agreement.

• Aug. 1, 2022: Rebuttal submissions due. Once these filings are submitted, STB said it will determine whether oral arguments are required.

Ontario Service Resumption Eyed

February 17, 2022

A Canadian First Nation group hopes to work with short line operator Watco on restoring rail passenger service to the former Algoma Central in Ontario.

The Missanbie Cree First Nation wants to see the service restored over 296 miles between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst.

Scheduled passenger service on that route ended in 2015 after then owner Canadian National was unable to find a suitable contractor to operate the service.

Another passenger operation on a 114-mile portion of the route, the seasonal Agawa Canyon tourist train, did continue operating on the former Algoma Central, but was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is unclear if Watco will allow that train to continue and tourism officials in Sault Ste. Marie are hoping to meet with Watco officials about the matter next month.

The chief of the Missanabie Cree, Jason Gauthier, also hopes to meet with Watco officials about restoration of passenger service to Hearst.

He noted that when Watco announced in 2021 that it would acquire the former Algoma Central from CN that the Missanbie Cree signed a memorandum of understanding about its desire to restore passenger service to Hearst from Sault Ste. Marie.

Watco acquired the former Algoma Central as part of a transaction that included picking up former Wisconsin Central lines in Michigan and Wisconsin.

Gauthier wants the Canadian government to spend C$2 million on underwriting the Hearst service. He said other groups also are also pushing for the federal funding.

“We are known for doing things in the long haul, so these delays are not surprising to us. I know we will get through it,” he Gauthier told the Sault Star.

CP to Allow Amtrak to Use Detroit River Tunnel

February 8, 2022

Canadian Pacific has agreed to allow Amtrak to use its tunnel between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, for one roundtrip per day, but it’s unclear if that will actually lead to any new service on the route.

The agreement was revealed in a filing by Amtrak in the case before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board of CP’s efforts to acquire Kansas City Southern.

Amtrak is supporting the merger and its filing cited a number of new service expansions for which CP has pledged to cooperate.

In theory, use of the Detroit River Tunnel might be a step toward reviving Amtrak service between Chicago and Toronto.

In practice, that concept faces many hurdles. Those begin with a lack of commitment by Amtrak or VIA Rail Canada to operate such a train.

The two passenger carriers once operated a Chicago-Toronto train known as the International, but it ran via Port Huron, Michigan, and Sarnia, Ontario, on Canadian National tracks rather than via Detroit and Windsor.

The International was discontinued in April 2004 and replaced with the existing Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water that is funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

MDOT had not indicated if it would be willing to fund service that extends to Toronto.

Amtrak and/or VIA would need to construct a connecting track between CP track in Windsor and the CN route now used by VIA between Windsor and Toronto.

The existing VIA Toronto-Windsor route ends at a stub-end terminal north of downtown.

In Detroit, Amtrak would need to build a new station in downtown Detroit or else have trains engage in a time-consuming backup move to the existing Detroit station in the New Center neighborhood.

Existing Chicago-Detroit trains terminate and originate in suburban Pontiac and the Detroit Amtrak station is located along that route rather than on the line that leads directly into the CP Detroit River tunnel.

The CP-Amtrak agreement does not require any capital investment from Amtrak for use of the Detroit River tunnel.

Also unclear is where customs inspections for the Chicago-Toronto train would be conducted.

For the International, those inspections were done on each side of the border, which led to longer running times.

Amtrak Daytrip to Carbondale Trip Report

October 3, 2021

The southbound Saluki arrives in Effingham, Illinois, on Sept. 12, 2021.

The southbound Saluki arrives in Effingham, Illinois, behind an SC-44 Charger locomotive.

Back in July Amtrak sent me an email warning that my Amtrak Guest Rewards account had been inactive for 24 months and my points would expire in mid September.

The email listed ways to keep my account active including buying an Amtrak ticket or redeeming points for travel or Amtrak-branded merchandise.

I filed all of this in my “to do” mental folder. As September dawned I needed to do something.

My account had 21,000 points, which isn’t enough for a spectacular trip, but I didn’t want to lose those points either.

I thought about using points for a day trip to Chicago on the Cardinal. I also considered making a short trip from Effingham to Mattoon, Illinois, on the Saluki, an Illinois Department of Transportation funded train between Chicago and Carbondale.

The distance between those two towns is 27 miles and the trip takes just 24 minutes. That wouldn’t be much of a train ride.

Instead I decided on something I hadn’t done since 1983.

The equipment for the southbound Saluki lays over in Carbondale for 2 hours, 20 minutes before returning to Chicago as the Illini.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s I had on occasion ridden Train 391 from Mattoon to Carbondale and returned that evening on Train 392. In those days they were named the Shawnee.

Since I was last in Carbondale, the Illinois Central passenger station has been renovated and received an IC equipment display of a GP11 and caboose. I could photograph that.

Amtrak opened a new Carbondale station three blocks south in October 1981. I have hundreds of photographs of Amtrak trains on the former Main Line of Mid-America but none in Carbondale.

However, instead of leaving from Mattoon, I would depart from Effingham.

I planned to use points for the trip but that changed when I discovered a one-way non-refundable fare of $8. Even if for some reason I couldn’t make the trip I would only be out $16.

I booked it for Sunday, Sept. 12, a mere three days before my points were to expire.

Booking travel on Amtrak is more involved than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

You must click a box agreeing to wear a mask in stations and aboard the train.

Amtrak also tried to get me to buy trip insurance. Did they really think I was going to do that for a $16 ticket?

The afternoon before my trip Amtrak sent me an email directing me to fill out a short form online. Aside from the standard COVID symptoms questions that I’ve become used to answering every time I visit a doctor I also had to agree – again – to wear a mask.

On the day of the trip I arrived at the Effingham station three hours before train time to get in some railfanning before No. 391 arrived.

Effingham back in the day had a station used by the IC and Pennsylvania Railroad. Flanking the passenger station were express depots for both railroads.

Today the passenger station is a cosmetology school and the ex-PRR express depot is used by a catering company as a kitchen.

Amtrak uses half of the ex-IC express depot with the other half used by a tattoo parlor.

I arrived to find work underway to rebuild the Amtrak boarding platform, which complicated my photography due to high construction zone fences and orange fabric barriers.

CSX sent one train through town, an eastbound grain train, while Canadian National sent two northbounds and a southbound past the station.

A CN train working the yard came north of the diamonds for headroom and to clear the block before going back into the yard.

Three of the four CN trains had IC SD70 locomotives wearing the pre-merger IC black “death star” livery.

One of the southbounds had a motive power consist of two IC “death stars” and a Grand Trunk Western geep in its original livery. Talk about a heritage consist.

I also observed the coming and going of the northbound Saluki.

For nearly a year Amtrak has assigned Superliner equipment to its Chicago-Carbondale trains. The Saluki and Illini are pulled by SC-44 Charger locomotives owned by IDOT and leased by Amtrak.

My foray to Carbondale would be my first trip behind a Charger locomotive. Interestingly, my first trip aboard a Superliner coach was a day trip to Carbondale in June 1979 when the then-new cars were in break-service on Midwest corridor trains before being assigned to the Empire Builder that October.

No. 391 was about 15 minutes late. I stood alone on the platform, mask firmly in place, the only passenger to board on this day.

I wasn’t surprised. When I had bought my ticket Train 391 was shown as at 13 percent of capacity.

I presented my ticket to the conductor but he said he had already checked me off. About 10 passengers disembarked.

I was one of just two passengers in my coach. The conductor came to my seat and asked if I had ridden with Amtrak before.

Yes, I have – many times actually – but not since before the pandemic. The conductor noted there was a café car up ahead. I didn’t plan to patronize it but thanked the conductor for that information anyway.

I settled back in my seat and enjoyed watching the countryside pass by. It had been more than three decades since I had seen Southern Illinois in daylight from the vantage point of an Amtrak coach window.

As we slowed for the Centralia station, a northbound BNSF coal train passed on an adjacent track. It had a distributed power unit on the rear.

Centralia was once the home of a large IC car shop. As best I could determine, most of that complex is gone.

It used to be that southbound passenger trains went around the Centralia yard complex on the west side. That wasn’t the case today although I could see that track still goes over that way.

We passed the yard on the east side.

The yard had a moderate number of freight cars and some motive power, including the two “death stars” and GTW geep I had seen earlier. A massive coaling tower still stands in the yard.

Our next stop was Du Quoin where Amtrak shares a small modern depot with the local chamber of commerce. It opened in August 1989.

Carbondale used to have a large yard, too, but most of it is gone. The former St. Louis division offices were razed years ago.

All that’s left are a few tracks and the twin coaling towers that stand near where the roundhouse used to be.

Due to schedule padding we arrived at the Carbondale station 15 minutes early and slightly less than two hours after leaving Effingham

It turns out most of the Carbondale passengers had been in other coaches.

Shortly after No. 391 arrived, the crew backed the equipment north to the yard and turned it on a wye track.

I made photographs of the ferry move in both directions passing the former IC station.

It was a warm day and I walked to a Circle K to get a large bottle of Gatorade. I walked around a bit, photographing the old IC station, which houses a small railroad museum that wasn’t open on this day, as well as offices of the chamber of commerce and a non-profit organization that promotes downtown Carbondale.

A statue of an IC conductor pays tribute to the railroad’s long history in Carbondale, which used to be where St. Louis cars were added or removed from trains bound to and from New Orleans and Florida.

A northbound CN tank car train came through during my layover.

I was dismayed to find the Carbondale Amtrak station is only open during the day on Wednesdays. But it’s open seven days a week at night to accommodate passengers for the City of New Orleans, which arrives in both directions in the dead of night.

There were around 50 of us waiting outside the station.

There would be just one conductor on tonight’s Train 392. He opened two doors of the train and stood on the platform.

I was expecting him to come up to the crowd and announce that boarding was ready to begin.

Instead he raised an arm and waved it a bit, which I interpreted as a signal to come out and get on board.

I started walking toward the train and the crowd followed me. Everyone was put in the same car.

We left on time and made the same stops as we had earlier. In Centralia I spotted a young man running from the parking lot toward the train, which was about done boarding.

If the conductor saw him, he ignored him because the train began moving. I expected the conductor to see the guy and order the engineer to stop. But we kept going.

CN and Amtrak have been at loggerheads for years over a number of operating issues including CN’s edict that Amtrak operate with a minimum number of axles to ensure that grade crossing signals are activated.

That is in part why I was riding a train with seven Superliner cars with far fewer passengers than the train’s capacity.

Amtrak and CN also have sparred over dispatching with Amtrak accusing CN of needlessly delaying Amtrak’s trains.

I know from years of experience in riding Amtrak between Mattoon and Chicago that delays due to freight train interference are not uncommon, particularly around Champaign.

But on this day we didn’t meet a single CN freight during on my trip.

I was the only passenger getting off at Effingham. Seven people were waiting on the platform to board.

A woman at the back of the line was not wearing a facial mask and the conductor refused to let her board.

I don’t know why she was maskless, but as I walked to my car I noticed the conductor had placed the step box aboard the train and stood in the doorway as the woman gestured while making her case – whatever that was – for not wearing a mask.

The conductor was having none of it and No. 392 left with the woman standing on the platform.

It had been an enjoyable outing and not all that much different from other trips I’ve made on Amtrak. The number of passengers aboard was less than I expected given that it was a Sunday, which normally is a heavy travel day on this route.

Sometime within the next year new Siemens Venture cars are expected to be assigned to Midwest corridor trains and maybe I’ll do another Carbondale roundtrip to experience them.

Two IC SD70s and a Grant Trunk geep pass the under construction new boarding platform in Effingham.
The DPU on a northbound BNSF coal train in Centralia
Disembarking at the Carbondale Amtrak station.
The equipment for the Illini backs past the former IC station in Carbondale.
A northbound CN tank car train passes the Carbondale Amtrak station where the Illini awaits its 4:05 p.m. departure.

CN Pledges Better Handling of Amtrak Trains

July 21, 2021

Canadian National pledged on Monday to do a better job hosting Amtrak trains on its network.

During an investor’s call to discuss second quarter earnings, CN CEO J.J. Ruest said his company knows hosting Amtrak service is part of CN’s social license to operate in the United States.

Ruest acknowledged there’s always room for improvement in how CN handles Amtrak trains.

Amtrak and CN have been at odds for years over dispatching and other matters, particularly how Amtrak trains are dispatched between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

CN has imposed a minimum axle count on Amtrak trains, forcing them to run with deadhead cars to meet that standard. The two railroads have also clashed over track safety performance issues.

CN managers said during the earnings call that the Montreal-based carrier has an open mind about how to be a better partner with passenger service as well as Amtrak.

That comment might have been aimed in part at criticism of CN’s handling of VIA Rail Canada trains.

CN is seeking regulatory approval in the United States to acquire Kansas City Southern.

The comments made by CN executives were aimed, at least in part, at Amtrak’s opposition to CN plans to place KCS stock into a voting trust while the merger is reviewed.

Opponents of the CN-KCS combination have pointed out that KCS owns a route between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that might be used for future Amtrak service.

During the earnings call, CN executives said it will work with Amtrak to launch that service if funding can obtained for the service.

CN executives said that in the latest Amtrak report car of its host railroads CN was rated as one of the top railroads in terms of service and this is evidence it will continue to work with the U.S. intercity passenger carrier.

Amtrak Raises Doubts about CN-KCS Merger

July 8, 2021

For years the Southern Rail Commission has talked about instituting intercity rail passenger between New Orleans and Baton Route, Louisiana.

But those efforts have been stymied by the refusal of would-be host railroad Kansas City Southern to allow an inspection train to examine the route or even to talk with the Commission about instituting the service.

The future of the proposed service has become a point of contention in the efforts of Canadian National to acquire KCS, a matter now pending before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

In an attempt to mitigate concerns that the CN-KCS merger will reduce rail competition in the New Orleans-Baton Route corridor, CN has offered to sell the KCS route between the two cities.

But that offer comes with a catch. CN would retain the right to offer freight service over the route.

Amtrak recently weighed in on the matter by telling the STB in a filing that this would make institution of passenger rail service much more difficult.

The Amtrak filing said CN’s plan is “the equivalent of a homeowner selling their house but reserving the right to continue to live in it.”

Canadian Pacific also wants to buy KCS and has pledged to cooperate with Amtrak in restoring New Orleans-Baton Rouge service.

In a letter to Louisiana Transportation Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson, CP CEO Keith Creel cited “CP’s proven track record of co-operating and operating passenger trains on its network.”

The letter acknowledged the route need extensive infrastructure work to bring it up to passenger standards, but said, “If we are successful [in acquiring KCS], we would be in a strong position to ensure the level of maintenance is up to a mainline standard that would efficiently support both freight and passenger operations.”

Aside from New Orleans-Baton Rouge service, the SRC also has pushed to create a Dallas section of the Crescent that would operate on KCS tracks west of Meridian, Mississippi, via Jackson, Mississippi, and Shreveport, Louisiana.

The Creel letter said  CP would be committed to reviewing and participating in studies with the goal of introducing a (passenger) train pair in the Meridian-Dallas corridor

However, Creel said that would be contingent on getting the support of Norfolk Southern, which with KCS has a joint venture to improve the route.

The proposed Dallas section of the Crescent would be expected to use Union Pacific tracks west of Shreveport because the KCS roué to Dallas is circuitous.