Posts Tagged ‘Empire Builder’

Amtrak Committed to Long-Distance Trains For Now, But Not Necessarily Forever

May 21, 2018

Amtrak has indicated to lawmakers and the Rail Passengers Association that it is not planning additional actions that would have the effect of changing its long-distance routes in ways to favor shorter distance travel.

Writing on the RPA website, RPA President Jim Mathews said that “Amtrak is taking steps to commit publicly to a robust nationwide rail service with a national footprint.”

He said those assurances have been made by the passenger carrier in conversations with the RPA and congressional staff, and during congressional testimony.

Matthews cited the example of reports that the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder would be made into a tri-weekly train as part of a strategy to focus on short-haul corridors.

Many passenger advocates have been alarmed by some recent Amtrak changes, including removing full-serving dining service with fresh meals prepared on board from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited effective June 1.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during an April 19 California Rail Summit that the future of Amtrak lies with 300- to 400- or 500-mile corridors.

RPA has also learned that Amtrak management has begun discussing the long-term future of the carrier’s long-distance routes and that some Amtrak executives are discussing the possibility of allocating more resources to short-distance state corridors. It is not clear how far those discussions have advanced.

Matthews said Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) asked Amtrak Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner point-blank whether there were plans to reduce the Builde.

“We do not plan to institute tri-weekly service on the Empire Builder,” Gardner replied during a committee hearing on May 16. “Obviously we’re operating under the FAST Act authorization in which Congress authorized our network, any conversations about the broad future of our network is best placed in our authorization context as we approach our next authorization. Amtrak is operating all of our long distance routes, we intend to do that and we will consider any future changes collectively between the Congress, the Administration, and Amtrak as we look at the network ahead.”

Matthews noted that he visited with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia earlier this year and received similar assurances.

Coscia said during that meeting that Amtrak has a “mission” beyond the balance sheet, and pledged that top management is “committed to the mission.”

He also said that Amtrak has a responsibility as a recipient of federal funds to make sure that its long-range plans serve the maximum number of Americans possible, especially those who need mobility and have fewer options such as the elderly, the disabled and rural residents.

However, Coscia said that demographic shifts that are leading more people to live in dense mega-regions may result in a time when the “legacy national network routes no longer meet the mission, but looking at the map today I can’t identify any that don’t.”

Coscia said Amtrak sees “corridors hanging off the legacy national network routes like a necklace.”

He cited as examples such corridors as Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Minneapolis as having strong growth potential.

During his April appearance in California, Anderson said “there is a place for the long-distance, ‘experiential’ train.”

Anderson said Amtrak has “a responsibility to figure out how to keep that experiential piece of the pie in place” while simultaneously “figuring out how we discharge our mission under PRIIA”—the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008—“to serve the short-haul markets.”

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Amtrak Liable for Assault on Passenger by Employee

April 17, 2018

Amtrak can be held liable for damages caused by the rape of a sleeping car passenger by an Amtrak employee, a federal magistrate judge has ruled.

The assault occurred in Montana aboard the Empire Builder. The woman who was assaulted is from North Carolina.

Charles Henry Pinner, of Detroit was later convicted of the attack and is serving a 60-year prison sentence.

Amtrak had sought to escape liability by saying that Pinner’s actions were outside the scope of his work.

However, Judge John Johnston decided that because Amtrak is a common carrier it has a duty under state law to “use the utmost care and diligence” in providing safe travel and is responsible for employees hired to meet that duty.

Johnston’s recommendations must be approved by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris.

Court records indicate a settlement conference was held in late March pertaining to the North Carolina woman’s lawsuit against Amtrak.

NB Coast Starlight Schedule Change to Affect Connections with EB Empire Builder in Portland

September 30, 2017

A later schedule for the northbound Los Angeles to Seattle Coast Starlight will affect that train’s connections to the eastbound Empire Builder.

Track work being performed by Union Pacific will have Train No. 14 operating an hour later between Oct. 1 and 8.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that No. 14 will depart Los Angeles and operate as scheduled through its arrival at Klamath Falls, Oregon, at 8:07 a.m. the following day.

No. 14 will sit in Klamath Falls for up to two hours, departing at 10:17 a.m., operating two hours later at all remaining stations on the route.

The schedule change affects Train 14 that originates in Los Angeles on Sept. 30 through Oct. 7 and arrives in Klamath Falls between Oct. 1 and Oct. 8.

To accommodate the later schedule, service adjustments have been made for passengers connecting to Empire Builder No. Train 28 at Portland, Oregon:

  • October 1 through October 6: Passengers on Train 14 who are connecting to Train 28 at Portland will detrain at Klamath Falls where bus service will be provided to Pasco, Washington. At Pasco, passengers will board eastbound Train 28.
  • October 7 and 8: Connections at Portland from Train 14 to Train 28 will not be available on Saturday and Sunday, October 7 and 8.
  • October Customers boarding at Eugene, Albany or Salem who are connecting to Train 28 from Train 14 will, instead, take Amtrak Cascades Thruway Bus 5528 to Portland and transfer to Train 28.

Chicago-Twin Cities Expansion Hearings Planned for September

July 21, 2017

The Minnesota Department of Transportation said this week that it has completed a “purpose and need” statement for a proposed expansion of rail passenger service between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

MnDOT is studying the addition of a second roundtrip Amtrak train between the two metropolitan regions to supplement the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The next step in the review will be a series of public hearings on Sept. 6 at St. Paul Union Depot in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and on Sept. 7 at the La Crosse County Administrative Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Those hearings are part of a process of evaluating alternatives for the project and the needed infrastructure upgrades.

The Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois departments of transportation are working with the Federal Railroad Administration, Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission and La Crosse Area Planning Committee on the initial planning effort for the proposed TCMC project.

Amtrak to Build New Engine Facility in Seattle

June 15, 2017

Amtrak will build a $28 million locomotive service facility in Seattle to serve two long-distance trains and the state-funded Cascades service.

Construction is expected to begin this month and be completed in two years. The first step will be demolition of the site’s existing buildings, utilities, tracks and other structures.

Workers will then construct a new 31,000-square-foot locomotive shop that will have a new 125-ton drop table being funded by the Washington State Department of Transportation and a 55-ton overhead bridge crane.

Seattle is the western terminus of the Empire Builder from Chicago and the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles. The Cascades trains operate to Portland and Eugene, Oregon; and to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Empire Builder Subject to Delays in Montana

May 25, 2017

Amtrak’s Empire Builder will be subject to delays as long as two hours through June 16 due to BNSF track work being undertaken in Montana.

The work will take place on the route of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland train between Glasgow and Whitefish.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said westbound No. 7/27 may encounter delays of up to two hours at stations west of Glasgow. Eastbound No. 8/28 may encounter delays of up to two hours at stations east of Whitefish.

Amtrak noted that trains can make up time and passengers are encouraged to  check the status of their train before heading to the station.

Operating Issues Plague Amtrak Trains

May 3, 2017

Amtrak long distance trains serving the Midwest have been hit with a long list of woes that have caused service disruptions, detours and cancellations.

The Texas Eagle was forced to detour in southern Missouri after a washout on its route via the Union Pacific’s Iron Mountain Subdivision prompted a detour on the former Cotton Belt route between St. Louis and Polar Bluff, Missouri.

Consequently Nos. 21 and 22 missed the scheduled stop at Arcadia Valley, Missouri, and ran late, arriving in Chicago 11 hours late on Sunday.

The Southwest Chief was delayed by a spring snowstorm between Dodge City, Kansas, and Lamar, Colorado, on Sunday that led to No. 3 being more than 15 hours late arriving in Los Angeles.

BNSF personnel provided grade crossing protecting during whiteout conditions.

A head-on collision of two Canadian National trains at Money, Mississippi, on Sunday caused the City of New Orleans to be terminated en route.

Passengers were taken from bus from Memphis to New Orleans on Sunday and Monday.

Northbound passengers rode a bus from Jackson, Mississippi, to Memphis on both days.

A BNSF derailment on Monday led to the Empire Builder being detoured in both directions. Nos. 7 and 8 were expected to detour on Tuesday over a Union Pacific route between Spokane, Washington, and Sandpoint, Idaho.

Track Work Cancels Portland Section of Empire Builder

May 2, 2017

The Chicago-Portland section of the Empire Builder will be affected by BNSF track work in Washington State on Mondays and Tuesdays on May 8 and 9 and on June 5 and 6.

In a service advisory Amtrak said Nos. 27 and 28 will not operate between Portland and Pasco, Washington, and passengers will ride a bus to and from Bingen-White Salmon, Washington; Vancouver, Washington; and Portland.

Westbound passengers will disembark at Pasco, Washington, to board the bus. Eastbound passengers will ride the bus to Pasco and then board their train.

Nos. 27 and 28 will not be serving Wishram, Washington, on the affected dates and alternate transportation is not being provided.

All buses will serve the Amtrak stations in their respective cities and operate according to schedules of Nos. 27 and 28 at those points.

Minnesota Trial Rail Service Proposed

March 20, 2017

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed a $3 million trial rail passenger service between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, Minnesota.

The service was part of his supplemental budget proposal submitted last week to the state legislature.

The rail service would operate for six months for the purpose of assessing whether existing service would be expanded to St. Cloud from downtown Minneapolis.

If the trial service become permanent, it would mean that the Northstar commuter rail service would serve St. Cloud.

At present, the service operates between Target Field in Minneapolis to Big Lake, Minnesota.

The trial service would involve one trip from St. Cloud to Target Field in the morning and a return trip in the evening. Passengers could connect at the Target Field station to the Green and Blue light-rail lines.

Amtrak is expected to provide the St. Cloud service. The national rail passenger carrier currently operates on the route with its daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The tracks on the line are owned by BNSF.

In a statement, Amtrak thanked Dayton “for recognizing the importance of passenger rail, and exploring how Amtrak can further connect St. Cloud with the Twin Cities.”

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the trial commuter service would not affect the Empire Builder.

The Northstar system was originally intended to serve St. Cloud. But the service now ends at Big Lake because of a lack of federal funding to help pay to develop the Big Leg-St. Cloud segment.

Since Northstar service began in 2009, Big Lake and St. Cloud have been connected by bus service.

Dayton’s budget proposal also includes $850,000 for an engineering study to update a 2010 study of engineering costs and projected ridership between Big Lake and St. Cloud.

The Northstar service would end in St. Cloud at the existing Amtrak station.

Amtrak Pausing The Empire Builder

March 10, 2017

After seeing its Empire Builder stuck in a snow bank for nearly 13 hours this week, Amtrak has said it will not operate two trips of Nos. 7 and 8 this week.

Buses will be substitute for the Empire Builder through Saturday between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota.

East No. 8 became stuck in 25-foot snow bank about five miles west of Rugby, North Dakota, on Tuesday night.

It arrived in Chicago on Thursday 21 hours late. The westbound No. 7 that left Chicago on Tuesday was stuck east of Rugby at Leeds, North Dakota.

Amtrak trains also have been delayed this week by mudslides north of Seattle and freight train congestion.

No alternative transportation is being provided west of St. Paul on Friday or Saturday.

In the meantime, Amtrak needs time to get equipment and operating crews into position before it resumes full operation of Nos. 7 and 8.