Posts Tagged ‘Late Amtrak trains’

Lucky Me That I Picked the Wrong Day to Travel

July 17, 2019

Passengers get into position to board Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited in Cleveland as it arrives more than three hours late on the morning of June 26, 2019. (Photograph by Edward Ribinskas)

On the evening of June 25, 2019, Amtrak Train No. 48 departed Chicago Union Station on time at 9:30.

It would be the only time that No. 48 would arrive or depart from a station on schedule during its 959 mile journey to New York City.

What Amtrak said would be a seven hour trip to Cleveland ballooned to 10-and-a-half hours.

That wasn’t all bad, I suppose. I got to see Sandusky Bay in daylight and got some “bonus” time at no extra fare aboard a train I had not ridden since May 2014.

Yet when the Lake Shore Limited finally halted at the Cleveland station I was more than ready to get off. I had things to do and places to go and had expected to be well underway in doing them already.

Officially, No. 48 arrived in Cleveland at 9:07 a.m., 3 hours, 29 minutes late.

How does a train lose 3.5 hours? Darn if I know because the crew never told us how or why, not that I expected them to do that.

A detailed accounting of that lost time exists somewhere. Amtrak conductors keep logs of time lost en route and report that information to a superior who forwards it to Amtrak headquarters.

Amtrak aggregates that information into report cards that the carrier periodically issues to show how its host railroads are doing in keeping Amtrak trains on time.

Those reports, though, are not necessarily a complete accounting. I’ve heard Amtrak crew members agree in radio conversations with each other to not report a particular cause of delay.

I also once heard an Amtrak engineer refuse to cooperate with the conductor in explaining why No. 30 had lost time in Indiana.

Amtrak operating personnel do not have access to the communication that goes on in the dispatching offices of the host railroads.

If a dispatcher for Norfolk Southern decides to hold Amtrak at a control point to wait for two westbound freight trains to clear before switching Amtrak from Track 2 to Track 1 in order to go around a slow freight train ahead on Track 2, the Amtrak crew doesn’t know why the decision was made to hold them rather than holding one or both of the westbound freights further east until Amtrak could go around the slow eastbound freight.

Further, they don’t know whether that decision was made by the dispatcher, by the dispatcher’s supervisor or by a computer program that NS uses to dispatch its railroad. Nor do they know with certainty the logic behind the decision even if they have some idea.

In fact, the scenario outlined above happened in the darkness of northern Indiana west of South Bend during my trip.

My train was moving slowly and I got my scanner out and listened to the NS road channel for a while.

As best I could tell, most of the time that No. 48 lost on the night and morning of June 25-26 could be attributed to the host railroad.

Amtrak might see it as freight train interference while NS might call it traffic congestion.

In the days preceding my trip, Amtrak had posted a passenger advisory warning that NS track work in the Chicago area would cause delays of up to an hour because two main tracks would be out of service.

Perhaps NS freight traffic was heavier than usual on the night I was aboard No. 48 as the freight carrier was getting caught up from delays to its own trains stemming from the track work.

We can’t blame NS for two other delays due to bridges being open in Toledo and Cleveland for marine traffic.

I’ve made dozens of trips on Amtrak through Toledo over the past 25 years and it was the first time I’d ever been aboard a train delayed by the Maumee River Bridge being open.

Otherwise, nothing happened during that trip of June 25-26 that I had not experienced before between Cleveland and Chicago. Many times.

Much of the lost time was racked up between Elkhart, Indiana, and Toledo where Amtrak trains have been losing time for decades, going back into the Conrail era.

What had been 1 hour, 11 minutes late at Elkhart skyrocketed to 2 hours, 51 minutes by the time we stopped at the Bryan station.

By then it was daylight and I got my radio out again and listened to the engineer on No. 48 call a steady drum beat procession of approach signal indications from Bryan to the west side of Toledo.

We finally got around a long manifest freight in Toledo and I’m not sure if it was a case of that train having mechanical problems, being underpowered or some other reason.

Of course there was a steady stream of westbounds on Track 1, including Amtrak’s Capitol Limited.

Shortly after we moved around that manifest freight the dispatcher said we would have to wait for Amtrak 49 to depart the Toledo station, where there is just one track that Amtrak can use.

Once we got across the Maumee River we moved at a steady pace but we were even later at Sandusky than we had been at Toledo.

NS has been particularly outspoken about its disdain for Amtrak’s report cards and at one point threatened legal action if Amtrak didn’t stop issuing them.

Of course NS is upset because those report cards suggest it does a poor job of dispatching Amtrak trains.

NS management would argue that dispatching decision making takes into account a myriad of factors and seeks to strike a balance in serving the interest of freight trains and passenger trains.

NS managers would say dispatchers seek to give Amtrak preference when they can but that is not always possible because things happen.

It isn’t the railroad’s fault that someone parked a car on the tracks that was struck by a container train that subsequently derailed and blocked both main tracks as happened in early June in Swanton, Ohio.

Nor can railroads predict when equipment failures will occur or acts of nature will strike.

These things also delay the transport of the freight of NS customers.

All of this is true as far as it goes, but overlooks that managers are people who make decisions based on their beliefs, biases and prejudices as to what is most important when conflicts occur in moving trains.

It also overlooks that these beliefs, biases and prejudices are built into the overall operating plan and tend to be viewed as sacrosanct.

It starts with the reality that we the host railroad own this railroad and not Amtrak. In our view the needs of the owner are just as important if not more so than those of the tenant.

I’ve ridden enough Amtrak trains to know that there is an element of luck involved in whether you will get to your destination on time or close to on time.

Had I departed Chicago on No. 48 on June 23 I would have arrived in Cleveland the next morning 27 minutes early. Had I left Chicago the day before I actually traveled I would have arrived in Cleveland 19 minutes late.

Had I traveled the day after I actually traveled I would have arrived in Cleveland 19 minutes late.

Had I left Chicago on June 27 I would have arrived in Cleveland one hour and 13 minutes late. That’s not good, but far better than 3.5 hours late.

So of five trains that operated the week I traveled I had the good fortune – yes, I’m being sarcastic – of choosing the travel day with the really late train.

But that was the date that worked best for me that week. It just didn’t work well for keeping the train even reasonably within range of being on time.

As for my fellow passengers who remained aboard No. 48 on June 26 after I disembarked, No. 48 would lose additional time on CSX, reaching its nadir of 4 hours, 19 minutes late at Schenectady, New York.

By the time it reached the end of the line at New York’s Penn Station, the lateness had been trimmed to 3 hours, 42 minutes, about what it had been in Toledo.

Whether it’s a plane, a train, or a bus, when you take public transportation you are rolling the dice that the carrier will get you to your destination when it says it will.

You know no carrier has a 100 percent on-time record, but always hope the aberration will occur on another day and affect someone else. Some people are naive enough to think it will not happen to them.

As you are loping along at restricted speed, waiting at a control point for opposing traffic or stopped because a heavy Great Lakes freighter has priority at a water crossing, there is a feeling of injustice that someone else’s priorities are more important than yours and there is nothing you can do about it.

If you are a writer you might dash off an indignant piece saying this ought to be done or that ought to have been done.

But if you know anything at all about transportation you should know better. Lengthy delays while traveling do occur and sooner or later they will occur to you.

It’s just that they can mess up your plans and, at times, spoil or dampen an experience you had long looked forward to having.

The Trips From Hell

June 8, 2019

A very late eastbound Capitol Limited cruises through Rootstown on Friday afternoon.

Even before their trip began on Thursday evening, passengers aboard Amtrak’s eastbound Capitol Limited were already experiencing adversity.

No. 30 pulled out of Chicago Union Station at 9:53 p.m., 3 hours and 13 minutes late.

Little did they know that that wasn’t the worst of what would turn into a journey from hell.

More than 200 miles away in Swanton, Ohio, a town of 3.600 that many of those aboard the train had never heard of, workers dealing with the aftermath of a derailment that was blocking both mains of the route used by Amtrak’s Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Those booked on Amtrak train No. 30 of June 6-7 to travel the distance to Washington Union Station would finally reach the end of their journey at 5:06 a.m. Saturday, 16 hours later than they expected.

Passengers aboard the Lake Shore Limited that left Chicago at 10 p.m., 30 minutes late would have an equally hellish ride. By the time No. 48 reached South Bend, Indiana, it was 58 minute down. The worst was yet to come.

Both Nos. 30 and 48 would not get beyond Bryan, Ohio.

Their train sets were combined in Bryan and returned to Chicago, leaving there at 1:28 p.m. and arriving in Chicago at 4:58 p.m.

But at least those traveling westbound got to where they were going on Friday. It would be a different story for those headed east on Nos. 30 and 48.

The equipment that had passed through Northeast Ohio on Nos. 29 and 49 early Friday morning turned back at Toledo.

Crews turned the entire consist of No. 29 which returned to Washington as No. 30. The locomotives of No. 49 were cut off and placed on what had been the rear of the train to transform it into No. 48.

As for the passengers, those going east disembarked at Bryan, which is a regular stop for the Lake Shore Limited, but not for the Capitol Limited.

Westbound passengers got off in Toledo. School buses rented from the Sylvania school district were used to shuttle passengers between trains.

The Blade of Toledo reported a passenger as saying that Amtrak underestimated how many buses were needed and coordination and accommodations could have been better.

But Meleke Turnbull told the newspaper it could have been worse, too. “I’m still in a positive, good mood,” she said.

Jack Ciesielski, who was en route by train from Baltimore to California, said his train halted some time after midnight. Passengers were told later there had been a derailment ahead.

“They handled it coolly and professionally,” Mr. Ciesielski said about the Amtrak staff.

Maureen Ciesielski said her fellow passengers maintained a positive attitude, helping each other with luggage and while being kind, and for the most part, understanding.

Railway Age magazine published on its website an account written by David Peter Alan, the chairman of the Lackawanna Coalition, a rail passenger advocacy group in New Jersey.

He was one of those aboard the eastbound Lake Shore Limited.

He said No. 48 arrived in Bryan at 3:20 a.m. The school buses that would transport them to Toledo did not arrive until 8 a.m.

One of the bus drivers reported that she was called at 6:30 a.m. to go to work transporting Amtrak passengers.

Alan said there were seven schools buses dispatched to Bryan, which he said was not nearly enough to handle the number of passengers from Nos. 30 and 48.

The first wave of passengers left Bryan at 8:27 a.m. and arrived in Toledo at 9:47 a.m. They then picked up passengers from Nos. 29 and 49 and took them to Bryan.

No. 29 had arrived in Toledo on time at 6:19 a.m. whereas No. 49 arrived at 6:19 a.m., 25 minutes late. Some passengers waited between four to six hours to catch a ride on their bus.

The buses left Toledo over a two-hour period, with the last two departing at 11:47 a.m. The combined Nos. 29 and 49 didn’t leave for Chicago until 1:28 p.m.

Amtrak officials said the earliest the combined Nos. 29 and 30 could reach Chicago was 3:30 p.m., which ensured that unless the western long-distance trains were held most of them would miss their connections.

It actually arrived at either 4:58 p.m. or 4:58 p.m., depending on which arrival time you want to believe on the Amtrak website.

Alan said passengers waiting to depart from Toledo had a long wait.

Harpist Jacob Deck tried to entertain the increasingly impatient crowd with music.

A boarding call for No. 48 was made at 11:06 a.m. but boarding did not begin until 11:50.

The train departed at 12:24 p.m. Passengers had to ride backwards because neither the train nor the seats had been turned.

At 2 p.m. No. 48 was nearing Olmsted Falls when, Alan said, it should have been 30 minutes from Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

On the other hand, Alan said, passengers also got to see Sandusky Bay in daylight.

Those traveling to eastern cities knew that if their projected arrival times were correct, they would reach their destination after most public transit has stopped operating for the night.

The projections were that No. 30 would get to Washington at 12:39 a.m. and No. 48 would get to New York at 1:20 a.m.

But those were wildly off the mark. It didn’t help that No. 48 lost three hours on CSX between Cleveland and Erie, Pennsylvania, most of that from sitting in the Erie station for nearly two hours.

No. 30 sat arrived in Pittsburgh at 6:39 p.m. but didn’t leave until 8:04 p.m. By then it was 14 hours, 44 minutes late.

Those dwell times might have been due to waiting for a “rested” crew.

When this post was written at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, No. 448 was projected to arrive at Boston South Station at 10:09 a.m., 14 hours and eight minutes late.

No. 48 was projected to arrive into New York Penn Station at 7:14 a.m., 12 hours and 39 minutes late.

Alan said the sorry story of the fates of Nos. 30 and 48 illustrate “that Amtrak’s preparedness is dreadfully deficient.”

He said the derailment occurred before Nos. 30 and 48 left Chicago, leading him to wonder why Amtrak didn’t detour the trains and therefore avoid the bus bridge?

He also wondered why it took more than five hours to get buses out of Bryan and why there weren’t enough westbound buses originating in Toledo.

“Why were eastbound passengers forced to wait almost three hours at Toledo to continue their trip? Why did the combined Chicago-bound train leave Bryan so late? Why, why, why?” he wrote.

Alan believes Amtrak needs a service recovery plan to deal with emergencies such as this one.

If such a plan existed, it would have enabled Amtrak to have gotten buses into position sooner.

That plan would also include providing stranded passengers with food, which Alan said Amtrak did not provide other than the “emergency snack packs” kept aboard trains that he said are small and not exactly nutritious.

There are answers to those questions and some of them might involve factors beyond Amtrak’s control.

Whatever the case, you have to wonder how many of those affected by those trips from hell will be willing to board Amtrak again anytime soon.

In the meantime, No. 30 left Chicago Friday night at 12:11 a.m., 5 hours and 31 minutes late while No. 48 departed at 12:23 a.m., 2 hours and 53 minutes late. Both trains were projected to reach Northeast Ohio after 8 a.m. today.

Photographs by Todd Dillon

Rounding the Bend in Berea

May 10, 2019

Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited passes through Berea, Ohio, Thursday morning, passing BE Tower, which has long been closed.

No. 48 was running 2.5 hours late. It had been three hours late when it arrived in South Bend, Indiana, earlier in the day.

The Amtrak website reported that the train got out of Chicago Union Station 2 hours and 56 minutes late at 12:26 a.m. I don’t know the reason(s) for the delayed departure.

Whatever the case, it was a rare opportunity to photograph Amtrak in daylight in Cleveland.

Aside from the two P42 locomotives, No. 48 had its normal summer consist.

The Boston section upfront had a Viewliner sleeper, cafe car and two Amfleet coaches. The New York section had Amfleet coaches, two Viewliner sleepers, Viewliner dining car Dover, and a Viewliner baggage car.

Viewliner dining car Springfield was apparently deadheading on the rear of the train.

Trains in Champaign Not Quite as Late as They Were

January 4, 2019

Passengers board the southbound Illini at the Champaign-Urbana station on May 17, 2000.

The on-time performance of Amtrak’s trains in the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor improved slightly in 2018 but not by much.

The News-Gazette of Champaign-Urbana used the online Amtrak Status Maps Archive Database to show that Amtrak’s six trains serving those cities during most of 2018 were about 34 minutes late on average.

That was a slight improvement from the average lateness of 36 minutes in 2017.

However, the newspaper said the average lateness upon departure varied considerably among the trains.

It said the City of New Orleans departed Champaign an average of 42 minutes late northbound but just 19 minutes late southbound.

But it was the opposite pattern for the state-funded Illini and Saluki.

The northbound Saluki left average of 24 minutes late northbound but 49 minutes late southbound.

The northbound Illini was, on average, 35 minutes late northbound and 37 minutes late southbound during 2018.

The News-Gazette report said many of the delays could be attributed to host railroad Canadian National. Amtrak contends CN is one of its worst host carrier with freight trains delaying Amtrak on 90 percent of the trips made on the route via Champaign.

Amtrak contends that CN contributes an average of 26 minutes of delay per day.

But some of the delays are also caused by longer than scheduled loading and unloading of passengers.

That is particularly an issue in Champaign, which serves the University of Illinois, a major generator of traffic in the Chicago-Carbondale corridor.

The newspaper found that the longest delay of 2018 through Dec. 21 occurred on Oct. 4 when the northbound City left Champaign 9 hours and 37 minutes late.

The longest delay for No. 59 was 6 hours, 18 minutes on Dec. 17. The longest delays for the Saluki were 3 hours, 4 minutes northbound on June 290 and 3 hours, 14 minutes southbound on Nov. 21.

The Illini’s record 2018 tardiness northbound was 3 hours, 4 minutes on Nov. 22 and 4 hours, 30 minutes on June 29.

Very Late No. 29

September 17, 2018

A very late westbound Capitol Limited charges through Olmsted Falls, Ohio, in July 2017.

I’m not sure why the train was behind schedule, but it should have come through here about eight hours earlier.

There will be a lot of missed connections today in Chicago.

Durbin Wants FRA to Pressure Railroads to Run Amtrak Trains On Time

May 11, 2018

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin has joined Carbondale, Illinois, officials in seeking to pressure the Federal Railroad Administration into leaning on Amtrak’s host railroads to operate Chicago-Carbondale trains on time.

During the past year trains on the route were on time on just 32 percent of their trips.

“That’s simply unacceptable and deserves the FRA’s immediate attention and action,” Durbin wrote in his letter to the FRA.

“Amtrak’s Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route continues to be one of the worst preforming routes in the country,” he said. “The Illini and Saluki trains are consistently delayed by CN’s freight interference and the ongoing speed restrictions put in place by CN in 2015.”

The speed restriction that Durbin referenced was put into place along a 200-mile stretch of the 309-mile corridor as a safety precaution following repeated mechanical issues.

However, Amtrak and CN have been in a stalemate over finding a solution to solve that issue and lift the speed restriction.

Durbin wants the FRA to take a more active role to ensure that Amtrak trains operate on time in Illinois and around the country.

“My constituents have waited long enough while the Amtrak service they rely on has suffered,” Durbin said. “It’s time for the FRA to take on a larger oversight role in the ongoing dispute between Amtrak and CN, and I urge you to begin convening regular meetings between the leadership at FRA, CN, and Amtrak that include my staff so the FRA can set deadlines, prevent further delays, and ensure greater accountability.”

Durbin also contended that freight train interference has played a major role in causing delays to Amtrak trains.

“Canadian National in particular has a long history of holding up Amtrak trains and holding back investments that could improve passenger and freight service in downstate Illinois,” Durbin said.

Durbin’s letter came shortly after Carbondale city officials met with him and Amtrak managers to discuss the paltry on-time performance of Chicago-Carbondale trains, most of which are funded by the State of Illinois.

The route also hosts Amtrak’s Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans.

Frigid Outside, Warm Inside

January 25, 2018

Outside the temperature was in the low teens and the wind chill was below zero. A friend and I were waiting to photograph Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited roaring through Geneva, Ohio. No. 48 was running two hours late. It also was running a few minutes behind a CSX stack train.

The usual consist of the eastbound Lake Shore Limited has the Boston cars toward the front and the New York cars on the rear. Typically, No. 48 has two Viewliner sleepers for New York.

This day was no exception. Shown above is the first of the two New York sleepers. Some passengers in those rooms might just now be getting up and about while others might be watching the wintry countryside of Northeast Ohio fly by. Still others might be having breakfast in the “dining car” just ahead of the first New York sleeper.

I placed the phrase “dining car” in quotations because it is not the same as the dining cars that used to run on this train. With Viewliner diners, presumably, being readied for revenue service, the Lake Shore Limited might get a full dining car some day.

Late 48 at 12:35 p.m. on Consecutive Fridays

January 6, 2018

I photographed Amtrak No. 48 at the Painesville station of the former New York Central  running more than six hours late at the same time – 12:35 p.m. – on consecutive Fridays. The top image shows the eastbound Lake Shore Limited on Friday, Dec. 29. The bottom photo shows the train on Friday, Jan. 5 when the air temperature was 7 degrees.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Moorman Looks Back on Amtrak Tenure

December 5, 2017

You could say that Amtrak co-CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman is a big fan of his fellow CEO Richard Anderson.

Moorman

“We really hit a home run in that Richard Anderson agreed to come on board,” Moorman said during a speech last week at the RailTrends 2017 conference.

Moorman cited Anderson’s leadership skills, saying Amtrak needs his aggressive nature.

During his presentation, Moorman also said Amtrak has made progress in such areas as safety, maintenance and customer service.

The former CEO of Norfolk Southern also singled out the passenger carrier’s new chief financial officer, William Feidt, who Moorman said has brought discipline to Amtrak that was lacking.

Moorman said Chief Marketing Officer Tim Griffin understands marketing a passenger service as well as revenue and yield management. “We have a first-rate management team now,” Moorman said.

Griffin and Anderson have both worked in the airline industry with Anderson having been a former CEO at Delta Air Lines.

Moorman, who will leave Amtrak soon, said that although the passenger carrier is developing a better safety culture, it continues to trail Class I railroads in those efforts.

He also said that Amtrak has a spotty record in delivering on capital projects

Amtrak needs to be a better steward of its assets, including its rolling stock and facilities.

“Shabby chic can be fashionable, but not on a passenger train or in a train station,” Moorman said.

Pointing out that much of Amtrak’s equipment had a worn-out feel to it, Moorman directed the interiors of Amfleet I cars to be refurbished after he learned that it would be relatively inexpensive.

In time, the refurbishment program will be extended to cars used on long-distance trains.

One lesson that Moorman said he learned from Anderson from the airline industry is to consistently upgrade the interiors that passengers see.

“You don’t want to know how many 40-year-old airplanes you’ve flown,” Moorman said.

In fiscal year 2017, which ended on Sept. 30, Amtrak reduced its operating loss to just under $200 million, which covers 95 percent of its expenses. Moorman said the goal is to reduce the operating loss to zero.

It will seek to do that by bumping up ridership and revenue. However, he said that will be a challenge to achieve if the current less than desirable on-time performance means that Amtrak service is unreliable.

Moorman said a two- or three-hour delay for a freight train doesn’t mean much, but is unacceptable for a passenger train.

He said Amtrak and its host freight railroads need to work more closely to reduce delays while the freight railroads need to realize that to a certain extent the public’s perception of American railroading is shaped by Amtrak and the level of service it provides.

Some Michigan Trains Subject to Delays

August 3, 2017

Amtrak has warned that some Michigan corridor trains are subject to delay due to the performance of system maintenance.

Affected are Wolverine Service trains 350, 355 and Blue Water trains 364 and 365. The service advisory said the trains may experience delays of 15 to 30 minutes.

Amtrak did not say how long the maintenance program would last.