Posts Tagged ‘Midwest Corridor trains’

Missouri River Runner Ridership up in 2017

April 26, 2017

Ridership aboard Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner trains increased 1 percent in the first quarter of 2017.

“For January through March, we were up nearly 1 percent from this time last year,” said Kristi Jamison, Missouri Department of Transportation railroad operations manager. “In January, we were up 10 percent, but that went down in February and March.”

Boardings in Jefferson City fell by 0.5 percent during the period.

“I still believe we’re being affected by low gas prices, and we’re still seeing fewer riders coming into St. Louis because of work on a high-speed rail service to Chicago,” Jamison said. “The infrastructure on that should be done by the end of this year, so we’ll see how we rebound from there.”

Jamison said 30 percent of River Runner passengers make connections with other Amtrak trains in St. Louis or Kansas City.

“So when you have delays like what we’ve seen in construction of the high-speed rail service in Illinois, that drops the ridership level,” she said.

The on-time performance of the Missouri River Runners was 90 percent for the first quarter, with some delays caused by freight traffic congestion.

“We also benefited from a mild winter, which decreases delays caused by cold weather and its effects on the tracks,” Jamison said.

MoDOT does not expect any changes in the service level regardless of how much funding the Missouri legislature allots for the service.

In 2017, the service was initially allotted $9.6 million, but Gov. Eric Greitens withheld $500,000 from that amount, making the intercity rail passenger budget $9.1 million.

MoDOT requested $14.1 million for the Missouri River Runners for fiscal year 2018, but Greitens has recommended approving $9.1 million. The House approved that amount but the Senate has not yet acted on the budget.

“We’re not anticipating any changes to our service due to the level of state funding we’re getting,” Jamison said.

In the meantime, Amtrak and MoDOT have announced two fare promotions that will run through the end of August.

They include mid-week fare sales with a 25 percent discount when traveling Tuesday through Thursday and a Kids Ride Free sale for weekend travel Friday through Sunday for children ages 2-12 when accompanied by a full-fare paid adult.

Reservations are required at least one day in advance of travel. The Missouri River Runners operate twice a day between St. Louis and Kansas City with intermediate stops at Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, Sedalia, Warrensburg, Lee’s Summit and Independence.

Charger Testing Completed in Illinois

April 25, 2017

The new Charger SC-44 locomotives were tested last weekend on three routes in the Midwest and are expected to enter revenue service this spring.

The Illinois Department of Transportation said the locomotives built by Siemens ran with empty trains of Amtrak passenger cars on routes linking Chicago with Milwaukee; Carbondale, Illinois; and Quincy, Illinois.

The locomotives will be tested on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor later this year.

“The delivery and testing of these attractive new locomotives will certainly get attention now and in years to come as they serve riders in our great Illinois communities,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn.

“Their arrival will be a welcome sight and put us one step closer to providing more efficient and reliable passenger rail service throughout our state and our neighboring states.”

During the test runs, engineering staff from Amtrak and Siemens rode the locomotives and performed required tests while monitoring each engine’s performance.

The Chargers are compliant with EPA Tier IV emissions standards and can operate at speeds up to 125 mph.

IDOT along with state transportation departments in Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Maryland, California and Washington collaborated on ordering the locomotives.

Midwest state agencies acquired 33 of the 4,400-horsepower locomotives, which were purchased through $216.5 million in federal funding and built in Sacramento, California. All of the Midwest-based locomotives are to be delivered by late 2017.

Revenue testing is to begin for 30 days on April 30 in California on the Capitol Corridor route. Six Chargers are expected to operate in Northern California on the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin routes.

In a news release, Siemens said the Chargers are equipped with electronically controlled regenerative braking systems that use energy from traction motors during braking to feed the auxiliary and head-end power systems. The feature is expected to minimize fuel consumption.

The diesel-electric operation is designed to enable better acceleration, cleaner emissions and low noise levels. The locomotives feature a 4,400 horsepower Cummins QSK95 diesel engine.

Amtrak Conducts 1st Midwest Charger Test

April 20, 2017

One of the new SC-44 Charger locomotives that will be assigned to Midwest Corridor trains was tested between Chicago and Milwaukee on Wednesday.

No. 4611 was on the point for test train 941 from Chicago to Milwaukee, running ahead of the regularly scheduled Hiawatha Service No. 329.

It was the first test of a Charger locomotive in the Midwest. Testing has been conducted previously on the east and west coasts.

Two Chargers, Nos. 4611 and 4604 arrived in Chicago late last month.

Siemens built the Chargers at a factory in California as part of an order placed by the departments of transportation of Illinois, California, Michigan, Missouri, Washington and Maryland. The order was for 69 locomotives of which Illinois purchased 33.

Most of the Chargers in the Midwest are expected to operate on corridor routes radiating from Chicago.

Further tests of the Chargers are expected to be performed on other Midwest routes.

Illini to Run an Hour Later on Weekdays

April 19, 2017

Amtrak’s Carbondale, Illinois, to Chicago Illini will operate an hour later between April 24 and May 12 due to Canadian National track work.

The schedule change affects only trains operating on Monday through Friday. The Saturday and Sunday schedule of No. 392 remains unchanged.

Arrival times at all intermediate stations will be an hour later.

The Illini is funded largely by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

 

Chicago-St. Louis Corridor Rebuilding Nearing Completion

April 18, 2017

The Illinois Department of Transportation says a $1.95 billion rebuilding of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor is close to being finished.

The project, which began eight years, will conclude with work in the coming months in Madison and Macoupin counties in Illinois near St. Louis.

IDOT officials say that 75 percent of the 284-mile corridor will feature speeds of up to 110 miles per hour.

Among the work yet to be done is temporarily closing 18 grade crossings to allow for the installation of new gates, fencing and other improvements.

Grade crossings will receive “four-quad” gates to block two traffic lanes on each side of the track and keep vehicles from going around the gates

Sidewalk gates will keep pedestrians from crossing while a train is approaching and 3-foot-high pedestrian fences will be installed at to encourage people to cross where they should.

Officials said some service will be suspended between May 16 to 23 for bridge work in the Metro East area of St. Louis.

The suspensions will affect trains operations between St. Louis and Springfield, Illinois. Chartered buses will replace trains during that period.

Much of the route upgrading, which has included laying new rails and putting down concrete ties has been funded by the federal government.

IDOT officials said increasing the maximum speed in open areas to 110 will cut about an hour off the corridor travel time.

“Currently, it’s about five and a half hours from end to end,” said Scott Speegle, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation. “It’ll be about four and a half once the project is finished and we’re able to run the 110 high speed.”

However, officials said that although they expect the higher speed project to be finished this year they cannot yet say when the 110 mph speeds will be allowed.

It could be in 2018, but that will depend on testing the line’s positive train control system.

“They have to be very conservative with testing,” said Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

Speegle said aside from higher speeds, the PTC system will allow for better train flow and increased reliability.

He noted that much of the corridor is a single track line hosting passenger and freight trains.

Some double track and lengthened siding have been added to facilitate meets of opposing rail traffic.

The Chicago-St. Louis corridor is used by Amtrak’s Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle.

Fare Sale Announced for Hiawatha Service Travel

April 18, 2017

Amtrak has announced a buy one get one half off deal for passengers traveling on Hiawatha Service trains on Saturdays.

In a news release, the rail passenger carrier said that a Chicago-Milwaukee roundtrip for two will cost $75.

Up to two children ages 2 through 12 can ride for half-price with a full fare adult.

Tickets must be purchased online using promotion code V451. Amtrak noted that for those wishing to spend a night on the town, the last Hiawatha Service trains depart Chicago at 10:40 p.m. and Milwaukee at 11:10 p.m.

Passengers wanting to take a bicycle with them may do so for $5 and do not need to place their bike in a box. It can be handed to an Amtrak crew member at the baggage car.

Some Lincoln Service Canceled on April 3. Texas Eagle to Detour Between Chicago and St. Louis

March 28, 2017

Track work being performed on Monday, April 3 will result in cancellations and detours in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

Amtrak said in a service advisory that Lincoln Service trains 300, 301, 302 and 303 will be canceled. All except No. 300 will be replaced by charter bus service at each station on the route.

The buses will depart earlier than the scheduled departure show in the Amtrak timetable.

Lincoln Service trains 304, 305, 306 and 307 will run on their normal schedules.

The Texas Eagle in both directions will detour and bypass the stations of Joliet, Pontiac, Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville and Alton.

Amtrak said passengers ticketed to travel on Nos. 21 and 22 to or from these stations are advised to instead travel on Lincoln Service trains or buses.

Operations of the Texas Eagle will not be affected south of St. Louis. Amtrak said the detour may delay the Eagle by up to 45 minutes.

One Morning in Grand Rapids

March 21, 2017

It is a Saturday morning in June 1995 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A crowd has gathered on the platform of the Amtrak station to await the arrival of the Pere Maquette, which originates here and travels to Chicago.

The equipment had laid overnight in a nearby CSX yard and is shown deadheading into the station.

The train is led by an F40PH, which will not be working much longer at Amtrak in providing motive power.

This moment came amid Amtrak’s last major route restructuring era. In April 1995 some trains, including the Detroit-Toledo, Ohio, leg of the Lake Cities had been discontinued. Amtrak wanted to terminate its Chicago-Detroit trains in Detroit rather than Pontiac, but the cost of that proved to be too high.

More cuts and route changes would follow in September. At the time, the Pere Marquette did not offer food and beverage service.

Since this image was made, Amtrak has begun using a new station in Grand Rapids.

Amtrak, INDOT Says Relations Have Improved

March 7, 2017

The train name hasn’t changed, but the faces behind the Hoosier State have and that has made for better relations with Amtrak.

Amtrak took over complete responsibility for the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train on March 1.

Back in 2015, the Indiana Department of Transportation awarded Iowa Pacific Holdings a contract to operate the Hoosier State although Amtrak wasn’t entirely out of the picture.

IP provided locomotives, rolling stock and on-board service and marketing support. Amtrak provided operating crews and handled relations with the host railroads.

But IP didn’t think it was receiving enough money from INDOT and said it would cease operating the train after the state turned down a request for more money.

Amtrak wanted to continue operating the Hoosier State, but state officials say the price was too high.

That sent INDOT seeking another operator. An agreement with a private contractor fell apart, which sent INDOT to IP.

Now INDOT and Amtrak seem to be getting along just fine. What changed?

“Some of the faces have changed in the last several years,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says. “A different governor, a different transportation commissioner, different people at Amtrak, too, sat down with a fresh sheet of paper and said, ‘What can we do?’”

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the relationship improved when former Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman retired and was replaced by Charles “Wick” Moorman, the former CEO of Norfolk Southern.

“They’ve been an eager partner to work with us,” Wingfield says. “We have good things to say about the new Amtrak CEO and his team.”

Before IP came along, the Hoosier State was a bare-bones train. IP brought food service, free Wi-Fi and business class service.

Amtrak has agreed to continue providing those services even if its food service car won’t be serving the same freshly-prepared meals that IP served.

Wingfield declined to say how much INDOT and its funding partners along the route are paying to continue those services.

He did say, though, that INDOT is using all of the $3 million earmarked for the Hoosier State.

Amtrak also agreed to give INDOT a discount because the Hoosier State is used to shuttle equipment between Amtrak’s Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis and Chicago.

Amtrak’s Magliari said the passenger carrier is looking at growing the business.

“The way you build ridership is to have frequencies that are attractive on a schedule that people can support and see is better than driving, and fares people can afford,” Magliari said. “Those are the three elements of the elixir to grow ridership – frequency, fare and schedule.”

The current contract between INDOT and Amtrak will expire on June 30.

That means the Indiana legislature has to agree to extend the funding. Wingfield said INDOT is asking lawmakers to approve Hoosier State funding for next two years.

Some lawmakers have indicated, though, that they have misgivings about a new deal because of the collapse of the public-private partnership between IP and INDOT.

One Morning in Crawfordsville, Indiana

March 6, 2017
Amtrak train No. 851 approaches the Crawfordsville station in August 2011.

Amtrak train No. 851 approaches the Crawfordsville station in August 2011.

When I lived in Indiana between 1983 and 1991, Amtrak’s Hoosier State was a part of my life for periodic day trips from Indianapolis to Chicago.

I actually preferred to ride the Cardinal because it had a full-service dining car and slumber coaches, which offered a reasonable fare for a return trip to Indy.

But the Cardinal only ran three days a week so more often than not I wound up going to Chicago on the Hoosier State.

After leaving Indiana for Pennsylvania and, later, Ohio, I rarely saw the Hoosier State again.

I followed its story from afar, including how it was discontinued in 1995 only to be brought back because operating a hospital train to and from Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis didn’t work out so well.

In August 2011 I was on my way to Illinois. I stayed overnight in Indianapolis and got up early the next morning to get to Crawfordsville before No. 851 did.

The sun wasn’t yet above the tree line when the Hoosier State arrived, but there was enough light to document the coming and going of the train.

Since making these images, the Hoosier State has had a rough ride at times with the latest development being the takeover of the train by Iowa Pacific Holdings in July 2015.

IP won high marks for its on-board service, but the Indiana Department of Transportation declined IP’s request for more money.

So IP pulled out and Amtrak has resumed operation of the Hoosier State. Actually, Amtrak was never completely out of the picture with Nos. 850 and 851 because it provided the operating crews and handled relationships with the host railroads.

So now what was the usual state of affairs in Crawfordsville is back again. Here is a look back at a morning not too long ago when the Hoosier State came calling.

A typical Amshack that is so typical in smaller cities served by Amtrak.

A typical Amshack that is so typical in smaller cities served by Amtrak.

The old Monon station is no longer used by Amtrak.

The old Monon station is no longer used by Amtrak.

All aboard for Chicago and all intermediate stops.

All aboard for Chicago and all intermediate stops.

And away it goes to its next stop in Lafayette.

And away it goes to its next stop in Lafayette.

A ;l;ast look at the train, which has two cars being ferried from Beech Grove to Chicago.

A ;l;ast look at the train, which has two cars being ferried from Beech Grove to Chicago.