Posts Tagged ‘New York Central Railroad’

Amtrak to Mark 50th Anniversary of Empire Service

December 2, 2017

Amtrak and New York State on Monday will celebrate 50 years of Empire Service between New York and Buffalo, New York.

The event will be held at the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak station. Expected to be in attendance are elected officials, local dignitaries and prominent Albany civic leaders.

Amtrak plans to honor those who were at the New York Central in 1967 when the Empire Service was launched.

“Celebrating 50 years of rail passenger service is an accomplishment that Amtrak is proud to celebrate with all of its state partners and the communities along this route who have been integral to the Empire Service’s success,” said Joe McHugh, Amtrak’s vice president of state supported services and business development.

The Empire Service was the result of restructuring of NYC intercity passenger service that the railroad hoped would reduce its passenger financial deficit.

Many long-distance trains were restructured and lost their names. The NYC also discontinued the fabled 20th Century Limited.

When Amtrak began operations on May 1, 1971, the Empire Corridor hosted seven daily trains.

Today the corridor has 12 daily trains, although most of them operate only between New York and Albany-Rensselaer.

Amtrak restored service to Niagara Falls in 1971 and to downtown Schenectady in 1978.

Amtrak’s Empire Service trains are supported by funds made available by the New York State Department of Transportation.

Trains in the corridor use dual-mode locomotives, which enables the trains to operate under diesel power and then switch to electric third rail power for operation into and out of New York Penn Station.

Until April 7, 1991, Amtrak’s Empire Service trains used New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

A recent track rebuilding has resulted in a 45-mile stretch of track between Hudson and Schenectady having a top speed of 110 miles per hour.

Advertisements

Buffalo Train Station Makes Endangered List

October 18, 2017

Buffalo’s Central Terminal has made a list of dubious distinction. It has been added to the 2018 World Monuments Watch, a group of international cultural heritage sites facing “daunting threats.”

The former New York Central depot that was used by Amtrak between 1975 and 1979 and for a time in 1971, is No. 22 on the list.

Closed in 1979, the station has undergone some renovation in recent years. However, it was bypassed when Amtrak recently sought a site for a new Buffalo station.

Amtrak has two stations in the  Buffalo region. These include a small and antiquated station at Exchange Street in the city and a station in suburban Depew.

MHSRA Seeks Phased Network Approach

September 12, 2017

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is calling for a “phased network approach” to implementing high-speed rail service in the United States, including the Midwest.

In a 50-page white paper, the group said a combination of high-speed trunk lines and upgraded feeder rail routes coupled with dedicated bus services can increase mobility.

Rather than focusing on a point-to-point fast train systems between major cities, the MHSRA plan would provide a blueprint for systems that serve multiple markets and as many constituencies as possible.

The report cited such existing networks in France, Germany and Japan that provide multiple connections from their main stems.

One example would be Chicago-Cincinnati corridor. The report said a combination of upgraded Metra Electric tracks from O’Hare International Airport through Chicago, a high-speed trunk connecting the Windy City with Indianapolis, and conventional feeders to other communities could reduce Chicago-Indianapolis rail travel times from five hours, ten minutes to 90 minutes.

Upgrading existing track to Cincinnati once used by New York Central’s James Whitcomb Riley could result in a three-hour Chicago-Cincinnati overall travel times.

The running time of the current Amtrak Cardinal is eight hours, thirty minutes.

“The core point is that rather than only trying to keep projects affordable, we should be figuring out how to put more people on trains,” said MHSRA Executive Director Rick Harnish. “We need a new ridership and revenue model that combines commuter, feeder, and intercity trips in a way suited to the geography and demographics to the Midwest.”

Waterloo to Hold Open House on June 25

June 20, 2017

The Waterloo, Indiana, Amtrak station will celebrate its first anniversary with an open house on June 25.

The station is located inside a former New York Central depot that was renovated by the city during a 10-year project.

The project, which was funded in part by a federal TIGER grant, involved moving the depot closer to the Amtrak boarding platform.

The open house will be held from 2-4 p.m. and feature refreshments, door prizes and historical information about the station.

More than 20,000 passengers board at the Waterloo every year. The station is served by Amtrak’s Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Hickory Creek to Ride Rear of LSL

June 14, 2017

The Hickory Creek, the ex-Twentieth Century Limited tail car will be traveling to Chicago for the Nickel Plate Road 765 trips. It will leave New York City on the Lake Shore Limited on June 14. It will head back to NYC on the Lake Shore on June 19.

Photograph by Jack Norris

The National Limited Takes a Detour

December 19, 2016
036

The westbound National Limited arrives in the station at Mattoon, Ilinois, in May 1977 on a detour move. The train is using the former New York Central route to St. Louis due to track work on its regular route over the former Pennsylvania Railroad route via Effingham, Illinois.

037

The National Limited handled mail from New York to Los Angeles that was interchanged to the Southwest Limited in Kansas City. Note that the former NYC passenger platform is still in place at right nine years after the last NYC passenger train here was discontinued.

038

The Amtrak conductor and two other crew members wait in the vestibule of a coach as the eastbound National Limited arrives in Mattoon, Illinois, in May 1977 on a detour move.

039

The eastbound National Limited departs from Mattoon, Illinois, on former New York Central rails. It will regain its regular route in Terre Haute, Indiana. A portion of the former NYC passenger station is visible at right.

It was not unusual for Amtrak’s National Limited to detour between Terre Haute, Indiana, and St. Louis.

The scheduled route was via the former Pennsylvania Railroad via Effingham, Illlinois, but the Penn Central dispatcher had the option of running the train over the ex-New York Central route through Mattoon, Illinois.

After Conrail took over Penn Central in 1976, it began rebuilding the ex-Pennsy route used by Amtrak Nos. 30 and 31.

In late April 1977, the National Limited was rescheduled to operate during the afternoon hours between St. Louis and Effingham. That also coincided with the track gang hours.

So, for a good part of May 1977, Nos. 30 and 31 detoured via the ex-NYC route, making the Effingham stop at the former NYC passenger platform in Mattoon

The last NYC passenger train through Mattoon had been discontinued in March 1968, but the platform was still in place on the south side of the tracks.

I was a young reporter for the Mattoon Journal Gazette and I gave myself an assignment one afternoon to cover the detour of the National Limited.

I went down to the tracks, interviewed waiting passengers, and made photographs of both trains using Kodak Tri-X film.

Much has changed since that May 1977 day. The National Limited was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1979, and in March 1982, Conrail abandoned the former NYC tracks through Mattoon. The rails were picked up a year later.

The former NYC station has since been razed. The platforms remained in place for several years after the tracks were pulled up, but were eventually taken out in the early 2000s to make way for a parking lot for the YMCA.

Event Promotes Buffalo Central Terminal

December 12, 2016

The campaign to convert Buffalo Central Terminal into an Amtrak continued on Saturday with an open house and Christmas tree lighting led by Congressman Brian Higgins of Buffalo.

Amtrak 4He hosted 500 people on a tour of the terminal, which last hosted Amtrak in 1979.

“I think this is a beautiful structure,” he said. “At one time 200 passenger trains came into Buffalo every single day. And the new train station in Buffalo should be right here.”

The station was built in 1929 by the New York Central.

Higgins said there’s $25 million in federal funds available for a new station and matching funds from the state may be available.

The funding will not be available until 2018 by which time local officials hope to have decided on a station site.

The committee that will select the station location is scheduled to hold a public hearing Thursday in the Common Council chamber at City Hall.

Speed, Glorious Speed

March 11, 2009

The $8 billion allocated to the development of high-speed intercity passenger rail service that was slipped into the economic stimulus bill at the behest of the Obama administration has many dreaming of fast passenger trains. What some have in mind are the type of swift and reliable trains cruising at triple digit speeds that travelers have long enjoyed in Western Europe and Japan.

The quest for faster passenger trains is as old as rail transportation itself. It may be hard to fathom today, but railroads of the middle 19th century were slow and dangerous. Trains could run 15 miles per hour, which some in that era considered reckless or contrary to
how God intended man to travel. But rail travel was faster than walking, riding on horseback, traveling in a horse-drawn wagon or going by boat. Despite the qualms of some about speed, travelers and shippers wanted faster trains. By the 1850s trains were capable of 30 mph.

In the late 19th century, a wave of mergers and consolidations created a network of trunk railroads and competitive pressures prompted them to speed up their passenger trains. I say some of them because for all of the attention paid to the “limiteds” of that era with their opulent coaches, sleeping cars and diners, most trains continued to move rather slowly in terms of trip time.

The development of the air brake helped make faster speeds possible, 60 mph or better. But among the other measures implemented to speed things up were better roadbeds and track, signaling systems and making fewer stops en route, hence the name “limited,” as in
limited stops. The public loved it. News accounts of the late 19th century and early 20th century were replete with such descriptions as fastest schedule yet.

In those days railroads used speed to attract long-distance travelers. Personifying this was the celebrated 1902 launch of a pair of speedsters between New York and Chicago. The Twentieth Century Limited of the New York Central Railroad and the Broadway Limited
of the Pennsylvania Railroad made the 900-mile trip in 24 hours. Eventually this would fall to 16 hours. These trains captivated the public imagination and defined rail travel.
 
Railroads had speed limits that engineers were to adhere to, but it was common for management to look the other way when engineers exceeded them to make up lost time. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. The legendary Casey Jones was trying to
make up lost time when his train struck the rear of another train in Mississippi in April 1900. Jones died in the accident, but no one else did, largely due to Jones trying to stop his train until the bitter end.

In the 1930s railroads began another effort to speed up their passenger trains, this time to win back passengers lost to airlines, buses and the private automobile. Railroads introduced streamlined passengers trains, some of which were pulled by internal combustion locomotives. These new trains were lighter and able to operate at speeds of 80 to 90 mph while other trains were held to 70 to 80 mph.

During World War II, the government forced the railroads to slow their trains to conserve fuel and for safety reasons due to the heavy volume of war-induced rail traffic. Following the war, the speed restrictions were lifted and many railroads increased the speed limits
for passenger trains.

Then the government stepped in again to slow the trains. The Interstate Commerce Commission in 1947 mandated a top speed of 79 unless the track was equipped with an automatic train stop, automatic train control or a continuous cab signal system. Most
railroad routes lacked this and railroads were not inclined to spend the millions needed to install such an apparatus.

By the late 1950s, many railroads had lost their enthusiasm for passenger trains. Making them run faster was no longer a priority or even a goal. In some places, trains ran slower because financially pressed railroads cut costs by skimping on track maintenance, if not
skipping it altogether. The safety systems that some railroads had installed following the ICC order of 1947 gradually were removed on many lines.

The mid-1960s saw the emergence of a new push for high-speed passenger trains, this time originating within the government. The result was the development of the electrically powered Metroliner between New York and Washington, and the ill-fated Turbo train between Boston and New York. Unlike earlier movements to speed up passenger trains, the idea now was to attract short distance passengers traveling between urban centers.

For much of the Amtrak era, the issue has been less about how fast do the trains go, but whether they operate on time. In some instances, railroads have demanded, and gotten, Amtrak permission to increase the travel time in the name of better on-time performance. While some Amtrak trains in the northeast corridor hit 150 mph, Amtrak trains elsewhere seldom top 79 mph, if that.

Now another push is originating within the government to speed up passenger trains. Actually, this movement is not new. There have been numerous proposals for high-speed rail corridors since the 1970s, but aside from appropriating money for studies, Congress
has never approved the kind of big bucks that it would take to develop these corridors. The $8 billion of the stimulus package notwithstanding, it still hasn’t.

What does this short history of the quest for high-speed rail mean for today’s developments? For one thing it offers a cautionary tale. The efforts of the 1960s to develop high-speed passenger rail failed to spread beyond the northeast corridor. There are many reasons for this, but the list starts with the fact that the freight railroads that own
the tracks “out there” saw no need for the kind of blazing speed that the planners and policy makers had in mind.

Much of the quest for speed over the years had come from within the railroads, first in an effort to remain competitive, and then in an effort to compete with other modes of travel. Finally, the railroads decided they didn’t want to compete with those other modes of
travel and gave up on rail passenger service, fast or otherwise.

The latest attempt to develop high-speed passenger trains comes from outside the railroad industry. Interestingly, those who support the push for high-speed rail argue that highway and air travel have become too congested. Hence, they argue that we need fast passenger trains. In fairness, not everyone who advocates expanded intercity rail passenger service is saying that we need 100 plus mile per hour passenger trains. But speed is never far from the discussion and it is what attracted President Obama to the cause.

Yet aside from a few stretches here and there, most of the routes identified as future high-speed rail corridors involve tracks owned by freight railroads. The new fast trains are either going to have to use those tracks or there will need to be built dedicated high-speed
passenger tracks.

Coal, grain, chemicals, or even trailers and containers do not need to move at triple digit speeds on the open road. Indeed railroads have reoriented themselves when it comes to the concept of speed. The culture of haste that motivated railroads to think of moving trains over the road as fast as possible has given way to way new ways of thinking about how to provide reliable and efficient service. It is not that speed doesn’t figure into the equation, just that it does not in the way that it once did when moving passengers was part of the railroad’s business plan. And for most railroads, moving people at any speed is still not in their long-range plans.