Posts Tagged ‘Norfolk Southern’

Amtrak’s Michigan Trains are Invariably Late

February 26, 2020

Passengers board an Amtrak train bound for Chicago at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Chances are they will arrive late in the Windy City.

If you’re riding Amtrak in Michigan the chances are your trip is going to be late.

A report by the Detroit Free Press said the on-time rate last year in Michigan was 43 percent. On the Wolverine Service route between Chicago and Detroit it was just 33 percent.

That compared with a national average of between 60 and 70 percent.

Amtrak considers a train late if it is 30 minutes or more behind the published schedule.

Figures released by Amtrak show that the performance of the Michigan trains is getting worse.

On-time performance fell from 71 percent in 2016 and 2017 to 62 percent in 2018.

Amtrak is hoping that as part of a renewal of the federal surface transportation law that Congress will strengthen the law giving passenger trains preference over freight trains.

Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman based in Chicago, said such a law would give the passenger carrier legal leverage to better deal with its host railroads, which Amtrak blames for delaying its trains.

“It’s a very important issue to us because our reliability is suffering,” Magliari said.

The Free Press said it tracked the arrival times of six Amtrak trains in Troy, a Detroit suburb on the Wolverine Service line.

The trains from Chicago varied in lateness from 30 minutes to more than two hours.

Amtrak figures show that the afternoon Wolverine from Chicago to Pontiac, the Detroit suburb that is the terminus of the route, arrived in Troy an average of 42 minutes late.

Six times it was more than an hour late and once in mid-January it was two hours behind schedule.

The newspaper said passengers it spoke with who disembarked at Troy said that although they found the delays annoying they still liked train travel.

In its efforts to put pressure on Congress, Amtrak has created a YouTube video titled Your Right to be on Time that urges viewers to contract lawmakers to complain about late trains and urge them to support legislation “that puts people before freight.”

The video contends that Amtrak’s host railroads are giving their freight trains priority over Amtrak trains in dispatching decisions.

“Usually, it’s what we call freight train interference. That’s when our trains are delayed by slow freight trains ahead of them,” the narrator says in the video.

The video acknowledges that delays can also be caused by such things as weather, track maintenance, mechanical problems with trains, and obstructions on the track.

“You can be certain we’ll tell Congress that the original law setting up Amtrak in 1970 does not allow us to bring litigation over the poor handling of our trains by the freight railroads,” Magliari said. “Imagine paying for a service from someone who knows you can’t go after them in court.”

Magliari said one reason why Amtrak trains are getting delayed by freight trains is that the latter are getting longer and sometimes are too long to put into a siding to allow Amtrak to pass.

The Association of American Railroads, which represents the Class 1 railroads that host Amtrak trains, contends the federal government should fund construction of additional tracks and longer sidings

“It would be nice to see the public coming forward” — that is, with federal and state dollars — “where they have an interest in keeping passengers trains operating,” said AAR’s John Gray, senior vice president for policy and economics.

Much of the track Amtrak uses on the Chicago-Detroit corridor, though, is owned by Amtrak or the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Wolverine Service trains, though, use within the Detroit metropolitan area tracks owned by Conrail, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern.

Amtrak’s Michigan trains use the busy NS Chicago Line to reach Chicago from Northwest Indiana.

MDOT, which helps fund Amtrak service in Michigan, said most of the delays incurred by Amtrak’s Michigan trains occur on that 40-mile stretch of NS.

The agency owns 135 miles of the Wolverine Service route between Kalamazoo and Dearborn. Amtrak owns the track from Kalamazoo to Porter, Indiana.

MDOT spokesman Mike Frezell said Amtrak trains using track that it and MDOT own have largely unimpeded travel there.

“We’re hoping within two years to have speeds up to 110 m.p.h. on portions of that, and we’ll be raising all the speeds through that section,” Frezell said.

He said the objective in raising speeds in the Chicago-Detroit corridor is to make train travel competitive with driving and flying.

2 Piedmonts to Be Canceled on Feb. 18

February 14, 2020

Amtrak Piedmont Trains 74 and 77 will be canceled on Feb. 18 due to Norfolk Southern track work.

The trains operate in North Carolina, between Charlotte and Raleigh. In a service advisory Amtrak said no alternate transportation will be provided.

All other Carolinian (New York-Charlotte) and Piedmont service trains will operate normally.



Amtrak Rehabbing NEC Tunnel in Baltimore

February 3, 2020

Amtrak said it is launching a pilot to rebuild the 147-year-old Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel in the Northeast Corridor.

In a news release, Amtrak said the preventive maintenance work is expected the tunnel in good working condition until a new tunnel can be built under the City of Baltimore.

Workers will replace 1,000 feet of track slab and block ties and renew track inside the tunnel that have deteriorated due to age and water infiltration.

The work is being done over eight weekends in order to minimize disruptions of passenger operations.

Amtrak said the pilot project will allow Amtrak’s engineering department to evaluate viable options to improve the reliability of the B&P Tunnel.

The two-track tunnel, which opened in 1873, is located between the West Baltimore MARC and Baltimore Penn stations and is used by Amtrak, Maryland’s MARC Commuter trains and Norfolk Southern freight trains.

The tunnel is said by Amtrak to be approaching the end of its useful life and its obsolete design creates a low-speed bottleneck in the Northeast Corridor.

In 2017the Federal Railroad Administration issued a Record of Decision for a new four-track tunnel system to replace the existing B&P Tunnel. The new tunnel would cost an estimated $5 billion.

Private Car Train to Operate in September

January 18, 2020

Private car trains are making somewhat of a comeback on Amtrak.

The passenger carrier has given the Association of American Private Car Owners preliminary approval to operate a private car special from Chicago to Vermont in September.

The train is scheduled to depart from Chicago at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 22the previous day.

The special will also operate on the Mohawk Adirondack Northern Railroad and the Vermont Rail System.

In announcing the special to its members, AAPRCO said Itinerary is subject to railroad approvals, but the group said it has contingency routings.

The announcement did not say what route the train would take between Chicago and Cleveland, but it likely would be the Norfolk Southern line used by Amtrak.

Nor did it say which route would be taken between Cleveland and Buffalo, New York.

In September 2014, an AAPRO special traveled on NS east of Cleveland.

The train has been named the American Autumn Explorer.

The announcement said the train would operate overnight through Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania and expects to pass the former Buffalo Central Terminal during breakfast hours.

The train will continue to Niagara Falls, New York, where passengers will be able to disembark and spend time there.

The train will depart Niagara Falls on Sept. 23 and use the former New York Central Water Level Route to Utica, New York, where it will drop its Amtrak locomotives and operate as a special train on the Mohawk Adirondack Northern Railroad.

The destination will be Thendara, New York, where the train will park overnight.

Departing Thendara on Sept. 24, the special will go back to Utica, pick up the Amtrak locomotives and use former Delaware and Hudson Railroad tracks (now owned by Canadian Pacific) to travel to Saratoga Springs, New York.

The special will leave Saratoga Springs on Sept. 26 and en route to near Plattsburgh, New York, where it will reverse direction and run to Albany-Rensselaer, New York, to pick up additional private cars.

Departure from Albany-Rensselaer will be on Sept. 27 for Whitehall, New York, and then east to Rutland, Vermont.

At Rutland the Amtrak locomotives will be dropped off and the train will continue on the Vermont Rail System to Burlington where it will be parked downtown for three days.

The annual AAPRCO convention will be held in Burlington.

The special will depart Burlington on Oct. 1 and return to Albany-Rensselaer where the special will terminate and its cars forwarded back home on regularly scheduled Amtrak trains starting on Oct. 2.

Virginia Governor Supports Extending Amtrak to Bristol But Says It Won’t be Happening in the Near Future

January 11, 2020

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is supportive of expanding Amtrak service to Bristol, Virginia, but said it won’t be happening anytime soon.

Northam has proposed a $3.7 billion passenger rail expansion plan that includes increased Amtrak service but does not superficially mention extending existing service to Bristol.

The city of nearly 18,000 on the border with Tennessee, which also has a city named Bristol, has been seeking for a decade to get intercity rail passenger service.

Bristol has not had scheduled rail passenger service since 1971.

“I’m very interested in that topic [passenger rail],” Northam told the editorial board of the Bristol Herald Courier.

“We have a significant logjam between Virginia and Maryland,” he said in reference to the span over the Potomac River between Virginia and Washington.

“The Long Bridge, right now, there are only two tracks so all the rail that travels along the East Coast has to come across the Long Bridge, and it is a true logjam.”

The Virginia passenger expansion plan includes funding to build new bridge for the use of passenger trains.

Virginia transportation officials have said there can be no Amtrak expansion in the state until the crossing of Potomac is increased.

Another stumbling block has been the refusal of host railroad Norfolk Southern to continue talking about the use of its tracks for service to Bristol.

A 2019 study said track improvements costing an estimated $30 million are needed on NS tracks between Bristol and Roanoke, Virginia.

NS indicated at the time that it withdrew from the talks that it was preoccupied with a restructuring of its freight network, an initiative known as Top21.

Service to Bristol would likely be an extension of an existing Amtrak Northeast Regional train that now originates and terminates in Roanoke.

Northam said he sees Amtrak expansion to Bristol as beneficial.

“It will really open up the Southwest for business opportunities but also for tourism,” he said. “It’s a beautiful area of Virginia, you have great tourist attractions.

Northam said Virginia needs to talk with surrounding states, including Tennessee, about working together to expand passenger rail service.

He described extending Amtrak service to Bristol as a “logical step.”
Virginia is also eyeing bringing Amtrak service to to Hampton and to Christiansburg and Blacksburg.

The governor said expansion to Bristol or other cities won’t happen overnight.

A May 2019 Community Transportation Association of America predicted that extending Amtrak service to Bristol could draw 23,600 annual riders from a Bristol stop, 16,800 at Wytheville and 40,200 at Christiansburg.

Amtrak Uses New Bridge in New York

January 11, 2020

Amtrak used a new bridge in New York State’s Letchworth State Park on Jan. 9.

A railfan photographer wrote on that it was the first time that Amtrak has used the new bridge in the park that carries the tracks of the Southern Tier line of Norfolk Southern.

Amtrak has never used the former Erie Railroad route in scheduled service.

John Kucko posted a video showing an Amtrak P42DC locomotive and what appears to be a passenger car crossing the Genesee arch bridge.

He said the locomotive was heading to the Alstom plant in Hornell, New York, where the next generation of Acela Express equipment is being assembled.

He said the locomotive is expected to take the new equipment to a test facility located near Pueblo, Colorado.

An 1875 trestle over the Genesee River in the park was replaced in December 2017.

Kucko said a few times Amtrak engines and cars crossed the old bridge.

NS Track Work to Disrupt Operations of Crescent

January 4, 2020

Track work being performed by Norfolk Southern will result in Amtrak’s Crescent being canceled between New Orleans and Atlanta on certain days between Jan. 19 and Feb. 20.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said Nos. 19 and 20 will not operate between those cities on weekdays during the periods of Jan. 20-23, Jan. 23- 27. Jan. 30 to Feb. 3-6, Feb. 10-13, and Feb. 17-20.

On those dates No. 19 will terminate in Atlanta. Passengers will be provided bus service from Atlanta to the scheduled stops of Anniston, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Meridian, Laurel, Hattiesburg, Picayune, Slidell and New Orleans.

No. 19 will operate through to New Orleans on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, serving all stations on the route.

No. 20 on the dates shown above will originate in Atlanta. Passengers will ride a bus if boarding at New Orleans to Slidell, Picayune, Hattiesburg, Laurel, Meridian, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Anniston before transferring to the train in Atlanta.

On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Train 20 will operate normally, serving all stations on the route.

Latrobe Station Renovation May Start This Year

January 2, 2020

Work on renovating the Amtrak station in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, may get underway later this year.

Latrobe City Manager John Antinori told the city council recently that the city has been having discussions with Amtrak about three tentative design options for the project.

One of those would include a ramp for passengers to more easily reach the station and boarding platform from a parking lot below that is located on McKinley Avenue.

At present passengers must climb steps to the boarding platform because the tracks through Latrobe are elevated.

Also involved in the discussions is the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, which is reviewing a project design that calls for connecting the passenger platform to the parking area with a covered ramp.

Amtrak also wants to raise the platform so that it sits eight inches above the rails. That would make boarding more convenient for those in wheelchairs.

The station renovation project has been in the works for the past two years.

The project would also include signs that comply with the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“They seem serious about doing it,” Antinori said of the project. “It’s all preliminary, but it would be exciting to see.”

When planning began two years ago Amtrak has projected completing the work in 2019.

Now Amtrak wants the design phase of the project completed by the first quarter of 2020 with construction to start by the third quarter of this year.

Norfolk Southern, which owns the tracks used by Amtrak through Latrobe, must also approve the station design plans.

Jarod Trunzo, executive director of the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program, said the renovated Amtrak station needs to be in line with that of the 1903 former Pennsylvania Railroad station on McKinley that is now DiSalvo’s Station Restaurant.

Latrobe is served by Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian between New York and Pittsburgh, which is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

In 2018 Amtrak served 4,068 passengers in Latrobe, generating $243,841 in revenue.

That was a decline from 2017 in which the passenger carrier served 4,250 passengers and netted nearly $250,000 in revenue in Latrobe.

Virginia Plan Doesn’t Specify Expansion to Bristol

January 2, 2020

Amtrak and the state of Virginia made a big splash recently with their announcement of an agreement that included host railroad CSX about a $3.7 billion plan that will lead to expanded rail passenger service.

But it is not clear if that also includes a proposal to extend Northeast Regional Service to Bristol, Virginia.

The plan as announced said nothing about expanding Amtrak service to Bristol.

The City of Bristol and the Bristol Chamber of Commerce have been working in recent years to seek to get Amtrak service extended from its current terminus in Roanoke, Virginia.

“We are very pleased to see that passenger rail in Virginia continues to be a part of an ongoing conversation and budgetary priorities,” said Beth Rhinehart, president and CEO of the Bristol Chamber.

“We were, however, disappointed that an extension to and through Bristol was not included in the recent report from the governor’s office.”

She said extending rail passenger service to Bristol and into Tennessee, “would make a huge positive impact on the economies of these communities and a great alternative for travel — for both business and leisure travelers across the Commonwealth.”

A study released last May by the Community Transportation Association of America predicted that extending Amtrak service to Bristol would draw 23,600 annual riders from Bristol, 16,800 at Wytheville and 40,200 at Christiansburg.

Roanoke, which serves 97,600 riders annually, would likely lose about 8,400 annually if the other stops are added.

Amtrak figures show patronage between Lynchburg/Roanoke and Washington increased by 7.1 percent during fiscal 2019, from 206,000 to nearly 221,000.

A major stumbling block to the extension to Bristol has been the lack of cooperation from host railroad Norfolk Southern.

The freight carrier withdrew in late 2018 from negotiations with the state and Amtrak to use its tracks between Roanoke and Bristol.

At the time, NS said it wanted to focus on other aspects of its business most notably its shift to the precision scheduled railroading operating model.

A study found that $30 million in track improvements would be needed to enable passenger service between Bristol and Roanoke.

Another hurdle, which the recent Virginia expansion plan does address, was a moratorium on passenger rail expansion due to capacity constraints on the Long Bridge over the Potomac River between Virginia and Washington.

The agreement with CSX and Amtrak that Virginia has reached calls for construction of a passenger-only bridge over the Potomac.

Although service to Bristol was not specifically mentioned in the announcement of the pact with CSX and Amtrak, a statement issued by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam referenced unspecified future expansion of passenger rail service.

That could potentially include service to Bristol.

Levin Wants Pennsylvania to Divorce Amtrak

December 22, 2019

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives Transportation Committee held a hearing last week that drew one witness and he suggested the state take over from Amtrak operation of the passenger service in the Keystone Corridor.

Bennett Levin, who oversees the short line Juniata Terminal in Philadelphia and is the owner of private railroad cars, suggested the Philadelphia commuter operator SEPTA operate Amtrak’s Keystone Service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

He contended that this would lower the state’s costs of providing the service, which is now 13 weekday Keystone Service trains and the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian.

Some Keystone Service trains operate between New York and Harrisburg.

Levin also contended that state operation would lead to increased train service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.

The 103-mile Harrisburg-Philadelphia line is owned by the federal government and it would have to agree to transfer ownership of it to the state.

“SEPTA is one of the best managed commuter rail operators in the nation and there is no reason why their franchise cannot be modified to allow them to run west of Thorndale to Harrisburg,” Levin said. “Therefore the initial step in crafting a solution in the Pittsburgh region is to divorce Amtrak by having the U.S. Department of Transportation gift the Harrisburg Line to Pennsylvania and let SEPTA provide the existing Keystone Service.

SEPTA has 81 weekday trains on the Harrisburg Line that carry 20,000 passengers.

Amtrak’s  26 weekday Keystone trains carry 4,130 people, and the Pennsylvanian carries more than 560 passengers a day.

Levin said his plan would remove Amtrak as a middleman. “We have already paid for the Harrisburg Line; we should own it,” he said.

Levin noted that the state and SEPTA collectively pay Amtrak $1 million a week to operate intercity and commuter rail service on the Harrisburg line.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and SEPTA have paid more than $250 million for infrastructure improvements to the route including new or renovated stations at Paoli, Exton, Downingtown, Mount Joy, Elizabethtown, and Middletown.

Levin acknowledged that under his plan passengers traveling from within Pennsylvania to New York would have to change trains in Philadelphia at 30th Street Station.

“Those folks going to New York, let them walk downstairs,” he said in reference to the upper level and lower level platforms.

Levin was critical of the schedule of the westbound Pennsylvanian, which he said is oriented to passengers connecting to Amtrak’s westbound Capitol Limited to Chicago in Pittsburgh.

But fewer than 10 percent of Pennsylvanian passengers are connecting to Amtrak train No. 29.

With an earlier schedule westbound, the equipment used on the Pennsylvanian could be turned at Pittsburgh to create a new Pittsburgh-Johnstown commuter train.

PennDOT, Amtrak and Norfolk Southern have discussed expanding service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh but thus far those talks have not produced any agreements.

Levin told Trains magazine that all of the parties seem to be talking past each others. “It’s my belief that Norfolk Southern is a perfectly rational partner, once you get Amtrak out of the picture,” Levin said.