Posts Tagged ‘NS Chicago Line’

Wolverine Service Train Makes Unusual Detour

January 6, 2016

A track project on the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern led to a detour of a Wolverine Service train over the South Shore Line in Northwestern Indiana on Tuesday.

No. 352 for Detroit (Pontiac) left Chicago Union Station on the route used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans trains, traveling on the former Illinois Central as far as Kensington interlocking.

There No. 352 switched to the South Shore Line, which it used to rejoin the NS Chicago Line near Porter, Indiana, at milepost 487.

The unusual routing added an hour-and-a-half of delay to No. 352.

Capitol Limited Down to 5 Cars, 1 Locomotive

October 22, 2014

The scuttlebutt on railfan chat lists these days is that an Oct. 6 letter from Surface Transportation Board Chairman Daniel Elliott III to NS Chairman Wick Moorman asking for a detailed explanation about what the railroad is doing to improve Amtrak on-time performance is responsible for an improvement in Amtrak timekeeping.

Those who follow the on-time performance of the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited have noted that the hours-long delays have begun to disappear.

The trains are still running late, but in the past week or so the tardiness has been more in the range of two hours or less.

The link between the STB letter and the uptick of on-time performance of the two Amtrak routes serving Northeast Ohio is at best circumstantial.

A number of factors have played a role in improving the fluidity of the NS Chicago Line. Amtrak has also taken steps to protect itself.

One of the steps Amtrak has taken is to alter the practice of having the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited equipment and Toledo-based operating crews make same-day turns in Chicago.

The habitual excessive delays suffered by inbound Nos. 29 and 49 meant that outbound Nos. 30 and 48 were delayed by hours because of the need for crew rest and equipment servicing.

One step has been to scrape together a fourth equipment set for the Capitol that can be sent out regardless of how late the inbound train is that day.

For now, that has meant shortening the consist of the Capitol Limited by removing the Sighterseer lounges in favor of 37000-series diner-lounges.  Half of the car is a full-service diner while the other half serves up lounge car fare.

On one occasion, the makeshift equipment set for the Capitol departed Chicago for Washington, D.C., just nine minutes past its scheduled 6:40 p.m. departure time and passed that day’s inbound No. 29 en route. That No. 30 was staffed by a Chicago-based operating and on-board crew.

Amtrak also has decided to have the Toledo-based crews that bring the Lake Shore Limited nto Chicago to layover there and handle the next day’s outbound Capitol Limited

Inbound Capitol Limited crews are expected to have sufficient rest time to make a same-day turn back to Toledo on the eastbound Lake Shore.

Since these crew and equipment assignments have been implemented, Nos. 30 and 48 have departed Chicago either on-time or less than 10 minutes late every day, something that last occurred back in April.

Another factor has been the opening earlier this month of the Englewood flyover, which separated the NS Chicago Line from Metra’s Rock Island District on the south side of Chicago.

Summer track work on NS has been winding down, meaning that there are fewer segments of single tracking occurring.

NS also has been increasing the number of operating crew members assigned to Chicago Line trains through new hires and transfers from elsewhere in the system.

The Amtrak Capitol Limited “self-help plan” has had pros and cons. Amtrak cut the number of coaches assigned to the Capitol Limited from three to two and eliminated the transition sleeper used by the crew.

Nos. 29 and 30 will continue to carry two sleepers, one of which will be used by the on-board crew. The lower level of one of the coaches will also be used to store checked baggage.

With the Capitol Limited now operating with five cars, Amtrak is assigning one P42 locomotive to the train rather than the customary two.

Amtrak expects to save money on fuel and labor cost due to the reduced number of on-board service employees.

It also means that last-minute travelers might find coach seats and sleeper accommodations aboard the train unavailable.

However, Amtrak only expects to continue using the shortened consists through Nov. 18 eastbound and Nov. 20 westbound.

Englewood Flyer in Chicago to be Dedicated

October 19, 2014

Completion of the Englewood Flyover in Chicago will be celebrated with an Oct. 23 ceremony.

The $133 million project included construction of a triple-track bridge to carry three of Metra’s Rock Island District Line tracks over four Norfolk Southern Chicago Line tracks on Chicago’s south side. The flyover opened earlier this month.

The NS line in question hosts Amtrak’s Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, Blue Water, Pere Marquette, and Wolverine Service.

The dedication ceremony will include officials from Norfolk Southern, Metra and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

 

 

NS Says Chicago Line Congestion is Easing

October 9, 2014

An online reported indicated that Norfolk Southern told its fellow railroads during a meeting on Tuesday that it has made progress in untangling congestion on its Chicago Line. Amtrak may also resume operating the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited to Chicago on Saturday, a day earlier than planned.

During the meeting, according to the report, railroads operating in the Chicago Terminal said that delays on the NS Chicago Line had had a negative effect on the performance of all freight railroads.

But NS offered some hope that things would improve by pointing out that it had no dead freight trains tied down for 100 miles east from Chicago.

NS said it might be able to commit to handling the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited over their entire route between Chicago and Cleveland as early as Thursday.

But Amtrak said it had contracted with a bus company through Friday to shuttle passengers between Chicago and Toledo.

Amtrak had originally planned to resume operating trains 29/30 and 48/49 to/from Chicago on Sunday, Oct. 12. Amtrak reportedly is preparing to have equipment sets ready in Chicago as a contingency plan for days when Nos. 29 and 49 arrive in Chicago very late.

Late arriving trains from the East had resulted in  late departures of Nos. 30 and 48 because the equipment makes a same day turn and must be serviced in the interim.

Under normal circumstances, both the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited would reach Chicago by 10 a.m., giving Amtrak workers more than six hours to service the equipment before No. 30 departs at 6:40 p.m. and No. 48 leaves at 9:30 p.m.

During the meeting, one report has it, a representative of the American Association of Railroads warned that negative media reports about poor performing Amtrak trains could undermine the position of the freight railroads in current litigation over the legality of federal on-time standards for Amtrak trains.

There also is a report that NS is routing some oil trains via Kansas City in order to avoid the Chicago terminal.

In the meantime, Amtrak’s eastbound Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited continue to operate hours late. At 6:20 a.m. today, No. 30 was running nearly three hours late out of Cleveland. No. 48 was an hour and a half late and had yet to arrive in Elyria.

Westbound Nos. 29 and 49 were both shown as between Elyria and Oak Harbor. However, the Amtrak website would not provide status information due to a “service disruption.”

All Aboard Ohio Asks Amtrak Passengers to Complain to the STB About Late Trains

October 2, 2014

Although Amtrak trains serving northern Ohio have been subject to long delays all summer, the Surface Transportation Board claims to have not received any complaints about freight railroad caused delays. Now, All Aboard Ohio is calling on Amtrak passengers to document and complain about length delays en route.

The passenger advocacy group is calling for passengers to send email complaints to the STB at

rcpa@stb.dot.gov and provide the following information:

  • The train’s number
  • Approximate time(s) and location(s) of the delay(s)
  • Date(s) of the incident(s)
  • A brief explanation of why the delay was caused by the freight railroad.

The latter could include such things as an Amtrak train stopped while freight trains rolled by, a report from the conductor that a signal problem or track work was to blame to the delay.

“That’s still the freight railroad’s responsibility as they own, maintain and manage the tracks/signals for nearly all of America’s Amtrak trains, including those that pass through Ohio,” All Aboard Ohio said in an email sent on Thursday. Most of the delays have been occurring on Norfolk Southern west of Cleveland.

The Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited have been incurring delays of 60 to 90 minutes between Cleveland and Elkhart, Ind. Over the 101 miles between Elkhart and Chicago delays can last for hours. It is not out of the ordinary for an Amtrak train to need five hours to travel 45 miles.

Take, for example, the case of the westbound Capitol Limited, which left Cleveland on Thursday morning a mere 12 minutes late. Under normal circumstances, the schedule padding would likely ensure that those 12 minutes and then some would be made up before halting at Chicago Union Station.

But that’s not the case anymore. No. 29 promptly lost more than an hour and a half between Cleveland and Elyria. It continued to hover close to two hours late as it made its way west, leaving Elkhart 2 hours and 16 minutes late.

It would lose another two hours before arriving in Chicago at 1:14 p.m.

As bad as that was, its eastbound counterpart had an even tougher time of it. No. 30 got out of Chicago 3.5 hours late and lost three more hours before it reached South Bend. By the time it finally left Cleveland it was nine hours late.

Why the late departure from Chicago? The equipment for No. 30 turns from the same day arrival of No. 29. On Wednesday, No. 29 reached Chicago at 3:49 p.m., 7 hours, 49 minutes late.

The departure time keeps getting move back as the crew must get its rest and the train needs to be cleaned and restocked.

Amtrak passengers are not the only ones complaining about late trains. NS shippers are also suffering because freight is also experiencing horrific delays.

In some cases, freight trains get backed up when one or more of them must stop for to change crews. But the new crew isn’t ready to come on duty and everyone sits.

Even when trains are moving they are subject to delay due to track work in Northwest Indiana that is supposed to add additional track capacity and, in theory, relieve traffic congestion.

How did things get to this point? All Aboard Ohio pointed to record shipments of intermodal freight and crude oil. With a bumper crop expected this year, grain shipment could also set records.

The railroad industry has talked much about its rising freight business, but NS has talked less about a new dispatch software package that installed last January.

All Aboard Ohio said the software needs a lot of debugging.

Unique to Amtrak is the reality that many stations between Chicago and Cleveland can only be access from one track. Thus, the dispatcher must weave Amtrak trains over and back to halt next to the platform in such cities as Elyria, Sandusky, Bryan and Waterloo.

Writing on his blog on the Trains magazine website, columnist Fred Fraley described what is happened on the Chicago Line as not a railroad in meltdown, but rather in dysfunction. “Everything gets done, but slowly and at great cost to the railroad and inconvenience to its freight customers and those of tenant Amtrak,” he wrote.

What happened this week on the NS Chicago Line in Indiana is happening on a lot of railroads right now.

“And it is happening because railroads are not prepared on key routes with the crews, locomotives, or track capacity they need to handle a surge of new business,” Fraley wrote.

Planners Eye 4 Chicago-Porter Passenger Routes

September 21, 2013

Transportation planners from Illinois, Indiana and Michigan have narrowed their options for a double-track passenger route between Chicago and Porter, Ind., to be used by Amtrak trains serving Michigan and the East Coast.

The four route options under consideration would use portions of Canadian National, CSX, Indiana Harbor Belt, Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, and Norfolk Southern tracks. The route options are:

  • Follow Norfolk Southern’s main line east from Chicago Union Station to Porter and build parallel to the current route used by Amtrak trains. To acquire sufficient right-of-way adjacent to the NS main line, the passenger tracks would use a parallel Commonwealth Edison alignment.
  • Follow NS from Chicago Union Station to Gary, Ind., where the passenger line would follow CSX and South Shore routes through Miller and Ogden Dunes, then return to the NS right-of-way for the last stretch into Porter. This option also makes use of ComEd right-of-way near the state line.
  • Follow the same right-of-way as the previous options to Gary and then joins the former Pennsylvania Railroad right-of-way, now abandoned, to Tolleston. From there the passenger route would follow CSX’s Porter Branch into Porter.
  • Follows the St. Charles Air Line east from just south of Chicago Union Station to the Metra Electric line then go south along Metra and CN rights-of-way to Riverdale. There, the route follows the IHB to Tolleston and then the CSX Porter Branch into Porter.

Two of the routes options have routing options near Tolleston that would presumably have grade separation at Porter to send trains over or under the NS main line.

The transportation planners must designate a preferred route as part of the Federal Railroad Administration-mandated environmental impact statement process. The passenger line would be used by Amtrak’s Blue Water, Pere Marquette, Wolverine Service, Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited trains.

These trains currently use NS’s busy freight line between Chicago and Porter, where the routes to Michigan diverge. Officials with the Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan state departments of transportation and FRA are holding a series of public comment meetings to gather further information on the process of determining a final route.

Last week, Matt Webb of the consulting firm HNTB presented the latest developments to a group of about 60 at Chicago Union Station’s Union Gallery.

Other meetings were to take place in Gary, Porter and Dearborn, Mich. The route options presented were chosen from 85 possible route combinations. The initial cut was to 10 options, from which these four emerged.

A Record of Decision on the final preferred route is expected from the FRA by the end of 2014. At that time, interested parties will have a single preferred route for which to arrange funding. The complete EIS process for the Chicago-Porter corridor is expected to cost $4 million. Construction of the passenger corridor, depending on the route chosen, could cost up to $2 billion. Shorter term, some congestion relief on the current NS/Amtrak route should come from a $71.4 million federal high speed rail grant given to Indiana to construct high-speed crossovers or passing tracks at eight locations between Porter and the Illinois border.