Posts Tagged ‘private railroad passenger cars’

Private Car Owners Hear From Amtrak at Convention

September 20, 2019

Those attending a convention of private railroad car owners were urged to continue to work together to ensure that elected officials understand that Amtrak is a public service.

The convention of the American Association of Private Rail Car Owners was held in Albuquerque, which is on the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

The Chief has been at the center of much controversy in recent years including a plan by Amtrak to replace rail service between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, with buses.

That plan was thwarted by Congress.

Karl Ziebarth, chairman of the board, CEO, and general manager of the Santa Fe Southern Railway said one way to influence Amtrak’s future is to weigh in on an authorization bill Congress must approve that will authorize funding for Amtrak.

Amtrak has angered many private rail car owners by restricting the number of locations at which private rail cars can be added or removed from Amtrak trains.

The passenger carrier has also implemented more stringent operating practices governing private rail cars and increased the tariffs charged to handle and haul those cars.

Stephan Robusto of Amtrak’s Commercial Development Group conceded that the new rules have displeased some private rail car owners.

But he said that with those rules now in place car owners will now have a better idea of what moves are possible and what trips they can sell.

Robusto said the approval process for private cars moves will be quicker and more straight forward.

“The good news is that we’re still running private cars,” Robusto said. “Obviously there are a lot of limitations, huge price increases that came out, but at least we’re still running private cars. It could have been a lot worse. It could have been totally thrown out.”

Amtrak views handling private cars as a business proposition, Robusto said, and is not operating as it did in the past just because that was the way that it was always done.

Robusto said Amtrak was losing money on a full allocated cost basis in the handling of private rail cars.

The carrier doesn’t view the handling of private rail cars as an incremental business.

In response to a question about the prospects of Amtrak agreeing to again allow private rail cars to be added to trains at stations with short dwell times, Robusto reiterated Amtrak policy that no delays, even a delay of one minute, will be tolerated.

“We are trying to eliminate any delays we can control,” says Robusto.

When asked if Amtrak intended to fulfill its public mission to provide service to private cars, Robusto said he didn’t believe Amtrak has an obligation to do tthat.

“I believe that we should provide service to private cars because it’s good for Amtrak’s business under the new guidelines,” he said.

Michael DeAngelo, Amtrak’s manager of charter and special movements, said the passenger carrier is no longer handling as many charter and excursion trains in part because of the lack of positive train control systems on some routes.

“If it [route] doesn’t have PTC it doesn’t get past box number one. We will not operate another [excursion train] without PTC,” Robusto said.

Rob Mangels Sr., a mechanical associate for R.L. Banks & Associates said the limited number of terminals at which private cars can be maintained is becoming a problem for private car owners.

“Another thing that’s happening is that Beech Grove has sold off the excess equipment that Amtrak had,” Mangels said.

“That means they don’t have parts, they don’t have drawings, they don’t have the people who know how to deal with it, they don’t have the skill sets to deal with it and within three or four years, there’s going to be a really big brain drain at Amtrak when it comes to handling [heritage passenger] equipment.”

Beech Grove is an Amtrak heavy maintenance shop located in an Indianapolis suburb.

Private Car Trip Celebrates Golden Spike Anniversary

May 8, 2019

In what its organizers have described as likely the last of its kind, four private rail cars are traveling on Amtrak this week as part of the 150th anniversary of the driving of the golden spike in Utah to complete the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.

The cars are Berlin, built by Pullman Standard in 1956 for the Union Pacific; Pacific Union; Cimarron River, built in 1948 as a Pullman sleeping car; and the Milwaukee Super Dome.

Berlin, Pacific Union and Cimarron River are all sleepers.

The cars departed Chicago on May 2 on the Southwest Chief. They transferred in Los Angeles to the Coast Starlight and later transferred to the California Zephyr.

The trip is being sponsored by Altiplano Rail and was marketed as the Golden Spike Rail Tour.

A spokesman for Altiplano Rail told Trains magazine that due to increased Amtrak fees and restrictions on operations of private rail cars “this will likely be one of the last trips we operate.”

Amtrak Won’t Handle Private Car Moves at WUS

April 21, 2019

Amtrak is citing construction work at Washington Union Station in refusing requests to allow private passenger cars to use the facility for layover and switching.

The passenger carrier has denied requests for some trips that were to originate in Washington.

In particular, Amtrak said work on rebuilding the station concourse will restrict its ability to accommodate private cars there.

The work involves rebuilding the concourse to increase passenger capacity and provide new amenities.

Over the next 20 years Amtrak will seek to double the station’s train capacity.

Amtrak has told private car owners that their cars may no longer be switched onto or off of almost all trains in Washington. The carrier has also banned parking of private cars in the terminal. This situation is expected to last for up to two years.

Although Amtrak said it couldn’t say how many private rail car trips were affected, the Washington Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society has said it has been forced to cancel three trips involving its car Dover Harbor.

Rising Amtrak Fees Prompt New River Train Cancellation

February 27, 2019

Amtrak’s changing practices pertaining to private rail cars have claimed another victim, the New River Train.

The Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society said this week that it will not operate the train this year due to high fees demanded by Amtrak.

The excursions have operated for 52 years, usually between Huntington and Hinton, West Virginia, during two weekends in October.

Trains magazine reported that the society said Amtrak jacked up its fees to operate the train by 9.6 percent two weeks after it gave the organization a price quote in January operate the service.

Society officials decided that the fees would make it uneconomical to run the excursion this year.

Amtrak said rising labor costs attributed to its increasing its initial price quote.

The 2018 New River Train lost more than $100,000, which society officials attributed to Amtrak’s raising fees after the trip had been announced.

The 2018 trip had been budgeted based on Amtrak’s published Oct. 1, 2017, tariffs.

The New River Train was the last scheduled mainline passenger operation in the United States. Earlier this year the last scheduled steam mainline excursion, the Denver Post train to Cheyenne, Wyoming, over Union Pacific rails, was canceled for this year.

The New River Train typically carried 4,800 passengers in 30-car consists. Many of those cars were privately owned rail cars.

At various times during its five-decade run the New River Train was pulled by steam locomotives, including Nickel Plate Road No. 765, Milwaukee Road No. 261, Chesapeake & Ohio No. 614, and Pere Marquette No. 1225.

The train provides an estimated $8 million annual economic benefit to West Virginia, particularly to Hinton where it lays over during its daylight run.

Society officials said they hope the suspension of the New River Train is only temporary.

Amtrak OIG Critical of Private Car Practices

February 10, 2019

A report by Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General has found that the carrier has significant deficiencies in how it handles the financial accounting and policy making for its handling of private railroad passenger cars.

The IG report described it as a “longstanding management weaknesses in the company’s transport program for privately owned rail cars, including inadequate controls for cost and revenue management, a lack of standard operating procedures, and limited safety and parking guidelines.”

The report said additional steps are needed beyond those recently taken in order “to ensure the company can make sound business decisions about operating the program, covering its costs, and mitigating potential safety and liability risks.”

Between 2015 and 2017 Amtrak earned nearly $14 million for 1,144 private railcar movements and 315 long-term parking transactions,

However, Amtrak officials “did not know whether its billing and pricing model actually covered the costs of services provided to private rail car owners,” the IG report said.

Amtrak management told the IG it has not identified and accounted for costs associated with private rail car services because Amtrak has historically taken the position that it does not incur additional costs to move the cars on scheduled trains and that the program is relatively small compared to other activities the company must manage.

Amtrak officials also have provided at no cost some ancillary services as power, water and ice rather than deal with the administrative burden of tracking each time those services were provided.

The IG report also was critical of Amtrak for missing out on opportunities to generate additional revenue by not adjusting prices during periods of peak demand, such as during the annual New Orleans Jazz Festival or the Washington Cherry Blossom Festival.

Amtrak’s accounting practices have led to lost revenue because the carrier has not established standard operating procedures or guidelines to manage the handling of private cars.

The report said a review of 3 percent of transactions between 2015 and 2017 revealed that inconsistent billing practices—practices not previously established by operating procedures—led to a loss of $46,100 in revenue.

As the Office of Inspector General was undertaking its review, Amtrak “took steps to address these deficiencies, such as developing initial operating procedures for program staff, developing a safety manual to which private rail car owners must abide while in transit, establishing safety guidelines for private rail car owners parked in a Los Angeles rail yard, and establishing long-term parking permits requiring owners to adhere to company rules, regulations, and directives.”

However, the IG report concluded that these actions do not go far enough in addressing the weaknesses it found and recommended Amtrak better identify its program costs and factor them into decisions about the prices it charges private rail car owners for its services.

Another recommendation is that Amtrak “monitor the program’s financial and performance reporting, finalize and implement the program’s standard operating procedures, and implement guidelines and parking permits at all short- and long-term parking facilities.”

In an appendix, Amtrak said it agreed with all of the report’s recommendations.

Amtrak has hosted private railroad passenger cars since its 1971 inception, typically by carrying them on regularly scheduled trains.

The carrier has over the years charged various fees for such services as parking, switching, power, water and ice, septic pumping, and car washing.

Amtrak to Increase Private Car Fees Again

November 5, 2018

Amtrak has told private car owners that it plans to increase various fees that it charges them to haul and store their cars effective Jan. 1, 2019.

The increases are part of another round of rule changes being implemented by the passenger carrier.

It is the second time in the past eight months that Amtrak has increased its private-car tariffs.

The new rate will become $3.67 per mile, an increase of more than 12 percent from the $3.26 fee imposed on May 1, 2018.

In the past year, Amtrak has increased the cost of hauling a private car 77 cents per mile for an increase of 26 percent.
Overnight parking rates will become $174 per night. They had been $155.

The monthly parking rate at Amtrak terminals will increase to $3,516 per month, up from $3,125.

If another locomotive is added to a train that has added private cars that fee will increase to $5.74 per mile. The previous rate had been $5.10 per mile.

Other charges that Amtrak is imposing include daily locomotive charge of $1,970 and a head end power daily charge of $2,692.

Further, Amtrak said it “reserves the right to change the terms and rates contained herein at any time.”

The carrier did agree to honor the rates contained in a confirmation agreed to before any rate increases go into effect.

In a win for private car owners, Amtrak has restoring Oakland, California, as a connecting point at which cars can connect between the Coast Starlight and the California Zephyr. Making that connection will cost $2,065 per occurrence.

The rule changes slated to go into effect includes a clause that private car owners or the person in charge of a private car shall not offer business courtesies to any Amtrak employee.

This includes such things as “presents, gifts, hospitality, or favor for which fair market value is not paid by the recipient.”

The rules also cite meals, drinks, entertainment, door prizes, and transportation as examples of business courtesies, among any gifts or services with a value greater than $10.

The new guidelines also contain additional details regarding professional conduct, inspection and repair guidelines, and insurance and liability requirements.

Amtrak Won’t Allow Being on Open Platform Cars

June 11, 2018

Amtrak has revised its safety manual for private rail car owners to prohibit passengers aboard open platform cars from riding or standing on the platform while the car is in motion.

The manual said the rule applies to cars attached to any Amtrak revenue train or charter operation.

“Failure to adhere to this safety rule could result in the private car owner being suspended or revoked from operation on any Amtrak train or charter train,” the rules states.

A related rule requires that vestibule doors and windows shall be closed and latched before a train departs and remain closed until it comes to a halt at the next station.

The safety manual is a 15-page documents that spells out in detail Amtrak’s rules and expectations for private car owners and their passengers.

The manual also notes that starting on May 14, 2018, the procedure for scheduling the annual, 40 Year, and 10 year follow-up inspections is now being managed Amtrak’s Centralized National Operations Center.

Amtrak’s mechanical maintenance facilities are no longer available to perform these periodic inspections.

Private Car Owners Plotting Next Moves

May 30, 2018

Private passenger car owners huddled last week to plot their next moves in response to changes in Amtrak’s policies toward handling their cars.

The policy changes have raised fees and restricted how often and where private cars can operate.

The meeting involved members of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners and the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance.

Although the joint meeting did not produce any announced major strategy initiatives, AAPRCO President Bob Donnelley said the policy changes are forcing many of his group’s members to close or curtail their operations.”

PRCA president Roger Fuehring said Amtrak’s actions have adversely affected employees, suppliers, and the hospitality industry that works with private rail car trips.

Some Private Car Owners Disappointed in Amtrak Policy, Fee Changes

April 24, 2018

In the aftermath of a change in Amtrak policy for handling of private rail cars, some car owners told Trains magazine they are disappointed in the new policy and how the passenger carrier is jacking up the fees it charges to haul and service their cars.

Amtrak’s new policy restricts where private rail cars will be handled and in particular limits where the cars can be added or removed from Amtrak trains at intermediate stations.

Some car owners said the higher tariffs and operating restrictions will make their business more challenging and expensive.

Some car owners are trying to be philosophical with Altiplano Railtours owner Adam Auxier telling Trains it is better to have bad news you know than good news you don’t know.

Auxier said private car owners need to be able to plan their trips nearly a year in advance.

Many private car owners sell tickets to the public to ride in their cars on set dates.

Railroad Passenger Car Alliance President Roger W. Fuehring told Trains that some changes in how Amtrak handled private cars is disappointing.

In particular he cited the inability to store cars near Washington Union Station, the ending of some mechanical services, and a sudden increase in fees.

Fuehring said Amtrak had increased its tariffs every October, but now has warned private car owners that those fees can be increased at anytime at Amtrak’s discretion.

“How can anyone plan their business with such small margins when we don’t know what the tariff rates will be day to day?” Fuehring said. “What does the tariff matter if Amtrak has the ability to adjust the rates again?”

Burt Hermey owns four original California Zephyr cars that he stores in Los Angeles.

He said the fee increases are putting him into the difficult position of having to tell his customers they need to pay more for upcoming trips.

Hermey said he created fares based on the October 2017 tariffs.

He explained that Amtrak will now only do what is necessary to bring a car that is in the middle of a trip back into FRA compliance.

“A strict reading of that would seem to indicate that defects identified during an annual inspection would need to be repaired elsewhere,” Hermey said.

Hermey believes that the rule changes show that, “Amtrak management wants us off the property despite the multiple millions of dollars we pay each year, most of which flows to their bottom line. It’s also clear how little they value that segment of their business.”

Amtrak Raising Private Car Fees

April 23, 2018

As Amtrak is restricting where private railroad cars can operate it is also jacking up the rates that it charges to carry, switch and store them.

A new fee structure effective May 1 will increase the base rate to carry a private car will be $3.26 per mile, an increase of more than 12 percent from the current rate of $2.90 per mile.

Additional cars will be $2.50 per mile, up from the current $2.22 base rate.

The overnight base parking fee will rise to $155 with some facilities charging even more.

In Portland, Oregon, for example, the overnight parking rate will be $270. In Boston it will be $360. In Chicago, the premium daily parking rate will be $600.

Short-term and long-term parking fees are also rising to $2,400, up from $2,085 for short time parking and $1,600 per month, an increase from $1,391, for long-term parking.

Terminal switching fees and waste-tank service costs now incur an annual $400 administrative fee.

Amtrak last increased fees for private car owners on Oct. 1, 2017, using an Association of American Railroads quarterly index of prices and wage rates.

In its latest private car tariffs, Amtrak said its rates are subject to change “from time to time at the discretion of Amtrak.”