Posts Tagged ‘Southwest Chief’

Operating Issues Plague Amtrak Trains

May 3, 2017

Amtrak long distance trains serving the Midwest have been hit with a long list of woes that have caused service disruptions, detours and cancellations.

The Texas Eagle was forced to detour in southern Missouri after a washout on its route via the Union Pacific’s Iron Mountain Subdivision prompted a detour on the former Cotton Belt route between St. Louis and Polar Bluff, Missouri.

Consequently Nos. 21 and 22 missed the scheduled stop at Arcadia Valley, Missouri, and ran late, arriving in Chicago 11 hours late on Sunday.

The Southwest Chief was delayed by a spring snowstorm between Dodge City, Kansas, and Lamar, Colorado, on Sunday that led to No. 3 being more than 15 hours late arriving in Los Angeles.

BNSF personnel provided grade crossing protecting during whiteout conditions.

A head-on collision of two Canadian National trains at Money, Mississippi, on Sunday caused the City of New Orleans to be terminated en route.

Passengers were taken from bus from Memphis to New Orleans on Sunday and Monday.

Northbound passengers rode a bus from Jackson, Mississippi, to Memphis on both days.

A BNSF derailment on Monday led to the Empire Builder being detoured in both directions. Nos. 7 and 8 were expected to detour on Tuesday over a Union Pacific route between Spokane, Washington, and Sandpoint, Idaho.

Lawrence Expects to Take Ownership of Station

May 2, 2017

The Lawrence, Kansas, city commission will review today an agreement with BNSF that would give the city ownership and control of the Amtrak station later this year.

City officials said BNSF has decided to give up its stake in the former Santa Fe depot and property on which it sits.

The commission had earlier approved a pace with the railroad regarding station ownership.

“It’s very good for us, because we will have significant investment in the building itself and also in the site,” said Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard. “And for us to be able to control it at the local level long term will be to our advantage.”

The station, which is served by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, was built in the 1950s and has received minimal maintenance in recent years.

Lawrence will use a $1.2 million state transportation grant to renovate the building. The city’s contribution is expected to be $160,000.

Under the agreement being considered by the city, BNSF will donate the depot and land to the city. An earlier agreement by which BNSF would lease back or repurchase the station has been dropped.

BNSF officials said that they dropped their demands for a lease back or repurchase clause in order to simply the negotiations.

However, Stoddard said those changes in BNSF’s stance came from the CEO-level of the railroad.

“Donating the land with the building allowed us to streamline the transfer process,” said BNSF Public Affairs Director Andy Williams, adding that the railroad doesn’t anticipate needing the station in the future.

Stoddard also said the elimination of the lease-back provision means the station will be able to be used for various uses during daytime hours when Amtrak is not using it.

“With that no longer in play, it does provide a host of options for the city to consider with regard to the use of the building into the future,” Stoddard said. “Those things will need to be determined over time.”

Fort Madison Station Upgrades Put on Hold

April 19, 2017

Officials in Fort Madison, Iowa, say that plans for Amtrak to use a different station are on hold.

“We can’t spend tax money on this or the funds we have unless we have a good assurance that it’s going to [go] forward and stay in,” said City Manager David Varley.

He was referring to the lack of a state budget in Iowa and federal budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration that would end all funding for Amtrak long-distance trains.

Fort Madison will pony up 25 percent of the $1.2 million needed to upgrade the Santa Fe Depot for Amtrak’s use.

“We are going to do what we can on our part but at the same time we have to be responsible,” Varley said.

Fort Madison is the only stop in Iowa for Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

SW Chief to Benefit from BNSF Track Work in Kansas

January 26, 2017

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief will benefit from planned capital expenditures planned for its route in Kansas in 2017

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2BNSF said it will spend $125 million in the Sunflower State, most of it on rails used by the Chicago-Los Angeles train.

BNSF spokesman Andy Williams said the work will include replacing ties, laying new rail and adding ballast.

The work will be undertaken between Emporia and Topeka, and between Newton and Garden City.

Earlier track work done in western Kansas was instrumental in helping to keep the Chief on its present route. That work was funded largely with federal TIGER grants.

City Manager Says New Amtrak Station Platform in Fort Madison May be Completed This Year

January 18, 2017

Amtrak is waiting on Federal Railroad Administration approval of a new platform reconstruction project in Fort Madison, Iowa.

Amtrak 4City officials said that although the project was projected to go out for bids in April, that is now more likely to occur in May or June. Construction is expected to take six to eight months.

The project will move the Amtrak stop for the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief to the former Santa Fe passenger station, which has recently been rehabilitated.

Fort Madison City manager David Varley said once the FRA signs off on the project the platform plans will be reviewed by BNSF, which owns the station site.

“The final construction plans have been submitted,” Varley said.

Once BNSF reviews the platform plans, they will be passed on to the Iowa Department of Transportation for its review. “IDOT will be the group that will be bidding out the project,” Varley said.

Also, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must issue a 404 permit because the Amtrak platform will be located in a flood plain.

“We are working on getting that permit, which is required,” Varley said. “We are trying to tie up some of the final paperwork and review of the final plans approved, and once that all gets together, we will get a definitive date as to when it will go on a schedule as to when it will go to be bid out.”

And then the Fort Madison City Council will need to approve the plans.

“We need to clarify what the duties and responsibilities of both parties are,” Varley said. “These have to be approved by both parties before the project goes out to bid and before construction starts.”

Despite having a lot of hoops to jump through, Varley does not expect any problems to crop up that will keep the platform from being built.

Amtrak Adds Vacation Deals to National Parks

November 12, 2016

Amtrak Vacations has introduced 25 new rail-based vacation packages, increasing to about 350 the number of its offerings.

Amtrak logo“There are more than 350 itineraries total, an infinite number of variations,” said Frank Marini, president of Amtrak Vacations. “You can add, build, or change anything you want based on the customers’ needs.”

The new packages are centered around travel to U.S. national parks.

Called the Grand National Parks, the trips originate in Chicago and include visits to Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.

The 13-day package includes eight nights’ hotel accommodation, four nights onboard Amtrak and two meals, and is priced starting at $2,849.

Trains involved include the California Zephyr, Southwest Chief and the Coast Starlight.

“We watch what people are tailor-making and when we see a trend we create a package,” Marini said. “We introduce new programs throughout the year, not just at official launch dates.”

He said Amtrak Vacations has seen an increase in business as domestic travel has increased.

Express Cars Remind Me of George Warrington

October 29, 2016

race-26

Whenever I see a photo of an express car attached to an Amtrak train I think of George Warrington.

I will always remember the former Amtrak president for saying that Amtrak was on a glide path to profitability. Mail and express revenue was the centerpiece of the “flight plan.”

On paper the idea that Amtrak could use head-end revenue to wipe out its operating deficits might have made sense.

For many years the private railroads did well with head-end business. Then the post office yanked most of the railway post office cars and head-end business was diverted to freight trains.

Of course the railroads had more of an infrastructure to handle head-end business back then. They also had dedicated mail and express trains and/or carried most of their head-end business on slow locals.

So Amtrak was trying to gin up business that it had never seriously sought before. Amtrak over the years has carried some mail, but it never sought to emulate the late Railway Express Agency until the early 2000s.

Warrington was probably telling Congress what some of its members wanted to hear. They didn’t want to fund Amtrak in the first place and there was political advantage to be gained by sniping about its financial losses.

Shown is an express car on the rear in the Southwest Chief, which is passing through Riverside, Illinois, on the BNSF raceway.

If you rode Amtrak back in the early 2000s, you probably remember your train pulling out of Chicago Union Station and stopping to add head-end cars.

The crew assured you the time needed to do that was built into the schedule.

Warrington’s sucessor, David Gunn, gave up on head-end business although it took awhile for it to cease altogether.

Some of those express cars that Amtrak leased or acquired are still in service and can be spotted on manifest freights from time to time. Some of them are still wearing their Amtrak silver.

Colorado Official Wins Amtrak Award for His Work to Preserve Existing Route of Southwest Chief

September 14, 2016

A Colorado public official has received recognition from Amtrak for his efforts to save the Southwest Chief.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace will receive the 2016 President’s Service and Safety Award in the Amtrak Champion category.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2Former Amtrak President and CEO Joseph H. Boardman wrote to Pace last month about his winning the award for his work to keep the Chicago-Los Angeles train on its existing route through southeast Colorado.

Boardman said Pace’s support was helpful in the project to save the Chief receiving a Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery grant that was used to rebuild the decaying BNSF tracks used by the train.

“It was a pleasant surprise to be recognized,” Pace said. “It’s the highest recognition for the support of passenger trains in the U.S. Obviously I didn’t earn it myself. There’s other folks in Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico who have been working hard on the Southwest Chief.

“It’s evident that when a dedicated group works together it can get anything accomplished.”

Although Pace was scheduled to receive his award on Sept. 23 in Washington, he will instead be speaking on that day at the behest of Amtrak at a conference in Cincinnati.

That conference will address route issues facing Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal. “They are facing similar issues that the Chief was facing a few years ago,” Pace said.

“I will speak about our coalition and the work we’ve done here in Colorado. Also protecting the Chief and what we have done to enhance it with a stop in Pueblo.”

Pace said he continues to work to have the Chief rerouted via Pueblo.

Southwest Chief Superliners Leaving Joliet

September 7, 2016

img051-x

It is a Saturday afternoon in Joliet, Illinois. The date: Sept. 9, 1995. I’m spending time at Joliet Union Station catching whatever trains that I can, including a few Amtrak trains.

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief is still using the Santa Fe route between Chicago and Galesburg, Illinois.

The train from Los Angeles is departing Joliet and will be in Chicago Union Station in about an hour having just begun the final leg of its 2,200-mile journey.

It is passing beneath a venerable signal bridge that held semaphore signals when I first saw it years earlier.

The Superliner equipment assigned to the Southwest Chief on this day is wearing the Phase III livery that was in vogue back then.

Has it been that long since this scheme was the state of the art look for Amtrak rolling stock? Yes it has been my friend, yes it has.

Study Backs S.W. Chief Connecting Train to Pueblo

July 19, 2016

A study has found that Amtrak’s Southwest Chief would gain an additional 14,000 passengers and net more than $1.445 million in revenue if it were to have a connection section serving Pueblo, Colorado.

The study proposed starting a stub-end train that would shuttle between Pueblo and the current Chief stop in LaJunta, Colorado.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2The connecting train would have through cars to and from Chicago.

The distance between LaJunta and Pueblo is 64 miles and has been without intercity rail passenger service since a Santa Fe train between LaJunta and Denver was discontinued on May 1, 1971.

The study was conducted by the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Southwest Chief Rail Line Economic Development, Rural Tourism, and Infrastructure Repair and Maintenance Commission Fund.

The ridership estimates were based on an Amtrak model that projects patronage for a one-seat ride.

The study did not attempt to factor in operating, switching, labor, or infrastructure costs. Nor did it examine potential ridership for through service to points west of LaJunta.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said passenger carrier is encouraged by the findings and will continue to work with Colorado interests who have sought the service.

Colorado interests say their next step is to obtain cost estimates from the host railroads.