Posts Tagged ‘Southwest Chief’

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

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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

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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.

Track Out of Alignment Before S.W. Chief Crash

March 17, 2016

Investigators probing the derailment of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief early Monday say that the cause might be the rail being out of alignment after it was struck by a truck.

During a news conference, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator said the truck moved the rail 12 to 14 inches. The incident occurred a day before the derailment, which resulted in 32 people being treated at two Kansas hospitals for injuries sustained during the accident.

None of the injuries was life-threatening.

STBThe Los Angeles to Chicago bound train was traveling at 60 miles per hour just before the derailment, which occurred between Dodge City and Garden City, Kansas.

The train was carrying 131 passengers and 14 crew members.

NTSB investigators said the train’s engineer spotted a bend in the tracks and applied the emergency brakes, but was unable to avert the derailment, which occurred 18 seconds later.

The truck that hit the track was carrying cattle feed and belonged to Cimarron Crossing Feeders LLC.

The NTSB posted on its Twitter feed photographs of the truck and said that the company that owned it has been cooperative in the investigation.

BNSF owns the track and has repaired them. Amtrak said that Nos. 3 and 4 have resumed using the route.

A passenger aboard the train said she was lying across two seats trying to sleep when the derailment occurred.

“I heard and felt this horrible thundering and rumbling sound,” said Laurel Saiz of Syracuse, New York. “It lasted about five or six seconds and the train started turning over.”

Saiz, a journalism professor at Onondaga Community College in upstate New York, suffered a broken collar bone.

“In my mind, I told myself, this is a train derailment,” she said.

Saiz was on the right side of the Superliner coach, which then flipped over onto its left side.

She said she was thrown from her seat to the opposite side of the train and doesn’t remember what happened next.

“I just remember landing flat,” Saiz said. “I must of hit the other seats on the way down. I think that’s when I broke my collarbone.”

After the car came to a halt, Saiz said she heard an older man beg for help. “He said he couldn’t breathe and that he felt like he was dying,” she said. “That was horrible because I couldn’t do much to help.”

Rescue workers arrived on the scene within minutes and passengers who were not injured were able to help the older man.

Saiz said passengers had to climb a ladder to get out of their car and then reach the ground on another ladder.

A professional musician who was traveling back to his New York City home after playing a gig in Santa Fe, New Mexico, said he feels fortunate to still be alive after being seriously injured.

The musician, a percussionist and video artist who was born as Stefan Joel Weisser but goes by the name Z’EV, said time seemed to stand still once the train left the tracks.

“The train’s going along and then all of a sudden I could tell that they’re like hitting the brakes,” he said. “And then there’s this kind of, like, crack and then the train flips.”

Z’EV said flew in the air seven feet before landing on a seat’s arm rest.

“I knew I was hurt,” he said. “And then I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up the next morning in the hospital.”

Z’EV suffered five broken ribs on his left side and expects to remain hospitalized through the end of the week.

He expected it will take up to a year for his bones to heal. He hospitalized in Amarillo, Texas.

“Considering I use my arms in performing, you know it’s not clear whether–how much I’m going to be able to work,” Z’EV said.

“I can think of better ways to spend the next six months,” he said as he laughed. “The momentous things in your life, eventually you come to realize what it was about.”

Z’EV said he lacks health insurance so his Friends and fans have created a Go Fund Me page to help him pay for medical bills. So far, they’ve raised more than $22,000 of their $30,000 goal.

The page is at https://www.gofundme.com/kqu6bed4

Ft. Madison to Pay for Depot Platform Redesign

November 23, 2015

The Fort Madison (Iowa) City Council has approved hiring a consulting firm to redesign the platform of the city’s former Santa Fe Depot. The project began in 2007 but has been hung over a dispute over platform design.

Amtrak had asked that the 500-foot platform be extended to 1,000 feet, but BNSF objected to the original design for the extension.

“We had the train stopping in a curve and they (BNSF) said that can’t happen,”said City Manager David Varley.

The council approved paying almost $30,000 to Klingner & Associates to redesign the platform.

BNSF has told the Iowa Department of Transportation that the platform must be moved 250 feet eastward so that it will not be located on a curve.

Although the city will have to bear the expense of redesigning the platform, Councilman Rusty Andrews said that is pocket change for a project of this magnitude.

“For a long time I’ve been saying this is our field of dreams — if we build it, they will come — and we keep getting pushed off,” Andrews said. “We keep spending money on it, and some day Amtrak will sign on the dotted line.”

Fort Madison is served by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.