Archive for the ‘Railroad News’ Category

Capitol Limited Gets Diner-Lounge

October 21, 2014

If the Capitol Limited looks a little shorter these days, it is. Through Nov. 18 on Train No. 30 and through No. 20 on Train No. 29, the Capitol will have just one food service car, a combined diner-lounge.

Previously, the standard consist of Nos. 29 and 30 included a dining car and Sightseer lounge.

But Amtrak recently scraped together an extra equipment set for the Capitol as a hedge against late arrivals in Chicago by No. 29 that resulted in No. 30 departing late as well.

That was because the equipment that terminated in Chicago on No. 29 made a same day turn there to become that day’s departing No. 30.

Amtrak said that half of the diner-lounge will be devoted to full-service dining while the other half will be used as a lounge.

An Amtrak news release suggested that the meals available in the full-service dining section of the car will be the same as those available in a regular diner.

The news release cited “extreme freight train interference on the Norfolk Southern Railway in Ohio and Indiana” as prompting the equipment shuffling.

“Delays caused by freight train congestion leaves insufficient time to service trains at the end points for their return trip,” Amtrak said in the news release.

Amtrak Ridership Declined in FY 2014

October 21, 2014

Amtrak’s string of record-breaking ridership records was snapped last month. For fiscal year 2014, which ended on Sept. 30, Amtrak’s system ridership fell from 31.56 million in 2013 to 30.92 million in 2014.

Excessive tardiness caused by host railroad freight congestion led to declines in patronage of key long-distance trains, which depressed the overall patronage number despite a 10 percent surge in ridership in the Northeast Corridor.

Patronage of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder was down by 17 percent in September, with Nos. 7 and 8 carrying 450,932 in FY 2014.

The Empire Builder had Amtrak’s highest ridership among long-distance trains in FY 2013, but in FY 2014, it was eclipsed by the Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight, which carried 459,450.

The Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited saw its ridership decline by 11.6 percent in September. Long-distance train ridership fell by about 200,000 during FY 2014.

Another factor in the diminished system ridership was a technological advance. Previously, Amtrak estimated multi-ride ticketholder numbers, but now it can record precise ridership numbers because each passenger’s ticket is scanned aboard the train.

This affected ridership numbers for such commuter-heavy routes as California’s Capitol, Pennsylvania’s Keystone, and Maine’s Downeaster corridors where the patronage was down by 589,000.

Ticket sales for the long-distance fleet fell by more than $15 million in FY 2014, but that was offset by sales on other trains that enabled Amtrak to post another revenue record. In FY 2014, Amtrak ticket sales were up 4 percent to $2.189 million compared with $2.105 million in FY 2013.

Much of the increase came from an 8.2 percent boost in the Northeast Corridor, which accounts for 54.5 percent of the Amtrak’s system ticket sales. Long-distance trains generate 23.3 percent of ticket sales while state-supported routes provide 22.2 percent.

Englewood Flyer to be Dedicated

October 20, 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.

 

 

Amtrak Reaches Cleveland Before 6 a.m. Today

October 17, 2014

It may not be worth stopping the presses to report, but all four Amtrak trains serving Northeast Ohio arrived in Cleveland today (Friday, Oct. 17), before 6 a.m.

The eastbound Lake Shore Limited was a mere nine minutes late, even making up four minutes of time after leaving Elyria.

Alas, the eastbound Capitol Limited was the spoiler, having halted in Cleveland nearly 3.5 hours late at 5:44 a.m.

As for the westbound trains, No. 29 arrived at 3:31 a.m. (39 minutes late) and No. 49 arrived right behind it at 3:44 a.m. (7 minutes late).

How will those trains fare getting into Chicago? It is tough to say as the performance of Nos. 29 and 49 has been all over the map for the past few days.

On Thursday, No. 29 was 39 minutes late at Cleveland, but nearly two hours late arriving into Chicago. The Capitol got there at 10:37 a.m., whereas the scheduled arrival time is 8:45 a.m.

The Capitol Limited was just over an hour late into Cleveland on Wednesday and 1:34 late into Chicago. On Tuesday, it was 59 minutes late at Cleveland, but 3:35 late into Chicago.

No. 49 has followed a similar pattern. On Thursday, it was nearly 3 hours late at Cleveland and 4:11 late into Chicago. The scheduled arrival time in the Windy City for the Lake Shore Limited is 9:45 a.m.

On Wednesday, the Lake Shore Limited was 48 minutes late at Cleveland and 56 minutes late into Chicago. On Tuesday No. 49 was 44 minutes late into Cleveland, but 4:15 late into Chicago.

The eastbound Capitol Limited had its best day on Wednesday when it arrived in Cleveland 56 minutes late. The scheduled arrival time is 1:45 a.m.

No. 30 was 2:17 late on Thursday and nearly three hours late on Tuesday.

The eastbound Lake Shore Limited was 1:55 late on Thursday, 3:06 late on Wednesday and 6:37 late on Tuesday.

Neither Amtrak nor its passengers can be pleased with these performances although there is a glimmer of hope that things are looking up and the excessive late running that has plagued these trains over the past two months may become more of an abnormality rather than the rule.

Heavy Rains Strand ex-Algoma Central Train

October 17, 2014

Passengers and crew aboard a former Algoma Central passengers train had to be rescued after flooding in a remote area of Ontario stranded their train.

The train, operated by Canadian National, was bound from Heast to Sault Ste. Marie when heavy rains brought the train to a halt near Wabos.

The passengers and crew were rescued by high-rail vehicles. The train operates tri-weekly.

STB Wants Info From NS on Amtrak Delays

October 15, 2014

The Surface Transportation Board has asked Norfolk Southern to address the on-time woes of Amtrak trains that it hosts in the upper Midwest.

The letter asked NS how it intends resolve the on-time performance problems of Amtrak passenger trains using NS tracks.

The STB cited serious delays that have occurred on NS, singling out Amtrak’s Chicago-Washington, D.C. Capitol Limited and the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited. Also adversely affected have been trains that operate between Chicago and various Michigan cities.

These routes collectively carried 1.5 million passengers in 2013 on 14 daily trains, an average of 294 riders per train.

Ridership had been growing on these routes in most years since 2000, but has since stagnated due to the delays.

Federal law states that a host freight railroad that fails to meet an 80 percent on-time performance standard for Amtrak passenger trains in two consecutive quarters may be fined by the STB.

However, the measures used to determine Amtrak’s on-time performance are currently being challenged in court by the railroad industry. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in that case in December.

The STB letter, sent on Oct. 6, requested the NS provide information pertaining to:

  • The primary causes of delays experienced by Amtrak trains on NS lines.
  • Locations where delays occur most frequently.
  • Measures that NS is taking to improve Amtrak performance, including but not limited to expansion of network capacity and resources, changes to train dispatching protocols and procedures, and modifications of network operating plans.
  • NS’s expectation of when Amtrak service will improve.

The on-time performance of the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited fell to 4 percent and 16 percent, respectively, in August with the average delay per arrival being four hours.

All Aboard Ohio has reported that most of the delays occurred west of Toledo and in areas where track construction was occurring, much of it in Indiana.

The track work includes installing a third main track between Goshen and Elkhart, Ind., and between Porter, Ind., and the Illinois-Indiana border.

Although the Englewood Flyover in Chicago, which has recently been phased into service, separated the NS Chicago Line from an at-grade rail-rail crossing with the Metra Rock Island District, All Aboard Ohio noted that this project was designed in 2010 to address rail traffic levels of four years ago, not the boom in rail traffic which has occurred since.

Of late, the worst of the traffic congestion has been occurring between Toledo and Cleveland.

Amtrak and NS intermodal trains have had to snake their way around lower priority freight trains awaiting fresh crews.

Some observers have contended that the delays have been made worse by errors caused by NS’s new Auto-Router computer-aided dispatching software.

The Ohio passenger advocacy groups contends that all Northern Ohio stations are limited in their ability to process passengers from more than one track, requiring passenger trains to run against the flow of rail traffic half of the time to reach a station platform.

All Aboard Ohio contends that this “slalom” causes up to 80 minutes of delay per day to Amtrak trains and at least as much delay to NS freight traffic.

CSX Receives Award for New Pittsburgh Facility

October 15, 2014

CSX has been awarded a 2013 Economic Development Partner of the Year Award by the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association for the railroad’s work in developing an intermodal facility on a brownfield site in Pittsburgh.

The former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad yard at McKees Rocks is being repurposed in the $58 million project that will be part of the CSX National Gateway linking the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions.

The project is being developed in cooperation with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Allegheny County Economic Development, McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation, Stowe Township Commission and Trinity Commercial Developments.

 

NS Cites Progress in Untangling Congestion

October 14, 2014

Norfolk Southern on Monday published on its website an overview of the progress that it is making to untangle the traffic congestion that at times has brought the Chicago Line to a standstill and delayed Amtrak trains for hours. The report can be found by clicking this link:

http://www.nscorp.com/content/nscorp/en/ship-with-norfolk-southern/service-update.html

Some of the highlights include:

  • NS qualified more than 100 conductors in September and will qualify nearly 600 conductors during the fourth quarter. Most of them are located on the Northern Region between Chicago and New Jersey.
  • Completed the transfer of 120 conductors and engineers to service on the Dearborn Division.
  • Placed nearly half of the 1,400 new conductor trainees into field training phase with plans to hire an additional 200 to 250 trainees by the end of this year and 1,200 to 1,500 conductors in 2015.
  • Put approximately 250 additional locomotives into service today as compared to the same period last year.
  • Expects to take delivery of the remaining 50 of the 75 new locomotives planned for purchase this by the end of December.
  • Will begin phasing in operations of the expanded Bellevue, Ohio, classification yard in December with full implementation of operations occurring during the first quarter of 2015. The expanded yard is expected to provide additional capacity on the Northern Region and improve fluidity of traffic by reducing car handling, car miles, and transit times.
  • The Englewood Flyover in Chicago is now operational and will eliminate potential conflicts with 70 commuter trains per day on the Metra Rock Island District.
  • Has increased fluidity across the Northern Region by having select trains bypass Elkhart, Ind., when appropriate.
  • Continues to work with connecting railroads to establish alternative gateways to reduce rail traffic congestion in Chicago.
  • More than 80 percent of the rail, tie, and surfacing work on the Northern region has been completed.

The report went on to note that performance has greatly diminished. Terminal dwell in Elkhart is substantially worse than a year ago, 28.7 hours in the fourth quarter of 2013 vs. 46.9 hours in September 2014. It was at its worst in the last week of September 2014, at over 52 hours.

Terminal dwell in Bellevue also suffered, 28.2 hours vs. 44.9.

The average train speed system wide is down substantially in 2014 compared with the same two periods in 2013, from 23.8 to 20.7.

NS said that delays of one to four hours can be expected through Oct. 30 between Elkhart and Pittsburgh due to track work projects. Delays of similar duration can be expected between Sandusky and Dayton, and between Fort Wayne, Ind., and Decatur, Ill.

Capitol, Lake Shore Resume Going to Chicago

October 12, 2014

Amtrak’s Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited resumed operating to Chicago on Saturday after nearly a week of terminating and originating at Toledo.

The first westbound Capitol Limited to Chicago was greeted with a seven-hour delay between Alliance and Cleveland and finally limped into Chicago Union Station at 7:46 p.m., 11 hours late.

Before now, that would have resulted in the outbound No. 30 being significantly delayed, but Amtrak said it would put together another equipment set for the Capitol.

It apparently did that because No. 30 left on Saturday a mere mine minutes behind schedule.

However, the good fortune would not last. No. 30 departed Sunday morning from Cleveland 4 hours and 5 minutes late.

The westbound Lake Shore Limited fared better, although it was still very late. It departed Cleveland on Saturday 2 hours, 11 minutes late. It halted in Chicago at 3:14 p.m., 5.5 hours late.

No. 48 departed Chicago more than three hours late on account of the crew needing to rest. It was operating nearly four hours late Sunday morning. Its westbound counterpart departed Cleveland 1 hours, 16 minutes late on Sunday.

Boardman Makes Pitch to Keep Hoosier State

October 11, 2014

Amtrak President Joe Boardman took to the editorial pages of the Lafayette, Ind., Journal & Courier this week to fire the latest salvos in the battle to operate the Hoosier State.

Ostensibly, Boardman was seeking to correct what he termed “inaccuracies and misinformation regarding Amtrak’s operation of the Hoosier State train service under a contract with the Indiana Department of Transportation.”

Boardman said Amtrak can offer several different service models for the Hoosier State, but he called on the state of Indiana to decide what it wants and what it is able to pay for.

Whatever that might be, Boardman made a pitch that Amtrak continue to operate the Hoosier State.

“Amtrak believes it remains Indiana’s best long-term choice for safe, reliable intercity passenger rail service,” he wrote. “Amtrak brings proven expertise in delivering passenger rail service, railroad operations, safety and security, equipment maintenance and repair. We want safe and effective passenger rail service to succeed for the benefit of Indiana’s people, businesses and communities. Let’s get this done.”

Currently, Amtrak operates the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train under a contract with INDOT that will expire in late January 2015. The train is funded by INDOT and local governments along its route.

Earlier this year, INDOT said it has chosen Chicago-based Corridor Capital to operate the train. Although Corridor Capital was supposed to take over operations this month, that didn’t happen.

Instead, Amtrak agreed to operate the Hoosier State for four more months.

Trains magazine reported on Friday that Corridor Capital and INDOT have still not reached an agreement to operate the Hoosier State.

“The primary reason is that state officials failed to actively engage Amtrak in negotiations for track-access rights with the freight railroads until weeks before the new operator was to take over this fall,” the magazine reported. “With the clock ticking on a four-month Amtrak contract extension that expires Jan. 31, 2015, those discussions are finally underway.”

Boardman last week rode a special train to whistle stop along the route to make a pitch for Amtrak to continue operating the Hoosier State.

His op-ed piece in the Journal & Courier may have been the latest ploy in those efforts or it might have been part of a larger public relations campaign to deflect blame away from Amtrak if the Hoosier State is discontinued in February.

During last week’s journey, Boardman visited with various Indiana officials and also announced the rollout of food service and WiFi service aboard the Hoosier State.

The service amenity upgrades, which have since been implemented included adding a food-service car with business class seating.

However, the car does not have an attendant and business class travelers are limited to consuming complimentary beverages and pre-packaged pastries that are left on the counter for them.

“I learned a lot during the tour about community desires for this service, and I believe the community representatives gained some valuable insights into the challenges and complexities of operating a safe and efficient passenger rail service,” Boardman wrote in his op-ed piece.

Without naming it, Boardman took another shot at Corridor Capital.  “The leasing company designated as Indiana’s vendor claims to have ‘indestructible’ railcars that are ‘available now,’ but it was unable to meet the Oct. 1 deadline to assume the service.”

A Corridor Capital spokesman told Trains that he could not reveal what passenger cars and motive power will be used. “Three parties, each with much at stake, are at the table discussing their respective roles and public disclosure of (those details) would be premature,” the spokesman said.

In its bid proposal to INDOT earlier this year, Corridor Capital said it expected to use Amtrak conductors and engineers.

But Amtrak has since insisted that it will deal only with INDOT as a primary contractor and not a subcontractor of another party.

Amtrak has also raised the issue of whether the equipment to be used by Corridor Capital would comply with Amtrak and Federal Railroad Administration standards, and, because the Hoosier State crosses state lines, Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration rules.

“Operating passenger rail service is no small task, especially for the inexperienced,” Boardman wrote. “Recently, a private operator providing trains in New Mexico lasted only four months before failing — on a route much shorter and less complicated than the Hoosier State. The complexity of the challenge along the Indianapolis-Chicago route is much greater. Amtrak stands ready to work with INDOT and the communities to prevent a similar outcome with the Hoosier State.”

Trains also reported that Herzog Transit Services, which also bid to operate the Hoosier State, told INDOT in a June 6 letter that “the right of access … must belong to the state of Indiana, not a third party operator” as required by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

However, INDOT officials have been expecting that Corridor Capital would be responsible for obtaining access to railroads over which the Hoosier State operates as well ensuring that it was in compliance with FRA operating and safety regulations.

The Hoosier State uses six railroads to travel between Indianapolis Union Station and Chicago Union Station.


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