Amtrak Saw Ridership Increase 1.5% in FY2017, Posted Lowest Operating Loss in Decades

November 16, 2017

Amtrak recorded its lowest operating loss in decades this year the carrier said on Thursday. The national passenger carrier said it broke passenger and revenue records for the year ending Sept. 30, helping to narrow its operating loss to $194 million.

During the period Amtrak recorded 31.7 million passenger trips, a 1.5 percent increase over FY2016 and had total revenue of $3.2 billion, an increase of 1.1 percent over FY 2016.

In breaking out ridership by service type, Amtrak said it carried 12 million in the Northeast Corridor, up 1 percent, which set a record.

State-supported trains carried 15 million passengers, a 2.1 percent increase, while the long-distance routes carried 4.6 million riders, an increase of 0.9 percent

Amtrak also set a record for cost recovery, covering 94.7 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues.

“Over the next several years, we’re aiming to cover total operating costs from ticket and other revenues by strengthening our services and continuing to drive efficiency,” said Amtrak Board Chair Tony Coscia in a statement. “To do this, we are making investments in tracks and stations, on our trains, and in the delivery of customer service so that we can serve more customers with a better experience.”

Amtrak said it cuts its debt from $3.3 billion on Sept. 30, 2007, to $1.2 billion on Sept. 30, 2017, a reduction of 64 percent over the 10-year period.

Other notable milestones for Amtrak in FY2017 included a 19 percent increase in membership in its Amtrak Guest Rewards program and launching a national partnership with ride-sharing service Lyft.

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Some Erie Sights

November 16, 2017

Hunter’s railroad wasn’t being very cooperative. I had set up on the West Main Street bridge in downtown Kent hoping to get a train or two on the CSX New Castle Subdivision.

Westbound intermodal trains Q015 and Q137 have been operating in mid to late afternoon of late. But I got crickets. There wasn’t as much as a peep on the radio.

After about 45 minutes of waiting, I got out and walked around to make photographs of whatever caught my eye, including some Erie Railroad relics.

The most prominent of those is the former passenger station, which has been restored and now houses an Italian restaurant.

Just south of the station is a heavyweight passenger car painted in Erie colors. It apparently is used as a meeting room, although I’ve never seen anyone in it.

There is a signal box by the station that I know I’ve seen dozens of times, but never photographed. Today I saw something there as the late afternoon sunlight cast a warm glow on the rust-covered box. Who knows how many years it has been here and how many trains it has seen?

Finally, I checked out the siding for the Star of the West grain elevator. Just the night before during a program at the Railroad Enthusiasts meeting in Cleveland there was speculation as to what will happen with this property, which closed earlier this year.

The Erie would have served this facility as did the Akron Barberton Cluster Railway. Now the siding sits unused.

At one time, one of the mainline tracks would have been here, but it has been a long time since these rails were a double-track mainline.

Shippers Demand Congress Address CSX Service

November 16, 2017

Some CSX shippers are seeking more hearing about the railroad’s service issues.

The Rail Customer Coalition argues that CSX service has not improved and it wants federal officials to take action on complaints they expressed during an Oct. 11 hearing held by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

The coalition made its demand in letters dated Nov. 14 and addressed to the U.S. Senate’s Commerce Committee and the House of Representative’s Transportation Committee,

The letters assert that CSX customers continue to experience “service changes with little notice, missed switches, and poor communication on delivery status.”

The shippers group also wants Congress to “examine the CSX service breakdown, and potential means available to the STB to mitigate the adverse impacts to the rail network.”

Members of the coalition include the American Chemistry Council, National Farmers Union, the Sulphur Institute and 30 other organizations.

Although CSX has presented figures showing that car dwell time in yards and average train speeds have improved since last summer, the coalition is questioning whether those service metrics matter because they continue to perceive freight delays.

German Bus Company to Enter U.S. Market

November 16, 2017

A German long-distance bus company says it plans to begin service in the United States in competition with Greyhound, Megabus and Amtrak.

FlixBus said it will be based in Los Angeles.

“There is a significant shift in the American transport market at the moment. Public transportation and sustainable travel is becoming more important,” FlixBus founder and manager Andre Schwaemmlein said in a statement.

FlixBus has been a major player in European long-distance bus service since 2013 and has survived a fierce price war among new market entrants to boost its market share in Germany.

A Reuters news service story said FlixBus has more than 90 percent market share and its bright green motor coaches are a common sight on German roads.

FlixBus does not own any of its buses but instead works with local and regional partners.

That is similar to how Megabus operates in the United States. Owned by Britain’s Stagecoach Group, Megabus began U.S. service in 2006.

One of its chief competitors, Greyhound, is owned by a British company, FirstGroup PLC. Greyhound carries 18 million passengers a year with a fleet of 1,700 vehicles.

By contrast, Amtrak carried 31.3 million in fiscal year 2016. Figures are not yet available systemwide for FY 2017.

FlixBus did not say when it would begin service or what routes it would serve.

2nd Penn Station Track Renewal Work Set

November 16, 2017

The project will extend through May 28 and involve work performed mostly on weekends.

In a news release, Amtrak said there will be a series of continuous single-track closures that will result in minor modifications to Amtrak and commuter train weekday operations.

“After a successful summer, it is essential that we continue to upgrade the infrastructure so that we can continue to improve the reliability of service for all the customers that use New York Penn Station,” said Amtrak co-CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman.

The following schedule changes will take place during the infrastructure renewal work:

  • Amtrak is cancelling Northeast Regional Trains 110 from Washington to New York and 127 from New York to Washington.
  • Northbound Keystone Train 640 will terminate at Newark Penn Station
  • Southbound Keystone Train 643 will originate at Newark Penn Station
  • Southbound Train 173 will stop at Newark Airport
  • Southbound Trains 129, 193 and 653 will all have earlier departure times.
  • Train 170 will also depart Washington early, stop at North Philadelphia and Cornwells Heights and resume its schedule from Trenton
  • Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit are also expected to announce service schedule adjustments

The projects will occur in the area of Track 15, which requires a section of concrete demolition and replacement that will be similar to the work done on Track 10 last summer and Track 18, which requires localized concrete demolition with complex steel hardware replacement and rail renewal.

Amtrak also will renew and replace three turnouts in “C” Interlocking, which is at the east end of the station and directs Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road trains to routes heading east and to Sunnyside Yard.

While Amtrak has maintained and repaired this aging infrastructure, some of which dates to the 1970s, full replacement is now required.

Additional information and updates will be posted on Amtrak.com and Amtrak.com/NYPrenewal

 

Traces of Conrail

November 15, 2017

Conrail ceased operating as an independent railroad on June 1, 1999, when its assets were acquired by Norfolk Southern and CSX.

There remains the Conrail shared assets in New Jersey and Detroit, but those are operated by the two railroads that carved up Conrail more than 18 years ago.

Traces of Conrail can be found here there with the most notable being rolling stock still wearing Conrail markings.

But Conrail can also be found in other ways as well. This marker is affixed to a grade crossing signal at Joppa Road west of Vermilion on the Chicago Line.

Sanders to Appear at B&N Author Event

November 15, 2017

Akron Railroad Club President Craig Sanders will be participating in a local author exhibition on Saturday at the Barnes & Noble book store in Akron.

Sanders, whose book Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, was recently released by Fonthill Media, will be among 11 authors who will sign their books and discuss their work with B&N customers.

The authors will appear at tables on the upper level of the store located at 4015 Medina Road in the Fairlawn-Montrose area.

The B&N store has set up a Facebook page about the event: www.facebook.com/bnfairlawn

Other authors and their books scheduled to be at the event are: Louise Richards, A Christmas Story a Day; Wes Locher, Unit 44; Anita Fox, Bobby’s Journeys…; Kristen Lepionka, The Last Place You Look; Mike & Janice Olszewski, Cleveland Radio Tales; Dave Bair, The Lasso; Carmen Williams, FitOverIt and That Too; Robert J. Roman, Ohio State Football: The Forgotten Dawn; Brendan Bowers, LeBron James vs The NBA; and Irv Korman, Antuan was Hear.

November ARRC eBulletin Examines 8-Year Life of the Last Amtrak Train to Serve Central Ohio

November 15, 2017

It has been 38 years since an Amtrak train last made a scheduled stop in Columbus or Dayton.

On paper that train, the New York/Washington-Kansas City National Limited should have been a success. It served 10 urban centers, the capitals of five states and crossed four Amtrak routes.

But trains don’t run on paper and the National Limited often led a tortured existence that it was unable to overcome when political pressures arose in the late 1980s to scale back the Amtrak network.

The cover story of the November 2017 eBulletin examines the life of Amtrak Nos. 30 and 31.

If you would like to receive a copy of this online magazine, send an email to csanders429@aol.com

Due to a technical glitch, some regular subscribers to the eBulletin failed to get their October issue. If you have missed an issue in the past two months, please let ARRC President Craig Sanders know via email and your email address will be reinstated to the subscriber list.

First Energy Foundation Gives CVSR $50K

November 15, 2017

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad plans to launch a comprehensive capital campaign in early 2018 with the first donation already having been made by the FirstEnergy Foundation.

The Akron-based group recently gave the railroad $50,000 to kick start a program to modernize the CVSR fleet of locomotives and passenger cars.

Details of the campaign will be announced early next year, railroad officials said.

“The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic railroad has become a cultural institution in Northeast Ohio, drawing people from far and wide for programs designed to build wonderful family memories, such as summer valley excursions or trips on the Polar Express during the holiday season,” said FirstEnergy Foundation President Dee Lowery in a statement. “The fact that this is the railroad’s first comprehensive capital campaign in its 45 years of operation is a testament to the organization’s viability, and we’re pleased to support it.”

CVSR has engaged in various fundraising activities over the years, but the railroad is describing the upcoming campaign as the first of its kind since its 1972 founding.

The CVSR has operated scheduled service on a former Baltimore & Ohio branch line between Cleveland and Akron since 1975.

Locomotive Business Future Not Bright

November 15, 2017

Although General Electric has yet to discuss in detail why it is seeking to sell or spin off its transportation division, one factor is likely a weak market for new locomotives.

GE had cited that earlier this year in talking about its plans to end locomotive production at its Erie, Pennsylvania, assembly plant.

Now comes a report in Railway Age that states that the number of investors in locomotives is falling and the value of used locomotives is declining as well.

Historically, leasing companies and banks were major buyers of new locomotives.

But, Railway Age reported, “changes to the lease market, low interest rates, railroad profitability and bonus depreciation changed railroad investment in locomotives from lease to buy and have potentially changed the market forever.”

Declining freight traffic has also played a role in depressing locomotive demand.

There are few investment opportunities with long-term value in locomotives and the short-term lease market for locomotives has grown thin aside from short line and industrial railroads. In short, there is more supply than demand for locomotives.

Steven Beal, president of locomotive manufacturer, rebuilder and lessor NRE, told Railway Age that there might not be any significant orders for new locomotives until 2020.

Orders for new locomotives peaked in 2015 before EPA Tier IV emissions restrictions were implemented. Since then new locomotive orders have become almost non-existent.

Many carriers have found it cheaper to rebuild older units with modern affordable technology that meets emissions standards than to buy new Tier IV units.

However, time may be on the side of locomotive investors.

There are a lot of old locomotives still in service. One estimate is that 80 percent of locomotives built 50 years ago are still in service. Older locomotives someday will need to be replaced.

In the meantime, many class 1 railroads are paring down their diesel rosters. Railway Age quoted an unnamed source as saying that Class 1’s are returning every off-lease locomotive of less than 1,500 hp and ditching higher horsepower four-axle locomotives such as the GP38-2, a four-axle, 2,000 hp locomotive whose production ended in 1984.

Many of these surplus units have been sold at auction with short-line railroads being active buyers.

But not all of the locomotives being discarded by the Class 1 railroads are finding buyers due to height, weight and track restrictions on larger locomotives.

Beal said NRE has fielded an increase in inquiries from the industrial market for medium horsepower four- and six-axle power because their business has picked up, particularly in the steel and petrochemical sectors.

He said the number of locomotives in storage has declined by half to roughly 2,500.