Posts Tagged ‘American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners’

Infrastructure Funding Might be in Next Legislation to Address COVID-19 Pandemic

April 2, 2020

Congress is eyeing a fourth bill to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and it might address infrastructure funding.

President Donald Trump has signaled that he would support a $2 trillion infrastructure package as part of that legislation.

Other congressional leaders have also identified areas they would like to see funded but some observers think that whatever bill makes it through the House and Senate will be limited to health care matters.

Congress most recently approved a stimulus bill providing $2.2 trillion in funding, which is several hundred billion dollars more than the federal budget for one fiscal year.

Lawmakers are hoping that the stimulus bill will benefit the economy by as much as an additional $4 trillion.

The $1.018 billion that the stimulus bill provided for Amtrak was intended in part to limit the funding states must pay for services they support.

In an unrelated development, the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners reported that several moves of private cars via Amtrak that had been planned in March were canceled by their owners as a result of the pandemic.

AAPRCO also posted its mid-term meeting from March 23 to late July.

AAPRCO Move Through NE Ohio Set in September

January 18, 2020

Private car trains are making somewhat of a comeback on Amtrak.

The passenger carrier has given the Association of American Private Car Owners preliminary approval to operate a private car special from Chicago to Vermont in September.

The train will pass through Northeast Ohio on Sept 22 but probably in darkness as it will depart from Chicago at 8:30 p.m. the previous day.

The special will also operate on the Mohawk Adirondack Northern Railroad and the Vermont Rail System.

In announcing the special to its members, AAPRCO said Itinerary is subject to railroad approvals, but the group said it has contingency routings.

The announcement did not say what route the train would take between Chicago and Cleveland, but it likely would be the Norfolk Southern line used by Amtrak.

Nor did it say which route would be taken between Cleveland and Buffalo, New York.

In September 2014, an AAPRO special traveled on NS east of Cleveland.

The train has been named the American Autumn Explorer.

The announcement said the train would operate overnight through Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania and expects to pass the former Buffalo Central Terminal during breakfast hours.

The train will continue to Niagara Falls, New York, where passengers will be able to disembark and spend time there.

The train will depart Niagara Falls on Sept. 23 and use the former New York Central Water Level Route to Utica, New York, where it will drop its Amtrak locomotives and operate as a special train on the Mohawk Adirondack Northern Railroad.

The destination will be Thendara, New York, where the train will park overnight.

Departing Thendara on Sept. 24, the special will go back to Utica, pick up the Amtrak locomotives and use former Delaware and Hudson Railroad tracks (now owned by Canadian Pacific) to travel to Saratoga Springs, New York.

The special will leave Saratoga Springs on Sept. 26 and en route to near Plattsburgh, New York, where it will reverse direction and run to Albany-Rensselaer, New York, to pick up additional private cars.

Departure from Albany-Rensselaer will be on Sept. 27 for Whitehall, New York, and then east to Rutland, Vermont.

At Rutland the Amtrak locomotives will be dropped off and the train will continue on the Vermont Rail System to Burlington where it will be parked downtown for three days.

The annual AAPRCO convention will be held in Burlington.

The special will depart Burlington on Oct. 1 and return to Albany-Rensselaer where the special will terminate and its cars forwarded back home on regularly scheduled Amtrak trains starting on Oct. 2.

Groups Fear Amtrak Killing Long-Distance Trains

May 5, 2018

Two organizations that represent private railroad car owners are accusing Amtrak of lacking commitment to support the passenger carrier’s national network.

The letter was sent to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson and signed by Robert G. Donnelley, president of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners and W. Roger Fuehring, president of the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance.

It cited what it described as “recent, abrupt, negative changes in Amtrak’s policies toward special trains and private cars.”

The changes, the groups say, have imposed “unreasonable economic costs on Amtrak, car owners, their employees and vendors, and the communities these cars and trains visit.” The letter is seeking a review of current policies.

Last month Amtrak announced new fees and rules for the handling of private rail cars that had the effect of making them more expensive to operate and limiting where and how often they can run.

Amtrak in March also revealed other policy changes that sharply curtailed specials and charter movements, some of which use private rail cars.

Among other issues, the letter offered as evidence comments made by Anderson at a California conference of passenger rail officials that described as high the costs of long-distance trains and their per-passenger subsidies.

These figures, the letter said, “are particularly alarming because heretofore they have been talking points for Amtrak’s critics.”

If the long-distance network was removed, the private rail car groups said, it would result in the loss of Amtrak service to 29 states and a Balkanized network of four isolated pieces.

Such a network, the letter predicted, would lead to a drop in federal support far exceeding the costs of the long-distance network.

“Amtrak cannot afford to continue to act as if it doesn’t need friends,” the letter said.

It predicted that Amtrak’s [fiscal year] 2020 funding will be very tight, citing one congressman as saying that “funding will drop off a cliff’ after the two-year budget deal expires.”

Some Private Car Owners Disappointed With Amtrak 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.”

Private Car Owner Defends Amtrak Policy Changes

April 18, 2018

In the wake of recent Amtrak policy changes that all but banned special and charter movements and a policy review pertaining to the carriage of private rail cars, reports have surfaced that bad behavior by private rail car owners is one underlying issue motivating Amtrak.

Now a private car owner has come forward to contend that there is some truth to those reports.

Bennett Levin, who owns former Pennsylvania Railroad office car No. 120 and two E8A locomotives painted in a PRR livery, told Trains magazine that the trade groups representing the interests of private rail car owners and operators have failed to address that.

“Things have spiraled out of control. Neither of the private varnish organizations have taken positive steps to address these issues, so now Amtrak has said, ‘Enough,’ ” Levin said. “What Amtrak has done is not draconian. It is prudent.”

Saying the issue of safety is paramount, Levin accused the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners and the Rail Passenger Car Alliance of doing a poor job of self-policing their members and instilling a culture of safety first.

That brought a retort from both groups, which issued a joint statement denying the assertions.

RPCA President W. Roger Fuehring, and AAPRCO President Robert G. Donnelley said their groups each have safety committees that have provided safety manuals to members.

Furthermore, there have been no incidents or accidents that have been reportable to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The two group presidents noted that they have denied membership to car owners who have a poor safety record and that not all private car owners are members of AAPRCO or RPCA.

“Both organizations have investigated and taken action on the occasional violations of our membership,” the statement said.

The groups also took issue with Levin’s call for rail car owners and railfans to curtail contacting elected officials to urge them to take action in response to the Amtrak policy changes.

Levin argued in a letter to the National Railway Historical Society that such lobbying may do more harm than good.

“I would urge everyone who claims to have an interest in this matter, from those who own the equipment to those who stand trackside and record its passing for history, to use reason and restraint, and not add fuel to an already raging fire being fed by ineptness, poor judgment, and short sightedness,” Levin wrote in the letter addressed to NRHS President Al Weber.

Levin told Trains that the reaction of rail car owners and railfans is ill-timed and nearing “hysteria.”

In their joint statement, the presidents of AAPRCO and RPCA said the lobbying has been in response to a policy change that caught many by surprise, particularly in its severity.

“[I]t is not surprising that some tourist railroad organizations, charterers, private car owners, and car owner associations have sought help from their legislators in view of the fact that Amtrak is a government approved monopoly receiving aid from the legislature,” the statement said.

“Despite the extreme hardship that the policy entailed, we continue to respect and understand that, with new leadership, Amtrak is analyzing and reviewing all aspects of train operations. In light of the most recent developments, we have asked formally to meet with Amtrak’s President and CEO, Richard Anderson, in order to see how we can be better partners and support Amtrak where it would be beneficial to both parties.”

The two groups have made suggestions to Amtrak as to how to streamline the process of adding and removing private cars from Amtrak trains, particularly at intermediate stations.

Amtrak’s policy toward special movements and charters allows for exceptions in narrowly defined circumstances.

An Amtrak representative told Trains that the carrier’s policy in regards to hauling private cars continues to evolve and should be announced in the near future.

However, in its communications with rail cars owners, Amtrak has signaled that it wants to restrict the number of trains and routes that carry private cars and limit carriage on others to certain days of the week.

Amtrak also has indicated that it wants to primarily move cars from endpoint to endpoint and avoid adding and removing cars at intermediate stations with scheduled dwell times of less than 30 minutes.

For his part, Levin believes the policy changes pertaining to private cars and special movements is “a matter to be thoroughly considered in the context of the railroad’s regular operations.”

Levin said he fears that Congressional intervention may result in “something far worse than a decrease in the frequency of private passenger car trips on the national rail network.”

In their statement, AAPRCO and RPCA cited some of the hardships that private car owners have endured.

This has included cars stored in formerly permitted locations being “frozen in place” and cars already en route being forced to change their schedules at significantly higher costs.

“Cars on the California Zephyr, for example, were not allowed to transfer to the Coast Starlight and were forced to return to Chicago,” the statement said.

Because the Amtrak policy change in regards to special moves was effective immediately, the groups said this resulted in major costs of disruption.

New River Train Will Still Run

April 13, 2018

West Virginia public officials say that Amtrak has committed to operating the New River Train this fall despite a recent policy change that banned such special moves.

Gov. Jim Justice and U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins said Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson agreed after a telephone conversation to allow the train to operate for its 52nd season.

During that conversation, Jenkins and Mike Hall, the governor’s chief of staff, discussed with Anderson the importance of the 300-mile passenger excursion that runs the third and fourth weekends of October between Huntington and Hinton.

“I am very encouraged after our call with Richard Anderson that we have a commitment to resolving issues with the New River Train,” said Jenkins, whose district includes much of the route of the train over the former Chesapeake & Ohio mainline used by Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

Jenkins said Anderson indicated that the passenger carrier is receptive to making “some limited exemptions to its ban on charter trains.”

Amtrak has not yet said what criteria it will follow for allowing special train and charter moves.

Even before the policy change was revealed last month, owners of private rail cars had reported that Amtrak was increasingly rejecting their requests to have their cars attached to scheduled trains on some routes.

Amtrak also declined to operate a special for the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners between Nebraska and Denver.

Private Car Owners Talk with Amtrak About Policy Changes for Handling of PVs

April 5, 2018

At least they are talking. Amtrak executives spoke on Tuesday on a conference call with representatives of private railroad passenger cars who have decried a policy change by the nation’s passenger carrier that has banned charter trains and specials, and made it more difficult for car owners to move their cars on Amtrak trains.

Amtrak management told the car owners that the policy change followed a review of carrying private rail cars on Amtrak trains and how that affects the on-time performance of the trains as well as the passenger company’s finances.

During the call, Amtrak officials reportedly reiterated their intent to cease adding and removing private cars at most intermediate points.

“If you want cars switched at every station, we can’t do that,” an Amtrak representative said during Tuesday’s call. “We are interested in your thoughts about what you think is reasonable and consistent with the mission of not delaying trains.”

Amtrak officials didn’t rule out carrying private cars, but seemed to suggest that it would prefer to do that at route endpoints because en route switching can delay a train.

The private car groups made suggestions that could improve on-time performance, but preserve midpoint pickups, such as requiring private car operators to have their own qualified mechanical personnel to help facilitate midpoint switching, or to add private cars to front of trains to eliminate extra switching moves.

The private car owners also suggested having their cars operate on a generator until reaching a station with sufficient dwell time to allow head-end power to be connected.

The meeting notes were distributed to members of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners and the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance.

Among the mid-point Amtrak stops at which private cars are sometimes  added or removed are Lamy, New Mexico; Huntington, West Virginia; Denver; St. Paul, Minnesota; Whitefish, Montana; Charlotte, North Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; Tucson, Arizona; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Jacksonville, Florida; Orlando, Florida; Milwaukee; Cleveland; St. Louis; San Antonio, Texas; Omaha, Nebraska; and Kansas City, Missouri.

Amtrak indicated during the call that it is reviewing the fees it charges private car owners to haul their cars.

The private car owners said that in particular they want Amtrak to better explain what CEO Richard Anderson meant when he wrote in a memo to Amtrak employees that specials and charters were not meeting Amtrak’s expectations of “fully allocated profitable margin[s].”

At one point the private car owners expressed a willingness to pay double the actual cost of moving private cars on Amtrak.

The conference call did not discuss special trains, but Amtrak has refused to handle a planned AAPRCO train, the Black Hills Special, that was to have operated from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Denver on May 17-22.

They Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling. Well, Maybe Not

March 31, 2018

The sky is falling, the sky is falling.

Or so some railroad enthusiasts would have you believe in the wake of a report that Amtrak has decided to ban charters and special moves.

The policy change was announced by Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson in a memo to employees that was leaked to Trains magazine and also posted on railfan chat lists.

In tandem with that, owners of private passenger cars are reporting that Amtrak has been rejecting many requests to move passenger cars.

This particularly has affected car owners who store their cars in the middle of a route because Amtrak has decreed that it will not accept a private car at a station in which the scheduled dwell time is less than 30 minutes.

The implications of this policy change are, indeed, ominous.

It means that such longstanding traditions as the fall New River Train in West Virginia will end.

It means no more Amtrak fall foliage, railfan or rare mileage specials.

It means mainline steam moves are in jeopardy because they operate in cooperation with Amtrak and its liability insurance and use private passenger cars ferried by Amtrak.

It means private car owners who have sunk thousands of dollars into making and/or keeping their cars Amtrak compatible have few, if any, options to run their cars. Seeing a private passenger car or two on the back of an Amtrak train will become an even rarer sight.

Two groups representing private car owners, the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, and the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance have urged their members to contact public officials and opinion leaders to protest the policy change.

It is unclear how much effect that lobbying will have. Owning and operating a private railroad car is a rich man’s game.

Because they tend to be affluent, private car owners might have better political connections than the typical railroad enthusiast or passenger train advocate.

But it is unlikely that public officials will view the Amtrak policy change as a pressing matter of public interest.

Some might see it as rich boys throwing a tantrum because they can’t play with their toys.

Some passenger advocates have applauded Amtrak, which has sought to frame the change as an effort to improve the on-time performance of its trains.

Anderson’s memo referenced trains being delayed due to switching cars and described special moves as a distraction.

He also suggested that specials and hauling private cars hasn’t been all that profitable, but the memo was clumsily worded on this point.

When he wrote that the moves “failed to capture fully allocated profitable margins,” I wonder if he really meant “failed to cover their fully allocated costs.”

The latter was a term railroads used a lot in the 1960s when they wanted to discontinue passenger trains. Using that standard could make a train appear to be losing far more money than the “above the rail” standard which meant that a train earned enough revenue to cover its direct costs.

Some of what Anderson said in his memo few people would dispute. Who would be opposed to Amtrak running on time, operating safely, having clean passenger cars, providing friendly service and offering “great customer-facing technology?” Anderson would have you believe that running special trains are hindering Amtrak’s efforts to do those things.

There is likely more behind this policy change even if Anderson’s memo hints at what that might be when it speaks of focusing on Amtrak’s core mission.

Amid all of the chaff that I read on railfan chat list about the policy change was a thoughtful observation by someone who has seen Anderson use this playbook before.

The poster contended that when Anderson was CEO of Northwest Airlines, it was struggling financially and he discontinued most of the charter flights.

Northwest was devoting seven aircraft to this service, which accommodated professional sports teams among others. Anderson apparently feared that the liability if one of those charters had a catastrophe might wreck the airline.

But the move didn’t turn out to be permanent. After Anderson felt he had sufficiently turned things around the charters returned.

Northwest was later acquired by Delta Air Line, which Anderson also headed. Today Delta is one of the most prominent operators of charter flights for professional sports teams.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, are a regular customer as are many NBA teams.

So the Amtrak policy change might not be permanent, although you never know. One of the first moves that former Amtrak president David Gunn made after taking office was to get the passenger carrier out of the business of hauling mail and express.

Gunn used some of the same arguments that Anderson made to justify banning special moves and charters.

That was more than a decade ago and Amtrak trains still don’t carry any mail. It sold its fleet of express cars.

Anderson may have philosophical reasons for banning special move, believing that Amtrak needs to do more to focus on its core mission.

Yet it is not clear if ending special moves was even his idea. He might have heard from field-level supervisors who have always disliked having to do something that is a non-standard operation.

And Anderson must answer to a board of directors and we don’t know what “direction” they have given him.

There is some thought that Class 1 railroads will follow Amtrak’s lead and impose even more stringent standards on the movement of passenger cars and passenger trains.

We’ve seen how the Wheeling & Lake Erie has banned all excursion trains and with a few limited exceptions won’t move passenger cars in ferry moves.

But I’m reminded of something that W&LE chief Larry Parsons said when I interviewed him for an article I did several years ago for Trains magazine.

The Wheeling had just lost some iron ore traffic and in asking him about it I used the word “forever” as in the business was lost forever.

Parsons responded that “forever is a very long time.”

Management changes and so do situations. People change their minds about how they view things. Some have described the Amtrak policy change as a work in progress and we haven’t heard the last word on the new policy.

Anderson’s memo left an opening for some special moves if they meet the railroad’s strategic goals. Those can be defined broadly or defined narrowly.

We are entering an era in which special moves and mainline steam will be rarer than they are now. But not necessarily nonexistent. Forever is, after all, a very long time.

Private Car Owners Scramble in Wake of Amtrak Policy Change

March 30, 2018

Amtrak’s recent decision to cease running charter trains and specials as well as to curtail carriage of privately-owned passenger cars on its trains has sent a trade organization scrambling to rally its members to seek to apply political pressure on the passenger carrier to reverse the decision.

The American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners sent a memorandum to its members this week urging them to contact lawmakers and opinion leaders about the significance of private cars but acknowledged that there is little it can do to attack Amtrak’s decision in court.

AAPRCO told its members in the memo that it is “working to get the most accurate information about the full extent of Amtrak’s policy, which may not yet be firmly in place, and to mount the strongest possible effort to push back against it.”

In the meantime, Amtrak’s decision has prompted the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society to delay selling tickets for a planned trip in Chicago in September behind its 2-8-4 Nickel Plate Road No. 765.

The steam locomotive is to pull excursions between Chicago and Joliet, Illinois, on track owned by commuter railroad Metra.

However, the Fort Wayne group relies on privately-owned cars that would use Amtrak trains and facilities to reach Chicago.

Several private car owners have reported in recent weeks that Amtrak has rejected some of their requests to move their cars.

Amtrak’s new policy pertaining to the carriage of private passenger cars will prohibit attaching and detaching those cars to Amtrak trains at points where an Amtrak train is scheduled to dwell for less than 30 minutes.

However, the carrier has yet to spell out in detail how it will handle private cars going forward.

“At this time, we feel it would be imprudent to open ticket sales as previously scheduled before we have more clarity on the situation,” said a Fort Wayne Society news release. “As such, this policy will force us to revisit our contractual agreements with car owners, re-confirm both their availability and costs, and confirm Amtrak’s ability to transport them to our venue. Amtrak’s participation was critical to last year’s Joliet Rocket trips.”

It is not known yet if these development will affect a planned visit of the NKP 765 to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in late September.

For those excursions, the FtWRHS uses CVSR’s own passenger fleet and does not need to bring in private passenger cars.

As for Amtrak’s policy change pertaining to charter trains and special trains, AAPRCO President Robert Donnelley told his members that the association’s annual convention and mid-year special trains are at risk.

“Amtrak’s stated rationale for these changes is that private varnish has the potential to worsen on-time performance, which is a major concern of President and CEO Richard Anderson,” Donnelley wrote. However, he took issue with that.

Another private car owner trade group, the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance said it has contacted Amtrak to express its concerns but it also has told its members that the implications of the Amtrak policy change are ominous.

“The policy as officially released on March 28, 2018, will have drastic effects on many private car owners, excursion operators, private companies, and tourism in many communities that utilize Amtrak’s service,” RPCA President W. Roger Fuehring told Trains magazine.

“As we move forward, we hope to have an open dialogue with Amtrak in regards to discussing this policy. We look forward to returning not only the revenue stream to Amtrak that we produce with our clientele, but the goodwill that we generate on behalf of Amtrak with every trip.”

One point of contention in talks with Amtrak and the private car owners will be how much revenue the national passenger carrier receives from fees charged to handle the cars.

AAPRCO contends that the private car business adds $10 million in gross revenues to Amtrak, but a recent Wall Street Journal article said it was $4 million.

The memo written by Amtrak President Anderson and sent to employees that announced the ban on most special moves and charters suggested that Amtrak has not been recovering its fully allocated costs for those trains and that they have become a distraction.

AAPRCO’s Donnelley has instructed his group’s members to talk up the importance of private passenger cars and the number of jobs associated with the industry.

His memo said this would include employment at shops and other vendor facilities that support private passenger cars.

The railroad preservation community has launched an online petition to protest Amtrak’s decision at the website change.org. The petition has received more than 450 signatures with a goal of 500.

AAPRCO Special Rolls Through Cleveland

October 3, 2016

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On Sunday morning a seven-car American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners special went west through Cleveland.

The special consisted of Amtrak P42DC’s 134 and 190; Pennsylvania 120; Juniata Terminal’s Warrior Ridge; Morristown and Erie’s Alexander Hamilton; former New York Central 43, Mount Vernon; former Pullman Pacific Home; and former NYC Babbling Brook.

I caught the special going through Berea and thought it looked somewhat like the Great Steel Fleet that the New York Central ran in the postwar era.

I probably should have gone to a more representative location such as Olmsted Falls with the depot but sometimes you take what you can get.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

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