Posts Tagged ‘Amtak Michigan trains’

Amtrak Service Cuts Just Keep Coming

March 19, 2020

Amtrak service to Michigan will be reduced to two pairs of trains and service cuts will be imposed on three corridor routes in Illinois.

However, no service reductions are being planned for the long-distance network Amtrak spokesman Marc Magilari told Trains magazine.

Michigan trains that will continue to operate are the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water while Wolverine Service will consist of No 352, which departs Chicago at 1:25 p.m. and arrives in Pontiac at 8:32 p.m. and No. 351, which departs Pontiac at 5:50 a.m. and arrives in Chicago at 10:32 a.m.

Canceled are the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette and two Wolverine Service roundtrips.

On the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini will continue to operate while their counterparts are canceled.

The corridor is also served by the City of New Orleans which provides service northbound in the early morning hours and southbound in late evening.

Between Chicago and Quincy the Carl Sandburg will be canceled while the Illinois Zephyr will continue to operate.

Part of the Chicago-Quincy corridor will continue to be served by the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief.

The Chicago-Milwaukee corridor will be reduced to one Hiawatha Service roundtrip with the Empire Builder picking up some of the slack.

The one Chicago to Milwaukee Hiawatha will depart at 5:08 p.m. for a 6:45 p.m. arrival in Milwaukee.

There will also be a late night bus from Chicago to Milwaukee that leaves Chicago at 9:15 p.m.

The Milwaukee to Chicago Hiawatha will depart at 8:05 a.m. and arriving in Chicago at 9:34 a.m.

The Empire Builder will handle local passengers at all stops, including at Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and Milwaukee airport station, both of which Nos. 7 and 8 normally do not serve.

However, the Empire Builder is an afternoon operation in both directions between Chicago and Milwaukee so passengers will not be able to travel northbound in the morning or southbound in the evening.

On the Chicago-St. Louis corridor the southbound 7 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. departures from Chicago will be cut.

Lincoln Service trains will continue to depart Chicago at 9:25 a.m. and 7 p.m.

From St. Louis, Lincoln Service trains will depart at 4:35 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

The Texas Eagle will also continue operating in the corridor. Canceled are northbound Lincoln Service departures from St. Louis at 6:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.

For now Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City will continue operating on its current level of service of two roundtrips per day.

On the West Coast, the Capitol Corridor route will see a reduction from 15 to five weekday departures in each direction between Sacramento and Emeryville, California, effective March 23.

This does not include the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight, which uses part of the corridor.

Service reductions on the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner corridors have not yet been announced.

Cascades Service is no longer operating north of Seattle and will see the last round trip of the day canceled.

A presentation by the Chaddick Institute at DePaul University in Chicago said Amtrak’s current bookings are down 60 percent, future reservations are off 80 percent, and passenger cancellations are up 400 percent compared with the same period last year.

In a related development the Trump administration has proposed that Amtrak receive $500 million in emergency aid.

The carrier had said it needs $1 billion to cover losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding is part of a supplemental appropriation proposal the administration has sent to Congress totaling $45.8 billion.

Buses Replace Some Wolverines on July 16, 17

July 16, 2019

Certain Amtrak Wolverine Service trains will be replaced by chartered buses on July 16 and 17.

Workers are conducting track work and replacing a bridge in Michigan.

On July 16, Train No. 354 from Chicago to Pontiac (Detroit) will terminate at Albion, Michigan, with bus service provided to passengers traveling to Jackson, Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Detroit, Royal Oak, Troy and Pontiac via Bus 3354.

On July 17 Train 353 will originate in Battle Creek, Michigan, with Bus 3353 picking up passengers at Pontiac, Troy, Royal Oak, Detroit, Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Jackson.

Bus 3353 will not connect to Train 353 and will not stop at Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Dowagiac, Niles, New Buffalo and Hammond-Whiting.

Bus schedules will follow train schedules. All other Wolverine Service trains will operate as scheduled.

Train Time in Durand

June 23, 2018

We recently made a trip to Flint, Michigan, to visit Mary Ann’s cousins. That gave me an opportunity to get over to Durand for some railfanning, something I had not done there in nearly two years.

I scheduled my visit to coincide with the arrival of Amtrak’s Blue Water, a state-funded train linking Chicago and Port Huron, Michigan.

No. 365 is scheduled into Durand at 8:04 a.m. The good news is that it arrives in daylight. The bad news is that it arrives in daylight.

Say what? At 8 a.m. in the summer the sunlight in Durand does not favor a westbound train on the former Grand Trunk Western’s Flint Subdivision. It’s not even all that favorable for a glint shot.

But I worked with what I had and converted the image to black and white, which often is a good move to make with a digital image if the color is less than spectacular.

No. 365 operates with a locomotive on each end so it doesn’t have to be turned in Port Huron. That made for a nice going away image in good light.

As the Blue Water came into view, I thought for a few moments that it might have one of those new Charger locomotives that Amtrak is using on Midwest corridor service.

But that was not the case. The Blue Water and Wolverine Service trains that serve Detroit use a stretch of Amtrak-owned track between Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Porter, Indiana, that is equipped with a positive train control system that is not yet compatible with the Chargers.

The issue is getting the PTC software of the Siemens-built Chargers to talk with the Wabtec PTC software.

That is not likely to happen until at least fall, so P42DC units are pulling  Amtrak trains in Michigan except the Pere Marquette, which doesn’t use the Amtrak-owned track.

No. 365 was followed by less than a half-hour two CN westbounds, a stack train and a manifest freight, but still arrived in Durand on time.

There is a fence that separates Durand Union Station from the passenger platform and a station caretaker must unlock and open it.

Despite being a town of 2,500, Durand has good passenger loads based on my experience.

The Blue Water had the standard Midwest Corridor consist of mostly Horizon Fleet coaches with a couple of Amfleet cars, one of them a cafe car with a herald for Illinois high-speed rail service.

Amtrak would prefer the trains be three or four cars, but CN imposes a minimum axle count on Amtrak trains using its tracks to ensure that the trains will activate grade crossing signals.

In Illinois, some Chicago-Carbondale trains run with retired baggage cars, but I’ve never seen that done on the Blue Water.

The train halted and the conductor and assistant conductor both opened doors and put down step boxes.

It didn’t take long for the boarding to be completed, so the conductor radioed a highball and No. 365 was on its way. Next stop, East Lansing.

Anyone Want to Board Here?

June 13, 2018

An Amtrak conductor stands by an open vestibule of the westbound Blue Water in Durand, Michigan, but all of the passengers are lined up at another vestibule father down.

That’s because the far vestibule aligned with the gate allowing passengers through a fence that separates the tracks of Canadian National (former Grand Trunk Western) and Durand Union Station.

Eventually, a few passengers were directed to board here, perhaps because they were holding business class tickets. The cafe car on Train No. 365 was located toward the rear.

The Blue Water departed Durand on time en route to Chicago.

Expedited FRA Review Sought of Ann Arbor Station Site Environmental Assessment

April 24, 2017

A  Michigan congresswoman is trying to turn up the heat on the Federal Railroad Administration to act sooner rather than later on reviewing an environmental assessment for a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell has written to the FRA to urge it to expedite that review.

Ann Arbor faces a Sept. 30 deadline to spend a $2.8 million federal grant that it received to develop a station. The FRA had indicated earlier that it would not finish its review until summer, leaving the city little time to spend the grant money on station design work.

In her letter to the FRA, Dingell said it was important that the FRA move in an “urgent and expeditious manner so the city can move forward with improving mass transit in the state of Michigan.”

Once the FRA finishes reviewing the environmental assessment, there will be a 30-day public comment period.

Thus far the city has not revealed the site it prefers for the new station.

Dingell also pointed out in her letter that Amtrak and the State of Michigan have been working to upgrade service between Chicago and Detroit for higher speed service.

Currently, Ann Arbor is served by three Wolverine Service roundtrips although transportation officials have spoken about increasing that level of service at some future time as well as launching commuter rail service to Detroit.

FRA spokesman Marc Willis said the FRA received the environmental assessment from the city.

“We reviewed it and sent it back to them for revisions,” he said, adding there’s no time frame from the city when it will be sent back for FRA review.

City Council Member Zachary Ackerman believes the city is running out of time to build a new Amtrak station

Ackerman said that a new station seems to be less of a reality given the current climate in Washington and he won’t support a new station without significant federal funding.

Initial Designs Completed for Ypsilanti Station

September 13, 2016

Initial designs have been submitted to the Ypsilanti, Michigan, city council as part of the city’s efforts to land Amtrak service.

Amtrak 4The council has yet to take action on the designs, which would renovate the Depot Town complex for service by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service.

“Given our financial situation itself, we’re looking at doing something for the Wolverine stop,” said council member Pete Murdock. “It is sort of a minimalist plan–enough to get the train to stop.”

The depot renovation project is projected to cost $2 million and the city is hoping to obtain grant money to fund it.

The renovations could be finished by late 2017.

Amtrak Adds Michigan Thanksgiving Trains

November 9, 2015

In cooperation with the Michigan Department of Transportation, Amtrak is adding additional trains on two of its three Michigan corridors.

Wolverine Extra No. 356 will depart Chicago at 9:30 a.m. and make intermediate stops in Michigan at New Buffalo, Niles, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Jackson before arriving in Ann Arbor at 3:14 p.m.

The equipment will turn back and become Wolverine Extra No. 359, departing at 4:05 p.m. for Chicago with the same intermediate stops as No. 356. No. 359 is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 7:50 p.m.

Nos. 356 and 359 will operate on Nov. 25, 28 and 29.

An extra section of the Pere Marquette will operate on Nov. 25 and 29 between Chicago and Holland, Michigan.

No. 372 will depart Chicago at 10 a.m. and make intermediate stops in St. Joseph and Bangor before arriving in Holland at 2:11 p.m.

The equipment will turn back and depart Holland at 3:10 p.m., making the same intermediate stops before arriving back in Chicago at 5:27 p.m.

Amtrak is encouraging passengers to plan for Thanksgiving travel and book their reservations now in order to obtain the best availability and pricing.

The travel days that are most likely to sell out are the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after the holiday.

Other than on Thanksgiving Day, morning trains typically have more available seats than those in the afternoon and evening.

New Grand Rapids Amtrak Station to Open

September 28, 2014

The new Amtrak station in Grand Rapids, Mich., is expected to begin boarding passengers next month.

The last hurdle to opening the station is the rebuilding of a CSX crossing at Century Avenue SW. That work is expected to be finished on Oct. 10.

The $5.2 million station was supposed to open in 2013 but had become bogged down with numerous delays.

Named after former West Michigan congressman Vern Ehlers, the station will replace an existing depot built by Amtrak on Wealthy Street.

The station will be the eastern terminus of the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette, which is funded in part by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“The track work has to be inspected by CSX; that’s a separate agreement, as we own the railroad spur,” said Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid.

Rapid officials touted the convenient location of the new Amtrak station, saying that Central Station, which serves all of the six-city bus system’s busiest routes and the new Silver Line bus rapid transit system, is just down the street.

Way Cleared for Michigan Talgo Purchase

September 22, 2014

Legislative opposition to Michigan’s purchase of two sets of Talgo trains has been smoothed over and the state is now expected to proceed with the acquisition.

That acquisition was the subject of a summer-long probe in the Michigan Senate after some lawmakers raised concerned about a one-bid contract.

But the senators who expressed concern about that are now are willing to let the deal proceed, said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Pappageorge.

“It was appropriate to look into it because that didn’t look right,” Pappageorge said. “Digging into it, we came to the conclusion that Talgo was the right answer — not a perfect one but adequate.”

The Talgo trains that the Michigan Department of Transportation wants to buy were built in and for Amtrak service in Wisconsin.

But Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker canceled the deal not long after he refused to accept federal runs to be used to develop service between Milwaukee and Madison. The Talgos have sat idle in Indiana while the Spanish company that built the Talgos and Wisconsin battle in court over money that the company claims Wisconsin still owes it.

Although some Talgo equipment built in Milwaukee later entered service in Oregon, the Talgos built for Wisconsin have yet to enter revenue service.

The Wisconsin Talgo trains have since been moved to Amtrak’s shops in Beech Grove, just outside of Indianapolis.

Pappageorge said Michigan needed to act quickly to acquire the Talgos because federal funds were available.

The $58 million for Michigan’s two train sets is to come from $200 million in federal funds for Amtrak improvements in Michigan and other states, mostly in the Midwest.

Michigan plans to assign the Talgo equipment to the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) route where it will replace the current Amtrak rolling stock being used.

The Talgos are capable of top speeds of 110 miles an hour and, in a few years once the tracks used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains are rebuilt passengers will be able to travel up to two hours faster between Chicago and Detroit.

State officials also hope to improve Amtrak’s on-time service performance for the Wolverine Service, which ranged from 6.5 percent to 52.3 percent in July. Amtrak’s website reports on-time rates for Wolverine Service have ranged from 21.5 percent to 39 percent in the past 12 months.

Patronage of the Wolverine Service route has steadily has been building back toward a 20-year peak of nearly 504,000 passengers in 2010.

The Talgo equipment is expected to serve during a transition period. Eventually, Michigan Amtrak routes will be assigned “next-generation” passenger car and engine sets that are about to be built.

Michigan Department of Transportation railroad chief Tim Hoeffner said the state will own the cars.

Hoeffner said the Talgo purchase is pending an evaluation of the equipment’s suitability for Michigan’s needs. That inspection combined with the Senate investigation has meant that the Talgo equipment won’t be in service by October as originally proposed, he said.

The Talgo equipment will replace 30- to 40-year-old Amtrak cars on two of the three daily Chicago-Detroit roundtrips.

“The difference between them is like the difference between the car I learned to drive in the 1970s and the cars my kids learn to drive now,” Hoeffner said. The Talgos are similar to sleek, modern trains that run in Europe and Asia.

The Horizon coaches now used lack modern amenities and are deteriorating because Amtrak has no budget to overhaul them, according to MDOT. They have institutional decor, lack carpeting, contain harsh lighting and lack hot water in restrooms, the department says.

The Michigan Senate investigation also was triggered by a challenge from Chicago-based Corridor Capital, which claimed the process seemed to favor Talgo. The state’s bid specifications were so narrow only one company could meet them, Corridor Capital said.

U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz of Battle Creek, a train buff and volunteer adviser to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on rail issues also raised questions about whether Talgo’s equipment can meet Michigan’s needs — a criticism Corridor Capital continues to press.

“They didn’t meet the minimum requirements,” said Lansing public relations specialist John Truscott, who represents Corridor Capital. “If they did qualify, this would have been an easy decision. We (still) feel it would be just as easy for MDOT to do the right thing and open this back up (for rebidding).”

But Pappageorge said members of the Senate’s Transportation and Appropriations committees found the bid process was handled properly. They also concluded Talgo’s equipment is adequate, based on hours of testimony about train car specifications, he said.

Corridor Capital didn’t help its case when its equipment wasn’t ready to enter service. Hoeffner said Corridor Capital sought a state contract under which it would take over the entire state rail service, not just supply rail cars. It has reached a similar deal with Indiana to operate the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

Michigan transportation analysts believe an “incremental approach” is more prudent. Hoeffner said the goal is to continue building ridership on the Chicago-Detroit route, the busiest of Michigan’s three intercity rail passenger corridors, through faster service and nicer cars.

The state also funds Amtrak’s Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water and the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette.

“All customers want to know is: When do I leave, when do I arrive and is it convenient?” Hoeffner said.

The trip now takes about 6.5 hours, but Hoeffner said that MDOT’s goal is to cut the travel time to four hours, which is about the same amount of time needed to drive the route between the two cities.

The state has purchased the tracks used for much of the Wolverine Service route within Michigan and has launched a track rebuilding program that should be completed in late 2017 or early 2018.

Amtrak Summer Skeds to Stay Until October

August 27, 2014

The modified schedule for Amtrak’s Michigan trains that was imposed for summer track will continue through late September.

The track work is being conducted in western Michigan and affects the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service and the Chicago-Port Huron, Mich., Blue Water.

Primarily affected is westbound No. 365, the Blue Water. Wolverine passengers traveling from western Michigan points to Chicago will continue to have an additional eastbound trip on Sundays and an additional westbound trip on Mondays through Sept. 30. Regular Wolverine Service and Blue Water schedules will resume on Oct. 1. The schedule of the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Mich., Pere Marquette is not affected.