Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Cleveland’

An Amtrak Birthday Treat

November 2, 2020

It is Nov. 13, 1998. The eastbound Pennsylvanian is stopped in the Cleveland Amtrak station, having begun service a week earlier.

Photographer Ed Ribinskas is standing in a parking garage overlooking Conrail’s Lakefront Line.

In the background the stadium that will host the expansion Cleveland Browns franchise is under construction.

Ed said getting this photo of Amtrak train No. 44 was a birthday present that he gave himself.

Photograph by Edward Ribinskas

The Day the Pennsylvanian Came to Cleveland

October 25, 2020
The first eastbound Pennsylvanian has arrived in Cleveland in November 1998.

It was one of those quintessential November days in Cleveland with gray skies overhead.

But if you were a rail passenger advocate then, metaphorically speaking, the skies could not have been any bluer.

After years of pushing for it, Amtrak was extending its New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian west of the Steel City.

Finally, Northeast Ohio would see an Amtrak train in daylight hours in circumstances other than an existing scheduled train running several hours late.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s Amtrak would put on show to celebrate the inauguration of new service.

On Nov. 7, 1998, it was Cleveland’s turn for that with the Pennsylvanian coming to town.

It was not, though, the first time in the 1990s that an Amtrak publicity train had come to Northeast Ohio.

In fall 1990 Amtrak ran a publicity special through Akron and Cleveland in advance of the rerouting of the Broadway Limited via Akron and the Capitol Limited via Cleveland.

Those publicity trains were greeted by marching bands, speakers and a festive welcoming ceremony.

By contrast, when the Pennsylvanian came to Cleveland the celebration was more subdued.

There was a speaker inside the station and a specially decorated cake. But there were no marching bands and Amtrak did not assign the publicity train an open platform car or a dome car as it had in 1990.

There was a respectable crowd to greet the first No. 44, which arrived on a Saturday from Chicago.

My photographs from that day show people clustered around the vestibules of the Horizon coaches and I’m not sure if they were allowed onboard to tour the train or if some of them were boarding as ticketed passengers.

I struck up a brief conversation with Amtrak conductor George
Sanders, noting we shared a last name in common but were otherwise unrelated.

He posed for a photograph and I got his address and later sent him a copy.

The train rolled into the station with two P42DC locomotives, two material handling cars, a Superliner Sightseer lounge, a Superliner transition sleeper, two Horizon fleet coaches, an Amfleet coach, an Amfleet café car and a string of RoadRailers on the rear.

The RoadRailers were a sign of why Amtrak had extended the Pennsylvanian to Chicago.

The Three Rivers, which had replaced the Broadway Limited in 1995 between New York and Pittsburgh and been extended to Chicago in November 1996, had reached its limit of 30 cars, most of which carried mail and express.

To expand its burgeoning head-end business, Amtrak needed another train to Chicago. That would be the Pennsylvanian.

Amtrak had wanted to extend the Pennsylvanian westward before Christmas 1997 but lacked sufficient crews.

Although new operating personnel were hired in spring 1998, Conrail refused to allow the expansion during the summer track work season.

Because the postal service usually dispatched mail around dawn, No. 44 was scheduled to depart Chicago at 6 a.m. while No. 43 left Philadelphia at 6:30 a.m.

The Pennsylvanian reached Cleveland eastbound in early afternoon and westbound in late afternoon.

It was scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 11:59 p.m. and in Philadelphia at 12:25 a.m. That meant no convenient same-day connections in Chicago and few in Philly.

But passenger traffic was less the objective of the Pennsylvanian extension than head-end revenue.

Then Amtrak president George Warrington said at the time that this would put Amtrak on a glide path to profitability.

Those who understood the realities of passenger train scheduling would have understood that this made the Pennsylvanian’s future in Cleveland rather tenuous.

Nonetheless, there was optimism in the air as Nos. 43 and 44 began serving Cleveland, Elyria and Alliance.

I don’t remember anything the speaker said during the welcome ceremony or even who he was.

I was there primarily to make photographs of Amtrak in Cleveland in daylight.

Except during holiday travel periods, ridership of the Pennsylvanian would prove to be light.

On many days it had only about a dozen passengers aboard in Ohio and Indiana.

Ridership was stunted by chronic delays that occurred in 1999 following the breakup of Conrail by Norfolk Southern and CSX.

The typical consist for the Pennsylvanian was three coaches and a food service car.

A schedule change on April 29, 2002, moved the Chicago departure back six hours to 11:55 p.m., which made No. 44 the “clean up” train to accommodate those who had missed connections in Chicago from inbound western long distance trains to the eastern long-distance trains.

At the same time, the westbound Pennsylvanian began departing Philadelphia two hours later in order to provide additional connections.

No. 43 now was scheduled to reach Chicago Union Station at 1:44 a.m.

A change of administrations at Amtrak led to the carrier announcing in fall 2002 that it would cease carrying mail and express.

As a result the Pennsylvanian would revert to New York-Pittsburgh operation.

On Feb. 8, 2003, I went down to the Cleveland Amtrak station with my camera to make photographs of the Pennsylvanian, the first time I’d done that since the November 1998 inaugural train had arrived.

This time, though, I boarded as a paying passenger, getting off in Pittsburgh and returning on the last westbound No. 43 to run west of Pittsburgh.

There were no crowds, cake or speakers to greet the Pennsylvanian in the Cleveland station on this day.

And that sense of optimism that had hung in the air more than four years earlier had long since dissipated.

Rail passenger advocates in Ohio are still trying to get back that sense of optimism.

Amtrak conductor George Sanders agreed to pose by a Horizon coach vestibule.
Who was that guy who gave the welcome to Cleveland speech? Not only do I not remember his name I also don’t remember anything he said.
What’s a celebration without a cake?
A respectable crowd was on hand to greet the first Pennsylvanian to stop in Cleveland.
Dad is ready to make some photographs but his son is not sure being this close to the tracks is a good idea.
Those RoadRailers on the rear give a hint as to the primary reason why the Pennsylvanian began serving Cleveland. Amtrak expected to make money on mail and express business.

LSL to Go Tri-Weekly on Monday

October 11, 2020
Amtrak’s westbound Lake Shore Limited arrives in Waterloo, Indiana, on Oct. 8, 2020.

The next round of frequency reductions of Amtrak long-distance trains will be implemented on Oct. 12 when the Lake Shore Limited, Texas Eagle, Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief begin tri-weekly operation.

That will mean that there will be no scheduled Amtrak service in northeast Ohio on Wednesdays.

On Oct. 5 the Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, City of New Orleans and Crescent shifted to operating tri-weekly operation.

The Lake Shore and Capitol Limited will depart New York/Boston and Washington respectively on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, putting them through Cleveland on Thursday, Saturday and Monday.

That is the same schedule the westbound Cardinal follows at Cincinnati.

Nos. 30 and 48/448 will depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, putting them into Cleveland on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.

However, the eastbound Cardinal departs Chicago on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and reaches Cincinnati on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

The Empire Builder and Palmetto will change to tri-weekly operation on Oct. 19.

Once those changes are made only the Auto Train will operate daily among Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The Silver Meteor began quad-weekly operation in early July. At the same time the Silver Star shifted to tri-weekly operation.

The New York-Miami trains are scheduled to operate on separate days so as to preserve daily service on some portions of their routes.

Although some congressional leaders and President Trump continue to issue public statements expressing support for another round of COVID-19 pandemic emergency aid, differences in opinion among the parties as to the size of the aid and what would be covered have prevented any deals from being reached.

Rail passengers advocates have sought to lobby to include emergency aid for Amtrak in the next round of pandemic aid and Amtrak is seeking additional funding in federal fiscal year 2021.

The fate of those funding requests remains unclear and Amtrak president William Flynn has warned that further employee furloughs and train service cuts are likely if Amtrak doesn’t get additional funding for FY 2021.

The passenger carrier like other federally-funded programs is operating with funding authorized by a continuing resolution that freezes funding levels at FY 2020 levels through Dec. 11.

Most Amtrak Long-Distance Trains Will Arrrive, Depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday, Saturday

August 14, 2020

Most of Amtrak’s long-distance trains will arrive and depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, thus enabling same-day connections on those days between Amtrak’s western and eastern long-distance trains once they move to tri-weekly operation in October.

Trains magazine reported on its website on Thursday afternoon the new schedules, which it said were contained in a message to employees that it obtained.

That schedule shows the reduction in frequency of service will be phased in on Oct. 5 on the California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, City of New Orleans, and Crescent.

On Oct. 12 the Coast Starlight, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, and Texas Eagle will move to tri-weekly operation.

The Empire Builder and Palmetto will assume tri-weekly schedules on Oct. 19.

If the schedule information presented by Trains is accurate, there will be no same-day connections from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited to the westbound Texas Eagle.

Nos. 29 and 49/449 are slated to depart their eastern endpoint cities of Boston, New York and Washington on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, thus putting them into Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

The Texas Eagle, though, is scheduled to depart Chicago on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.

Nos. 30 and 48/448 are scheduled to leave Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

The inbound Eagle will offer same-day connections with those trains on Thursday and Saturday.

The Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited will offer same-day connections on Monday and Saturday to the California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Empire Builder and City of New Orleans.

There will be no westbound same-day connections from Nos. 29 and 49/449 to the California Zephyr on Thursday but there will be connections to Nos. 3, 7 and 59.

As for same-day eastbound connections to Nos. 30 and 48/448, the inbound California Zephyr, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief and City of New Orleans will make those connections on all three days.

The Cardinal already operates tri-weeky, reaching Chicago on the same days of the week that have been set for the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

However, No. 50 departs Chicago on Tuesday and there will be no inbound connections to the Cardinal from any western long distance train on that day. The Cardinal also departs Chicago on Thursday and Saturday.

The schedules, if they are implemented as reported by Trains, will mean that Amtrak will stop in Cleveland and other Northeast Ohio cities on every day except Wednesday.

Nos. 48/448 and 30 will arrive in Cleveland on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Nos. 29 and 49/449 will arrive on Thursday, Saturday and Monday.

The schedule changes will not affect the Auto Train, which will remain daily.

The Sunset Limited already operates tri-weekly and frequency reductions were implemented in early July for the Silver Star and Silver Meteor.

The Cleveland Nighttime Shuffle

January 8, 2020

It’s 0 dark 30 at the Cleveland Amtrak station and passengers are coming and going from the eastbound Lake Shore Limited. I set my camera on a tripod and captured this seen with a telephoto lens.

The view is looking primarily at the Amfleet II coaches. No. 48 still carried a Heritage Fleet dining car and crew dorm in those days.

This image was made on Aug. 22, 1998, so the Heritage Fleet dining car that is partly visible is no longer assigned to Nos. 48 and 49.

But coach passengers are still riding in Amfleet II coaches as seen here.

Train Time in Cleveland

November 9, 2019

Amtrak stops in Cleveland four times a day, but if the trains are on time or close to it it will be dark when you board or disembark at the station on the shore of Lake Erie.

So if you want to photograph Amtrak in Cleveland you’ll need a tripod. Unless it is late — something that is not all that rare — you’ll be shooting in the dark.

If you have a digital camera there will be just enough light to get some decent images by hand holding your camera.

I recently ran across these images and forgot that I had made them.

It is early June 2012 and I’d just stepped off the eastbound Lake Shore Limited.

Note that it is shortly before dawn and the night was giving way to the blue hour, thus providing a big more ambient light.

These two passengers just got off one of the New York section Viewliner sleepers.

Breakfast will be served a short time later after No. 48 leaves Cleveland.

Will the Lansing Ever Play in Lansing?

August 29, 2019

The Viewliner diners that Amtrak has taken delivery of in recent years and continues to receive from CAF USA are named after state capital cities.

In many instances those cities are not on the Amtrak map. Some haven’t been for years, i.e., Columbus; and some have never been served by Amtrak, i.e., Dover, Delaware.

Lansing is an interesting case. Amtrak passes through the capital of Michigan but the station is located in East Lansing.

The city is served by the Blue Water, which has either an Amfleet or Horizon food service car.

Given that, it seems unlikely that diner Lansing will ever see its namesake city unless . . .

The Lansing could pass through Lansing if it ever gets assigned to the Blue Water to help meet a Canadian National-mandated minimum axle count.

For now, though, the Lansing is assigned to eastern long-distance trains. It is shown in Cleveland on the eastbound Lake Shore Limited where it was serving as the lounge for sleeping car passengers.

Photograph by Edward Ribinskas

Lucky Me That I Picked the Wrong Day to Travel

July 17, 2019

Passengers get into position to board Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited in Cleveland as it arrives more than three hours late on the morning of June 26, 2019. (Photograph by Edward Ribinskas)

On the evening of June 25, 2019, Amtrak Train No. 48 departed Chicago Union Station on time at 9:30.

It would be the only time that No. 48 would arrive or depart from a station on schedule during its 959 mile journey to New York City.

What Amtrak said would be a seven hour trip to Cleveland ballooned to 10-and-a-half hours.

That wasn’t all bad, I suppose. I got to see Sandusky Bay in daylight and got some “bonus” time at no extra fare aboard a train I had not ridden since May 2014.

Yet when the Lake Shore Limited finally halted at the Cleveland station I was more than ready to get off. I had things to do and places to go and had expected to be well underway in doing them already.

Officially, No. 48 arrived in Cleveland at 9:07 a.m., 3 hours, 29 minutes late.

How does a train lose 3.5 hours? Darn if I know because the crew never told us how or why, not that I expected them to do that.

A detailed accounting of that lost time exists somewhere. Amtrak conductors keep logs of time lost en route and report that information to a superior who forwards it to Amtrak headquarters.

Amtrak aggregates that information into report cards that the carrier periodically issues to show how its host railroads are doing in keeping Amtrak trains on time.

Those reports, though, are not necessarily a complete accounting. I’ve heard Amtrak crew members agree in radio conversations with each other to not report a particular cause of delay.

I also once heard an Amtrak engineer refuse to cooperate with the conductor in explaining why No. 30 had lost time in Indiana.

Amtrak operating personnel do not have access to the communication that goes on in the dispatching offices of the host railroads.

If a dispatcher for Norfolk Southern decides to hold Amtrak at a control point to wait for two westbound freight trains to clear before switching Amtrak from Track 2 to Track 1 in order to go around a slow freight train ahead on Track 2, the Amtrak crew doesn’t know why the decision was made to hold them rather than holding one or both of the westbound freights further east until Amtrak could go around the slow eastbound freight.

Further, they don’t know whether that decision was made by the dispatcher, by the dispatcher’s supervisor or by a computer program that NS uses to dispatch its railroad. Nor do they know with certainty the logic behind the decision even if they have some idea.

In fact, the scenario outlined above happened in the darkness of northern Indiana west of South Bend during my trip.

My train was moving slowly and I got my scanner out and listened to the NS road channel for a while.

As best I could tell, most of the time that No. 48 lost on the night and morning of June 25-26 could be attributed to the host railroad.

Amtrak might see it as freight train interference while NS might call it traffic congestion.

In the days preceding my trip, Amtrak had posted a passenger advisory warning that NS track work in the Chicago area would cause delays of up to an hour because two main tracks would be out of service.

Perhaps NS freight traffic was heavier than usual on the night I was aboard No. 48 as the freight carrier was getting caught up from delays to its own trains stemming from the track work.

We can’t blame NS for two other delays due to bridges being open in Toledo and Cleveland for marine traffic.

I’ve made dozens of trips on Amtrak through Toledo over the past 25 years and it was the first time I’d ever been aboard a train delayed by the Maumee River Bridge being open.

Otherwise, nothing happened during that trip of June 25-26 that I had not experienced before between Cleveland and Chicago. Many times.

Much of the lost time was racked up between Elkhart, Indiana, and Toledo where Amtrak trains have been losing time for decades, going back into the Conrail era.

What had been 1 hour, 11 minutes late at Elkhart skyrocketed to 2 hours, 51 minutes by the time we stopped at the Bryan station.

By then it was daylight and I got my radio out again and listened to the engineer on No. 48 call a steady drum beat procession of approach signal indications from Bryan to the west side of Toledo.

We finally got around a long manifest freight in Toledo and I’m not sure if it was a case of that train having mechanical problems, being underpowered or some other reason.

Of course there was a steady stream of westbounds on Track 1, including Amtrak’s Capitol Limited.

Shortly after we moved around that manifest freight the dispatcher said we would have to wait for Amtrak 49 to depart the Toledo station, where there is just one track that Amtrak can use.

Once we got across the Maumee River we moved at a steady pace but we were even later at Sandusky than we had been at Toledo.

NS has been particularly outspoken about its disdain for Amtrak’s report cards and at one point threatened legal action if Amtrak didn’t stop issuing them.

Of course NS is upset because those report cards suggest it does a poor job of dispatching Amtrak trains.

NS management would argue that dispatching decision making takes into account a myriad of factors and seeks to strike a balance in serving the interest of freight trains and passenger trains.

NS managers would say dispatchers seek to give Amtrak preference when they can but that is not always possible because things happen.

It isn’t the railroad’s fault that someone parked a car on the tracks that was struck by a container train that subsequently derailed and blocked both main tracks as happened in early June in Swanton, Ohio.

Nor can railroads predict when equipment failures will occur or acts of nature will strike.

These things also delay the transport of the freight of NS customers.

All of this is true as far as it goes, but overlooks that managers are people who make decisions based on their beliefs, biases and prejudices as to what is most important when conflicts occur in moving trains.

It also overlooks that these beliefs, biases and prejudices are built into the overall operating plan and tend to be viewed as sacrosanct.

It starts with the reality that we the host railroad own this railroad and not Amtrak. In our view the needs of the owner are just as important if not more so than those of the tenant.

I’ve ridden enough Amtrak trains to know that there is an element of luck involved in whether you will get to your destination on time or close to on time.

Had I departed Chicago on No. 48 on June 23 I would have arrived in Cleveland the next morning 27 minutes early. Had I left Chicago the day before I actually traveled I would have arrived in Cleveland 19 minutes late.

Had I traveled the day after I actually traveled I would have arrived in Cleveland 19 minutes late.

Had I left Chicago on June 27 I would have arrived in Cleveland one hour and 13 minutes late. That’s not good, but far better than 3.5 hours late.

So of five trains that operated the week I traveled I had the good fortune – yes, I’m being sarcastic – of choosing the travel day with the really late train.

But that was the date that worked best for me that week. It just didn’t work well for keeping the train even reasonably within range of being on time.

As for my fellow passengers who remained aboard No. 48 on June 26 after I disembarked, No. 48 would lose additional time on CSX, reaching its nadir of 4 hours, 19 minutes late at Schenectady, New York.

By the time it reached the end of the line at New York’s Penn Station, the lateness had been trimmed to 3 hours, 42 minutes, about what it had been in Toledo.

Whether it’s a plane, a train, or a bus, when you take public transportation you are rolling the dice that the carrier will get you to your destination when it says it will.

You know no carrier has a 100 percent on-time record, but always hope the aberration will occur on another day and affect someone else. Some people are naive enough to think it will not happen to them.

As you are loping along at restricted speed, waiting at a control point for opposing traffic or stopped because a heavy Great Lakes freighter has priority at a water crossing, there is a feeling of injustice that someone else’s priorities are more important than yours and there is nothing you can do about it.

If you are a writer you might dash off an indignant piece saying this ought to be done or that ought to have been done.

But if you know anything at all about transportation you should know better. Lengthy delays while traveling do occur and sooner or later they will occur to you.

It’s just that they can mess up your plans and, at times, spoil or dampen an experience you had long looked forward to having.

AAO Holding Rallies in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo

June 21, 2017

All Aboard Ohio plans to conduct rallies on behalf of Amtrak’s long-distance passenger trains on Friday in Cleveland and Columbus and on Saturday in Toledo.

The rallies are part of a larger campaign by the National Association of Railroad Passengers to drum up public support for continuing federal funding for long-distance trains that the Trump administration has proposed ending in fiscal year 2018.

The Cleveland rally will begin at noon at the Amtrak station. The Columbus rally will start at 11 a.m. at the corner of High Street and Nationwide Boulevard.

The Toledo rally will begin at 3 p.m. at MLK Plaza/Amtrak station.

In a news release, AAO said that cities without passengers trains have fewer jobs, less tourism, lower economic activity, lower real estate values, less healthy people, more traffic congestion, less mobility and fewer travel options.

“Eliminating funding for Amtrak would have a profound negative impact on every intercity, rapid transit and commuter rail passenger in the country. More than 220 communities across the country and over 40 million riders will lose their service,” AAO said.

The AAO news release noted that Columbus has gone more than 13,750 days since losing service when Amtrak’s New York-Kansas City National Limited was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1979.

The capital of Ohio was said to be the largest city in the western hemisphere and possibly the world without any regularly scheduled passenger trains whether they be urban light-rail, regional commuter or intercity service.

Cleveland and Toledo are each served by the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited and the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited.

AAO said that Cleveland’s rail transit system faces a half-billion dollar backlog of unfunded repair needs and the viability of its Greater Cleveland RTA rail service is threatened by other proposed federal budget cuts.

Amtrak Ticket Agent Walls to Retire

January 5, 2017

Many Akron Railroad Club members past and present know or have met Bob Walls.

He is a lead ticket agent for Amtrak in Cleveland and has also worked in the ticket offices in Canton and Akron when Amtrak stations were still active.

Walls, who has been with Amtrak since 1972, will retire on Friday. We’ve received word that he will host a farewell party at the Cleveland Amtrak station for friends and acquaintances on Friday from 10 to 2.