Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak late trains’

Amtrak’s Michigan Trains are Invariably Late

February 26, 2020

Passengers board an Amtrak train bound for Chicago at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Chances are they will arrive late in the Windy City.

If you’re riding Amtrak in Michigan the chances are your trip is going to be late.

A report by the Detroit Free Press said the on-time rate last year in Michigan was 43 percent. On the Wolverine Service route between Chicago and Detroit it was just 33 percent.

That compared with a national average of between 60 and 70 percent.

Amtrak considers a train late if it is 30 minutes or more behind the published schedule.

Figures released by Amtrak show that the performance of the Michigan trains is getting worse.

On-time performance fell from 71 percent in 2016 and 2017 to 62 percent in 2018.

Amtrak is hoping that as part of a renewal of the federal surface transportation law that Congress will strengthen the law giving passenger trains preference over freight trains.

Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman based in Chicago, said such a law would give the passenger carrier legal leverage to better deal with its host railroads, which Amtrak blames for delaying its trains.

“It’s a very important issue to us because our reliability is suffering,” Magliari said.

The Free Press said it tracked the arrival times of six Amtrak trains in Troy, a Detroit suburb on the Wolverine Service line.

The trains from Chicago varied in lateness from 30 minutes to more than two hours.

Amtrak figures show that the afternoon Wolverine from Chicago to Pontiac, the Detroit suburb that is the terminus of the route, arrived in Troy an average of 42 minutes late.

Six times it was more than an hour late and once in mid-January it was two hours behind schedule.

The newspaper said passengers it spoke with who disembarked at Troy said that although they found the delays annoying they still liked train travel.

In its efforts to put pressure on Congress, Amtrak has created a YouTube video titled Your Right to be on Time that urges viewers to contract lawmakers to complain about late trains and urge them to support legislation “that puts people before freight.”

The video contends that Amtrak’s host railroads are giving their freight trains priority over Amtrak trains in dispatching decisions.

“Usually, it’s what we call freight train interference. That’s when our trains are delayed by slow freight trains ahead of them,” the narrator says in the video.

The video acknowledges that delays can also be caused by such things as weather, track maintenance, mechanical problems with trains, and obstructions on the track.

“You can be certain we’ll tell Congress that the original law setting up Amtrak in 1970 does not allow us to bring litigation over the poor handling of our trains by the freight railroads,” Magliari said. “Imagine paying for a service from someone who knows you can’t go after them in court.”

Magliari said one reason why Amtrak trains are getting delayed by freight trains is that the latter are getting longer and sometimes are too long to put into a siding to allow Amtrak to pass.

The Association of American Railroads, which represents the Class 1 railroads that host Amtrak trains, contends the federal government should fund construction of additional tracks and longer sidings

“It would be nice to see the public coming forward” — that is, with federal and state dollars — “where they have an interest in keeping passengers trains operating,” said AAR’s John Gray, senior vice president for policy and economics.

Much of the track Amtrak uses on the Chicago-Detroit corridor, though, is owned by Amtrak or the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Wolverine Service trains, though, use within the Detroit metropolitan area tracks owned by Conrail, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern.

Amtrak’s Michigan trains use the busy NS Chicago Line to reach Chicago from Northwest Indiana.

MDOT, which helps fund Amtrak service in Michigan, said most of the delays incurred by Amtrak’s Michigan trains occur on that 40-mile stretch of NS.

The agency owns 135 miles of the Wolverine Service route between Kalamazoo and Dearborn. Amtrak owns the track from Kalamazoo to Porter, Indiana.

MDOT spokesman Mike Frezell said Amtrak trains using track that it and MDOT own have largely unimpeded travel there.

“We’re hoping within two years to have speeds up to 110 m.p.h. on portions of that, and we’ll be raising all the speeds through that section,” Frezell said.

He said the objective in raising speeds in the Chicago-Detroit corridor is to make train travel competitive with driving and flying.

Great Day for Photographers, Not For Passengers

August 6, 2019

Not many who rode Amtrak’s Capitol Limited or Lake Shore Limited on June 7, 2019, can say they had a great experience.

A derailment on Norfolk Southern the day before that blocked both mainline tracks in Swanton, Ohio, led to a severe disruption in Amtrak service.

About the only good thing that could be said about that day from a passenger perspective was that at least passengers got to their destination even if it was several hours late.

Your trip also included a ride on a school bus between Toledo and Bryan, Ohio, where the eastbound and westbound Lake Shore and Capitol were halted and reversed direction.

The lateness of the train, though, was good news for photographers.

By the time No. 30 and No. 48 got to Olmsted Falls it was mid afternoon.

The schedules being what they are, it is not unusual to capture the eastbound Lake Shore Limited in Northeast Ohio in daylight in the summer months.

But catching the Capitol Limited in daylight, although not unheard of, is harder to do.

But on June 7 both came through about a half-hour apart.

Fast Action Saved the Day on Amtrak Trip

July 22, 2019

Amtrak’s Texas Eagle saunters into St. Louis in a vide made from a downtown hotel. That is the Mississippi River in the background and Busch Stadium in the right foreground.

Some quick thinking and fast action enabled Ed Ribinskas to avoid what could have been a major league disappointment traveling on Amtrak earlier this month.

When he saw that Amtrak’s westbound Capitol Limited was not leaving Pittsburgh he was able to rebook his trip to Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited.

That was important because Ed, his brother Steve, and his nephew Justin were making a connection in Chicago with the Texas Eagle en route to St. Louis for a long weekend that included taking in a MLB baseball game at Busch Stadium.

No. 29 arrived in Pittsburgh 33 minutes late, but by the time it left the station it was five hours behind schedule.

It wouldn’t get any better. It arrived in Cleveland at 9:44 a.m., nearly seven hours late, and reached Chicago at 3:54 p.m., seven hours late.

Ed said he wonders if other passengers holding reservations aboard No. 29 that day were stuck in Cleveland until it showed up.

He said the Cleveland station agent made no announcements about the status of No. 29.

Yet at such stops as Toledo and Elkhart, Indiana, Amtrak onboard personnel said they were boarding passengers for both trains.

The crew on No. 49, Ed said, was very friendly and helpful.

To be sure, No. 49 was 31 minutes late arriving in Cleveland and 50 minutes behind schedule in Chicago, but Ed’s travel party easily made the connection to the Eagle.

That day’s Texas Eagle had Phase III livery P40 No. 822 on the point. No. 21 departed Chicago 36 minutes late and arrived in St. Louis 46 minutes down.

One reason Ed wanted to ride No. 21 was to have dinner in the dining car. It would be the only train of the four he rode with a full-service diner.

Ed’s party was able to get the first seating for dinner. When they arrived just three tables were occupied. “However, our waiter and the food were very good,” he said.

Ed and Steve had the Norwegian salmon with rice pilaf and baby green beans. Justin had the thyme-roasted with mashed potatoes and baby green beans.

The return trip to Cleveland began on a Tuesday morning aboard Lincoln Service Train No. 302 “[It] probably had the best crew I’ve seen,” Ed said. “It was just the conductor and café attendant but they did everything.”

There was no dining car, so Ed settled for having a cinnamon roll and coffee for breakfast.

In Chicago, Ed said he saw the 822 return with a late No. 22.

That night’s eastbound Capitol Limited left Union Station 41 minutes late and pulled into Cleveland 1.5 hours off schedule.

On the way past the Chicago service facility aboard No. 30, Ed managed to get some grab shots of a couple of Amtrak heritage locomotives.

He reported that he also twice saw locomotives wearing the colors of the Bessemer & Lake Erie, one in Gary, Indiana, and another near Joliet, Illinois.

But neither time was he able to get his camera out fast enough to get a photo.

In looking back on his trip, Ed said the crews on the Lake Shore Limited, Texas Eagle and Lincoln Service were good to very good. But the crew on the Capitol Limited was cranky.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

The Phase III P40 heritage unit brought the Texas Eagle back to Chicago. It is seen in the Amtrak coach yard.

The Phase IV heritage unit was also in Chicago as Ed passed by aboard No. 30.

Ed’s borther Steve (left) and nephew Justin show off some Cleveland pride at Busch Stadium, but note that they are wearing St. Louis Cardinals hats. The redbirds were hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks.

A view of St. Louis looking west from the Gateway Arch. Union Station can be seen in the distance.

One of the fabled Budweiser Clydesdale horses was an attracting during a tour of the brewery.

The Trips From Hell

June 8, 2019

A very late eastbound Capitol Limited cruises through Rootstown on Friday afternoon.

Even before their trip began on Thursday evening, passengers aboard Amtrak’s eastbound Capitol Limited were already experiencing adversity.

No. 30 pulled out of Chicago Union Station at 9:53 p.m., 3 hours and 13 minutes late.

Little did they know that that wasn’t the worst of what would turn into a journey from hell.

More than 200 miles away in Swanton, Ohio, a town of 3.600 that many of those aboard the train had never heard of, workers dealing with the aftermath of a derailment that was blocking both mains of the route used by Amtrak’s Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Those booked on Amtrak train No. 30 of June 6-7 to travel the distance to Washington Union Station would finally reach the end of their journey at 5:06 a.m. Saturday, 16 hours later than they expected.

Passengers aboard the Lake Shore Limited that left Chicago at 10 p.m., 30 minutes late would have an equally hellish ride. By the time No. 48 reached South Bend, Indiana, it was 58 minute down. The worst was yet to come.

Both Nos. 30 and 48 would not get beyond Bryan, Ohio.

Their train sets were combined in Bryan and returned to Chicago, leaving there at 1:28 p.m. and arriving in Chicago at 4:58 p.m.

But at least those traveling westbound got to where they were going on Friday. It would be a different story for those headed east on Nos. 30 and 48.

The equipment that had passed through Northeast Ohio on Nos. 29 and 49 early Friday morning turned back at Toledo.

Crews turned the entire consist of No. 29 which returned to Washington as No. 30. The locomotives of No. 49 were cut off and placed on what had been the rear of the train to transform it into No. 48.

As for the passengers, those going east disembarked at Bryan, which is a regular stop for the Lake Shore Limited, but not for the Capitol Limited.

Westbound passengers got off in Toledo. School buses rented from the Sylvania school district were used to shuttle passengers between trains.

The Blade of Toledo reported a passenger as saying that Amtrak underestimated how many buses were needed and coordination and accommodations could have been better.

But Meleke Turnbull told the newspaper it could have been worse, too. “I’m still in a positive, good mood,” she said.

Jack Ciesielski, who was en route by train from Baltimore to California, said his train halted some time after midnight. Passengers were told later there had been a derailment ahead.

“They handled it coolly and professionally,” Mr. Ciesielski said about the Amtrak staff.

Maureen Ciesielski said her fellow passengers maintained a positive attitude, helping each other with luggage and while being kind, and for the most part, understanding.

Railway Age magazine published on its website an account written by David Peter Alan, the chairman of the Lackawanna Coalition, a rail passenger advocacy group in New Jersey.

He was one of those aboard the eastbound Lake Shore Limited.

He said No. 48 arrived in Bryan at 3:20 a.m. The school buses that would transport them to Toledo did not arrive until 8 a.m.

One of the bus drivers reported that she was called at 6:30 a.m. to go to work transporting Amtrak passengers.

Alan said there were seven schools buses dispatched to Bryan, which he said was not nearly enough to handle the number of passengers from Nos. 30 and 48.

The first wave of passengers left Bryan at 8:27 a.m. and arrived in Toledo at 9:47 a.m. They then picked up passengers from Nos. 29 and 49 and took them to Bryan.

No. 29 had arrived in Toledo on time at 6:19 a.m. whereas No. 49 arrived at 6:19 a.m., 25 minutes late. Some passengers waited between four to six hours to catch a ride on their bus.

The buses left Toledo over a two-hour period, with the last two departing at 11:47 a.m. The combined Nos. 29 and 49 didn’t leave for Chicago until 1:28 p.m.

Amtrak officials said the earliest the combined Nos. 29 and 30 could reach Chicago was 3:30 p.m., which ensured that unless the western long-distance trains were held most of them would miss their connections.

It actually arrived at either 4:58 p.m. or 4:58 p.m., depending on which arrival time you want to believe on the Amtrak website.

Alan said passengers waiting to depart from Toledo had a long wait.

Harpist Jacob Deck tried to entertain the increasingly impatient crowd with music.

A boarding call for No. 48 was made at 11:06 a.m. but boarding did not begin until 11:50.

The train departed at 12:24 p.m. Passengers had to ride backwards because neither the train nor the seats had been turned.

At 2 p.m. No. 48 was nearing Olmsted Falls when, Alan said, it should have been 30 minutes from Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

On the other hand, Alan said, passengers also got to see Sandusky Bay in daylight.

Those traveling to eastern cities knew that if their projected arrival times were correct, they would reach their destination after most public transit has stopped operating for the night.

The projections were that No. 30 would get to Washington at 12:39 a.m. and No. 48 would get to New York at 1:20 a.m.

But those were wildly off the mark. It didn’t help that No. 48 lost three hours on CSX between Cleveland and Erie, Pennsylvania, most of that from sitting in the Erie station for nearly two hours.

No. 30 sat arrived in Pittsburgh at 6:39 p.m. but didn’t leave until 8:04 p.m. By then it was 14 hours, 44 minutes late.

Those dwell times might have been due to waiting for a “rested” crew.

When this post was written at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, No. 448 was projected to arrive at Boston South Station at 10:09 a.m., 14 hours and eight minutes late.

No. 48 was projected to arrive into New York Penn Station at 7:14 a.m., 12 hours and 39 minutes late.

Alan said the sorry story of the fates of Nos. 30 and 48 illustrate “that Amtrak’s preparedness is dreadfully deficient.”

He said the derailment occurred before Nos. 30 and 48 left Chicago, leading him to wonder why Amtrak didn’t detour the trains and therefore avoid the bus bridge?

He also wondered why it took more than five hours to get buses out of Bryan and why there weren’t enough westbound buses originating in Toledo.

“Why were eastbound passengers forced to wait almost three hours at Toledo to continue their trip? Why did the combined Chicago-bound train leave Bryan so late? Why, why, why?” he wrote.

Alan believes Amtrak needs a service recovery plan to deal with emergencies such as this one.

If such a plan existed, it would have enabled Amtrak to have gotten buses into position sooner.

That plan would also include providing stranded passengers with food, which Alan said Amtrak did not provide other than the “emergency snack packs” kept aboard trains that he said are small and not exactly nutritious.

There are answers to those questions and some of them might involve factors beyond Amtrak’s control.

Whatever the case, you have to wonder how many of those affected by those trips from hell will be willing to board Amtrak again anytime soon.

In the meantime, No. 30 left Chicago Friday night at 12:11 a.m., 5 hours and 31 minutes late while No. 48 departed at 12:23 a.m., 2 hours and 53 minutes late. Both trains were projected to reach Northeast Ohio after 8 a.m. today.

Photographs by Todd Dillon

Rounding the Bend in Berea

May 10, 2019

Amtrak Train No. 48 was late, two and a half hours late. That might not have been good news for the passengers, but it was great news for me.

It meant an uncommon opportunity to photograph Amtrak in daylight in Cleveland.

The Lake Shore Limited lost its time departing Chicago, where it didn’t get out of Union Station until 12:26 a.m., which is 2 hours and 56 minutes off schedule.

I don’t know why there was such a late departure, but there was.

By the time No. 48 got to Berea it had made up some of the last time, but not much. It would arrive in New York City at 9:21 p.m., 2 hours and 46 minutes down.

The train had its usual summer consist. The Boston section had a sleeper, cafe car and two coaches. The New York section had four coaches, Viewliner dining car Dover, two sleepers and a baggage car. Viewliner dining car Springfield was dead heading on the rear of the train.

Up front were the customary two P42DC locomotives.

Very Late Amtrak No. 49

May 18, 2018

On Wednesday Amtrak No. 49 was over 10 hours late due to severe storms in the New York area. I got it passing Berea tower around 2:30 in the afternoon. This train would later terminate at Toledo and passengers would be taken by bus to Chicago from there.

Photographs by Todd Dillon

Amtrak Takes Host Railroads to School

March 26, 2018

Amtrak has launched a quarterly “report card” on its website that evaluates the delays that it incurs on the tracks of its host railroads.  In the first report card, Amtrak said most delays are due to freight trains interference.

The implication is that such delays violate a federal law that gives Amtrak passenger trains preference over freight trains. However, the law has some exceptions.

Amtrak assigned letter grades to six Class 1 railroads that were based on delays per 10,000 train miles.

Amtrak defines that as the number of minutes of host-responsible delay, divided by the number of Amtrak train miles operated over that host railroad, times 10,000.

Canadian Pacific received the only A on the report card. Other railroad grades included a B+ for BNSF, a B- for Union Pacific and a C for CSX. Norfolk Southern and Canadian National both “flunked” by receiving grades of F.

Following are some Amtrak comments regarding hosts railroad performances on specific routes:

• 97 percent of passengers on Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee arrived at their destinations on time. Ninety percent of trips experienced no freight train interference.

• 90 percent of passengers on Carl Sandberg/Illinois Zephyr service arrived on time with less than 4 minutes of delay by BNSF freight trains.

• More than 57 percent of passengers arrived late abroad the Coast Starlight. On an average trip on this route, passengers experienced four separate instances of delay caused by UP freight trains, accounting for 48 minutes of delay on average.

• 50 percent of passengers traveling on the Cardinal arrived late by an average of 1 hour and 27 minutes. On 85 percent of trips, the Cardinal’s 350 passengers are delayed by CSX freight trains.

• Over 67 percent of passengers arrived late at their destinations while traveling on the Crescent. The typical Amtrak train, carrying 350 passengers, is delayed over 1 hour and 40 minutes due to NS freight trains. Many Amtrak trains wait as long as 3 hours and 12 minutes for NS freight trains using this route.

• More than 200,000 passengers arrived late at their destinations on the Illini and Saluki, which operate between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois. Amtrak trains were delayed by CN freight trains on nearly 90 percent of their trips.

Running in a Winter Wonderland

January 24, 2018

When the weather in the upper Midwest turns wintry, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited often runs late.

Earlier this month Nos. 48 and 49 were running six hours or more behind schedule due to the effects of winter conditions.

Delays in turning the equipment in Chicago were given some of the blame, but winter operating conditions can also lead to frozen switches, broken rails and freight train emergencies that are not Amtrak’s fault.

If No. 48 leaves Chicago late, it likely will get even later as it rolls eastward toward New York and Boston.

On a sunny but frigid day last week when the early morning temperatures were in the low teens and the wind chill was sub zero, I braved the elements to photograph No. 48 at Geneva, Ohio, where it came through more than two hours off schedule.

It was running a few minutes behind an eastbound CSX stack train. I can only speculate that the dispatcher put the intermodal train out ahead of Amtrak because it would not be stopping in Erie, Pennsylvania, but Amtrak would be.

Double Shot of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited

January 8, 2018

Amtrak’s westbound Lake Shore Limited is running seven hours late as it rushes through Painesville, Ohio, on Sunday morning.

Amtrak train No. 48 has some heritage on the point as it passes through Northeast Ohio.

After church on Sunday morning I saw on the Amtrak website that Lake Shore Limited No. 49 left Erie at 8:57 a.m. Under normal running time that would put it at the Painesville station at 9:57 a.m.  Also, No. 48 departed Cleveland at 9:33 a.m., which would put it under normal running through Painesville at 10:03 a.m. It had Phase IV heritage unit No. 184 on the lead. Luck was on my side. No. 49 arrived at 9:50 a.m. and No. 48 showed up 11 minutes later at 10:01 a.m.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Late 48 at 12:35 p.m. on Consecutive Fridays

January 6, 2018

I photographed Amtrak No. 48 at the Painesville station of the former New York Central  running more than six hours late at the same time – 12:35 p.m. – on consecutive Fridays. The top image shows the eastbound Lake Shore Limited on Friday, Dec. 29. The bottom photo shows the train on Friday, Jan. 5 when the air temperature was 7 degrees.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas