Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak long-distance trains’

NARP Decries Amtrak, Transit Budget Cuts

March 17, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers said Thursday that the Trump administration budget for Amtrak for the fiscal year 2018 appears to have been adopted from a model proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The administration described the budget blueprint as a “skinny budget” and it contains few program details.

NARP contends that while President Donald Trump has talked up the need for transportation infrastructure investment, “his administration’s first budget guts infrastructure spending, slashing $2.4 billion from transportation. This will jeopardize mobility for millions of Americans and endanger tens of thousands of American jobs.”

The budget, which must be approved by Congress, would end all federal funding for Amtrak’s national network trains.

NARP said this would leave 23 states, including Ohio, without rail passenger service.

The Trump budget would also cut $499 million from the TIGER grant program, which has been used to advance passenger rail and transit projects and eliminate $2.3 billion for the Federal Transit Administration’s “New Starts” Capital Investment Program, which is used to fund the launch of transit, commuter rail, and light-rail projects.

Political analysts have noted that no budget proposal sent to Congress has emerged without changes.

It is likely that transportation advocacy groups will lobby Congress hard to restore the funding that Trump wants to cut.

Trump Wants to End Amtrak Long-Distance Train Funding, to Trim Public Transportation Funding

March 16, 2017

Here we go again. Another president has taken aim at Amtrak’s federal funding.

The proposed FY2018 budget released by the Trump administration this week calls for eliminating federal funding of Amtrak’s long-distance trains and would impose other steep cuts in transportation spending.

Amtrak would not lose all funding, but the funding it receives would be focused on supporting services within specific regions, specifically the Northeast Corridor and state-funded corridors in the East, Midwest and along the West Coast.

The budget described long-distance trains as inefficient and incurring the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses.

Trump is seeking to cut the U.S. Department of Transportation budget by $2.4 billion or 13 percent.

If Congress adopts the Trump budget blueprint, DOT will receive $16.2 billion.

Also slated for deep cuts in the budget are Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.

Funding of the New Starts program of the Federal Transit Administration will be slashed and limited to projects with existing full funding grant agreements.

In a statement with the budget, Trump said the DOT budget is being revamped to focus on “vital federal safety oversight functions and investing in nationally and regionally significant transportation infrastructure projects.”

A statement with the budget request said that the blueprint seeks to reduce or end “programs that are either inefficient, duplicative of other federal efforts, or that involve activities that are better delivered by states, localities or the private sector.”

In a statement, Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman said that Amtrak’s 15 long-distance trains offer the only service in 23 of the 46 states that the carrier .

“Eliminating funding for long-distance routes could impact many of the 500 communities served by Amtrak,” Moorman said.

“These trains connect our major regions, provide vital transportation to residents in rural communities and generate connecting passengers and revenue for our Northeast Corridor and state-supported services. Amtrak is very focused on running efficiently  — we covered 94 percent of our total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in FY16 — but these services all require federal investment.”

Moorman pledged to work with the Trump administration, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Congress to “understand the value of Amtrak’s long-distance trains and what these proposed cuts would mean to this important part of the nation’s transportation system.”

As for transit funding, the budget blueprint says that curtailing federal funding leaves funding up to “localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”
The American Public Transportation Association issues a statement saying it was surprised and disappointed with the budget details so far.

APTA noted that the administration has been touting a broad plan to spend $1 trillion for infrastructure investment, but “the White House is recommending cutting billions of dollars from existing transportation and public transit infrastructure programs.”

The trade group said the budget cuts would affect projects underway in Kansas City; Dallas; Fort Worth, Texas; Indianapolis; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Fort Lauderdale, and Jacksonville, Florida.

The cuts to the TIGER program is aimed at what the budget described as “unauthorized” projects. In January before Trump was inaugurated , DOT had announced that $500 million was available. The TIGER grants were first awarded in 2009.

Among the 2016 grant recipients are San Bernardino County, California., which received $8.6 million for passenger rail service; Mississippi’s 65-mile long Natchez Railway, which received $10 million for rehabilitation and upgrades for five bridges; and Springfield, Illinois, which received $14 million to build two underpasses for proposed high-speed service between St. Louis and Chicago.

Amtrak CEO Moorman Talks About His Vision For the Future of the U.S. Rail Passenger Carrier

January 30, 2017

Since taking over last fall as the CEO of Amtrak, Charles “Wick” Moorman has given hints here and there about his vision of America’s national intercity rail passenger carrier.

Wick Moorman

Wick Moorman

Columnists and editors of Trains magazine sat down with Moorman in December to discuss that vision.

Columnist Don Phillips was there and wrote about it for the March issue of the magazine that will be in subscriber mailboxes soon.

Phillips recently sent advance copies of his columns to those on an email list that he maintains. Presumably, there will be another report in the March issue written by the magazine’s passenger rail correspondent.

Moorman told the Trains representatives that he sees a future for long-distance passenger trains, but it is less clear if he sees any expansion of them.

He does see potential growth in medium-distance service, which is paid for by the states.

The proposed restoration of service along the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans has been gaining political support and may end up becoming an extension of the Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans.

But that hinges upon the federal government making a financial commitment to the service.

Moorman said during the interview that the new Viewliner equipment for eastern long-distance trains that is being built by CAF USA will be finished according to a new production schedule that the company and Amtrak have agreed upon.

Other items of interest include Moorman’s view that something needs to be done about the quality of food service aboard Amtrak trains, and the aging diesel locomotives and passenger cars used by trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

In regards to food service, Moorman said the pressure that has come from Congress in recent years to cut the cost of food service is lessening and what Amtrak needs to do is sell more food.

Another high priority on Moorman’s list is the institution of a training program for on-board employees, including conductors.

But the top priority on Moorman’s list is rebuilding infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor. That includes replacing bridges, tunnels and catenary, as well as building a replacement for New York Penn Station.

The takeaway from the Phillips column: Look for a better on-board experience but with little to no expansion of the existing routes and levels of train frequency.

LSL Chicago-Boston Cars Resume Operation

October 31, 2016

Through sleepers and coaches between Chicago and Boston on the Lake Shore Limited resumed operation last week after being absent for more than a year.

Amtrak Lake Shore LimitedAmtrak had instead operated a stub-end train between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer, New York, with passengers making an across-the-platform connection.

Through Boston cars were dropped during a track reconstruction program in Albany-Rensselaer.

The resumption of Boston through cars coincided with the introduction of business class service between Chicago and Boston.

That service is being provided in 2-1 seating in one end of the café car that operates between the two cities. Business class seating is not yet available between Chicago and New York on Nos. 48 and 49, but is offered on the Chicago-New York Cardinal via Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

Food service between New York and Albany-Rensselaer is being provided by an Amfleet II “diner-lite” car.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder in Big Sky Country

October 23, 2016
Snow covered mountains loom behind Amtrak's eastbound Empire Builder as it heads for Chicago near Browning, Montana.

Snow covered mountains loom behind Amtrak’s eastbound Empire Builder as it heads for Chicago near Browning, Montana.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder passes through Montana during daylight hours in both directions. That makes it an attractive target for photographers.

Akron Railroad Club member Roger Durfee went chasing after the Builder during his trip to the Treasure State last September.

He tracked down No. 8 in various locations including against a backdrop of mountains, open range and grain elevators, making images near Browning, Cut Bank, Shelby, Malta and Havre.

This is the territory of the former Great Northern Railway, which was built by “empire builder” James Hill. For decades the Empire Builder was the premier passenger train on the GN.

Today these tracks are owned by BNSF and Amtrak’s Empire Builder is the only passenger train to use these rails.

Photographs by Roger Durfee

Two views of No. 8 near Browning Montana. Glacier National Park is beyond those mountains.

Two views of No. 8 near Browning Montana. Glacier National Park is beyond those mountains.

amt83browningmt04

Passing an empty crude oil train west of Malta.

Passing an empty crude oil train west of Malta.

Passing a waterway near Shelby.

Passing a waterway near Shelby.

Making a station stop in Malta.

Making a station stop in Malta.

In the barren countryside between Cut Bank and Shelby.

I like how I could do a broadside of the whole train out there.

Dropping down into the Valley of Cut Bank Creek.

Dropping down into the Valley of Cut Bank Creek.

Gliding over Cut Bank Creek on a high trestle.

Gliding over Cut Bank Creek on a high trestle.

Passing an old elevator at Ethridge.

Passing an old elevator at Ethridge.

Getting fuel in Havre.

Getting fuel in Havre.

The heritage of this line is Great Northern as someone wants you to know in Havre.

The heritage of this line is Great Northern as someone wants you to know in Havre. The stained glass shows “Rocky,” the GN mascot.

Posing with a relic of the Great Northern in Havre.

Posing with a relic of the Great Northern in Havre.

Amtrak Set 2016 Ridership, Revenue Records

October 22, 2016

Low gasoline prices did not prevent Amtrak from breaking revenue and ridership records fiscal year 2016.

Amtrak logoThe passenger carrier hosted about 31.2 million passengers, up 1.3 percent from 2015, and generated $2.2 billion in ticket revenue, up 0.03 percent.

Former Amtrak President Joseph Boardman had earlier this year imposed various cost-cutting measures, saying that Amtrak faced a $167.3-million ticket revenue shortfall compared with the amount originally budgeted.

However, the carrier’s actual performance exceeded the revised downward forecast by 3.3 percent even as it was 4.3 percent off the original FY 2016 projection.

The California Zephyr posted an 11.2 percent increase in ridership and 6.2 percent in revenue.

The removal of full-service dining cars and meals included in sleeping car fares on the Silver Star led to a 5 percent decline in passengers and 11.6 percent in ticket revenue.

The Auto Train lost more than 12 percent of its riders and almost 8 percent of its revenue.

Among state-supported corridor trains, a push to complete infrastructure improvements to create higher speed service depressed ridership and revenue of Wolverine Service and Lincoln Service trains due to service cancellations.

The quad-weekly Hoosier State carried about as many passengers in 2016 as it did the previous year, but revenue increased by about $250,000 or 36 percent.

The offering of premium business class service by operator Iowa Pacific was credited with the increase in revenue.

Although Amtrak’s ridership and revenue data do not show passenger mile or revenue per-train mile comparisons, the 15 long-distance trains generated slightly more ticket revenue carrying less than 32 percent of the passengers of the state-supported trains.

This is partly  because the long-distance trains offer such higher-price services as sleeping car accommodations.

Most Amtrak Long-Distance Trains Now Have Trackside Checked Bicycle Service for $25 Fee

September 20, 2016

Amtrak has begun checked trackside bicycle service on most long-distance trains.

Amtrak logoThe service is available only at stations that have checked baggage service.

Passengers with bikes must check in with a station agent, obtain a claim check/baggage tag for their bike, and then give that to a crew member inside the baggage car of their train.

Passengers must retrieve their bikes from the baggage car from a crew member once they reach their destination.

The new procedure has ended the need for passengers to break down and box their bikes on long-distance trains. Checked bikes also require payment of a $25 fee.

The service is not yet available on the Portland section of the Empire Builder, the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited or on the Coast Starlight.

Amtrak said checked bike service will begin on the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight at a date to be announced.

Amtrak’s 70 new Viewliner II baggage cars have racks to hang bicycles.

LSL, Cardinal Set to Get Wi-Fi in 2016

October 20, 2015

Two Ohio long-distance trains are slated to receive Wi-Fi service in 2016, Amtrak has announced.

The Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited and the Chicago-New York Cardinal are both set to receive AmtrakConnect(r), a cellular-based Wi-Fi service.

Amtrak recently made Wi-Fi available to Auto Train passengers and will also add it to the New York-New Orleans Crescent and the New York-Miami Silver Star and Silver Meteor next year.

Although Wi-Fi has been available on various corridor trains for the past few years, the Auto Train is the first long distance train to receive the service.

Next year’s plans are to provide Wi-Fi service on all single-level long distance routes. By the time those trains receive Wi-Fi, Amtrak said that more than 90 percent of Amtrak passengers will have access to on-board Wi-Fi.

“This new amenity marks an important milestone in our ongoing commitment to improving the passenger experience,” said Mark Murphy, senior vice president and general manager long distance. “The availability of Wi-Fi provides the connectivity passengers expect while traveling and demonstrates yet another reason why Amtrak is a smarter way to travel.”

AmtrakConnect(r) uses numerous cellular carriers to provide Wi-Fi, using 4G LTE technologies where available.

There is no cost to passengers to access the Wi-Fi service.

Amtrak Viewliner II Baggage Cars Enter Service

March 26, 2015

Amtrak’s new Viewliner II baggage cars entered revenue service this week on the East Coast.

The first trains to carry the cars were the northbound Silver Meteor (New York-Miami) and northbound Carolinian (New York-Charlotte, N.C.).

Altogether, Amtrak ordered 55 of the cars and plans to assign them to all of its 15 long-distance routes.

The cars were built at the CAF USA plant near Elmira, N.Y. Earlier, they were ferried to Amtrak’s Hialeah maintenance facility in Miami for inspection.

Amtrak has ordered 130 single-level, long-distance passenger cars, including diners, sleepers and baggage-dorm cars.

Amtrak Reporting Delays Electronically

September 5, 2014

Amtrak has begun implementing an electronic delay reporting system that seeks to show the reasons why its trains are delayed en route.

Amtrak Vice President of Operations D.J. Stadtler discussed the delay reporting system at a Surface Transportation Board field hearing held in Fargo, N.D., to hear complaints from shippers about service on BNSF and Canadian Pacific.

Stadtler told Trains magazine that the railroad is testing the delay reporting system on the Fort Worth-Oklahoma City Heartland Flyer and Boston-Brunswick, Maine, Downeaster corridor.

Amtrak hopes to implement the delay reporting system on all routes by the end of the year.

The passenger railroad already uses a GPS-based monitoring system to keep track of its trains. That system is accessible to the public on the “Track-a-Train” feature on the Amtrak website.

If Amtrak’s monitoring system detects a delay, the conductor of the delayed train will receive a prompt on his or her iPhone to report the reason for the delay.

That information will be sent to Amtrak’s Consolidated National Operations Center in Wilmington, Del., and relayed to the host railroad.

The idea is that this will provide accountability for dispatchers and their supervisors as well as letting Amtrak personnel know about recurring trouble spots due to slow orders or rail traffic congestion. Currently, such information between Amtrak and its host railroads involves paper documents sent by fax.

Tardiness has become a problem for Amtrak this summer with systemwide long-distance train endpoint on-time performance falling below 40 percent in July.

Of particular concern has been the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder. Its all stations on-time figure was 9.9 percent, the worst for any train in the system. Schedule padding enables Nos. 7 and 8 to arrive on time at their endpoint cities 24.5 percent of the time.

Stadtler said BNSF officials told him that slow orders on the Devils Lake and Valley Subdivisions used by the Empire Builder in North Dakota would be removed in October as six track and signal projects are completed.

Amtrak has been talking with BNSF about a schedule that will be more realistic and reliable than the most recent adjustment to the schedule implemented last April that extended the running times in both directions.

Stadtler said, though, that systemwide year-to-date trends “have shown little signs of improvement”  and suggested that the STB monitor the on-time statistics that Amtrak publishes as well as asking the host railroads to report periodically on their handling of Amtrak trains.

Host railroads need to “take Amtrak on-time performance seriously,” Stadtler said.

“Amtrak services nationwide and particularly the long-distance trains are experiencing growing levels of delay on host railroads,” Stadtler said. “If this is not addressed, it will translate into significant impacts to our service, our passengers and our bottom line.

“We want to avoid [delays], and we prefer to address and fix this system-wide problem by working cooperatively with our host railroad partners,” he said. “We do, however, have an obligation to provide the traveling public with the level of service mandated by the statute, and we therefore believe that the STB could significantly assist us by monitoring the statistics.”