Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak long-distance trains’

Amtrak ALC-42 Chargers Now on 3 Routes

September 4, 2022

Amtrak’s new ALC-42 Charger locomotives are operating on three long-distance routes, but not all trains on those routes are yet pulled by the Siemens-built locomotives.

A report on the website of Railfan and Railroad magazine said Chargers have seen service in recent weeks pulling the Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle/Portland), the City of New Orleans (Chicago-New Orleans) and the California Zephyr (Chicago-Emeryville, California).

Four ALC-42 locomotives were in the motive power of a recent eastbound California Zephyr, although just two of them were online with the other two new deliveries being towed.

Those new deliveries were later towed by the Chicago to Washington Capitol Limited.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the magazine that it will be some time before all runs on the three aforementioned routes will be covered by ALC-42 units.

Magliari said 11 Chargers are in service in long-distance train service but not all 11 are necessarily operating at the same time.

At least 25 locomotives are needed to cover all runs of the three routes.

The ALC-42 Chargers debuted last spring on the Empire Builder. It was a troubled inauguration with technical issues hindering the positive train control system of the locomotives.

Those issues largely have since been worked out.

The Railfan and Railroad report said that often an ALC-42 is paired with a P42DC. The report said typically the Charger trails the P42 on westbound trips of the Empire Builder.

However, Chargers have worked as solo units on the City of New Orleans in recent weeks. Between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, on the City route, Amtrak crews are already familiar with similar locomotives, the SC-44 Chargers.

On the Empire Builder route, an ALC-42 often leads Train 7 from Spokane, Washington, to Seattle as a solo unit while a P42 pulls the Portland section.

Amtrak has agreed to purchase 125 ALC-42 units and all of them are expected to be in revenue service as replacements for P42 and P40 units by 2029.

Dates Set for Amtrak Service Restoration

July 20, 2022

Daily operation on three Amtrak will be phased into place during the first week of October.

Trains magazine reported on its website that daily operation of the New York-New Orleans Crescent will resume on Oct. 4 and for the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans on Oct. 8.

Those dates correspond to the first dates that those trains would not have operated under the current operating conditions of running five days a week.

The New York-Miami Silver Meteor, which has been suspended since last January, will resume operating on Oct. 3.

The Trains report said that originally Amtrak said it would reinstate daily service on all three routes starting Sept. 11. But the service suspensions have been extended into October.

In suspending service on these and other routes last mid-January Amtrak cited a shortage of workers in its mechanical and onboard services departments as well as COVID-19 pandemic complications.

The suspended service on most long-distance routes has since been restored.

Amtrak has also restored some suspended services in the Northeast Corridor, including an overnight train between Boston and points in Virginia.

The New York-Toronto Maple Leaf was restored over the length of its route on June 27 and a second St. Louis-Kansas City Missouri River Runner was restored on July 17.

Still suspended are the New York-Montreal Adirondack, the Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois, Saluki, and the Carbondale to Chicago Illini.

Trains reported service restorations made or planned thus far reflect Amtrak’s belief of what service can be reliably supported with the existing labor force and the equipment that is operable.

Amtrak to Reinstate Suspended Service on Oct. 3

July 16, 2022

Amtrak will restore fully daily service on Oct. 3 to long distance trains that are now operating five days a week.

The Rail Passengers Association reported on its website that the change affects the New York-New Orleans Crescent and the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans.

Also on Oct. 3, RPA, said the now suspended Silver Meteor will resume operation between New York and Miami.

In recent months the only service between New York and Miami has been the Silver Star, which follows a different route from the Meteor in North Carolina and South Carolina.

RPA also said some improvements in food service aboard trains might be rolled out this fall but no details on what those changes might entail are yet available.

Amtrak cited staffing shortages for reducing the frequency of most long-distance trains in January to five days a week.

Most of those service cuts have since been reversed and train operations have reverted to seven days a week.

The RPA report said Amtrak is now confident that it will have the staff and equipment needed to bring the rest of the trains back on to pre-pandemic schedules.

However, the RPA report did not say whether the service restorations includes reinstating service now suspended in the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor.

Since January the State of Illinois supported service on that route has been only the northbound Saluki in the morning and the southbound Illini in late afternoon and evening.

Amtrak Extends Some Service Suspensions

March 4, 2022

Amtrak indicated on Thursday that some trains will not resume daily operation on March 28 as the passenger carrier had earlier indicated they would.

Trains that will continue to operate five days a week include the Empire Builder, California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Lake Shore Limited, City of New Orleans, and Crescent.

The Capitol Limited, Texas Eagle, and Coast Starlight will resume daily operation on March 28.

On that date, all seven Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha weekday round trips and full weekend service will be restored, as will nine weekday trips each way between New York City and Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

Other state-supported and Northeast Corridor cuts announced in January are to continue indefinitely.
Most notable among those in Midwest corridors is the southbound Saluki from Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois, and northbound Illini from Carbondale to Chicago.

The suspension of the Silver Meteor, which had been suspended in its entirety, will continue.

Amtrak has not said when suspended trains will be reinstated. “We continue to work on further frequency additions for the coming months as staffing and other resources allow,” Amtrak said in a statement.

In the meantime, the passenger carrier has been notifying passengers booked to travel in April and May on dates of which there will be no service that they need to reschedule their trips.

Trains magazine reported on its website that the affected long-distance trains are shown in the Amtrak reservation system as being reinstated to full daily service between May 23-28.

However, an Amtrak spokesman told Trains that that is its spring schedule and the company will announce its summer schedules at a later date.

In a statement to Trains, Amtrak said the continued service suspensions are due to “staffing and hiring shortages for skilled technical employees caused by the pandemic.”

The statement said Amtrak is working toward restoring train frequ3nces “in the coming months as our hiring, training and staffing levels advance.”

Railfan & Railroad magazine reported on its website that Amtrak officials cited hiring challenges for the service suspensions continuation.

Racing North Near Leverett

December 22, 2021

To appreciate this image it probably helps if you grew up in a place with a lot of flat farmland.

Shown is Amtrak’s City of New Orleans racing northbound toward Chicago near Leverett, Illinois, shortly after sunrise on a Sunday morning.

No. 58 was more than an hour behind schedule leaving Champaign. The train is on the Chicago Subdivision of Canadian National, which at one time was the mainline of the Illinois Central between Chicago and New Orleans.

As for what I, an east central Illinois native, see in this photograph, I see familiarity. There are no striking physical features such as mountains and valleys, just farmland and in the distance traces of urbanization in Champaign-Urbana. Above the Superliner cars you also can see the top of the grain elevator at Leverett.

This is all familiar to me and in a way comforting.

I would not have been able to get this image had No. 58 been on time as it would have been dark as it passed through here. It was a nice way to get a day of railfanning off to a good start.

If you look closely, you will see there is frost on the crossties of the CN track. Temperatures were in the 20 when I made this photograph on a winter morning.

I later checked and determined No. 58 halted at Chicago Union Station 58 minutes late.

January Amtrak Service Cuts Seem Likely

December 10, 2021

Amtrak Service reductions in January appear to be a near certainty.

The passenger carrier’s president, Stephen Gardner, told a congressional hearing on Thursday, that the service cuts, which are expected to involve long-distance trains, are due to expected crew shortages stemming from a COVID-19 vaccination rule the carrier imposed.

Gardner said 94 percent of Amtrak workers are full vaccinated and 96 percent have received at least one immunization.

However, the company is expected to find itself short staffed as workers who have failed to be vaccinated are terminated. Another factor, Gardner said, is a wave of retirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said Amtrak also has faced slow going in hiring new workers to replace the retirees and vacancies expected to be created by those who do not comply with the vaccination rule.

Gardner said vaccination rates among workers are lowest in the ranks of workers assigned to long-distance routes.

Amtrak imposed the vaccination rule in compliance with an executive order issued by the Biden administration requiring employees of government contractors to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.

That mandate has been challenged in federal courts and earlier this week a judge in Georgia issued a stay of the order. Unions representing workers at Amtrak and various Class 1 railroads have filed lawsuits challenging the rules imposed by the carriers.

It is unclear how these developments might affect the expected Amtrak service reductions.

Amtrak officials have been indicating for several weeks that the passenger carrier doesn’t expect to have enough fully vaccinated workers by January to support its full national network as well the various corridor services that it offers.

An announcement of which routes will see reduced service is expected to be made next week.

Those service cuts are expected to be similar to those imposed in October 2020 when most long-distance routes were reduced to tri-weekly or quad-weekly frequency of operation. The impetus for those reductions was low patronage cause by the pandemic depressing travel.

Those service reductions were restored on a route-by-route basis in last May and June.

During his testimony, Gardner said the long-distance route service cuts are expected to be temporary with full service restored by March.

In some crew bases that serve long-distance routes, Gardner said the rate of noncompliance with the vaccine rule is relatively high.

Passengers whose trips will be disrupted by the service cutbacks will be contacted and offered the opportunity to rebook their trips.

The hearing was held by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Rail Subcommittee hearing and was titled, “Leveraging Infrastructure and Jobs Act: Plans for Expanding Intercity Passenger Rail.”

Expanding Capacity and Dining Car Service Moving at Slow Pace, Amtrak Officials Say

September 24, 2021

Top Amtrak executives gave a glimpse of Amtrak’s near-term future this week during a meeting of the Rail Passengers Association and many rail advocates are likely to frustrated and encouraged at the same time by what they heard.

On the positive side, Amtrak is moving to make dining car meals available to passengers other than just those holding sleeper class tickets. It is even working toward upgrading dining car meals on eastern long distance trains.

Yet it will take some time before coach passengers anywhere will be able to buy dining car meals.

Also expected to take time will be increasing capacity on long-distance trains because the cars needed to do that are in storage and Amtrak needs to bolster its mechanical work force before those cars can be put back into revenue service.

Amtrak’s chief marketing and revenue officer, Roger Harris, said the passenger carrier is still seeking “to get the service right” before opening dining car meals to coach passengers.

A first step in that direction will be taken in October when business passengers aboard the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight will be able to buy dining car meals.

Harris cited a litany of factors for moving slowly to open up dining car meals to more passengers.

He said many on-board crew members have returned from furloughs imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic and Amtrak doesn’t want to overwhelm them with such tasks as collecting cash and overseeing COVID restrictions.

“Our intention all along was to get to a point where we could offer it to coach customers,” Harris said.

He described the Coast Starlight move as a trial run to see how it plays out.

“The idea is to start small and work through the issues that we inevitably will encounter by opening up the dining car to more customers,” Harris said. “Then if the test is successful, we will roll it out to additional markets.”

As for the eastern trains, Harris said Amtrak is consulting with a food vendor who has worked with the passenger carrier to enhance meals served on Acela trains in the Northeast Corridor.

The vender is working with Amtrak “with a lot of menu items to find out what will work well within the constraints of single-level dining cars.” Harris said.

Harris acknowledged that many passengers riding eastern long-distance trains have complained about repetitive food offerings.

Starting in June 2018 Amtrak began moving away from full-service dining cars on eastern long-distance trains in favor of food prepared off the trains and reheated onboard.

That service eventually evolved to one bowl entrees with a few side items.

“By trying to offer different types of foods that are more appealing we think we can substantially upgrade the food offerings on the East Coast,” Harris said.

“We’re also looking at putting on new types of ovens and other kitchen equipment to be more creative in the types of food offerings we have.”

Amtrak initially chose its western long-distance trains for upgraded dining car service because it had the ability to restore employees on those trains and dining is such a critical part of the experience,” Harris said. “We wanted to live up to the expectations of our customers there.”

However, the return of full-service dining has yet to come to the Texas Eagle, in part because of equipment shortages that also have limited capacity of long distance trains.

Harris acknowledged that equipment shortages stem from decisions made last year about how much equipment to put in storage and how many mechanical jobs to cut.

At present, the Coast Starlight is the only Superliner-equipped long-distance trains with a coach devoted to business class.

Those passengers receive a free bottle of water and an “onboard credit for food and beverage purchases.”

Both the Eagle and the Capitol Limited have been operating for the past several months without a Sightseer Lounge car.

“Eighteen months ago we had to decide how much fleet we were going to be able to run and how much money we were going to spend on overhauls and how many employees we thought would be able to work on the equipment because we didn’t have enough demand to justify keeping the system running at historical levels and we didn’t think we would have enough money from Congress at that point,” Harris said.

“So what you see running on the system is all the equipment we have available,” he said.

He said some employees took early retirement, resulting in a reduced mechanical staff.

“We have to re-recruit for some of those [positions]; there is this unintended effect, but at this point unavoidable where we have to work through this backlog to get back to what was once our historic fleet availability, and that will take some time.”

He indicated that Amtrak is likely to be working through the winter to get transition sleepers back in service so that rooms now being taken by crew members can be sold to the public.

Also speaking to the RPA conference was Executive Vice President-Major Program Delivery Laura Mason.

She said the Amtrak would be able to step up replacement of aging equipment now used in the national network if Congress approves an infrastructure bill now pending in the House.

The bill has also received Senate approval. Of late, the infrastructure bill has been hindered by political wrangling in the House.

Even without the infusion of capital funding Amtrak hopes to get from the infrastructure bill, Harris said the carrier has been slowly replacing its fleet over the past five years with new Acela trainsets, new Viewliner cars and Venture cars being built by Siemens for use in state-funded corridor services.

Amtrak also has chosen Siemens to build replacement cars for Amfleet equipment used in the Northeast Corridor.

“This is not something Amtrak really has a deep bench on, in terms of doing procurements, so we really need to tackle these sequentially. So, there’s some elements of the Amfleet replacements that we need to wrap up still from that procurement, and then we will begin to have the capacity to work on the long-distance procurement,” Harris said.

Mason said Amtrak is “laying the groundwork to receive the substantial infusion of federal funding” contained in the infrastructure bill.

 “With the state of our infrastructure today and the funding that we have hopefully coming towards us with the infrastructure bill, we need to be able to build up the capacity to do multiple billion dollar programs, to have just not one focus but many,” she said.

 “We have $40 billion of planned critical infrastructure, facility and fleet investments that we need to turn into a reality.”

Mason also said Amtrak faces the challenge of recruiting future workers.

 “One of the big challenges to the industry is how do we get people excited and involved?” she said. “We need to recruit at all levels; I think entry-level is very important, but also mid-level.

“We need to bring in people from different industries and help them see the rewards that come from working in rail. That you can do well by doing good, and also that you can have a tremendous positive impact.

“I talk about this when I go out recruiting, about the impact. Do you want to affect tens of thousands of people a day? Hundreds of thousands? Millions of people a year? You can do that in transportation.”

She said Amtrak might need to appeal to younger would-be employees by tying the transportation industry to climate change.

“I say: Make it your day job; come work in rail. If you want to combat climate change, help be part of the solution of making rail and carbon neutral transportation an option for everybody,” Mason said.

Amtrak Now Operating Daily in NEO

June 1, 2021

Amtrak is now operating daily through Northeast Ohio. For the first time since last October the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited ran in both directions early this morning as Amtrak implemented the second phase of its resumption of daily service of long distance trains.

Last week the Texas Eagle, California Zephyr, Empire Builder and Coast Starlight resumed daily operation on May 24.

On May 31, the Capitol and Lake Shore along with the Southwest Chief and City of New Orleans resumed daily operation.

The next round of trains to go back to daily service will be the Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Crescent and Palmetto on June 7.

The Cardinal and Sunset Limited will continue to operate tri-weekly as they have for many years.

In a related development, the Rail Passengers Associated reported it has learned traditional dining car service will return to Amtrak’s western long distance trains on June 23.

On its own website, Amtrak reports only that traditional dining has been suspended through June 30.

More details on the revamping of Amtrak’s dining service are expected to be released this week.

Stimulus Money Conveyed to Amtrak

April 28, 2021

The U.S. Department of Transportation said this week that it has conveyed to Amtrak $1.69 billion in economic stimulus funds authorized by the American Rescue Act of 2021.

The funding includes $728.6 million for Amtrak’s long distance and regional trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak was directed by Congress to allocate $174 million of that total to offset what the carrier charges states for corridor services.

However, the law does not require states to restore their Amtrak corridor services to pre-pandemic levels.

Most states reduced their corridor services during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a plunge in ridership.

Several states have begun restoring suspended services but others have yet to announce their plans.

Among the routes yet to be fully restored is the Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The route had three roundtrips pre-pandemic, but since March 2020 the level of service has been a single daily roundtrip.

Some Illinois and Missouri routes also continued to operate below pre-pandemic levels.

The directive also mandated that Amtrak return long-distance service to daily operation if they operated as such before last year.

Amtrak has said daily operation will be phased in over a three-weekly period beginning May 24.

The Northeast Corridor will receive $969.4 million of which $109.8 million will go to states and commuter railroads to cover their share of capital costs Amtrak charges them for using the Northeast Corridor.

Another $100.8 million will be used for debt relief that Amtrak incurred before the legislation was adopted on March 11.

Amtrak Begins Recalling Furloughed Workers

March 16, 2021

Amtrak was to begin the process of recalling furlough employees on this week.

An internal memo said 1,250 furloughed workers would be recalled between March 16 and 29 while noting that it would take 90 days to get all of them back to work.

During that 90-day period the furloughed workers will be tested and requalified as needed in their respective positions.

The recalls were mandated in the recent $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that was approved by Congress and signed by President Joseph Biden.

The legislation appropriated $1.7 billion in supplemental funding for Amtrak to, among other things, restore daily service to 16 long distance trains that operated daily until last year.

The restoration of daily service is to take place on a rolling schedule on May 24, May 31 and June 7.

The Amtrak memo indicated that the first employees to be recalled would be those in train and engine service followed by onboard service personnel.

The affected workers will be contacted by a phone call that will be followed up with a certified letter.

In the memo Amtrak indicated that although workers are expected to respond to the recalls within the time frame outlined in their craft’s collective bargaining agreement, the carrier is seeking to provide some flexibility so workers can take care of personal matters before reporting back to work at Amtrak.