Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak long-distance trains’

Trump Wants to Cut Amtrak Funding in Half

February 14, 2018

Here we go again. The proposed fiscal year 2019 federal budget released this week by the Trump administration proposes cutting in half the federal funding for Amtrak.

As the administration did a year ago, it is taking aim at long-distance trains, calling for funding of those to be slashed and for states served by the trains to pick up that funding.

But even the Northeast Corridor would face federal funding cuts, seeing its funding reduced from $328 million to $200 million.

Total Amtrak funding would be $538 million. Congress appropriated $1.2 million for Amtrak in the current fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30.

The Trump administration proposed a similar budget cut for Amtrak last year, but Congress ignored it.

Amtrak issued a statement saying the proposed cuts would negatively affect the more than 31 million people who ride Amtrak.

“As the budget process progresses, we look forward to working with the administration, Congress, state partners and other stakeholders to consider these proposals and the impacts they could have on this important part of the nation’s transportation system,” the passenger carrier said.

Amtrak said it remains focused on running efficiently, saying that it covered 94.7 percent of its total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in fiscal year 2017, but it must rely on some level of federal funding.

In a 160-page budget narrative submitted to Congress, the White House Office of Management & Budget said that having states share the burden of funding Amtrak would make “states more equal partners with the federal government, and would strengthen the responsiveness of Amtrak to the communities they serve.”

The narrative contends that along with cuts to Amtrak funding the administration “proposes reforms to Amtrak to improve efficiencies and effectiveness of long-distance routes.”

“State contributions to long distance routes is only one tool in the menu of options,” the administration said it will be exploring.

Advertisements

Moorman Looks Back on his Amtrak Tenure

December 5, 2017

You could say that Amtrak co-CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman is a big fan of his fellow CEO Richard Anderson.

Moorman

“We really hit a home run in that Richard Anderson agreed to come on board,” Moorman said during a speech last week at the RailTrends 2017 conference.

Moorman cited Anderson’s leadership skills, saying Amtrak needs his aggressive nature.

During his presentation, Moorman also said Amtrak has made progress in such areas as safety, maintenance and customer service.

The former CEO of Norfolk Southern also singled out the passenger carrier’s new chief financial officer, William Feidt, who Moorman said has brought discipline to Amtrak that was lacking.

Moorman said Chief Marketing Officer Tim Griffin understands marketing a passenger service as well as revenue and yield management. “We have a first-rate management team now,” Moorman said.

Griffin and Anderson have both worked in the airline industry with Anderson having been a former CEO at Delta Air Lines.

Moorman, who will leave Amtrak soon, said that although the passenger carrier is developing a better safety culture, it continues to trail Class I railroads in those efforts.

He also said that Amtrak has a spotty record in delivering on capital projects

Amtrak needs to be a better steward of its assets, including its rolling stock and facilities.

“Shabby chic can be fashionable, but not on a passenger train or in a train station,” Moorman said.

Pointing out that much of Amtrak’s equipment had a worn-out feel to it, Moorman directed the interiors of Amfleet I cars to be refurbished after he learned that it would be relatively inexpensive.

In time, the refurbishment program will be extended to cars used on long-distance trains.

One lesson that Moorman said he learned from Anderson from the airline industry is to consistently upgrade the interiors that passengers see.

“You don’t want to know how many 40-year-old airplanes you’ve flown,” Moorman said.

In fiscal year 2017, which ended on Sept. 30, Amtrak reduced its operating loss to just under $200 million, which covers 95 percent of its expenses. Moorman said the goal is to reduce the operating loss to zero.

It will seek to do that by bumping up ridership and revenue. However, he said that will be a challenge to achieve if the current less than desirable on-time performance means that Amtrak service is unreliable.

Moorman said a two- or three-hour delay for a freight train doesn’t mean much, but is unacceptable for a passenger train.

He said Amtrak and its host freight railroads need to work more closely to reduce delays while the freight railroads need to realize that to a certain extent the public’s perception of American railroading is shaped by Amtrak and the level of service it provides.

45 Years Later Memories of My First Amtrak Trip Still Resonate

November 25, 2017

Forty-five years ago today I stood on the platform of the Illinois Central Railroad passenger station in my hometown of Mattoon, Illinois, in the early morning hours awaiting the arrival of Amtrak train No. 58.

It would be my first ever trip aboard Amtrak, a day trip to Chicago. It would mark my first experience riding in a dome car and my first experience eating dinner in an Amtrak dining car.

I’ve since ridden Amtrak dozens of times and had a full range of experiences good, bad and indifferent.

But none can quite compare to that first trip, which I still remember in some detail as though it happened not that long ago.

For example, I still remember the sound of the brake shoes being applied every time No. 58 approached a town where another rail line crossed at grade.

I also still remember the rush that I felt when I spotted the headlight of No. 58 a mile or so out of town as I stood on the platform. Train time was at hand.

The Panama Limited was about a half-hour late when it arrived in Mattoon and I was disappointed when I saw that the lead locomotive was painted in Amtrak colors rather than those of the ICRR.

The trailing unit still wore an IC livery as did the two units that pulled No. 59 that evening back to Mattoon.

Amtrak was 19 months old on Nov. 25, 1972, and still in he rainbow era in which cars refurbished in Amtrak colors and markings mingled with cars still in their as-received condition from Amtrak’s contract railroads.

I was impressed with the interiors of the refurbished cars with their blue seats and walls with paisley accenting. They looked modern. Today, when I see one of those cars in a museum or on an excursion train they look so Seventies.

At the time of my first Amtrak trip, I was a college student and my traveling companion was my sister’s boyfriend. He was still in high school.

In retrospect, I’m surprised that our parents let us travel to the big city by ourselves as neither of us really knew Chicago and we had some difficulty time finding Union Station to return home after a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry.

We had ridden a CTA bus to and from the museum and back but we had had no idea which routes went where.

I had noticed when the train arrived in Mattoon that morning that it had a dome car toward the front of the train.

By chance it was a car or two ahead of the coach in which we had been seated and shortly after the train left Kankakee I asked the conductor if we could sit up there.

“I don’t see why not,” was the reply.

It was dome sleeper and I didn’t know there were such things. It would turn out to be the only time that I rode in one.

As No. 58 made the turn to get onto the St. Charles Air Line in Chicago, I had a view from the dome of the coach yard of the former Central Station.

It was filled with passenger cars wearing IC colors and markings. By November 1972, passenger cars in the IC livery were uncommon on the Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans trains that I saw. IC passenger locomotives, though, were still the norm.

An IC employee was sitting in the dome section and had a radio. It was the first time I had heard railroad radio transmissions.

We halted and the engineer said on the radio, “Weldon Tower would you tell them that 58 is sitting here. Waiting. ”

I guess we didn’t have the signal yet from Union Avenue interlocking on the Burlington Northern.

No. 58 was scheduled to arrive into Chicago Union Station at 9:30 a.m. and we backed in shortly after 10 a.m.

Despite our adventures or misadventures in finding the correct CTA bus routes we got back in plenty of time to catch our train.

I remember a station announcement that still sticks in my mind because I’ve haven’t heard a boarding announcement quite like it since.

It came from the booming voice of man who wasn’t so much announcing the train’s pending departure as commanding passengers to get on board.

“Your attention please! Amtrak train No. 59, the Panama Limited, intends to leave at six ten p.m.”

It was the use of and emphasis on the word “intends” that got my attention.

This was a transition time between the era of passenger trains operated by the freight railroads and the Amtrak culture that was still taking root.

My ticket, which had cost $11, was on Amtrak stock and placed inside an Amtrak ticket envelope. But it had been endorsed with an ICRR stamp and issued by an IC employee.

My next Amtrak trip in December 1972 had a ticket issued on former Pennsylvania Railroad stock and placed inside a Penn Central ticket envelope.

Not long after the Panama Limited left Chicago, we made our way to the dining car. It had angled tables and seating, something I’d never seen and have not seen since.

I don’t remember what I ordered but am sure it was one of the least expensive items on the menu.

I was impressed with the efficiency of the waiters and their business-like approach to the job. They were constantly going back and forth from the dining area to the kitchen and doing so with authority as they carried their trays.

These men probably had worked for the IC or some other railroad before Amtrak and everything about them was old school.

There were a lot more of them than is the case aboard today’s Amtrak dining cars.

After dinner, we took it upon ourselves to go back to the dome car, figuring that the “permission” we had received that morning was still good that evening.

It was neat to see the signal bridges ahead as No. 59 rushed southbound. The green signal would turn to red shortly after the lead locomotive passed it.

A couple of sleeping car attendants – they might have still been routinely referred to as porters then – were sitting in the dome section and asked us if we were sleeping car passengers.

We were not.  One of them replied that the dome was supposed to be for those in the sleepers.

He didn’t exactly order us to leave, but we had gotten the message. We stayed for a few more minutes and then went back to our coach seats.

The trip seemed to end all too quickly. It had been slightly longer than three hours.

I stepped off the train in Mattoon feeling awed by the whole experience. I wanted to do it again and often, but it would be a few more years before I was in a position to do that.

By then Amfleet cars had come to the Midwest and Superliners were on the horizon. The Amtrak culture had taken a firm hold. The private railroad passenger service era had faded away.

Between 1994 and 2014 I would ride Amtrak from Cleveland to Mattoon a couple times a year to visit my Dad.

Every time I stood on the platform in Mattoon to wait for the City of New Orleans or the Saluki for Chicago, I would look to the south for the headlight of the approaching train and be taken back to that morning in November 1972 when my first experience with Amtrak was seeing the headlight of a EMD E unit charging northward into my memory.

Anderson Discusses Amtrak Priorities

September 7, 2017

Amtrak has dropped the idea of reducing the distance between its seats.

Appearing on the CBS program This Morning, Amtrak’s co-CEO Richard Anderson said that the spacing between seats, known in the industry as pitch, will remain unchanged.

“One of our great advantages is that there are no middle seats,” Anderson said. “Our coach on Amtrak is much, much better than first class on airlines.”

Anderson is a former president of Delta Air Lines. The airline industry is notorious for its efforts over the years to reduce seat pitch in order to cram more passengers aboard its planes.

During the interview, Anderson said that infrastructure repair is the passenger carriers “first imperative.”

The next priority is better service. “We’ve got to clean up our trains, run our trains on time, fix the interiors of our trains, and grow our services in the regions that provide the highest level of service to the communities around the country,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the new equipment that Amtrak has ordered for its Acela Express service will increase capacity in the Northeast Corridor by 40 percent.

He did not, though, say anything about buying new equipment to replace cars used on long-distance trains. Some of that equipment dates to the 1970s. Instead, Amtrak plans to refurbish that equipment.

Increasing service frequency on some routes is an Amtrak goal, but that appears to be limited to densely populated regions.

“If we could get our train speeds up and operate more densely-populated urban corridors, it would be a great service to the traveling public in America,” Anderson said.

FRA Publishes Rules For Passenger Rail Test Program

August 5, 2017

The Federal Railroad Administration has established its rules for seeking competitor bids to replace Amtrak on up to three long-distance routes.

The agency published the rules in the Federal Register and they take effect on Sept. 5.

The pilot program is mandated by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The rules establish a petition, notification and bid process as well as establish deadlines for filing petitions and bids and the execution of contracts with winning bidders.

The FAST Act described an “eligible petitioner” for the pilot program as one that owns the relevant rail infrastructure on the route or has a “written agreement” with the rail infrastructure owner.

A winning bidder who doesn’t own the infrastructure must obtain from the owner a written agreement that governs access issues.

Senators Express Dismay Over Proposed DOT Budget Cuts

July 18, 2017

Although members of a Senate committee are displeased with the Trump administration’s proposed cuts of the U.S. Department of Transportation budget for fiscal year 2018, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao was unmoved during a hearing held last week.

Trump has proposed slashing the DOT budget by $2.4 million. If Congress adopts the administration’s budget proposal, the DOT budget would fall from $18.6 billion to $16.2 billion with major cuts made from the hide of Amtrak and various transportation grant programs.

The budget proposal received a hearing from the Senate Appropriations Committee where some members spoke out in favor of keeping Amtrak as it is now.

“With regard to Amtrak, I am concerned about the impact that elimination of long-distance service would have on shared infrastructure with state-supported routes, such as the Downeaster in Maine,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairman of the subcommittee on transportation.

“Long distance routes contribute in part to the capital expenditures for the Northeast Corridor,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member on the subcommittee. “That’s something of concern to many of us on the committee”

In response to a question asked by Reed as to whether DOT would be able to focus additional resources on the capital infrastructure needs of the Northeast Corridor, Chao said the Northeast Corridor is the only Amtrak route able to sustain itself and that DOT is working closely with Amtrak and local and state authorities in that region.

However, Chao said there is no money available for the Northeast Corridor except what’s in the president’s budget.

In response to a question asked by another senator, Chao suggested that finding more funding for Northeast Corridor repairs is Amtrak’s problem, not DOT’s

“These are repairs which have been delayed and the maintenance requirements are immense,” she said. “There has to be some way of looking at all these repairs, strategically figuring out [how] best to prioritize these repairs, have a program, and then execute [it].

“Amtrak has a new president, and I am very hopeful the president and the board will be able to address some of these issues.”

The Trump administration has proposed diverting money used to pay for Amtrak’s long-distance routes into funding NEC infrastructure work.

Some funding for Northeast Corridor capital projects would come from transit and commuter rail projects under the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program.

Amtrak is relying on a Capital Investment Program grant to finance some costs of building a new tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York Penn Station.

At the same time, the administration has proposed ending the TIGER grant program, which is used to help fund rail capital projects nationwide, including those that benefit intercity passenger rail.

Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., expressed concern that cuts in funding for Amtrak intercity service would increase congestion on the highways.

As Chao sees it, though, ending funding of long-distance passenger trains would enable Amtrak to focus its resources on what she termed its most vibrant component.

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.

Moorman Stumps to Save Long-Distance Trains

June 14, 2017

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman recently told Congress that eliminating funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains in the federal fiscal year 2018 budget would cost more money than it would save.

Moorman

In a letter that accompanied Amtrak’s budget, Moorman said ending the funding would cost $423 million more than keeping it.

“The Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the U.S. Department of Transportation proposes the elimination of Federal funding for Amtrak’s long distance services. Enactment of such a proposal would drastically shrink the scope of our network, could cause major disruptions in existing services, and increase costs for the remaining services across the Amtrak system,” Moorman wrote. “Amtrak’s initial projection is that eliminating long distance services would result in an additional cost of $423 million in FY 2018 alone, requiring more funding from Congress and our partners rather than less.”

The letter sought to highlight Amtrak’s successes last year.

“Amtrak reported strong audited financial results for the fiscal year which ended on Sep. 30, 2016, including an all-time ticket revenue record of $2.14 billion,” Moorman said. “The increased ticket revenue was fueled by a record 31.3 million passengers on America’s Railroad – nearly 400,000 more than the previous year. This is the sixth straight year Amtrak carried more than 30 million customers.

“The company covered 94 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues, up from 92 percent the year before – a world-class performance for a passenger-carrying railroad. Thanks in part to our strong performance, Amtrak was also able to make a net reduction in long-term debt of $69.2 million.”

As for Amtrak’s ongoing needs, Moorman said Amtrak needs funding to replace movable bridges that are more than 100 years old and money to pay for a backlog of crucial state-of-good-repair work in the Northeast Corridor estimated to cost $38 billion to complete.

Moorman said the Superliner equipment used by Amtrak’s long-distance trains averages more than 200,000 miles per car, per year, and the age of the fleet is nearly 40 years.

NARP Planning Rallies for Amtrak Trains

June 9, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers is planning a series of rallies across the country on June 23 to drum up political support for saving funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The Trump administration has proposed ending funding of long-distance service in the fiscal year 2018 federal budget, which NARP says would end intercity rail passenger service at 220 communities in 23 states.

“If Congress enacts this budget, our national passenger rail network will largely cease to exist,” NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews says. “Communities and rail passengers need to clearly and loudly tell Congress that our communities and citizens rely on trains as important travel options.”

More information about the rallies is available at www.townswithouttrains.com.

Trump Budget Slashes Amtrak Funding 45%

May 24, 2017

The Trump administration wants to slash Amtrak funding by 45 percent in fiscal year 2018.

The detailed budget proposed released this week proposed giving Amtrak $744 million.

In the current fiscal year, Amtrak received $1.4 billion. The cuts for next year include ending $289 for Amtrak’s long-distance train routes.

The budget document described long-distance trains as “a vestige of when train service was the only viable transcontinental transportation option. Today, communities are served by an expansive aviation, interstate highway, and intercity bus network.”

The document said Amtrak’s long-distance trains represent the greatest amount of Amtrak’s operating losses, serve relatively small populations, and have the worst on-time record.

The Trump administration would instead appropriate $1.5 billion for the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

[The Northeast Corridor] “faces many challenges, and the 2018 Budget proposal would allow Amtrak to right-size itself and more adequately focus on these pressing issues,” the budget document said.

Nonetheless, the Trump administration has proposed cutting funding for the development of New York’s Penn Station by 64 percent from $14 million to $5 million.

The Amtrak funding cuts make up the lion’s share of the 37 percent cut proposed by the Trump administration for the Federal Railroad Administration.

The agency’s parent organization, the U.S. Department of Transportation, would receive $16.2-billion in FY 2018, a decline of 12.7 percent over what it received in FY 2017.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s budget would drop by 37 percent from $1.7 billion to $1.05 billion while Federal Transit Administration will decline by 5 percent from its FY 2017 appropriation of $11.8 billion.

The FTA would receive $11.2 billion, which includes $9.7 billion for transit formula grants. The FTA’s Capital Investment Grant program for new starts would be cut by 43 percent from $2.16 billion to $1.2.

Funding would be continued only for programs that FTA is legally bound to support through full-funding grant agreements.

Funding for the Transportation Generating Economic Recovery grant program would be eliminated.

The budget document said projects that are attempting to receive TIGER funding could still earn grants through the Nationally Significant Freight and Highways Projects fund managed by DOT’s Build America Bureau.

The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing and Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation programs would remain in place, but receive no additional funding.

The National Transportation Safety Board would receive $106 million, which is no change from FY 2017.

The Surface Transportation Board would receive a $5 million boost to $37 million in order to implement regulatory changes under the STB reauthorization law of 2015.

The Trump administration budget proposal is likely to undergo numerous changes as Congress considers federal funding priorities for FY 2018.