Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak trains’

Morning Contrast

June 12, 2019

Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited was running more than two hours late which would put it through Berea not long after sunrise.

I had plans for how I wanted to capture it. I would use my longest telephoto lens and get the train passing the former BE tower while standing on the Front Street bridge over the tracks.

Immediately over the tracks is a fence with small link chain fencing. I would have to shoot through it.

Although it was 7:30 a.m. and the sun had been up for an hour and a half, the bridge and other structures were still casting some massive shadows.

But there was enough light on the rails to get some open views.

The image you see above is not something I had planned to make. It was strictly an impromptu thing that I wasn’t sure how it would pan out.

It turns out it produced maybe my favorite image of the group.

What I liked was how there was direct early morning light on the nose, flanks and tops of the locomotive and how that contrasted nicely with the shadows on each side of the train.

Somehow the shadows didn’t creep up the side of the train.

Sometimes things turn out well in ways you never expected.

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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.

Train Time in Durand

June 23, 2018

We recently made a trip to Flint, Michigan, to visit Mary Ann’s cousins. That gave me an opportunity to get over to Durand for some railfanning, something I had not done there in nearly two years.

I scheduled my visit to coincide with the arrival of Amtrak’s Blue Water, a state-funded train linking Chicago and Port Huron, Michigan.

No. 365 is scheduled into Durand at 8:04 a.m. The good news is that it arrives in daylight. The bad news is that it arrives in daylight.

Say what? At 8 a.m. in the summer the sunlight in Durand does not favor a westbound train on the former Grand Trunk Western’s Flint Subdivision. It’s not even all that favorable for a glint shot.

But I worked with what I had and converted the image to black and white, which often is a good move to make with a digital image if the color is less than spectacular.

No. 365 operates with a locomotive on each end so it doesn’t have to be turned in Port Huron. That made for a nice going away image in good light.

As the Blue Water came into view, I thought for a few moments that it might have one of those new Charger locomotives that Amtrak is using on Midwest corridor service.

But that was not the case. The Blue Water and Wolverine Service trains that serve Detroit use a stretch of Amtrak-owned track between Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Porter, Indiana, that is equipped with a positive train control system that is not yet compatible with the Chargers.

The issue is getting the PTC software of the Siemens-built Chargers to talk with the Wabtec PTC software.

That is not likely to happen until at least fall, so P42DC units are pulling  Amtrak trains in Michigan except the Pere Marquette, which doesn’t use the Amtrak-owned track.

No. 365 was followed by less than a half-hour two CN westbounds, a stack train and a manifest freight, but still arrived in Durand on time.

There is a fence that separates Durand Union Station from the passenger platform and a station caretaker must unlock and open it.

Despite being a town of 2,500, Durand has good passenger loads based on my experience.

The Blue Water had the standard Midwest Corridor consist of mostly Horizon Fleet coaches with a couple of Amfleet cars, one of them a cafe car with a herald for Illinois high-speed rail service.

Amtrak would prefer the trains be three or four cars, but CN imposes a minimum axle count on Amtrak trains using its tracks to ensure that the trains will activate grade crossing signals.

In Illinois, some Chicago-Carbondale trains run with retired baggage cars, but I’ve never seen that done on the Blue Water.

The train halted and the conductor and assistant conductor both opened doors and put down step boxes.

It didn’t take long for the boarding to be completed, so the conductor radioed a highball and No. 365 was on its way. Next stop, East Lansing.

Lake Shore Limited ‘Summer Consist’

June 2, 2018

As soon as the eastbound Lake Shore Limited rounded a curve in North East, Pennsylvania, I had the answer to a question I had come here to get answered.

The Chicago-Boston only edition of the train is much shorter than the usual order.

A summer track and bridge project on the route that Nos. 48 and 49 use to access New York Penn Station prompted Amtrak to suspend the New York Section of the train through early September.

Passengers boarding the Lake Shore Limited bound for New York City must make an across the platform transfer in Albany-Rensselaer, New York, to reach the Big Apple and all other points served by No. 48 south of Albany.

I expected a shortened consist for the Lake Shore, but was a little surprised at how short it was.

What I saw on Thursday was a P42DC locomotive, Viewliner baggage car, four Amfleet II coaches, two cafe cars and two Viewliner sleepers.

This is just three cars longer than the normal consist of the Boston section of a Viewliner baggage car, cafe car, Viewliner sleeper and two coaches.

Also different is that the train is operating as Nos. 448/449. Those numbers have long been used by Amtrak to denote cars assigned to the Boston section.

But it was the first time I’ve heard the train use those numbers for operational purposes west of Albany.

Meet Me at Interstate 90

May 30, 2018

Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited meets a westbound CSX auto rack train beneath the bridge carrying Interstate 90 over the CSX Erie West Subdivision at the State Line exit on the border of Pennsylvania and New York just outside North East, Pennsylvania.

The auto rack train has Union Pacific motive power and a cut of manifest freight.

No. 48 was operating 43 minutes late when it left Erie, but the New York section made it to Penn Station in New York less than 10 minutes late.

2 Days Before the Summer Hiatus

May 29, 2018

Due to construction on the Spuyten Duyvil bridge and Empire Tunnel on its route in New York City this summer, the New York section of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited is being suspended between May 26 and early September south of Albany, New York.

New York-bound passengers are being directed to make an across-the-platform transfer at the Albany-Rensselaer station to an Empire Service train that will take them to New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

Of course back in the day the Lake Shore Limited as well as all New York Central Water Level Route passenger trains terminated at Grand Central.

No. 48, shown here near North East Pennsylvania, had just four more trips to make to Penn Station before the summer hiatus was to begin when I made this image from the Bort Road bridge.

And it will be a little over a week before changes are made to the food service being offered to passengers on Nos. 48 and 49.

Reportedly, a new Viewliner dining car will be assigned to the trains, but it will operate as a sleeping car passenger lounge rather than a dining car.

The immediate future of the Lake Shore Limited is as gloomy as the fog shrouding the surrounding hills of the Lake Erie escarpment here.

Amtrak Committed to Long-Distance Trains for Now, But Not Necessarily Forever

May 22, 2018

Amtrak has indicated to lawmakers and the Rail Passengers Association that it is not planning additional actions that would have the effect of changing its long-distance routes in ways to favor shorter distance travel.

Writing on the RPA website, RPA President Jim Mathews said that “Amtrak is taking steps to commit publicly to a robust nationwide rail service with a national footprint.”

He said those assurances have been made by the passenger carrier in conversations with the RPA and congressional staff, and during congressional testimony.

Matthews cited the example of reports that the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder would be made into a tri-weekly train as part of a strategy to focus on short-haul corridors.

Many passenger advocates have been alarmed by some recent Amtrak changes, including removing full-service dining with fresh meals prepared on board from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited effective June 1.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during an April 19 California Rail Summit that the future of Amtrak lies with 300- to 400- or 500-mile corridors.

RPA has also learned that Amtrak management has begun discussing the long-term future of the carrier’s long-distance routes and that some Amtrak executives are discussing the possibility of allocating more resources to short-distance state corridors. It is not clear how far those discussions have advanced.

Matthews said Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) asked Amtrak Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner point-blank whether there were plans to reduce the Builder.

“We do not plan to institute tri-weekly service on the Empire Builder,” Gardner replied during a committee hearing on May 16. “Obviously we’re operating under the FAST Act authorization in which Congress authorized our network; any conversations about the broad future of our network is best placed in our authorization context as we approach our next authorization. Amtrak is operating all of our long distance routes, we intend to do that and we will consider any future changes collectively between the Congress, the Administration, and Amtrak as we look at the network ahead.”

Matthews noted that he visited with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia earlier this year and received similar assurances.

Coscia said during that meeting that Amtrak has a mission beyond the balance sheet and pledged that top management is “committed to the mission.”

He also said that Amtrak has a responsibility as a recipient of federal funds to make sure that its long-range plans serve the maximum number of Americans possible, especially those who need mobility and have fewer options, such as the elderly, the disabled and rural residents.

However, Coscia said that demographic shifts that are leading more people to live in dense mega-regions may result in a time when the “legacy national network routes no longer meet the mission; but looking at the map today I can’t identify any that don’t.”

Coscia said Amtrak sees “corridors hanging off the legacy national network routes like a necklace.”

He cited as examples Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Minneapolis as having strong growth potential.

During his April appearance in California, Anderson said “there is a place for the long-distance, ‘experiential’ train.”

Anderson said Amtrak has “a responsibility to figure out how to keep that experiential piece of the pie in place” while simultaneously “figuring out how we discharge our mission under PRIIA”—the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008—“to serve the short-haul markets.

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

Keystone Schedules Adjusted for Track Work

May 8, 2018

Track work being performed in Pennsylvania  between Paoli and Thorndale, will result in minor schedule changes for Amtrak’s Keystone Service trains between May 19 and June 10.

Between May 19 to June 10 Train 660 will operate 5 minutes early from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

Between June 9 and 10 Trains 611, 615, 661, 663, 667, 669 and 671 will operate 10 minutes later Paoli to Middletown and 20 minutes later to Harrisburg.

As Political Winds Blow, Long-Distance Trains Go

April 25, 2018

As a general rule I don’t put much stock in opinions on railroad chat lists that “predict” the imminent demise of Amtrak’s fleet of long-distance trains.

Such predictions have been made for decades and yet long-distance trains have survived.

Yes, some have fallen by the wayside over the years, most notably in 1979 and 1995. But numerous efforts to kill off all long-distance trains have fallen short.

With the planned discontinuance of full-service dining cars on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited the prophets of doom are at it again.

But then I read a column by William C. Vantuono, the editor of Railway Age, in which he said he thinks the dining changes being made on the Capitol and Lake Shore are part of a plan to shut down the Amtrak national network and leave only the Northeast Corridor, Midwest corridor trains, California corridor trains and other state-supported services.

Vantuono is not one to make dire predictions, but I took notice when he wrote, “I’ve been hearing about internal plans within Amtrak to discontinue long-distance trains. The best way to do that, of course, is to make the service so unpalatable that people stop riding them. Are we looking at a veiled attempt to drive passengers away? I believe we are.”

But then I read the rest of his column and noticed that he had qualified his “prediction” by saying “maybe, maybe not.”

I later received an email from a friend who sent a link to meeting notes of a presentation in which Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson reportedly said to an audience of 150 passenger rail officials that he wanted to kill the long-distance trains and only operate corridor service of 400 miles or less with DMU equipment.

But when I read those notes I found the rail passenger advocate who took them said, “I noted that he (Anderson) did not specifically say that the long-distance trains would go, only that corridors are the future.”

Finally, I read Trains columnist Fred Frailey’s view that Anderson won’t try to scuttle the long-distance trains this year.

“If Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump couldn’t axe them, why would Richard Anderson even try?” Frailey wrote.

The fact is no one knows the future of Amtrak’s long-distance passenger trains.

Anderson may believe that corridors provide the best marketing opportunities for intercity rail service, but neither he nor Amtrak’s board of directors are free agents in overseeing a company that depends on public money to pay its operating and capital expenses.

Amtrak is, has always been and always will be a political creature subject to decisions made by Congress and, to a lesser extent, state legislatures.

Congress has acted to kill some long-distance trains over the years and has acted to save them in others.

That said there may be good reason to believe that long-distance trains might be on slippery rails.

Anderson told Congress earlier this year that Amtrak won’t operate on routes that fail to meet the federal mandate that positive train control be installed by the end of this year. He also suggested Amtrak might not use routes that aren’t required to have PTC.

Much of this probably is political posturing. At the time of his testimony Anderson was still smarting from the Cascades and Silver Star crashes, which might have been avoided had PTC been in operation.

Yet some segments of long-distance routes either might not meet the PTC deadline. Is Amtrak going to chop up those routes?

Another potential threat is that the equipment devoted to long-distance service is wearing out. Will Amtrak seek to replace it?

Amtrak has rarely shown much, if any, interest in creating additional long-distance routes or expanding service on the long-distance routes it does operate.

Various Amtrak presidents probably have viewed the long-distance network, skeletal as it might be, as insurance for widespread political support.

In his talk to the passenger train officials, Anderson repeatedly said he must follow the law, meaning Passenger Rail Reform & Investment Act of 2015, saying it requires Amtrak to operate at lower cost and more efficiently.

In particular this applies to food and beverage service and an Amtrak inspector general’s report of seven years ago found that the lion’s share of losses on that could be attributed to the long-distance trains.

Anderson and perhaps the Amtrak board of directors might see long-distance trains as a hindrance to their ability to cut costs and operate more efficiently. They also might see the long-distance trains as dinosaurs.

Amtrak will turn 50 in three years. A half century is a long time for any one company to operate with essentially the same business model.

But most companies are not as subject to political pressure as Amtrak. As the political climates goes, so goes the future of long-distance trains or, for that matter, any intercity passenger trains.