Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Wolverine Service’

Bikes to be Allowed on Wolverines

July 25, 2018

Bicycles will be allowed onboard Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains effective July 26.

The service will be available at all stations and cost $10 per bike.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said bicycle reservations are required and bike tickets must be presented to the conductor when boarding the train.

Passengers can reserve space for their bikes by selecting “add bike” when booking their reservation at Amtrak.com.

Bike reservations can also be made by calling 800-USA-RAIL (800-872-7245) and at Amtrak ticket offices. Only four bicycles are permitted per train.

Passengers will be provided a bike tag by station employees and by the train crew at unstaffed stations. Passengers must present their bike tag to retrieve their bike from the train crew at their destination.

Amtrak is advising passengers carrying on bikes to arrive 45 minutes before  train departure to allow sufficient time to obtain their ticket and baggage tag, and to get their bike onto the train.

Only one standard size bicycle will be permitted per passenger. Large seat/saddle bags must be removed from the bikes. These items can be carried on the train and will count as a carry-on item.

Passengers must be physically capable of lifting their bicycle up to shoulder height to an employee standing in the vestibule of a passenger car.

Passengers may stow their bicycle in open spaces at the ends of the car. They may not be stored in the vestibule.

Upon reaching their destination, passengers will be responsible for preparing their bicycle prior to detraining. A bike should be positioned in the doorway, so the passenger can lift it off the car with the chain facing away.

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Amtrak to Renovate Jackson Station

June 25, 2018

Amtrak plans to rehabilitate the 144-year-old Michigan Central station in Jackson, Michigan, this summer to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The work includes re-pointing the brick on the chimneys and working on the roof.

Other improvements include bathrooms being made ADA compliant, installing signs with braille markings, and creating an ADA accessible path from the parking lot to the station.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said cost estimates won’t be available until the project is finished.

Amtrak has owned the station since 1973. It is served daily by six Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The Victorian-Italianate-style structure opened on Sept. 1, 1873, and is one of Amtrak’s oldest stations that has been in continuous use as a passenger facility. It has served the Michigan Central, New York Central, Penn Central and now Amtrak.

Other renovations were made in 1978, 2008 and 2013.

Memorial Day Weekend in Indiana: Part 2

June 19, 2018

Memorial Day would be a day of passenger trains during our holiday weekend trek to northern Indiana, at least for the morning and early afternoon hours.

It dawned much like Sunday had, sunny and warm.

Temperatures today would again top 90 degrees, but without a great deal of humidity. The sky was blue and not glazed over like you get on many a hot summer day.

After our free breakfast we were heading north on U.S. 421 toward Lake Michigan.

The Chicago South Shore & South Bend runs down the middle of 11th Street in downtown Michigan City. Its downtown station is about a half block east of U.S. 421 on 11th Street

As we approached, the first morning westbound went past on its way to Chicago. There will be plenty more.

The next train on our list was the morning Wolverine (Amtrak No. 350) to Detroit. We set up at the road crossing to the east of the turn bridge over Trail Creek and waited for it to show.

It was a couple of minutes behind schedule, which was not a problem because we had a little time before the next South Shore train.

We parked on 11th Street at the S curve by the church and waited. A few minutes later our quarry was heard approaching.

The S curve is a nice shot because of the uniqueness of the shot. Street running on a curve is not too common.

South Shore trains today were carrying seven to nine cars. They must have expected some large crowds this holiday.

The next move was another South Shore, this time westbound. It and a westbound Amtrak Wolverine were due about the same time. Would we get lucky and get both?

The South Shore showed up on time and made its station stop on 11th Street in front of the old passenger station.

As they departed, we quickly headed west hoping to catch Amtrak near the diamonds where the Amtrak Michigan Line crosses the South Shore.

We were too late. Amtrak was on time and rolled past. But, this meant the South Shore train had to stop for just long enough that we were able to get ahead on the other side of the diamond.

On the west side of the diamonds, they run down the center of 10th Street. This neighborhood is a lot rougher than on 11th Street, although not by much.

We set up a shot with only a few seconds to spare; the train was in my rear view mirror.

With that flurry out of the way, it was back to the Amtrak station to kill some time before the next Amtrak was due.

We passed the time watching boats leaving the small harbor that is located where Trail Creek hits the lake. A good number of sail boats were going out on the water today. It was a bit windy, so they should have good sailing.

The siren sounded on the swing bridge over Trail Creek that takes the Amtrak Line over that waterway. The bridge was closing; a train was getting close.

This move was for the Blue Water from Port Huron, Michigan. It doesn’t stop here, so it blasted past at track speed, about 40 mph I would say, not the 110 mph that Detroit-bound trains do once they get into Michigan.

I was surprised to see a locomotive on both ends of the train. They must not wye the train at Port. Huron anymore.

It was now approaching noon, so it was off to lunch at Jimmy John’s right across the street from the Super 8 where we stayed.

Back to trackside after lunch, we were again staking out the South Shore for one each way.

When we left the shot at the east end of the swing bridge earlier in the day, I thought it might be possible to shoot from the adjacent U.S. 12 bridge and get a broadside of an Amtrak on the swing bridge.

We parked near the road bridge and walked up on the sidewalk. From directly above the creek, you can get the entire Amtrak train in the photo.

An interesting scene, it would have been more interesting if we would have had some boats or kayaks in the water at train time.

Plenty of them were around before the Amtraker got there.

The Wolverine rolled by a few minutes later than we expected. The South Shore had an eastbound due in just a few minutes.

We headed south after shooting Amtrak and the South Shore train was pulling into the station. We turned down 9th Street and went down a couple of blocks and then swung down to 11th Street.

They whistled off just as I parked the Jeep. We had only seconds to get our shot lined up, but we got it.

We now had a decision to make. It would be several hours before any more passenger trains were due. So do we stay or start heading back, stopping somewhere along the way to catch more action?

Robert had been monitoring the progress, or lack thereof, of the Penn Central heritage unit all weekend.

It came through Cleveland about the time we left for Indiana, but seemed to disappear somewhere near Toledo.

It was on a loaded coal train heading from the former Monongahela to Wisconsin Electric Power.

It was finally on the move west again and had been spotted in South Bend just a few minutes ago.

If we headed south to Norfolk Southern’s Chicago Line, we might get it. So we were off to see the train, using U.S. 35 to U.S. 20 out of Michigan City.

We were in Rolling Prairie in just a few minutes. We had our sights on the new elevator at New Carlisle. This elevator sets up well for photos of afternoon westbounds.

Just after passing over the tracks in Rolling Prairie, we heard the PC, on train 552, call the signal at MP 452.

We didn’t understand what indication he said he had, but the train was close. Rolling Prairie is at about MP 455.

I turned down the first road back to the tracks after hearing the radio transmission. We came up on a crossing that we had visited last Labor Day weekend.

The tracks are elevated about the rolling farmland, which is where the town of Rolling Prairie got its name.

The signal we could see to the west at MP 453 was all red. Something may have just gone by. Something did; it was westbound mixed freight 35E. The 552 with the PC had caught up to it and was stopped at MP 452.

As we stood and waited, we could hear locomotives rumbling to the east. The 552 was moving west at restricted speed.

We watched as the signal at MP 453 went from restricting to approach, to advance approach to clear by the time the 552 got to us.

Not bad; the PC was in perfect light at a neat location. But we’re greedy, so we went for two.

Back to U.S. 20 we went, retracing our steps to the overpass at Rolling Prairie. We lensed the train again, which by this time was back up to track speed.

Not to be out done, the 552 with the PC passed the 16G between MP 453 and Rolling Prairie; the 16G was lead by the Virginian H unit.

After our brief but successful chase, we finally made it to New Carlisle. Much to our chagrin, nothing else was moving west at this time.

We finally threw in the towel and began the long trek back home to Cleveland.

Article by Marty Surdyk

Police Probe Apparent Sabotage Effort in Michigan

June 15, 2018

Police released this photo showing the debris placed on a rail on track owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation and used by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern.

Police in Jackson, Michigan, are seeking a suspect who may have been trying to derail an Amtrak or Norfolk Southern train by placing debris on one of the rails.

An Amtrak police officer found the debris on Wednesday morning and notified the Jackson Police Department.

The debris included ballast and tie plates. Police said the debris resulted in a “dangerous situation.”

The debris was placed on a rail between North Jackson and North Blackstone streets.

Jackson is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains.

A Jackson Police spokesman said that walking on the railroad tracks, or property owned by the railroad is a misdemeanor offense.

Could Brightline be Duplicated in Ohio?

April 23, 2018

The launch of the privately-funded Brightline intercity rail passenger service in Florida has some thinking about visualizing a similar service in Ohio.

Brightline, which currently operates between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach but expects to begin service soon to Miami and, longer term, to Orlando, was the subject of the lead article in Ohio Passenger Rail News, the publication of All Aboard Ohio.

AAO said it would study the concept and its applicability to Ohio, but acknowledged that a private operator would need to step forward. It is not clear if that is likely to happen.

Although much has been made about how Brightline is a private company that does not receive public funding to cover its operating expenses as does Amtrak, AAO noted that Brightline is a public-private venture.

What makes Brightline different, though, is that as a private company it laid out its vision and business plan and then public entities helped it.

Brightline benefited from millions in state and local funds plus a $1 billion federal loan.

But what makes Brightline move is that it is as much a real estate venture as it is a transportation mode.

The genesis of Brightline began with the Florida East Coast Railway establishing a subsidiary, All Aboard Florida, which operates under the Brightline trade name.

FEC owns a freight line between Miami and Orlando that hosts Brightline trains. However, Brightline plans to build a new 40-mile stretch of high-speed track west of Cocoa, Florida, on a state-granted right of way to serve the Orlando airport.

Based on cell-phone data, Brightline projects that 500 million trips are made each year between South Florida and Orlando.

The company said if it can divert 2, 3, 4 or 5 percent of that traffic off the highways it will make a meaningful difference.

Brightline didn’t always have a clear block to implement its service, which began in January.

It was bombarded by attempts by public officials, NIMBYs and Astroturf groups seeking to derail it before it got started.

It is still fighting lawsuits from opponents of the Orlando extension.

Although the FEC has since been sold to Mexican industrial conglomerate Grupo Mexico, All Aboard Florida still has access to FEC tracks and has real estate to market.

The concept of pairing real estate development with public transportation is not limited to Florida. Numerous studies  and articles have described how public transportation arteries have stimulated commercial and residential development.

Brightline Chief Operating Officer Patrick Goddard told The Blade of Toledo that decades of studies showed the potential for rail service in a region that is experiencing population growth and is hemmed in by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Everglades on the other.

“There’s nowhere to go and no room for more roads,” Goddard said.

That is not, though, the situation in Ohio. Nonetheless, Goodard said the potential for a Brightline-type service exists in “any city pairs that are too far to drive and too short to fly.”

Goodard sees a high level of interest in trying the Brightline concept elsewhere where “there’s the possibility for government to intercede for mobility in the region.”

Efforts to institute corridor rail service in Ohio have fallen short.

In 1982 Ohio voters rejected a penny increase in the state sales tax to pay for development of a high-speed rail program in the state.

In 2010, Ohio won $400 million in federal funding for capital outlays associated with developing rail service in the Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Corridor.

The funding would have paid for track, signals, station construction and the purchase of train sets.

After defeating Gov. Ted Strickland in the November 2010 gubernatorial election, John Kasich killed the project and returned the money to the federal government.

Kasich had actively campaigned against the 3-C corridor trains, saying he didn’t want to see the state underwriting the operating costs of the service.

The same criticism was leveled in earlier years against other proposals that never came to fruition that were promoted by the Ohio Rail Development Commission and Ohio Department of Transportation to launch 3-C service, including a proposal in April 1998 to mitigate traffic congestion on Interstate 71 between Cleveland and Columbus during a 10-year rebuilding of the highway.

At the same time that Ohio was moving forward with the 3-C Quick Start project under Gov. Strickland, Florida was also planning an intrastate rail network linking Miami with Tampa vial Orlando and received federal funds to help develop it.

But newly-elected Gov. Rick Scott killed the project and returned the federal money just as Kasich had done in Ohio.

Like Kasich, Scott didn’t want the state paying for the operating costs of the service.

All of this has left Ohio with just three intercity trains, all of which operate through the state primarily between midnight and 7 a.m.

Until Brightline came along, Florida was served by two New York-Miami Amtrak trains, and the Auto Train operating between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida.

But the Sunshine State also had commuter rail service in Miami and a new service in Orlando.

AAO sees Brightline as a potential template to kick start the long-stalled efforts to revive 3-C and promote development of other routes.

“Brightline takes us back to the past in some ways  . . . [to] the notion that transportation and real estate go hand-in-hand,” said AAO CEO Ken Prendergast in an interview with The Blade. “It has changed the dialogue about how passenger rail in this country should be going forward.”

Prendergast said transit-oriented development in several cities should encourage the belief that trains and real estate can grow symbiotically in Ohio.

He said that some “pretty remarkable development” is occurring near a bus rapid-transit corridor in Columbus, along the HealthLine busway in Cleveland, and next to the Cleveland RTA Blue Line rail station in Shaker Heights at the site of the former Van Aken shopping center.

Of course, Brightline benefited from being birthed by a railroad. There is little likelihood that either Norfolk Southern or CSX, which make up large segments of the 3-C corridor, would be as receptive to intercity rail passenger service as is the FEC.

Closer to Ohio, the Michigan Department of Transportation acquired from NS the route used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit Wolverine Service trains.

MDOT owns the tracks between Dearborn and Kalamazoo while Amtrak owns the rails between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

The two agencies have been cooperating in the past few years to upgrade the line for higher speed service with a top speed of 110 mph.

Michigan’s efforts could benefit Ohio, Prendergast said, by creating a dedicated passenger corridor between Detroit and Toledo

CSX, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National have parallel routes between the two cities and consolidation of those routes would leave a line available for passenger use.

Prendergast said it is unlikely that NS would agree to allow additional passenger trains between Cleveland and Toledo so a new line for passenger trains would be needed for high-speed rail service.

He speculated that this would be an opportunity for the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission to get involved, “now that it has the legal authority to do things other than highways along the highway corridor.”

AAO also sees potential for combining various existing underused rail lines that railroads might be willing to sell that could lead to a Columbus-Fort Wayne-Chicago corridor.

Prendergast said ORDC is soliciting public comments for a 2020 update to an Ohio rail plan, but has no funds have been set aside for passenger train startup projects.

ORDC created a plan in 2002 that it updated in 2007 for a statewide passenger rail network known as the Ohio Hub. It has never gotten beyond paper and public hearings.

As AAO looks for a private sector initiative to materialize in Ohio, Prendergast warned not to expect any help from Amtrak, which he said “only reacts in response” the efforts of others.

Aside from questions of whether a private developer is interested in a Brightline style project in Ohio – and that is a big IF – there is also the question of whether Ohio units of government would respond as they did in Florida.

“If they, or someone like Brightline, came in with a similar message, I think it would resonate,” Prendergast said.

Yes, Watch Out for the Trains

March 2, 2018

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak have been working to boost train speeds on the Chicago-Detroit corridor, particularly on track in Michigan, that both entities own.

MDOT owns the rails between Kalamazoo and Dearborn and over the past couple of summers has sponsored track work designed to enable faster running.

One small indicator of that work is this sign in Chelsea, Michigan, located next to the former Michigan Central station, which is now owned by a local historical society.

Getting Amtrak here at 80 mph or any speed remains on my “to do” list for 2018. There is double track because there is a passing siding here.

Chelsea, located between Ann Arbor and Jackson, is not a stop for Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains, but it was a stop for the Michigan Executive commuter train that Amtrak operated through Jan. 13, 1984, when the state ended its funding of the service.

Michigan transportation officials and rail passenger advocates have been trying to resume commuter rail service ever since.

Snow, Ice Pile Delays Wolverine Service Train

February 14, 2018

An Amtrak Wolverine Service train struck a pile of ice and snow left close to its tracks, damaging the locomotive and delaying passengers for more than four hours during which the train lacked heat and the restrooms were inoperable.

The incident occurred on Monday evening and involved Chicago to Detroit (Pontiac) Train No. 352.

The train struck ice and snow that a local snow plow crew had left close to the rails near Michigan City, Indiana.

A Chicago radio station said some passengers felt sick and one said she feared losing consciousness during the ordeal.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the train was forced to stop after striking the snow and ice while Amtrak personnel re-aligned the snow plow on the locomotive.

That task took nearly two-and-a-half-hours and during that time the head-end power to the passenger cars was disconnected.

Magliari said that Amtrak police and managers distributed snacks to passengers during the delay and provided what help they could. Two other Amtrak trains using the route were also delayed.

Amtrak will discuss with the unnamed town involved the need to avoid piling snow next to railroad tracks, Magliari said.

Michigan Amtrak Trains Running Faster

January 24, 2018

Most Amtrak trains serving Michigan now have faster running times, the Michigan Department of Transportation said this week.

Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) have seen 20 minutes cut from their schedules. Blue Water service between Chicago and Port Huron, Michigan, has seen a smaller running time cut.

Both lines use rails owned by Amtrak between Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Porter, Indiana.

Amtrak dispatchers control the Chicago-Detroit line as far east as Dearborn except for a portion of track in Battle Creek that is owned by Canadian National.

MDOT acquired 135 miles of track from Norfolk Southern in 2012 that are used by Amtrak between Kalamazoo and Dearborn except for the CN track in Battle Creek.

The top speed between Porter and Kalamazoo is 110 mph. The maximum speed is 79 mph on the MDOT-owned track, but that is expected to rise to 110 mph this year after the completion of positive train control testing and assignment of Siemens Charger locomotives to the route.

The State of Michigan has used $347 million in federal funds to replace rails, smooth curves, upgrade crossings and signals and improve train signaling and communication systems.

These improvements are expected to result in higher running speeds.

MDOT also funded a new connection in West Detroit for a faster route to a CN line that serves Amtrak stations in Detroit, Royal Oak, Troy and Pontiac.

“At MDOT’s direction, Amtrak work crews have corrected years of deferred maintenance and have taken over dispatching,” said Joe McHugh, Amtrak vice president of state-supported services in a statement. “We have created the longest railroad segment outside the northeast that is being made ready for an even more reliable and faster Amtrak service.”

Wolverine Train Delayed 12 Hours on Monday

January 2, 2018

Passengers aboard Wolverine Service No. 354 were delayed by 12 hours on New Year’s Day due to weather and mechanical issues.

The delays began in Chicago where the train was scheduled to depart at 6 p.m. but didn’t get out of the station until 8:25 p.m. due to mechanical issues with the locomotive.

Severe winter weather that affected a switch then delayed the train by another hour between 10:45 p.m. and 11:45 p.m. near New Buffalo, Michigan.

The train sat in Kalamazoo, where it arrived at 1 a.m., for four hours until a relief crew arrived after the original crew ran afoul of the hours of service law.

Leaving Kalamazoo at 5:30 a.m., the train then stopped at Albion two hours later where another crew took over the train. It arrived in Pontiac at 1:42 p.m. The scheduled arrival time is 1:17 a.m.

The train had about 148 passengers aboard, Amtrak said.

Wandering Far for Wolverines

December 2, 2017

Amtrak Train No. 353 crosses the Huron River on the northwest side of Ann Arbor.

Amtrak passes through Northeast Ohio four times a day, but unless you have a tripod and are adept at night photography, you probably don’t have many images of the Capitol Limited or Lake Shore Limited that you made here.

That’s because those trains are scheduled through Cleveland during the darkness hours.

Sure, during the summer the eastbound Lake Shore passes through some locations in early morning light. At times the trains run excessively late, which puts them through in daylight hours.

But if you have a hankering to photograph Amtrak at other times of the year you going to be making a road trip to Pennsylvania or Michigan.

And that is why I ventured to Ann Arbor on a recent Sunday to photograph three Wolverine Service trains.

The two shown here are regularly scheduled runs that pass through the home of that school up north between noon and 1:30 p.m. The third was a Thanksgiving extra section that I showed in another post.

In doing some research on Amtrak in Ann Arbor, I ran across some nice images online of the train passing a dam located in the Barton Nature Area, a.k.a. Barton Park. So I checked it out.

The dam located on the Huron River was built in 1912-1913 to generate electricity. One of four dams in Ann Arbor on the Huron River, it is the only one still used to generate power. The city sells that power to Detroit Edison.

The former Michigan Central line between Chicago and Detroit that Amtrak uses is owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation, which acquired it from Norfolk Southern.

The tracks cross the Huron River just south of the dam on a bridge with open sides. My vantage point was a footbridge over the river that is part of a trail in the park.

The view is quite open, but the downside to photographing from the bridge is that when joggers come past the bridge shakes. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case when Amtrak time came.

The first train was the Chicago-bound No. 353, scheduled into Ann Arbor at 12:15 p.m. Despite it being a Sunday of a holiday travel period, No. 353 arrived on time.

Less than an hour later came Pontiac-bound No. 350 from Chicago, which arrived a little early.

It was the first time I’ve heard Amtrak Julie proclaim that a train was expected to arrive ahead of its 1:05 p.m. scheduled arrival time.

For this train I moved down the bridge a little bit and zoomed in closer to the lead locomotive.

Wolverine Service trains operate with a single locomotive and feature a mixture of Amfleet and Horizon equipment.

This location is easily accessible. There is a parking lot off West Huron River Drive just beyond Bird Road. Follow the walking trail from the parking lot into the woods and you’ll come to the footbridge over the river.

Heritage coaches mingle with Amfleet equipment on No. 353.

The power house for the Barton Dam is visible behind the cafe car on No. 353.

Zooming in on the head end of eastbound No. 350.

Horizon Fleet cars tend to dominate the consists of Midwest corridor trains, including those in the Chicago-Detroit corridor.