Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Wolverine Service’

Ann Arbor’s New Amtrak Depot Plans Got Too Big and Expensive

September 7, 2021

In the wake of a decision by the Federal Railroad Administration to pull out of a project to build a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor, Michigan, city officials are seeking ways to keep the project going, including reducing the project’s scope.

Work on getting a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor began about a decade ago.

At the time, then Mayor John Hieftje projected the station would cost $30 million and the city would pay less than $3 million of that with the federal government picking up most of the tab.

Hieftje expected to do what Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit, did in building a new $28.2 million Amtrak station with federal stimulus money paying for most of it.

But over time the size of the proposed Ann Arbor station expanded and so did its costs. After cost estimates reached $171 million, the FRA backed away.

News accounts of the FRA’s decision focused on the agency’s belief that the station would have too much parking for intercity rail service.

But Amtrak passengers were not expected to be the only user of the station.

At one time local government planning agencies in Ann Arbor, Detroit and other communities along with the Michigan Department of Transportation were eyeing creating a commuter rail service.

The University of Michigan offered to buy commuter train tickets for its employees in lieu of them buying parking permits on the crowded campus.

MDOT acquired a fleet of passenger cars that would be used for the service.

The expectation of commuter rail service was the major deciding factor for locating the new station in Fuller Park next to the University of Michigan Hospital.

Rather than paying $1,000 a year for a parking pass, employees would be able to ride free on a commuter train.

Heiftjie noted that tens of thousands of daily commuters have jobs in Ann Arbor. City officials saw an opportunity to create a place where more people could travel without cars and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The UM hospital is the most visited place in Ann Arbor on a daily basis.

But the commuter rail concept collapsed after Michigan voters rejected a bond issue that would have funded development of the service.

All along, city planners had seen the station as a two-phase development with the second phase hinging on the creating of the commuter rail service.

The proposed station would have a parking deck with 1,300 spaces, although most of those spaces were expected to be used by commuter train passengers.

But other design features also drove up costs, including elevating the station and building a bridge over the tracks. Another considerable expense included constructing a retaining wall to stabilize the slope leading to the UM hospital.

But most of the expense of the project involved the parking deck, including elevator/stair towers and a metal fin design to soften the deck’s appearance and make it look like “an art object.”

A first floor bus station was also included in the plans as well as a bicycle maintenance and storage area.
In pulling out of the project, the FRA described the project costs as being “an order of magnitude higher” than other stations the agency had funded.

Heiftjie has since left office and his successor as mayor, Christopher Taylor, continued to support building a new Amtrak station.

The city’s current station is located west of the former Michigan Central depot, which is now a restaurant.

Built in 1982, city officials consider the station too cramped given the level of ridership there.

Ann Arbor is the busiest passenger rail station in Michigan although it suffered significant ridership losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ridership of the Wolverine Service route between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) in 2020 was 278,450 compared with 990,068 in 2019. In Ann Arbor ridership fell from 154,813 in 2019 to 41,013 last year.

Hieftjie said he doesn’t regret pushing the project even though in hindsight he believes the city tried to go too big in recent years and proposed too much parking.

He said when he began pushing the project it was a different world and he had high hopes for significant growth in rail ridership.

Now Hieftjie is not so sure that could happen due to changes brought about by COVID-19.

“The environment has changed,” he said. “We’re obviously in a whole different period. Due to COVID, people are not riding trains like they used to. I think it’s going to be a while before people return to transit.”

Track Works Leads to Wolverine Sked Changes

July 22, 2021

Schedules of Amtrak’s Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) will be temporarily changed between July 20 and Oct. 31 due to track work being performed by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern.

Train 350 will depart Chicago 15 minutes earlier at 7:05 a.m. and will be scheduled to arrive in Pontiac at 2:46 p.m.

Train 351 will depart Pontiac 7 minutes earlier at 5:43 a.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago 15 minutes later at 10:47 a.m.

Train 354 will depart Chicago at its scheduled time of 5:50 p.m, but be rescheduled to arrive in Pontiac 15 minutes later at 1:17 a.m.

Train 355 will depart Pontiac 7 minutes earlier at 5:28 a.m and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago 15 minutes later at 10:55 p.m.

An Amtrak service advisory said Trains 352 and 353 remain suspended but are expected to resume operation on Sept. 7.

Wolverine Service during the COVID-19 pandemic fell to one pair of trains between Chicago and Pontiac. Service increased to two pairs of trains on July 19.

Wolverine Service Frequency to Rise July 19

May 19, 2021

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak have agreed to add back an additional daily roundtrip to the Chicago-Detroit corridor that was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chicago-Pontiac Wolverine Service train will begin operating July 19, going westbound in the morning and eastbound in the evening.

The two parties also said that effective May 25 speed limits on 45 miles of the corridor will ncrease to 110 miles per hour.

The faster speeds were authorized between Kalamazoo and Albion, Michigan, on track owned by MDOT

The higher speeds are being allowed following completion of Federal Railroad Administration certification of the signal system.

Officials said additional track infrastructure work is needed before the top speed can be increased between Albion and Dearborn in the Detroit suburbs.

The faster speeds will not reduce the scheduled travel time in the corridor but MDOT and Amtrak officials contended in a statement that improved on-time performance can be expected because the higher speeds will enable trains to make up time lost elsewhere.

This includes segments shared with freight railroads in Chicago and Northwest Indiana, and in the Detroit region.

Speeds of up to 110 mph have been in place since 2012 in the corridor on the Amtrak-owned segment between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

That segment uses an Incremental Train Control System signaling system.

That system has since been placed into operation east of Kalamazoo as an overlay to the interoperable I-ETMS positive train control system.

The schedule effective July 19 will have Wolverine Service trains 350 and 354 departing Chicago at 7:20 a.m. and 5:50 p.m., respectively.

Westbound trains 351 and 355 will depart Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and 5:35 p.m., respectively.

The new schedule will restore connections from western long-distance trains to Michigan points that were lost during the pandemic.

Currently, the lone Wolverine Service on the corridor departs Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and arrives in Chicago in late morning.

The return trip, though leaves Chicago at 1:25 p.m., which is too late to make connections from inbound Western long distance trains.

An MDOT official said the agency will consider adding back the third roundtrip to the corridor “as travel demands increase and COVID-19 vaccination rates rise in Michigan.”

Before the pandemic, trains departed Pontiac in early morning, mid morning and late afternoon. Trains departed Chicago in early morning, early afternoon and early evening.

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.

MDOT Gets Federal Grant to Improve Passenger Line

October 28, 2020

The Michigan Department of Transportation has been awarded a federal $15.6 million State of Good Repair grant to upgrade state-owned tracks used by Amtrak between Ypsilanti and Jackson.

The work will replace 80,000 feet of rail,  upgrade 42 horizontal curves, and make safety enhancements at 16 public and eight private grade crossings.

MDOT Director Paul Ajebga in a statement said the work will make the route and enable Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains to operate faster.

A news release issued by MDOT said the grant will assist with completing 136 miles to serve trains operating up to 110 mph.

Michigan City Wants to Connect Amtrak Routes

July 30, 2020

The city commission of St. Joseph, Michigan, wants to see a connection built that would enable all of Amtrak’s Michigan services to serve nearby New Buffalo.

Currently St. Joseph is a stop for Amtrak’s Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette, but that train does not stop in New Buffalo even though it passes through it.

City officials said connecting the line used by the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water and the Chicago-Detroit Wolverine Service with the Pere Marquette route would enable residents of St. Joseph to connect in New Buffalo to points in eastern Michigan.

The route used by the Blue Water and Wolverine Service, which is owned by Amtrak, passes through the northeast section of New Buffalo where it crosses the CSX route used by the Pere Marquette.

The city commission asks Mayor Mike Garey to discuss the connection idea with the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission. The vote on the resolution was unanimous.

The Michigan Department of Transportation funds all three Amtrak routes in Michigan.

The Pere Marquette route merges with the Blue Water and Wolverine Service route in Porter, Indiana, and all three services use Norfolk Southern track between Porter and Chicago.

Modest Amtrak Expansion Seen For This Summer

May 12, 2020

An Amtrak planning document shows that the carrier plans to continue to operate most services this summer with reduced consists and reduced frequencies on some routes. However, this will represent a slight increase over what the intercity passenger carrier ran this spring.

The Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service corridor will continue to operate with one daily roundtrip whereas until the COVID-19 pandemic struck it had three daily roundtrips.

There will be no change in operations of the Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan, Blue Water.

The planning document shows the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette not operating, but that appears to be an error.

The Amtrak website shows Nos. 370 and 371 as operating starting June 1 and reservations can be made.

Amtrak also plans to restore the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian and gradually ramp up service in the Keystone Corridor in eastern Pennsylvania.

Starting June 1 Amtrak will restore Keystone Service to nine roundtrips operating between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

On July 5 one roundtrip will be extended to New York. On Sept. 5 service between Harrisburg and New York will be restored to all trains.

The level of service planned this summer will be two roundtrips fewer than what Amtrak operated last summer.

Keystone Service trains will operate with their normal consists while the Pennsylvanian will have its normal consist of four coaches, one business class car, a food service car and a baggage car.

The consist of the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited is slated to expand this summer.

Nos. 29 and 30 are set to operate with three coaches, two sleepers and a diner-lounge. There will be no separate lounge car or baggage car.

The summer consist for the Capitol Limited will be down one sleeping car from last summer, the documents said.

The Capitol Limited currently is carrying two coaches, one sleeper and a diner-lounge.

The Lake Shore Limited summer consist will be three sleepers, four coaches, one dining car for sleeper class passengers, one club dinette and a baggage car.

The planning document, which is dated May 7, said this consist is down one sleeper and one coach from what Nos. 48/448 and 49/449 carried last summer.

However, that may be an error in regards to sleeping car capacity because trackside reports and photographs show the Lake Shore seldom operated with four sleepers as the planning documents suggests.

Nos. 48 and 49 will be the only eastern long-distance train carrying a Viewliner II dining car for sleeper class passengers.

The Chicago-New York Cardinal will see no change this summer from its current consist of two coaches, one sleeper and a diner-lounge.

Track Work Changes Michigan Amtrak Schedules

May 6, 2020

Track work being performed by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern will result in schedule changes for Wolverine and Blue Water trains.

The Blue Water will arrive in Port Huron, Michigan, 28 minutes later at 11:59 p.m. and depart Port Huron 28 minutes earlier, at 5:52 a.m., arriving in Chicago 17 minutes later at 12:02 p.m.

Wolverine Service No. 351 will depart Pontiac 38 minutes earlier at 5:12 a.m., but is expected to arrive in Chicago at its scheduled time of 10:32 a.m.

Train 352 will depart Chicago 30 minutes earlier at 12:55 p.m. and arrive in Pontiac 7 minutes later at 8:39 p.m.

Amtrak did not say in it service advisory how long the revised scheduled will be in effect.

Amtrak Service Cuts Just Keep Coming

March 19, 2020

Amtrak service to Michigan will be reduced to two pairs of trains and service cuts will be imposed on three corridor routes in Illinois.

However, no service reductions are being planned for the long-distance network Amtrak spokesman Marc Magilari told Trains magazine.

Michigan trains that will continue to operate are the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water while Wolverine Service will consist of No 352, which departs Chicago at 1:25 p.m. and arrives in Pontiac at 8:32 p.m. and No. 351, which departs Pontiac at 5:50 a.m. and arrives in Chicago at 10:32 a.m.

Canceled are the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette and two Wolverine Service roundtrips.

On the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini will continue to operate while their counterparts are canceled.

The corridor is also served by the City of New Orleans which provides service northbound in the early morning hours and southbound in late evening.

Between Chicago and Quincy the Carl Sandburg will be canceled while the Illinois Zephyr will continue to operate.

Part of the Chicago-Quincy corridor will continue to be served by the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief.

The Chicago-Milwaukee corridor will be reduced to one Hiawatha Service roundtrip with the Empire Builder picking up some of the slack.

The one Chicago to Milwaukee Hiawatha will depart at 5:08 p.m. for a 6:45 p.m. arrival in Milwaukee.

There will also be a late night bus from Chicago to Milwaukee that leaves Chicago at 9:15 p.m.

The Milwaukee to Chicago Hiawatha will depart at 8:05 a.m. and arriving in Chicago at 9:34 a.m.

The Empire Builder will handle local passengers at all stops, including at Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and Milwaukee airport station, both of which Nos. 7 and 8 normally do not serve.

However, the Empire Builder is an afternoon operation in both directions between Chicago and Milwaukee so passengers will not be able to travel northbound in the morning or southbound in the evening.

On the Chicago-St. Louis corridor the southbound 7 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. departures from Chicago will be cut.

Lincoln Service trains will continue to depart Chicago at 9:25 a.m. and 7 p.m.

From St. Louis, Lincoln Service trains will depart at 4:35 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

The Texas Eagle will also continue operating in the corridor. Canceled are northbound Lincoln Service departures from St. Louis at 6:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.

For now Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City will continue operating on its current level of service of two roundtrips per day.

On the West Coast, the Capitol Corridor route will see a reduction from 15 to five weekday departures in each direction between Sacramento and Emeryville, California, effective March 23.

This does not include the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight, which uses part of the corridor.

Service reductions on the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner corridors have not yet been announced.

Cascades Service is no longer operating north of Seattle and will see the last round trip of the day canceled.

A presentation by the Chaddick Institute at DePaul University in Chicago said Amtrak’s current bookings are down 60 percent, future reservations are off 80 percent, and passenger cancellations are up 400 percent compared with the same period last year.

In a related development the Trump administration has proposed that Amtrak receive $500 million in emergency aid.

The carrier had said it needs $1 billion to cover losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding is part of a supplemental appropriation proposal the administration has sent to Congress totaling $45.8 billion.

Amtrak Continues to Pare Service

March 19, 2020

It remains to be seen if Amtrak will suspend or reduce the operations of its long-distance trains, but an online report quoting a union official indicated that onboard service cuts are coming.

The official from the SMART Transportation Division said he has been told to expect sleeping car service to be suspended and dining removed from some trains.

However, the official said he has not been advised by the carrier if it plans to suspend any long-distance trains.

Amtrak has suspended several Midwest corridor trains including three roundtrips in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor and one roundtrip between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette has also been suspended.

Service reductions for corridors in Illinois are expected but as of early Thursday morning had yet to be formally announced by Amtrak.

Amtrak operates three corridors in Illinois linking Chicago with Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis.

The Chicago-Carbondale corridor has two roundtrips plus the Chicago-New Orleans City of Orleans.

The Chicago-Quincy corridor has two roundtrips while the Chicago-St. Louis corridor has four roundtrips plus the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

An online report indicated that effective March 21 Chicago-Carbondale service will be reduced to the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini.

A similar service pattern is expected to be implemented for the Chicago-Quincy corridor with service to Chicago in the morning and returning service in the evening by trains 381 and 381 respectively.

In both corridors, the remaining trains could be covered with one equipment set.

The Empire Builder is also expected to begin carrying local passengers to and from Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee Airport station. Neither are regular stops for Nos. 7 and 8.

The New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian also has been suspended along with all Keystone Service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Service reductions have been made in all other eastern corridors as well.

In a service advisory Amtrak said some stations that have ticket agents may not be staffed for all train arrivals and departure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amtrak said passengers should proceed to the platform for boarding if they encounter an unstaffed station that normally has agents directing the boarding process.

Other online reports indicated that Cascade Service between Portland and Eugene, Oregon, will be reduced to one roundtrip with trains 500 and 505 providing the service.