Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Wolverines’

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

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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.”

Few Changes in New Amtrak Timetable

January 22, 2018

Amtrak has a new national timetable posted online and only a few changes have been made to the schedules of its trains that serve the nation’s heartland, many of them minor.

Most  of the changes affect the six Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac). The running times on the route are being shortened

Effective Jan. 22, No. 350 will depart Pontiac 5 minutes earlier and arrive in Chicago 15 minutes earlier than the current schedule. No. 353 will leave Pontiac 10 minutes earlier and arrive in Chicago eight minutes earlier. No. 355 will depart Pontiac 20 minutes earlier and arrive in Chicago 32 minutes earlier. Times at stations en route have been adjusted.

No. 350 will leave Chicago at its current scheduled time, but arrive in Pontiac 24 minutes earlier. No. 353 will depart Chicago 10 minutes earlier and arrive in Pontiac 27 minutes earlier. No. 354 will leave Chicago 10 minutes earlier and arrive in Pontiac 14 minutes earlier.

The eastbound Blue Water will depart Chicago at its current time, but will be scheduled to arrive in Port Huron, Michigan, seven minutes earlier. There are corresponding changes at intermediate stations.

There are no changes in the schedules of the westbound Blue Water or the Pere Marquette in both directions.

Effective Jan. 8, the Pennsylvanian began arriving in Pittsburgh from New York six minutes earlier.

There are no changes in the schedules of the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited or eastbound Cardinal. The westbound Cardinal is now scheduled to arrive in Chicago five minutes earlier, but there are no changes in time at intermediate stations.

No changes were made in any schedules of trains operating in the Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans corridor. Likewise, all Lincoln Service schedules between Chicago and St. Louis and Missouri River Runner trains between St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, remain the same.

Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee has not changed.

The Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg are scheduled to arrive one minute earlier in Quincy, Illinois, but the rest of the schedules on the route are unchanged.

The counterparts of the same trains will arrive in Chicago two minutes earlier without any changes in times at intermediate stations.

The westbound Southwest Chief is departing Los Angeles five minutes earlier but its Chicago arrival time is unchanged. Some times have changed at intermediate stations. This change became effective last November.

There are no changes in the schedules of the westbound Southwest Chief, or the California Zephyr, Empire Builder or Texas Eagle.

The Heartland Flyer arrives in Oklahoma City from Fort Worth, Texas, four minutes earlier, a change that took effect last October. The southbound Heartland Flyer schedule is unchanged.

Amtrak has not printed a national timetable since January 2016, but has posted one at its website since then.

The latest timetable features an image of the Maple Leaf traveling through snowstorm.

Missing from this timetable is a letter from Amtrak’s president, which had been a standard feature of previous timetables.

The typography is largely the same as in the previous timetables, but the schedule headings have been tweaked. The schedules were compiled before Amtrak said it was discontinuing the Pacific Parlour Car on the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight.

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.

Extra Helping of Thanksgiving Trains in Michigan

November 28, 2017

Amtrak in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Transportation operated 10 extra trains to handle Thanksgiving travelers this year.

That included an extra section of the Pere Marquette that ran on two days between Chicago and Holland, and an extra section of the Wolverine Service that operated on three days between Chicago and Ann Arbor.

I ventured up to Ann Arbor for the opportunity to catch three Amtrak trains in a single day during daylight hours.

Shown is eastbound No. 356, the extra section of the Wolverine, crossing the Huron River in Barton Park on the northwest side of Ann Arbor.

In the top photo, the head end of the train is crossing the river. In the middle is part of the consist, which was a mixture of Amfleet and Horizon equipment.

In the bottom photograph, P42DC No. 33 brings up the rear. Unlike the regularly scheduled Wolverines that operate between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac), the Wolverine Extras operated with locomotives on each end due to the lack of turning facilities in Ann Arbor and a turnaround time of 51 minutes.

No. 356 arrived into Ann Arbor about 12 minutes late on the day that I saw it.

Expedited FRA Review Sought of Ann Arbor Station Site Environmental Assessment

April 24, 2017

A  Michigan congresswoman is trying to turn up the heat on the Federal Railroad Administration to act sooner rather than later on reviewing an environmental assessment for a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell has written to the FRA to urge it to expedite that review.

Ann Arbor faces a Sept. 30 deadline to spend a $2.8 million federal grant that it received to develop a station. The FRA had indicated earlier that it would not finish its review until summer, leaving the city little time to spend the grant money on station design work.

In her letter to the FRA, Dingell said it was important that the FRA move in an “urgent and expeditious manner so the city can move forward with improving mass transit in the state of Michigan.”

Once the FRA finishes reviewing the environmental assessment, there will be a 30-day public comment period.

Thus far the city has not revealed the site it prefers for the new station.

Dingell also pointed out in her letter that Amtrak and the State of Michigan have been working to upgrade service between Chicago and Detroit for higher speed service.

Currently, Ann Arbor is served by three Wolverine Service roundtrips although transportation officials have spoken about increasing that level of service at some future time as well as launching commuter rail service to Detroit.

FRA spokesman Marc Willis said the FRA received the environmental assessment from the city.

“We reviewed it and sent it back to them for revisions,” he said, adding there’s no time frame from the city when it will be sent back for FRA review.

City Council Member Zachary Ackerman believes the city is running out of time to build a new Amtrak station

Ackerman said that a new station seems to be less of a reality given the current climate in Washington and he won’t support a new station without significant federal funding.

Ann Arbor May Soon Start Station Design Work

January 18, 2017

The Ann Arbor, Michigan, city council is poised to approve a $2.14 million contract for preliminary design and engineering work on a new Amtrak station.

michiganThe council was to vote on the contact despite the Federal Railroad Administration not yet having approved a preferred location for the station.

City officials have narrowed the sites to Depot Street, on which the current Amtrak station is located, or in Fuller Park.

The design and engineering work contract would be with Neumann/Smith Architecture

Officials have said they want to be able to move quickly once the FRA acts and an environmental review is completed.

Efforts to construct a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor have been ongoing for more than a decade.

The estimated total cost of preliminary design and engineering is $2.37 million, which includes the $2.14 million contract with Neumann/Smith and a city staff budget of $234,884.

Another $101,131 that has yet to be allocated will be kept in the project budget if needed to complete the environmental review phase or the preliminary design and engineering work.

“If the entire amount of the Neumann/Smith contract and the contingency is necessary to complete the project, the total cost would be $2,471,325.67,” said Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager in a memo to the council.

Cooper noted that the city could be reimbursed by the federal government for up to 80 percent of the project cost. The city would need to put up a 20 percent match.

The city council has already approved spending $342,665 of city funds for the station project but would need to pony up an additional $151,600 from the general fund cash reserves to complete the 20 percent match.

The city has said it will not complete the project without voter approval, a step not expected to be undertaken until 2018 at the earliest.

The city is facing a May 2017 deadline to complete the preliminary engineering and design work. That deadline was set by the terms of the federal grant.

Ann Arbor Officials Expect to Name Preferred Site by January for New Amtrak Station

September 29, 2016

A consultant hired by the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, said local officials want to get resolved by early next year a preferred site for a new Amtrak station.

Robert Gorski of AECOM told a public hearing held on Monday that the city is working with the Michigan Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration to choose a preferred site by January and complete an environmental assessment that must be approved by the FRA.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit Wolverine Service trains currently stop in Ann Arbor at a modular station built by Amtrak in 1983.

Amtrak 4Therese Cody, the MDOT rail operating programs manager said at the hearing that neither Amtrak or the state wants to own train stations.

MDOT prefers that local communities own their depots.

“Because then they reflect what the community wants the station to be — like you’ve seen Dearborn go up and Detroit go up,” she said. “They’re all a reflection of the community. A lot of times it’s a gateway to the community.” Cody described the current Ann Arbor station as an Amshack.

City officials are studying four station alternatives that include two options at the site of the existing Amtrak station on Depot Street.

Another is to build in Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital while the fourth option is to use the former Michigan Central station, which is now a restaurant.

City officials said during the Monday hearing that the corporate owner of the Gandy Dancer restaurant has not returned phone calls inquiring about whether it would be interested in selling its property

However, the city could use its powers of eminent domain to take it over.

Cody noted that federal funding for new stations is provided to communities and not to Amtrak.

“Amtrak doesn’t put a lot of vested interest into their stations, where we believe that a community can make it a little more inviting and provide for the community’s needs,” she said. “Amtrak doesn’t go around and say, ‘Do you guys need a meeting room? Do you guys need this or that?’ They don’t care.”

Gorski said the cost of building a new station at each of the identified sites will be taken into account in selecting a preferred location.

Although the city has not yet released cost estimates for each station option, it projects that the  station design will cost $2.6 million and construction will $44.5 million.

Wherever it is built, the new station will have 9,100 square feet of space and 900-1,100 parking spaces.

Wolverine Summer Sked to Stay Through Oct. 30

September 28, 2016

The reduced summer schedules of Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains have been extended through Oct. 30.

Amtrak logoAmtrak said in a service advisory that the extension was agreed to by the Michigan Department of Transportation, which funds the Wolverine Service, to accommodate additional track and signal improvements.

The track rehabilitation is expected to result in improved reliability, a smoother ride and an expansion of the Midwest’s first 110 mph Amtrak service.

Wolverine trains will operate on the following schedules:

  • One Wolverine round-trip (trains 351 and 354) operates between Chicago and Pontiac seven days a week.
  • Wolverine trains 355 and 358 operate between Chicago and Pontiac Monday through Saturday.
  • The regular schedule of all Wolverine trains (Nos. 350 through 355) will operate between Chicago and Pontiac on Sundays only.