Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

Prospects of Making Amtrak’s Cardinal a Daily Train Discussed at Meeting Held in Cincinnati

September 24, 2016
Map of Amtrak's Cardinal showing its station stops. It more stations in West Virginia than in any other state.

Map of Amtrak’s Cardinal showing its station stops. It more stations in West Virginia than in any other state.

Amtrak supporters met in Cincinnati on Friday to push for making the Chicago-New York Cardinal a daily train rather than the tri-weekly operation that it has been since the early 1980s.

Amtrak CardinalRail passenger advocates and public officials heard Amtrak officials outline the challenges facing daily service as well as how to overcome those.

“We’ve been building toward an event like this for a very long time. If you truly want to make this train better, you’ve got to run it seven days a week,” said Amtrak senior government affairs specialist Charlie Monte Verde. “We’re pitching this as a modern economic engine. We’re not trying to trade on the ghosts of the past.”

A Cincinnati chamber of commerce official echoed those sentiments.

“This is a piece of the puzzle for the chamber’s transportation strategy of connecting people to jobs,” said Jason Kershner, the chamber’s vice president for government relations. “We’ve really put our stake in the ground that transportation is important to business.”

The Cincinnati meeting was billed as a step toward building a coalition of communities along the route of the Cardinal who want better service.

Amtrak officials have said the cost of a daily Cardinal remains unknown. Much of the route uses tracks owned by CSX, which might demand capital improvements before agreeing to host a daily Cardinal.

Monte Verde said once the capital needs are known Amtrak could ask for an appropriation from Congress or attempt to build seven-day-a-week service into its budget somehow. He would not discuss potential costs.

“We think there is the space out there to make this train daily, but the first real step is to work with the railroads to see what their traffic is like,” Monte Verde said.

Amtrak officials said ridership would likely increase with more service because trains become more reliable the more they run.

“A daily Cardinal is a starting point,” Monte Verde said. “From there, you build the kind of awareness you need to have a discussion [about] a Cincinnati-Indianapolis-Chicago short corridor service.”

“It’s a step forward, and it’s going to be a step we build upon,” said Derek Bauman, the southwest Ohio chair of rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio.

Ann Arbor OKs Money for More Station Studies

September 22, 2016

The Ann Arbor City Council has approved a resolution to amend the city’s professional services agreement with AECOM, an engineering firm, which would provide additional funding to perform further studies on a new Amtrak station.

michiganHowever, some council members expressed discontent about how much money has already been spent on studies related to the new depot.

They noted that nearly a million dollars has already been expended on studies and environmental reviews since 2012 and yet a site for the station has yet to be chosen.

A study recently released identified several station options at three sites.

“This additional money is necessary because we have not narrowed it down to one site. The original agreement included the environment review for one preferred alternative,” said council member Jack Eaton. “If we were able to narrow it down to one alternative we would not have to spend this extra $196,000.”

Public Services Administrator Craig Hupy and Transportation Manager Eli Cooper said the additional city funding is needed for studies of the potential station sites because the project’s current funding grant from the Federal Railroad Association did not provide money for those studies.

Nine council members voted to approve the resolution, with Eaton the sole no vote.

Ann Arbor is served by six daily Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

Buffalo Exchange Street Station Closed After Heavy Rainfall Leads to Ceiling Collapse

September 22, 2016

Exchange Street station in Buffalo, New York, has been closed after heavy rain caused the ceiling to collapse.

Amtrak 3The city of Buffalo, which owns the station, has indicated that it will seek cost estimates about repairing the facility, which is served by New York-Niagara Falls Empire Service trains and the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf.

All of those trains plus the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited are also served by another Amtrak station in suburban Buffalo in Depew, New York.

Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steven Stepniak said a contractor has been sent to the site to evaluate the condition of the building. Stepniak said the city will explore various options before moving forward.

The ceiling collapse occurred near the passenger waiting area last weekend and the station was closed on Monday.

Earlier this month, another portion of the ceiling collapsed, prompting the closure of the station’s ticket office.

Amtrak will continue to serve the station in the meantime. The passenger carrier said it is working with the New York State Department of Transportation, but is not directly involved in station repairs because it does not own the station.

A passenger train advocate said the situation underscores the need for a new station in Buffalo near the city’s waterfront.

“We are very concerned over the immediate safety implications, and the loss of service to the increasingly vibrant downtown Buffalo area,” said Bruce Becker, vice president of operations for the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

New Niagara Falls Depot Still Without Trains

September 22, 2016

Niagara Falls, New York, has a state-of-the-art new $43 million intermodal station that was built to serve Amtrak, yet its trains continue to call elsewhere.

Amtrak 4The city and Amtrak have yet to agree on a lease agreement for the station, which remains closed until such a pact is reached.

“Amtrak continues to work with the City of Niagara Falls toward execution of a lease agreement allowing us to occupy space in the new train station,” said Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz. “We are working through the remaining issues which we are optimistic can be resolved. We look forward to moving Amtrak operations into the new building and inaugurating service to the new station.”

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster has told local media that “the ball is now in Amtrak’s court.”

Work on the new station was completed this summer and an open house was held at which Amtrak showed off a display train.

In the meantime, Amtrak continues to use a facility in Niagara Falls near Lockport Road.

Most Amtrak Long-Distance Trains Now Have Trackside Checked Bicycle Service for $25 Fee

September 20, 2016

Amtrak has begun checked trackside bicycle service on most long-distance trains.

Amtrak logoThe service is available only at stations that have checked baggage service.

Passengers with bikes must check in with a station agent, obtain a claim check/baggage tag for their bike, and then give that to a crew member inside the baggage car of their train.

Passengers must retrieve their bikes from the baggage car from a crew member once they reach their destination.

The new procedure has ended the need for passengers to break down and box their bikes on long-distance trains. Checked bikes also require payment of a $25 fee.

The service is not yet available on the Portland section of the Empire Builder, the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited or on the Coast Starlight.

Amtrak said checked bike service will begin on the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight at a date to be announced.

Amtrak’s 70 new Viewliner II baggage cars have racks to hang bicycles.

Amtrak Wants to Yank Altoona Ticket Agent

September 20, 2016

Amtrak wants to remove its station agents from Altoona, Pennsylvania, although a date for that to happen has not yet been disclosed.

Amtrak 4City officials learned of the plans in a telephone call from Amtrak to city Planning Director Lee Slusser.

However, Slusser said the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation must approve the removal of the agent.

An Amtrak spokesman in a subsequent email message said that “Amtrak does not intend to change staffing in Altoona at this time.”

A PennDOT spokesman told the Altoona Mirror that it had no comment and that the agency was not yet aware of any Amtrak plans to end ticket agent service in Altoona.

Amtrak is eyeing providing a caretaker to open the Altoona station a half-hour before train time and keep it open until the train departs.

Altoona is served by the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian, which PennDOT helps to fund.

Amtrak serves about 26,000 passengers a year in Altoona.

No Changes in Latest Amtrak TT

September 17, 2016

amtrak-tt

Amtrak issued a new system timetable on Sept. 9 and for the first time in the company’s history it is available only online.

The timetable shows no changes in scheduled times for the three trains that serve Ohio, the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited, the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited and the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Although the timetable shows through cars between Chicago and Boston for the Lake Shore Limited, a check of Amtrak’s website found that passengers still must change trains at Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

Through cars between Chicago and Boston are shown in the system as becoming effective Oct. 24.

There are no changes in schedules for other Amtrak corridor or long-distance trains serving the Midwest.

The typography of the timetable is slightly different from the last system timetable, which was issued on Jan. 11, 2016.

Also missing from the latest timetable is the letter from Amtrak’s president. It has been replaced with a letter from D.J. Stadler, Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief operations officer.

Previous Amtrak President Joseph Boardman retired on Sept. 1 and was replaced by Charles “Wick” Moorman, whose appointment had apparently not been finalized when the timetable production work was completed.

The cover features an image of the westbound California Zephyr passing colorful fall foliage near Grandby, Colorado. The image was made by Amtrak trainmaster Steve Ostrowski.

Amtrak Offering Double Miles This Fall

September 14, 2016

Amtrak announced this week that it is offering members of its Amtrak Guest Rewards program double points for travel during the fall.

Amtrak logoThe double points will be awarded for travel between Sept. 19 and Nov. 19.

Amtrak Guest Rewards members must register at AmtrakGuestRewards.com/DoubleDays.

Terms and conditions apply. To book travel, visit Amtrak.com or call 800-USA-RAIL.

Initial Designs Completed for Ypsilanti Station

September 13, 2016

Initial designs have been submitted to the Ypsilanti, Michigan, city council as part of the city’s efforts to land Amtrak service.

Amtrak 4The council has yet to take action on the designs, which would renovate the Depot Town complex for service by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service.

“Given our financial situation itself, we’re looking at doing something for the Wolverine stop,” said council member Pete Murdock. “It is sort of a minimalist plan–enough to get the train to stop.”

The depot renovation project is projected to cost $2 million and the city is hoping to obtain grant money to fund it.

The renovations could be finished by late 2017.

Ann Arbor Eyes 3 Sites for New Amtrak Station

September 8, 2016

Ann Arbor officials have narrowed the list of potential sites for a new Amtrak station to three and hopes to further narrow the list before the end of the year.

The sites were named in a report the city recently released that spelled out four station design options.

Amtrak 4Two of the options involve the using the existing Amtrak station site on Depot Street, a third involves renovating the former Michigan Central station while the fourth involves building on Fuller Road at the location of a city-owned parking garage near the University of Michigan Hospital.

City officials are hoping to move quickly to get a draft environmental assessment done and submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration as early as this fall.

The environmental assessment will include an evaluation of potential environmental impacts for the remaining design alternatives and identify a preferred site.

Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager said the city also has issued a request for proposals in an effort to hire an engineering firm to create preliminary engineering drawings as soon as the FRA approves the environmental assessment and a site is chosen.

Ann Arbor has $2 million left from a $2.8 million federal rail planning grant the city must be spend by September 2017 or lose that funding.

Although city hopes to have a final station design completed by late 2017, it is likely to be 2018 before construction can begin on the $44.5 million station. Ann Arbor voters must also approve the final design.

The process to create a new Amtrak station began in 2007. The existing station on Depot Street is a 1970s era Amtrak-built modular structure.

Although the city looked at 16 potential station sites, it initially favored building the station in a portion of Fuller Park in front of the UM Hospital.

Two years later the city and UM formed a partnership to create the Fuller Road Station.

But information from the FRA received in 2012 called the Fuller Road proposal into question and the alliance with UM fell apart.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said in a statement the city is committed to building a new Amtrak station and that public hearings will be held during the design stage of the planning process.

Ann Arbor is served by six Amtrak Wolverine Service trains and has been studying the establishment of commuter rail service.