Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

Waiting for Amtrak in Cleveland

March 30, 2014
If you catch Amtrak out of Cleveland, you will begin your journey in the dead of night in a station featuring the latest in economical 1970s design.

If you catch Amtrak out of Cleveland, you will begin your journey in the dead of night in a station featuring the latest in economical 1970s design.

It is 4:15 a.m. in the Amtrak station in Cleveland. The westbound Lake Shore Limited should have been here a half hour ago. “Julie” says it will arrive at 5:10, the Amtrak agent at the ticket windows says 5:15. Whatever the case, the passengers wait.

Four Amtrak trains a day serve Cleveland and all are scheduled to arrive during the overnight hours.

It’s the reality of being located at the midpoint of routes for which trains are timed to best serve the needs of connecting passengers in Chicago, New York and Washington.

The seats in the Cleveland station are not overly comfortable, but I’d rate them to be better than those in the waiting lounge in Chicago.

Inside the station, it is largely quiet. A few low conversations can be heard, but most of those waiting – which includes some waiting for the eastbound Lake Shore Limited – are trying to nap, reading or using their smart phones.

Outside there is the periodic rumble of passing Norfolk Southern freight trains.

I moved to Cleveland in August 1993 and boarded my first train here the following April. The station hasn’t changed much since then.

If the station seems dated it is because it is. In my collection of Amtrak artifacts is an annual report from the 1970s that shows an Amtrak employee making a model of a “modern” Amtrak station that looks just like the Cleveland station.

During Amtrak’s early years, it was plagued with union stations in cities where there were just four or two trains a day.

These palatial depots were built for a much higher level of traffic and were wonders in their day but to Amtrak management they had become dinosaurs that burned precious cash.

The answer was to create a much smaller standard station that was more in tune with Amtrak’s needs.

When the Cleveland Amtrak station opened in 1976, Paul Reistrup was Amtrak’s president, long-distance trains were pulled by SDP40F locomotives and passenger cars had steam heat.

All of that has gone away, but the Cleveland station remains as a monument to another era. I am not sure why, but there is something vaguely comforting about that.

In many ways, Amtrak is an operation frozen in the past. Change tends to be incremental and comes in small increments at that.

It has the same basic route structure that it had in 1971, although with some additions and subtractions here and there, most notable of which has been the expansion and development of short-haul corridors funded by the states.

Construction of the Superliner and Amfleet equipment that is assigned today to the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited began in the 1970s, although some of it is newer.

So every time I catch a train in Cleveland it is a bit like going back to the 1970s when I was in college and what I see today in Cleveland was state of the art then.

Are any of those waiting passengers looking at their smart phones watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show? “Love is all around, no need to waste it.”

But it’s 2014 and not 1974.

Shortly before 5, I get up and walk out into the cold night air to wait for No. 49.

Soon, I see the lights of an approaching train to the east that has the unmistakable pattern of the headlight and ditch lights of an Amtrak P42 locomotive.

The Lake Shore Limited halts at 5:07 a.m. Eight minutes later, the engineer opens the throttle and we are Chicago-bound an hour and a half behind schedule.

And it’s still night time in Cleveland.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

The ticket counter is quiet and the train bulletin board shows four trains. For a short time in the early 2000s there were six Amtrak trains serving Cleveland.

The ticket counter is quiet and the train bulletin board shows four trains. For a short time in the early 2000s there were six Amtrak trains serving Cleveland.

Trying to catch a few winks before heading out to the lone platform that can handle just one train at a time.

Trying to catch a few winks before heading out to the lone platform that can handle just one train at a time.

The seating area is not your living room, but more comfortable than its counterpart at Chicago Union Station.

The seating area is not your living room, but more comfortable than its counterpart at Chicago Union Station.

Technology changes but some things remain constant. Those schedule racks have over the years held folders for trains that no longer exist.

Technology changes but some things remain constant. Those schedule racks have over the years held folders for trains that no longer exist.

Amtrak Offers Double Points Through May 17

March 27, 2014

Amtrak has announced that its mileage program members can earn additional points during a double days promotion that runs through May 17.

 

Amtrak Guest Rewards members must register online at the program’s website www.amtrakguestrewards.com/DoubleDays.

 

To receive credit for qualifying travel, members need to provide their membership number when making a reservation.

 

Cancelled of refunded reservations and/or tickets are not eligible for bonus points. Double points earning is limited to two one-way trips per day. Other restrictions apply.

 

Normally, program members earn two points for every dollar spent on Amtrak travel, with a 100-point minimum, no matter the price.

Farewell, Chicago From Aboard Amtrak No. 30

March 14, 2014
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The signals are all red as Amtrak’s Capitol Limited pulls away from Chicago Union Station. The commuter train rush is over and just one Midwest Corridor train, the Lincoln Service to St. Louis will be heading out the south approach.

I’ve always enjoyed looking out the back of a passenger train. Day, night, rain, shine, it doesn’t matter. I’m captivated by the sight of the rails rolling away from me.

I particularly enjoy looking at the railroad infrastructure. This must be what the engineer sees, only coming toward him or her and not going away.

It is not always easy to get this view. On some trains, the last car is a sleeper or business class that you can only access if you have paid the right fare. On the Lake Shore Limited, the last car is always the baggage car of the New York section. It wasn’t that long ago that most Amtrak long-distance trains had a string of storage mail and express shipment cars on the rear.

But those are gone now, making it easier to get to the “best seat in the house” as far as I’m concerned.

Last Monday was a mostly sunny day in Chicago. I had arrived during the noon hour aboard Amtrak’s inbound Saluki after a weekend trip to downstate Illinois to visit my dad.

I still had more than five hours before boarding the Capitol Limited to head home. I passed the time with a leisurely lunch at the Italian Village and then walked around downtown to make some photographs.

Train No. 30 was one minute late when it began moving out of Chicago Union Station on Track No. 28.

I was seated in the last car on the eight-car train and as we emerged from the train shed I noticed that there was still light, although it was fading fast. It was the second day of Daylight Saving Time of 2014.

I made my way to the rear of the Superliner coach to record our exit from the CUS complex. Not much was going on.

Most trains, both Metra and Amtrak, had departed for the day. Amtrak would send just two more trains this way today, including the Lake Shore Limited.

A small fleet of inbound Amtrak trains from Detroit, Carbondale, Ill.; St. Louis, and Quincy, Ill., would also traverse these tracks before the day ended. Metra service would operate through midnight.

It was a peaceful and orderly world. So I fired away. The view from here just never seems to get old.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

The Willis Tower looms over downtown Chicago. The bridge in the foreground carries the St. Charles Air Line, which is the route used in and out of Chicago Union Stations by trains using the former Illinois Central mainline for Carbondale and New Orleans.

The Willis Tower looms over downtown Chicago. The bridge in the foreground carries the St. Charles Air Line, which is the route used in and out of Chicago Union Stations by trains using the former Illinois Central mainline for Carbondale and New Orleans.

Crossing the South Branch of the Chicago River near 21st Street. The signals visible just beyond the bridge are for CP Lumber.

Crossing the South Branch of the Chicago River near 21st Street. The signals visible just beyond the bridge are for CP Lumber.

Amtrak Launching Advertising Campaigns

March 13, 2014

Amtrak is launching two new advertising campaigns promoting the national system and Northeast Regional Service.

The campaigns will highlight the choice and benefits consumers have for travel. “The new campaigns offer us the opportunity to feature the benefits and amenities of long-distance trains and the convenience of our Northeast Regional Service,” said Amtrak Chief of Marketing and Advertising Programs John Lee.

The railroad said the national campaign will “showcase the amenities offered by long-distance trains that contribute to a unique and comfortable alternative to automobile road trips.”

The ads will feature headlines such as “A better journey starts with a better ride,” “The art of travel redefined,” “Show the road who is boss,” and “Take a whole new view of travel.”

The new campaign promotes the advantages of rail travel vis-à-vis an automobile, such as private sleeper service, large windows, and wide seats with extra headroom and legroom.

The sign-off for these ads, “Making 500 destinations a far better ride,” speaks to the breadth and connectivity of the Amtrak network, the railroad said. The National campaign will include radio, print, digital, mobile and out of home media elements.

Advertising firm Draftfcb New York worked in conjunction with Amtrak to develop the campaigns.

Cardinal Gets Interim Superliner Set

March 12, 2014

Amtrak’s Cardinal was given a interim set of Superliner equipment this week after the train’s regular Amfleet consist struck a boulder over the weekend.

The makeshift consist includes a single-level baggage car and four Superliners.
Westbound No. 51, which left New York last Friday evening, struck the obstruction on the Buckingham Branch Railroad at milepost 237.7 near Augusta Springs, Va.

P42 No. 125 suffered extensive damage to its main reservoir tank and was unable to continue on its own power. After several hours of unsuccessful repair attempts, two CSX locomotives were dispatched out of the railroad’s Clifton Forge yard to rescue the train.
The train operated 40 miles to Clifton Forge, arriving 10 hours behind schedule. Buses were waiting to take passengers to their destinations.

“One bus never arrived and the remaining passengers were placed in a nearby hotel overnight,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says.

The disabled consist continued to Indianapolis as a deadhead move on Saturday afternoon, pulled by CSX motive power. No. 125 was dropped off there for repairs at Amtrak’s suburban Beech Grove maintenance facility.

The View from Centralia in August 2012

March 9, 2014
Amtrak's northbound Illini approaches the Central station on Aug. 4, 2012. A Genesis unit just doesn't match the grace of the E6 or even E9 units.

Amtrak’s northbound Illini approaches the Central station on Aug. 4, 2012. A Genesis unit just doesn’t match the grace of the E6 or even E9 units.

When I rolled into Centralia, Ill., about mid-afternoon on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012, it was not, strictly speaking, my first trip to the city in Southern Illinois named for the Illinois Central Railroad.

I had passed through Centralia numerous times riding on Amtrak and I have a hazy memory of having gone to Centralia at least once to cover a high school basketball game.

But I had never photographed a train in Centralia and it had been one of those things on my “to do” list for quite some time.

I had a video of train action in Centralia recorded in the late 1990s or early 2000s and I had seen it several times.

So on a trip to Illinois to visit my dad, I decided to spend a couple of days railfanning the former Mainline of Mid-America.

Yes, the former IC. It has been owned by Canadian National since 1998 and signs of IC ownership are fading fast.

In a perfect world, I would have spent all day in Centralia. But I had only one day and it began with my photographing trains in Effingham. After the passage of the Amtrak’s southbound Saluki I begin to work my way south to Centralia.

I ended up spending more time en route than I expected. I stopped in Edgewood to capture a northbound CN manifest freight and in Tonti to photograph the site of Amtrak’s first derailment that involved fatalities.

I also photographed a CSX train on the former Baltimore & Ohio line to St. Louis and the CN-CSX crossing in Odin.

And this doesn’t take into account the various other sites that I photographed, including a restored wood water tower next to the ex-IC tracks and a monument near Mason that marks the completion of the “Chicago Branch” as it was called in the 1850s.

I pulled into the parking lot of the Centralia Amtrak station and waited for trains to show up.

I would have a long wait and in some ways it was a disappointing outing. It would be well over an hour before Norfolk Southern sent a train through.

BNSF had a track maintainer out on the line, but no trains. Likewise, CN never sent any freight trains through Centralia during my time there, either.

My tally for the day would be three NS trains and the northbound Amtrak Illini.

The railroad demolished the Centralia IC station many years ago, replacing it with a small brick structure.

But as I studied the photos that Bob Farkas sent me and compared them to my own, I was amazed to see that some things about Centralia have not changed, notably the existence still of large telecommunications or radio antennas. Also, a grain facility visible in one of Bob’s photos can be seen in one of my going away shots of the Illini.

I would like to get back to Centralia this summer. This time I’m going to get their earlier.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Passengers wait on the platform as the Illini arrives. The IC station used to be located here.

Passengers wait on the platform as the Illini arrives. The IC station used to be located here.

Heading out of town for Chicago, the Illini passes a large telecommunications tower that was here in 1970 and a grain facility (visible above the bridge) that Bob Farkas would also would have seen. The bridge, though, did not exist more than 40 years ago.

Heading out of town for Chicago, the Illini passes a large telecommunications tower that was here in 1970 and a grain facility (visible above the bridge) that Bob Farkas would also would have seen. The bridge, though, did not exist more than 40 years ago.

An eastbound NS manifest bends around the curve and is on a joint tracks that is shares with BNSF. The foreground tracks are CN (ex-Illinois Central).

An eastbound NS manifest bends around the curve and is on a joint tracks that is shares with BNSF. The foreground tracks are CN (ex-Illinois Central).

A westbound NS train is about the enter the joint track with BNSF and then will cross the CN mainline.

A westbound NS train is about the enter the joint track with BNSF and then will cross the CN mainline.

Another NS manifest cruises through downtown Centralia. The track to the left connects with the CN and is used to interchange coal trains.

Another NS manifest cruises through downtown Centralia. The track to the left connects with the CN and is used to interchange coal trains.

Lake Shore Ltd. Losing Wine & Cheese Reception

February 8, 2014
Aside from wine and cheese. the reception aboard the Lake Shore Limited in Chicago included grapes and crackers. Shown is the offering on a June 2012 trip. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

Aside from wine and cheese. the welcome aboard reception in the dining car of the Lake Shore Limited in Chicago included grapes and crackers. Shown is the offering on a June 2012 trip. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

With a 9:30 p.m. departure from Chicago, the Lake Shore Limited doesn’t offer dinner in the diner.  However, for the past few years, first-class passengers were invited to a wine and cheese reception in the dining car.

But that perk will end on March 31. Trains magazine reported on Friday that Amtrak’s long-distance train directors decided in late January to scrap a number of first-class and dining car amenities in a cost-cutting move.

Among the cutbacks are the elimination of cranberry juice in sleeping cars, flowers and vases on dining car tables and newspapers in sleeping cars. Amtrak will no longer offer wine and cheese tasting aboard the Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight and is dropping other services offered to passengers aboard the Coast Starlight and the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The latest cuts are nothing news. At various times, Amtrak has added or dropped first class amenities in order to increase premium ticket revenue by providing a better product or in response to congressional pressure. In response to the most recent incident of the latter, Amtrak president Joe Boardman has promised to eliminate food losses in five years.
Trains reported that Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that the decision to cut amenities came from the route directors, not a corporate directive from Washington.

Magliari acknowledge, though that Amtrak “has made promises to stakeholders that we would continue to reduce costs.
“The route directors felt these changes would have a minimal impact on passenger revenue while reducing some confusion in passengers’ expectations between riding the Coast Starlight or Empire Builder and other long-distance service. Like a hotel, we would still provide travel kits to passengers that need them.”
Magliari said there are no plans to cease operating the Coast Starlight’s aging Pacific Parlour Cars.

The wine and cheese reception aboard the Lake Shore Limited diner as the train sat in Chicago Union Station had primarily benefited passengers in the New York-bound sleepers.

Passengers in the Boston section sleeper were not invited to go to the dining car for the reception. Instead, the car attendant brought the wine and cheese to the rooms of the passengers.

The New York sleepers are typically situated at the rear of the train next to the dining car. But the Boston sleeper was situated at the front of the train, right behind the locomotives and a baggage car.

Amtrak Restores All Canceled Midwest Service

January 29, 2014

Amtrak announced on Tuesday that it will operate its full schedule of trains to and from Chicago on Wednesday, Jan. 29.

The railroad warned that “residual delays” are possible due to a logjam of freight traffic on various Amtrak routes as the freight railroads also seek to get back to normal.

Amtrak urged passengers to check on the status of their train before traveling.

Passengers who have paid but choose not to travel due to this service disruption can receive a refund or a voucher for future travel. Some reservations booked online can be modified or canceled on Amtrak.com or by using the free Amtrak mobile app.

 

Amtrak Cancelations Continue Into Tuesday

January 28, 2014

Amtrak will continue to operate on Tuesday on a reduced schedule in the Midwest. The following Amtrak Chicago Hub Services have been canceled for Tuesday, Jan. 28:

Lincoln Service Trains 300, 301, 306 & 307.  Trains 302, 303, 304 & 305 and Trains 21/321 & 22/322 (Texas Eagle) will maintain service on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor)

Hiawatha Service Trains 329, 332, 333, 336, 337 & 340. Trains 330, 331, 334, 335, 338, 339, 341 & 342 will maintain service on the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor)

Wolverine Service Trains 350 & 355. Trains 351, 352, 353 & 354 will maintain service on the Chicago-Detroit corridor)

Illinois Zephyr & Carl Sandburg Trains 380 & 381. Amtrak said it was awaiting word from BNSF regarding service by Trains 382 & 383 on the Chicago-Quincy corridor on Tuesday. The route was closed by BNSF late Sunday night, leading Trains 380, 381, 382 & 383 to be canceled on Monday, Jan. 27, and Amtrak Trains 3, 4, 5, & 6 to detour between Chicago and Galesburg via the former Santa Fe mainline via Chillicothe and Streator, Ill.)

Saluki & Illini Trains 390 & 391 are canceled. Trains 392 (Illini) & 393 (Saluki)and Trains 58 & 59 (City of New Orleans) will maintain service on the Chicago-Carbondale corridor)

No changes are planned for other Chicago Hub Services, including Michigan routes to and from Grand Rapids and Port Huron.  Missouri service between Kansas City and St. Louis and Indiana service to and from Indianapolis is expected to operate as scheduled.

All four Amtrak trains serving Northeast Ohio were operating on Tuesday morning and none were operating excessively late.

Rare Chance to Get Amtrak No. 30 in Daylight

January 27, 2014
Running more than 7 hour late, Amtrak No. 30 is approaching Lake Rockwell Road near Brady Lake on Sunday morning.

Running more than 7 hour late, Amtrak No. 30 is approaching Lake Rockwell Road near Brady Lake on Sunday morning.

So I see fellow Akron Railroad Club member Roger Durfee at our Friday club meeting and ask him if he goes out to photograph in this kind of weather. I meant conditions in which the wind chill is predicted to dip below zero.

Silly question. Of course he does. Roger lives for winter weather on weekends.

So we talked about going out on Sunday morning. I’d call him about 7:30 and we’d make plans from there. There was a possibility that the Reading Lines heritage unit on Norfolk Southern would pass through Ohio in daylight so that might be the focal point of Sunday’s chasing.

I got up before dawn on Sunday and soon learned that Amtrak’s eastbound Capitol Limited was running more than six hours late. It was projected to arrive in Cleveland about 8:46 a.m. Opportunities to photograph in daylight No. 30, or for that matter its westbound counterpart No. 29, are not common.

No. 30 is scheduled to depart Cleveland at 1:54 a.m. whereas No. 29 is scheduled to arrive in Cleveland at 2:53 a.m. Even when they are late, Nos. 29 and 30 are passing through Northeast Ohio in the dead of night.

I called Roger and we met up with plenty of time to track down No. 30. We elected to photograph the train from the Lake Rockwell Road bridge near Brady Lake. It would be going full speed there and kicking up a lot of snow.

A call to Amtrak Julie revealed that No. 30 arrived in Cleveland at 9:30 a.m. and departed three minutes later.  Based on the track speeds for a passenger train over the 30 miles or so between our location and the Cleveland Amtrak station, Roger estimated we’d see No. 30 about 10:30 a.m.

It actually came through at 10:20 a.m., so Roger was nearly spot on.

Our plans for swirling snow images were foiled when No. 30 got an approach at milepost 91 on the NS Cleveland Line. The bridge is at about MP 89.

No. 30 was following an intermodal train that we had photographed a few minutes earlier and it was kicking up a lot of snow. But now Amtrak was starting to catch up to the stack train and had to move at restricted speed.

Fortunately for us, it was snowing somewhat heavily when Amtrak showed up. You can see the results here. This is what winter railroading is all about.

As for the Reading heritage unit, it was removed at Conway Yard near Pittsburgh.

Sunday also saw the eastbound Lake Shore Limited running about an hour behind No. 30 in northern Ohio. No. 48 arrived in Cleveland at 10:41 a.m. on Sunday morning and departed at 10:50, exactly 5 hours late. No. 48 finally got to New York at 12:10 a.m., which is 5 hours, 35 minutes late.

No. 30 rolled into Washington Union Station at 8:20 p.m. Sunday, making it 7 hours and 36 minutes late.

Amtrak returned to a sense of normalcy on Monday morning. No. 29 departed Cleveland 20 minutes late while No. 30 was a mere 26 minutes late. No. 48 left Cleveland on time, but No. 49 was running 4  hours late.

Article and Photographs by  Craig Sanders

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