Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

Amtrak 6 Months Late Getting Bicycle Racks Installed On Board the Capitol Limited

July 30, 2015

Want to take your bike aboard Amtrak? No problem says the nation’s rail passenger carrier. Bike racks will be ready by the end of the year.

Uh, that was supposed to be the end of last year. Amtrak had announced in June 2014 that baggage cars “equipped with built-in luggage racks that will be able to secure unboxed bicycles” would be available by year’s end.

But six months after that deadline passed, Amtrak is still working to install the bike racks.

Among the trains that were slated to get them were the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited.

Although it won’t commit to a new deadline, Amtrak says that is aiming to get the racks installed and ready to use by the end of summer.

“That’s a process we’ve been working on for quite some time,” said Craig Schultz, an Amtrak spokesman. “We’re very eager to get it off the ground.”

Schultz said that finding the right racks and figuring out how they can fit in a baggage car while also keeping a train on schedule has taken longer than expected.

He said Amtrak wants to ensure that loading and unloading bikes doesn’t add time to boarding or de-boarding process and that the baggage cars fit with varying platform heights at en route stations.

The bike racks were to be tested on the Capitol Limited and the Vermonter between New York and St. Albans, Vermont.

Amtrak will solicit feedback from riders who use the service, Schultz said.

Nos. 29 and 39 are expected to have racks to fit eight bikes, something that some bicycle advocates say won’t be enough.

Boy Admits Playing on Car That Struck Station

July 28, 2015

Utica, New York, police said that a 13-year-old-boy has admitted to playing on a freight car that was set free, struck a restored steam locomotive and damaged the Amtrak station on July 21.

Police had said earlier that there was evidence that the brakes on the car, which was sitting on the tracks of the New York, Susquehanna & Western had had its brakes tampered with.

The car, a covered hopper, rolled through downtown Utica, hitting a vehicle, and striking New York Central 0-6-0 No. 6721

The Utica & Mohawk Valley Chapter of the NRHS owns the locomotive.

Contractors have started repair work to Utica Union Station to ensure the structure is stable before they removed the freight car.

The 13-year-old may face charges in connection with the incident, which is still under investigation.

Amtrak service was unaffected by the damage to the station, which serves the Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf and Empire Service trains.

Also unaffected are operations of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which uses the station.

Special Boarding Platform Testing in Ann Arbor

July 26, 2015

A first-of-its-kind boarding platform designed to serve rail passengers with disabilities is undergoing a trial in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The platform is designed to help passengers more easily board trains at stations that have low-level platforms that are well below the floor level of most single-level passenger cars.

Otherwise, passengers must be carried aboard up the stairs or raised to floor level by a lift device.

The new platform is located at the west end of the existing low-level platform at the Ann Arbor Amtrak station.

It has a ramp that leads to a concrete platform that stands 38 inches above the top of the rails. That is the same height as the floor of the Amfleet and Horizon cars commonly used on Wolverine Service trains that serve Ann Arbor.

A wall facing the tracks sits 9 feet back from the center line of the track, thus allowing ample clearance space for passing freight trains.

A 20-foot motorized concrete platform, or shuttle, deploys to the 5-foot, 7-inch distance from the center line to facilitate level boarding at two adjacent doors.

A conductor or station agent can use a cell phone app to activate the shuttle, which takes just over 10 seconds to move into position.

There remains a gap of several inches between the movable section and a passenger car, so a bridge plate is necessary for wheelchair travelers. That plate has guardrails and is made of lightweight carbon fiber. It is 18 inches longer and 30 pounds lighter than the 87-pound aluminum ramps used at most Amtrak stations.

Superliner equipment has a lower boarding level floor and the fiber ramp can be adapted those cars.

Amtrak’s Superliners as well as the bi-level Midwest and California fleet now being built by Nippon Sharyo, have doors that are slightly over 15 inches above top-of-rail.

The Ann Arbor special platform cost about $1.9 million with the funds coming from the Accessible Boarding Technologies portion of the $50 million designated by Congress in the current Amtrak appropriation to make stations accessible to passengers with disabilities.

A similar platform is being planned for the Amtrak station in East Lansing, Michigan, on the Blue Water line. Another may be built at an undisclosed location on the Wolverine Service line.

Although designed to help those with disabilities, the special platform is available for use by any passengers, including seniors, young families with strollers and those traveling with big rolling suitcases.

Amtrak collaborated with a Michigan engineering firm, RLE International, to design the prototype platform.

It was unveiled at a ceremony on July 23, the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On Photography: Compromises and Quality

July 21, 2015

Amtrak 48-y

Amtrak 48 going away-x

I like the top photo. I really like the top photo. At the same time, whenever I look at it I see not only triumph, but a significant flaw that prevents it from being a great photo.

This is Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited on the eastern edge of Conneaut last Sunday morning.

Fellow Akron Railroad Club member Peter Bowler and I had left at 5:30 a.m. to be able to get to this location.

Peter had found it searching Google satellite maps. It lies at the end of a narrow dead-end road.

We didn’t know until we arrived that the signals here are mismatched. The westward signals for Track No. 1 at CP 113 are of the modern Safetran variety, but the signals for Track No. 2 are of the old fashioned New York Central type.

Why those ex-NYC signals were not replaced is a mystery to me. Interestingly, the eastbound signals at this interlocking are reversed. The signals on Track No. 1 are modern Safetran signals while those on Track No. 2 are of the NYC variety.

We didn’t have to wait long for No. 48 to show up. I heard it calling clear signals for Track No. 2 several miles away.

Peter observed that the lighting favored the north side of the tracks, but not by much. It was close to being right down the middle.

I had it my mind that I wanted to be on the south side because I had fallen in love with that ex-NYC signal for Track No. 2 and wanted it to be on the left side of the image.

We heard a horn and soon saw a headlight in the distance. Peter had favored going to the north side, but stayed on the south side.

The train was moving track speed and then a cloud obscured the sun. A test shot that I made proved to be rather dark, even after increasing the f stop by two-thirds.

As the train bore down on us, the engineer sounded the horn and I could see early morning sunlight playing on the nose of P42 No. 132.

In a matter of a second or two the lighting changed from cloud-induced shadows to nice early morning light.

I fired away, getting the train in the exact spot I wanted to be as it split the signals.

As soon as he looked at his images on his camera, Peter lamented having decided to stay on the south side.

I looked at my images and concurred. Had we been on the north side of the tracks, the side of the train might have been nicely illuminated.

Instead, the south side of the locomotives and the train are in shadows. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

I’ve seen many great photographs that made effective use of light and shadows. Those create contrast, which gives a photograph the visual tension needed to create visual interest and eye movement.

In this image, the nose of the locomotive, the signals and the tracks are nicely lighted.

I also liked the cloud pattern behind the train, which also offers visual interest.

As I was processing the image the next day, though, I noticed that the image is soft. That might have been OK for the train, but I wanted the signals at least to be razor sharp.

Despite shooting at 1/800th of a second, I must have moved the camera ever so slightly. The slight blur still bothers me.

I made a going away image and had I been on the north side of the tracks, I might have been able to get a glint shot.

But in processing that image I found an unexpected and pleasing consequence. The side of the train was in shadows, but not so dark that the detail of the train is lost.

I can see that No. 48 had six Amfleet II cars, five of them coaches, and five Viewliners. The latter included a new baggage car, three sleepers and a diner.

I was quite pleased to see that the vegetation along the edge of the ballast is well illuminated and I like the contrast of that with the train.

Making photographic images is often a series of compromises and choices.

Sometimes those work out well, sometimes they don’t work out much at all and there are even times when the results exceed your expectations.

The Lake Shore Limited is the only Amtrak train we can count on photographing in daylight and even then you might have to go well east of Cleveland to have good lighting.

There is a great deal of subjectivity in judging the quality of a photography. Yes, much of it is personal taste, yet so many average and mediocre photographers want to pass off criticism of their work as a difference in tastes.

Excellence in any endeavor needs to be rooted in a set of standards that distinguish the good from the great, the average from the good and even the terrible from the average. Otherwise, quality becomes a matter of “it’s good because I said it is” or “it’s good because I did it and I like it.”

I’ve long believed that photography is a craft whose development is never complete. If I can find a flaw in any image that I make, no matter how pleasing that image might be, then I have something to work at improving next time. Such is the case with this photo opportunity.

Yet I’m not going to discard them because something didn’t go right. These images may not be ideal, but they are keepers that I’m happy to show.

Commentary and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Amtrak Touts Station Accessibility Projects

July 20, 2015

The Amtrak station in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is among several that is being renovated to make them more accessible to those with disabilities.

Also slated to be renovated this year are stations in Prince, West Virginia; Devils Lake, Rugby, Stanley, and Williston in North Dakota; Detroit Lakes, Red Wing, St. Cloud and Winona in Minnesota; and Glasgow and Havre in Montana.

“Passengers with disabilities represent a large and growing share of Amtrak ridership and we are proud of our role as an important means of transportation,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman in a news release. “We are confident we can build on the progress made to date and advance a robust program of station accessibility improvements in the years to come.”

Amtrak said that over the past 25 years it has improved accessibility at many stations, including repairs and upgrades to platforms, ramps and sidewalks, and renovating entrances and restrooms. All Amtrak trains have accessible seating and restrooms, and long-distance trains have accessible bedrooms.

During the past five fiscal years ridership by passengers with disabilities has increased 50 percent.

Troy Station Stop Suspended for No. 350

July 17, 2015

Due to track work, Wolverine Service No. 350 Will Not Stop in Troy, Michigan, Monday through Saturdays through Sept. 30.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the action is result of track improvements being made in in Indiana and Michigan.

Amtrak is directing passengers using train 350 to instead board or disembark at Dearborn, Detroit, Royal Oaks or Pontiac. No. 350 is scheduled to arrive in Troy at 2:36 p.m. from Chicago and other intermediate stops.

All other Wolverine Service trains will continue to offer daily service to Troy.

Buffalo Eyes Replacing Exchange Street Station

July 17, 2015

Exchange Street station in Buffalo, New York, may be replaced by an underground facility, city officials say.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. say they want to place the station below an undeveloped tract of land north of the canal.

“Instead of getting off at a site that leads you to believe nothing is happening around you, you would now get off at a site where you’re entering what is planned to be a very vibrant area of the City of Buffalo,” said Brendan R. Mehaffy, executive director of the city’s Office of Strategic Planning.

The current station is a small brick structure located beneath an interstate highway interchange in downtown Buffalo.

It is served by Amtrak’s Empire Service trains and the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf.

In 2014, the station served 41,220 passengers, which was a 7.4 percent increase over 2013 patronage and more than double what it served in 2004.

Mayor Brown has been calling for a train station at Canalside for years.

“Erie Canal Harbor and the Mayor’s Office are on the same page about exploring the feasibility of putting the train station at the northern end of the site before any other projects are finalized,” Mehaffy said. “If we can get it done, it’s worth the investment in the area.”

Waterfront agency board member Sam Hoyt said the board has been discussing placing an Amtrak station on what is described as the northern Aud block.

“We are in the process of considering the next steps there, and a train station will absolutely be a part of that discussion,” he said.

Ten years ago, Hoyt called for having Amtrak use a proposed transportation that would have been placed at the site of the since demolished Memorial Auditorium.

A study conducted at the time found that a station at Canalside was feasible.

“We did thorough research when I was an assemblyman, and the answer is that the short tunnel under which the track goes underground could accommodate a station. It’s definitely doable,” Hoyt said.

Hoyt rode Amtrak between Buffalo and Albany when he served in the state assembly and said that a new station is long overdue.

“You want visitors welcomed by a good first impression,” he said. “As we have done with Buffalo Niagara International Airport, you are greeted by a beautiful state-of-the-art, well-designed airport. You come by Amtrak, and the message is certainly not that this is a city on the move, a city that is growing, prospering and has turned itself around.”

A new Amtrak station would require federal, state and city funds to build, but Hoyt said that hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in Canalside in recent years.

The site has also been listed as possible location for a new stadium for the NFL Buffalo Bills.

“Including a high-quality, intermodal station in the future development of the Aud site makes enormous sense,” Hoyt said. “The Mayor’s Office and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. agree that if we’re going to do a station in Buffalo, it ought to be at that site.”

Bruce B. Becker, president of the Empire State Passengers Association, agreed that the current station needs to be replaced.

“We feel Exchange Street is barely adequate, given the increasing ridership out of the station,” Becker said. “Our organization feels adamantly that with the development of downtown and Canalside and HarborCenter, there is a need for a much-improved Amtrak facility serving downtown.”

Amtrak serve Buffalo through two stations. The Empire corridor trains, Maple Leaf and the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited all stop at a station in suburban Depew.

Cleveland, Elyria Amtrak Stations Ripped

July 16, 2015

The Amtrak station in Cleveland has earned the dubious distinction of joining a list of what described as the worst stations in the country.

CityLab, which covers urban issue for the Atlantic magazine, grouped the station with its “fail station” category.

The ranking attracted some local media attention. Crain’s Cleveland Business cited it on its blog and WKSU wrote a story about it that was posted to the NPR station’s website.

The latter story, though, did have one glaring inaccuracy. It said that Amtrak moved its Cleveland operations to the current Lakefront station after Greater Cleveland RTA moved its operations into Tower City. Actually, what RTA did or didn’t do had nothing to do with it.

Amtrak began using its current location in October 1975 when it launched the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York/Boston.

If CityLab thinks the current station, which opened in 1977, is bad, it should have seen the modular station – read, trailer – that Amtrak initially used in Cleveland.

Actually, the City Lab writer did see it. That trailer was later moved to Elyria, which also made the CityLab list of failing stations.

Noting that fire destroyed the Elyria trailer station in 2013, CityLab described the site as “not-even-a-station-station.”

That might be true, yet the debris from the fire has been removed and a bus shelter-type station constructed in Elyria.

The KSU article did note that Amtrak officials said they have plans to begin using the nearby former New York Central station, which is a hub for Lorain County transit buses.

However, the idea of using the NYC depot for Amtrak has been in the works for years but there is new hope that the idea will finally come to fruition in the short-term future.

In the meantime, the Elyria station is no worse than dozens of other similar type stations across America, including one in Alliance.

Back to Cleveland, though. Amtrak did briefly use Cleveland Union Terminal, now known as Tower City. That was during seven months in 1971 when the first edition of the Lake Shore ran.

But the states on the route reneged on their promise to help fund that train and Amtrak discontinued it in early January 1972.

By then it was stopping at a crossing in the Flats because if Amtrak had used CUT for even one day in 1972, it would have been on the hook for paying a year’s worth of rent.

As for RTA, well it was running rapid transit trains through CUT long before Amtrak began. So it is not clear what it meant by when RTA moved its operations there.

The WKSU story said that Amtrak officials call the Cleveland station “functional” but that they are working with city and county officials to use an intermodal terminal that has been talked about along the lakefront east of the current Amtrak station.

That station would be used by RTA, regional and intercity buses. But it hasn’t been built yet and officials are still looking for a suitable site.

The CityLab article used some colorful descriptions about some Amtrak stations.

For example, it described the Amtrak station in Savannah, Georgia, as having the look of an adult video store that has gone out of business.

The Detroit Amtrak station was described as having the appearance of an unused Sizzler restaurant.

Also making the list were Amtrak stations in Buffalo, New York, and South Bend, Indiana.

The Exchange Street station in Buffalo, which is used by Empire Service trains and the Maple Leaf, but not the Lake Shore Limited, sits beneath a massive interstate highway interchange.

As for South Bend, “What makes the South Bend terminal so truly egregious is the fact that Union Station, a mighty Beaux-Arts building, still stands across town—but it no longer services trains,” wrote CityLab author Kriston Capps.

He had one thing right in his article. “Some of the nation’s train stations don’t make a great impression. That won’t change until Congress truly funds passenger rail,” Capps wrote.

“These are the other train stations—the ones that make you wish you’d left the house a little later so you’d have to spend that much less time waiting at the station.”

Maybe so, but, hey, at least the Cleveland Amtrak station does have heat, air conditioning and indoor plumbing. Try finding those at many stations served by Amtrak.

2 Named to Amtrak Board of Directors

July 14, 2015

President Barack Obama will nominate Derek Kan and re-nominate Anthony Coscia to serve on the board of directors of Amtrak.

Kan is director of strategy at Genapsys who previously he served as a management consultant at Bain & Co. and as an adviser at Elliott Management.

He was a policy adviser to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, the chief economist for the Senate Republican Policy Committee and presidential management fellow at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Coscia has sat on the Amtrak board since June 2010. He is a partner at Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf LLP and between 2003 and 2011 was chairman of the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Amtrak Will Run Hoosier State a While Longer

July 7, 2015

The Indiana Department of Transportation has asked Amtrak to continue operating the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State while it works out contract details for having Iowa Pacific take over the train.

It is the fourth time that INDOT has requested an extension on an October 2013 contract with Amtrak after federal lawmakers stopped funding routes shorter than 750 miles.

INDOT has an agreement with Iowa Pacific whereby it will furnish locomotives and passenger cars while Amtrak continues to provide operating crew members. Iowa Pacific will also take an active role in marketing the service, which operates quad-weekly on days that Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate in Indiana.

Iowa Pacific was originally set to take over the Hoosier State on July 1 and conducted a test run in late June.INDOT now says that Amtrak will continue operating the Hoosier State for only as long as it takes to finish the contracts and giving the required notices of a change in service.

Iowa Pacific Holdings President Ed Ellis has said that planned improvements to the Hoosier State will include food and beverage service, WiFi and a business class section.

Iowa Pacific operates several excursion trains around the country, including a service on the back of Amtrak’s City of New Orleans that uses restored vintage Pullman cars.


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