Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

Amtrak Inspects Proposed Hoosier State Cars

March 31, 2015

The three passenger cars and two locomotives that might be used on the Hoosier State got an inspection by Amtrak officials recently.

The equipment is owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings and stored in Bensenville, Ill.

Under a proposal being discussed by Amtrak and the Indiana Department of Transportation, Iowa Pacific would provide equipment and onboard services while Amtrak would continue to provide the operating crews.

Also joining in the inspection were officials of the Federal Railroad Administration.

The quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train is underwritten by INDOT and many of the communities that it serves.

The Iowa Pacific equipment, which includes two coaches and a dome car, would provide enhanced business class and food service.

Currently, the Hoosier State typically operates with two Horizon fleet coaches and does not have food service.

About a dozen FRA and Amtrak inspectors were joined by a similar number of Iowa Pacific operations and mechanical personnel in making the inspection of the IP equipment.

The locomotives are GP40FH-2 Nos. 4135 and 4144, which formerly served New Jersey Transit. They are geared for a top speed of 102 mph, although no segment of the Hoosier State route has track maintained to that standard.

One of the two 44-seat coaches was built by Budd in the 1950s for Southern Pacific’s Sunset Limited. The other was built by St. Louis Car Co. in 1964 for Union Pacific.

Both are of former Amtrak heritage and during that time they were converted to head-end power and received accessible bathrooms

Iowa Pacific has used the cars on its Saratoga & North Creek subsidiary and reupholstered the Amtrak seats. The cars will have 110-volt at-seat outlets installed and be equipped for Wi-Fi.

The full-with dome car was built for the Santa Fe and later ran on the original Auto-Train and Holland America Westours.

The car would provide upper level business class with hot meals prepared in a lower level galley and serve as a café car for coach passengers on the lower level.

A Banner Amtrak Day in Northwest Indiana

March 27, 2015
First train of the day. Its the Detroit (Pontiac) bound Wolverine No. 350 crossing Trail Creek on a swing bridge in Michigan City, Ind.

First train of the day. It’s the Detroit (Pontiac) bound Wolverine No. 350 crossing Trail Creek on a swing bridge in Michigan City, Ind.

Not since last October have I seen, let alone photographed, an Amtrak train. Considering that the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited had numerous days this past winter when they were running hours behind schedule, to say that I’ve been shut out might seem odd.

But the opportunity never came about for me to get trackside to photograph those late running trains.

So recently when a friend asked me to accompany him on a trip to Michigan City, Ind., to deliver some backyard model railroad equipment to a guy from Wisconsin who bought it, I eagerly said yes.

All of Amtrak’s 10 Michigan service trains pass through Michigan City and as I studied the schedules I saw that we would have a shot at getting five of them.

Not since the last time I was in Chicago have I see that many Amtrak trains in a single day.

We wound up photographing three of the trains in Michigan City and two more at Porter, where the line from Detroit joins the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern. Here is a gallery of what I was able to capture on that day.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Wolverine Service No. 351 for Chicago approaches the old Michigan Central coaling tower that still stands astride the tracks in Michigan City.

Wolverine Service No. 351 for Chicago approaches the old Michigan Central coaling tower that still stands astride the tracks in Michigan City.

Amtrak MC 05e

P42 No. 29 brings up the rear of Wolverine No. 351. Think of the thousands of New York Central passenger trains and steam locomotives that have passed beneath this massive coaling tower over the years.

P42 No. 29 brings up the rear of Wolverine No. 351. Think of the thousands of New York Central passenger trains and steam locomotives that have passed beneath this massive coaling tower over the years.

The Blue Water from Port Huron, Mich., has a typical Michigan service consist of a mixture of Horizon and Amfleet equipment with a P42 locomotive on each end. All five of the trains that we say had a P42 on each end.

The Blue Water from Port Huron, Mich., has a typical Michigan service consist of a mixture of Horizon and Amfleet equipment with a P42 locomotive on each end. All five of the trains that we say had a P42 on each end.

The Chicago-bound Blue Water has a clear signal at Drawbridge in Michigan City. The view was made by the Center Street grade crossing.

The Chicago-bound Blue Water has a clear signal at Drawbridge in Michigan City. The view was made by the Center Street grade crossing.

Crossing the swing bridge over Trail Creek in Michigan City. I was later told that the bridge is now operated by the Amtrak control center in Chicago and that operators are no longer stationed in the tower next to the bridge. In the background is a Northern Indiana Public Service Company power generating plant that receives shipments o coal by rail.

Crossing the swing bridge over Trail Creek in Michigan City. I was later told that the bridge is now operated by the Amtrak control center in Chicago and that operators are no longer stationed in the tower next to the bridge. In the background is a Northern Indiana Public Service Company power generating plant that receives shipments o coal by rail.

A Wolverine Service train twists its way off the NS Chicago Line at Porter and enters the longest stretch of Amtrak-owned rails outside of the Northeast Corridor.

A Wolverine Service train twists its way off the NS Chicago Line at Porter and enters the longest stretch of Amtrak-owned rails outside of the Northeast Corridor.

Think there are enough signs greeting train crews going from NS to Amtrak ownership in Porter? Shown is the rear of the mid-day Wolverine Service train to Detroit (Pontiac).

Think there are enough signs greeting train crews going from NS to Amtrak ownership in Porter? Shown is the rear of the mid-day Wolverine Service train to Detroit (Pontiac).

The last train of the day was the Chicago-bound Wolverine Service mid-day train. The consist had but one Amfleet car amid a sea of Horizon equipment.

The last train of the day was the Chicago-bound Wolverine Service mid-day train. The consist had but one Amfleet car amid a sea of Horizon equipment.

Amtrak Viewliner II Baggage Cars Enter Service

March 26, 2015

Amtrak’s new Viewliner II baggage cars entered revenue service this week on the East Coast.

The first trains to carry the cars were the northbound Silver Meteor (New York-Miami) and northbound Carolinian (New York-Charlotte, N.C.).

Altogether, Amtrak ordered 55 of the cars and plans to assign them to all of its 15 long-distance routes.

The cars were built at the CAF USA plant near Elmira, N.Y. Earlier, they were ferried to Amtrak’s Hialeah maintenance facility in Miami for inspection.

Amtrak has ordered 130 single-level, long-distance passenger cars, including diners, sleepers and baggage-dorm cars.

INDOT, FRA Reportedly Reach Agreement

March 16, 2015

Trains magazine columnist Fred Frailey reported that the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration have reached an agreement that will end the standoff over whether the state should be treated as a “railroad” that must ensure adherence to federal passenger safety standards.

Frailey wrote that the two sides have agreed to create a memorandum of understanding that will spell out each party’s role in safely operating the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

The FRA wants an impermeable chain of responsibility for its rail-safety regulations — someone to ultimately answer for all the bits and pieces of a train’s operation. INDOT doesn’t want to be ruled to be a railroad.

The dispute has threatened to derail the quad-weekly Hoosier State, which INDOT and several communities served by the train have been funding since Oct. 1, 2013.

The Hoosier State operates on days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate and has intermediate stops in Indiana at Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer.

News reports have indicated that Amtrak will continue to provide operating personnel for the Hoosier State, but Iowa Pacific Holdings will provide equipment and marketing support.

INDOT had earlier said the Hoosier State would makes its last trips on April 1, then extended that to April 30, saying that the FRA would review its regulations and how they affect the state.

Hoosier State to Continue Through April 30

March 14, 2015

The beleaguered Hoosier State, the quad-weekly Amtrak train between Chicago and Indianapolis, has survived yet another brush with the grim reaper for another 30 days.

The Indiana Department of Transportation said on Friday that the train will continue operating through April 30 while the Federal Railroad Administration reviews a policy that it had said it would impose on Indiana that would have made the state a “railroad.”

A week earlier, INDOT Commission Karl Browning had issued a news release saying the Hoosier State would make its last trips on April 1. He cited an FRA policy that an entity funding rail passenger service would be responsible for the FRA passenger safety standards.

INDOT said that acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg told Browning during a telephone call that her agency would reconsider that policy.

“It is not clear that the FRA will change its mind,” Browning says. “Because Ms. Feinberg committed to reviewing this, we want to give the FRA another opportunity to consider the problems Indiana has been airing.”

INDOT doesn’t own any tracks or railroad equipment and Browning said the FRA’s position would increase costs and paperwork for INDOT.

The department along with most of the communities served by the train have funded it during the past year. INDOT had been negotiating with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings on a long-term contract to operate the train.

In the meantime, Indiana U.S. Sen. Dan Coats has written to the FRA asking it to reconsider its position that if INDOT continues to fund the Hoosier State that that would make it a “railroad.”

Coats wrote that “INDOT does not fit any common-sense definition of a ‘railroad,’ so the communities along the HSL are rightly puzzled by the FRA’s decision.”

INDOT was close to a deal in which Amtrak would operate the trains and Iowa Pacific would supply the cars. But INDOT officials said if the state has to act as the railroad, it would have to carry expensive liability insurance and hire new staff.

“INDOT is not in a position to assume either the additional liability or the regulatory burdens that a designation of ‘railroad carrier’ would impose,” Coats wrote.

In 2008, Congress voted to end funding for Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles. That left states to fund intercity rail on their own.

The FRA has said that states that oversee rail passenger service are required to act as rail carriers to ensure that safety standards are followed.

Another public official who has also assailed the FRA position is State Rep. Randy Truitt of West Lafayette, who represents several portions of Tippecanoe County.

“The Hoosier State Line provides a vital service for Hoosiers in the Greater Lafayette area and across Indiana. I was disheartened to learn about the new rules imposed by the Federal Railway Administration that could potentially end this service in April, which would be devastating to our local economy,” Truitt said in a statement.

Truitt has been an active supporter of the Hoosier State and has sponsored House Bill 1217, which would appropriate $3 million annually to fund the train.

Truitt hopes that INDOT, by working with the Federal Railway Administration, will eventually be able to find a solution that allows the Hoosier State to continue running.

“The preservation of Indiana’s transportation infrastructure is vital to economic growth, and I will continue to work with state and local leaders as well as INDOT to find ways to keep the Hoosier State Line functioning,” Truitt said.

The Hoosier State makes intermediate stops in Indiana in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer. The route is served by the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal on days that the Hoosier State does not operate.

Amtrak Names Chicago Control Center for Szabo

March 13, 2015

Amtrak has named its Chicago Operations Center after former Federal Railroad Administration head Joseph C. Szabo. The renaming occurred at a ceremony held on March 10.

The Szabo Chicago Control Center oversees operations of switches and signals used by Amtrak intercity and Metra regional trains moving through Chicago Union Station along with Amtrak lines in Michigan, Indiana, and Louisiana,

The center was named for Szabo, “in recognition of Szabo’s contributions to the advancement of intercity passenger rail travel and railroad safety in the United States.”

Szabo served as head of the FRA for six years in the Obama administration. That position gave him a seat on the Amtrak Board of Directors. A resolution adopted by the Amtrak Board cited Szabo’s support for the national intercity passenger rail system.

Amtrak President Joseph Boardman praised the “essential counsel, direction, and perspective” that Szabo provided to the Amtrak board and staff.

“In recognition of Joe’s contributions — past and those yet to come — to Amtrak, to the railroad industry, and to the Chicago metro area, we could think of no more appropriate place to honor him than our Chicago Control Center,” Boardman said at the dedication ceremony.

“I am deeply touched by the Amtrak Board’s recognition,” Szabo said. “Chicago is my home and where I began my railroad career. Having worked with and represented the railroad workforce in Illinois, it is very special to be associated with the facility that dispatches train operations in and out of Union Station — it’s where the work gets done.”

INDOT Open to Continuing the Hoosier State

March 12, 2015

The Hoosier State may not be doomed after all. An Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman told Trains magazine that the state would consider continuing its support of the Chicago-Indianapolis train provided that Indiana gets relief from a Federal Railroad Administration decree that in supporting the train the state is a new railroad.

“The state would consider another short-term extension of the existing service if the FRA changed its position,” INDOT spokesman Will Winfield told the magazine. “The state and local communities are working together to get the maximum value for the taxpayer dollars being invested.” INDOT had been negotiating with Amtrak to continue operating the train and with Iowa Pacific Holdings to provide equipment and marketing support.

Then last week INDOT said that Hoosier State would makes its last trips on April 1, citing what INDOT termed the imposition of “burdensome” FRA regulations.

INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning has written to Federal DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx to protest the FRA regulations.

In his letter, Browing said the insistence by the FRA that INDOT serve as the principal entity of record for the purposes of ensuring compliance with federal railroad safety requirements had prompted Indiana’s termination notice for the quad-weekly Hoosier State.

“INDOT cannot agree to become a railroad or a railroad carrier as that would require a significantly higher commitment of resources, the assumption of additional liability, and uncertainty over employment practices,” Browning wrote.

Trains noted that Foxx was mayor of Charlotte, N.C., when the FRA tried to impose similar regulations on the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which funds Amtrak service between Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C. After North Carolina threatened to sue, the FRA backed off.

“We are experiencing the same regulatory impediments that the North Carolina Department of Transportation faced in 2008 in its discussions with the FRA,” Browning wrote to Foxx. “As you may recall, the FRA insisted that NCDOT serve as the railroad carrier. That matter was ultimately resolved when NCDOT contested that FRA determination.”

Some observers have described the FRA’s latest ploy to make Indiana a “railroad” because it funds Amtrak service as the opening act in decreeing that all states that fund rail passenger service are “railroads.”

In response to INDOT’s Hoosier State termination notice, Amtrak President Joseph Boardman issued a statement saying that continued operation of the Hoosier State can be done on a month by month basis.

Wingfield told Trains that Amtrak, FRA, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials made an initial inspection of Iowa Pacific equipment on Jan. 27 in Chicago with additional inspections scheduled this month.

Indiana’s fight with the FRA has also begun to attract support from officials with other agencies that fund rail passenger service. Among them is Patricia Quinn, chair of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition Inc., and Executive Director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority,  sponsors Amtrak’s Downeaster between Boston and Maine

“It is a sad day when the federal agency which administers federal funding for Amtrak, and who has played such a critical role in providing grants to states to develop and improve intercity passenger rail services, also is determined to require states and intercity service sponsors who contract with Amtrak to become railroads,” Quinn said in a statement. “We trust that this conflict between federal and state governments can be worked out.”

 

U.S. Supreme Court Sides With Amtrak in Dispute

March 10, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with Amtrak in a dispute with its host railroads over on-time standards.

The court unanimously found that Amtrak is a government entity and it directed the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to reconsider the case in light of the high court’s ruling.

That court had ruled in a case brought by the Association of American Railroads that Amtrak was a private company and therefore could not participate in setting standards with the FRA in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008’s Section 207, which sets measurable thresholds of on-time performance, because one private entity (Amtrak), would be regulating others (host railroads).

The district court had also expressed reservations about the constitutionality of Amtrak’s structure.

Writing for the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy cited a 1995 Supreme Court case in which Amtrak had tried to argue it was private, but lost.

In the AAR case, Kennedy wrote, “The political branches created Amtrak, control its Board, define its mission, specify many of its day-to-day operations, have imposed transparency and accountability mechanisms, and for all practical purposes set and supervise its annual budget.”

Kennedy also said the District Court will still need to deal with the issue of whether the delegation of powers to Amtrak violates the Due Process or Appointments clauses of the Constitution.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr., wrote separate concurring opinions in which each expressed reservations about Amtrak’s structure.

Alito argued that Section 207’s arbitration provision “is fair game for challenge,” because if a private arbitrator were chosen to decide a dispute over metrics between the FRA and Amtrak (which didn’t happen), that person would be “making law without supervision” and that would be illegal.

Alito also said that since Amtrak’s president is appointed by the board of directors but not the President of the United States, “it does not necessarily follow that the present structure of Amtrak is consistent with the Constitution.”

INDOT May Sue FRA Over ‘New Railroad’ Ruling

March 7, 2015

Despite announcing that Amtrak’s Hoosier State would make its final trips on April 1, the Indiana Department of Transportation is saying that it hasn’t given up on the train.

INDOT may take the Federal Railroad Administration to court to prevent it from enforcing demands that the state act as a “new start” railroad because it funds the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train.

INDOT has been negotiating with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings to operate the service. Those entities plus CSX, over whose tracks the Hoosier State operates for much of its route, are railroads certified by the FRA and perform the functions that the FRA is seeking to force INDOT to perform.

“We’re not going to close off any options (for continuing the service), INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning told Trains magazine. But “the notion of the state having to become a railroad (to operate the Hoosier State) is insane.” The state’s correspondence is available online at www.in.gov/indot.

In a statement, the FRA said that is merely seeking to ensure the safety of passengers.

“As states assume a more active role in the management of these services, including in some instances contracting with multiple service providers, they must more closely ensure their services are safe for the passengers, train crews, and communities in which they serve,” the FRA said in the statement. “States ultimately have oversight responsibility for their contractors and service providers. We are fully supportive of states finding the best, most cost-effective way to safely deliver their intercity passenger rail services and will continue to work with INDOT to keep the Hoosier[State] service running safely.”

The FRA statement noted that state-supported trains carry nearly half of Amtrak’s 31 million passengers.

Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, told Trains that if the Chicago-Indianapolis service does continue it will use former Santa Fe dome car Summit View, providing sit-down meals in Indiana’s version of business class, along with two lightweight coaches.

The locomotives tentatively chosen for the service are three GP40FH-2s, which formerly ran on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor for New Jersey Transit.

INDOT said that the FRA has “partially inspected” the equipment and another inspection is scheduled.

“Our goal is to handle more people, selling the fact that you can increase ridership with better service. Because business class passengers will pay more for the service, we can increase the Hoosier State’s financial performance,” Ellis said. “We hope the FRA issue can be resolved to INDOT’s satisfaction.”

In a related development, the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance reported that legislation in the Indiana legislature designed to ensure funding for the Hoosier State has been attracting support.

“All those interested in seeing a modern passenger rail system in our state are smiling a bit more, after learning that the Indiana House of Representatives has included an annual appropriation, which can be used for the Hoosier State, in House Bill 1001, the budget bill,” the Alliance wrote in its newsletter.

House Bill 1001 will now be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“If this committee holds to form, it will invite budget presentations from various state agencies, including the Indiana Department of Transportation, before it adopts its own version of the budget,” said Tim Maloney, a board member of the Alliance.

Severe Cold Taking Toll on Amtrak Operations

February 27, 2015

The brutal cold that has gripped the eastern United States in an icy vise has taken a toll on Amtrak trains serving Northeast Ohio.

All Aboard Ohio, a rail passenger advocacy group, said that delays of five hours for the westbound Lake Shore Limited have been common in the past week.

The group noted that on Wednesday night the eastbound Lake Shore Limited departed Chicago Union Station 5 hours, 47 minutes late.

No. 48 was more than six hours late when it met and passed No. 49 between Sandusky and Toledo at about 10 a.m. No. 49 at the time was operating more than four hours late.

The Lake Shore Limited operates between Chicago and New York with a section to and from Boston that joins the train at Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y.

Since Feb. 20, All Aboard Ohio said the average delays for trains serving Northeast Ohio have been:

  • Train 49 arriving Chicago: 5 hours, 57 minutes late
  • Train 48 arriving New York City: 4 hours, 15 minutes late
  • Train 30 arriving Washington D.C.: 2 hours, 44 minutes late
  • Train 29 arriving Chicago: 2 hours, 11 minutes late

Amtrak has also canceled the Boston section, citing severe winter weather across New England. It has provided substitute bus service between Albany and Boston to connect with trains 48/49.

In the meantime, the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal has been truncated since a Feb. 16 derailment of a CSX crude oil train in West Virginia.

Nos. 50 and 51 have been operating only between Chicago and Indianapolis. Buses have then taken passengers between Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

However, Amtrak has not provided substitute bus service between Cincinnati and Charlottesville, Va.

One track at the derailment site opened on Thursday, but early Friday morning the Amtrak website still showed the westbound Cardinal that was scheduled to depart from New York for Chicago today as being canceled.

Amtrak is accepting reservations for the next westbound No. 51, which will depart New York on Sunday morning.

In a news release, All Aboard Ohio said that some of the reasons for the delays are beyond Amtrak’s control

These include speed restrictions as low as 25 mph imposed by CSX and Norfolk Southern because they fear the cold will crack their seamless welded steel rails.

But the advocacy group said that other delays are Amtrak’s responsibility. These include equipment malfunctions, locomotives that have failed en route, doors between rail cars freezing into the open position, and cold temperatures inside passenger cars that led to toilets, pipes and water tanks to freeze and rupture.

“This is downright offensive to the traveling public,” said All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “Amtrak President Joe Boardman must be held to account for this, starting with a personal apology to all passengers who had to endure this pathetic excuse for transportation in a civilized nation. It is clear by their poor performance that these trains are being neglected by Amtrak and its private-sector partners who own and manage the tracks. Rail transportation used to be largely indifferent to bad winter weather. Nowadays, the railroads can’t seem to get their trains through the snow and cold.”


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