Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

Amtrak Walks Back PTC ‘No Operation’ Pledge

September 17, 2018

Amtrak appears to have done an about face on an earlier vow to refuse to operate passenger trains on routes that lack an operating positive train control by Dec. 31.

During a hearing of a House committee, Amtrak Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek said the carrier will seek a deadline extension from the Federal Railroad Administration in order to operate all its trains.

Naparstek told the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials that Amtrak decided to seek the extension because of interoperability issues with other railroads that operate on Amtrak tracks and with railroads whose tracks Amtrak uses.

“When 2019 arrives, we will have our track, computer, training and locomotive PTC work complete and will be operating PTC across all of the tracks we control and across much of the host railroad network,” Naparstek said.

Naparstek said 222 of Amtrak’s 315 daily trains now operate with PTC on some or all of their routes. That figure is expected to rise to 283 by Dec. 31 when the railroad industry faces a federal deadline to implement PTC or qualify for an extension of up to two years.

Amtrak is studying how it might operate on rail lines that do not have PTC in place by next January.

Naparstek said the carrier’s goal is to continue to operate all its current routes.

“Exactly how we accomplish this will vary across our network, based on the specifics of each route,” he said. “But . . . we believe we will have strategies in place that will permit us to continue operations until operational PTC or PTC-equivalency is achieved for all our network.”

He describes the interoperability of PTC whereby the PTC equipment of one railroad works on another railroad’s routes, as a work in progress.

In a follow-up statement, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said, “The testimony makes it clear Amtrak is planning to operate the current network in the coming fiscal year, with additional safety actions for some segments, as we strive for the goal of positive train control or an equivalent on all our routes.”

That suggests that Amtrak will not discontinue operating trains that use routes that lack a fully functioning PTC system.

Naperstek also said Amtrak is working with tenant railroads on the Northeast Corridor and other Amtrak-owned lines to ensure that they are able to maintain their operations.

“Our aim is to ensure that all of our tenants have an operational system as soon as possible,” he said. “We are mindful of the impacts that any disruption of commuter service may have on the regions we serve and the potential safety consequences that could follow.”

In progress report, Naperstek said that through Sept. 10, Amtrak had installed PTC systems on  88 of its locomotives required for revenue service.

Furthermore, 122 of 142 installations have been made on 114 state-owned locomotives and cab cars that Amtrak operates or maintains.

He also said that 53 units are being tested and are PTC operable; eight of 11 installation/track segments have been completed; 132 of 140 radio towers are fully installed and equipped; all employees required to be trained in PTC operations have been trained; 607 of 901 route-miles are in PTC operation, and 480 route-miles are in testing.

Naperstek’s testimony was in contrast to the remarks of Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson during a February House Railroad Subcommittee hearing at which Anderson said Amtrak would not operate trains on lines not equipped with fully operational PTC in 2019 if its host freight railroads failed to meet the Dec. 31 interim deadline for installation.

He also said that Amtrak would prohibit non-PTC-compliant equipment from operating on the lines it owns, primarily on the Northeast Corridor.

 

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Amtrak Looking to Revamp Food Service Systemwide

September 14, 2018

Amtrak appears to be poised to undertake a revamp of its food services systemwide.

The passenger carrier recently issued a request for information that seeks “transformational service models and industry best practices for managed food and beverage service.”

The information netted in response to that request will be used to draft a request for proposals to create a new model for providing food and beverages that is less costly.

That could be a first step toward turning over its food and beverage service to an outside contractor.

Submissions to the request for information are due by Oct. 16.

The request for information said that Amtrak is seeking models similar to the luxury service options offered on VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian and the Rocky Mountaineer excursion service based in Canada.

Amtrak said in the request for information it is reviewing its current service model and wants to hear how the respondents “might address food and beverage service onboard all trains through examples of similar services offered elsewhere or new and innovative approaches that might fit Amtrak’s environment.”

This will include proposals for operating café/lounge cars, dining cars, and Acela First Class service with and without Amtrak employees performing the work.

Florence to Disrupt Amtrak’s Cardinal, NS and CSX

September 12, 2018

The approach of Hurricane Florence has prompted Amtrak to announce a host of cancellations, including one affecting Ohio.

Most Amtrak service in the southeastern United States will not operate between Sept. 12 and Sept. 16.

The Cardinal will operate between Chicago and Indianapolis between Sept. 13 and 16. That will leave Cincinnati without Amtrak service during that period.

Operations of the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited are unaffected for now. Likewise, the Pennsylvanian will also continue to operate.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said it is waiving service charges for passengers seeking to modify their reservations but should contact Amtrak’s reservation center at 800-USA-RAIL.

The pending arrival of Florence also has prompted CSX and Norfolk Southern to curtail their service.

NS will temporarily close its Norfolk, Virginia, headquarters due to an evacuation order being issued by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

NS told its shippers that its intermodal customer service team will unavailable by phone during the evacuation.

The railroad has ceased accepting intermodal shipments destined for Norfolk area terminals. Although other intermodal facilities were scheduled to maintain normal hours, gate and terminal closures may occur as Florence nears landfall.

CSX put into place its Hurricane Action Plan, which includes protecting equipment in the storm’s projected path and preparing areas that could be affected.

It advised customers to expect delays for any shipments traveling through the Interstate 95 corridor and that it has halted rail service to and from Portsmouth, Virginia.

A terminal in Charleston, South Carolina, will also close and remain closed throughout the storm.

Amtrak to Close East Lansing Ticket Office

September 7, 2018

Amtrak plans to close its ticket office in East Lansing, Michigan, as soon as it can work out arrangements with station owner Capital Area Transportation Authority.

The fourth-busiest Amtrak station in Michigan will join a list that includes Niles, Jackson and Flint where Amtrak has removed ticket agents.Mic

The Amtrak ticket office in East Lansing is currently closed on Tuesday and Wednesday with only a caretaker paid for by the Michigan Department of Transportation overseeing the station.

MDOT Communications Manager Michael Frezell said the agency is working to hire a full-time caretaker for East Lansing.

The caretaker would open the stations before trains arrive. “With a vast majority of tickets being purchased online, having tickets purchased at the station has significantly reduced over the past year,” Frezell said.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari declined to comment on the closing of the ticket office in East Lansing, saying that the carrier posts notices of that intent on its website but it has yet to do so in the case of East Lansing.

Magliari also wouldn’t comment on what threshold of patronage that Amtrak uses when deciding to close a ticket office.

This year Amtrak has closed several ticket offices at stations that it said averaged fewer than 40 passenger boardings per day.

Trains magazine quoted an unnamed Amtrak source as saying the minimum threshold of 40,000 boardings per fiscal year is being used to review which ticket offices to keep open and which to close.

More than 68,000 passengers boarded trains at East Lansing in fiscal year 2017, almost was 10,000 more than the number who boarded at Detroit, which is retaining its ticket office.

Amtrak also continues to maintain ticket offices in Michigan in Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, all of which had higher patronage than East Lansing in 2017, and at Battle Creek and Port Huron, both of which handled fewer passengers in 2017 than East Lansing.

East Lansing is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water.

Ann Arbor Station Drawings Released

September 6, 2018

Drawings of the proposed new $86 million Amtrak station in Ann Arbor, Michigan, have been released.

Made by an architecture firm, the drawings show a pitched-roof train station elevated above the tracks and having an elevated walkway to East Medical Center Drive for University of Michigan hospital employees and visitors.

A five-level parking deck will be constructed on the eastern half of what’s now a city-owned parking lot along the south side of Fuller Road in Fuller Park.

The western half of the parking lot would remain surface parking.

The outer appearance of the parking deck would be a combination of brick, vertical metal panels and tempered glass, with a dedicated bus entry/exit off Fuller Road and a separate station parking entry/exit off Fuller Road, and a walk-in bus/bike station.

Ann Arbor has been discussing for several years building a new station to replace a smaller facility built by Amtrak in 1983.

The facility still needs approval of the Federal Railroad Administration and Ann Arbor voters.

New York LSL Section to Resume Service

September 1, 2018

The Lake Shore Limited will return to Penn Station in New York City on Tuesday, but the Cardinal will not be back in the Big Apple until November.

The New York section of the Lake Shore was suspended in late May due to construction on the train’s route to Penn Station.

Passengers were forced to transfer at Albany-Renssalaer, New York, and take a connecting train to New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

The Boston section continued to operate between Chicago and Boston as usual.

Also shifting back to Penn Station on Tuesday will be Amtrak’s Empire Corridor trains, including the Maple Leaf, Ethan Allen Express and Adirondack.

The construction work in New York included replacement of components of the Spuyten Duyvil swing bridge between The Bronx and Manhattan; track replacement in the Empire Tunnel; rail, crosstie and grade crossing work between the tunnel and the bridge, and work on Track 19 at Penn Station.

As for the Cardinal, an Amtrak spokesperson said it will continue to originate and terminate in Washington due to other work being done in the Northeast Corridor.

RPA Hits Amtrak Accounting Practices

August 28, 2018

A rail passenger advocacy group is trying to put Amtrak’s accounting practices back into the spotlight.

The Rail Passengers Association released a white paper last week that concludes that how Amtrak measures and allocates its revenues and costs is “catastrophically flawed” and does the American public a disservice.

RPA is hardly the first critic of Amtrak’s accounting, which has come under fire for years by critics and policy makers.

In the RPA white paper, Amtrak’s bookkeeping practices are said to have four major flaws.

Amtrak is described as allocating costs in a way that inaccurately portrays the economics affecting each part of the system without reporting avoidable costs, as required by law.

It also omits all costs of capital consumption and uses imprecise or inadequate data.

“The upshot is that APT exaggerates the cost of operating the national passenger train system, overstates the costs of expanding it, and trivializes the effects of killing it, because it fails to consider the benefits accruing to the communities it serves,” the report concludes. “In short, it radically undercuts the ability of Congress and Amtrak to plan wisely.”

One practice singled out is allocation of track maintenance costs to routes that do not use the given tracks.

The report also said that some Acela equipment maintenance costs are allocated to non-Acela routes.

Amtrak is said to fail to determine each route’s fuel costs and to report reliable station cost data for stations that the carrier owns or maintains.

The carrier fails to accurately count commuter rail passengers using Amtrak-owned stations, thus overcharging the Amtrak trains that use them.

RPA said Amtrak’s accounting practices make the Northeast Corridor system appear less costly than it is while making long-distance trains appear to cost more than they do.

The funding needs of the Northeast Corridor greatly overshadow those of the rest of the system, where the majority of infrastructure costs are underwritten by Amtrak’s host railroads

This results in the false assumption that eliminating long-distance routes would substantially cut Amtrak’s public funding needs.

Track Work Affects Keystone Corridor Trains

August 28, 2018

Track work on Sept. 8 and 9 will result in minor schedule changes to Keystone Service trains in Pennsylvania.

In a service advisory Amtrak said all trains will operate 25 minutes earlier from Harrisburg to Coatesville, 15 minutes earlier at Downingtown and back to current schedule at Exton.

Still No Word on Cardinal’s Return to New York City

August 28, 2018

The return of Amtrak’s Cardinal to New York remains murky.

The Chicago-New York train was curtailed to a Chicago-Washington operation last March due to construction work at New York Penn Station.

That work is set to wrap up in early September, but Amtrak has not said when Nos. 50 and 51 will resume operating in the Big Apple.

Members of the Charleston West-Virginia-based Friends of the Cardinal are worried that the “temporary” route of the tri-weekly Cardinal could turn out to be permanent.

Chuck Riecks of the group believes the Cardinal might become part of Amtrak’s efforts to “sectionalize” long-distance trains by dividing them into shorter segments of 750 miles or less.

That would require the states served by the trains to underwrite the costs of the service.

Riecks said Amtrak might be eyeing making the Cardinal a Washington-Huntington, West Virginia, service and a Chicago-Cincinnati service. The carrier might also propose a train between Cincinnati and Huntington.

“Making this change would probably negate such services as sleeping cars and full diners,” Riecks said. “To say nothing of causing a passenger from Huntington who wishes to go to Chicago to change trains at least twice. This is not a new idea. It was proposed in the [President Ronald] Reagan years and then abandoned. But, current Amtrak managers seem to believe this is the way to go.”

Friends of the Cardinal is asking rail passenger advocates to tell their elected officials that the Cardinal should be preserved and expanded to daily service.

Detroit Diamonds Replaced

August 24, 2018

Amtrak, the Michigan Department of Transportation, Norfolk Southern and CSX cooperated to replace a four-diamond crossing at Wayne interlocking in the Detroit area this week.

Work began at 7:45 p.m. pn Aug. 14 after an NS freight passed through.

Workers removed the old diamonds and installed a prefabricated unit. Complicating the work was that the diamond has four crossings, making it a heavy lift and requiring precision alignment to reconnect to existing rail lines.

During the work, Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains terminated at Ann Arbor, Michigan, with passengers riding a bus to stations at Dearborn, Detroit, Royal Oak, Troy, and Pontiac. CSX and NS trains were rerouted or halted.

The project was completed at 4 p.m. on Aug. 15. Amtrak resumed using the route over the crossing on the morning of Aug. 16.

The project received 75 percent of its funding from CSX and 25 percent from MDOT.