Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

Oxford Continues Push to Be an Amtrak Stop

February 19, 2015

Oxford, Ohio, officials continue to push for their city of 21,000 to become a station for Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

City Manager Douglas Elliott told the Oxford City Council this month that he met with Miami University officials, the Butler County Regional Transit Authority, and the Talawanda schools to discuss applying for a TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would be used to build station facilities.

The university favors creating an Amtrak stop in Oxford.

“As a university that attracts students from Ohio as well as throughout the U.S. and around the world, we support an initiative that would provide expanded travel options for Miami students. Miami has a strong presence in the Midwest – the 10 top non-Ohio high schools with the largest number of applicants for fall 2014 were from the Chicago area – so having this option available for prospective and current students would be a helpful asset to the University,” said Susan Schaurer, interim director of admission and enrollment communication.

Elliott also noted that a new round of TIGER funding is slated for early spring.

“We think the time is good for us to request once again to request they consider a feasibility study for a stop here in Oxford,” he said. “We’ll be submitting a letter to Amtrak regarding that.” Amtrak rejected an earlier request from Oxford to conduct a feasibility study.

Elliott said that request was made around the time the recession hit. Ridership aboard the Cardinal has since improved.

Storm Reduces Some Amtrak Service in NEC

February 17, 2015

Although Amtrak has modified its Northeast Corridor schedules on Wednesday in the wake of a major winter storm, most long distance services westward will not be affected.

One train that is affected is the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited, which will not operate. Passengers will instead be transported by bus.

The Capitol Limited and New York section of the Lake Shore Limited will operate as scheduled.

Full service is also planned for the New York-Harrisburg, Pa., Keystone Corridor and the Empire Corridor between New York and Niagara Falls, N.Y.

The westbound Cardinal scheduled to depart New York on Wednesday has been canceled due to the derailment in West Virginia of a CSX crude oil train on the route used by Amtrak No. 51.

Late on Tuesday all coach seats on the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited and Pennsylvanian were sold out for the trains departing on Wednesday from Washington or New York.

Amtrak Tweaks Plans for National Train Day

February 14, 2015

Amtrak plans to tweak its annual National Train Day observance by making it a series of events held throughout the year.

Previously, Amtrak conducted a National Train Day on the second Saturday in May, although some communities held their own celebrations a week earlier.

Now Amtrak says it will expand from multiple events on a single day to individual events over the course of spring, summer and fall.

To be called Amtrak Train Days, the events are designed to celebrate with local communities why trains matter and reasons to ride.

Events will focus on reaching current and new audiences across America to reinforce the importance, benefits and value of passenger train travel.

The program will begin on May 9 in Chicago and include more than 20 events through the end of October. Locations and dates have yet to be announced.

Amtrak said events will feature a combination of outreach tools, including the Amtrak Exhibit Train in select markets, interactive displays at events sponsored by community organizations, Amtrak employee guest speakers, media and event promotions, and a toolkit to support local community activities.

Communities from across the nation are invited to join in the celebration of passenger train travel by hosting their own Amtrak Train Days events during 2015.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers commented that although the additional focus on local events will be welcome—and will help organizers better allocate limited resources—it remains to be seen whether a dispersed series of events can generate the same level of excitement as a national event.

Additional information is available online at Amtraktraindays.com.

 

 

Amtrak Did OK in Latest Severe Winter Storm

February 4, 2015

With some exceptions, Amtrak performed well during the severe winter conditions that struck the Midwest last weekend.

That was in contrast to a day last month when many trains left Chicago Union Station hour late if they left at all.

This past Monday, eight of Amtrak’s 28 trains out of Chicago left more than 10 minutes late.

One notable exception was a Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service train that broke down. As a result the Hiawathas suffered a cascading series of delays.

The problems began when southbound No. 338 became disabled south of Sturtevant, Wis., Monday afternoon and arrived in Chicago at 10:17 p.m. nearly 6 hours late.

Reportedly, the train did not lose heat or lighting.

Train No. 340, the next Milwaukee departure, coupled on to the disabled consist, but the delay caused that train to arrive three hours late. Amtrak created a makeshift consist to pull the 5:08 p.m. Chicago departure of No. 339 for Milwaukee. This train, which does a heavy commuter business, left Chicago at 7 p.m.

That equipment consist arrived back in Chicago after 10:30 p.m. on Monday.

Modification of Amtrak’s P42 traction motors, winterizing of freeze-prone Horizon fleet cars and a revised inspection building procedures for train servicing in Chicago helped Amtrak to maintain reliability.

Superliner coaches that were removed from long-distance trains last month during the low travel season have been placed on Wolverine Service Nos. 350 and 355, Chicago-Quincy, Ill., Nos. 380 and 381, and Chicago-Carbondale, Ill., Nos. 390 and 393.

When corridor train consists are turned at their endpoints, Amtrak has been running locomotives at the front of each train to minimize traction motor snow ingestion.

BNSF closed its Mendota Subdivision on Monday between Aurora and Galesburg, Ill., forcing Amtrak to cancel the morning Chicago-Quincy services in each direction.

The line reopened that afternoon. The inbound and outbound California Zephyr and Southwest Chief operated close to on time.

BNSF feared a repeat of a January 2014 incident in which three Amtrak trains became stranded in snow drifts near Princeton, Ill.

The weekend storm dumped 19 inches of snow at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, resulting in the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

Cleveland Intermodal Hub Idea Revived

February 3, 2015

An intermodal facility that serves Amtrak in Cleveland will be discussed today by the planning and development committee of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

The location of the proposed center has yet to determined other than it would be near Lake Erie and adjacent to the Cleveland Line of Norfolk Southern.

Although an intermodal center has been discussed for years, the idea faltered due to the declining fortunes of the Flats entertainment district along the Cuyahoga River.

But activity in Flats is picking up and Greyhound will soon need a new home after it vacates its station on Chester Avenue on the east edge of downtown.

The Amtrak station, which was built in the late 1970s, needs work to bring it into compliance with the federal Americans with Disability law.

RTA officials said these development have created a new opportunity to pursue the intermodal transportation hub idea.

The city of Cleveland has been eying the art deco style Greyhound station, which was built in 1948, for repurposing as part of an effort to build retail operations in the neighborhoods flanking Cleveland’s Playhouse Square and Cleveland State University.

Greyhound confirmed that it’s investigating a new and modern location for its Cleveland operations.

The next step in the development is to conduct a study of combining Greyhound, Amtrak and transit operations in one place.

Before joining RTA, General Manager Joe Calabrese oversaw the development of the Walsh Regional Transportation Center in Syracuse, N.Y.

Boardings on all transportation modes in Syracuse grew 20 percent after the center opened in 1999.

The rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio estimates that 1 million people a year would use a multimodal center in Cleveland if RTA, Greyhound, Amtrak and transit operations could serve an intermodal terminal.

Aside from RTA, the facility could serve Laketran, Akron Metro RTA, Megabus, taxi operations, and transit routes from Portage and Stark counties.

“That’s more than what occurs at the Akron-Canton Regional Airport. That’s enough to support spin-off retail, restaurants, rental car counters, car sharing and bike sharing services at the center. This would be like having an airport in downtown Cleveland,” said All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast.

All Aboard Ohio favors putting the transit hub just north of the convention center and linking it to renovation of the Amtrak station along the lakefront tracks between West 3rd and East 9th streets.

The city of Cleveland had that location in mind in 2010 when it announced plans for a multimodal center north of the east edge of Mall C, possibly extending over railroad tracks to just south of the Shoreway, with walkways to the mall and North Coast Harbor.

Then-city planning director Bob Brown said the station, which would also include a parking deck and bicycle connectors, could be one of the most complete multimodal centers in the United States.

Brown said the facility would help link the new medical mart, convention center and Flats east bank redevelopment.

That idea foundered, though, due to the estimated $50 million price tag of the project. Much of the funding was expected to come from state and federal sources.

More recently, Prendergast said, there’s been “some pretty underwhelming discussion” about locating a hub at the far east end of the Cleveland Muni Lot on Marginal Road.

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s Siberia,” he said. “If you’re a low-income Cleveland resident and trying to get to the Greyhound station, how do you get there?”

 

 

 

 

Amtrak’s Hoosier State Gets 60-Day Extension

January 30, 2015

Amtrak’s Hoosier State has received a 60-day lease on life. The quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train was to end after its contract expired on Saturday although Amtrak and Indiana Department of Transportation officials had hinted that it would continue rolling.

The two parties announced on Friday that they have agreed to continue negotiating a long-term contract whereby Amtrak will continue to operate the train but an INDOT contractor would provide some services.

“INDOT is negotiating renewal of the service on behalf of the state, Beech Grove, Crawfordsville, Indianapolis, Lafayette, Rensselaer, Tippecanoe County and West Lafayette,” the agency said in a news release.

Those communities had agreed in 2013 to fund the Hoosier State through early 2014.

“In recent weeks we have made much progress on a long-term deal,” said INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield, adding that he expected the deal to be finished before the extension is exhausted on April 1.

The survival of the Hoosier State was cast into doubt after Congress voted in 2008 to require states to absorb most of the funding of Amtrak trains with routes shorter than 750 miles.

The change affected 19 states and all but Indiana have found funding solutions.

Initially, INDOT and its seven local government partners agreed to pay Amtrak $2.7 million to keep the Hoosier State rolling for a year with a clause that the deal could be extended through Jan. 31, 2014.

Last June INDOT said that a private company, Corridor Capital, would take over the Hoosier State on Oct. 1, but the parties involved were unable to negotiate a contract.

Iowa Pacific, which had responded to INDOT’s request for proposals in early 2014, has been discussed as providing marketing and onboard service for the Hoosier State.

It is not clear if the train will continue to operate with Amtrak equipment, but it appears likely to continue to have Amtrak operating personnel.

The Hoosier State operates on days that the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate between Indianapolis and Chicago. Both trains serve the same stations.

All of the communities served by the Hoosier State except Dyer have been helping to fund it for the past year.

Amtrak to Help Fund Chicago Station Project

January 30, 2015

Amtrak will pony up $12 million toward rehabilitating Chicago Union Station. As the owner of the station, Amtrak will work with the City of Chicago, the Illinois Department of Transportation, commuter rail agency Metra and the federal government.

“By bringing Union Station into the 21st century, we will bring more economic opportunities to residents all throughout the City of Chicago,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “A modern transit system is essential to a thriving economy for Chicago. With this investment in the future of Union Station we will provide a more reliable link between downtown and our neighborhoods, connecting residents to work and keeping Chicago on the move.”

Union Station is America’s third busiest rail terminal with about 120,000 passengers using it daily.

Ridership increased on both Amtrak and Metra has resulted in the facility reaching its maximum capacity, resulting in overcrowded waiting areas and platforms.

Amtrak said that its funding will be used to createcapacity improvements that will result in a more comfortable atmosphere for riders.

This will include a larger passenger concourse, safety improvements, and enhancing temperature controls throughout the terminal.

The Union Station renovation project will be supported by several other projects already underway to connect Amtrak, Metra, and the Chicago Transit Authority with downtown destinations.

 

 

Lake Shore Ltd. Resumes In Boston Today

January 28, 2015

Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited will resume originating in Boston today after service was suspended on Tuesday due to a major winter storm.

Train No. 449 did not depart Boston South Station on Tuesday, but is expected to depart today.

Boston officially received 14.5 inches of snow during the storm.

Amtrak also canceled service north of New York City as well as Empire Service to Albany, N.Y.

The cancellations did not affect operation of the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York.

Amtrak said that service between New York and Boston would resume today on a limited basis, but all Empire Service and Keystone Corridor (New York-Harrisburg, Pa.) would operate on their normal schedules.

Elyria Amtrak Depot Upgrade Faces Deadline

January 23, 2015
Artist rendition of the proposed Elyria Amtrak station structure.

Artist rendition of the proposed Elyria Amtrak station structure.

Lorain County is facing a June deadline to begin a project to connect the Amtrak station in Elyria to the downtown Transportation Center, which is housed in the former New York Central passenger station.

The county risks losing some federal funds that are pledged to the $9 million project if it doesn’t use the money by early summer.

However, the project remains $500,000 short of having all the needed funding in place.

Lorain County Administrator Jim Cordes said that committed funding  includes federal money, toll credits from the state of Ohio and $2.9 million from Amtrak.

Cordes said the $50,000 shortfall might be shaved down a bit if the city waives building and permit fees. The state might agree to allow additional toll credits to serve as the remainder of the local match as well.

The county used roughly $5 million in federal grants over several phases to renovate the ex-NYC station, which is used by local buses.

Commissioner Ted Kalo fears that if the county doesn’t use the federal money soon, some or all of it might be lost

“We’ve got to move forward on it,” he said. “We don’t want to pass up federal dollars.”

Commissioner Lori Kokoski agreed with that sentiment, but said she wouldn’t commit to spending additional county money on the project.

“It’s a nice improvement, but it’s not my No. 1 priority,” she said.

Commissioner Matt Lundy, who backs the project, said it would be a good idea to get it planned construction can begin once the funding is in place.

“Engineering never goes bad,” he said. “It just sits on a shelf and waits for a better day.”

Lundy said he was concerned about the lack of a second set of elevators because he worried that if there was only one set of elevators it could pose problems for the elderly and those with difficulty getting around. But he also acknowledged that adding more elevators would increase the cost of the project and said it wasn’t a deal breaker for him.

Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda is firmly behind the project, calling it a downtown development project. “It’s not a silver bullet, but we really do believe it could make a difference for our downtown area,” she said.

Thus far, the Lorain commissions have approved negotiating a contract with Richard L. Bowen & Associates, the architecture firm that did the preliminary drawings and cost estimates on the project. Cordes said that contract is still being negotiated.

The connection from the Norfolk Southern tracks used by Amtrak to the Lorain Transportation Center is expected to be an overhead structure with an spanning the tracks.

NS has two tracks at the current Elyria station, but the overhead structure has space for a third track should the railroad later elect to construct one.

County officials said it would be less expensive to use existing tunnels that once led passengers from the NYC station to the platforms used at that time.

But NS has repeatedly opposed use of those tunnels for passenger use. Currently, the tunnes are being used by the county for storage.

The proposed overhead structure would have three elevators and three staircases to provide access to two partially enclosed platforms.

Another factor working against the use of the tunnels is that it would mean that the transportation center would need to be open at night. The overhead structure would have access outside the transportation center.

At present, all four Amtrak trains serving Elyria are scheduled through between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.

The tunnel option would cost an estimated $8.6 million, which would reduce the amount of local match by about $50,000

Amtrak uses a bus-type shelter that it built after a modular type station was heavily damaged in a 2013 fire. The modular station had been moved to Elyria from Cleveland.

Amtrak trains serving Elyria include the Chicago-Washington, D.C., Capitol Limited and the  Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited.

2015 North American Rail Passenger Outlook Brighter than it Might Seem, Railway Age Reports

January 21, 2015
Much of North America's rail passenger growth is occurring in urban rail systems. Two Greater Cleveland RTA Blue Line trains pass in June 2013.

Much of North America’s rail passenger growth is occurring in urban rail systems. Two Greater Cleveland RTA Blue Line trains pass in July 2013 at the Lynnfield station.

If you focus on Amtrak, it might seem that passenger rail in North America is in jeopardy.

Amtrak faces a multitude of woes including falling ridership on some routes due to delays caused by freight train congestion and a new Congress that may be more hostile to funding the nation’s rail passenger network.

But if you take into account city rail systems, the rail passenger outlook in North America is much brighter than it might appear.

In an analysis published by Railway Age, the magazine reported that not only are North American rail systems growing, but so is the scope of those rail networks along with the size of their fleets.

That has resulted in strong competition among suppliers to meet the needs of those systems. In fact, the magazine reported, the number of global equipment suppliers seeking to cash in on the growth of North American rail systems is expanding, too.

That includes suppliers from China that have been courting the North American markets.

“The numbers counter pessimistic claims that North America’s rail renaissance had run its course in 2014,” the magazine observed. “Indeed, 2014 saw several huge orders for new equipment that added to a backlog of healthy equipment orders from previous years, judging by the numbers of Railway Age’s 2015 Passenger Railcar Outlook.”

The order books of rail car manufactures are filling up with orders from coast to coast, including orders from BART in the San Francisco Bay area and the Boston-based MBTA system.

New urban rail systems are being established in cities where no rail transit systems now exist. In some instances, city governments have gone forward with plans to establish rail systems without a corresponding or outside “agency” or even “authority” to do so.

That triggered grumbling by some old line transit systems about the manner in which the Federal Transit Administration has been encouraging these city government efforts.

How widespread are these efforts by cities to start laying rail and running streetcars and light rail transit systems?

A short list of cities eyeing streetcar purchases and/or new systems includes Anaheim and Santa Ana, Calif., Miami and Miami Beach, as well as St. Augustine, Fla., Grand Rapids, Mich., Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., Winston-Salem, N.C., Providence, R.I., and El Paso, Texas. On the brink of coming to fruition are systems in Oklahoma City, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Milwaukee.

Rails are being laid in Charlotte, N.C., and in Detroit. In Ohio, the Cincinnati streetcar system is under construction, having survived efforts by the newly-elected mayor to kill the project.

Some proposed city rail systems are likely to fall victim to NIMBY opposition and/or forces trying to kill rail transit for ideological reasons.

Rail systems are expensive and opponents have seized on that with a vengeance in seeking to scuttle proposed streetcar and light rail systems.

Anti-rail forces succeeded in killing a streetcar project in San Antonio and Tampa Bay voters rejected an effort to create a light rail transit system. The St. Louis Loop trolley project may be the next to fall by the wayside.

Much media attention was also paid to the challenges facing three rail projects in the Washington, D.C., area.

This included a pair of proposed streetcar proposals that died in Arlington, Va., the threatened status of the Purple Line light rail transit project spanning two Maryland counties northeast of Washington, and the District’s slow-to-open streetcar line on H Street.

Railway Age said that media accounts cited these examples and concluded that that U.S. urban rail transit growth had peaked.

“But such setbacks failed to encompass the full breadth of U.S. rail passenger progress,” the magazine said, noting that even as San Antonio’s streetcar plan faltered the project in El Paso continues to move ahead.

Urban rail projects as well as intercity and high-speed rail projects continue to face the challenge of obtaining federal funding.

The FY 2015 budget approved by Congress reduced TIGER spending from $600 million to $500 million. That means stiffer competition for those dollars.

The budget bill also funded Amtrak at levels comparable to what it received in FY 2014. Railway Age termed that a modest victory given how much flack Amtrak has taken over its long-distance trains.

Amtrak will be seeking to order new high-speed trains this year to upgrade its Northeast Corridor service.

Funding for passenger rail equipment also continues to come from state governments and regional compacts.

Last year California and some Midwest states added to their order with car builder Nippon Sharyo by adding 45 bi-level intercity cars to an existing 130-car order.

California will add 11 cars to its initial 42-car order while the Midwest states will boost their 88-car order by 34 cars.

With so much interest in passenger rail equipment, Railway Age observed that the days have ended when “build it new” was the only option for suppliers to North American passenger rail entities.

Suppliers are finding a brisk market for retrofitting existing rail cars while also building new equipment for transit agencies that will work alongside the existing fleets.

Such is the approach being taken by Kawasaki Heavy Rail Industries. It will build up to 440 R-188 cars at a factory in Yonkers, N.Y., for use in New York City. But Kawasaki will also be retrofitting numerous R-142 cars that have been in operation for several years.

Kinkisharyo will deliver 35 “mid-section” light rail transit cars to New Jersey Transit for use with existing rolling stock on the Newark Light Rail and Hudson-Bergen Light Rail lines. This will enable N.J. Transit to increase capacity on those routes.

Earlier, Kinkisharyo used a similar approach for Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s enhancement of its existing light rail transit fleet.

There remain, of course, plenty of new car orders to be had. Bombardier continues to work on building 300 new R-179 subway cars for MTA New York City Transit. It also won a BART add-on order of 365 rapid transit cars.

China’s CNS Changchun landed a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority contract to supply 284 rapid transit cars for Boston’s “T” system.

A bid is expected this year by at least one Chinese firm, likely in a joint venture, to manufacture high speed rail trains for California.


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