Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Empire Builder’

Charger Era Gets Shaky Start

February 9, 2022

Amtrak ALC-42 No. 301 in the “First Day” livery poses with No. 300 in an Amtrak photo. The 300 wears the Phase VI livery that will be replaced soon by a yet to be revealed Phase VII scheme that will be applied to most ALC-42 locomotives

Amtrak’s first revenue service run with a Siemens ALC-42 Charger on the point didn’t get very far.

No. 301 with its “Day One” heritage livery was posed with ALC-42 No. 302 and Phase I heritage unit P42DC No. 161 at Chicago Union Station on Tuesday afternoon as the motive power to lead the westbound Empire Builder.

After the media event ended, a fourth unit, P42DC No. 84, was placed on the point and that four-locomotive consist pulled No. 7 out of the station.

Trains magazine reported that Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the addition of No. 84 was made for technical reasons related to positive train control.

As it was, No. 7 was 34 minutes late arriving at Glenview in suburban Chicago, the first scheduled stop en route to Seattle and Portland.

The Empire Builder lost another 32 minutes while making its Glenview stop, which is 18 miles from Chicago Union Station.

During the media event, Amtrak’s George Hull, vice president and chief mechanical officer, said the passenger carrier will increase its order of new Chargers for the national network by 50 units.

Amtrak had in 2018 ordered 75 ALC-42 locomotives with the first of those arriving earlier this year.

The new Charges have been undergoing testing since then and Tuesday’s run of the westbound Empire Builder was to be the first revenue service operation in which a Charger was leading a train.

Until now, Chargers have been trailing units, usually the second or third locomotive, in motive power consists on national network trains.

Amtrak plans to use the Chargers to replace its aging P42DC fleet, which dates to the early 1990s.

The ALC-42 chargers are being built in Sacramento, California, and are similar in design to Chargers used now to pull Amtrak Midwest corridor trains.

The Trains report noted that Nos. 7 and 8 normally operate with three locomotives during the winter.

Aside from No. 301, the Chargers have been leaving the factory with a Phase VI livery that Amtrak has said will be limited.

A new Phase VII look will adorn most of the 100 Chargers although that scheme has yet to be released to the public.

“Later this spring you will see new looks on these locomotives as they come from the factory,” Hull said on Tuesday.

Empire Builder to Get First Chargers

January 29, 2022

Amtrak plans to place its new ALC-42 Charger locomotives into regular revenue service on the Empire Builder in the coming months.

Railfan & Railroad magazine reported on its website that the Chargers are being moved to the route so that operating crews can become familiar with them.

Amtrak plans to eventually use the ALC-42 to replace the P42DC locomotives that have been national network mainstays since the 1990s.

The magazine said Amtrak has been placing a Charger in the various crew bases for the Empire Builder as part of the familiarity process.

Initially, the report said, Amtrak plans to par ALC-42 units with P42s in revenue service.

No date has been set for the first revenue service run of an ALC-42. Amtrak thus far has taken delivery of five ALC-42 units and expects to receive two more in February.

Eventually, Amtrak will operate 75 of the units, which are being assembled in Sacramento, California.

The report can be read at https://railfan.com/amtraks-new-chargers-will-debut-on-empire-builder/

New ALC-42s Move East on Capitol Limited

January 11, 2022

Two new Siemens ALC-42 locomotives operated eastbound on the Capitol Limited today behind P42DC No. 188.

An online report indicated that the 305 and 304 were being delivered from the Siemens assembly plant in California. Both units wore the Phase VI livery.

Reportedly Amtrak is training crews in Chicago in the operation of the new ALC-42 locomotives, which are slated to begin replacing P42s in Amtrak’s national network this year although P42s will continue to work for a few more years as Amtrak takes delivery of its ALC-42 fleet.

Nos. 29 and 30 in recent days have been operating with four cars, a sleeping car, dining car and two coaches. During the holiday travel season the Capitol Limited had been assigned an additional sleeping car.

In an unrelated development, Amtrak continued to have equipment and weather-related issues last weekend.

The eastbound Cardinal departed Chicago on Saturday night more than seven hours late due to what Amtrak described on its Twitter feed as equipment and mechanical issues.

Also running late in recent days have been the California Zephyr and Empire Builder.

Trains magazine reported on its website that a westbound Zephyr last weekend was delayed by more than seven hours after hitting a track obstruction east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

The Empire Builder continued to be plagued by weather woes with the train that departed Chicago last Friday canceled in Minot, North Dakota, due to weather-related operating conditions.

The westbound Builder from Chicago was canceled on Saturday and Sunday while its eastbound counterpart was canceled from Seattle and Portland on Sunday and Monday.

Saturday’s eastbound Empire Builder had originated in Spokane, Washington, rather than Seattle.

My Very Few Highlights Around Thanksgiving

December 2, 2021

For most of my years while I was working, I very rarely had the opportunity to railfan on or around the Thanksgiving holiday.

If I wasn’t working, then I had family related activities. I did find a couple days I was able to sneak away for a few moments.

One of those was Thanksgiving of 1983. I was able to use vacation time for a family trip to Libertyville, Illinois for a holiday outing with my sister Janet.

The day after Thanksgiving I went to the ex-Milwaukee Road tracks near Rondout, Illinois , hoping to see and photograph Amtrak No. 8, the Empire Builder.

This was long before cell phones and the Internet. I was hoping No. 8 would be close to advertised. I do remember a bit of prayer was evident.

The Empire Builder did show up pretty close to schedule.

Two days after Thanksgiving 2017, I photographed the Central of New Jersey heritage unit, No. 1071, coming out the siding at Unionville, Ohio, on Norfolk Southern train 316.

Article and Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Amtrak Anniversary Saturday: A Photo Tribute to 50 Years of Amtrak

April 30, 2021

With Amtrak’s 50th anniversary being Saturday I’ve selected a small sample of Amtrak in each decade. Over the years I’ve ridden many trains throughout the country either myself or with family and friends. So many that I rode I also photographed trackside at some point.

For the 1970s, here is the westbound Lake Shore Limited at Madison in July 1977.

For the 1980s, I’ve chosen the Lake Shore Limited again, this time headed eastward in Cleveland on Aug. 29, 1984.

The 1990s tribute is the California Zephyr eastbound in Byers Canyon of Colorado on June 28, 1988. I also included the Vermonter northbound at Hartford, Vermont in fall 1998, and the eastbound Southwest Chief in Albuqerque on May 6, 1991.

For the 2000s I present the Empire Builder eastbound at Red Wing, Minnesota, on June 19, 2002; and the westbound Maple Leaf at St. Johnsville, New York, on Sept. 7, 2002.

For Amtrak’s fifth decade here is the eastbound Empire Builder at East Glacier, Montana, crossing Two Medicine Bridge on July 23, 2016, and the eastbound Pennsylvanian at Summerhill, Pennsylvania, on May 18, 2019.

Now, about that image of No. 49 made in Madison in 1977, yes, it has some flaws.

Here is how Ed explained those: “Believe it or not that is the only Amtrak photo I took in the ‘70s of an Amtrak train.

“Back then I used my Dad’s camera, which was not a 35 mm film camera. The shot was either the first or the last on the negative and when we got it back a giant staple was in it.

“I did not take many photos back then since I shot a lot with the regular 8 mm movie camera.

“I have more movies at that same location. What was always tough with the photos back then was when No. 49 came hrough Madison [I] was looking directly into the early morning sun.

“Amtrak had the early year flaws just like my photo.”

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Dynamic Duos

August 15, 2020

An eaastbound Burlington Northern stack train at Paola, Montana, on Aug. 3, 1991.

In July 19091 Ed Ribinskas and his new bride rode Amtrak’s Empire Builder to Glacier National Park on their honeymoon.

He said that in putting together highlights of the trip he thought of the phrase “dynamic duos,” as in Batman and Robin.

In this story, though, that meant himself and Ursula, and the Great Northern Railway and Glacier National Park.

“Everything about this trip,” he said.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

An eastbound passes the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex, Montana.

A westbound stack train about 8 miles east of West Glacier, Montana.

The eastbound Empire Builder crosses the Midvale trestle. The photograph was made from a balcony at Glacier Park Lodge and is no longer possible because a wind fence has been installed on the bridge.

Nos. 7 and 8 pass in western North Dakota.

Passing through snow sheds 5 and 6.

Taken from the garden of Glacier Park Lodge.

Getting off the train for a few minutes in Minot, North Dakota. The car number shows 2830 but it should be 2730.

The eastbound Empire Builder at Essex, Montana, on Aug. 4, 1991.

 

Most Amtrak Long-Distance Trains Will Arrrive, Depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday, Saturday

August 14, 2020

Most of Amtrak’s long-distance trains will arrive and depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, thus enabling same-day connections on those days between Amtrak’s western and eastern long-distance trains once they move to tri-weekly operation in October.

Trains magazine reported on its website on Thursday afternoon the new schedules, which it said were contained in a message to employees that it obtained.

That schedule shows the reduction in frequency of service will be phased in on Oct. 5 on the California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, City of New Orleans, and Crescent.

On Oct. 12 the Coast Starlight, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, and Texas Eagle will move to tri-weekly operation.

The Empire Builder and Palmetto will assume tri-weekly schedules on Oct. 19.

If the schedule information presented by Trains is accurate, there will be no same-day connections from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited to the westbound Texas Eagle.

Nos. 29 and 49/449 are slated to depart their eastern endpoint cities of Boston, New York and Washington on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, thus putting them into Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

The Texas Eagle, though, is scheduled to depart Chicago on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.

Nos. 30 and 48/448 are scheduled to leave Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

The inbound Eagle will offer same-day connections with those trains on Thursday and Saturday.

The Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited will offer same-day connections on Monday and Saturday to the California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Empire Builder and City of New Orleans.

There will be no westbound same-day connections from Nos. 29 and 49/449 to the California Zephyr on Thursday but there will be connections to Nos. 3, 7 and 59.

As for same-day eastbound connections to Nos. 30 and 48/448, the inbound California Zephyr, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief and City of New Orleans will make those connections on all three days.

The Cardinal already operates tri-weeky, reaching Chicago on the same days of the week that have been set for the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

However, No. 50 departs Chicago on Tuesday and there will be no inbound connections to the Cardinal from any western long distance train on that day. The Cardinal also departs Chicago on Thursday and Saturday.

The schedules, if they are implemented as reported by Trains, will mean that Amtrak will stop in Cleveland and other Northeast Ohio cities on every day except Wednesday.

Nos. 48/448 and 30 will arrive in Cleveland on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Nos. 29 and 49/449 will arrive on Thursday, Saturday and Monday.

The schedule changes will not affect the Auto Train, which will remain daily.

The Sunset Limited already operates tri-weekly and frequency reductions were implemented in early July for the Silver Star and Silver Meteor.

Amtrak’s April Ridership Was Bad, But Bookings for Long-Distance Trains is Looking Promising

May 23, 2020

Amtrak ridership data for April was released this past week and it showed a sharp plunge compared with a year ago.

In April 2020 Amtrak handled 120,000 passengers compared to 2.7 million who rode in April 2019.

The ridership drop is attributed largely to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Northeast Corridor handled 19,000 passengers, a drop of 97.5 percent from a year earlier. It was the steepest ridership plunge system wide on a percentage basis.

Amtrak lost 87 percent of its passengers on the San Joaquin route in California.

Ridership of state-funded corridors fell 96 percent while the long-distance trains saw ridership fall 86.8 percent.

Year-to-date ridership is down 21 percent and revenues has fallen by 19 percent.

Amtrak expects those figures to grow and they might have been larger than they were but for strong ridership and revenue performances earlier in the year before social distancing measures were imposed.

In a related matter, the Amtrak vice president who oversees long-distance trains said the use of prepackaged meals for sleeper class passengers on Western trains will continue for at least another month.

Larry Chestler told the Rail Passengers Association that Amtrak has begun to see some early signs of recovery on many routes.

However, he cited safety and continued lagging ridership for waiting to restore traditional dining car service to the Western trains.

Chestler said the carrier will evaluate ridership data in late June and determine at that time whether to restore traditional dining car service.

The prepackaged meals have been served to sleeper class passengers on Eastern long-distance trains since June 2019 and were extended to all of those trains last October.

Although the long-distance trains have seen steep ridership drops, Chestler said those declines have been smaller than on other routes.

A recent rise in bookings for long-distance trains have given Amtrak some hope that higher demand is coming, Chestler said.

“Whether that means there’s more demand for summer it’s too soon to say,” he said.

In particular, bookings are trending upward for Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief with some growth also starting to show for the California Zephyr and Empire Builder.

Chestler said bookings are coming back “from the bottom of the bottom,” which Amtrak reached during the period of mid April to early May when it averaged 3,000 passengers a day nationwide.

Since then Amtrak ridership has doubled that, but it’s still well below what it would otherwise be at this time of year.

Some of the ridership of long-distance trains has occurred in regions where corridor trains have been suspended or reduced in frequency.

An example would be the Empire Builder between Chicago and Milwaukee where Hiawatha Service was suspended in favor of a once a day Thruway bus.

Before the pandemic, Amtrak operated seven daily roundtrips between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Chestler said Amtrak management considered continuing into the summer the reduced consists that began operating during the pandemic.

But management elected to move from what he termed “a kind of quasi-minimum” to restoring capacity for the summer.

“Had we reduced to the May levels [for the summer] we would have had a number of trains where we would have been essentially sold out already” in coach, Chestler said.

That doesn’t mean all of the seats would have been occupied because Amtrak for now is selling only half of the capacity of each coach assigned to a train in order to maintain social distancing.

“On the [Southwest] Chief and the [California] Zephyr and the [Empire] Builder there’s more sleepers [and] typically one more coach,” he said.

“We’ve balanced the use of baggage coaches and other kinds of cars to put an appropriate amount of capacity” in place “to capture demand signals from customers,” Chestler said.

Amtrak management is mindful that reducing capacity also could dampen the return of demand because the seats aren’t available.

1983 Highlights: Steam and Amtrak

April 28, 2020

Amtrak took me to visit my sister Janet and her husband, Billy, in Libertyville, Illinois, in July 1983.

I then rode Amtrak to Richmond, Virginia, for the 1983 National Railway Historical Society Convention.

The photo of the eastbound Empire Builder at Rondout, Illinois, was made on Thanksgiving Day 1983 prior to dinner at Janet and Billy’s home. The entire Ribinskas family drove in from Ohio for that holiday.

Also among my favorites from 1983 is a photograph of a Milwaukee Road train that I made waiting for a commuter train at the Libertyville station for the trip to Union Station to catch Amtrak on my way to Richmond on July 19.

Another favorite is an image of myself posing in front of Norfolk & Western No. 611 on our convention excursion from Richmond to Balcony Falls, Virginia, on July 21, 1983.

This was my introduction to the 611 which has become my favorite steam locomotive.

In that photo I am wearing my favorite Chessie Steam Special hat that I unfortunately left in the hotel when we were attending the 1984 NRHS Convention in Cincinnati. I never saw that hat again.

I’m featuring a couple of images from the 1983 NRHS convention, including the N&W 611 photo run by at Balcony Falls.

There is also the Southern F unit on July 22 at the triple crossing in Richmond in a photo op set up in which I was standing next to the late Jim Boyd, a famous railroad photographer who was once editor of Railfan & Railroad magazine.

Article and Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Amtrak Continues to Pare Service

March 19, 2020

It remains to be seen if Amtrak will suspend or reduce the operations of its long-distance trains, but an online report quoting a union official indicated that onboard service cuts are coming.

The official from the SMART Transportation Division said he has been told to expect sleeping car service to be suspended and dining removed from some trains.

However, the official said he has not been advised by the carrier if it plans to suspend any long-distance trains.

Amtrak has suspended several Midwest corridor trains including three roundtrips in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor and one roundtrip between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette has also been suspended.

Service reductions for corridors in Illinois are expected but as of early Thursday morning had yet to be formally announced by Amtrak.

Amtrak operates three corridors in Illinois linking Chicago with Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis.

The Chicago-Carbondale corridor has two roundtrips plus the Chicago-New Orleans City of Orleans.

The Chicago-Quincy corridor has two roundtrips while the Chicago-St. Louis corridor has four roundtrips plus the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

An online report indicated that effective March 21 Chicago-Carbondale service will be reduced to the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini.

A similar service pattern is expected to be implemented for the Chicago-Quincy corridor with service to Chicago in the morning and returning service in the evening by trains 381 and 381 respectively.

In both corridors, the remaining trains could be covered with one equipment set.

The Empire Builder is also expected to begin carrying local passengers to and from Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee Airport station. Neither are regular stops for Nos. 7 and 8.

The New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian also has been suspended along with all Keystone Service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Service reductions have been made in all other eastern corridors as well.

In a service advisory Amtrak said some stations that have ticket agents may not be staffed for all train arrivals and departure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amtrak said passengers should proceed to the platform for boarding if they encounter an unstaffed station that normally has agents directing the boarding process.

Other online reports indicated that Cascade Service between Portland and Eugene, Oregon, will be reduced to one roundtrip with trains 500 and 505 providing the service.