Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Southwest Chief’

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.

Amtrak’s Transformation at Work in the Midwest

August 13, 2018

Last week Amtrak touted improvements it has made in its Midwest corridor network, including schedule adjustments to allow for more intra-Midwest connections and implementing student discount fares.

But in Amtrak’s statements was a hint that there might be another agenda at work.

It may be that Amtrak was doing nothing more than trying to get some marketing mileage from a series of relatively small steps. Yet if you view what was announced in a larger context you might see a transformation at work.

Throughout 2018, Amtrak has taken or talked about implementing actions that passenger advocates fear are designed or will weaken the carrier’s long-distance network.

In early June Amtrak yanked the full-service dining cars from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Last spring it sharply restricted the carriage of privately-owned passenger cars and all but eliminated special moves and charter trains.

Amtrak has talked about creating a bus bridge for its Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dodge City, Kansas, rather than continue to operate over a BNSF segment in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico that lacks positive train control and over much of which Amtrak is the sole user and thus responsible for the maintenance costs of the rails.

The carrier also has changed its booking practices to make it more difficult for tour operators to book large blocks of sleeping car rooms.

A Trains magazine columnist wrote last week that he’s been told of Amtrak plans to remove chefs from the dining cars of the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

The columnist said he’s heard from passengers who’ve ridden long-distance trains lately that complimentary juice in sleeping cars is gone and coffee is being limited to one half-pot per day.

Fewer towels and bottles of water are being distributed to sleeping car passengers.

An amendment sponsored by Ohio senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown to force Amtrak to reopen ticket offices closed in a cost-cutting binge last spring was quietly removed from a transportation funding bill recently approved by the Senate.

Some passenger advocate see these and other moves as part of a larger plot to make long-distance trains unattractive so ridership will fall and management can make the case that the need for these trains isn’t there anymore.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson has reportedly told state department of transportation officials that the carrier has studied chopping up long-distance routes into a series of corridors, each of them less than 750 miles in length.

That would force the states to fund those routes under the terms of a 2008 law that requires states to fund corridor routes that Amtrak had previously underwritten.

Those plans are not expected to be implemented immediately, but perhaps Amtrak management is just biding its time.

What does this have to do with the announcement about improvements to Midwest connectivity?

If Amtrak is seeking to re-invent itself as a provider of short- and medium-distance corridors it needs to show that it is developing a network of them.

Most people probably think of the Midwest corridors as ways to link cities in their state with Chicago.

Yes, some travelers connect in Chicago to other Amtrak trains, including the long-distance trains, but how many people think about getting on in Milwaukee and going to Detroit or St. Louis?

Well they might think about it and some do it every day, but Amtrak hasn’t always made such connections convenient. Some layovers last for hours.

The schedule changes made this summer are designed to address that, at least on paper, or in Amtrak’s case on pixels given that paper timetables are a thing of the past.

Amtrak touted its “new” schedules, noting that you can travel between Milwaukee and Detroit twice daily, and Milwaukee and St. Louis three times daily. Of course that means changing trains in Chicago.

To be sure, Amtrak gave a nod to the long-distance trains, noting that in making the departure of northbound Hiawatha train No. 333 from Chicago to Milwaukee later, it enabled connections from long-distance trains from the East Coast.

As for the student discount, it is 15 percent and designed for Midwest travel. Amtrak also plans to soon allow bicycles aboard the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

When the new Siemens Charger locomotives went into service on Midwest corridor trains, they came with the tagline “Amtrak Midwest.”

Those locomotives were purchased by the states underwriting Amtrak’s Midwest corridor routes. Those same states are also underwriting development of new passenger cars to be assigned to the Midwest corridor routes.

It is getting to the point where Amtrak is becoming a middleman of Midwest corridor routes, offering a station and maintenance facility in Chicago; operating, service and marketing support; and a brand.

For now, the state-funded corridors combined with the long-distance trains provide intercity rail passenger service to many regions of the Midwest, including to such states as Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio that do not currently fund Amtrak service.

That might well change if Amtrak follows through on its proposals to chop up the long-distance routes into state-funded corridors. Would Ohio step up to help pay for, say, a Chicago-Toledo, Chicago-Cleveland or Chicago-Pittsburgh  route in lieu of the Capitol Limited?

Would Iowa agree to fund a Chicago-Omaha train in lieu of the California Zephyr?

Would Minnesota agree to fund a Chicago-Minneapolis/St. Paul train in lieu of the Empire Builder? What about Chicago-Fargo, North Dakota, with funding from Minnesota and North Dakota?

I’m not optimistic about that.

Senate Approves Passenger Rail Funding

August 3, 2018

The U.S. Senate has approved on a 92-6 vote $16.1 billion for billion for public transit and intercity passenger rail while also seeking to preserve Amtrak’s national network.

The legislation provides $2.5 billion for intercity passenger rail grants, which are $1.3 billion more than authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

The funding is contained within the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2019.

The bill also funds the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program at $2.5 billion, marking a $92 million decrease from FY18, according to a statement issued by nonprofit advocacy group Transportation for America.

The legislation allocates $1 billion for the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grants program.

The bill also specifically directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to administer the program as it was under 2016 in response to attempted changes that would have added “greater financial and administrative burdens on local communities.”

As for Amtrak’s national network, the Senate approved an amendment by senators Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) to provide $50 million to maintain the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The amendment would provide the resources needed for maintenance and safety improvements along the route as well as “effectively reverse” Amtrak’s plans decision to substitute buses for rail service between Albuquerque and western Kansas.

It is designed to compel Amtrak to fulfill its promise of providing matching funds for the grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, to rebuild the route.

Joe Boardman: Saint or Sinner?

May 26, 2018

Former Amtrak President Joseph Boardman received a lot of favorable reviews for a letter he recently wrote to public officials across the country criticizing the Amtrak board of directors and CEO Richard Anderson for what Boardman believes is a strategy designed to dismantle the carrier’s network of long-distance trains.

Typical of the applause was a column written by veteran transportation writer Don Phillips who lauded Boardman for shining a light into a dark place.

“Boardman may be shining such a bright light on Anderson that, combined with growing protests by organized rail groups, Anderson could very well fail,” Phillips wrote.

The column published in Railway Age concluded with Phillips saying he was proud of Boardman and called on rail passenger supporters to send Boardman’s remarks to members of Congress.

M.E. Singer, a principal at Marketing Rail Ltd. in Chicago, had a different take.

It isn’t that Singer disagrees with the substance of Boardman’s fear that Amtrak is maneuvering to eviscerate the long-distance trains, but rather that Boardman is being hypocritical.

Singer argued in his own Railway Age column that it was Boardman and the same board of directors under whom Anderson is serving who left Amtrak in a state of disrepair.

Singer contends that during the Boardman administration the carrier’s best managers were encouraged to take buyouts “during multiple reorganizations that only depleted vital institutional knowledge.”

Although Boardman accused Amtrak of a lack of transparency, Singer said Amtrak also worked in secrecy during the Boardman administration.

“In reality, Boardman barely provided lip service to the long-distance routes, as evidenced by the lack of any pro formas to Congress to factually detail the number of passengers turned away, and loss of revenues, due to the lack of space on those trains; and to identify the need for more equipment to expand frequencies and to meet new route opportunities,” Singer wrote.

Singer contends Amtrak’s board and top management has a “singularly focused” commitment to serve their political patrons of the Northeast Corridor at the expense of the national system.

“What apparently puzzles Boardman is how quickly his inner circle turned their loyalty to the new CEO, Richard Anderson, continuing to focus on ensuring their own survival by placating a very conflicted Board,” Singer wrote.

Neither Singer nor Phillips favors ending the long-distance passenger trains.

Phillips has long argued that the Northeast Corridor is not profitable as Amtrak and many policy makers and public opinion leaders say that it is.

Singer wants Amtrak to be redefined so that it serves all interests, including the national system.

So what should we make of Joe Boardman? Is is a saint or a sinner?

Phillips noted that when Boardman stepped down as president of Amtrak, he had nothing but negative things to say about him, but refrained from writing a column blasting Boardman.

Singer and Phillips are correct in their own way about Boardman. Singer correctly noted that under Boardman Amtrak demanded that the states served by the Southwest Chief on a segment of BNSF track in western Kansas, southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico pay for upgrading the track after the railroad said it would downgrade it to a top speed of 30 mph.

The states landed federal grants and coughed up their own funding to match money contributed by BNSF and Amtrak.

Had Amtrak not recently said it wouldn’t match the latest federal grant obtained by Colfax County, New Mexico, to continue rebuilding the route of the Chief, Boardman might not have spoken up.

Boardman probably considers it part of his legacy that he negotiated a pact with BNSF to maintain the route for 10 years if the states and Amtrak paid most of the money to rebuild it. Now that legacy is coming undone.

In short, Boardman might be less concerned with the national network than he is with his legacy even though he claimed to have told the Amtrak board that the most important trains to the passenger carrier are the long-distance trains.

The fate of the long-distance trains will be settled in Congress through a political process.

An aroused citizenry or the appearance of one will be critical in keeping all, some or most of those trains operating for now.

I’m reminded of an old saying: Your friend is your enemy; your enemy is your friend.

As a former Amtrak president, Boardman’s word will get immediate attention and carry some weight.

Boardman may not have been the best friend of long-distance during his time at Amtrak, but he might turn out to be a good friend of those trains right now.

 

Amtrak Holding Firm on PTC View

April 12, 2018

Amtrak is doubling down on an assertion made earlier this year to Congress by its CEO Richard Anderson that it will not operate on routes that are required to have positive train control but which fail to make the deadline to installing it.

Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Stephen Gardner, told a House Appropriations Committee hearing that Amtrak still has not decided if it will use routes that are not required to have PTC.

Gardner said the passenger carrier continues to study whether it can safely operate on PTC-exempt routes, which tend to be on regional railroads.

He acknowledged during the hearing that Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief might be adversely affected by the PTC issue.

However, Gardner qualified his testimony by suggesting that Amtrak might use routes that receive an extension from the Federal Railroad Administration of the Dec. 31, 2018, PTC deadline that is mandated by federal law.

As did Anderson, Gardner said there will be segments of routes used by Amtrak over which the carrier won’t operate if a PTC waiver has not been obtained by the host railroad.

“ . . . We believe PTC is part of a modern passenger rail system and we want to see PTC levels of safety across our network. We’re going to be analyzing those areas where safety improvements can be made,” Gardner said.

When pressed by Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-California) about the Southwest Chief, Gardner said Amtrak “will provide service on the portions of the route that have PTC, but there may be parts of our network where we believe PTC is required – if that route has high operating speeds – and we want to make sure we have a single level of safety across our network.”

Gardner said Amtrak route safety assessment will conclude this summer.

The Southwest Chief route is required to have PTC between Albuquerque and Lamy, New Mexico, where Amtrak shares tracks with Rail Runner commuter trains.

However, the route between Lamy and Trinidad, Colorado, is exempted. The former Santa Fe route used by the Chief across Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico has an automatic train stop system that dates from the 1920s.

It requires a locomotive engineer to acknowledge any restrictive signal indication or suffer a penalty brake application.

Gardner also took a shot at Amtrak’s host railroads for creating an “existential crisis” by delaying its trains through freight train interference.

He called for legislation allowing Amtrak to sue host railroads over failure to give passenger trains dispatching priority.

Asked why Amtrak is giving up special trains and restricting its carriage of private passenger cars, Gardner said the carrier is restricting the number of places that it operates to its core network.

He noted that some specials and charters have used routes not covered by scheduled Amtrak trains and that any additional revenue it made from those moves caused “a minimum amount of disruption and distraction away from our core business.”

He said going off network exposed Amtrak to new operating challenges and safety risks.

Gardner said Amtrak’s goal is to offer services on its current routes “where we can use equipment that we are confident in and the requirements on our end are manageable, not a distraction, and do not divert our core staff from the job of becoming fully PTC implemented, focusing on improving on-time performance, and providing great customer service.”

Marooned Aboard Amtrak This Week

January 9, 2014

Hundreds of Amtrak passengers this week found themselves stranded on Monday when a savage winter storm brought trains to a standstill in the Midwest.

Drifting snow halted three eastbound trains in north central Illinois while the westbound Cardinal was marooned in Indianapolis.

Various news reports indicated that some of those stranded made the best of the situation with some even finding some enjoyment in it.

“The best part of it was having another night on the train and actually getting to meet people and getting to talk to everyone,” said a passenger stranded passenger aboard the California Zephyr. “In the car that I was in everyone was going up and down the car talking to people, making friends, and just telling jokes, telling stories.”

But it wasn’t all pleasantries, though. Some passengers spoke of cold passenger cars and inoperative restrooms.

News reports indicated that passengers read books, watched movies on computers and took what amusement they could from a conductor who cracked jokes over the intercom.

Food ran low and some tempers boiled over, but the Amtrak staff sought to keep the heat on, entertain children and even escorted small groups of people outside for smoke breaks.

“You hear those horror stories about the cars that stop in the snow and they freeze to death. I thought, ‘Oh God, this is going to happen, we’re going to be in blankets,’’’ said passenger Chris Smith.

Some 20 hours after becoming stranded, the passengers were put aboard buses and arrived in Chicago on Tuesday.

The passengers were aboard the Southwest Chief from Los Angeles, the Illinois Zephyr from Quincy, Ill., and the California Zephyr from the San Francisco Bay area, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

The trains were halted late Monday near Mendota, about 90 miles west of Chicago.

In one account, the Southwest Chieft slowed to a crawl as it hammered through snowdrifts in an empty stretch of Illinois countryside near Arlington, delivering thuds and jolts to passengers, until it lurched into a mound big enough to grind its 8,000-horsepower engine to a halt.

Amtrak service on the BNSF line east of Galesburg, Ill., halted when the Chief hit a nearly 12-foot snow drift that paralyzed the engines, said passenger Bryan Plummer by cell phone.

“They started to cut through heavier and heavier drifts,’’ said Smith, 45, describing his train.

“The passenger on my side was joking, he said, ‘I think we ran over somebody.’ They weren’t huge bumps, but it was enough to jerk the train.’’

When the train stopped altogether, around 4 p.m. Monday, a conductor came on the loudspeaker and quipped, “As you can see, there’s a little bit of snow out there.’’

“At first it was kind of funny, and our conductor had a good sense of humor about it, and then it stopped being funny,’’ said Carley Lintz, a 21-year-old journalism student on her way back to Northwestern University from her home in Gardner, Kan.

Plummer, who lives in Galesburg, had boarded the train between 1:30 and 2 p.m. Monday afternoon and had been unable to find an open seat

So he sat in the lounge car and spent Monday night trying to rest his head on a table.

He had a somewhat small serving of beef stew for dinner and said that tensions were high in the lounge car for much of the experience.

“My seat was a hard bench and I was able to rest my head on the table,” he told the Galesburg Register-Mail. “The other thing was, after dusk, we had no updates on our status and no other food available … just very ill-prepared and communication was horrible.”

Some passengers described a different experience. Barbara and Merlin Dennis of Denver, commended Amtrak’s service and amenities after they boarded the Chicago-bound bus in Galesburg.

“We were very comfortable,” Barbara said. “They did a phenomenal job of taking care of us with a free supper and breakfast. … You can’t blame Amtrak for the weather.”

Still, frustration throughout the long wait was inevitable for others. The Kaplans, who live near Chicago, boarded the California Zephyr after their flight from Salt Lake City was canceled.

“This odyssey began for us at 2 a.m. in Salt Lake City on Sunday,” Stephen Kaplan said, sitting in one of the five buses outside the Amtrak station on Tuesday.

While he praised the on-board staff, Kaplan said he wasn’t sure why the train was unable to travel the short distance to the Amtrak platform so passengers could seek lodging in the city.

According to Amtrak’s Magliari, “The train is a hotel. This is an overnight train with a dining car and sleeping accommodations.”

Complicating things for Nancy Tallyn of Palos Park, Ill., was a clunky cast on her right foot.

“My chair reclined a little bit, but I’m supposed to keep my foot up,” Tallyn said. “Trying to get comfortable all night was just crazy.”

Using her walker as a makeshift foot rest didn’t provide enough comfort to get any sleep.

However, despite the longer-than-expected trip home from Nebraska, she and her husband, John, were able to make some friends as a silver lining to the unplanned stall. As she sat inside the Galesburg station, waiting to board the bus, Tallyn talked about the experience with good-humored sarcasm. “Oh, it was a fun night.”

Several passengers speaking to news outlets by cell phone said conditions on the trains deteriorated as the ordeal continued and that they went long periods without food.

“The condition is cold; we’re wearing coats. And my husband is a diabetic. He hasn’t had any food all day,” Laurette Mosley told ABC News. “The bathrooms are flooded. The sinks are full with water and the toilets are flooded.”

Mosely was traveling from California to Chicago to attend her mother’s funeral.

Plummer, told ABC News that passengers were given dinner but no snacks during the 15 hours that they were stranded.

“I inquired about breakfast service and they stated that at this time there was none planned. When the sheriff’s officer who was on board here left around 3 a.m. this morning, he stated that the Red Cross was involved and was trying to get us some meals,” Plummer said.

It wasn’t until Tuesday morning that the marooned passengers were put aboard buses. About 300 passengers from two of the trains boarded buses in Princeton.

A third train with 217 passengers spent the night in the BNSF rail yard in Galesburg. Those passengers boarded charter buses to complete their trips Tuesday morning.

“It’s a fairly remote area in Bureau County where the tracks go through something like a trench,” Magliari said of where the trains were stranded. “The trench itself was full of snow and ice and we couldn’t just plow through it.

“So it was safer to leave passengers on the train with full hotel systems, with light and heat, and toilet systems — all overnight — rather than transfer people through the trench in the snow at minus 5 temperatures and transfer them to buses,” Magliari said.

“Our trains and our passengers benefited by this happening so close to Galesburg because of the BNSF resources and the skill and dedication of the rail workers,” said Magliari. “We worked together with freight locomotives so the resources were there.”

Magliari said emergency workers were on standby and on-board train crews were with passengers all night serving dinners and preparing for potential medical issues. But no medical emergencies arose on any of the trains.

“There was no good reason to take people out of warm trains … into the cold,” he said. “We sheltered them in place.”

The crew served a dinner of beef stew over rice, but the lounge car eventually ran out of everything but drinks, passenger Smith said. Although some passengers speaking to news outlets by cell phone earlier Tuesday had complained about deteriorating conditions, including flooded sinks and toilets, Smith and others on his train only saw overflowing trash cans.

As night set in, some tried to sleep. Others paced. There was enough of a 3G signal for those glued to smartphones and tablets to stay connected.

Another train coming to the rescue also got stuck. Local authorities arrived. Crews shoveled and plowed, and passengers eventually were moved to a second train, taken back to Princeton and put on buses to Chicago. The ordeal lasted some 17 hours.

A Chicago Tribune story quoted a passenger on the Illinois Zephyr, Sarah Johnson, 19, saying the crew told passengers they were going to try and free the train by moving back and forth — like a car stuck in snow — but that didn’t work. A second train came but got stuck too, she said.

A rescue train showed up from Galesburg before 3 a.m. to take them to Princeton, the closest stop not obstructed by snow.

Alex Kasparie was a passenger on the Illinois Zephyr train that got stuck in the snow Monday afternoon.

The train was heading from Quincy to Chicago and was about 10 miles outside of Mendota when it ran into a 6-foot snow drift.

Kasparie, a law student at the University of Pennsylvania, was heading to Chicago for an interview and to visit friends.

At 4:30 p.m. Monday, Amtrak told passengers there would be a lengthy delay. “It turned out to be about nine hours they were stuck there,” Kasparie said.

Kasparie said passengers on the Monday train made the best of it. “Things could be much worse than they are,” he said.”We had food, we had power, we had electricity and I had cell reception, so I was able to follow the BCS National Championship on my phone.”

Kasparie was able to get some sleep when the crew told them it would take a couple hours to dig the train out after equipment arrived to pull the train out.

Passengers were just exhausted from the all-day ordeal, he said. “I think we were all just ready to get off that train this morning,” Kasparie said.

Around 3 a.m., the train was freed and pulled back to Princeton where passengers boarded buses for Chicago.

Kasparie gave credit to the crew, which had been on the train since Sunday. “The staff was absolutely exhausted,” he said. “They’re the real troupers in all this. As bad as we passengers had it, I’m amazed that they were able to do what they did considering how long they had been on that train.”

The trip, which left more than 4.5 hours after its original departure time, was relatively smooth through Galesburg. “We had to stop a few different times because ice froze a few of the switches up,” he said.

Further west, some travelers aboard the Empire Builder were stranded for a couple of days.

Magliari said the majority of the problems have occurred between Havre, Mont., and parts of North Dakota due to strong winter storms in the area.

“We’ve been unable to operate the Empire Builder in both directions from Whitefish (Mont.) this week,” he said. “I fully expect though with the relief of some of these harsh weather conditions and trains being where they’re supposed to be and crews being properly in place, then we’ll have normal service in the next 24 hours or so.”

An Amtrak spokesperson in Oakland says that an Empire Builder train was scheduled to leave Seattle on Tuesday afternoon, and was expected to make a full trip through to Chicago.

In Indianapolis, Chicago-bound Cardinal stopped just outside of Indianapolis Union Station early Monday after frigid weather froze switches A few hours later, the train was brought to Union Station as officials tried to find alternative ways for travelers to leave the city.

“It was a whole quagmire of a situation,” said Chicago resident Jason Butler, who was on his way back from Ohio. “The frustration was in not knowing what’s going on. It was a little scary. I was three or four hours away from home and I didn’t know how I’d get there or when.”

Amtrak’s Magliari, said that CSX would not allow the Cardinal to use its tracks and Indianapolis roads and freeways were not passable.

“We worked with CSX and bus providers after CSX told us they cannot accept the train,” he said. “Throughout the day Monday, there were indications that I-65 or the tracks might open, but neither one occurred. We were not going to put them in a train that was going to travel at undetermined speeds all day long.”

Passenger Tamera Swenson said a bus was supposed to take them to Chicago on Monday, but they were later told that vehicles couldn’t travel on I-65.

Magliari said 150 passengers were on board when the train left Washington, D.C., on Sunday. Some found their own travel accommodations. Others, like Swenson and Butler, were placed in a downtown hotel.

Magliari said passengers still in Indianapolis were scheduled to leave Tuesday morning aboard the Hoosier State.

CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan said in a brief statement that the transportation company has been in communication with Amtrak about the train’s status.

It was a flight cancellation that led Chicago high school teacher Rob Chambers, his husband and mother-in-law to take the train back to Chicago after the couple were married in Delaware, where same-sex marriage is legal. “We’re calling it the honeymoon ride home and here we are stuck in Indianapolis,’’ Chambers said by cellphone.

Train passengers also weren’t the only ones stranded in Indy. About 25 to 30 bus riders had to make do Tuesday inside the Greyhound station. Cots and blankets provided by the Red Cross helped make the situation more bearable, and the stranded riders also were given hot meals and food vouchers. Buses had been idle at the Greyhound station since Saturday.

Dozens of travelers stranded by the recent winter storm were holed up on Tuesday at the Indianapolis International Airport.  At least 105 flights were canceled at the Indianapolis airport during the winter storm.

Amtrak cancelled several Chicago hub trains Monday through Wednesday due to the severe weather and a need to get equipment and crews back into position.

That bothered Rick Harnish of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. “I am really disappointed that we haven’t made the kind of investments, both at the state level and at the federal level, that would allow these trains to keep running in this kind of weather,” he said.  Harnish said it would be great to have trains offering transportation on days when the weather prevents flying and makes driving difficult.

Amtrak Sets FY 2013 Ridership Record

October 18, 2013

Amtrak set another ridership record this year, its 10th consecutive record in the past 11 fiscal years.

In fiscal year 2013, which began on Oct. 1, 2012, and ended on Sept. 30, 2013, Amtrak carried 31, 559, 945 passengers, a 1 percent increase over FY 2012.

The gains came despite extensive service disruptions caused by Hurricane Sandy and periodic disruptions in Connecticut.

Ticket revenue set a record as well, increasing 4.2 percent to $2.1 billion. Much of the increased ridership came aboard regional and short distance trains where ridership increased 2.2 percent and revenue rose by 4.4 percent in revenue.

The large increase was posted by the Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains, which added extra capacity when Amtrak refurbished, Wi-Fi equipped Amfleet I train sets.

Lincoln Service ridership rose by almost 10 per cent while revenue increased by 22.7 percent.

The most-improved long-distance train was the Coast Starlight, where patronage rose by 5.5 percent.

Amtrak President Joe Boardman said earlier this week that capacity constraints have limited growth of all services.

Acela Express trains are usually sold out after noon Wednesday through Friday and again on Sunday, and we are severely restricted in the number of trains that can use New York’s Penn Station,” Boardman said.

Boardman said that Amtrak expects to in November issue a request for proposals for the next generation of high-speed, multiple-unit electric train sets for the Northeast Corridor, but there are no plans to order any more coaches for long-distance trains or Northeast Regionals.

“We’ve rebuilt everything we have, but as some of the new cars ordered by the states are delivered, we will have the ability to move seats (in the displaced Amtrak equipment) where we have demand,” he said.

Amtrak’s order for 130 sleeper, dormitory-baggage, diner, and baggage cars now under construction by CAF in Elmira, N.Y., will add some first-class, high revenue capacity next year, but will largely replace existing cars that are more than 50 years old.

Boardman also reported that Amtrak recently supplied an engineer to BNSF because the freight railroad lacked sufficient qualified crews to operate a train over the route normally used only by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

“We expect to continue operating the Chief on its present route and are in discussions with the states to keep it running there rather than moving it to the [BNSF] Transcon (in 2016),” Boardman said. “There is a new mine opening in the region and we’re hopeful that BNSF will be running more trains on the line, but we’re not expecting their needs will change.”

Boardman reiterated his contention that greater Northeast Corridor revenues have helped offset long-distance train operating support losses.

With a new Amtrak reauthorization and surface transportation legislation soon to be debated, “there has to be a contract in Congress for the national mobility that the long-distance train (network) provides,” he said.