Posts Tagged ‘Chicago-Detroit corridor’

Yes, Watch Out for the Trains

March 2, 2018

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak have been working to boost train speeds on the Chicago-Detroit corridor, particularly on track in Michigan, that both entities own.

MDOT owns the rails between Kalamazoo and Dearborn and over the past couple of summers has sponsored track work designed to enable faster running.

One small indicator of that work is this sign in Chelsea, Michigan, located next to the former Michigan Central station, which is now owned by a local historical society.

Getting Amtrak here at 80 mph or any speed remains on my “to do” list for 2018. There is double track because there is a passing siding here.

Chelsea, located between Ann Arbor and Jackson, is not a stop for Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains, but it was a stop for the Michigan Executive commuter train that Amtrak operated through Jan. 13, 1984, when the state ended its funding of the service.

Michigan transportation officials and rail passenger advocates have been trying to resume commuter rail service ever since.

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Snow, Ice Pile Delays Wolverine Service Train

February 14, 2018

An Amtrak Wolverine Service train struck a pile of ice and snow left close to its tracks, damaging the locomotive and delaying passengers for more than four hours during which the train lacked heat and the restrooms were inoperable.

The incident occurred on Monday evening and involved Chicago to Detroit (Pontiac) Train No. 352.

The train struck ice and snow that a local snow plow crew had left close to the rails near Michigan City, Indiana.

A Chicago radio station said some passengers felt sick and one said she feared losing consciousness during the ordeal.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the train was forced to stop after striking the snow and ice while Amtrak personnel re-aligned the snow plow on the locomotive.

That task took nearly two-and-a-half-hours and during that time the head-end power to the passenger cars was disconnected.

Magliari said that Amtrak police and managers distributed snacks to passengers during the delay and provided what help they could. Two other Amtrak trains using the route were also delayed.

Amtrak will discuss with the unnamed town involved the need to avoid piling snow next to railroad tracks, Magliari said.

Michigan Amtrak Trains Running Faster

January 24, 2018

Most Amtrak trains serving Michigan now have faster running times, the Michigan Department of Transportation said this week.

Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) have seen 20 minutes cut from their schedules. Blue Water service between Chicago and Port Huron, Michigan, has seen a smaller running time cut.

Both lines use rails owned by Amtrak between Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Porter, Indiana.

Amtrak dispatchers control the Chicago-Detroit line as far east as Dearborn except for a portion of track in Battle Creek that is owned by Canadian National.

MDOT acquired 135 miles of track from Norfolk Southern in 2012 that are used by Amtrak between Kalamazoo and Dearborn except for the CN track in Battle Creek.

The top speed between Porter and Kalamazoo is 110 mph. The maximum speed is 79 mph on the MDOT-owned track, but that is expected to rise to 110 mph this year after the completion of positive train control testing and assignment of Siemens Charger locomotives to the route.

The State of Michigan has used $347 million in federal funds to replace rails, smooth curves, upgrade crossings and signals and improve train signaling and communication systems.

These improvements are expected to result in higher running speeds.

MDOT also funded a new connection in West Detroit for a faster route to a CN line that serves Amtrak stations in Detroit, Royal Oak, Troy and Pontiac.

“At MDOT’s direction, Amtrak work crews have corrected years of deferred maintenance and have taken over dispatching,” said Joe McHugh, Amtrak vice president of state-supported services in a statement. “We have created the longest railroad segment outside the northeast that is being made ready for an even more reliable and faster Amtrak service.”

Wandering Far for Wolverines

December 2, 2017

Amtrak Train No. 353 crosses the Huron River on the northwest side of Ann Arbor.

Amtrak passes through Northeast Ohio four times a day, but unless you have a tripod and are adept at night photography, you probably don’t have many images of the Capitol Limited or Lake Shore Limited that you made here.

That’s because those trains are scheduled through Cleveland during the darkness hours.

Sure, during the summer the eastbound Lake Shore passes through some locations in early morning light. At times the trains run excessively late, which puts them through in daylight hours.

But if you have a hankering to photograph Amtrak at other times of the year you going to be making a road trip to Pennsylvania or Michigan.

And that is why I ventured to Ann Arbor on a recent Sunday to photograph three Wolverine Service trains.

The two shown here are regularly scheduled runs that pass through the home of that school up north between noon and 1:30 p.m. The third was a Thanksgiving extra section that I showed in another post.

In doing some research on Amtrak in Ann Arbor, I ran across some nice images online of the train passing a dam located in the Barton Nature Area, a.k.a. Barton Park. So I checked it out.

The dam located on the Huron River was built in 1912-1913 to generate electricity. One of four dams in Ann Arbor on the Huron River, it is the only one still used to generate power. The city sells that power to Detroit Edison.

The former Michigan Central line between Chicago and Detroit that Amtrak uses is owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation, which acquired it from Norfolk Southern.

The tracks cross the Huron River just south of the dam on a bridge with open sides. My vantage point was a footbridge over the river that is part of a trail in the park.

The view is quite open, but the downside to photographing from the bridge is that when joggers come past the bridge shakes. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case when Amtrak time came.

The first train was the Chicago-bound No. 353, scheduled into Ann Arbor at 12:15 p.m. Despite it being a Sunday of a holiday travel period, No. 353 arrived on time.

Less than an hour later came Pontiac-bound No. 350 from Chicago, which arrived a little early.

It was the first time I’ve heard Amtrak Julie proclaim that a train was expected to arrive ahead of its 1:05 p.m. scheduled arrival time.

For this train I moved down the bridge a little bit and zoomed in closer to the lead locomotive.

Wolverine Service trains operate with a single locomotive and feature a mixture of Amfleet and Horizon equipment.

This location is easily accessible. There is a parking lot off West Huron River Drive just beyond Bird Road. Follow the walking trail from the parking lot into the woods and you’ll come to the footbridge over the river.

Heritage coaches mingle with Amfleet equipment on No. 353.

The power house for the Barton Dam is visible behind the cafe car on No. 353.

Zooming in on the head end of eastbound No. 350.

Horizon Fleet cars tend to dominate the consists of Midwest corridor trains, including those in the Chicago-Detroit corridor.

 

 

Extra Helping of Thanksgiving Trains in Michigan

November 28, 2017

Amtrak in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Transportation operated 10 extra trains to handle Thanksgiving travelers this year.

That included an extra section of the Pere Marquette that ran on two days between Chicago and Holland, and an extra section of the Wolverine Service that operated on three days between Chicago and Ann Arbor.

I ventured up to Ann Arbor for the opportunity to catch three Amtrak trains in a single day during daylight hours.

Shown is eastbound No. 356, the extra section of the Wolverine, crossing the Huron River in Barton Park on the northwest side of Ann Arbor.

In the top photo, the head end of the train is crossing the river. In the middle is part of the consist, which was a mixture of Amfleet and Horizon equipment.

In the bottom photograph, P42DC No. 33 brings up the rear. Unlike the regularly scheduled Wolverines that operate between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac), the Wolverine Extras operated with locomotives on each end due to the lack of turning facilities in Ann Arbor and a turnaround time of 51 minutes.

No. 356 arrived into Ann Arbor about 12 minutes late on the day that I saw it.

Fuller Park Favored for New Ann Arbor Station

September 19, 2017

A draft environmental assessment favors placing the new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor in Fuller Park.

The long-awaited 212-page report was released on Monday after the Federal Railroad Administration gave the go ahead to do so.

Public comments are being accepted through Nov. 2 and opposition is expected given that many in Ann Arbor have already spoken against using a city park for a new train station.

The city also considered sites along Depot Street, where the existing Amtrak station is located.

Ann Arbor officials have long favored the Fuller Park site in front of the University of Michigan Hospital.

The new station would be elevated over the tracks in order to connect with a city-owned parking lot leased to the University of Michigan.

Development of the station is projected to occur in two stages. Phase I includes:

  • Construct station above the tracks
  • Construct five-level intermodal operations and parking structure to accommodate transit operations, 435 long-term parking spaces, 50 short-term parking spaces, 150 parks user parking spaces and motorcycle parking, bicycle parking, shared bicycle service and bicycle room in parking structure
  • Construct vertical circulation element on north side of the tracks
  • Construct platform on the north side of the tracks with two warming shelters and 650 feet of canopy
  • Construct new 250-foot, eastbound, right-turn lane at the Fuller Road/West Site driveway intersection
  • Construct new 250-foot, eastbound, right-turn lane at the Fuller Road/East Site driveway intersection
  • Relocate and reconstruct the Fuller Road crossovers, including 250 foot, left-turn bays at each crossover
  • Construct four bus bays

Phase II includes:

  • Construct additional parking structure levels to accommodate 870 total long-term parking spaces, 50 short-term spaces, 150 parks user parking spaces
  • Construct five additional bus bays to equal nine bus bays

If a commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit is implemented, the station project would also include:

  • Construct second 800-foot platform on south side of the tracks with two warming shelters and 650 feet of canopy
  • Construct vertical circulation elements (elevators and stairs for pedestrians) on south side of the tracks
  • Construct an additional 250 spaces (1,320 total)

The environmental assessment noted that the Fuller Road site can be developed on property owned by the city and the Michigan Department of Transportation, thereby eliminating the need to acquire additional property.

However, the station will require the use of 3.2 acres of Fuller Park, which in turn must be approved by Ann Arbor’s Park Advisory Commission and City Council approval.

Another factor weighing in favor of the Fuller Park site was lower costs, which were estimated at $81 million. Development of a station along Depot Street would cost between $94 million to $98 million.

Ticket Agent Hours Cut in Jackson

September 19, 2017

Amtrak has reduced ticket agent service in Jackson, Michigan.

The changes, which became effective on Aug. 29, means the ticket office will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Amtrak has hired a caretaker to open and close the station on those days. Ticket office hours on other days of the week will be 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that Tuesday and Wednesday are typically the lowest travel days in the Midwest.

He also said that many Amtrak passengers are printing their tickets at home or having them scanned on their smart phones aboard the train.

“Overwhelmingly, our passengers choose electronic ticketing,” Magliari said. “Most people are using the eTicketing and a lot of people are doing it without talking to a human.”

Magliari also quipped that “the days of people pushing coins and folded dollars across the counter to a ticket agent with a big stamping machine are pretty well gone. It’s all through automated systems.”

Jackson lacks any Quik-Trak Self-Service Ticketing Kiosks and Magliari said those are being phased out anyway.

At the present time, Amtrak has no plans to remove its ticket agent from Jackson, Magliari said.

Jackson is served by six Wolverine Service trains a day between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

Troy Station Battle Comes to Quiet End

August 31, 2017

A dispute that lasted for 20 years over building an Amtrak station in Troy, Michigan, came to an end recently with the city council formally accepting the final $1.7 million in federal funding for the Troy Multi-Modal Transit Center.

The money was used to finish paying for a transit center that is used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) and local buses.

Troy, a suburb of Detroit, is known for its conservatism and many fights took place in city council chambers over whether to accept federal funding for mass transit.

The struggle also included a lawsuit over who owned the land beneath the transit center.

The city contended that it did, but shopping center developer Gary Sakwa disputed that and filed suit.

It was eventually settled with Troy paying Skawa $4.2 million to get clear title to the property.

At one time Troy and the neighboring city of Birmingham made plans to create a joint station for Amtrak and transit on their city borders. But Birmingham backed out of the plan and Troy went it alone.

Megan Owens, the executive director of Transportation Riders United in Detroit said transit has never been an easy issue in metro Detroit.

“But I think it’s gotten easier,” she said about the long fight over the Troy station.

Some critics of the station remain convinced it was not worth its $12 million cost.

One of them is the former mayor of Troy, Janice Daniels, who fought against it and ended up being recalled amid the dispute.

Daniels said it angered her that promoters of the center said it wouldn’t cost the city anything.

Troy end up paying $1.8 million, although those funds came from cash left over from federal reimbursement of road projects.

Last year Amtrak handled 23,714 passengers in Troy, a 9 percent drop from 2015.

However, some believe that with plans in the works to increase the speed of Wolverine Service trains to 110 mph in some places that ridership will grow.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said 80 miles of the Chicago-Detroit route is good for that top speed with another 25 miles slated to become high-speed in the coming months.

Amtrak to Put More Chargers into Service

August 29, 2017

Amtrak will soon place into service its new Charger locomotives on three other Midwest corridor routes, including one serving Michigan.

The Siemens-built AC-44 locomotives have already entered revenue service on the Hiawatha Service route between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Amtrak officials said the units are expected to enter service this week on Chicago-Quincy, Illinois, trains.

In the near future, will be assigned to Chicago-Carbondale, Illlinois, service and to the Pere Marquette to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The new locomotives are being withheld from Chicago-St. Louis trains, and the Blue Water and Wolverine Service routes pending testing of Wabtec’s I-ETMS positive train control system and the two versions of Incremental Train Control installed on the routes of those trains.

“These are new installations, it’s a different locomotive, and the systems have to be merged and integrated with the Siemens software, so we will continue to run 110-mph between Porter and Kalamazoo with the existing P42 locomotives until testing is completed,” said Tim Hoeffner, director of Michigan’s rail office.

A similar situation exists in Illinois on Union Pacific track in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor. A 110-mph section between Dwight and Pontiac is reverting to 79 mph until the new system is in place.

The maximum speed of Lincoln Service trains will increase to 90 mph after track and signal work is completed.

Once the Federal Railroad Administration certifies that the positive train control system on the route is reliable, then top speeds will rise to 110 mph.

Amtrak superintendent of locomotives Mike Yates said that 12 of the 33 Chargers that were ordered are now on Amtrak property and 10 are ready to be put into revenue service.

Amtrak Offering $5 Tickets to Detroit

August 4, 2017

Amtrak is offering $5 tickets for travel to Detroit through Sept. 4. The fares are good for travel originating on the Wolverine Service route at Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Pontiac, Royal Oak and Troy.

Once in Detroit, passengers can ride the new QLine, a streetcar route that is offering free rides through Labor Day.

The 3.3-mile route on Woodward Avenue features 12 stops, including Comerica Park, the Fox Theatre and Midtown.

QLine streetcars operate Monday through Saturday between 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.