Posts Tagged ‘Private passenger cars’

Private Car Owner Defends Amtrak Policy Changes

April 18, 2018

In the wake of recent Amtrak policy changes that all but banned special and charter movements and a policy review pertaining to the carriage of private rail cars, reports have surfaced that bad behavior by private rail car owners is one underlying issue motivating Amtrak.

Now a private car owner has come forward to contend that there is some truth to those reports.

Bennett Levin, who owns former Pennsylvania Railroad office car No. 120 and two E8A locomotives painted in a PRR livery, told Trains magazine that the trade groups representing the interests of private rail car owners and operators have failed to address that.

“Things have spiraled out of control. Neither of the private varnish organizations have taken positive steps to address these issues, so now Amtrak has said, ‘Enough,’ ” Levin said. “What Amtrak has done is not draconian. It is prudent.”

Saying the issue of safety is paramount, Levin accused the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners and the Rail Passenger Car Alliance of doing a poor job of self-policing their members and instilling a culture of safety first.

That brought a retort from both groups, which issued a joint statement denying the assertions.

RPCA President W. Roger Fuehring, and AAPRCO President Robert G. Donnelley said their groups each have safety committees that have provided safety manuals to members.

Furthermore, there have been no incidents or accidents that have been reportable to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The two group presidents noted that they have denied membership to car owners who have a poor safety record and that not all private car owners are members of AAPRCO or RPCA.

“Both organizations have investigated and taken action on the occasional violations of our membership,” the statement said.

The groups also took issue with Levin’s call for rail car owners and railfans to curtail contacting elected officials to urge them to take action in response to the Amtrak policy changes.

Levin argued in a letter to the National Railway Historical Society that such lobbying may do more harm than good.

“I would urge everyone who claims to have an interest in this matter, from those who own the equipment to those who stand trackside and record its passing for history, to use reason and restraint, and not add fuel to an already raging fire being fed by ineptness, poor judgment, and short sightedness,” Levin wrote in the letter addressed to NRHS President Al Weber.

Levin told Trains that the reaction of rail car owners and railfans is ill-timed and nearing “hysteria.”

In their joint statement, the presidents of AAPRCO and RPCA said the lobbying has been in response to a policy change that caught many by surprise, particularly in its severity.

“[I]t is not surprising that some tourist railroad organizations, charterers, private car owners, and car owner associations have sought help from their legislators in view of the fact that Amtrak is a government approved monopoly receiving aid from the legislature,” the statement said.

“Despite the extreme hardship that the policy entailed, we continue to respect and understand that, with new leadership, Amtrak is analyzing and reviewing all aspects of train operations. In light of the most recent developments, we have asked formally to meet with Amtrak’s President and CEO, Richard Anderson, in order to see how we can be better partners and support Amtrak where it would be beneficial to both parties.”

The two groups have made suggestions to Amtrak as to how to streamline the process of adding and removing private cars from Amtrak trains, particularly at intermediate stations.

Amtrak’s policy toward special movements and charters allows for exceptions in narrowly defined circumstances.

An Amtrak representative told Trains that the carrier’s policy in regards to hauling private cars continues to evolve and should be announced in the near future.

However, in its communications with rail cars owners, Amtrak has signaled that it wants to restrict the number of trains and routes that carry private cars and limit carriage on others to certain days of the week.

Amtrak also has indicated that it wants to primarily move cars from endpoint to endpoint and avoid adding and removing cars at intermediate stations with scheduled dwell times of less than 30 minutes.

For his part, Levin believes the policy changes pertaining to private cars and special movements is “a matter to be thoroughly considered in the context of the railroad’s regular operations.”

Levin said he fears that Congressional intervention may result in “something far worse than a decrease in the frequency of private passenger car trips on the national rail network.”

In their statement, AAPRCO and RPCA cited some of the hardships that private car owners have endured.

This has included cars stored in formerly permitted locations being “frozen in place” and cars already en route being forced to change their schedules at significantly higher costs.

“Cars on the California Zephyr, for example, were not allowed to transfer to the Coast Starlight and were forced to return to Chicago,” the statement said.

Because the Amtrak policy change in regards to special moves was effective immediately, the groups said this resulted in major costs of disruption.

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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.”

They Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling. Well, Maybe Not

March 31, 2018

The sky is falling, the sky is falling.

Or so some railroad enthusiasts would have you believe in the wake of a report that Amtrak has decided to ban charters and special moves.

The policy change was announced by Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson in a memo to employees that was leaked to Trains magazine and also posted on railfan chat lists.

In tandem with that, owners of private passenger cars are reporting that Amtrak has been rejecting many requests to move passenger cars.

This particularly has affected car owners who store their cars in the middle of a route because Amtrak has decreed that it will not accept a private car at a station in which the scheduled dwell time is less than 30 minutes.

The implications of this policy change are, indeed, ominous.

It means that such longstanding traditions as the fall New River Train in West Virginia will end.

It means no more Amtrak fall foliage, railfan or rare mileage specials.

It means mainline steam moves are in jeopardy because they operate in cooperation with Amtrak and its liability insurance and use private passenger cars ferried by Amtrak.

It means private car owners who have sunk thousands of dollars into making and/or keeping their cars Amtrak compatible have few, if any, options to run their cars. Seeing a private passenger car or two on the back of an Amtrak train will become an even rarer sight.

Two groups representing private car owners, the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, and the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance have urged their members to contact public officials and opinion leaders to protest the policy change.

It is unclear how much effect that lobbying will have. Owning and operating a private railroad car is a rich man’s game.

Because they tend to be affluent, private car owners might have better political connections than the typical railroad enthusiast or passenger train advocate.

But it is unlikely that public officials will view the Amtrak policy change as a pressing matter of public interest.

Some might see it as rich boys throwing a tantrum because they can’t play with their toys.

Some passenger advocates have applauded Amtrak, which has sought to frame the change as an effort to improve the on-time performance of its trains.

Anderson’s memo referenced trains being delayed due to switching cars and described special moves as a distraction.

He also suggested that specials and hauling private cars hasn’t been all that profitable, but the memo was clumsily worded on this point.

When he wrote that the moves “failed to capture fully allocated profitable margins,” I wonder if he really meant “failed to cover their fully allocated costs.”

The latter was a term railroads used a lot in the 1960s when they wanted to discontinue passenger trains. Using that standard could make a train appear to be losing far more money than the “above the rail” standard which meant that a train earned enough revenue to cover its direct costs.

Some of what Anderson said in his memo few people would dispute. Who would be opposed to Amtrak running on time, operating safely, having clean passenger cars, providing friendly service and offering “great customer-facing technology?” Anderson would have you believe that running special trains are hindering Amtrak’s efforts to do those things.

There is likely more behind this policy change even if Anderson’s memo hints at what that might be when it speaks of focusing on Amtrak’s core mission.

Amid all of the chaff that I read on railfan chat list about the policy change was a thoughtful observation by someone who has seen Anderson use this playbook before.

The poster contended that when Anderson was CEO of Northwest Airlines, it was struggling financially and he discontinued most of the charter flights.

Northwest was devoting seven aircraft to this service, which accommodated professional sports teams among others. Anderson apparently feared that the liability if one of those charters had a catastrophe might wreck the airline.

But the move didn’t turn out to be permanent. After Anderson felt he had sufficiently turned things around the charters returned.

Northwest was later acquired by Delta Air Line, which Anderson also headed. Today Delta is one of the most prominent operators of charter flights for professional sports teams.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, are a regular customer as are many NBA teams.

So the Amtrak policy change might not be permanent, although you never know. One of the first moves that former Amtrak president David Gunn made after taking office was to get the passenger carrier out of the business of hauling mail and express.

Gunn used some of the same arguments that Anderson made to justify banning special moves and charters.

That was more than a decade ago and Amtrak trains still don’t carry any mail. It sold its fleet of express cars.

Anderson may have philosophical reasons for banning special move, believing that Amtrak needs to do more to focus on its core mission.

Yet it is not clear if ending special moves was even his idea. He might have heard from field-level supervisors who have always disliked having to do something that is a non-standard operation.

And Anderson must answer to a board of directors and we don’t know what “direction” they have given him.

There is some thought that Class 1 railroads will follow Amtrak’s lead and impose even more stringent standards on the movement of passenger cars and passenger trains.

We’ve seen how the Wheeling & Lake Erie has banned all excursion trains and with a few limited exceptions won’t move passenger cars in ferry moves.

But I’m reminded of something that W&LE chief Larry Parsons said when I interviewed him for an article I did several years ago for Trains magazine.

The Wheeling had just lost some iron ore traffic and in asking him about it I used the word “forever” as in the business was lost forever.

Parsons responded that “forever is a very long time.”

Management changes and so do situations. People change their minds about how they view things. Some have described the Amtrak policy change as a work in progress and we haven’t heard the last word on the new policy.

Anderson’s memo left an opening for some special moves if they meet the railroad’s strategic goals. Those can be defined broadly or defined narrowly.

We are entering an era in which special moves and mainline steam will be rarer than they are now. But not necessarily nonexistent. Forever is, after all, a very long time.

Amtrak to Halt Charter, Special Trains

March 29, 2018

Amtrak has apparently decided not to agree to operate special trains and certain private varnish movement.

Trains magazine reported on Wednesday that it has obtained a copy of a memorandum sent to Amtrak employees outline the policy change.

“Generally, Amtrak will no longer operate charter services or special trains. These operations caused significant operational distraction, failed to capture fully allocated profitable margins and sometimes delayed our paying customers on our scheduled trains,” the memo read in part.

“There may be a few narrow exceptions to this policy in order to support specific strategic initiatives, for example trial service in support of growing new scheduled service. Otherwise, one-time trips and charters are immediately discontinued.”

Many questions remain as to the scope of the policy, but the magazine said that some private car operators already have had their move requests denied.

Among them is the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society in Huntington, West Virginia, which was told that Amtrak would not longer allow the society’s passenger cars to be attached or detached in Huntington on the tri-weekly Cardinal, effective at the end of April.

“We are trying to better understand if Amtrak will allow the cars to be moved at beginning or end points,” Assistant General Manager Joe Rosenthal told the magazine.

The Huntington group is unsure if it will be allowed to move its cars on any Amtrak train even if they are moved to Chicago or Washington.

Rosenthal said the policy change apparently also spells the end of the 51-year tradition of operating the New River Train.

“West Virginia will be losing a huge economic impact and it’ll be particularly devastating to the cities of Huntington and Hinton,” he said.

The New River Train typically operated on the third and fourth weekends of October from Huntington to Hinton, West Virginia, and in recent years has used Amtrak locomotives and crews.

The New River excursions typically carry 5,000 riders annually and are the largest mainline excursion trains in the United States.

Plans Set for Annual New River Train

August 10, 2017

Plans have been announced for the annual New River Train, which will roll on Oct. 21, 22, 28, and 29 between Huntington, West Virginia, and Hinton, West Virginia, through the New River Gorge.

New this year will be a consist of all heritage cars from private owners.

Gone are the Amtrak Amfleet and Horizon  coaches that have characterized the makeup of past trains.

All of the 30 cars on the New River Train will come from private owners. Three Amtrak P42DC locomotives will pull the train.

Some of the passenger cars expected to be in the consist include California Zephyr vista-dome car Silver Solarium, Pullman-built Milwaukee Road Super Dome, Budd-built full-length dome car Summit View, the Overland Trail, a former Southern Pacific barber shop car, and Great Northern full-length dome car Prairie View.

Other cars will include lounge and passenger cars built for the New York Central, Pennsylvania Railroad, Baltimore & Ohio and Central of Georgia Railway

Sponsored by the the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, the 51st running of the New River Train will travel CSX’s Kanawha and New River subdivisions, both of which are former Chesapeake & Ohio.

The train has a capacity of 1,200 passengers per day and usually sells out by early September. Some heritage coach tickets remain at $179 per person.

Amtrak Running Super Late Again

July 15, 2017

The past two Sundays have seen some extraordinary late running for Amtrak trains serving Northeast Ohio.

Now we can add today (Saturday, July 15) to that list. As this is written around 6: 30 a.m., the westbound Capitol Limited is still not in Pittsburgh. Amtrak’s website estimates it will arrive in Cleveland at 9:34 a.m., which is 6 hours and 41 minutes late.

An online report said the train left Washington late due to malfunctioning air conditioning in two cars.

Amtrak also reports that the westbound Cardinal is running 6 hours, 15 minutes late today.

The reasons for the last running the past two weekends have varied.

On July 2, flooding in New York State and Norfolk Southern track work in Ohio combined to force the westbound Lake Shore Limited to run more than five hours late and take a detour via Bellevue that added even more lateness as well as rare mileage for the train’s passengers.

On July 9 the westbound Capitol Limited suffered a locomotive failure in Pennsylvania that forced it to rely on freight units from its host railroads.

No. 29 became an afternoon train in Ohio rather than a middle of the night one.

Will this Sunday bring another catastrophic bout of late running? Probably not, but for those who missed the daylight westbound Capitol Limited, here is a look back at it passing through Elyria.

Looks like the AC might have failed on the NS unit given that it has an open nose door. On the rear was a string of private passenger cars.

Photographs by Roger Durfee

Excursions to Raise Money for Restoration

March 14, 2017

The American Steam Railroad Preservation Association has announced plans to operate two special passenger excursions to raise money for the restoration of Reading T-1 4-8-4 No. 2100.

Both trips will feature private cars attached to scheduled Amtrak trains. The excursions are being coordinated by Luxury Rail Travel of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

One trip will operate July 27-30 on the Adirondack between New York and Montreal.

The second trip will operate in November on the Pennsylvanian between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The private cars expected to be used include a 1952 Budd observation-lounge, Alexander Hamilton, a former Pennsylvania Railroad car; and Passaic River, a 1948 Budd-built buffet-once owned by the Santa Fe. Both cars are now owned by the Morristown & Erie Railroad.

Private Car Charter to Pass Through Cleveland

September 16, 2014

A charter train of privately owned passenger cars will pass through Cleveland on Sept. 18-19 en route to a convention in Maine of private car owners.

The Pine Tree Limited, will depart Chicago Union Station on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 18, and spend the night in Cleveland at an undisclosed location.

The train will depart the next morning for its next stopover point in Binghamton, N.Y.

The train was chartered by the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners and will be operated by Amtrak in cooperation with Norfolk Southern.

The train was originally scheduled to travel between Chicago and Cleveland via the former Nickel Plate Road mainline, but that has been changed to the Amtrak route via Toledo over the NS Chicago Line.

AAPRCO trains are known for taking routes that offer passengers “rare mileage” over freight-only rail lines.

The train will eventually reach Portland, Maine, on Sept. 21. Many of the cars will return to Chicago on Sept. 25-26, traveling in part on the route of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited.

The APPRCO convention will be held Sept. 21-25.

All passengers riding the special train must be members of AAPRCO or the guest of an AAPRCO member. Passengers and guests do not have to register for the convention to ride all of a portion of the trip.

Some owners of the cars that will make up the Pine Tree Limited are selling space to the public. Some of these cars will originate at distant points and travel to Chicago via Amtrak.

For example, car Vista Canyon was to depart Tucson, Ariz., on Sept. 11 on the Sunset Limited en route to Los Angeles where it would connect with the Southwest Chief for the trip to Chicago. It will return on Amtrak via New Orleans.

The fare to ride the Vista Canyon for its entire journey is $8,750, based on double occupancy.

The Los Angeles Railroad Club will offer three cars on the AAPRCO special. The fare aboard the Pacific Sands and Tioga Pass is $6,750 per person and space in both cars is already sold out.

The club will offer a third car, Salisbury Beach, at a fare of $5,350 per person. In early September, this car still had a few rooms available.

Closer to home, the Cincinnati Railway Company will operate three cars that were to originate in Cincinnati on Sunday, Sept. 14, traveling to Chicago via Amtrak’s Cardinal.

The Oliver Hazard Perry is being sold as a unit, not by individual rooms as is typically the case with private cars on special trains. The price for the car is $38,500.

The Cincinnati group also plans to take the Birch Grove and The Observatory to Maine.

Rooms in the Birch Grove were listed at $22,000 for a quad suite of two rooms en suite, $12,000 for a double bedroom and $6,000 for a roomette.

The Observatory was priced at $12,750 for a master bedroom and $12,500 for a double bedroom.

Two things are obvious in this cursory review. Its helps to be wealthy if you want to ride this train and you need to have a lot of free time.

Yet a friend of mine who is an avid rare mileage collector – and who will not be riding the Pine Tree Limited – once told me that some ordinary middle class individuals scrimp and save their money during the year to purchase a room aboard a private car for one of the APPRCO specials.

Aside from some rare mileage, those who ride these specials enjoy an experience that you just can’t get on Amtrak, even in the most pricey sleeper accommodations.

Many of these private cars carry their own chefs and have very attractive interiors. Most of the cars were built in the streamliner era. We’re not talking Amfleet or Superliner equipment.

For the rest of us, it is an opportunity to see an unusual train as well as to ponder what it must be like to ride like a railroad tycoon.

Article by Craig Sanders

Pennsy E units Visit Ohio, Again

August 8, 2011

The private car chrater "Pacific Express" rounds the curve at Hubbard, Ohio, and passes a former Conrail caboose on Sunday, August 7, 2011.

Bennett Levin’s E8A locomotives made their second appearance in Ohio of 2011 on Sunday (August 7). The locomotives, adorned in a Pennsylvania Railroad livery, passed through Ohio en route to the National Train Day celebration in Chicago in May before returning to their Philadelphia area home.

On Sunday, the Pennsy E units were pulling the Pacific Express, a private car charter train that originated in Hoboken, New Jersey, on Friday and ended its journey in Philadelphia on Monday. The train traveled over a primarily former Erie Railroad routing until getting to Youngstown where it assumed a mostly all former PRR trek except for a stretch of former New York Central track on the Norfolk Southern  Youngstown Line.

Several Akron Railroad Club members were trackside to photograph the special train including Roger Durfee, Alan Savage, Richard Thompson, Cody Zamostny, John Puda, Peter Bowler and Craig Sanders.

To read an article written by Sanders and to view a gallery of photographs, click on the link below.

https://akronrrclub.wordpress.com/trackside-tales/pennsy-e-units-pass-through-youngstown/

Photographs by Craig Sanders

E8A Nos. 5711 and 5809 sparkle in the early afternoon sunlight at Lowellville, Ohio, on Norfolk Southern's Youngstown Line. This is former Pennsylvania Railroad trackage.