Hotline 782--October 26, 2012

Updated: October 31, 2012

Thanksgiving is historically Amtrak’s busiest travel week of the year, and in preparation for the surge in ridership, the railroad announced last week that it will be adding more trains between Chicago and Michigan.

Last year, Amtrak carried more than 724,000 passengers over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Amtrak is encouraging passengers to plan ahead and purchase tickets now, as the busiest travel days—the Tuesday and Wednesday before and the Saturday and Sunday following Thanksgiving—sell out quickly. 

For Thanksgiving-week “Wolverine Extras” will run as follows, making the usual intermediate stops:

* on Wed., Fri., Sat., and Sun., there will be a Chicago-Ann Arbor round-trip—leave Chicago at 9:20 AM, with the return trip leaving Ann Arbor at 4:05 PM 

* a Chicago-Kalamazoo round-trip will depart Chicago at 10 PM Wed.-through-Sun. with its westbound counterpart leaving Kalamazoo at 6:15 AM Thurs.-through-Mon.

These trains are in addition to the normal, three daily Chicago-Detroit-Pontiac round-trips and the Chicago-Kalamazoo-Port Huron Blue Water.

You can find the schedule 
on Amtrak’s website.

Following a green light from City of Burbank officials, crews began work on a $3.2 million grade crossing upgrade that will improve safety and reliability for train passengers and drivers and reduce congestion for the community.

The rail crossing near the intersection of Buena Vista and Vanowen street is near the Bob Hope Airport Metrolink-Amtrak station between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and it sees about 40 trains per day.  This project will install a new rail crossing gate and signal system, add lanes and traffic signs to prevent drivers from mistaking the rail bed for a roadway, and add improved train detection systems.  At-grade crossings continue to be one of the most dangerous parts of rail travel.

“We’ve had enough close calls where we were interested in making sure it was safer than it is now,” Assistant Public Works Director Ken Johnson told the Burbank Leader. “We’ve been waiting a long time to construct this stuff.”

The work is scheduled to be completed within six months.

Amtrak has named Michael J. DeCataldo, Jr. as the new general manager of Northeast Corridor (NEC) Services.  The announcement came in an October 16 news release.

The general manager of NEC Services is a newly created position at Amtrak, and DeCataldo’s duties will focus on safety, customer satisfaction, ridership, on-time performance, and financial results for the Northeast Corridor business line.

“Mike knows the railroad and has the leadership skills, experience and vision for this job,” said Amtrak’s Vice President of Operations, D.J. Stadtler.  “He understands Amtrak’s business strategy and our Strategic Plan. His task is to put the plan into action within our highly complex operation.”
Before his promotion, Mr. DeCataldo served as Amtrak’s general superintendent for the Northeast Division.

A national railroad holding company and an upstate New York tourist railroad have reached a Memorandum of Understanding that both hope will result in a high-end sleeping car train service between New York City and Lake Placid in the Adirondack Mountain Preserve.

The Adirondack Rail Preservation Society (ARPS), operator of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad (ASRR), has agreed with Chicago-based Iowa Pacific Holdings, whose founder and president is former senior Amtrak official Ed Ellis. The 135-mile ASRR line goes from Utica, NY (where it connects with the CSX main line used by Amtrak Empire Service and Lake Shore Limited trains) north and east to Lake Placid, though a central section is currently out of service. The Utica-Remsen section is owned by a short-line freight railroad and the rest is state-owned. Iowa Pacific owns and operates the Saratoga and North Creek Railroad, also in the Adirondacks, as well as other short passenger and freight railroads in the US and other countries, and expects to soon begin operating a luxury Pullman Sleeping Car service between Chicago and New Orleans, consisting of private cars behind Amtrak’s City of New Orleans.

Iowa Pacific has a fleet of over 70 historic sleeping, dining and observation cars from the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s that are in various states of repair. The company aims to use this fleet for the new service, which will provide New Yorkers with a luxury weekend excursion to the resorts of Lake Placid. Still to be determined is whether the cars will be attached to an Amtrak train between New York and Utica, or if they will run as a separate train all the way to Lake Placid.

The Memorandum of Understanding also states that, “the Adirondack railroad offers numerous opportunities for rail service development in the future in addition to the Lake Placid-New York City operation, including other expanded tourism rail operations along its length, rail access to trailheads and waterways, and future freight potential. [Iowa Pacific and ARPS] therefore also commit to the joint identification and shared exploration of these and all other forms of rail activity which appear achievable as a part of the future of this singular and irreplaceable infrastructure."

The Turkish state railway TCDD announced this week that it will become part of the Eurail pass program, adding it to the list of 24 European countries connected by the Eurail Global service.

Turkey is becoming part of the Eurail Global and Select programs starting January 1, 2013.  The Eurail Global Pass is a pass that allows passengers to hop on and off trains in any of the 24 participating countries, and is good for anywhere from 10 days to three months.  The Eurail Select Pass allows passengers to choose from three, four or five bordering countries for five to 15 travel days.

Turkey will join the program as France’s SNCF train network withdraws from the Select Pass program.

“Even though SNCF will no longer participate in the Eurail Select Pass product, pass holders will still be able to reach Spain and Portugal by ferry via Italy, receiving a 20 percent discount from Grimaldi Lines,” said marketing director of Eurail Group Ana Dias e Seixas.

From the NARP Blog
On Tuesday, NARP’s Malcolm Kenton investigated the ways airlines have been utilizing a loophole involved in the ways fees are taxed to maximize their profits, increasing the existing government subsidy for airlines:

Experienced passenger train advocates are already familiar with the ways in which both federal and state governments subsidize air travel. But as the Washington Post revealed on Friday, airlines’ increasing reliance on charging fees for things like checked baggage, instead of raising ticket fares, to keep up with the rising cost of jet fuel, means that federal taxpayers are being asked to pitch in even more to keep the aviation system running.


While Congress has become accustomed to using general tax revenues to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent while refusing to raise the gasoline tax, even to keep up with inflation, airlines’ practice of shifting some of their revenues from fares to fees, which are not taxed, means an increase in the extent the general fund is being tapped to fund the FAA as well.

[Read the entire piece here]

According to a 'Special Employee Advisory' from Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman released earlier this morning:

Passenger revenue covered more than 79 percent of our operating expenses. Another 6 percent was covered by the money we made from real estate and other commercial activities.

Additionally, our operating subsidy requirement over this last fiscal year was 38 percent less than in 2004 as measured in actual dollars expended, and almost 49 percent less when accounting for inflation.

Amtrak’s eastbound Wolverine train derailed on Sunday between Chicago and Pontiac, outside of Niles, Michigan.  The rail cars remained upright, and only seven of the 174 total passengers were sent to the hospital with minor injuries.  Two crewmembers were also hospitalized with minor injuries.  A federal investigation into the derailment is ongoing.

The derailment happened at 10:10 AM on Sunday, October 21, roughly two miles east of Niles.  Initial reports indicate that Train 350 was on the wrong track as a result of a reversed switch that erroneously directed the train into a railyard.  The train was operating under a green signal and was traveling at around 60 mph when it hit the misaligned switch.  The Amtrak conductor was thrown to the ground as a result of the impact, but managed to engage the emergency brake.

“[T]he train started to sway and then things started flying,” passenger Miriam Baker told the Chicago Tribune. “This was my first train ride and it started out good. It was a very nice ride with very pretty colors. Then all hell broke loose.”

A derailing device installed to prevent errant cars from accessing the yard may have prevented a more serious collision; Train 350 derailed after it hit the derailing device, but stopped 21 feet before it would’ve hit empty ballast hopper cars being stored in the yard. 

The derailment is particularly worrying given that the train was equipped with Amtrak’s Incremental Train Control System, designed to detect the sorts of problems that sent the train onto the wrong track.  The National Transportation Safety Board representatives cautioned that the investigation into the incident could take months to complete.

The remaining Train 350 passengers were carried to their final destination by charter bus, and Amtrak had operations on the Wolverine line back to normal by Monday morning.