Category Archives: Amtrak

Empire Builder Advocates posts new website

Passenger Train Advocates:

I’m pleased to announce the creation of a website devoted to the Empire Builder: www.ebtrain.net
With all the chaos surrounding current Amtrak management, it probably couldn’t come at a more opportune time!

This will not be the same as a Facebook or Yahoogroups situation but rather a real interactive website covering all aspects of what makes the train tick. The primary focus, of course, must be advocacy, and there’s already a link to determine who the appropriate elected officials are that can be accessed through a zip code. Beyond that, however, there is a “station” section with a page for all 46 stations. The goal here will be to designate a representative (or representatives) for each community that will be granted administrative access to the site so that he/she/they can add content. Content will include local elected officials, as well as travel information such as hotels, transit, rental cars, and tourist attractions. The site will also feature updates about threats and opportunities to the train of which there are an extraordinary number right now.

If anyone has any ideas or could suggest a representative at any of the on-line cities, please let me know. We’re also looking for photos of each station and the Empire Builder all along the route. The photos are, more or less, window dressing, but that’s what is needed in today’s environment to capture attention, unfortunately. And, also we’re open to suggestions with regard to things to add to the site. Ideally, the site will be “all things Empire Builder” including a forum and historical information. Historical information is an important consideration with the Empire Builder, named for James J. Hill, whose railroad helped settle the American Northwest and was the primary driver in the creation of Glacier National Park. The legacy of the “Empire Builder” – both the person and the train – is a great reminder to Americans about the importance of railroads – and passenger trains – to the country even today.

This is site is being developed with the assistance of the Rail Passengers Association, a nationwide passenger train advocacy group.

–Mark Meyer
Co-Administrator

How we can really make a difference for the future of passenger rail

On this Independence Day, let’s make democracy work for the future of American passenger rail.

Please contact your elected officials–Senators, US Representatives, state legislators, and local leaders (find their contact information here)–and tell them that you want a strong, safe and reliable network of passenger trains that serve the entire country.

Specifically, ask them to make the following changes to the current laws governing passenger rail:

  • Repeal Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA). This is the provision that requires train routes less than 750 miles long to be paid for by the states.
  • Repeal the provisions that require Amtrak to break even on food and beverage service.
  • Require that Amtrak give two years’ notice before discontinuing train routes. If any route is discontinued, this would be the minimum time needed for a single state or group of states to put together funding to replace the service. And if local funding is found for such a service, require that local agencies be given the same access to the Class I freight infrastructure that Amtrak currently has.
  • Codify that the existing services are the minimum that Amtrak can provide in order to maintain a national passenger rail network.
  • Split Amtrak’s Federal appropriation into three parts: the national network, the regional corridors, and the Northeast Corridor. Specify that income from one part cannot be used to subsidize another part.
  • Require that Amtrak use transparent accounting.
  • If a route must be suspended due to acts of God (mudslides, tunnel collapses, etc.) Amtrak is required to make substantial steps to provide alternative transportation (paid for by the host railroad, if applicable). Amtrak is required to restart its service as soon as feasible and track conditions permit.
  • Encourage Amtrak to pursue income from ancillary services, such as carrying private passenger cars (PV).

Remember, it’s we the taxpayers, and our elected representatives, who make the decisions about the future of passenger rail. So contact your elected officials, and don’t forget to register to vote! The registration deadline is coming soon in many states.

Amtrak Plans to Kill SW Chief with Bustitution

From: George Chilson

The following just in: Amtrak’s PowerPoint pitch to the Congressional delegation from KS, CO and NM. Not pretty and reflects Amtrak’s lack of comprehension of the impact their proposed bustitution between Albuquerque and either La Junta (336 highway miles and 5:40 driving time) or Dodge City (512 highway miles and 8:25 driving time).

Also attached:

  • Matt Fels calculation of what would happen to revenue and volume if Amtrak only ran Chief only between Chicago-Kansas City and Albuquerque-LAX. I’m going to ask him to revise to include Dodge City or La Junta as possible end points so we’ll know how much revenue Amtrak puts in jeopardy because of its proposed bustitution.
  • Matt Fels graphic representation of passenger volumes between O&D for all LD trains. Format may be a bit difficult to understand at first but it shows volume (not revenue) for passengers traveling between end points; those traveling between one end point and an intermediate end point and those traveling between intermediate stations.

Additional points in rejoinder to Amtrak’s presentation:

  • “Loss” is a pejorative term that implies the goal is profit rather than what it is: “essential, fundamental, basic and often the only mobility choice.” Amtrak ranks the Chief as #14 (out of 15 routes) in terms of total “loss” of $56 M in FY 17.
  • Amtrak uses the red herring “Loss per rider” metric in a deliberate attempt to mislead, ranking the Chief as #13. This metric devalues people who take longer trips. Federal cost per passenger mile is a more neutral and accurate term. At 17.3 cents, the Chief ranks #5 out of 15. If Amtrak were honest, it would report total taxpayer cost instead of including state payments as revenue. By this statistic the Chief would rank #26 out of 49. Not bad for what Amtrak is trying to portray as a “loser.”
  • Amtrak also ignores an obvious fact (that they should know): that approximately $23 million of the $56 million it claims the Chief “loses” each year represent costs that are either fixed or shared with other routes that would not cease with the Chiefs elimination but be reallocated to other routes.

We’re in a fight to save the national system. Amtrak needs to relearn the lesson that its plan to kill the national network one route at a time will cause far more pain than it is worth.

George

Attachments:

Further comment 6/23/18:

This article is based on an Amtrak Power Point slide show presented to the Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico Congressional delegations. It showed Amtrak’s plan to replace through Chicago-Albuquerque-Los Angeles SOUTHWEST CHIEF train service with a stub train from Chicago to either Dodge City, KS or La Junta, CO; then a bus for up to 550 miles from Dodge City to Albuquerque; finally connecting to another stub train from Albuquerque to Los Angeles. As noted below the bus ride will probably mean sitting up overnight!

We have been lied to by Amtrak, which only last month promised the Rail Passengers Association (NARP) that it had no plans to cut any national network services. I am an RPA Vice Chair, although these views are my own. We have been played for suckers by the Anderson Amtrak management. But more importantly they’ve done the same to all their supporters in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, indeed throughout the West.

This is the test case for trying Amtrak in trying to create a kind of “Balkan Track”–a train here and train there–but all services isolated and of only local use. Since the Amtrak law requires full state support of all routes under 750 milers, it’s easy to understand that such a disconnected network will never survive. Even the Northeast Corridor would wither if Amtrak served only the east coast, a few local lines in the Midwest and California, Oregon and Washington. Such a “network” would serve less than half the states and would never win a funding vote in Congress.

And assurances for the continuation of trains like the EMPIRE BUILDER and the CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR can no longer be taken as true either. If the SOUTHWEST CHIEF has to go because of largely PTC (Positive Train Control) exempt track, the others will follow, as they all have this problem on at least a few route segments. Already reliable sources confirm that Amtrak has asked the Union Pacific for costs to reroute the CZ thru Wyoming west of Denver. This would eliminate the stunning crossing of the Colorado Rockies by day, which is the great draw of the route. Yet this reroute bypasses tracks that are legally PTC exempt, which means Amtrak is not prohibited from running there. This is the situation on the great majority of the SW CHIEF line as well.

The former Santa Fe RR mainline used by the SW CHIEF is already fully equipped with a superb “heritage” safety system, automatic train stop. Already this pre-World War II system will stop any train that passes a block signal in violation of a green light, or exceeds the speed limit. PTC is not required under Federal law over lines with fewer than six passenger trains per day and less than 50,000,000 tons of freight per year. This perfectly defines the SW CHIEF line. The Raton Pass route is legally PTC exempt except in the Rail Runner district, yet Amtrak is falsely blaming the absence of PTC for removing 550 miles of service from Dodge City to Albuquerque. The Rail Runner is moving to complete PTC and should get an extension to 2020, yet Amtrak disingenuously uses this as an excuse to end service!

The incredibly long SW CHIEF bus bridge will obviously not work and Amtrak knows that very well. If they run the stub trains on a daylight schedule, as they suggest in the slides shown to the Congressional delegation, then the bus bridge would be an overnight trip! And this is very likely, as they could then can diner and sleeper service on the line if the trains ran only by day/evening.

And the day trains would effectively connect to nothing. To get from Los Angeles to Albuquerque by day means leaving Los Angeles at six to seven AM at the latest, before any connections could arrive. Westbound arrivals would be after ten at night. The same would happen to a purported day train from Chicago to either Dodge City or La Junta. Indeed to La Junta all by day/evening from Chicago is impossible.

And why these points, rather than Lamy, if PTC is the issue? At most the bus bridge would only be needed from Lamy to Albuquerque if the Rail Runner’s extension is denied. Why does Amtrak want to subject its passengers to over eight hours on a bus when it could be only an hour? And Albuquerque itself falls in the “PTC not ready” zone, which actually extends from the junction with the new Santa Fe Rail Runner line, just west of Lamy to Isleta, New Mexico, well west of Albuquerque. If they can get into Albuquerque from Los Angeles why not from Lamy?

We need to go beyond mere opposition to calling out the dishonesty underlying Amtrak’s double cross on the Tiger Grant, their misrepresentations to their users of their plans and the impossibility of the so-called substitute plan of working as purported.

A real truth is in the last slide in the Amtrak Congressional presentation. This is really an attempt to cost shift. Amtrak claims to favor new trains in Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma in lieu of the SW CHIEF. But it knows perfectly well these trains will never run.

Services like the suggested “Front Range Corridor” from Cheyenne to Pueblo Corridor would require 100% state support, as would a new Chicago to KC mini Corridor. More improbably these new services would require multi-state compacts. This simply will not happen. Just yesterday the long planned New Orleans-Mobile service restoration collapsed when Mississippi and Alabama refused to contribute to the costs. Amtrak knows this, but as throughout this process fails to mention that in its disgraceful slide show on its plans to “restructure” the SW CHIEF and transfer as much as possible of its costs to the states.

If the SWC dies it will not be replaced, rather neglect of maintenance La Junta to ABQ will guarantee it won’t return even after the Rail Runner gets its PTC going. I applaud the opposition by the Congressional members in both houses and on both sides of the aisle. If Amtrak pulls this off it will die, as it will never win a national appropriation without a national network. This can not be allowed to happen. The SW CHIEF is the 5th most heavily used train in the United States. This travesty of a plan will devastate ridership, as Amtrak very well knows.

–Carl Fowler

Shrink Trains? No!

The current Amtrak management seems to be moving toward shrinking or eliminating the national network, despite being given increased funding.

  • Amtrak has bought out the contracts of many of their senior people, thus losing much knowledge about how to successfully run a passenger railroad.
  • Amtrak is using safety concerns as a cover for reducing service on the national network.
  • Amtrak is proposing replacing long-distance services with shorter routes that the states would be required to pay for.
  • Amtrak is reducing passenger amenities to the point that they’re driving high-end passengers away.
  • Amtrak is ending discounts for students and other groups.
  • Amtrak is reducing or eliminating staffing at many stations.
  • Amtrak is discontinuing significant revenue sources like carrying private cars.

EDIT: Malcolm Kenton has expanded this list in his post at Trains Magazine.

Amtrak management may have been directed to make such changes by certain voices on their board, in the US Department of Transportation, and in the White House. But you and I, as voters and taxpayers, are their bosses.

So what can we do?

  • Thank our US senators and congressmembers for their continued support of passenger rail.
  • Ask our elected representatives to communicate directly with Amtrak that they must continue to provide the long-distance services for which they are receiving public money.
  • Ask our state and local officials to communicate to Amtrak that it must continue to provide quality services that many states are paying for.
  • Ask our friends and family–especially our younger friends and family–to become members of the Rail Passengers Association and local rail advocacy organizations.
  • Participate in RPA’s upcoming Day on the Hill, where we can communicate our support for passenger rail directly to those who represent us.

Attempts to kill American passenger rail have happened many times before, and they have always been beaten back. We can defeat the train-killers again.

Photo courtesy walstib373. Used with permission. https://www.flickr.com/photos/walstib373/33837665434/

Trains don’t grow on trees

Every once in a while, someone will post that they’re tired of politics, and just want to talk about trains. But are these folks naive? Whether they like to ride trains, or watch them roll by, how do they expect service to survive without the hard work that’s done every day in Washington, DC, by organizations like the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and by state advocacy groups in state capitols and with local elected officials?

I think most of us would agree that the current political environment can be poisonous and hyper-partisan. But support for passenger rail service is still one of the few subjects that finds support on both sides of the aisle….if you and I keep telling our elected representatives that passenger rail is important.

Please join NARP for our annual “Day On the Hill” if you can make it to DC in a couple of weeks. And if you can’t, contact your elected representatives, and show them how passenger rail affects your community.

Working together, we can make sure that the “Train Tree” stays healthy and growing!

-CH

How can Amtrak improve accessibility?

Charlie Hamilton, NARP Council Rep. at Large (WA), is part of a team asking for input from us and others on the topic of Amtrak trains, stations, and passenger services being ADA compliant for those traveling passengers that may have limited mobility or other physical disabilities. These items can also include concerns that have been addressed through current ADA guidelines but which could be improved.

For example, Stephanie Weber, NARP Council Rep. (WA), offered the concern of passengers with impaired hearing having a difficult time understanding station announcements given by Amtrak employees. Also, there are stations that don’t have a visual train status information board for those to read that are unable to hear a PA system.

At your earliest convenience, if you have ADA topics relating to Amtrak trains, stations, and services offered that should be addressed, please contact us. Be specific so Charlie can accurately present your suggestions/concerns.  Should you have any questions, please contact Charlie Hamilton.

UPDATE: Thanks so much for everyone’s continued input. We are collecting comments here, and in a number of other locations:

Amtrak Unlimited
http://discuss.amtraktrains.com/index.php?/topic/69449-how-can-amtrak-improve-accessibility/

Amtrak Fans on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/groups/AmtrakFansGroup/permalink/697139910463687/

@AmtrakFansNews on Twitter

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Amtrak Riders on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/groups/AmtrakDeafHOH/permalink/388955888116149/

Vote for rail supporters at all levels

For now, seven races shift toward Democrats:

Florida’s 7th District (John L. Mica, R) from Tilts Republican to Tossup

Representative Mica (R-FL7) has been known for micro-managing Amtrak for several years, but he is now facing a real struggle in his bid for re-election.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers has a list of local transit measures on their website here, but they can’t endorse candidates because of their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. If anyone knows of candidates who are worthy of endorsement by passenger rail supporters, please post them here or on the Grow Trains Facebook page.

Don’t forget to vote for passenger rail supporters in the Senate, the House, in state legislatures, and locally!

Amtrak employees paid to report passengers to law enforcement

Amtrak employees have a responsibility to report suspicious activities to the appropriate authorities.

But according to the Office of the Inspector General of the US Department of Justice, some transportation employees (including Amtrak employees) have been participating in a poorly-managed Drug Enforcement Agency program that pays “tipsters” for information with very little accountability.

But the report indicates that the DEA is as interested in cash as it is in drugs, thus potentially leading to  questionable searches. It’s well-known in the train-riding community that such incidents happen frequently in certain places.

Balancing passenger safety with the needs of law enforcement is a tricky proposition at best. But this balance needs to be decided upon in the light of day.

A good choice, but don’t expect miracles

Amtrak’s announcement that retired Norfolk Southern executive Charles “Wick” Moorman will be the railroad’s next president has been greeted positively.

Railfans immediately started posting their wish lists for Mr. Moorman: resurrection of every route Amtrak ever had; return of old-style elegant food service; and so on…even a steam excursion program similar to Norfolk Southern’s.

Well, dream on. We’re pleased that Amtrak has selected a widely-respected executive. But Mr. Moorman is going to need our help to make our wishes come true. This fall, we need to vote for members of Congress, governors, legislators, and local officials who are willing to fund passenger rail.

So please, ask candidates if they support better trains, and let us know what you find out. Mr. Moorman needs our support.

-CH

Trains bring people together

In the lounge car, travelers who might not ordinarily come together due to economic, geographic or social stratification suddenly find themselves sharing tables. They are “people you’d never put together, but on a train you can, and it works,” [59-year-old Chicagoan Vivian Lonak, our sleeping-car attendant, who has worked for Amtrak for seven years,] said.

Chugging west on Amtrak, family-style

Why do I work for better trains? Because I believe that bringing people together improves understanding, and understanding makes it easier for all of us to live together on this world we share.

We can no longer accept a world where people travel in their own little bubble cars, ignoring the humans around them. We can no longer accept a world where everyone gets “news” that reinforces pre-existing beliefs.

Haven’t been on a train in a while? Join me and my friends from the National Association of Railroad Passengers. Now is the time!

–CH