Amtrak earlier this week marked the debut of service to Union Depot in St. Paul, Minn., with the arrival of the Empire Builder.
Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Boardman was among transportation leaders who helped cut the ribbon for the first-ever Amtrak service to the downtown station.
“We know from experience that travel brings business — and that stations bring business to the surrounding community,” said Boardman in a prepared statement.
The historic station recently underwent a $243 million restoration to turn it into a multi-modal facility with funding from federal, state and local agencies.
Analysis from the Seattle Transit Blog:
Last month WSDOT quietly released a Request for Information,
“to gather information from providers of rail services about service delivery options to provide more convenient, rapid, and reliable intercity passenger rail service between Vancouver, British Columbia and Eugene, Oregon.”
Noting that these submittals “are not responds to deliver the service”, WSDOT is nonetheless seeking input from the private sector (and presumably other governmental rail operators) about how to make Cascades more efficient and reduce its operating costs. If the responses sufficiently pique their interest, WSDOT may issue a full competitive Request for Proposal (RFP).
A little background: the Bush-era Passenger Rail Improvement and Investment Act of 2008 (PRIIA) forced Amtrak to cease funding operations of its most successful routes (state-supported corridors of less than 750 miles). It was a masterfully cynical bill, for though Republicans generally love to hate Amtrak, they also love once-daily legacy service in their districts, which just so happens to be colossally expensive to operate. So they wrote a bill that trimmed the muscle and left the fat, as it were.
Amtrak had been funding 20% of Cascades service, but from October 2013 onward Washington and Oregon have had to bear 100% of operating costs. Though Cascades farebox recovery is relatively good at roughly 66%, farebox recovery is a rate, not an outlay. As Cascades is mandated to add at least 2 more trips between Seattle and Portland by 2017 as a condition of receiving $800m in stimulus (ARRA) funds, it is important to remember that farebox recovery could continue to improve while total costs rise. With a stalemated legislature that loves to play politics with rail, it’s the total costs that matter. Ergo, Cascades has no choice but to seek ways to cut costs.
Amtrak has agreed to a request by BNSF Railway Co. to temporarily detour the westbound Empire Builder in North Dakota to speed the improvement of BNSF infrastructure between Fargo and Minot, N.D., Amtrak officials announced this week.
Chartered buses will cover the missed Amtrak stations in Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby through Sept. 30. The use of an alternate route will enable BNSF to complete work in less time. The eastbound Empire Builder will operate normally and serve all scheduled stops, Amtrak officials said in a press release.
BNSF Railway Co. today highlighted $1 billion in capital projects planned in five states along its Northern Corridor. The projects are part of the Class I’s record-setting $5 billion capital spending budget for 2014.
Situated between the Pacific Northwest and Chicago, the Northern Corridor runs through parts of Washington, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Illinois. Some of this year’s corridor projects are designed to help expand capacity and improve traffic flow for all freight and passenger trains [including Amtrak’s Empire Builder] that use certain routes.
Once again, for the 43rd time, here we are on May Day, the anniversary of the official day of Amtrak operations beginning on May 1, 1971. It was the day most of the still-operating passenger trains in the country disappeared, and the freight railroads breathed a sigh of relief because the heavy hand of the ICC was no longer upon them forcing them to run trains they didn’t want to run “in the public interest.”
The almost exclusively all-male railroad management cadre of the day, many of them struggling to save their own freight operations from bankruptcy in a heavy regulatory environment, were happy to be rid of the cost of passenger stations, a fleet of cars and locomotives which were reaching what everybody thought was the end of their useful life (sadly, this was especially true of equipment built by Pullman Standard, which used a different assembly process and materials than its wiser competitor, Budd), and all of the expensive employees it took to run passenger trains. They could cascade many of their unwanted employees onto Amtrak’s employee roster (of particular note, the former Pennsylvania Railroad employees in Philadelphia who were sure they could run passenger trains better than anyone else), and, allegedly, finally do what they thought railroads should only do, turn themselves into corporate conglomerates (remember the various “Industries” titles tacked onto the end of railroad names?) focusing on moving products, not people, and buying and managing other businesses they didn’t know how to run.
Cat and dog owners who travel by train may soon be able to bring their furry friends along.
Amtrak has announced a six-month “Carry-On Pet Pilot Program” launching in Chicago May 5 in which pets will board with people on designated train cars. If successful, it will be rolled out nationwide.
Service animals currently ride in the passenger cabin free of charge. But other than that, Amtrak has had a strict “Animals Not Allowed” policy.
The fee will be $25 for dogs and cats (no other animal is allowed). They must be less than 20 pounds and stay in carriers under your seat—similar to how pets travel on planes. They must be at least eight weeks old, odorless, harmless, and not disruptive. They must remain in the carrier at all times. See more rules on amtrak.com.