Tracking Rail News


. . . PHOTOS . . . and Commentary by Russ Jackson
. . . October 1, 2009.

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(Photo right) California Zephyr waiting to depart Sacramento station.
. . . On Time Performance and other Amtrak news:
. . . Good news for travelers! . . . Amtrak Guest Rewards
is offering double points on all routes, all fall, until December 19. You must register in advance by using or calling Amtrak.
. . . Isn’t it great when there is good OTP consistently? This summer has seen outstanding performance.

Noel 100_2049 Starlight at LAUS night

Coast Starlight at night after arrival at Los Angeles. (Noel Braymer photo)

For example, on Labor Day Train 11, The Coast Starlight arrived in Sacramento at 5:18 A.M., an hour early, and at Los Angeles Union Station exactly on time. Granted, that day there was little freight on the UP due to the holiday, but smooth running is smooth running and we will take it. RailPAC’s Mike Barnbaum reports: “Amtrak Train 5, the California Zephyr, which I boarded in Salt Lake City on Sunday 6 September 2009, was 3 Hours and 21 Minutes early into SLC station (8:09 P.M. Mountain Time) and had to wait until 11:30 P.M. Mountain Time to proceed towards its final destination of Emeryville. (Note: this train traveled via Wyoming rather than its regular route) The arrival time in Sacramento on Labor Day for this train was 3:10 P.M. Pacific Time. For this reason, passengers holding separate Sacramento to San Jose Tickets were able to board the 3:35 P.M. Capitol Corridor Train 743 instead of waiting until 5:40 P.M. for Train 747. The Zephyr, (both trains five and six) will undergo major schedule changes on Saturday 10 October 2009. The Eastbound Train #6 will depart Emeryville and most station in California forty minutes later. The Westbound Train # 5 is scheduled into California Stations approximately one hour earlier.”

. . . Now for the bad news. Don’t look for a daily Sunset Limited-Texas Eagle in the Fall timetable. The well-received plan that VP Brian Rosenwald 100_2542 presented to the RailPAC-NARP meeting in Los Angeles, which was widely reported and confirmed by many has run into the usual roadblocks at the top at Amtrak. In response to an inquiry widely distributed from this writer, one answer told the story: “Rosenwald has been told NO but wants to take it to the Board for final decision.” That shows the disarray at Amtrak HQ, as many have said the equipment is available for the daily train plus the connecting stub train from San Antonio to New Orleans. Employees can be trained, etc.; what is missing is the will to do what is needed to enhance revenue on this train and get it off the hot seat of criticism. Are they waiting for the states to pay for this like they will have to do if they want the mandated studies to be carried out on returning service from New Orleans to Jacksonville, or in the just released study to return the Pioneer? Just tell me why the affected states have to pay for new equipment before those trains can be restored on routes that have been classified as being in the “national system” before? Amtrak worked that angle successfully with the Coast Daylight in California, and you don’t see that train running to-from San Francisco yet even if the state wants to pay for it. Do you see any willingness on Amtrak’s part to invest in new and-or replacement equipment for its Superliner fleet?

. . . Two new services in September.
. . . In Minnesota, the long-planned Northstar
commuter line from Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis was testing trains that will begin revenue service on November 16. (Photo by MinnARP’s Dennis Larson at the Coon Rapids station.) MinnARP President, Andrew C. Selden, has been working with this project and says, “This will be a banner day. Although no one involved will have the slightest idea who Byron Nordberg was (he was a founder of RailPAC), this whole program is a direct outgrowth of visionary ideas that Byron advanced for using rail to respond to mobility demand in a dispersed urban environment in Minnesota. In 1989-90 he and I surveyed the entire route of what would become the Northstar project.”

stadiumlrtnorthstarMr. Selden sent a photo taken from atop the under construc tion Target Field baseball park for the Twins, which will open next season with “a major transit hub (at the exact site that yours truly first identified 20 years ago).” Both the Northstar (lower right in the photo) and the light rail Hiawatha will stop there (upper center in photo). Sounds like AT&T Park in San Francisco and Petco Park in San Diego, which successfully encourage fans to use public transportation to get to the games. How different from the Dallas Cowboys, who opened their palatial stadium this Fall, and if you watched the inaugural game against the New York Giants on Sunday night, September 20, 105,000 plus fans attended, none of whom were able to use public transportation because voters in the city of Arlington, which houses that stadium and the Rangers baseball park, voted three times to not have public transportation in their city, as “We don’t want those kinds of people.” Oh, and to park at the new stadium is $75 a game.

DART Green Line 9-18-09 004But, the good news from the Dallas area was the opening of the new DART Green Line’s first phase, from the American Airlines Center “Victory” station it shares with the TRE through down town Dallas to Baylor Medical Center and MLK station. It is open just in time to carry riders going to the State Fair at Fair Park. The service opened “ahead of schedule and under budget.” The line will be extended northwest to Carrollton in 2010.

. . . Trip Report: “I have been on the Empire Builder several times this summer (as a National Park Service volunteer, so I have had pretty free run of the train). The Eastbound #8 is supposed to be but rarely is equipped with all Superliner-II rolling stock and the better engines, to assure a top quality customer experience to justify a slightly higher fare structure than the other western transcons. This is the same experiment that kept the elevated quasi-traditional dining service in place on this train when the others were downgraded. What I have seen in terms of the rolling stock is a sadly degraded environment. The cars are not clean, even on No 7 leaving Chicago; some are smelly; restrooms are not in good shape physically or mechanically (i.e., they work, but it seems that there is always some issue with them); surfaces are badly worn out in places, leaving a third-world impression of tattered and worn, ill-kept, trains; signage is worn out or missing, or crudely hand-written and taped up; and things are literally falling apart inside the cars. And again, this is supposed to be Amtrak’s best effort (in the west). I have NEVER seen any main-line train in this kind of physical condition in Europe (except in the UK). The result is that almost any ad campaign is likely to create a consumer expectation that will be inevitably disappointed by the travel experience, even if employees are well behaved and the train is on time. A majority of customers with whom I have interacted are still first-timers or foreigners, so many “first impressions” are being formed with every trip. Since mid-June, each EB has had more than 300 passengers on board between St. Paul and La Crosse. We turn over anywhere between 90 and 125 at St. Paul on each train. That adds up to a lot of people who, if not exactly ‘never-agains,’ are at least left with negative impressions, and far from a “come back soon” experience.” – Andrew C. Selden

Amtrak forced to restore On Board Service Chiefs. A report by Gene Poon. “As a result of a ruling handed down in a lawsuit filed against Amtrak by the American Railway and Airline Supervisors Associations (ARASA), Amtrak is being forced to restore the On Board Service Chief jobs that worked long distance trains for several years beginning in the 1990s. Amtrak had eliminated the Chiefs and replaced them with Customer Service Managers. The CSMs’ last day will be Sept. 21; the new Chief jobs will begin October 1. First priority for the new Chiefs’ jobs goes to former Chiefs who are still employed by Amtrak. Those Customer Service Managers who came from a craft and who have maintained their union membership will be able to revert to their crafts and maintain prior seniority. The CSMs who were hired off the street will be terminated, though Amtrak could always come up with some new positions for them, and any CSAs could apply for remaining new Chiefs’ jobs. Plans are for 21 new On Board Service Chiefs, each one assigned to a particular long distance train. For instance, out of Los Angeles, there will be three: one each for the Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief and Sunset Limited. In a change in the chain of command, the Chiefs will report to Transportation, headed by Vice President Richard Phelps (the CSMs reported to Brian Rosenwald in Customer Service).”

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