Wednesday, May 26, 2010

This Week in Amtrak

Photo of the North side of the old Union Stati...Image via Wikipedia

Volume 7, Number 15
May 26th, 2010

A weekly digest of events, opinions, and forecasts from

United Rail Passenger Alliance, Inc.

America's foremost passenger rail policy institute

1526 University Boulevard, West, PMB 203 . Jacksonville, Florida
32217-2006 USA

Telephone 904-636-7739, Electronic Mail .


National Train Day

National Train Day passed uneventfully in Phoenix. Union Station, the mission-style depot turned fortress, protected by its tall prickly steel fence painted cactus green, was immune to invasion by curious passers-by. No-one rode a train through the station, except one hobo who waved from the end platform of a covered hopper -- all freight trains must now traverse the lone remaining passenger track, the bypass line having been removed a few years ago.

A man with a camera lurked in the shadow, afraid he might be asked for identity papers by Homeland Security, as a dry scrap of newsprint talking about transit cuts and tax hikes scudded across the broken concrete remnants of the platform.

Somewhere, Fred Harvey, whose ghost long ago departed the station's mahogany-and-brass news-stand with its eight-by-four-foot lead-lined humidor still scented with the ever-fainter aroma of Havana tobacco, turned in his grave. Amtrak, the nationalized passenger railroad, deserted the station for America's fifth largest city nearly fifteen years ago, with hope of its return having been repeatedly crushed.

Meanwhile at Dallas Union Station, Russ Jackson of the United Rail Passenger Alliance witnessed a healthy station in an upbeat city. North Texas is booming with new and extended programs from streetcars, light rail, commuter rail, and Amtrak intercity rail. Train Day in the Metroplex showcased all these, attracting people of all ages were to Dallas Union Station and to the Intermodal Transportation Center in Fort

On display at Dallas Union Station were the 1931 M-180 Doodlebug in
Santa Fe colors that years ago worked the line to Carlsbad, New
Mexico, and a heritage Pullman sleeping car, both now housed at the
Museum of the American Railroad at nearby Fair Park. That museum is
now under orders from the city to vacate the property, as it is
underfunded and the land is needed for other purposes. The museum
intends to move to nearby Frisco when funding is obtained. The
successful TRE commuter line, that runs from Dallas to Ft. Worth
displayed a train set of a newly repainted F59PH locomotive and two
bi-level Bombardier (UTDC)-built coaches. Inside the historic
station were staffed displays from the successful DART system, which
is undergoing the same financial crises as in other cities, and the
new under-construction Denton County "A- Train" commuter rail line,
a model railroad club, music, face painting, etc., and the Texas
Rail Advocates who were selling souvenir t-shirts and whistles.
Where was Amtrak? They had a full staffed display table across from
their ticket window, giving away packets of information including
the timetables that would be out of date two days later. The new
ones "were in the back somewhere," but would not be available until
they go into effect. And, Amtrak 821, the southbound Texas Eagle
arrived in Dallas 30 minutes late with 3 coaches, Diner-Lounge,
Dining Car, and two sleeping cars (one of which is the crew dorm as
well). That day was not one of the thru trains that connects with
the Sunset Limited, but everyone we talked to is anxiously awaiting
news as to when daily service through the West to California will
begin. After loading and unloading, #821 quickly departed for Ft.

Thirty miles away in Ft. Worth Amtrak had several of their cars on
display from the Heartland Flyer pool, and, like Dallas, had the
packets and drawing tickets for travel on the Texas Eagle. The BNSF
had a locomotive on display and employees there to answer
questions. The Union Pacific displayed the newly painted 2010, the
Boy Scouts of America commemorative locomotive, and North Texas
Historic Transportation displayed their NTT interurban and had
information about the proposed City of Ft. Worth Streetcar
Circulator. TRE trains came and went through the station, the
southbound Heartland Flyer arrived, the northbound and southbound
Eagles arrived and departed, there was music, face painting, and the
Texas Rail Advocates were there as well. Yes, there is a "rail
presence" in the Metroplex, and while there is much to do and
finances to do it are getting scarce, the foundation has been laid.

The Dallas station, despite its perfectly suited location, is crippled by having only three platform tracks, because city leaders who renovated the facility in the early 1980s believed Amtrak when it said that would be enough for any conceivable future needs. The station once had at least ten through tracks, an upper concourse perpendicular to the tracks with stairs to each level for quick and safe passenger flow, and a freight-and-baggage subway. DART's trolleys now serve the station, which is good, but in a way that precludes restoring platforms that would be needed for Dallas to act as a proper hub for regional trains. A little engineering and a lot of hard work could rectify the situation but it's yet another roadblock that could have been prevented. Vigilance today resolves tomorrow's problems.

Keolis moves closer to taking Virginia trains from Amtrak

The Washington Post on 11 May reported

that the company soon to "take over operation of Virginia Railway Express trains from Amtrak wrapped up its first month of nationwide recruitment efforts as it prepares for the June transition." VRE's press release says operation will begin July 1 of this year.

Keolis Rail Services America is a division of Keolis, "a significant operator of tramways as well as operating bus networks, funiculars, trolley buses and airport services" according to Wikipedia ; Keolis is owned by a group that includes SNCF, the French railway.

Coast Starlight group pushes plan for better service

The Coast Starlight Communities Network ("a coalition of various interests with the goal of protecting and improving rail service between Washington, Oregon, and California") has prepared a whitepaper describing the route, how trip times have increased by several hours since Amtrak's founding, and what can be done to improve the train's ambience and appeal, and expand the purpose of the train. A positive attitude like this is key to getting results.

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Marc said...

Of course there is a "rail presence" in the Metroplex, and while there is much to do and finances to do it are getting scarce, the foundation has been laid.

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