Category Archives: AMTRAK

Amtrak Downeaster may expand for the summer

The Amtrak Downeaster, which currently runs from Boston to Brunswick, could go as far north as Rockland this summer if the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) approves a pilot program in March. NNERPA wants to ensure that Maine communities will be active Amtrak partners before it finalizes the service, the Maine Free Press reported last week.

The program would include additional stops in Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle and Rockland. NNEPRA is currently holding forums in each of these towns. The Downeaster would use existing railroads that primarily carry freight trains.

The summer expansion would mainly target tourists coming up from Boston. Maine Eastern Railroad previously ran a summer service between Brunswick and Rockland but ended it in 2015, according to U.S. News.


2 dead, 70 injured as Amtrak train collides with freight train in South Carolina

At least two people were killed and 70 injured early Sunday when an Amtrak passenger train collided with a CSX freight train in South Carolina — the third deadly wreck involving Amtrak in less than two months.

The crash, which involved Amtrak Train 91 heading from New York to Miami, occurred at 2:35 a.m. in Cayce, S.C., about 10 miles south of Columbia, according to Derrec Becker of South Carolina Emergency Management.

Both fatalities were Amtrak employees on the passenger train, Gov. Henry McMaster said in a press conference Sunday.

The CSX train was parked on what appears to be a side track when the Amtrak train slammed into it at about 59 mph, McMaster said. Of the 139 people on the Amtrak train, 116 people were taken to hospitals, he said.

Palmetto Health Director of Emergency Preparedness Dr. Steve Shelton says one patient is in critical condition and two are in serious conditions, with the rest suffering minor injuries, like cuts and bruises.

Passenger injuries ranged from scratches to broken bones, Lexington County spokesman Harrison Cahill said.

3 cars on Amtrak train with 311 passengers derail, none hurt

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3 cars on Amtrak train with 311 passengers derail, none hurt
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An Amtrak passenger train sits in New York City's Pennsylvania Station, U.S. April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Three cars on an Amtrak train carrying more than 300 passengers on a route from Miami to New York derailed in snow-covered Savannah after a fierce winter storm, but no injuries were reported.

Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said Silver Meteor train 98 was backing slowly into the Savannah station about 10 p.m. Wednesday — hours after the storm clobbered the Southeast coast — when two sleeper cars and a baggage car derailed.

“All three cars — a baggage car and two sleeper cars — are fully upright,” Abrams said in an email statement early Thursday to The Associated Press.

He said there were 311 passengers on board, in addition to crew, but he had no reports of anyone hurt.

Abrams’ statement said the main train was to continue its journey north though some of the sleeping car passengers had to be put aboard a different train.

He didn’t say what caused the derailment, and the statement also gave no immediate indication whether the storm that coated Savannah with a rare snowfall on Wednesday was a factor.

The National Weather Service said Savannah’s first measurable snowfall since February 2010 was recorded Wednesday in the normally balmy Southern City at 1.2 inches (3 centimeters). It was the first snow in Savannah that exceeded an inch (2.5 centimeters) in 28 years. The fast-intensifying storm on Thursday had moved further up the East Coast.

News footage from the site showed police and other emergency vehicles with flashing lights crunching over snow and ice and converging near tracks where the derailment occurred.

Passenger Joel Potischman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he boarded the train early in the day in Delray Beach, Fla., to head home to Brooklyn, New York. He said the train was en route north amid winter scenes of snow and ice.

Another passenger, Mike Zevon, told the newspaper that it was the last three cars that derailed.

Abrams’ statement didn’t elaborate on how many cars were in the formation and conditions with the weather or the tracks at the time.

The more we learn about Amtrak derailment the stranger it gets


As a retired National Transportation Safety Board railroad and rapid transit accident investigator, the more I hear about the Dec. 18 derailment of Washington state Amtrak Cascades train 501, the stranger it gets. Confirmed “facts” seem to be very few so far.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident, which killed three people and injured more than 50 others, and is still trying to determine the probable cause and prevent such accidents in the future.

People have an innate need to know, particularly with unexpected public transportation accidents as part of their own sense of security and trust. The sooner we know, the better.

But we could be waiting a while before we hear from the safety board about what led to the derailment. The length of time the safety board has taken to produce “the facts,” let alone a public report, has greatly lengthened over the past two decades, mostly due to safety board management.
An accident investigation has gone from nine months to over two years for a “major” investigation such as this accident. The prolonged process has been sold to Congress and to the public as a way to produce more thorough reports and recommendations, although the success of these efforts is debatable. In the interim, the public is left guessing.

At this point in the investigation, the “field phase,” safety board investigators work fairly quickly to garner the facts, which will be consolidated into a single report. After this stage the process slows down, especially with high-profile accident investigations involving public hearings and senior-level managers. Ultimately, a final report is far in the future.

With this incident, there appear to be a number of safety issues, including the choice and costs associated with the railroad route itself. The most important looks like a human performance safety issue.

It appears that there were two people in the lead locomotive control cab of the train who were both injured and hospitalized: an instructor engineer, and another engineer who was learning the territory and qualifying to operate the train along the route.

The derailment occurred on the first day of higher-speed service. The propriety of conducting such training on the inaugural run of the service is debatable. Railroad union hearsay alleges that the two locomotive engineers lost track of where they were because much — if not all — previous route qualification training had taken place at night when busy freight railroad traffic could accommodate the luxury of a non-revenue passenger train on multiple training runs. As a result, on the maiden run the two engineers had difficulty associating daytime landmarks with their ever-changing location.

To a large extent, this is the main tool engineers use to track their location. The environment’s physical characteristics are crucial to knowing one’s location, just like when we drive our cars. However, there are additional aids available depending on the train control systems in place.

In addition, there are allegations that these prior night training sessions had upwards of six people in the locomotive cab in order to qualify as many engineers as possible to operate trains along this route in the short amount of available time before service started.

This crowded training occurred despite the fact that there are usually only two seats in the rather small cab. Training for a route varies depending on the experience of the engineer and can require as little as two trips to as many as 10 or more.

Thus, it is alleged that none of the qualifying engineers were getting the undivided attention needed to memorize the route without distraction. In a nutshell, this is what is rumored.

If true, it places the onus on those managing this operation and their judgment and experience, or lack thereof. The lack of competent oversight by management and/or policy may lie at the root cause of this accident. But we, the public, won’t know for sure until the National Transportation Safety Board gets a sense of urgency and tells us.

Amtrak train derails in Washington state, leaving car dangling over highway

Live from CNBC news

An Amtrak train derailed in Washington state Monday morning, leaving at least one of the cars dangling from an overpass over a highway, officials said.

According to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, there were “injuries and casualties” in the incident but it was not clear how many or how severe.

Some 75 people were on board the train, which was headed south, a Washington state Department of Transportation spokesperson said.

The Washington State Department of Transportation said the derailment was blocking all southbound lanes of Interstate 5 near Mounts Road in Pierce County.

All SB lanes of I-5 blocked near Mounts Road in Pierce County due to derailed train car. Avoid area!

Workers to make 137 rail passenger cars in Central Valley, California

Central Valley BusinessTimes

Jobs for Central Valley workers are being created through a $371 million contract to build railroad passenger cars in Sacramento.
The California Department of Transportation says Sumitomo Corporation of Americas along with Siemens will be fulfilling the multi-state contract for the new railcars, 49 pf which will be used by Caltrans and 88 by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Building the new passenger coaches will support hundreds of skilled and high-wage manufacturing jobs in California, Caltrans says.
The cars are to be 100 percent “Buy America” from suppliers in California and across the country.
“This contract is moving full-speed ahead and that is good news for Californians, both in terms of job creation and better passenger rail service,” says Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.
Each car will be built at the Siemens rail manufacturing hub in Sacramento. The plant, which has been in operation for more than 30 years, is also powered in part by renewable energy. The Sacramento facility features full design, engineering, and manufacturing capabilities for not only passenger coaches, but across the rolling stock industry including electric and diesel-electric locomotives, light rail, and streetcars.
Michael Cahill, president of Siemens Rolling Stock, says the new coaches “will use the industry’s latest, proven rail technology to provide passengers with a safe, modern and highly comfortable ride.”
The new railcars will be used on the intercity rail lines throughout California that serve almost 6 million passengers annually on the San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner Amtrak routes. The new cars will come with interiors that focus on passenger comfort and convenience, such as wi-fi, spacious seats with power outlets, large windows for all passengers, bike racks, overhead luggage storage, work tables, state-of-the-art restrooms with touchless controls and full ADA accessibility throughout the cars.
The first cars are expected to begin production within the year.

Private rail car travel will accompany some Amtrak runs

Private rail car operators plan to tag along shortly after Amtrak resumes service to and from Roanoke next week.

Private rail cars, which offer what’s billed as a premium rail travel experience, will be hitched to Amtrak trains for special outings. Two operators currently offer the excursions in restored passenger cars of yesteryear, one as a fundraiser for the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

Amtrak has scheduled service to and from Roanoke beginning Tuesday, offering hundreds of daily seats with leg room, Wi-Fi and access to a food and beverage car. There is a four-piece luggage allowance and the option to bring a cat or small dog for a nominal fee.

Private rail car travel is a second option that has received less attention than Amtrak’s return, which will result from a private-public partnership and nearly $100 million investment of taxpayer money. Private rail cars do not operate on a schedule as Amtrak does, nor travel as often. But when put into service in response to passenger demand, they go anywhere Amtrak goes hitched to the rear of the standard train.

Private rail car travel is available to individuals or groups. Options are endless as private rail car operators say they can create a unique experience. Name your destination and “we’re [able] to put something together for you,” said Chuck Akers, who co-owns a restored Pullman car built in 1923. He is in business as the Roanoke-based Virginia Rail Investment Corp. with partner Chuck Jensen and has sold out trips from Roanoke to Washington, D.C., Nov. 4 and 5, he said.

The Pullman car seats 20 people in the day and sleeps 10 during overnight travel. It has a kitchen and the company will provide food and a chef or allow groups to bring and cook their own food. Information is available at

The car reserved for the transportation museum trips is a Moonlight Dome belonging to the Cincinnati Railway Co. based in Ohio.

The Moonlight Dome, which seats 24 in a luxury setting, will travel to Roanoke from Washington, and vice versa, on various dates between Nov. 10 and 13. Tickets cost $225 each way, which includes food and beverages. From each ticket, $16.11 will go to the upkeep of the museum’s 611 steam engine, said Shayne Dwyer, museum spokesman. Further details are available at

Perhaps it is time for the “Girl Of The Century” to return?

Check it out on our 20th Century WebSite

Armed man from St. Charles arrested after stopping Amtrak train in Nebraska

St Louis Today

OXFORD, Neb. • An armed man got into a locomotive on an Amtrak train passing through southwest Nebraska early Saturday and pulled the emergency brake while about 175 passengers were on board, authorities say.

Deputies from Furnas and Harlan counties responded to the incident in Oxford around 1:54 a.m. after being alerted that the eastbound California Zephyr was in emergency response mode, Furnas County Sheriff Kurt Kapperman said in a news release.

Amtrak staff detained Taylor M. Wilson, 25, of St. Charles, Mo., and turned him over to the Furnas County Sheriff’s Department, the release said.

Kapperman’s deputies found a loaded Smith and Wesson .38-caliber revolver on Wilson’s waistband and a speed loader for the weapon in his pocket. They also seized two bags containing three more speed loaders, a box of ammo for the revolver, a knife, tin snips, scissors and a ventilation mask, Kapperman said.

Wilson was traveling from Sacramento, Calif., to St. Louis, and somehow got into the second locomotive and stopped the train using the emergency brake, the release said.

It’s believed Amtrak engineers in control of the train were in the first locomotive, which was at the front of the train and can’t be accessed from the second locomotive directly behind it.

Deputies arrested Wilson on suspicion of felony criminal mischief and possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony.

He was being held at the Furnas County jail on $25,000 bond.

Kapperman didn’t say how Wilson got the gun on board — whether he carried it on himself or retrieved it from a checked bag.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that detail was unclear and that the exact circumstances are under investigation.
Amtrak only allows firearms in checked baggage, and only if they are unloaded. However, train passengers aren’t required to undergo the level of screening required of airline passengers. The difference reflects the vastness of Amtrak’s rail system and the “‘open’ and therefore porous transportation environment” it operates within, the company says on its website.

Wilson had a Missouri-issued conceal-carry permit in his wallet, a Furnas County deputy wrote in court documents.

Saturday’s incident delayed the train by a little more than an hour, Magliari said.

The eastbound train departed the Sacramento area Thursday morning, with its expected arrival in Chicago on Saturday afternoon. From Chicago, Amtrak trains connect to the St. Louis area.

FRA Clears Hurdle for High-Speed Rail: DC to Richmond

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has announced the completion of the Tier II Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the 123-mile section of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor from Washington, D.C., to south of Richmond, VA.

This action moves the project one step closer to the construction phase of the Southeast Corridor, which will improve freight and rail traffic south of the nation’s capital.

The Preferred Alternative in the DEIS prepared by the FRA with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (Virginia DRPT) will:

Reduce passenger and freight congestion and improve on-time performance
Accommodate planned and funded Virginia Rail Express (VRE) growth of four new round-trip trains
Accommodate forecasted CSX freight growth through 2045 (doubling from approximately 21 trains in 2015 to 42 in 2045)
Increase maximum train speeds from 69 mph to 79 mph between D.C. and Fredericksburg and to 90 mph between Fredericksburg and Richmond
Add nine new round-trip trains from D.C. to Richmond, with four continuing east to Hampton Roads and four south to Raleigh.

“Moving people and goods as quickly and as safely as possible is an important cornerstone of the Federal Rail Administration’s mission,” said FRA Deputy Administrator Heath Hall.

“As this project moves forward, it’s critical that we receive feedback from potential passengers and the public at large.”

FRA and Virginia DRPT will accept public comments on the DEIS for 60 days beginning on September 8, 2017.

Based on public comments on the DEIS and the Preferred Alternative, DRPT and FRA will prepare a Final EIS (FEIS), which will list environmental commitments to mitigate unavoidable impacts.

The total cost of the project is approximately $5 billion, which is estimated in 2025 dollars to reflect the first year of service; however, no funding commitments have been made for construction.


Job No. 1 for Next Governor? NJ’s Transportation Infrastructure

High-level policy recommendations, priorities, and projects all part of report prepared for Christie’s successor.

Of all the major challenges facing the state’s next governor, New Jersey’s aging and often unreliable transportation system may be the most urgent and difficult one to deal with.

But a new report released by the Fund for New Jersey — with the endorsement of a former governor — offers a series of detailed transportation-policy recommendations for Gov. Chris Christie’s successor, while also making the argument that nothing less than the health of the state economy is at stake if New Jersey can’t figure out a way to maintain first-class infrastructure.

“I would argue it is the key to economic prosperity in New Jersey, and economic prosperity is the key to everything else in New Jersey,” said former Gov. Jim Florio, a member of the Fund for New Jersey’s board of trustees, during a news conference in Trenton yesterday.

Among the tough-medicine recommendations made in the report is a call for carving out of revenue from state driver’s license and registration fees to better support transportation investment, as well as possibly increasing those fees to help the state wean itself off ongoing fund diversions from capital accounts and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

The report also recommends consolidating state highway agencies within the Department of Transportation to make them more efficient and to reduce overall cost. And it also revisits the notion of letting a private company operate state toll roads in exchange for upfront cash, an idea that was famously unpopular with New Jersey residents when floated by former Gov. Jon Corzine a decade ago.

The report is the fourth in a Crossroads NJ series that the nonpartisan Fund for New Jersey has been rolling out during the 2017 election year, which will see both the governor’s office and all 120 state legislative seats up for grabs in November. Officials from the fund, a philanthropic organization that encourages informed policymaking (and is a funder of NJ Spotlight), say their goal is to inject into this year’s public debate a set of serious proposals, though they acknowledge their ideas aren’t the only options that should be on the table.
‘Being honest with the people’

“It’s time now for leaders to start being honest with the people,” said Florio, who served as New Jersey’s governor from 1990 to 1994.

“No alternative that you offer is particularly pleasant (and) all of the alternatives are problematic,” Florio said. “But leadership entails being able to offer people options, alternatives, and then make decisions on the basis of what is least offensive or the most advantageous.”

The report on the transportation issue comes out at a particularly critical time, with ongoing questions being raised about the financing of the state’s most significant transportation project, a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel. New Jersey Transit has also been the subject of ongoing legislative hearings in the wake of a fatal crash in Hoboken last year, with the most recent hearing delving into concerns about management, finances, and patronage that were leveled by a former agency compliance officer, accusations that were strongly disputed by NJ Transit in a subsequent lawsuit.
Not up to blue-ribbon standards

And despite recent NJ Transit fare increases and a politically unpopular 23-cent gas-tax hike that was imposed on motorists just last year as part of a reauthorization of the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund, the state’s annual investment in transportation is still falling nearly $1 billion short of the amount identified in a blue-ribbon commission report on transportation infrastructure that was drafted more than a decade ago.

“The political dimensions of this subject are really important – and they’re difficult,” said Martin Robins, director emeritus of Rutgers University’s Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, as he presented the report along with Florio yesterday.
Setting priorities

At the top of the report’s priority list is likely the toughest transportation issue facing the state: where funding for the nearly $30 billion Gateway infrastructure project that includes the new trans-Hudson rail tunnel will come from. Christie, a Republican, canceled a prior tunnel project during his first-term in office, and now it’s unclear whether President Donald Trump’s administration will honor a cost-sharing plan for Gateway that was drafted during the tenure of former President Barack Obama. That plan called for the federal government to pick up half the cost of Gateway, which includes several other infrastructure improvements in addition to a new tunnel, with the balance to be covered by New Jersey, New York, and the Port Authority.

The century-old rail tunnel that’s currently used by NJ Transit was seriously damaged by Superstorm Sandy, and both its inbound and outbound tubes are in need of repair. If just one of the tunnel’s tubes were to go out of service before a new tunnel is up and running, the number of hourly trips into New York would be reduced from 24 to six, the report warns.

“There is an urgency of incomparable nature that this project proceeds,” Robins said.

The report makes a similar call for urgency to support the state’s bus commuters as the Port Authority continues to move slowly on a project to replace its flagship bus terminal in midtown Manhattan. The agency’s latest long-term capital plan included only partial funding for a new bus terminal even as ridership is expected to increase by as much as 50 percent by 2040. And while not every resident of the state commutes into New York or even uses the mass-transit system, both Robins and Florio argued that all residents have a stake in maintaining the infrastructure because those jobs support the local economies in communities across the state.

“The real-estate market, which is a vital part of New Jersey’s suburban economy, is tremendously undergirded by the quality of public transportation and the accessibility of those municipalities to New York City,” Robins said.

The report, meanwhile, also devotes a lot of attention to New Jersey’s major highways and rail network. Among other things, it cites concerns about the roughly $200 million in annual revenue that is being diverted from the toll-dependent New Jersey Turnpike Authority to help sustain NJ Transit. That agency’s annual subsidy in recent years has been held flat or even reduced. The report also highlights an ongoing diversion of NJ Transit capital funds for operating expenses that has occurred for decades under governors from both parties.

“Restoring this money to its intended use would strengthen a NJ Transit capital budget that remains fragile and insufficient even after the 2016 (TTF reauthorization),” the report says.

The report also suggests earmarking excess revenue from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, which every year sends millions of dollars into the state’s general fund after covering its own expenses. Charging tolls on interstate highways in New Jersey and generating new tax revenue from real-estate transactions or businesses, which is something the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority has been doing, was also put up for consideration.

Some of the recommendations echo policies that have been proposed by the gubernatorial candidates. For example, Democrat Phil Murphy has called for the creation of a dedicated source of revenue for NJ Transit, and both Murphy and Republican Kim Guadagno are emphasizing the Gateway initiative and the bus-terminal project as part of their transportation platforms.

But officials from the Fund for New Jersey said their report and its recommendations are not intended to favor one candidate or another. And they also hope the conversation on transportation policy will go beyond this year’s election season.

“The day after the election, these issues don’t stop being issues,” said Kiki Jamieson, the fund’s president.

New Jersey Spotlight via California Rail News