Category Archives: AMTRAK

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

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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

NEC: Gateway Program Meeting with Trump ‘Productive,’ Amtrak CEO via California Rail News

Sept. 12–Amtrak CEO Tony Coscia on Tuesday described last week’s joint meeting with the Trump administration on the Gateway Program as “very productive,” but warned that costs to build new rail tunnels under the Hudson River would balloon if funding isn’t secured soon…
The $24 billion Gateway Program would dig a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, expand Penn Station and build new bridges to better connect Newark, New Jersey, and New York City. While replacing debilitated infrastructure, the program would also improve capacity for the growing number of people making the cross-Hudson commute. Those commuters will be on New Jersey Transit, not Amtrak.

For starters, Antony Coscia is not a CEO of Amtrak, he is Chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors. Before that he was Chairman of the Board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Port Authority is responsible for building and maintaining most of the transportation infrastructure in the New York City Metro area. It is also a major player in the Gateway Project.

What else could be built for $24 billion dollars? That’s roughly the cost in California for about 300 miles of High Speed Rail between Bakersfield and San Francisco. So far the Federal Government has given $3.2 billion for California High Speed Rail and there are few expectations it will approve any more. How much money will the Gateway Project cost US Taxpayer? The Port Authority is self funded, it makes money on bridge tolls and as a landlord: it owned the original World Trade Center and now its replacement as well as other commercial buildings. It has the power to raise bonds for construction projects to be serviced from the Authority’s income. However many of its properties such as LaGuadia airport and the Port Authority Bus Terminal among other have been allowed to become rundown. Many people would like to know where the Port Authority’s money is going too. The Port Authority is often called the private piggy bank of the Governors of New York and New Jersey since there is no legislative oversight over its spending. The projected cost of the Gateway Project in 2011 was $13.5 billion. Now it’s $24 billion and we are being warned the price will go up if financing isn’t secured soon?

Amtrak survives funding cut, despite Marshall’s vote

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KSNW) — Congress is voting on hundreds of amendments to the appropriations bill. Congressman Roger Marshall recently voted for an amendment that could have drastically changed how rural Kansans travel.

“About once a month it seems like we’re using [Amtrak],” said Garden City resident Bob Tempel.

Several southwest Kansas cities are serviced by Amtrak every day. For Tempel, it’s how he regularly sees his daughter away at college.

“My daughter comes back and forth sometimes from Lawrence, and then we’re going out there. From a safety standpoint, we like that as well, so we’re not on the road as many hours.”

Last week the House voted on an amendment that would cut more than $1 billion of Amtrak’s funding.

The amendment did not pass, but Marshall, who represents Kansas’s most rural district, voted for it.

He said in a statement, “As long as we are subsidizing private entities like Amrtak (sic), we must be asking tough questions about how they are improving services, increasing competitiveness, and how they would stem the tide of declining ridership. We cannot just subsidize to maintain the status quo.

Marshall did vote to keep subsidies for regional airports. Garden City Manager Matt Allen says the region depends on both subsidies.

“They are critically important to our economy,” said Allen, “and we’re pleased to see that the House voted to continue those programs when they considered the transportation budget.”

Allen says any future cuts to Amtrak would be devastating.

“It would mean the elimination of the Southwest Chief. It’s a long-distance rail that connects, that terminates in both Chicago and Los Angeles and connects rural America across half the continent.”

The Southwest Chief line is one of few travel options left for the region.

There are currently no commercial flights in or out of Dodge City and Liberal for the foreseeable future because of Pen Air’s bankruptcy.

KSN reached out to Garden City’s airport to see if demand has increased since those flights stopped on Sunday, but they have not seen a significant change in ridership yet.

KSN.COM TV via California Rail News

Hop Aboard an Amtrak in NYC for the ‘Prettiest Fall Train Trip in U.S.’

Amtrak is set to launch its popular window-covered Great Dome Car on the Adironack route in upstate New York in time for leaf-peeping season.

Dubbed the “the prettiest fall train trip in the U.S.” by Country Living, the Adirondack train, which travels from New York City all the way up to Montreal, offers spectacular views of changing tree colors and Lake Champlain vistas.

People can board at New York Penn Station, but the Great Dome Car is only attached to the train at the Albany stop — and then seats are first-come, first serve.

The historic train car is virtually all window, allowing travelers to soak in all the gorgeous autumnal views. The trip from New York City to Montreal takes about 11 hours, and one-way tickets start at $69.

The Great Dome Car will be available on the Adirondack route on select days from Thursday, Sept. 28 through Sunday, Oct. 29. Find more information at

The Great Dome Car is the only remaining dome car in Amtrak service. Built in 1955, it was previously used on the Chicago-Seattle Empire Builder route when the train was operated by the Great Northern Railway and the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad.

NBC New York

Amtrak debuts new marketing campaign amid years of flat ridership levels

Amtrak debuted a video ad campaign Thursday, hoping to attract air and road travelers to the rails.

Titled “Break the travel quo,” the four 30-second videos created by FCB Global focus on the headaches of traveling with Amtrak’s competitors, from highway traffic to Wi-Fi to baggage. The campaign launches amid flat national rail ridership, with Amtrak reporting just above 30 million passengers for the last six years.

“As soon as you say ‘train’ people shut down,” FCB Chief Creative Office Ari Halper said in a statement. “We had to find a Trojan Horse through their defenses, which is why we masqueraded as the perfect airline. In many ways, that’s exactly what we are, just without the wings.”

The agency was also behind Amtrak’s TV campaign in 2015, building a series of videos and a social media presence around the hashtag “AmtrakStories.” That push featured spots during the fall television season, as well as digital distribution on video services such as YouTube and Hulu.

“This is much more overtly asking people to consider the train, over car or air travel,” an FCB representative told CNBC when comparing the two ad campaigns.

Robert Puentes, CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, a think tank in Washington, said the campaign appears to be aimed at discretionary travelers in the Northeast, where Amtrak has its strongest presence.

“But without huge upgrades it’s hard to think about an increase in ridership because you can’t squeeze any more trains on the existing infrastructure,” Puentes said. He added that the recent “summer of hell” repairs at New York’s Penn Station was a step in the right direction, but that more “improvement to Penn Station and the surrounding Hudson River area” are seriously needed.

CNBCAmtrak’s vice president of marketing, Kerry McKelvey, told CNBC the 2015 “500 Destinations” campaign made more people aware of the company’s brand. Now, he said, the most recent effort “is to put Amtrak at the top of the choice set” when people are thinking about domestic travel.

“We do well in the Northeast Corridor in the peak times, but we have a lot of trains that run off peak, which is an opportunity for people traveling on leisure,” McKelvey said.

Amtrak reported a $1.1 billion loss in fiscal year 2016, which ended Sept. 30. The company said it earned $3.2 billion from ticket sales and other revenue while incurring $4.3 billion in expenses. In November, Amtrak reported its smallest operating loss in decades, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Former Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson succeeded Wick Moorman as Amtrak CEO in June. Anderson was touted as someone who can help the company step forward because he helped lead Delta out of bankruptcy. Amtrak considers itself to be a private company, although it continues to receive heavy government subsidies.


Amtrak Wants to Remind You How Bad Flying Is

The rail system’s new president used to run Delta Air Lines. He feels your pain.

Richard Anderson knows exactly why so many people hate air travel. And as the former chief executive of Delta Air Lines Inc., he appears ready to exploit each of those pain points in his new role—as president and co-CEO of Amtrak. The railroad has launched a new advertising campaign focused heavily on why so many airlines have been despised by so many for so very long.

From free Wi-Fi to the absence of middle seats to the two bags you may check for free, Amtrak is pitching itself as a more comfortable, civilized travel alternative to an airline—albeit not as fast, but you can’t have everything.

“The coach on Amtrak is better than the first-class product on any domestic airplane,” Anderson said Thursday in an interview. The new campaign, though it predated his arrival, is “spot-on in terms of the contrast” with U.S. carriers, he said.

Anderson, 62, arrived at Amtrak in July and will assume the CEO title at year’s end, when co-CEO Wick Moorman steps down. Anderson said his first priority is to make the trains run on time; most depart punctually but then suffer delays en route and often arrive late. The company is also working to upgrade the interiors of passenger cars and will need to invest more on engineering work for Northeast Corridor tracks and other infrastructure, said Anderson, who moved to Washington this month.

Congress created Amtrak in 1970 via the Rail Passenger Service Act, and train service commenced the following year. The company’s ridership has been heavily concentrated in the Northeast, with service connecting New York, Boston, and Washington. That’s also the only region where Amtrak operates its high-speed Acela service, which began in 2000. Service in the corridor, however, is centered on the universally despised Penn Station in New York, a rat maze buried beneath Madison Square Garden. (Plans to expand Penn into a massive former post office at street level—and even clean up its nightmarish bathrooms—are gaining steam, though.

During his nine years at Delta, he became famous for the ferocity with which he battled subsidies

Financially, the enterprise has struggled, even as it boasts more than 30 million annual passengers. Its long-haul routes are among the most challenged, but Amtrak sees huge potential in “state-supported” routes of less than 750 miles, such as Milwaukee-Chicago, Los Angeles-San Francisco, and Seattle-Portland—the kinds of urban corridors whose population density has increased.

“You’re probably not going to build another freeway, and you’re probably not going to build another airport in those places,” Anderson said, noting the need for U.S. subsidies for rail travel, much as Congress appropriates large sums for America’s highways.

Amtrak also operates under federal subsidy, which helps to keep its average fares low, although the appropriate level of Congressional generosity for the rail system has been hotly debated over the years. Ultimately, Anderson said, Amtrak’s goal is to reach break-even on an operating basis within the next few years.

Anderson’s position on subsidies is noteworthy. During his nine years at Delta, he became famous for the ferocity with which he battled subsidies he believed competitors enjoyed, from sources including the Export-Import Bank and a trio of Middle Eastern governments that U.S. airlines accuse of giving unfair aid to their carriers. Under Anderson, Delta led an effort to cut off federal support for the ExIm Bank, which was a key element in many sales of Boeing Co. jets abroad.

Amtrak, meanwhile, provides an “essential service” for many Americans, Anderson said, and enjoys broad Congressional support. Earlier this month, the House of Representatives rejected a proposal by Representative Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican, to eliminate federal funding for Amtrak; a Senate committee has also set aside a budget request by the Trump administration to eliminate money for Amtrak’s long-distance routes.

Running a passenger rail company “is a lot more complicated than an airline,” Anderson said, because the railroad also owns its “air traffic control” system in the form of tracks, switches, and other equipment.

Anderson, who retired as Delta’s CEO in May 2016, isn’t collecting a salary in the Amtrak job. He was paid $53.2 million during his last four years as Delta’s chief executive. “We’ve all been very fortunate, right, so this is a great opportunity,” he said.

Amtrak reduces ticket window service as passengers choose eTicketing

JACKSON, MI – Train schedules won’t change, but the Amtrak ticket window at Jackson’s station will look different two days each week.

There will no longer be ticket agents Tuesday and Wednesday in Jackson, as more customers are opting to print tickets at home or scan their phone to get on the train. Other Amtrak stops are seeing similar changes, Spokesman Marc Magliari said.

“Overwhelmingly, our passengers choose electronic ticketing,” Magliari said. “Most people are using the eTicketing and a lot of people are doing it without talking to a human.”

A caretaker has been hired to open and close the station on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, since the station will still operate as normal, minus ticket agents. It went into effect Aug. 29.

The change helps Amtrak better manage costs, Magliari said.

“The days of people pushing coins and folded dollars across the counter to a ticket agent with a big stamping machine are pretty well gone,” Magliari said. “It’s all through automated systems.”

The ticketing window remains open for customers from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday through Monday.

Why close Tuesday and Wednesday? While Amtrak has a lot of business travelers, it also has a large group of student travelers who take the trains on weekends. Tuesday and Wednesday are typically the lowest travel days for Amtrak Midwest stations, Magliari said.

MLiveNews via California Rail News