Category Archives: Railroad Current

Amtrak to Chicago: Advocates hope train service can grow from limited options Cincinnati has now

CINCINNATI — It’s the last remaining portion of Union Terminal’s original use, but many today don’t even know it’s there.

Tucked behind the now under-construction Cincinnati Museum Center is the city’s access point to Amtrak, the country’s primary regional and long-distance passenger railroad service.

The station is a modestly sized version of the terminal in its heyday, which originally was designed to accommodate more than 200 trains and some 17,000 passengers each day. Today — secondary to housing the museum center — the station serves only a fraction of the railroads and passengers it once did, with just three arrivals and departures scheduled each week.

But there is a growing conversation in the region to change that.

New AMTRAK “Charger”Locomotives Testing on Cascades Route in Washington

National certification testing of Amtrak’s new Charger locomotive is being conducted by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The WSDOT said that the Siemens SC-44 Charger units are testing on the Amtrak Cascades corridor throughout February. If all goes well they are scheduled to enter regular service later this year.

The WSDOT has ordered eight of the 4,400-horsepower locomotives, which are being assembled by Siemens in Sacramento.

Siemens is headquartered in Germany and builds locomotives also for Florida East Coast Railway’s BRIGHTLINE

‘Put the Junction Back in the Junction’

Every seat was occupied in the waiting room at the Essex Junction Amtrak station on the first Wednesday in January. Passengers going south to New York City and Washington, D.C., spilled onto the platform next to the tracks. The drab station was the center of activity as the shops and restaurants in the old commercial buildings along Railroad Avenue began to open.

With a blast of its horn, the Vermonter arrived promptly at 9:54 a.m. from St. Albans, and 110 people climbed aboard the train. Such large crowds delight Essex Junction leaders, who want to boost train ridership in the historic railroad town.

The goal is “to put the junction back in the Junction,” said George Tyler, president of the Essex Junction Board of Trustees.

To that end, he and his colleagues are doing everything they can to accelerate the proposed extension of passenger rail to Montréal, which they figure could bring throngs of Canadians to Essex Junction, the train’s sole stop in Chittenden County. It would restore the old Montréaler service that for decades brought tourists and skiers through Vermont, linking Quebéc and Washington, D.C. The trains ran until 1995, when Amtrak discontinued the run because of financial problems. St. Albans became the northern terminus, and the line was renamed the Vermonter.

Citing renewed interest in rail and a national increase in Amtrak ridership, state officials predict the new service to Montréal will start in 2019. “Everything that needs to be done is in Canada,” said Dan Delabruere, rail director at the Vermont Agency of Transportation. “We’re ready on the Vermont side.”

Village leaders are touting other rail projects, too, as part of a broader village revitalization that encourages better pedestrian access, more street life and taller buildings in the core of the commuter burg.

For years, the area around the Junction sprouted strip development, parking lots and outlet stores while commercial spaces in the historic center sat empty. No more. New planning and zoning goals promote downtown-style redevelopment and seek to inject more life into the village.

“This community came into existence because of rail, and one of the best things we can do is take advantage of this fact and redevelop our rail assets,” said Tyler.

Originally named Painesville after Vermont governor and railroad owner Charles Paine, the village in the town of Essex earned a different moniker in the 1850s. It became known as “the Junction” because at least six rail lines chugged through it.

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AMTRAK Builds Momentum Behind Critical Upgrades

THE appointment of Mr Wick Moorman as president and CEO of Amtrak last September was greeted with enthusiasm from across the North American railway industry, bringing more than 40 years of railway experience and an intimate understanding of the freight carriers to the top job in US passenger rail.

Moorman began his railway career with NS’ predecessor Southern, initially working in track maintenance during his college days, before rising from management trainee to become president and CEO of the Class 1 railway. At a time of considerable political and economic uncertainty for the United States, Moorman’s understanding of how the railway operates, how it makes money, and how to influence policymakers in Washington DC should help to give Amtrak stability and build a future based on growth.

Indeed, growth has been a defining feature of Amtrak’s recent history, and ridership has now exceeded 30 million passengers for six consecutive years. Unaudited ticket sales for the 2016 fiscal year, which ended on September 30 2016, reached a record $US 2.14bn, a $US 12m increase compared with 2015. This was driven by a 400,000 increase in passenger journeys, which rose to a record 31.3 million.

Amtrak covered 94% of its operating costs from ticket sales and other revenues, up from 92% in 2015. Unaudited total revenue in 2016 reached $US 3.2bn and as a result, Amtrak reduced its operating loss by $US 78m to $US 227m, its lowest since 1973.

As he begins his first full year at the helm, Moorman is seeking to build on these results by driving efficiency and making Amtrak more responsive to the needs of customers. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published in January 2016 recommended that Amtrak should extend the use of its strategic management system company-wide and improve its financial reporting, and Moorman is keen to follow this path in 2017.

Read More on Wick Moorman

Some Pictures of the Dying Circus Train

With the upcoming demise of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows, it is time to find great pictures and publish them.

Looking through old pictures, (link below) I posted my favorite as “featured image”
Asia, the matriarch of the Red unit elephants, gets off first. When the circus could park in VA, the elephant cars were brought out to Fairfax Station, where the elephants would would walk up Rt 123 to the Fairfax arena (after midnight so not to mess up traffic).
Sorry PETA, this elephant was always treated better than most children are..

Looking for a runner-up, below is what happens when circus asks Union Pacific to handle a circus train:
up3985-02

Now the link:
http://members.trainorders.com/ddavies/Classic/Classic.htm

The Greatest Show On Earth DIES. What a Terrible Event!

After 146 years, the curtain is coming down on “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told The Associated Press that the show will close forever in May.

Good Bye to a big part of America. No more Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus Combined Shows

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

“There isn’t any one thing,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. “This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”

The company broke the news to circus employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.

Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.

The circus, with its exotic animals, flashy costumes and death-defying acrobats, has been a staple of entertainment in the United States since the mid-1800s. Phineas Taylor Barnum made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin. Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born. The sprawling troupes traveled around America by train, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals.

By midcentury, the circus was routine, wholesome family entertainment. But as the 20th century went on, kids became less and less enthralled. Movies, television, video games and the internet captured young minds. The circus didn’t have savvy product merchandising tie-ins or Saturday morning cartoons to shore up its image.

“The competitor in many ways is time,” said Feld, adding that transporting the show by rail and other circus quirks — such as providing a traveling school for performers’ children— are throwbacks to another era. “It’s a different model that we can’t see how it works in today’s world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price. So you’ve got all these things working against it.”

The Feld family bought the Ringling circus in 1967. The show was just under 3 hours then. Today, the show is 2 hours and 7 minutes, with the longest segment — a tiger act — clocking in at 12 minutes.

“Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes,” he said.

Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, who is the company’s chief operating officer, acknowledged another reality that led to the closing, and it was the one thing that initially drew millions to the show: the animals. Ringling has been targeted by activists who say forcing animals to perform is cruel and unnecessary.

Attendance has been dropping for 10 years, said Juliette Feld, but when the elephants left, there was a “dramatic drop” in ticket sales. Paradoxically, while many said they didn’t want big animals to perform in circuses, many others refused to attend a circus without them.

The Felds say their existing animals — lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas — will go to suitable homes. Juliette Feld says the company will continue operating the Center for Elephant Conservation.

Some 500 people perform and work on both touring shows. A handful will be placed in positions with the company’s other, profitable shows — it owns Monster Jam, Disney on Ice and Marvel Live, among other things — but most will be out of a job. Juliette Feld said the company will help employees with job placement and resumes. In some cases where a circus employee lives on the tour rail car (the circus travels by train), the company will also help with housing relocation.

Kenneth Feld became visibly emotional while discussing the decision with a reporter. He said over the next four months, fans will be able to say goodbye at the remaining shows.

In recent years, Ringling Bros. tried to remain relevant, hiring its first African American ringmaster, then its first female ringmaster, and also launching an interactive app. It added elements from its other, popular shows, such as motorbike daredevils and ice skaters. But it seemingly was no match for Pokemon Go and a generation of kids who desire familiar brands and YouTube celebrities.

“We tried all these different things to see what would work, and supported it with a lot of funding as well, and we weren’t successful in finding the solution,” said Kenneth Feld.

You can still find us on the Web: https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/circus-trains/

Elon Musk’s idea for fixing traffic suffers from one fundamental problem

Elon Musk — the restless billionaire behind Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity — was stuck in annoying traffic and mused that one solution would be to drill more tunnels. All he’d need, really, is a giant machine…

Everyone’s trying to figure out whether Musk is genuinely serious about starting a brand-new tunnel-boring company or not. Who knows! But tunnels are fun to think about, so why not pretend he is serious and think through how this might actually work….

One obvious hitch to Musk’s scheme is that some cities are already trying to dig new tunnels to accommodate traffic — and it’s far from easy! There’s a lot of existing infrastructure buried in the ground beneath cities, from water mains to electrical cables. And the tunnels themselves often need to be reinforced. That makes tunneling slow, difficult, and expensive work.

Seattle is a cautionary tale here: Since 2013, the city has employed a massive 57-foot-diameter boring machine named Big Bertha to drill a 2-mile highway tunnel beneath the downtown area. Yet six months after work began, Big Bertha broke down after overheating. Drilling finally resumed in late 2015 — but then had to stop again after a sinkhole opened up near construction. Perhaps Musk can improve on Big Bertha. But that brings us to an even deeper problem with his idea. Building more tunnels is just not a good way to alleviate traffic congestion. In fact, it would likely do the opposite.

The “fundamental rule” of traffic: building new roads just makes people drive more
In January 2016, during SpaceX’s Hyperloop pod design competition, Musk explained why he thought tunnels could help alleviate traffic:

It’s a really simple and obvious idea and I wish more people would do it: build more tunnels. Tunnels are great. It’s just a hole in the ground, it’s not that hard. But if you have tunnels in cities you would massively alleviate congestion and you could have tunnels at all different levels — you could probably have 30 layers of tunnels and completely fix the congestion problem in high-density cities. So I strongly recommend tunnels.

Except economists and traffic experts have been studying this issue for a long time and they’ve found the exact opposite. When cities add new roads to a congested area, it usually doesn’t alleviate congestion. Instead, it just induces more traffic, as people take advantage of the added road space to drive more.

Granted, there can still be good reasons for fast-growing cities to build new roads. They just shouldn’t necessarily expect traffic jams to disappear as a result. Los Angeles got a firsthand glimpse of this after widening its I-405 freeway, a project that cost $1 billion. “The data shows that traffic is moving slightly slower now on 405 than before the widening,”

So what does help alleviate congestion? If cities really want to erase traffic jams, many transportation economists would instead recommend that they charge people to use roads when they’re crowded — a policy known as congestion pricing that has popped up in places like London, Singapore, and Stockholm.

Early research suggests that pricing really does cut down on traffic, as people decide to move their commutes to non-peak hours, shift to mass transit, or cut down on trips overall. It’s arguably even more effective if cities use the funds to provide alternative transportation options.

The downside is that congestion charging tends to be rather unpopular, since people don’t like it when they suddenly have to pay for something that used to be free. (It’s the same reason why checked-baggage fees on airplanes have incurred such a backlash.) So urban planners tend to favor building new roads and widening existing roads — or, in Musk’s case, new tunnels — even if the research suggests again and again that it doesn’t cut down on congestion.

Now, that doesn’t mean a tunneling machine would be useless! Remember, Musk also has plans to start colonizing Mars within a decade. And humans living on Mars would probably want to spend most of their time underground to avoid the higher levels of solar radiation that hits the planet.

AMTRAK’S “CARDINAL” WANTS TO BE MORE POPULAR

WOW! The poor “Cardinal” wants to be more popular. It wants to be daily not 3 times a week. It wants to serve more communities. It wants to run on a different route.

cardinalroute

One of the major challenges to running effective train service to Chicago via the Cardinal includes the condition of track on the current route. All Aboard Ohio Chairperson Ken Prendergast told UrbanCincy, “It should be noted that about 50-60 miles of the Chicago-Fort Wayne/Lima nearest to Chicago could be used by Cincinnati to Chicago trains. It would provide a much faster routing into Chicago than the current route of the Cardinal and any other Cincinnati – Chicago trains that may be added in the near future.”

Elsewhere in Ohio, a passenger rail line linking rail-starved cities like Columbus and Lima to Chicago via Ft. Wayne and Gary, IN received a major boost on Tuesday. Federal officials gave permission for communities along the line to begin the Alternative Analysis and Public Input process, which will do preliminary engineering, service planning, and measure environmental impacts. Those officials met at Ft. Wayne’s Baker Street Station, which saw its last passenger service in 1990. This analysis will being in January of 2017 and finish by the Fall of that same year. The $350,000 needed for this initial studying was raised by cities all along the line.

“This is the first step in the Project Development Process, which all major transportation projects must go through. Right now there is enough funding from communities and businesses west of Lima to do the Chicago-Lima portion but not farther east to Columbus” Prendergast stated.

Prendergast sees these lines as a next step in further connecting Ohio via rail between Chicago and the east coast. If a Chicago to Columbus line is created it is not impossible to imagine future phases that could expand eastward beyond Columbus as well, Prendergast says, “there’s nothing that says the Eastern Terminus of this route has to be Columbus. In fact Amtrak services from Cleveland and Toledo could be routed over this Fort Wayne-Chicago segment. But we still believe Central Ohio will decide it’s in their economic interest to be a part of this project.”

Officials speaking at the news conference highlighted their big dreams and big plans for the new possible rail line. They called for initial service to run between 70-80mph, with eventual upgrades to 110mph. A 2013 study by the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association estimated that 10 trains a day along this line could generate up to 2 million annual passengers by 2020.

While both of these proposals require the cooperation of the freight railroads who own the lines (CSX and Norfolk Southern, respectively), many have hope because of Amtrak’s new CEO, Wick Moorman. Moorman is a veteran of the freight rail industry, having served more than 4 decades with Norfolk Southern and its predecessor, Southern. He has signaled that improved relations with the Class I freight railroads will be a focus of his tenure as CEO.

cardinalproposed

Securing an Amtrak stop in Oxford has been more like a roller coaster ride than rail service for officials working on a proposal for more than two decades.

The city, various study groups and Miami University students have been studying the issue since 2009 with limited success — a full 15 years after an historic train station at South Elm Street was razed.

The issue of adding a stop again was raised in 2009 by a Miami University student group. Amtrak’s Cardinal line already passed through the city three times a week, but it did not stop in Oxford. With a student population of 16,000, some city leaders believed there might be a market to support a train stop.

First finished Brightline train, now steaming to South Florida

Siemens workers gather as the first completed Brightline train gets set to roll from the manufacturing facility in Sacramento, Calif., bound for South Florida.

The train, consisting of two diesel-electric locomotives and four coaches, all decked out in Brightline Blue, arrived in West Palm Beach on Wednesday after a 3,000-mile journey from the Siemens manufacturing hub in Sacramento to South Florida. By rail, of course.

The train will now begin undergoing testing along the Florida East Coast Railway line between West Palm Beach and Miami, the company said.

Brightline’s parent company, Florida East Coast Industries subsidiary All Aboard Florida, is scheduled to start regular express passenger service between West Palm and Miami, with a stop in Fort Lauderdale, next summer. The company intends to add service to Orlando in 2018.

US Sugar to Repair Old Florida East Coast Steam Engine

U.S. Sugar today welcomed home the return of Engine No. 148, a steam locomotive it used in the 1950s to haul sugarcane from the fields to its mill.

U.S. Sugar re-acquired the steam engine from a private owner and plans to spend the next year or more restoring the retired Florida East Coast engine. Eventually, U.S. Sugar hopes to make the engine operational and add vintage passenger cars for offering public train rides.

“This steam locomotive is part of our history, and we wanted to bring it home,’’ said Judy Sanchez, senior director of corporate communications and public affairs for U.S. Sugar, during a welcoming home celebration in Clewiston. “We intend to restore Engine No. 148 to its former glory.’’

The engine was shipped via rail from Colorado to Clewiston, where a team of about two dozen U.S. Sugar mechanics and others will inspect the engine and perform an engineering study. U.S. Sugar plans to return the 97-year-old engine to operating condition after its decades-long retirement.

“These engines helped fuel Florida and its growth. To be able to save such an important piece of our past is an incredible opportunity that will benefit generations to come,’’ said Seth Bramson, company historian for the Florida East Coast Railway, the only rail system along the east coast of Florida, which dates back to Henry M. Flagler. “This is an indication of the caring and interest of this company in honoring its past and the state’s great history.’’

Founded in 1931, U.S. Sugar has long used railroad as an efficient means for transporting goods throughout the region and beyond. It’s the only sugarcane farming company in the continental United States that transports all of its cane to a sugar factory by railroad, which saves on fuel and reduces truck traffic and fossil fuel emissions. Its South Central Florida Express transports sugar, citrus products, fertilizer, farm equipment and other agricultural freight year-round. Its Sugarcane Train hauls sugarcane from the fields to the mills during harvest season. In all, the company operates a dozen locomotives and 800 rail cars over 300 miles of track.

To monitor the progress of Engine No. 148, check out #148Homecoming and #USSugar on social media or visit USSugar.com for updates.

About U.S. Sugar

Founded in 1931 and headquartered in Clewiston, Fla., U.S. Sugar is a recognized leader in the growing and processing of sugarcane, citrus and sweet corn. Its local farmers provide 10 percent of all sugar produced in the United States, up to 90 million gallons of premium Florida orange juice and half of Florida’s sweet corn crop.