AMTRAK EXITS THE MAIL BUSINESS
- (from Amtrak) Fewer delays, quicker schedules targeted Some Amtrak routes
and job positions to be eliminated
WASHINGTON – Amtrak will discontinue shipping mail for the U.S. Postal Service in order to concentrate on the core business of transporting passengers. For many Amtrak customers, this will mean an improvement in the schedule of their trains, while two Amtrak services that were primarily extended to accommodate mail and express business are being reduced or eliminated.
“Mail and express no longer makes business sense for Amtrak and has negatively impacted the quality of our passenger service, so the decision has been made to exit the business,” said Amtrak President & CEO David L. Gunn in a message to employees. “It is my intention to have all mail and express activity concluded by early October.”
In addition to a notification given last week to the Postmaster General, Amtrak is advising officials in Florida, Ohio and Indiana that a limited number of stations will no longer be served by passenger trains as a result of the railroad’s withdrawal from mail and express hauling.
Amtrak has also been in communication with labor unions that represent Amtrak employees affected by the decision.
Amtrak’s mail and express business was marginal and did not justify the toll it took on passenger operations. The slower schedules necessitated by longer trains and the switching of express and mail cars at terminals and en route caused passenger dissatisfaction and increased costs.
The cost to lease or maintain aging equipment was another factor in the decision to exit the business. In Chicago, Toledo, Philadelphia, Washington, St. Paul-Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Jacksonville and other cities, train delays due to mail handling will be eliminated. Amtrak is making arrangements to dispose of the specialized mail and express handling equipment and the passenger railroad will also reduce the number of locomotives it needs by shortening trains to and from Chicago.
Also, maintenance forces can concentrate on returning other elements of the railroad to a state of good repair without the additional equipment required by the mail and express business.
Related to this action, Amtrak’s New York-Miami Palmetto will serve New York-Savannah, starting Nov. 1, 2004. Also starting Nov. 1, Amtrak will eliminate the Chicago-New York Three Rivers, substituting in its time slot the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian, extending that service to Chicago until the spring.
“I realize that this will be painful for some employees, but we will make every effort to provide opportunities for affected employees to remain with the company,” said Gunn. Approximately 300 employees are affected by this action, primarily at terminals and stations. Some workers are expected to exercise their seniority rights for jobs elsewhere in the corporation, including the package shipping business that will continue on trains with checked baggage.
A list of affected Amtrak routes, schedules and communities follows.
Georgia and Florida: Palmetto and Silver Service Trains: The current Palmetto runs overnight New York-Tampa-Miami as a coach-only train, on a schedule driven by the needs of the mail business. After Nov. 1, it will become a New York-Savannah daytime service, as it was until 1994, and operate on a faster schedule.
The Florida cities of Lakeland and Tampa, now served by the Palmetto, will be served instead by the New York-Orlando-Miami Silver Star. Sleeping car and dining car service to Tampa will be restored, with First class passengers from St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and Fort Myers having a much shorter bus ride to Tampa instead of Orlando. The Silver Star will operate at a more convenient time at Tampa (5:22 p.m. northbound and 10:35 a.m. southbound) than the Palmetto and operate on a one-hour faster schedule between New York and Florida. Rail service will be withdrawn from four Florida stations: Waldo, Ocala, Wildwood and Dade City -- all served at night. A daytime motorcoach service will connect those cities plus Gainesville with the Silver Star both at Jacksonville and Lakeland.
Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois: Three Rivers and Pennsylvanian Trains: The New York-Pittsburgh-Chicago Three Rivers was extended from Pittsburgh to Chicago in 1996 and scheduled to meet the needs of the bulk-mail business that Amtrak is now exiting. Changes will come in three phases. Effective Nov. 1, 2004, the Three Rivers (New York-Pittsburgh-Chicago) and Pennsylvanian (New York-Pittsburgh) will be replaced by one New York-Pittsburgh-Chicago train offering Coach and Business Class service. It will operate on a schedule nearly one-hour faster than the current Three Rivers.
On or about March 1, 2005, service on the Three Rivers route will be eliminated west of Pittsburgh, following the legally required advanced notice to the affected communities of Youngstown, Akron and Fostoria, Ohio, and Nappanee, Ind.
Current plans call for changes in the New York-Pittsburgh train schedules with the effective date of the Spring-Summer 2005 Amtrak timetable in April. The westbound train to Pittsburgh will operate slightly later in the day than the current Three Rivers and the eastbound train to New York will approximate the current schedule of the Pennsylvanian. The 1998 extension of the Pennsylvanian between Pittsburgh and Chicago for mail and express purposes was eliminated in 2003 and a different Pennsylvanian schedule to New York was adopted last year.
Daily service between Pittsburgh and Chicago will be maintained by the Capitol Limited, which operates via Cleveland, Toledo and South Bend, more populous cities north of the current Three Rivers stops in Ohio and Indiana
NARP COMMENTS ON AMTRAK SERVICE CHANGES - September 3, 2004
The National Association of Railroad Passengers opposes Amtrak’s planned termination of the New York-Pittsburgh Chicago “Three Rivers” and recognizes that changes proposed for Florida have important positives and negatives.
NARP has made the following points to Amtrak regarding the “Three Rivers”:
• The eastbound train lets passengers connecting from late Western trains continue their journeys promptly rather than having to spend an unplanned night in a Chicago hotel (at Amtrak’s expense).
• The westbound train is the only long-distance train which permits a Chicago arrival early enough to attend an all-day meeting.
• The “Three Rivers” is the only daily service between Philadelphia/New Jersey and Chicago.
• State and local funding for station improvements has totaled $287,500 at Youngstown, Akron and Fostoria—stations which are now set to lose their Amtrak service come March 1. Also, Amtrak in 1994 spent $2.6 million on a track connection at New Castle, Pennsylvania, just for the “Three Rivers.”
Regarding changes in the Florida service, we:
• Applaud the restoration of decent times and a full service train to Tampa;
• Acknowledge that an attractively timed dedicated connecting bus that directly serves Gainesville (home of the University of Florida)—as well as Dade City, Ocala and perhaps Waldo—compares favorably with middle-of-the-night trains that skip Gainesville;
• Applaud plans to expand capacity on the “Silver Star” and “Silver Meteor”; but
• Regret the loss of schedule choice south of Savannah as the new schedule will see two round trips there instead of three.
We note with interest Amtrak’s statement that, “in Chicago, Toledo, Philadelphia, Washington, St. Paul-Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Jacksonville and other cities, train delays due to mail handling will be eliminated.” If this theory proves accurate, that will be a plus for passengers. Improved reliability of Western trains also could reduce the role of the eastbound “Three Rivers” as a rescue train for late Western “misconnecting” passengers, but we have urged Amtrak at least to keep “Three Rivers” on until it is clear that the promised reliability improvements are real. Mail is not the only Amtrak-controlled obstacle to on-time performance.
We note also Amtrak’s statement that eliminating mail and express cars will “reduce the number of locomotives [Amtrak] needs by shortening trains to and from Chicago.” Again, the operation of more long-distance trains with single locomotives likewise will require a higher level of maintenance to insure reliability.
Finally, we are concerned about service frequency reductions between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, and the “ping-ponging” of the eastbound schedule, with the popular 7:15 AM Pittsburgh departure dropped next month but restored in the spring. Maintaining both frequencies through the spring would better serve public need if there is a real possibility that Pennsylvania might fund a second frequency. Extension of one of the Pittsburgh trains to Cleveland and Toledo also would be desirable.
We recognize that Amtrak, unfortunately, faces hostility on funding issues both from the White House—which still nominally supports a “shutdown,” $900 million grant for FY 2005—and from certain key members of Congress. Nonetheless, we are concerned that this latest announcement may be perceived as retrenchment rather than restructuring.
To the extent that these decisions are driven by equipment shortages, they underline the need for the federal government to fully fund Amtrak’s five-year plan, including its equipment aspects.
Mail and Express to End; Changes to Palmetto, Three Rivers and Pennsylvanian Planned - September 3, 2004
As a result of the company’s decision to exit the mail
and express business, Amtrak is making changes to the Palmetto, Three Rivers
and Pennsylvanian, starting November 1.
Amtrak’s decision to exit mail and express will improve some schedules and keep the railroad’s focus on its core passenger service business.
Amtrak President David Gunn recently told employees that the
mail business, which takes a toll on passenger operations, no longer made
business sense for the railroad.
Palmetto service, trains 89 and 90, which operates from New York through Tampa to Miami as coach only, will no longer serve Florida. As of Nov. 1, this train will operate between New York and Savannah, GA, on a better schedule. Cities that will no longer have rail service — Waldo, Ocala, Wildwood and Dade City — will be connected by motorcoach with the Silver Star at Lakeland and Jacksonville.
While the Silver Star, trains 91 and 92, will continue its New York to Miami run via Orlando, it will begin serving Tampa and Lakeland (previously served by the Palmetto) on Nov. 1. This route change will also restore sleeping car accommodations and dining car service to those cities.
The schedule of the New York-Pittsburgh-Chicago Three Rivers was designed to meet the needs of the mail business. As a result of ending the mail business, the train will undergo significant changes. With the new timetable, both the Three Rivers and the Pennsylvanian will be replaced by a single New York-Pittsburgh-Chicago train, which will run roughly according to the schedule of the Three Rivers, but without a sleeping car.
In March, service on this train west of Pittsburgh will be eliminated, following the legally required notice to the communities that will no longer be served by Amtrak; Youngstown, Akron and Fostoria OH, and Nappanee, IN.
The withdrawal from the mail and express business will impact some employees, but many will have the opportunity to remain with the company in other capacities.
Finally, as a result of surplus equipment and the expiration of the postal service contract, Amtrak is arranging for the disposal of roadrailers, bogies and other equipment used for the mail and express business.
Today, the United States Senate voiced strong support for rebuilding
America's intercity rail passenger network. In a letter to Senate appropriators,
51 Senators requested a fiscal 2005 appropriation of $1.798 billion for Amtrak
capital and operating needs.
The letter, co-authored by Senators Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.)
and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), is signed by a diverse collection of Senators:
Republican and Democrat, rural and urban, those with Amtrak service and those
without it. The $1.798 billion level of funding is critical to avoid a shut-down
crisis in 2005 and maintain Amtrak President David L. Gunn's efforts to return
the railroad to a state-of-good-repair.
"Amtrak needs the money now to improve service and repair
its aging infrastructure," Senator Hollings said. "We can't shut
down Amtrak. Twenty-four million Americans depend on it for transportation.
In these times of highway and aviation congestion and security concerns, investing
in Amtrak should be a national priority."
Senator Specter said: "Amtrak plays an integral role in
the future of passenger transportation. While Amtrak's fiscal needs are significant,
I believe we would be severely disadvantaged without a national passenger
This letter takes on added importance given the shut-down funding level of $900 million approved by the House Appropriations Committee on July 22, 2004. A timeline for Senate action on Amtrak's appropriation will be decided upon at the end of the August recess.
Those Senators who signed the pro-Amtrak letter are listed below. Note that the letter was sent to to Senators Stevens (R-AK), Byrd (D-WV), Shelby (R-AL), and Murray (D-WA) on August 20, 2004. Senators Murray and Byrd and sometimes Stevens have supported Amtrak in the past but are not allowed to sign a letter to themselves. President Bush opposes this proposal and is still calling for an Amtrak shut down budget while Senators Kerry and Edwards are signatories and support full Amtrak funding.
Arkansas: Pryor (D.) Lincoln (D.)
Connecticut: Lieberman (D.) Dodd (D.)
California: Boxer (D.) Feinstein (D.)
Delaware: Biden (D.) Carper (D.)
Florida: Graham (D.)
Illinois: Durbin (D.) Fitzgerald (R.)
Iowa: Harkin (D.)
Hawaii: Inouye (D.)
Louisiana: Breaux (D.) Landrieu (D.)
Maine: Collins (R.) Snowe (R.)
Maryland: Mikulski (D.) Sarbanes (D.)
Massachusetts: Kennedy (D.) Kerry (D.)
Michigan: Levin (D.) Stabenow (D.)
Minnesota: Dayton (D.) Coleman (R.)
Montana: Baucus (D.) Burns (R.)
Nebraska: Ben Nelson (D.)
Nevada: Reid (D.)
New Jersey: Corzine (D.) Lautenburg (D.)
New Mexico: Bingaman (D.)
New York: Clinton (D.) Schumer (D.)
North Carolina: Edwards (D.)
North Dakota: Conrad (D.) Dorgan (D.)
Ohio: DeWine (R.)
Pennsylvania: Specter (R.*) Santorum (R.)
Rhode Island: Chafee (R.) Reed (D.)
South Carolina: Hollings (D.*)
South Dakota: Daschle (D.) Johnson (D.)
Vermont: Jeffords (I.) Leahy (D.)
Washington: Cantwell (D.)
West Virginia: Rockefeller (D.)
Wisconsin: Kohl (D.) Feingold (D.)
Democrats = 41 / Republicans = 9 / Independents = 1
VERMONT PAYS $2.5 MILLION TO KEEP AMTRAK - July 28, 2004
Vermont's two Amtrak trains will keep chugging along for another
year, thanks to a $2.5 million state subsidy that's $200,000 more than last
year. But the Ethan Allen Express and the Vermonter continue to be well worth
the expenditure of state funds, according to a state transportation official
and local business leaders. Once signed, the contract will run from July 1
through the end of next June.
The Bush administration has made its position clear by proposing to slash Amtrak's budget - a move that Amtrak officials and passenger rail advocates say threatens its very existence.
The Ethan Allen Express serves the western part of the state with one daily roundtrip between Rutland and New York City. The Vermonter serves the eastern side of the state with daily roundtrip service between St.Albans and Washington, D.C., making nine stops in Vermont, including
Burlington, Montpelier, White River Junction and Brattleboro.
Budget cuts at Amtrak have been felt in Vermont. There are no longer ticket agents at any stations in the state. Amtrak pays for a custodian to open and close the station in downtown Rutland an hour before and after each arrival and departure. And because there are no ticket agents, the Ethan Allen and the Vermonter no longer have a baggage car, which would require an Amtrak station employee to be on hand. As an alternative, the state is considering installing automated ticket machines at stations in Vermont.
Paul Shannon of the New England Transportation Institute and Museum in White River Junction, said the Vermonter continues to attract a steady stream of passengers.
"Besides the college students, there's a lot of the older folks that like to ride the train," said Shanon, the institute's treasurer. "It's a whole mixed bag." He said passenger rail transportation won't garner the political support it needs until the price of gasoline climbs to the point where the public demands action.
"The state of Vermont deserves an awful lot credit for
its insight into supporting Amtrak," he said.
HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE APPROVES $900 MILLION
FOR AMTRAK- July 15, 2004 (courtesy NARP)
Washington—-The Amtrak funding process for fiscal 2005 (which starts October 1, 2004) got off to a disappointing, if expected, start this morning. The Subcommittee on Transportation and Treasury and Independent Agencies of the House Appropriations Committee approved the $900 million level requested by the Bush Administration.
Looking on the bright side, this is $379 million or 73% more
than this subcommittee, chaired by Ernest Istook Jr. (R-OK), approved last
Also, the subcommittee has bipartisan support for Amtrak. One subcommittee member, John Sweeney (R-NY), said after this morning’s action: “Today was the first step in an ongoing fight. We are going to continue fighting throughout this process to get Amtrak the funding it needs to support the millions of passengers each year that rely on its services.”
The full committee, chaired by Rep. C. W. Bill Young (R-FL), plans to mark up the bill on Friday, July 23. House floor action-—and possibly all Senate action—-is expected in September.
Amtrak says that $900 million or anything close to that level would force a shutdown by February, and that about $1.6 billion is needed to maintain the momentum now established towards returning the railroad to a state of good repair.
“It is high time that the House responded to public support for a balanced transportation system in which intercity passenger rail plays a major role,” said NARP Executive Director Ross B. Capon. “Passing a ‘shutdown’ budget for Amtrak takes the nation in exactly the wrong direction.”
ACELA ADVERTISING YIELDS UNEXPECTED
REVENUE - July 9, 2004
Amtrak makes award-winning posters available for sale
WASHINGTON - Amtrak's new ads for Acela Express are paying off
in ways the railroad never expected - by selling themselves!
Customer response to the campaign has been so strong that Amtrak has taken the unusual step of selling posters of the award-winning advertising at its online store, www.amtrak.com/store.
"You know you're doing something right when your advertising - in and of itself - can generate revenue," said Barbara Richardson, Amtrak vice president of Marketing and Sales. "We are thrilled that consumers like the Acela artwork as much as we do."
The new Acela campaign, launched in September 2003, reflects Amtrak's back-to-basics approach to marketing its products. The ads feature bold, colorful illustrations by world-famous graphic artist Michael Schwab, best known for his work for clients including Apple, Coke and Nike. Schwab's art deco images evoke the love Americans have for train travel, while simultaneously positioning Amtrak as a modern transportation provider serving the major cities of the Northeast.
Since the ads were released, customers from all over the country have contacted Amtrak to request copies.
There are four posters available for sale: a Boston version, a New York version, a Washington version and a fourth version featuring all three cities. The set of four posters is available for $15. Individual posters may be purchased for $5 each. All posters are 24 x 36 inches and are printed on premium paper. To order Acela posters, visit www.amtrak.com/store.
Amtrak Board Near Vacant - June 30, 2004
Amtrak's Board has dwindled down from seven to only two members thus making it difficult for the rail corporation to make decisions. To permit a situation to deteriorate to the point where you end up with the board consisting of the secretary of transportation's designee and one appointee of the administration is just irresponsible in my opinion," said former Amtrak Board member Michael Dukakis. According to a report in the Boston Globe, "The vacancies on the Amtrak board -- and attempts to fill them now caught in partisan politics -- is the latest in a series of crises facing the rail system. Amtrak has a long list of stories of ill-will on Capitol Hill: of how inadequate funding has threatened bridge supports and service in the Northeast corridor; of funding woes prompting service cuts; and of nearly half of its union employees threatening a one-day strike to protest the annual funding battles in Congress."
AMTRAK UPDATES FIVE-YEAR STRATEGIC PLAN
- June 29, 2004
WASHINGTON - Releasing the annual update to Amtrak’s five-year strategic plan, Amtrak President David L. Gunn and other railroad industry representatives made new recommendations today to address the growing needs and challenges of intercity rail service.
The plan has three components dealing with the existing national system, state-initiated intercity corridors and the national freight network. The plan states that Amtrak is making steady progress on the existing system to achieve its state-of-good-repair objectives and is continuing to control operating expenses. The corridor strategy includes state proposals supported by Amtrak for specific passenger rail corridor development. The freight strategy contains recommendations to protect and upgrade key facilities owned by freight railroads. The corridor and freight recommendations require federal matching investment programs to meet these goals.
“The update to the five-year plan continues the effort we began last year to provide specific and precise details on exactly how every dollar is to be spent to bring the existing Amtrak system up to a state-of-good-repair,” said Gunn. “However, states and the freight railroads face serious problems of capacity, congestion and reliability, and there is a growing consensus within the rail industry that we must come together to address these challenges.”
To support the existing system, the five-year strategic plan calls for federal funding averaging about $1.6 billion. The plan holds the line on federal support for operating purposes each year at $570 million. The majority of federal support is for capital improvements to the existing system and will be used to bring facilities and equipment up to a state-of-good-repair.
Capital Projects Outlined
Planned infrastructure improvements over the five years include reconstruction of 32 interlockings, installation of 885,000 concrete ties, 423 miles of track undercutting, 352 miles of new rail, rebuilding of five major bridges (including the 97 year-old Connecticut River bridge), 136 miles of signal cable replacement and renewal of 300 miles of catenary hardware. The four-part fleet plan to increase passenger car and locomotive reliability and availability announced last year will continue with 326 locomotive overhauls and remanufacture or overhaul of an additional 1,457 passenger cars. Eleven cab cars will be rebuilt. Wreck repairs assume a rate of 20 passenger cars and six locomotives annually. Acquisition of 80 car-carriers (for the Auto Train) is scheduled to replace 50 year-old equipment.
Federal/State Partnerships for Corridor Services Recommended
Numerous states are fully committed to the development of intercity passenger rail corridors, with a goal of increasing speeds and providing more frequent service. During the past year, Amtrak has worked with these states to clearly identify these corridors, their congestion and capacity challenges, and their capital investment needs. Plans for each corridor reflect preliminary work completed or work ready to commence. Amtrak’s role was to help refine these plans and present them in a single, unified document.
“The corridors highlighted in our strategic plan have the full support of state and local policy-makers, they have detailed capital and operating plans, and they have sign-off by the host railroads,” said Gunn. “The only thing missing is the availability of a federal match.”
Last year, the Bush Administration called for federal/state rail partnerships to develop passenger rail. While Amtrak has questioned other elements of the Administration’s plan that divide the railroad into three separate corporations according to function, Amtrak plans to strongly support states’ efforts to win federally matched capital investments. A number of state representatives were on hand for today’s announcement.
Those appearing with Gunn today at a news conference were Frank Busalacchi, Wisconsin Transportation Secretary; Karen Rae, Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation Director; Gene Skoropowski, General Manager, Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (California); Patrick Simmons, North Carolina DOT Rail Director; and Ken Uznanski, Washington State Passenger Rail Director.
Passengers want better service, too. Amtrak ridership on these corridors is growing from 17 million in 1999 to a projected 21 million in 2004, while competing for increasingly congested capacity with expanding commuter rail services.
Working with the states, Amtrak evaluated the corridors’ readiness for immediate development, with those meeting all of the study’s criteria designated as Tier I corridors. Corridors designated as Tier II met more than half of the criteria. The elements of the criteria are a long-term master plan, market revenue forecast, operating expense forecast, infrastructure investment plan, equipment investment plan, host railroad acceptance, agreement to fund a 20% match and agreement to cover any added operating deficit. It was stressed that the tier designations are not a rating of relative importance, but an analysis of the stage of development.
The eight Tier I corridors are Philadelphia – Harrisburg, PA; Raleigh – Charlotte, NC; Chicago, IL – St. Louis, MO; Chicago, IL – Milwaukee – Madison, WI; San Diego – Los Angeles – San Luis Obispo, CA; Bakersfield – Sacramento/Oakland, CA; San Jose – Sacramento, CA; and Eugene – Portland, OR – Seattle; WA.
The four Tier II corridors are Boston, MA – Portland,
ME; Washington, DC – Richmond, VA; Chicago, IL – Detroit, MI;
and Seattle, WA – Vancouver, BC.
(See the Strategic Business Plan Appendix A for more information on estimated investment costs and service benefits).
Freight Rail Network Recommendation
Because Amtrak trains travel on 20,000 miles of rail owned by the freight railroads, it has a unique perspective on these railroads’ increasing congestion, deferred maintenance and lack of capacity. The problem is reflected in the growing number of delays to intercity passengers on both long-distance and corridor trains. Complicating the growing congestion, the freight railroads are abandoning and downgrading secondary lines for economic reasons.
To address these problems, Amtrak recommended the federal government also consider a freight investment-matching program combining federal funds with those of the states and/or the freight railroads for key segments of the freight rail network. The investments would not necessarily be limited to lines on which Amtrak operates, but would be based on a number of factors, such as congestion relief, benefit to local freight shippers and cost-effectiveness.
The Norfolk Southern Corporation and Canadian Pacific Railway, Class I railroads, issued statements endorsing the proposal.
“This recommendation is a work-in-progress that deserves
further study,” said Gunn. “However, it is clear that if the railroads
are having trouble carrying the business they have today, their ability to
met the growth they are projecting is totally unrealistic. Unless the railroads
can earn their cost of capital, they are going to squeeze the rail network
and it will break. Meanwhile, we are pouring billions of public money into
highways and other transportation modes, yet highways are increasingly congested
as well. It doesn’t make sense. We need some balance in our priorities
and in our investments, and federal leadership to make that happen. The problem
is flying below the radar right now, and if we don’t act soon we risk
losing a significant portion of the rail network.”
(Additional information on this recommendation is in the Strategic Business Plan Appendix B.)
Amtrak Progress ‘04
A series of measures instituted in FY ’02 such as GAAP financial reporting, zero-based budgeting and strict control over company-wide headcount have helped to stabilize the railroad’s finances. Amtrak’s financial performance through the first seven months of the fiscal year is favorable to budget. Passenger ridership through the first eight months of FY ’04 is 16.2 million, up 6.2% over the same period last year. From February to May ’04, the railroad has sustained four consecutive months of all-time record ridership and, should the trend continue through the end of the fiscal year, will exceed 25 million passengers for the first time.
At the same time, capital infrastructure projects are at their
highest levels in the past 20 years. For FY ’04 alone, Amtrak estimates
it will lay 181,000 concrete ties, replace 200 track-miles of rail and undercut
51 miles of track. This is in addition to the approximately 60 miles
converted to concrete ties. The railroad expects to install 81 miles
of catenary hardware, replace 30 miles of signal cable and upgrade 185 miles
of automatic block signals.
Through the first seven months of FY ’04 (including April ’04), the railroad was $61.4 million favorable to budget on an operating loss of $397 million. (The most recent monthly performance report is available on-line at www.amtrak.com/press.)
Risks Still Continue
Despite Amtrak’s accomplishments over the past two years, Gunn warned that substantial risks still exist. “Our progress has been incremental and steady thanks to the hard work of Amtrak employees across the country to rebuild plant and equipment and to improve service for our passengers,” said Gunn, “but the whole network would be jeopardized if we are underfunded, suffer a major system failure or some other calamity beyond our control.”
New Passenger Rail Station at Milwaukee
Airport -- June 28, 2004
MILWAUKEE - Governor Jim Doyle, U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi, and other federal, state, and local officials broke ground today on a $6.5 million project to build a new passenger rail station at Milwaukee County’s General Mitchell International Airport (GMIA). The new station, platform, and parking facilities will be located on the western edge of the airport along existing Canadian Pacific Railway lines.
The station will serve rail passengers connecting to the airport,
along with rail-only passengers utilizing Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service
that provides seven round trips daily between Chicago and Milwaukee. Senator
Kohl secured the federal earmarks to fund the project. "Along with providing
air and rail passengers a convenient travel connection, this new station represents
another component of my Grow Wisconsin plan to support economic development
and job growth," Governor Doyle said. "I especially want to thank
Senator Kohl for his leadership and hard work in securing the federal funds
to make this project possible."
General Mitchell International Airport and Milwaukee County have agreed to provide a shuttle bus connection between the airport and the planned 1,800-square-foot rail station. Work on the station should be complete before the end of this year. Canadian Pacific Railway has already completed much of the track work required for the project.
"This station will connect Amtrak’s Hiawatha service
- which boasts the best on-time performance of any Amtrak route - with the
approximately six million
passengers who pass through General Mitchell Airport each year," Governor Doyle said.
SILVER SERVICE UPDATE - June 26, 2004
Amtrak reports that their Silver Service schedules will return to normal with the July 7 departures from New York and Miami of "Silver Star" and "Silver Meteor." Until then, an expanded "Star" runs on a modified schedule and the "Meteor" will not run.
AMTRAK BACKING OFF PLAN TO MOVE NYC STATION - June 1, 2004
Amtrak is apparently backing off from its previous plans to move its New York City operations out of the old Pennsylvania Station and into the newly proposed Farley Post Office building just blocks away. Saying that it does not want to pay any rent Amtrak has cast a shadow on the development of the new complex that would be named after former NY Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. While alive Moynihan almost single handedly trumpeted the cause for the new station by inserting special funding measures into appropriations that would benefit Amtrak.
Amtrak already owns Penn Station which is a traveler's nightmare. The once glorious station which has seen better days is used by NJ Transit and the Long Island RR as well. As the gateway into New York City it is an embarrassment for the railroad. The need for the move into the Farley building, which has also been applauded by preservationists, is long overdue for Amtrak's busiest terminal in the USA. Amtrak's stubborn resistance on this issue is disappointing after years of petitioning Congress and the state of New York for financial support.
The Empire State Development Corporation, which is overseeing the project, has accused Amtrak of reneging on the project, saying that Amtrak has not lived up to its bargained spelled out in a 1999 memo. The Development Corporation is now making overtures to NJ Transit to make the move. NJ Transit is headed up by George Warrington, the former CEO of Amtrak who is responsible for brokering the deal five years ago. Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black says that Amtrak pays no rent in Penn Station because it owns the building so why should it pay rent in another space. Development officials note that Amtrak stands to benefit and could easily rent out the space they now occupy at Penn offsetting any expenditures on the new Farley P.O. space.
Amtrak should come to its senses and stop playing the bluffing game. The bright prospects offered by moving into the architecturally historic and more spacious Farley building will only accrue to Amtrak's long range benefit.
U.S. HIGHWAY FATALITY COUNT RISES - April 27, 2004
The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that 43,220 people died in 2003 on the nation's highways, a rise of about one percent. Motorcycle and SUV fatalities were on the rise while passenger car deaths declined. The rise in SUV deaths may be due to increased sales of the gas guzzling vehicles.
SMOKING UPDATE ON AMTRAK TRAINS:
March 11, 2004
ALL SUPERLINER TRAINS BECOME NON-SMOKING APRIL 26
EFFECTIVE WITH THE SCHEDULE CHANGE ON MONDAY, APRIL 26, 2004,
ALL REMAINING SUPERLINER TRAINS ON THE AMTRAK SYSTEM WITH THE
EXCEPTION OF AUTO TRAIN BECOME ENTIRELY NON-SMOKING:
- 3/4, SOUTHWEST CHIEF
- 5/6, CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR
- 7/8, EMPIRE BUILDER
- 21/22, TEXAS EAGLE
- 29/30, CAPITOL LIMITED
- 58/59, CITY OF NEW ORLEANS
THE ONLY REMAINING SMOKING TRAINS WILL THEREFORE BE:
- 19/20, CRESCENT (BUT SEE MGC, FEB, PAGES 27-30)
- 52/53, AUTO TRAIN
- 91/92, SILVER STAR
- 97/98, SILVER METEOR
ON LONG DISTANCE TRAINS THAT ARE SMOKE FREE, PASSENGERS MAY
SMOKE ON STATION PLATFORMS AT LONGER STOPS THAT WILL BE
ANNOUNCED BY CONDUCTORS. SEE POL, SMO FOR DETAILS.
AVAILABILITY OF SMOKING EQUIPMENT NOT GUARANTEED
THERE IS A LIMITED NUMBER OF CARS WITH ENCLOSED SMOKING ROOMS AVAILABLE, AND IT IS OFTEN NECESSARY TO SUBSTITUTE EQUIPMENT. FOR THIS REASON, ALTHOUGH CERTAIN TRAINS MAY BE PROGRAMMED TO HAVE EQUIPMENT WITH SMOKING ROOMS, FROM TIME TO TIME THEY
DO NOT. THIS CANNOT BE PREDICTED IN ADVANCE AND, FOR THIS REASON, OPERATING OF A SMOKING CAR IS NOT GUARANTEED. WHEN THE SMOKING CAR IS NOT ON THE TRAIN, THE ENTIRE TRAIN IS NON-SMOKING, AND PASSENGERS MAY ONLY SMOKE ON STATION PLATFORMS WHERE STOPS ARE LONG ENOUGH.
ONE DEAD, SEVERAL SERIOUSLY INJURED IN AMTRAK DERAILMENT - April 7, 2004
The northbound City of New Orleans, train #58, derailed outside of Jackson, Mississippi today killing one passenger and leaving about 65 people with anywhere from minor to critical injuries. No reason is known for the derailment at this time which left twisted and heavily damaged track in its wake. The entire train, with the exception of the locomotive, derailed but the first seven of the nine cars on the train toppled over after the train appeared to leave the track on a trestle five or six feet over a swampy area near Flora in Mississippi's Delta region.
The crash occurred around 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 6. Officials say there is no reason to suspect foul play. 46 passengers and 12 crew members were on board at the time of the crash.
MISSOURI ADDS MORE AMTRAK FUNDING - March 11, 2004
Amtrak's twice-daily passenger train service across Missouri would continue for at least a few more months under legislation given initial approval by the State House. The Amtrak funding was added to a roughly $240 million supplemental spending bill for the fiscal year that ends June 30. Most of that money comes from the federal government, but the additional $885,000 in Amtrak funding would come from state revenues. Amtrak officials have said that without extra funding, service would be scaled back to one daily round trip between Kansas City and St. Louis.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has defended the Bush administration’s proposal to give Amtrak $900 million, half of what Amtrak CEO David Gunn says the railroad needs in order to survive. Mineta testified on Capitol Hill that the White House would recommend that Amtrak get $1.4 billion a year between 2006 and 2009 but only if it enacts those proposals that President Bush has sought.
Under the Bush “reform” proposals Amtrak would be completely “reorganized” or split up into three separate entities with the “privatization” buzzword in the air.
Meanwhile three U.S. Senators, Charles Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have voiced approval for more Amtrak funding than what the Bush administration is proposing.
Senator Collins noted that “it is in our national interest to preserve passenger rail service in the United States and to help maintain the solvency of Amtrak. Currently, there is no long-term, stable funding source for passenger rail in the U.S. I am pleased that the Highway Bill authorizes $12 billion over the next six years in Amtrak funding,” said Collins.
Senator Schumer called for Amtrak to get all the $1.8 billion the passenger rail line says it needs to stay afloat financially this year _ double the funding proposed by President Bush.
"If you shut down Amtrak, you're shutting down more than just trains," Schumer said from the new rail station in Rensselaer, the 10th-busiest Amtrak station in the country. "In New York, we count on Amtrak for jobs, economic growth, vacations, you name it."
Senator Patty Murray lashed out at the transportation portion of President Bush’s 2005 budget because it only requests $900 million for Amtrak. “Once again, the (Bush) administration is proposing to cut Amtrak’s budget that is so deep it would throw the railroad into bankruptcy if it is enacted,” said Murray.
FLORIDA’S BUSH - REPEAL HIGH SPEED RAIL
- March 8, 2004 - from the Daytona Beach News-Journal
Florida’s Governor, Jeb Bush, has come out in favor of repealing the 2000 constitutional amendment that approved a high speed rail system for the sunshine state.
Florida simply can’t afford it, said Bush, who has fought the state’s participation on a high speed train from nearly his first day in office.“The cost of this, in my opinion, is extraordinary,” Bush said.
Governor Bush, along with the state’s chief financial officer, Tom Gallagher, said they will lead a petition drive to give voters a chance to repeal the constitutional amendment they approved back in 2000.
Bush has been pushing bills in the state’s House and Senate to get the proposal on the ballot in November, but lawmakers have been resistant with. Most recently a House transportation subcommittee derailed one of those attempts.
One of Bush’s first acts as governor in 1999 was to kill a similar $6.3 billion project called Florida Overland EXpress (FOX), which would have linked Miami, Orlando and Tampa with a high speed train.
NEW BOOK DOCUMENTS THE FAILURE OF PRIVATIZING AMTRAK - February 29, 2004.
Privatization: The Route To Failure by Elliott D. Sclar, a research associate
at the Economic Policy Institute since 1988 and a Professor of Urban Planning
and Public Affairs at Columbia University. 36 pages, 6" x 9", paper,
June 2003 ISBN: 1-932066-01-2.
The Executive Summary to this book notes, “Once again, criticism of Amtrak is gathering steam. The passenger rail service is blamed for failing to show a profit....The unexamined assumption underlying such attacks is that passenger rail service is a private good. In other words the service ought to be able to defray its expenses and show a profit by charging customers...Amtrak is “failing” only because it is assumed it ought to pay for itself....The fact is that no transportation mode in the United States pays for itself. All modes have always been subsidized....Hence the decision to reject subsidies for intercity passenger trains is arbitrary and inconsistent with public policy....The insistence on Amtrak showing a profit is an effort to impose a highly selective business model on what is really a public service...the overriding point is that the benefits of rail services are not limited to those who directly patronize them. This study highlights the ancillary benefits of rail service in terms of economic growth, environmental protection, and national security....
Politics, not efficiency considerations, are the basis for the chronic underinvestment in rail, with the result that the service falls well below the potential realizable using contemporary technology. Apolitical analysis points to a completely contrary approach:
Order: $9.95 online at: http://www.epinet.org/cgi-bin/shop/shop.cgi
Order by phone: 1-800-EPI-4844
Order by E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
LEGISLATIVE MESSAGE FROM NARP - February 27, 2004
Amtrak has released its Fiscal 2005 budget request and the annual
battle on Capital Hill has begun. It is now time to contact your members of
Congress regarding this critical appropriation.
Your e-mail, phone message or FAX to the Hill might be: "Please
support Amtrak's full appropriation request of $1.798 billion. President Bush's
$900 million request would force the system to shut down." Be sure to add a thought or two in your own words, and to include your regular
mailing address so the legislator knows that you are a constituent. If you wish to add more information, consider something along these lines, again using your own words wherever possible:
FAX and e-mails, in that order, are the preferred methods of
sending correspondence to Capitol Hill. If you use U.S. mail, it is better
to write the district office. All communications, regardless of form, should
include your regular postal address. In addition, it is very important in
any correspondence to Capitol Hill for the writer to maintain a positive tone.
Correspondence that has an angry tone or makes accusations towards other members
is not effective and may be disregarded.
The Capitol switchboard is 202-224-3121.
Senate contact info is at
House contact info can be found at http://www.house.gov (top of page).
Thank you for your efforts to push for a full authorization for Amtrak in Fiscal 2005!
AMTRAK MAKES REDUCTIONS IN SLEEPING CAR ASSIGNMENTS - February 17, 2004
Amtrak has announced the following reductions in sleeping-car service on Eastern long-distance trains, due to badly needed equipment maintenance and these developments are changing at the time this was written. Amtrak has eliminated the Crescent's second sleeper until nearly the end of April. All through-cars on the Boston Lake Shore will be eliminated from February 17/18 at least through early May and possibly much longer; a separate Boston-Albany coach train (with baggage car) connecting with the Lake Shore Limited will run instead. The Lake Shore will share equipment with the Silver Star, so it will run with two New York-Chicago sleeping cars (and a smoker lounge) through early May.
Amtrak's Florida silver service trains will also lose a Viewliner sleeper indefinitely.
The Cardinal's sleeping car is eliminated through April 27
(spring timetable change). The Cardinal's baggage car is eliminated through
October. The Federal's sleeping car is eliminated through October. By then,
it will have been missing for a year.
The large number of Viewliner sleepers that are not in condition to operate right now can be attributed to a number of causes, including difficulties in the transition to a new organizational structure, bitter cold weather, and a history of inadequate capital investment in the fleet.
SENATE PASSES S.1072 -- February 12, 2004
This bill includes language approved by the Commerce Committee
last June authorizing Amtrak (with no structural changes) at $2 billion
a year (that has to be appropriated) and creating a Rail Infrastructure Finance
Corporation that can issue rail capital infrastructure bonds (but with no
money behind it).
The bill renews highway and transit programs last authorized by TEA-21. The "guaranteed" funding includes $255 billion for highways and $56.5 billion for transit over six years. The final Senate vote was 76-21.
President Bush has promised to veto the inclusion of Amtrak language.
NEWS RELEASE - Missouri-Kansas Rail Passenger
Coalition - February 11, 2004
HOUSE VOTE TO CUT AMTRAK WILL HURT MISSOURI
A (Missouri) state legislative committee's decision to cut Amtrak funding will hurt Missouri and Kansas passenger train riders and provide Missourians fewer transportation choices.The cut comes when Amtrak ridership is increasing in Missouri.
“They're always talking about the terrible condition Missouri’s roads are in,” said Doug Ohlemeier, an Independence resident and vice president of the Missouri-Kansas Rail Passenger Coalition, a grassroots organization representing Missouri and Kansas rail passenger riders and transportation advocates.
“Taking the trains off will put more traffic on the roads. The way to improve the highways is to get some of the traffic off of them.”
The Feb. 10 House budget committee votemeans Missouri may have only one train a day running between Kansas City and St. Louis. That would prevent passengers from making single-day trips along the route’s 10 stops, which serve the downtown areas of Jefferson City, Sedalia, Warrensburg, Hermann, Washington,Kirkwood,Lee’s Summit, and Independence. The trains will play a key role in moving people around Missouri during this years Lewis & Clark celebration.
Additionally, the Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the tracks the trains run on, has finally agreed to upgrades that should lead to improved timekeeping.
Despite poor recent on-time performance, elimination of station agents at Jefferson City and Kirkwood, and uncertainty over service continuation, ridership from August-December 2003 was up 7.3% from a year earlier.
Cutting the train will also harm ridership. During the early 1990s, when the state cut one of the trains for three months, ridership plummeted. It took three years for Amtrak to rebuild ridership.
About 200,000 people, including professionals or managerial (25% according to a recent study), college students (19%), retirees (18%), vacationers and others, ride the trains a year. A majority (67%) stated they would drive if train service was not available; only 7% would take a bus; 4% said they would not travel.
“The need for this service will only grow in the future,” said Ohlemeier.
The state pays Amtrak $6.2 million a year for operation of the two trains. Like last year, the legislature shorted the funding, providing only $5 million.
“This situation also shows the futility of the Bush Administration's Amtrak reform plan, which burdens states with the costs of running the country's passenger trains.
“Financially pressed states all over the country are having trouble finding money to fund schools and other social services. Passenger trains are interstate commerce and should be funded by the federal government, much as federal taxes pay for airports and highways.”
MOKSRail urges transportation advocates to write their representatives and tell them to properly fund the service so all Missourians can have modern transportation options.
Missouri began funding Amtrak service in 1979 when the U.S. Department of Transportation reduced Amtrak funding and ordered the discontinuation of several highly patronized trains, including two that served Missouri.
The National Limited ran from New York and Pittsburgh to St. Louis and Kansas City.
The Lone Star, which ran through Kansas City, Lawrence and Topeka on its way to Oklahoma City, Dallas/ Fort Worth and Houston, was Amtrak's 7th most traveled long-distance train at the time.
MOKSRail is working with Oklahoma and Texas transportation advocates to restore that needed service as well.
WASHINGTON - Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer David L. Gunn today sent to Congress the railroadís FY 2005 federal grant request of $1.798 billion.
Continuing Amtrakís comprehensive effort to return the railroad to a state-of-good-repair, the request would fund $791 million in capital projects, provide $570 million for operations and repay a $100 million federal loan obtained in 2002. The balance of the request is for debt service and working capital.
ìAs we enter the second year of our five-year strategic plan, this request should come as no surprise to anyone. When we announced our plan last February, we said weíd need about $1.7 billion in FY 2005, and that is what we have proposed,î said Gunn.
The $1.8 billion request amounts to a roughly $300 million increase over the current yearís federal funding and relief, comprised of an appropriation of $1.2 billion, carry-over of more than $150 million from FY 2003 and deferral of the $100 million loan repayment.
ìThe nearly $1.4 billion in real dollars and $100 million in loan repayment relief will be adequate for this year, but we will need a full appropriation in FY 2005 if we are to continue stabilizing the railroad according to our strategic plan and eventually return our plant and equipment to a state-of-good-repair,î said Gunn.
COMPARISON OF AMTRAK FUNDING NEEDS FY 2004 / FY 2005
FY04 Revised Budget
Amtrak Funding Needs
Total, with Loan Repayment
(a) Environmental compliance, information technology, real estate, procurement and safety
Strategic Plan focuses on State-of-good-repair
After years of deferred maintenance and investment that diminished operating reliability and on-time performance, Gunn last February announced a five-year, $4.5 billion capital plan supported by federal, state and other sources.
In the first year of that plan, 2003, Amtrak rebuilt or overhauled 124 locomotives and passenger cars, installed nearly 200,000 ties, converted or upgraded 36 bridges, replaced 33 miles of signal cable and renewed catenary (electric power lines) hardware along 37 miles of line.
Gunn has also instituted management reforms since becoming Amtrakís president in 2002 that returned the company to a traditional railroad organizational structure, eliminated duplicate layers of management and reduced total number of employees by 3,417, from 23,393 in May 2002 to 19,976 at the end of 2003.
These fiscal and management reforms have enabled Amtrak to better control its costs, and, for the first time since 1995, Amtrak in FY 2003 did not have to borrow cash to make payroll. Amtrak also set a record for ridership in FY 2003, carrying 24 million passengers.
Click here to view the FY05 Grant and Legislative Request
BUSH ANNOUNCES AMTRAK BOARD APPOINTEE - February 9, 2004. The White House announced that President Bush intends to nominate Enrique J. Sosa of Florida to be a member of the Amtrak Board for a five year term. Three other pending nominations are Louis S. Thompson (returned by the Senate last year, then renominated January 26), Robert Crandall and Floyd Hall. Sosa, who is from Florida, has a non-transportation background. Much of his career has been in the petrochemical industry, with experience in the upper management of BP Amoco and Dow Chemical. There is no indication that the Senate will act soon on any of these.
BUSH OFFERS ONLY $900 MILLION FOR AMTRAK - February 2, 2004
President Bush released his fiscal 2005 budget proposals on February 2. For Amtrak, he repeated the same proposal he made a year ago -- $900 million -- which, fortunately, is not what Congress adopted for 2004.
These Acela photos were taken from my trip on July 12, 2001 from New Haven's Union Station to New York's Pennsylvania Station. If you are looking for a smooth , quiet ride in spacious, comfortable equipment then Acela Express is the way to travel.
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