American Railroads

News each weekday of American railroads. Our focus is on freight rail, but Amtrak and commuter rail are also essential ingredients. Nothing published on holidays.

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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

Published in Trains magazine, Railfan & Railroad, Passenger Train Journal

Monday, September 11, 2006

Amtrak to run last Metroliner

Amtrak will run its last Metroliner on the Northeast Corridor next month. Railroad spokesman Cliff Black in Washington confirmed for AR that the railroad plans to implement an all-Acela Express schedule effective with the October 30 timetable. The last day of Metroliner operation will be Friday, October 27.

Last Friday, the “AC motor stop” signs were taken down at Cork Interlocking on Amtrak’s Philadelphia-Harrisburg line. Cork is at milepost 68.1, or about 70 west of Philadelphia and 36 miles east of Harrisburg. Test runs were made with electric power on Saturday. Yesterday, trains 642, 647 and 618 ran with electric engines.

Cab control coach 9638 was readied, and engines were assigned as they became available.

The last two Metroliners will be train No. 2300, from Washington, D.C., to New York, departing Washington, D.C., at 10:00 a.m. and arriving in New York at 12:59 p.m., No. 2301, New York to Washington, D.C., departing New York at 6:00 p.m., arriving in Washington, D.C., at 8:59 p.m.

Now the question is, is Amtrak nearing a ‘state of good repair’ with enough electrics ready to roll these Keystones, as well as the normal Northeast Corridor schedule, Silver Service, the Crescent and the Pennsylvanian?

The Metroliner name harks back to the late 1960s, when Penn Central inaugurated high-speed service with electric M.U. (multiple-unit) cars, which it dubbed Metroliners, operating between Washington and New York. Amtrak operated the cars for a time, then converted them to locomotive-hauled Amfleet consists, which it dubbed Metroliner Service.

Elsewhere around Amtrak, we have learned, from sources that CalTrans may lease Amtrak cars until new state-owned equipment can be purchased – but that purchase will happen only if a bond issue passes in November. Perhaps two Superliner I coaches will go to Northern California operations, and a larger number of Amfleet coaches for the Surfliners, where a low-level set of Horizon cars and a Heritage full dome is already operating.

On long-haul trains, “Diner Lite,” formally named Simplified Dining Service, has saved more money than anticipated, but even with that savings, Amtrak is expecting USDOT to demand more savings in the next fiscal year if schedules aren’t to be cut. In response, a pilot program is being prepared by Amtrak to contract out the sleeping car, diner and lounge operations on one or more routes.

It looks like the Pacific Parlour Cars are doomed. 39974 is at Los Angeles, out of service permanently. As the remaining operable Parlours reach their COT&S dates, they will be removed from service and stored. Other equipment that is operating in small numbers, and which thus are “orphans” on the roster, will also undergo this process of storage and retirement.

Even some Amfleet I cars are now being stripped of mechanical parts to keep others running, instead of buying new parts. Amtrak continues to be in a phase of retrenchment, storing and retiring equipment, and shrinking its operating fleet.

It’s a go for rerouting the eastbound Sunset Limited out of Los Angeles. The train will operate on Union Pacific’s Los Angeles Subdivision, formerly the route of the City of Los Angeles and now used by Metrolink; then BNSF (the Southwest Chief’s route) to Colton, where it will resume its traditional route on the former Southern Pacific. The train will thus bypass the “black hole” at West Colton Yard, which has been a cause of frequent delays as UP freight trains block the main line, awaiting clearance to enter the receiving yard.

Departure time will be moved to the early post-rush hour timeframe. A stop at Pomona will use one of two Metrolink stations. Ontario will lose service, and the Sunset will not stop at Riverside.

There will be no adjustment to the days of operation; Train No. 2 had been planned to depart on Tuesday instead of Wednesday but that could not be worked out with UP, so it’s being delayed for now.

The reroute is not planned to appear in the October 30 timetable; it probably will take longer than that to get all the parties – Amtrak, Metrolink, Union Pacific, BNSF – to get ready for the change, which will probably occur a few weeks to a few months after the timetable’s effective date.

Eastbound Sunset No. 2 is expected to always operate via the new route, but No. 1 may operate into Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal via either the UP Los Angeles Sub or may cross over to the ex-Southern Pacific Alhambra Subdivision if the traffic is better that way. A connection west of Pomona that would allow this. No word about resuming the Sunset east of New Orleans.

It seems Amtrak’s Marc Magliari, the carrier’s Midwest media relations manager and Richard Phelps, superintendent of the Southwest Division, implied at Saturday’s Texas Assn. of Railroad Passengers meeting discussed during this weekend’s TXARP meeting that the Sunset service will not be returned to Florida until the Florida DOT requests it.

It appears that service will return to Mobile, Ala. through ongoing negotiations with state DOTs, but Florida had not joined the dialogue – but it appears that Amtrak approached the Florida DOT about getting an operating subsidy to run the Sunset some weeks ago.

Look for the Reno Fun and Snow Train, a chartered operation by Key Holidays, to operate this season, but that may be about it, due to worsening equipment shortages as Amtrak stores and retires more cars instead of maintaining them.

Last season, the owner of Key Holidays was already saying that 2007 possibly wouldn’t run, and the situation looks even worse for 2008.

Question: Will the Palm Beach Safety Patrol Specials still run? Remember, this is a company that canceled entire trips of scheduled revenue trains to accommodate the kiddies.

Thanks to Gene Poon, Gary R. Kazin, John Sita and others. – Ed.

Hartford Courant

September 11

Barge floats free from span

A barge that slammed into fenders at Amtrak’s bridge spanning the Connecticut River Saturday was freed from them that night, a Coast Guard spokesman said Sunday. The Coast Guard is still investigating how the 310-foot barge Connecticut got loose from the tugboat that was hauling it downriver. The barge drifted away and smashed into the abutment about 3:30 p.m., the Hartford Courant reported yesteray.

No one was hurt and the bridge was not badly damaged, authorities said. The bridge was closed for a couple of hours Saturday, but reopened after Amtrak officials determined it was safe for rail traffic. The Coast Guard said Saturday that the barge, which was designed to transport fuel, was empty at the time of the accident.

Coast Guard Lt. Douglas Miller said Sunday that the current pushed the barge against the bridge abutment, but the current eased later in the evening and another tugboat was able to pull the barge away.

Miller said river traffic was back to normal Sunday and that the bridge was being used.

He said the Coast Guard is warning boaters traveling under the bridge to be careful to avoid the abutment because a wooden buffer was torn away by the accident. With the buffer in place, boats would hit wood. Without it, they would hit concrete and be exposed to greater damage, Miller said.

Busy CN stymies Indiana plans

Two obstacles have dealt a setback to plans to extend the South Shore commuter rail line service to Valparaiso and Lowell, Ind.

Northwest Indiana may not be growing fast enough to qualify for Federal Transit Authority funds to bring commuter rail to Valparaiso and Lowell, General Manager Gerald Hanas and other officials with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District told business leaders Friday at the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce.

Also, the Canadian National rail line has notified the district that its tracks already are too busy to share with commuter trains, they said. That means the district would have to lay new tracks at a cost of more than $10 million per mile, or about $250 million for a nearly 25-mile extension from Munster to Valparaiso, The AP reported Saturday.

Porter, LaPorte and Lake county population tallies are projected to increase an average of 6 percent by 2030, according to state population projections. Such a growth rate pales in comparison to other commuter rail projects vying for federal transportation money.

“At the end of the day, we certainly think this can be successful,” Hanas said. “But the one thing we do know is that those population numbers have to grow if any of this is to take place.”

Ultimately, growth projections will determine where any extensions go first. The district foresees expanding first to Munster, then to either Lowell or Valparaiso.

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