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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

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

Friday, October 27, 2006


Peter Bowler

It looks like Amtrak and Canadian National are back on track to start new passenger train service between Chicago and outlying areas on Monday. On August 16, the view from Roosevelt Road showed a train and a pair of light P-42s inbound to Union Station, Chicago.

Added Amtrak service back on track

New Amtrak Illinois service between Chicago and St. Louis and Chicago and Carbondale will operate as planned as part of a late night deal struck between Amtrak and Canadian National Ry.

In an agreement reported Friday morning, CN is dropping its opposition to Amtrak’s plan to add two trains on the Chicago-St. Louis route and one new train on the Chicago-Carbondale line, according to The Southern Illinoisan of Carbondale, Ill.

The service was expected to begin Monday, but was thrown into limbo when CN attempted to wriggle out of a contract it signed in July.

At issue was a concern by CN that additional passenger trains on a stretch of track between Chicago and Joliet would slow freight traffic.

As part of the pact, the two sides will oversee a study of the how the added trains impact service on the busy corridor.

‘‘The demand for more passenger rail service in Illinois is clearly growing and we’re pleased that CN’s leadership has made it possible to move forward,’’ said Amtrak President Alexander Kummant.

The issue had taken on political overtones when it became known earlier this week. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., had threatened to draft legislation to thwart CN’s attempt to curtail the additional service. Durbin also enlisted other members of the state’s congressional delegation to publicly chastise CN for its position.

On Friday, Durbin hailed the agreement.

‘‘I’m glad it ended this way,’’ he said during a press conference at the Amtrak station in his hometown of Springfield. ‘‘It was very clear that if we went to court today we would have prevailed.’’

The added service was made possible by a $24 million subsidy from the state. That amount is double what taxpayers have been paying to keep Amtrak service rolling through the Prairie State in recent years.

For riders along the Chicago-Carbondale line, it will mean one additional round trip between the two cities, which serve three state universities and several communities. On the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, the added service will bring two more round-trip runs to cities including Normal, home to Illinois State University, and Springfield, the seat of state government and the center of tourist sites linked to Abraham Lincoln.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich thanked Amtrak and CN for coming to an agreement.

‘‘This expansion of Amtrak service is too important to people in Illinois to allow it to be derailed before it even got started,’’ Blagojevich said.

‘ACE’ is angry with UP over late trains

“The Altamont Commuter Express prides itself in being a premiere alternative transportation, service-oriented agency. We exist because of the faithful patronage of our passengers, and we continually strive to make our rail service the best in its class,” ACE told its riders last week.

Then they added, “However, our on-time performance is not where it needs to be, and this serious issue needs to be addressed immediately.”

The unnamed writer stated, “As of today, the ACE train is running at 52 percent on-time for the month of October and 77 percent for the year thus far. This is unacceptable considering Union Pacific’s contractual obligation to dispatch the ACE trains at 95 percent on-time.”

Industry standards allow for a leeway of 5 minutes for scheduled arrival and departure times, ACE stated, and pointed out, “According to ACE’s contract with the UP, ‘San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission shall have absolute priority’ on the tracks until the trains reach 95 percent.’”

Part of the blame falls with dispatchers, ACE stated.

“Due to this detrimental trend in dispatching, ACE understands the urgency of this matter and the importance this issue holds for the service to our passengers, and explained, “The Altamont Commuter Express, in a sense, rents track from the UP and is at the control of UP’s dispatching and maintenance. In addition to signal and dispatch-related failures, the ACE train experiences a high amount of slow orders, which, because of poor track and tie conditions, forces the train to travel at speeds below the normal scheduled speeds.”

The writer added, “Recent developments along the ACE corridor have also added to the failing on-time performance. The ACE corridor has experienced the traditional seasonal increase in freight traffic. In addition, the new Capitol Corridor schedule has created additional schedule conflicts for the ACE train.”

Those challenges to ACE’s on-time performance “are no excuse for the current level of service that our passengers are facing,” the writer stated.

The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC) “takes these issues very seriously” and is working to rectify the challenges that “stand in our way of achieving at least 95 percent on-time performance.”

Today, ACE updated its original complaint, stating “Last Monday, ACE’s Director of Operations attended a meeting with UP administration regarding to ACE’s “discouraging on-time performance. Out of this meeting came a crucial plan for corrective action,” which includes a greater focus on ACE operations, sending a UP dispatcher to Stockton to ride and become familiar with the ACE trains, reporting performance to high-level UP management, and UP dispatcher and Corridor Manager participation in Corridor Improvement.”

Later, a meeting at UP’s in Omaha, headquarters on November 3 “will discuss other operational issues.”

After the meeting, ACE’s operations director “will report to the passengers on what was accomplished.”

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