Tracking Rail News: June 2010

Comments and PHOTOS by Russ Jackson


. . . Good news for Los Angeles Union Station. The lack of a variety of food items available in the LAUS waiting room has been lessened with the news that by July Peets Coffee and Tea, Subway Sandwiches, and Wetzel’s Pretzels will open, and later in the summer Famina Fresh Foods will open near the Amtrak ticket windows. These places will add to what is now available at the News Stand, Union Bagels and Coffee, and the very fine Traxx Restaurant and bar. Other changes at LAUS have the QuikTrak machines and the Budget and Hertz counters moved into the Amtrak Ticket area. Now, if only they could get the old Fred Harvey Restaurant open again! Train Day visitors were able to enter that historic place, and one visitor was amazed to find the bar area on its east side, closed too long.

. . . On Time Performance. Amtrak had a decent month of May, and as of the 23d the system was 81.3% OT. The western long distance trains continued to fare ok, with the Sunset Limited 80%, but falling below 90% for the Fiscal Year for the first time. On May 25 train #1 departed San Antonio OT but was stopped at Uvalde, TX. Severe rain storms had washed out the ballast around Del Rio, TX. The train returned to San Antonio, where passengers were offered the choice of continuing on to their destination by bus, or remain on the train with a projected arrival in Los Angeles approximately 12 hours late. The California Zephyr was 69.6% for the period, with the train encountering weather problems across much of the midwest. Train 6 which left Emeryville on the 22nd was delayed 1:39 ten miles east of Fort Morgan, Colorado, prepared to stop at culverts and bridges due to high wind and tornado warnings, and to remove tree branches. Earlier in the month #5 passengers had to return to Denver because of a 10-by-30 foot rock slide near Winter Park, CO, and on May 12 heavy rain caused a #6 detour across Iowa. RailPAC’s Ralph James tells us 5/6 are running again with full consists. Southwest Chief train 4, which left Los Angeles on the 22nd, was delayed 90 minutes 20 miles west of Lamar, CO, due to 70 mph wind warnings as the tornado threats across the midwest accelerated. For the month trains 3/4 had 89.1% OTP. The champion for May was the Coast Starlight, at 95.7% OT!

. . . Daily Sunset Limited? No news is good news? Not necessarily. The most recent news we heard was Amtrak and the UP were “still in negotiations.” Over what? Is the UP playing its usual game of saying “No” until they don’t? We are waiting, but then again we’ve been waiting decades. RailPAC President, Paul Dyson, commented on this issue and on the railroad’s “No” to access to its Las Vegas line for the newly proposed X and Z party trains: “Couple with the recent letter on HSR and the stalled negotiations over the daily Sunset and Coast Daylight, what part of “no” are we missing?” UP says they do not “endorse and will not allow gambling on its tracks.” Mr. Dyson adds, “We’re encouraging everyone to write to Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman just to show that the grass roots support is there. See Mr. Dyson’s letter in the May, 2010 issue of this publication. Meanwhile, in a May 17 article in the Arizona Republic, writer Sean Holstege reports that a new schedule for the Sunset Limited is under consideration to have the train stop in Maricopa at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Unfortunately, no rail return to Phoenix is anticipated, but the article quotes Amtrak Production Development Chief Brian Rosenwald, “If we run it daily, Tucson (ridership) could go sky-high.” He and his team “developed a business model to capture more riders at the Tucson station,” and to “reintroduce after a decade a bus from Phoenix and Tempe.” Cynics would say, “ho hum, we’ve only been telling them this for decades.”

. . . Train Day followup. National Train Day was a big success, with participation in large and small communities. Much has been written about that, but here is this writer’s report of where I was: Dallas Union Station. On display at DUS were the 1931 M-180 Doodlebug in ATSF colors that years ago worked the line to Carlsbad, New Mexico, and a heritage Pullman sleeping car, both now housed at the Museum of the American Railroad at nearby Fair Park. That museum is now under orders from the city to vacate the property, as it is underfunded and the land is needed for other purposes. The museum intends to move to nearby Frisco when funding is obtained. The successful TRE commuter line that runs from Dallas to Ft. Worth displayed a train set of a newly repainted F59PH locomotive and two bi-level Bombardier (UTDC)-built coaches. Inside the historic station were staffed displays from the successful DART system, which is undergoing the same financial crises as in other cities, and the new under-construction Denton County “A- Train” commuter rail line, a model railroad club, music, face painting, etc., and the Texas Rail Advocates who were selling souvenir t-shirts and whistles. Where was Amtrak? They had a staffed display table across from their ticket window, giving away packets of information including the timetables that would be out of date two days later. The new ones “were in the back somewhere,” but would not be available until they go into effect. And, Amtrak 21, the southbound Texas Eagle, arrived in Dallas 30 minutes late with 3 coaches, Diner-Lounge, Dining Car, and two sleeping cars (one of which is the crew dorm as well).

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