Tracking Rail News: January 2011   January 18th, 2011

Comments by Russ Jackson and photos by Noel Braymer, Bob Snow and Russ Jackson

. . . December: What a month for weather on Amtrak! The country was treated to real wintry weather, some places had snow for the first time in history, the Northeast Corridor between New York and Boston was closed, and California was not spared. Here are some highlights, as of December 27: On December 22 service south of Oceanside on the Surf Line, Amtrak Pacific Surfliners and the Coaster, were canceled. Slides at Califa Beach, the San Mateo Creek and San Onofre Creek running out to sea, a mile long washout in the flood area in Sorrento Valley, and the construction bridge at the Santa Margarita River was destroyed. By the evening of December 23 service was restored by Amtrak and NCTD.

Don't you wish all parking garages had this "counter" so you would know where you can park?

We noticed when Editor Braymer used photos of the Irvine Amtrak station parking garage last month that one he didn’t use was of a “car space counter” at the entrance, which shows arriving passengers where the available parking is. That’s a helpful device, and how useful it would be in all parking garages!

Congratulations are in order to the Capitol Corridor, where there was 100% on time performance on November 29 and 30 for all 32 trains!

Western long distance train service was disrupted, particularly trains # 7/8, the Empire Builder, with both trains departing origination points on December 14 canceled, although bustitution was provided between some cities. While critics chimed in about trains being the “all weather” mode of transportation, just look at what the airlines had to do on a similar day, when 1600 flights were canceled and thousands more over Christmas Day. Amtrak said the reason for the NEC closure was not because trains couldn’t get through (although clearly many couldn’t) but because riders could not get to the stations, the same reason the NFL used to postpone its game in Philadelphia. It looked like a very logical reason. Earlier, Empire Builder #7 of 12/11 departed Seattle 1 hour and 43 minutes late, was 14 hours late at Malta, Montana, 19 hours late out of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and arrived 18 hours late into Chicago due to storms.

In California, Multiple washouts and mud slides in the Loma Linda area closed the Union Pacific on December 22 causing train # 2, the Sunset Limited, to depart Los Angeles 6 hours late, and it was 7 hours late out of Tucson the next day. Otherwise the Sunset had a good month, with train 2 of 12/17, carrying this writer’s former colleague from Palomar College, Dana Hawkes, departing LAUS 10 minutes late and arrived in Houston, his station, on time. We will take time to mention at this point there is again NO news about a daily Sunset-Eagle.

File photo: California Zephyr #5 crosses Donner Pass.

Amtrak train #5 the California Zephyr was detoured through Wyoming on December 21 because of rock slides on the UP’s Moffat Tunnel line and heavy snowfall in western Colorado. That was in addition to that train using the CNW across Iowa, where the train had UP locomotive 6698 on the point for cab signals, which reminds us of a report in this column last month about a UP locomotive on the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited that had several problems. A railroader wrote us that there is “Lack of proper maintenance in many cases, plus it sounds like the UP hands off questionable locomotives to help out Amtrak and they gave the Eagle a ‘shopped’ unit. I bet they billed Amtrak for the full amount each time, however.” The Zephyr #6 of December 19 made it over the Sierra without a problem even though a flash flood warning was issued and Shed 10 had to be flagged. The Southwest Chief had its sensational ups and some downs, too. Train # 4 of 12/18 hit an auto 5 miles west of Lamy, NM, delaying it and companion train # 3 for several hours. No one was killed in that accident. Otherwise it was a routine month on the BNSF until train # 4 that departed Los Angeles on Christmas night arrived in Albuquerque at 10:35 AM the next day, beating the old record of 10:47. That was helped by (very) light holiday freight traffic, but shows that there is much padding in the Chief’s schedule; and at least a half hour could be taken out permanently despite the slow orders through Colorado and Kansas.

. . . Now for the Coast Starlight! By the time you receive this issue of the Review trains # 11/14 will be on a new schedule, which will last for 3 months. The Union Pacific will be doing extensive tie and steel replacement on the Coast Line between Gaviota and Guadalupe, including the sidings across Vandenberg AFB. Amtrak announced on December 15 that the Starlight’s schedule has been advanced 2 hours from January 1 to March 31. There will also be extensive track work in Oregon at the same time. Pacific Surfliner trains will be affected, too, but current morning departure times are unchanged. In order to give the UP a maximum ‘work window’ the Starlight will run two hours later, and in most cases Pacific Surfliner bustitution will occur north of Santa Barbara. Here is the schedule (for January 10) taken from Amtrak’s on line schedule:

Train 14 departs Los Angeles at 12:15 PM; arrives San Luis Obispo 5:30 PM, and gets to the Bay Area quite late around midnight, with arrival in Sacramento after 2 AM. Train 11 coming from Seattle will depart San Luis Obispo at 5:20 PM, arriving in Los Angeles at 11:00 PM. Travelers will be inconvenienced, but at least the trains were not canceled outright as has happened sometimes in the past. For that we are grateful, and we can only hope that after March 31 Amtrak and the UP will adjust the schedule to allow an earlier arrival into LAUS.

A northbound DART Green Line train at the elevated Downtown Carrollton station.

. . . From around the West. . . . The Dallas DART light rail Green Line opened its extended service in December, running from Carrollton on the northwest to Buckner on the southeast, a 24 mile distance. This highly anticipated line takes riders to Love Field (Southwest Airlines), Childrens/Parkland Hospital, downtown Dallas, the Texas State Fair grounds, and a Baylor Hospital. A very popular stop already is at the American Airlines Center for Mavericks NBA and Stars NHL games. DART is now the largest light rail system in the west. . . . The Oklahoma DOT finally reached a deal with the private owners of the Oklahoma City Santa Fe train depot, assuring that passengers on Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer continue to have access without any lockouts occuring like happened a few times when the owner locked the gates. Upgrades at the station including a ticket office will now be explored.

Amtrak locomotive 500 powered by biodiesel on the Heartland Flyer.

The Flyer was honored as one of “The 50 Best Inventions of 2010″ by TIME magazine for its use of locomotive 500, which has run since April, 2010 on a biodiesel blend that includes beef byproducts, the nation’s first test of biodiesel in an interstate passenger train. . . . Amtrak President Boardman rode the California Zephyr to Oakland and back in early December. He has been riding frequently, which is what he should be doing. He rides on the Amtrak business cars but has access to the rest of the train by having a Superliner transition car in front of his cars. He returned on the same route. . . . Historically this column has supported the return of the Desert Wind to provide rail service to Las Vegas, NV, not just from the California southland, but also from the midwest. High speed projects continue to be talked about for the LA-Vegas route, but is it realistic to expect any of them to succeed only from Los Angeles or Victorville? This month Delta Airlines announced it was boosting its network by adding B737 nonstop flights between Las Vegas and Orange County beginning this month. . . . We close this month with a quote from Kevin Sherrington’s sports column in the December 19 Dallas Morning News. “What Kristin Lee liked about Philadelphia: food, fun, ‘cultural experiences.’ What Cliff’s wife didn’t like about Texas (where he pitched for the Texas Rangers last season): summer heat and traffic to the Ballpark.” Kevin commented, and we agree, “Can’t fix the heat, but if the Ballpark sat next to the Farmers Market (in downtown Dallas near the Green Line) traffic would be a non-issue. As it is, the Ballpark/JerryWorld should be a stop on a rail line.” Arlington, Texas is the largest city without any public transportation because voters would not approve it.   ###

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 18th, 2011 at 11:18 AM and is filed under Tracking Rail News.