Southwest Chief and the snow delays

Report by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

The first major snow storm of the winter affected Amtrak trains 3 and 4, the Southwest Chief starting December 19, and is still affecting the train’s on time performance as of this writing. As the winter progresses we will see how prepared this season the Amtrak system is for this year’s inevitable weather problems, but this storm showed two regular, continuing flaws: locomotive failure problems and yard turnaround problems. This first storm showed fast recovery on both issues, and hard work keeping the trains running out on the road.

A positive for Amtrak in this holiday season is the availability of extra coaches. The Chief is carrying four this week. Too bad extra sleepers aren’t available to add high revenue space to the trains. We know the demand is there.

Train 3 that departed Los Angeles Union Station on Sunday night, December 18, was hit the hardest, arriving in Chicago’s Union Station at 2:08 AM on the 21st, well past its scheduled arrival time of 3:15 PM on the 20th, the previous day. Below is a chronology of how it kept getting later and later. The trainset was due to turn around and depart Chicago that afternoon at 3:00. The turnaround maintenance was performed by the crew that came in the next morning in addition to their other duties, and the train left CUS 2:44 late.

Additional delays to the #4 that departed Los Angeles on the 19th were mechanical as well as weather-related, and an extra BNSF freight locomotive had to be added at Gallup, NM. Train 4 that departed LAX the night before had to add one at Newton, KS. Notice the delays crossing Raton Pass below were not too bad, but then they got to La Junta, CO (LAJ) where the storm was the fiercest. Northeast New Mexico out into western Kansas was hit very hard, with Interstate highways 25, 40, and 70 shut down for periods due to whiteouts. Amtrak got through each day!

Chart courtesy Amtrak Status Maps. You can always check the progress of ALL Amtrak trains on that site, http://www.dixielandsoftware.com/Amtrak/status/StatusMaps/

* Train 4 of 12/18/2011.
* Southwest Chief

* +—————- Station code
* | +———– Schedule Arrival Day
* | | +——– Schedule Arrival time
* | | | +—– Schedule Departure Day
* | | | | +– Schedule Departure Time
* | | | | | +————- Actual Arrival Time
* | | | | | | +——- Actual Departure Time

* LAX * * 1 615P * 615P Departed: on time.
* FUL * * 1 650P * 651P Departed: 1 minute late.
* RIV * * 1 733P * 746P Departed: 13 minutes late.
* SNB * * 1 759P * 809P Departed: 10 minutes late.
* VRV * * 1 910P * 911P Departed: 1 minute late.
* BAR * * 1 956P * 956P Departed: on time.
* NDL * * 2 1223A * 1229A Departed: 6 minutes late.
* KNG 2 223A 2 233A 246A 252A Departed: 19 minutes late.
* WMJ * * 2 450A * 509A Departed: 19 minutes late.
* FLG 2 536A 2 541A 545A 553A Departed: 12 minutes late.
* WLO * * 2 639A * 649A Departed: 10 minutes late.
* GLP * * 2 821A * 835A Departed: 14 minutes late.
* ABQ 2 1142A 2 1210P 1104A 1210P Departed: on time.
* LMY * * 2 117P * 140P Departed: 23 minutes late.
* LSV * * 2 303P * 421P Departed: 1 hour and 18 min late.
* RAT * * 2 450P * 643P Departed: 1 hour and 53 min late.
* TRI * * 2 549P * 755P Departed: 2 hours and 6 min late.
* LAJ 2 731P 2 741P 934P 946P Departed: 2 hours and 5 min late.
* LMR * * 2 840P * 256A Departed: 6 hours and 16 min late.
* GCK * * 2 1117P * 624A Departed: 7 hours and 7 min late.
* DDG 3 1212A 3 1227A 727A 740A Departed: 7 hours and 13 min late.
* HUT * * 3 219A * 1026A Departed: 8 hours and 7 min late.
* NEW 3 255A 3 259A 1106A 1230P Departed: 9 hours and 31 min late.
* TOP * * 3 518A * 312P Departed: 9 hours and 54 min late.
* LRC * * 3 547A * 341P Departed: 9 hours and 54 min late.
* KCY 3 724A 3 743A 448P 513P Departed: 9 hours and 30 min late.
* LAP * * 3 955A * 824P Departed: 10 hours and 29 min late.
* FMD * * 3 1109A * 955P Departed: 10 hours and 46 min late.
* GBB * * 3 1208P * 1112P Departed: 11 hours and 4 min late.
* PCT * * 3 1258P * 1209A Departed: 11 hours and 11 min late.
* MDT * * 3 119P * 1237A Departed: 11 hours and 18 min late.
* NPV * * 3 242P * 134A Departed: 10 hours and 52 min late.
* CHI 3 315P * * 208A * Arrived: 10 hours and 53 min late.

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