Category Archives: AMTRAK

Napa earthquake shuts down multiple rail services

Repost from CBS Bay Area KPIX5

Strong Napa Quake Stops Multiple Rail Services Through Bay Area

by Brandon Mercer, August 24, 2014
Amtrak Train at Crossing
An Amtrak train at a railroad crossing. (CBS)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The 6.0 magnitude quake Sunday morning in Napa County triggered multiple shutdowns of rail services throughout the Bay Area, including the cancellation of ACE train special Levi’s Stadium service and suspension of Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor service from Roseville to San Jose while track and bridges are inspected.

BART trains are running on normal schedules as is Caltrain service on the peninsula. Caltrains cancelled one train because of logistical issues, but services is running, though with delays.

Amtrak reports on Twitter that Union Pacific is inspecting the track right now.

ACE posted this statement on its website this morning:

Due to the earthquake in Napa, Union Pacific Railroad has notified all trains whom utilize their tracks for transportation in the area to not run trains. The ACE train to Levi’s Stadium has been cancelled due to this unforeseen issue. We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused, however public safety is of the utmost importance.

Refunds will be issued to all ticket holders for today’s train to Levi’s Stadium. Ticket holders will receive an email with more details soon

Latest derailment: Bainville, Montana

Repost from The Missoulian

Amtrak’s Empire Builder partially derails in NE Montana; 1 passenger injured

April 29, 2014

BAINVILLE — An Amtrak train carrying 117 passengers has resumed its journey after it partially derailed in northeastern Montana, causing minor injuries to one passenger.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says two cars on the 13-car Empire Builder slipped off the tracks at a switch Monday afternoon near Bainville.

The passenger train was headed west from Chicago to Portland and Seattle. Magliari says the injured passenger was treated at the scene, then taken to a nearby hospital and later released.

The train remained upright and was moving again Monday evening after the damaged cars were uncoupled.

A spokesman for BNSF Railway Co., which maintains the tracks, says seven trains have been delayed while repairs are made. BNSF spokesman Matt Jones says the repairs are expected to be completed overnight.

Bakken rail network is one big traffic snarl – crushing delays for AMTRAK

[Editor: The author of this article, Michael Byrne, lives within sight of a major rail throughway, and offers first-hand observations about the “crushing delays” on passenger rail service.  – RS]

The Oil Boom Is Putting the Squeeze on America’s Passenger Rail Network

Written by Michael Byrne  |  April 19, 2014
Image: BNSF oil train/Roy Luck

I’ve boasted about my front yard proximity to the northern United States’ dominant freight rail line on Motherboard before. It’s just right there, across a patch of grass and down an embankment: the Northern Transcon, pushing miles and miles of connected freight carriages to and from the Pacific Northwest’s port cities. It’s a real-time view of America’s goods economy as it breathes in and out. That economy, as revealed by my Transcon neighbor, is currently hyperventilating, and the flow of traffic is often nearly continuous, at least within the boundaries of single track (single lane) line.

The flood of trains traveling over the Northern Transcon in the year 2014 has a lot to do with oil. The line, the property of the BNSF railroad, connects with the Bakken formation oil fields in North Dakota, where the railroad has been dumping money lately in a race to upgrade and expand its local capacity/network: a North Dakota oil boom has brought with it a North Dakota rail boom. Oil trains, now buffered at each end by an empty box car for safety, exit the Bakken zone heading for Great Lakes ports and refineries to the east and, to the west, the export terminals around Seattle and Portland. It’s reasonable to say that the oil boom would only be possible with the railroad.

In the late-’90s BNSF reopened a third route connecting the Midwest (including the now booming oil fields) and the Northwest, the once-mothballed Stampede Pass over the Cascade Mountains. Overall, the railway’s been booming like crazy since then. 2014 should be a record for the railroad, thanks largely to crude oil shipments. But, after this past winter, the Bakken fields’ associated rail network is one big traffic snarl, and the railway is pouring money and manpower into the region to untangle it: 500 locomotives, 5,000 railcars, 300 new crew members. Of course, the company’s interest is in getting oil out of the region, but a cruel side effect of the jam is crushing delays within the United States’ passenger rail system.

Those systems, dominated by state-pseudo-owned railway Amtrak, typically run on tracks owned by freight railways—leasing trackage rights—except in a few special areas, like California, the Northeast Corridor, and parts of Michigan and New York state. Elsewhere, particularly across the country’s midsection, passenger trains are at the mercy of private freight-hauling corporations. If you’ve ever made a cross-country rail trek, you are most likely already aware that on-time performance just isn’t a relevant concept. Last month, the Empire Builder, the Amtrak route that travels from Chicago to Portland and Seattle via BNSF’s Northern Transcon, was on-schedule 17.4 percent of the time.

We’re not talking about minutes either. The westbound Empire Builder is scheduled to pass through here at eight in the morning; usually, it shows up mid-afternoon, if not eveningtime. Finally, at the beginning of this month, Amtrak took the rare step of admitting defeat. It changed the schedule, padding an extra three hours onto the eastbound train schedule and an hour on the westbound (which is still hardcore wishful thinking or a total delusion). The pleasure of spending nine hours at a lonesome Midwestern rail station in the dead of winter for a late train is a distinctly American feeling (or Siberian, perhaps), putting the shitty microwaved cafe car food and overpriced Heineken into perspective, if the train isn’t out of both already.

Perhaps even more pressing is the situation in Minneapolis, as BNSF delays hit the Twin Cities’ local commuter line, the Northstar. Freight delays have put not only the entire existence of the (relatively new) service in jeopardy, but a forthcoming light-rail line as well. As is typical, the BNSF response is petulance. From a recent Minneapolis StarTribute editorial: “As BNSF Vice President Bob Lease points out, the conflict with commuter rail is almost unavoidable; the system is built for freight, which tolerates a degree of delay that commuters cannot abide.”

Unfortunately, as much of a shrug as Lease’s comment is, he has a point. Passenger rail service shouldn’t have to rely on freight rail companies being nice. Passenger rail needs public investment—new, faster tracks—and it needs the teeth to punish its corporate landlords for 17.4 percent on-time performance, when that performance is nigh entirely at the whims of said landlord.