We’ve moved!

Please note as of Dec. 1, 2014, All Aboard Ohio moved its statewide offices to Cleveland’s public transportation and retail hub, Tower City Center! Our new mailing address is:

All Aboard Ohio
230 West Huron Road #85.53
Cleveland, OH 44113

Our telephone number remains (844) 464-7245, a toll-free number you may better remember as 844-GO4-RAIL. Our e-mail address continues to be info@allaboardohio.org for general inquiries.

 

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Amtrak delivers strong financial results

Amtrak's financial performance now exceeds that of the FAA and Federal Highways. But how can we in Ohio, the nation's 7th most populous state, take advantage of Amtrak's growing success? Photo Courtesy of The Daily Progress

Amtrak’s financial performance now exceeds that of the FAA and Federal Highways. But how can we in Ohio, the nation’s 7th most populous state, take advantage of Amtrak’s growing success? Photo Courtesy of The Daily Progress

In addition to the Amtrak press release below, All Aboard Ohio notes that Amtrak revenues now cover 93% operating of costs, compared to only 71% for the Federal Aviation Administration. Federal funding provides the difference in both cases. Also, Amtrak uses mostly private sector-owned, financed rails whereas aviation and road infrastructure is almost all government-owned and financed. Federal highways are funded 49% by general taxes, a subsidy which artificially reduces the cost of driving and distorts the travel marketplace.

Currently, Amtrak’s $227 million federal operating grant in 2014 cost federal taxpayers only one-fourth as much as it did in Amtrak’s first full year ($845.46 million in 1972, inflation adjusted).

“We applaud Amtrak’s success and recognize that difficult decisions regarding operating expenditures and on-board service cuts have been made and will continue to be made,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio. “But we also realize that innovative actions are needed to expand into populous, albeit difficult markets like Ohio which are under-served by Amtrak.”

Innovative actions could include:

  • Working with coalitions of local and regional governments
  • Jointly pursuing station-area developments to provide new sources of value-capture revenue
  • Organizing public education efforts about rail’s benefits in concert with the Midwest’s and especially Ohio’s huge rail industry supplier base, and
  • Seeking new mail & package express business in revenue-sharing partnerships with the freight railroads.

In its latest financial report, Amtrak notes these Fiscal Year 2014 Highlights:

  • Record revenue of approximately $3.2 billion
  • Operating cost recovery rises to 93 percent
  • Lowest federally funded operating loss in 41 years
  • Moody’s confirms long-term debt rating at A1/Stable

Today, Amtrak reported unaudited record revenue totaling approximately $3.2 billion for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2014, representing the fifth consecutive year of revenue growth, and the eighth out of the past nine years.

In FY 2014, America’s Railroad® covered 93 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues, up from 89 percent the year before. In addition, Amtrak’s unaudited federally funded operating loss of approximately $227 million was the lowest level since 1973, representing a 37 percent decrease from the prior year and 52 percent lower than in FY 2007.

As a result of the company’s strong operating performance, long-term debt reductions of approximately 61 percent over the past seven years to $1.3 billion, and other contributing factors, Moody’s Investor Service confirmed Amtrak’s A1/Stable debt rating on Nov. 12, 2014.

“Our financial performance over the past year is the clearest indication yet that Amtrak’s investments, operating efficiencies and focus on its customers is paying off,” said Amtrak Chairman of the Board Tony Coscia. “Under the leadership of Amtrak’s Board and management,the company is transforming how it does business. We are delighted with our latest financial results and committed to making further progress in the years ahead. As we continue to make improvements in our operating and financial performance, we call upon the federal government and our stakeholders to support the capital investments necessary to keep moving Amtrak forward.”

“Our efforts to operate a more financially sound railroad for our stakeholders continues to exceed expectations,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman. “Amtrak’s customer value proposition improves each year as seen by our continued ridership and revenue growth for the better part of the past decade.”

Amtrak’s corporate restructuring has resulted in a strong emphasis on increased financial transparency, a de-leveraged balance sheet, and providing an improved product to its existing customer base while attracting new passengers. This has resulted in consistently strong ridership and revenue growth, and less reliance on federal operating grant support.

Amtrak also is building the equipment, infrastructure and organization needed to ensure its strong growth continues. Over the past few years, the company has seen the expansion of state-supported services, the introduction of Wi-Fi and eTicketing technologies, the procurement of new equipment for Northeast Corridor and long-distance services, a major planning effort for the development of next-generation high-speed rail, and the installation of positive train control safety technology to more sections of track maintained by Amtrak, among other critical capital projects. These actions form the foundation that will support more and faster service, improve the reliability and safety of current and future operations, and meet the expectations of a growing number of customers choosing Amtrak for their travel needs.

Boardman added that to meet future passenger demands, increased levels of federal capital investment are needed to improve, expand and replace the aging infrastructure that supports intercity passenger rail. Predictable dedicated funding from the federal government to build new tracks, tunnels, bridges and other rail infrastructure—particularly on the Northeast Corridor and in Chicago—will keep Amtrak advancing and its customer base growing.

END

Feds ask Norfolk Southern for Amtrak reliability improvements

Booming levels of freight and passenger rail traffic are clogging Norfolk Southern's (NS) Chicago Line across Northern Ohio. This is causing serious delays to Amtrak passenger trains and prompted the federal Surface Transportation Board to demand answers from NS. All Aboard Ohio believes a global solution engaging NS, Amtrak, federal, state and regional officials can provide short-term relief and long-term development of the rail corridor to support economic growth.

Booming levels of freight and passenger rail traffic are clogging Norfolk Southern’s (NS) Chicago Line across Northern Ohio. This is causing serious delays to Amtrak passenger trains and prompted the federal Surface Transportation Board to demand answers from NS. All Aboard Ohio believes a global solution engaging NS, Amtrak, federal, state and regional officials can provide short-term relief and long-term development of the rail corridor to support economic growth (All Aboard Ohio photo).

In a recent letter to Norfolk Southern Corp. (NS), the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) has asked NS how it will address serious on-time performance problems of Amtrak passenger trains using NS tracks. The STB, which regulates railroads, noted serious on-time performance problems in recent months experienced by Amtrak passenger trains that use NS tracks from Chicago east into Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and to the East Coast.

OCTOBER 17 UPDATE: See NS’s response to the STB’s letter HERE.

Specifically mentioned in the STB’s letter were Amtrak’s daily Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington DC) and Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York City/Boston) services which make daily stops in the Ohio cities of Bryan, Toledo, Sandusky, Elyria, Cleveland and Alliance. Also affected were several Michigan routes — the Wolverine service to Metro Detroit, the Blue Water to Port Huron and the Pere Marquette to Grand Rapids. Combined, these five routes carried 1.5 million passengers in 2013 on 14 trains a day — a daily average of 294 riders per train. Ridership was growing in most years since 2000 on these routes until these rail traffic delays occurred.

Under federal law, if a host freight railroad fails to meet an 80 percent on-time performance standard for Amtrak passenger trains in two consecutive quarters, then the STB may impose large fines payable to Amtrak and prescribe remedies such as funding plans and physical improvements that address traffic choke points. The metrics for determining Amtrak on-time performance are the subject of a freight-railroad court challenge to be argued before the Supreme Court in December. All Aboard Ohio supports Amtrak in this matter.

In its Oct. 6, 2014 letter, the STB requested the following information from NS:

  • The primary causes of delays experienced by Amtrak trains on NS lines.
  • Locations where delays occur most frequently.
  • Measures that NS is taking to improve Amtrak performance, including but not limited to expansion of network capacity and resources, changes to train dispatching protocols and procedures, and modifications of network operating plans.
  • NS’s expectation of when Amtrak service will improve.

In August 2014, on-time performance fell on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited routes to 4 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Average delay per arrival was four hours. For most of the summer, All Aboard Ohio has noted the delays were occurring west of Toledo and especially in zones where new track construction is occurring along the rail corridor which has two parallel tracks. This includes new third main tracks added between Goshen-Elkhart, IN and Porter, IN-Illinois state line. Meanwhile the Englewood Flyover is being built southeast of Chicago to separate a busy at-grade rail-rail crossing of the Metra Rock Island District and NS’s Chicago Line. However, these were designed in 2010 to address rail traffic levels of four years ago — not the boom in rail traffic which has occurred since.

Since the summer, the area of worst rail traffic congestion expanded east to between Toledo-Cleveland where high-priority Amtrak trains and NS intermodal freight trains snake their way through lower priority freight trains awaiting fresh crews. These delays were made worse by errors caused by NS’s new Auto-Router computer-aided dispatching software.

The design of passenger stations is also a factor in causing delays by constraining the throughput capacity of the NS rail corridor. All Northern Ohio stations are limited in their ability to process passengers from more than one track, requiring passenger trains to run against the flow of rail traffic half of the time to reach a station platform. This “slalom” causes up to 80 minutes of delay per day to Amtrak trains and at least as much delay to NS freight traffic. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) awarded funding to the Elyria station project but similar stations projects are needed corridor-wide.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur and others in the Northern Ohio Congressional delegation are seeking to transfer to the Northern Ohio Rail Alliance (NORA) a federal appropriation of nearly $1 million unused by ODOT since 2010 to carry out the objectives in its State Rail Plan to facilitate the movement of goods and people by rail. The funding would allow NORA to identify current and future rail traffic choke points from the growth of freight and passenger traffic and to propose solutions to those constraints.

“The STB’s letter should be a rallying point for all stakeholders to join forces to tackle these worsening rail traffic delays and implement long-term solutions that ensure economic growth,” said Ken Prendergast, Executive Director of All Aboard Ohio.

END

Train delays: what to do?

Frustrated Amtrak passengers wait at the Cleveland station for 5 hours on Sept. 29, 2014 for freight railroad CSX to give train #49 the all-clear. Norfolk Southern delivered this train to CSX 3.5 hours late, so it left Cleveland 8.5 hours down. On this day, all four Amtrak trains across Northern Ohio were delayed 6+ hours -- sadly a common occurrence in recent months. Read below how All Aboard Ohio is taking action and how you can help!

Frustrated Amtrak passengers wait at Cleveland’a station for 5 hours on Sept. 29, 2014 for freight railroad CSX to give train #49 the all-clear. Norfolk Southern delivered this train to CSX 3.5 hours late, so it left Cleveland 8.5 hours down. That day, all 4 Amtrak trains across Northern Ohio were delayed 6+ hours — sadly a common occurrence in recent months. Read below how All Aboard Ohio is taking action and how you can help! (Ken Sislak photo)

Was your Amtrak train delayed today by freight? Was your Amtrak train stopped while freight trains rolled by? Or did you hear from the conductor if a signal problem or track work was to blame? If so, that’s still the freight railroad’s responsibility as they own, maintain and manage the tracks/signals for nearly all of America’s Amtrak trains, including those that pass through Ohio.

If so, it is VERY IMPORTANT that you submit a complaint e-mail to the federal Surface Transportation Board at STBHelp@stb.dot.gov, including:

  • your train’s number (it’s on your ticket/reservation confirmation);
  • the approximate time(s) and location(s) of the delay(s);
  • the date(s) of the incident(s); and
  • why you believe the delay was caused by the freight railroad.

Please also copy your e-mail to your Senators and Representative in Congress, too! Freight railroads are required by federal law to give Amtrak trains priority over freight trains.

All Aboard Ohio is taking action! We are supporting legal action against the freight railroads and we are asking the Ohio Department of Transportation to release funds to address infrastructure improvements to ease rail traffic congestion. READ MORE HERE and read the latest NARP Hotline blog.

What is causing these horrific Amtrak delays?

  1. Heavy and worsening rail traffic volumes — passenger ridership is at the highest since the 1960s, intermodal freight (containers, trailers) traffic is at record highs, oil shipments are at record highs, and shipments from a record harvest will make delays even worse. If misery loves company, freight shipments are also being delayed causing complaints by shippers;
  2. Norfolk Southern dispatching software was installed in January at its Dearborn, MI traffic control center which oversees NS’s busy (up to 90 trains a day) Chicago Line west of Cleveland. The “self-learning” software needs a lot of debugging — so much so that NS crews are calling the software “Hal” in reference to the malevolent computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey”;
  3. Inadequate capacity of rail infrastructure, including the design of Northern Ohio passenger train stations which force Amtrak trains to process passengers from only one track of the two-track Chicago Line. The result is that half of Ohio’s four nightly Amtrak trains must run against the flow of traffic and thus “slalom” from one track to the other to stop next to station platforms.

Your voice counts!! Please share with All Aboard Ohio any responses you receive from the Surface Transportation Board, your Senators or Congressperson by e-mailing us HERE. Thank you!