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Private car owner: Safety issues, behavior led to Amtrak decision NEWSWIRE

By | April 16, 2018

Pennsylvania E8 locomotive owner, Bennett Levin, says recent cutbacks are 'prudent'

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Pennsylvania Railroad-painted E units Nos. 5809 and 5711 lead special train through Lee’s Crossroads, Pa, in June 2014. The consist was returning from the Streamliners at Spencer railfan event in North Carolina.
Jonathan Wright
PHILADELPHIA —  One of the nation’s leading railway preservationists is calling on the enthusiast community to exercise restrain despite a call for action by several organizations involved in private cars, passenger trains, and steam excursions

Bennett Levin, owner of the Pennsylvania 120 office car and others as well as two well-traveled PRR E8 locomotives, says the enthusiast community may do more harm than good by contacting Congress to put pressure on Amtrak to reverse a recently imposed ban on special trains and a major curtailment of private car moves.

“I would urge everyone who claims to have an interest in this matter, from those who own the equipment to those who stand trackside and record its passing for history, to use reason and restraint, and not add fuel to an already raging fire being fed by ineptness, poor judgment, and short sightedness,” he said in a letter to National Railway Historical Society President Al Weber and echoed in a written statement to Trains News Wire.

Both the Association of Private Rail Car Owners and the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance have urged members to contact their elected leaders at the federal level.

Levin tells Trains News Wire that he’s concerned that such action by railfans and private car owners is ill-timed and nearing “hysteria.”

Levin says he believes Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, a former airline executive who took over the railroad Jan. 1, is looking at the private car and special train issue as a matter to be thoroughly considered in the context of the railroad’s regular operations. Levin cited examples of bad behavior in recent years by private car owners or passengers that he says justifies Amtrak’s pause on excursions.

“Things have spiraled out of control. Neither of the private varnish organizations have taken positive steps to address these issues, so now Amtrak has said, ‘Enough,'” Levin says. “What Amtrak has done is not draconian. It is prudent.”

“The issue of safety is paramount. And the recognized and organized private varnish community has done a poor job recently in self-policing its members and instilling a culture of Safety First,” Levin says.

The two private passenger car organizations issued a joint statement Monday, April 16, in response to Levin’s comments. In it, alliance President W. Roger Fuehring, and association President Robert G. Donnelley say that their organizations have safety committees, have issued safety manuals to members, and that there have been no incidents or accidents that have been reportable to the Federal Railroad Administration.

In addition, the association “has denied membership to car owners who have a ‘poor safety’ record. Not all car owners, however, are AAPRCO or RPCA members,” they wrote. “Both organizations have investigated and take action on the occasional violations of our membership.”

With regard to private passenger car association members calling on members of Congress for help, the two men wrote that Amtrak’s changes were both sudden and severe.

“It is not surprising that some tourist railroad organizations, charterers, private car owners, and car owner associations have sought help from their legislators in view of the fact that Amtrak is a government approved monopoly receiving aid from the legislature,” they wrote.

The association and alliance’s full statement to Trains News Wire is online.

An Amtrak representative responded to a Trains News Wire request for comment on whether safety and passenger behaviors on private cars had a role in the recent policy changes, but only said, “We are still in the process of finalizing our private car policy and should be able to communicate that publicly in the near future.”

Levin says he worries that if car owners and railfans get their wish, and inspire intervention from Congress, the result may be something far worse than a decrease in the frequency of private passenger car trips on the national rail network.

Levin has said his trip with his locomotives and cars from Philadelphia to Altoona and return in May will be the last, as he does not plan to equip the units with positive train control gear.

17 thoughts on “Private car owner: Safety issues, behavior led to Amtrak decision NEWSWIRE

  1. If Levin is forgoing installation of PTC in his equipment, and no longer planning further excursions it seems to me he no longer has a dog in this hunt (issue). On the contrary, the Friends of 261 group ( has an upcoming trip in early June to help raise funds to equip the Milwaukee Road S-3 Northern #261 with PTC. This will be a significant task in design and engineering to install a functional PTC solutions (i.e. onboard computer) with CPU-driven electrical-mechanical gear in a working steam locomotive – an endeavor which could be the prototype for other notable mainline steam engines. Having won the support of BNSF Railway – no small feat for a volunteer organization, and largely due to a professional focus on safety – the Friends group likewise needs Amtrak’s assistance in ensure maintaining their twice-annual Spring and Fall trips, as well as the continued operation of their charter fleet on regularly-scheduled trains. It would be a shame and a loss of history to allow the hard work of groups such as the Friends of 261 to be mothballed due to the actions of a few bad actors. Much better for all involved to agree on a rigorous implementation and enforcement of the safety rules, and therefore ensure the safe continuation of these rolling national treasures.

  2. Daniel Mitzel

    The other option, which would be much simpler but probably a no go, would be to exempt mainline steam from the PTC requirement…actually, that makes much more sense, if the FRA and GAO both do cost/benefit analyses they’ll find that for the cost of designing and installing PTC on a mainline steam engine the benefit just isn’t there. Would that mean mainline steam couldn’t run on PTC equipped lines, no, it just means that either a PTC equipped diesel would need to tag along..or install the equipment in a tool car and wire it up to the brake controls from there. I presume the tool car would be travelling at the same speed as the locomotive.

  3. Amtrak needs to be held accountable. Being nice will get you nothing from a carrier who does so much not to run passenger trains.

  4. PTC on a steam engine driven train. Yes,absolutely. It would just be an expensive computer on board the steam train telling the other expensive but necessary computers on other trains where it is.

  5. Seems absurd that the occasional steam or diesel special train couldn’t get an exemption – maybe by having an extra crewman in the cab (specifically focused on signaling) and possibly having a PTC equipped diesel or “system car” hooked into the train.

  6. Wish Mr. Levin had cited some specific instances – would have given more credibility. Otherwise, I’m left wondering. Without mentioning names, can anyone describe incidences and behavior that Mr Levin seems think led to Amtrak restricting PV and eliminating charters like AAPRCO and New River?

    I’m also left wondering what harm has been done by arguing against the recent Amtrak changes? I’m not sure I’m following or seeing all sides of the issue. How are PV owners – that are facing severe restrictions to the future use of their rail cars – making the issue worse by trying to get Amtrak to reverse the recent decisions? Seems like at this point what do they have to lose – Amtrak is pretty much killing the concept of private rail car travel and charters.

    Being silent would seem an absolutely useless strategy to me and would only encourage the new Amtrak president to take the next step and fully eliminate PVs. There is real truth to the adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” So what am I missing?

  7. If the wheel keeps squeaking after being greased (at least to the satisfaction of the greaser), it gets changed out and scrapped.

  8. ED CLOPTON: You are correct. The squeaker has to be careful about that possibility. But without some audible squeaking there is no chance for any “grease” – and that would still result in eventual failure anyway. 🙂 Seriously though, whether we like it or not we all know that politicians often respond to those who make the loudest case about being harmed by government action or inaction. Given the drastic and sudden nature of the announced Amtrak changes, I can’t blame rail car owners, RR museums and RR enthusiasts from raising a ruckus. I hope a satisfactory middle ground can be found.

  9. Ed: I agree with you. I too wonder why Bennett did not say what was wrong. Nor did he give examples of the problems or how to correct them.

  10. I don’t know much about the Private Varnish and Special Railfan Excursion industry, but, are they possibly barking up the wrong tree going after AMTRAK. Is AMTRAK really necessary to achieve their goals? It seems to me that if all safety and legal regulations are satisfied by the equipment owners, that the various organizations should be able to negotiate directly with the freight roads that own the tracks, not AMTRAK who is also a lessee. For excursions they could negotiate for a road’s engine and crew to move or be part of the consist. For PV moves they could work things out with the local freight railroad. If movements were required on the NEC, then the negotiations would be handled with AMTRAK on an on occurrence basis. IF PTC is the major hangup, using a host road’s PTC equipped engine in the consist should alleviate this concern.

  11. Paul,

    From the special train operator’s point of view, ATK is convenient because ATK has access to much of the freight rail system at a few pennies on the dollar rates. ATK is NOT a lessee of freight rail assets as you assert. The freight carriers will want to be fairly compensated which will greatly increase access costs.

    The second issue is insurance. I understand the special operators are covered by ATK insurance. The freight carriers will want very high limit insurance from the operator at best. Many will just say NO! Insurance will be another costly item the special operators will have to face.

    If owners want cars moved, unoccupied, there are tariff rates for such service.

  12. I want to congratulate Mr. Levin for his stance on this issue. I don’t personally know him but he cannot report specific issues because he needs to maintain good relations with the Private Owners. l am sure they help him with his projects and needs, and his concern is to work with “whomever” to keep the private trains operating safely.
    Where else are they going to go?

    Obviously he wants to circumvent any comments from those whose bull has been gored to the “react now and think later” congress members.

    And congratulations to him for the beautiful locos and rolling stock he has preserved!

  13. Politian’s are driven by votes, they will only act if voters make it clear they need to intervene. Levins advice to keep it low key is misplaced in the big world of political masters who ultimately rule Amtrak. If safety is an issue then the CEO should fix it and Levin should state the issues.

  14. Mr. Levin’s trains from Philadelphia to Altoona as part of the PRRT&HS convention has been cancelled.

  15. i can understand the safety aspect concerns. Having viewed many “foamer” videos of railfan excursions both commercially available and from amateur photogs, I can see multiple safety concerns at photo stop locations. I think the museum and excursion train operator could exercise more control. Perhaps no more “run by” stops. I see railfans running all over near and in front of the train to get a good photo op. That is insane, pure and simple. Designated photo stops for still photos could still be arranged. The open baggage doors and open vestibule doors are another hazard. Perhaps a better barrier over the open baggage doors could be fashioned which will still allow those fans wanting audio recordings. Prohibiting vestibule riding when the train is moving is another thing that could be done. So many things, so many stupid people to ruin it for the serious fans.

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