News & Reviews News Wire Amtrak cancels more trains as winter storm advances

Amtrak cancels more trains as winter storm advances

By Bob Johnston | December 22, 2022

Some routes will see no service through Christmas; western long-distance trains experience major delays

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Passenger train with BNSF locomotive leading four other diesels under signal bridge
Passenger train with BNSF locomotive leading four other diesels under signal bridge
The eastbound Empire Builder, scheduled to arrive in Chicago on Tuesday, Dec. 20, makes its way through CP Morgan near Chicago Union station some 17 hours late on Wednesday, Dec. 21, behind BNSF power after all three Siemens Charger locomotives failed in rural Minnesota the previous day. Bob Johnston

CHICAGO — As predictions of high winds and subzero temperatures move east, Amtrak has cancelled all service on some regional and long-distance routes while maintaining reduced service on others.

Amtrak had originally planned to maintain full service on Friday, Dec. 23, after projecting cancellations for Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday [see “Amtrak cancels Empire Builder, thins Midwest departures …,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 19, 2022]. An advisory issued late Wednesday now extends and modifies the earlier cancellations into Friday.

Also cancelled:

— The St. Louis-Kansas City, Mo., segment of Lincoln Service trains 318-319 to and from Chicago through Dec. 25, leaving no service on the route through Christmas.

— The eastbound Pere Marquette Dec. 22 and westbound from Grand Rapids on Dec. 23.

Illini-Saluki Chicago-Carbondale, Ill., morning trains on Dec. 23.

— The Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington, D.C.) and Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York/Boston) Dec. 22 and 23

— The Cardinal Friday Dec. 23, from New York, and Thursday and Saturday from Chicago. The Wednesday New York departure had already been cancelled.

The Southwest Chief westbound from Chicago on Dec. 23. Tuesday’s eastbound Chief from Los Angeles had been cancelled after a BNSF Railway freight derailment blocked the route west of Barstow, Calif.; Monday’s westbound train terminated there Wednesday after being delayed 6 hours by mechanical issues leaving Chicago.

Empire Builder departures have now been cancelled through Friday, Dec. 23. Before the Tuesday and Wednesday cancellations, Builders leaving the West Coast suffered significant weather and mechanical delays. All three ALC42 Chargers leading Sunday’s eastbound train broke down near Detroit Lakes, Minn., on Tuesday morning; the train’s fourth locomotive, P42 no. 203, maintained head-end power during the all-day delay. A BNSF unit came to the rescue, pulling the train into Chicago 17 hours late Wednesday morning.

The eastbound Builder that departed Seattle and Portland, Ore.,over 6 hours late on Monday after a weather-delayed inbound arrival was more than 21 hours late headed across Wisconsin on Thursday.

The California Zephyr has been plagued with Union Pacific freight congestion delays in Nevada all week. Two eastbound Zephyrs arrived into the Windy City on Wednesday, Dec. 21: The previous day’s train at 11:48 a.m., almost 21 hours late, and Wednesday’s arrival at 6:05 p.m. But that day’s westbound Zephyr departed Chicago less than an hour and a half late. The Chicago-Emeryville, Calif., train has so far escaped Amtrak’s cancellation list, though the train heading into the Midwest winter storm Thursday was running more than 6 hours behind schedule across Iowa.

31 thoughts on “Amtrak cancels more trains as winter storm advances

  1. Amtrak needs to hold Siemens accountable. All THREE failed? F40s didn’t have that issue. Nor did P42s. Our tax dollars at work.

  2. I am aware of only 2 issues with the Siemens Chargers.

    The first issue was the PTC which required some updates and Amtrak was forced to put P42’s in front of them to be PTC compliant for a period of time.

    The second issue which became more apparent during cold weather in Michigan, was the digital HEP controls. I may not be describing the issue correctly, but something to do with how the HEP inverter handles pass through power or handles certain dynamic loads.

    I have not heard nor read about any issues with the Cummins QSK, the trucks or the fuel systems.

    Now it is possible the sensor suite for the digital controls is misreporting data to the controllers for the HEP and causing a controlled shutdown. That could be a bad sensor, bad programming in the digital controls, or no manual override if the digital system can’t locate the problem.

  3. Jim S.

    You mentioned that the Siemens Chargers use the same motor and electrical gear as the Kometsu Heavy Haul trucks in Canada and they perform very well. That’s comparing Apples & Oranges.They perform under two entirely different environments. What works well in one situation doesn’t mean it will work just as well in another.
    Remember Fairbanks Morse opposed piston engines. They were reliable in US subs in WWII but had problems out on the road on the various railroads that purchased them.
    Amtrak wanted something NEW, and NEW doesn’t always mean better. GE/Wabtec and EMD/Progress rail wanted to base designs on their existing engines. But NO, someone got a wild hair up their butt and said they were too dirty. NOT GREEN enough. So they went with Siemens. Looks like they got a really green locomotive. Can’t get any Greener than one that doesn’t run half the time.

    1. Have to agree with you there Paul, but the oil sands and temperatures are very harsh environments so it would be really interesting to know exactly what the “mechanical problems “. Personally I would lean towards air systems (anything from the compressor on) for braking especially since they preform relatively well in warm weather environments or some sensors, Siemens are notorious for sensors and over complicated electrical stuff.
      I still stand behind the Cummins engine being reliable.
      p.s. it is different electrical gear, same technology different manufacturer (GE vs Siemens)

  4. Yes, some accountability is called for. The Chargers were having troubles on the Michigan trains in winter weather. So what does Amtrak do? Order a bunch more at over $7 million a pop. You have to search hard to find any engineer with a positive word for them. There are a slew of other problems with them. Good use of funds would have been to go out and buy good used freight locos and have them rebuilt into reliable passenger locomotives. It’s already been done and works at far less $$$. Question is whose palm or palms are being greased?

    1. Metra purchased surplus SD70MAC’s, Progress Rail rebuilt. Perhaps Amtrak should see if UP has any surplus SD70M’s. If so purchase them, have Progress Rail rebuilt them and put them in service.

  5. Chargers use the exact same Cummins engine as Komatsu use in their 400 Ton haul trucks that operate in the oil sands mines in northern Alberta -34C today, -30F and it gets colder than that for days on end. The haul trucks are also diesel electric, using GE electrical equipment, so they are the same technology as a diesel electric locomotive.
    These haul trucks operate 24/7 so it is hard to believe the prime mover is causing problems in the the Charger locomotives.

    1. Had you ever work around trains. I had mostly volunteer as a Brakeman.

      that prime mover need to power air and elctric for the train to move and stop

      trains are not heavy haul truck. one train can move a battle ship

    2. Yes indeed I have worked around trains, spent a stint of my career maintaining EMD SW locomotives.
      Quite well aware of the prime movers duty, all I am saying is the prime mover is reliable in cold harsh environments nothing else.
      The QSK95 selected for use in the two applications I’ve discussed is the same due to the required horsepower to do the work so yes indeed it becomes irrelevant if it is in a locomotive or a haul truck.

  6. I traveled as a child in the later 1940’s and early 1950’s behind steam. Somehow they made it through the worst of the snow. Then the early 1960’s as a student between Altoona and Chicago. Those diesels also made it through the worst of the snow. Sometimes we ran several hours late but we always made it. Now Amtrak doesn’t even try. I don’t know what to call Amtrak’s current situation but it sure isn’t progress!

  7. They should purchase & rebuild some 70 MACs like Metra did for use on Bldr & CA Zephyr obviously these Chargers are not suitable for such inclement weather as these routes experience.

  8. And I wonder why it took so long to get a BNSF substitute locomotive. Seems like BNSF would be eager to get their mainline unblocked. Or this a secondary line?

  9. I remember the good old days, when a storm was moving in and the airports were shutting down, everyone headed for the train station to take the only all-weather form of transportation available. I guess those days are long gone. What happened?

  10. Might as well shut down the entire system until the spring. This snowstorm is also going to hit the Norteast as well. Yet no decision to shut down or cancel train service in the Northeast ….yet. The management or should I say bumblers running Amtrak are destroying any remaining respect or trust that people would have in taking the train to get to where they need to go. When you turn on the TV or Radio or any media, plenty of wall to wall coverage of folks traveling by plane or driving but no mention or coverage of train service anywhere and that includes big cities like New York and Chicago. Even the media has given up on Amtrak and passenger train travel because there is nothing to cover and running .Passenger train travel has become irrelevant and practically nonexistent in this country. I bet if you were to ask anybody at any of the airports about taking Amtrak or the train as an alternative, you will either get a few laughs or a rude joke about train travel or maybe even a blank stare or even a comment such as I quote “Does trains still run or exist in this country? Most peope will regard the train as ancient technology or something out of the pages of hstory. We can thank the bumbling “wizards” and management crew at Amtrak for slowly killing off the passenger trains and turning Amtrak into something of a joke and a very distastful mean s of travel in the eyes of the traveling public. But who knows? this might very well be the ulterior plan of these jokers and the government to slowly rid the country of train travel
    Joseph C. Markfelder

    1. Mr. Markfelder, Don’t tell the top officers at NARP/RPA that folks aren’t turning to Amtrak when they have been stranded by airline cancellations. Their latest Hotline News brags that this has happened in places. This is the same RPA President who told a group of Senators in late October 2020, after the employee furloughs, after the LDs were reduced to tri-weekly operation, and after the eq mothballing that “mistakes were made at Amtrak”. Sure were Mr.James Mathews. And the biggest mistake is sitting right next to your sorry butt. Stephen Gardner.

  11. “— The Southwest Chief westbound from Chicago on Dec. 23. Tuesday’s eastbound Chief from Los Angeles had been cancelled after a BNSF Railway freight derailment blocked the route west of Barstow, Calif.; Monday’s westbound train terminated there Wednesday after being delayed 6 hours by mechanical issues leaving Chicago.”

    No a UP freight derailed..

  12. Amtrak should be going to a more reliable builder like Progress or Ge the siemens products do not seem to be cutting it.

  13. Fuel gel? Do P42’s have tank heaters?
    Environmental Fluid Freezing?
    E units had radiator covers. ALC42’s have big open area around radiators.
    Hope we learn what failed.

    1. The P42 has four separate 500 gallon fuel compartments. The motor draws from each one equally in theory. Not all the fuel sent to the motor is burned. The fuel not burned is returned to the tanks thus supplying a steady flow of warm fuel. I never had any problems with fuel gelling.

  14. In 1966, I had a clerking job on the NP at Northtown from12m to 8AM. Lots of walking, but I saw one eastbound GN freight train and the eastbound Winnipeg Limited and the North Coast Limited. The EMD locomotives brought the trains in on time!

    Ed Burns

  15. Siemens supposedly a high tech energy & automation company but can’t figure out how to make their locos run in cold weather. LMAO!

  16. The transcon train either runs 17 hours late or not at all. Three out of three engines fail.

    Milwaukee and Chicago get three inches of snow. Some Hiawatha trains are annulled.

    What’s left to say about Amtrak? Nothing.

    1. Charles, Mike, and Anthony: I confess I have not been keeping up on how many times there have been ALC42 failures out on the road that have resulted in the host railroad having to supply rescue power if they wanted to open their route. This instance of all three dying is outrageous. But if anyone thinks there will be accountability at Amtrak or Siemens or both is sadly mistaken. So yeah, it would be appropriate for the host railroads to ban them. The only thing is nothing would please Gardner and Coscia more. Then the would have the excuse they have been looking for to discontinue the LDs.

  17. “All weather “train travel is only a memory. From reports, it seems the Chargers are not cold weather reliable power???

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