News & Reviews News Wire Amtrak runs specials to mark CPKC performance

Amtrak runs specials to mark CPKC performance

By Steve Glischinski | October 6, 2023

Railroad recognized as best passenger operator in 2022

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Passenger train with locomotive, three bilevel cars, and single-level car.
Amtrak’s special train recognizing CPKC performance rolls along the Mississippi River at Maple Springs, Minn. on Oct. 5. Steve Glischinski

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Amtrak is operating two days of trips along CPKC’s former Milwaukee Road River Subdivision in Minnesota to recognize the company as Amtrak’s best performing Class I railroad in 2022. The trains make a round trip from St. Paul Union Depot to La Crescent, Minn., where they are turned on the wye for the return to St. Paul. The first train operated Oct. 5, with another round trip scheduled for Oct. 7.

CPKC employees and their families can ride the trips with lunch provided. The train consists of Operation Lifesaver-painted P42DC No. 203, three Superliner cars, and inspection car American View.

CPKC handles Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains between Chicago and Milwaukee, and the Empire Builder between Chicago and St. Paul. A second Chicago-Twin Cities train has been funded and CPKC has agreed to operate it, but there has been no date set for the service to begin.

20 thoughts on “Amtrak runs specials to mark CPKC performance

  1. In summary, CP gets the crown of “Best for on-time performance for Amtrak trains” by:

    a.) Not running very many of them
    b.) Running those they do have for short distances
    c.) Running trains on route with little topographic challenge
    d.) Running trains on routes with little to moderate traffic
    e.) Operating routes with little chance of encountering delay from major yard operations
    f.) Deflecting responsibility from heavy-traffic areas to other railroads (Metra Rondout to Chicago, BNSF St. Croix Tower to St. Paul)
    g.) Not even running all their trains in 2022 (Adirondack).

    Just an attempt to shame the other railroads (like that will work) or an Amtrak apples-to-oranges comparison.

    1. My apologies for the partial duplicate postings. My initial posting did not appear for about 16 hours after originally posted.

  2. Know what railroad had the best on time record operating Amtrak 1983 and prior?
    Union Pacific. Back then they operated the San Francisco Zephyr from Denver to Ogden, the Pioneer Salt Lake City to Portland and the Desert Wind from Salt Lake City to Daggett, CA (Barstow). In the mid to high 90% no less.
    My goodness how times have changed.

  3. Well, this is either a ridiculous attempt by Amtrak to shame the other Class I railroads (like they care), or they are so incompetent they don’t understand that not all the railroads handle the same number of Amtrak trains nor is freight traffic density different on each route.

    The latest “Host Railroad Report” is from August 2023, and is available here:

    Canadian Pacific has BY FAR the fewest route miles with Amtrak service at 562. That’s about half that of the railroad with the second-fewest number of route miles, CN at 1,199. But it’s what’s operating on those route miles that matters. In the Northeast, the Adirondack uses CP for 178 miles with the Ethan Allen Express also using the route for 60 miles between Schenectady and Whitehall. With minimal freight traffic, the all-CTC route with 11 or so meet/pass locations could easily accommodate Amtrak trains with minimal delay.

    The longest CP Amtrak run is the Empire Builder for 384 miles. This is CP’s main line from Canada to Chicago. It is moderately busy, but pales in comparison to the BNSF route west of St. Paul (the point where CP and BNSF hand the train off to one another). CP’s route has gentle grades (nothing approaching 1%) – a stark contrast to other routes over the Rocky Mountains or Alleghenies. The only major CP yard along the route is St. Paul, and it’s in the middle of territory with joint operation with BNSF which is dispatched by BNSF, so that’s about 18 miles or so of territory where good handling is courtesy of BNSF. From the end of the joint territory to Merriam Park where the Empire Builder uses the Minnesota Commercial Railroad, there is only local traffic.

    Between Chicago and Milwaukee where there are seven daily “Hiawatha” trains in addition to the Empire Builder, CP is only graded on the 53 miles from Rondout to Milwaukee. CP’s dispatchers handle most of the 32 miles from Rondout to Chicago, but the host railroad (and the railroad responsible for delay) is Metra.

    The target (on the Amtrak report) is 900 minutes of train delay per month per 10,000 train miles. In August 2023, delay minutes on CP were 885 for the Empire Builder and 634 for Hiawatha service, both below 900. But on mostly-CP-controlled trackage between Rondout and Chicago, it was a whopping 3,037 minutes for the Empire Builder and 2,498 minutes for Hiawathas. In August 2023 (but not for the year as a whole), BNSF actually delayed the Empire Builder less (per 10,000 train miles for the month) than did CP. Delay for the Adirondack and Ethan Allen Express were both more than double the target amount, and that’s with the Adirondack only operating from Schenectady to Saratoga Springs. Delay for the previous months of the fiscal year were much less.

    In summary, CP gets the crown of “Best for on-time performance for Amtrak trains” by:

    a.) Not running very many of them
    b.) Running those they do have for short distances
    c.) Running trains on route with little topographic challenge
    d.) Running trains on routes with little to moderate traffic
    e.) Operating routes with little chance of encountering delay from major yard operations
    f.) Deflecting responsibility from heavy-traffic areas to other railroads.

    To clarify, the “Best” award was for 2022, and that data is here:

    CP performance then was better than so far in 2023, but it also shows another flaw in the measuring: 2022 was still a recover-from-Covid year, so myriad operations challenges skewed what was really going on (for instance, the Adirondack – mostly on CP – didn’t run at all that year). Nonetheless, CP still benefited from dispatching the Metra line without taking responsibility and taking credit for BNSF dispatching from St. Croix Tower to St. Paul all the while handling less of their own traffic compared to many other freight routes on other Class I railroads.

    So, reiterating, this is either Amtrak’s attempt to shame, or it’s a shame Amtrak can’t decipher the differing operational characteristics of its host railroads and why they’re not an apples-to-apples comparison.

    1. I hear you Mark and thank you for all this info. To be fair to CPKC, they are stuck with two parallel single-track railroads (as all Hiawathas run on the east track) from Hwy 20 in Racine County to downtown Milwaukee. Which is why the railroad wants improvements before another Hiawatha is added. For example, the single platform MKA Milwaukee Airport station would need to convert to two platforms with a wheelchair-accessible bridge over the tracks. That way the ex-MILW main would revert to double track operation.

  4. Yet Amtrak can’t take care of their scheduled trains. It’s my understanding the Cardinal has been cancelled several times recently. Consist continue to be cut back and we can’t run any charter trains. Why not just ask CPKC to run their business train on behalf of Amtrak ?

  5. I don’t want to rain on PKC’s parade, but it would be nice if Amtrak showed the same interest and concern in its own passengers and ran its own trains with full consists and working locomotives

    1. Exactly on full consists. CP is responsible for the Builder from Rondout to Merriam Park in St. Paul and the Adirondack north od Schenectady. 600 miles total if that. Although Metra is responsible from CUS to Rondout CP dispatches it and the Hiawathas and Builder get delayed there. Watching on asm transist doc #7 more often than not turns yellow in Wisconsin more often than not.

    1. In a general way which is why I agree with Mark that this appears to be an attempt to shame the other railroads who have nearly twice the traffic and triple the mileage of CPkc. Its like recognizing low hanging fruit…

      But credit CP, they have taken care of their small, unencumbered amount of Amtrak traffic. Now if they operated the Adirondack and the Ethan Allen with the same effort then maybe they could crow a little more legitimately…

    1. And CPKC will be happy with the $$$$$$ that Wisconsin will pay for two Amtrak projects (1) Capacity increase south of Milwaukee if another Hiawatha is added. (2) Capacity increase west of Milwaukee for the proposed second train CHI-MSP.

    2. CPKC is happy. They get $54 million to upgrade their railroad just to run another passenger train between Chicago and St. Paul, but when it comes to their ponying up money to run the 11 (according to them) additional trains on UP trackage rights in Texas including though the Houston terminal: Nope, we’re (rather the UP is) good. No need for any additional infrastructure (or the money to pay for it) here.

    1. Check out the MILW full-length dome on the Royal Gorge tourist train in Colorado.

    2. Charles, actually the Royal Gorge train operates two ex-Milwaukee full-length domes, at least they did when we rode it last year.

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