News & Reviews News Wire Cancellations, other operational issues plague Amtrak

Cancellations, other operational issues plague Amtrak

By Bob Johnston | February 28, 2023

Long-distance routes to California hit hardest, but problems are systemwide

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Passenger train arrives as people on platform take pictures with phoone
Passengers greet the westbound Southwest Chief in front of the former Harvey House La Castenada hotel at Las Vegas, N.M. on Oct. 13, 2019. Amtrak has cancelled Chief departures in both directions today (Feb. 28).

CHICAGO — Amtrak says “forecasted inclement weather conditions” are prompting it to cancel the Southwest Chiefs departing Chicago and Los Angeles today (Feb. 28) and continue truncation of the California Zephyr as a Chicago-Salt Lake City train that began Monday.

Meanwhile, more Amtrak locomotive failures, along with host railroad track problems and freight train interference, continue to inflict exceedingly long delays on the beleaguered passengers who chose to ride the national network.

Cancelled trains

Although Cajon Pass and communities east of Los Angeles experienced unprecedented whiteout conditions over the weekend, only minimal snowfall is predicted in the California and Arizona mountains for the next several days. The Chiefs arriving at their terminals Feb. 27 were delayed in New Mexico, but today’s arrivals were early into Los Angeles and about an hour behind schedule into Chicago.

Nevertheless, Amtrak has cancelled today’s Southwest Chiefs over their entire route in both directions. With limited coach and sleeping car capacity, March 1 departures were showing “sold out” in the company’s reservation system, perhaps while Amtrak attempted to re-accommodate displaced travelers. Annulments also disrupt established operating crew turns at intermediate points, often introducing additional transportation costs.

The westbound California Zephyr departing Chicago on Saturday, Feb. 25, was delayed encountering heavy Sierra Nevada snow and debris on the tracks on its way to Emeryville, Calif., arriving more than 3 hours late on Feb. 27. But trains leaving the Windy City the following two days terminated at Salt Lake City, where their eastbound counterparts then originated.

Big delays

Passenger train approaches Chicago with skyline in distance
The Pere Marquette from Grand Rapids, Mich., passes Amtrak’s Chicago Maintenance Facility on Jan. 14, 2023, with a Charger locomotive leading two Horizon cars and a Siemens Venture coach at the rear. Monday’s inbound Pere Marquette broke down en route to Chicago.

Elsewhere, passengers aboard the Washington, D.C.-bound Capitol Limited on Sunday, Feb. 26, were told via Amtrak Alerts that the train might be delayed leaving Chicago. That didn’t happen, but “ongoing mechanical issues” east of Elyria, Ohio, caused the train to exit Cleveland almost 3 hours late and its next station, Alliance, Ohio, 9 hours, 22 minutes late at 12:28 p.m. instead of 3:05 a.m. Arrival into the Washington was at 10:11 p.m.

Also on Feb. 27, the Chicago-bound Pere Marquette from Grand Rapids, Mich., became disabled on Norfolk Southern rails east of Chicago; the problem couldn’t be fixed immediately, so buses rescued its passengers. The train’s equipment deadheaded into Chicago more than 6 hours off the advertised.

Further east, a CSX Transportation freight broke down in single-track territory south of Petersburg, Va., midday Monday, stopping the northbound Silver Star, southbound Palmetto, and the Carolinian in both directions. The cumulative delay to travelers on those four trains totaled more than 6½ hours, causing many missed connections.

“Unforeseen trackwork” at Walnut Ridge, Ark., delayed two Texas Eagles early today. Scheduled to pass near that point, the westbound train 3½ hours while the eastbound was delayed nearly 5 hours overnight.

But there was better news for customers attempting to ride the Empire Builder after the Chicago-Seattle/Portland, Ore., train was missing in action for three consecutive days last week [see “Weather cancellations for Southwest Chief, Empire Builder,” Trains News Wire, Feb. 22, 2023].

Aside from hours-long delays to the eastbound Builder in rural Minnesota on Feb. 27, trains have been running mostly on time or early into their endpoints so far this week.

13 thoughts on “Cancellations, other operational issues plague Amtrak

  1. An obvious conclusion from the fiasco Amtrak’s corporate management has created is to implore Congress to express its dissatisfaction with how Amtrak is currently managed.

    Congress should explicitly forbid any further bonus payouts while corporate management feels no pain for creating the needless costs due to extraordinary deleterious decisions resulting in reduced consists, cancelled trains, and perpetually delayed trains resulting from the insufficient maintenance work force.

    Hard to believe that in the 1960s we rode the Santa Fe through blizzards in Arizona, Illinois, and Oklahoma; rode the Burlington along the banks of the Mississippi through heavy spring rains. How much more pathetic does Amtrak have to devolve to be noticed?

    Whatever funds Biden has wrangled from Congress to expand Amtrak or purchase more new equipment should be earmarked to sunset at a specific time if Amtrak’s feeble management cannot get their act together to maintain and operate the trains as they were meant to be. Congress should look into how Amtrak’s corporate management has only succeeded in applying the art of grifting while side-stepping the intention of Congress to fund Amtrak’s continued operation through the pandemic, and to rebuild post pandemic services. It certainly does not help the situation for Amtrak’s Board to be devoid of relevant experience; incapable to provide the requisite stewardship to hold management accountable.

  2. Every year I give Amtrak a shit and every year I regret it (2022: a 17.5-hour late CA Zephyr). Last Thursday it was the Palmetto: hours late into NY Penn causing me to miss the last LIRR connection and forcing me to find a Midtown hotel room at 2:30am. Oh, and the crew? Four of these unhelpful grumps took over fully one-half of the cafe car where they gorged on snack packs purloined from Amtrak’s commissary department and barked at any passenger asking about the schedule.

  3. W. Graham Claytor was the perfect example of a true railroader and also an avid tailfan and hobbyist. When he ran the Southern Railroad he ran a top notch and reputable and reliable railroad. As a railfan he was instrumental in Southern’s steam excursions even taking the throttle to run the 4501. When he took over Amtrak he brought the company out of some its darkest times and was instrumental in getting new equipment into service as well as restoring most lines and trains that had been previously canceled and restoring good and reliable service times. David Gunn was also a very good railroader and professional in keeping and restoring and expanding service and reliability . Most folks wouldn’t know this but he also did a great job in New York City with the MTA and getting the New York City subway systwm back up to respectibility improved service and also ordering new equipment and cleaning the subway system both of grafetti and crime. If I’m not mistaken I think that David Gunn was hired later to oversee London’s transit system. We need men like both Claytor and Gunn to be hired and restore Amtrak back to respectability, reliability and an important part of our nation’s transportation system. not a joke or the laughingstock or a very poor cousin to other nations’ rail networks. Years ago during the Golden Age of railroading and even after WWII and into the 1950s America’s railroads and passenger trains were the pride of this country and also were some of latest and brightest technology of the day with the shiny and colorful new locomotives and streamlines and people flocked by the millions to ride these trains. But now how have the mighty fallen . As the old nursey rhyme goes All the King;s horses and the King’s men could not put Humpty Dumpty back together again. We can now insert the following Amtrak has fallen and all of Congress and the President could not put Amtrak back together again. …..unless the right people can once again be hired to restore and lead Amtrak back again on the right track
    Joseph C. Markfelder

  4. Regarding anulling 3 & 4 yesterday, did Amtrak run out of de icing fluid at Chicago and LA. What with the fly jockeys in charge at Amtrak. Just saying

  5. Amtrak is totally disfunctional. RPA worries about trying to add a train, rather than capacity issues, cancelled/delayed trains, and generally a defunct Amtrak. There needs to be a reorganization of US passenger rail; congress can only do it; which means nothing will change.
    oh, PS, Graham Claytor was a true railroader and I think during his tenure, Amtrak was at its zenith.

    1. Paul Reistrup and David Gunn were good too. Claytor had the respect of Congress. Over 30 years ago, Congress was more of a functioning body than the current bunch now.

  6. You don’t take a banker or a department store manager or executive and make them a general or a commander in the military and expect them to lead an offensive or troops into battle and expect to win. The same goes for Amtrak and that is it’s problem Not rough weather or equipment breakdowns or shortages Its the lack of experienced and compenent managers and executives and experienced railroaders who actually ran and dispatched trains, worked in the repair shops and maintained the equipment. Right now Amtrak is being run by a bunch of executives who don’t know a thing about trains, how the railroad runs or how it services its customer base. They are just political apointeesnamed to the post out of favor and patonage to some politician. In Amtrak’s 50 years of exisitance they never really had good and experiened railroad people running it. The few that were there for a very short time were either hounded out of their jobs or resigned in digust due to political sheniganying e. How can Amtrak expect to expand service or add new lines if they can’t maintain what they already operate.? Throwing 66 billion dollars at the problem and buying new equipment isn’t going to solve Amtrak’s problems until they hire experienced and compentent railroad people to run and manage the system and that includes former engineers, conductors, repair shop managers and dispatchers Real railroaders who actually worked on and around the railroad and know the problems, needs and how and what the railroad does and its purpose. After all good generals and commanders in the military come from the troops serving in the trenches
    Joseph C. Markfelder

  7. I think Amtrak mgmt is purposely cancelling LD trains & limiting their capacity to keep ridership stats low to perpetuate the myth that LD trains loose money. If these trains were operating as they should they would be sold out & LD ridership would be at record levels but that would not reflect well on their poorly performing NEC.

  8. Amtrak is a disgrace. The way they operate they might as well shut down most of the long-distance services.
    Today was a perfect example. I arrived at the grade crossing just north of the Richmond, VA Amtrak station at 5:40 PM, on my way to Kroger to pick up a grocery order. I turned on my scanner before exiting my driveway, and it quickly became clear the dispatchers had a real cluster-foxtrot on their hands. There were 4 northbound and 2 southbound Amtrak trains all bunched up at or near the station. This was the result of train 80 from Charlotte losing P42 #130 somewhere on the road. NB 138 had to back on and couple up to pull 80 along with its own consist, 2 locomotives and 14 cars in all. I assume the stricken engine was still providing hotel power for its cars as the prime mover was not running as it passed me. Train 80 was over 3 hours late; the rescue train was significantly late, and SB train 95 was also about an hour late. He and the Silver Star, about 15 minutes late, were stopped on track 2, with 91 right behind 95. Once 138/80 got out of the way NB train 90 pulled into the station, with NB 186 right behind him. After 90 departed, 95, and then 91 eased down track 4 to the station. 91 had to wait for 95 to leave, then had its turn. 186 followed 90 on track 3 into the station. Everything cleared up by 6 PM or so, just in time for the arrival of train #125. The FB and BD dispatchers were quite busy, but everybody was cool. The Amtrak crews were also cool and professional on the radio, although someone on a SB referred to the combined consist as “your FrankenTrain” as they performed a run-by inspection. I sympathize with their plight, having to work for people who couldn’t move a train 10 feet on a yard track, and with old equipment that breaks down on a regular basis. They have no alternative other than to take their situation in stride and roll with the punches. The passengers, however, are SOL, and management apparently just doesn’t care.

  9. I wish someone somewhere would give a simple and honest answer about what happening with the Chargers. Something more then, “we are making repairs”.

  10. Instead add more sidings to allow monster trains on main that are not usable by the RR freight trains except major charges. Sidings and signaling would be property tax free + any upgrades to dispatching desks..

  11. Amtrak must build dedicated rail for passenger trains otherwise delays due to freight rail will continue to obstruct any progress for on time performances and increased speeds by newer locomotives!!!

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