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CP-Amtrak agreement details cooperative blueprint for more trains: Analysis

By Bob Johnston | February 7, 2022

Plans include Detroit tunnel offer reprising no-improvements accord for New Orleans-Baton Rouge

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Passenger train at junction
Passenger train at junction
A northbound Amtrak Hiawatha passes the connection to Union Pacific at Tower A-20 near Glenview, Ill. The need for a new holding track here had been a sticking point for additional Hiawatha service … (Trains: David Lassen)

WASHINGTON — An Amtrak regulatory filing supporting Canadian Pacific’s bid to merge with Kansas City Southern provides a roadmap of what the two parties say is needed for passenger service to begin on new routes, or for frequencies to be increased where Amtrak trains already run.

Operating and infrastructure agreements between Amtrak and its hosts are generally shrouded in secrecy, except when specifics are revealed as a part of federal grants. Amtrak has pledged to not disclose “CP’s trade secrets and other confidential business information as required by law,” and references “compensation on a per-train mile basis equal to that of Hiawatha trains” without divulging a figure, operating on Canadian Pacific” without divulging how that is calculated, but the document filed last week with the Surface Transportation Board is clearly meant to demonstrate to the STB that Amtrak and CP can collaborate at a time both have major cases before the board: Amtrak’s dispute with CSX and Norfolk Southern over proposed New Orleans-Mobile, Ala., service, and the CP-KCS merger application.

CP freight train approaches junction
… but a new agreement between Amtrak and Canadian Pacific changes the requirement for the holding track, which was to have been built just around the curve this Canadian Pacific train has passed through as it approaches the A-20 junction. (Trains: David Lassen)

Among the filing’s route-specific details:

Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha corridor

— Amtrak can add a seventh Sunday round trip on 14 days’ notice. Before recent temporary service reductions [see “Analysis: A closer look at the impact of Amtrak’s cancellations,” Trains News Wire, Jan. 17, 2022], there were seven round trips on weekdays, but six on Sundays.

— An eighth round trip will be allowed once a second platform is built at the Milwaukee Airport station; two signaled main tracks are constructed and a 100-year-old bridge is replaced through Milwaukee’s Muskego Yard, allowing freights to bypass the downtown station; and CTC is installed into the station. CP previously required these improvements, along with freight holding tracks off the main line at Glenview and Lake Forest, Ill., on Metra-owned tracks used by CP, before any frequencies could be added.

— Ninth and tenth round trips can begin once Illinois improvements are built. They include universal crossovers at Glenview and Lake Forest and other projects near Rondout, Ill. But there is no mention of the holding tracks, which homeowners successfully opposed by pressuring politicians to keep the Illinois Department of Transportation from requesting federal grants. If these specific improvements aren’t financed, Amtrak and CP “shall cooperate to identify and agree upon a replacement for each project not implemented or completed.”

People walking next to Amtrak train at station
Passengers on the westbound Empire Builder take a break in June 2013 at Winona, Minn. Improvements are required here before state-supported St. Paul-Chicago service on the same route as the Builder can begin. (Bob Johnston)

Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago

Amtrak and CP reiterate previously agreed plans for capacity and signaling improvements around Winona and La Crescent, Minn., and La Crosse, Wis., needed to launch a St. Paul-Chicago train (in addition to the Empire Builder). State matching funds for federal grants have been secured, and construction is expected to start later this year. Additionally, they say they will explore additional construction necessary to add a second St. Paul-Chicago train within one year after the first round trip begins.

New Orleans-Baton Rouge, La.

The STB filing confirms CP’s commitment, if the merger is approved, to allow one daily round trip without any capacity or signaling changes to the existing Kansas City Southern route. It acknowledges that both parties may decide that “additional improvements may be required to facilitate trip-time-competitive intercity rail service.”

Railroad track curving away from main line in foreground
The KCS track to Baton Rouge, La., diverges west of New Orleans from Canadian National at “IC Junction,” seen here from the City of New Orleans in December 2021. (Bob Johnston)

It also outlines a mechanism “to jointly undertake and fund a third-party capacity analysis” should Amtrak and CP fail to agree what improvements are necessary to accommodate a second round trip. If that analysis deems improvements are necessary, a “migitation strategy” will be implemented within 60 days to make way for the new frequencies.

Detroit-Windsor

Canadian Pacific pledges to allow one round-trip per day to operate through the railroad’s Detroit-Windsor tunnel “with no required capital contribution from Amtrak … except as may be required for station facilities, but excluding dedicated station tracks.” This reprises the deal CP has offered for initial New Orleans-Baton Rouge service.

However, passage through CP’s tunnel is perhaps the easiest part of re-establishing Chicago-Toronto service. The International operated until 2004 through Canadian National’s tunnel between Port Huron, Mich., and Sarnia, Ont., but neither Amtrak nor VIA Rail Canada have shown any inclination to restart that service. Challenges include:

— Establishing track connections to the CN route used by VIA trains to Toronto that currently stub-ends at a Windsor station north of downtown;

— Determining how and where customs would be handled (long border delays contributed to the International’s demise);

— Deciding how a Chicago round trip would serve Detroit, since Amtrak’s current station there would require a backup move;

— Getting a funding commitment from VIA and Michigan.

Meridian-Shreveport-Dallas

The agreement characterizes the Chicago-Twin Cities, New Orleans-Baton Rouge, and Chicago-Toronto corridors as consistent with Amtrak’s “long-term vision.” It makes no mention of a possible Baton Rouge-Shreveport extension and is far less sanguine about the possibility of establishing a Dallas-Meridian, Miss., connection to the New York-New Orleans Crescent.

Amtrak will only say it “desires further study” of that route and will wait two years following approval of the CP-KCS merger before it is willing to participate with Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, and CP in a joint study “with the goal of the introduction of a single round-trip Amtrak train between Meridian, Miss., and Dallas, Tex., and with the potential for a second round trip not sooner than four years following STB approval.”

Since Norfolk Southern and KCS jointly invested to upgrade a former Illinois Central line into the Meridian Speedway, and the UP might host such a train on tracks currently used by the Texas Eagle west of Marshall, Tex., inclusion of those host railroads is understandable and necessary. But despite Amtrak’s management’s previous complaints that its route structure remains weak in the southeast, it chose to severely constrict capacity and downgrade amenities on both the Crescent and Eagle in 2020, so strengthening those routes is clearly not a part of the company’s “long-term vision.”

Collaboration

While the agreement clearly states that CP is not obligated to pay for any capacity improvements, the host agrees to cooperate with Amtrak and state agencies to secure federal funds. Such a pledge strengthens each project’s case for selection once the Federal Railroad Administration announces criteria that will make funding available from the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Job Act. On the other hand, Amtrak will need the states of Louisiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan to fully engage in the grant process before any of the initiatives become a reality.

37 thoughts on “CP-Amtrak agreement details cooperative blueprint for more trains: Analysis

  1. I never understood why the CN tunnel at Sarnia – Port Huron is such a barrier to United States customs after 9/11. That was a heavily traveled, successful route. Crossing the border by highway or air after 9/11 hasn’t been such a huge problem. Crossing by highway you wait your turn at the border then show your papers. Crossing by air you fill out a short form which the cabin attendent collects. Crossing by rail doesn’t have to be Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.

    People don’t like my political comments but too bad. The wretched, corrupt, incompetent, vile anti-American Biden administration has thrown open the southern border to any unknown person who wants to cross it with no border controls at all. But US and Canadian citizens with legitimate business are hassled.

    Detroit is a big city. Don’t see why there couldn’t be two train stations, the already proposed replacement station at New Center north of downtown (close to the existing station near Woodward and West Grand Boulevard on the Pontiac route), and the rehabilitated FoMoCo Michigan Central Station west of downtown for trains to Canada.

    A connecting track at the CNR – CPR crossing east of Windsor wouldn’t be a big deal.

    1. “The wretched, corrupt, incompetent, vile anti-American tRump administration” is what you should have said. Take the blinders off Charles and do your homework. Oh and the southern border is NOT wide open as you state, you can do a simple search and see that the same controls that the last administration had are still in use. Guessing you believe in butterfly sanctuary conspiracies too.

    2. Charles Trump and his delusional followers are the ones who are vile, incompetent and anti-American. Hopefully the orange one will be hauled off to jail soon.

    3. The problem with the International was US Customs at Port Huron. They required people to get off the train and otherwise slowed things and were obnoxious.

  2. “The wretched, corrupt, incompetent, vile anti-American” Charles Landry somehow thinks it is appropriate to throw shade at the most pro-passenger rail president and administration that we have seen in over a generation with nonsense comments that are completely inappropriate in a thread about the Canadian rail border crossing in Detroit.

    1. “Over a generation” ?? You mean more so than Obama – Biden, which talked the talk but produced little? “Pro-passenger president and administration? You mean the bi-partisan infrastructure bill that threw Amtrak some money amidst all the pork? You mean our fearless, masterful pro-rail Transportation Secretary? I’m with Charles right up to and including Anti-American, which is beyond the scope of this thread to expound upon.

    2. I usually just skip over Charles’ comments these days since he always has to have some form of a political attack attached which pretty much cheapens the discussion.

    3. Neither the Obama administration nor the Biden administration have settled the issue of whether there should be a second platform height for level boarding beside 48 inches . Alternatives are 22 inches for Talgo, Stadler FLIRT and GTW DEMUs and Bombardier Tri-Levels or 15 inches for Superliner and California Cars. The Fiasco with the double deck equipment started under Obama and the in my opinion the not fit for purpose Siemen cars were the only available alternative even though on paper at least Talgo designs were better suited for the Midwest and California services, North American Stadler FLIRTs not being available at decision time. The Chicago – Detroit and Chicago – St. Louis schedule upgrades have not been given high priority even though the former would give terminal to terminal times equal to Google drive times and the latter would better them. The proposed New Orleans – Mobile schedules are a joke. While they are approximately the same as the 1961 Hummingbird, they are an hour slower than Google Drive times between New Orleans Passenger Union Terminal and a presumed Mobile Amtrak station. When were the Acela Libertys and ACS64s (the Siemens locomotives ordered? I think the much delayed sleeper, diners and baggage cars were ordered before 2017. Trump at least did little or nothing to disrupt any of the orders. CAF seems to have done a good job of delay without any help.

  3. This mutual vitreol is why the American experiment is in unstoppable decline. I hope I don’t live to see it all end, but history shows that all great civilizations have an ascendency, a period of prosperity, a period of decline, and termination. We are no different. Back to the point – Point of Information – 1. Does the Canada Southern still exist? Wasn’t it an NYC line roughly parallel to CP and CN to Toronto, with NYC passenger trains on it? 2. Is the CP to Toronto unsuited for passenger trains? Please advise.

    1. I’ll try and answer George to the best of my failing memory;
      1) Canada Southern essentially ran between Windsor and Fort Erie, largely torn up now, so not to Toronto. Yes it did see NYC a long time ago. I can remember seeing NYC cars going through Burlington on the CN, not sure how they got there from Buffalo, could have been via CN from Niagara Falls or Buffalo, maybe even over the TH&B from Welland via the CS from Buffalo
      2) Yes indeed the CP from Windsor to Toronto is definitely suitable for passenger trains, there are still a few lovely old passenger stations that have been repurposed along that line, can’t see it ever happening though.
      Best of my recollection, and anyone can feel free to correct me.

      1. Just had a bit of a memory recall
        The NYC cars I mentioned through Burlington came down the TH&B from Welland to Hamilton, even recall sometimes with a single NYC passenger engine, most times a TH&B gp, then it would take the CN from Hamilton Junction to Toronto union station in the early evening.

    2. GEORGE – CASO became a power line R/W I think in the 1970’s.

      ALL- Biden is the most pro-Amtrak president? Amtrak has never been worse, not even anywhere near as bad as it is under Amtrak Joe. The best Amtrak rides I ever had were at the beginning, when Amtrak CEO Roger Lewis was appointed by anti-Amtrak Richard Nixon to essentially phase out Amtrak. Except under CEOs Graham Claytor (R.I.P.) and David Gunn, Amtrak has been downhill ever since. Under President Amtrak Joe barely even exists. I’ll say it again, Joe Biden is corrupt and incompetent, and those are by far the kindest words I have for him. Mussolini made the trains run on time, America’s excuse for Mussolini can’t even do that.

      1. Charles and George, I can’t speak for Windsor to St Thomas but from St Thomas to Fort Erie, the line is completely abandoned and was never used for a power line ROW. It is now either trails, returned to farmland, or mixed uses by adjacent property owners. The last through freight I seen on it had NW power on the head end, mid 70’s

    3. CP is notoriously allergic to hosting passenger service in Canada. Aside from an essential service in northern Ontario, the only other passenger runs they host are on the GO Transit Milton Line running into Toronto – and only because Mississauga gave them an ultimatum after the big derailment in 1979: give us commuter trains or pay for the emergency response bill for evacuating a third of the population.

      Nowadays the only place a CP route would work in the corridor is approaching Windsor. It wouldn’t serve Kitchener-Waterloo (would hit Cambridge, but that city is very much seen as the lesser relation) and would have to detour to run into the London VIA station.

      The one obstacle with Windsor is how to get it there, and whether to abandon the only ten year-old (if architecturally underwhelming) station in the Walkerville neighbourhood for something on the CP line. CN would probably be in favour; if memory serves, the only service on their Chatham Subdivision west of its namesake city is VIA, so a rerouting would mean they could abandon it entirely. Shame the old Michigan Central station burned down, though.

      1. As an aside, and this has probably been asked before, but are you the same George Pins who used to own Pennsylvania 120? If so I’ve enjoyed watching the time you hosted Ludovic Kennedy and EM Frimbo.

        1. Mr. Haisell – Yes, I’m still standing, sadly watching the elders and peers I’ve shared railroading with slowly drop by the wayside. Frimbo had the most joyous memorial service I’ve ever attended. Bobby Short entertained. His last big rail trip was with me, across Canada on The Canadian. (Yes, the 120 ran on The Canadian.)

  4. As I recall, I had commented on an earlier article that I wanted to see the details of the offer by CP to expand passenger rail. Well I for one thank Trains and Bob Johnson for covering the details of the agreement in such detail. (And of course CP and Amtrak for filing it with STB).

    On a separate note, I do hope the route through Portal ND gets some new upgrades. I recently reread the decades old article (I think by Fred Frailey) in Trains about getting over the old Soo route in ND and how long it took. Nevertheless, shipping time from China to Chicago was still faster than via LA and the Southern Transcon per a much later column by Bill Stephens I think

  5. I don’t normally respond to political postings on the Trains forum but Mark’s Southern Border comments aren’t true per everyone I know in the Southwest.

    I have family [some democrat, some republican] in southern TX and AZ. I’m friends with both Border Patrol and Customs agents stationed in TX and some local lawmen there. Per all of them, our southern border is wide open. They say the Biden administration pays lip service to border regulations, but that’s all it is doing. The administration is also ignoring as much as they can the Supreme Court’s decision that ordered them to observe the prior administration’s Remain in Mexico policy. It is an ongoing disaster that is continually being ignored by the mainstream press–anyone who gets their news only from them will not be aware of the massive flow of people and drugs that is now taking place. My Border Patrol friends are absolutely frustrated with Biden & company and their morale can’t go any lower nowadays.

  6. Hi Charles! As usual you and I are in total agreement and the problem with the naysayers is they can’t handle the truth. And anyone that believes we don’t have problems at the southern border need to read Mr. Foster’s comments or ask a railroader who works down there. Trump was great; Biden is the train wreck from hell that is destroying this country. Like you Charles, I don’t care what people think about my comments it is just sad that they only hear what they want to and turn a dear ear to the truth. And Mr. Trump has been out of office for over a year get over it.

  7. So when is Biden going to nominate a new Amtrak BOD? Amtrak’s long distance network will go away unless Gardiner and his fly boys are replaced

    1. Mr. Lustig and all: The entire Amtrak board including the Chairman, the NEC-centric Anthony Coscia, beyond its term. If the Biden Transportation Dept. hasn’t nominated a new Amtrak Board and Chairman by now it doesn’t look like they will. According to Train’s Bob Johnson, Coscia gave Stephen Gardner the dual posts of President and CEO upon Flynn’s abrupt departure for the express purpose of cementing Gardner’s and his NEC-centric views. NEC=Northeast Corridor=Nothing Else Counts. SecTrans Buttigieg and FRA administrator Amit Bose are utterly clueless. Let’s agree to change “Amtrak” Joe to “Corridor” Joe because he never rode anywhere else on the “system”. I could write tons more on how Obama-Biden talked the talk but never walked the walk on improving passenger/commuter/regional rail. Goes back to when Obama almost cut the hugely critical CREATE Englewood Flyover that was only saved by the efforts of a rail-minded IL Congressman. And then Obama ignored the critical CREATE follow-on 75th Street Corridor project that would have, when completed, untied a major chokepoint on the South Side effecting the Metra Southwest Service Line, BRC, CSX, NS, and to a smaller extent, Amtrak. And Chicago is/was his city. He lived not 10 miles from the sites referred to above. Instead Obama prioritized the new I-87 Tappan Zee Bridge on which former Gov. Cuomo had banned a transit component, major and costly upgrades at LGA and JFK. And then left office with the critical Gateway project nothing more than a lick and a promise. In the present, Biden and his Transportation Dept. never blinked an eye (yeah Charles you’d say a “sleepy” eye) when Flynn and Gardner dynamited the railroad in October 2020 with the layoffs, LD train frequency cuts, and equipment mothballing. And then they throw $66b to that same top management?!?!?! This is gonna be a disaster.

      1. Mr. Shapp,
        Call me Mike. I’ve never met you but based on this and previous posts regarding Amtrak, you are one of my favorite people

      2. In October 2020, the Trump administration was still in charge so you can blame Flynn and Gardner on them. I forget the timelines on the other projects.

  8. Perhaps Mr. Landey is trying to moderate his remarks. Afterall, he didn’t say a thing about the Democrats raising babies in the basement of pizza parlors for use in their disgusting satanic rituals. All of it well documented on the internet.
    I do agree that it would not be that much of a stretch for Amtrak to serve two Detroit stations and the old MC tunnel. I had a chance to ride the short lived Niagara Rainbow once, Buffalo to Detroit. It’s very unfortunate that we lost this route.

    1. I also rode the Niagara Rainbow, 1975. I may have been off in my guestimate (above) that CASO was abandoned in the 1970’s. More like the 1980’s, maybe.

      The Niagara Rainbow was subsidized by Michigan and New York State (curious, as most of the route was in Ontario). It was shut down when New York State pulled its half of the subsidy.

      Also long gone was the extension of a Chicago to Detroit train south to Toledo to connect to the Lakeshore, around 1980 plus or minus. This was when the Wolverine trains ended in Detroit, before being routed north to Pontiac.

    2. ” Afterall, he didn’t say a thing about the Democrats raising babies in the basement of pizza parlors for use in their disgusting satanic rituals. All of it well documented on the internet.”

      Seriously? Ever thought on giving up crystal meth before posting such insanity?

  9. I’m generally not a fan of FaceBook but at least that platform allows me to block wretched, corrupt, incompetent, vile comments. The social media folk at Trains ought to consider some mechanism to mute those who chose to digress and express such comments and spare them from the rest of us who want to discuss rail news.

  10. We probably should learn to ignore Charles’ poison pills that he sprinkles in all his posts to spark a reaction. It’s too bad, because when he stays on topic, his insights are often useful.

    Responding to the comment that the earlier Obama/Biden admin was all talk on passenger rail–myself, living in St Louis (hardly the corridor)—can now board brand new coaches, pulled by new engines, on a completely rebuilt right of way doing 90 mph (soon to be increased further) and stopping at many new or rebuilt stations on my way to Chicago. So yes, the proof is in the pudding and this would never have happened under any of recent Republican admins.

    As for Amtrak being in the worst shape currently as ever–this is all relative. Obviously we are still in the midst of a pandemic which has decimated all the carriers (air, sea, rail, auto) including the travel industry as a whole. The CP agreement is a good one that lays the groundwork for additional routes and service as we put the pandemic behind us.

    1. While the original double deck coaches were ordered in the Obama administration, the Siemens substitution occurred during the Trump administration and most of the starts by the Obama administration continued at the usual North American slow pace during the Trump administration (slow passenger equipment delivery seems to be a problem in both Europe and North America and has also bedeviled the airline industry),

  11. Mr. Lang, you definitely have a point. I hope you weren’t referring to my comments. I did restrict them to rail-only subjects. So, in the spirit of Mr. Lang’s admonition, let’s dwell on the subject of Bob Johnson’s article, particularly the issue of expanded Hiawatha Service. The Newswire covered, in at least two articles, what I like to call “The Battle of Glenview”. ILDOT/CP/Metra (let’s not forget Metra who actually is the track owner although they allow CP almost total control of train operations as if CP was the owner) wanted to lay down a long siding north of Tower A20 and extend the “ramp tracks” connecting the Metra Milw North/CP C&M Sub and the UP Milwaukee Sub at their west end. Apparently, when UP stopped CP Bensenville-bound trains at Shermer Road interlocking, some would still be fouling Tower A20 potentially causing delays to Metra and Amtrak trains. (I have it on good authority that the long siding between Tower A20 and Northbrook was to be the first phase of triple-tracking the line Rondout-Tower A5). All the rail entities knew that in order to keep the railroad fluid Rondout-A20 if three more CHI-MKE trains were added, more capacity was needed. But the NIMBYs at Glenview thought they could stop the big, bad railroad from “road widening” even though “just across town” some homeowners on Hinsdale’s east side couldn’t stop the IL State Tollway Authority from taking their homes in the name of widening I-294 by one of two lanes in each direction. So, Glenview threatened legal action and won with the issue never going to court. ILDOT caved even though no one’s property was to be taken for either “widening”. The tracks were just going to get a little closer. After all it was only passenger rail that was to be expanded and we don’t need that. So, I don’t understand what Bob Johnson is getting at with his “If these specific improvements aren’t financed, Amtrak and CP “shall cooperate to identify and agree upon a replacement for each project not implemented or completed.” I don’t see any substitute for “widening”. The highway establishment sure doesn’t when they want to keep a section fluid. So why not for rail? I think we all know the answer.

    1. Mark, To clarify: the agreement doesn’t commit CP to spend money for any improvements that will permit more passenger train frequencies; public funds are to be secured for that purpose. What’s apparently different now is that there are no holding tracks in the picture, only universal crossovers, and I read the agreement to essentially say, “if we don’t get these specific improvements, that’s not a deal breaker–we’ll look for other mitigations.” But also, without the holding tracks and the NIMBY complaints it generated, IDOT has no reason to seek a federal grant (unless they are unwilling to fund the state match–we’ll see).

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