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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / ‘Sunset Limited’ reduced to twice-weekly service for seven weeks beginning Jan. 20 NEWSWIRE

‘Sunset Limited’ reduced to twice-weekly service for seven weeks beginning Jan. 20 NEWSWIRE

By Bob Johnston | January 4, 2019

Atlanta-New Orleans weekday 'Crescent' shutdown also set to begin

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The Westbound Sunset Limited pauses at Alpine, Texas, in May 2016. The Sunset will be reduced to twice-weekly operation for a seven-week period beginning Jan. 20.
Bob Johnston
A full baggage cart greets the westbound Sunset Limited during a stop in El Paso, Texas.
Bob Johnston

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The Sunset Limited will begin seven weeks of reduced frequencies and adjusted schedules later this month as a result of a major track project in Texas.

To accommodate the track rehabilitation between San Antonio and El Paso, Union Pacific’s work is requiring Amtrak to cancel one of the three weekly Sunset Limited round trips and lengthening schedules on the other two trips. The changes, which also impact connecting service to and from Chicago on the Texas Eagle, begin Jan. 20 and run through March 9.

It is not the only significant cancellation faced by Amtrak long distance trains in January. Beginning Monday, Jan. 7, Crescent service between New Orleans and Atlanta will be cancelled Mondays through Thursdays, a disruption lasting through Feb. 14.

The Sunset changes mean there will be no westbound departure from New Orleans on Mondays, and no eastbound train leaving from Los Angeles on Sundays, so there will be no eastbound service for a four-day period and no westbound trains for a three-day span. On the Texas Eagle, the through cars that depart Chicago on Sundays, normally bound for Los Angeles, will only operate as far as San Antonio.

On the Sunset’s remaining days of operation, Wednesday and Friday departures from Los Angeles Union Station have been pushed up to 7:26 p.m. from 10 p.m., thus breaking the normal connection with the arriving Coast Starlight. This is to accommodate a lengthened schedule between El Paso and San Antonio, while keeping the connection with the Eagle. This means the  Sunset’s eastbound departure time at Tucson during snowbird season shifts from 9:15 a.m. to 5:41 a.m. A similar lengthening occurs westbound after El Paso, moving the Los Angeles arrival back three hours to 8:40 a.m.

Union Pacific did not respond in any way to Trains News Wire inquiries about the exact location and nature of trackwork, whether the railroad proposed a different route or schedule to keep the train running, or how it plans to keep freight traffic moving through the construction area.

Expanded running times through west Texas on the remaining round trips, however, suggest work is mostly taking place between El Paso and San Antonio, a 600-mile stretch over a mostly single-track railroad that involves a combination of overnight and daytime running. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari tells Trains News Wire that the agreement was only finalized last week.

Amtrak is not providing alternate transportation. Because the cancelled trains normally pass each other overnight west of San Antonio, the company could have preserved tri-weekly operation on the rest of the route by turning the trains there and at El Paso, but that would require a 12-hour, partially overnight bus ride for through passengers along U.S. Route 90, which Amtrak officials deemed impractical.

Nevertheless, the decision further reduces the value of the train for the many travelers who use the Sunset for shorter segments. For instance, Trains News Wire discovered that the westbound train arriving into Los Angeles Friday morning, Jan. 4, was completely sold out in coaches as of last Wednesday between Yuma, Ariz., and Palm Springs, Calif.

Host railroads restrict track projects to daylight hours unless Amtrak wants to fund the lighting equipment and night pay needed for overnight work. This is why the Crescent has faced the Monday-through-Thursday cancellations between New Orleans and Atlanta on Norfolk Southern for several years. During the 2019 work on that route, trains will continue to operate Friday through Sunday, as they have in past years, and Amtrak Thruway buses will cover all regular stops in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana for the duration.     

8 thoughts on “‘Sunset Limited’ reduced to twice-weekly service for seven weeks beginning Jan. 20 NEWSWIRE

  1. Just cancel the SS Ltd and put the poor train out of its misery. What’s happened to that route is shameful.

  2. I vote to cancel the Sunset Limited. Crescent Limited, Amtrak should have a contigency fund for RR construction projects to pay the extra money to protect their schedule and frequency, passenger train schedules should remain largely unaffected by track work.

  3. Pathetic performance by all. Railroading is becoming only a cash cow for Wall Street while they diminish services provided for both Amtrak and the general shipping public. Passenger rail under the Anderson/Gardner combine is a laughing stock and not to be taken seriously.

  4. Until recently, “The Sunset Limited” has taken a northern detour between Houston and Beaumont in both directions over the former Missouri Pacific Railroad used by the overnight “Houstonian” and the daytime “Orleanian”. Now the westbound “Sunset Limited” has returned to its regular route while its eastbound counterpart continues with the northern detour.

  5. Imagine I’m at the Southwest concourse at BNA Nashville Airport. Imagine I miss my morning flight to BWI Baltimore Thurgood Marshall. When’s the next flight, I ask. Five days from now maybe? That would be like Amtrak.

    No, the answer maybe would come back, Two hours from now we have another flight. If it’s sold out we have five more after that in the afternoon and evening, but you wouldn’t have to wait that long. We’re sure we can find something if you change at Cleveland or at Charlotte or at Atlanta. For sure we’ll have you into Baltimore by dinnertime at the very latest, one way or the other.

    Just out of morbid curiosity or an attempt at lame humor, I ask, when’s the next train?

    Oh, about 43 years ago. It left Nashville in the middle of the night, three times a week. You’d have to be about 43 years younger, and you’d have to change first at Chicago, then again at Philadelphia. It will take you several days, even if tonight’s one of the three nights it runs each week.

    Over and again, I read Fred Frailey’s book on the troubles of the streamliners in the decade prior to Amtrak. Even the worst of the carriers back then – Southern and Southern Pacific – were so much superior to today’s Amtrak it’s not even understandable.

  6. The Crescent has been cancelling weekday service in the winter for years as I recall. It’s not a new thing under Anderson. The sunset on the other hand, I think that’s new. And as for the example of better service in the airlines, yes, that’s true. Airlines have the advantage of having a single plane be able to make multiple round trips in a day on a route that would take a train several days to make a single round trip. Moreover, an airplane could make at least some of those round trips using completely different infrastructure: different airport gate, different tarmac, different runway, even different airspace. The train would be lucky to have more than one route the entire way from which it could choose if its main route was blocked for some reason.

    I think there is a revolution in transportation coming with automation, unlike anything we’ve seen since probably the introduction of the commercial airliner. Cars will take the leading role in this if we let them. The rail industry will suffer unless we put smart minds on to work on the possibilities. The ideas Brian Solomon presented in the February issue of Trains, regarding automated operation of freight trains, could apply to passenger trains too, which I think would make a huge difference.

  7. By following the new Sunset Limited schedule it appears Amtrak is allotting 7 hours to go approx. 150 miles between Del Rio and San Antonio going east.

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