Home Open Account Help 277 users online

Passenger Trains > 2:43 AM on board the Sunset Limited...and more good, bad, ugly


Date: 08/13/19 15:53
2:43 AM on board the Sunset Limited...and more good, bad, ugly
Author: GenePoon

Russ Jackson was the former newsletter editor of RailPAC before
he moved out of RailPAC territory to the Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX
area.  This is his July 2019 TxEagle/Sunset trip report.  Forwarded with permission.
====================================================

2:43 AM on board the Sunset Limited...and more good, bad, ugly

Trip Report and Commentary by Russ Jackson

We have just returned from our semi-annual round trip on Amtrak's
Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited from Ft. Worth Central Station to Los
Angeles Union Station.  And, what a summer trip it was!  Every Amtrak
trip is an adventure, with something new always appearing; this one
was no exception.

The "good" to report involves the On Board Services of the Sunset
Limited, and the Texas Eagle one way.  Outstanding!  The Sunset
Limited sleeping car attendant on both trains 1 and 2, Cyndy, was,
and is, the example of what all Amtrak employees should strive to be.
She knows what they are there for, and she comes to the passenger to
see what they need AND when they need it, and is AVAILABLE.  We have
noticed on recent trips that the quality of OBS is excellent, and we
were pleased to learn as did other fellow passengers that it is
continuing in spite of the pressure the employees are under not
knowing what the future of the long distance trains is going to be.
On our cars on 421 and 422 the food quality was as good as ever, even
though the menu doesn't change.  I still like the steak, the
scrambled eggs, and the Angus cheeseburger.  They are always prepared
to order, and delivery to our room was on time.  I heard no
complaints from other passengers about the Dining Car crews or
service!

Unfortunately, the "bad" must be reported.  It started at the Ft.
Worth station.  We arrived early, about 1:20 PM, knowing that train
21 was running late.  We had an email from Amtrak to let us know
"that train #0421 scheduled to depart Fort Worth, Texas on Wednesday,
July 17th, has been delayed.  The estimated arrival time is now
3:00pm, but trains can make up time during travel....etc."  That was
transmitted to us at 11:08 AM before we left home, and was much
appreciated.  Then, whoops, came another at 12:08 saying arrival
would be 3:13.  OK, then at 1:08 while we were enroute to the
station,  it would be arriving at 3:46.  After we arrived at the
station and took seats on the hard wooden benches in the waiting
room, the next message was at 2:30 saying 4:13; at 3:30 it would be
4:08 (but this one came to my wife's phone).  At 4:00 they said it
would be 4:32, but this one came after we had moved out to the
platform in 95 degree Texas heat.  The PA from the office then
announced that the northbound train 22, arriving very late, would
arrive in the station first because otherwise both trains would be
there at the same time.  Naturally, the 22 arrived and departed, but
21 did not (it was trapped with the arrivals of TRE and TexRail
services) and we continued to sweat it out on the platform along with
all of the other passengers.  The last message came at 5:00 saying it
would arrive at 5:02.  The train showed up at 6:00.  By then we were
all hot and tired, but cheerfully boarded.  Actual departure for us
was at 7:05, because two cars from the Heartland Flyer had to be
transferred to our trainset bound for San Antonio.

When checking in with the Eagle's conductor and male car attendant we
learned that we had been switched from bedroom D to B, which was ok
as both are identical.  Whoever was in D was ticketed to Alpine,
Texas, and that room would then be empty for the remainder of our
trip (he was supposed to be in B).  Arrival in San Antonio for the
loud bang-bang switch of cars was quite late, as was our departure
west as the last car on the Sunset Limited.  The "bad" continued. . .
the title of this writing may give you a hint.  When the new on board
crew boarded in Maricopa they were not told of our change of rooms.
So, as they do, they checked the rooms and who was destined where,
and finding that room B was supposed to be empty, they
investigated...at 2:43 in the morning near Yuma.  That investigation
consisted of BANG BANG BANG BANG on our bedroom door, and when we
awoke enough to answer the knocks, we were asked why we were in
there.  It took a few minutes to solve that, got an "apology" from
the two conductors, and naturally I was awake to see the
reconstruction of the Yuma station and other things I usually sleep
through out there.  An unusual event at Palm Springs, though, as
after passengers were served the train reversed a mile back to the
main line before continuing to LA.  Arrival in LAUS was 2 1/2 hours
late, which is better than the scheduled 5:30 AM, so no complaints
there.  Cyndy was on duty to help us onto the Red Cap tram and say
goodbye to all of her passengers.  We were happy to learn she would
be our attendant on our return trip!

When we returned to LAUS we got to visit with two old friends,
RailPAC's VP James Smith and E-Newsletter editor Noel Braymer.
Naturally, the conversation turned to the current state of affairs at
Amtrak corporate HQ.  The consensus of our conversation was that the
Anderson-Gardner leadership has "learned" from what the Southern
Pacific did in the 1960s to discourage long distance train
riders...the drip-drip-drip removal of the experiences that make
train travel a great way to travel.  While most of those changes are
now taking place on the eastern long distance trains, (box meals on
all of them by October, for example), what is next?  Rumors were
flying that the Texas Eagle will be one of the trains losing its
Diner-Lounge car when food service is changed in the East this Fall.
They are even tinkering with the Auto Train!

Now for the "ugly" . . . Departure of train 2/422 from LAUS was 33
minutes late, as the trainset did not arrive on the platform until
after 10:00, which was an uncomfortable wait for the passengers who
were sent out to the platform by 9:15.  That was an ominous start to
the trip. Cyndy greeted us warmly, and was pleased to see James Smith
was with us as he has traveled with her many times!  We were nearly
on time through Arizona, but then it began.  About 20 miles west of
Deming, New Mexico, the train came to a halt which lasted 3 1/2
hours.  The conductors kept us informed of their progress talking to
Union Pacific officials.  Because of the lateness, the next on board
crew changed at Deming (the Amshack there has been painted Amtrak
blue, by the way, as has Benson, AZ.)  We later learned that this
delay may have been due to a hazmat issue on a UP freight train.
Underway from El Paso was 4 hours 8 minutes late.  But, what happened
overnight between there and Alpine?  At 11:27 PM MT I awoke to find
our eastbound train was sitting in the Tornillo,Texas siding, and
watched while three westbound UP freight trains passed by followed at
12:29 by us reversing out of that siding and resuming travel.
Departure from Alpine was 8 hours 33 minutes late.  Whatever happened
during the night that lost 4 more hours we never learned, but
obviously there had been debate between Amtrak and the UP.

More "ugly:"  Arrival in Del Rio was 8 hours 37 minutes late.  The UP
then informed our crew that there were two incidents ahead, including
a tie fire, which was quickly extinguished, and then a broken rail.
We waited for 50 minutes at MP 354 while that rail was repaired; then
there was a stop at 11:17 AM for a crew change two hours from San
Antonio where we arrived to the expected news that train 22 had
departed north and we would be bused to Ft. Worth.  We said a sad
farewell to Cyndy, who made sure all of us were on the correct buses
(two carried passengers going past Dallas which met the 22 at
Longview to go on to Chicago).  Arrival back at the Ft. Worth Central
Station was at 9:00 PM after stops at Austin, Temple, Waco (driver's
dinner) and Cleburne, and "enjoying" the Friday night traffic on
Interstate 35.  There was indeed good, bad, and ugly this time, but
would we travel Amtrak again?  Of course, after our history of doing
so since 1971 (and the Santa Fe before that) we won't change now,
unlike a passenger we talked to on the El Paso platform who declared
it was his first and last trip in that he had been bused on his
westbound trip.  Then when he later found he was going to be bused
again from San Antonio it must have cemented it.  Timekeeping on all
the western long distance trains this summer has been horrible and
discouraging to all with the possible exception of the
Anderson-Gardner regime at Amtrak HQ.  Are they, the UP, and the
national administration in cahoots (collusion) to return to the
1960s?  We have to work even harder than the past and hope the
support of the U.S. Congress continues for "us" in flyover country.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/13/19 16:46 by GenePoon.



Date: 08/13/19 20:55
Re: 2:43 AM on board the Sunset Limited...and more good, bad, ugl
Author: alan2955

So sad. Today both the Cardinal and Empire Builder left Chicago well over an hour late. A crew member I know said their start time in Chicago for the Cardinal has been changed to an hour later, and they no longer move the train from the yard to the station. For some reason the yard crew is failing to get it into the station on time.   Unbelievable incompetence.



Date: 08/13/19 23:21
Re: 2:43 AM on board the Sunset Limited...and more good, bad, ugl
Author: SPbird

Ride 'em while you can.

-bird

Posted from Android



Date: 08/14/19 03:17
Re: 2:43 AM on board the Sunset Limited...and more good, bad, ugl
Author: andersonb109

Why can't all Amtrak crew be of the quality in your "good" part of the report? There should be consistent levels of service established. Sure there are different personalities....same on the airlines....but when and how things are done should have a system wide standard. As for the "bad" parts,  much of what happened was not Amtrak's fault.But some of the issues clearly were. Third world railroading at it's finest. 



Date: 08/14/19 05:25
Re: 2:43 AM on board the Sunset Limited...and more good, bad, ugl
Author: restricted_speed

alan2955 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> So sad. Today both the Cardinal and Empire Builder
> left Chicago well over an hour late. A crew member
> I know said their start time in Chicago for the
> Cardinal has been changed to an hour later, and
> they no longer move the train from the yard to the
> station. For some reason the yard crew is failing
> to get it into the station on time.  
> Unbelievable incompetence.

Or perhaps working just as planned?



Date: 08/14/19 05:38
Cardinal Departure Time?
Author: 79mph

If memory serves, the Cardinal's departure time (and the former Hooser State) from Chicago was moved back to 5:45 PM a few years ago, in an effort to get clear of some of the UP's congestion issues at Dolton, and with hopes of getting to Indianapolis at midnight instead of 2-3 AM or later.
It definitely helped.  Under Iowa Pacific management, most of the congestion bugs were worked out, and for a year or so, timekeeping into Indianapolis was usually before midnight.
If true that the Cardinal departure time is going back to the later hour at Chicago, throwing Indy back to the 3-4 AM bracket, that is pretty much more proof that the Indianapolis market has been written off for passenger train travel.

But I think we already suspecte that.

Last night's hour late departure from Chicago was at least better than the 4 hours they piddled around in Chicago on Saturday.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/14/19 05:50 by 79mph.



Date: 08/14/19 06:56
Re: Cardinal Departure Time?
Author: dispr

79mph Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> If memory serves, the Cardinal's departure time
> (and the former Hooser State) from Chicago was
> moved back to 5:45 PM a few years ago, in an
> effort to get clear of some of the UP's congestion
> issues at Dolton, and with hopes of getting to
> Indianapolis at midnight instead of 2-3 AM or
> later.

> It definitely helped.  Under Iowa Pacific
> management, most of the congestion bugs were
> worked out, and for a year or so, timekeeping into
> Indianapolis was usually before midnight.
> If true that the Cardinal departure time is going
> back to the later hour at Chicago, throwing Indy
> back to the 3-4 AM bracket, that is pretty much
> more proof that the Indianapolis market has
> been written off for passenger train travel.
>
> But I think we already suspecte that.
>
> Last night's hour late departure from Chicago was
> at least better than the 4 hours they piddled
> around in Chicago on Saturday.

Iowa Pacific had no effect whatsoever on the handling of trains between Chicago and Indianapolis (their operation was a disaster, BTW) - it just so happened that they took over the operation of the Hoosier State just after CSX had placed two new long controlled sidings in service on the former Monon, one at Shelby and one south of Lafayette, and also placed the connection at Crawfordsville under dispatcher control instead of hand control.

The Cardinal/Hoosier State has been scheduled to leave Chicago at 5:45 for at least a decade...



Date: 08/14/19 06:58
Re: 2:43 AM on board the Sunset Limited...and more good, bad, ugl
Author: SunsetLtd

A good chunk for those delays occurred between Tornillo and Sierra Blanca. It started with slow orders in April and the track has gotten much worse. Right now there is a continuous slow order between Tornillo and Sierra Blanca that's only good for 30mph for #s 1/2. This adds a nearly hour and a half of delay if there's no traffic around (there is pad in the schedules betweek El Paso and Alpine so it's masked to an extent). If there's freights in the mix then usually the delay winds up being 2-3 hours. I'm unsure if UP is even working on this stretch, but it's roughly MP 794 to 737. The below screenshot is the area in question.

 




Date: 08/14/19 07:09
Re: 2:43 AM on board the Sunset Limited...and more good, bad, ugl
Author: alan2955

SunsetLtd Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> A good chunk for those delays occurred between
> Tornillo and Sierra Blanca. It started with slow
> orders in April and the track has gotten much
> worse. Right now there is a continuous slow order
> between Tornillo and Sierra Blanca that's only
> good for 30mph for #s 1/2. This adds a nearly hour
> and a half of delay if there's no traffic around
> (there is pad in the schedules betweek El Paso and
> Alpine so it's masked to an extent). If there's
> freights in the mix then usually the delay winds
> up being 2-3 hours. I'm unsure if UP is even
> working on this stretch, but it's roughly MP 794
> to 737. The below screenshot is the area in
> question.
>
Shades of Penn Central. Why in the world is a rich railroad like UP letting track get that bad?
>  

Posted from iPhone



Date: 08/14/19 07:11
Re: Cardinal Departure Time?
Author: alan2955

79mph Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> If memory serves, the Cardinal's departure time
> (and the former Hooser State) from Chicago was
> moved back to 5:45 PM a few years ago, in an
> effort to get clear of some of the UP's congestion
> issues at Dolton, and with hopes of getting to
> Indianapolis at midnight instead of 2-3 AM or
> later.
> It definitely helped.  Under Iowa Pacific
> management, most of the congestion bugs were
> worked out, and for a year or so, timekeeping into
> Indianapolis was usually before midnight.
> If true that the Cardinal departure time is going
> back to the later hour at Chicago, throwing Indy
> back to the 3-4 AM bracket, that is pretty much
> more proof that the Indianapolis market has
> been written off for passenger train travel.
>
> But I think we already suspecte that.
>
> Last night's hour late departure from Chicago was
> at least better than the 4 hours they piddled
> around in Chicago on Saturday.

Nobody said the schedule was changed. It’s the CREW START time that was changed. The plan is for yard crews to spot the train in the station instead of the road crews doing it. So far not working well.

Posted from iPhone



Date: 08/14/19 07:15
Re: 2:43 AM on board the Sunset Limited...and more good, bad, ugl
Author: GettingShort

Seems that almost everything related on the bad side was largly beyond Amtrak's control. The UP is what it is, notwitstanding PR stunts like it's steam program and tacky, unually filthy US flags on the sides of it's locos, it's just the MP reborn in yellow instead of blue. I think we're in for something like a replay of the late 1960's and 70's period of extreme decline on the railroads. The Wall Street and hedge fund driven boards of the railroads are more concerned with quick profits for people like George Soros, Romney and Epstein than providing service. 



Date: 08/14/19 07:29
Re: 2:43 AM on board the Sunset Limited...and more good, bad, ugl
Author: Dcmcrider

GettingShort Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Seems that almost everything related on the bad
> side was largly beyond Amtrak's control.

Except for the completely unnecessary (not to mention extremely rude) 2:43 am wake-up because a new train crew came on duty, and the poor handling of #21's departure from Fort Worth.

Paul Wilson
Arlington, VA



Date: 08/14/19 07:46
Crew Change Time?
Author: 79mph

Gotta respond to a couple earlier comments on this now wide-ranging-thread.

First, Iowa Pacific did do a good job communicating with other railroad dispatchers during its tenure, something Amtrak historically refuses to do.
Perhaps has something to do with CNOC being in Wilmington instead of Chicago.
Disagree very much with the statement above.  Operationally and from a customer service perspective, IP was much superior than Amtrak.

Secondly, congestion on the Monon was actually worse during IP's tenure, due to the ore trains coming and going from Magnetation.
The new sidings were designed to assist with Magnetation-related freight movements, and did not have the impact on the Hoosier State or Cardinal that good communication skills with dispatchers and crews did.
There is much less running the Monon now, with precision scheduled railroading (PSR) and the closure of the Magnetation plant.
With a virtually abandoned railroad at night, CSX has no excuse to hold up train 50 north of Indy...the problems, as always, are around Dolton, and then east of Indianapolis.

Secondly, you can expect the UP to get worse instead of better, with their embrace of PSR.
That is despite the fact that they, also, had invested in a good bit of improvements on the western portions of the Sunset Route (some of it, however, has now been cancelled due to PSR and activest investors who only look at stock movements, not freight movements).
Not as bad as CSX, but  depending upon what happens with China trade, much of UP's business may go away.
Crew availability on the UP is increasingly going to become even more of an issue as the railroad attempts to eliminate more jobs.

Thirdly, it is quite normal to be rousted for inspections and questioning in the middle of the night in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico thanks to US immigration initiatives.
Nothing new there...it depends on the shift scheduling of the ICE and DEA employees.  If they are working at 3 AM and you pass through their territory, they do not care whether your are sleeping or awake.

That this particular post-midnight circus was due to car attendants and/or conductors not communicating with each other about room assignments is not unusual either, but surprising that there was not also a long lasting bang bang bang and harassment from surly armed agents on all the compartment doors in the car as well.   As mentioned on other threads, DEA and ICE have access to maifests in advance, and there is no reason for them to interract with passengers en-route, particularly sleeping car passengers.  But in past experience, they do.  And it has been under all administrations since at least Reagan (Just Say No, except in what is it now, 11 states and counting?).




 



Edited 5 time(s). Last edit at 08/14/19 08:00 by 79mph.



Date: 08/14/19 19:02
Re: Crew Change Time?
Author: mp109

I am puzzled about the "problem" with both trains being in the station at the same time. Unless the schedule has been changed lately
both trains are actually scheduled to be station at the same time and on many of my trips to and from Texas they were!



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/14/19 19:04 by mp109.



Date: 08/15/19 22:08
Re: Crew Change Time?
Author: justalurker66

79mph Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> First, Iowa Pacific did do a good job communicating with other railroad dispatchers during its tenure, something Amtrak historically refuses to do.

Iowa Pacific provided the engine, cars and on board services (plus marketing, etc.).
Amtrak provided the train crews that would be communicating with dispatchers.

On any railroad life is better when the train makes its slot. Delays usually lead to more delays. It is much easier to lose more time than make up time.



Date: 08/16/19 08:54
Re: Crew Change Time?
Author: chakk

Conductors and/or SCAs carry passengers, which they updare, to show which passengers are in which rooms.  Why didn't the good SCA or prior conductors do this job to alert the follow-on crew to your room change?



Date: 08/17/19 11:48
Re: Crew Change Time?
Author: another_view

79mph Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Gotta respond to a couple earlier comments on this
> now wide-ranging-thread.
>
> First, Iowa Pacific did do a good job
> communicating with other railroad dispatchers
> during its tenure, something Amtrak historically
> refuses to do.
> Perhaps has something to do with CNOC being in
> Wilmington instead of Chicago.
> Disagree very much with the statement above. 
> Operationally and from a customer service
> perspective, IP was much superior than Amtrak.
>
> Secondly, congestion on the Monon was actually
> worse during IP's tenure, due to the ore trains
> coming and going from Magnetation.
> The new sidings were designed to assist with
> Magnetation-related freight movements, and did not
> have the impact on the Hoosier State or Cardinal
> that good communication skills with dispatchers
> and crews did.
> There is much less running the Monon now, with
> precision scheduled railroading (PSR) and the
> closure of the Magnetation plant.
> With a virtually abandoned railroad at night, CSX
> has no excuse to hold up train 50 north of
> Indy...the problems, as always, are around Dolton,
> and then east of Indianapolis.
>
> Secondly, you can expect the UP to get worse
> instead of better, with their embrace of PSR.
> That is despite the fact that they, also, had
> invested in a good bit of improvements on the
> western portions of the Sunset Route (some of it,
> however, has now been cancelled due to PSR and
> activest investors who only look at stock
> movements, not freight movements).
> Not as bad as CSX, but  depending upon what
> happens with China trade, much of UP's business
> may go away.
> Crew availability on the UP is increasingly going
> to become even more of an issue as the railroad
> attempts to eliminate more jobs.
>
> Thirdly, it is quite normal to be rousted for
> inspections and questioning in the middle of the
> night in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico thanks to
> US immigration initiatives.
> Nothing new there...it depends on the shift
> scheduling of the ICE and DEA employees.  If they
> are working at 3 AM and you pass through their
> territory, they do not care whether your are
> sleeping or awake.
>
> That this particular post-midnight circus was due
> to car attendants and/or conductors not
> communicating with each other about room
> assignments is not unusual either, but surprising
> that there was not also a long lasting bang bang
> bang and harassment from surly armed agents on all
> the compartment doors in the car as well.   As
> mentioned on other threads, DEA and ICE have
> access to maifests in advance, and there is no
> reason for them to interract with passengers
> en-route, particularly sleeping car passengers. 
> But in past experience, they do.  And it has been
> under all administrations since at least Reagan
> (Just Say No, except in what is it now, 11 states
> and counting?).
>
>
>
>
>  

You have no idea what you are talking about. Iowa Pacific has nothing to do with operating the train, T&E Crews and all interaction with the host railroad was done by Amtrak. Iowa Pacific couldn’t even maintain their own equipment properly and Amtrak had to bail them out repeatedly. Everyone on here was in love with EEE at the time and now they all bad mouth him. Whatever floats your boat.



Date: 08/17/19 13:10
Communications
Author: 79mph

My point was that Amtrak operational supervisors do not communicate well.
The company actually could take a lesson from airlines in that regard.  By definition, a flight departing from one location has to have the entire en-route and destination picture before it ever boards and pushes back from the gate. 
Iowa Pacific, in conjunction with the then-representative of INDOT, did a better job during their time.
The Cardinal in and out of Chicago is perhaps the most notorious example of where lack of communication can kill a schedule.
Negotiations have to take place at a much higher level than dispatcher talking with crews.
There is no other passenger train on that complex routing, which involves talking to multiple railroads.
(Ths one easily could have been fixed years ago by using CN instead of UP trackage in Chicago). 

But...nevertheless:

Dispatchers only know their own territory...they don't necessarily even communicate well with their adjacent desks.
They certainly don't usually have a clue what is going on with other freight railroads in the Chicago area.
The expectation is that a train is going to show up when it is supposed to, and chaos ensues when it is not in its slot.
No clue that Amtrak decided to hold up departure for connecting passengers, that the Amtrak crew was late on duty because of other circumstances, or that there were equipment problems.
CNOC in Wilmington probably doesn't have a clue either, because glass house did not tell them.
CSX dispatchers are particularly left in the dark by their own people...when one desk screws up on one end of the country, nobody down the line is informed.
So snafu's occur even when most of the route is over the same host.

On board crew likewise does not usually know the overall picture of what is going on with the other railroads, other territories on the same host, weather situations down the line.
Their orders might be hours old, and not reflective of what new delays are going to be encountered.
They are told when to show up, and then maybe they go and maybe they don't.  Often never told why.

Unfortunately, railroading as an industry has not kept up with other modes of transportation.  Still operating with 100 year old technology and procedures.
And communication skills missing  from top of the organization down to the employee and customer level. 


 



[ Share Thread on Facebook ] [ Search ] [ Start a New Thread ] [ Back to Thread List ] [ <Newer ] [ Older> ] 
Page created in 0.2293 seconds