Amtrak major delay protocols

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rs9

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I was interested in learning about why Amtrak operates as it does in the event of major/catastrophic delays, like with the Auto Train situation.

- Why does Amtrak not back up the stalled train to the nearest station, so that passengers can freely disembark? I imagine there are liability concerns with letting passengers disembark on an active railway in the middle of nowhere. Are there legal/technical reasons preventing Amtrak from doing so?

- For the (legendary?) Dinty Moore beef stew that is served in these situations, does Amtrak carry a stock of beef stew on its trains for emergencies? Or is there some sort of effort to bring food to a train when it's stalled? Perhaps I'm off base, but the serving of cheap canned stew in these emergency moments feels like it reinforces Amtrak as a cheap, bottom-barrel travel option.
 

Amtrak709

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Take it from a retired extra board flag on the Auto Train: a backup movement of ANY passenger train on the main is a complicated protocol. Add to that Auto Train consist of locomotives + Superliner passenger cars + numerous auto carriers (a fairly normal consist on the Auto Train is 200+ axles). A backup movement of that nature is probably illegal, impractical, unsafe, nearly impossible, not to mention dozens of other descriptive adjectives. Can you imaging having the flag and protect all those grade crossings?? I rest my case and strike my colors.
 
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- For the (legendary?) Dinty Moore beef stew that is served in these situations, does Amtrak carry a stock of beef stew on its trains for emergencies?
The SSM says it should be carried on all LD trains traveling more than 500 miles.
They also carry Snack Packs, which are to be used for the 1st meal period during the delay. The stew is to be used for the 2nd meal period. The conductor and the LSA decide whether the delay is severe enough to merit food service recovery.
 
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So when the train crew's time expires and they stop the train, they should make an announcement as to what's going on. After that, until they are formally relieved, what are their responsibilities for keeping the passengers informed? And do they need to keep trying to contact the dispatcher, crew callers, trainmaster, CNOC, etc, after their time expires in order to give the passengers an ever non-changing message?
jb
 
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So when the train crew's time expires and they stop the train, they should make an announcement as to what's going on. After that, until they are formally relieved, what are their responsibilities for keeping the passengers informed? And do they need to keep trying to contact the dispatcher, crew callers, trainmaster, CNOC, etc, after their time expires in order to give the passengers an ever non-changing message?
jb
Many years ago in the 1990s, I was on the first Builder through after a blizzard. There was not a rested crew available at Minot, they had to fly one in. The crew going off duty went off duty and left the train. The train only had the OBS crew onboard, no T&E crew at all. Sometimes during the night, the new T&E crew arrived and we got back underway.

Of course, the next day everyone got the stew!
 

allanorn

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Irregular operations are often unique situations, so a standard playbook may not be feasible. But I have to imagine Amtrak has some level of incident command operations to assist stuck or massively delayed trains. The fact that they have a SOP of snacks, then beef stew, for LD trains tells me that they've thought through some of this. Whether or not it needs updating is a different matter. It definitely needs better execution, and I wouldn't say they're the only firm who needs improvement.

Alternative routes and plans need to be coordinated by the host railroads and Amtrak, so everyone can do their part logistically. It may not be feasible or possible to reverse travel if there are trains behind you who can't execute the plan. Reversing a train with an approved plan is easy for the Surfliner (go to the other end of the train; do safety checks; execute) but may be logistically more difficult for the average LD train, and impossible for the Auto Train. I think it would be great to allow people to get off the train, especially if you're at a station - but they have to ensure everyone's corralled in case the host railroad gives the green light to move earlier than expected.

It may even depend hour-by-hour on the situation. Pedestrian lost a race against a train? That was a 2-hour event but could have turned into a 6-hour one depending on the investigation. Stuck automobile blocking a crossing? Could be 45 minutes, could be 12 hours (think grounded 18-wheeler). I'm not sure how much autonomy and decision-making the crew have; it's not like a plane where crew resource management is a training requirement.

Coordination is difficult because the host railroad and Amtrak need to work together to come up with a plan. I'm not sure how the flow of information between the Class I railroads and Amtrak is these days. Then consider that Amtrak has to get all impacted staff informed and up to date - and make sure the information is distributed to everyone impacted in a timely manner. More often than not the app has given me information about a delay far earlier than someone on board.

This doesn't only apply to LD trains. When Metrolink and OCTA stopped trains from passing through San Clemente due to track problems, there was a lot of confusion at stations. One person said it took nine hours to go from SAN to LAX, and they were misinformed almost every step of the way by Amtrak staff. I'm not sure how well delays and the backup plan were communicated, and it may have been different at each station.
 
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Alternative routes and plans need to be coordinated by the host railroads and Amtrak, so everyone can do their part logistically.
There are a number of known detours that both Amtrak and the host railroads are well aware of. Both know the potential detour routes very well.

One of the key issues is availability of pilot engineers from the host railroad for detours. Amtrak engineers cannot operate over territory they have not been qualified for without a pilot who is qualified.
With the current (largely self-inflicted) crew shortages, there may simply not be a crew available. If a pilot engineer is available it may be some time before he can get to the train.

Also there is capacity of the alternative route. After the Dry Creek trestle outside Weed, CA burned in 2021, BNSF hosted a very limited number of detouring UP freight trains over their Inside Gateway. BNSF and UP refused to use the very limited number of slots available for detouring UP traffic for Amtrak's Coast Starlight. Amtrak apparently did not press it.

All parties know the potential detours. Whether it can be done at any given time for a given incident is another, complicated, issue.
 

Just-Thinking-51

Very bored and cranky pundit
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The National Operations Center in Delaware has or had people who job description included dealing with delay trains. Part of the job was to make service recovery calls on little or poor information. This position was created after a ice storm in Illinois stranded multi trains.

I would think the emergency management plans are well documented. But as someone who has done the 911 thing. The most important skill is your ability to adjust and improvise. Sorry but general skills, organization, and the able to adjust your response gets the job done.

In the Auto Train delays that started this thread, it just seem certain crew members were trying, and other quit trying. Announcement your out of food is a recurring event in these situations. That should never be done. Let’s panic people, it’s a great way of dealing with the situation.

Bring back the OBS mangers would work for long distance trains. However just training someone to take charge in the event of a emergency would work well.
 

amtrakpass

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Jan 21, 2016
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Don't know the details on the autotrain situation but one thing to keep in mind is that in any kind of major delay like this the decisions are being directed or at least ok'd by senior mgmt when they are happening. It is not like a union train dispatcher is filing a report the next day. It would go up the chain very quickly both on the host freight railroad and amtrak senior level mgmt too. If management is washing their hands of these huge delays and saying their is nothing we could do or we didn't know until later it is not the case. Get the train to a crossing with some step stools and school busses to a hotel if that is all you can do. Anyway I am sure you can explain away each incident but when they pile up something has to be rotten in the decision making procedure Amtrak has for responding to major delays.
 

travelplus

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Oct 3, 2022
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DOT should require host railroads to help each other. Airlines have codeshares. So lets say a detoured Amtrak is needed it just becomes BNSF 3111 operated by Amtrak to gain movement on the host rails.


Its time to prioritize passenger services better
 
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