Letters sent to Senators and IDOT regarding Amtrak cancellations.

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I just sent letters to Durbin, Duckworth, and IDOT regarding the cancelations.

This is the letter I sent to all three.

Greetings, I am a frequent traveler on Amtrak. I am dissatisfied with the way Amtrak has not handled normally cold winter weather. The Charger locomotives and Venture cars were purchased and have been in service for several months now. This new equipment was supposed to have been designed to withstand winter conditions and improve reliability. It has been known for years that the maintenance yard in Chicago has not performed up to standard. Instead of improving, it has gotten worse. There were several days when long-distance trains to the West Coast were canceled. Then within a day or so of resumed service, trains were again canceled due to lack of engines. What were the people in the Chicago Yard doing when these trains were not operating? There are buildings that allow employees to work on equipment indoors. Couldn't they have been servicing the engines so that some would be available? The airlines are running, and the people are driving. A reliable train system would take some of the strain off of roadways and airlines. The United States, and Illinois specifically, is rapidly declining into third-world conditions because of issues such as the lack of production at Amtrak's Chicago operations center that have gone on year after year after year. This type of indolence, incompetence, and laziness cannot be tolerated. There is no time for finger-pointing and blaming, it is time to problem-solve. Thank you (removed my name)

I know this is a rant, but IMHO this whole thing is ridiculous. I tried to email Pete Buttieg but I could not find a way to email the US DOT of transportation.
 
This is the letter I sent to all three.

Greetings, I am a frequent traveler on Amtrak. I am dissatisfied with the way Amtrak has not handled normally cold winter weather. The Charger locomotives and Venture cars were purchased and have been in service for several months now. This new equipment was supposed to have been designed to withstand winter conditions and improve reliability. It has been known for years that the maintenance yard in Chicago has not performed up to standard. Instead of improving, it has gotten worse. There were several days when long-distance trains to the West Coast were canceled. Then within a day or so of resumed service, trains were again canceled due to lack of engines. What were the people in the Chicago Yard doing when these trains were not operating? There are buildings that allow employees to work on equipment indoors. Couldn't they have been servicing the engines so that some would be available? The airlines are running, and the people are driving. A reliable train system would take some of the strain off of roadways and airlines. The United States, and Illinois specifically, is rapidly declining into third-world conditions because of issues such as the lack of production at Amtrak's Chicago operations center that have gone on year after year after year. This type of indolence, incompetence, and laziness cannot be tolerated. There is no time for finger-pointing and blaming, it is time to problem-solve. Thank you (removed my name)

I know this is a rant, but IMHO this whole thing is ridiculous. I tried to email Pete Buttieg but I could not find a way to email the US DOT of transportation.
Something can have more than one cause, but your letter points fingers and blame (disclaimer at the end notwithstanding) entirely and totally at Amtrak.

My instinct with my limited knowledge, including that the weather really WAS atypical and fatally bitter some of the shutdown days, is that the "several days when long-distance trains to the West Coast were canceled" were due to a combination of the weather actually being bad enough to require suspension of service, and the "precision scheduled railroading" cost-cutting of the freight railroads left them significantly less able to cope than in previous decades. I believe that, to the extent the "United States, and Illinois specifically, is rapidly declining into third-world conditions" regarding Amtrak service, it's at least as much because of the "host" railroads not being good hosts to passengers or even their own freight as "the lack of production at Amtrak's Chicago operations center that have gone on year after year after year."

However, the words "freight railroads, "host railroads," or the like appear nowhere in your letter. I would like any investigation to look at how much the freight railroads' miserliness has affected the reliability of passenger and freight traffic, as well as Amtrak's role in its own travails. That would truly fit the "no time for finger-pointing and blaming" line.

I would also point out that the fact that "new equipment was supposed to have been designed to withstand winter conditions and improve reliability" doesn't make anything built by mankind "bulletproof." Something can really actually be improved but it still has limitations.

An anecdote in support of my latter point: I own a 2017 all-wheel-drive that just got a new battery a year or so back. My wife has a significantly older car. For reasons I won't expound on, we could park only one in the garage during the bitterest of the weather when neither of us went outside for a few days, and we chose mine as it was newer and had all-wheel-drive. When the weather eased somewhat, into the positive teens rather than the negative twenties, I went to start my car for an errand but it was dead as Caesar and "flat" as a pancake. My wife's car, older and parked outside during the worst weather, turned over lickety-split.

My point isn't that incompetence at Chicago yard didn't play a role. It may well have, and it should be rooted out. But not to admit the possibility that the weather had anything to do with it strikes me as unfair. You presume they didn't bring the equipment indoors from the fact that the equipment failed. And maybe they didn't. Or maybe, like my newer car with the newer battery, they did but nature had other plans.
 
Need an FOIA or OIG doc on what locomotives are failing and what's going on in Chicago. There's so much GE and Siemens feeling out there it's hard to evaluate. As always, the Transit Costs Project at NYU got it right: transparency, or as much as business allows.
 
It is time for CHI to get some enclosed buildings. What has happened to the purchase of the yard (UP?) that is south of the Chicago River? A heated in winter building that if nothing else could store several train sets out of the weather. As well could be connected to HEP to keep the cars in good dispatch condition. As well other storage building are needed at the yard and at Brighton.

Brunswick ME is not having dispatch problems by storing 2 train sets inside a building. That example needs putting forth to our elected officials.
 
I think if you're going to write a letter to Congress you've got to stick to the verifiable information and the core issue. If you want to get more than a glance you've got to keep it simple, avoid ranting, and remember that the people reading it aren't railroad operations minded people. Pointing out the cancellations and asking for an investigation is great, but suggesting a cause and assigning blame to specific employees, namely the workers at Chicago, based on speculation I think is where things can go off the rails. Us speculating here based on being informed about rail operations in our discussions is one thing, but if you're going to send a letter to Congress and want to be taken seriously by the people reading it it's best to just stick with what can be verified. What's verifiable is Amtrak cancelled trains with the stated reasons of weather and equipment. What might have or might not have went on at Chicago we can only speculate on - it's certainly informed speculation given many here's knowledge of Amtrak's operational history - but speculation none the less. There's a lot we don't know about challenges there might have been on the ground - just assuming that people were being lazy and careless I don't think is totally fair. The operation there may very well have management and organizational issues, but it's also likely that there are also hard working employees there that did the best they could in a difficult situation.
 
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It is time for CHI to get some enclosed buildings. What has happened to the purchase of the yard (UP?) that is south of the Chicago River? A heated in winter building that if nothing else could store several train sets out of the weather. As well could be connected to HEP to keep the cars in good dispatch condition. As well other storage building are needed at the yard and at Brighton.

Brunswick ME is not having dispatch problems by storing 2 train sets inside a building. That example needs putting forth to our elected officials.
So far it looks like UP isn’t willing to sell it for a reasonable price, that’s supposedly why Amtrak didn’t get their full ask from this years Fed/State partnership. Durbin claims he’s working with Sec Buttigieg to resolve the dispute, take that for what it’s worth.
 
Amtrak does want to build more maintenance buildings on the portion of the yard that they do own, but are stymied by the existing Union Station Power Plant which has been unused for many years and is in bad shape (poor exterior condition - interior and roof not great - structure itself might be ok) and very hard to re-use due to construction of structure which is pretty much integral to the boilers & generators but is historic and rather attractive but has little current reuse potential due to lack of street/road access (no direct public access) and potential interior reuse due to structural issues (i.e. frame of building was integral to it's use, as mentioned above - I know I'm repeating myself - and doesn't readily lend itself to a new use).
 
Amtrak does want to build more maintenance buildings on the portion of the yard that they do own, but are stymied by the existing Union Station Power Plant which has been unused for many years and is in bad shape (poor exterior condition - interior and roof not great - structure itself might be ok) and very hard to re-use due to construction of structure which is pretty much integral to the boilers & generators but is historic and rather attractive but has little current reuse potential due to lack of street/road access (no direct public access) and potential interior reuse due to structural issues (i.e. frame of building was integral to it's use, as mentioned above - I know I'm repeating myself - and doesn't readily lend itself to a new use).
Amtrak is currently engaged in section 106 in relation to the structure. I think it’s beautiful structure but with no actual access to the rest of the city it’s pointless and should be demolished. Anything that actually helps Amtrak improve their network brings more societal good.
 
Amtrak does want to build more maintenance buildings on the portion of the yard that they do own, but are stymied by the existing Union Station Power Plant which has been unused for many years and is in bad shape (poor exterior condition - interior and roof not great - structure itself might be ok) and very hard to re-use due to construction of structure which is pretty much integral to the boilers & generators but is historic and rather attractive but has little current reuse potential due to lack of street/road access (no direct public access) and potential interior reuse due to structural issues (i.e. frame of building was integral to it's use, as mentioned above - I know I'm repeating myself - and doesn't readily lend itself to a new use).
Well, nothing warms me up like reading about an iconic building. So I googled "Union Station Power Plant" and found this article. Truly a gem. Excerpt: "Preservation Chicago recognizes the limitations of the site due to the railroad tracks to the west and the South Branch of the Chicago River to the east. To minimize access issues, we are encouraging a adaptive reuse of the building and site by either a data center, a possible chilling center, or another use." On a totally unrelated thread someone used the phrase "decayed industrial grandeur," and it fits. But T. Tyrant is right about preservation vs. possible societal benefit.

Chicago Union Station Power House – 2020 Most Endangered - PRESERVATION CHICAGO
 
Well, nothing warms me up like reading about an iconic building. So I googled "Union Station Power Plant" and found this article. Truly a gem. Excerpt: "Preservation Chicago recognizes the limitations of the site due to the railroad tracks to the west and the South Branch of the Chicago River to the east. To minimize access issues, we are encouraging a adaptive reuse of the building and site by either a data center, a possible chilling center, or another use." On a totally unrelated thread someone used the phrase "decayed industrial grandeur," and it fits. But T. Tyrant is right about preservation vs. possible societal benefit.

Chicago Union Station Power House – 2020 Most Endangered - PRESERVATION CHICAGO
Interesting, that story had a sentence about the $25000 Amtrak ticket to get 136 miles for wheelchair bound people on a train ride in Illinois. I missed that and had to go look that up:

https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/loc...ain-ride-from-chicago-to-bloomington/2204261/
EDIT: A better search term shows this has been discussed elsewhere. I wonder how many points you could get for a ticket like that 🤔
 
Interesting, that story had a sentence about the $25000 Amtrak ticket to get 136 miles for wheelchair bound people on a train ride in Illinois. I missed that and had to go look that up:

https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/loc...ain-ride-from-chicago-to-bloomington/2204261/
EDIT: A better search term shows this has been discussed elsewhere. I wonder how many points you could get for a ticket like that 🤔
Amtrak did a reverse move within a day or two, and the ticket went back to $16.
 
Good!
Can't hurt to write them, the letter doesn't have to be 100% accurate as to the causes and solutions, the excessive numbers of cancellations point to something under the hood that needs to be looked at. Whether writing actually does anything, I just don't know. Regardless, I applaud anyone who speaks up. It's preferable to being conditioned to continually lower our expectations.
 
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