Winter storm related delays and cancellations Winter 2022-2023

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There seems to be some discussion on another list that the Empire Builder has been canceled "later this week." I cannot find anything on Amtrak's website about this.
Does anyone have any details? Perhaps there has been a remarkable decline in holiday travel on that route.
 

jis

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If you try to book SEA-CHI for 12/20 or 12/21, it shows cancelled. As stated above, they appear to be being proactive due to another bad storm and sub-zero temps.
Cue the inevitable comments about weatherproof railroads of the past :D
 

skylar

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Are they rebooking people or offering alternate transportation? We'll be on train 7 on the 29th and are hoping not to be bumped...
 

RalphCT

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Actual forecast low temperatures (not windchill) for northern Montana and North Dakota this coming week will be -20 F to -30 F. Amtrak has cancelled Departures from Portland and Settle on 12/21. Ticketed passengers can book a later train or get a refund. I haven't heard yet about westbound departures form Chicago I suspect that's a possibility as well.
 

TraneMan

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I’m on 7 heading to Essex now and this morning I got the call that my Thursday train is canceled. Called AGR right away and 1 minute hold. Was able to rebook for Friday. And was able to get another night there. Thanks goodness I brought trip insurance! Just got an announcement that the water is frozen in the dinning car and can only serve beef stew. We are about 2 hours late with lots of freight and a switch issue
 

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Willbridge

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In regard to the "all-weather" mode, one of the modern problems that works against that is home locations for employees. In the old days of Railroad Magazine stories, employees could walk in snow a few blocks to the yard or station. Now they are more likely to be scattered all over the area. So, we end up with a train that could proceed, but no crew.
 

west point

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BNSF certainly does not have the personnel to extract snow bound trains now. The RRs had many more track personel per mile than today. Let us see how it handles this blizzard. Do the trains have much higher HP / ton.? does it cancel trains.? What kind of snow plows will it use ?
 

Siegmund

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Instead of commenting on weatherproof railroads of the past, I'll express my disappointment in weatherproof railroads of the present.

I am thinking of that January 1977 cold snap, that was featured prominently in the current Trains magazine, that brought steam-heated equipment to its knees, but HEP equipment kept right on chugging. It seems to me like part of the spec for new equipment was that it survive the cold better than the old did. And it seems to me like for most of the 80s and 90s, Superliners did indeed successfully operate through the worst winter weather.

One wonders if, in a State of Good Repair (tm), the Empire Builder would still be running next week, but for whatever reason, in its current condition, it is no longer up to the task. Is this a problem caused by failure to maintain insulation? Caused by retrofitting holding tanks rather than dumping wasting water? Failure to wire in heat traces that should have been on every water line on every HEP-equipped car every winter? I don't think simply planning to cancel trains in every cold snap is acceptable. Now, given that today's Builder is limping along with frozen pipes (which may well mean taking it out of service in Seattle for plumbing repairs), I understand them cancelling this week's trains.

But I sure want them to be doing something for the future. Ability to operate from -40 to +120, or some similar range, sure as heck better be in the specs for this mythical new fleet.

As to the state of affairs at BNSF, we aren't expecting an amount of new snow here in Montana that would cause problems. Marias Pass pretty much closes for avalanches in places unprotected by snowsheds, not much else. Farther east there is the possibility of short temporary closures from bad drifting. I imagine most freight will continue to move all next week.
 

amtrakpass

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As far as weather cancelations the reality is Amtrak has only been quick to pull the trigger in the last 5 years or so. This is not something that has to do with changes in railroads staffing from way back when decades ago. It is really a much different situation than 2015? No, but even Amtrak in the earlier 2000's would rarely cancel trains or if they did there would always be bussing. I am sure there would be one off outlying examples from before that, but canceling whole trains with no alternate transportation at the drop of a hat is a relatively new phenomenon and that is why people who have followed the industry for a while find it frustrating.
 
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In regard to the "all-weather" mode, one of the modern problems that works against that is home locations for employees. In the old days of Railroad Magazine stories, employees could walk in snow a few blocks to the yard or station. Now they are more likely to be scattered all over the area. So, we end up with a train that could proceed, but no crew.
This also explains why they close schools and businesses for snowstorms that, back in my youth, wouldn't have even been noticed by anybody. Even if the roads are passable, people don't know how to drive in the snow, and in any event, they have to driver longer distances and have a better chance of getting stuck in traffic and being late. Also, I think the highway departments would like to have fewer people on the road so they can clear the roads more efficiently. Of course, nowadays, a lot of office workers work from home, so at least they won't be on the roads.
 

jebr

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It is really a much different situation than 2015? No, but even Amtrak in the earlier 2000's would rarely cancel trains or if they did there would always be bussing. I am sure there would be one off outlying examples from before that, but canceling whole trains with no alternate transportation at the drop of a hat is a relatively new phenomenon and that is why people who have followed the industry for a while find it frustrating.
Except staffing is significantly worse today than it was pre-pandemic - at least that's the rationale given why railroads have to work their employees to the bone and have them on call more than ever before. It's also more difficult to get bus operators last-minute - a lot of companies either didn't make it or had to shrink significantly throughout the pandemic, and so they don't have those extra 3-5 buses and drivers available when Amtrak calls with just a 48 hour lead time.

I also think a lot of it is just more concern over the "what if" - was it last year where an Amtrak train got stuck for 24 hours and Amtrak got a lot of Congressional scrutiny over it? In light of that, I'm not surprised that when -46 wind chills are forecasted, knowing BNSF also isn't as resilient as it once was, that they'd rather just cut the train rather than even having a 1% risk of having passengers stuck in a very precarious situation.

By the way, here's the current wind chill forecast for western and central North Dakota. It's not something they haven't seen before, but it's cold enough that if you're outdoors with exposed skin for more than a few seconds, frostbite is a real concern.

1671459986297.png
 

Qapla

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Is it possible that cancelling the train is not actually Amtrak - that the cancellation is actually due to problems with or direction from the host RR?

Also, in the recent past, there have been some Amtrak trains that experienced delay and stoppages due to weather and it made the news - BAD news - as the reports blamed Amtrak and stressed the problems of people having to be on the train longer than expected - you know, like blaming the train every time a car runs the barricade and gets hit by a train. Amtrak has become an easy target of bad press, even when it is not their fault.
 

jis

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Unless Amtrak and the host railroad collectively can come up with a credible contingency plan for being able to rescue a trainfull of passengers from the middle of nowhere in the middle of a prolonged blizzard, in today's, litigious society the tendency would be to opt towards caution leading to cancellation rather than trying a hail Mary and hope for the best.
 

amtrakpass

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The difference is until very very recently Amtrak felt a responsibilty to get people where they are going once they bought a ticket even if they got there late. If anything a good faith effort of running the trains Chicago to St Paul or other short turn station stop would show they care about the service more than protecting their image. If this is the one cancelation for the year it is no big deal of course. But it is becoming a bad habit from Amtrak mgmt of shirking their responsibility of providing transportation.
 

jis

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The difference is until very very recently Amtrak felt a responsibilty to get people where they are going once they bought a ticket even if they got there late. If anything a good faith effort of running the trains Chicago to St Paul or other short turn station stop would show they care about the service more than protecting their image. If this is the one cancelation for the year it is no big deal of course. But it is becoming a bad habit from Amtrak mgmt of shirking their responsibility of providing transportation.
I agree. I have been a proponent of Amtrak having a standing agreement with one or more airlines to use to provide alternate transportation to at least a significant proportion of its customers when they have to cancel a train. Of course providing alternate transportation to every small hamlet its serves in the middle of a raging storm around them may be quite impractical but handling those traveling to areas not under any threat should be handled better, whether it be using short turn trains, buses or planes.
 
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Unless Amtrak and the host railroad collectively can come up with a credible contingency plan for being able to rescue a trainfull of passengers from the middle of nowhere in the middle of a prolonged blizzard, in today's, litigious society the tendency would be to opt towards caution leading to cancellation rather than trying a hail Mary and hope for the best.

This *and* running a service in these weather extremes is really creating a potential life safety issue that Amtrak is utterly unprepared to handle.

Imagine a Wolverine situation happening in the literal middle of nowhere Montana. What if the train were snowed in for a week? Would there even be enough food and water on board for all the passengers at that point?
 

skylar

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This *and* running a service in these weather extremes is really creating a potential life safety issue that Amtrak is utterly unprepared to handle.

Imagine a Wolverine situation happening in the literal middle of nowhere Montana. What if the train were snowed in for a week? Would there even be enough food and water on board for all the passengers at that point?
That's a good point - when we were on EB during one of the polar vortexes with temperatures about -30F in Minot, we were delayed several times by track fractures that required BNSF to go out in front of us to weld the tracks back together. I felt pretty bad for the track crew, and it made me wonder just how reliable the track fault detector really is. In any case, we were under a slow order (I think somewhere between 30 and 50mph) due to temperature most of the way through MT as well, which just compounded our delays.

Skylar
 

jis

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That's a good point - when we were on EB during one of the polar vortexes with temperatures about -30F in Minot, we were delayed several times by track fractures that required BNSF to go out in front of us to weld the tracks back together. I felt pretty bad for the track crew, and it made me wonder just how reliable the track fault detector really is. In any case, we were under a slow order (I think somewhere between 30 and 50mph) due to temperature most of the way through MT as well, which just compounded our delays.

Skylar
That is the other thing. Long welded rails would tend to pull apart and fracture under extreme low temperatures. And undetected that would cause a derailment starnding the train in life threatening situation for an extended period. Depending on the nature of the derailment the engine may or may not be able to deliver HEP potentially causing an even more life threatening situation.
 
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