TRANSIT: Amtrak delayed in East, sees support in the Midwest

July 7, 2015

Downeaster is two weeks from operability, while Ks. and Mo. look to keep service running

According to local Portland, Maine, officials, Amtrak’s Downeaster is falling temporary victim to some long-anticipated tie replacement work and that delays and cancellations look to persist into the coming weeks.

The summer tourism season is now underway, but the rail authority is forced to bus passengers between Brunswick and Wells and between Portland and Wells, as trains are not running out of Boston. The rail authority said that it will be two weeks before the service can operate on a normal schedule and without delays.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority and Pan Am Railways, the freight railroad company that owns the track between Portland and Plaistow, NH, have been replacing 30,000 rail ties on the 78-mile line. Pan Am replaced 8,000 ties last year and 22,000 this year.

While workers have now reached Portland and ties are now down, it will take two weeks before trains are legally allowed to run at normal speeds, according to an announcement issued by the authority. Current speed restrictions on parts of the line can’t be lifted until a number of trains roll over the areas with the new ties, assuring their viability.

Last month, some trains were arriving in Brunswick more than three hours late. Now, trains are arriving 30 minutes to one hour late. The tie replacement project was delayed by a number of factors, including the Amtrak derailment May 12 in Philadelphia, which forced Amtrak to delay sending heavy machinery equipment to Maine, and the mechanical failure of some equipment.

On a more positive note, the rail authority is seeing some new, if tentative, support in the Midwest. Amtrak had warned it might have to stop or reroute its Southwest Chief line through Kansas and to end its River Runner service between Kansas City and St. Louis over disagreements as to who would pay to install the federally mandated positive train control system technology designed to prevent traffic accidents caused by human error.

While details of the agreement are not final, Amtrak officials are pleased that a tentative deal has been reached.

“We appreciate the efforts of all involved to work together with the common goals of safety and compliance with federal law,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said in a written statement.

The Southwest Chief is the only Amtrak route through Kansas. The River Runner runs twice daily routes between St. Louis and Kansas City.

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