Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

Amtrak is doing its best in the face of challenges presented by fracking boom in North Dakota.  
In Wisconsin there have been previous reports of freight train crews coming to the end of their shift and simply abandoning the train on the rail line. When they’ve finished their shift, off they go, but with no word or no one scheduled to take over from them.

A parked train, can you just imagine being behind that for umpteen hours? It’s all rather frustrating to Amtrak. The effect of this kind of brazen blockage on the tracks is that the Amtrak passenger train, honorably trying its best to keep to its own schedule, is simply unable to pass. It’s left hostage to the theatrics of the industry giants — the freight trains.

One wouldn’t think that freight train shortage-of-staff would be Amtrak’s problem but indeed it is. There have been instances of Amtrak actually having to call someone and plead to get a parked freight train moved so its own Amtrak passengers can get by.

Further reports show that only very recently, are there more freight staff that have since been hired.

On Saturday, Nov 1 2014, just before midnight, there was another rather odd incident. 10 to 15 minutes out of Spokane, going east en route to Idaho Amtrak’s Empire Builder was delayed behind a freight train that had collided with an unoccupied SUV. The freight train was going about 60 miles an hour needless to say demolishing the vehicle right in its track. It is unclear why it the vehicle was on the track and what the circumstances were around the incident.

The Amtrak passenger train, the Empire Builder, was behind the freight train and therefore it was halted for three hours while emergency services, the Sheriff and 20 BNSF staff swarmed the area. Cleaning up a big mess of debris enabled both the freight train and the Empire Builder to then continue on.

Incidents of this nature are apparently not that uncommon.

Even more troubling however is the impact of 3 times (3x) more freight trains running on the tracks in the last two years. Amtrak’s ability to gauge how long any particular journey is going to take is perpetually compromised. Amtrak is beholden to freight priority-traffic.

The boom is North Dakota is creating enormous freight traffic. Doubtless Warren Buffet and BNSF is delighted, mounds of money pouring in, with a cool $1000/a car to move oil and up to 100 oil cars per train.

Rabid capitalism steals the day as wheat farmers are taken as second priority. It’s $200 a car to move wheat. So it seems right to say that at the moment it’s tough times for the wheat farmer.

The bottom line means that the ‘choice’ is: oil brings in more money.

Amtrak passengers are delayed by the increased freights traffic be it CSX, BNSF, Norfolk Southern or whatever, industry freight has the right of way. Amtrak is paid a fee for any delay which is part of the contract.

No incentive on the part of Warren Buffet to support alternate routes for moving the oil because the numbers are working in the current situation.

Some Williston North Dakota landlords who see dollar signs bouncing everywhere have reportedly racked up rents and are preferably housing fracking-boom business workers whilst uprooting long term residents in favour of these folks who can pay the exorbitant rents.

Still 300+ men to one woman, isn’t much fun for barmaids.

The damage that can be measured is the boom’s impact on Amtrak schedules.

Amtrak trains have for years and years been able to say that they’ve had a 90% record of being on-time. But now, through no fault of their own, they are late more often than not as a direct result of the freight cars moving oil. Moving oil has tripled in the last two years, say workers who take the Amtrak near Williston.

Thousands of black stealth oil cars are dominating the railway line. Amtrak merely gets to use the railway line but always at the mercy of industry priority needs. There is nothing customers of Amtrak can do about it.

The oil boom may actually be said to be culpable in the unintended consequence of virtually ending on-time passenger rail travel. Amtrak has to tell its passengers it has to play it by ear. Literally.

How slick is the oil boom after all?

Maybe Warren Buffet should be made to be stuck behind a freight train and be told “Too bad, sit and wait”.

Further reading:

Following the tracks of the Empire Builder