Happening Now

Disruption on the Sunset

January 9, 2019

by Jim Mathews

There’s a truism in official Washington: always release bad news late on Friday. And that’s just what happened last Friday, when Trains News Wire reported that Union Pacific track work would suddenly disrupt Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle schedules -- including eliminating one weekly Sunset round trip.

Rail Passengers members and ticketed passengers alike were pretty steamed over the weekend, as well they should be. Work will get started on the tracks between San Antonio and El Paso on January 17th, and is scheduled to wrap up on March 9th. This means passengers only got 13 days’ notice that their train is being annulled.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Trains News Wire that Amtrak only finalized the operating agreement with Union Pacific last week.

We all understand the need for continuous track maintenance. I applaud it. There are parts of the U.S. rail network where it feels more like riding a horse-drawn buggy over cobblestones than a modern rail route. But Union Pacific did the fare-paying passengers no favors by pushing this with virtually no notice. Rail Passengers will be working with the communities along the Sunset route to ensure that they are aware of this service disruption.

On the other hand, it’s heartening to see work continue to improve the rails our members ride so long as the disruption is temporary and the trains are restored -- as was the case in the Northeast Corridor and the Cardinal in 2018. We also hope that this will allow for restoration of the daily Sunset.

For its part Amtrak says it will rebook affected passengers on the Sunset and Eagle for no charge.

Amtrak also announced that the Crescent will not run daily between Atlanta and New Orleans from January 7th to February 14th. Service will terminate in Atlanta Monday through Thursday, but will operate across the full route on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. This is due to planned annual track work by Norfolk Southern. Substitute bus service will be provided to all stations during the cancellation periods.

As a service, we thought we’d summarize the disruptions below. We’ll keep a close eye on both track projects to make sure passengers aren’t left in the cold any more than necessary.

  • Sunset Limited – Jan. 20 - March 9

    • Reduced from three weekly round trips to two round trips

    • No westbound departure from New Orleans on Mondays

    • No westbound trains for a three-day span

    • No eastbound train leaving from Los Angeles on Sundays

    • No eastbound service for a four-day period

    • Wednesday and Friday departures from Los Angeles Union Station pushed forward to 7:26 p.m. from 10 p.m., thus break

    • Accommodates lengthened schedule between El Paso and San Antonio, maintains connection with the Eagle

    • Breaks connection with the arriving Coast Starlight

    • Wednesday and Friday arrivals at Los Angeles pushed back three hours to 8:40 a.m.

  • Texas Eagle – Jan. 20 - March 9

    • Through cars that depart Chicago on Sundays will terminate at San Antonio instead of Los Angeles.

  • Crescent – Jan. 7 - Feb. 14

    • Train service reduced from daily round trips to three round trips per week between Atlanta and New Orleans. Monday through Thursday departures from Atlanta and New Orleans are cancelled. Friday, Saturday & Sunday trains will operated as normally scheduled.

    • Substitute Thruway bus service will be provided between all stations from Atlanta to New Orleans on the four days the trains will not operate.

    • The Crescent will continue to operate daily between New York and Atlanta.

And, an important Southwest Chief Update:

Rail Passengers has confirmed that Amtrak will be providing matching funds for a $9.2 million federal CRISI grant to install Positive Train Control on the Southwest Chief.

The grant was awarded to the Colorado and Kansas Departments of Transportation, in partnership with Amtrak and BNSF. It will fund the design, installation, and testing of PTC wayside technology on about 179 miles of a predominantly single-track route between Dodge City, KS, and Las Animas, CO.

This is an extremely welcome change of policy, given Amtrak’s 2018 refusal to provide its $3 million match for the $16 million TIGER grant awarded to the Southwest Chief restoration project. We still have no update on the status of Amtrak’s match for this grant, but rest assured that Rail Passengers will continue to press the railroad on this important issue.