by Bill McCaffery

The exterior staircases at Anderson/ Woburn [on the Lowell Commuter Rail] will be replaced one at a time beginning Monday, February 26, 2018. Work is expected to take approximately 12 weeks. [MBTA Web site]

The MBTA’s new fare payment system will make paying for transit easier and more convenient. With Automated Fare Collection 2, you’ll be able to tap and board at any door with a fare card, smartphone, or contactless credit card. Reload using cash or credit card at vending machines at all stations and some bus stops or go online to manage your account 24 hours a day. This will include commuter rail, transit, buses and ferries. The target dates are late 2019 for a pilot project and May 2020 for full implementation. Part of the plan involves eliminating cash fares on board trains. [MBTA Web site] (Editor’s note: also see International News, page 3.)

Amtrak has issued a report card for on-time performance by its major freight railroad partners in 2017. Canadian Pacific got the only “A”, BNSF “B+”, Union Pacific “B-”, CSX “C”, while Norfolk Southern and Canadian National each got “F”. Smaller railroads like Pan Am and New England Central were not rated. One reason why NS got “F” is the fact that 67% of passengers on the Crescent arrived late. An example of why CN got “F” is that 90% of the trips on Illini/Saluki service between Chicago and Carbondale were delayed by CN freights.

Amtrak on April 10 confirmed that trains from the Albany Region would be re-routed to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan while a bridge, tracks and a tunnel into Penn Station are repaired this summer.

The re-routing will begin May 26 and is scheduled to last until September 4. The national passenger railroad said it would spend up to an estimated $45 to $50 million on the repairs, which include the Spuyten Duyvil railroad bridge that was damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

Empire Service trains, plus the Ethan Allen Express serving Rutland, the Adirondack serving Montreal, and the Maple Leaf serving Toronto, all will be re-routed to Grand Central.

The Lake Shore Limited will only operate between Boston and Chicago, meaning that New York City and Hudson Valley travelers will have to get onto that train in Albany-Rensselaer and use Empire Service trains to make a connection. [Albany Times Union]

Amtrak expects to open a new station in Schenectady, NY this October.

The State of Connecticut has launched a new web site www. to keep residents informed about the new commuter rail service between Springfield MA and New Haven CT. When we checked this site on 4/12/18 it said service starts in May 2018 without giving an exact date. By 4/24/18 it said service will start on June 16, 2018. There has been some railfan chatter on the internet about a deal between Massachusetts and Connecticut to have some of the Connecticut trains operate as far north as Greenfield. There is no mention of any new service north of Springfield on the official web site.

Amtrak has announced its new National Spring Sale campaign, encouraging travelers to take a trip to their favorite destination prior to the summer rush. The sale runs exclusively on On many routes 25% discounts are available if you book 14 days in advance. Some Acela trains are included in the discount program. [Amtrak Web Site]

VIA RAIL CANADA has an interesting website but, in some ways, it is misleading. For example, the map shows service to Gaspe, Quebec. However, if you click on Gaspe you get a notice that service has been suspended since August 22, 2013. On the brighter side there are some very well-done adventure travel blogs.

On 3/28/18 Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson sent a memo to all employees saying that Amtrak will no longer operate charter services or special trains. There is a possibility of a few limited exceptions. This forced the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners to cancel their special train from New Orleans LA to Duluth MN for their annual convention. [AAPRCO web site]

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has appointed Catherine Rinaldi president of MTA Metro-North Railroad. Rinaldi is the first woman to serve as Metro-North’s president. [NARP]

Amtrak announced suddenly that it will be replacing traditional hot meal-diner car service for sleeping car customers on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited starting June 1. Rail Passengers Association is against this move, which will degrade the passenger experience and, we believe, has the potential to harm ridership.

Amtrak said in a press release that it will change its menu June 1 and offer the following cold food:
• Lunch & Dinner: Chilled beef tenderloin, Vegan wrap, Chicken Caesar salad, or Turkey club sandwich.
• Breakfast: Assorted breakfast breads with butter, cream cheese and strawberry jam; Greek yogurt and sliced seasonal fresh fruit plate. [NARP]

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Revised: May 2018