Amtrak Service in Central and Eastern Michigan Delayed Due to Norfolk Southern Decision

From an Amtrak press release:

 Railroad posts drastic speed restrictions while improvements are pending

Norfolk Southern Railway (NS) has ordered passenger trains to slow to 25-to-30 mph on certain Michigan track segments it owns and controls between Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, starting today.

These restrictions from previous top speeds of up to 79 mph have an even larger impact than those imposed by NS last year. Amtrak is advising passengers to expect delays of 45 to 90 minutes on Wolverine Service trains to and from Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac, including Jackson and Dearborn, with lesser delays on the Amtrak Blue Water to and from Chicago and Port Huron, via East Lansing and Flint.

“The decision by Norfolk Southern to reduce train speeds on the track shared with the Amtrak Wolverine and Blue Water services will have a serious impact on passenger service, and could cause delays for freight shippers, too,” said Tim Hoeffner, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Office of Rail. “Last year, MDOT invested millions of dollars to upgrade this line at the state’s expense, and we hope Norfolk Southern will bear that in mind and work to minimize slow-downs that inconvenience businesses and travelers,” Hoeffner added.

The duration of the service delays is unknown. NS has said it would begin track improvement work in three weeks. Amtrak will issue a detailed Passenger Service Notice when more details are available.

“Amtrak believes that temporary repairs could be made promptly by NS to significantly reduce the impact of these slow orders,” said Paul Vilter, Amtrak Assistant Vice President, after Amtrak engineering experts inspected the NS-owned portion of the route earlier this week.

“The NS slow orders will affect operations of Wolverine trains to popular destinations across Michigan and will also somewhat delay Blue Water trains between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo,” said Morrell Savoy, the Chicago-based Amtrak Superintendent responsible for train service in Michigan.

Passengers affected by this service disruption can use the Amtrak Blue Water trains at East Lansing and Flint or Amtrak Thruway Motorcoaches as a substitute means to reach Central, Southern and Eastern Michigan. Amtrak Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited trains in Toledo and at Waterloo, Elkhart and South Bend, Ind., are another alternate choice.

The Amtrak Pere Marquette trains to and from Grand Rapids via Holland and St. Joseph-Benton Harbor are not affected by the NS action and can also be an option for some passengers.

“Ridership was just returning to normal since the last service disruption and lowered speeds in the summer of 2011,” Savoy added. From October 2011 through February 2012, ridership on Amtrak Wolverine Service (Trains 350-355, three daily round-trips, Pontiac-Detroit-Ann Arbor-Chicago) was 184,781; Amtrak Blue Water (Trains 364 & 365, one daily round-trip, Port Huron-East Lansing-Chicago) was 71,572; and the Amtrak Pere Marquette (Trains 370 & 371, one daily round-trip, Grand Rapids-Chicago) was 40,785.

All three routes posted year-to-year gains in February ridership.

The slow orders from NS come while it is negotiating to complete the sale of the line to the State of Michigan. These orders come less than four weeks after a celebration of increased speeds up to 110 mph on the Amtrak-owned portion of this line in Western Michigan and Northwest Indiana.