Wednesday, March 14, 2012

UP, Amtrak agree on Sunset Limited change

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Amtrak and Union Pacific reportedly have reached agreement to adjust schedules for Amtrak's tri-weekly Sunset Limited, connecting New Orleans and Los Angeles, changing the train's westbound departure from New Orleans from Friday to Saturday.

The change takes effect May 7 with Amtrak's summer timetables, but will be part of Amtrak's reservation system almost immediately; passengers with existing reservations will be notified of the new departure times promptly.

The development, reported first by Trains magazine, is part of a larger discussion between UP and Amtrak on numerous changes to the Sunset Limited, including the possibility of daily service. The schedule change, by itself, is expected to improve Amtrak's equipment utilization.

Last January, Amtrak President Joe Boardman said Amtrak could not cover UP's requests for $700 million in capital improvements to permit daily operation along the Sunset's route. But the National Association of Railroad Passengers says it will continue to push for daily service on the route. Under the current agreement, Amtrak will cease pursuing a daily Sunset Limited upgrade over UP rights-of-way for two years, a tactical move other observers say gives away little.

NARP also has been adamant in re-establishing the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans to Jacksonville, Fla. "We have had great grassroots efforts and wrote a rebuttal to Amtrak’s terrible report to Congress on restoring the train [segment], which really stated why they felt it should not be done," NARP Chairman Robert Stewart wrote to members in the organization's March newsletter.