Amtrak's delays send mixed signals
Canceled train service west of Albany raises concerns as safety issues
come to fore
By ERIC ANDERSON, Deputy business editor
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Friday, February 16, 2007
RENSSELAER -- For the second time in a week, Amtrak on Thursday
canceled rail service west of Albany because of severe winter weather.
Further cancellations were expected today, although the overnight
train to Chicago, the Lake Shore Limited, was scheduled to operate
tonight, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said.
The frequency of cancellations has surprised and troubled some people,
who think of trains as a dependable mode of transport in winter
"They used to have special engines with a plow on them," recalled Carl
Mitchell of Currier Travel in Colonie, who has been in the travel
business for more than 50 years. "They would clean the tracks."
Mitchell said safety concerns must have been an issue to lead Amtrak
to cancel operations.
"Trains were made to go through the snow," Amtrak's Cole agreed. "But
the inordinate amount of snow, combined with the wind, blew more snow
onto the tracks."
Switches froze, making train operations difficult.
Rail advocates wonder if more could be done.
"The Empire State Passengers Association is concerned with the number
of recent cancellations," said Bruce Becker, the organization's
president. "And while we recognize there's been severe weather, we
certainly urge Amtrak and CSX to do everything possible to make sure
that in future storms, service can continue."
During the last storm, icy rails and backed-up freight trains led to
Amtrak's decision to cancel service. But Cole said freight congestion
wasn't an issue Thursday. It wasn't clear whether CSX Transportation,
which owns much of the track over which Amtrak's Empire Corridor
trains operate, was forced to cancel or delay its freight trains. A
call to CSX wasn't returned.
But U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer questioned whether enough has been
invested to keep the trains running dependably.
"As always, safety must come first and Amtrak should never run trains
in conditions that would endanger its passengers," Schumer said.
"However, these two most recent shutdowns again shed light on how we
desperately need to upgrade Amtrak's infrastructure in the Capital
Region and across the country, and how this administration's budget
cuts have crippled the entire system."
Another travel agent, Jean Gagnon of Plaza Travel in Latham, said
train service cancellation wasn't all that unusual.
"I think people would be surprised ... at how many times Amtrak ends
up busing people," she said.
Thursday's cancellations also included Amtrak's Adirondack services
between Albany and Montreal, and all Ethan Allen Express services
between New York City and Rutland. Anderson can be reached at 454-5323
or by e-mail at eanderson@...