Showing posts with label Amtrak. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amtrak. Show all posts

May 15, 2014

Keeping the Southwest Chief in Southern Colorado, We Hope

Union Depot, Pueblo, Colorado. It's just offices now.
A small crowd gathered at Pueblo's Union Depot (which currently sees only freight trains pass by) on Wednesday, May 14th, to watch Gov. John Hickenlooper sign a bill that represented one step toward keeping Amtrak's Southwest Chief train running through western Kansas, southern Colorado, and northern New Mexico on its way between Chicago and Los Angeles.

First, Pueblo's favorite roots-music band, the Haunted Windchimes, played all the train songs in their repertoire as people gathered.

The Haunted Windchimes playing at the depot.
There were political operatives in tie-less blue button-down shirts and blue blazers, old rail-fan guys wearing train-themed caps, actual Amtrak employees, elected officials from the local, county, and state levels, and various people who unite in one idea, namely that train travel is local, comfortable, does not involve being probed by federal agents with blue gloves, and is environmentally sound.

In other words, when it comes to passengers moved per mile per gallon of fuel burned, trains beat everything else.

Why all the fuss? In essence, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) is not keeping up the tracks to the standard required for passenger trains. If they are not improved, Amtrak has threatened to reroute the Chief from Wichita-Amarillo-Albuquerque, cutting off western Kansas, southern Colorado, and northern New Mexico — areas that have poor air service and poor bus service.

Kansas has partnered with Amtrak and BNSF Railroad to help fund a portion of the track improvements required along the Southwest Chief route. If the track is not upgraded, Amtrak has warned that it may move its daily Chicago-to-Los Angeles passenger service to a more southern route.
Gov. Hickenlooper says a few words.

On the other hand, southern Colorado officials are more and more seeing an Amtrak route through Pueblo - Walsenburg - Trinidad, as compared to today's route from La Junta to Trinidad, which cuts off the I-25 corridor completely, as good for economic development and tourism.

Either way, M. and I want to keep the train running through southern Colorado, which is why we were there today, applauding with the crowd.

Airlines are increasingly abandoning mid-sized airports. Pueblo keeps a minimal level of commercial air service going only through a municipal subsidy, while Colorado Springs has seen service and passenger numbers decline, even with a new terminal building.

What is going to fill the gap? Trains, I would argue, are the best choice.

March 08, 2014

Blog Stew on the Scenic Railroad

After the June 2013 fire, the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is reopening for limited hours. Meanwhile, the scenic train that goes from Cañon City up the gorge and back is upgrading and hoping to get its tourist riders back.
[Owner Mark] Greksa believes his yearly passenger counts will increase as he continues to add amenities. Last year, he let passengers pay to ride in the locomotive next to the engineer. He also eliminated the train's "concession car," which offered only vended foods to coach customers, and created a dining car where they can order hot food, and a "bar car" with bistro-styled tables. Food offerings include beef and buffalo items, organic chicken and a crafted pale ale, Royal Gorge Route Rogue, Greksa said. In the summer, the train will offer dishes made from rattlesnake, antelope and ostrich.
Managers at the national wildlife refuges in the San Luis Valley are wondering if groundwater pumping rules will affect the areas flooded for sandhill crane habitat.GQ

GQ magazine runs another art-of-manliness story on being introduced to deer and elk hunting in Montana. Actually, it's not bad; it has a Chesapeake Bay retriever in it. (Hat tip: Suburban Bushwacker)

Most water from the Fraser River in Middle Park gets sent under the Continental Divide and into Denver's water system. Trout Unlimited, however, has worked out a new deal to protect flows for fisheries by regulating when the water is removed and how much.
The deal announced Tuesday could make the Fraser the most-watched river in Colorado – and maybe in the West. It sets out an innovative, science-based plan that seeks to balance increasing urban needs for water with an imperative to restore crucial habitat for river trout.
Me, I see the Fraser only when looking out the window of Amtrak's California Zephyr and thinking, "That looks really fishable in there." Maybe I should do something about that.

November 30, 2013

On Not Paying Attention to Cranes

Don't use a 200mm lens to take photos of birds in the sky. But it was what I had when these sandhill cranes were overhead. As always, click to embiggen.
Thanksgiving Day, in the dining car of the Southwest Chief, somewhere near Lamar, Colorado. Off in the distance, hundreds of white birds settle into a field. A larger flock is a smear against the northern sky.

"Snow geese," I say to my dining companion (Amtrak uses "community seating). But at the table across the aisle, someone is saying that they are sandhill cranes. I don't think so — they don't fly like cranes, and I have never seen a flock of cranes that big, not even during the evening flight at Bosque del Apache. And the crane migration is pretty much done by now.

I have been writing this blog long enough that I have a bunch of "cranes" entries. In October 2005, standing on a wide, busy sidewalk at Colorado State University-Pueblo and watching a flock overhead, I felt my heart lift, yet I was saddened that no one else looked up. Should I have adopted a prophetic voice? "Behold the cranes, O people, and learn from them!"

A few years later, I was at our little fire station on a warm October day — some of us were working on an engine outdoors — when a migrating flock came over and everyone stopped to watch. I felt better about some of my fellow firefighters that day.

But then I recently heard some long-time locals speak of geese flying over on the same afternoon that I took the picture of cranes chasing a thermal. Just not paying attention? (Shades of the Dances with Wolves soundtrack error.)
Cranes are cumbersome flyers. They prefer to migrate during daylight hours, when the thermals created by the midday sun provide rising air currents which the cranes ride to gain elevation before gliding down to the next thermal. It is this thermal riding which many observers mistake for being lost of confused.
Dale Stahlercker and Martin Frentzel, Seasons of the Crane.

September 14, 2013

Business Opportunity for Hermit Hotelier

Have you ever wanted to open a hotel or retreat center or something like that in the Back of Beyond? Here is your opportunity, which I saw as the California Zephyr whizzed through the thriving metropolis of Thompson Springs last week.

Unfortunately, the train doesn't stop there anymore.

August 12, 2013

The So-Called Romance of Steam

Cumbres & Toltec train on Cumbres Pass. The white cloud is steam from the whistle.
I like trains and take Amtrak rather than an airplane whenever possible, but I do not partake of the "romance of steam."

Ride one of these steam-powered trains, and you quickly understand why nineteenth-century people wore a lot of black. Once they put glass in the car windows, people then had a choice between no ventilation and breathing sooty smoke while wearing cinders too.

But maybe the fascination with steam comes from its being almost as understandable as animals.

Combine fire and water and you have steam, and then it works those big external pistons, and chuff chuff chuff, the locomotive goes down the track.

M. and I were driving up Colorado 17 on Saturday, and despite the two hours of rain at our nearby campsite the night before, she suddenly stiffened: "Is that a fire?"

No, it was the excursion train puffing away as it sat on the pass, one of the stops on its scenic interstate route.

To recreate nineteenth-century industry even better, find yourself in downtown Durango on a wintry day with a thermal inversion as that steam train leaves the station, filling street after street with coal smoke. Then multiply times fifty.

September 10, 2012

On the Road: Grand Junction's Sad Railway Station

The California Zephyr stopped in Grand Junction, with the empty station on the right center.
Riding the train through Grand Junction, Colorado, is sad if you are any kind of architecture buff, because you get a long stop right alongside the boarded-up Classical Revival station that desperately cries out for adoption by some "friends" group or a developer with taste.

Meanwhile, railroad, snack, and souvenir business is conducted next door in some bland little box.

A close-up.

The front door.
"Pufferbelly Station"? A failed nightclub? The interior is semi-gutted.

September 09, 2012

On the Road: Glenwood Springs, 2

   
Footbridge at right crosses Colorado River, I-70.
Another historic hotel in Glenwood Springs is the Hotel Denver, which as the advantage of being right across the street from the Amtrak station. And next door to the Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company, which pairs good microbrews that is, well, hearty.

I like the compactness of central Glenwood. It looks like you could hike right out of down — or soak at the hot springs, catch the train,  dodge bears while geocaching (a frequent occurrence according to one cache log), or just dream that you were having a whiskey with Teddy Roosevelt.

April 18, 2012

Levitating Ghost Trains of Pueblo

Sitting quietly in an old industrial area of Pueblo, Colorado, on West D Street, one of the "gee-whiz" technologies of the 1970s quietly rusts away.

Here, behind a chain-link fence and some fading signage, rest the prototype Rohr Industries Aerotrain and the Grumman TACRV (Tracked Levitated Research Vehicle).

When I visit Pueblo, I often stop at a coffeehouse about three blocks away, but had it not been for a geocache, I would never have known of their existence. Here is how they came to be there.

Nose of the Rohr Industries Aerotrain. No windshield—the "pilot" watched a video screen. Skirting kept in the compressed air under the train, while the vertical monorail kept it on the track.
Finding them was like driving to the airport by a different route and suddenly discovering a derelict zeppelin hangar. What is that

Both "tracked air-cushion vehicles" were designed to float on cushions of compressed air rather than wheels, which potentially offered speeds as high as 300 mph. In the 1970s, both underwent testing at the Transport Technology Center northeast of Pueblo.

The Rohr Aerotrain was a single, streamlined unit with a pilot compartment in front and passenger seating toward the rear. See it and other similar vehicles on this Aerotrain website.

It was a sort of monorail, to be powered by electricity from its track.
Grumman TACRV. You can see the turbine engine air intakes to the rear. The look reminds me of its contemporary, the Space Shuttle.
The Grumman vehicle, in contrast, would run in a sort of concrete trench, pulling hovercraft-style passenger cars, and propelled by gas-turbine engines.
The "pads" on the bottom and sides were where compressed air was forced out to "float" the vehicle.

Grumman TACRV testing at Pueblo (Aerotrain website).

Why did this technology die? The Aerotrain website offers several issues that could not be overcome.

1. Each train would have required a new, expensive sort of track, for which rights of way would have had to be acquired.

2. The Aerotrain's electric induction motors required their own power infrastructure and a lot of electricity.

3. The air compressors, turbines, etc., made these "hovercraft" trains incredibly loud.

4.The Aerotrain's engine built up a static electric charge that had to be grounded before anyone could get on or off.

5. The fans generating the compressed-air cushion also kicked up sand, gravel, etc., like a traveling sandstorm in arid climates. Every part of the train had to be levitated on compressed air, which mean lots of machinery to move air.

For all their City of Tomorrow flavor, they were less practical than improving conventional trains, which are still more energy-efficient on a passenger-mile basis than aircraft or buses.

My next business trip to Chicago will involve steel wheels on steel rails.

November 26, 2011

Amtrak, Raccoons, and the California Zephyr

The California Zephyr climbs the Big 10 curve west of Denver
M. and I are home from a week-long trip to San Francisco -- mostly business for me, but she got to spend time with family.

We took the California Zephyr west from Denver, "mountains and rivers without end."

And we got where we needed to go, although there was one rough patch at the beginning.

As usual, click the photos to enlarge them.

You usually end up dining with strangers but can always talk about the trains.



We woke up at dawn in our Denver hotel, checked the Amtrak train-status page, and oh no, the westbound train was six hours behind schedule. Later we would learn that it had been held up waiting for work crews to repair some damaged track somewhere in Iowa or Nebraska.

So we went out to breakfast, read exotic magazines at the Tattered Cover's LoDo store, and eventually got a lift in the hotel's town car to the temporary station that Amtrak is using while Denver Union Station is being renovated.

In the photo, two guys who just met through the dining steward's command to "Sit there" are getting acquainted.

Passengers ("Pax" in train-speak) on the platform at Fraser, Colo.
The first "fresh air stop" after Denver is Fraser/Winter Park, immediately after you come out of the long darkness of the Moffat Tunnel through the Continental Divide.
The station in Glenwood Springs, Colo., right in the center of town.
After Fraser, the railroad follows a roadless area of the Fraser River Canyon, breaks out into Middle Park, and then enters roadless Gore Canyon, where the river is already freezing over in spots. It then passes a few isolated spots like Radium, State Bridge, and Bond, before rejoining I-70 at Dotsero and continuing on down Glenwood Canyon.

Western terminus of the Zephyr: Emeryville, Calif.
And a bus ride over the Bay Bridge, a taxi to the hotel, and we're there, only three hours late at the end.

We left Wednesday the 23rd for home. Everything started well: up through the across the Delta, up through the eucalyptus, cypresses, and palms of Roseville, then into the Sierras, with cedar, manazanita, firs, and other conifers.

Into Reno on time. Through basin and range -- Winnemucca in the late afternoon, Ely after dark, then salt flats and Salt Lake City. The "gray desert" around Green River, Utah. Into Grand Junction on time, and we saw a bald eagle sitting in a snag along the Colorado River somewhere between Dotsero and State Bridge.

Through Middle Park and the Moffat Tunnel, everything tickety-tock, running even a bit ahead of schedule.

Then Conductor Renée comes on the p.a. system: the westbound Zephyr hit a "herd of raccoons" in Iowa the previous evening, had to wait for a replacement locomotive, and has now limped into Denver many hours late. We must wait for it to clear the wye at the station before we in turn can back in. So we wait, somewhere in Arvada, and eventually arrive an hour behind schedule. No problem. 

But a "herd of raccoons"? Since when do coons come in herds, as opposed to small family groups? And how big a herd does it take to damage (air hoses, etc., she said) a full-size locomotive?

You know Amtrak does not put out news releases about such incidents, so it must remain a mystery of rail travel.

UPDATE: Here is a posting on a train-fan web site, which gives a location and speaks of a "pack of raccoons."

July 25, 2010

Waiting for a Train

Waiting for Amtrak's Southwest Chief, La Junta, Colorado.

November 24, 2006

Life imitates cartoon

We ended a two-day train trip from Washington, DC, on Thursday morning, drove home, and napped. Sleeper cars are great, but I still like a bed that does not vibrate.

The day was warm for November, so M. spread a sleeping bag on the ground outdoors for her nap.

A strange sound woke her. She looked up and saw turkey vultures circling overhead--above treetop level, but circling.

When she sat up, they drifted away. It was like being in a classic New Yorker cartoon, she said

November 14, 2006

Into the Murk

I have just finished checking the Amtrak site to make sure that the Southwest Chief is on time. So far, so good--M. and I plan to join it this evening in La Junta, the first leg of a trip back into the Murk.

That's me being a little bit of a Western chauvinist. The East Coast is not known for strings of sunlit days, but the forecast for our destination, Washington, D.C., calls for a sunny weekend, amazingly, although we may arrive in "periods of rain and possibly a thunderstorm."

A storm is coming through the central Rockies. I'm currently in Pueblo, where the wind is howling across Baculite Mesa and a line of squalls obscures the Wet Mountains.

Another squall flares up in the Denver Post letters page, where Durango-based David Petersen of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers faces off against the NRA's Chris Cox over the Brown's Canyon issue.

The Post link will not last, so here are some samples:

Petersen: I too resent the fact that this pack of extremist paranoids claims to be America's leading supporter of hunting, and yet openly joins with the off-road motorized industry flak group Blue Ribbon Coalition to fight for the destruction and elimination of our last roadless public lands. The NRA isn't worried about access for old or disabled hunters, as it claims in its shotgunning of Chaffee County's Browns Canyon Wilderness. That's a convenient, if wholly transparent, lie.

Cox: Limiting access will not help hunters or our efforts to keep hunting alive in this country. Likewise, hunters with disabilities should be given equal opportunity to hunt on America's public lands.


It's so touching the way that the NRA always stands up for the rights of the disabled. (There is an in-house joke about the "NRA handshake," which is accompanied by cupping the left ear, indicative of hearing loss from too much shooting. "Sorry, I didn't catch your name.")

Blogging will probably cease for a few days. I have some things sitting on my desk at home that I would like to comment on, including a social scientific paper on hunter-and-hiker management.