2.9.08

GETTING INTO TRAINING. The Labor Day weekend means the trains are strained.

With delays, airport congestion, and sky-high jet fuel prices draining the romance and convenience out of air travel, Americans have increasingly turned to Amtrak for summer travel, the story continued.

The railroad was expecting 322,000 riders over Labor Day weekend, a 10 percent increase from last year, while the airline industry projected a decline of 6.5 percent in domestic travel over the holiday period.

Another Destination:Freedom post notes an Amtrak proposal to provide more cars for the Acela Express. A careful reading of the article reveals the shortcomings of a special-design quasi-fixed formation train. Although additional trailing cars are relatively easy to build, the locomotives (call me old fashioned, but a "power car" at each end that is dedicated to a control stand and the electrical equipment is a single-ended locomotive) will be taxed by longer formations. And the Acelas are not the only trains that could use more capacity. (Elsewhere in the country, the practice of setting up additional locomotives in multiple and cutting in additional coaches, if the coaches could be had, provides the additional capacity.)

It's also standing room only on the Chicago commuter services.

The [Rapid Transit] is removing all the seats from some of its rail cars and reducing seats on some buses as part of an experiment beginning this fall to pack in more riders.

To boost its seating, Metra ended bar-car beverage service Friday and plans to remove some on-board toilets. The commuter railroad is also rehabbing five 1950s-era bilevel coaches that it had sold to a Virginia commuter line and bought back earlier this year.

Even the Pace suburban bus system, the unfortunate symbol for years of how the car is king in the suburbs, is packing them in these days on routes that feed Metra and CTA rail stations and business parks. Pace reduced special express service to Cubs and Bears games to free up buses for regular evening service, officials said.

Managers expect further increases in traffic, and expect further strain on the stock as the state capital spending plan is still delayed in Springfield.

There's frustration on the lines.

Most Metra riders aren't as lucky, traveling up to 50 miles each way, in some cases while standing in the aisles and vestibules or sitting on the steps of packed trains.

When the trains are too crowded, the conductors don't always collect cash fares, so revenue is lost, Deborah Moore pointed out after her morning Union Pacific North Line train arrived last week in downtown Chicago more than an hour late.

"Metra, the way to really fly," said Moore, mocking the commuter railroad's slogan. "Oh, yeah, how could I forget? Flying doesn't seem like a good idea these days, either."

Thus far, neither the Transit Authority nor Metra have asked to borrow some of their retired rolling stock from local museums. There's the makings of a pretty good retro Evanston Express, with plenty of standing room, running at East Troy and at Union.

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