Writing my Congressman

It’s been a while since I’ve been truly politically active. My political energy has lately been focused on the restoration and preservation of the Amtrak station (originally Santa Fe) in Lawrence.

Recently, the CEO of Amtrak announced a proposal before a congressional delegation to discontinue a portion of the route from western Kansas to Albuquerque and replace it with a bus. Such a move would, needless to say, negatively impact the utilization of the Lawrence station.

In response, I wrote the following to the entire Kansas congressional delegation.

I support maintaining Amtrak’s Southwest Chief on its present route and oppose the proposal by Amtrak’s CEO to replace a segment of the route with bus service.

As a member of Depot Redux, I have supported efforts to preserve and restore the Santa Fe station in Lawrence, which has culminated in the current renovation project now underway. The proposed replacement of train service with buses will leave this asset underutilized.

I am also a railfan and model railroader. It seems that many consider passenger rail to be structurally irrelevant; air and/or auto travel is always advantageous over railroads. I consider it part of my hobby to counter this viewpoint and promote the advantages of passenger rail.

Passenger rail is an underutilized asset that, if properly developed, could be an important part of the nation’s intermodal transportation network. Amtrak’s proposal to replace rail service along part of the Southwest Chief route would hinder this potential.

Sincerely,

Richard Kennedy

Recent Railfan Photography

Okay, it’s been a while, but I have taken a few trips railfanning lately.

May 31: I went south of Paola to catch a Amtrak charter running from Springfield to Kansas City.

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June 24: I spent an hour or so on “Don Ball Curve” by the Lawrence Visitor’s Center (AKA the Union Pacific Depot) on my birthday.

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July 4: Before shooting off fireworks, I shot some trains down by Ottawa (along with my traditional Saturday morning greeting of Amtrak 4)

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Not the usual station

On a normal day, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief stops at the station in Lawrence.

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However, it is not this station.

The November 13th edition of the Chief was detoured over the Union Pacific line between Hutchinson and Kansas City due to a derailment. Although the UP line goes through Topeka and Lawrence, the station stops at these locations were cancelled.

Amtrak Heritage Sweep

In 2011, Amtrak painted a group of locomotives in special 40th Anniversary paint schemes resembling the different paint schemes on its locomotives. As a Depot Redux volunteer, I usually greet the Amtrak train on Saturday mornings. I’ve kept a lookout for the heritage units as well.

Within a year’s time, I had seen every one of the Amtrak units, and had also photographed all but one, most of them leading the train. Two weeks ago, I got the last of the Heritage Units, which has been based out of Kansas City on the River Runner. Today, I re-shot the only unit I had not photographed *leading* an Amtrak train. With that in mind, here are my photos of all of Amtrak’s heritage units

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Phase I: Amtrak 156, 12 July 2014, Lawrence, leading the Southwest Chief
(I have also caught 156 leading 2 Amtrak specials, as well as twice trailing on the Chief)

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Phase II: Amtrak 66, 4 October 2014, KC Union Station, leading the Missouri River Runner
(I previously saw 66 trailing on a Chief, but it was on a nightime train, and I did not have my camera)

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Phase III (1st): Amtrak 145, 7 September 2013, Camden, Missouri, leading the Chief
(I did catch this train at Lawrence; however, it got there before sunrise)

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Phase III (2nd): Amtrak 822, 15 March 2014, Lawrence, leading the Chief (156 is also in the consist)

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Both Phase III units together: 145 + 822, 11 July 2014, Lawrence, on an Amtrak special.

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Phase III (3rd): Amtrak 406, 12 April 2014, Topeka, with the Amtrak Exhibit Train (along with the Veteran’s Unit, see below)

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Phase IV: Amtrak 184, 19 October 2014, Lawrence, leading the Chief

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Veteran’s Unit: Amtrak 42, 11 November 2013, Lawrence, leading the Chief

Situational Awareness

This morning (as with most Saturday mornings) I got up at 4:30 to open the Lawrence Amtrak station.

I arrived at 5:15 and noticed that the signal just east of the station was red. On this line, a stop indication means the main line is occupied between that signal and the next. As #4 was due at 5:47, I found it hard to believe that BNSF had run another train ahead of #4. (and even if #4 had arrived very early, it would not be allowed to leave Lawrence until 5:47) Better keep an eye on it.

At 5:40, #4 contacts the dispatcher (DS 104) to report that they had received a yellow “approach” indication at both ends of the siding at Lakeview. My signal, the next one that #4 will encounter, was still red. Upon arrival at the station, the engineer notes the red indication, and radio chatter indicates that they will attempt to throw the siding switch. Once everyone is aboard and the coaches are clear, #4 makes its way closer to the signal. A crewman gets off and throws the switch. The signal indication does not change. The switch is thrown back to the mainline. For this particular signal, red indicates “Stop and Proceed,” meaning that the train can continue past the red signal at 15 MPH without asking for permission from the dispatcher. I kept an ear to the scanner. #4 contacted the dispatcher and informed him that the signal at the west end of Lawrence was red, but that the one at the east end of the siding was clear (green signal)

Soon after the radio report, my signal turned yellow, and I kept an eye on it. Instead of turning green, however, the signal turned back to red. This is when I contacted BNSF (using the telephone number that is posted on every grade crossing) and gave my observations.

As of this writing (9:00), the signal appears to now be green (I have line of sight to that signal from family owned property) so I presume the BNSF signal crew found and repaired whatever was causing the signal to trigger a red indication.

November already?

For being without a day job, it seems I’ve been rather busy….

October brought a pair of “Special” Amtrak trains, and a new interchange on K-7 in Johnson County.

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8 Trains in one hour

Saturday morning, I woke up early to open the Lawrence Depot and Greet the eastbound Southwest Chief, as I have occasionally done as a volunteer. It was the first time since the new signs were installed and turned on that I had done so. After the train left and the lights were turned off, I headed to Pomona, on the BNSF line in Franklin County. At that location, I saw a whopping 10 trains in all, including 8 trains during the 8 O’clock hour.

I did not get a good pic of two of the trains, but I was able to snag shots of the other 8, plus Saturday’s Chief at Lawrence.

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