October 6, 2008

Report: Amtrak is Not to Blame for Train Delays

By Scott Richardson

Train delays? Don't blame Amtrak. Blame improper dispatching practices and poor operating discipline by freight railroads, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General

Responding to a request from the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, the DOT inspector general issued a report, "Root Causes of Amtrak Train Delays" last week that says Amtrak trains suffer poor on-time performance on tracks operated by host freight railroads. Over 70 percent of the miles traveled by Amtrak trains are operated over tracks owned by other railroads, the report said.

If you recall, U.S. Sen. Dick Durin, D-Ill., criticized freight companies during a summit on Amtrak held a few weeks ago in Normal for failing to give passenger service a fair shake when it came to rail use. Federal law requires that, except in emergencies or as otherwise ordered by the secretary of transportation, passenger trains must be given "preference over freight transportation in using a rail line, junction or crossing."

Amtrak President and CEO Alex Kummant, who was at the summit, said poor on-time performance translates directly into greater operating costs and lost revenues for Amtrak.

Durbin led an Illinois Congressional delegation to ask the three major freight railroads that own tracks in Illinois - BNSF, Canadian National and Union Pacific - to create a plan to achieve an on-time performance of Amtrak trains of at least 85 percent.

Stay tuned.

Chicago country

The Chicago Country Music Festival celebrates its 18th year Oct. 11-12 at the Parklands at Soldier Field. Superstar Gretchen Wilson performs Saturday and Taylor Swift performs Sunday. Others include The Randy Kohrs Band, Wade Bowen, Rissi Palmer, Eli Young Band, Luke Bryan Cross, Canadian Ragweed, Justin Townes Earle, Lady Antebellum and Tift Merritt.

Navy Pier is creepy

THE FEAR Haunted House at Navy Pier is open from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday through Nov. 2. Cost is $20 and kids younger than 12 must have an adult along. Be advised, this is an intense experience. Discounted tickets and parking fees are available online at www.navypier.com.

For a scare-free Halloween, try the pier's Carnival of Curiosities Friday through Sunday through Nov. 1. Admission is free. Chat with the half Bride & Groom, Traveling Machine Man, Organ Grinder and Human Monkey. Every Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., the area from the Grand Staircase to the Ferris wheel and Dock Street will become a "dazzling spectacle" with street performances by fire spinners, acrobats, sword swallowers, break dancers, drummers and others. It's all followed by fireworks.

Cool cruise

Single Travel International is offering the Smooth Jazz Charter Cruise from Jan. 31 through Feb. 5 with jazz superstars, including Norman Brown, Nick Colionne, Boney James, Acoustic Alchemy and others.

Sail on Celebrity Century, which Conde Nast Traveler ranked as one of the world's best cruise lines. The trip, which includes singles events and access to the jazz performers, leaves Miami and visits Key West, Nassau, and Coco Cay. Besides daily performances, autograph and interview sessions and late night jam sessions are part of the package. Cost starts at $1,849. Call Singles Travel International at (877) SOLO-TRIP.

Beauty on bike trails

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has picked several trails as destinations for fall color trips. Among them are: Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail in Vermont; Paul Bunyan Trail in Minnesota; North Central State Trail in Michigan; Hudson Valley Rail Trail, New York; and Virginia Creeper Trail in Virginia. Visit www.TrailLink.com for more.

For ideas closer to home, check out www.gototrails.com.

Out of this world

At a time not so far in the future at a place not so far away, space fans will have a chance to have astronauts sign memorabilia and pose for photos at the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation's Astronaut Autograph and Memorabilia Show from Nov. 7 to 9 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.-

The Blue Angels will perform. A special ticket package includes a chance to see space exhibits and exhibitor booths, attend the 6th Annual Auction and tour the space center.

Astronauts and special guests include: Scott Carpenter, who flew on Mercury Aurora 7; Jim Lovell, who flew on Apollo 13 and other missions; Buzz Aldrin, who flew on Gemini 12 and Apollo 11; space shuttle crew members -Andy Allen, Charlie Bolden, Vance Brand and more.

Ticket packages range from $100 to $350. Visit http:// www.astronautscholarship.org or phone (321) 455-7014.

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