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By Noel T. Braymer

There were a few news reports on June 27th of an Amtrak train from Chicago that was stranded overnight in Iowa because of a bridge wash out. This was the westbound California Zephyr leaving Chicago on Friday the 26th of June. What was not reported was that this train arrived at Emeryville 36 hours and 5 minutes late! This wasn’t the only California Zephyr to be affected from the problems in Iowa. Two other California Zephyr trainsets, both headed eastbound to Chicago were also stopped in Iowa. This affected the schedules of trains depending on the turnaround of this equipment at both terminals. At the heart of this, the problem wasn’t with a washed out bridge. It was the lack of preparedness by Amtrak to handle what is often a common problem of needing to reroute trains.

Heading for Chicago after leaving California on the 25th, this Zephyr got stranded in Creston, Iowa after its crew went over the 12 hour work limit. A replacement crew was put on the now 17 hour late westbound Zephyr which left Chicago on the 26th to get the eastbound train going. The westbound Zephyr for June 27th left Chicago almost on time. It came close to catching up with the Zephyr in front of it. By the time the train that left Chicago on the 27th got almost to Lincoln, Nebraska, its crew hit the 12 hour work limit. A replacement crew from Denver had to be found and transported.

On June 28th, the westbound Zephyr out of Chicago was cancelled. There was a departing eastbound Zephyr from Emeryville on the 28th, which was six and a half hours late leaving. The Zephyr that left California on the 25th and got a fresh crew from the westbound train that left Chicago on the 26th was finally terminated in Iowa and the passengers transferred to buses.

Finally at 4:15 AM on Tuesday the 30th the Zephyr leaving Chicago on the 26th arrived at Emeryville. The biggest factor in making most of these Zephyr trains late wasn’t the washed out bridge in Iowa. Nor was it the ballast train derailment on the BNSF on the 26th which held up the westbound trains from Chicago. Even the need to reroute these trains over detour routes wasn’t the main problem. Much of the time the trains were stranded was because fresh crews were needed but not available to relieve crews that had hit the 12 hour workday limit. As the saying goes, late trains only get later. As more trains ran late, more crews were needed to get the trains running again. The railroads knew the status of the crews on these Amtrak trains. They stopped those Zephyrs from going further if they knew the trains would have to stop and block their busy railroads when crews reached their time limits.

This isn’t a rare occurrence with Amtrak. Whenever there is a problem, Amtrak management seems to be blindsided and left flatfooted with few backup plans. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. At Amtrak it often seems they are penny wise trying to cut costs, but pound foolish when these shortcuts creates expensive problems.

* Train 5 of 06/26/2015.
* THIS TRAIN EXPERIENCED A SERVICE DISRUPTION.
* California Zephyr
* CHI * * 1 200P * 322P Departed: 1 hour, 22 minutes late.
* NPV * * 1 234P * 402P Departed: 1 hour, 28 minutes late.
* PCT * * 1 344P * 513P Departed: 1 hour, 29 minutes late.
* GBB 1 438P 1 438P 622P 654P Arrived: 1 hour, 44 minutes late. | Departed: 2 hours, 16 minutes late.
* BRL * * 1 525P * 905P Departed: 3 hours, 40 minutes late.
* MTP * * 1 559P * 941P Departed: 3 hours, 42 minutes late.
* OTM 1 653P 1 653P 1128P 646P Arrived: 4 hours, 35 minutes late. | Departed: 23 hours, 53 minutes late.
* OSC * * 1 809P * 909P Departed: 25 hours late.
* CRN * * 1 841P * 1213A Departed: 27 hours, 32 minutes late.
* OMA 1 1055P 1 1105P 517A 606A Arrived: 30 hours, 22 minutes late | Departed: 31 hours, 1 minute late.
* LNK 2 1208A 2 1214A 716A 754A Arrived: 31 hours, 8 minutes late. | Departed: 31 hours, 40 minutes late.
* HAS * * 2 147A * 926A Departed: 31 hours, 39 minutes late.
* HLD * * 2 234A * 1019A Departed: 31 hours, 45 minutes late.
* MCK * * 2 343A * 1125A Departed: 31 hours, 42 minutes late.
* FMG * * 2 505A * 145P Departed: 32 hours, 40 minutes late.
* DEN 2 715A 2 805A 322P 529P Arrived: 32 hours, 7 minutes late. | Departed: 33 hours, 24 minutes late.
* WIP * * 2 1007A * 830P Departed: 34 hours, 23 minutes late.
* GRA * * 2 1037A * 915P Departed: 34 hours, 38 minutes late.
* GSC * * 2 153P * 104A Departed: 35 hours, 11 minutes late.
* GJT 2 357P 2 410P 256A 313A Arrived: 34 hours, 59 minutes late | Departed: 35 hours, 3 minutes late.
* GRI * * 2 558P * 504A Departed: 35 hours, 6 minutes late.
HER * * 2 720P MT
PRO * * 2 926P MT
* SLC 2 1105P 2 1130P 950A 1013A Arrived: 34 hours, 45 minutes late | Departed: 34 hours, 43 minutes late.
* ELK 3 301A 3 303A 151P 159P Arrived: 34 hours, 50 minutes late | Departed: 34 hours, 56 minutes late.
* WNN * * 3 540A * 540P Departed: 36 hours late.
* RNO 3 825A 3 836A 814P 855P Arrived: 35 hours, 49 minutes late | Departed: 36 hours, 19 minutes late.
* TRU * * 3 937A * 954P Departed: 36 hours, 17 minutes late.
* COX * * 3 1148A * 1225A Departed: 36 hours, 37 minutes late.
* RSV 3 1255P 3 1257P 141A 143A Arrived: 36 hours, 46 minutes late | Departed: 36 hours, 46 minutes late.
* SAC 3 213P 3 225P 207A 221A Arrived: 35 hours, 54 minutes late | Departed: 35 hours, 56 minutes late.
* DAV 3 244P 3 246P 237A 239A Arrived: 35 hours, 53 minutes late | Departed: 35 hours, 53 minutes late.
* MTZ 3 326P 3 332P 321A 323A Arrived: 35 hours, 55 minutes late | Departed: 35 hours, 51 minutes late.
* RIC * * 3 359P * 406A Departed: 36 hours, 7 minutes late.
* EMY 3 410P * * 415A * Arrived: 36 hours, 5 minutes late.

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