Archive for November, 2009

Follow Amtrak Trains Live Online

So you’ve schedule a trip on Amtrak, but the big question remains. Will my train be on-time? If your sitting at home and the anticipation is killing you, there are a couple of different ways you can track your train.

Call Julie

Amtrak automated system, commonly known as Julie, is the traditional way to determine train status. Call 1-800-USARAIL and follow the prompts. You will need to know your train number and departure station.

The Amtrak App

Many people do not realize that Amtrak maintains a mobile application on both the popular iOS and Google Play App Stores.

The Amtrak App can be used not only for train tracking, but includes a mobile interface that ties into the reservation system. You can book simple trips right from the app itself, though more complicated reservations, modifications, and cancellations will still need to be made by phone. Use the keyword “Agent” to bypass the voice prompts and get straight to a live human.

Not using an iPhone or Android? Recently Amazon and even Windows Mobile have even got in on the App Store action.

Still out in the cold? If they will only take that Blackberry from your cold dead hands, you can use Amtrak’s mobile website at

Unofficial Tracking Websites

I found a site the other day that could be useful to anyone taking the train this Holiday season. Amtrak Status Maps uses public data available on Amtrak’s site to plot the approximate locations of current trains. It also lists if the train is running on time or behind, and if it is behind it will list how many hours.

This site is only limited by the accuracy of the information they are pulling from Amtrak’s system. As an unofficial source, I wouldn’t rely on it as my sole timekeeping source. It could be useful when rail-fanning or to track station performance across the route.

Amtrak Track-A-Train

The Amtrak System January 20, 2015 at 7:30 PM

The Amtrak System January 20, 2015 at 7:30 PM

Since this article was originally written, Amtrak has added it’s own Track-A-Train System. Through a partnership with Google, this system relies on GPS devices located in each locomotive in addition to the traditional station arrival information. It will give a more current location and estimated speed rather than just the most recent departure time.

You can read more about it in the full press-release from Amtrak. As with any of these resources, the train can depart at any point after it’s scheduled time. It’s not uncommon to make up time due to schedule padding and other factors. Arrive late at your own risk.

The Famous Commodore

Last week I was intrigued by an article in the Wall Street Journal that compared Warren Buffet to the late Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt practically created the New York Central, but beyond that I knew very little about the man.

I stopped at our campus library and picked up the book Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The book provides a length narrative detailing from birth till death and every major life event along the way. It details how Vanderbilt went from nothing to go on and create his massive family fortune, first through sail, then steamships, and finally the railroads.

Additional detail is spent on the more troubling aspects of his personal life that might not be found in older works on the subject. Vanderbilt had a habit of picking up less than respectable girls from the waterfront. In fact advanced syphilis would directly lead to his death.

The author, Edward J. Renehan Junior, goes to great lengths to provide a well-researched book. He mentions a number of facts where previous biographies do not agree with his sources and provides great backing of his opinions.

As a biography the work is splendid. As a railroad book it is not so much. Only one of the 24 chapters deals significantly with the railroads and Vanderbilt’s business actions when he executed a couple of famous cornerings of the Hudson River Railroad and the New York and Harlem Railroad. Later mention is made of his failure to corner the Erie Railroad against Jay Gould.

Later Vanderbilt would merge his major New York Railroads with the New York Central, a road operating from Buffalo to Albany. This created the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, a single railroad company all the way from Manhattan to Buffalo.

I don’t really fault the author for the lack of railroad information. I did not realize that the majority of Vanderbilt’s railroad dealing were late in his life. His son, William Vanderbilt went on to help mold the New York Central’s western expansions. Instead, most of Vanderbilt’s life was spend on the steamship business and the book is proportioned accordingly. It did not detract from my enjoyment in the least.

After reading this book, would I compare Vanderbilt to Buffet? Probably not. Though the two both invested heavily in railroads during their later years, I find them to be different in both personality and temperament.If you want to make your own decision I encourage you to check out Commodore at Amazon.

River Road Station to Meet End

I was recently informed that ODOT is planning a major reconstruction project for the Waldvogel Viaduct on the riverfront in Cincinnati. The bids are in and the contracts have been awarded so construction should begin relatively soon.

For those unfamiliar with the Cincinnati area, this is down on the river just west of Paul Brown Stadium and the Mill Creek. CSX has their Indiana Sub in the area and CIND, a Rail America shortline, runs a ditch track that collects from a number of river bulk transfer industries. The junction of the two lines is known as CP Oklahoma.

This project is going to have a number of effects on the rail lines in the area. For starters the CSX will be getting a new #10 switch and the entire set of main lines will be moved south to make space for a future bike trail (and possibly a light rail line?). A little over 400 feet of CIND trackage is expected to be moved to connect to the new alignment.

By far the greatest effect will be the demolition of the old River Road Amtrak Station (show near the “View 3” label above). This was one of the famous “Amshaks” that opened when Amtrak deemed it too expensive to run out of Union Terminal and other large stations. The one in Cincinnati was the first of these stations Amtrak ever built and was used by the railroad from 1971 to 1991. In 1991 Amtrak moved back to a renovated Union Terminal where the Cardinal stops today (although it may not be only one for long). [Image by G. R. Harper, used with permission.]

In more recent years the station was sold to the I&O. It has been used as a staging platform for I&O Passenger Corporation and Cincinnati Railway excursions.

The River Road station was plagued by a poor location in a bad part of town. Few will miss it, but just the same it will be another piece of railroad history that has disappeared. You can see more photos of the River Road and other Cincinnati stations on this page. There’s also some good photos at Queen City Discovery.