Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Illinois’

Amtrak Renews Dispute with CN Over Dispatching

September 3, 2014

Seeking to force Canadian National to provide better handling of its Chicago-Carbondale, Ill., Saluki and Illini, Amtrak lodged an amended complaint with the Surface Transportation Board seeking an investigation of CN’s dispatching practices. Amtrak claims that these have caused unacceptable train delays on the Chicago to Carbondale corridor.

The complaint said that on-time performance of the State of Illinois supported Illini and Saluki service was 49 percent for the quarter ending June 30 and 42 percent for the prior quarter.

The on-time performance of the four trains has been less than 80 percent for three years and less than 60 percent for most of that time. Amtrak cited Section 213 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act which mandates that the STB initiate an investigation upon the filing of a complaint by Amtrak if the on-time performance of an intercity passenger train falls below 80 percent for two consecutive quarters.

Under federal law, Amtrak has a statutory right to preference in the dispatching of intercity passenger trains before freight trains. The amended complaint is part of the same case that Amtrak filed with the STB regarding CN’s performance in January 2012.

Those proceedings were stayed while Amtrak and CN attempted to address the issue of delays informally.

Amtrak said the recent poor performance of the Saluki and Illini prompted it to ask the STB to investigate the causes of delay and to award damages and other relief if violations of Amtrak’s right to preference are found.

CN spokesman Mark Hallman told Trains magazine that the railroad will respond to Amtrak’s investigation request to the STB. The City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans also uses the same CN tracks as the Saluki and Illini.

Illinois Seeking Increase in Amtrak Service

August 22, 2014
The southbound Illini is about to make its stop at Mattoon, Ill., as a northbound Canadian National freight train clears the station in August 2014.

The southbound Illini is about to make its stop at Mattoon, Ill., as a northbound Canadian National freight train clears the station in August 2014.

The state of Illinois is talking about expanding Amtrak service on the Chicago-Carbondale, Ill., corridor, which already sees six daily trains, four of them funded by the state.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin recently wrote to Amtrak to suggest that it offer additional service. Their letter noted that ridership has grown 117 percent since 2006 to nearly 400,000 passengers a year.

“Expanding service on this corridor will continue the great progress Illinois has made to improve passenger rail service throughout the state,” the letter said.

Amtrak’s Illinois service is funded by $10.5 million provided by the state. The Carbondale route is particularly popular with students attending University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University. Adding another round trip would help ease overcrowding and expand Illinois service. Quinn and Durbin requested that Amtrak start a formal feasibility study “as soon as possible,” though it is not clear where the additional subsidy funding would come from.

Scheduling of trains over the busy former Illinois Central main line could be an issue. “We do have some issues with the folks who own the tracks, CN” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. “And we do have some issues with how they’re handling our trains.” Amtrak has set no deadline for when it will schedule the feasibility study for the expansion of service.

State-funded trains on the corridor include the Saluki, which operates in both directions in the morning and the Illini, which operates in the evening. Also service the route is the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans.

CN Called Out for on Amtrak Delays in Illinois

August 22, 2014

During a public hearing this week Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said Amtrak’s on-time performance is threatening the success of passenger rail in that state.

“Ridership and revenue are at all-time highs for Amtrak, and unfortunately so are delays. Late trains and unnecessary delays turn passengers away from Amtrak and can slow the incredible growth we have seen so far,” Durbin said.

Amtrak’s on-time performance has suffered the most along the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route owned and operated by CN, according to Durbin. The Illini and Saluki trains are arriving on time only 49 percent of the time, he said.

The route is also served by the Chicago-New Orleans long-distance train the City of New Orleans. Also attending the meeting in Champaign were Surface Transportation Board Chairman Dan Elliott and Amtrak board member Tom Carper. Elliott is meeting with community leaders throughout Illinois to discuss the delays along routes operated by Canadian National.

“We’re investing almost $2 billion in federal funds into our passenger rail infrastructure in the state,” Durbin said. “These funds are building new locomotives and train cars that will be used here in Champaign and across the Midwest. We cannot let these investments go to waste due to unnecessary freight train interference. Canadian National’s lack of cooperation with the State of Illinois and Amtrak is disappointing and I encourage them to step up and make the changes necessary to improve Amtrak service.”

In January 2012, Amtrak filed a complaint with the STB about CN’s interference of Amtrak trains on the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale corridor.

Amtrak and CN have tried to mediate the issue through the STB, but Amtrak’s on-time performance has continued to decline and CN has been more “recalcitrant” since a recent D.C. Circuit Court decision that invalidated Amtrak’s on-time performance metrics, according to Durbin’s press release.

Amtrak has indicated it will seek to reopen the case and the STB to rule on it.

Under its contact, CN’s on-time performance is measured based on whether the train moves across the Class I’s route in the pre-set number of minutes. Since winter ended, on-time performance of the Illini and Saluki has improved significantly as fluidity across CN’s North American rail network has slowly improved, said CN spokesman Patrick Waldron.

“Amtrak’s on-time performance figures recently published in the press incorporate delays not attributable to or involving CN, such as delays at stations, delays as the result of Amtrak equipment problems, or delays as the result of trains not coming to CN at the scheduled times,” said Waldron. “CN has provided the state of Illinois and Amtrak several proposals for infrastructure investments to add capacity and reduce passenger delays, particularly for the Illini train, on this busy and congested passenger and freight corridor.”

In 2008, Durbin helped pass legislation that gave STB the authority to enforce Amtrak’s rights to the rails. Last month, Durbin called on the STB to exercise its authority to investigate the causes of Amtrak delays and enforce on-time performance standards.

Earlier this month, Durbin wrote to Amtrak’s president and CEO Joe Boardman and its board chairman, Anthony Coscia, asking for a study to increase the number of trains along the Chicago-Carbondale line.

Quad Cities Amtrak Service Start Delayed Again

May 19, 2014

Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa will be delayed until after 2015 due to additional time being needed for track rehabilitation.

Jae Miller, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said that a section of Iowa Interstate Railroad track between a BNSF Railway connection at Wyanet and Moline, Ill., needs more work to make it ready for passenger service than was considered when the application for federal money was made in 2010.

“This additional work also means that the start of service has been delayed; a public construction and operational start-up schedule will be announced later this year,” Miller said.

IDOT had expected the service to begin in late 2015.

Paul Rumler, a Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce executive who has been the area’s top advocate for passenger rail service, says the delay isn’t surprising. “It’s not too surprising that they’ve hit new issues that will take a little more time,” he says. “I’m not discouraged.”

The delay is the latest since the federal government announced in late 2010 that $230 million had been awarded for a link between Chicago and Iowa City, Iowa.

Work Underway to Build Moline Amtrak Station

May 14, 2014

Although Amtrak service is a good two years away, work is going ahead on establishing a station in Moline, Ill., a city that has never had Amtrak service.

The depot will be housed in a vacant warehouse on 4th Avenue and 12th Street. Workers recently began stripping lead paint and prepping the soon-to-be train station for construction. City officials expect to have the station open in late 2015, before the train service begins in 2016.

“Things are going slow, but progress is being made,” said City Administrator Lew Steinbrecher.

Although the station is still being designed, the complex will include a new 85-unit hotel, restaurant and retail businesses.

“This is also being designed as multi-modal station because you do have direct connection to the bus service, directly tracks at the Metrolink facility,” Steinbrecher said.”There will be service directly out to the airport from here.”

Steinbrecher said it’ll also connect pedestrian and bike paths to the riverfront trail. The project will more than $20 million with half being provided by federal funding, $5 million from state funding and $1 million from the city.

“This really helps define the Quad Cities, not just Moline but the entire Quad Cities really as a suburb of Chicago, if you will,” Steinbrecher said.

The Bi-State Regional Commission has been eying Chicago-Quad Cities rail service for more than a decade.

“This one will go from Quad Cities to Geneseo, to an area where they will have to build new track called Wyanet and then connect into the Chicago area,” said Gena McCullough planning director of the Bi-State Regional Commission. The route will be 162 miles.

Illinois Town Upset About Being Bypassed

April 17, 2014

Recently announced plans to launch Amtrak service between Chicago and Rockford, Ill., have upset officials in a town that is being bypassed. In fact, you could say that city officials in Genoa are downright angry about it.

“The whole way this was handled was disgraceful,” Genoa Mayor Mark Vicary said. “We just found out about this [Thursday] night. It’s a travesty, and it was taken away from us in the darkness of the night.”

Genoa officials had expected the train to use Canadian National tracks that pass through their town. Illinois Department of Transportation officials has expected that to be the case, too.

But negotiations with CN to use the former Illinois Central route failed to conclude in an agreement, so IDOT struck a deal with Union Pacific, which agreed to allow the train to use a former Chicago & North Western route via Huntley and Belvidere.

The Chicago-Rockford service, which IDOT hopes to launch in 2015, is expected to eventually be extended to Dubuque, Iowa. That would involve having to use the CN route. Until 1981, the former IC route hosted Amtrak’s Black Hawk between Chicago and Dubuque. That service ended following budget cuts that reduced the money available to IDOT to pay for Amtrak service.

The Genoa Area Chamber of Commerce is sending letters to its members asking them to reach out to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to voice their support for the city stop.

“We had no idea this was something that was going to happen,” says Cortney Strohacker, the chamber’s executive director. “We were looking forward to the economic development opportunities it would bring, and were looking forward to not only having Amtrak available for us, but for others who wanted to come to Genoa.”

New Chicago Entrance Won’t be Inexpensive

March 3, 2014

Illinois Transportation officials have long be aware that creating 110-mph tracks in central Illinois on the Chicago-St. Louis route would not make the line truly high speed until slow running at the end terminals was addressed.

Now the Illinois Department of Transportation has projected the bill to upgrade the northern end of the route and the cost will be staggering.

Improving service between Chicago and Joliet, Ill., will cost an estimated $1.5 billion, which is about the same amount the state is spending to develop the route south of Joliet.

Where that funding will come from remains to be identified. Transportation officials acknowledge that it is not known yet whether 110 mph trains will be feasible in the Chicago region.

Between Chicago and Joliet segment, trains often creep along due to rail traffic congestion and slow orders. Most of the route is owned by Canadian National and at one time was part of the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad.

The route is used by Amtrak’s Lincoln Service trains as well as the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Last week at the first of four public meetings being held to discuss development of the corridor, state transportation officials presented a list of projects related to improving the route used by Amtrak and Metra trains into downtown Chicago.

The hearings were part of the task of creating an environmental impact statement aimed at increasing train speeds and improving schedule reliability and safety along the 40-mile Chicago-to-Joliet leg of the 284-mile Chicago-St. Louis route.

Amtrak trains average speeds as slow as 30 mph and travel times of 50 to 90 minutes.

The Federal Railroad Administration has approved a plan to move Amtrak service to the Metra Rock Island District Corridor between Chicago and Joliet.

The goal involves reducing trip times to about 45 minutes, said Tony Pakeltis, a transportation planning manager with Parsons, a consulting firm working with IDOT.

IDOT and Amtrak want to cut the six-hour trip between Chicago and St. Louis to less than 4 hours.

Among the proposals to reduce the running time are closing some of the 35 railroad grade crossings between Chicago and Joliet, building grade separations and adding an additional track.

Amtrak trains hit 110 mph only on a 15-mile stretch between Dwight and Pontiac. The top speed elsewhere is 79 mph.

IDOT to Hold Hearings on Chicago-St. Louis Line

February 21, 2014

The Illinois Department of Transportation will conduct public hearings next week to discuss further development of the Chicago-St. Louis used by Amtrak.

The state is rebuilding the tracks between Joliet and Granite City, Ill.,  to increase train speeds from 80 to 110 mph.

IDOT will define the scope of the projects by preparing Purpose and Need Statements. The statements will govern all future decisions about the projects. The hearings will be held on the following dates and locations:

Chicago, Feb. 24
Chicago Union Station, The Union Gallery
500 W. Jackson Boulevard
Chicago, IL 60661
4-7 p.m.

Joliet, Feb. 26
Jacob Henry Mansion, Victorian Ballroom
15 S. Richards Street
Joliet, IL 60433
4-7 p.m.

Orland Park, Feb. 27
Homewood Suites by Hilton Orland Park
16245 S La Grange Road
Orland Park, IL 60467
4-7 p.m.

East St. Louis, Feb. 25
Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center
101 Jackie Joyner-Kersee Circle
East St Louis, IL 62204
5-7:30 p.m.

Moline Route Track Work to Begin This Summer

February 7, 2014

Construction work to pave the way for the launch of Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa is expected to begin this summer, says the Illinois Department of Transportation.

IDOT expected the train to begin operating in 2015.
The preliminary engineering phase is almost complete. The next step would be the final design phase.

The project will have three parts: Chicago to Wyanet (where the amount of work is not as significant); construction of the Wyanet connection between the BNSF and Iowa Interstate main lines; and Wyanet to Moline, where many track, signal and safety upgrades are needed on Iowa Interstate’s former Rock Island main line.

There will also be yard improvements in Eola and Silvis, Ill., with a second mainline built between the yards in Rock Island and Silvis.

The route east of Wyanet is currently used by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, Southwest Chief¸ Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr.

There will be two round-trips daily between Moline and Chicago, with an estimated one-way travel time of just longer than three hours.

The train’s western terminus will be in Moline, which has not seen rail passenger service in more than 30 years since the end of the Quad Cities Rocket by the former Rock Island Railroad.

Illinois is expanding rail passenger service with the help of a $177 million federal grant and $78 million from the state. The state originally planned to spend $45 million but recently increased the amount by $33 million because of increased construction costs between Wyanet and Moline.

Local Officials in Dark About New Amtrak Route

December 16, 2013

Elected officials in Northern Illinois say that have not heard anything officials about the plans to launch Amtrak service between Chicago and East Dubuque, Ill.

Recent news media reports indicated that the Illinois Department of Transportation, Amtrak and the Canadian National Railway had made progress in negotiations for use of a former Illinois Central route that runs via Rockford, Freeport and Galena.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn had pledged that the train would begin operations in 2014. Yet the Rockford Register Star received interviewed several local officials and none of them said that they had received word about when the train would begin.

“I haven’t heard anything,” said Freeport Mayor Jim Gitz who added that he’s worried that funding for the train could get caught up in budgetary debates in Washington, D.C.

“It would be a shame if the expansion of rail service into northern and northwest Illinois were to become the victim of budgetary forces or the forthcoming elections.”

Gitz supports the new Amtrak route and fears that if the service doesn’t begin by 2016 it may never happen.

Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, called the negotiations with CN agonizingly slow. “The governor says he’s disappointed that the cost has skyrocketed,”
Stadelman said. “Conversations are taking place now, revisiting the issue, determining the future of Amtrak service. “This service is still going to happen, it’s just taking longer than it should.”

IDOT has estimated infrastructure costs at $60 million for the route through Genoa.

The city of Rockford is moving ahead on a plan to construct a $12 million train and bus station at South Main Street and Kent Creek.

“The city and Rockford Mass Transit District will be announcing their architectural team that will help design the downtown station soon, hopefully right after Thanksgiving,” said Steve Ernst, executive director of the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

“It has just been a difficult and lengthy process. … Getting signed contracts out of Springfield has seemed to take an eternity.”

Ernst hasn’t heard anything new on the proposed Amtrak route since the summer.

“As far as I know the state and the CN still have not reached agreement. But seeing as they both signed a nondisclosure agreement for the negotiating period, IDOT has not been able to divulge how close (or how far apart) they are. But given the length of time, I have to believe that they still are far apart.”

Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, has asked IDOT for a report on the status of the proposed Amtrak but still hasn’t received it.

“At this point, I’ve been told that IDOT is close to an agreement (with CN) where a contract can be worked out,” he said. “Now, what ‘close to’ means, we don’t have a definition yet.”


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