Archive for March, 2014

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.

Amtrak Eyes New Route for Hoosier State

March 3, 2014

Amtrak will seek a new path into Chicago for the Hoosier State that likely would also be used by the Cardinal.

That news came out of a meeting between Amtrak President Joe Boardman and a delegation of Lafayatte, Ind., officials in Washington, D.C.

The talk of a new route came amid concerns that on-time performance for the Chicago-Indianapolis run was a mediocre 33 percent in January.

Lafayette, West Lafayette and several other communities along the route are helping to underwrite the Hoosier State through early 2016.

“There was a frank conversation regarding on-time performance,” said Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce council member Arvid Olson.

Boardman expressed a willingness to keep the route and make it work, Olson said.

“We need to have a demonstrated metric improvement for this service to remain viable, and they very much agreed this little train needs to run a whole lot better.”

Amtrak said the delays to the Hoosier State were caused by freight train interference, track and signal issues, and operating issues for which Amtrak claimed responsibility.

Boardman committed to finding a more direct route between Dyer, Ind., and Chicago, Olson said.

“Should we come to terms with CN (Canadian National), it would reduce the number of rail companies we deal with,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. The reference was to Canadian National Railway Co.

Amtrak would pay any additional costs related to using a new route, Olson added.

Boardman also committed to minimizing delays caused when the train is halted mid-route so that a new crew can board and replace employees who have reached a maximum of 12 continuous work hours, Olson said.

Currently, the quad-weekly Hoosier State and the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal use a hodge podge of routes between Chicago and Dyer.

In a related development, a consultant hired by the Indiana Department of Transportation continues to draw up a request for proposals from companies interested in operating, marketing or improving the Hooser State, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said.

When Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County and four other communities agreed to help finance the Hoosier State, the agreement included a proviso that the state will week ways to run the trains on time at more convenient times, and attract more riders to close the gap on the $2.7 million annual operating cost not recouped from more than 36,000 passenger fares paid in 2012, according to an INDOT study.

“We are making good progress with R.L. Banks & Associates and anticipate publishing a rquest for proposals in March or April,” Wingfield said. “The RFP will detail when proposals will be due and an anticipated review timeline.”

Amtrak may submit a proposal, according to Magliari. “We are very interested in seeing what is in the RFP.”

WB Empire Builder Back on Regular Route

March 3, 2014

The westbound Empire Builder returned to its regular route on Saturday, March 1.

Increased rail traffic and a severe winter season had prompted BNSF to detour Chicago to Seattle/Portland No. 7 bypass the North Dakota stations of Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby. The eastbound train still served those points but westbound passengers were bused to and from Fargo and Minot.

At a meeting with BNSF snior officials, North Dakota officials pressed the railroad to return the Empire Builder to is regular route. BNSF CEO Matt Rose said the railroad has made a sizable investment in locomotives and crews to improve Amtrak and freight service.

CSX Routed Amtrak Train Into Snow Drift

March 3, 2014

A Grand Rapids, Mich., bound Amtrak train finally arrived at its destination three hours late after getting stuck in a snow drift near Holland late last week.

The Pere Marquette got stuck on CSX tracks about 9 p.m. Thursday.

Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said the train was about 8 miles west of Holland when a CSX dispatcher directed the train into a side track for a freight train to pass. The Amtrak train got stuck on the side track.

Kulm said a CSX locomotive pulled out the Amtrak train and its 64 passengers arrived in Grand Rapids around midnight.

No one was injured and Kulm said the train never lost power for lights and heat.