Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

Chicago Suburbs Still Concerned About Hiawatha Expansion

October 18, 2017

Residents in north suburban Chicago are still concerned about a proposal to expand Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service and they aired their grievances during a public hearing held last week.

That meeting was sponsored by the cities of Lake Forest, Glenview, Northbrook, Bannockburn and Deerfield.

Most of those who attended expressed concern about a proposal to add a siding on which freight trains would wait to be passed by Amtrak and Metra commuter trains.

They are worried about matters of noise, pollution and quality of life issues.

In particular, the residents are concerned about idling Canadian Pacific freight locomotives and they thought that those speaking at the meeting were not viewing the situation from the perspective of nearby homeowners.

“They just presented a railroad perspective,” said JoAnn Desmond, president of the Academy Woods Homeowners’ Association. “They didn’t tell us anything about whether it would be safe, or reduce our property value.”

Another homeowner, Greg Billie of Glenview, said the presenters “didn’t address any of the things we came for”

Judy Beck, former president of the Glenview Park District Board, said there was nothing wrong with the presentations, “but they need to balance it out with what the community needs are.”

Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely, who helped organize the hearing, said there has yet to be much discussion of “the underlying issue of freight traffic. And this is an opportunity to learn more about the future of freight traffic.”

Some who attended the hearing cited a March 15 derailment in Lake Forest of tanker cars carrying molten sulfur. None of the derailed cars leaked.

The Federal Railroad Administration is undertaking an environmental impact statement of the proposed Hiawatha expansion and the infrastructure changes is would need. That study is not expected to be completed until early 2018.

Some had the hearing said the panelists failed to explain enough detail about the expansion project.

Northbrook Village Manager Rich Nahrstadt said later that he wasn’t surprised by that.

“When all the city managers got together, we thought we’d try to answer some of the questions that came up about freight during the public hearings,” on the Hiawatha project, he said. “We didn’t plan it to be a replication of the public hearings.”

Panelists did, though, indicate that the proposed siding is needed to avoid rail congestion.

The project also envisions a new overpass over Shermer Road south of Northbrook.

Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum said that early discussions have indicated that freights trains waiting for passenger trains would sit south of Techny Road in an industrial area.

“The answers we’re getting – and this is not confirmed – is that it would actually improve the crossing at Techny (Road) and we would actually have less blockage,” Frum said. “If that’s the case, and it really doesn’t impact Northbrook residents, this is a decision that’s not too hard to make.”

Frum said that the decisions about train operations will be made by the railroads working with federal and state officials.

“Ultimately, freight trains are not going away, despite how much we might wish them to go away,” Frum said. “The thing to do now is to figure out the next step.”

Advertisements

Don’t Look for Amtrak in South Dakota Anytime Soon

October 18, 2017

Just two of the lower 48 states in the continental United States are not served by Amtrak.

Wyoming once hosted three Amtrak routes and sees a periodic detour of the California Zephyr.

But South Dakota has never seen a scheduled Amtrak train and the state had lost intercity rail passenger service before Amtrak began on May 1, 1971.

Officials in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, have discussed bringing Amtrak to their city, but it is not a high priority they say due to the cost.

Sam Trebilock studied bringing Amtrak to Sioux Falls seven year ago. A planner for the city, Trebilcock said he doesn’t know how much it cost to lure the passenger carrier to the state’s largest city, but it would be expensive.

“I think because of the expense of it, it’s something that isn’t on the front burner or anything,” he said.

Much of the expense of bringing in Amtrak involved track renovation. “You can’t just put passenger rails as I understand it onto a freight rail corridor,” he said.

Another hurdle is showing there is a market for the service. “You’d need to be able to show that you’re going to have the ridership it’s going to take to make that work,” Trebilcock said.

Sioux Falls would need to be linked to a destination that would matter to riders, such as Minneapolis or Omaha, Nebraska.

Although transportation officials in Minnesota studied providing Amtrak service to within six miles of Sioux Falls, it was not a high priority.

Buffalo Train Station Makes Endangered List

October 18, 2017

Buffalo’s Central Terminal has made a list of dubious distinction. It has been added to the 2018 World Monuments Watch, a group of international cultural heritage sites facing “daunting threats.”

The former New York Central depot that was used by Amtrak between 1975 and 1979 and for a time in 1971, is No. 22 on the list.

Closed in 1979, the station has undergone some renovation in recent years. However, it was bypassed when Amtrak recently sought a site for a new Buffalo station.

Amtrak has two stations in the  Buffalo region. These include a small and antiquated station at Exchange Street in the city and a station in suburban Depew.

Wisconsin Man Charged With Shooting Amtrak Conductor Deemed by Judge to be Mentally Unfit to Stand Trial

October 14, 2017

A Wisconsin man charged with shooting an Amtrak conductor has been ruled to be mentally unfit to stand trial.

Edward Klein, 79, of West Allis, Wisconsin, stands accused of shooting the conductor in Naperville, Illinois, on May 18.

DuPage County Judge Judge Daniel Guerin this week accepted a doctor’s statement that Klein is suffering from a major neurocognitive disorder, possibly Alzheimer’s disease.

One report said that Klein has an impaired cognition disorder and dementia while a second report said he suffers from a major neuro-cognitive disorder. The reports concluded that neither disorder is likely to be cured by medication.

A physician said in one report Klein is not oriented in time, place or situation and would be unable to recall details in his defense. Judge Guerin set a discharge hearing for Dec. 18.

During the hearing prosecutors said Klein could be acquitted, declared not guilty by reason of insanity, or declared not guilty due to being unable to stand trial.

Klein remains in police custody and the court could decide to have him involuntarily committed to a mental facility for up to two years.

Police have said Klein told them he shot Amtrak conductor Michael Case because he would not allow him to disembark in Naperville from the eastbound Southwest Chief.

Klein was ticketed to travel to Milwaukee via Chicago Union Station.

Case was critically injured when he was shot in the abdomen and hospitalized at Edward Hospital for 10 weeks.

Prosecutors have charged Klein with attempted first-degree murder and several weapons charges.

Wichita Still Wants Amtrak Back

October 14, 2017

Promoters of bringing Amtrak back to Wichita, Kansas, held a conference this week to discuss how to bring that about.

A Wichita City council member expressed optimism that service could be reinstated, but didn’t say when that would be.

“The market of the youth and even retired people, they’re driving these kind of decisions and say this is how we keep our city, it’s the 48th largest city, we need to be investing in that or we don’t keep up with the rest of the trends that are going on in the world today,” said Pete Meitzner.

The plan is to have Amtrak use the former Wichita Union Station.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Houston Lone Star served Wichita until early October 1979 when the train was discontinued in a massive route restructuring.

Amtrak Manager Admits Steering $30,000 in Business to Wife’s Photo Company and Then Lying About it

October 13, 2017

A former Amtrak manager admitted in court that he steered $30,000 in business from Amtrak’s Polar Express train ride to his wife’s photo company.

Benjamin Sheets, 50, of Downers Grove, Illinois, pleaded guilty to making false statements to the government and faces 12 to 18 months in prison.

Sheets indicted during a court hearing that he was trying to make $25,000 in family debt disappear.

During his appearance in court, Sheets told told U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras that he was an Amtrak employee, but shortly after making that statement an Amtrak spokesman said that was no longer the case.

In court documents, Sheets was identified as “superintendent, transportation” at Chicago Union Station.

Prosecutors said he also served as the business manager for his wife’s photo company and failed to disclose that conflict of interest.

Last year, prosecutors said, Sheets awarded the Polar Express photography work to his wife’s company without following Amtrak’s procurement procedures.

Records show the photo company sold 3,679 photos at $10 each in Union Station’s Great Hall last December.

The deal came to light after a supervisor began asking questions about it and Amtrak’s inspector general launched an investigation.

Sheets allegedly told investigators that his wife’s business had been hired by the company that ran the Polar Express event.

He then arranged for that company to pay his wife’s business $30,535 after billing a subcontractor.

Investigators said Sheets had phony documents drawn up to back it all up and then lied to the Amtrak inspector general in a March 6 interview, he said in court.

Hearings Begin on Washington-Richmond Corridor

October 12, 2017

Hearings are underway regarding the draft environmental report for a proposed higher-speed rail line between Washington and Richmond, Virginia.

Conducting the hearings are the Federal Railroad Administration and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The first hearings were held this week with additional hearings set for Oct. 17, 18 and 19.
The report, issued, last month, calls for increasing maximum train speeds from 69 mph to 79 mph between Washington and Fredericksburg, Virginia, and to 90 mph between Fredericksburg and Richmond.

The 123-mile D.C.-to-Richmond corridor is part of the 500-mile Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor between Washington and Atlanta.

The report also recommends infrastructure improvements that would allow for nine additional daily passenger-rail trips between the two cities.

Railroads, 6 Labor Unions Reach Tentative Pact

October 7, 2017

A tentative agreement on a new five-year contract has been reached between the nation’s railroad and six labor unions.

The unions said the pact will be sent to the members of each union for ratification.

In a news release, the unions said the agreements calls for an immediate wage increase of 4 percent, with an additional 2.5 percent six months later on July 1, 2018, and an additional 3 percent one year later on July 1, 2019.

Retroactive wage increases of 2 percent effective July 1, 2016, and another 2 percent effective July 1, 2017, will be paid for a compounded increase of 9.84 percent over an 18-month period and 13.14 percent over the 5-year contract term.

The news release said this includes the first general wage increase of 3 percent implemented on Jan. 1, 2015.
All benefits existing under the health and welfare plan will remain in effect unchanged and there are no disruptions to the existing healthcare networks.

However, some employee participation costs will increase. The agreement also adds several new benefits to the health and welfare plan for union members.

The unions said in the news release that railroads will, on average, continue to pay 90 percent of all union members’ point of service costs.
The employees’ monthly premium contribution is frozen at the current rate of $228.89, which can only be increased by mutual agreement at the conclusion of negotiations in the next round of bargaining that begins on Jan. 1, 2020.
The unions contended that they refused the demands of the railroads for work rule changes that the unions said would have imposed “significant negative impacts.”

Rail unions agreeing to the contract are the American Train Dispatchers Association; the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (a Division of the Rail Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters); the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers; the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers / SEIU; and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.

Some Doubt Private Investment Will Help Railroads

October 7, 2017

Private sector investment in railroad projects is unlikely, a congressional committee was told this week.

The comments were made at hearing held by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on rail infrastructure on a proposed Trump administration infrastructure renewal plan.

The Trump plan would rely on private investment as well as public funding.

The witnesses at the hearing said that the federal and state governments can be expected to play a role in sustaining and expanding the nation’s rail network, but the private sector is unlikely to be much of a player when it comes to railroad investment.

“What you’re talking about clearly goes beyond what the private sector at this point is prepared to do,” said Ed Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads.

In particular, Hamberger referenced the capital needs of Amtrak. The carrier’s co-CEO, Charles “Wick” Moorman had told the committee that the critical, huge infrastructure projects that Amtrak faces will require federal investment.

Without that, Moorman said, the system runs out. “We can do a lot of work on state of good repair, we can improve the way we spend money, but it’s going to take a lot of federal investment,” he said.

“I think Mr. Moorman’s needs go far beyond what the private sector can do,” Hamberger said.

One news report said that Democrats on the subcommittee pushed for public funding of intrastructure projects while Republicans members remained silent about that.

Even President Trump has reportedly expressed doubt about the scope of the private sector’s role in infrastructure rebuilding.

Trump reported said during a closed meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee that public-private partnerships were not the solution for repairing the nation’s roads, bridges, and ports.

The Trump administration has been talking investing $200 billion in federal fund to leverage $800 billion of private investment. However, details about that plan have yet to be announced.

“I understand that the private sector has a role, the states have a role, but I think the federal government has to have a bigger role,” said U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J. “Without the support of the federal government, I don’t think these projects can be done. Does anyone here believe that the private sector is the sole answer to this? If you do, please tell me, because I don’t believe this.”

Dome Car Excursions Set From Roanoke

October 6, 2017

Private dome cars excursions will be offered Nov. 11-13 on the soon-to-be extended Amtrak Northeast Regional service to Roanoke, Virginia.

The excursions are being hosted by the Virginia Museum of Transportation to raise money for maintenance expenses of Norfolk & Western steam locomotive No. 611. The steamer will not be involved in any of the excursions.

The trips will operate Nov. 11-13 between Roanoke and Washington.

Tickets, which go on sale today, will be sold as one-way tickets, allowing riders to choose which days they travel in each direction.

“This allows guests to choose what kind of trip works best for their travel,” the museum said on its website. “You may want to ride to Roanoke Friday evening and return Saturday, Sunday, or even Monday. Another option would be to rent a car on your return and drive the Blue Ridge Parkway.”

Tickets are $225 per person and include complimentary breakfast, lunch, and beverages. Each one-way trip lasts approximately five hours.

For more information: http://fireup611.org/excursions/potomac_arrow_fall2017/