Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Illinois’

Can NIMBYs Kill the Hiawatha Expansion?

February 10, 2017

If Amtrak had just put on the three additional Hiawatha Service roundtrips that Illinois and Wisconsin want, no one except passengers and rail passenger advocates would have been the wiser.

But the proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service isn’t going to work that way and as a result there has been a NIMBY uprising in suburban Chicago that threatens to scuttle the expansion.

Hiawatha 2The Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Illinois Department of Transportation, which fund the existing service, want to expand the number of Chicago-Milwaukee trains from seven to 10.

As part of that expansion, a holding track for Canadian Pacific freight trains would be built in suburban Chicago.

Because public money is involved an environmental assessment, which examines various facets of the proposed expansion, was conducted.

Once that became public last October, the NIMBY opposition began, citing the usual arguments that opponents of new or expanded rail passenger service make everywhere, e.g., noise, pollution, increased traffic congestion, vibration and diminished property values.

What makes the suburban Chicago dispute different is that it involves a rail line that already has a high level of passenger service.

It is likely that many of the NIMBYs are regular or occasional Metra users. The property owners along the Chicago-Milwaukee route are accustomed to train traffic passing their neighborhoods. They may not like it, but they know they can’t stop it.

The news media coverage largely has failed to explain the particulars of why the holding track is part of the expansion plan. It is the result of operating constraints affecting three railroads and ordinary people don’t have much interest in such matters.

Freight trains bound for CP’s Bensenville Yard near Chicago O’Hare International Airport sometimes hold on the mainline north of Rondout in Lake Forest as they wait for permission to enter in Northbrook a Union Pacific route that CP trains use to access Bensenville Yard.

As early as 2007, WisDOT began studying traffic patterns on the Chicago-Milwaukee Route in preparation for expanded Hiawatha Service.

Computer modeling exercises and meetings of operating officials of the three railroads using the corridor – Amtrak, CP and Metra – identified choke points and operating challenges.

The proposed capital improvements that came out of those meetings – including the holding track – were designed to minimize the need for trains of all three railroads to wait on the mainline for other traffic to clear.

The holding track was a way of shifting where CP freights would sit as they waited for the UP to give permission to enter its territory.

Had the railroads agreed to host the expanded Hiawatha Service within the existing infrastructure, the NIMBY opposition would never have materialized because they would not have noticed the increase in Amtrak traffic.

The NIMBYs want the FRA to order that a full environmental impact statement be conducted, probably in the hope that it will confirm their point of view. They also are playing for time, hoping that the holding track idea will go away or that the railroads will build it somewhere else.

Some of the public officials who have jumped on the NIMBY train might be playing for federal and state money to make infrastructure improvements their cities could not afford otherwise.

In the end the Hiawatha expansion may never come about, but not necessarily because of the NIMBYs.

Additional passenger equipment is needed and it is unclear when that will become available. The new locomotives expected to be used on Amtrak Midwest corridor routes are being built, but new passenger cars have been delayed and there is a looming September deadline to spend the federal grant awarded to pay for those cars.

It also is unclear if Illinois and Wisconsin are committed to paying the operating costs of the additional Hiawathas. Keeping the funding level high enough to afford the existing corridor service of the two states is a challenge as it is.

Many of the arguments being made by the NIMBYs are unsubstantiated and emotionally overwrought. The FRA won’t take those seriously.

And some of the opposition by public officials is opportunistic. It doesn’t cost them to side with the NIMBYs and might gain them a few political brownie points. The FRA knows that, too.

What remains to be seen is whether this political posturing eventually will result in the political clout that could be brought to bear to kill the public funding needed to pay for the expanded service. This risk is just one of the prices today, of intercity passenger service.

Unusual Corridor Train Double Header

February 7, 2017

illini-at-pesotum

Virtually every Amtrak Midwest corridor train I’ve ever seen was being pulled by one locomotive. In some corridors Amtrak may have a locomotive on each end of the train to avoid the need to turn the train at a terminus point.

But only once have I seen a corridor train with two locomotives on the point.

Shown above is the northbound Illini at Pesotum, Illinois, in August 2012 with a pair of P42DCs leading. I can’t say if both units are online or why on this particular day two units were assigned.

I had seen this equipment set earlier in the day when it went south with the Saluki bound for Carbondale, Illinois.

So I planned to make an image of that equipment set when it returned to Chicago with the Illini.

Alton Seeking Buyer For its Amtrak Station

January 23, 2017

Alton, Illinois, is making a push to save its existing Amtrak station, which once served the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad.

300px-Lincoln_Service_map.svgThe city has created a marketing brochure with the goal of finding a buyer for the station, which will close once the new Alton Regional Multi Modal Transportation Center opens later this year.

The current depot, located on College Avenue, will close and the city has a year to sell or demolish it.

Because the station is located next to tracks owned by Union Pacific, any buyer will need to follow guidelines established by the railroad as to what uses of the property can be made.

The new owner, though, would have the option of moving the station building to a new location.

The city is working with the Alton Area Landmarks Association in seeking a buyer for the property.

Alton is served by the Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Illinois Amtrak Ridership Fell in FY 2016

January 12, 2017

Amtrak ridership in Illinois fell by 3.5 percent in fiscal year 2016. Recent figures released by state transportation officials show that more than 4.6 million rode on Amtrak trains in the state.

IllinoisNot surprisingly, Chicago topped the list of the busiest Amtrak stations in Illinois.

Most of the cities on that list are college towns. Behind Chicago the busiest Amtrak stations were Normal-Bloomington, Springfield, Champaign-Urbana, Carbondale, Galesburg and Macomb.

All of those cities also have multiple Amtrak frequencies per day.

Systemwide, Amtrak carried more than 31 million people in FY 2016, an increase of 2 percent over the previous year.

Just 11 Miles Away from Journey’s End

January 9, 2017

california-zephyr-eb-at-riverside-may-23-2009

Passengers aboard the inbound California Zephyr are just 11 miles away from the end of their journey to Chicago Union Station as train No. 6 rushes through Riverside, Illinois, on the BNSF Raceway.

Those who know the route might already be gathering their belongings and thinking ahead to what they are going to be doing once they disembark at CUS.

Others, though, might be watching a suburban landscape that must must appear to be one Metra station after another.

Whatever the passengers are doing, the end of their trip aboard this train will arrive soon.

Bringing up the Rear

January 1, 2017

For a while in 2011 Amtrak’s Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, trains operated with a locomotive on each end in order to avoid having to turn the train. That practice proved to be short-lived.

The southbound Illini is shown leaving Mattoon, Illinois, on June 1, 2011, with P42DC No. 127 carrying the markers.

Tomorrow, No. 127 will lead the northbound Saluki out of Carbondale to Chicago. The tracks here are owned by Canadian National.

Chicago Suburbs Continue to Push for Full Environmental Study of Proposed Hiawatha Service Expansion

December 22, 2016

Public officials and residents of five northern Chicago suburbs are continuing to call for more comprehensive study of a proposal to expand Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Hiawatha 2About 100 people attended a meeting held this week in Lake Forest, Illinois, to discuss how the communities might be affected by the service expansion.

One point of contention is a passing siding that would be built to allow Canadian Pacific freight trains to wait for Amtrak and Metra trains to pass.

The siding has drawn sharp criticism from residents of Lake Forest, Deerfield, Northbrook, Glenview and Bannockburn.

A presentation at the Lake Forest meeting said the additional trackage, which would range from 13,000 to 18,000 feet, would enable faster rail service.

But Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely said it would also mean that freight trains would be 14 feet closer to homes along the west side of the tracks.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation initially proposed the service expansion, which would increase the number or daily Hiawatha Service roundtrips from seven to 10.

Also participating in the study are the Illinois Department of Transportation, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration.

The Illinois and Wisconsin transportation departments jointly fund the Hiawatha Service.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the FRA will make the final decision on whether the expansion can proceed because it is expected to provide most of the funding for the $150 track improvements, including the controversial passing siding.

The FRA released an environmental assessment of the project last October and public comment is being taken through Jan. 15.

That assessment concluded that the service expansion would not adversely affect adjacent properties through either noise or vibration.

Kiely said the suburban communities want the FRA to conduct a full environmental impact statement, which would be more comprehensive.

“That’s why the communities initially said they’d like to see a full environmental impact study done so we all have complete knowledge and information as to what those noise and vibration impacts are going to be,” he said.

The FRA’s environmental assessment noted that ridership in the Chicago‐Milwaukee corridor nearly doubled between 2001 and 2013, growing by an average of 5.9 percent per year.”

WisDOT wants the service increase in order to keep up with travel demand on the route.

“As ridership grows, near‐capacity and over‐capacity conditions (especially on trains 330, 332, 337 and 339) are expected to occur more frequently if no improvements are made to the service. Peak trains are often over capacity. Ridership is continuing to increase, despite the fall in gas prices. There is also significant and growing ridership on the mid-day off-peak trains,” said WisDOT spokesman Mae Knowles.

Public comments about the expansion plan can be made by sending an email to DOTChicagoMilwaukeePassengerRailEA@dot.wi.gov or by calling 608-261-6123.

 

The National Limited Takes a Detour

December 19, 2016
036

The westbound National Limited arrives in the station at Mattoon, Ilinois, in May 1977 on a detour move. The train is using the former New York Central route to St. Louis due to track work on its regular route over the former Pennsylvania Railroad route via Effingham, Illinois.

037

The National Limited handled mail from New York to Los Angeles that was interchanged to the Southwest Limited in Kansas City. Note that the former NYC passenger platform is still in place at right nine years after the last NYC passenger train here was discontinued.

038

The Amtrak conductor and two other crew members wait in the vestibule of a coach as the eastbound National Limited arrives in Mattoon, Illinois, in May 1977 on a detour move.

039

The eastbound National Limited departs from Mattoon, Illinois, on former New York Central rails. It will regain its regular route in Terre Haute, Indiana. A portion of the former NYC passenger station is visible at right.

It was not unusual for Amtrak’s National Limited to detour between Terre Haute, Indiana, and St. Louis.

The scheduled route was via the former Pennsylvania Railroad via Effingham, Illlinois, but the Penn Central dispatcher had the option of running the train over the ex-New York Central route through Mattoon, Illinois.

After Conrail took over Penn Central in 1976, it began rebuilding the ex-Pennsy route used by Amtrak Nos. 30 and 31.

In late April 1977, the National Limited was rescheduled to operate during the afternoon hours between St. Louis and Effingham. That also coincided with the track gang hours.

So, for a good part of May 1977, Nos. 30 and 31 detoured via the ex-NYC route, making the Effingham stop at the former NYC passenger platform in Mattoon

The last NYC passenger train through Mattoon had been discontinued in March 1968, but the platform was still in place on the south side of the tracks.

I was a young reporter for the Mattoon Journal Gazette and I gave myself an assignment one afternoon to cover the detour of the National Limited.

I went down to the tracks, interviewed waiting passengers, and made photographs of both trains using Kodak Tri-X film.

Much has changed since that May 1977 day. The National Limited was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1979, and in March 1982, Conrail abandoned the former NYC tracks through Mattoon. The rails were picked up a year later.

The former NYC station has since been razed. The platforms remained in place for several years after the tracks were pulled up, but were eventually taken out in the early 2000s to make way for a parking lot for the YMCA.

Last Hurrah for the Prairie Marksman

December 11, 2016

p-marksman-october-3-1981

If you remember Amtrak’s Prairie Marksman you are either an old guy or really know your Amtrak history.

The Chicago-East Peoria, Illinois, train operated for just two years with funding from the State of Illinois.

Low ridership and a state budget crunch would lead to the train being discontinued in early October 1981. The state had considered Nos. 311 and 312 to be experimental.

I rode the last westbound trip to East Peoria on Oct. 3, 1981. For the final trips, Amtrak assigned a Heritage fleet coach which was given a Prairie Marksman drum head. This image was made at Chicago Union Station before the train departed.

The Prairie Marksman name was used for a Toledo, Peoria & Western business car and for a freight rain. The TP&W once used the slogan “The Route of the Prairie Marksman,” but I found no evidence in a search of the Official Guide of the Railways that the TP&W had a passenger train of that name.

Some Lincoln Service Trains, Texas Eagle to be Disrupted on Dec. 12 by Track Work

December 5, 2016

Amtrak’s Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle will be disrupted on Dec. 12, 2016, due to track work.

300px-Lincoln_Service_map.svgSome Lincoln Service passengers will ride chartered buses while the Eagle will be detoured.

The track work is related to the program to upgrade the Chicago-St. Louis route to allow a top speed of 110 miles per hour in some places.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that Trains 300, 301, 302 and 303 will be canceled with bus service replacing all trains (except Train 300) at all stations on the route.

The buses will depart earlier than their respective trains. Trains 304, 305, 306 and 307 will run on their normal schedules.

Passengers ticketed on the Texas Eagle to all intermediate stops between Chicago and St. Louis will have the option of riding on a Lincoln Service train or a chartered bus.

This affects passengers at the Illinois cities of Joliet, Pontiac, Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville and Alton.

Texas Eagle passengers bound for Chicago or St. Louis will remain aboard the train. Amtrak advises that the Eagle might encounter delays of up to 45 minutes traveling on the detour route.