Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Midwest Corridor trains’

Agencies Still Seeking Additional Hiawatha Service

May 21, 2019

Officials of the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin are still pursuing an expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

Both made that point in the wake of the decision by the Illinois Department of Transportation not to support construction of new tracks in the north Chicago suburbs that an earlier study said was an key component to making the expansion feasible.

A 3-mile siding has been proposed to be built in Lake Forest and a 2-mile holding track would be built in Glenview and Lake Forest.

The tracks would enable Canadian Pacific freight trains to get out of the way of Amtrak and Metra trains as the CP trains awaited permission to enter a Union Pacific line used by CP to reach its yard in Bensonville.

The siding had been opposed by residents of the two suburban communities.

Arun Rao, passenger rail program manager of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said his agency met with their Illinois counterparts who reiterated their commitment to expanding service in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

“We need a few more conversations with the railroads to see what direction we’re going and have a better idea of an [implementation] timetable,” he said.

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said his agency will continue to work with WisDOT in its efforts to seek federal infrastructure grants for the expansion and added that IDOT “is a strong supporter of service on this line.”

Hiawatha ridership rose 11 percent in April and is poised to carry 900,000 passengers in fiscal year 2019. The route saw a record  858,000 passengers in FY 2018.

The expansion proposal would increase Hiawatha service from seven to 10 daily roundtrips.

Rao said the equipment needed for the expansion will include a six car trainset for Hiawatha service that will come from an 88-car order for new cars placed with Siemens by the Midwest states that fund Amtrak corridor service.

WisDOT is seeking a federal grant to be used to pay for two other consists.

Rao said there weren’t any details yet on what an alternative plan for the expansion might involved.

He said there is no timeline for the project and there is no danger of losing out on federal money or losing federal approvals.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers included $45 million in bonding authority for the Hiawatha expansion project as part of its 2019-2021 budget plan,

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the growing ridership of the Hiawathas means the current service level cannot sufficiently meet current demand.

IDOT Drops Support of Controversial Siding Plan

May 18, 2019

The Illinois Department of Transportation said it will no longer push for construction of a 2-mile long siding in the Chicago suburbs that is part of a proposal to expand Hiawatha Service.

The announcement was a victory for north suburban Chicago residents, particularly in Glenview and Lake Forest, who have fought the proposed siding.

The siding was intended to be a holding track for Canadian Pacific freight trains waiting for permission to enter a Union Pacific line that enabled CP trains to take a shorter route to the CP yard in Bensonville, Illinois.

In a letter to those communities from acting IDOT Secretary Omer Osman, the agency said it would not agree to the freight holding tracks in either Glenview or Lake Forest, and you have my commitment that IDOT will not be moving forward seeking federal support for this project.”

The Hiawatha expansion plan, which was announced in 2016, would increase the daily frequency of Chicago-Milwaukee trains from seven to 10.

The expansion was a joint project or IDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Both agencies currently fund Hiawatha Service.

Many of the opponents of the siding own homes next to the tracks used by Amtrak, CP and Metra and said idling freight trains would create noise and air pollution that would depress the value of the property as well as hinder the quality of their lives.

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said he agency is seeking other options that would allow the expansion of Hiawatha Service.

“The department is a strong supporter of passenger rail service on this line and will be working with the lead agency on the project, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, on other possible solutions to improve service,” Tidgell said in an emailed statement sent by Tridgell.

He also said IDOT will not oppose any federal grant applications that WisDOT submits related to the Hiawatha expansion.

Arun Rao, passenger rail manager at WisDOT, said the agency is aware of IDOT’s concerns about the proposed siding.

“We are continuing to proceed with plans to increase frequencies with the Hiawatha service and are working with IDOT and the railroads to continue to do that,” he said.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has proposed $45 million in bonding to move Hiawatha expansion ahead.

Those funds would be used as matching funds for federal grants that would cover the remaining project costs.

Tulip Festival Extra Trains Scrapped

May 2, 2019

Amtrak and Michigan Department of Transportation have canceled a planned extra service between Chicago and Holland, Michigan, to take passengers to the latter’s annual tulip festival.

The train had been planned to depart Chicago in the morning and Holland in the afternoon.

An MDOT spokesman said lack of adequate ticket sales led to the cancellation.

“Unfortunately, due to low reservations, we made a business decision with Amtrak to cancel the two special Tulip Time trains for May 4 and May 11,” said MDOT’s Michael Frezell.

He said those who booked travel on the extras will receive full refunds or they can ride Amtrak’s daily Pere Marquette between Chicago and Holland.

However, taking the Pere Marquette to Holland will require an overnight stay.

In fact, it would require a two-night stay because the Pere Marquette departs Chicago at 6:30 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Holland at 10:31 p.m. The return trip leaves Holland at 6:49 a.m.

The tulip festival special had been scheduled to leave Chicago at 7:05 a.m. and depart Holland at 11:28 a.m.

“We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused passengers,” Frezell said.

The Chicago Tribune reported a passenger who had tickets to ride the special received an email from Amtrak saying her trip had been canceled “due to a schedule change.”

Frezel said additional Chicago-Holland tulip festival service has been an on and off proposition over the years.

MDOT also sponsors extra service during the Thanksgiving travel period and until recent years had also underwritten extra trains during the Christmas travel period.

The tulip festival, known as Tulip Time, has been held for 90 years and draws about 500,000 visitors during its nine-day run.

Frezell said it is undecided if MDOT will sponsor future special train service to the tulip festival.

He said that would need to be worked out with Amtrak, the city of Holland and festival organizers.

“If the train does run again we recommend passengers book early,” he said.

INDOT Makes Official What Hoosier State Cities Knew

May 2, 2019

The Indiana Department of Transportation held a conference call this week to inform communities along the route of the Hoosier State what they already knew.

The train will be discontinued on July 1 and INDOT could not promise that the state would do anything to keep the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train going.

The conference call was made a day after Gov. Eric Holcomb approved a two-year $34 billion state budget that did not include any funds to continue supporting the Hoosier State.

The conference call was made to officials in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Rensselaer and Tippecanoe County. Those communities collectively contributed $500,000 annually along with INDOT’s $3 million to pay for the Hoosier State.

Holcomb had recommended earlier this year cutting the state’s funding of the train, citing low ridership.

The House and Senate concurred with amendments to reinstate the funding either voted down or not considered.

“I’m not aware of any new information on the status of the train,” INDOT spokesman Scott Manning said. “Our INDOT team briefed local officials this morning to reiterate that service will continue through June 30, but not beyond that date.”

Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton also said there was nothing new to report.

“There’s no new contract proposal to send to you and we appreciate everyone’s hard work over the past five or six years and that was about it,” Barton said, characterizing INDOT’s remarks.

However, Barton said he disagreed with an INDOT claim that it lacks discretionary funds that could be used to fund the Hoosier State.

He said he wants to meet with other leaders along the route to discuss what to do next to try to save the service.

All communities served by the Hoosier State will continue to have Amtrak service from the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Would Any Message Have Been Successful?

April 24, 2019

The pending discontinue of Amtrak’s Hoosier State has been greeted by the type of hand wringing and indignity that is typical of the rail passenger advocacy community whenever a passenger train is in jeopardy of ending.

It also has triggered the typical overwrought comments of self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives.

Advocates have been sharply critical of the decision by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to end funding for the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train and the refusal of the Indiana General Assembly to reinstate it.

Both the Indiana House and Senate have declined to fund the Hoosier State beyond June 30 and Amtrak has announced that the train will be “suspended” on July 1.

The passenger carrier used “suspended” rather than “discontinued” because at the time the notice was issued there was a slim chance the legislature might funding the Hoosier State after all.

Last Friday the Rail Passengers Association weighed in. RPA described the legislature as “throwing the baby out with the bathwater by cutting their state train’s operating funds.”

After recounting the perils of Pauline struggle the Hoosier State has faced since 2013, RPA commented, “the Indiana state legislature is responding with apathy, doing the shortsighted, pound-foolish thing.”

And what does RPA mean by that? It argues that the Hoosier State saves the state $3,154,432 in road maintenance and congestion costs.

The number was arrived at by figuring that the loss of the train will add 1.6 million vehicle miles traveled to Indiana highways.

If you wish to read further about how this figure was computed, read the RPA post at https://www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/hotline/hotline-1-113/

It is an argument that goes over well with rail passenger advocates and their allies, but does nothing to persuade governors and state legislators to appropriate public funds to underwrite the cost of a four times a week passenger train.

Likewise, the argument that the Chicago-Indianapolis market is ripe for development as a rail corridor “if given a chance” won’t change their minds either.

As they see it, ridership of the Hoosier State has declined by double digits in recent years and the travel time is slower than driving.

The statistic about saving road maintenance and congestion will be dismissed as irrelevant assuming they reached lawmakers at all.

You have to wonder if there are any arguments that rail passenger advocates could have made that would persuaded Holcomb and the legislature to continue Hoosier State funding.

This reality is not unique to Indiana. It is the same dilemma passenger advocates face throughout the United States.

Intercity rail passenger service is not a growth industry. It faces entrenched opposition that does well at hiding its motives even if those can gleaned somewhat by careful study of how transportation policy in this country is and is not made.

Amtrak has been giving signals that its vision for the future is a series of corridors linking urban areas, particularly in the South and West.

Federal law requires that routes of less than 750 miles must be funded by state and/or local governments.

Assuming that Amtrak is serious about developing these corridors – and I’m not sure that it is – it will have to win hearts and minds of legislatures in places that have never funded intercity rail passenger service.

This 750 mile rule is what got the Hoosier State into trouble in the first place. It was discontinued in 1995 but restored in 1998 because Amtrak needed a way of ferrying equipment to and from its Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis that did not delay the tri-weekly Cardinal during its Indianapolis station stop.

RPA probably is correct in saying the Chicago-Indianapolis corridor “may now take a generation to be revealed.”

There is also much truth to RPA’s assertion that the Hoosier State “has been treated like an ugly stepchild  . . . acts like it.”

I don’t want to be too critical of RPA because beyond rhetoric and calls for its members to contact their legislatures it doesn’t have many weapons to overcome the entrenched opposition to its vision for intercity passenger rail.

I’m reminded of a comment made by the president of a Jesuit university where I once taught.

He wanted to get the city to close a street that ran through the campus, but the mayor was opposed.

The president said every time he met with the mayor he would mention closing that street because “the more you hear something the less it seems like a foreign idea.”

Alas, the president died before he could persuade the mayor to close the street and to this day it remains open through the campus.

It may be that it takes repeated exposure for a message to sink in and be taken seriously. But they also say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Maybe if rail advocates keep repeating their vision for intercity rail service it will begin to gain traction. But a generation can be a long time and time is running out for the current generations who have dutifully repeated the “we need passenger trains” message for decades now.

Wolverine to Skip Troy on April 25

April 23, 2019

Track work being performed on the route used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains in Detroit will result in Train 353 missing its scheduled stop in Troy on April 25.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers traveling to or from Troy on No. 353 should instead board or detrain at Royal Oak or Pontiac.

Amtrak will also rebook those who request it for travel on alternative dates or other Wolverine Service trains serving Troy that are not affected by the track work.

Fleeting Moments of Glory

April 15, 2019

With the timetable change of Nov. 14, 1971, Amtrak sought to make a bold statement by operating two pairs of trains between Milwaukee and St. Louis via Chicago Union Station.

It was the first time an entire train was scheduled to operate through CUS.

Nos. 301 and 304, renamed from The Limited to the Prairie State and Nos. 302 and 303, which remained named the Abraham Lincoln, used tracks of the Milwaukee Road between Chicago and Milwaukee, and the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio between Chicago and St. Louis.

Amtrak also gave the trains dome cars to go along with their coaches, parlor cars and dining cars.

The operation was an anomaly in many ways. GM&O locomotives operated the entire route with Milwaukee Road motive power also assigned.

Dining car patrons received an Amtrak menu wrapped in a GM&O cover with orders written on Milwaukee Road checks.

Chefs and waiters from both railroads were assigned to dining car service.

In the view above, it is 8:41 a.m. on Oct. 15, 1972, in Joliet, Illinois, when the Prairie State makes its station stop at Union Station.

GM&O 100A is an E8m that had been built in June 1937 as E3A No. 52 for the Baltimore & Ohio and was just one of six such units built by the then-named Electro Motive Corporation, later the Electro Motive Division of General Motors.

At the time the B&O controlled The Alton Road, which operated between Chicago and St. Louis and in 1940 No. 52 was transferred to that railroad where it pulled Chicago-St. Louis passenger trains.

It became 100A in 1947 when the GM&O gained control of The Alton. It was rebuilt in March 1953 when it became an E8m.

In its early years Amtrak leased motive power from its host railroads although many of those units never made it onto the Amtrak roster, including GM&O No. 100A.

The GM&O merged with the Illinois Central to become the Illinois Central Gulf in August 1972 and No. 100A remained on the roster through August 1974. It was sold for scrap the following March.

Behind No. 100A on this day is Milwaukee Road No. 349, an E9B that did make it onto the Amtrak roster as No. 451. It was retired by Amtrak in October 1975.

The Prairie State did not remain a fixture in Amtrak timetables for very long.

On Oct. 1, 1973, Nos. 301 and 304 were assigned Turboliner equipment and the trains names were dropped.

There is still a No. 301 and 304 in the Amtrak timetable but those trains are known as Lincoln Service. Amtrak never used the name Prairie State again.

Indiana Senate Committee Omits Hoosier State Funding

April 13, 2019

An Indiana Senate committee has concurred with a decision by the House and Gov. Eric Holcomb to end funding for Amtrak’s Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

The committee on Thursday approved its version of the state budget for the next two years and left out funding for Amtrak’s quad-weekly train.

The budget approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee will be voted on next week by the full Senate and is expected to be go to a conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate.

The legislature hopes to adjourn by April 29.

Holcomb had recommended earlier this year paring the state’s annual $3 million for the Hoosier State and the Senate committee declined to reinstate that funding.

The Hoosier State also receives $500,000 annually from various communities served by the train.

State funding will end on June 30 and Amtrak has announced it will suspend operations of the Hoosier State starting July 1.

Passengers already ticketed to ride after that date will be rebooked on Amtrak’s tri-weekly Cardinal or be forced to find alternative transportation.

The Senate committee largely agreed with Holcomb’s list of transportation priorities including completion of Interstate 69 from Martinsville to Evansville, finish rebuilding U.S. 31 into an interstate-quality highway to South Bend, creating trails throughout the state, and paying for new airline service from Indianapolis International Airport.

Missouri River Runner Ridership Down, Revenue Up

April 11, 2019

Ridership of Amtrak’s Missouri River Runners is down in fiscal year 2019 compared to this point in the past fiscal year but the fare box proceeds have been higher.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials said the St. Louis-Kansas City trains have carried 111,891 in FY2019, a drop of 1,400 from this point in FY2018.

Revenue between November 2018 and February 2019 was $3.798 million, up from $3.632 million in FY 2018.

“We were down five percent in the first quarter and only down one percent in the second quarter,” said Bryan Ross, MoDOT railroad operations manager. “We had a good winter. Each month, passenger numbers were up. We were down July through October due primarily to low gas prices and work on the tracks, which led to freight train congestion.”

The top four stations by percentage of ridership were Kansas City, St. Louis, Kirkwood and Jefferson City.

At the latter station, ridership between November and February was 25,491 compared to 25,197 during the same period in 2018.

Ross said equipment assigned to the trains is being refurbished, a process that is expected to be completed in early 2020. The work includes new paint, upholstery and carpeting.

“Amtrak has 80 passenger cars in their Midwest fleet, and Missouri pools with other Midwest states to use those cars,” Ross said. “As those cars get refreshed, they cycle into our system.”

Six cars are typically assigned to the River Runners. Ross said new passenger cars are expected to reach the trains by summer 2020.

“Once the cars are manufactured, they have to go through six months of testing before going into service,” he said.

The new cars are expected to offer smoother rides and have new seats and safety measures.

Each car will have lifts to allow people in wheelchairs easier access.

Ross said ridership numbers are not yet available for March when the River Runners were suspended for a while due to an increase in freight traffic on the host railroad Union Pacific.

UP rerouted some traffic to its St. Louis-Kansas City line after flooding of the Missouri River closed some routes in Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa.

During the service suspension, Amtrak provided chartered buses to all River Runner stations.

“It will be interesting to see what those numbers show, but we usually have a very solid customer base,” Ross said.

Amtrak Said it Hasn’t Given Up on Hoosier State

April 11, 2019

Amtrak isn’t giving up on the Hoosier State and said its announcement that it will suspend the Chicago-Indianapolis train on July 1 should be viewed at this point as a 90-day notice.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Lafyette (Indiana) Journal & Courier that the carrier continues to work to try to keep the quad-weekly train operating.

“It means we’re not certain there will be service after July 1,” Magliari said. “What would you do if you were us? Would you merrily take reservations? Or would you be transparent to customers? We’re being transparent to customers.”

He was referring to Amtrak’s announcement that it will no long accept reservations or sell tickets for travel on the Hoosier State after July 1.

The 500 passengers who’ve already made reservations or purchased tickets for travel after July 1 will be accommodated on Amtrak’s tri-weekly Cardinal, which uses the same route as the Hoosier State between Chicago and Indianapolis.

However, Amtrak is also warning that some of those passengers may need to find alternative transportation arrangements.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb removed funding for the Hoosier State from his budget request sent to the Indiana General Assembly early this year.

Thus far the House has gone along with that although the Senate has not yet acted on the budget.

News reports have indicated the prospects for the Senate restoring the funding appear to be bleak.

In the current fiscal year, Indiana is paying $3 million to Amtrak to operate the Hoosier State with another $500,000 coming from communities served by the train.

Magliari said Amtrak is still reworking the schedule for the Hoosier State to cut 15 minutes from the five- running time.

It has said a new schedule is expected to be implemented in late April.