Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Black Hawk’

Group Seeks Study to Restore Service to Dubuque

December 1, 2020

A group based in Dubuque, Iowa, is hoping to return Amtrak service to their city by piggybacking onto a proposed new service between Chicago and Rockford, Illinois.

Amtrak’s Black Hawk ran between Chicago and Dubuque in the late 1970s and early 1980s before being discontinued in 1981 during a State of Illinois budget crunch.

A committee of Dubuque government and economic officials along with officials in three Illinois counties are undertaking the study.

Their hope is to come up with a proposal that would extend the Rockford service to Dubuque.

The group is seeking a consultant to conduct the study, which is expected to take 14 months.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has been working for the past several years on reviving service to Rockford.

IDOT hired a manager for the project earlier this year. The state allocated $275 million in the fiscal year 2020 budget to pay for planning work for the project.

The Iowa-Illinois group’s study would examine such matters as a route, station locations, infrastructure needs, and costs and revenue potential.

Proposals are expected to be received in December and a contract awarded in January.

Illinois Funding to Help Amtrak Services

June 13, 2019

Amtrak travelers in Illinois will benefit from a recently enacted capital spending program approved by the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. J. B. Pritzker, but it will be years before those benefits can be seen.

There remains much work to be done on engineering studies and land acquisition. Some of those efforts have been on hold since 2015.

In some cases, negotiations have yet to begin between the Illinois Department of Transportation and a host railroad.

That includes a project to improve on-time performance and reliability of Amtrak service using Canadian National tracks between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

An IDOT spokesman told Trains magazine that his agency needs to agree on the details with CN, but the project is expected to include some sidings, universal crossovers and other unspecified improvements.

The capital project has earmarked $100 million to improve service on the route used by the City of New Orleans and the state-funded Saluki and Illini.

Amtrak sued CN in 2012 over poor on-time performances of its trains in the Chicago-Carbondale corridor, but that litigation has become bogged down in the courts.

Trains reported that IDOT and CN have already held talks about how to alleviate some sources of delay to Amtrak trains.

IDOT and Union Pacific also need to agree on the nuts and bolts of what it will take to implement a long-discussed plan to reroute Amtrak and UP freight trains onto a grade-separated double-track line in Springfield.

Amtrak’s Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains now use a former Gulf Mobile & Ohio route that runs parallel to Third Street and which has numerous grade crossings.

The Illinois capital program has set aside $122 million to move Amtrak and its Springfield station to a corridor along 10th Street that will also be used by Norfolk Southern.

One downside of the move is that the Amtrak station would be further from the heart of downtown Springfield and the statehouse complex.

The capital funding program is expected to give a boost to two proposed new Amtrak routes.

One involves service between Chicago and Rockford using Metra’s Milwaukee West District to Big Timber Road west of downtown Elgin and thence over a UP line via Belvedere to Rockford.

A connection needs to be built at Big Timber to connect the Metra and UP routes.

The IDOT spokesman told Trains that there is no federal funding or service frequency plan for the service.

“The new infusion of funding will require us to re-engage with UP, Amtrak, and the local communities on scope, budget, and schedule after the hiatus,” the spokesman said, making reference to a decision by former Gov. Bruce Rauner to revoke funding approved earlier for development of the route.

Another new Amtrak route would link Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The City of Moline, Illinois, has created a station for the service, but engineering and property acquisition needs to be done on a connection near Wyanet, Illinois.

The plan is to use the BNSF route now used by Amtrak’s Illinois Zephyr, Carl Sandburg and California Zephyr, to Wyanet and then switch to the Iowa Interstate for the remainder of the trip into Moline.

“Negotiations with the railroad will proceed on the construction, operating, and maintenance agreements,” the IDOT spokesman said, noting that IDOT and Iowa Interstate have yet to discuss “scope, budget, and timelines” that must precede an environmental assessment and preliminary engineering.
The capital funding program allocated $225 million to match a route-specific federal stimulus grant that is set to expire on June 30, 2019,

However, IDOT is talking with the FRA about extending the deadline for the grant.

IDOT had not given a timeline for when the service to Rockford or Moline would begin.

Rockford was once served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Dubuque, Iowa, Black Hawk, before it was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1981.

Although Amtrak has never served Moline, the former Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific offered intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and nearby Rock Island, Illinois, until Jan. 1, 1979.

Huntley Wants to be Stop on Rockford Route

January 29, 2019

Officials in Huntley, Illinois, are pushing to be made a station stop for a proposed Amtrak route between Chicago and Rockford, Illinois.

They spoke at a Jan. 15 meeting in Rockford sponsored by the Rail Alliance Initiative for Northern Illinois that was attended by two Amtrak officials.

One of the potential routes that would be used for the service involves Union Pacific-owned tracks that pass through Huntley.

The other route passes to the south on tracks owned by Canadian National that were used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Dubuque, Iowa, Black Hawk, when it operated between 1974 and 1981.

That train stopped in Rockford.

Derrick James, senior manager of governmental affairs in Amtrak’s Chicago office, said Amtrak hopes to be able to make the trip between Chicago and Rockford in less than 90 minutes.

“One of the challenges I’ve had working with legislators is distinguishing between commuter rail and intercity passenger rail,” James said. “Amtrak’s charter is to run intercity trains . . . and our experience is that passenger service works between towns of good size. The train needs to get you as quickly as possible from Rockford to Chicago.”

There have been proposals in past years to link Huntley with Chicago by commuter rail agency Metra.

But Metra has been reluctant to build a connection at its Big Timber station in Elgin to the UP line that passes through Huntley.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has projected that it would cost $233 million to extend service beyond Elgin to Marengo, Huntley, Belvidere and Rockford by rebuilding the Union Pacific tracks and connecting them with the Metra Milwaukee West tracks at Big Timber Road.

James said having one stop between Chicago and Rockford would make the most sense for Amtrak and if that is the case it would likely be in Belvidere.

The push to revive Amtrak service to Rockford has been several years in the making.

In 2007 Amtrak conducted a feasibility that estimated the cost of reinstating the Black Hawk at $32 million to $55 million.

Falling Ridership Doesn’t Deter Iowa Rail Advocates

November 26, 2018

Despite falling Amtrak ridership in the state, Iowa rail passenger advocates are pressing ahead with proposals for additional service.

The advocates have been pushing for intercity rail service to Iowa City and Des Moines, both cities that have never had rail passenger service in the Amtrak era.

The last trains to those cities were operated by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific and had been discontinued before Amtrak began operations on May 1, 1971.

The last train to Des Moines was the May 31, 1970, trip of the Corn Belt Rocket between Chicago and Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Rock Island continued passenger trains through late 1978 between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois.

The Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers wants to see new routes established between Chicago and Omaha via Des Moines and Iowa City; and a Minneapolis/St. Paul-Kansas City route via Des Moines.

Since 1981, Iowa’s only intercity passenger service has been to the southern third of the state where Amtrak stops at six stations.

Five of those stations are served by the Chicago-Emeryville California Zephyr while a sixth station, Fort Madison, is a stop for the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Between 1974 and 1981, Amtrak’s Black Hawk originated and terminated in Dubuque, Iowa.

That service was largely paid for by the State of Illinois, which funded it to East Dubuque, Illinois.

But the lack of service facilities in East Dubuque resulted in the train crossing the Mississippi River to Dubuque.

Ridership figures provided by Amtrak show that 57,955 boarded its trains in Iowa during fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 20.

That’s a decline of more than 4 percent from FY 2017 and nearly 16 percent off Iowa’s record year for Amtrak ridership of 68,744 in 2010.

During FY 2018, Amtrak said ridership in Iowa by station was Burlington, 8,668; Mount Pleasant, 12,584; Ottumwa: 11,043; Osceola, 16,064; Creston, 3,745; and Fort Madison, 5,891.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Des Moines Register  that problems with on-time performance and stable gasoline prices at less than $3 a gallon have probably hurt Amtrak ridership in Iowa.

“Our competition, for the most part, is driving, and as people buy newer cars that get better mileage, part of me wonders if people aren’t finding themselves driving because their cars are higher performing than they were 10 years ago,” Magliari said.

The Iowa Department of Transportation said traffic volume on the state’s highways has risen in recent years as use of public transportation has fallen.

Christopher Krebill, interim president of the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers, argues that Amtrak also is to blame for falling ridership.

He said the passenger carrier has removed all of its ticket agents from Iowa.

“There are still people who come into the station wanting to buy a ticket and who maybe have never ridden Amtrak before,” Krebill said. “When there is no ticket agent, there is really no one there to answer questions and tell people how to get on a train and where to get on a train.”

Landing additional trains is likely to Iowa going to require state funding, which might be a hard sell.

Iowa policy makers have rebuffed previous proposals to fund service to the state from Chicago, including extending the Black Hawk west of Dubuque.

In the meantime, Illinois officials have resumed work toward creating new services that will come close to Iowa, including a Chicago-Quad Cities route and a resumption of service on the former Black Hawk route.

Krebill said there is interest in Iowa in passenger rail, especially in central Iowa, but that will require support from the state’s department of transportation and state legislators.

New Governor Raises Hopes for Reviving Illinois Service

November 20, 2018

Northern Illinois rail passenger advocates are looking to a new governor to help jump start efforts to reinstate intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa, and between Chicago and Rockford, Illinois.

J.B. Pritzker recently ousted incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner whose administration had not been supportive of the proposed services, which were announced in 2014.

Also giving supporters hope is a favorable vote on an advisory referendum to create a station in Rockford for the proposed service.

A Rockford area state lawmaker, though, still sees a struggle to get the service going.

“It’s gonna be expensive – it’s gonna be a major effort, and if there’s not the political will to do it locally, then we should not head down that path,” said State Senator Steve Stadelman.

Stadelman, though, called the election of Pritzker a new opportunity.

He said he plans to meet with local leaders to gauge their support for the rail service.

Stadelman noted that the new governor has talked about the importance of transportation infrastructure. “I hope he’s willing to take a look at the idea,” Stadelman said.

During the Nov. 6 election, voters in Rockford and Boone and Winnebago counties gave 79 percent approval to the referendum question.

During the administration of former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, the estimated cost of the proposed service was put at $230 million.

The service would serve a region that has lacked intercity rail service for several decades.

Until 1978, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific operated a train known as the Quad City Rocket between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois. That train ran for the final time on Dec. 31.

Amtrak operated the Black Hawk between Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa, between Feb. 17, 1974, and Sept. 30, 1981.

The Black Hawk served Rockford and Freeport and ended during a state budget crunch.

In recent years, the Illinois Department of Transportation has studied reviving Amtrak service to Northwest Illinois using portions of the former Black Hawk and Quad City Rocket routes.

A new station was built in Moline, Illinois, which includes a hotel and shops.

“We’re hoping with the new administration that they’ll put a higher emphasis on passenger rail and keep it moving,” said Ray Forsythe, planning and development director with the City of Moline. We’re pretty excited.”

Funding for the revival of Northwest Illinois intercity rail service was included in the 2009 capital bill, the last one adopted by the Illinois General Assembly.

Lawmakers earmarked $150 million for Amtrak expansion for both the Quad Cities route and service to Dubuque via Rockford, along with money for rail upgrades for the existing line between Chicago and St. Louis.

Initially, the state planned to launch service to Rockford and extend it later to Dubuque.

Service to the Quad Cities was to use a BNSF route already used by other Amtrak trains to Wyanet, Illinois, and then switch to the Iowa Interstate, which owns the former CRI&P tracks.

The Federal Railroad Administration awarded $177.3 million in 2011 to IDOT to complete planning, environmental review, design and construction of the Quad Cities line, with the goal of having two round trips daily.

But Rauner’s inauguration in 2015 resulted in the Northwest Illinois rail service projects being put on hold.

In late 2016, IDOT resumed talks with the Iowa Interstate about using its tracks.

The two parties are discussing track upgrades, including installation of positive train control.

Also on the docket is the connection between the BNSF and Iowa Interstate lines.

However, negotiations with Union Pacific to use its tracks for the Rockford service have not resumed.

IDOT officials have not given a timeline as to when the services might be launched.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the carrier is interested in operating the Rockford and the Quad Cities routes because studies have found both have high potential for passengers.

Officials say that key to getting the routes started will be passage of another capital bill in the legislature.

A spokeswoman for Pritzker said he is committed to “working across the aisle” to get that done so that it can be used to attract federal grant money.

However, rail advocate will be competing for funding with such other infrastructure needs as roads, water systems and transit agencies.

Gloomy Morning in Dubuque

September 9, 2016

black-hawk-x

It was a cloudy, foggy and all-around gloomy morning in Dubuque, Iowa, when I arrived at the former Illinois Central station to board the Chicago-bound Black Hawk.

I had driven through the night from my home in downstate Illinois to reach Dubuque to get the mileage on a route I’d never ridden before. I didn’t have much time to do that for Nos. 371 and 371 were to be discontinued at the end of September 1981. That was about two weeks away when I rode the Black Hawk.

It was a Saturday morning and my hazy recollection is that I arrived well before departure time. When it got light enough I made this photograph, which is the only image that I have of the Black Hawk.

The station still has Illinois Central prominently carved in stone on the side, which is a reminder of a time when trains with such names as Hawkeye and Land ‘O Corn used to call here.

The Black Hawk had a short, but colorful life. It started with Rail Diesel equipment that was trouble-prone. Then it received an array of equipment including a consist that had bullet nose observation cars on each end of the train.

It must have been fun to photograph the Black Hawk back in those days. Eventually, Amtrak received enough Amfleet equipment to assign to the route and the electric equipment assignments ended.

On this day No. 372 has the standard Midwest corridor consist of the time of an F40PH locomotive and a pair of Amfleet cars, one of them a food service car.

The return trip to Dubque that night, though, had a P30CH locomotive on the point. I had booked a motel room for Saturday night in Dubuque so I could return home on Sunday in daylight.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the trip or what I did in Chicago during my layover. I am grateful now, though, that I made at least one photo of the Black Hawk.

Officials Ponder Site for Rockford Amtrak Depot

September 3, 2014

Amtrak’s proposed service to Rockford, Ill., was the subject of a recent town meeting that yielded the news that the Rockford station might be located on Union Pacific tracks across the Rock River and closer to downtown.

The initial plan had been to use a temporary platform along the UP east of the river and to build a permanent station west of the river on Canadian National tracks.

Conceptual drawings of that station showed a ground-level structure to be built at the site of the former Illinois Central station.

However, officials during the hearing conceded that the station selection process has yet to be finished. State officials want the single daily Chicago-Rockford roundtrip service to begin by the end of 2015.

Rockford has been without intercity passenger rail service since Amtrak’s Chicago-Dubuque, Iowa, Blackhawk ended in 1981.

Although officials are saying they want to build a multimodal station somewhere along the UP’s elevated right-of-way, the location, design, and scope of the proposed facility has yet to be determined.

A public hearing will be held on Sept. 3 to give Rockford area residents a chance to discuss the station plans. The hearings will be conducted from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Rockford Park District’s Webbs Norman Center, 401 S. Main St.

The public forum will have an open house format with interactive displays. The city of Rockford has created a website at rockfordconnections.mindmixer.com

The Illinois Department of Transportation and Amtrak earlier agreed to use UP tracks to reach Rockford rather than the ex-IC route owned by CN that the Black Hawk had used.

Officials say building the Rockford station on the former Chicago & North Western route into Rockford is advantageous because much of it is a grade-separated right-of-way that has few highway crossings.

This would permit higher speeds and would not require building a connecting track to the CN.

Officials say this might allow the service to start sooner because of a lack of agreement with CN to extend the service to Dubuque, Iowa.

A station site close to downtown, though, would likely be more expensive than if it were located on at-grade trackage further west.

Observers believe that getting more than a temporary platform completed by the end of 2015 might be difficult to achieve.

At the recent public hearing, Belvidere Mayor Mike Chamberlain noted that plans for his city’s station and a commitment to install 4 miles of a second main track are set.

Streets, parking lots, and pedestrian crossings will be reconfigured to allow construction on the north side of the single track across from Belvidere city hall between State and Main streets.

IDOT officials are still pondering which of three Metra stations around Elgin, Ill., will be designated as the Chicago-Rockford service stop.

The current station designated as “Elgin” is closest to the center of town yet lacks parking, National Street is further east but has some parking, and Big Timber Road west of downtown has ample parking but is not served by Metra on weekends.

Passenger Train Journal editor and former Rockford Mike Schafer urged IDOT and Amtrak to establish a second Rockford area station to serve the metro area’s substantial and growing east side population

However, IDOT Passenger Rail Engineer Elliott Ramos said there are no plans to add a second stop in Rockford.