Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Hiawatha service’

Amtrak Service Cuts Just Keep Coming

March 19, 2020

Amtrak service to Michigan will be reduced to two pairs of trains and service cuts will be imposed on three corridor routes in Illinois.

However, no service reductions are being planned for the long-distance network Amtrak spokesman Marc Magilari told Trains magazine.

Michigan trains that will continue to operate are the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water while Wolverine Service will consist of No 352, which departs Chicago at 1:25 p.m. and arrives in Pontiac at 8:32 p.m. and No. 351, which departs Pontiac at 5:50 a.m. and arrives in Chicago at 10:32 a.m.

Canceled are the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette and two Wolverine Service roundtrips.

On the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini will continue to operate while their counterparts are canceled.

The corridor is also served by the City of New Orleans which provides service northbound in the early morning hours and southbound in late evening.

Between Chicago and Quincy the Carl Sandburg will be canceled while the Illinois Zephyr will continue to operate.

Part of the Chicago-Quincy corridor will continue to be served by the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief.

The Chicago-Milwaukee corridor will be reduced to one Hiawatha Service roundtrip with the Empire Builder picking up some of the slack.

The one Chicago to Milwaukee Hiawatha will depart at 5:08 p.m. for a 6:45 p.m. arrival in Milwaukee.

There will also be a late night bus from Chicago to Milwaukee that leaves Chicago at 9:15 p.m.

The Milwaukee to Chicago Hiawatha will depart at 8:05 a.m. and arriving in Chicago at 9:34 a.m.

The Empire Builder will handle local passengers at all stops, including at Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and Milwaukee airport station, both of which Nos. 7 and 8 normally do not serve.

However, the Empire Builder is an afternoon operation in both directions between Chicago and Milwaukee so passengers will not be able to travel northbound in the morning or southbound in the evening.

On the Chicago-St. Louis corridor the southbound 7 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. departures from Chicago will be cut.

Lincoln Service trains will continue to depart Chicago at 9:25 a.m. and 7 p.m.

From St. Louis, Lincoln Service trains will depart at 4:35 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

The Texas Eagle will also continue operating in the corridor. Canceled are northbound Lincoln Service departures from St. Louis at 6:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.

For now Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City will continue operating on its current level of service of two roundtrips per day.

On the West Coast, the Capitol Corridor route will see a reduction from 15 to five weekday departures in each direction between Sacramento and Emeryville, California, effective March 23.

This does not include the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight, which uses part of the corridor.

Service reductions on the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner corridors have not yet been announced.

Cascades Service is no longer operating north of Seattle and will see the last round trip of the day canceled.

A presentation by the Chaddick Institute at DePaul University in Chicago said Amtrak’s current bookings are down 60 percent, future reservations are off 80 percent, and passenger cancellations are up 400 percent compared with the same period last year.

In a related development the Trump administration has proposed that Amtrak receive $500 million in emergency aid.

The carrier had said it needs $1 billion to cover losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding is part of a supplemental appropriation proposal the administration has sent to Congress totaling $45.8 billion.

Amtrak Continues to Pare Service

March 19, 2020

It remains to be seen if Amtrak will suspend or reduce the operations of its long-distance trains, but an online report quoting a union official indicated that onboard service cuts are coming.

The official from the SMART Transportation Division said he has been told to expect sleeping car service to be suspended and dining removed from some trains.

However, the official said he has not been advised by the carrier if it plans to suspend any long-distance trains.

Amtrak has suspended several Midwest corridor trains including three roundtrips in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor and one roundtrip between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette has also been suspended.

Service reductions for corridors in Illinois are expected but as of early Thursday morning had yet to be formally announced by Amtrak.

Amtrak operates three corridors in Illinois linking Chicago with Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis.

The Chicago-Carbondale corridor has two roundtrips plus the Chicago-New Orleans City of Orleans.

The Chicago-Quincy corridor has two roundtrips while the Chicago-St. Louis corridor has four roundtrips plus the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

An online report indicated that effective March 21 Chicago-Carbondale service will be reduced to the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini.

A similar service pattern is expected to be implemented for the Chicago-Quincy corridor with service to Chicago in the morning and returning service in the evening by trains 381 and 381 respectively.

In both corridors, the remaining trains could be covered with one equipment set.

The Empire Builder is also expected to begin carrying local passengers to and from Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee Airport station. Neither are regular stops for Nos. 7 and 8.

The New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian also has been suspended along with all Keystone Service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Service reductions have been made in all other eastern corridors as well.

In a service advisory Amtrak said some stations that have ticket agents may not be staffed for all train arrivals and departure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amtrak said passengers should proceed to the platform for boarding if they encounter an unstaffed station that normally has agents directing the boarding process.

Other online reports indicated that Cascade Service between Portland and Eugene, Oregon, will be reduced to one roundtrip with trains 500 and 505 providing the service.

Midwest Corridor Services Being Curtailed

March 18, 2020

Amtrak has announced its first service reductions due to the COVID-19 virus to effect service in the Midwest.

Effective March 19 the carrier will cancel the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette and reduce service on the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) route from three daily roundtrips to two.

Service on the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service route will also be reduced to four daily roundtrips.

Wolverine Service trains will leave Chicago in early morning and early afternoon with the evening trip canceled.

Westbound trains will depart from Pontiac in early and mid morning with the evening trip to Chicago canceled.

Hiawatha Service will depart from Chicago at 6:10 a.m., 8:25 a.m., 3:15 p.m., 5:08 p.m. and from Milwaukee at 6:15 a.m., 8:05 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7:35 p.m.

There will be an 11:40 p.m. bus from Chicago to Milwaukee but not returning bus service is shown on the Amtrak website.

Amtrak earlier had announced that the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian would be canceled between March 19-29.

Other eastern corridor service has also been curtailed with some trains operating on shortened routes.

Freight Bypass Might Benefit Amtrak in Milwaukee

March 6, 2020

A proposal to build a freight railroad bypass route in Milwaukee may benefit Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service route.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation recently received a $26.6 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration that will be applied toward creating of the bypass.

WisDOT officials say moving Canadian Pacific freight trains to the route could create a faster flow of Amtrak traffic by diverting them from passing through the downtown Milwaukee station.

The double-track bypass would extend to Menomonee Valley’s Muskego yard and give CP the option of routing trains through the yard instead of through the Amtrak station.

CP trains could also be held in the yard rather than holding on the mainline tracks used by Amtrak.

The bypass project is expected to cost $55 million.

State officials also say the bypass could be a key to increasing the frequency of service on the Hiawatha route from seven to eight.

Wisconsin would like to see Hiawatha service eventually increase to 10 daily roundtrips.

The eighth Hiawatha roundtrip won’t start until WisDOT, CP, Chicago rail commuter agency Metra and the Illinois Department of Transportation finish work on studies of the expansion, including an environmental impact statement.

WisDOT last year received a $2.69 million grant to pay for upgrading the signal system on two miles of track at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

The route hosts 20 freight trains and 16 passenger trains including Hiawatha Service and the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The improved signal system is expected to increase train speeds in the affected area.

Glenview Officials Sees Holding Track as Dead

January 2, 2020

A high-ranking Glenview, Illinois, official has pronounced a key component of a plan to expand Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee as dead.

Don Owen, the deputy village manager in the north suburban Chicago community, said that although work on the Hiawatha expansion continues he doesn’t expect a holding siding for freight trains that was part of the plan to move forward.

Glenview and other nearby suburban officials fought the siding, which would have been used as a two-mile holding track for Canadian Pacific freight trains waiting to gain access to a Union Pacific route that CP uses to reach its yard in Bensenville.

The siding would have been built between Glenview and Lake Forest and aroused the ire of residents living near the tracks who expressed fears that it would have cause problems with noise and air pollution that would have lowered their property values.

Owen spoke after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker came to Glenview last month for what was descried as a private “meet-and-greet” with village officials, state representatives and community action groups who fought the siding.

In a news release, Glenview officials said they wanted to “show appreciation” for the governor and his administration for “reviewing this project, understanding our concerns and agreeing to remove the holding tracks both from Glenview and Lake Forest.”

Last May, Omar Osman, the acting secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, told state representatives from Glenview and Deerfield that the agency would not support construction of the siding as part of the Hiawatha expansion.

IDOT would therefore not seek federal support for it.

Hiawatha Service is funded by IDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

The latter has taken the lead on the efforts to expand Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 roundtrips a day.

In 2018, Amtrak’s Hiawathas carried more than 858,000 passengers and WisDOT officials have said that some trains operating during peak travel times are standing room only.

The line through Glenview is used by Amtrak, CP and Chicago commuter rail operator Metra.

CP has said that unless a holding siding is built it won’t support the Hiawatha expansion.

“We believe that from the standpoint of Illinois components, this is the final say for the projects, that there will be no holding tracks in (the proposal),” Owen said.

Party Time on the 5:08 to Milwaukee

December 21, 2019

Some passengers who ride Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains on weekdays are commuters and they’ve gotten to know each other quite well.

They see each other standing on the platform at the same time every morning and afternoon and sitting in the same seats in the same cars.

That leads them to strike up conversations, share laughs, talk about family and even create their own Facebook page.

They know each other well enough to celebrate together birthdays, retirements and holidays.

“You tend to bond with people you see every day standing on the platform shivering at 6 a.m.” said Carol Abing, who has commuted from Milwaukee to Chicago for her job for nine years.

Todd Allen of West Allis, Wisconsin, agreed. “You spend three hours a day with these people, so you get to know them,” he said. “They become friends and family, both on and off the train.”

Allen has worked in Chicago for 30 years and met a lot of people on the rails during that time.

The website On Milwaukee recently profiled the good times these passengers have had over the years.

That included their recent annual party to celebrate the December holidays that was held as they rode home.

It took place on the train that left Chicago Union Station at 5:08 p.m. and included eating, drinking and laughing that got under way in the café car before the conducted had given the highball to leave the station.

In early May the group holds a Cinco de Mayo party on the same train that features blender drinks. Once there even a pinata.

The parties are held with the approval of Amtrak. “The conductors know we aren’t going to cause any problems or get too wild,” said Allen, who served as the bartender for the party along with his daughter, Rachel.

“It’s one of the high points of my year,” said Rachel Allen, who lives and works in Milwaukee. “I get to spend time with my dad and make sure all these fantastic human beings have a bartender so they can spend more time with each other.”

Many of the party goers sipped SouBoxer’s ready-to-pour Old Fashioned drinks, but shots of Tully and seasonal cans of Miller Lite beer also were consumed in red plastic cups.

There was also taco dip, pizza and homemade cookies to eat.

Sandy Ross of Milwaukee, collected signatures and donations for the conductors’ holiday cards, a tradition of giving cash-filled envelope to the 13 conductors working the route as a gate agent I Chicago.

“This is the most generous group you will ever meet. We raised over $900 for the conductors. They take good care of us, and they put up with our shenanigans,” Ross said.

As the train raced south of Milwaukee the party crowd switched to clean up mode to return the café car to condition it was in when they boarded.

It was then that Santa Clause appeared to hand out boxes of “Naughty Bag” condoms.

Playing Santa was Gary Hollander who has commuted to Chicago from Fox Point,

Wisconsin, for 20 years. It was his first time playing Santa.

“I wasn’t willing to wear a fat suit, but otherwise I’m fine being Jewish Santa handing out condoms,” said Hollander who works as a consultant for a non-profit group working to reduce sexually-transmitted infections and teen pregnancy.

The Hiawatha commuter pay $416 a week or about 5,000 a year to ride Amtrak.

“I look at it as a car payment,” Ross said. “Because I live in Downtown Milwaukee and work in Downtown Chicago, I don’t need to own a car.”

He used to drive to work but began taking the train because it was easier. “Driving to work is more work for people like us,” Allen said.

The train can have drawbacks including  delays and mechanical malfunctions. Allen said those who miss the 5:08 p.m. train are stuck in Chicago until the next train leaves at 8 p.m.

The other reality of commuting by rail is a 14-hour work days.

Yet many said they wouldn’t want to live in Chicago because it is too expensive.

Shea Royal said Milwaukee has everything Chicago has and is smaller and easier to get around.

And knowing people on the train has helped him cope with the time spent away from his family.

He said he met the Milwaukee commuters during their last party.

“I was looking for a place to get some water and walked through their party car. I asked them for a cup for water and they said I absolutely should not drink the water on the train because it’s nasty. So they offered me beer and Tully instead. Basically this group saved my life,” he said.

Brian Bell will be retiring soon after working in Chicago for 24 years for the Environmental Protection Agency.

“And I’ll be back on the train occasionally after I retire,” he said. “For the parties.”

Once Upon a Time in Sturtevant

December 16, 2019

Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains once stopped in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, at the former Milwaukee Road Station.

That was still the case on May 2006 when I was last there. Shown is a Milwaukee-bound Hiawatha with the Milwaukee Road station in the background.

That station was built in 1901 and featured an octagon-shaped tower at one end that can be seen above the train. The station was L-shaped.

The Milwaukee Road discontinued passenger service to Sturtevant in the mid 1960s. It was revived with the coming of Amtrak in order to provide intercity rail service to nearby Racine, Wisconsin.

Amtrak opened a new station in Sturtevant in August 2006 that resembled the old depot except it was built of brick.

The Milwaukee Road station was in danger of being razed but was rescued and moved in four pieces in October 2009 to a new site for restoration.

Illinois Gov. Meets With Opponents of Adding Holding Tracks to Enable Expansion of Hiawatha Service

December 16, 2019

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker met last week in Glenview with a group of residents who are opposed to a plan to build a holding track for freight trains in the north Chicago suburbs.

The track is a component of a plan being pushed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to expand the number of Hiawatha Service trains from seven to 10.

Canadian Pacific has insisted on the holding track before it will agree to consider hosting additional Amtrak trains in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

The private meeting was between Pitzker and Glenview and Lake Forest municipal leaders, state representatives and senators, a Cook County commissioner and an activist from Glenview’s Alliance to Control Train Impacts on Our Neighborhoods.

Home owners along the tracks used by CP, Amtrak and Metra commuter trains have argued that freight trains might sit for long periods of time and cause noise and air pollution.

The residents also argue their property values would be adversely affected.

CP trains might have to sit on the holding track before being permitted onto a Union Pacific line that CP uses to reach its yard in Bensonville.

The acting Illinois Secretary of Transportation had written in a May 2019 letter to State Sens. Laura Fine  and Julie Morrison that the Illinois Department of Transportation no longer supports construction of the holding track.

IDOT and WisDOT fund Hiawatha Service, which is operated by Amtrak.

The Hiawatha expansion plan dates to 2012. Various plans have been presented that called for creating holding tracks between Willow Road and West Lake Avenue in Glenview and holding track in Northbrook, Deerfield, Lake Forest, Rondout and Bannockburn.

Some of those planned sidings have been dropped, but the sidings in in Glenview and Lake Forest remain under discussion.

Glenview officials have been particularly outspoken against creating the holding tracks and have challenged a preliminary environmental assessment on the grounds that it failed to adequately take into account such issues as air pollution, noise, vibration and traffic impacts.

The village of Glenview has approved spending $400,000 for additional studies and lobbying efforts.

Glenview officials have also called for Amtrak to add additional passenger cars to existing Hiawatha trains rather than increasing the number of trains operating in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

WisDOT officials have said the additional trains are needed because of crowding aboard existing trains and expected passenger growth in the corridor, which also hosts the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Glenview is a station stop for all Amtrak trains operating between Chicago and Milwaukee, including the Empire Builder.

Village officials have also expressed the view that Amtrak its state partners could acquire rail cars with additional capacity, a move that WisDOT and IDOT are making by buying new cars that are expected to go into service as early as 2020.

New Hiawatha Equipment Will Increase Train Capacity

December 16, 2019

The new equipment that Wisconsin expects to buy for use in the Hiawatha Service corridor will be phased into service between 2020 and 2024.
The equipment will expand the capacity of the route where during the peak summer months some trains operate with as many as 50 standees.

“The Hiawatha line currently experiences standing room only conditions on an average of 19 trains per month, mostly on weekdays,” said a report from the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, a nonpartisan state agency that provides the legislature with program information and analysis.

The new equipment will cost $39 million with a federal grant covering some of the cost.

Arun Rao, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation passenger rail manager, said the existing service uses six passenger cars and a cab car.

Rao said the existing train consists can seat up to 408 passengers, while the most current estimates for the new cars — which still have some equipment in the design phase — are 468 to 475 passenger seats.

The existing cars are 30 to 40 years old and approaching the end of their life cycle fiscal bureau report said.

“The new trains will help address overcrowding, but not solve the issue completely as we do have trains with 500-plus passengers,” Rao said.

“Ridership has seen sharp increases — 4.5 percent year-over-year for the federal fiscal year. If that rate continues, although the new equipment will help significantly, we may continue to have capacity issues.”

The Hiawatha Service is funded by WisDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

IDOT passenger rail and transit communications manager Scott Speegle said the new cars will have wider aisles and built-in wheelchair lifts.

The equipment assigned to Hiawatha Service at present uses wheelchair lifts on the platform at each station.

Speegle said the cars will be paired in sets of two, which will allow for easier movement between the two cars for passengers with disabilities.

Each new car will have one wheelchair space but the armrest at each seat will go up thus allowing passengers in a wheelchair the opportunity to transfer to any seat in the car, if they are able.

Rao said restroom facilities aboard the cars will be fully ADA compliant.

The Wisconsin purchase is in addition to new passengers being acquired and paid for by IDOT.

Illinois is buying 88 passenger rail cars for Amtrak Midwest corridor service at a cost of $112.6 million.

Speegle said six of those cars are earmarked for assigned to Hiawatha Service.

He said the cars are expected to be delivered between 2020 and 2023.

In fiscal year 2019 Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains carried 882,189 passengers, an increase of 4.5 percent over FY2018 and an increase of 8.9 percent over FY2015.

Ridership of the Hiawathas is not evenly distributed and Amtrak charges a premium to ride some peak travel time trains.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the premium is designed to encourage riders who don’t need to travel during rush hour to pick a different time to travel.

2 Illinois Routes Saw Ridership Up in FY2019

November 23, 2019

Ridership of two Amtrak routes in Illinois increased in fiscal year 2019.

The Chicago-St. Louis corridor carried 756,062 passengers during the fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, an increase of 5.5 percent from the previous year, and 24 percent higher than fiscal year 2011.

Those figures include ridership of Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains as well as the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle, which used the route.

The Illinois Department of Transportation funds the Lincoln Service trains.

IDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation jointly fund the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service, which saw a gain of 38,000 passengers.

Ridership of Hiawatha Service trains was 882,189 in FY2019, a 4.5 percent increase over FY2019.