Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Hiawatha service’

Sturtevent Sues Amtrak over Unpaid Bill

April 19, 2017

Sturtevent, Wisconsin, officials have launched litigation against Amtrak over what the village describes as unpaid fees for repair work done on the station last year.

The village owns the station and is seeking $45,780.56 plus interest, costs, disbursements and attorney fees.

The work involved replacement of the steel bottoms of four glass shelter buildings at the train station, which had rusted over the years

Village Engineer Jeff Seitz said Amtrak leases the depot from Sturtevent and is responsible for 85 percent of its maintenance costs but not for capital improvements.

Amtrak contends the repair work was a capital improvement not a maintenance matter and has declined to pay for the repairs.

“Despite repeated demands, defendants have failed and refused to pay the remaining balance due,” the lawsuit says.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that the rail passenger carrier is aware of the lawsuit and will respond in court.

Seitz said the lawsuit was expected because the village and Amtrak had been talking about the project, including price quotes, for about a year before the Village Board directed him to get the work performed and then file a claim.

He said it is the first such dispute the village has ever had with Amtrak. Sturtevent officials hopes that a judge will be able to come up with a better definition of what is maintenance and what is a capital improvement at the depot.

The Wisconsin city near Racine is served by Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains.

Fare Sale Announced for Hiawatha Service Travel

April 18, 2017

Amtrak has announced a buy one get one half off deal for passengers traveling on Hiawatha Service trains on Saturdays.

In a news release, the rail passenger carrier said that a Chicago-Milwaukee roundtrip for two will cost $75.

Up to two children ages 2 through 12 can ride for half-price with a full fare adult.

Tickets must be purchased online using promotion code V451. Amtrak noted that for those wishing to spend a night on the town, the last Hiawatha Service trains depart Chicago at 10:40 p.m. and Milwaukee at 11:10 p.m.

Passengers wanting to take a bicycle with them may do so for $5 and do not need to place their bike in a box. It can be handed to an Amtrak crew member at the baggage car.

Chicago Suburban Officials Focus on Freight Train Operations in Study of Hiawatha Expansion

April 18, 2017

Some north suburban Chicago public officials have decided to emphasize possible regulation of freight traffic rather than opposing a proposed expansion of Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

In particular, officials in Lake Forest and Glenview are now backing away from their demand for a detailed environmental impact study of the Hiawatha expansion and instead are supporting having the Federal Railroad Administration study the effects of how freight trains operate in the corridor between Chicago and Rondout, Illinois.

The corridor is used by Amtrak, Metra commuter trains and Canadian Pacific freight trains.

The focus on freight operations came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In earlier public hearings many residents and public officials expressed fears that CP freight trains would sit for lengthy periods of time adjacent to residential neighborhoods.

An FRA environmental assessment released last fall said the freights now sit north of Rondout waiting for permission to enter Union Pacific tracks in Northbrook.

One proposal is to move the waiting area further south to a new siding that would be built in Northbrook.

The EPA has not formally asked the FRA to conduct a study, but instead raised raised concerns that it wants the FRA to address.

“Would extending sidings or adding new holding areas enable freight operators to run more trains?” the EPA wrote in comments on the assessment. “Would proposed changes allow freight trains to wait within the corridor for extended periods of time, since the project would provide a place to do so off the main-line track?”

Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. has been critical of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Illinois Department of Transportation for not taking a closer look at CP freight operations.

Kiely said he wants answers to questions about the project’s effect on “air quality, emissions, noise and public safety.”

Glenview officials are asking how operation of trains might change at grade crossings.

Interim village manager Don Owen said “Now the (freight) trains pass at 40 to 60 miles an hour and it takes a few minutes. If they slow down or stop it could take 10 to 15 minutes to clear a grade crossing.”

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

Lake Forest Delays Action on Lessening its Opposition to Hiawatha Service Expansion Project

March 11, 2017

The Lake Forest (Illinois) City Council will continue to seek to prod the Federal Railroad Administration to study the proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service, but some council members have also expressed doubt that the lobbying efforts are going to be effective.

Many Lake Forest residents, like those in other communities in the north Chicago suburbs along the Chicago-Milwaukee route, have raised concerns about a passing siding that is part of the expansion.

The siding would give Canadian Pacific freight trains a place to sit while waiting for permission to enter Union Pacific tracks and allow passengers trains of Amtrak and Metra to pass them.

At the same time that they are seeking to push the FRA to conduct an environmental impact statement, Lake Forest is also seeking to become a stop for Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service. The city is already served by a select number of Metra commuter trains.

The council did not act at a recent meeting on a resolution that would reduce the city’s official opposition to the expansion.

Lake Forest Mayor Donald Schoenheider has urged the city to take a longer view, citing the advantages that Amtrak and expanded Metra service would have.

“This is a very complicated, impactful and important issue,” Schoenheider said. “It’s important to look not only how this will affect us five or 10 years from now but 50 [years from now].”

The mayor said that every employer he has spoken with at the Conway (business) Park wants to see Amtrak stop in Lake Forest.

City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said the lack of southbound Metra service from the west station during the late afternoon hours means that employers must transport their employees by bus to Deerfield to catch a Metra train back to Chicago.

City officials are also discussing what they termed the best ways to influence the FRA, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Wisconsin Department of Transportation to minimize the impact of the passing siding on local residents.

Few of those who packed the city council chambers objected to additional Amtrak or Metra trains. Most of the opposition to the project has focused on a perceived increase in freight traffic and its effect on the environment.

Opposition to Hiawatha Expansion Softening

February 26, 2017

Some north suburban Chicago officials are having second thoughts about their opposition to a proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

Hiawatha 2News reports indicate that officials in Lake Forest have softened their stance in view of the likelihood that the Federal Railroad Administration is unlikely to order that a full environmental impact study be done on a proposal to add a third track on the route used by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific.

Lake Forest, Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Bannockburn have demanded the EIS after the release of an environmental assessment last fall that found installing the additional tracks would not adversely affect communities along the line.

That triggered intense opposition from homeowners and public officials who argue that CP freight trains will sit  for long period of time while awaiting permission to enter Union Pacific tracks. This, they argued, will create noise, pollution and lower property values.

Lake Forest Mayor Donald Schoenheider said the city council will vote on a resolution on March 6 pertaining to the proposed expansion.

The news reports indicate that meetings between Lake Forest officials and Metra also played a key role in the change of mind.

Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said Metra, which owns the tracks between Rondout and Chicago, favors building the third track and opposes conducting an EIS.

Kiely said Metra CEO Donald Orseno recently told suburban officials, “We are not in the business of holding trains. We are in the business of moving trains. The third rail is not a holding track. It is there so faster trains can pass.”

A consulting firm hired by Lake Forest concluded after studying the environmental assessment that the FRA is unlikely to order an EIS and will take a “narrow” view of the proposed expansion because it involves an existing railroad right of way and won’t involve land acquisition.

The consultants concluded that as long as there is no impact on the environment within the railroad’s right of way the chances of FRA requiring an environmental impact study are remote.

Joanne Desmond, president of the Academy Woods Homeowners Association, which has been particularly vocal in its opposition disagrees with her city’s changing stance.

“We do not agree with your rationale,” Desmond said. “What about our safety? Is this just to get more Amtrak trains and Metra trains? Be considerate and consult with the stakeholders. Please reinstate the environmental impact study. Right now there are vibrations.”

Alderman Prue Beidler said she spent several hours in the Academy Woods area February 21. She said she got a first-hand feel for the noise and vibrations as a pair of freight trains passed while she was there.

“I really feel for these people,” said Beidler. “It seems pretty consequential. Can we get some kind of noise buffer because this really has an impact on their neighborhood?

A draft of the resolution that Lake Forest city council will vote on says the city will not oppose construction of the third track provided that idling locomotives are kept away from Academy Woods.

It also asks Metra, Amtrak and the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin to support the city’s effort to establish an Amtrak stop and increase the number of Metra trains that stop at the west Lake Forest Metra station.

Meta has said that once the third track is built it will launch express service between Chicago and Lake Forest.

In the meantime, representatives of the other cities opposing the expansion continue to insist that the FRA order an EIS.

Dan Owen, Glenview’s interim village manager, said that the project may affect communities in different ways. “We want to know what it is going to do to our community,” he said.

Deerfield Village Manager Kent Street said his town was not changed its position. The same is true for Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum.

“We are concerned about how the provisions put forth in the environmental assessment will affect our Northbrook community,” said Erik Jensen, assistant to the village manager of Northbrook.

FRA Response to Hiawatha Expansion Environmental Report Expected This Summer

February 1, 2017

The Federal Railroad Administration is not expected to release its response to an environmental assessment of Hiwatha Service expansion until this summer.

Hiawatha 2A public comment period pertaining to the assessment ended on Jan. 15.

The departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin want to expand service on the Chicago-Milwaukee route from seven to 10 roundtrips a day and the departments have argued that the environmental assessment has enough information for the FRA to act on the proposed expansion.

But the suburban Chicago communities of Lake Forest, Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Bannockburn have additional questions and want to see the FRA order a complete environmental impact statement.

The focal point of the issue is a proposal to build passing sidings to be used by Canadian Pacific freight trains. The CP freights would take siding to allow Amtrak and Metra trains to pass.

The suburban communities fear the siding will be used to park trains for extended periods of time. They have also raised concerns about pollution, noise, vibration, traffic congestion and a negative effect on property values.

The environmental assessment released last October concluded that the communities along the Hiawatha route would suffer no adverse effects.

But the suburban communities say that the FRA needs to order a more detailed study of the effect the sidings would have on the communities and not just on the railroads.

Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said the answers to the questions that have been asked will be included in the environmental assessment, which was prepared by Quandel Consultants at the behest of the state transportation agencies.

Residents, Public Officials Await FRA Response to Hiawatha Expansion Environmental Assessment

January 18, 2017

Residents and public officials in the north Chicago suburbs are waiting for the Federal Railroad Administration to respond to a proposal to expand Amtrak’s Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service.

Hiawatha 2The expansion, which is not a sure thing to occur even with FRA approval, has raised hackles along the Hiawatha route because it calls for the building of a passing siding for Canadian Pacific freight trains to wait for Amtrak and Metra passenger trains.

Although an environmental assessment study released last year found the siding would not have a negative environmental impact, public officials and residents have challenged that during a series of public meetings and called for a complete environmental impact study.

The departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin fund the Hiawatha Service and want to increase the number of daily trains from seven to 10.

A public comment period on the environmental assessment ended on Jan. 15. The comments received have been sent to the state DOTs and Amtrak. Residents have expressed concern about noise, vibration, diesel fumes and flooding.

The FRA is expected to respond to the environmental assessment during the first quarter of 2017.

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.

 

Lake Forest Residents Criticize Environmental Assessment of Hiawatha Service Expansion Plan

December 8, 2016

Opponents of an environmental assessment of a proposal to expand Amtrak’s Chicago-Milwaukee service told the Lake Forest City Council on Dec. 5 that the report might have understated the potential traffic disruptions.

Hiawatha 2Residents who addressed the council said that increased rail traffic might hinder firefighters and police vehicles that need to cross the tracks to respond to an emergency on the other side of town.

As has been the case in other communities, some Lake Forest residents are wary of the effects of building a siding that would allow Canadian Pacific freight trains to wait for higher priority Amtrak and Metra trains.

David Tanaka, president of the Pine Oaks Condominium Association, said the environmental assessment made several “baseless assumptions” about environmental harm.

These included, he said, conclusions that increased Amtrak service would have “no noise impacts to adjacent properties” and “no vibration impacts to adjacent properties.”

The report also said construction of the siding would create “no adverse noise or vibration.”

City Manager Bob Kiely said Lake Forest is working with Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Bannockburn, where similar opposition has also arisen.

A public forum to discuss the proposed Amtrak expansion project will be held on Dec. 19 at the Gorton Community Center, 400 E. Illinois Road, from 7 to 8: 30 p.m.

Amtrak, CTA From on High

November 28, 2016

amtrak-hiawatha-on-june-20-2010

Some of the more interesting railfanning that you can do is from the observation deck of Willis Tower, formerly known as Sears Tower.

From the observation deck, you have an expansive view of the routes used by Amtrak in and out of Chicago Union Station as well as the coach yard and engine service facility.

Yes, the trains look rather small and it helps to have a good telephoto lens if you wish to make photographs.

Shown here is a Hiawatha Service train arriving at Union Station from Milwaukee as a Chicago Transit Authority train passes overhead after having just crossed the Chicago River on June 20, 2010.