Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Hiawatha service’

New Thruway Bus Launched Green Bay-Milwaukee

July 2, 2019

Amtrak has launched a new Thruway bus service between Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wisconsin, that is designed to connect with Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains.

In a news release, Amtrak said the bus, operated by Wisconsin Coach Lines/Coach USA Milwaukee will have intermediate stops in Appleton, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac.

The Thruway will operate twice daily and is being provided in coordination with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Initially the equipment used will be a Coach USA bus while the Amtrak bus is outfitted. All buses are ADA accessible.

Amtrak said the new service addresses the gap in Interstate 41 service that resulted from Greyhound Lines ending its service last October.

The new Thruway is designed to supplement the existing Lamers daily round-trip on I-41, and the Jefferson Lines and Indian Trails buses that use Interstate 43.

Amtrak said fares from Green Bay to Milwaukee on the bus start at $28 one way and continuing via a Hiawatha train to Chicago is as low as an additional $11 for a total of $39 each way.

Committee OKs Added Hiawatha Funding

June 11, 2019

A Wisconsin budget committee has approved a $35 million expansion of Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

However, the committee turned thumbs down on a proposal by Gov. Tony Evers to spend $10 million to develop service between Chicago and the Twin Cities of Minnesota to supplement the daily Empire Builder.

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

Terry Brown of the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers said the prospects for funding of the Chicago-Twin Cities train will depend on how much resistance Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic lawmakers put up to Republican lawmakers’ state budget proposals.

Republicans control the Wisconsin legislature.

Sturtevant Station to be Refurbished

June 7, 2019

The village board of trustees in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, has agreed to pay for repairs to the city’s Amtrak station.

The work includes sandblasting and repainting the pedestrian bridge over the Canadian Pacific tracks at the station.

Jeff Seitz, village engineer and Department of Public Works director, told the board that without that work the structural steel in the bridge will fail “and then we’d have a much larger project to do.”

The trustees awarded a $179,533 contract to Thomas A. Mason Company of Milwaukee. Amtrak is expected to pay 85 percent of the project cost.

The work will be done at night when fewer trains are operating through the station. The village will pay pay Canadian Pacific for flagging costs, estimated to be approximately $10,000.

The work will take about four weeks to complete.

Wisconsin Committee Mulling Rail Funding Increase

June 6, 2019

A Wisconsin legislative commission is posed to vote on a request by the governor to spend $45 million more to increase Amtrak service.

Gov. Tony Evers has proposed the additional funding to be used to pay for three more daily roundtrips of the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service and another train that would operate between Chicago and the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

The funding request is before the budget committee, which is considering several requests from Evers, including some pertaining to highway funding.

Wisconsin currently funds seven Hiawatha roundtrips. Service between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota, is provided by the Empire Builder, a long-distance train operating between Chicago and Seattle/Portland, Oregon.

Wisconsin rail advocates have long desired another train to supplement the Empire Builder, which they say is prone to delays, particularly eastbound.

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers has said some Hiawatha Service trains are now standing room only during peak travel periods.

WisARP said it would be less expensive to add more trains than to attach an additional rail car or two to existing trains, because during slow periods those extra cars would be empty but still heavy.

Arun Rao of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation said his agency is talking with its counterparts in the Illinois Department of Transportation and the host railroads of Hiawatha Service about how to expand capacity in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

A proposal to add passing sidings in north suburban Chicago drew fierce opposition and IDOT recently said it would no longer support creation of sidings to enable freight trains to get out of the way of Amtrak and Metra trains.

“We would also be looking at incremental improvements. If we did a smaller subset of infrastructure, could we move up to an eighth round trip, and then ninth, and then tenth?” Rao said.

The funding for the proposed additional Chicago-Twin Cities train is needed to qualify for federal grants to help pay to develop the service.

WisDOT said that train could be operating within three to four years.

The committee considering the governor’s requests is controlled by Republican legislators whereas Evers is a Democrat.

There have already been conflicts in the legislature over other transportation spending as well as the overall state budget.

Kids Ride Free on Hiawatha Trains on Weekends

June 6, 2019

Amtrak has launched a kids ride free program for its Hiawatha Service trains.

One child between the ages of 2 and 12 can ride at no cost when accompanied by a full-fare paying adult on Firdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The deal is valid through Sept. 8 and passengers should use fare code V518 when booking.

Amtrak operates 14 roundtrips on weekends between Chicago and Milwaukee.

The carrier is also offering A 15 percent discount for students traveling in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin.

The fare code for this discount is V307 and the offer expires on March 31, 2020.

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.

Glenview Ups Ante in Hiawatha Expansion Fight

April 10, 2019

Officials in Glenview, Illinois, will spend more money in their campaign to thwart construction of a passing siding that would allow for increased Amtrak Hiawatha Service.

The village board recently voted to spend another $36,000, which would bring to more than $541,000 that the north Chicago suburb has spent for lobbying at the state and local levels.

Most of the new money approved will be spent on lobbying state officials.

The Illinois Department of Transportation in part underwrites the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation also contributing funding.

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

An environmental assessment released earlier said the 10,000-foot siding is necessary to allow operating flexibility on a route used by Canadian Pacific freight trains and Metra commuter trains.

2nd Chicago-Twin Cities Trains Hinges on Funding

April 5, 2019

The rail manager of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation sounded an upbeat note about the prospects of launching a second Amtrak train in the Chicago-Twin Cities corridor, but cautioned that it still hinges on whether the Wisconsin legislature appropriates the money to pay for it.

Arun Rao spoke at a meeting in Portage, Wisconsin, called by the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers.

He said the Federal Railroad Administration has granted WisDOT an exemption for completing the second phase of an environmental study after deciding the state had done enough already.

“This is very good news because it saves a lot of time and money,” Brown said. “It shortens the timeline, but the state budget is still the main thing to watch right now.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is seeking $45 million for passenger rail, although his proposal does not specify how much, if any, of that funding would be used for the Chicago-Twin Cities train.

Amtrak currently serves the route west of Milwaukee with the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

South of Milwaukee Amtrak operates seven daily Hiawatha Service roundtrips, which are funded in part by Wisconsin.

“What we’ve heard, unofficially, is that some of the money would be used for the [Chicago-Twin Cities]train, but we’ll have to wait and see,” said Terry Brown of WisARP.

WisARP has estimated that it will take $10 million to complete preliminary studies being conducted jointly by WisDOT and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Advocates of the train have argued that it would provide more reliable service than the Empire Builder, which is subject to delays.

The final design work for the Chicago-Twin Cities train has not yet been completed so such issues as capacity, equipment and scheduling are pending.

An earlier Amtrak study of the route concluded that a second Chicago-Twin Cities train would handle 155,000 passengers annually.

The route between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities has not had multiple daily train frequencies since the Chicago-Duluth, Minnesota, North Star, was discontinued between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota, on Oct. 25, 1981.

Glenview Discount Hiawatha Ridership Increase

March 29, 2019

Officials in Glenview, Illinois, are seeking to downplay the announcement by Amtrak that its Chicago-Milwaukee trains saw a ridership increase in 2018.

Don Owen, the village’s deputy manager, acknowledged the increased but countered that the existing service is still operating at less than 40 percent of capacity.

Amtrak said recently the Hiawathas, which stop in Glenview in north suburban Chicago, carried a record-setting more than 858,000 passengers last year, an increase of 3.6 percent over 2017.

Glenview and other nearby communities have been embroiled in a fight over the past couple of years over a proposal by the departments of transportation of Wisconsin and Illinois, to expand Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 daily roundtrips.

Owen said rather than add additional trains, Amtrak should add another coach to peak travel demand trains to alleviate standing room conditions.

He did not say what source he used to conclude that the Hiawatha are operating under capacity other than to describe it as “the data we have seen.”

The resistance to the Hiawatha expansion has been triggered by a plan to add a holding siding for Canadian Pacific freight trains that is a component of the expansion project.

Homeowners in subdivisions adjacent to the track has expressed fears that CP trains will sit for hours in the siding, causing noise and pollution issues.

They’ve noted that plans are to build a retaining wall as part of track construction. That would eliminate some green space between their homes and the tracks, which are also used by Chicago commuter rail agency Metra.

An environmental impact statement has said the siding would be built between Glenview and Northbrook.

Wisconsin transportation officials have contended that the Hiawatha trains are near capacity and over capacity at peak travel times.

They’ve described the additional trains as a way to provide passengers more train time options and address “inadequate service reliability” because of conflicts with freight and other passenger traffic in the corridor.

Glenview officials have long disagreed with an Amtrak statement that Hiawatha ridership has more than doubled since 2003.

Amtrak figures show that between 2014 and 2015 Hiawatha ridership fell from from 804,900 to 796,300.

But Amtrak has said ridership has increased from 815,200 to 858,300 between 2016 and 2018.

Glenview has approved spending more than $500,000 on its campaign to oppose the Hiawatha expansion project.

That has included hiring consultants to create an alternative to the proposed siding.