Posts Tagged ‘Canadian Pacific’

Chicago Suburbs Still Concerned About Hiawatha Expansion

October 18, 2017

Residents in north suburban Chicago are still concerned about a proposal to expand Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service and they aired their grievances during a public hearing held last week.

That meeting was sponsored by the cities of Lake Forest, Glenview, Northbrook, Bannockburn and Deerfield.

Most of those who attended expressed concern about a proposal to add a siding on which freight trains would wait to be passed by Amtrak and Metra commuter trains.

They are worried about matters of noise, pollution and quality of life issues.

In particular, the residents are concerned about idling Canadian Pacific freight locomotives and they thought that those speaking at the meeting were not viewing the situation from the perspective of nearby homeowners.

“They just presented a railroad perspective,” said JoAnn Desmond, president of the Academy Woods Homeowners’ Association. “They didn’t tell us anything about whether it would be safe, or reduce our property value.”

Another homeowner, Greg Billie of Glenview, said the presenters “didn’t address any of the things we came for”

Judy Beck, former president of the Glenview Park District Board, said there was nothing wrong with the presentations, “but they need to balance it out with what the community needs are.”

Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely, who helped organize the hearing, said there has yet to be much discussion of “the underlying issue of freight traffic. And this is an opportunity to learn more about the future of freight traffic.”

Some who attended the hearing cited a March 15 derailment in Lake Forest of tanker cars carrying molten sulfur. None of the derailed cars leaked.

The Federal Railroad Administration is undertaking an environmental impact statement of the proposed Hiawatha expansion and the infrastructure changes is would need. That study is not expected to be completed until early 2018.

Some had the hearing said the panelists failed to explain enough detail about the expansion project.

Northbrook Village Manager Rich Nahrstadt said later that he wasn’t surprised by that.

“When all the city managers got together, we thought we’d try to answer some of the questions that came up about freight during the public hearings,” on the Hiawatha project, he said. “We didn’t plan it to be a replication of the public hearings.”

Panelists did, though, indicate that the proposed siding is needed to avoid rail congestion.

The project also envisions a new overpass over Shermer Road south of Northbrook.

Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum said that early discussions have indicated that freights trains waiting for passenger trains would sit south of Techny Road in an industrial area.

“The answers we’re getting – and this is not confirmed – is that it would actually improve the crossing at Techny (Road) and we would actually have less blockage,” Frum said. “If that’s the case, and it really doesn’t impact Northbrook residents, this is a decision that’s not too hard to make.”

Frum said that the decisions about train operations will be made by the railroads working with federal and state officials.

“Ultimately, freight trains are not going away, despite how much we might wish them to go away,” Frum said. “The thing to do now is to figure out the next step.”


Hiawatha Service Restored Wednesday Afternoon

July 12, 2017

Amtrak restored Wednesday afternoon its Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service after it had been canceled earlier due to flooding.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that service resumed with the departure of Train 338 from Milwaukee at 3 p.m. and Train 337 from Chicago at 3:15 p.m.

The flooding occurred after heavy rain fell along tracks in both directions from Rondout, Illinois.

The tracks in the area are used by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific and are located in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and Lake County, Illinois.

Metra temporarily suspended service on its Milwaukee District North Line between Chicago Union Station and Fox Lake, Illinois.

Metra said the interlocking plant was flooded at Rondout. Ballast was washed away and a downed tree blocked tracks just west of Libertyville.

The commuter rail agency sent ballast cars and machinery to the location of the washout to lay a new track structure.

The Milwaukee District North Line serves 22,900 passengers a day on 60 trains. Also using the route is Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Lake Forest Hopes Pedestrian Tunnel Will Help Attract an Amtrak Hiawatha Service Stop

May 23, 2017

Lake Forest, Illinois, is seeking to get a pedestrian underpass built beneath the tracks carrying Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains.

Aside from safety reasons, the underpass might strengthen the city’s efforts to get Amtrak to stop in the northern Chicago suburb.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier would consider a number of factors before agreeing to establish a stop in Lake Forest.

Magliari said these include potential passenger traffic and how a stop might affect current or future operations of Amtrak, Metra or Canadian Pacific freight trains.

He said having a pedestrian underpass would make the Metra station in Lake Forest more accessible.

“We’d want both tracks to be accessible,” Magliari said. “Operationally, if there was only a platform on one side, you’re delaying trains. We’d want to be able to stop on both tracks. There would be less interference with our operation and Metra and freight operations to have safe access on both sides of the track for all people.”

Amtrak would also need to consult with the departments of transportation in Illinois and Wisconsin, which provide funding for the Hiawatha Service trains.

The station underpass has been discussed since at least 2009 and the city council has approved paying a consultant to create a preliminary engineering design.

Lake Forest has been interested in becoming an Amtrak stop since January 2010 when the city council approved a recommendation supporting an Amtrak stop at its west train station.

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.

Can NIMBYs Kill the Hiawatha Expansion?

February 10, 2017

If Amtrak had just put on the three additional Hiawatha Service roundtrips that Illinois and Wisconsin want, no one except passengers and rail passenger advocates would have been the wiser.

But the proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service isn’t going to work that way and as a result there has been a NIMBY uprising in suburban Chicago that threatens to scuttle the expansion.

Hiawatha 2The Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Illinois Department of Transportation, which fund the existing service, want to expand the number of Chicago-Milwaukee trains from seven to 10.

As part of that expansion, a holding track for Canadian Pacific freight trains would be built in suburban Chicago.

Because public money is involved an environmental assessment, which examines various facets of the proposed expansion, was conducted.

Once that became public last October, the NIMBY opposition began, citing the usual arguments that opponents of new or expanded rail passenger service make everywhere, e.g., noise, pollution, increased traffic congestion, vibration and diminished property values.

What makes the suburban Chicago dispute different is that it involves a rail line that already has a high level of passenger service.

It is likely that many of the NIMBYs are regular or occasional Metra users. The property owners along the Chicago-Milwaukee route are accustomed to train traffic passing their neighborhoods. They may not like it, but they know they can’t stop it.

The news media coverage largely has failed to explain the particulars of why the holding track is part of the expansion plan. It is the result of operating constraints affecting three railroads and ordinary people don’t have much interest in such matters.

Freight trains bound for CP’s Bensenville Yard near Chicago O’Hare International Airport sometimes hold on the mainline north of Rondout in Lake Forest as they wait for permission to enter in Northbrook a Union Pacific route that CP trains use to access Bensenville Yard.

As early as 2007, WisDOT began studying traffic patterns on the Chicago-Milwaukee Route in preparation for expanded Hiawatha Service.

Computer modeling exercises and meetings of operating officials of the three railroads using the corridor – Amtrak, CP and Metra – identified choke points and operating challenges.

The proposed capital improvements that came out of those meetings – including the holding track – were designed to minimize the need for trains of all three railroads to wait on the mainline for other traffic to clear.

The holding track was a way of shifting where CP freights would sit as they waited for the UP to give permission to enter its territory.

Had the railroads agreed to host the expanded Hiawatha Service within the existing infrastructure, the NIMBY opposition would never have materialized because they would not have noticed the increase in Amtrak traffic.

The NIMBYs want the FRA to order that a full environmental impact statement be conducted, probably in the hope that it will confirm their point of view. They also are playing for time, hoping that the holding track idea will go away or that the railroads will build it somewhere else.

Some of the public officials who have jumped on the NIMBY train might be playing for federal and state money to make infrastructure improvements their cities could not afford otherwise.

In the end the Hiawatha expansion may never come about, but not necessarily because of the NIMBYs.

Additional passenger equipment is needed and it is unclear when that will become available. The new locomotives expected to be used on Amtrak Midwest corridor routes are being built, but new passenger cars have been delayed and there is a looming September deadline to spend the federal grant awarded to pay for those cars.

It also is unclear if Illinois and Wisconsin are committed to paying the operating costs of the additional Hiawathas. Keeping the funding level high enough to afford the existing corridor service of the two states is a challenge as it is.

Many of the arguments being made by the NIMBYs are unsubstantiated and emotionally overwrought. The FRA won’t take those seriously.

And some of the opposition by public officials is opportunistic. It doesn’t cost them to side with the NIMBYs and might gain them a few political brownie points. The FRA knows that, too.

What remains to be seen is whether this political posturing eventually will result in the political clout that could be brought to bear to kill the public funding needed to pay for the expanded service. This risk is just one of the prices today, of intercity passenger service.

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.

Glenview Residents Rip Hiawatha Expansion

October 28, 2016

A special meeting in Glenview, Illinois, to discuss a proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service drew 70 people, many of whom expressed opposition to the plan.

Hiawatha 2The meeting was hosted by Glenview village officials who suggested that the residents write to their elected representatives.

Village officials contend that an environmental assessment conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration and the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin doesn’t show the need to increase Hiawatha service, doesn’t thoroughly examine the environmental impact of the expansion and offers only short-term solutions to resolve passenger and freight train congestion.

Jeff Brady, the Glenview director of planning, wants the agencies to conduct a “much more detailed” environmental impact study or drop the project.

The service expansion would increase the number of Chicago-Milwaukee roundtrips from seven to 10.

As part of the expansion, there has been a proposal to build an 11,000 or 10,000-foot siding for freight trains to wait until passenger trains clear.

Some residents fear that freight trains might be held in the siding for long periods of time.

One proposal would place the siding on the west side of the existing tracks, which are used by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific. Another would place it on the east side.

Both options would require building a new bridge over Shermer Road next to the existing bridge. That in turn would mean construction of a 5-foot embankment from West Lake Avenue to Shermer Road as well as a 20-foot retaining wall.

Some who attended the meeting said idling freight trains might release fumes and carry potentially toxic materials.

State Rep. Laura Fine of Glenview said she opposes the project.

“We are working with you on this, and we are opposed to this as well,” she said. “But please, even though I am here, write us letters so that we can say we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of letters and emails from constituents saying they are opposed to this, because it just helps our fight as well.”

The FRA is taking public comments about the environmental assessment through Nov. 15.

A public hearing has been set for Nov. 2 at which representatives of the Illinois and Wisconsin departments of transportation and the FRA will discuss the project and the environmental assessment.

That meeting will be held at Park Center, 2400 Chestnut Ave., from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Brady said some Glenview residents have complained about the noise and vibration from the freight trains, which they contend are damaging their homes and disrupting their quality of life.

Glenview Objects to Hiawatha Expansion, Public Hearings Set in Wisconsin and Illinois Cities

October 20, 2016

Glenview, Illinois, officials are disputing the need to increase Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service even though their community would benefit from it. Glenview is a stop for Hiawatha trains, but city officials do not necessarily want to see more of them.

Hiawatha 2On a 6-0 vote, the board of trustees of the Chicago suburb adopted a resolution that opposes the findings of an environmental assessment of a plan to increase the number of trains on the Chicago to Milwaukee route.

Amtrak and the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin have proposed to increase Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 daily roundtrips.

The environmental assessment was conducted by Amtrak, the state transportation departments and the Federal Railroad Administration.

Some Glenview officials question the need for additional Amtrak service.

Trustee John Hinkamp said the Hiawatha trains he has seen pass through town do not appear to be filled to capacity.

“I see empty seat after empty seat as it goes by,” he said. “If (Amtrak) is telling you that there is increased need, I’d like to check those facts.”

Village officials are also concerned that a 10,000-foot holding track may be built in Glenview and that Canadian Pacific freight trains might sit on the siding for extended periods of time waiting for Amtrak and/or Metra commuter trains to clear.

The resolution said Glenview has concerns about the need to increase Hiawatha service by three round trips, short-term solutions proposed to accommodate rail traffic, and environmental impacts

Jeff Brady, the village’s director of planning, said that village officials object to the environmental impact findings because it is unclear what the findings were based on.

He noted that the additional Hiawatha trains would operate during off-peak hours, which would increase freight traffic in Glenview, Brady said.

The proposed holding track would be located on the west side of the existing tracks between om Glenview and Northbrook. Brady said Glenview officials prefer establishing a 30-mile freight bypass through the area.

Trustee Deborah Karton said building the tracks would be unfair to Glenview residents.

“When people bought their homes, they would never have expected to have this track with new times of usage or idling trains,” she said. “That’s out of your realm of what you would expect.”

An FRA spokesman said his agency will be accepting public comments on the environmental assessment report through Nov. 15.

A public hearing will be held Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at Park Center, 2400 Chestnut Avenue. The Illinois and Wisconsin departments of transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration will host a Nov. 2 hearing at Park Center from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to discuss the environmental assessment.

Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum said her city also has concerns about the proposed holding track, but acknowledged those views are not as intense as those in Glenview.

“If the area where the train idles does not cross (to the north of) Techny Road, there’s not as much of a concern, because it’s industrial to the south,” she said. “If it gets north of Techny, then that’s a concern, because that’s a residential area.”

Public hearings are also being held in Milwaukee about the Hiawatha expansion proposal. That hearing will be held on Oct. 27 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Washington Park Senior Center located at 4420 W. Vliet Street.

A court reporter will record comments and there will be exhibits and an audio-visual presentation. Project team members will be available to discuss the project and answer questions.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which along with its Illinois counterpart helps to fund the Hiawatha Service said ridership has grown significantly over the past 15 years.

Between 2001 and 2013, ridership nearly doubled, growing an average of 6 percent annually, giving the route the largest number of riders of any Amtrak service outside the East and West coasts.

Many peak-period trains operate with few or no vacant seats, said Arun Rao, passenger rail implementation manager for WisDOT.

“Providing those additional trains will help spread out those peak riders and help intermodal connections, such as flight connections and city buses,” Rao said. “It provides more flexibility for people getting to those connecting trains or other modes of transportation and services.”

Rao said the additional Hiawatha Service is also expected to reduce highway congestion between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Another public meetings in Illinois will be held on Nov. 1 between 4 and 7 p.m. at Chicago Union Station.

Expansion of Hiawatha Service hinges on securing federal funding in addition to state and private matching funds. The project is expected to cost between $150 million to $200 million.

California Zephyr, Empire Builder Make Shorter Trips Because of Freight Train Derailments

November 10, 2015

It has been a tough couple of days for Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

A freight train derailment on Canadian Pacific near Watertown, Wisconsin, resulted in the westbound Empire Builder making a detour and passengers making part of their journey aboard a bus.

The derailment of the CP crude oil train occurred on Sunday. Eastbound No. 8 had already passed the derailment site, but westbound No. 7 had just left Chicago.

Nos. 7 reversed course and wound up traveling to La Crosse, Wisconsin, via a BNSF route through Savanna, Illinois.

In La Crosse, the Empire Builder got back on its normal route, but arrived into St. Paul, Minnesota, more than 12 hours late.

Passengers riding today between Spokane, Washington, and Seattle and Portland will ride buses because No. 8 will originate in Spokane.

On Monday, the eastbound Empire Builder was terminated at St. Paul and was to become the westbound train. Passengers rode buses between Chicago and St. Paul.

Also on Monday, a derailment on BNSF in Iowa closed the route of the California Zephyr.

Eastbound No. 6 was terminated at Ottumwa, Iowa, and passengers were taken by bus to their destination. The train was to originate in Ottumwa on Monday night as No. 5.

Amtrak added additional cars to the westbound Southwest Chief that departed Chicago on Monday afternoon to accommodate passengers ticketed aboard the westbound California Zephyr.

At Galesburg, Illinois, passengers for No. 5 were to board buses and travel to Ottumwa to resume their journey by rail.

The extra coaches added to the Chief were to be removed in Kansas City and deadhead back to Chicago on Tuesday.

Empire Builder Route Cut Until June 4

June 1, 2014

Amtrak has suspended the Empire Builder between St. Paul, Minn., and Minot, N.D. until June 4 and passengers are on their own at getting between the two points.

“By request of BNSF Railway Company due to current operating conditions on BNSF’s railroad in Eastern North Dakota and Western Minnesota, Amtrak will be canceling service in both directions between MOT and MSP, with no alternate transportation, for four days,” Amtrak said in a statement.

“This is effective with these dates of origin: Train 7 of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th and Train 8 of the 31st, 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The dates are staggered so rail equipment is in the correct location to resume service eastbound on the 4th and westbound on the 5th.”

The cancellations are just the latest in a string of setbacks for the Empire Builder that have included reroutes and adjusted schedules.

Trains magazine reported that an analysis of the Empire Builder  operations since the schedules were changed in mid April found that Nos. 7 and 8 still often operates late. Additional schedule changes are expected to be made this month.

One sticking point has been on the Canadian Pacific route between Chicago and St. Paul where No. 7 has arrived late at St. Paul by more than an hour on 19 occasions when the train had left Chicago either on-time or less than 20 minutes late.

Leaving late, congestion and speed restrictions on BNSF between St. Paul and Minot, even though detouring on the shorter KO Subdivision west of Fargo, have put the westbound train into Minot an average of two to three hours late. The additional “recovery time” – Amtrak’s euphemism for schedule padding – added west of Minot to No. 8 has substantially improved its punctuality into that North Dakota city despite having to contend with track work in Montana and North Dakota

However, if the crew that took No. 7 from St. Cloud, Minn., to Minot arrived late, the eastbound Builder has had to wait at least 45 minutes past its scheduled departure 12 times since April 15 until the same crew was available following a mandatory rest period.

Slow orders and congestion delayed the eastbound train into St. Paul on average another two hours per night.

In the two weeks that the renovated St. Paul Union Depot has hosted Amtrak, eastbound No. 8 has not departed for Chicago less than an hour late, but 12 Empire Builder departures from St. Paul were more than 2.5 hours late.

In the West, there have been occasional on-time arrivals at Seattle, but the eastbound Portland section has been delayed on several occasions, causing the combined train to leave Spokane several hours late. In the meantime, Amtrak has restored the connections to the southbound City of New Orleans at Chicago and the southbound Coast Starlight at Portland.

However, the Trains analysis found that the Empire Builder-City of New Orleans connection has been broken seven times since May 7.

The Builder  that was to arrived in Chicago on May 22, did not reach the Windy City until 2:49 a.m. on Friday morning after the train developed engine trouble west of Whitefish, Mont.

The scheduled arrival time of the Empire Builder is sthe City is 3:55 p.m. whereas the scheduled departure time of the City of New Orleans is 8:05 p.m.

“Amtrak continues to work closely with BNSF and CP regarding the best efforts of the host railroads to dispatch the Empire Builder while they are improving their infrastructure,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.