Posts Tagged ‘Canadian Pacific’

VIA Looks Toward Murky Future

June 2, 2021

VIA Rail Canada released this image of a new Charger locomotive that it recently received.

VIA Rail Canada officials during gave an overview of where things stand with the passenger carrier last week during an online presentation that showed how damaging the COVID-19 pandemic has been.

CEO Cynthia Garneau said VIA also suffered setbacks in early 2020 when First Nation groups and their supporters blockaded tracks used by VIA.

More than 1,000 trains were canceled in February 2020 due to the blockades.

More cancellations followed in the spring as the pandemic took root. Combined this led to ridership falling 77.1 percent even as expenses declined by 21.2 percent.

Garneau said VIA received Ca$135 million (US$112 million) in additional funding to cover the revenue shortfall.

VIA officials said no date has been set for the return of the Ocean service to the Maritime provinces because non-essential travel between provinces continues to be banned.

When the train does return it is expected to have consists of heritage and Renaissance fleet equipment.

Economy class passengers will ride in former Canadian coaches, while Renaissance sleeping, dining and service cars might be augmented with some Chateau-class stainless steel sleepers.

Service to Gaspe, Quebec, remains in limbo but VIA said trains will resume operations once the track is able again to host passenger service.

The Toronto-Vancouver Canadian is now operating once a week and VIA management expects to “fully resume the Canadian when conditions allow it.”

However, the planned  “fleet modernization” of 71 heritage cars used on the Canadian won’t be completed until 2024.

VIA officials said they are studying fleet replacement for the Canadian and other regional trains, but gave no indication as to when that might occur.

In the meantime, VIA will be taking delivery of new equipment being built by Siemens, but that equipment will be used only in corridor service between Quebec City and Windsor via Montreal and Toronto.

The new equipment will be tested later this year and is expected to begin revenue service in 2022.

Although VIA continues to work toward establishing passenger-only routes between Quebec City and Montreal, and between Ottawa and Toronto, it has no timeline for when that project will be realized.

The plan calls for building tracks on abandoned Canadian Pacific right of way that is now a trail in some places. VIA trains could continue to use Canadian National track in Toronto and Montreal.

No funding has been secured for the project and its cost remains undetermined.

In an unrelated move, VIA said this week that ridership and revenue in the first quarter of 2021 were down 80.2 percent and 80.9 percent respectively when compared with the same period in 2020.

Operating expenses were down by 34.1 percent. In a statement, Garneau said VIA “continued to deliver our public service when circumstances allowed it, and to work on and adjust our resumption plan to ensure that we are ready to welcome all our passengers back once the situation improves.

She said VIA remains committed to resuming all routes across the country “once conditions permit us to do so.”

Minnesota Lawmaker’s Bill Would Rail Study

March 19, 2021

A bill to fund infrastructure improvements needed for a second Amtrak train between Chicago and the Twin Cities has been introduced by the president of the Minnesota state Senate.

Senator Jeremy Miller said the bill has bipartisan support.

It would provide the state funding match for a $31.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for improvements including extension of sidings, yard leads, mainline work, and communication and signaling on Canadian Pacific’s main line in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Amtrak and Wisconsin have agreed to help fund the improvements.

 “The second train would be a great addition,” Miller said in statement.

“However, I’m most excited about the local track and signal improvements that are included in the proposal, which would benefit both freight and passenger rail. A $10 million investment from the state of Minnesota would result in $53 million in rail upgrades.”

Public Comment Being Sought on Wisconsin Project

July 20, 2020

Public comment is being sought by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation on a project designed to enable expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

The project is a proposed freight rail bypass of Muskego Yard on Canadian Pacific.

Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains as well as the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder use CP tracks through Wisconsin.

The bypass would improve the rail infrastructure in Milwaukee and cost an estimated $54.6 million project.

It would involve construction of a new double-track mainline through the corridor to increase yard capacity and efficiency.

CP freight traffic would no longer operate through the Milwaukee Intermodal Station in the city’s downtown.

Rail traffic would also be removed from several grade crossings in the downtown area.

The project will improve signals, track and bridges in the corridor and is expected to reduce delays for Amtrak because freight-rail traffic will be routed onto grade-separated crossings, WisDOT officials said.

Comments are due Aug. 7. A project presentation may be viewed on the WisDOT Muskego Yard webpage or on YouTube.

WisDOT has proposed increasing Hiawatha Service to 10 roundtrips a day.

The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded WisDOT a $26.6 million grant under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program for the project with the agency and Amtrak expected to provide matching funds.

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.

VIA Restoring Service Disrupted by Blockades

March 3, 2020

A tentative deal has been reached to end the blockades of Canadian rail lines by protesters opposed to construction of a natural gas pipeline in British Columbia.

However, some indigenous groups said they will continue to seek to block rail lines despite the pact.

The blockades have halted freight and passenger traffic on routes of Canadian National and Canadian Pacific and at one point disrupted Amtrak service into Canada.

News reports indicate that the deal will allow construction of the pipeline to continue but will address future land-rights disputes.

The pipeline is being built across land of the Wet’suwet’en First Nations group, whose ancesteral tribal leaders objected to the constructkion.

Other indigenous groups soon joined in the protests.

Leaders of the Wet’suwet’en said they would review the deal, a process expected to take two weeks.

CN has begun recalling some of its 450 laid off workers and VIA Rail Canada expects to restore this week most service that had been suspended.

VIA had canceled 940 trains through late last week.

The expected timetable for service restoration includes Montreal-Toronto and Ottawa-Toronto on, March 3; Senneterre-Jonquiere, Quebec, on Wednesday, March 4; the westbound Canadian on, March 4; and the eastbound Canadian on, March 6.

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.

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.

Wisconsin OK’s Funding for New Passenger Equipment

November 5, 2019

A Wisconsin legislative committee has approved added funding for additional equipment for Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

A budget committee approved $13.2 million to match a $25.7-million Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grant the state had received earlier this year.

The money will be used to purchase six coaches and three cab coaches that will be built by Siemens at its plant in Sacramento, California.

This equipment is an add on to an order for 137 cars in production that will be assigned to corridor trains in the Midwest and California.

Wisconsin Passenger Rail Manager Arun Rao said the cab cars have 58 to 62 revenue seats and will replace converted locomotive cabs that have no revenue seating.

The new equipment is expected to arrive in about three years and enable Amtrak to create a third train set for use in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

That equipment is expected to allow for an expansion of Hiawatha Service, although one of the host railroads in the corridor, Canadian Pacific, has said it won’t approve additional Amtrak service until capacity expansion projects are undertaken.

The latter has triggered fierce opposition in north suburban Chicago, particularly the plan to build a holding siding for CP freight trains waiting to get onto the Union Pacific, which CP uses to reach its yard in Bensonville, Illinois.

Wisconsin had planned to buy new Talgo Series 8 equipment for Amtrak service, but that equipment has yet to enter revenue service.

The Talgos are sitting at Amtrak’s Beech Grove shops in Indianapolis.

Amtrak currently operates seven weekend Hiawatha Service roundtrips using Horizon and Amfleet equipment.

CP Nixes Hiawatha Expansion Without Illinois Siding

July 30, 2019

Canadian Pacific has said it won’t agree to any increase in Amtrak Hiawatha Service unless it gets infrastructure improvements in Illinois.

The railroad made its demands public by releasing a letter containing them that was written to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Release of the letter may have been the railroad’s way of expressing discontent with WisDOT announcing recently that it was moving ahead with expanded Hiawatha Service in the next two years.

WisDOT officials have said they planned to seek federal matching funds for infrastructure improvements in Wisconsin that would enable the addition of two additional roundtrips.

But CP said in the letter that improvements in Wisconsin alone won’t be enough to win the host railroad’s approval for the additional passenger trains.

Those improvements would expand track capacity in the Milwaukee terminal and at Muskego Yard.

“Should WisDOT do so, it does at its sole risk that there will be no additional Hiawatha train starts,” wrote C.E. Hubbard, CP’s director interline and passenger – South.

The letter said the the additional trains, “would unreasonably interfere with the adequacy, safety, and efficiency of our existing operations,”

CP is demanding that a freight holding track for CP freights that was proposed in suburban Chicago be part of any infrastructure plan for increasing Hiawatha Service.

The holding track between Glenview and Lake Forest triggered a political backlash that eventually prompted the Illinois Department of Transportation to decline to seek federal funding to build the track.

Additional track capacity was also proposed in the vicinity of Rondout, Illinois, where a Metra line diverges from the CP route to head to Fox Lake, Illinois.

“[T]hese improvements  . . . were identified by a joint team of stakeholders as necessary and required infrastructure to support any additional Hiawatha train starts,” Hubbard wrote. “Without these improvements, CP cannot support any additional Hiawathas in this corridor.”

South of Rondout Amtrak shares track with Metra and CP trains and the planned Hiawatha trains would operate during Metra’s rush hour when CP freights usually are sidelined.

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.