Posts Tagged ‘Champaign Illinois’

Parley Held to Discuss Lateness on Carbondale Route

November 27, 2019

Poor timekeeping in the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor appears to correlate with falling ridership at Champaign-Urbana, Amtrak officials recently said at a conference to discuss the route.

“There is a correlation between poor on-time performance and reduced patronage at Champaign, and that affects Illinois taxpayers who help support the service,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

The conference was held Nov. 22 and involved representatives of Canadian National, Amtrak and officials from communities along the route.

Amtrak officials gave a PowerPoint presentation showing how delays to trains at Champaign seem to be correlated with ridership peaks and valleys over the past decade.

The chart shows that on the whole ridership from Champaign-Urbana, home to the University of Illinois and the largest metropolitan region on the route south of Chicago, has been growing since 2008.

However, the chart also shows that delays have been declining since 2013 when about 60 percent of the trains serving Champaign were late.

Delays fell to about 30 percent in 2015. Since then the percentage of trains arriving late at Champaign has varied between 30 to 40 percent.

In the period 2008 to 2013 delays were in the 50 to 60 percent range.

The corridor is home to the State of Illinois funded Illini and Saluki between Chicago and Carbondale, and the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans.

Between 2008 and 2019 ridership crested at 190,000 in 2013 before starting a steady descent that bottomed out at 160,000 in 2018.

However, in the past year, ridership has sharply rebounded to near its 2013 peak. The ridership low point was 2009 and 2010 when the lingering effects of the Great Recession might have had an influence. Ridership in those years was around 140,000.

The on-time performance has not affected all of the six trains in the corridor the same. The Saluki has borne the brunt of the delays, arriving at its endpoints on time just 26 percent of the time in fiscal year 2019, which ended on Sept. 30.

The City of New Orleans has performed better in part because it has more scheduled padding than the state-funded trains.

“Because the distance from Champaign to Chicago is relatively short [129 miles], we are much more vulnerable to leak ridership from there when taking the train becomes unreliable,” Magliari said.

The conference was not open to the news media or the public, but officials held a news conference afterward. The CN representatives did not participate in the news conference.

Amtrak and CN are currently involved in a case before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board regarding the passenger carrier’s contention that CN gives Amtrak trains poor handling.

The host railroad has required Amtrak trains since 2014 to have a minimum of 32 axles to ensure a proper shunt of signals and crossing gates.

CN has said this is necessary because Amtrak’s Amfleet and Horizon equipment might not otherwise activate grade crossing protection devices in a corridor where the top speed is 79 mph.

Amtrak contends that CN track maintenance procedures and not its equipment is to blame for instances in which safety devices failed to activate.

Another source of delay has been CN’s edict that the Saluki and Illini slow to 60 mph over any highway crossings protected by electronic warning devices between University Park and Centralia.

Those trains carry Amfleet and/or Horizon equipment whereas the City of New Orleans is assigned Superliner equipment.

“The schedule for each train has more than a half-hour of buffer – time added in addition to running time – but the delays still occur,” Magliari said.

He disputed CN’s contention that schedules need to be lengthened, saying the trains arrived early 11 percent of the time.

A Trains magazine report about the conference noted that former CN CEO E. Hunter Harrison, sought to prevent Amtrak from instituting the Saluki in 2006 but backed down after U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) intervened.

Harrison was once CEO of the Illinois Central, which owned the tracks before they were acquired by CN in 1998.

Trains observed that delays to the Saluki have been prevalent in each direction since the train began service.

Durbin recently said he is ready to introduce legislation to give Amtrak a right to sue a host railroad for failure to give passenger trains preference.

But one member of Congress from Illinois, Rodney Davis, believes it is too soon for that.

Davis, who sits on the House committee that oversees Amtrak said giving the passenger carrier a right to sue a host railroad would prolong a solution to on-time performance issues.

He attended the news conference that followed the Nov. 22 conference.

“At this point, I want to try and solve (the on-time performance) problem without going to litigation,” Davis said. “When litigation is involved, it will prolong the final solution.”

Trains in Champaign Not Quite as Late as They Were

January 4, 2019

Passengers board the southbound Illini at the Champaign-Urbana station on May 17, 2000.

The on-time performance of Amtrak’s trains in the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor improved slightly in 2018 but not by much.

The News-Gazette of Champaign-Urbana used the online Amtrak Status Maps Archive Database to show that Amtrak’s six trains serving those cities during most of 2018 were about 34 minutes late on average.

That was a slight improvement from the average lateness of 36 minutes in 2017.

However, the newspaper said the average lateness upon departure varied considerably among the trains.

It said the City of New Orleans departed Champaign an average of 42 minutes late northbound but just 19 minutes late southbound.

But it was the opposite pattern for the state-funded Illini and Saluki.

The northbound Saluki left average of 24 minutes late northbound but 49 minutes late southbound.

The northbound Illini was, on average, 35 minutes late northbound and 37 minutes late southbound during 2018.

The News-Gazette report said many of the delays could be attributed to host railroad Canadian National. Amtrak contends CN is one of its worst host carrier with freight trains delaying Amtrak on 90 percent of the trips made on the route via Champaign.

Amtrak contends that CN contributes an average of 26 minutes of delay per day.

But some of the delays are also caused by longer than scheduled loading and unloading of passengers.

That is particularly an issue in Champaign, which serves the University of Illinois, a major generator of traffic in the Chicago-Carbondale corridor.

The newspaper found that the longest delay of 2018 through Dec. 21 occurred on Oct. 4 when the northbound City left Champaign 9 hours and 37 minutes late.

The longest delay for No. 59 was 6 hours, 18 minutes on Dec. 17. The longest delays for the Saluki were 3 hours, 4 minutes northbound on June 290 and 3 hours, 14 minutes southbound on Nov. 21.

The Illini’s record 2018 tardiness northbound was 3 hours, 4 minutes on Nov. 22 and 4 hours, 30 minutes on June 29.

3 Generations in Champaign

May 8, 2018

There are three railroad depots lined up along the west side of the former Illinois Central Railroad tracks in Champaign, Illinois, and Amtrak has used all three, sort of.

In the foreground is the oldest IC station still standing. Opened in 1899, it was not the first IC station in Champaign. That would have been a facility that burned in 1898 at what was once called West Urbana.

Although Amtrak never used it per se, in the early days of the Chicago-Champaign Illini, the train would be parked on a track next to this station.

This station used to be located 114 feet further south, but was rolled northward to make way for a larger station, the one seen in the middle above.

The middle station is probably the one that most people over a certain age remember the most. The Beaux-Arts structure was dedicated on Aug. 9, 1924.

At the same time that the station was being built, the IC raised its tracks through Champaign between St. Mary’s Road and Washington Street in order to alleviate congestion at grade crossings.

The third station is Illinois Terminal, which opened in January 1999 and hosts Amtrak, intercity buses, and buses of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District. It seen above jutting out to the right the distance.