Posts Tagged ‘Champaign-Urbana’

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.”

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.

Taking Amtrak to the Eclipse

August 24, 2017

About 400 people boarded an Amtrak train in Chicago at 3 a.m. this week to go see the solar eclipse in Carbondale, Illinois.

The Amtrak special followed the former Illinois Central Railroad route used by Amtrak trains between the two cities.

The first visible coast-to-coast eclipse in the United States since 1918, had the longest lasting totality over Carbondale.

The special sold out in 22 hours once ticket sales were announced. It also stopped in Champaign-Urbana where 55 passengers boarded.

News accounts quoted passengers as saying the trip was convenient.

“When Amtrak announced it, we thought it was a great idea; and going down and coming back in a day is great,” Tim Costello said. “It’s going to be a great experience to see a total eclipse; everything being quiet, and things getting dark, and things like that is just once in a lifetime.”

Christine Chavez said she was happy to going to Carbondale because clouds were threatening to obscure the eclipse in Chicago.

“We’re actually doing it, because my daughter is really into space; and she’s been wanting to go ahead and see the eclipse, because she heard about it in school,” she said. “It’s definitely a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity, especially for my family. So we’re very excited, and excited that my daughter gets to experience this as well.”

The train had P42DC No. 64 pulling the train southbound while No. 36 pulled the return trip. The passenger car consist was Nos. 48187, 54562, 82543, 54000, 82536, 54555, 54575.

Illinois Amtrak Ridership Fell in FY 2016

January 12, 2017

Amtrak ridership in Illinois fell by 3.5 percent in fiscal year 2016. Recent figures released by state transportation officials show that more than 4.6 million rode on Amtrak trains in the state.

IllinoisNot surprisingly, Chicago topped the list of the busiest Amtrak stations in Illinois.

Most of the cities on that list are college towns. Behind Chicago the busiest Amtrak stations were Normal-Bloomington, Springfield, Champaign-Urbana, Carbondale, Galesburg and Macomb.

All of those cities also have multiple Amtrak frequencies per day.

Systemwide, Amtrak carried more than 31 million people in FY 2016, an increase of 2 percent over the previous year.

Boarding in Champaign-Urbana

October 5, 2016

ic-005-champaign-may-16-2000

As the home of the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana is one of busiest Amtrak stations in the Midwest. Much of the traffic is travels between here and Chicago, but a fair number of passengers board here to go to Carbondale, the home of Southern Illinois University.

Depending on how the trains are operating, there might be a few minutes to step off if you are a through passenger. That was the case on this day in May 2000. I was riding from Chicago to Mattoon, Illinois, but No. 391 was on time or even a little early.

I had enough time to get off and make a few photographs before getting back on board.

 

Champaign-Urbana Saw Amtrak Ridership Decline in FY 2015 for the 2nd Consecutive Year

January 18, 2016
The southbound Illini makes its station stop in Rantoul in August 2012.

The southbound Illini makes its station stop in Rantoul in August 2012.

University towns tend to generate a lot of business for Amtrak and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, is no exception.

One some days the waiting room of the Illinois Terminal, the intermodal station that serves the hometowns of the University of Illinois, overflows with passengers.

Yet in fiscal year 2015, which ended last Sept. 30, ridership from Champaign-Urbana fell for the second consecutive year.

In FY 2013, Amtrak boarded 189,940 passengers in the Twin Cities but saw that number fall to 169,221 in FY 2015. FY 2014 ridership was 179,009.

At the next stop north of Champaign, ridership has shown a slight increase in Rantoul. The ridership numbers for Rantoul have been 5, 889 (FY 2013), 6,166 (FY 2014) and 6,199 (FY 2015)

Patronage fell in many areas of the country during FY 2015 and Amtrak has been blaming falling gasoline prices as a major culprit.

“We believe, as we’ve said before, as gasoline prices go up, so does ridership, and the inverse is true,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

He noted that parking, tolls and traffic tickets in and around Chicago have not changed.

Despite the ridership falloff, Magliari said, “we still have very strong ridership.”

IllinoisIn fact, Amtrak ridership remains at historic levels, with last year being the fifth-highest ridership year on record since 1979, said T.J. Blakeman, Champaign’s senior planner for economic development.

Local officials are concerned that Amtrak service may suffer cuts as a result of a budget stalemate between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly. The two have yet to agree on a budget for the current fiscal year.

Champaign-Urbana is served by three pairs of Amtrak trains, the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans, and the state-funded Illini and Saluki between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

The addition of the Saluki in 2006 provided a boost to Amtrak patronage from Champaign-Urbana, Blakeman said.

“It shows if we can continue to add service on this line, I believe we will continue to see increased ridership,” he said.

Between 2007 and 2014, Amtrak ridership in the Chicago-Carbondale corridor grew 41.6 percent.

Aside from budget uncertainty, another concern of Champaign County officials is delays.

Amtrak uses Canadian National tracks between Chicago and New Orleans and the two have sparred over freight delays.

Magliari said Amtrak has an action pending against Canadian National before regulatory authorities.

Ben LeRoy, an associate planner for the city of Champaign, thinks that bus carriers might also be siphoning away some Amtrak ridership due to the problems of delays.

LeRoy, said he takes Amtrak to conferences, but while a student at the University of Illinois he rode Greyhound because the fare was lower and the buses ran more frequently

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she has left the night before a meeting in Chicago because of the possibility of delays making her late to the meeting.

“That drives away passengers if you can’t be on time. I think that’s the biggest problem, and it’s not Amtrak’s fault,” she said.

Nearly 1,000 people have signed Champaign County First’s online petition at chn.ge/1PtVaBP to support intercity rail passenger rail service on the Chicago-Carbondale corridor.

The petition has described the service as an economic engine for the state of Illinois, the University of Illinois, Eastern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University, which together constitute the I-57 Amtrak Rail Knowledge Corridor.

“Just imagine what would happen to the highways if all those people were driving,” Prushing said.

Blakeman said increased Amtrak ridership has played a role in reducing traffic congestion and parking shortages on the University of Illinois campus.

“We’ve reduced parking on campus. We’ve convinced students to bring fewer cars to campus,” he said.