Posts Tagged ‘Chicago-Milwaukee corridor’

Skeds of 2 Hiawatha Trains to Change

June 11, 2018

Two Hiawatha Service trains are getting new schedules on June 18.

Train 333 will depart Chicago Union Station 45 minutes later at 11:05 a.m. while Train 336 will depart Milwaukee five minutes later at 1:05 pm.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the schedule changes are being implemented to provide better connecting times in Chicago from trains 351 (Wolverine Service) 380 (Illinois Zephyr) and 49/449 (Lake Shore Limited).

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Hiawatha Expansion No Longer Contingent on Building New Siding in Lake Forest

May 30, 2018

One obstacle to expanding Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service may have been removed with an announcement by Metra that a proposed three-mile siding is long longer needed.

The siding has been the focus of protests in the northern Chicago suburbs since it was said to be necessary before Hiawatha Service can expand between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific trains use the route, but the siding would primarily be used by CP freight trains waiting on permission to enter Union Pacific tracks that they use to access the CP yard (former Milwaukee Road) in Bensenville.

The siding would have been located in Lake Forest and residents there feared that freight trains would idle on it for long periods of time.

In a letter written to the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin, Metra CEO James Derwinski said the commuter railroad, which owns the tracks in question, now believes Amtrak service can be enhanced by rebuilding a portion of the existing third track south of Rondout.

“Since Metra is focused on investments in our existing system to work towards a state of good repair, we are not currently in a position to actively pursue major capacity expansions of Metra infrastructure beyond the short-term needs of the (Milwaukee District North) Line,” Derwinski wrote.

“Therefore, Metra requests that [the] proposed third main track from Rondout to Lake Forest be reduced to a third main track through the Rondout interlocking limits to a point approximately 2,500 feet geographically south of the (Canadian National)/(Elgin Joliet & Eastern) crossing,” the letter said.

The letter said expanding the track at Rondout would enable an inbound Metra train coming off the Fox Lake Subdivision to move through the Rondout interlocking limits while permitting simultaneous movement on the corridor’s two main tracks.

Lake Forest Mayor Rob Lansing issued a statement lauding Metra’s position.

However, the village of Glenview still views with disfavor Metra’s latest position, because Metra still expects to built a separate two-mile siding in the western part of that city to allow for additional daily Amtrak trains.

“Among other concerns, it’s not clear why the Amtrak service expansion is necessary, given current ridership on the Hiawatha line is only at 39 percent of capacity. Also, a draft environmental assessment released in November 2016 provides no air quality, noise and other health and safety impacts for residents living adjacent to the proposed holding track, nor does it include a freight impact study,” the village said in a statement.

Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said Metra continues to believe that capacity enhancements are needed to implement the proposed Hiawatha service expansion.

As for the Amtrak service expansion, the next step will be the release of an environmental assessment being conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration in conjunction with IDOT and WISDOT.

Special Counsel Recommends Discipline for Lake Forest City Manager in Amtrak Lobbying

February 27, 2018

The city manager of Lake Forest, Illinois, should be disciplined, but not fired, for an unauthorized spending of money on a lobbying efforts to land a stop on the route of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

That recommendation was made by a special counsel appointed to investigate how City Manager Bob Kiely, former Mayor Don Schoenheider and current Mayor Rob Lansing spent $192,000 on the lobbying effort without the knowledge or approval of the city council.

Special Counsel Leigh Jeter did not specify what discipline that Kiely should receive other than it should be short of termination and that it should be appropriate.

Jeter’s 11-page report said the payments were made to a Washington law firm by city attorney Vic Filippinni in increments of $9,500.

This was in violation of the city code that requires payments of $20,000 or more to have city council approval. The payments were brought to the council’s attention by a group of citizens.

Lake Forest has been seeking the Amtrak stop since 2012. The north Chicago suburb is served by commuter rail agency Metra.

The report by the special counsel said the payments were channeled through Filippini’s law firm in Evanston, Illinois, to keep the lobbying activities “as close to the vest,” Filippini said.

Jeter’s report said none of the city officials involved in the payments profited from the arrangement or intentionally misled aldermen or the public.

Lake Forest has since changed its financial procedures.

The report said Finance Director Elizabeth Holleb knew that the lobbyist payments were coming out of the general fund contingency account.

Although she had concerns about the practice, Holleb said she never questioned the directive from the city manager or reported it to the finance committee of the council.

Holleb told the special counsel that she “did not feel it was her place to question” the mayor, city manager and city attorney, who she knew to be in agreement about the arrangement, according to the report.

In response to the special counsel’s report, Kiely said in a statement that he was sorry for what he termed a purchasing procedure oversight and the disruption that it has caused.

“But I want to assure you, and I’d like to assure the community, that this is not reflective of who I am or who this organization is. I’d like to underscore that my oversight should not reflect poorly on our finance department or our city employees.”

Mayor Lansing declined to comment on the report other than to tell the Lake Forester it “speaks for itself.”

Hiawatha Expansion Price Tag Set at $195M

February 14, 2018

The price of expanding Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee has been put at $195 million by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

A WisDOT official told the Milwaukee Public Transportation Review Board that is how much adding three roundtrips to the route would cost.

The board is pushing for expanded service in order to serve Foxconn Technology Group’s planned Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, facility, which could employ up to 13,000 people. The facility is being built near a Hiawatha station in Sturtevant, Wisconsin.

Arun Rao, WisDOT’s passenger rail manager, said the $195 million figure includes $10 million for a second platform at Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport station and $49 million for two projects at or near downtown’s Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

Amtrak currently operates seven roundtrips between Chicago and Milwaukee with much of the funding coming from grants provided by WisDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

In fiscal year 2017, Hiawatha Service trains carried more than 829,000 passengers. Studies have projected that adding additional trains would boost ridership past 1 million.

Lake Forest City Manager Spend Money Lobbying for Amtrak Without City Council’s Knowledge, Approval

December 18, 2017

The city manager of Lake Forest, Illinois, has acknowledged approving payments to a Washington lobbying firm to seek Amtrak service without getting approval of the city council

Bob Kiely said he approved spending nearly $200,000 in city funds in an effort to get Amtrak to make Lake Forest a stop for its Chicago-Milwaukee trains.

The payments were made between March 2016 and October 2017 to the lobbying firm Chambers, Conlon and Hartwell.

“It should not have happened, and it won’t happen going forward,” said Kiely, who has been city manager for 27 years.

At a recent council meeting, current Lake Forest Mayor Rob Lansing said that Amtrak is supportive of the city’s efforts to become a stop for its Hiawatha Service trains.

But it is unclear if Lansing knew all the details about the city paying a lobbying firm to push for the Amtrak service.

Some council members were miffed to learn the city had been paying a lobbyist with their knowledge or approval.

“This isn’t the way I want to learn things, and this isn’t the way I think information should be disseminated,” council member Prue Beidler said at the meeting during which Lansing revealed without detail that the city had hired a lobbying firm.

Member Jack Reisenberg said he was aware of an October trip Kiely and Lansing made to Washington, though he didn’t know why they were going.

“I didn’t like it,” Reisenberg said of the expenditures being made without council approval. “It should have been handled like other expenditures are handled, via city staff and approved by the council. But I wasn’t terribly upset because I believe the mayor and the city manager were well-intentioned. However, they did not follow longstanding practices of bringing this type of expenditure before the City Council for approval.”

Kiely noted he has authority to spend as much as $20,000 without council approval, although he said he should have brought the matter to the city council in May 2016.

“That was my error, and I did not bring it back to the council as it should have been brought,” he said, adding, “at that point in time, it was part of our regular payments and I quite frankly, I didn’t even think of it.”

Former Mayor Donald Schoenheider began the lobbying effort in March 2016.

Kiely said he and Lansing made the Washington trip to meet with federal agencies and elected officials about the Amtrak stop and to seek funding for a pedestrian underpass at the station.

Amtrak has said that it won’t begin serving Lake Forest until the underpass beneath tracks owned by Metra is installed.

Amtrak Might Substitute Lake Forest for Glenview as Chicago Suburban Hiawatha Service Stop

December 14, 2017

Amtrak is considering changing its northern Chicago suburban stop for its Hiawatha Service from Glenview to Lake Forest, Illinois.

A study commissioned by the City of Lake Forest determined that the station change could mean as many as 40,000 more passengers on the Chicago-Milwaukee  trains.

However, some capital improvements to a Metra station in Lake Forest would be needed before the change is made.

“At this point, the only obstacle preventing us from beginning service is the lack of a pedestrian underpass at Lake Forest station that would allow passengers to move safely from one side of the tracks to another,” said Joe McHugh, Amtrak’s vice president of state supported services-business development.

Amtrak said that was because it didn’t want passengers crossing tracks that are heavily used by its own trains as well those of Metra and Canadian Pacific.

Lake Forest has been pushing to become a stop for the Hiawatha trains during the past year.

It even paid a Washington lobbying firm $192,000 to conduct the feasibility study and promote the city with Amtrak officials.

One advantage of using Lake Forest rather than Glenview is that there would be more parking at the former station.

The pedestrian tunnel that Amtrak says is required before it would begin stopping in Lake Forest will cost an estimated $9 million, which the city must pay for.

NIMBYs Still Protesting Hiawatha Changes

December 8, 2017

NIMBY opposition continues to plague an effort to establish an Amtrak stop on the Hiawatha Service line in the north Chicago suburbs.

Much of the opposition has focused on a proposal to add a two-mile third track to the line used by Canadian Pacific, Amtrak and Metra trains.

The third track would hold CP freight trains waiting to get onto Union Pacific rails.

However, some residents of Lake Forest have criticized their city for spending $192,000 to hire a Washington lobbying firm to advocate for the Amtrak stop at the city’s Metra station.

The third track has been tied to a proposal to expand the number of Hiawatha Service trains running between Chicago and Milwaukee. That expansion is not imminent.

In the meantime, Amtrak’s vice president of state supported services, Joe McHugh, has notified Lake Forest that the Hiawatha stop has been been approved by the Departments of Transportation of both Wisconsin and Illinois.

“At this point, the only obstacle preventing us from beginning service is the lack of a pedestrian underpass at the Lake Forest station that would allow passengers to move safely from one side of the tracks to the other,” McHugh wrote.

Study Supports Lake Forest Hiawatha Stop

November 16, 2017

A new Amtrak station in north suburban Chicago on the Hiawatha Service route is feasible, the Lake Forest City Council was told at a recent meeting.

The study concluded that strong demand exists for an Amtrak stop at the west Lake Forest train station currently used by Metra.

“The numbers in this study just blew me away,” said Lake Forest City Manager Rob Lansing.

The study was conducted by Joseph Schwieterman, president of the Chicago chapter of the Transportation Research Forum and a professor at DePaul University.

It shows a Lake Forest stop would board more passengers than Glenview, which handled 55,340 passengers in fiscal year 2016.

The study said several challenges must be resolved before Amtrak can begin service at Lake Forest, including construction of a a pedestrian underpass, which Amtrak would require. Lake Forest plans to seek a grant to fund the $8 million to $9 million underpass project.

Lansing expects it will take two to four years to obtain a grant. “These usually involve federal funds,” he said. “It’s at least two years out. We have received support from the state and federal agencies we need.”

The Lake Forest station has ample room for people to wait and park, including an average of 135 parking spaces unused and available on weekdays and more on the weekends.

The Glenview station does not have dedicated parking for Amtrak passengers.

Hiawatha Passengers Need Reservations for Thanksgiving Travel

October 31, 2017

Amtrak will require reservations for travel aboard its Hiawatha Service trains during the Thanksgiving holiday period

In a service advisory, Amtrak said reservations will be required on all Chicago-Milwaukee trains from Tuesday, Nov. 21 through Monday, Nov. 27.

During that period, a ticket will only be valid on the train for which a passenger holds a reservation.

Amtrak said it is adding cars to provide overflow seating on selected trains on Nov. 21 and Nov. 22.

Monthly and 10-ride ticket holders will not need reservations.

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.”