Posts Tagged ‘Chicago-Milwaukee corridor’

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.

Party Time on the 5:08 to Milwaukee

December 21, 2019

Some passengers who ride Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains on weekdays are commuters and they’ve gotten to know each other quite well.

They see each other standing on the platform at the same time every morning and afternoon and sitting in the same seats in the same cars.

That leads them to strike up conversations, share laughs, talk about family and even create their own Facebook page.

They know each other well enough to celebrate together birthdays, retirements and holidays.

“You tend to bond with people you see every day standing on the platform shivering at 6 a.m.” said Carol Abing, who has commuted from Milwaukee to Chicago for her job for nine years.

Todd Allen of West Allis, Wisconsin, agreed. “You spend three hours a day with these people, so you get to know them,” he said. “They become friends and family, both on and off the train.”

Allen has worked in Chicago for 30 years and met a lot of people on the rails during that time.

The website On Milwaukee recently profiled the good times these passengers have had over the years.

That included their recent annual party to celebrate the December holidays that was held as they rode home.

It took place on the train that left Chicago Union Station at 5:08 p.m. and included eating, drinking and laughing that got under way in the café car before the conducted had given the highball to leave the station.

In early May the group holds a Cinco de Mayo party on the same train that features blender drinks. Once there even a pinata.

The parties are held with the approval of Amtrak. “The conductors know we aren’t going to cause any problems or get too wild,” said Allen, who served as the bartender for the party along with his daughter, Rachel.

“It’s one of the high points of my year,” said Rachel Allen, who lives and works in Milwaukee. “I get to spend time with my dad and make sure all these fantastic human beings have a bartender so they can spend more time with each other.”

Many of the party goers sipped SouBoxer’s ready-to-pour Old Fashioned drinks, but shots of Tully and seasonal cans of Miller Lite beer also were consumed in red plastic cups.

There was also taco dip, pizza and homemade cookies to eat.

Sandy Ross of Milwaukee, collected signatures and donations for the conductors’ holiday cards, a tradition of giving cash-filled envelope to the 13 conductors working the route as a gate agent I Chicago.

“This is the most generous group you will ever meet. We raised over $900 for the conductors. They take good care of us, and they put up with our shenanigans,” Ross said.

As the train raced south of Milwaukee the party crowd switched to clean up mode to return the café car to condition it was in when they boarded.

It was then that Santa Clause appeared to hand out boxes of “Naughty Bag” condoms.

Playing Santa was Gary Hollander who has commuted to Chicago from Fox Point,

Wisconsin, for 20 years. It was his first time playing Santa.

“I wasn’t willing to wear a fat suit, but otherwise I’m fine being Jewish Santa handing out condoms,” said Hollander who works as a consultant for a non-profit group working to reduce sexually-transmitted infections and teen pregnancy.

The Hiawatha commuter pay $416 a week or about 5,000 a year to ride Amtrak.

“I look at it as a car payment,” Ross said. “Because I live in Downtown Milwaukee and work in Downtown Chicago, I don’t need to own a car.”

He used to drive to work but began taking the train because it was easier. “Driving to work is more work for people like us,” Allen said.

The train can have drawbacks including  delays and mechanical malfunctions. Allen said those who miss the 5:08 p.m. train are stuck in Chicago until the next train leaves at 8 p.m.

The other reality of commuting by rail is a 14-hour work days.

Yet many said they wouldn’t want to live in Chicago because it is too expensive.

Shea Royal said Milwaukee has everything Chicago has and is smaller and easier to get around.

And knowing people on the train has helped him cope with the time spent away from his family.

He said he met the Milwaukee commuters during their last party.

“I was looking for a place to get some water and walked through their party car. I asked them for a cup for water and they said I absolutely should not drink the water on the train because it’s nasty. So they offered me beer and Tully instead. Basically this group saved my life,” he said.

Brian Bell will be retiring soon after working in Chicago for 24 years for the Environmental Protection Agency.

“And I’ll be back on the train occasionally after I retire,” he said. “For the parties.”

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.

New Hiawatha Equipment Will Increase Train Capacity

December 16, 2019

The new equipment that Wisconsin expects to buy for use in the Hiawatha Service corridor will be phased into service between 2020 and 2024.
The equipment will expand the capacity of the route where during the peak summer months some trains operate with as many as 50 standees.

“The Hiawatha line currently experiences standing room only conditions on an average of 19 trains per month, mostly on weekdays,” said a report from the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, a nonpartisan state agency that provides the legislature with program information and analysis.

The new equipment will cost $39 million with a federal grant covering some of the cost.

Arun Rao, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation passenger rail manager, said the existing service uses six passenger cars and a cab car.

Rao said the existing train consists can seat up to 408 passengers, while the most current estimates for the new cars — which still have some equipment in the design phase — are 468 to 475 passenger seats.

The existing cars are 30 to 40 years old and approaching the end of their life cycle fiscal bureau report said.

“The new trains will help address overcrowding, but not solve the issue completely as we do have trains with 500-plus passengers,” Rao said.

“Ridership has seen sharp increases — 4.5 percent year-over-year for the federal fiscal year. If that rate continues, although the new equipment will help significantly, we may continue to have capacity issues.”

The Hiawatha Service is funded by WisDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

IDOT passenger rail and transit communications manager Scott Speegle said the new cars will have wider aisles and built-in wheelchair lifts.

The equipment assigned to Hiawatha Service at present uses wheelchair lifts on the platform at each station.

Speegle said the cars will be paired in sets of two, which will allow for easier movement between the two cars for passengers with disabilities.

Each new car will have one wheelchair space but the armrest at each seat will go up thus allowing passengers in a wheelchair the opportunity to transfer to any seat in the car, if they are able.

Rao said restroom facilities aboard the cars will be fully ADA compliant.

The Wisconsin purchase is in addition to new passengers being acquired and paid for by IDOT.

Illinois is buying 88 passenger rail cars for Amtrak Midwest corridor service at a cost of $112.6 million.

Speegle said six of those cars are earmarked for assigned to Hiawatha Service.

He said the cars are expected to be delivered between 2020 and 2023.

In fiscal year 2019 Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains carried 882,189 passengers, an increase of 4.5 percent over FY2018 and an increase of 8.9 percent over FY2015.

Ridership of the Hiawathas is not evenly distributed and Amtrak charges a premium to ride some peak travel time trains.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the premium is designed to encourage riders who don’t need to travel during rush hour to pick a different time to travel.

2 Illinois Routes Saw Ridership Up in FY2019

November 23, 2019

Ridership of two Amtrak routes in Illinois increased in fiscal year 2019.

The Chicago-St. Louis corridor carried 756,062 passengers during the fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, an increase of 5.5 percent from the previous year, and 24 percent higher than fiscal year 2011.

Those figures include ridership of Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains as well as the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle, which used the route.

The Illinois Department of Transportation funds the Lincoln Service trains.

IDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation jointly fund the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service, which saw a gain of 38,000 passengers.

Ridership of Hiawatha Service trains was 882,189 in FY2019, a 4.5 percent increase over FY2019.

Hiawatha Trains Reserved for Thanksgiving Travel

November 5, 2019

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

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.

Wisconsin DOT Tells Hiawatha Expansion Plans

July 18, 2019

Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee is expected to increase in the next five years, Wisconsin transportation officials said this week.

Speaking at a news conference at the Milwaukee Amtrak station, Arun Rao, manager of passenger rail for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said the plans call for one additional roundtrip in the next three years following by two more in the two years after that.

Amtrak currently operates seven Hiawatha roundtrips, all of which are funded by Wisconsin and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The corridor also hosts the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Funding for the expansion comes from an increase in spending on Amtrak service approved this year by the Wisconsin legislature.

WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson said the 2019-21 budget includes $10 million in bonding and $25 million in segregated funding for Amtrak Hiawatha services.

“This funding enables us in the department to qualify for federal funds to improve passenger rail service, providing mobility and transportation choices between Milwaukee and Chicago for both business and leisure,” Thompson said.

Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Association of Commerce, said at the news conference that the Hiawatha Service helps the city’s economy.

“We’re part of Chicago’s mega-region, which is one of the 10 largest economic regions in the country, and to put it simply: Commerce is about connections,” he said.

Amtrak ridership statistics showed that the Hiawathas carried more than 858,000 passengers in 2018.

Officials expect ridership to increase by 5.6 percent in 2019.

Joel Brennan, state Department of Administration secretary, said a recent survey found that 40 percent of trips Hiawatha passengers were traveling for business or work related purposes that 60 percent of their trips were same-day round trips.

Infrastructure spending for the Hiawatha corridor includes adding a second platform at the Milwaukee Mitchell Airport Rail Station, which is expected to cost $10 million.

Another $5 million is projected to be spend for new traffic control equipment at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station .

New passenger cars will cost $39 million. Amtrak is seeking a federal grant to help pay for those.

Committee OKs Added Hiawatha Funding

June 11, 2019

A Wisconsin budget committee has approved a $35 million expansion of Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

However, the committee turned thumbs down on a proposal by Gov. Tony Evers to spend $10 million to develop service between Chicago and the Twin Cities of Minnesota to supplement the daily Empire Builder.

The expansion of the Hiawatha Service would increase service from seven daily roundtrips to 10.

Terry Brown of the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers said the prospects for funding of the Chicago-Twin Cities train will depend on how much resistance Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic lawmakers put up to Republican lawmakers’ state budget proposals.

Republicans control the Wisconsin legislature.