Posts Tagged ‘Chicago-Milwaukee route’

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.”

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

Hiawatha Service Restored Wednesday Afternoon

July 12, 2017

Amtrak restored Wednesday afternoon its Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service after it had been canceled earlier due to flooding.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that service resumed with the departure of Train 338 from Milwaukee at 3 p.m. and Train 337 from Chicago at 3:15 p.m.

The flooding occurred after heavy rain fell along tracks in both directions from Rondout, Illinois.

The tracks in the area are used by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific and are located in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and Lake County, Illinois.

Metra temporarily suspended service on its Milwaukee District North Line between Chicago Union Station and Fox Lake, Illinois.

Metra said the interlocking plant was flooded at Rondout. Ballast was washed away and a downed tree blocked tracks just west of Libertyville.

The commuter rail agency sent ballast cars and machinery to the location of the washout to lay a new track structure.

The Milwaukee District North Line serves 22,900 passengers a day on 60 trains. Also using the route is Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Some Hiawathas to Run Later This Summer

June 9, 2017

Amtrak is adjusting scheduled in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor to better accommodate late night travelers attending summing events.

Northbound Hiawatha Service No. 343 will leave Chicago at 11:25 p.m. on Saturday nights and makes intermediate stops at Glenview and Sturtevant before arriving at the Milwaukee Airport Rail Station at 12:39 a.m., and downtown Milwaukee at 12:54 a.m., about 15 minutes later than the former schedule.

On Saturdays during Milwaukee’s Summerfest, July 1 and July 8, southbound train No. 344 will depart Milwaukee at 11:55 p.m.

A specially marked shuttle bus will also be provided to take passengers from Summerfest grounds to the downtown Milwaukee Intermodal Station. The bus will be located by the South Bar Bus pick-up location on the north side of Polk Street. It will depart at about 11:25 p.m.

On July 29, southbound train No. 344 will depart Milwaukee at 11:55 p.m. to better serve baseball fans traveling when Milwaukee Brewers host the Chicago Cubs that night.

These midnight specials will depart the Milwaukee Airport Rail station at 12:05 a.m.; Sturtevant at 12:18 a.m.; Glenview at 12:56 a.m. and will arrive in Chicago at 1:24 a.m.

The Hiawatha trains are paid for by the Illinois and Wisconsin departments of transportatipon. The trains carried 815,000 passengers in 2016.