Posts Tagged ‘Chicago-Milwaukee’

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.”

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.

Lake Forest Hopes Pedestrian Tunnel Will Help Attract an Amtrak Hiawatha Service Stop

May 23, 2017

Lake Forest, Illinois, is seeking to get a pedestrian underpass built beneath the tracks carrying Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains.

Aside from safety reasons, the underpass might strengthen the city’s efforts to get Amtrak to stop in the northern Chicago suburb.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier would consider a number of factors before agreeing to establish a stop in Lake Forest.

Magliari said these include potential passenger traffic and how a stop might affect current or future operations of Amtrak, Metra or Canadian Pacific freight trains.

He said having a pedestrian underpass would make the Metra station in Lake Forest more accessible.

“We’d want both tracks to be accessible,” Magliari said. “Operationally, if there was only a platform on one side, you’re delaying trains. We’d want to be able to stop on both tracks. There would be less interference with our operation and Metra and freight operations to have safe access on both sides of the track for all people.”

Amtrak would also need to consult with the departments of transportation in Illinois and Wisconsin, which provide funding for the Hiawatha Service trains.

The station underpass has been discussed since at least 2009 and the city council has approved paying a consultant to create a preliminary engineering design.

Lake Forest has been interested in becoming an Amtrak stop since January 2010 when the city council approved a recommendation supporting an Amtrak stop at its west train station.

Fare Sale Announced for Hiawatha Service Travel

April 18, 2017

Amtrak has announced a buy one get one half off deal for passengers traveling on Hiawatha Service trains on Saturdays.

In a news release, the rail passenger carrier said that a Chicago-Milwaukee roundtrip for two will cost $75.

Up to two children ages 2 through 12 can ride for half-price with a full fare adult.

Tickets must be purchased online using promotion code V451. Amtrak noted that for those wishing to spend a night on the town, the last Hiawatha Service trains depart Chicago at 10:40 p.m. and Milwaukee at 11:10 p.m.

Passengers wanting to take a bicycle with them may do so for $5 and do not need to place their bike in a box. It can be handed to an Amtrak crew member at the baggage car.

Chicago Suburban Officials Focus on Freight Train Operations in Study of Hiawatha Expansion

April 18, 2017

Some north suburban Chicago public officials have decided to emphasize possible regulation of freight traffic rather than opposing a proposed expansion of Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

In particular, officials in Lake Forest and Glenview are now backing away from their demand for a detailed environmental impact study of the Hiawatha expansion and instead are supporting having the Federal Railroad Administration study the effects of how freight trains operate in the corridor between Chicago and Rondout, Illinois.

The corridor is used by Amtrak, Metra commuter trains and Canadian Pacific freight trains.

The focus on freight operations came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In earlier public hearings many residents and public officials expressed fears that CP freight trains would sit for lengthy periods of time adjacent to residential neighborhoods.

An FRA environmental assessment released last fall said the freights now sit north of Rondout waiting for permission to enter Union Pacific tracks in Northbrook.

One proposal is to move the waiting area further south to a new siding that would be built in Northbrook.

The EPA has not formally asked the FRA to conduct a study, but instead raised raised concerns that it wants the FRA to address.

“Would extending sidings or adding new holding areas enable freight operators to run more trains?” the EPA wrote in comments on the assessment. “Would proposed changes allow freight trains to wait within the corridor for extended periods of time, since the project would provide a place to do so off the main-line track?”

Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. has been critical of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Illinois Department of Transportation for not taking a closer look at CP freight operations.

Kiely said he wants answers to questions about the project’s effect on “air quality, emissions, noise and public safety.”

Glenview officials are asking how operation of trains might change at grade crossings.

Interim village manager Don Owen said “Now the (freight) trains pass at 40 to 60 miles an hour and it takes a few minutes. If they slow down or stop it could take 10 to 15 minutes to clear a grade crossing.”

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

FRA Response to Hiawatha Expansion Environmental Report Expected This Summer

February 1, 2017

The Federal Railroad Administration is not expected to release its response to an environmental assessment of Hiwatha Service expansion until this summer.

Hiawatha 2A public comment period pertaining to the assessment ended on Jan. 15.

The departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin want to expand service on the Chicago-Milwaukee route from seven to 10 roundtrips a day and the departments have argued that the environmental assessment has enough information for the FRA to act on the proposed expansion.

But the suburban Chicago communities of Lake Forest, Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Bannockburn have additional questions and want to see the FRA order a complete environmental impact statement.

The focal point of the issue is a proposal to build passing sidings to be used by Canadian Pacific freight trains. The CP freights would take siding to allow Amtrak and Metra trains to pass.

The suburban communities fear the siding will be used to park trains for extended periods of time. They have also raised concerns about pollution, noise, vibration, traffic congestion and a negative effect on property values.

The environmental assessment released last October concluded that the communities along the Hiawatha route would suffer no adverse effects.

But the suburban communities say that the FRA needs to order a more detailed study of the effect the sidings would have on the communities and not just on the railroads.

Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said the answers to the questions that have been asked will be included in the environmental assessment, which was prepared by Quandel Consultants at the behest of the state transportation agencies.

Lake Forest Residents Criticize Environmental Assessment of Hiawatha Service Expansion Plan

December 8, 2016

Opponents of an environmental assessment of a proposal to expand Amtrak’s Chicago-Milwaukee service told the Lake Forest City Council on Dec. 5 that the report might have understated the potential traffic disruptions.

Hiawatha 2Residents who addressed the council said that increased rail traffic might hinder firefighters and police vehicles that need to cross the tracks to respond to an emergency on the other side of town.

As has been the case in other communities, some Lake Forest residents are wary of the effects of building a siding that would allow Canadian Pacific freight trains to wait for higher priority Amtrak and Metra trains.

David Tanaka, president of the Pine Oaks Condominium Association, said the environmental assessment made several “baseless assumptions” about environmental harm.

These included, he said, conclusions that increased Amtrak service would have “no noise impacts to adjacent properties” and “no vibration impacts to adjacent properties.”

The report also said construction of the siding would create “no adverse noise or vibration.”

City Manager Bob Kiely said Lake Forest is working with Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Bannockburn, where similar opposition has also arisen.

A public forum to discuss the proposed Amtrak expansion project will be held on Dec. 19 at the Gorton Community Center, 400 E. Illinois Road, from 7 to 8: 30 p.m.

Hiawatha Expansion Comment Period Extended

November 21, 2016

The comment period on a plan to expand Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee has been extended to Jan. 15.

Hiawatha 2The decision to expand the comment period was made by the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin, which help pay for the service and want to expand it from six to 10 daily roundtrips.

The expansion was recently the subject of an environmental assessment conducted by the two departments in conjunction with the Federal Railroad Administration.

That study has drawn criticism from several Chicago suburbs on the route of the Hiawatha Service trains because it proposes building a siding for freight trains to wait while Amtrak and Metra commuter trains pass by.

Suburban officials and residents fear the siding will be used by freight trains for long waits and may aggravate traffic congestion.

Scott Speegle, the passenger rail communications manager for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said the three agencies involved in creating the environmental assessment decided to extend the comment period because of the initial public response that it received.

“The volume of responses and comments we got from individuals showed a lot of people were interested and it was a good idea to extend the period,” Speegle told DailyNorthShore.com.

The assessment can be viewed on the WisDOT website

Reservations Required for Hiawatha Service Travel During Thanksgiving Holiday Period

November 11, 2016

Amtrak is adding coaches and requiring reservations for travel aboard its Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service trains during the Thanksgiving holiday period.

Hiawatha 2The affected dates are Nov. 22 -27. Reservations will be required for travel on all trains.

Amtrak said reservations will not be required for passengers holding monthly or 10-ride tickets.

The reservations requirement is being imposed to try to avoid excessive standees aboard the trains during peak travel times.

Glenview Residents Rip Hiawatha Expansion

October 28, 2016

A special meeting in Glenview, Illinois, to discuss a proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service drew 70 people, many of whom expressed opposition to the plan.

Hiawatha 2The meeting was hosted by Glenview village officials who suggested that the residents write to their elected representatives.

Village officials contend that an environmental assessment conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration and the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin doesn’t show the need to increase Hiawatha service, doesn’t thoroughly examine the environmental impact of the expansion and offers only short-term solutions to resolve passenger and freight train congestion.

Jeff Brady, the Glenview director of planning, wants the agencies to conduct a “much more detailed” environmental impact study or drop the project.

The service expansion would increase the number of Chicago-Milwaukee roundtrips from seven to 10.

As part of the expansion, there has been a proposal to build an 11,000 or 10,000-foot siding for freight trains to wait until passenger trains clear.

Some residents fear that freight trains might be held in the siding for long periods of time.

One proposal would place the siding on the west side of the existing tracks, which are used by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific. Another would place it on the east side.

Both options would require building a new bridge over Shermer Road next to the existing bridge. That in turn would mean construction of a 5-foot embankment from West Lake Avenue to Shermer Road as well as a 20-foot retaining wall.

Some who attended the meeting said idling freight trains might release fumes and carry potentially toxic materials.

State Rep. Laura Fine of Glenview said she opposes the project.

“We are working with you on this, and we are opposed to this as well,” she said. “But please, even though I am here, write us letters so that we can say we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of letters and emails from constituents saying they are opposed to this, because it just helps our fight as well.”

The FRA is taking public comments about the environmental assessment through Nov. 15.

A public hearing has been set for Nov. 2 at which representatives of the Illinois and Wisconsin departments of transportation and the FRA will discuss the project and the environmental assessment.

That meeting will be held at Park Center, 2400 Chestnut Ave., from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Brady said some Glenview residents have complained about the noise and vibration from the freight trains, which they contend are damaging their homes and disrupting their quality of life.