Posts Tagged ‘Hiawatha expansion’

Gov. Wants More Money for More Hiawathas

March 15, 2019

Wisconsin may spend $45 million toward expanding service on Amtrak’s Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

Gov. Tony Evers included that amount in his state budget request with the funds, if approved, to be used to match federal grants to complete infrastructure improvements needed to increase daily Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 round trips.

The estimated total cost of the service expansion has been estimated at $195 million.

The state had in February been awarded a $5 million federal grant under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program to build a second platform for the Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport station.

That is one of eight projects that need to be completed before Hiawatha Service can expand.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials believe the state has a good shot at winning additional CRISI funds that will be available in the coming months.

Amtrak’s Hiawatha trains carried 844,396 passengers in fiscal year 2018 an increase of 1.8 percent over FY 2017s ridership.

Glenview to Spend More to Fight Rail Siding

January 29, 2019

The board of trustees of Glenview, Illinois, has approved spending another $105,000 to continue its opposition to certain elements of a proposal to expand Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

The north Chicago suburb is served by existing Hiawatha Service trains as well as Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The recently approved appropriation brings to more than a half million dollars the amount the village has spent or plans to spend in its campaign.

Much of the village’s opposition focuses on a component of the service expansion that calls for construction of a siding that would be used for Canadian Pacific freight trains awaiting permission to access a Union Pacific line that CP uses to reach its yard in Bensonville, Illinois.

The departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin have proposed increasing Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 roundtrips per day.

A draft environmental assessment of the proposal has suggested the 10,000-foot long siding be built adjacent to tracks used by Amtrak, CP and commuter rail carrier Metra.

The siding has been described as necessary to avoid delaying Metra and Amtrak trains. The siding would extend between Glenview and Northbrook.

Critics of the proposal have said it would increase noise pollution affecting nearby residential neighborhoods, which in turn could adversely affect property values.

They have also been critical of a planned 10- to 20-foot retaining wall that would also be built, saying it would reduce some green space that would provide a buffer.

Village officials have also tried to argue that plans to install crossover switches would increase the possibility of train derailments as well as create noise.

State transportation officials have said the increased service would help to alleviate near-capacity and over-capacity conditions for peak time service, allowing more flexibility with train time options and address “inadequate service reliability” as a result of conflicts with freight and passenger traffic along the corridor.

Most of the money that has been spent by the village to oppose the project has gone to consulting and public relations firms.

IDOT to Further Study Hiawatha Expansion

September 11, 2018

The protests of north suburban Chicago residents to a plan to increase Amtrak Hiawatha Service have been heard in Springfield.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has said that it will be conducting further study of the plan, particularly the proposal to add a third track near Glenview, Illinois, on which Canadian Pacific freight trains are expected to be held to avoid delaying passenger trains.

“Based on the feedback we received, it’s apparent more analysis and outreach are required before this project moves forward,” Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said. “We will be asking our project team to perform that analysis and do the necessary outreach so the impacted communities are more involved in the decision-making process.”

IDOT did not say how long that study will take. IDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation have proposed increasing Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee from seven to 10 daily roundtrips.

Much of the opposition to the project has focused on the proposed 10,000 foot siding where some fear freight trains may sit idling for extended periods of time.

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.

Glenview Poised to Spend $400,000 to Fight Hiawatha Expansion

May 2, 2018

Despite being an Amtrak stop, Glenview, Illinois, is planning to spend up to $400,000 against a plan that would result in the expansion of Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

The effort is not a fight against the expansion per se, but the construction of a siding along the route of the trains, which is also used by Metra commuter trains and Canadian Pacific freight trains.

The departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin have proposed increasing the frequency of service between Chicago and Milwaukee by three additional roundtrips.

As part of that effort, a holding track would be constructed to allow CP freight trains to clear the main while waiting for permission to get onto Union Pacific tracks as part of the journey to a CP yard in Bensonsville.

Glenview expects to spend the funding for lobbying, research, and potential litigation against the plan, with the first $50,000 to go to a public relations firm for work including “development/refinement of core messages and themes” and media relations.

Some Glenview residents have argued that the siding would increase freight traffic and result in freight trains waiting for long periods of time in residential neighborhoods.

In a 2017 letter, now-retired Metra CEO Don Orseno disputed some of those concerns.

“It is well documented that the fluctuations in freight traffic are driven by fluctuations in economic activity, not by the given capacity of a given rail line,” he wrote.

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.

Industrial Park Could Spur Added Hiawathas

February 12, 2018

A planned industrial park in Wisconsin may be an impetus for expanding Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

The Milwaukee Transportation Review Board will review an idea to add three additional roundtrips for the benefit of the Foxconn Technology Group industrial park, which expected to have a large workforce.

The departments of transportation of Wisconsin and Illinois, along with Amtrak have already been studying expanding the Chicago-Milwaukee service, which is expected to cost $200 million.

The Amtrak station at Sturtevent, Wisconsin, is one to two miles from the $10 billion Foxconn site, which could employ up to 13,000 people.

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.”

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.