Posts Tagged ‘Hiawatha Service expansion’

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.

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.

Glenview Discount Hiawatha Ridership Increase

March 29, 2019

Officials in Glenview, Illinois, are seeking to downplay the announcement by Amtrak that its Chicago-Milwaukee trains saw a ridership increase in 2018.

Don Owen, the village’s deputy manager, acknowledged the increased but countered that the existing service is still operating at less than 40 percent of capacity.

Amtrak said recently the Hiawathas, which stop in Glenview in north suburban Chicago, carried a record-setting more than 858,000 passengers last year, an increase of 3.6 percent over 2017.

Glenview and other nearby communities have been embroiled in a fight over the past couple of years over a proposal by the departments of transportation of Wisconsin and Illinois, to expand Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 daily roundtrips.

Owen said rather than add additional trains, Amtrak should add another coach to peak travel demand trains to alleviate standing room conditions.

He did not say what source he used to conclude that the Hiawatha are operating under capacity other than to describe it as “the data we have seen.”

The resistance to the Hiawatha expansion has been triggered by a plan to add a holding siding for Canadian Pacific freight trains that is a component of the expansion project.

Homeowners in subdivisions adjacent to the track has expressed fears that CP trains will sit for hours in the siding, causing noise and pollution issues.

They’ve noted that plans are to build a retaining wall as part of track construction. That would eliminate some green space between their homes and the tracks, which are also used by Chicago commuter rail agency Metra.

An environmental impact statement has said the siding would be built between Glenview and Northbrook.

Wisconsin transportation officials have contended that the Hiawatha trains are near capacity and over capacity at peak travel times.

They’ve described the additional trains as a way to provide passengers more train time options and address “inadequate service reliability” because of conflicts with freight and other passenger traffic in the corridor.

Glenview officials have long disagreed with an Amtrak statement that Hiawatha ridership has more than doubled since 2003.

Amtrak figures show that between 2014 and 2015 Hiawatha ridership fell from from 804,900 to 796,300.

But Amtrak has said ridership has increased from 815,200 to 858,300 between 2016 and 2018.

Glenview has approved spending more than $500,000 on its campaign to oppose the Hiawatha expansion project.

That has included hiring consultants to create an alternative to the proposed siding.

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.

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.

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 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.

Lake Forest Delays Action on Lessening its Opposition to Hiawatha Service Expansion Project

March 11, 2017

The Lake Forest (Illinois) City Council will continue to seek to prod the Federal Railroad Administration to study the proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service, but some council members have also expressed doubt that the lobbying efforts are going to be effective.

Many Lake Forest residents, like those in other communities in the north Chicago suburbs along the Chicago-Milwaukee route, have raised concerns about a passing siding that is part of the expansion.

The siding would give Canadian Pacific freight trains a place to sit while waiting for permission to enter Union Pacific tracks and allow passengers trains of Amtrak and Metra to pass them.

At the same time that they are seeking to push the FRA to conduct an environmental impact statement, Lake Forest is also seeking to become a stop for Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service. The city is already served by a select number of Metra commuter trains.

The council did not act at a recent meeting on a resolution that would reduce the city’s official opposition to the expansion.

Lake Forest Mayor Donald Schoenheider has urged the city to take a longer view, citing the advantages that Amtrak and expanded Metra service would have.

“This is a very complicated, impactful and important issue,” Schoenheider said. “It’s important to look not only how this will affect us five or 10 years from now but 50 [years from now].”

The mayor said that every employer he has spoken with at the Conway (business) Park wants to see Amtrak stop in Lake Forest.

City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said the lack of southbound Metra service from the west station during the late afternoon hours means that employers must transport their employees by bus to Deerfield to catch a Metra train back to Chicago.

City officials are also discussing what they termed the best ways to influence the FRA, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Wisconsin Department of Transportation to minimize the impact of the passing siding on local residents.

Few of those who packed the city council chambers objected to additional Amtrak or Metra trains. Most of the opposition to the project has focused on a perceived increase in freight traffic and its effect on the environment.

Opposition to Hiawatha Expansion Softening

February 26, 2017

Some north suburban Chicago officials are having second thoughts about their opposition to a proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

Hiawatha 2News reports indicate that officials in Lake Forest have softened their stance in view of the likelihood that the Federal Railroad Administration is unlikely to order that a full environmental impact study be done on a proposal to add a third track on the route used by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific.

Lake Forest, Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Bannockburn have demanded the EIS after the release of an environmental assessment last fall that found installing the additional tracks would not adversely affect communities along the line.

That triggered intense opposition from homeowners and public officials who argue that CP freight trains will sit  for long period of time while awaiting permission to enter Union Pacific tracks. This, they argued, will create noise, pollution and lower property values.

Lake Forest Mayor Donald Schoenheider said the city council will vote on a resolution on March 6 pertaining to the proposed expansion.

The news reports indicate that meetings between Lake Forest officials and Metra also played a key role in the change of mind.

Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said Metra, which owns the tracks between Rondout and Chicago, favors building the third track and opposes conducting an EIS.

Kiely said Metra CEO Donald Orseno recently told suburban officials, “We are not in the business of holding trains. We are in the business of moving trains. The third rail is not a holding track. It is there so faster trains can pass.”

A consulting firm hired by Lake Forest concluded after studying the environmental assessment that the FRA is unlikely to order an EIS and will take a “narrow” view of the proposed expansion because it involves an existing railroad right of way and won’t involve land acquisition.

The consultants concluded that as long as there is no impact on the environment within the railroad’s right of way the chances of FRA requiring an environmental impact study are remote.

Joanne Desmond, president of the Academy Woods Homeowners Association, which has been particularly vocal in its opposition disagrees with her city’s changing stance.

“We do not agree with your rationale,” Desmond said. “What about our safety? Is this just to get more Amtrak trains and Metra trains? Be considerate and consult with the stakeholders. Please reinstate the environmental impact study. Right now there are vibrations.”

Alderman Prue Beidler said she spent several hours in the Academy Woods area February 21. She said she got a first-hand feel for the noise and vibrations as a pair of freight trains passed while she was there.

“I really feel for these people,” said Beidler. “It seems pretty consequential. Can we get some kind of noise buffer because this really has an impact on their neighborhood?

A draft of the resolution that Lake Forest city council will vote on says the city will not oppose construction of the third track provided that idling locomotives are kept away from Academy Woods.

It also asks Metra, Amtrak and the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin to support the city’s effort to establish an Amtrak stop and increase the number of Metra trains that stop at the west Lake Forest Metra station.

Meta has said that once the third track is built it will launch express service between Chicago and Lake Forest.

In the meantime, representatives of the other cities opposing the expansion continue to insist that the FRA order an EIS.

Dan Owen, Glenview’s interim village manager, said that the project may affect communities in different ways. “We want to know what it is going to do to our community,” he said.

Deerfield Village Manager Kent Street said his town was not changed its position. The same is true for Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum.

“We are concerned about how the provisions put forth in the environmental assessment will affect our Northbrook community,” said Erik Jensen, assistant to the village manager of Northbrook.