Posts Tagged ‘Illinois Amtrak routes’

Quad Cities Station Project to Continue

September 2, 2016

Optimistic about the prospect of intercity rail passenger service coming in the future, developers are moving ahead with plans to build a $35 million multi-modal station and hotel in Moline, Illinois.

Amtrak 4The facility will be known as “The Q” and will include an extended-stay hotel, restaurants and shops.

The O’Rourke Building will house the station-hotel-shopping complex.

The State of Illinois has released about $5 million to help fund the program, but the state has yet to commit to spending $177 million to pay for Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

Quad City officials acknowledged there is no timeline for the development of the rail service, but believe it won’t happen before 2018.

Chance Meeting of 2 Amtrak Trains

August 30, 2016

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Amtrak trains pass each other every day on every route, so the practice is common. It can be tricky, though, to know where two trains are going to pass on any given day.

Yes, you can determine the likely meeting places based on schedules and how the trains are operating that day. That’s easier to do on single track territory with a set number of passing sidings, but calculating a meeting point can be complicated on a double-track mainline.

Back in early August 2008 I was in Mendota, Illinois, to photograph the westbound Carl Sandburg and the eastbound Illinois Zephyr, which were scheduled into there seven minutes apart.

The Zephyr was running late and the Sandburg reached the station first. No. 381 had scarcely came to a halt when No. 380 came around the curve.

Perhaps this type of meet happens frequently in Mendota, but it was a lucky break for me.

 

Moline Mayor Optimistic About Amtrak Service

February 23, 2016

Moline (Illinois) Mayor Scott Raes is still optimistic that Amtrak service will eventually come to the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa, but said making it happen by 2017 is going to be tough to pull off.

Raes said in his state of the city address that development of the Chicago-Quad Cities route has stalled due to a state budget stalemate. IllinoisThe Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner are at odd over a budget for the current fiscal year.

The mayor noted that work has begun on renovating a hotel that will serve as the station for the route. That project is being funded by a federal TIGER grant.

But rebuilding the tracks to be used by the trains has yet to begin and the project is behind schedule.

“It does get frustrating because there are three players in this project,” Raes said. “One of the things we’re approaching now is we have to build the platform out to meet the [passenger] cars and until we know the height of the tracks, we don’t know where to go.”

Although the service was supposed to start in early 2017, that seems unlikely.

“I think it will be quite a challenge to hit the 2017 [target] although that’s certainly what we’re hoping for,” Raes said. “But, when you look realistically at where the project’s at, I think that would be a stretch.”

Raes doesn’t expect the state to give up on the project, saying the Illinois Department of Transportation is on board and its leaders are trying to work with the governor and lawmakers to make sure Amtrak and other transportation projects move forward.

“We can’t wait,” Raes said. “I think it will be a great revenue source.”

Ground Broken for New Amtrak Station in Dwight

August 11, 2015

Groundbreaking was held today in Dwight, Illinois, for a new $3.77 million station to serve Amtrak.

The 800-square-foot depot will provide shelter and restrooms for Lincoln Service passengers. Seven trains stop in Dwight, which is located 92 miles southwest of Chicago Union Station.

“We believe that it’s an economic development grower,” said Village Administrator Kevin McNamara.

The original Dwight station still stands and is the home of the Dwight Main Street Program office. Built for the Chicago & Alton in 1891, the station features the stone architecture of its era.

The new Amtrak station in Dwight will be paid for with federal money meant to improve high-speed rail across the country.

Local officials hope that the new facility will encourage an increase in the number of people who commute to work in Chicago by rail.

Illinois Amtrak Trains Continue to Operate Despite Lack of Budget Agreement for FY 2016

July 7, 2015

Illinois still doesn’t have a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 and the governor has threatened to cut Amtrak funding by 40 percent.

But for now Amtrak’s state-funded trains in Illinois continue to run as before. Amtrak officials have indicated that that will be the case for at least several weeks.

Gov. Bruce Rauner announced in mid-June plans to slash funding for Amtrak service in Illinois from $42 million to $26 million.

The governor took the action after he vetoed a budget approved by the Illinois General Assembly that Rauner said was out of balance.

Amtrak has seen these type of budget fights before. Rauner is a Republican in his first term in office while the legislature is controlled by Democrats.

“It’s not unusual for us to begin a fiscal year without a contract or a budget in place, in this state and others,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “There’s a continuation clause in the current contract so it continues on. We’ll continue to provide service while we await a conclusion.”

Magliari said that the continuation clause says that “the contract continues in force for several months. I don’t expect this will take several months.”

Nonetheless, Magliari said Amtrak is “discussing with (the Illinois Department of Transportation) what the service will look like going forward.”

Should Amtrak service on Illinois state-funded routes need to be reduced, Magliari said there will be several weeks notice of those cuts.

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly confirmed that IDOT is talking with Amtrak about future service.

“IDOT is proceeding as quickly as possible to make decisions about the frequency and level of service that the state can afford. Despite weeks of conversations, Amtrak has not yet provided IDOT with the complete financial information necessary to reduce service,” Kelly said.

Illinois funds two roundtrips daily between Chicago and Carbondale, and between Chicago and Quincy. It also funds four roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis and helps underwrite service between Chicago and Milwaukee. The latter service is also funded by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

The Illinois-funded trains have been particularly popular with college students.

In Carbondale, home of Southern Illinois University, students were lined up on the last day of the most recent school term, huddling under an awning as it began raining.

Most of the students were headed for Chicago, but some would be getting off at a station in central Illinois.

Although Carbondale is served by the Chicago-bound City of New Orleans in the middle of the night, the early morning state-funded Saluki is more popular.

The next train from Carbondale to Chicago is the late afternoon Illini.

“I probably wouldn’t take the train because I can’t get up at 3:30 in the morning because I’m a sleeper,” said Justin Edelheit of Buffalo Grove as he waited to board the Saluki. “Well, I don’t really have a car down here so I have to take the train to get home and that’s the only way I have to see my family. ”

Pareth Patel can understand Justin’s reliance on Amtrak. “I don’t actually have a car here so it’s easier for me to take the train because I take the train from here to Chicago and then I take the [Metra] train from Union Station to Naperville which is closer to my house.”

Joe Tumminaro likes the train ride home to the suburbs. “I actually take the train a lot. I got rid of my car his year to take the train because it’s just easier,” he said.

John O’Shea said he rides the train every couple of months. “I live right by [Chicago] Union Station so this takes me right to there and I live two blocks away from here so it’s just easy; it’s just a hassle driving 6 hours to and from.”

O’Shea said he often rides the City of New Orleans, but on this day he needed another option, so he rode the Saluki.

“That’s usually the one I take, but that’s just because it’s more convenient for me, I’m taking this because I have to be here somewhere tonight.”

Keelia Hamdan connects in Chicago with a train for Detroit. Losing options could lead to headaches getting home, especially after exams.

“It would be much more difficult to get around and as you can see a ton of people come like the end of the semester so it would effect a lot of people,” she said.

Budget Talks Crucial for Amtrak Service in Illinois

May 11, 2015

The next few weeks will be pivotal for the future of intercity rail passenger service in Illinois.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed a budget that would dramatically reduce the level of state support for Amtrak trains as well as public transit.

Rauner would cut funding for Amtrak from $42 million annually to $26 million.

It is not clear how this affect Amtrak service in the state other than there may be fewer trains.

At present, Illinois helps to underwrite the costs of two roundtrips daily between Chicago and Quincy, two roundtrips between Chicago and Carbondale, and four roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis. Illinois also helps to fund the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha service.

Amtrak has declined to say how service cuts would play out if the Illinois General Assembly adopts Rauner’s budget recommendation.

There is widespread agreement that service reductions would be the result, but Amtrak won’t say which trains might be discontinued and/or operate less frequently.

The budget cuts stem from a $6 million budget deficit that is staring lawmakers in the face for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Not surprisingly, rail and transit supporters are seeking to rally public support against the governor’s plan.

They’ve organized the Grow Illinois Transit Campaign and established a website, www.growillinoistransit.org.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association and National Association of Railroad Passengers has joined the fight.

They’ve pointed out that not only would Amtrak suffer under the proposed budget cuts, but so would public transportation offered in Chicago by Metra, The Chicago Transit Authority and the suburban-oriented PACE bus network.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in 2006, Illinois increased support for Amtrak and state-supported service doubled on the corridors linking Chicago with Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis.

Also doubling was ridership on those corridors. The state trains carried 242,144 passengers in 2005. In 2014, they carried 633,531, an increase of nearly 162 percent.

The Carbondale and St. Louis corridors are also used by long-distance trains for New Orleans and San Antonio respectively. Operations of those trains would not be affected by any cut in funding for Amtrak.

Connecting bus service also links such cities as Peoria and Danville, neither of which are served by Amtrak, with Amtrak stations in Champaign, Normal and Galesburg.

The latter point enables passengers to connect with long-distance trains traveling to Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay.

But it is not just existing service that is facing the guillotine. Development of new service between Chicago and Rockford, and Chicago and the Quad Cities region has been frozen.

There is fear that further development of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor for high speed service will be halted with the project far from complete.

The state, Amtrak and Union Pacific have spent millions to upgrade the corridor in several places for speeds of up to 110 mile per hour.

Not surprisingly, the opponents of the funding cuts are pointing toward potential harm to economic development and tourism.

At a news conference at the Statehouse in Springfield, Midwest High Speed Rail Association executive director Rick Harnish played the economy card.

“More and more people are choosing where they are going to live or do business based on access to walking, buses and trains,” Harnish said. “Therefore, it’s critical if we want to grow this state’s economy … we need to make it attractive for (people) to travel throughout the state so that they can stay here but access the other things they want.”

Gina Gemberling, acting director of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, told The State Journal Register that the trains are a “vital link for bringing state, national and international tourists to see our important historic sites.”

Springfield tourism officials said 194,762 people rode Amtrak to Springfield in 2014, almost 20,500 more than the 174,265 who used Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.

The city’s mayor-elect, Jim Langfelder, said he will work through whatever the legislature decides to do, but he also sees the value of transportation.

“Society likes convenience,” he said. “The more you can make transportation convenient, the better, not only for work but for tourism.”

The Rauner administration is seeking to lay the blame for the spending cuts at the feet of previous governors, which spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said left Rauner with no choice but to cut the budget.

“Illinois’ fiscal crisis is a result of years of insider deals and overspending, and as a result, the state is $6 billion in the hole,” she said. “Without structural reform, difficult choices must be made to balance the budget and ensure care to the state’s most vulnerable.”

Rauner is a Republican and the legislature is controlled by Democrats, so it seems likely that the governor won’t get all of what he is seeking.

But party affiliation might not matter much when budget negotiations reach a critical stage and tough fiscal decisions need to be made.

Transportation funding, though, is a small part of what is at stake and what the governor and lawmakers are fighting over as they seek to narrow the budget deficit.

There are issues involving funding for the pension plans of public employees, funding for Medicaid and proposed reductions in the budget of the Department of Children and Family Services.

The governor has proposed an increase of $300 million in funding for K-12 education.

Legislators and Rauner have been sparring over what has been dubbed the “Turn Around Agenda” in which Democrats would get new revenue sources to devote to priorities dear to Democratic legislators in exchange for passage of business oriented measures dear to the Republican governor.

It remains to be seen to what degree funding Amtrak and public transportation are dear to either side.

Illinois has a long history of funding Amtrak service. It was the second state to offer Amtrak to operate trains that were not part of the 1971 basic system and it has funded more trains for a much longer period of time than has any other Midwest state.

Lawmakers and state policy makers and employees are active users of Amtrak trains between the capitol city and the Windy City.

Western Illinois University, Illinois State University, Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign are located on the routes used by the state-funded trains with Eastern Illinois University just 10 miles away from a station on the Carbondale route.

So there is an active travel by train culture in Illinois that is all but non-existent in Ohio, stunted in Wisconsin and just now starting to develop in Indiana.

In the end, transportation seems likely to face a reduction and the discussion is probably going to center on how much. It probably will not be the number put forth by the governor.

Perhaps all of Amtrak’s current slate of state-funded trains will continue in operation.

But the price of that might be that continued development of new services and full-speed ahead continuation of high-speed rail construction in the Chicago-St. Louis corridors will be casualties of whatever bargain that the two sides reach.

Review Puts Illinois Amtrak Expansion on Hold

February 4, 2015

Expansion of Amtrak service to Rockford, Ill., and to the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa is on hold by order of  Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner while his administration reviews them.

Rauner, who defeated incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn last November, had pledged to review all spending by the state. Service to Rockford had been projected to begin in late 2015.

The announcement prompted Rockford area officials to proclaim their continued support for the service.

“I would argue that anything you can do to improve transportation infrastructure economically benefits the Rockford region and the state,” said state Senator Steve Stadelman. “So it’s something that needs to go ahead no matter what our financial situation is.”

Service to Rockford to Begin in 2015

April 12, 2014

Rail passenger service is expected to return to Rockford, Ill., in 2015 after the Illinois Department of Transportation reached an agreement with Union Pacific and Metra.

The parties will undertake $223 million in infrastructure improvements to make the Chicago- Rockford route a reality.

The service will be operated by Amtrak and involve one daily roundtrip.

Trains will use a combination of Metra’s Milwaukee District West commuter line and UP’s Belvedere Subdivision. A connection will be built between the two near Metra’s Big Timber station west of Elgin.

The announcement came after several years of negotiations with Canadian National failed to result in agreement to use its tracks, which had been designated as the preferred route for a proposed Chicago-Rockford-Dubuque, Iowa, service.

The former Illinois Central Railroad route now owned by CN previously hosted Amtrak’s Chicago-Dubuque Black Hawk. That train, which IDOT helped fund, was discontinued in September 1981 when the state reduced its funding of Amtrak service.

The $223 million will be funded primarily through Gov. Pat Quinn’s “Illinois Jobs Now!” capital program, will include expenditures of almost $14 million to build a temporary station on 7th Street in Rockford. The state will also provide funding for the establishment of stations in Belvedere and Huntley. The initial work on the UP route will accommodate trains at 59 mph by the end of 2015.

Other improvements planned for 2016 will help increase train speeds to 79 mph and allow the inauguration of a second Chicago-Rockford roundtrip.

IDOT said it will continue to talk with CN about an agreement that would allow the route to be extended to Dubuque via Freeport and Galena. All of those cities had been stops for the Black Hawk. Trains magazine reported that Illinois was able to strike a deal with Union Pacific for signal and track upgrades because of the partnership that it has established with UP to increase speeds on Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

The Rockford trains will use the same tracks that Amtrak’s Hiawatha service uses between Chicago Union Station and the Western Avenue interlocking as far as Pacific Junction

At the latter point, Rockford trains will use Metra’s existing station to Elgin. There is a crossover connecting Metra and UP at Western Avenue, but it only serves one track.

Using Metra to Elgin will keep the Rockford trains off UP’s freight-congested main line as far as West Chicago, where the line to Rockford diverges. Before the 1971 coming of Amtrak, the former IC served Rockford corridor with a train that operated between Chicago and Sioux City, Iowa.

The UP line to Rockford, which was formerly owned by the Chicago & North Western, has not hosted scheduled passenger service since the early 1950s, although it has seen period excursion trains.

Restoration of Amtrak service to Rockford was among a flurry of announced rail funding programs in Illinois in recent weeks.

Work Continues to Develop 2 Illinois Routes

December 5, 2013

Negotiations between the Illinois Department of Transportation and Canadian National may lead to Amtrak service between Chicago and Rockford, Ill., in late 2015.

The two parties are discussing an infrastructure improvement plan and budget for the former Illinois Central route that once hosted Amtrak’s Black Hawk between Chicago and East Dubuque, Ill.

IDOT hopes to extend the service to Dubuque shortly after the service begins serving Rockford.

The state is also working to launch service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

Construction is set to begin in early 2014 on a connection at Wyanet, Ill., that will link BNSF’s former Chicago Burlington & Quincy main line between Chicago and Galesburg and Iowa Interstate’s former Rock Island line to the Quad Cities.

The Chicago-Quad Cities service is expected to start in December 2015.
The train will serve a  multi-modal station in Moline, Ill., that will cost $16.7 million.

The facility will be funded with $10 million from a federal TIGER II grant and $5 million from IDOT.

Moline’s depot will be housed in a former Sears warehouse at 12th Street and 4th Avenue. The second through sixth floors will serve as an extended-stay hotel with at least 80 rooms. The building will also include 5,000 square feet of retail space for coffee shops, restaurants, and stores, as well as a public waiting area, ticket counters, and restrooms.