Glenview, Illinois, officials are disputing the need to increase Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service even though their community would benefit from it. Glenview is a stop for Hiawatha trains, but city officials do not necessarily want to see more of them.
On a 6-0 vote, the board of trustees of the Chicago suburb adopted a resolution that opposes the findings of an environmental assessment of a plan to increase the number of trains on the Chicago to Milwaukee route.
Amtrak and the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin have proposed to increase Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 daily roundtrips.
The environmental assessment was conducted by Amtrak, the state transportation departments and the Federal Railroad Administration.
Some Glenview officials question the need for additional Amtrak service.
Trustee John Hinkamp said the Hiawatha trains he has seen pass through town do not appear to be filled to capacity.
“I see empty seat after empty seat as it goes by,” he said. “If (Amtrak) is telling you that there is increased need, I’d like to check those facts.”
Village officials are also concerned that a 10,000-foot holding track may be built in Glenview and that Canadian Pacific freight trains might sit on the siding for extended periods of time waiting for Amtrak and/or Metra commuter trains to clear.
The resolution said Glenview has concerns about the need to increase Hiawatha service by three round trips, short-term solutions proposed to accommodate rail traffic, and environmental impacts
Jeff Brady, the village’s director of planning, said that village officials object to the environmental impact findings because it is unclear what the findings were based on.
He noted that the additional Hiawatha trains would operate during off-peak hours, which would increase freight traffic in Glenview, Brady said.
The proposed holding track would be located on the west side of the existing tracks between om Glenview and Northbrook. Brady said Glenview officials prefer establishing a 30-mile freight bypass through the area.
Trustee Deborah Karton said building the tracks would be unfair to Glenview residents.
“When people bought their homes, they would never have expected to have this track with new times of usage or idling trains,” she said. “That’s out of your realm of what you would expect.”
An FRA spokesman said his agency will be accepting public comments on the environmental assessment report through Nov. 15.
A public hearing will be held Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at Park Center, 2400 Chestnut Avenue. The Illinois and Wisconsin departments of transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration will host a Nov. 2 hearing at Park Center from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to discuss the environmental assessment.
Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum said her city also has concerns about the proposed holding track, but acknowledged those views are not as intense as those in Glenview.
“If the area where the train idles does not cross (to the north of) Techny Road, there’s not as much of a concern, because it’s industrial to the south,” she said. “If it gets north of Techny, then that’s a concern, because that’s a residential area.”
Public hearings are also being held in Milwaukee about the Hiawatha expansion proposal. That hearing will be held on Oct. 27 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Washington Park Senior Center located at 4420 W. Vliet Street.
A court reporter will record comments and there will be exhibits and an audio-visual presentation. Project team members will be available to discuss the project and answer questions.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which along with its Illinois counterpart helps to fund the Hiawatha Service said ridership has grown significantly over the past 15 years.
Between 2001 and 2013, ridership nearly doubled, growing an average of 6 percent annually, giving the route the largest number of riders of any Amtrak service outside the East and West coasts.
Many peak-period trains operate with few or no vacant seats, said Arun Rao, passenger rail implementation manager for WisDOT.
“Providing those additional trains will help spread out those peak riders and help intermodal connections, such as flight connections and city buses,” Rao said. “It provides more flexibility for people getting to those connecting trains or other modes of transportation and services.”
Rao said the additional Hiawatha Service is also expected to reduce highway congestion between Chicago and Milwaukee.
Another public meetings in Illinois will be held on Nov. 1 between 4 and 7 p.m. at Chicago Union Station.
Expansion of Hiawatha Service hinges on securing federal funding in addition to state and private matching funds. The project is expected to cost between $150 million to $200 million.