Posts Tagged ‘Illinois Department of Transportation’

IDOT Head Sees Top Speed of 90 mph for Trains by Summer 2018 in the Chicago-St. Louis Corridor

December 18, 2017

Illinois Secretary of Transportation Randy Blankenhorn said Amtrak trains in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor should be operating at 90 mph starting next summer.

The current top speed on the route is 79 miles per hour exception for a demonstration section between Pontiac and Dwight where 110 mph speeds began in fall 2012.

In an interview with the State Journal-Register of Springfield, Blankenhorn said a nearly $2 billion high-speed rail project to rebuild portions of the route for high-speed service is starting to wind down.

Although the route has an infrastructure for a 110 mph top speed, Blankenhorn said those speeds won’t come until 2019 after a positive train control system is put into operation.  “We are substantially complete,” said Blankenhorn.

Blankenhorn expects the project to finish on time and on budget with federal funding accounting for $1.65 billion of the estimated $1.95 billion final project cost.

The state is paying about $300 million of the project cost. IDOT has said that once the project is completed, Amtrak trains will have an 85 percent on-time guarantee.

Union Pacific, which owns the most of the track in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor used by Amtrak will be subject to financial penalties if the 85-percent, on-time guarantee is missed.

Nearly 590,000 passengers rode Amtrak between St. Louis and Chicago during the Illinois fiscal year that ended last June 30.

Patronage has fallen below 600,000 the last three fiscal years as a result of service disruptions caused by the high-speed project work.

One final phase of the project that is still underway is finishing track work in the Third Street corridor in Springfield.

“There’s some crossing work that needs to be done in Springfield, and that’s well underway,” Blankenhorn said.

The work will also include six-foot safety fencing on each side of the tracks. Safety, technology and accessibility improvements are planned for the Springfield Amtrak station.

Workers have made changes to 190 crossings in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor along 330 miles of track, closed nearly two dozen crossings and put up 90 miles of safety fencing meant to prevent trespassing.

The higher speeds are expected to reduce the 5.5 hour trip between St. Louis and Chicago by 11 minutes and by 20 minutes when a second set of tracks is competed near Joliet. Trains traveling 110 mph should cut the running time by 53 minutes.

However, the faster running times won’t address freight rail congestion in Chicago or St. Louis, which Blankenhorn said accounts for many of the delays now occurring.

Just over half of Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains ran late in the three years prior to high-speed rail work.

“It’s not so much about speed as it is reliability,” said Blankenhorn. “Passengers would use our trains a lot more if they knew they were going to be there when they need them and were not going to be an hour-and-a-half late.”

John Oimoen, chief of IDOT’s rail division said installation of the equipment needed for PTC in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor will be completed next spring.

“It’s the challenge of developing the software and getting that information back to (train) dispatcher,” he said.

Blankenhorn said the highest speeds initially will be allowed between Alton and Joliet while the state continues to work to fix the traffic bottlenecks in St. Louis and Chicago. He said those fixes will be “complicated and expensive.”

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Iowa Passenger Advocates Undaunted in Push to Get Intercity Rail Service to Iowa City, Des Moines

November 28, 2017

Iowa passenger train advocates continue to push for service to Iowa City and Des Moines, but expansion of Amtrak to those cities is unlikely to occur anytime soon.

Officially, the prospect of providing intercity rail passenger service to the home of the University of Iowa (Iowa City) and the capital (Des Moines) remains under study by the Iowa Department of Transportation, but the state legislature thus far has declined to approve funding for the service.

Christopher Krebill of Davenport is the head of the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers and remains optimistic about the prospects of implementing twice-daily service between Chicago and Iowa City within the next five years.

“I love this state and I love the rail service that we have now,” Krebill told the Des Moines Register. “I believe that having train service in central and northern Iowa, and doubling train service on Amtrak’s current two routes would do great things for Iowa’s transportation network and Iowa companies and people.”

The proposed service to Iowa City would serve the Quad Cities region of Iowa and Illinois and was being pushed for a time by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The service was projected to draw 187,000 passengers annually. A federal grant of $230 million has funded earlier studies of the proposed service.

Although a 2015 start-up date was eyed, Iowa lawmakers would not approve that state’s share of the funding, estimated at $20 million plus annual grants for operating expenses.

Many Iowa legislators argued that if passenger trains are viable they should be operated by the private sector.

The proposed Amtrak service to Iowa City was expected to eventually be extended to Des Moines and Omaha.

At one time, rail service operated via Iowa City and Des Moines on the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad.

Amtrak has never operated scheduled passenger trains to Iowa City, which lost passenger rail service in 1970. Des Moines has been without passenger trains since May 31, 1970, when the Rock Island’s Cornbelt Rocket was discontinued there.

The Rock Island continued passenger service to the Quad Cities from Chicago until 1978.

Those former Rock Island rails are now owned by the Iowa Interstate Railroad and would be used within Iowa for the Chicago-Iowa City route.

Iowa is currently served by two Amtrak long-distance trains, the California Zephyr between Chicago and Emeryville, California; and the Southwest Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles.

The Chief’s only stop in Iowa is at Fort Madison while the Zephyr serves the Iowa cities of Burlington, Mount Pleasant, Ottumwa, Osceola and Creston.

In fiscal year 2017, Amtrak had ridership of 60,585 passengers, which was a decline of 1.3 percent when compared with FY2015. Amtrak’s high water ridership mark in Iowa occurred in 2010 when it carried 68,744.

During the administration of Gov. Chet Culver, Iowa officials examined the Chicago-Iowa City proposal in 2010.

Jim Larew, who was policy director and chief legal counsel to Culver, still believes that the route would be appealing to such key demographic groups as college students, young professionals and older Iowans.

“My own view is that this is just a matter of when, not if,” Larew said. “The model will always fit to have passenger rail service from Chicago to Iowa City, and then over to Des Moines and possibly Omaha.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation continues to work on preliminary engineering and environmental studies of proposed rail passenger service between the Quad Cities and Iowa City on the Iowa Interstate Railroad’s tracks, said Amanda Martin, the agency’s railroad passenger and freight policy coordinator. She said that work is expected to continue into 2018.

In Illinois, that state’s DOT was able to get an extension of the federal grant until June 2018.

Kelsea Gurski, IDOT’s bureau chief of communications services, said that will enable the agency to continue working with the Iowa Interstate Railroad on preliminary engineering studies that will determine the full scope of improvements necessary to host passenger trains between Wyanet and Moline, Illinois.

“A timeline for the overall project will be ready once these studies are completed and construction and service agreements are in place with the Iowa Interstate Railroad,” Gurski said.

Current Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has not yet taken a position on expanded passenger rail service in Iowa, said Brenna Smith, Reynolds’ spokeswoman.

Smith said it’s too soon to begin discussing state funding because the Iowa DOT’s studies are still underway.

State Sen. Matt McCoy of Des Moines continues to advocate for passenger trains to the state capital and sees a potential opportunity if a much talked about federal infrastructure program comes to fruition.

“That doesn’t mean that Iowa will participate in a state share of money for the project, but I get the feeling that Illinois would at least bring the train to the Quad Cities. Then it would be up to us to determine if we want it to go any further,” he said.

In its most recent report on FY2017, Amtrak said ridership figures for Iowa stations were: Burlington: 8,430; Mount Pleasant: 13,736; Ottumwa: 12,209; Osceola: 15,752; Creston: 3,797; and Fort Madison: 6,661.

110 mph Running Delayed Until Next Year

November 25, 2017

Top speeds of 110 miles per hour are not expected to come to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor until 2018, the Illinois Department of Transportation has said.

IDOT said construction of the $2 billion high-speed rail project has taken longer than expected.

The original goal when the project began seven years ago was to have the higher speeds in place by late 2017.

Officials have not said when in 2018 the higher speeds will be allowed.

The latest delays have occurred in Springfield where five crossings have been closed while workers install safety fencing and make signal and gate upgrades.

The city of Springfield is seeking federal approval to establish a “quiet zone” of no train horns once the safety improvements are completed.

Trains began running at speeds up to 110 mph in 2012 between Pontiac and Dwight.

Canceled Car Contract Not Good News for Rochelle

November 16, 2017

The news that Nippon Sharyo has lost the contract to build new passenger cars for Midwest and California corridor trains operated by Amtrak is not good news for  Rochelle, Illinois.

Nippon Sharyo established a factory in the northern Illinois city that does not see any scheduled passenger trains to build the bi-level cars.

But a prototype car built at the plant failed to pass safety tests and many employees at the Rochelle plant had already been laid off before the California Department of Transportation announced that Siemens will instead complete the cars at a factory in Sacramento, California.

The contract with Nippon Sharyo had been announced in November 2012 by former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and was valued at $550 million.

The Illinois Department of Transportation had banded together with its California counterpart to oversee the car orders, which also involves the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri.

The original contract had called for 130 passenger rail cars of which California agreed to buy 42. The remaining 88 cars were earmarked for Amtrak’s Midwest corridor routes.

Some saw the new cars as a first-step toward creating 125-mph passenger service in the Midwest.

With more than $10 million in state and local financial incentives, Nippon Sharyo opened a new U.S. headquarters and the $35 million passenger rail car facility in Rochelle in July 2012.

As recently as 2015, the Rochelle plant employed 694. Last month employment there was 54.

Illinois officials had said when announcing the contract to build cars in Rochelle that Nippon Sharyo had agreed to create 250 jobs and retain 15 at its office in Arlington Heights. A report in the Chicago Tribune said it is unclear if this agreement has changed.

Nippon Sharyo said it “will continue its business operations going forward with a reduced number of employees to meet the needs of existing customers and contractual responsibilities.”

Caltrans recently said it has awarded a $352 million contract to Sumitomo Corporation of Americas and Siemens to complete the car order that Nippon Sharyo once had.

The new contract calls for 137 single-level rail cars of which 88 will be used in the Midwest.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association says that single-level cars are safer and better able to protect passengers in the event of a crash.

21 More Chargers Due in Chicago in January

November 16, 2017

Amtrak expects to receive 21 additional Charger locomotives in January. They will supplement the 12 that were delivered last August.

The locomotives have been assigned thus far to Hiawatha Service trains between Chicago and Milwaukee, and routes linking Chicago with the Illinois cities of Quincy and Carbondale.

Chargers also were expected to begin revenue service this week between St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri.

Scott Speegle, the passenger rail communications manager for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said the passenger experience should be improved.

“They will provide a better acceleration and deceleration, and so we’ll have a smoother ride and better on-time performance,” Speegle said.

He said the new locomotives make it easier for more passenger cars to be added during peak travel days.

“They could pull more cars more efficiently than the older locomotives,” Speegle said. “We generally look to add cars at times there is a greater demand.”

The Chargers were built by Siemens in California and are also being used on West Coast corridor routes.

They have a Cummins engine that was built in Indiana, can reach speeds up to 125 mph and are capable of having positive train control.

Amtrak has labeled the Chargers with an “Amtrak Midwest” brand. The locomotives are owned by the states of Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin and Michigan and are leased to Amtrak.

The locomotives were purchased with $216.5 million in federal funds.

Siemens to Complete Passenger Car Order

November 10, 2017

Siemens will replace Nippon Sharyo as the builder of new passenger cars for the departments of transportation of California and Illinois, the agencies have confirmed.

Caltrans said in a news release that it has amended its $371 million contract for new passenger cars so that Siemen and Sumitomo Corporation of American will complete the long delayed multi-state order.

Under the new contract, the order will include 137 single-level passenger railcars – 49 to Caltrans and 88 to IDOT.

The original contract called for bi-level cars with Sumitomo subcontracting construction of the cars to Nippon Sharyo. The revision designates Siemens as a subcontractor.

The cars are to be delivered in 24 to 34 months after production begins next year.

The original cars were being built in Rochelle, Illinois. A prototype car was completed, but failed to pass federal crashworthy tests.

The single-level cars will be constructed at a Siemens plant in Sacramento, California. All components will come from U.S.-based suppliers.

California plans to use the new passenger cars on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor trains. The equipment will also be used on Midwest corridor trains.

New Carlinville Station Close to Opening

October 6, 2017

A new Amtrak station in Carlinville, Illinois, is expected to open soon.

A least lease agreement between the city of Carlinville, which owns the building, and Union Pacific, which owns the ground, has been reached.

But the city must work out a lease agreement with Amtrak, but the negotiations have snagged over liability insurance.

“We’re still dilly dallying with the Amtrak lease of the station and the platforms,” said City attorney Rick Bertinetti.” Everything is pretty well getting ironed out in that agreement except for one significant major item that pertains to liability and insurance.”

Bertinetti said he placed language in the lease stating Amtrak would indemnify the city over anything that happens with regard to Amtrak’s use of the platform, its agents, its employees and its passengers.

“We do have a good clause in there as far as indemnity that they have approved,” he said. “Now, we’re just trying to put together what insurances we do have to carry and maintain in effect because of our other agreement to lease the property — the platform in particular — from Union Pacific Railroad.”

Mayor Deanna Demuzio said a meeting has been scheduled with an attorney from Amtrak.

“We hope to get everything finalized very, very soon. This is something we’ve been working on for over a year.”

The Carlinville City Council recently approved a stipulation by the Illinois Department of Transportation for a passenger information display system that will provide passengers with infromation regarding arriving and departing trains.

Bertinetti said the PIDS agreement had to be approved by the council since the displays are improvements to the property and included a grant received by the city.

“We don’t have any monetary obligation here, other than we are the owner,” he said. “We have to carry insurance on it and we’re basically responsible if it gets damaged, vandalized, stolen, something like that. We’ll carry insurance on it, just as we have to carry insurance on the station itself.

Carlinville is served by Amtrak’s Lincoln Service trains and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Hiawatha Route Hosts Solo Charger-led Trip

August 25, 2017

A new Siemens SC-44 Charger locomotive operated solo for the first time on Thursday, pulling Amtrak Hiawatha train No. 329 from Chicago to Milwaukee.

No. 4620, which is owned by the Illinois Department of Transportation, became the first Charger to make a solo revenue trip since arriving in Chicago last spring.

IDTX Nos. 4611 and 4604 were the first to arrive in Chicago from Seattle following several months of testing in the Pacific Northwest.

Altogether, 69 Chargers have been built for the departments of transportation in Illinois, California, Michigan, Missouri, Washington and Maryland.

The Illinois-owned Chargers will be used on state-funded Amtrak routines radiating from Chicago.

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.

Charger Testing Completed in Illinois

April 25, 2017

The new Charger SC-44 locomotives were tested last weekend on three routes in the Midwest and are expected to enter revenue service this spring.

The Illinois Department of Transportation said the locomotives built by Siemens ran with empty trains of Amtrak passenger cars on routes linking Chicago with Milwaukee; Carbondale, Illinois; and Quincy, Illinois.

The locomotives will be tested on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor later this year.

“The delivery and testing of these attractive new locomotives will certainly get attention now and in years to come as they serve riders in our great Illinois communities,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn.

“Their arrival will be a welcome sight and put us one step closer to providing more efficient and reliable passenger rail service throughout our state and our neighboring states.”

During the test runs, engineering staff from Amtrak and Siemens rode the locomotives and performed required tests while monitoring each engine’s performance.

The Chargers are compliant with EPA Tier IV emissions standards and can operate at speeds up to 125 mph.

IDOT along with state transportation departments in Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Maryland, California and Washington collaborated on ordering the locomotives.

Midwest state agencies acquired 33 of the 4,400-horsepower locomotives, which were purchased through $216.5 million in federal funding and built in Sacramento, California. All of the Midwest-based locomotives are to be delivered by late 2017.

Revenue testing is to begin for 30 days on April 30 in California on the Capitol Corridor route. Six Chargers are expected to operate in Northern California on the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin routes.

In a news release, Siemens said the Chargers are equipped with electronically controlled regenerative braking systems that use energy from traction motors during braking to feed the auxiliary and head-end power systems. The feature is expected to minimize fuel consumption.

The diesel-electric operation is designed to enable better acceleration, cleaner emissions and low noise levels. The locomotives feature a 4,400 horsepower Cummins QSK95 diesel engine.