Posts Tagged ‘Illinois Department of Transportation’

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.

Illini to Run an Hour Later on Weekdays

April 19, 2017

Amtrak’s Carbondale, Illinois, to Chicago Illini will operate an hour later between April 24 and May 12 due to Canadian National track work.

The schedule change affects only trains operating on Monday through Friday. The Saturday and Sunday schedule of No. 392 remains unchanged.

Arrival times at all intermediate stations will be an hour later.

The Illini is funded largely by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

 

Chicago-St. Louis Corridor Rebuilding Nearing Completion

April 18, 2017

The Illinois Department of Transportation says a $1.95 billion rebuilding of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor is close to being finished.

The project, which began eight years, will conclude with work in the coming months in Madison and Macoupin counties in Illinois near St. Louis.

IDOT officials say that 75 percent of the 284-mile corridor will feature speeds of up to 110 miles per hour.

Among the work yet to be done is temporarily closing 18 grade crossings to allow for the installation of new gates, fencing and other improvements.

Grade crossings will receive “four-quad” gates to block two traffic lanes on each side of the track and keep vehicles from going around the gates

Sidewalk gates will keep pedestrians from crossing while a train is approaching and 3-foot-high pedestrian fences will be installed at to encourage people to cross where they should.

Officials said some service will be suspended between May 16 to 23 for bridge work in the Metro East area of St. Louis.

The suspensions will affect trains operations between St. Louis and Springfield, Illinois. Chartered buses will replace trains during that period.

Much of the route upgrading, which has included laying new rails and putting down concrete ties has been funded by the federal government.

IDOT officials said increasing the maximum speed in open areas to 110 will cut about an hour off the corridor travel time.

“Currently, it’s about five and a half hours from end to end,” said Scott Speegle, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation. “It’ll be about four and a half once the project is finished and we’re able to run the 110 high speed.”

However, officials said that although they expect the higher speed project to be finished this year they cannot yet say when the 110 mph speeds will be allowed.

It could be in 2018, but that will depend on testing the line’s positive train control system.

“They have to be very conservative with testing,” said Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

Speegle said aside from higher speeds, the PTC system will allow for better train flow and increased reliability.

He noted that much of the corridor is a single track line hosting passenger and freight trains.

Some double track and lengthened siding have been added to facilitate meets of opposing rail traffic.

The Chicago-St. Louis corridor is used by Amtrak’s Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle.

Can NIMBYs Kill the Hiawatha Expansion?

February 10, 2017

If Amtrak had just put on the three additional Hiawatha Service roundtrips that Illinois and Wisconsin want, no one except passengers and rail passenger advocates would have been the wiser.

But the proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service isn’t going to work that way and as a result there has been a NIMBY uprising in suburban Chicago that threatens to scuttle the expansion.

Hiawatha 2The Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Illinois Department of Transportation, which fund the existing service, want to expand the number of Chicago-Milwaukee trains from seven to 10.

As part of that expansion, a holding track for Canadian Pacific freight trains would be built in suburban Chicago.

Because public money is involved an environmental assessment, which examines various facets of the proposed expansion, was conducted.

Once that became public last October, the NIMBY opposition began, citing the usual arguments that opponents of new or expanded rail passenger service make everywhere, e.g., noise, pollution, increased traffic congestion, vibration and diminished property values.

What makes the suburban Chicago dispute different is that it involves a rail line that already has a high level of passenger service.

It is likely that many of the NIMBYs are regular or occasional Metra users. The property owners along the Chicago-Milwaukee route are accustomed to train traffic passing their neighborhoods. They may not like it, but they know they can’t stop it.

The news media coverage largely has failed to explain the particulars of why the holding track is part of the expansion plan. It is the result of operating constraints affecting three railroads and ordinary people don’t have much interest in such matters.

Freight trains bound for CP’s Bensenville Yard near Chicago O’Hare International Airport sometimes hold on the mainline north of Rondout in Lake Forest as they wait for permission to enter in Northbrook a Union Pacific route that CP trains use to access Bensenville Yard.

As early as 2007, WisDOT began studying traffic patterns on the Chicago-Milwaukee Route in preparation for expanded Hiawatha Service.

Computer modeling exercises and meetings of operating officials of the three railroads using the corridor – Amtrak, CP and Metra – identified choke points and operating challenges.

The proposed capital improvements that came out of those meetings – including the holding track – were designed to minimize the need for trains of all three railroads to wait on the mainline for other traffic to clear.

The holding track was a way of shifting where CP freights would sit as they waited for the UP to give permission to enter its territory.

Had the railroads agreed to host the expanded Hiawatha Service within the existing infrastructure, the NIMBY opposition would never have materialized because they would not have noticed the increase in Amtrak traffic.

The NIMBYs want the FRA to order that a full environmental impact statement be conducted, probably in the hope that it will confirm their point of view. They also are playing for time, hoping that the holding track idea will go away or that the railroads will build it somewhere else.

Some of the public officials who have jumped on the NIMBY train might be playing for federal and state money to make infrastructure improvements their cities could not afford otherwise.

In the end the Hiawatha expansion may never come about, but not necessarily because of the NIMBYs.

Additional passenger equipment is needed and it is unclear when that will become available. The new locomotives expected to be used on Amtrak Midwest corridor routes are being built, but new passenger cars have been delayed and there is a looming September deadline to spend the federal grant awarded to pay for those cars.

It also is unclear if Illinois and Wisconsin are committed to paying the operating costs of the additional Hiawathas. Keeping the funding level high enough to afford the existing corridor service of the two states is a challenge as it is.

Many of the arguments being made by the NIMBYs are unsubstantiated and emotionally overwrought. The FRA won’t take those seriously.

And some of the opposition by public officials is opportunistic. It doesn’t cost them to side with the NIMBYs and might gain them a few political brownie points. The FRA knows that, too.

What remains to be seen is whether this political posturing eventually will result in the political clout that could be brought to bear to kill the public funding needed to pay for the expanded service. This risk is just one of the prices today, of intercity passenger service.

Chicago Suburbs Continue to Push for Full Environmental Study of Proposed Hiawatha Service Expansion

December 22, 2016

Public officials and residents of five northern Chicago suburbs are continuing to call for more comprehensive study of a proposal to expand Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Hiawatha 2About 100 people attended a meeting held this week in Lake Forest, Illinois, to discuss how the communities might be affected by the service expansion.

One point of contention is a passing siding that would be built to allow Canadian Pacific freight trains to wait for Amtrak and Metra trains to pass.

The siding has drawn sharp criticism from residents of Lake Forest, Deerfield, Northbrook, Glenview and Bannockburn.

A presentation at the Lake Forest meeting said the additional trackage, which would range from 13,000 to 18,000 feet, would enable faster rail service.

But Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely said it would also mean that freight trains would be 14 feet closer to homes along the west side of the tracks.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation initially proposed the service expansion, which would increase the number or daily Hiawatha Service roundtrips from seven to 10.

Also participating in the study are the Illinois Department of Transportation, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration.

The Illinois and Wisconsin transportation departments jointly fund the Hiawatha Service.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the FRA will make the final decision on whether the expansion can proceed because it is expected to provide most of the funding for the $150 track improvements, including the controversial passing siding.

The FRA released an environmental assessment of the project last October and public comment is being taken through Jan. 15.

That assessment concluded that the service expansion would not adversely affect adjacent properties through either noise or vibration.

Kiely said the suburban communities want the FRA to conduct a full environmental impact statement, which would be more comprehensive.

“That’s why the communities initially said they’d like to see a full environmental impact study done so we all have complete knowledge and information as to what those noise and vibration impacts are going to be,” he said.

The FRA’s environmental assessment noted that ridership in the Chicago‐Milwaukee corridor nearly doubled between 2001 and 2013, growing by an average of 5.9 percent per year.”

WisDOT wants the service increase in order to keep up with travel demand on the route.

“As ridership grows, near‐capacity and over‐capacity conditions (especially on trains 330, 332, 337 and 339) are expected to occur more frequently if no improvements are made to the service. Peak trains are often over capacity. Ridership is continuing to increase, despite the fall in gas prices. There is also significant and growing ridership on the mid-day off-peak trains,” said WisDOT spokesman Mae Knowles.

Public comments about the expansion plan can be made by sending an email to DOTChicagoMilwaukeePassengerRailEA@dot.wi.gov or by calling 608-261-6123.

 

Hiawatha Expansion Comment Period Extended

November 21, 2016

The comment period on a plan to expand Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee has been extended to Jan. 15.

Hiawatha 2The decision to expand the comment period was made by the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin, which help pay for the service and want to expand it from six to 10 daily roundtrips.

The expansion was recently the subject of an environmental assessment conducted by the two departments in conjunction with the Federal Railroad Administration.

That study has drawn criticism from several Chicago suburbs on the route of the Hiawatha Service trains because it proposes building a siding for freight trains to wait while Amtrak and Metra commuter trains pass by.

Suburban officials and residents fear the siding will be used by freight trains for long waits and may aggravate traffic congestion.

Scott Speegle, the passenger rail communications manager for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said the three agencies involved in creating the environmental assessment decided to extend the comment period because of the initial public response that it received.

“The volume of responses and comments we got from individuals showed a lot of people were interested and it was a good idea to extend the period,” Speegle told DailyNorthShore.com.

The assessment can be viewed on the WisDOT website

New Amtrak Station Opens in Dwight

October 28, 2016

A ceremony was held this week to mark the opening of a new $3.26 million station in Dwight, Illinois, that is served by Amtrak.

300px-Lincoln_Service_map.svgThe Illinois Department of Transportation said it is the first new station to open on the route, which is being rebuilt for higher-speed service by Chicago-St. Louis trains.

Construction began in August 2015 and the new depot has 1,500 square feet of space, free Wi-Fi service and a temperature-controlled waiting room.

Funding was provided by a federal grant. IDOT said that stations in Lincoln and Springfield are slated to be renovated.

Trains stopping in Dwight include three southbound and four northbound Lincoln Service trains.

IDOT said the higher-speed rail project is expected to be completed in 2017

Glenview Residents Rip Hiawatha Expansion

October 28, 2016

A special meeting in Glenview, Illinois, to discuss a proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service drew 70 people, many of whom expressed opposition to the plan.

Hiawatha 2The meeting was hosted by Glenview village officials who suggested that the residents write to their elected representatives.

Village officials contend that an environmental assessment conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration and the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin doesn’t show the need to increase Hiawatha service, doesn’t thoroughly examine the environmental impact of the expansion and offers only short-term solutions to resolve passenger and freight train congestion.

Jeff Brady, the Glenview director of planning, wants the agencies to conduct a “much more detailed” environmental impact study or drop the project.

The service expansion would increase the number of Chicago-Milwaukee roundtrips from seven to 10.

As part of the expansion, there has been a proposal to build an 11,000 or 10,000-foot siding for freight trains to wait until passenger trains clear.

Some residents fear that freight trains might be held in the siding for long periods of time.

One proposal would place the siding on the west side of the existing tracks, which are used by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific. Another would place it on the east side.

Both options would require building a new bridge over Shermer Road next to the existing bridge. That in turn would mean construction of a 5-foot embankment from West Lake Avenue to Shermer Road as well as a 20-foot retaining wall.

Some who attended the meeting said idling freight trains might release fumes and carry potentially toxic materials.

State Rep. Laura Fine of Glenview said she opposes the project.

“We are working with you on this, and we are opposed to this as well,” she said. “But please, even though I am here, write us letters so that we can say we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of letters and emails from constituents saying they are opposed to this, because it just helps our fight as well.”

The FRA is taking public comments about the environmental assessment through Nov. 15.

A public hearing has been set for Nov. 2 at which representatives of the Illinois and Wisconsin departments of transportation and the FRA will discuss the project and the environmental assessment.

That meeting will be held at Park Center, 2400 Chestnut Ave., from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Brady said some Glenview residents have complained about the noise and vibration from the freight trains, which they contend are damaging their homes and disrupting their quality of life.

Glenview Objects to Hiawatha Expansion, Public Hearings Set in Wisconsin and Illinois Cities

October 20, 2016

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.

Hiawatha 2On 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.

EIS Find No Impact for Added Hiawathas

October 8, 2016

Expanding Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service would result in no significant environmental impacts, a study released this week determined.

Most of the improveHiawatha 2ments planned for the route used by the Hiawathas would be constructed within the existing railroad right of way, the study said.

The draft environmental impact statement was conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration and the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin.

Public comment on the study is being accepted through Nov. 15 and hearings have been scheduled for Oct. 27 in Milwaukee; Nov. 1 in Chicago; and Nov. 2 in Glenview, Illinois.

Amtrak has proposed adding three additional Chicago-Milwaukee roundtrips on a route that current hosts seven daily roundtrips plus the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder. A portion of the route also has extensive Metra commuter train service in Chicago.

The passenger carrier has indicated that ridership of the Hiawatha Service has been rising and some trips feature standing room only conditions.

Metra owns the tracks used by Amtrak between Chicago and Rondout, Illinois; while Canadian Pacific owns the route between Rondout and Milwaukee.

CP has proposed building a 2-mile siding that has drawn opposition from some Glenview officials and residents who fear that CP freight trains might sit on that siding for long periods of time.