Posts Tagged ‘Illinois Department of Transportation’

Chicago-St. Louis Top Speed Set at 90 mph

July 9, 2021

Amtrak this week raised the top speed for trains traveling on its Chicago-St. Louis corridor to 90 miles per hour.

The action came after the Federal Railroad Administration completed its certification of reliability of the signal system on the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio route that is now mostly owned by Union Pacific.

The higher speeds will apply between Laraway Road (south of Joliet, Illinois) and CP Wann (two miles south of Alton, Illinois).

The higher speed is permitted if a train is led by an Amtrak locomotive equipped with both Alstom’s Incremental Train Control System to monitor the status of highway crossings, and the Wabtec Interoperable Electronic Train Management System.

In the past decade Amtrak, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration have spent more than $2 billion to upgrade the route with the goal of achieving a top speed of 110 miles per hour.

However, those efforts fell short because of several failed efforts to create a signal system that would support that speed and while interacting with highway crossing equipment.

A short stretch between Dwight and Pontiac in 2015 tested 110 mph speeds in 2015 but UP and other parties concluded the equipment used there was unreliable and incompatible with the railroad’s I-ETMS positive train control system.

I-ETMS is only currently certified as a vital system for a top speed of 90 mph.

It would need further testing and development to reach FRA certification for 110 mph, a process that would require additional funding that has yet to materialize.

Amtrak plans to tweak its travel times on July 19 to reflect the higher speeds and when it returns Lincoln Service to its pre-COVID-19 pandemic level of service.

Illinois, Vermont Trains Coming Back July 19

May 21, 2021

Suspended Illinois-funded corridor trains will resume operation on July 19. On the same day, the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Express will also return to service.

The Illinois Department of Transportation said that it is restoring service as part of its Rebuild Illinois capital plan.

One daily roundtrip each will be added to the Chicago-Quincy and Chicago-Carbondale routes while two roundtrips will be restored to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Chicago-Quincy Carl Sandburg was suspended along with the Chicago to Carbondale Saluki and Carbondale to Chicago Illini.

Those suspended trains left Chicago in the morning and returned in the evening.

In Vermont, the Vermont Agency of Transportation said the Vermonter will return between St. Albans, Vermont, and Washington.

Also coming back is the Ethan Allen Express between Rutland, Vermont, and New York.

On Time at Pesotum

March 5, 2021

Amtrak’s daily Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, combination is still running these days with Superliner equipment. The northbound train, which operates as the Saluki, is on time as it barrels through Pesotum, Illinois, en route to its next station at Champaign-Urbana.

This equipment will turn later in the day to return to Carbondale as the Illini.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic took hold last year about this time, the Illinois Department of Transportation paid for a pair of Chicago-Carbondale roundtrips. For now it is only sponsoring one roundtrip.

This image was made on Feb. 27.

IDOT Hires Manger for Rockford Project

September 29, 2020

The Illinois Department of Transportation has hired a project manager for its efforts to restore rail passenger service between Chicago and Rockford.

Engineering services firm WSP USA was hired to oversee the project, which could involve contracting with Amtrak or Chicago rail commuter rail provider Metra.

IDOT has been talking with host railroad Union Pacific about infrastructure work needed for the service.

Trains would use an existing Metra route between Chicago and Elgin and then travel what are now freight-only tracks to Rockford.

Rockford lost rail service in late September 1981 due to a state budget cut for intercity rail passenger funding.

At the time Rockford was on a route between Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa, that used former Illinois Central Gulf tracks.

New Rail Cars Arrive for Testing

September 2, 2020

Four new passenger cars built by Siemens have been delivered to Amtrak’s Chicago service facility for testing.

The cars, which were ordered by the Illinois Department of Transportation, are to be used on state-supported Midwest corridor trains.

Known as Venture cars, the single-level cars are built to a design pattern that Siemens used to construct coaches for Florida’s Brightline intercity service.

IDOT and its partner departments of transportation have ordered 88 of the Venture cars in coach, coach-business and coach-café configurations.

The cars are expected to be delivered through 2023. They are being built in Sacramento, California, where Siemens is also building an order of ALC-42 Chargers for Amtrak that will pull long-distance trains once they enter revenue service.

The Siemens passenger cars have a long and convoluted history that dates to 2012 when IDOT ordered  bi-level cars from Japanese manufacturer Sumitomo, which subcontracted construction of the cars to Nippon Sharyo, which had a manufacturing plant in Rochelle, Illinois.

However, a prototype car failed a crash safety test in 2015.

IDOT ultimately switched the contract to Siemens, which agreed to build single-level cars for the transportation agency over a 24- to 34-month period.

In addition to the cars being built for IDOT, Siemens is building 49 single-level cars for the California Department of Transportation for use on corridor trains in that state.

Once the new passenger cars enter service on Midwest corridor routes serving Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin and Michigan, it will mean that the trains will have Siemens locomotives (SC-44 Chargers) and Siemens passengers.

Midwest trains currently use a combination of Horizon Fleet and Amfleet cars.

IDOT Expected to get New Rail Cars in August

July 11, 2020

New passenger cars to be used in Midwest Corridor service are expected to begin being delivered in August.

The cars are expected to be placed into service for trains funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Fifty-one of the 130-car order is currently being built by Siemens in Sacramento, California.

Siemens has delivered 11 cars to the California Department of Transportation.

It is not clear when the cars, once received by IDOT, would go into revenue service.

Development Continues on New Illinois Routes

February 15, 2020

Illinois Department of Transportation officials are continuing planning work to launch Amtrak service from Chicago to Rockford and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa but much work remains to be completed.

IDOT is seeking to hire a consultant to help manage the projects.

Guy Tridgell, an IDOT spokesman, said planning for service to Rockford is in the early stages.

He said environmental studies need to be completed on the Rockford route along with preliminary engineering and final design before the route can be implemented.

Trains to Rockford are expected to use Metra’s Milwaukee District West Line to Elgin and use a Union Pacific route to Rockford via Huntley and Belvidere.

As for the Quad City route, IDOT has been negotiating with the Iowa Interstate Railroad over infrastructure improvements needed to accommodate two daily round trip passenger trains.

IDOT has reportedly decided to name the service the Quad Cities Rocket.

That name was used by a former Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific passenger train between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois, that operated until late 1978.

The Quad Cities service would use 50 miles of IAIS track to Moline, Illinois. The rest of the route would use BNSF tracks with a connection to IAIS at Wyanet.

The BNSF route is used by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr trains.

A $45 billion capital bill approved last year by the Illinois General Assembly earmarked

$225 million for service to the Quad Cities and $275 million for service to Rockford.

The proposed services have been discussed for several years but were given much lower priority during the administration of former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The Tennessee Passenger Expansion Waltz: A Serious Proposal or Just a Talking Point for Public Consumption?

January 18, 2020

The news this past week that an Amtrak executive spoke to a Tennessee legislative transportation committee is being seen by some as the first tangible step that Amtrak is moving to seek to implement a vision that CEO Richard Anderson has been articulating for more than a year.

Anderson and Amtrak senior vice president Stephen Gardner have spoken in interviews and occasional appearances about transforming Amtrak’s route network to one more focused on corridor service between urban centers, particularly growing metropolitan areas.

They repeatedly have hammered home the point that many of the nation’s fastest growing cities are unserved by Amtrak or underserved by trains arriving at inconvenient hours.

Such talk has alarmed many rail passenger advocates who see is as code language that means dismantling the carrier’s long-distance routes.

Indeed Anderson and Gardner have been bad mouthing long-distance trains, saying they lose money and could be restructured into the type of corridor services they have described in principle.

Amtrak’s aborted efforts to truncate the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief by creating a bus bridge between western Kansas and Albuquerque is often cited as Exhibit A of Anderson’s plan to kill long-distance passenger trains aside from one or two “experiential trains.”

Waltzing in Tennessee

The appearance of Ray Lang, Amtrak’s senior director of government affairs, at a meeting of the Tennessee House Transportation Committee was significant for a number of reasons, but two in particular stand out.

First, it was the first time Amtrak has named a specific route that fits the criteria that Anderson and Gardner have been talking up.

That route would link Atlanta and Nashville, but Lang also talked about extending a pair of Midwest corridor trains to Memphis.

Second, it offered concrete proof that Amtrak expects state and local governments to pay for its vision of the future of rail passenger travel.

It is not clear why Amtrak chose Tennessee as the opening act for what promises to be lengthy process.

Perhaps Amtrak has quietly sounded out other states on their interest in ponying up money for new rail passenger service and we just haven’t heard about it.

Or perhaps Amtrak projects the Tennessee routes as among the most likely to succeed.

The news reports out of the Volunteer State generally portrayed a favorable reception to Amtrak’s proposals with some legislators speaking well of the prospect of rail passenger service where none exists now.

Atlanta and Nashville have never been linked by Amtrak and Tennessee’s capitol has been off the Amtrak route network since the Floridian makes its final trips between Chicago and Florida in early October 1979.

Amtrak probably viewed its road show in Nashville as a first step. It might also have been seeking to gauge the interest of Tennessee lawmakers in funding the service.

An Amtrak spokesman and CSX executive said as much.

“We are also talking to current state partners regarding how additional frequencies might be implemented,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari to Trains magazine.

“This is the first we’re seeing of this,” CSX State Government and Community Affairs VP Jane Covington said during the committee hearing.

Covington said it was her understanding that Amtrak was trying “to simply gauge the state’s interest.”

Whatever the case, nothing is imminent and there is no assurance that the routes discussed will ever operate.

There are numerous hurdles the service needs to clear starting with the willingness of Tennessee legislators to spend the money to underwrite the operating losses of the trains, which have been estimated at $3 million annually.

State and local governments also will likely be asked to advance money for capital expenditures on such things as stations.

Warning Shots Fired

Other players in the process will also play a role in whether the trains operate.

Chief among them is would-be host railroad CSX.

CSX’s Covington fired a warning shot across the bow in saying, “introducing passenger trains to heavily used freight lines will be a complex, costly process.

“And I understand that you guys are hearing from your constituents about the crowded roads, and you’re obviously looking for solutions to that. But we want to make sure you do it in a way to make sure it doesn’t backfire and divert freight off the rails and onto the highways.”

That’s another way of saying that CSX will demand some very expensive infrastructure improvements as the price of agreeing to host the trains.

More than likely the price tag for those projects will be more than state lawmakers are willing to pay for a service that Amtrak said will lose money.

Another player will be the Illinois Department of Transportation, which funds the trains now operating between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, that Amtrak has proposed extending to Memphis.

Amtrak spokesman Magliari said it would be relatively easy to have the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini serve Memphis because Amtrak already has crews based in Carbondale who operate the City of New Orleans on host railroad Canadian National between Carbondale and Memphis.

But what looks easy or even possible on paper may not be so in practice. IDOT will want assurance that its interests won’t be harmed in any rescheduling of the trains.

An unknown about the additional service to Memphis is whether the state of Kentucky would be willing to help fund trains that run through their state.

Looming in the background is the Sept. 30 expiration of the current surface transportation act that authorizes Amtrak funding among other things.

No one in Congress has yet released to the public a draft surface transportation bill and details about what those drafts will ultimately contain have been scarce.

“It’s going to take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to redo the surface transportation bill,” said Amtrak’s Lang in the legislature hearing.

He reiterated the rhetoric that Anderson and Gardner have been using in suggesting that without a restructuring of its route network Amtrak will wither away.

“We think this presents us an opportunity to really transform the company,” Lang said.

Magliari echoed that theme in his interview with Trains when he said the passenger carrier is engaging in outreach efforts to enlist future support from states now underserved by outlining what routes might be viable.

History Lessons

At the time that Amtrak began in May 1971, the only intercity passenger service between Nashville and Atlanta was the former Georgian of the Louisville & Nashville.

That train operated with single coach between St. Louis and Atlanta and had a travel time of seven hours between Nashville and Atlanta.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Florida route served Nashville but not via Atlanta.

The planners who set up Amtrak’s initial route network considered operating between Nashville and Atlanta but declined to do so due to difficult operating conditions, including a top speed of 40 miles per hour between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta.

Another complication was that Amtrak would need to build a station in Georgia’s capitol city.

The Floridian was one of Amtrak’s most troubled trains and then Amtrak President Paul Resitrup said in 1977 that its future was hopeless unless it could be routeded via Atlanta.

In April 1978 Amtrak announced a preliminary plan to route the Floridian via Atlanta, but it fell apart when L&N refused to host the train, citing freight train congestion.

The Southern Railway demanded $20 million in track improvements as its price for hosting the Floridian to Atlanta.

The Floridian never made it to Atlanta before its 1979 discontinuance.

In October 1989 Congress directed Amtrak to study resuming service between Chicago and Florida via Atlanta.

That plan has the support of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, which hosted a conference at which then Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor Jr. said the train would only become reality with financial support from the states along the route.

That never materialized and opposition from CSX and Norfolk Southern torpedoed a demonstration route during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Claytor was involved in another effort to revive passenger service to Atlanta in the early 2000s.

That proposal was to extend the Kentucky Cardinal to Nashville from Louisville and a test train ran over the route in December 2001.

Amtrak told CSX it wanted to extend the Kentucky Cardinal over the 181-mile route once owned by L&N and used by the Floridian.

Claytor told a congressional committee he was bending over backwards and making every effort to get passenger service to Nashville.

Apparently Claytor couldn’t bend far enough or do enough because Amtrak still hasn’t returned to Nashville.

Political Strategy

All involved have been careful to emphasize that the proposed Nashville-Atlanta service is still in the idea stage.

Much needs to happen to make this train a reality and a best case scenario is it will be four to five years – or more – before the Music City Peach or whatever name it is given appears in the Amtrak timetable.

You have to wonder just how serious Amtrak is about its vision of bringing frequent daylight service to unserved or underserved corridors linking growing metropolitan areas.

Lang said this week in Nashville, “Our route map doesn’t really reflect where the nation’s population has shifted to — places like Nashville, Louisville, Columbus and Las Vegas that we don’t serve at all.”

Those make for good talking points, but Amtrak management must know based on its experience in working with host railroads how obstinate and demanding they can be.

It also must know that asking states for money is one thing but getting it is another. Remember the Hoosier State?

The Rail Passengers Association commented on its website on Friday, “CSX is required by law to host Amtrak trains, but has the ability to price state DOTs and Amtrak out of the market if it so chooses.”

RPA, Amtrak and anyone who has paid any attention at all to the behavior of Amtrak’s host railroads knows how they have wielded that power on multiple occasions.

Rail passenger advocates by nature must put on an optimistic face so RPA also said this about Tennessee service expansion proposal: “State officials will have to act accordingly, and work to bring all stakeholder groups onboard.”

That is much easier said than done particularly given that Tennessee has never funded Amtrak service and it is not know how committed state policy makers are to seeing through what Amtrak has proposed.

Has any else noticed that no one is talking about whether the Nashville-Atlanta service will need funding from Georgia, another state that has never funded Amtrak service?

This is not to say it can’t be done, but it won’t be easy and going into this process the odds are stacked against the prospect.

Amtrak’s top management probably has convinced itself that it really can have the type of network that Anderson and Gardner keep harping about.

But are they serious? Or is this just another talking point to be used to strategic advantage to provide political cover as management goes about scuttling the long-distance trains?

Amtrak could offer its plan to, say, carve up the route of the Capitol Limited into a Chicago-Pittsburgh service funded by Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

When that funding fails to materialize, Amtrak can say it tried to “save” service to those states but their elected lawmakers declined to pay for it.

Don’t blame us, go talk to the folks in Harrisburg, Columbus, Indianapolis and Springfield because they’re the ones who made the decision.

It remains to be seen if Amtrak is actually going to release a master plan that spells out what specific new services it envisions.

That plan, if is exists, will look impressive and get a lot of people excited just as the Amtrak road show in Tennessee did this week.

But I can’t help but wonder if it will be just another plan that winds up sitting in a drawer somewhere as Amtrak shrinks to a company with service in the Northeast and a few other state-supported corridors.

Glenview Officials Sees Holding Track as Dead

January 2, 2020

A high-ranking Glenview, Illinois, official has pronounced a key component of a plan to expand Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee as dead.

Don Owen, the deputy village manager in the north suburban Chicago community, said that although work on the Hiawatha expansion continues he doesn’t expect a holding siding for freight trains that was part of the plan to move forward.

Glenview and other nearby suburban officials fought the siding, which would have been used as a two-mile holding track for Canadian Pacific freight trains waiting to gain access to a Union Pacific route that CP uses to reach its yard in Bensenville.

The siding would have been built between Glenview and Lake Forest and aroused the ire of residents living near the tracks who expressed fears that it would have cause problems with noise and air pollution that would have lowered their property values.

Owen spoke after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker came to Glenview last month for what was descried as a private “meet-and-greet” with village officials, state representatives and community action groups who fought the siding.

In a news release, Glenview officials said they wanted to “show appreciation” for the governor and his administration for “reviewing this project, understanding our concerns and agreeing to remove the holding tracks both from Glenview and Lake Forest.”

Last May, Omar Osman, the acting secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, told state representatives from Glenview and Deerfield that the agency would not support construction of the siding as part of the Hiawatha expansion.

IDOT would therefore not seek federal support for it.

Hiawatha Service is funded by IDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

The latter has taken the lead on the efforts to expand Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 roundtrips a day.

In 2018, Amtrak’s Hiawathas carried more than 858,000 passengers and WisDOT officials have said that some trains operating during peak travel times are standing room only.

The line through Glenview is used by Amtrak, CP and Chicago commuter rail operator Metra.

CP has said that unless a holding siding is built it won’t support the Hiawatha expansion.

“We believe that from the standpoint of Illinois components, this is the final say for the projects, that there will be no holding tracks in (the proposal),” Owen said.

Illinois Gov. Meets With Opponents of Adding Holding Tracks to Enable Expansion of Hiawatha Service

December 16, 2019

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker met last week in Glenview with a group of residents who are opposed to a plan to build a holding track for freight trains in the north Chicago suburbs.

The track is a component of a plan being pushed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to expand the number of Hiawatha Service trains from seven to 10.

Canadian Pacific has insisted on the holding track before it will agree to consider hosting additional Amtrak trains in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

The private meeting was between Pitzker and Glenview and Lake Forest municipal leaders, state representatives and senators, a Cook County commissioner and an activist from Glenview’s Alliance to Control Train Impacts on Our Neighborhoods.

Home owners along the tracks used by CP, Amtrak and Metra commuter trains have argued that freight trains might sit for long periods of time and cause noise and air pollution.

The residents also argue their property values would be adversely affected.

CP trains might have to sit on the holding track before being permitted onto a Union Pacific line that CP uses to reach its yard in Bensonville.

The acting Illinois Secretary of Transportation had written in a May 2019 letter to State Sens. Laura Fine  and Julie Morrison that the Illinois Department of Transportation no longer supports construction of the holding track.

IDOT and WisDOT fund Hiawatha Service, which is operated by Amtrak.

The Hiawatha expansion plan dates to 2012. Various plans have been presented that called for creating holding tracks between Willow Road and West Lake Avenue in Glenview and holding track in Northbrook, Deerfield, Lake Forest, Rondout and Bannockburn.

Some of those planned sidings have been dropped, but the sidings in in Glenview and Lake Forest remain under discussion.

Glenview officials have been particularly outspoken against creating the holding tracks and have challenged a preliminary environmental assessment on the grounds that it failed to adequately take into account such issues as air pollution, noise, vibration and traffic impacts.

The village of Glenview has approved spending $400,000 for additional studies and lobbying efforts.

Glenview officials have also called for Amtrak to add additional passenger cars to existing Hiawatha trains rather than increasing the number of trains operating in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

WisDOT officials have said the additional trains are needed because of crowding aboard existing trains and expected passenger growth in the corridor, which also hosts the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Glenview is a station stop for all Amtrak trains operating between Chicago and Milwaukee, including the Empire Builder.

Village officials have also expressed the view that Amtrak its state partners could acquire rail cars with additional capacity, a move that WisDOT and IDOT are making by buying new cars that are expected to go into service as early as 2020.