Posts Tagged ‘Metra’

Hiawatha Expansion No Longer Contingent on Building New Siding in Lake Forest

May 30, 2018

One obstacle to expanding Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service may have been removed with an announcement by Metra that a proposed three-mile siding is long longer needed.

The siding has been the focus of protests in the northern Chicago suburbs since it was said to be necessary before Hiawatha Service can expand between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific trains use the route, but the siding would primarily be used by CP freight trains waiting on permission to enter Union Pacific tracks that they use to access the CP yard (former Milwaukee Road) in Bensenville.

The siding would have been located in Lake Forest and residents there feared that freight trains would idle on it for long periods of time.

In a letter written to the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin, Metra CEO James Derwinski said the commuter railroad, which owns the tracks in question, now believes Amtrak service can be enhanced by rebuilding a portion of the existing third track south of Rondout.

“Since Metra is focused on investments in our existing system to work towards a state of good repair, we are not currently in a position to actively pursue major capacity expansions of Metra infrastructure beyond the short-term needs of the (Milwaukee District North) Line,” Derwinski wrote.

“Therefore, Metra requests that [the] proposed third main track from Rondout to Lake Forest be reduced to a third main track through the Rondout interlocking limits to a point approximately 2,500 feet geographically south of the (Canadian National)/(Elgin Joliet & Eastern) crossing,” the letter said.

The letter said expanding the track at Rondout would enable an inbound Metra train coming off the Fox Lake Subdivision to move through the Rondout interlocking limits while permitting simultaneous movement on the corridor’s two main tracks.

Lake Forest Mayor Rob Lansing issued a statement lauding Metra’s position.

However, the village of Glenview still views with disfavor Metra’s latest position, because Metra still expects to built a separate two-mile siding in the western part of that city to allow for additional daily Amtrak trains.

“Among other concerns, it’s not clear why the Amtrak service expansion is necessary, given current ridership on the Hiawatha line is only at 39 percent of capacity. Also, a draft environmental assessment released in November 2016 provides no air quality, noise and other health and safety impacts for residents living adjacent to the proposed holding track, nor does it include a freight impact study,” the village said in a statement.

Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said Metra continues to believe that capacity enhancements are needed to implement the proposed Hiawatha service expansion.

As for the Amtrak service expansion, the next step will be the release of an environmental assessment being conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration in conjunction with IDOT and WISDOT.

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Glenview Poised to Spend $400,000 to Fight Hiawatha Expansion

May 2, 2018

Despite being an Amtrak stop, Glenview, Illinois, is planning to spend up to $400,000 against a plan that would result in the expansion of Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

The effort is not a fight against the expansion per se, but the construction of a siding along the route of the trains, which is also used by Metra commuter trains and Canadian Pacific freight trains.

The departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin have proposed increasing the frequency of service between Chicago and Milwaukee by three additional roundtrips.

As part of that effort, a holding track would be constructed to allow CP freight trains to clear the main while waiting for permission to get onto Union Pacific tracks as part of the journey to a CP yard in Bensonsville.

Glenview expects to spend the funding for lobbying, research, and potential litigation against the plan, with the first $50,000 to go to a public relations firm for work including “development/refinement of core messages and themes” and media relations.

Some Glenview residents have argued that the siding would increase freight traffic and result in freight trains waiting for long periods of time in residential neighborhoods.

In a 2017 letter, now-retired Metra CEO Don Orseno disputed some of those concerns.

“It is well documented that the fluctuations in freight traffic are driven by fluctuations in economic activity, not by the given capacity of a given rail line,” he wrote.

New Joliet Station Opens

April 11, 2018

The Joliet Gateway Center will open today in Joliet, Illinois, serving Amtrak and Metra trains.

Development of the facility began in 2010 and the Chicago suburb has been without a train station since Union Station closed in September 2014.

Amtrak and Metra have been using trailers and passengers have boarded trains from temporary platforms.

As part of the opening, passengers were offered complimentary coffee and donuts in the main lobby.

Lack of funding halted plans to include a bus station as part of the facility, which was initiated projected to cost $42 million but actually wound up costing $51 million.

The facility is used by Metra’s Rock Island and Heritage corridors as well as Amtrak’s Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains.

Metra Takes CUS Dispute to STB

April 11, 2018

Metra is at odds with Amtrak over its lease and trackage rights at Chicago Union Station and has asked the U.S. Surface Transportation board to referee the dispute.

At issue is Metra’s contention that by merging the Chicago Union Station Company into Amtrak that that would allow Amtrak to evade federal law and STB oversight.

Until the merger last year, the CUS company had been an Amtrak subsidiary and Metra’s nominal landlord.

In its STB filing, Metra described the merger as “a corporate maneuver to evade the Board’s commuter rail service-protective mechanisms [that] would be counter to Congressional intent and public policy and an abdication of the board’s responsibilities.”

Metra wants the STB to rule the STB under federal law still has jurisdiction over the station, as had been the case under the lease with the station company, and that it has authority to prescribe terms for Metra’s use of the station.

Such a declaration would enable the STB to mediate an impasse between Metra and Amtrak over a new lease.

By law, Amtrak is exempt from most STB economic regulation, but the station company is not.

Metra’s lease at CUS will expire on April 30. A Metra spokesman said the commuter rail agency will pay $9.7 million under its lease this year.

An Amtrak spokesman declined to comment on the STB filing by Metra.

Although CUS is not the only facility used by Metra in downtown Chicago, it accounts for 41 percent of its passengers traveling to downtown, handling an average of 109,520 passengers on 286 weekly Metra trains on six routes.

Metra is worried that Amtrak might contend that the merger has removed Union Station from the reach of federal law and therefore deprive Metra of alternative paths to preserve access to the the station “should it ever come to that.”

In a letter to Metra written last January, Amtrak contended that the federal law cited by Metra no longer is application to CUS because of the merger.

Amtrak acknowledged that it remains “responsible for the facilities and obligations of [the station company] that existed at the time of the merger.”

In its STB filing, Metra cited that letter in saying, “There plainly is disagreement (and therefore a controversy) between Metra and Amtrak over whether the properties formerly owned by [the CUS company] are subject to the commuter rail protections of Sections 11102 and 28502 [of the Chapter 40 of the U.S. Code].”

Metra also contended that the issue could have implications for commuter rail agencies using Washington Union Station.

That would include Virginia Railway Express and MARC Commuter Train Service.

Amtrak Policy Change Has Private Car Owners Scrambling

March 30, 2018

Amtrak’s recent decision to cease running charter trains and specials as well as to curtail carriage of privately-owned passenger cars on its trains has sent a trade organization scrambling to rally its members to seek to apply political pressure on the passenger carrier to reverse the decision.

The American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners sent a memorandum to its members this week urging them to contact lawmakers and opinion leaders about the significance of private cars but acknowledged that there is little it can do to attack Amtrak’s decision in court.

AAPRCO told its members in the memo that it is “working to get the most accurate information about the full extent of Amtrak’s policy, which may not yet be firmly in place, and to mount the strongest possible effort to push back against it.”

In the meantime, Amtrak’s decision has prompted the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society to delay selling tickets for a planned trip in Chicago in September behind its 2-8-4 Nickel Plate Road No. 765.

The steam locomotive is to pull excursions between Chicago and Joliet, Illinois, on track owned by commuter railroad Metra.

However, the Fort Wayne group relies on privately-owned cars that would use Amtrak trains and facilities to reach Chicago.

Several private car owners have reported in recent weeks that Amtrak has rejected some of their requests to move their cars.

Amtrak’s new policy pertaining to the carriage of private passenger cars will prohibit attaching and detaching those cars to Amtrak trains at points where an Amtrak train is scheduled to dwell for less than 30 minutes.

However, the carrier has yet to spell out in detail how it will handle private cars going forward.

“At this time, we feel it would be imprudent to open ticket sales as previously scheduled before we have more clarity on the situation,” said a Fort Wayne Society news release. “As such, this policy will force us to revisit our contractual agreements with car owners, re-confirm both their availability and costs, and confirm Amtrak’s ability to transport them to our venue. Amtrak’s participation was critical to last year’s Joliet Rocket trips.”

It is not know yet if these development will affect a planned visit of the NKP 765 to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in late September.

For those excursions, the FtWRHS uses CVSR’s own passenger fleet and does not need to bring in private passenger cars.

As for Amtrak’s policy change pertaining to charter trains and special trains, AAPRCO President Robert Donnelley told his members that the association’s annual convention and mid-year special trains are at risk.

“Amtrak’s stated rationale for these changes is that private varnish has the potential to worsen on-time performance, which is a major concern of President and CEO Richard Anderson,” Donnelley wrote. However, he took issue with that.

Another private car owner trade group, the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance said it has contacted Amtrak to express its concerns but it also has told its members that the implications of the Amtrak policy change are ominous.

“The policy as officially released on March 28, 2018, will have drastic effects on many private car owners, excursion operators, private companies, and tourism in many communities that utilize Amtrak’s service,” RPCA President W. Roger Fuehring told Trains magazine.

“As we move forward, we hope to have an open dialogue with Amtrak in regards to discussing this policy. We look forward to returning not only the revenue stream to Amtrak that we produce with our clientele, but the goodwill that we generate on behalf of Amtrak with every trip.”

One point of contention in talks with Amtrak and the private car owners will be how much revenue the national passenger carrier receives from fees charged to handle the cars.

AAPRCO contends that the private car business adds $10 million in gross revenues to Amtrak, but a recent Wall Street Journal article said it was $4 million.

The memo written by Amtrak President Anderson and sent to employees that announced the ban on most special moves and charters suggested that Amtrak has not been recovering its fully allocated costs for those trains and that they have become a distraction.

AAPRCO’s Donnelley has instructed his group’s members to talk up the importance of private passenger cars and the number of jobs associated with the industry.

His memo said this would include employment at shops and other vendor facilities that support private passenger cars.

The railroad preservation community has launched an online petition to protest Amtrak’s decision at the website change.org. The petition has received more than 450 signatures with a goal of 500.

Attorney Probing Amtrak Station Lobbying Effort

January 24, 2018

The city council in Lake Forest, Illinois, has hired a special counsel to investigate nearly $200,000 in payments made to a lobbying firm without city council approval in connection with efforts to win an Amtrak stop for the Chicago suburb.

Payments of $192,911, were made between March 2016 and October 2017 to a Washington lobbying firm in an effort to get Amtrak to establish a Lake Forest stop for its Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service trains.

The city has been seeking the Amtrak stop, which would use an existing Metra station, as well as funding for a pedestrian underpass since 2010.

Attorney Leigh Jeter is investigating the matter and Alderman Jack Reisenberg will serve as lead councilman on the issue.

Reinsenberg said the probe will examine the actions of Mayor Rob Lansing, City Manager Bob Kiely and City Attorney Victor Filippini. Jeter is expected to report to the council next month.

 

Lake Forest City Manager Spend Money Lobbying for Amtrak Without City Council’s Knowledge, Approval

December 18, 2017

The city manager of Lake Forest, Illinois, has acknowledged approving payments to a Washington lobbying firm to seek Amtrak service without getting approval of the city council

Bob Kiely said he approved spending nearly $200,000 in city funds in an effort to get Amtrak to make Lake Forest a stop for its Chicago-Milwaukee trains.

The payments were made between March 2016 and October 2017 to the lobbying firm Chambers, Conlon and Hartwell.

“It should not have happened, and it won’t happen going forward,” said Kiely, who has been city manager for 27 years.

At a recent council meeting, current Lake Forest Mayor Rob Lansing said that Amtrak is supportive of the city’s efforts to become a stop for its Hiawatha Service trains.

But it is unclear if Lansing knew all the details about the city paying a lobbying firm to push for the Amtrak service.

Some council members were miffed to learn the city had been paying a lobbyist with their knowledge or approval.

“This isn’t the way I want to learn things, and this isn’t the way I think information should be disseminated,” council member Prue Beidler said at the meeting during which Lansing revealed without detail that the city had hired a lobbying firm.

Member Jack Reisenberg said he was aware of an October trip Kiely and Lansing made to Washington, though he didn’t know why they were going.

“I didn’t like it,” Reisenberg said of the expenditures being made without council approval. “It should have been handled like other expenditures are handled, via city staff and approved by the council. But I wasn’t terribly upset because I believe the mayor and the city manager were well-intentioned. However, they did not follow longstanding practices of bringing this type of expenditure before the City Council for approval.”

Kiely noted he has authority to spend as much as $20,000 without council approval, although he said he should have brought the matter to the city council in May 2016.

“That was my error, and I did not bring it back to the council as it should have been brought,” he said, adding, “at that point in time, it was part of our regular payments and I quite frankly, I didn’t even think of it.”

Former Mayor Donald Schoenheider began the lobbying effort in March 2016.

Kiely said he and Lansing made the Washington trip to meet with federal agencies and elected officials about the Amtrak stop and to seek funding for a pedestrian underpass at the station.

Amtrak has said that it won’t begin serving Lake Forest until the underpass beneath tracks owned by Metra is installed.

Amtrak Might Substitute Lake Forest for Glenview as Chicago Suburban Hiawatha Service Stop

December 14, 2017

Amtrak is considering changing its northern Chicago suburban stop for its Hiawatha Service from Glenview to Lake Forest, Illinois.

A study commissioned by the City of Lake Forest determined that the station change could mean as many as 40,000 more passengers on the Chicago-Milwaukee  trains.

However, some capital improvements to a Metra station in Lake Forest would be needed before the change is made.

“At this point, the only obstacle preventing us from beginning service is the lack of a pedestrian underpass at Lake Forest station that would allow passengers to move safely from one side of the tracks to another,” said Joe McHugh, Amtrak’s vice president of state supported services-business development.

Amtrak said that was because it didn’t want passengers crossing tracks that are heavily used by its own trains as well those of Metra and Canadian Pacific.

Lake Forest has been pushing to become a stop for the Hiawatha trains during the past year.

It even paid a Washington lobbying firm $192,000 to conduct the feasibility study and promote the city with Amtrak officials.

One advantage of using Lake Forest rather than Glenview is that there would be more parking at the former station.

The pedestrian tunnel that Amtrak says is required before it would begin stopping in Lake Forest will cost an estimated $9 million, which the city must pay for.

NIMBYs Still Protesting Hiawatha Changes

December 8, 2017

NIMBY opposition continues to plague an effort to establish an Amtrak stop on the Hiawatha Service line in the north Chicago suburbs.

Much of the opposition has focused on a proposal to add a two-mile third track to the line used by Canadian Pacific, Amtrak and Metra trains.

The third track would hold CP freight trains waiting to get onto Union Pacific rails.

However, some residents of Lake Forest have criticized their city for spending $192,000 to hire a Washington lobbying firm to advocate for the Amtrak stop at the city’s Metra station.

The third track has been tied to a proposal to expand the number of Hiawatha Service trains running between Chicago and Milwaukee. That expansion is not imminent.

In the meantime, Amtrak’s vice president of state supported services, Joe McHugh, has notified Lake Forest that the Hiawatha stop has been been approved by the Departments of Transportation of both Wisconsin and Illinois.

“At this point, the only obstacle preventing us from beginning service is the lack of a pedestrian underpass at the Lake Forest station that would allow passengers to move safely from one side of the tracks to the other,” McHugh wrote.

RTA Warns of Need for More Capital

November 30, 2017

The head of Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority warned on Wednesday derailments such as the one that snarled rail traffic in and out of Chicago Union Station this week may occur again because Illinois has no capital infrastructure program.

“We need help. We definitely need help,” said Don Orseno. “You can look at the numbers and see where we’re at. We’re not in a good position.”

Orseno said the situation today could deteriorate to what it was in the 1970s when the Rock Island and the Milwaukee Road were in bankruptcy and  many of whose commuter trains were so dilapidated that riders could see the tracks below through the rusted-out floors.

Jim Derwinski, who will soon replace the retiring Orseno said RTA has inherited a system that relies on 40-year-old engines, 110-year-old bridges, and bi-levels cars averaging 30 or more years. The oldest bi-levels cars have been in service for 64 years.

Derwinski said Metra has $196 million available for its capital programs next year, but needs six times that just to stay even.

In the aftermath of the derailment, Metra passengers traveling from Union Station to the southwest suburbs faced delays of up to 30 minutes during the Wednesday evening rush hour as crews cleared a Metra derailment/

Amtrak trains faced delays of up to 45 minutes. The derailment damaged some track, switches signals.

The derailment occurred at about 10:50 p.m. when an eight-car inbound SouthWest Service train arriving at Union Station derailed in a tunnel, which made removing the derailed cars challenging.

No passengers or crew members were injured in the incident, during which the train was traveling at about 9 mph. The derailed cars remained upright.