Posts Tagged ‘Metra’

Chicago Suburbs Still Concerned About Hiawatha Expansion

October 18, 2017

Residents in north suburban Chicago are still concerned about a proposal to expand Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service and they aired their grievances during a public hearing held last week.

That meeting was sponsored by the cities of Lake Forest, Glenview, Northbrook, Bannockburn and Deerfield.

Most of those who attended expressed concern about a proposal to add a siding on which freight trains would wait to be passed by Amtrak and Metra commuter trains.

They are worried about matters of noise, pollution and quality of life issues.

In particular, the residents are concerned about idling Canadian Pacific freight locomotives and they thought that those speaking at the meeting were not viewing the situation from the perspective of nearby homeowners.

“They just presented a railroad perspective,” said JoAnn Desmond, president of the Academy Woods Homeowners’ Association. “They didn’t tell us anything about whether it would be safe, or reduce our property value.”

Another homeowner, Greg Billie of Glenview, said the presenters “didn’t address any of the things we came for”

Judy Beck, former president of the Glenview Park District Board, said there was nothing wrong with the presentations, “but they need to balance it out with what the community needs are.”

Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely, who helped organize the hearing, said there has yet to be much discussion of “the underlying issue of freight traffic. And this is an opportunity to learn more about the future of freight traffic.”

Some who attended the hearing cited a March 15 derailment in Lake Forest of tanker cars carrying molten sulfur. None of the derailed cars leaked.

The Federal Railroad Administration is undertaking an environmental impact statement of the proposed Hiawatha expansion and the infrastructure changes is would need. That study is not expected to be completed until early 2018.

Some had the hearing said the panelists failed to explain enough detail about the expansion project.

Northbrook Village Manager Rich Nahrstadt said later that he wasn’t surprised by that.

“When all the city managers got together, we thought we’d try to answer some of the questions that came up about freight during the public hearings,” on the Hiawatha project, he said. “We didn’t plan it to be a replication of the public hearings.”

Panelists did, though, indicate that the proposed siding is needed to avoid rail congestion.

The project also envisions a new overpass over Shermer Road south of Northbrook.

Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum said that early discussions have indicated that freights trains waiting for passenger trains would sit south of Techny Road in an industrial area.

“The answers we’re getting – and this is not confirmed – is that it would actually improve the crossing at Techny (Road) and we would actually have less blockage,” Frum said. “If that’s the case, and it really doesn’t impact Northbrook residents, this is a decision that’s not too hard to make.”

Frum said that the decisions about train operations will be made by the railroads working with federal and state officials.

“Ultimately, freight trains are not going away, despite how much we might wish them to go away,” Frum said. “The thing to do now is to figure out the next step.”

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CUS Gets New Signs

September 14, 2017

New signs have been placed in Chicago Union Station, in what is being described as an update.

The 81 updated signs are designed to easily connect travelers to transportation options and amenities in the station, Regional Transportation Authority officials said in a news release.

Some signs are provide Amtrak passengers information about how to connect with Chicago Transit and Metra route.
The projected also corrected outdated or incorrect signage and unified all signs to Amtrak’s current standards.

MHSRA Seeks Phased Network Approach

September 12, 2017

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is calling for a “phased network approach” to implementing high-speed rail service in the United States, including the Midwest.

In a 50-page white paper, the group said a combination of high-speed trunk lines and upgraded feeder rail routes coupled with dedicated bus services can increase mobility.

Rather than focusing on a point-to-point fast train systems between major cities, the MHSRA plan would provide a blueprint for systems that serve multiple markets and as many constituencies as possible.

The report cited such existing networks in France, Germany and Japan that provide multiple connections from their main stems.

One example would be Chicago-Cincinnati corridor. The report said a combination of upgraded Metra Electric tracks from O’Hare International Airport through Chicago, a high-speed trunk connecting the Windy City with Indianapolis, and conventional feeders to other communities could reduce Chicago-Indianapolis rail travel times from five hours, ten minutes to 90 minutes.

Upgrading existing track to Cincinnati once used by New York Central’s James Whitcomb Riley could result in a three-hour Chicago-Cincinnati overall travel times.

The running time of the current Amtrak Cardinal is eight hours, thirty minutes.

“The core point is that rather than only trying to keep projects affordable, we should be figuring out how to put more people on trains,” said MHSRA Executive Director Rick Harnish. “We need a new ridership and revenue model that combines commuter, feeder, and intercity trips in a way suited to the geography and demographics to the Midwest.”

Hiawatha Service Restored Wednesday Afternoon

July 12, 2017

Amtrak restored Wednesday afternoon its Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service after it had been canceled earlier due to flooding.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that service resumed with the departure of Train 338 from Milwaukee at 3 p.m. and Train 337 from Chicago at 3:15 p.m.

The flooding occurred after heavy rain fell along tracks in both directions from Rondout, Illinois.

The tracks in the area are used by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific and are located in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and Lake County, Illinois.

Metra temporarily suspended service on its Milwaukee District North Line between Chicago Union Station and Fox Lake, Illinois.

Metra said the interlocking plant was flooded at Rondout. Ballast was washed away and a downed tree blocked tracks just west of Libertyville.

The commuter rail agency sent ballast cars and machinery to the location of the washout to lay a new track structure.

The Milwaukee District North Line serves 22,900 passengers a day on 60 trains. Also using the route is Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Metra to Show Plans to Renovate Homewood Station

July 6, 2017

Metra plans to renovate the station that it shares with Amtrak in Homewood, Illinois.  The commuter rail agency will give the public a preview of the plans during a meeting at 7 p.m. on July 10 in the board room at Homewood Village Hall, 2020 Chestnut Road.

The former Illinois Central station is used by the Metra Electric line and Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, Illini and Saluki. Built in 1923, the station serves 1,200 Metra passengers a day.

Among the renovations being considered are reconstruction of the east and west entrances, installation of new stairs and ADA compliant ramps, new stairs leading to the Amtrak platform, and reconstruction of the Amtrak platform and canopy.

Other work will include installation of water seepage barriers and a drainage system in the tunnel, new tunnel walls, ceiling and lighting; and reconfiguration of parking on the Park Avenue side of the station.

Although rebuilding of the Amtrak facilities is expected to begin in 2018, Metra won’t work on its own part of the station until funds are available.

Metra completed interim repairs to the Homewood station in 2015, including replacing all the steps on the metal stairway that connects the pedestrian tunnel with the platform; replacing all of the ceiling tiles above those stairs; cleaning, sealing and painting all windows above the stairs; repairing and painting stucco; painting areas throughout the station; painting ceiling tiles at the east and west entrances; and adding LED bulbs in the tunnel.

Amtrak Conductor Continues Recovery

June 21, 2017

The Amtrak conductor shot in Naperville, Illinois, last month continues to make steady progress and doctors are optimistic that he will make a full recovery.

Michael Case, 45, remains hospitalized, but has made enough progress that he might not need another surgery that doctors expected to have to perform.

“The bottom line, he should be able to eat, he should be able to function, he should be able to work; we’re a long ways away from that, and his condition although fairly stable, could take a turn,” said Dr. David Piazza, the Medical Director of Trauma Surgery at Edward Hospital.

However, Piazza cautioned that a devastating infection or blood clots, or pneumonia could still hamper Case’s recovery and even take his life.

Piazza said Case faces six to eight weeks of rehab and will eventually have a final surgery in about six to nine months.

Case, a conductor on the inbound Southwest Chief, was shot on May 16 while standing on the platform of the Naperville Metra Station.

Edward Klein, 79, of Wisconsin has been charged in connection with the shooting. Klein is being held on a $1.5 million bond and will appear in court on June 28.

He has been changed with attempted murder and aggravated battery.

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.

Man Charged in Amtrak Conductor Shooting

May 22, 2017

As an Amtrak conductor continues to recover from being shot by a disgruntled passenger last week, a retired law enforcement official now living in Wisconsin.

Edward Klein, 79, of West Allis, Wisconsin, has been charged in DuPage County, Illinois, with attempted murder and aggravated battery charges. During a bond hearing on Friday, Klein was ordered held in lieu of $1.5 million bail.

Edward Klein

Klein is charged with shooting Amtrak conductor Michael Case as he worked the platform during a stop in Naperville, Illinois, on May 16.

Authorities have said Klein was angry because he wasn’t allowed to disembark from the eastbound Southwest Chief at Naperville.

Prosecutors said Klein fired a single shot from a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver through an open window of the train.

According to a police report, Klein was ticketed to go to Chicago. When he was told he couldn’t get off at Naperville, which is located 28 miles west of Chicago Union Station, Klein allegedly pulled out a revolver, leaned from the  train window and fired, hitting Case in the abdomen.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Klein told investigators: “I had built up all this anger, and I blew him away.”

News reports said that Klein once worked for the Federal Protective Services, a branch of Homeland Security responsible for protecting federal buildings. He lived in an independent living facility in the Milwaukee region.

In a court hearing, prosecutors said Klein had been traveling to Las Vegas to visit a friend, but instead got off an Amtrak train in Kansas City, Missouri. He later boarded Amtrak No. 4 for Chicago in Kansas City.

Amtrak personnel who had become concerned for Klein’s welfare had helped arrange for someone to pick him up in Chicago to take him home, authorities said.

After the shooting, Klein tried to get off the train by climbing through a window, but other passengers and Amtrak personnel restrained Klein until police arrived.

Klein said in court that he didn’t need a public defender but didn’t indicate if he had hired an attorney. A status hearing will be held on June 12.

In the meantime, Case continues to recover in a hospital where doctors say he is improving but his body is still responding to the effects of the shooting.

The bullet wound caused injuries to multiple organs and he underwent an arduous six hours of surgery at Edward Hospital in Naperville.

“His injuries are stabilized, but the body’s response to injuries is still going,” said Dr. David Piazza, trauma director at Edward Hospital. “He was critically injured and he’s recovering from that state at this point. We are heading in the right direction, but he has a long way to go.”

Case has been sedated and is on a ventilator. His wife, Sara Case, told reporters in Chicago that she has not been able to talk to her husband since his surgery.

However, he did speak with her by phone before the surgery. “He just said to me ‘I love you, I love you, I love you,'” Sara Case said. “You never think your husband is going to go to work and be shot.”

Michael Case, 45, has worked at Amtrak for about a decade and is a father of four. He and Sara Case have been married for nine years.

Case’s family says the outpouring of support from friends, family and even strangers has been overwhelming.

In another development, a witness to the shooting said that a Naperville station worker did little to let her and other passengers seek cover in a secure area.

The witness told a Chicago television station that shortly after the Southwest Chief pulled into the station, she and others heard a loud pop.

The woman, who was waiting for a Metra train bound for Chicago, said she saw the Amtrak conductor fall to the ground.

“I heard a loud pop, looked over to see what it was, and I saw what looked like a conductor fall towards the train station. And I was going to go help him when I realized it was gunshots,” she said.

Metra passengers alerted the Amtrak agent at the station and looked for cover, unaware that the gunman was aboard the train.

“She [worker] was trying to open the door,” the witness said. “When she opened it, we tried to follow her in because we would be protected there, because we were scared. And she closed the door and locked it, and said, ‘You can’t come in here.’ And I said, ‘What are we supposed to do?’ And she said, ‘Go to the bathroom.’ ”

The witness said employees seemed unprepared to deal with an emergency situation.

In response, an Amtrak spokesperson said, “This was traumatic for everyone involved. We’ll look at lessons learned from the incident.”

Chicago Suburban Officials Focus on Freight Train Operations in Study of Hiawatha Expansion

April 18, 2017

Some north suburban Chicago public officials have decided to emphasize possible regulation of freight traffic rather than opposing a proposed expansion of Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

In particular, officials in Lake Forest and Glenview are now backing away from their demand for a detailed environmental impact study of the Hiawatha expansion and instead are supporting having the Federal Railroad Administration study the effects of how freight trains operate in the corridor between Chicago and Rondout, Illinois.

The corridor is used by Amtrak, Metra commuter trains and Canadian Pacific freight trains.

The focus on freight operations came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In earlier public hearings many residents and public officials expressed fears that CP freight trains would sit for lengthy periods of time adjacent to residential neighborhoods.

An FRA environmental assessment released last fall said the freights now sit north of Rondout waiting for permission to enter Union Pacific tracks in Northbrook.

One proposal is to move the waiting area further south to a new siding that would be built in Northbrook.

The EPA has not formally asked the FRA to conduct a study, but instead raised raised concerns that it wants the FRA to address.

“Would extending sidings or adding new holding areas enable freight operators to run more trains?” the EPA wrote in comments on the assessment. “Would proposed changes allow freight trains to wait within the corridor for extended periods of time, since the project would provide a place to do so off the main-line track?”

Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. has been critical of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Illinois Department of Transportation for not taking a closer look at CP freight operations.

Kiely said he wants answers to questions about the project’s effect on “air quality, emissions, noise and public safety.”

Glenview officials are asking how operation of trains might change at grade crossings.

Interim village manager Don Owen said “Now the (freight) trains pass at 40 to 60 miles an hour and it takes a few minutes. If they slow down or stop it could take 10 to 15 minutes to clear a grade crossing.”

The Hiawatha Service expansion would increase service from seven daily roundtrips to 10.

Lake Forest Delays Action on Lessening its Opposition to Hiawatha Service Expansion Project

March 11, 2017

The Lake Forest (Illinois) City Council will continue to seek to prod the Federal Railroad Administration to study the proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service, but some council members have also expressed doubt that the lobbying efforts are going to be effective.

Many Lake Forest residents, like those in other communities in the north Chicago suburbs along the Chicago-Milwaukee route, have raised concerns about a passing siding that is part of the expansion.

The siding would give Canadian Pacific freight trains a place to sit while waiting for permission to enter Union Pacific tracks and allow passengers trains of Amtrak and Metra to pass them.

At the same time that they are seeking to push the FRA to conduct an environmental impact statement, Lake Forest is also seeking to become a stop for Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service. The city is already served by a select number of Metra commuter trains.

The council did not act at a recent meeting on a resolution that would reduce the city’s official opposition to the expansion.

Lake Forest Mayor Donald Schoenheider has urged the city to take a longer view, citing the advantages that Amtrak and expanded Metra service would have.

“This is a very complicated, impactful and important issue,” Schoenheider said. “It’s important to look not only how this will affect us five or 10 years from now but 50 [years from now].”

The mayor said that every employer he has spoken with at the Conway (business) Park wants to see Amtrak stop in Lake Forest.

City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said the lack of southbound Metra service from the west station during the late afternoon hours means that employers must transport their employees by bus to Deerfield to catch a Metra train back to Chicago.

City officials are also discussing what they termed the best ways to influence the FRA, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Wisconsin Department of Transportation to minimize the impact of the passing siding on local residents.

Few of those who packed the city council chambers objected to additional Amtrak or Metra trains. Most of the opposition to the project has focused on a perceived increase in freight traffic and its effect on the environment.