Posts Tagged ‘Metra’

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.

Opposition to Hiawatha Expansion Softening

February 26, 2017

Some north suburban Chicago officials are having second thoughts about their opposition to a proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

Hiawatha 2News reports indicate that officials in Lake Forest have softened their stance in view of the likelihood that the Federal Railroad Administration is unlikely to order that a full environmental impact study be done on a proposal to add a third track on the route used by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific.

Lake Forest, Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Bannockburn have demanded the EIS after the release of an environmental assessment last fall that found installing the additional tracks would not adversely affect communities along the line.

That triggered intense opposition from homeowners and public officials who argue that CP freight trains will sit  for long period of time while awaiting permission to enter Union Pacific tracks. This, they argued, will create noise, pollution and lower property values.

Lake Forest Mayor Donald Schoenheider said the city council will vote on a resolution on March 6 pertaining to the proposed expansion.

The news reports indicate that meetings between Lake Forest officials and Metra also played a key role in the change of mind.

Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said Metra, which owns the tracks between Rondout and Chicago, favors building the third track and opposes conducting an EIS.

Kiely said Metra CEO Donald Orseno recently told suburban officials, “We are not in the business of holding trains. We are in the business of moving trains. The third rail is not a holding track. It is there so faster trains can pass.”

A consulting firm hired by Lake Forest concluded after studying the environmental assessment that the FRA is unlikely to order an EIS and will take a “narrow” view of the proposed expansion because it involves an existing railroad right of way and won’t involve land acquisition.

The consultants concluded that as long as there is no impact on the environment within the railroad’s right of way the chances of FRA requiring an environmental impact study are remote.

Joanne Desmond, president of the Academy Woods Homeowners Association, which has been particularly vocal in its opposition disagrees with her city’s changing stance.

“We do not agree with your rationale,” Desmond said. “What about our safety? Is this just to get more Amtrak trains and Metra trains? Be considerate and consult with the stakeholders. Please reinstate the environmental impact study. Right now there are vibrations.”

Alderman Prue Beidler said she spent several hours in the Academy Woods area February 21. She said she got a first-hand feel for the noise and vibrations as a pair of freight trains passed while she was there.

“I really feel for these people,” said Beidler. “It seems pretty consequential. Can we get some kind of noise buffer because this really has an impact on their neighborhood?

A draft of the resolution that Lake Forest city council will vote on says the city will not oppose construction of the third track provided that idling locomotives are kept away from Academy Woods.

It also asks Metra, Amtrak and the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin to support the city’s effort to establish an Amtrak stop and increase the number of Metra trains that stop at the west Lake Forest Metra station.

Meta has said that once the third track is built it will launch express service between Chicago and Lake Forest.

In the meantime, representatives of the other cities opposing the expansion continue to insist that the FRA order an EIS.

Dan Owen, Glenview’s interim village manager, said that the project may affect communities in different ways. “We want to know what it is going to do to our community,” he said.

Deerfield Village Manager Kent Street said his town was not changed its position. The same is true for Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum.

“We are concerned about how the provisions put forth in the environmental assessment will affect our Northbrook community,” said Erik Jensen, assistant to the village manager of Northbrook.

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.

CUS Gets Emerging Projects Agreement

January 14, 2017

The City of Chicago is joining with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Amtrak, Metra and the Regional Transportation Authority to create an emerging projects agreement that they hope will be able to land $1 billion in federal funding to modernize Chicago Union Station.

Chicago Union StationBy creating the EmPA, the DOT will be able to provide technical assistance for obtaining federal credit through the Build America Bureau’s innovative programs.

The redevelopment of Union Station is a public-private partnership that is seeking to rehabilitate the depot for passengers as well as foster commercial developments surrounding the station.