Posts Tagged ‘Metra’

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.

Congressman Wants Metra to Control Chicago Station

November 19, 2019

A Chicago area congressman may introduce legislation to force Amtrak to turn over control of Chicago Union Station to commuter rail operator Metra.,

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski said he will introduce that legislation unless Amtrak voluntarily gives up control of the station.

Lipinski, who had unsuccessfully sought earlier this year to prod Amtrak into giving up control of Union Station, noted that 90 percent of the depot’s passengers are Metra passengers.

A computer failure in February in an Amtrak control center brought rail traffic to a near halt causing major delays for thousands of Metra passengers over the course of a day.

The legislation would be a clause inserted into the 2020 Amtrak reauthorization bill that Congress has just started to work on.

Before introducing the legislation, Lipkinski’s office said the congressman wanted to consult with outside experts on whether Metra has the technical ability to operate Union Station, which is owned by Amtrak.

Lipinski also wants to ascertain if there are any national implications to a Metra takeover of the station.

As chairman of House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, Lipinski has been using his bully pulpit to pressure on Amtrak.

At a minimum, he has argued that the national passenger carrier needs to make improvements to the station, although he said he now thinks the best way to achieve those would be for Amtrak to give up operational control of Union Station.

Amtrak has said in response that it is committed to keeping control of Union Station ownership or operations.

During a hearing last week before Lipinski’s committee, Amtrak President Richard Anderson said Amtrak dispatches Metra trains with a 99 percent on-time rate.

Metra CEO Jim Derwinski had said previously that Metra believes it needs to “have control over our own destiny” at Union Station.

The rail commuter carrier said it wants to own or control the station’s  transportation assets, but not its commercial space.

Metra and Amtrak have also been involved in contentious negotiations over a new lease that both sides have asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to help resolve.

CP Nixes Hiawatha Expansion Without Illinois Siding

July 30, 2019

Canadian Pacific has said it won’t agree to any increase in Amtrak Hiawatha Service unless it gets infrastructure improvements in Illinois.

The railroad made its demands public by releasing a letter containing them that was written to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Release of the letter may have been the railroad’s way of expressing discontent with WisDOT announcing recently that it was moving ahead with expanded Hiawatha Service in the next two years.

WisDOT officials have said they planned to seek federal matching funds for infrastructure improvements in Wisconsin that would enable the addition of two additional roundtrips.

But CP said in the letter that improvements in Wisconsin alone won’t be enough to win the host railroad’s approval for the additional passenger trains.

Those improvements would expand track capacity in the Milwaukee terminal and at Muskego Yard.

“Should WisDOT do so, it does at its sole risk that there will be no additional Hiawatha train starts,” wrote C.E. Hubbard, CP’s director interline and passenger – South.

The letter said the the additional trains, “would unreasonably interfere with the adequacy, safety, and efficiency of our existing operations,”

CP is demanding that a freight holding track for CP freights that was proposed in suburban Chicago be part of any infrastructure plan for increasing Hiawatha Service.

The holding track between Glenview and Lake Forest triggered a political backlash that eventually prompted the Illinois Department of Transportation to decline to seek federal funding to build the track.

Additional track capacity was also proposed in the vicinity of Rondout, Illinois, where a Metra line diverges from the CP route to head to Fox Lake, Illinois.

“[T]hese improvements  . . . were identified by a joint team of stakeholders as necessary and required infrastructure to support any additional Hiawatha train starts,” Hubbard wrote. “Without these improvements, CP cannot support any additional Hiawathas in this corridor.”

South of Rondout Amtrak shares track with Metra and CP trains and the planned Hiawatha trains would operate during Metra’s rush hour when CP freights usually are sidelined.

STB Asked to Allow Metra to Continue Use of CUS

July 26, 2019

Amtrak has asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to allow Chicago commuter rail agency Metra to continue using Chicago Union Station as the two sides continue to haggle over lease payments.

Declaring that more than a year of negotiations has yet to yield an agreement to extend Metra’s lease, which expires on July 29, Amtrak has asked the STB to issue an interim order enabling Metra to continue using the station.

Metra and Amtrak officials have said that no disruption of service or other operational changes will occur despite the lack of a lease extension.

Instead, Metra will continue to use the station under a 1984 agreement that has been amended several times.

Amtrak said the two sides have a “significant, material gap between our respective views of ‘fair share’” costs at the station, and there are “methodological and philosophical differences between us on how that fair share should be calculated.”

Metra said in a statement that it “is seeking the best deal for its customers and for the taxpayers of northeastern Illinois. We agree that requesting the involvement of the Surface Transportation Board at this juncture is appropriate and we look forward to making our case there.”

Union Station serves 41 percent of Metra’s passengers traveling to or from downtown Chicago.

It has 286 weekly trains using six routes from Union Station that average 109,520 passengers.

In fiscal year 2018, Metra paid Amtrak $9.66 million to use Union Station. Amtrak reportedly is seeking to raise the rent by several million dollars.

It has justified its demands for higher rent by saying Metra’s use of the depot has increased significantly over the years. Amtrak is also seeking to recoup some of the costs of capital investments it has made at Union Station.

Amtrak contends that Metra has benefited from an outdated and inadequate 1984 contract that has failed to account for significant increases in its rail traffic and passenger counts at CUS.

The national passenger carrier is also reported to be seeking a firm commitment by Metra to contribute to upgrading the station facilities.

However, Metra is seeking to reduce its rent to less than $7 million a year. Earlier this year, Metra even suggested that it take control of Union Station because it accounts for 90 percent of the trains using the facility. Amtrak rejected that idea.

A consulting firm hired by Metra suggested the commuter rail agency pay costs for dispatching and maintenance that are similar to those Amtrak is seeking.

“But there is still a gap between Amtrak’s proposals in these areas and Metra’s counter-proposal, and more significant gaps in other cost categories, including operating expenses, policing, liability and overall capital investment,” Amtrak has said.

Proposal New Chicago Transit Hub Includes Amtrak

June 6, 2019

Chicago may be getting a second Amtrak station if a Wisconsin developer is able to follow through on an ambitious proposal.

Landmark Development wants to create a transit center across Lake Shore Drive near Soldier Field on the southside of downtown Chicago. The location is close to the site of Central Station, which the Illinois Central razed in the middle 1970s after Amtrak ceased using it in March 1972.

The center would serve Metra, CTA and Amtrak. The developer also plans to build a $20 billion residential and commercial complex on a platform that would span the tracks running alongside Lake Shore Drive.

Those tracks are used by Metra Electric trains and Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, Illini and Saluki.

A recent state capital funding plan approved by the Illinois General Assembly would make $5 billion in state funding available to help finance the transit center.

The proposal calls for extending the CTA Orange Line and Metra’s BNSF route to the site.

It is not clear if that would mean that Metra BNSF route trains would no longer use Chicago Union Station.

The transit center would have parking for 6,500 vehicles and feature a bus line connecting it to Navy Pier, museums and other tourist attractions along the Lake Michigan shore in and near downtown Chicago.

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce paid for a study that concluded that the transit center, to be known as One Central, generate $120 billion in new tax and fee revenues to state and local governments over 40 years.

Student funding is necessarily for the project to qualify for federal transportation funding.

All of Amtrak’s trains serving Chicago originate and terminate at Union Station. Some of those Amtrak routes have suburban stops, but no Amtrak train stops for passengers within Chicago other that at Union Station.

Rail Benefits From Illinois Capital Plan

June 4, 2019

The Illinois General Assembly has approved the first capital spending plan in 10 years and intercity rail service is expected to benefit from it.

The legislature approved the plan on Saturday and it is expected to be signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

It includes $2.7 billion for transit and $500 million to fund passenger service on two intercity routes.

This includes $225 million toward establishment of Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa, and $275 million to develop service between Chicago and Rockford.

Other rail passenger projects funded by the plan include $100 million to extend of Metra service on a BNSF line into Kendall County, and $400 million for CREATE projects designed to alleviate Chicago-area railroad bottlenecks.

Some funding was earmarked for repairs and upgrades at specific Metra stations.

The last capital spending plan in Illinois had been adopted in 2009.

Transportation officials said many projects were delayed due to lack of capital funding.

The latest capital funding bill was approved with bi-partisan support in the legislature.

It also had the support of various business groups including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.

Susan Massel, a spokeswoman for the Regional Transportation Authority, said her agency is pleased that $2.7 billion was approved for transit capital funding through bonding.

She also noted that the plan also contains annual, sustainable revenue, or “pay as you go” funding for public transportation capital funding.

To pay for the capital spending, the Illinois motor fuel tax will increase from 19 cents per gallon to 38 cents.

“This is the type of long-term, stable capital funding that public transportation needs and riders deserve to address our long term capital need of $30 billion over the next decade,” Massel told Trains magazine.

IDOT Drops Support of Controversial Siding Plan

May 18, 2019

The Illinois Department of Transportation said it will no longer push for construction of a 2-mile long siding in the Chicago suburbs that is part of a proposal to expand Hiawatha Service.

The announcement was a victory for north suburban Chicago residents, particularly in Glenview and Lake Forest, who have fought the proposed siding.

The siding was intended to be a holding track for Canadian Pacific freight trains waiting for permission to enter a Union Pacific line that enabled CP trains to take a shorter route to the CP yard in Bensonville, Illinois.

In a letter to those communities from acting IDOT Secretary Omer Osman, the agency said it would not agree to the freight holding tracks in either Glenview or Lake Forest, and you have my commitment that IDOT will not be moving forward seeking federal support for this project.”

The Hiawatha expansion plan, which was announced in 2016, would increase the daily frequency of Chicago-Milwaukee trains from seven to 10.

The expansion was a joint project or IDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Both agencies currently fund Hiawatha Service.

Many of the opponents of the siding own homes next to the tracks used by Amtrak, CP and Metra and said idling freight trains would create noise and air pollution that would depress the value of the property as well as hinder the quality of their lives.

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said he agency is seeking other options that would allow the expansion of Hiawatha Service.

“The department is a strong supporter of passenger rail service on this line and will be working with the lead agency on the project, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, on other possible solutions to improve service,” Tidgell said in an emailed statement sent by Tridgell.

He also said IDOT will not oppose any federal grant applications that WisDOT submits related to the Hiawatha expansion.

Arun Rao, passenger rail manager at WisDOT, said the agency is aware of IDOT’s concerns about the proposed siding.

“We are continuing to proceed with plans to increase frequencies with the Hiawatha service and are working with IDOT and the railroads to continue to do that,” he said.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has proposed $45 million in bonding to move Hiawatha expansion ahead.

Those funds would be used as matching funds for federal grants that would cover the remaining project costs.

Falling Concrete Delays Metra at CUS

May 2, 2019

Falling concrete affected Metra operations on Wednesday morning at Chicago Union Station.

Three tracks were closed after chunks of concrete fell on tracks at the south end of the station.

Officials said no one was injured and the falling debris did not land on any platform areas.

Some Metra trains were delayed while workers cleaned up the scene.

A Metra spokesman said Tracks 2, 4 and 6 were closed Wednesday morning for repairs.

The track closures affected Metra’s BNSF, Southwest Service and Heritage Corridor routes.

An Amtrak spokesperson said four Metra trains were delayed while its workers inspected the station, which Amtrak owns.

Amtrak Won’t Give Up Control of CUS

April 21, 2019

Amtrak won’t allow Chicago commuter rail operate Metra to take over ownership of Chicago Union Station.

The request was made by a Chicago area Congressman who also held a hearing about two recent signal malfunctions at the station that delayed thousands of Metra commuters.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski is chairman of a subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Unfortunately, we are here today because all too often Metra trains are seriously delayed, very uncomfortable or unexpectedly cancelled,” Lipinski said. “Metra riders are not getting the service they deserve.”

Attending the hearing were representatives of Amtrak, Metra, BNSF, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National.

About 90 percent of the trains using CUS belong to Metra and paid Amtrak $9.7 million last year in lease payments.

During the hearing, Ray Lang, Amtrak’s senior director of government affairs, said the carrier has “repeatedly apologized” for the incidents and that Amtrak is working to prevent future problems.

Lang said it is not unusual for Amtrak to be the minority operator at a station.

Metra CEO Jim Derwinski said called for his agency to “have control over our own destiny.

But Lang said Amtrak is not going to give up control of CUS.

Instead, he called for additional local, state, and federal funding for capacity improvements at the station.

Lang acknowledged that Lipinski’s committee will oversee drafting rail funding reauthorization legislation in 2020 that will include funding for Amtrak.