Posts Tagged ‘Metra’

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.

Signal Failures Ding Metra Again at CUS

April 13, 2019

Amtrak signals problems this week again delayed Metra commuter trains using Chicago Union Station on Thursday.

News reports said that trains were delayed 30 to 45 minutes during the morning commute. Only Metra trains using BNSF tracks were affected.

Metra said that its trains had to be talked by signals with delays occurring as trains stacked up waiting to get in and out of the station.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the signals issues were resolved before 9 a.m. and the passenger carrier is investigating the cause of the malfunction.

On Feb. 28, Metra and Amtrak trains were delayed after a similar but more far-reaching computer failed resulted in Amtrak dispatchers being unable to line switches and signals.

Amtrak Won’t Reimburse Stranded Metra Passengers

April 5, 2019

Amtrak has declined a demand by an Illinois Congressman that it reimburse Metra passengers who took alternative transportation home after more than 60,000 were stranded on Feb. 28 due to a computer malfunction at Chicago Union Station.

Rep. Daniel Lipinski had asked Amtrak to reimburse those who took a taxi or hired a ride sharing service after Metra service all but ground to a halt.

Amtrak has apologized for the incident, which it said occurred due to human error during a computer hardware upgrade.

The computer problem left Amtrak dispatchers unable to remotely control signals and switches at the station.

Although Amtrak trains were affected by the issues, Metra was hit hard because it accounts for 75 percent of the rail traffic and 90 percent of the passengers using Amtrak-owned Union Station.

Lipinski, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Rail, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has said he’ll hold an ad hoc hearing in Chicago in the coming weeks to probe the incident.

He said he was “extremely disappointed” over Amtrak’s refusal to reimburse Metra passengers.

“This raises the question of whether Amtrak should give Metra operational control of the station,” Lipinski said.

News reports have indicated that Amtrak was installing positive train control equipment when a technician fell on a circuit board while holding a live wire.

That resulted in an electrical short resulted in the primary and secondary servers used to control the signals and switches.

Amtrak has said that it typically does not conduct maintenance or upgrades of signal equipment during rush hour, but an inexperienced manager authorized an experienced senior technician to go ahead with the work.

A letter from Amtrak Senior Vice President Stephen Gardner to Lipinski said the passenger carrier understands that thousands of commuters were adversely affected and that it is “taking immediate concrete steps to ensure the causes of this event are addressed.”

Metra Directors Rip Amtrak Over Computer Problems

March 22, 2019

Metra officials lambasted Amtrak this week during a board of directors meeting over a recent computer problem that hindered Metra operations at Chicago Union Station during rush hour.

Some 65,000 Metra passengers were delayed on Feb. 28 after a computer shut down during a hardware upgrade.

The computer is used to line switches and signals. The outage forced Amtrak to manually operate the switches and signals and only one train at a time was allowed in or out of Union Station.

During the director’s meeting, various Metra directors took turns venting their ire at the national passenger carrier, which owns Union Station.

“Deep in my heart, I don’t think Amtrak cares,” said director John Plante said. “That’s the biggest problem we have. They are just collecting our money. That’s where they are at; it’s always where they have been at. Until we get better control of the situation, I don’t expect Amtrak to improve at all.”

Although Amtrak apologized for the computer problems, Metra Director Steve Palmer called that “a bunch of crap.”

“I am not satisfied, I am not happy,” Palmer said. “I want to know what we’re going to get out of this (from Amtrak) besides, ‘It won’t happen again.’”

Metra’s chief operating officer, Bruce Marcheschi, told the directors the problems began during the morning rush hour and continued throughout the day.

He said an Amtrak employee doing wiring for positive train control in an equipment room slipped as he stepped down from a ladder.

That caused a live wire to touch an equipment rack, which shorted out the server controlling the signal system.

Although Amtrak described the computer outage as “human error,” it has not yet publically provided a detailed explanation of what that entailed.

The carrier was at the time installing PTC-related computer hardware.
Metra officials were critical of Amtrak for scheduling the hardware installation during rush hour.

Underlying the frustration of Metra officials is that they have little control over operations at Union Station because they are merely a tenant.

“It’s Amtrak that’s in control of the system, but it’s our brand name that’s out there,” Marcheschi said.

Metra director Director Don De Graf suggested seeking changes to its lease agreement with Amtrak. “They can own it, but we need to run it.”

Another complication, Metra officials said, was that the station’s Great Hall was not available for use as a holding area for passengers because Amtrak had rented it for use by a professional squash tournament.

Metra officials said they were unaware of that, which caused them to express concerns about the safety of their passengers.

Metra board Chairman Norm Carlson said the commuter railroad would be “communicating with our friends in Washington, D.C.”