Posts Tagged ‘Metra’

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.

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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.

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.”

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.