Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin Department of Transportation’

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.

New Hiawatha Equipment Will Increase Train Capacity

December 16, 2019

The new equipment that Wisconsin expects to buy for use in the Hiawatha Service corridor will be phased into service between 2020 and 2024.
The equipment will expand the capacity of the route where during the peak summer months some trains operate with as many as 50 standees.

“The Hiawatha line currently experiences standing room only conditions on an average of 19 trains per month, mostly on weekdays,” said a report from the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, a nonpartisan state agency that provides the legislature with program information and analysis.

The new equipment will cost $39 million with a federal grant covering some of the cost.

Arun Rao, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation passenger rail manager, said the existing service uses six passenger cars and a cab car.

Rao said the existing train consists can seat up to 408 passengers, while the most current estimates for the new cars — which still have some equipment in the design phase — are 468 to 475 passenger seats.

The existing cars are 30 to 40 years old and approaching the end of their life cycle fiscal bureau report said.

“The new trains will help address overcrowding, but not solve the issue completely as we do have trains with 500-plus passengers,” Rao said.

“Ridership has seen sharp increases — 4.5 percent year-over-year for the federal fiscal year. If that rate continues, although the new equipment will help significantly, we may continue to have capacity issues.”

The Hiawatha Service is funded by WisDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

IDOT passenger rail and transit communications manager Scott Speegle said the new cars will have wider aisles and built-in wheelchair lifts.

The equipment assigned to Hiawatha Service at present uses wheelchair lifts on the platform at each station.

Speegle said the cars will be paired in sets of two, which will allow for easier movement between the two cars for passengers with disabilities.

Each new car will have one wheelchair space but the armrest at each seat will go up thus allowing passengers in a wheelchair the opportunity to transfer to any seat in the car, if they are able.

Rao said restroom facilities aboard the cars will be fully ADA compliant.

The Wisconsin purchase is in addition to new passengers being acquired and paid for by IDOT.

Illinois is buying 88 passenger rail cars for Amtrak Midwest corridor service at a cost of $112.6 million.

Speegle said six of those cars are earmarked for assigned to Hiawatha Service.

He said the cars are expected to be delivered between 2020 and 2023.

In fiscal year 2019 Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service trains carried 882,189 passengers, an increase of 4.5 percent over FY2018 and an increase of 8.9 percent over FY2015.

Ridership of the Hiawathas is not evenly distributed and Amtrak charges a premium to ride some peak travel time trains.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the premium is designed to encourage riders who don’t need to travel during rush hour to pick a different time to travel.

2 Illinois Routes Saw Ridership Up in FY2019

November 23, 2019

Ridership of two Amtrak routes in Illinois increased in fiscal year 2019.

The Chicago-St. Louis corridor carried 756,062 passengers during the fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, an increase of 5.5 percent from the previous year, and 24 percent higher than fiscal year 2011.

Those figures include ridership of Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains as well as the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle, which used the route.

The Illinois Department of Transportation funds the Lincoln Service trains.

IDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation jointly fund the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service, which saw a gain of 38,000 passengers.

Ridership of Hiawatha Service trains was 882,189 in FY2019, a 4.5 percent increase over FY2019.

FRA Grants to Benefit Passenger Rail

August 27, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration has announced the awarding of more than $272 million in grant funding to 10 rail projects through its State of Good Repair Program.

Several of those projects will benefit passenger rail.

The Michigan Department of Transportation was awarded up to $23.3 million for a rehabilitation work on the state-owned line between Kalamazoo and Dearborn that is used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service and Blue Water trains.

The project entails rebuilding rail, crossties and track surfaces, and replacing two railroad bridges in Jackson.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation received $15.1 million to rehabilitate and upgrade an interlocking plant in Philadelphia at the junction of the Amtrak-owned Keystone Corridor and Northeast Corridor main lines.

Work will include slope stabilization and reconstruction of retaining walls, rehabilitation of an existing but underutilized track, and switch and signal reconfiguration.

Chicago commuter agency Metra will receive $17.8 million to construct a new grade-separated, double-tracked rail bridge over Milwaukee Avenue north of the Grayland Metra Station on Metra’s Milwaukee District-North Line in Chicago.

The city-owned New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal will receive $3.7 million to complete final design for upgrading station platforms and train service capabilities.

The platform modifications will bring the platforms into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, increase platform height to provide level boarding for Amtrak’s Sunset Limited and City of New Orleans, and improve the step height for boarding the Crescent.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation was awarded $41.2 million to replace and upgrade Tower I interlocking, a major rail network junction at the entrance to the Boston South Station terminal area.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation received $76.9 million for the Piedmont intercity fleet and infrastructure investments project.

The project involves the acquisition of 13 new passenger coaches for use in the Piedmont service and an expansion of the Charlotte Locomotive and Rail-car Maintenance Facility.

New Jersey Transit received $18.4 million for platform D improvements at Newark Penn Station. The project includes repairing and/or replacing Platform D slabs and joints, reconstructing platform edges, installing new tactile strips and timber rub rails, repairing the overhead canopy and upgrading lighting.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation was awarded $12.5 million for a major rehabilitation of the Amtrak station in Providence.

The Washington State Department of Transportation was awarded $37.5 million to procure three new consists for use in the Amtrak Cascades service.

The project will replace the three Washington state-owned Talgo VI trainsets: two used in current service and one damaged in the December 2017 derailment.

The loss of the damaged trainset reduced the Amtrak Cascades schedule from six to four daily round trips.

The project will enable WSDOT to meet existing and anticipated passenger demand, and allow Washington to retire its Talgo VI trainsets.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation was awarded $25.7 million to replace deteriorated, outdated passenger cab-baggage and coach cars used in the Chicago–Milwaukee Amtrak Hiawatha service with three single-level cab-coach cars and six single-level coach cars.

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.

Wisconsin DOT Tells Hiawatha Expansion Plans

July 18, 2019

Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee is expected to increase in the next five years, Wisconsin transportation officials said this week.

Speaking at a news conference at the Milwaukee Amtrak station, Arun Rao, manager of passenger rail for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said the plans call for one additional roundtrip in the next three years following by two more in the two years after that.

Amtrak currently operates seven Hiawatha roundtrips, all of which are funded by Wisconsin and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The corridor also hosts the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Funding for the expansion comes from an increase in spending on Amtrak service approved this year by the Wisconsin legislature.

WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson said the 2019-21 budget includes $10 million in bonding and $25 million in segregated funding for Amtrak Hiawatha services.

“This funding enables us in the department to qualify for federal funds to improve passenger rail service, providing mobility and transportation choices between Milwaukee and Chicago for both business and leisure,” Thompson said.

Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Association of Commerce, said at the news conference that the Hiawatha Service helps the city’s economy.

“We’re part of Chicago’s mega-region, which is one of the 10 largest economic regions in the country, and to put it simply: Commerce is about connections,” he said.

Amtrak ridership statistics showed that the Hiawathas carried more than 858,000 passengers in 2018.

Officials expect ridership to increase by 5.6 percent in 2019.

Joel Brennan, state Department of Administration secretary, said a recent survey found that 40 percent of trips Hiawatha passengers were traveling for business or work related purposes that 60 percent of their trips were same-day round trips.

Infrastructure spending for the Hiawatha corridor includes adding a second platform at the Milwaukee Mitchell Airport Rail Station, which is expected to cost $10 million.

Another $5 million is projected to be spend for new traffic control equipment at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station .

New passenger cars will cost $39 million. Amtrak is seeking a federal grant to help pay for those.

Agencies Still Seeking Additional Hiawatha Service

May 21, 2019

Officials of the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin are still pursuing an expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

Both made that point in the wake of the decision by the Illinois Department of Transportation not to support construction of new tracks in the north Chicago suburbs that an earlier study said was an key component to making the expansion feasible.

A 3-mile siding has been proposed to be built in Lake Forest and a 2-mile holding track would be built in Glenview and Lake Forest.

The tracks would enable Canadian Pacific freight trains to get out of the way of Amtrak and Metra trains as the CP trains awaited permission to enter a Union Pacific line used by CP to reach its yard in Bensonville.

The siding had been opposed by residents of the two suburban communities.

Arun Rao, passenger rail program manager of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said his agency met with their Illinois counterparts who reiterated their commitment to expanding service in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

“We need a few more conversations with the railroads to see what direction we’re going and have a better idea of an [implementation] timetable,” he said.

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said his agency will continue to work with WisDOT in its efforts to seek federal infrastructure grants for the expansion and added that IDOT “is a strong supporter of service on this line.”

Hiawatha ridership rose 11 percent in April and is poised to carry 900,000 passengers in fiscal year 2019. The route saw a record  858,000 passengers in FY 2018.

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

Rao said the equipment needed for the expansion will include a six car trainset for Hiawatha service that will come from an 88-car order for new cars placed with Siemens by the Midwest states that fund Amtrak corridor service.

WisDOT is seeking a federal grant to be used to pay for two other consists.

Rao said there weren’t any details yet on what an alternative plan for the expansion might involved.

He said there is no timeline for the project and there is no danger of losing out on federal money or losing federal approvals.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers included $45 million in bonding authority for the Hiawatha expansion project as part of its 2019-2021 budget plan,

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the growing ridership of the Hiawathas means the current service level cannot sufficiently meet current demand.

Glenview Ups Ante in Hiawatha Expansion Fight

April 10, 2019

Officials in Glenview, Illinois, will spend more money in their campaign to thwart construction of a passing siding that would allow for increased Amtrak Hiawatha Service.

The village board recently voted to spend another $36,000, which would bring to more than $541,000 that the north Chicago suburb has spent for lobbying at the state and local levels.

Most of the new money approved will be spent on lobbying state officials.

The Illinois Department of Transportation in part underwrites the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation also contributing funding.

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

An environmental assessment released earlier said the 10,000-foot siding is necessary to allow operating flexibility on a route used by Canadian Pacific freight trains and Metra commuter trains.

2nd Chicago-Twin Cities Trains Hinges on Funding

April 5, 2019

The rail manager of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation sounded an upbeat note about the prospects of launching a second Amtrak train in the Chicago-Twin Cities corridor, but cautioned that it still hinges on whether the Wisconsin legislature appropriates the money to pay for it.

Arun Rao spoke at a meeting in Portage, Wisconsin, called by the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers.

He said the Federal Railroad Administration has granted WisDOT an exemption for completing the second phase of an environmental study after deciding the state had done enough already.

“This is very good news because it saves a lot of time and money,” Brown said. “It shortens the timeline, but the state budget is still the main thing to watch right now.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is seeking $45 million for passenger rail, although his proposal does not specify how much, if any, of that funding would be used for the Chicago-Twin Cities train.

Amtrak currently serves the route west of Milwaukee with the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

South of Milwaukee Amtrak operates seven daily Hiawatha Service roundtrips, which are funded in part by Wisconsin.

“What we’ve heard, unofficially, is that some of the money would be used for the [Chicago-Twin Cities]train, but we’ll have to wait and see,” said Terry Brown of WisARP.

WisARP has estimated that it will take $10 million to complete preliminary studies being conducted jointly by WisDOT and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Advocates of the train have argued that it would provide more reliable service than the Empire Builder, which is subject to delays.

The final design work for the Chicago-Twin Cities train has not yet been completed so such issues as capacity, equipment and scheduling are pending.

An earlier Amtrak study of the route concluded that a second Chicago-Twin Cities train would handle 155,000 passengers annually.

The route between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities has not had multiple daily train frequencies since the Chicago-Duluth, Minnesota, North Star, was discontinued between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota, on Oct. 25, 1981.