Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin Department of Transportation’

IDOT to Further Study Hiawatha Expansion

September 11, 2018

The protests of north suburban Chicago residents to a plan to increase Amtrak Hiawatha Service have been heard in Springfield.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has said that it will be conducting further study of the plan, particularly the proposal to add a third track near Glenview, Illinois, on which Canadian Pacific freight trains are expected to be held to avoid delaying passenger trains.

“Based on the feedback we received, it’s apparent more analysis and outreach are required before this project moves forward,” Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said. “We will be asking our project team to perform that analysis and do the necessary outreach so the impacted communities are more involved in the decision-making process.”

IDOT did not say how long that study will take. IDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation have proposed increasing Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee from seven to 10 daily roundtrips.

Much of the opposition to the project has focused on the proposed 10,000 foot siding where some fear freight trains may sit idling for extended periods of time.

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Glenview Hires Consultant to Study Track Capacity

July 14, 2018

As expected the village of Glenview, Illinois, has hired a consulting firm to study a proposal to add additional tracks to accommodate an expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

The Chicago suburb has budgeted $400,000 for a campaign to oppose installation of a third track on the double-track former Milwaukee Road mainline used today by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific.

The consultant hired by Glenview will conduct a capacity analysis of passenger and freight rail lines in the region.

The departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin have proposed expanding Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 daily roundtrips.

The proposal was recently the subject of an environmental assessment conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration that concluded the expansion would not have a significant impact on communities along the route.

The third track would be built between Glenview and Northbook and primarily be used to hold CP freight trains.

The capacity analysis is expected to recommend ways to keep all trains using existing passenger or freight lines while avoiding the need to build the third track.

Opponents of the third track contend that it will result in adverse health, noise and environmental consequences from idle freight trains.

The consultant, Transportation Economics & Management Systems, has studied the rail line in question and believes alternatives are available, including ways to keep rail traffic moving without freight trains having to stop.

The study is expected to take six months to complete.

Glenview has also hired a law firm to lobby federal officials and agencies, such as the Federal Railroad Administration, if the environmental assessment is approved at the state level and moves toward federal approval.

The village hired another firm to lobby state officials.

Hiawatha Expansion Price Tag Set at $195M

February 14, 2018

The price of expanding Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee has been put at $195 million by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

A WisDOT official told the Milwaukee Public Transportation Review Board that is how much adding three roundtrips to the route would cost.

The board is pushing for expanded service in order to serve Foxconn Technology Group’s planned Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, facility, which could employ up to 13,000 people. The facility is being built near a Hiawatha station in Sturtevant, Wisconsin.

Arun Rao, WisDOT’s passenger rail manager, said the $195 million figure includes $10 million for a second platform at Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport station and $49 million for two projects at or near downtown’s Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

Amtrak currently operates seven roundtrips between Chicago and Milwaukee with much of the funding coming from grants provided by WisDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

In fiscal year 2017, Hiawatha Service trains carried more than 829,000 passengers. Studies have projected that adding additional trains would boost ridership past 1 million.

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.

Public Comment Sought on MSP-Duluth Plan

May 3, 2017

The Minnesota Department of Transportation continues to work with the Federal Railroad Administration and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to reinstate intercity rail service between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota.

A public comment period is currently under way following the release of a Tier 2 Project Level Environmental Assessment of the Northern Lights Express Project.

The project would culminate in the implementation of a “higher speed” service between the two cities.

Written comments are due by May 24.

The proposed 152-mile service would have intermediate stops at Coon Rapids-Foley, Cambridge, Hinckley in Minnesota, and Superior in Wisconsin.

Service is projected to begin by 2020 if funding can be obtained and capital work completed. The cost of launching the service has been estimated at between $500 million and $600 million.

Further information is available at http://www.dot.state.mn.us/nlx/

Amtrak previously provided service over this route between April 16, 1975, and April 7, 1985. At one time the service operated between Chicago and Duluth as the North Star.

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.

Chicago Suburbs Continue to Push for Full Environmental Study of Proposed Hiawatha Service Expansion

December 22, 2016

Public officials and residents of five northern Chicago suburbs are continuing to call for more comprehensive study of a proposal to expand Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Hiawatha 2About 100 people attended a meeting held this week in Lake Forest, Illinois, to discuss how the communities might be affected by the service expansion.

One point of contention is a passing siding that would be built to allow Canadian Pacific freight trains to wait for Amtrak and Metra trains to pass.

The siding has drawn sharp criticism from residents of Lake Forest, Deerfield, Northbrook, Glenview and Bannockburn.

A presentation at the Lake Forest meeting said the additional trackage, which would range from 13,000 to 18,000 feet, would enable faster rail service.

But Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely said it would also mean that freight trains would be 14 feet closer to homes along the west side of the tracks.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation initially proposed the service expansion, which would increase the number or daily Hiawatha Service roundtrips from seven to 10.

Also participating in the study are the Illinois Department of Transportation, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration.

The Illinois and Wisconsin transportation departments jointly fund the Hiawatha Service.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the FRA will make the final decision on whether the expansion can proceed because it is expected to provide most of the funding for the $150 track improvements, including the controversial passing siding.

The FRA released an environmental assessment of the project last October and public comment is being taken through Jan. 15.

That assessment concluded that the service expansion would not adversely affect adjacent properties through either noise or vibration.

Kiely said the suburban communities want the FRA to conduct a full environmental impact statement, which would be more comprehensive.

“That’s why the communities initially said they’d like to see a full environmental impact study done so we all have complete knowledge and information as to what those noise and vibration impacts are going to be,” he said.

The FRA’s environmental assessment noted that ridership in the Chicago‐Milwaukee corridor nearly doubled between 2001 and 2013, growing by an average of 5.9 percent per year.”

WisDOT wants the service increase in order to keep up with travel demand on the route.

“As ridership grows, near‐capacity and over‐capacity conditions (especially on trains 330, 332, 337 and 339) are expected to occur more frequently if no improvements are made to the service. Peak trains are often over capacity. Ridership is continuing to increase, despite the fall in gas prices. There is also significant and growing ridership on the mid-day off-peak trains,” said WisDOT spokesman Mae Knowles.

Public comments about the expansion plan can be made by sending an email to DOTChicagoMilwaukeePassengerRailEA@dot.wi.gov or by calling 608-261-6123.

 

Hiawatha Expansion Comment Period Extended

November 21, 2016

The comment period on a plan to expand Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee has been extended to Jan. 15.

Hiawatha 2The decision to expand the comment period was made by the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin, which help pay for the service and want to expand it from six to 10 daily roundtrips.

The expansion was recently the subject of an environmental assessment conducted by the two departments in conjunction with the Federal Railroad Administration.

That study has drawn criticism from several Chicago suburbs on the route of the Hiawatha Service trains because it proposes building a siding for freight trains to wait while Amtrak and Metra commuter trains pass by.

Suburban officials and residents fear the siding will be used by freight trains for long waits and may aggravate traffic congestion.

Scott Speegle, the passenger rail communications manager for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said the three agencies involved in creating the environmental assessment decided to extend the comment period because of the initial public response that it received.

“The volume of responses and comments we got from individuals showed a lot of people were interested and it was a good idea to extend the period,” Speegle told DailyNorthShore.com.

The assessment can be viewed on the WisDOT website

Glenview Residents Rip Hiawatha Expansion

October 28, 2016

A special meeting in Glenview, Illinois, to discuss a proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service drew 70 people, many of whom expressed opposition to the plan.

Hiawatha 2The meeting was hosted by Glenview village officials who suggested that the residents write to their elected representatives.

Village officials contend that an environmental assessment conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration and the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin doesn’t show the need to increase Hiawatha service, doesn’t thoroughly examine the environmental impact of the expansion and offers only short-term solutions to resolve passenger and freight train congestion.

Jeff Brady, the Glenview director of planning, wants the agencies to conduct a “much more detailed” environmental impact study or drop the project.

The service expansion would increase the number of Chicago-Milwaukee roundtrips from seven to 10.

As part of the expansion, there has been a proposal to build an 11,000 or 10,000-foot siding for freight trains to wait until passenger trains clear.

Some residents fear that freight trains might be held in the siding for long periods of time.

One proposal would place the siding on the west side of the existing tracks, which are used by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific. Another would place it on the east side.

Both options would require building a new bridge over Shermer Road next to the existing bridge. That in turn would mean construction of a 5-foot embankment from West Lake Avenue to Shermer Road as well as a 20-foot retaining wall.

Some who attended the meeting said idling freight trains might release fumes and carry potentially toxic materials.

State Rep. Laura Fine of Glenview said she opposes the project.

“We are working with you on this, and we are opposed to this as well,” she said. “But please, even though I am here, write us letters so that we can say we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of letters and emails from constituents saying they are opposed to this, because it just helps our fight as well.”

The FRA is taking public comments about the environmental assessment through Nov. 15.

A public hearing has been set for Nov. 2 at which representatives of the Illinois and Wisconsin departments of transportation and the FRA will discuss the project and the environmental assessment.

That meeting will be held at Park Center, 2400 Chestnut Ave., from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Brady said some Glenview residents have complained about the noise and vibration from the freight trains, which they contend are damaging their homes and disrupting their quality of life.

Glenview Objects to Hiawatha Expansion, Public Hearings Set in Wisconsin and Illinois Cities

October 20, 2016

Glenview, Illinois, officials are disputing the need to increase Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service even though their community would benefit from it. Glenview is a stop for Hiawatha trains, but city officials do not necessarily want to see more of them.

Hiawatha 2On a 6-0 vote, the board of trustees of the Chicago suburb adopted a resolution that opposes the findings of an environmental assessment of a plan to increase the number of trains on the Chicago to Milwaukee route.

Amtrak and the departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin have proposed to increase Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 daily roundtrips.

The environmental assessment was conducted by Amtrak, the state transportation departments and the Federal Railroad Administration.

Some Glenview officials question the need for additional Amtrak service.

Trustee John Hinkamp said the Hiawatha trains he has seen pass through town do not appear to be filled to capacity.

“I see empty seat after empty seat as it goes by,” he said. “If (Amtrak) is telling you that there is increased need, I’d like to check those facts.”

Village officials are also concerned that a 10,000-foot holding track may be built in Glenview and that Canadian Pacific freight trains might sit on the siding for extended periods of time waiting for Amtrak and/or Metra commuter trains to clear.

The resolution said Glenview has concerns about the need to increase Hiawatha service by three round trips, short-term solutions proposed to accommodate rail traffic, and environmental impacts

Jeff Brady, the village’s director of planning, said that village officials object to the environmental impact findings because it is unclear what the findings were based on.

He noted that the additional Hiawatha trains would operate during off-peak hours, which would increase freight traffic in Glenview, Brady said.

The proposed holding track would be located on the west side of the existing tracks between om Glenview and Northbrook. Brady said Glenview officials prefer establishing a 30-mile freight bypass through the area.

Trustee Deborah Karton said building the tracks would be unfair to Glenview residents.

“When people bought their homes, they would never have expected to have this track with new times of usage or idling trains,” she said. “That’s out of your realm of what you would expect.”

An FRA spokesman said his agency will be accepting public comments on the environmental assessment report through Nov. 15.

A public hearing will be held Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at Park Center, 2400 Chestnut Avenue. The Illinois and Wisconsin departments of transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration will host a Nov. 2 hearing at Park Center from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to discuss the environmental assessment.

Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum said her city also has concerns about the proposed holding track, but acknowledged those views are not as intense as those in Glenview.

“If the area where the train idles does not cross (to the north of) Techny Road, there’s not as much of a concern, because it’s industrial to the south,” she said. “If it gets north of Techny, then that’s a concern, because that’s a residential area.”

Public hearings are also being held in Milwaukee about the Hiawatha expansion proposal. That hearing will be held on Oct. 27 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Washington Park Senior Center located at 4420 W. Vliet Street.

A court reporter will record comments and there will be exhibits and an audio-visual presentation. Project team members will be available to discuss the project and answer questions.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which along with its Illinois counterpart helps to fund the Hiawatha Service said ridership has grown significantly over the past 15 years.

Between 2001 and 2013, ridership nearly doubled, growing an average of 6 percent annually, giving the route the largest number of riders of any Amtrak service outside the East and West coasts.

Many peak-period trains operate with few or no vacant seats, said Arun Rao, passenger rail implementation manager for WisDOT.

“Providing those additional trains will help spread out those peak riders and help intermodal connections, such as flight connections and city buses,” Rao said. “It provides more flexibility for people getting to those connecting trains or other modes of transportation and services.”

Rao said the additional Hiawatha Service is also expected to reduce highway congestion between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Another public meetings in Illinois will be held on Nov. 1 between 4 and 7 p.m. at Chicago Union Station.

Expansion of Hiawatha Service hinges on securing federal funding in addition to state and private matching funds. The project is expected to cost between $150 million to $200 million.