Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin Department of Transportation’

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.

Glenview Discount Hiawatha Ridership Increase

March 29, 2019

Officials in Glenview, Illinois, are seeking to downplay the announcement by Amtrak that its Chicago-Milwaukee trains saw a ridership increase in 2018.

Don Owen, the village’s deputy manager, acknowledged the increased but countered that the existing service is still operating at less than 40 percent of capacity.

Amtrak said recently the Hiawathas, which stop in Glenview in north suburban Chicago, carried a record-setting more than 858,000 passengers last year, an increase of 3.6 percent over 2017.

Glenview and other nearby communities have been embroiled in a fight over the past couple of years over a proposal by the departments of transportation of Wisconsin and Illinois, to expand Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 daily roundtrips.

Owen said rather than add additional trains, Amtrak should add another coach to peak travel demand trains to alleviate standing room conditions.

He did not say what source he used to conclude that the Hiawatha are operating under capacity other than to describe it as “the data we have seen.”

The resistance to the Hiawatha expansion has been triggered by a plan to add a holding siding for Canadian Pacific freight trains that is a component of the expansion project.

Homeowners in subdivisions adjacent to the track has expressed fears that CP trains will sit for hours in the siding, causing noise and pollution issues.

They’ve noted that plans are to build a retaining wall as part of track construction. That would eliminate some green space between their homes and the tracks, which are also used by Chicago commuter rail agency Metra.

An environmental impact statement has said the siding would be built between Glenview and Northbrook.

Wisconsin transportation officials have contended that the Hiawatha trains are near capacity and over capacity at peak travel times.

They’ve described the additional trains as a way to provide passengers more train time options and address “inadequate service reliability” because of conflicts with freight and other passenger traffic in the corridor.

Glenview officials have long disagreed with an Amtrak statement that Hiawatha ridership has more than doubled since 2003.

Amtrak figures show that between 2014 and 2015 Hiawatha ridership fell from from 804,900 to 796,300.

But Amtrak has said ridership has increased from 815,200 to 858,300 between 2016 and 2018.

Glenview has approved spending more than $500,000 on its campaign to oppose the Hiawatha expansion project.

That has included hiring consultants to create an alternative to the proposed siding.

Gov. Wants More Money for More Hiawathas

March 15, 2019

Wisconsin may spend $45 million toward expanding service on Amtrak’s Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

Gov. Tony Evers included that amount in his state budget request with the funds, if approved, to be used to match federal grants to complete infrastructure improvements needed to increase daily Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 round trips.

The estimated total cost of the service expansion has been estimated at $195 million.

The state had in February been awarded a $5 million federal grant under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program to build a second platform for the Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport station.

That is one of eight projects that need to be completed before Hiawatha Service can expand.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials believe the state has a good shot at winning additional CRISI funds that will be available in the coming months.

Amtrak’s Hiawatha trains carried 844,396 passengers in fiscal year 2018 an increase of 1.8 percent over FY 2017s ridership.

Transportation Heads Picked in Wisconsin, Minnesota

December 28, 2018

The incoming governors of Minnesota and Wisconsin have announced their picks to lead their states’ transportation departments.

Minnesota Gov.-elect Tim Walz appointed Margaret Anderson Kelliher as the commissioner for the state’s transportation department.

She served two terms as the Minnesota House Speaker and 10 years on the Transportation Policy and Transportation Finance committees.

During her time as speaker, Kelliher oversaw the successful Transportation and Transit Funding package in 2008, which created an investment of new and dedicated funds into Minnesota’s bridges, roads and transit systems.

“Margaret understands the importance of addressing the diversity of transportation needs across our state. She is an accomplished leader who will bring people together to improve Minnesota’s transportation system,” said Walz in a statement.

Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers picked Craig Thompson as the next secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation .

Thompson was most recently executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin.

He also served as the legislative director for the Wisconsin Counties Association.

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.

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.