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Chicago-Milwaukee Amtrak Hiawatha Service Proposal

 

Freight_Train_Traffic_Community_Sign_Board

FIVE COMMUNITIES PRESENT:  THE FUTURE OF RAIL FREIGHT TRAFFIC IN THE NORTHERN SUBURBS

The City of Lake Forest, along with the Villages of Bannockburn, Deerfield, Glenview and Northbrook, are hosting a symposium to discuss The Future of Rail Freight Traffic on Wednesday, October 11, 7-8:30 p.m. at Melton Hall, Waybright Center at Trinity International University, 2065 Half Day Road, Bannockburn, IL.  The program is open to the public and interested members of all involved communities are invited to attend.  There is no charge.

The topic of freight being transported by local rail lines has generated increasing attention in these and other Chicago area communities.  The operation of area freight yards, discussions on a freight-dedicated bypass rail line and more recently potential freight train impacts related to improvements outlined in the Chicago-Milwaukee Intercity Passenger Rail Corridor Environmental Assessment have raised concerns and questions by many residents living within proximity to rail infrastructure.

The October 11 symposium will address current freight issues, cargo being transported, safety and more, as well as what the Chicagoland area can expect in the future.  A short presentation, followed by a Q & A session, will be moderated by Joseph P. Schwieterman, Ph.D., School of Public Service and Director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University. 

The other panelists include Mark Walbrun PE, with Mott MacDonald, who is responsible for their Rail & Transit Practice in the eastern United States.  Since 1975, Mr. Walbrun has led major North American passenger and freight railroad projects in Chicago and around the United States.  He has completed planning, design, and construction management of railroad main line improvements, new intermodal yards, terminal facilities, commuter and intercity rail stations, high speed signal systems, bridges and viaducts, and new tunnels.  He is the current chair of the Transportation Research Board committee on Shared Rail Corridors and holds leadership positions in other industry associations.

Laura Wilkison, Executive Vice President of Metro Strategies, has been slated for the second panelist. She is involved in regional planning and policy, economic development and infrastructure initiatives, and leads outreach and communication activities for major projects and programs.  Ms. Wilkison has worked for over a decade on the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation (CREATE) program on behalf of the Chicago Department of Transportation. 

Audrey Wennink, with the Metropolitan Planning Council, will serve as the third panelist.  She directs MPC’s transportation efforts and leads the Regional Planning & Infrastructure Advisory Committee.  She also worked on benefit-cost analysis, grant writing, and advocacy for CREATE, IDOT and the Association of American Railroads to improve freight rail, passenger rail and highway operations through 70 projects in greater Chicago. 

“With our rail-freight system being constantly improved and modernized, it is important for citizens to more fully understand the dynamics of this mode of transportation,” comments Mr. Schwieterman.  “Whether you are a commuter train rider, employed by a business that ships by rail, or just a resident living in a community that has a railroad, it is important to keep track of what is happening in this ever-changing sector.”

Update on the Chicago-Milwaukee Intercity Passenger Rail Program (the “Project”)

Background:

This Project involves a joint effort amongst the Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”), the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (“WisDOT”) and the Illinois Department of Transportation (“IDOT”).  The Project work under consideration is to make various rail infrastructure changes including the installation of a universal cross-over and a third rail siding along the Milwaukee District North Line (MD-N) in Lake Forest to facilitate expanded Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee with 3 more round trip Amtrak trains per day.

When Amtrak decided to move forward with the idea of expanding Amtrak service, the controlling agencies, namely the FRA, WisDOT and IDOT, did what they are legally required to do under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).  They published a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) in October 2016.  This began the public process of soliciting comments on any potential environmental impacts of the proposed Project.  The City promptly responded, holding town hall meetings and having many individual meetings between Council members and concerned citizens, as well as discussions during City Council sessions.  Although the draft EA was only focused on the effect of adding 3 Amtrak intercity trains, the prevailing resident question was whether this would change the Canadian Pacific freight operations, especially if the change would negatively impact the neighboring homes by increasing the frequency or idling or location of freight locomotives.  During the public comment period, the City engaged the Hanson Engineering firm to study the situation and assist the City in filing comments under NEPA with the agencies involved.  This action was consummated on November 7, 2016, when the Lake Forest City Council approved a resolution stating its concerns with the draft EA and submitted that as part of the official record. A copy of that resolution can be found on this website.

Study Update

Following the closure of the public comment period back in January, 2017 the consulting engineers for the project were required to respond in the EA to the various questions and comments raised. Many comments were filed questioning the impact of the proposed project on the freight operations, including other impacted communities and their residents as well as our state and federal legislators and other federal agencies like the US EPA.

In response to the submission of numerous comments related to the impact of the project improvements on freight service, the consulting engineers were engaged to conduct a more comprehensive noise and vibration analysis on the proposed Amtrak Hiawatha operations and potential changes to freight and Metra operations.

Responding to a query from the City of Lake Forest about what additional analyses are being done, a spokesman for the Wisconsin DOT responded:

Additional analyses will be completed to evaluate requests for changes in infrastructure improvement scopes and to provide more quantitative data regarding noise and vibration impacts.  Metra, Chicago’s commuter railroad, requested that the project consider a revised scope of the Rondout Third Main Track project, which would extend the proposed third track siding south of Illinois Route 60 in Lake Forest, IL.  In order to fulfill this request, a capacity analysis will be completed to determine the impact of extending the third track and the resulting impact of the project on environmental resources will be evaluated.

The noise and vibration analysis is being updated using more detailed information on proposed Amtrak Hiawatha Service operations and potential changes to freight and Metra operations as a result of implementing the Program.  The project team obtained current freight volumes and operating patterns, which will allow for a more accurate identification of noise and vibration levels and locations where noise and vibration exist.  Next, the change in level and location of noise and vibration due to the increase in Hiawatha Service and potential changes to freight and Metra operations can be identified.  In addition, a noise wall analysis will be conducted to determine if there are locations where these walls could be added to mitigate potential increases in noise and vibration. 

This additional engineering work has pushed the anticipated date for submittal of the final EA to late 2017 or the first quarter of 2018.  The City of Lake Forest will continue to monitor this analysis.

Legal Considerations

Residents adjoining the affected rail line have requested Lake Forest City Council retain legal counsel to file an objection to the EA with the FRA. All legal commentary and inquiries confirm The City of Lake Forest has no authority, jurisdiction, or course of action to regulate or modify federal rail expansion or traffic. Therefore, at this time, the Council cannot find any basis under which to expend public funds on potentially costly litigation with the federal government. The review process is working as intended.   NEPA, the FRA, WisDOT and IDOT are taking additional time to carefully review all the concerns raised through the public comment period.  It still may be several more months before the final EA is issued, or whether further environmental impact studies will be ordered by the FRA. 

Jurisdiction

It bears repeating that the City of Lake Forest has no legal jurisdiction or authority over the three rail lines bisecting the community. Federal law protects common carrier rail operations from interference under state or local laws. Any final decisions with respect to the proposed project lies solely with the FRA.

Related Documents

August 3, 2017:  Information provided by WisDOT:

Additional analyses will be completed to evaluate requests for changes in infrastructure improvement scopes and to provide more quantitative data regarding noise and vibration impacts. Metra, Chicago’s commuter railroad, requested that the project consider a revised scope of the Rondout Third Main Track project, which would extend the proposed third track south of Illinois Route 60 in Lake Forest, IL.  In order to fulfill this request, a capacity analysis will be completed to determine the impact of extending the third track and the resulting impact of the project on environmental resources will be evaluated. 

The noise and vibration analysis is being updated using more detailed information on proposed Amtrak Hiawatha Service operations and potential changes to freight and Metra operations as a result of implementing the Program.  The project team obtained current freight volumes and operating patterns, which will allow for a more accurate identification of noise and vibration levels and locations where noise and vibration exist.  Next, the change in level and location of noise and vibration due to the increase in Hiawatha Service and potential changes to freight and Metra operations can be identified.  In addition, a noise wall analysis will be conducted to determine if there are locations where these walls could be added to mitigate potential increases in noise and vibration.  

June 1, 2017:  Union Pacific Report on Train Derailment Incident

March 30, 2017:  Response letter to WisDOT, IDOT and FRA regarding Environmental Assessment 

March 16, 2017:  Letter from WisDOT, IDOT, FRA regarding completing the Environmental Assessment

February 21, 2017:  Metra Presentation City Council Meeting

February 21, 2017:  Hanson Professional Services, Inc. Presentation at City Council Meeting

December 19, 2016:  Public Forum Presentation at Gorton Community Center

November 7, 2016:  City of Lake Forest Resolution (passed “in substantial form”)

November 8, 2016:  Letter of Recommendation provided by Hanson Professional Services, Inc.

Octo ber, 2016:  Draft Environmental Assessment for the Chicago-Milwaukee Intercity Passenger Rail Project

Project Presentation Boards (Wisconsin Department of Transportation)

Contacts

Illinois Department of Transportation
Elliot A. Ramos, PE
Passenger Rail Engineer
312.793.0478
elliot.ramos@illinois.gov

Wisconsin Department of Transportation
Arun Rao
Passenger Rail Implementation Manager
608.266.3015
arun.rao@dot.wi.gov

Federal Railroad Administration
Andrea Martin
Environmental Protection Specialist
202.493.6201
andrea.martin@dot.gov

U.S. Congressman-Elect Brad Schneider
P.O. Box 1318
Deerfield, IL  60015
847.748.3788
info@schneiderforcongress.com

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin
230 S. Dearborn Street, Suite 3892
Chicago, IL  60604
312.353.4952

U.S. Senator-Elect Tammy Duckworth
P.O. Box 10793
Chicago, IL  60610
312.955.0584
 

 

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THE CITY OF LAKE FOREST
220 E. Deerpath, Lake Forest, IL 60045
(847) 234-2600
Non-Emergency Police:  (847) 234-2601

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