Thursday, January 17, 2008

City of Champaign weighs in on Amtrak route changes

The City of Champaign wants to improve, not worsen, their Amtrak service to Chicago.

Makes sense.

Today's News-Gazette has a story by Mike Monson explaining how the owner of the track between Carbondale and Chicago (the CN Railroad) plans to abandon the last five miles of track before Union Station if they get approval to buy another Chicago-area railroad.

Here's the heart of the matter (as concisely explained as only a journalist can do):

According to a city memo on the issue, Canadian National has asked the Surface Transportation Board to allow it to purchase the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway in order to bypass downtown Chicago. Canadian National is seeking expedited hearings on the request, city planner T.J. Blakeman said.

The purchase of the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway would not necessarily cause a delay in Amtrak lines, but Blakeman said Canadian National has also indicated its eventual intention to abandon, with two other owners, the St. Charles Air Way, an elevated line that leads into Chicago's Union Station.

That abandonment wouldn't be a problem if Amtrak were to use the Norfolk Southern Railroad at Grand Crossing, near 75th Street and South Chicago Avenue in Chicago, as a route into Union Station. In fact, such a route would actually save 15 to 20 minutes each trip, Blakeman said.

But the problem is that a new connection would have to be built at Grand Crossing, at an estimated cost of $25 million, before that would be a feasible alternative.

Otherwise, Amtrak lines rerouted into Union Station could take longer than they currently do, he said.

And at this point, it isn't clear which entity would be responsible for constructing the connection, he said.

I hope the State of Illinois takes the same stance that the City of Champaign just took on the issue.

And I hope every state and municipality along the entire City of New Orleans corridor takes the same view.

This purchase could really improve passenger rail -- *if* we get the right investments in infrastructure (particularly the Grand Crossing).

It's so dumb that we have to back in to Union Station now for all Champaign-Carbondale-Memphis-New Orleans travel.

If we can fix that 20 minute problem and improve freight rail flows in Illinois, all the better.

For background on the issue, see the Midwest High Speed Rail Association's fact sheet on the CN and the EJ&E.


Blogger plaws said...

Amtrak "pledged" $5M for this exact project in late 1998/early 1999. Why aren't they being held to account for that? $5 million is chump change, even to Amtrak and they'll gain that back over time in lowered operating costs.

From the January 29, 1999, NARP Hotline (it was in the Newsletter, too) :

"$5 million for a South Chicago rail connection at Grand Crossing to
let trains from Carbondale and New Orleans move more directly onto the
Conrail mainline to Union Station, avoiding the elevated St. Charles
Air Line which is circuitous and requires a back-up move and which
Chicago wants to tear down;"

Ans tell the "journalist" that it's the St Charles Air *Line* not "Way" ...

10:59 AM  
Blogger John Bredin said...

Why are you presuming that Amtrak isn't being "held to account" for the $5 million?! Following your link to, I see *at least* three projects in the same package that Amtrak clearly DID pony up as promised: the St. Louis multi-modal terminal, Amtrak's return to Kansas City Union Station, and renovation of the Milwaukee station.

IIRC, the delay with the CREATE projects is not due to the lack of federal or railroad (Metra, Amtrak, and the freights) money but the absence of the State of Illinois' capital funds. I would imagine that nobody wants to start work until everyone's thrown their chips in the kitty, lest they run out of funds mid-project.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Dan Johnson said...

I can't imagine that the cost of Grand Crossing is only $5M.

9:02 PM  
Blogger neroden@gmail said...

The cost is $25M.

Amtrak has pledged $5M.

Clearly, that money is sitting there waiting for the other $20M.

4:34 AM  
Blogger Jim Giblin said...

For a complete, and balanced, analysis of the Amtrak/St. Charles Airline controversy, plus the one viable solution everyone has missed, we'd recommend the Amtrak commentary located at

J. Giblin

11:21 AM  

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