6.9.13

THE RAIL PROFESSIONALS TAKE UP THE CAUSE.

Trains stringer Brian Schmidt has a few days to explore the corridor services radiating from Chicago, discovers he doesn't have enough days.
There are still four corridors and a few other routes out of Chicago I've never seen. But, unfortunately, lack of foresight and planning on behalf of the states supporting the corridors conspires to make them pretty much useless as connecting services.
Yes. When the additional frequencies rolled out in the fall of 2006, I noted,
The additional frequencies are encouraging, although I hope the Amtrak and Illinois DofT performance reviews consider the potential for connectivity. The geography of Illinois makes some connections impractical via Chicago (e.g. Urbana-Bloomington or Carbondale-St. Louis) but there might be some value in having good connections such as Milwaukee-Bloomington or Kalamazoo-Macomb or Ann Arbor-Urbana or Lansing-Springfield. Here, there are a few niggling details.
Mr Schmidt quickly discovers the details are more than niggling.
The first southbound Hiawatha departs Milwaukee a 6:15 a.m. and arrives in Chicago at 7:57 a.m. That's a much easier train trip to the Windy City than I ever had out of Toledo. (And six days a week, there are seven round trips!)

My first thought was to go to St. Louis, ride some light rail, see the Gateway Arch, and come home on Sunday. The southbound trip works out great. The first Lincoln Service departure from Chicago is at 9:25 a.m., a reasonable 1.5-hour layover from my inbound Hiawatha. The return trip, however is the weak link here.

The last northbound Hiawatha departs Chicago at 8:05 p.m. The 3 p.m. Lincoln Service departure from St. Louis arrives in Chicago at 8:40 p.m. Close, but no connection. The next previous departure? The Texas Eagle at 7:55 a.m., which gets me back to Chicago at 1:52 p.m. (in theory). And the two morning Lincoln Service departures leave St. Louis at 4:35 and 6:40 a.m.

So my "weekend" in St. Louis turned into a 3 p.m. arrival and an early morning departure from the hotel the next morning.
Because the Illinois Department of Transportation underwrites those trains, their schedules have Illinois State students and Springfield politicians and shoppers headed for the Mag Mile in mind.  In the very early days of Amtrak, his overnight in St. Louis would have been feasible, with the early morning departure from Milwaukee on the Prairie State, and a return on the afternoon Prairie State that got away from Chicago at 10.30 for a midnight arrival in Milwaukee.  A St. Louisan out for a weekend in Milwaukee would use the Abraham Lincoln.  Cardinal fans headed to Milwaukee can manage with the existing schedules, although some of those have inordinately long layovers in Chicago.  "Hiawatha 332 arrives Chicago four minutes after 303 leaves."

Mr Schmidt considered some other trips, and hit the same wall.
The morning trains to Michigan and Quincy depart before the first Hiawatha arrives in Chicago and the morning train to Carbondale only has an 18-minute connection time. A little too tight for personal taste, and too close for Amtrak to offer it as a scheduled connection, too.

So what other options are available? Well, the 8:05 a.m. departure from Milwaukee connects with the 12:50 p.m. Wolverine departure in Chicago (after an almost 3.5-hour layover), making for an 8:12 p.m. arrival in Pontiac, Mich. No thanks. The 3 p.m. Hiawatha departure from Milwaukee connects with the 5:55 p.m. train from Chicago to Quincy, Ill., that arrives at 10:23 p.m. No thanks, again. I could also depart Chicago at 4:05 p.m. and arrive in Carbondale at 9:35 p.m. on train No. 393 (or take train No. 59 and arrive at 1:21 a.m.!). Strike three.
I know, I know.
A quick look through the midwestern schedules shows the first departures of the day for Pontiac, Mich.; St. Louis; and Quincy leaving before any inbound trains arrive.  The first arrival (except Sunday) from Milwaukee offers a feasible connection to the first departure for Carbondale, and the second arrival (first Sunday) arrives nine minutes after the second departure for St. Louis.  I could go on.  The last arrivals from Pontiac, St. Louis and Quincy are after the last departures of the evening.

Amtrak might realize savings from servicing as many train sets as it can in its Chicago yards, and those first-morning-outward, last-evening-return services are a round trip of a single set from Chicago.  Unknown, though, is the revenue lost to the carrier because each corridor exists unto itself, without regard to the lost Sturtevant to Springfield or Kalamazoo to Macomb or Urbana to Ann Arbor or Indianapolis to anywhere ridership the current schedule implies.
Mr Schmidt puts a question to the policy-makers.
Why can't the Midwest states that support rail service work better together? Why can't the first Hiawatha arrive with reasonable connections to Detroit and points in Illinois? Why can't someone travel from St. Louis to Detroit without a pre-dawn departure or a post-midnight arrival? I guess that's up to the states, in spite of the promise of one national rail operator.
The problem is, it's not one national rail operator. I made the connectivity suggestion to a representative of the Illinois Department of Transportation at the May 2012 Train Day.  Her response: Wisconsin and Michigan do their own negotiating.  Getting paths on Norfolk Southern or the old GM and O or Illinois Central is tough already.  (Left unsaid:  the GM and O trains are for Chicago and Bloomington and Springfield.)  Without the state departments of transportation working together, and without taking a somewhat tougher stance with the freight railroads (your tax dollars are at work upgrading the St. Louis line in part so Union Pacific can blow the doors off the eighteen-wheelers on Route 66) it's likely that a lot of regional trips will not be by rail, or that Lou Mitchell will continue to serve passengers laying over.

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