Amtrak ridership dropped an average of 4 percent in Illinois on downstate corridors with connections to Chicago in fiscal 2014, the passenger railroad reported Tuesday, putting much of the blame on late arrivals and departures caused by freight train interference.No kidding. Amtrak management set out to mitigate their damages.
The problem of freight congestion blocking passenger trains is affecting Amtrak service across the Midwest and also stretching from Chicago — Amtrak's busiest hub — to the East Coast, officials said.
"Delays of four hours or more for Amtrak trains operating between Chicago and Cleveland have become a near daily occurrence,'' said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. "These and other major delays have ripple effects across the Amtrak national system."
Amtrak's Capitol Limited trains, which operate between Chicago and Washington, D.C., were late 97 percent of the time in September, records show.
[Amtrak president Joseph] Boardman acknowledged that apart from investment in tracks, tunnels and bridges, Amtrak also needs to do more to help itself.Part of the problem turning trains at Chicago is insufficient rolling stock, the westbound rake often being the only cars available for the eastbound rake. Then the hours of service law affects Toledo based crews turning to return.
"Amtrak senior management needs to understand we are failing in Chicago because we cannot get trains in and out on time," he said. "We want a change in operating plans so that we get an on-time (departure out of Chicago) even if the train comes in late from the East."
Those problems aren't as severe on the regional trains, where 110 mph capable stock off a Michigan train might be sent to St. Louis, and an inbound train from St. Louis turns for Michigan. But the delays tear a big hole in whatever time advantage the free rein to 110 confers, and riders notice.
In Illinois, Amtrak ridership declined 5 percent in fiscal 2014 compared with 2013 on routes between Chicago and Carbondale and Chicago and Quincy, according to Amtrak data. Passenger traffic on the Chicago-to-St. Louis route, which is being upgraded to 110-mph service, was down 3 percent.Much of that time is being lost just getting through St. Louis and Chicago. The Eagle, due out of St. Louis at 7.55, reaches Gateway Station at 8.37, plenty of time to look at mists rising off the Mississippi River south of town during breakfast, train is ready to go at 9 am, but we're awaiting signals to clear, or perhaps for a maintenance permit to expire, until 9.23. Alton, 27 circuitous rail miles away, 10.26 - 10.27; now the pace picks up; Carlinville, conditional stop, no passengers, pass 10.57; Springfield 11.39 - 11.42; Lincoln 12.10 - 12.11, evidence of recent track work, nothing like the sound of freshly ground rail at speed. Bloomington 12.42 - 12.47; Pontiac 1.15 - 1.16; Joliet double stops, 2.12 - 2.16; now in Chicago terminal area, encounter freight interference near Argo and Brighton Park, arrive Chicago 3.35, 1 hour 43 minutes late. Fortunately, there's a semi-fast scoot for Elburn that gets away from North Western Station on time, at 4.11.
Amtrak ridership on the three routes totaled 1.3 million in fiscal 2014, which was about 52,300 fewer passenger trips than in fiscal 2013, according to Amtrak records.
A resident of suburban Chicago or St. Louis might contemplate using Joliet or Alton as a station, rather than going downtown, but unlike the airport station outside Milwaukee, neither is convenient to expressways nor provides much parking.