21.10.16

FREQUENCIES MATTER.

During the summer, the Amtrak Hiawatha service offered a late night departure from Chicago and Milwaukee, Saturdays only.  The experiment continues.  More encouragingly, the state departments of transportation are seeking public comment on additional frequencies.  Ten round trips are not quite the service levels as recently as 1968, when there were four round trips as far as the Twin Cities and three or four round trips as far as Green Bay, as well as about a dozen Milwaukee and Chicago trips operated by two railroads, but it's still an improvement on the three round trips plus the Empire Builder on Amtrak Day.  And they're contemplating some accelerated timings with 90 mph maximum speeds outside the Chicago area (apparently there are constraints threading Amtrak in amidst the scoots.)  But the current service offers some 89 minute trains (sometimes 85 minutes in practice) while the best the proposed faster trains attain is an 87 minute timing.  I think there's room for improvement.

But some local officials aren't on the train.
Glenview Deputy Village Manager Don Owen has a different idea.

Come up with something better that will not send property values plunging along a two-mile stretch in Glenview and Northbrook where freight trains will park while faster passenger streamliners pass. There are currently seven daily round trips.
The holding track he's objecting to is along the Chicago and North Western's Techny Cutoff, which freight trains off The Milwaukee Road use to get into Bensenville Yard. These days the cutoff belongs to Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific run the Hiawathas for Amtrak.

But his alternative is ludicrous.  "Owen said a solution could be as simple as adding a car to the more popular trains on the Amtrak schedule."  Yes, that will be helpful to a harried commuter on the 5.08 for Milwaukee, which strains the capacity of the six-car rakes in use on the Hiawathas.  That extra car will be of no use to the symphony-goer or Milwaukee Bucks fan who has no late evening train north.

There's a neglected actor for your consideration.  "There was also an alternative of creating a freight bypass from the Wisconsin state line to the area."  The backbone for such a bypass is already present.  The Techny Cutoff connects to a Chicago and North Western freight bypass that at one time was two tracks most of the way to St. Francis interlocking southeast of Milwaukee, where the Milwaukee freight bypass began.  The old Chicago and North Western passenger main continues into downtown Milwaukee.  At one time there was a connection between that passenger main and The Milwaukee Road at Washington Street, when all Milwaukee passenger trains called at the station now called the Intermodal Station.  Canadian Pacific freight trains generally pass through the Intermodal Station.

Thus one possibility is to use some infrastructure money to restore the Washington Street connecting track, rebuild the Passenger Main to St. Francis, and add additional sidings on the Freight Bypass.

Alternatively, use the infrastructure money to restore the outside sidings that were once on The Milwaukee Road near the current airport station, and further south at about Caledonia (Tower A-68, to be railroad specific) and lengthen the existing outside sidings at Sturtevant.

But to propose that an additional coach or two on the rush hour trains is a sufficient fix?  Please.

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