� She's so | Main | Train �

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Today's train stuff

First, 3rd St. fight imperils high-speed rail in Illinois, rail official warns:

Springfield officials’ public fight against additional train traffic along the Third Street corridor could derail the entire plan to provide high-speed rail service between Springfield and Chicago, a vice president of the Union Pacific Railroad says.
Alternatively, railroad vice president John Rebensdorf warned in an Aug. 28 letter to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the railroad could carry out its plans unilaterally, and Springfield could “become the bottleneck of the new high speed passenger rail route.”
The resulting delays will negatively impact the reliability of the new passenger service as well as increase delays to motorists in the Springfield area due to unnecessary train congestion,” Rebensdorf wrote.
In the four-page letter, Rebensdorf accused Mayor Tim Davlin, Sangamon County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter and others in Springfield of not acting in good faith.

There's a lot more in that article. But, keep in mind that part in bold about the resulting delays ... negatively impact ... passenger service.

SJ-R Opinion: Step up opposition to 3rd Street plan:

We, like virtually every local elected official and most prominent civic leaders, believe this plan has disastrous consequences for Springfield. We believe it subverts years of planning for the 10th Street rail corridor to become the high-speed line and represents a blatant sweetheart deal with Union Pacific Railroad. We think with strong leadership at the state and federal levels, we could have a plan that rewards Illinois with the coveted $2 billion in federal stimulus money and respects Springfield’s long-term economic and aesthetic well-being.

Well, one thing's for sure, it definitely does subvert years of planning for the 10th Street corridor. But, again, who all was involved in that planning? Apparently not the Union Pacific. Or, if it was, Springfield didn't do a very good job of conveying the seriousness of the situation.

Back to the opinion, the SJ-R springs this heart stopper on us:

We want Springfield to be a stop on the Chicago-St. Louis line.

Whoa! We want? You mean there's a possibility that after more than 150 years of passenger rail service, Springfield may not be an Amtrak stop? Why, yes, as I previously tried to say, but not very articulately, I believe there is that possibility.*

You know those railroad tracks way west of town, west of the airport? The Union Pacific owns those, too. I don't know where that track connects with all the other tracks (probably Joliet and Alton and maybe closer in, too), but if Springfield makes life miserable enough for the Union Pacific, what's to stop it from taking its freight trains to those tracks? And remember that part about resulting delays and negatively impact and passenger service? What's to stop them from taking Amtrak out there, too. [Edit: As pointed out in the comments (thank you, David), and unknown to me when I wrote this, those tracks were taken up in 1998, which foils this theory. Maybe.]

The SJ-R asks this specially phrased question on its Boiler Room blog:

Which would be worse: The series of overpasses and street closings that would come with the Third Street rail plan or Illinois not getting any federal stimulus money for high-speed passenger rail?

Assuming we have all the information we need to answer such a question, let's phrase it a different way: Are the people of Springfield prepared to suffer the consequences of forcing everyone else to give up $2 billion if we can't get our own way?

If the Union Pacific and the state lose that money just because of Springfield, it won't really matter what the railroad would or could do to us. Think about it. We'd be a crappy little town in the middle of a cornfield with potentially no passenger rail and a crappy little airport with even crappier passenger service.** Wouldn't it be just like the politicians to get the capital of the state moved from Springfield to Chicago? You think it's not possible. You may be right. It is a bit of a doomsday scenario, but something to think about. And if everyone else can use scare tactics, I can, too.

So far, all five of the people answering the question are ready to give up the stimulus money.

The question, however it's phrased, is premature. We should know more on Friday because there's a meeting in CHICAGO amongst the big wigs: Meeting Friday to discuss high-speed rail.

* And, it is also possible that that is precisely what this whole show is all about. But, if so, we'll never know.

** There is the Greyhound. But, if you're going to take the bus to Chicago or St. Louis, why not just drive a car?

Posted by Marie at September 9, 2009 9:23 PM


Actually those tracks west of town were pulled up in late 1998. That was the old Chicago & North Western Railway, which built from a junction with its east-west mainline at Nelson (in the northern part of the state) south to Peoria in 1901, opening the line in early 1902. They ended up establishing a coal-hauling shortline called the Macoupin County Railway and when C&NW became dissatisfied with another railroad (Chicago & Alton, today's 3rd Street tracks) used to connect them, they built their own in 1912-1913. A connection was built with the Litchfield & Madison Railway in 1926 and that carrier was acquired by C&NW in late 1957. That gave the C&NW an Iowa/Minnesota/Wisconsin/Chicago - East St. Louis route. After Union Pacific acquired the C&NW in 1995, and Southern Pacific in 1996, it began looking for ways to consolidate its three Chicago - St. Louis routes to two. The old C&NW lost, at least south of Barr (UP acquired "trackage rights" on shortline Illinois & Midland to reach Springfield from Barr). This line picks up again at Girard, and is used to reach the now-closed Monterey Mine.

Posted by: David P. Jordan at September 9, 2009 10:14 PM

Oh, darn. I haven't been out that way in more years than I thought, so I didn't know. But thank you. And thank you for all the useful information.

Sometime I'd love to know how you know all this stuff.

Posted by: Marie Author Profile Page at September 9, 2009 10:18 PM

I don't understand what advantages the railroad will bring to Springfield in exchange for dividing our city with concrete overpasses and increasing noise and traffic congestion. Will 40 freight trains bring business to Springfield? Isn't the advantage all to the bottom line for UP?

Posted by: M. Pierce at September 10, 2009 9:36 AM

I love history...especially railroad history. I have a number of articles and books that I use to verify the history of a particular rail line.

Posted by: David P. Jordan at September 10, 2009 10:13 AM

M. Pierce, Are you suggesting the UP not come through Springfield at all on trips between Chicago and St. Louis?

David, That's fascinating and enviable.

Posted by: Marie at September 10, 2009 12:03 PM

M. Pierce,

Why is Union Pacific involved? The existing Amtrak service uses what is mostly a Union Pacific-owned line (other railroads are involved between Chicago and Joliet and between Alton and St. Louis).

At present Union Pacific operates no more than FIVE trains per day through Springfield. The new intermodal facility now under construction near Joliet will generate business for no more than TEN additional trains per day. That's fifteen freight trains per day, not 40. Union Pacific will add these trains to the 3rd St. line whether upgrades for high-speed rail happen or not. UP has another route north of Springfield (it uses shortline Illinois & Midland Railroad to Barr in order to reach it), and could add a few more trains on that route as well, but it won't amount to more than a few per day.

UP doesn't require upgrades to accommodate several additional freight trains in each direction - the line has seen similar traffic levels in the past. It's the Federal government and State of Illinois that want to upgrade Amtrak's Chicago - St. Louis service to 110mph from the current 79mph top speeds. But UP is host railroad for Amtrak's existing service so they have to study the requirements for proposed upgrades. They've determined that grade crossings would need to be closed and/or replaced with overpasses, and a second track installed.

I understand the concerns about overpasses, but the State's Transportation Secy has stated that there are alternatives to them. However, the SJ-R and Springfield politicans have blown everything out of proportion because sensationalism sells. There won't be as many trains as they suggest (remember, when this started it was 40 ADDITIONAL TRAINS PER DAY!), and overpasses can ease traffic congestion.

Posted by: David P. Jordan at September 10, 2009 12:38 PM

I don't really understand why the city needs overpasses/underpasses if the train is stopping in Springfield. Do you think this might be the misinformation the UP is talking about?

I lived in Wheaton for a long time. They have two rails at ground level and run the Metra every half hour. The Metra trains are generally longer than most of the Amtrak trains that run through here and in addition they run about six freight trains a day (according to my brother who still lives there). Both sides of town are thriving.

I hope that Springfield doesn't screw this up.

Posted by: Kath at September 10, 2009 6:54 PM

Kath, Excellent point about Wheaton. There must be lots of other suburbs in similar situations.

Posted by: Marie at September 10, 2009 10:39 PM

A couple reasons for running lines above or below grade: One, as you mention, is to avoid conflict with other surface traffic. Another is that if this is truly a high-speed line, then avoiding those conflicts becomes more important -- nothing ruins a schedule like hitting a gasoline tanker or clueless drunk at a level crossing; and the high-speed trains will be traveling somewhat faster than conventional trains, even inside the city limits.

These issues are coming up here in California, too. Several towns in forward-thinking Silicon Valley are expressing alarm about an elevated line running through. It's worth looking at how other places have accommodated modern rail service to see how they've handled issues like this.

Posted by: Dan at September 11, 2009 11:35 AM

@Dan They're not true high-speed trains. They'll be running trains that currently run at 79mph at 110mph in rural areas.

Posted by: Kath at September 12, 2009 12:05 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)