More Amtrak trains may pass through Edgebrook
by KEVIN GROSS
Edgebrook residents would see more trains pass through the neighborhood under a long-term proposal to increase traffic on the Amtrak Hiawatha Line that shares tracks with the Metra Milwaukee District North Line, which passes through the Northwest Side.
Under a plan that could take more than a year to take effect, Amtrak would increases services between Milwaukee and Chicago’s Union Station from seven weekday round trips to 10 daily round trips, pending approval by the Federal Railroad Administration of an environmental assessment conducted with the Illinois and Wisconsin departments of transportation.
The increase in train frequency could impact area traffic as the line runs from Wisconsin through suburbs such as Skokie, Glenview and Forest Park, and much of Chicago’s 39th and 41st Wards. Road and track intersections exist by North Lehigh Avenue and Howard Street, Lehigh and Touhy Avenues, and near the Edgebrook Station, 5438 W. Devon Ave.
New departures from Milwaukee would be scheduled at about 7:25 a.m., 2 p.m. and 10:45 p.m., while new Union Station departures would be scheduled at about 9:25 a.m., 6:45 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., with travel lasting about one-and-a-half hours each way, according to proposed Amtrak timetables.
A draft of the environmental assessment estimates a 13 percent increase in daily gate closure times at most intersections in Cook County, including 6 minutes of additional waiting time at intersections from Central and Devon avenues to Chestnut Avenue in Glenview.
Illinois Department of Transportation public information officer Gianna Urgo said the project would "address existing and future passenger rail demand, expand modal options, strengthen transportation connections, and enhance and improve the reliability of the Hiawatha service."
Ridership has grown from 397,500 in 2002 to 804,861 in 2014, and the proposed increased trips could help alleviate crowding from estimated future ridership growth, according to the assessment.
However, statistics of peak-hour ridership from 2013 show that 29 Milwaukee-bound trains that year reached or exceeded its seating capacity of 416 passengers, a decrease from 41 overcrowded trains in 2012. Similarly, 13 Chicago-bound trains reached capacity in 2013, a decrease from 19 overcrowded trains in 2012. The assessment makes note that Amtrak changed its methodology in 2014 for calculating ridership that resulted in reduced Hiawatha ridership statistics.
"Merely adding additional coach cars to the existing trains would ease near-capacity and over-capacity conditions on trains traveling during peak travel periods, but would not result in an expansion of travel options or connections and would not improve reliability of the service," Urgo said. "Adding schedule options on the Hiawatha service will enable more travel options and connections to other transportation modes."
Alderman Margaret Laurino’s (39th) office said that it never received notice from Amtrak about the increase in train services, although she would be willing to host public meetings about the issue.
"She believes that while they (the city) have no jurisdiction over Amtrak, it would demonstrate a good neighbor attitude on the part of Amtrak to do community meetings along the line to tell people what their plans are," Laurino’s spokesman Manuel Galvan said.
Alderman Anthony Napolitano’s (41st) office also did not receive notice from Amtrak on the project, although they intend to monitor impacts to local traffic.
"That intersection (Devon, Central and Lehigh avenues), we had a first meeting with Alderman Laurino and all other involved entities last year to talk about a potential fix about that nightmare of an intersection," Napolitano’s chief of staff Chris Vittorio said. "And I think train traffic could potentially also impact the intersection greatly."
Currently, the Village of Glenview is strongly opposing the project and the findings released in the environmental draft assessment.
More than 1,000 residents attended a board meeting in Glenview on May 1 as trustees voted to allocate $400,000 to oppose the project through possible litigation or hiring consultants that could dispute Amtrak’s findings. Other northern municipalities such as Northbrook, Lake Forest and Deerfield have also held public meetings or issued letters of opposition to the project.
"There are six neighborhoods along the (proposed) tracks, and it would affect all traffic crossing the intersections," Glenview communications director Lynne Stiefel said. "Although those neighborhoods get the brunt of the impact we say it would affect all of the town, any kids going to (Glenbrook North) High School, any first responders going to the (NorthShore University Glenbrook) Hospital … and perhaps all along other communities north and south of us."
Stiefel said that Amtrak’s draft assessment neglected to fairly examine the impact of a proposed 10,000- to 11,000-foot holding track for Canadian Pacific freight trains sharing or crossing the tracks, which they believe would adversely affect the town due to its placement near residential neighborhoods. Amtrak cites freight trains as responsible for 10 percent of delays, versus commuter trains as responsible for 21 percent of delays and communications and signaling work from defects as 10 percent of delays, according to the assessment.
"When they release the final report, which is supposed to happen the second quarter of this year, those consultants will help us examine what is in that environmental assessment and where we should look to get more data," Stiefel said. "We don’t believe (they) will provide the data we need, as we’re pushing more for a freight impact study and an environmental impact statement."
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that it is too early to determine a project timeframe since "the project is pending federal decision on our environmental assessment. Urgo said that the project is awaiting "funding commitment for final design and construction of the proposed improvements."