Amtrak Hiawatha Line Proposed Expansion
Amtrak Hiawatha Service - Chicago to Milwaukee
NEW UPDATE: On May 2, IDOT advised Deerfield representatives that the organization will not support the freight train holding tracks in Glenview and Lake Forest. Read the letter to representatives here.
UPDATE: On January 30, Metra advised the Village of Deerfield the originally proposed 1,600-foot "turnback" track has been deemed unnecessary to the project and has been removed from the proposal. For more information, call 847.719.7400.
Regional Project Information
The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), in partnership with Amtrak and in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration have advised the Village of Deerfield that they are in the process of completing an Environmental Assessment (EA) and Service Development Plan (SDP) studying the increase in Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service frequencies from 7 to 10 round trips per day between Chicago and Milwaukee.
As part of this larger regional project to increase the daily number of round-trip Amtrak trains traveling between Chicago and Milwaukee, WisDOT and IDOT released a draft EA in October 2016. The Village expressed concerns including noise, vibration and air quality impacts and the project team committed that additional analyses to further quantify the potential impacts resulting from the increase in Hiawatha Service would be shared with the Village and other stakeholders. This analysis will be included in the final EA, which is expected to be complete in early or mid-2018.
Metra owns, operates and maintains the railroad track between Roundout and Chicago, while Canadian Pacific owns, operates and maintains the track between Roundout and Milwaukee. Amtrak operates the Hiawatha service as a contractor for WisDOT and IDOT. Both state agencies seek to add three more roundtrip trains daily and propose 10 infrastructure projects to improve operating efficiency for users along the line.
Proposed Deerfield “Turnback” Project
As previously noted, several large scale infrastructure projects are proposed throughout the Chicago – Milwaukee corridor as part of the proposed Hiawatha Service project. In Deerfield, the agencies are proposing a 1,600-foot “turnback” track to be constructed 14 feet to the west of the location that Metra trains currently turn back trains now (just north of Greenwood Avenue). This turnback track is not intended, nor could it be used, to hold freight trains as the turnback track will be significantly shorter than the length of a freight train. Every weekday, Metra “turns back” passenger trains approximately 6 times per day at the Greenwood Avenue crossing. The duration of each turn back is approximately 10 minutes. 5 of the 6 “turn backs” occur during peak afternoon/evening times from 4 to 7 p.m.
Official Agency Comments
Village of Deerfield
On November 14, 2016, the Village Board submitted an official public comment advocating that additional time and further environmental documentation by the U.S Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which is the lead agency for the project, is required prior to making a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Additionally, the Village strongly encouraged the FRA to seek more direct input from Metra, the Villages of Bannockburn, Deerfield, Glenview, Northbrook and the City of Lake Forest before making a determination of FONSI.
On January 12, 2017, Metra issued a letter to various communities formalizing their position on the proposed infrastructure improvements. Metra noted that they support all but one of the proposed improvements and is seeking one change. Specifically, Metra does not support the proposed “turn back” track in Deerfield.
Metra has advised the number and length of freight trains that operate through the area increase during times of economic prosperity and typically decrease in times of economic downturn. The same trains will operate through the area regardless of whether additional tracks are built.
Metra has also noted that train speeds will not be increased under this proposal. Current train speeds are 79 mph for passenger trains and 40 or 50 mph for freight trains depending on the type of train. This will not change.
Members of Congress
On October 13, 2017, Congressman Brad Schneider and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky issued a joint letter to WisDOT, IDOT, and the FRA formally requesting that a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) and a Freight Impact Study be conducted before moving forward with any proposals to increase Amtrak’s service on the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha line.
Further updates regarding the larger regional project will be posted to the project websites: chi-milwrailstudy.wi.gov and illinoisrail.org.