Amtrak would welcome different 'Hiawatha' stop

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An Amtrak Hiawatha runs south toward Chicago near Pleasant Prairie, Wis., in August 2017.
Chris Guss
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — A switch from one city to another could mean as many as 40,000 more passengers on Amtrak's Chicago to Milwaukee Hiawatha.

Following analysis of a study commissioned and paid for by the city of Lake Forest, Amtrak Vice President of State Supported Services-Business Development Joe McHugh, told the mayor of the northern Chicago suburb that stopping Hiawatha trains at the city’s Metra station instead of the current Glenview, Ill., stop is projected to attract close to 40,000 additional passengers to the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

“At this point, the only obstacle preventing us from beginning service is the lack of a pedestrian underpass at Lake Forest station that would allow passengers to move safely from one side of the tracks to another,” McHugh says in a letter to city.

Although commuters can cross the two-track main at a pedestrian crossing, Metra, Amtrak, and Canadian Pacific freight traffic is heavy and trains can move in either direction on both tracks.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, co-sponsor of the Hiawatha corridor with the state of Illinois, is suggesting Amtrak increase Chicago-Milwaukee daily round-trips from seven to ten. A Federal Railroad Administration Environmental Impact Statement found that the additional frequencies would not significantly impact surrounding communities. But the FRA proposal says more track capacity to mitigate resulting rail congestion must be built.

Passing tracks that might occasionally hold CP freights out of the mix near Lake Forest and Glenview, Ill., and a holding track for rush hour Metra trains reversing at Deerfield, would be required, but homeowners near those new installations who fear their property values will decrease are objecting to any Hiawatha service increases.

At a Lake Forest City Council meeting on Dec. 4, those proponents objected to the city paying $192,000 to a Washington lobbying firm to finance the Amtrak stop study, but it has nothing to do with the FRA Environmental Impact Statement requiring the extra tracks to which the residents object.

Mayor Rob Lansing mistakenly claimed that hiring the firm was “part of the process” required to get a stop.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari tells Trains News Wire, “Amtrak did not require the city to hire a government affairs firm; that was a decision made by the city and did not affect our consideration of the business reasons for the additional stop.”

Moving the stop from Glenview would increase patronage mostly because downtown Glenview has very limited parking compared to Lake Forest. Both Metra’s Lake-Cook Road and Glen/North Glenview stations also have ample parking and presumably would reflect the same ridership increase if they were chosen instead. Amtrak could just as easily make the switch to those stations as long as any pedestrian safety concerns were similarly assessed and mitigated.

However, the pedestrian tunnel Amtrak says it would require at Lake Forest would cost an estimated $9 million, which the city must raise before the north suburban Chicago stop is changed.

Editors Note: This report replaces an earlier version that was based on erroneous local sources. It has been re-reported and re-written by Trains correspondents.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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