12 December 2007

CN submits application for "minor transaction" that endangers huge chunks of Amtrak and Metra systems?

Heads up from the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association:
City of New Orleans Route at Risk

Read their press statement (PDF) while I finish fixing some math and wonder why everyone in the world seems hell-bent on getting me to buy gasoline. More later.
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Oh, and go laugh at this in the meantime, too, if you haven't already.

Edit: Okay, I think I (barely) understand what's going on here. From the page at MWHSR:

" The Canadian National Railway (CN) has submitted an application with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to purchase the Elgin Joliet and Eastern Railroad (EJ&E).

"The EJ&E circles Chicago, connecting all major railroads serving the Midwest. CN intends to use it as a bypass, making some trackage within the city surplus. The purchase will impact most passenger train routes serving the city, some positively and some negatively.
...
"The CN has stated that it hopes to abandon portions of this route within the City of Chicago after the purchase is completed. A new route will have to be found."


So CN wants to reroute their freight trains around Chicago, presumably to save time and money, so they'd like to purchase the tracks that would make this possible. Once they're done, they'd like to abandon the tracks in Chicago. If they abandon the tracks in Chicago, Amtrak will have to abandon the routes along CN's tracks that go to Chicago Union Station (because Amtrak doesn't run the railroads, they just run the trains on the railroads). And Metra's STAR Line proposal--whatever you think of it--would be killed for good because they'd be unable to run it anyway. Someone (i.e., the government) would then need to step in and make improvements to an alternate set of tracks out of Union Station so that Amtrak could run on them (or else just abandon the routes altogether, depending on where the political wind blows).

The passenger rail lobby wants to do this anyway (reroute the trains, of course, not cut them) because it would eliminate that obnoxious 20-minute backup maneuver out of Union Station, but CN abandoning the current route would make it an imperative. (And what do you know, the state's running out of money.) CN wants this to be classified as a "minor transaction" so they can speed up the process of buying EJ&E, but the passenger rail lobby (and myself) is peeved that several extremely popular Amtrak routes (that go downstate where my extended family lives) possibly disappearing might be considered "minor."

Do I understand correctly? Please let me know if I don't. I'm not a big train enthusiast, I'm just carless and I hate airports.

Note that this isn't really news: Illinois Transportation Issues covered the issue a couple of times back in autumn, but I wasn't paying much attention because--silly me--I don't care a fig about the STAR Line. (I always thought it was a stupid idea. Shouldn't they be using that money to, say, fix the platform at the 59th St. Metra Electric station? The one with the gaping holes over the Midway Plaisance that always smells like pee? Oh, nevermind, I don't need another lecture on capital vs. operations.) So forgive me for not jumping on the bandwagon (er, lounge car?) until now. It took a revelation of oh-crap-how-will-I-get-to-Carbondale to get on my radar. Will I never learn?

Anyway, MWHSR's press release claims the following:

Routes directly impacted
*Amtrak to Chicago, Champaign, Carbondale, Memphis and New Orleans (City of New Orleans and Illini/Saluki) ["I'm concerned because now this affects me!"]
*Metra’s Proposed STAR Line

Metra crossed by the EJ&E at grade ("indirectly impacted as additional freight traffic will be crossing those lines at grade")
*Milwaukee Road West
*North Central
*Rock Island
*UP Northwest
*UP West

Amtrak routes with potential impacts ("may be impacted if the Illinois Central Corridor trains are rerouted")
*Michigan Corridors
*Chicago – Cleveland – New York
*Chicago – Pittsburgh – Washington
*Chicago – Indianapolis – Cincinnati
*Chicago – Rockford – Galena
[Do any of these actually exist yet, or are they still just proposals?]

I'm probably overreacting, but a heavily traveled Amtrak corridor at stake still seems to elevate the matter from a minor to a major one.
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In other news that's not news, this.

4 Comments:

At 12 December, 2007 19:14, Blogger Fritz said...

I don't think there's such a thing as "overreacting" when it comes to potentially endangered transportation links like this. This stuff needs to be looked at very carefully.

The Illinois Central RR already belongs to CN, as does the trackage from Chicago south through Champaign and beyond. (I used to live in Champaign County, where I was kind of a railfan...)

 
At 13 December, 2007 00:52, Blogger David Johnsen said...

The Chicago Transit e-mail list has been discussing this for weeks, and I am also guilty of ignoring it because I thought it was just about the Star Line. The state should have something to say since they subsidize the Saluki route, but they probably can't do much since it's an "interstate commerce" issue. Since Amtrak owns track in the Northeast (precedent), they could buy the track CN doesn't want -- except Amtrak doesn't have the money.

With the Bush administration looking to screw Amtrak at every opportunity, this could be bad.

Regarding the Amtrak routes at the end, all exist except Rockford. Every route that goes east would be affected.

P.S. I used to live in Champaign County, too (until I was three years old).

 
At 13 December, 2007 01:11, Blogger Jennifer said...

Is it still "interstate commerce" if two of the three trains don't leave Illinois?

The state should do something, but they're kinda busy squabbling over public transit and gambling right now. Otherwise this would probably be bigger news.

I've heard an anecdote or two about people "commuting" between Chicago and Champaign-Urbana (they see their kids at home on the weekends, or only need to be present at the office once or twice a week). I wonder how often that happens.

 
At 13 December, 2007 02:27, Blogger David Johnsen said...

I meant that CN's freight traffic is interstate commerce. Therefore the state probably can't do much to stop CN, aside from filing a formal protest with the STB on behalf of Metra and Amtrak. Assuming the CN deal goes through, then Illinois can try to pick up the pieces. Maybe the state can buy the abandoned track and sell it to Amtrak for $1 (assuming Amtrak can afford to maintain it). On the bright side, if Amtrak doesn't have to share track with freight, their on-time performance should improve.

 

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