Today’s Headlines for Thursday, May 28

  • IL Environmental Groups File Federal Lawsuit to Stop the Illiana Tollway (Tribune)
  • Stakeholders Agree: The Finkl Plan Has to Include Better Transportation Access (DNA)
  • Mastercard CEO at Chicago Forum on Global Cities: “Transit & Transport Is Priority #1” (Forbes)
  • Teen Who Was Serving Probation After Deadly Crash Indicted on Escape Charges (Tribune)
  • Lake County DUI Sting Leads to 6 Arrests, 179 Tickets (Tribune)
  • Hearing on the Bobby Cann Case Scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m. (The Chainlink)
  • Reuters: Amtrak’s Empire Builder Line Shows Why the System Is in Financial Trouble
  • Lakeview Homeowners Say Indecision Over Belmont Flyover Has Them in Limbo (Crains)
  • DNA Poll, Inspired by CTA Courtesy Campaign, Finds Not Offering  Seats Is the Biggest Problem
  • Here’s the 2015 Kidical Mass Lincoln Park Schedule, Starting With Spring Zing on May 30 (BWLP)
  • A Roundup of Scenic Chicagoland Bike Trails (Pure Wow)
  • Got a Rack or Basket on Your Bike? Help Chicago Win #Everydaybiking Crown (Active Trans)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

  • The link for Finkl is bad. s/b http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20150528/lincoln-park/transportation-fixes-major-priority-before-finkl-redevelopment

    I love the Cortland bridge. It should be a protected historical landmark. Instead of replacing the bridge we need to keep it and build another brand new one to the south I suppose. Traffic from the river east on Fullerton, Webster, Armitage and North in the afternoons is congested. That’s an understatement. There will be huge pressure to build more road (and bridge).

    My own preferred direction for the property is to create a pedestrian only, narrow street/walkways European style neighborhood like the Barre Gotic area in Barcelona.

    But no matter what goes there a dedicated bus lane connector bus between the Metra stop (Clybourn) and the Red line North and Clybourn needs creation. Kingsbury is a possible route or where ever. Maybe even shared lane with bikes? I know bikes are buses are a difficult mix but often better than bikes and cars.

    Lately (the last couple, three years) Webster in the afternoon is backed up from Ashland to Sheffield or even Halsted. Someone suggested it was Mariano’s that tipped the street. I dunno I don’t live there but have reason to exit the Kennedy at Armitage and take Cortland to the corner of Seminary and Webster. Or I could take Webster. But lately that is a mess as I said.

    What’s the car answer? I know that is neither our forte nor our desire, but one would be to up the usage of Dickens to levels like Webster and Armitage. In that case a new bridge at Armitage could connect a road that swings north and connects to DIckens.

    I doubt the residents of Dickens would be happy but hey do they drive cars or not?

  • Fixed, thanks.

  • Pat

    What that Amtrak article fails to mention is the real frustration with longer distance train travel: delays from freight traffic.

  • Kevin M

    Any article that complains about the profitability of Amtrak is missing the bigger picture. Should we stop servicing roads and airports that are unprofitable, too? Maybe.

  • #1 problem to growing ridership, right there.

  • rohmen

    I had friends take an Amtrak from Minneapolis to Chicago in order to visit several years ago. Due to freight delays, and some flooding in Wisconsin (not Amtrak’s fault, but again exacerbated by freight priority), the trip turned into a 23-hour ordeal. Those guys took the train because it was something they really wanted to do, and the experience made sure three people will never ride Amtrak again in their lives.

    I’ve heard multiple similar stories from people who avoid it like the plague due to delays and unpredictability in travel times.

  • Pat

    Just look at this chart, which I’ll admit doesn’t tell the whole story, because it doesn’t detail how long each delay is : http://www.amtrak.com/empire-builder-train&mode=perf&overrideDefaultTemplate=OTPPageHorizontalRouteOverview

    More money for signal and track upgrades and better cooperation from railway companies could mitigate 70% of the causes of delays.

  • Matt F

    Riding a winter train from NYC to Chicago, a freight derailment in Indiana caused us to reroute through Michigan, transfer to a Greyhound bus in Ann Arbor, and arrive 8 hours late missing an entire work shift.

  • Pat

    It can be frustrating and regular riders have come to accept it unfortunately. It’s been exacerbated in the plains recently by the shale boom.

    Here is a great breakdown of the legal issues: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Amtrak-has-priority-over-freight-but-5923268.php

    I’ve done plenty of long distance travel on Amtrak in the last few years.

    Denver-SF: 3 1/2 hours late (engine broke down)
    Chicago-NOLA: 2 hours late (freight interference)
    Chicago-NYC: 2 1/2 hours late (freight interference)

    Mind you, these are long overnight trains so there is slack built in. But you can just as easily be delayed 1 1/2 hours coming from Champaign.

  • On some lines it is endemic. The Wolverine service from Chicago across Michigan almost always has a 1-4hr delay on the train that leaves Chicago ca. 5PM — every single week. The regular riders just budget it into their estimated travel time.

  • Anne A

    I’ve experienced freight-related delays. I also had a summer trip snafu due to major flooding from persistent spring thunderstorms across northern IL and southern WI, which closed local roads (station access) and affected some rail bridges. My train trip on the Empire Builder was cut short at Minneapolis, then the entire train full of passengers was transferred to several buses, sorted by destination. Amtrak handled it very efficiently and got us here nearly on time, but it was a bummer to spend a beautiful summer day on a bus instead of the more relaxing environment of the train.

  • Deni

    Journalist who do not know much about trains are always calling the NE Corridor “profitable” but it is not. Since Amtrak owns the line (most of it at least) there are also capital expenses that other Amtrak lines do not have, yet those are never included in the math when these writers compare the NEC to other lines. All of Amtrak loses money, but that should not be the point anyway.

    It is a public utility and should be treated that way.

  • BlueFairlane

    But even if you erase the delays, you’re still going to have a long overnight train ride. If you think about it, a 2 hour delay on the 19.45-hour Chicago-New Orleans trip amounts to a delay of about 10%. That’s equal in proportion to a 30-minute delay for a plane making the same trip, and that’s the kind of delay that’s just going to happen when it comes to travel. I say the natural limitations of long-distance travel by train are always going to keep the majority of people from wanting to travel that way, no matter how fast you make the trains go.

    What will make a difference, though, is forgetting about the bottom line and making travel by rail super cheap. Imagine if instead of paying $161 to sit on a train for 19 hours to get from Chicago to New Orleans, you could do it for $16. I, for one, would be spending a lot of weekends on trains.

  • Doubling, regularly, the time it takes to get from Chicago to Ann Arbor or Detroit is not a 10% difference.

    Which isn’t to say that I’m against lowering fares to increase usage (because I’m totally for that). Also, any metrics about “delays” need to mention things like percentage of total journey, because a 40min delay on Chicago-to-DC is a whole other ball of wax than a 10hr delay, and right now the statistics treat them both the same.

  • Deni

    Fair enough of a point. But I think people would like it even better (and would draw more people to train travel) if you cut the travel time rather than cutting the price and the expectations. Even just doubling the speed (which still wouldn’t make it “high speed” by how most countries define it) would increase ridership. Think if you could get to NYC from Chicago in 9 hours instead of 18? I think you would see a lot more people on that train, both a daytime and a nighttime version. Granted, China has trains that can do that city-pair equivalent distance in about 4-1/2 hours.

    I just think that people would rather send a little more to get good, faster service rather than seeing a dirt-cheap price for substandard quality and unpredictable time schedules.

  • BlueFairlane

    But then I wouldn’t exactly call Chicago to Ann Arbor long distance, either. I suspect freight delays have a much greater impact on short trips. Amtrak would be better off focusing on those than pretending it’s ever going to get heavy usage cross-country.

  • BlueFairlane

    I think that largely depends on the market you’re going after, and what other options said market has. People who are willing to pay more for predictable time schedules would compare 9 hours on a train with 2 hours on a plane and come up with math that doesn’t benefit Amtrak. The key, then, is to look at which market isn’t being served because it doesn’t have a better option … namely, people who can’t afford plane tickets. Pretty much anybody could afford a $10 ticket to New York, though.

  • Depends what you think trains should compete with.

    They should not, and cannot, compete with planes for speed of service — not plausible, except in very limited corridors (LA-SF, BosNyWash).

    I think the ideal realm for trains to compete in is against road trips via car. They don’t work for scenic on-and-off style driving, but if all you need is to get somewhere that it would take 3-12 hours of driving to get to, trains could beat that all hollow, simply because they remove the stress of having to do the driving, and add in the ability to change position, walk around, and be social. As long as you’re beating the price of 2-4 tanks of gas, you’re winning on price as well as speed and user experience.

    But not if it takes 8-12 hours to get from Chicago to Ann Arbor, it won’t. Predictability and the ability to believe the schedule is the only thing that will help it get that market segment on board (well, that and better transport links from the stations to whatever eventual destination people have).

    The real killer on the Wolverine service is the denial of its regularity. There is ALWAYS a delay, ALWAYS in the same place. They should either enforce against the freight lines or write it into the schedule so people know what they’re getting into.

  • If a 12-hour NY/Chicago trip was possible via steam locomotives in the single-digits of the twentieth century I have no idea why it takes twice as long now.

    (Well, I DO know why. I just think it’s egregiously unnecessary)

  • Cameron Puetz

    Without subsidized transportation, huge sections of the US would be inaccessible. Aside from a handful of busy toll roads, no roads are self sustaining. Air service to towns like the ones served by the Empire Builder requires huge subsidies through the EAS program. Only Amtrak is expected to turn a profit serving sparsely populated areas.

  • BlueFairlane

    I don’t think trains should or could compete with planes. That’s why I replied to a guy who was talking about Chicago to New Orleans or Denver to San Francisco. For most people, those are plane trips.

    For the shorter trip like Chicago to Ann Arbor, though, Amtrak’s advantages of stress removal and position change (I consider the social aspect a negative) need to be much greater than they are to overcome what most people who aren’t Streetsblog commenters see as the advantages of driving: 1.) You can leave from wherever you want without having to get to the train station and fool with ticket counters, 2.) You can leave whenever you want instead of just 7:10 am, 3:10 pm, or 6 pm., and you don’t have to worry that something might cause you to miss your car, and 2.) once you get to Ann Arbor, you have a car to get around and don’t have to depend on cabs, public transportation, or somebody to pick you up. Meanwhile, at the cheapest option, Amtrak to Ann Arbor costs $35. If I have my wife with me, the cost is $70. Driving the same distance in my Honda Civic if gas is $3/gallon costs about $20, and I can take up to five people.

    But say, all things being equal, I could get to Ann Arbor for $5 or less. That changes things significantly.

  • Mike C

    Fill everyone in, why does it take longer now then in the past?

  • Mike C

    I’m planning to take the Empire Builder this summer to Glacier National Park and have been checking a couple sites to get an estimate of the delay I should expect. Here’s a website that tracks the delays to a particular station for up to the last four weeks: http://www.amtrakdelays.onlineschedulingsoftware.com/

    And this website shows the current position of all Amtrak trains and if they are currently delayed or not: http://asm.transitdocs.com/

  • The list of factors include but are not limited to:

    – poorer track maintenance limiting top speeds (because the freight lines that own them don’t see any reason to cater to passenger uses)
    – needing to schedule around freights, which then end up interrupting anyway
    – lack of interest from anyone with the power to change things in actually getting the aforementioned (or other factors) changed

    For more details, see also http://www.slate.com/articles/life/transport/2009/05/stop_this_train.html
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/9498719/Train-journeys-slower-now-than-a-century-ago.html

  • Pat

    For the record, I wasn’t making a statement of my trips vs planes. Just wanted to share my recent long haul experiences.

    The route that stands out in my mind as being competitive vs both car and plane is Chi-STL, especially for a single rider. Glad to see the track being upgraded on that route, but there is still the issue of untangling things between Chicago and Joliet.

  • Anne A

    It’s a cool way to get to Glacier. I hope you have a pleasant trip.

  • Anne A

    A friend who works for Amtrak says that additional tracks were constructed to relieve the congestion caused by oil trains. That construction has been completed, so travel times are more normal again.