Glenview is Spending More Than Half a Million to Oppose Amtrak’s Hiawatha Expansion

An Amtrak train pulls into Glenview Station. Photo: Jeff Zoline
An Amtrak train pulls into Glenview Station. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Whether you call it a sensible precaution, or merely throwing bad money after good, the north-suburban village of Glenview just approved spending an additional $105,000 to fight Amtrak’s current plan to add additional runs on its Hiawatha line between Chicago and Milwaukee. That will bring the total that Glenview is spending on its opposition to more than $505,000 – quite a chunk of change. On January 15 the Glenview Board of Trustees approved the latest expenditure, allocated from the suburb’s 2019 budget, according to a Chicago Tribune report by Alexandra Kukulka.

The Federal Railroad Administration and the Illinois and Wisconsin transportation departments have proposed increasing the service on the Hiawatha line, which stops in Glenview, from the current seven roundtrips a day to ten to relieve crowding. You’d think that the village would be thrilled to improve its transportation access, but officials and residents say they’re worried about several aspects of the plan.

The service-increase proposal calls for constructing an 11,000-foot freight train holding track to the east of the two Metra Milwaukee District-North tracks between Glenview and Northbrook, or else a 10,000-foot holding track to the west. (The Amtrak and Metra trains share the Glenview station.) Doing so would require building a 10-foot to 20-foot retaining wall to hold in the rail bed, and locals are opposed to eliminating green space between the tracks and residential districts, Kukulka reported.

The stretch of tracks between Glenview and Northbrook. Image: Google Maps
The stretch of tracks between Glenview and Northbrook. Image: Google Maps

Another concern is the need to construct two new single-track bridges. One of them would cross Shermer Road, which worries residents in light of a tragic incident in 2012 when a coal train fell derailed on a Shermer Road bridge, causing the bridge to collapse, killing motorists Burton Lindner, 69, and Zorine Lindner, 70. Officials and residents are worried that a new universal crossover switch on Metra tracks south of Dewes Street would raise risk of derailments and create more noise.

They also question whether adding more Hiawatha runs would do much to relieve rush-hour crowding, since the new runs would be scheduled during off-peak times. Of course, not all current rush-hour trips necessarily need to taken at those times, so having more runs could help remove some current riders from the overcrowded trains. Offering a wider range of travel times could also encourage more people to choose Amtrak instead to driving between the Windy City and Brew Town.

IDOT has said that it won’t allow the expansion project to move forward until all community concerns have been adequately considered.

Last May the Glenview board approved spending $400,000 to oppose the project “due to both the need being unwarranted and the absence of data on its full environmental impact,” the Tribune reported. That money was earmarked for communications, lobbying, research, and possible legal action. The next $105,000 will be used to continue paying communications, engineering, and lobbying firms.

Chicago-based urban planner and real estate analyst Kyle Terry expressed disgust for Glenview’s latest move on Twitter.

At the end of January, Glenview officials and railroad staff will meet to analyze alternatives to the holding track plan.

What do you think – is Glenview right to be wary of the Hiawatha proposal and spend half a million to put the brakes on the project, or is the village guilty of inexcusable Not in My Back Yard-style behavior? Share your perspective in the comments.

  • planetshwoop

    Train derailments that end in fatalities are super rare. I would argue that there have probably been more fatalities from motor vehicle collisions in Glenview than train derailments.

    I don’t think the “green space” argument holds up. There’s not much built stuff along that area — it’s mostly under utilized office space or new housing, which is quite set back from the tracks.

    Is this an alternative proposal from the Lake Forest siding for the same service or are they both under consideration?

  • Guy Ross

    Rode this from Kenosha for a year in 2005-06. Can’t really figure out the ‘green space’ argument, even then it was mostly light-industrial back lots not longer used as the spur lines have been removed and parking lots. There is a short stretch of big leafy back yards to the E of that and a golf course, though, so I guess that’s what’s driving that blowback. But, if I track this correctly, there is no proposed addition to the line’s ROW, only to build track on what is already theirs? If so, this is just some really bad NIMBYism in the truest sense.

  • Kevin M

    This train line doesn’t go through Kenosha.

  • Kevin M

    Man, north-shore NIMBY’s are a pot of gold to lobbyists!

  • Guy Ross

    Yup. Confusing this with the empire builder to MSP

  • Let’s send an urbanist transit strike force to Glenview to stage a pro-Amtrak event with threats to go all the way to the supreme courts. Let’s make them fear lots of legal costs down the drain.

    BTW what route will be used by the HSR in the future Green New Deal?

    I assume there is no actual delay in additional service as that is accounted for in the plannng process schedule.

  • William Reed

    I’m very interested in the freight train holding track- what’s that look like in operation? Freights that would otherwise delay Hiawatha service are diverted into a train yard? 11,000 feet sounds pretty large to me- can anyone sketch out the approximate area of the holding tracks on the map provided in the article?

    Will the train engines be cut in these holding tracks? Are these kind of new freight holding tracks common? Could they be used elsewhere around the metro region to promote more frequent rail service on other Metra lines?

    Great article overall. I tend to agree with the commentators that there is a strong element of NIMBYism here which Amtrak must overcome in one way or another in order to open more service on the Hiawatha. I do sympathize with the Glenview residents concerns, though. The village of Glenview will hopefully pivot to using this extra time to (re)develop a nice plan that benefits the residents and regional transit.

  • Anonymous

    Transportation is integtal to a thriving economy and many people who can’t afford to own or drive cars between Chicago and Milwaukee rely on the train. Glenview is a wealthy suburban community. This is nothing more than entitled rich people keeping poor people down with NIMBYism.

  • planetshwoop

    In case you want to read the Glenview version of this, here is the page from the village site that discusses their point of view.

    https://glenview.il.us/Pages/hiawatha.aspx

    It links to the local group opposed to findings.

    One comment I heard from a friend who lives in Northbrook: “instead of building a siding to park slow moving freight in our area, I wish they would consider adding a third track like other lines have so we could get some commuter benefit from this too, not just the Amtrak”

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    The link planetshwoop posted explains the holding track “would allow a freight train to be parked until it is assured clear passage on the Union Pacific tracks to the Canadian Pacific’s Bensenville freight yard.” Freights would pull over to give priority to passenger rail, but they might be waiting there a while.

    The distance between the Glenview and Northbrook stations is about 4 miles. The holding track distance is 11,000 feet or about 2 miles. So the holding track would’t be very wide but would take up half the distance between Glenview and Northbrook. Nobody wants it to cut through the park, the prairie preserve, the golf course, the other golf course, or their property. There are also some at-grade crossings and hilly bits that will make siting this challenging.

    I doubt the diesel engines would be cut while waiting on the holding track, so there are noise and diesel exhaust concerns. I don’t know about the use of holding tracks around the metro region, but I experience a holding track aka passing siding every time I take Amtrak to Dwight, IL, where there’s only one track into the station, necessitating turn-taking, plus the main tracks are shared with freights.

    I hope Glenview is able to find a location that works for the holding track. More frequent rail service to Milwaukee would be excellent!

  • ardecila

    UP often parked freight trains on the UP-NW tracks between Barrington and Palatine, because there is a long 2.75mi section of track with no grade crossings. It’s a similar situation to the proposed siding in Glenview, and it doesn’t seem to have hurt the property values for neighbors in Barrington and Inverness, so I think the fear here is unfounded. But:

    Planners are constrained here by the location of grade crossings. IDOT and other agencies will not allow a plan that blocks crossings for too long due to emergency services, but there aren’t very many long stretches of track with no crossings. Potentially they could build a few underpass/overpasses and create such a zone, but then the costs would soar closer to $100M or higher. Realistically, the Glenview plan is probably the best case scenario anyway. The neighbors along the tracks include… a landfill, big box stores and an industrial park. Even with new grade separations, all the other options are MORE residential than the Glenview option.

  • ardecila

    The siding and turnouts would be engineered to be converted to a third track later. A third track up to Rondout is on Metra’s long-term wish list.

  • FG

    I live a few blocks from a line where freights are often held for clearance – it can be very noisy when the trains start and stop – the start in movement telegraphs through the entire train and can be heard clearly in certain conditions, even with windows closed.

    I think the worry about the bridge at Shermer is reasonable considering how many times that bridge has collapsed and injured people – more than once.

    And would you really want a 20′ retaining wall, even if well done?

    There has to be a better way to handle freight traffic through here than adding sidings, perhaps, oh, I don’t know, say scheduling? Of course, the railroads are notorious for being uncooperative with schedules and Amtrak in particular. Also keep in mind that neither Metra nor Amtrak own these tracks and are at the mercy of CP who owns them.

  • ardecila

    Also you will see in that report a more expensive alternative that would reroute virtually all freight trains off the MD-N line onto that same UP line entirely, starting just north of the Wisconsin border. This would require a track connection on the Wisconsin side, so theoretically Illinois residents would not have NIMBY power. This would allow an even bigger expansion of Amtrak Hiawatha service.
    The big downside is cost, more than twice the cost of the Glenview alternatives. Plus, many North Shore communities would see freight noise and traffic increase on the east side of town and decrease on the west side of town, so that may be controversial as well.

  • Courtney

    Agreed!

  • Courtney

    Sooo….considering the concerns about the bridge, wouldn’t it be more useful to repair the bridge vs upholding a travel option for thousands of people?

  • Courtney

    “Train derailments that end in fatalities are super rare. I would argue that there have probably been more fatalities from motor vehicle collisions in Glenview than train derailments.”

    Yes! Of course many drivers underestimate how dangerous driving can be but love to point out “risks” of non-car based transportation. *eye roll* When it comes to biking, the only reason biking is “dangerous” is because of all the cars on the road and the lack of physically protected bike lanes.

  • BlueFairlane

    I don’t know that a group of volunteers organized on a not-for-profit web site will have much success threatening expensive legal hassle against a suburb that’s at least 50% rich lawyer.

  • FG

    You’d think, but I think people have been spooked by it up that way since several bridges and replacement bridges have had problems…

  • FG

    One issue at the moment is that freight trains have been getting longer – I think the max reported was 24,000 feet long. So the question to ask is: can this siding accommodate that or will it be Amtrak/Metra trains that are forced onto the siding?

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    I would like to contrast this capital project with the 75th Street Corridor improvements on the Southwest Service. The folks in Glenview have multiple governmental players catering to their every concern. It seems like no eminent domain will be used. In Englewood, however, a lot of eminent domain has and will be used to speed up the commutes of suburbanites. The major difference: the commuter train will actually provide access to Glenview, while completely passing by Englewood. The term ‘privilege’ has been thrown around a lot in the past couple of days. Here is a clear example of the white, suburban privilege that infects planning and policy throughout the country,

  • ardecila

    This is not correct. You are confusing two projects – NS’ project to expand their rail yard is the one chewing up Englewood. The 75th St CIP is not even in Englewood (too far south) and it includes a new Auburn Park Metra stop at 79th so the community will get more access.

  • Kevin

    The map above is incorrect. I don’t blame John, the tribune article had a bad description of the 2016 study. The holding track will not go next to the Metra tracks (which as commenters have noted is next to an industrial area and golf courses) but along the UP tracks to the west of the Metra tracks and adjacent to a residential neighborhood.

    The study is really poorly done. There are a number of factual errors. Obvious alternatives were not considered or dismissed with error filled justifications. Two examples: 1)the alternative Ardecila mentions is a much better one than the option the study selected (it’s adjacent to power lines, a bike path, and US-41) but the study formulated it in a way that made it more expensive and less feasible than necessary. 2)if the crossover is only going to be used occasionally, there are switch designs that are silent/ full speed in the main direction and require a slow and louder movement to cross over. Why weren’t these considered? Who knows. When the study was up for comment I read it with the intention of submitting a comment of support but ended up submitting one against the proposal with pages of corrections because the study is that bad. I’m glad to hear the comments from Glenview indicating that they are having productive discussions to work through these issues, but it’s too bad they had to play hardball to get a serious analysis.

    Idling freight locomotives are really loud when 100 ft away. Swapping moving trains for ones holding for a few hours at a time isn’t a fair trade to say ‘you knew the railroad was there when you bought the house.’

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    Actually, you are the one who seems to be “confused” (quite presumptuous, i may add). The CREATE Project includes Norfolk Southern as a partner. A key component of the plan to connect the Southwest Service with the Rock Island tracks & LaSalle Street station is the use of eminent domain around the 75th and Wallace Area. No train stop will be added as part of this project. The Auburn Park stop is on the Rock Island, which is not part of this project, and indeed, not in Englewood. A new train stop to connect englewood to the southwest service and that to the green line is needed.

  • ardecila

    You’re right, actually – I read it again and the study shows 16 units of housing will be demolished when the SWS is connected to the Rock Island. But I’m not sure why you keep mentioning Englewood. A station at Auburn Park will serve the area of the 75th St project. They are funded as separate projects but that’s just a technicality.

    NS is a partner in CREATE, but all the freight railroads are partners, so that’s not especially noteworthy. The SWS-Rock Island connection is a project mainly to benefit the public transit system (Metra), not private railroads.

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    Transit access is a huge issue in Englewood, particularly in bridging the racial gap with suburban areas to the southwest which are mainly white and growing in employment opportunities. In particular, Oak Lawn and Orland Park are two locations that are currently inaccessible to South Side residents because the Metra SW does not stop there until 79th/Kedzie. (The new Auburn Park station will be on the Rock Island Line). To spell out my original point:
    Glenview: Capital Project+ Privilege= Express Access to 2 Major American downtowns
    Englewood (75th CIP): Capital Project- Privelege= No Commuter Train access ( to downtown, the burgeoning suburbs, nor anywhere else)
    NOTE: Operating Metra, Pace, and CTA as separate agencies furthers the racial and economic segregation of the region. If they were the same agency, more care would be taken to create seamless connections between L Lines and Metra Lines, linking ALL communities.

  • david vartanoff

    maybe ATK and Metra should stop serving Glenview as often.

  • Scott Avers

    Where are the monthly Amtrak ridership stats at? There are a lot of empty Hiawatha trains running between Milwaukee and Chicago.

  • I’ll add:
    on Englewood access to the SW service, I had mentioned in the 79th Street EIS comments, to the Metra board, and to the local alderman at the time, that a station, or at least provisioning for one, at 79th/Ashland should be studied. Crickets. Given that they’ll be shifting all the tracks around, this is the only time that it’ll ever be feasible to make enough space for a platform there.

  • EAH

    This truly sounds like a bunch of rich self entitled snowflakes against change that is necessary! Just throw money away, shall we???

  • KJ

    That comes to @ $10/person in the town.

  • Mark Twain

    Your argument is straw man.

  • stephen e. hansen

    we need more trains no matter what! california would give its eyeteeth to have more trains! stephen e hansen portola valley CA

  • Tyrell Track Master

    What a bunch of jackasses.

  • JG

    Glenview is a town out of the “Twilight Zone”. Like the many outdated stores on the main drag of Glenview Road, any modernizing of the railway system has been opposed at a cost that’s a little too high to put this town on any real persons map.

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