As Lake Forest, Glenview, Northbrook and Deerfield officials collaborate in their effort to minimize the effects on their communities of a proposed expansion of the Amtrak Hiawatha service between Chicago and Milwaukee a pair of allies have joined in.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston) and Rep. elect Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) have promised to help argue against an approximately two-mile holding railroad track that federal and state officials want to build in Lake Forest and another spanning Glenview and Northbrook.
Schakowsky represents parts of Northbrook and Glenview while Schneider represents the rest of those towns along with Lake Forest and Deerfield. The proposed holding tracks are both in Schneider’s 10th Congressional District.
When Amtrak proposed adding three daily round trips between Chicago and Milwaukee more than two years ago, the Federal Railroad Administration, in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, launched a study, Glenview Deputy Village Manager Don Owen said in an October 17 DailyNorthShore.com story.
The result of the study is an environmental assessment that looks at the effect the increased Amtrak service will have on Metra and Canadian Pacific freights, which use much of the same tracks.
Union Pacific freight service is also part of the equation. That rail line runs roughly parallel to Highway 41 and then shares tracks with the Canadian Pacific starting near the Glenview Northbrook village limit, according to Erik Jensen, assistant to Northbrook’s village manager in a November 16 DNS story. From there they head to the Bensenville freight yards.
Glenview Was the First Town To Question Plan
Officials in Glenview have been questioning the need for some of the proposed changes since the idea of a holding track was proposed. Once it became official with the release of the assessment October 12, the other towns joined the effort to slow things down.
Initially, the public, including municipal leaders, had until November 15 to respond. At the request of all the communities involved and others, the FRA extended the deadline to January 15, according to a statement by Scott Speegle, the passenger rail communications manager for the IDOT in a November 20 DNS story.
During a Lake Forest City Council meeting November 7, Mayor Donald Schoenheider said getting help from elected federal representatives was essential. He also said a more detailed environmental impact study was needed rather than the less complete assessment. Schneider and Schakowsky heard the message.
“I urge the FRA to conduct a more comprehensive Environmental Impact Study that examines the social and economic consequences for the surrounding communities, including the proposal’s effect on property values,” said Schneider in an email to DNS. He takes office January 3 before the public comment period ends.
Congress has the authority to fund the FRA and has oversight responsibilities but has no direct authority to issue an order, according to Schneider. It is part of the executive branch and is currently headed by Sarah Feinberg. That will change after January 20 when President elect Donald J. Trump is inaugurated.
As a current member of Congress, Schakowsky said in an email to DNS she is not waiting. She is already getting ready to lobby the FRA for a more detailed study.
Schakowsky Commits to Environmental Impact Study
“I am committed to obtaining a full Environmental Impact Study that goes beyond the initial assessment we saw in October,” Schakowsky said in the email. I will work to ensure that the FRA addresses our constituents’ concerns, particularly the holding track in Glenview and Northbrook.”
Glenview Village President James Patterson expressed delight the two members of Congress representing his village are on board. He said the entire freight operation should be removed from heavily populated suburban Chicago.
“We don’t need a third rail (holding track) in Glenview,” said Patterson in a DNS interview. “They need another place to wait to get to their freight yard. The population is more dense here (than when the tracks were laid). The general initial study does not get into that.”
Schoenheider, whose city is also scheduled for a holding track, shares Patterson’s feelings about redirecting the freight routes from Lake Forest.
“The whole freight line needs to be taken away from developed areas,” said Schoenheider. “We’re going to work together with our representatives and see what happens. We want to all be in lockstep.”
Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum also wants the more detailed study. She said she wants a traffic study to specifically report how long traffic will be stopped at the Techny Road crossing as trains slow down moving onto the holding track and accelerate on their way out.
Frum Worries Holding Track Will Create Fire Hazard
“We have a fire station in that part of town,” said Frum. “I have one (at a crossing) in another part of town. I don’t need that in two parts of town.”
In Deerfield, the assessment suggests a 1,500 foot holding track to let Metra trains wait while the faster Amtrak service goes by is proposed north of Greenwood Avenue, according to Village Manager Ken Street. Deerfield Mayor Harriet Rosenthal is also glad Schneider and Schakowsky are involved.
“I’m pleased we have our representatives working on this,” said Rosenthal. “They have always represented us well.”
The assessment, which can be viewed in full on the WisDOT website, suggests a holding track roughly following Shermer Road from West Lake Avenue in Glenview to Techny in Northbrook. They would be between 10,000 and 11,000 feet in length and a “parking lot for trains,” according to Owen.
A second freight holding track of the same range of lengths is proposed between Highway 60 in Lake Forest and Roundout, just north of Highway 176, according to the assessment.
Schneider said he encourages people to take advantage of the extended public comment period to let the FRA, IDOT and WisDOT know their concerns.