LAKE FOREST — A majority of the Lake Forest City Council will continue to press the Federal Railroad Authority to take a closer look at the impact of Amtrak Hiawatha expansion on the community. However, some aldermen doubt it will do much good.
The council conducted a lengthy discussion at its meeting on March 6 about several railroad-related issues on all three rail lines. About 70 people attended the meeting at City Hall.
Talks included a potential Amtrak stop at the west Lake Forest station and southbound Metra trains during rush hour. They also discussed a proposed third rail nearly two miles long on the west side of town north of Highway 60 used in part as a holding track for freights while faster passenger trains pass.
Most of the people in attendance were concerned about the proposed construction of the third rail. They packed a council meeting on Feb. 20, where the aldermen and Mayor Donald Schoenheider discussed but did not act on a resolution lessening the city’s opposition to the entire plan, which includes the holding track.
Though a vote was originally planned March 6, Schoenheider said before the discussion that there would neither be a vote nor public comment. The talks were designed to help the mayor and aldermen understand each others’ positions on the issues.
Mayor Schoenheider: “This Is a Very Complicated Issue”
“This is a very complicated, impactful and important issue,” said Schoenheider at the meeting before the discussion began. “It’s important to look not only how this will affect us five or 10 years from now but 50.”
The longer view is the benefit to people working and living in Lake Forest of an Amtrak stop. Another plus is increased commuter service in and out of the city. Schoenheider said both are important to some of the town’s big employers.
“Every employer I talk to at Conway (Business) Park wants an Amtrak stop to happen,” said Schoenheider.
City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said the lack of southbound Metra service from the west station between 4:44 and 7:59 p.m. requires that employers bus their workers to Deerfield to travel back to Chicago. Deerfield has a crossover so trains can turn around and go the other direction. The proposed third rail with a universal crossover would allow that in Lake Forest.
Lake Forest is already looking at doing a study to build a pedestrian underpass at the west station as a precursor to an Amtrak stop. Schoenheider said he has been told the underpass is a safety necessity Amtrak wants before it makes regular stops in Lake Forest.
Alderman George Pandaleon said he felt Amtrak could make the decision on its own to stop at Lake Forest without approval from anyone else. He said that would help safety as well as the underpass.
“If they stop the trains they’ll stop hitting our people,” said Pandaleon.
What Is the Best Way to Influence the FRA?
Part of the short view is how to influence the FRA, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Wisconsin Department of Transportation to minimize the impact of the third rail on local residents.
City officials learned about the plan in October when the FRA, IDOT and WisDOT issued an environmental assessment laying out infrastructure improvements necessary to allow Amtrak to add three daily round trips between Chicago and Milwaukee. In November, the city asked the FRA to require a more detailed environmental impact study before a final decision is made.
Kiely said a decision on whether to accept the assessment or require the impact study will come later this year. He said at the very least the impact study would delay implementation of the project.
There has been little objection to changes to Amtrak or Metra expansion. There is a lot of concern about the perceived increase in freight traffic and the effect on the environment. Some believe allowing those trains to idle along a nearly two-mile stretch between Highway 60 and Rondout near Highway 176 will intensify the impact.
Alderman Michelle Moreno said the noise and vibrations Canadian Pacific freight trains on the Metra tracks is significant. She said she lives close enough to the line to feel its impact.
“They wake me up between 2:15 and 3:30 a.m. I do my best not to open my eyes and go back to sleep,” said Moreno. “Until you’ve walked Academy Woods you have no idea what it’s like,” she added referring to a neighborhood adjacent to where the third rail is proposed.
Joanne Desmond, the president of the Academy Woods Homeowners Association, said after the meeting that she is glad the city is listening to her neighbors and others. She said she is thankful for those who have visited the area and seen the impact of freight trains for themselves.
“It’s important they understand the impact and they’re going to fight it,” said Desmond.
Delay May Help: Pandaleon
Pandaleon said delay from the impact study may be the best way to solve the problem. He said his research into the subject indicated the longterm goal of railroads hauling freight in and out of the Chicago area is to build a bypass around the city. He suggested if that happens there may be little reason to have the third rail.
Kiely made it clear the city has no jurisdiction over the FRA, IDOT or WisDOT. It can make requests but has no authority to impose its will on the railroads. Alderman Stanford Tack said there is little the council can do.
“We can be Don Quixote tilting at windmills, but we have no authority,” said Tack. “We have no authority here to make them do anything.”
Schoenheider said the best thing the city can do is work with federal officials like Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates) and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) to make their views known and advocate for the citizens of Lake Forest.
“I spoke with Congressman Schneider and he understands the issues,” said Schoenheider. “He said it is not just an issue for the North Shore and Illinois but it is a national issue.”
Joining Pandaleon and Moreno expressing continued support for the impact study are Aldermen Catherine Waldeck, Jack Reisenberg and Raymond Buschmann. Tack did not say he opposed it while Alderman Tim Newman did not offer a recommendation. Alderman Prue Beidler was not at the meeting.
Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Bannockburn have also asked the FRA for the impact study. Their positions are unchanged and they will be pushing for the impact study, according to a Feb. 23 DailyNorthShore.com story.
Another nearly two-mile long holding track is proposed to span Glenview and Northbrook between West Lake Avenue and Techny Road. A 1,500-foot third rail is suggested north of Greenwood Avenue in Deerfield.