Results of further tests will be reviewed before a final decision is made on infrastructure changes to the Metra railroad tracks for the Milwaukee District North Line running through Lake Forest, Deerfield, Northbrook and Glenview relating to increased Amtrak Hiawatha service.
The tests will measure noise and vibration caused by freight and passenger trains traveling through those four municipalities, according to Arun Rao, the passenger rail implementation manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, in a DailyNorthShore.com interview.
The changes are under consideration by the Federal Railroad Administration in response to a request by Amtrak, which uses the tracks, to add three additional trains daily in each direction to its runs between Chicago and Milwaukee.
Along with Metra commuter service and Amtrak, the tracks are used by the Canadian Pacific Railroad’s freight service. Those organizations are stakeholders with Lake Forest, Deerfield, Northbrook, Glenview, the Illinois Department of Transportation and WisDOT.
Alterations of greatest concern to North Shore residents are the addition of three holding tracks, or a third rail of various lengths, between Rondout near Highway 176 and Glenview, according to the preliminary draft of an Environmental Assessment by the FRA, IDOT and WisDOT.
After the draft of the assessment was released October 12, officials and residents of Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Lake Forest raised objections during the public comment period intensely lobbying for a more detailed environmental impact study before any decision is made.
North Shore Towns Get Help From Congress
Those efforts were joined by Reps. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston). Schneider represents all or parts of the four municipalities, including the area where the holding tracks are proposed. Schakowsky has constituents in Glenview and Northbrook.
The tests were ordered because of the public feedback, according to Rao. He said a final decision is expected in the first six months of next year. The FRA can either accept the assessment and allow the project to proceed should Congress fund it or order the impact study. It can also deny the entire project.
“We are testing the noise and vibration to get a more quantitative analysis of the impact,” said Rao. “We want to learn how it will impact the area before we issue the EA.”
The purpose of the holding tracks is to allow faster moving passenger trains to pass the slower moving freights, according to Glenview Deputy Village Manager Don Owen in a DNS interview.
One of those tracks is proposed between Highway 60 in Lake Forest and Rondout near Highway 176, according to the assessment. The other will span Glenview and Northbrook between West Lake Avenue and Techny Road. A shorter 1,500-foot third rail is planned north of Greenwood Avenue in Deerfield.
Location of Lake Forest Third Rail Remains Undecided
Though Rao said he does not expect any changes in Glenview, Northbrook and Deerfield, the precise location of the holding track in Lake Forest is still under review. He said it will still begin in Rondout but the southern terminus will be somewhere between Route 60 and Conway Road.
Owen, Schakowsky, Schneider and Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. continue to push for the more comprehensive impact study. Kiely is glad the noise and vibration tests are taking place.
“My understanding is a review of whether it will add more noise and vibrations in Lake Forest is underway,” said Kiely. “That was not part of the original Environmental Assessment and it is important.”
Owen continues to be concerned with how the addition of six additional passenger trains requires such a large change in the area. He wants to know what will happen if the Amtrak request is modified, negating the need for any infrastructure changes.
“What if they just add one or two trains?” Owen said. “What if they added a car to the trains they already have?”
Another concern is longer delays at grade crossings if freights are required to slow down to stop and then accelerate to full speed after sitting on the holding tracks.
Grade Crossing Delays Could Jump 20 Fold
“Now people wait one or two minutes,” said Owen. “It could be 15 or 20 minutes when those very long trains come to a stop and then start up slowly.”
Schneider said he has met with the executive director of the FRA as recently as April to continue to press for the impact study. The nominee to head the agency is awaiting confirmation by the United States Senate, according to a government-related website.
“Surrounding communities deserve a thorough review of the effects of the proposed expansion and the opportunity to make their voices heard, which is why I continue to support an environmental impact study,” said Schneider in an email to DNS.
Not everyone in Lake Forest thinks the city is fighting hard enough for them. A letter to Mayor Rob Lansing and the Lake Forest City Council signed by 11 residents who live near the proposed holding track states that Kiely knew about the proposed third rail in December 2014.
The letter stated Kiely was participating in an electronic seminar with IDOT, WisDOT and others in December 2014, learned about the holding track and did not act at the time. Kiely did not deny he was on the call nor that the third rail was mentioned but said he had no recollection of it during an August 8 DNS interview.
Rao said the idea of the holding tracks was first disclosed publicly at the December 12, 2014, webinar.
Lansing wrote in a response to the letter shared with DNS by the city, earlier knowledge would have had no impact on the situation.