Ever since residents and officials in Lake Forest, Glenview, Deerfield and Northbrook learned an expansion of Amtrak passenger service might also bring two-mile-long holding tracks to their community to accommodate freight trains, they wanted answers.
Lake Forest resident Joanne Desmond, who lives near one of the proposed third rails, has become an activist advocating for her community. She has sought answers and let local, state and federal officials know her opposition.
Desmond and more than 170 others hoped to learn more at a freight symposium October 11 at Trinity International University in Bannockburn featuring experts in the rail industry but they got little additional information.
“I didn’t learn anything new,” said Desmond after the symposium, in a DailyNorthShore interview. “I was very interested in what they had to say but they didn’t say anything about (more or less) freight traffic.”
When Amtrak sought approval from the Federal Railroad Administration to add three additional round trips between Chicago and Milwaukee three years ago, the FRA began an environmental assessment to determine the requirements of the expansion, DNS reported on September 30.
One result proposed a 10,000-foot holding track between West Lake Avenue in Glenview and Techny Road in Northbrook and another of approximately the same size between Route 6o in Lake Forest to just north of Highway 176 in Rondout near Lake Bluff. Residents of those towns, like Desmond, began to worry about the impact it would have on their homes and lifestyle.
The symposium was sponsored by the City of Lake Forest and the villages of Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Bannockburn. It was organized by The League of Women Voters of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, which filtered questions from the audience and presented them to the panel of three freight experts.
Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said there was no issue with the increased passenger traffic. Lake Forest has been seeking to become an additional stop for Amtrak service at the west side Metra station for several years.
“The problem has always been freight,” said Kiely. “This has given us a better understanding of the importance of freight to the Chicago area.”
None of the panelists offered much information about the proposed Amtrak Hiawatha expansion and the attendant third rails for freights to wait while faster passenger trains passed. Mark Walburn, a panelist and vice president of rail and transit for Mott McDonald, confessed as much.
“I don’t know specific information about that, but I know the railroads all want to keep the trains moving,” Walburn said.
Those attending the symposium did learn that a large amount of freight comes into ports on the country’s coasts and eventually gets to Chicago before heading off in another direction.
Joseph P. Schwieterman, a panelist and professor at DePaul University, said there are four freight lines now operating in the United States. Two come from the West Coast to Chicago and the other two move cargo from the eastern half of the country to the Chicago area.
The Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railroads also move freight through the area. The Canadian Pacific is the railroad that would utilize the holding tracks in Lake Forest, Northbrook and Glenview.
Audrey Wennink, the transportation, planning and policy director for the Metropolitan Planning Council in Chicago and a panelist, said the area has fought very hard to keep Chicago the national freight hub.
As for an answer to whether the holding tracks will be built or a more detailed environmental impact study will be ordered by the FRA, Desmond was resigned to waiting.
“We’ll just have to wait until next year when we hear what (the FRA) decides,” said Desmond.