LAKE FOREST — Strong demand exists for an Amtrak stop at the west Lake Forest train station, though several obstacles remain such as funding for a pedestrian underpass to improve safety around the depot.
Mayor Rob Lansing told the Lake Forest City Council November 6 at City Hall that a new, data-driven research study shows a high demand for Lake Forest as the sixth stop on the approximate 90-mile Amtrak Hiawatha trip from Chicago to Milwaukee.
“The numbers in this study just blew me away,” Lansing said.
The study was prepared by Joseph Schwieterman, president of the Chicago chapter of the Transportation Research Forum and a professor of public service at DePaul University. It shows a Lake Forest stop would draw significantly more passengers than Glenview, which is the only other stop in Illinois other than Chicago’s Union Station.
One of the longtime barriers to adding an Amtrak stop in Lake Forest is the lack of a pedestrian underpass at the station, according to Lansing. He said Amtrak requires it. The city is going to seek a grant to fund the $8 million to $9 million project.
The study will help persuade potential grantors of the economic benefits to northeastern Illinois and southern Wisconsin of the additional stop, according to Lansing. He e anticipates it will take between two to four years to obtain such a grant but there is currently support from those who need to give it.
“These usually involve federal funds,” Lansing said. “It’s at least two years out. We have received support from the state and federal agencies we need.” Those entities include the Illinois and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation. “We might even get some money thrown in from Wisconsin.”
The study concludes the station itself is underutilized with plenty of room for people to wait and park. There is an average of 135 parking spaces unused and available on weekdays and more on the weekends. The study indicates the city has agreed to allow for overnight parking. Glenview does not have parking for Amtrak users.
Along with parking accommodations, the Lake Forest station is 2.1 miles away from the Tri-State Tollway while Glenview “is harder to reach from an expressway,” according to the study.
Within a 15-minute drive of the depot, there are 254,304 residents and 218,855 jobs, according to the study. Of those 254,304 people, 190,292 will be able to get to Lake Forest faster than they could drive to Glenview. Within a 30-minute drive there are more than 1.6 million people. More than nine times as many persons will have a faster trip boarding at Lake Forest than Glenview.
There are 12 Fortune 500 companies with headquarters in Lake County whose employees will be closer to an Amtrak stop than they are now, according to the study. Six including Abbvie, Inc., Abbott Laboratories and CDW will save 27 minutes getting to Milwaukee. Five companies further south including Walgreens Boots Alliance and Baxter International will also benefit.
Many of those businesses already provide shuttle bus service from the station to their location, according to the study.
Along with businesses, approximately 7,000 recruits at Naval Station Great Lakes will be eight miles away, according to the study.
Adding the Lake Forest stop would still keep the Hiawatha service above average when it comes to the number of stops on an Amtrak corridor, according to the study.