ILLINOIS PASSENGER RAIL

Connecting People in Illinois and Around the Country

CHICAGO TO MILWAUKEE

Overview

Riding the rails makes getting between Chicago and Milwaukee hassle free. Amtrak's Hiawatha service covers an 86-mile route in about 90 minutes and offers seven round trips daily (six on Sunday). The train makes stops in Glenview, Illinois; Sturtevant, Wisconsin; and Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport along the way.

Environmental Assessment for Improvements to Amtrak Hiawatha Service

updated February 27, 2017

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), are completing an Environmental Assessment (EA) and Service Development Plan (SDP) to study increasing the Amtrak Hiawatha Service from 7 to 10 round trips per day between Chicago, IL and Milwaukee, WI.

On October 6, 2016, a Draft EA of the Chicago-Milwaukee Intercity Passenger Rail Program was made available for public comment. The document was available for review at WisDOT and IDOT, local public libraries and electronically on the project website.

The initial public comment period was open through November 15, 2016. More than 350 public comments were received during the initial public comment period. During this time, a public hearing was held in Milwaukee, WI and public meetings were held in Chicago and Glenview, IL. Attendance and number comments received at each meeting are as follows:

  • Public Hearing in Milwaukee, WI on October 27, 2016: 52 people signed in and 13 comments were received
  • Public Meeting in Chicago, IL on November 1, 2016: 29 people signed in and 3 comments were received
  • Public Meeting in Glenview, IL on November 2, 2016: 256 people signed in and 225 comments were received

Public meeting documents

A 60-day extension of the comment period was requested and was granted by WisDOT and IDOT, the project sponsors to allow agencies, stakeholders and the public additional time to review the Draft EA. During the comment period extension, an additional 300 comments were received. The comment period closed on January 15, 2017.

While many of the comments were supportive of the project, a majority of the comments were submitted from northern Illinois suburban communities and expressed concern regarding the purpose and need for the project, the possibility for additional freight rail traffic, and the potential for idling freight trains to produce air pollution and noise and vibration impacts to adjacent neighborhoods. Other concerns included the cost of the project and the source of funding, pedestrian safety, traffic delays at grade crossings, potential derailments and the project’s effects on adjacent property values.

All agency and public comments will be incorporated into the Final EA, which will be released later in 2017.

The project sponsors are undertaking additional analyses to further quantify the potential impacts resulting from the increase in Hiawatha Service from 7 to 10 round trips per day. The analyses will include further evaluation of infrastructure investment projects and construction impacts, as well as noise and vibration, air quality, socioeconomics, grade crossings, and threatened and endangered species impacts. Updates will be made to the purpose and need, alternatives analysis, and environmental review sections of the EA.

Once the additional analyses are complete, WisDOT and IDOT will communicate the results of the analysis with agencies and municipal leaders. Following this coordination, a final EA and SDP will be completed reflecting the additional analyses. This is anticipated to occur during the second half of 2017.

Future project updates will be posted to this website and chi-milwrailstudy.wi.gov.

About the Environmental Assessment

The purpose of the Chicago-Milwaukee Intercity Passenger Rail Service EA is to provide the FRA, WisDOT, IDOT, local governments and the public with a full understanding of the service-wide environmental impacts associated with the alternatives developed to meet the project’s purpose and need.

The EA is developed to comply with federal environmental laws and regulations (National Environmental Policy Act) and Wisconsin and Illinois state environmental laws and regulations.

Service Development Plan

The Service Development Plan (SDP) is prepared during the planning phase for intercity passenger rail programs. The SDP lays out the overall scope and approach of the proposed service.

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      Map of the corridor

Among the primary objectives of the SDP are:

  • To clearly demonstrate the purpose and need for the proposed intercity passenger rail improvements.
  • To describe the analysis of alternatives for the proposed intercity passenger rail improvements.
  • To demonstrate the operations and financial feasibility of the proposed intercity passenger rail improvements.
  • To identify the specific capital improvements necessary to support the additional frequencies. The environmental impacts of the improvements will be analyzed in the EA.
Related Information:

EA and SDP Schedule

  • Public Meetings: (October/November 2016)
    • Public Hearing: October 27, Milwaukee, WI
    • Public Meeting: November 1, Chicago, IL
    • Public Meeting: November 2, Glenview, IL
  • Finding of No Significant Impact prepared: (Late Fall 2016)
  • Federal Railroad Administration decision: (Winter 2016)

Facts

Current Hiawatha Service

  • Seven daily round-trips, Six on Sunday between Chicago and Milwaukee
  • Regular scheduled travel times between Chicago and Milwaukee from 89 minutes
  • Maximum speed 79 MPH

Future Hiawatha Service with Planned Improvements

  • 10 daily round-trips (including three additional trains) between Chicago and Milwaukee
  • Potentially faster travel times between Chicago and Milwaukee
  • Maximum speed 79 MPH or 90 MPH (between Rondout, Illinois and General Mitchell International Airport)

Hiawatha Service Details

  • Stations include:
    • Chicago Union (connect to Amtrak system, transit and intercity buses)
    • Glenview, IL (connect to local transit)
    • Sturtevant, WI (connect to local transit)
    • Milwaukee Airport Rail Station (connect to all flights and ground transportation at General Mitchell International Airport)
    • Milwaukee Intermodal Station (connect to intercity bus and transit)
  • One of the best on-time performance rates in the Amtrak system
  • Financially supported by Wisconsin and Illinoisâ—¦Operating support split is 75% Wisconsin, 25% Illinois
  • 2014 ridership: 804,861; an 8.5% increase over 2009
  • Highest ridership of any Amtrak service outside the east and west coasts
  • Standing room only conditions on some peak trains

Amtrak Hiawatha Ridership

*2014 is the first year with reported ridership based on Amtrak’s new, more accurate rider counting methodology using actual ticket lifts enabled by implementation of E-ticketing. Previous year ridership is partially based on an allocation and may be slightly overstated.

Public Involvement Overview

Two public meetings were held in Chicago, IL and Glenview IL, on Nov. 1 and 2, respectively, and a public hearing was held in Milwaukee, WI on Oct. 27, 2016 to inform the public about the Environmental Assessment.

The meetings provided opportunity to learn more about the project, provide comments, and ask questions of members of the project team. The Environmental Assessment indicates that no significant environmental impacts are anticipated to occur as a result of this proposal.

Input received

The official comment period originally was set from October 6, 2016 to November 15, 2016, and was extended through January 15, 2017.

Hard copies available

The draft Environmental Assessment is available for inspection and copying at the following locations:

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Library 
Office of Policy, Finance and Improvement
4802 Sheboygan Ave. Room 100A
Madison, WI 53707

Illinois Department of Transportation
69 W. Washington St
Chicago, IL 60605

Agency stakeholder meetings

An agency stakeholder meeting was conducted via webinar on December 2, 2014.

An agency stakeholder meeting was conducted via webinar on November 19, 2012.