Monday, September 28, 2009

Open Thread: St. Charles Air Line - 16th Street Train Tracks

A reader recently emailed us about information pertaining to the St. Charles Air Line (train tracks that run along 16th in the Sloop):
I was wondering if we could open a thread on the St. Charles Air Line that runs on 16th street in the SL. For a while now there have been rumors that the Canadian National Railway would be moving freight trains out to the E J &E line in the burbs. I know it has been a hotly contested issue...I am very curious to know where the plans stand, and I can't seem to find any information on-line about a potential timeline for transition or if the transition has been stalled, canceled etc. Thanks!

There was a mention of it in the Central Area Action Plan (last page of the link) where it said it would be converted into a 'recreational trail corridor connecting to the lakefront' but besides that we haven't heard anything.

Here is our last post on the topic.

Has anyone heard or read anything about this topic?

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

There was a significant controversy last year about CN's acquisition of the EJ&E. (The Western Suburbs tried to block it and, frankly, our community failed to organize in favor of the issue with a very few exceptions.) Nonetheless, about 9 months ago the NTSB (the federal railroad regulator) approved the transaction. CN has purchased the EJ&E and is planning, over the course of several years, to move all freight traffic off of the St. Charles Airline and out to the suburbs. However, CN does not have a timeline for when the operational change will be complete. (They are doing major upgrades to the EJ&E lines.)

Once CN is off the St. Charles Airline (probably 2 or 3 years), Amtrak will still run on those line. As part of obtaining federal approval for the acquisition, CN had to agree to maintain the Airline for Amtrak use in perpetuity. To actually get all trains off the St. Charles Airline, there would have to be a workaround for Amtrak to get the relevant trains into Union Station via some other route. The proposal for how to do this (which is part of the CREATE plan) is to route Amtrak into Union Station using the Norfolk Mainline. This requires building a multi-level connection at Grand Crossing (south of the city). Which requires money. Which our state and city leaders have been unwilling to spend or procure from the federal government.

Despite the huge stakes for our property values, both the South Loop community and our congressional delegations have been remarkably passive on this. For example, we have acquired no stimulus money toward the goal of building the Grand Crossing connection. It would be nice to see some more activity on this issue.

The much discussed idea of turning the St. Charles Airline into a bike trail was floated by city officials at the early stages of CREATE. I am sure, especially if we get the Olympics, that Mayor Daley would love to do this. But before the land can be purchased from CN, Amtrak has to agree to get off the Airline. And that won't happen until the connection at Grand Crossing is built.

Hope this helps fill in some of the details.

Anonymous said...

Wow Anonymous,

Thank you so much for your response. This is very helpful information. I am the writer who asked the original question and would love to be more active on this issue if you have any suggestions or recommendations. I think that it would be a lovely opportunity for the SL to have additional green space along that corridor. I think more community awareness and organization around this issue could be helpful. Do you know what if anything, has been done with regard to involving our alderman or any organized community discussions that have taken place? Thanks again, it was nice to read some good information!

Anonymous said...

What happened to the other post response to this? Why was it deleted?

Sloopy said...

Was there another response? We didn't delete anything from our end????

simple said...

I would add that from a regional transit point of view, while removing freight trains from the SCAL is a good idea, we shouldn't be too hasty about eliminating it as an intercity passenger rail route. This route would be the only way for improved (i.e., high speed) passenger trains to serve McCormick Place (in addition to Union Station, of course). That would require a direct link to the SCAL from the tracks south of Union Station (to avoid the "back-up" movement that Amtrak now does). The current CREATE proposal described well by the poster above would bypass McCormick Place. While that plan may be a desirable short-term way to improve service (getting around the back-up move), it may not be in the long term best interests of the region for intercity passenger trains to forever bypass McCormick Place.

Anonymous said...

The 16th Street St Charles option into McCormick place was already floated to City and Mayor in 2008 & 2009 by Central Station/Enterprise/Forest City/Fogleson, likely as an option to get in favor with The Mayor for their Gateway project over the tracks. I was informed by someone at the meeting that the Mayor told them to pound sand.

If city goes into McCormick Place, it will likely be a light rail from somewhere between Cermak and 26th connecting to the Green line.

By the way, the same group is trying to force in a Roosevelt like road crossing from Lake Shore Drive at 16th Street, which is just crazy and a horrible idea that will split the neighborhood.

mattmcc said...

I cannot image removing this key line. This route is key to any kind of circulator route for downtown. This would be a disaster for transit. Mayor Daley hates it and that alone provides momentum and justification. Keep it and bring high speed rail to a new Millenium Park HST station.

mattmcc said...

Intriguing to read the initial Anonymous' comment about property values being at stake. The SCAL does back well into the 19th Century and actually had a second, southbound connection from the old IC Central station for Illinois Central Iowa Division trains such as the Land-O-Corn among others. You chose to buy near/along an active rail line. Live with it.

JDZimmm said...

This is the same train that turns south at 16th and Prairie, emitting ungodly squeals at all hours of the night and day, right? I mean, if the trains will continue to run on these tracks, couldn't someone run a bucket of grease out to the tracks or something? Good lord. Or, am I confused?

Lance Uppercut said...

Um, yeah . . . when you choose to live near active rail lines, you're gonna have some noise to deal with.

The general state of the railway infrastructure has been on the downslide for 40+ years. I'd not expect any sweeping improvements any time soon.

Anonymous said...

When we moved into the area a real estate agent told us they would be removing the lines. It took us years to realize that agents will say anything to get you to buy. Look at all those folks whose agents said that they would have unobstructed views out their windows, guaranteed. Suckers.

Anonymous said...

I live pretty close to these tracks and I am gland I stumbled across this thread. For the most part, I don't mind the trains, but there is one that goes by that has three engines or so and it is frickin' loud and causes the building to vibrate.

I am a block off the tracks so I imagine some others who live on the tracks get it a lot worse.

Anonymous said...

While the noise from the freight trains is annoying, my concern is if the vibrations could cause structural damage to our building. I hope CN moves their freight trains to the EJ&E line soon...

Anonymous said...

Are there any updates on this? Also, how bad is the noise when the windows are closed but you are right nearby?

Anonymous said...

I'd be curious to hear any updates on this. I am currently in the market for a condo and saw a unit at Dearborn Tower on State street. The unit faced the tracks on the south of the building. The RE agent told me that it was already decided and confirmed that the trains are going to be moved away and the tracks converted to a lake path. One should never believe a sales person. Glad I found this post. It sounds like this is all just proposed and nothing is set in stone.

walkfriendly said...

I've been researching this topic lately and here's what I've been able to find:

According to the 2003 DRAFT Central Plan, there's a call to convert the St. Charles Air Line to a greenway (See about 3 pages into this doc):

http://www.cityofchicago.org/dam/city/depts/zlup/Planning_and_Policy/Publications/Central_Area_Plan_DRAFT/18_Central_Area_Plan_Chapter5d.pdf

But when I look at the adopted Central Plan from 2009, I don't see any mention of this greenway. (See the "Near South" section near the end of this doc.)

http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/zlup/Planning_and_Policy/Publications/Central_Area_Action_Plan_DRAFT/6_SouthSubdistricts.pdf

Seems to me like converting the SCAL to a greenway hasn't made it into anyone's plan officially.

Does anyone know differently?