Breaking News Bar
updated: 11/28/2011 11:44 AM

High speed rail, electric cars and railfan harassment -- readers get their say

Success - Article sent! close
  • One reader says railfans seeking to get close-ups of freight trains can face citations from authorities because they're mistaken for suspicious characters.

      One reader says railfans seeking to get close-ups of freight trains can face citations from authorities because they're mistaken for suspicious characters.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer


It's that season to overeat and give thanks, so I'm serving up a heaping helping of letters and emails.

I can't thank you enough for reading, commenting, advising and holding forth on all things transportation this year.

Let's start with railroad enthusiast Stephen Schmidt, 15, of Wood Dale.

He writes, "I'm a railfan, someone who hangs out near railroad right-of-ways and takes pictures and videos of trains in my spare time.

"Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, security near railroad, airport and critical highway infrastructures has been heightened to a point where I and several colleagues of mine have been getting reported by passers-by for conspiracy that we're sorts of terrorists. Unfortunately, there really is no way to differentiate me, an innocent kid taking pictures, minding my own business, from someone who has the cruelest of intentions.

"Sometimes, reporting us to authorities can get unnecessary arrest warrants handed out (and yes, that's happened)."

Does anyone out there have a solution or some perspective for railfans like Stephen? Drop me an email at

Not gobbling up fast trains

Last week's column on high-speed rail in Illinois brought a windfall of reaction.

Timothy Nugent of Vernon Hills just got back from Finland, where he took the Russian high-speed rail from Helsinki to St. Petersburg. Here are his observations:

"No security check prior to boarding, At both ends, just walk up and get on. Armed customs officers from both countries were on the train checking passports and travel visas. Train had limited stops. Some were for only disembarking or just getting on. Each car had a seat more comfortable than airlines with more legroom.

"Each car also had an information bar above the door that gave speed readouts. The average speed was about 110 mph but got up to 135 mph on a section of new track. The trip took 3 hours for about 245 miles," Nugent said.

"This would be comparable to Chicago to St. Louis. Such a line would make travel to the middle of the state easier but may not save much in terms of time versus just getting in the car and driving. In order for this to work, you would need a bullet-type train."

Meanwhile, Andy Leopold, who works in North Barrington, says, "While I love traveling by train, whether Amtrak or local rails in Chicago or the Northeast Corridor, the price and service of the passenger rail industry is not competitive. Adding 'high-speed' rail will do nothing to make rail service more appealing to customers.

"Money would be far better spent to improve on-time service and to lower costs of operating passenger rail lines. For example, I took my family to Salt Lake City by Amtrak this summer, which was enjoyable. However, the train was more than 18 hours late (each way) and more than double the cost of flying.

"Even though Amtrak is packed on nearly all of its long-distance routes, it loses money every year. Fix that first!"

And, Bernie Thomas of Pingree Grove says, "High-speed rail other than that in the Northeast is a waste of money. They have the population to support and have supported it. St. Louis, Minneapolis/St.Paul and Detroit to Chicago is a pure waste of taxpayers' dollars. All this to take an hour or an hour and a half out of the trip."

High-speed rail "may also cause delays in current freight movements, which we cannot afford. Freight via rail is the backbone of our country. We all think that taking the train might be a good idea, forgetting you have to get to a train station and when you get to the destination station, have to get to your final destination. That is three expenses, just like flying. "HSR has a place, however, our transportation systems -- for people and freight -- need closer scrutiny before billions of dollars are wasted."

Has Metra trimmed the fat?

Larry Hoehne of Lake Zurich says the Metra fare hikes set for Feb. 1 "have raised my angst."

"I question whether the agency has done any due diligence in cutting unnecessary services. For example, Metra recently started running express trains on weekends on certain lines. Express trains on weekdays makes sense -- there are a lot of people to move in and out of the city at rush hour and express trains are the only way to make it possible. However, express trains on weekends? About the only purpose I see this serving is to get some shoppers home 10 minutes earlier from their Loop shopping spree. Is this an essential service? Absolutely not," Hoehne said.

"It's also worth noting that weekend express trains are not running on all the lines. For example, the line that runs through Arlington Heights is No. 2 in terms of ridership, yet it does not get this service. The Milwaukee North line does get this service, even though it is way down the list in terms of ridership. Could the fact that it runs through some wealthy suburbs like Deerfield and Lake Forest explain this?"

Pace traffic control a turkey?

In responding to a column about Pace paying police about $35,000 a year to direct afternoon traffic out of its Arlington Heights offices, Sharon Jacobi of Itasca thinks "it is a waste of money. There are other offices along the road that people exit on to Algonquin Road without the aid of traffic directors.

"I drive from just east of Route 53 to Arlington Heights Road daily and find everyone else manages to enter Algonquin Road on their own -- why can't Pace employees? They also have an advantage -- if they are heading east there is enough room in the middle to pull out and wait there for eastbound traffic to let them in. Just my opinion."

Pie in the face for Volt

Patrick Cusick of Buffalo Grove will take his trusty Prius over GM's fancy-pants electric Volt any day.

"The $1.50 a day (estimated cost to charge the Volt) comes to about $45 a month and that is about what I spend on gas for my Prius, even with air-conditioning," he writes.

"It remains to be seen how well the battery will perform in Chicago winters and what maintenance costs will be over time. I don't see all-electric cars as a viable alternative yet, especially at $40,000! My Prius cost less than $25,000, not counting the trade-in."


Here's a shout-out to riders of Pace Route 576 (Deerfield Metra to Buffalo Grove/Lincolnshire) and Route 622 (Shuttle Bug 12). Pace is considering eliminating both routes because of funding issues related to participation from local companies. A hearing on the routes' future runs from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday at the Deerfield Public Library, 920 Waukegan Road.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.