Unit Ethanol Trains Through Peoria (UPDATED x2)

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The Iowa Interstate and Norfolk Southern have begun routing unit ethanol trains via Peoria. The first train arrived on the Iowa Interstate undetected by area railfans sometime Tuesday and departed on Norfolk Southern rails just past midnight on Wednesday.

That Norfolk Southern brought in empty ethanol train #115 into East Peoria late this afternoon is a good sign this will be a regular occurrence, though word is, it was brought here for the Iowa Interstate due to Chicago congestion.

One oddity is that four of the tank cars (#’s 62-66) carry haz-mat placards for molten petroleum asphalt (UN 3267). Ethanol cars display “UN 1987” for denatured alcohol. Perhaps that’s why the “115” manifest train number.

The NS crew left the ethanol empties on the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad’s double track along Wesley Road. Presumably, the Iowa Interstate will come get the train sometime this evening. See video below taken from Farmdale Road in East Peoria.

– David P. Jordan

Willard Airport Task Force Doc Shows Terminal Expansion Plans

Terminal and airline ramp expansion plans by Champaign-Urbana’s Willard Airport (CMI) are interesting. You can view two different ideas here on pages 20 and 25.

Take this as an update to my recent post suggesting possible ownership/management changes at CMI might be a threat to Bloomington-Normal’s Central Illinois Regional Airport.

The existing terminal opened in September 1989 when TWA and USAir (which had merged with Piedmont Airlines the prior month) still flew mainline jet service into CMI. TWA DC-9s made three weekday roundtrips to St. Louis and USAir 737-200s made three weekday roundtrips to Dayton.

Commuter flights to Chicago-O’Hare totaled eleven (six American Eagle and five United Express). TWA jet service would end before the year was out and TW Express would build up to nine weekday roundtrips to St. Louis.

Other service included Midway Connection’s five weekday roundtrips to Chicago-Midway Airport and four weekday USAir Express flights to Indianapolis. So at the time its present terminal opened, CMI could boast more than 30 weekday departures to five hubs – a true regional airport.

Things are much different today. But if CMI succeeds at attracting a lot of new airline service, the present six-gate concourse may require expansion. The first plan on page 20 of the Task Force document I linked to shows an eastward extension along with additional ramp space. The main terminal gets enlarged as well. Another plan on page 25 shows short new concourses protruding from the existing gate area.

Given recent history, it’s easy to be cynical about CMI’s chances, but a radical change in ownership/management may do the trick. Success could have a profound effect on central Illinois airline service.

I’ll keep you posted.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Mayor Signs On To Chicago Mayor’s Dumb Idea

IMG_5518 - CopyA BNSF crude oil train waits outside of Alpha, Illinois September 14, 2013

Predictably, recent derailments by trains hauling crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation (one of which caused 47 fatalities in Lac-Megantic, Quebec) have the attention of politicians. So let the grandstanding begin, and remember that just as wisdom is timeless, so is stupidity. Recall this from Ronald Reagan, the nation’s 40th president:

“Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

No truer words have been spoken. Reagan gave them August 15, 1986 at the White House Conference on Small Business. Nearly three decades later, there are still plenty of politicians to prove him correct.

Several days ago, newspapers reported on a plan by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to reduce the risk of accidents involving hazardous materials transported by rail and to protect residents and their property. Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis is among several others has signed on. From a same-day press release, here is a summary of the Chicago mayor’s plan:

1. Call on the federal government to impose a hazardous materials freight fee on companies who extract crude oil and the industrial consumers of it. This effort will make transportation safer and comply with regulations. The fees will be an account to support rebuilding of America’s aging rail infrastructure to keep our communities safe.

2. Support the Department of Transportation in the building of safer cars.

3. Build safer railroads using better technology, which could serve as a life-saving backstop when human error occurs. This should be deployed around the nation, especially on tracks where hazardous material is hauled.

4. Mandate those who transport hazardous materials on railways to carry the necessary insurance to compensate for the loss of life and property after an accident.

5. Better understand what railways are transporting and the risks they pose.

First, I take issue with Emanuel’s false assertion that America’s rail infrastructure is “aging” (implying it is worn out and dangerous on which to transport goods). According to the Association of American Railroads, the industry invests $25 BILLION A YEAR into infrastructure.

Back to the main point, let us apply Reagan’s 1986 quote. Hazardous materials move by rail, so we must make it costlier in the name of “public safety.” If that doesn’t stop it, shipment of hazardous materials must be heavily regulated (than they already are). As soon as they realize the severe harm or even destruction of a viable, efficient method of moving hazardous materials to market, politicians from the states affected by resulting higher energy costs and job losses will call for subsidies.

Do politicians realize that such actions do not promote public safety? Raising the cost of shipping hazardous materials by rail will have serious consequences, and usually forces such traffic onto longer routings to avoid, if even possible, major population centers, thus creating a greater chance for derailments.

Fortunately, Emanuel’s plan is on shaky legal ground. A decade ago, Washington, DC tried to outright ban such shipments, forcing railroads to route this traffic over longer routes around the city. Many cities awaited a court ruling so they could follow suit. But the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC ruled the ban interfered with interstate commerce.

Now I understand that Emanuel isn’t trying to outright ban hazardous material shipments through Chicago, but the effect could be the same. A court would likely determine that such a transportation fee is a violation of interstate commerce.

As to the remote chance he might succeed, railroads will only accelerate their withdrawal from Chicago proper. New intermodal terminals are being built well outside of even the city’s suburbs. Same with industrial parks. One railroad, Canadian National, took a proactive step to bypass Chicago when it purchased the Elgin Joliet & Eastern Railway, which had a belt around the city from Waukegan to Gary. Adding transportation fees would caused a surge in interest in the proposed Illiana Rail Bypass. As a consequence, Chicago proper would lose hundreds if not thousands of railroad jobs.

But idiotic plans like Mayor Emanuel’s, if enacted, tend to cause more harm than good. Unit crude oil and ethanol trains would operate at restricted speeds through big city rail infrastructure, much of which is in yard limits (10mph speeds). Thus, derailments at such slow speeds would cause minimal damage and probably no loss of life. Derailments with the potential to harm the public are more likely in small towns through which such trains pass at mainline speeds (50-60mph).

Which brings me to Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis’ support for Emanuel’s plan. Peoria sees a fairly heavy volume of hazardous material shipped by rail. Most of this is grain alcohol manufactured at ADM in Peoria, Aventine Renewable Energy in Pekin and Illinois Corn Processing in Pekin. A lot also moves by barge and truck.

There is also a quantity of anhydrous ammonia coming from North Dakota on BNSF via Peoria enroute to Gavilon’s Creve Coeur fertilizer terminal and TP&W- and other shortline-served customers in eastern Illinois and north central Indiana. But again, slow speeds in Peoria and East Peoria preclude anything more than a minor derailment, and almost no chance of toxic chemicals leaking into the air. When it has happened, necessary precautions (such as evacuating nearby neighborhoods) are taken until the problem is resolved.

For several months in 2012, crude oil was floated down the Illinois River (and Mississippi) enroute to refineries in Louisiana and Texas. Product first came from North Dakota by rail, passed through the northern fringes of Peoria County on BNSF’s Chillicothe Subdivision enroute to Streator, from which Norfolk Southern handled the trains back west a little ways to Marquis Energy’s barge dock at Hennepin. What if a barge tow caught fire on the river as it passed through downtown Peoria? Emanuel’s plan doesn’t involve barges.

Politicians need to consider the consequences of their grandstanding. Fortunately, courts usually demonstrate sanity when it comes to protecting interstate commerce.

(See video below for train action at Ophiem, Illinois and near Rio on September 14, 2013. A BNSF oil train approaches Rt. 150 near Rio at 3:53.)

– David P. Jordan

Ever Wonder About Those Two Tracks…

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…that cross N. Galena Road near Gardner Lane in Peoria Heights?

They’ve been there for what may seem like forever, disconnected from the mainline, which runs parallel to Galena Road out of Peoria. I’ve wondered about the businesses served by those tracks, and when they quit using them. More on that later.

Construction of the building at right was announced by Muirson Label Co. in February 1930. Although a rail spur was built from the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad line across N. Galena Road into the site in May of that year, the onset of the Great Depression delayed construction of the 30,000 sq. ft. building until March 1931. The building was completed in December 1931, but production did not start for two years.

The building at left was built by Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Co. Construction of the 200′ x 350′ structure began in July 1938. A rail spur from the Rock Island RR was probably completed shortly thereafter. Minneapolis-Moline moved in from its S. Washington Street location in November that year. I believe this facility functioned as a warehouse, as M-M manufacturing plants were located in Des Moines, in Hopkins (MN) and on Lake Street in Minneapolis, and in Moline.

A major change came in March 1961 when Muirson Label Co., by then a division of International Paper Co., moved to a new 360′ x 300′ plant on N. University Street at Pioneer Industrial Park. Muirson’s paper rollstock came from the south so the Pioneer Park location, and construction of a spur from the Chicago & North Western, promised better service and railcar supply.

Muirson’s move left the N. Galena Road plant vacant until May 1964 when Champion Furnace Pipe Company moved in after its Washington, Illinois plant burned. A PJS article from May 26, 1964 mentions that rail access was a factor in Champion’s decision to locate there. Champion probably used rail for inbound packaging materials (cardboard boxes) and/or shipping furnace pipe to customers throughout the Midwest.

The next change occurred when Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Co. was acquired by White Farm Equipment Co. in 1963. The final Peoria City Directory listing for M-M at the N. Galena Road location was in 1969. In October 1970, Peoria Paper House relocated from downtown Peoria to the former M-M facility.

The original owners of both rail-served N. Galena Road facilities were gone, but successors used rail as well.

A local rail enthusiast once told me he recalled waiting on a Rock Island freight train switching one of these industries about 1976. But rail service probably ended a short time later. That’s because the ILLINOIS RAIL PLAN 1980 notes 1978 traffic on the Rock Island’s Bureau – Peoria mainline was generated by five industries at Henry, one at Mossville and seven at Peoria. Nothing at Peoria Heights, or “San Koty,” the official station location of Champion Furnace Pipe Co. and Peoria Paper House.

Until recently, I had no real confirmation that one or both industries were using rail in the 1970s. Then the Peoria Journal Star carried a captioned photo in its January 3, 1975 edition entitled, Rock Island Box Car Burns.

Peoria Fire Engineer Dale Grafelman remove smoldering cardboard packing from a boxcar ablaze on Rock Island railroad tracks adjacent to Galena Rd. just north of Gardner Ln. The boxcar, which caught fire about 4:45 p.m. yesterday, was extinguished about 8 p.m. Rock Island Trainmaster R. M. Jolly said the cardboard cargo was destroyed and the boxcar was heavily damaged in the fire, which he blamed on vandalism. Traffic on Galena Rd. was slowed for several hours because of the fire.

The photo shows not a Rock Island boxcar, but a Norfolk & Western one, 40-foot NW 645574 to be exact. And note the car was “on Rock Island railroad tracks adjacent to Galena Rd. just north of Gardner Ln.” It wasn’t on a moving train.

The reference to “cardboard packing” could be corrugated boxes needed by Champion Furnace Pipe Co. for shipping its product, or baled scrap cardboard from Peoria Paper House that was ready for shipment when the fire occurred. I’m leaning toward it being the latter. The N&W-marked car might indicate origin for the former (a corrugated box plant) and a destination for the latter (a re-pulping mill, which might include two local firms – Bemis and Quaker Oats), but in this pre-deregulated era, such a car could be used about anywhere if unassigned, or empty enroute to its home road (N&W).

An uncertain future following Rock Island’s March 17, 1975 bankruptcy filing spooked a lot of smaller-volume shippers into making arrangements with truck lines. Thus why 1978 data in the ILLINOIS RAIL PLAN 1980 contains no apparent reference to industries at the Champion and Peoria Paper House location.

It’s possible that successors to the Rock Island here (Elgin Joliet & Eastern, April 1-May 31, 1980), Burlington Northern, June 3, 1980-January 31, 1982 and the Peoria & Pekin Union, February 15, 1982-???)* tried to lure both industries back to rail, but were unsuccessful.

I’d guess the switches connecting both spurs to the old Rock Island mainline were removed no later than the late 1980s as part of rehabilitation following purchase by the Lincoln & Southern Railroad and contract operation by the Iowa Interstate Railroad, which now owns the line.

Peoria Paper House eventually became ProSource and relocated to Morton about 2001. Caterpillar contract processor Supply Chain Services Inc. (SCSI) moved in, but has since closed. Champion Furnace Pipe Co. closed at the end of 2011. Both buildings are now vacant.

Perhaps an industry needing rail service could be lured to one or both buildings (a scrap paper recycler would be a good fit). I’m sure the Iowa Interstate would be happy to provide service. The connection with the mainline would need to be restored, and I’m sure automatic flashers would be needed to protect motorists on Galena Rd./Route 29.

– David P. Jordan

*The P&PU is believed to have quit running on the former Rock Island north of the Peoria Water Works following a July 1985 derailment that nearly sent a locomotive into the Illinois River. However, an article appearing in the Peoria Journal Star on October 1, 1985 says P&PU was still operating up to Mossville at that time. The Iowa Interstate RR ran its first revenue train on June 22, 1987.

Ask Peoria Station

I posted an “Ask Peoria Station” about two weeks ago, but got no questions. Now that loyal readers have returned (thanks everyone!), I’m posting it again. As always, feel free to ask transportation-related questions. if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find one.

– David P. Jordan

Can Willard Airport Threaten CIRA?

I’ve always thought a better focus on costs and service at Champaign’s University of Illinois-Willard Airport (CMI) would prove threatening to Bloomington-Normal’s Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA).

Central Illinois’ commercial airline service is mostly concentrated at Peoria due to its size and CIRA due to its location. But could a renewed push to increase airline service and passenger traffic at Champaign threaten CIRA position in the near future? On Sunday, Champaign’s News-Gazette looked into ways to bring back airline service and passengers. Problems are high fares (thanks to American Eagle’s monopoly) and close proximity to other airports (mainly Chicago). Unfortunately, this topic comes up every few years and nothing really changes. Actually, gets worse.

A decade ago, CMI could boast of 13 weekday departures on American Eagle and Northwest Airlink to three hubs – Chicago-O’Hare, Detroit and St. Louis. On May 1, 2004, Delta Connection added CMI with three daily nonstops to Cincinnati. The increased service boosted enplanements (boardings only) to 118,000 that year. The next year would see ups and downs. American Eagle began one Dallas/Fort Worth nonstop on April 4 but American Connection ended its St. Louis flights on November 1.

The year 2006 was all down. Delta began on June 8, 2006 two flights to Atlanta in place of the three to Cincinnati, but this lasted only through the end of August. Champaign thought the sun rose a little brighter each day when Allegiant Air flew twice-weekly Las Vegas nonstops in 2007. Unfortunately, this lasted just four months. The Delta-Northwest merger returned Delta Connection to CMI in early 2010. Regional jets replaced twice-daily turboprop flights to Detroit in April, yet this service ended on September 1. CMI was left with just one carrier – American Eagle.

What keeps American Eagle’s present service levels at CMI is a maintenance contract with FlightStar. Four Embraer 145s cycle through CMI each night for regular maintenance and if necessary, engine replacement. But the American-US Airways merger and eventual replacement of the Embraers with larger regional jets (76-seat Embraer 175s are on order) makes the future hazy for this operation. Non-renewal of the FlightStar contract would most certainly reduce the airline’s service. O’Hare departures would likely drop from the present five or six to just three or four while the DFW nonstop might end altogether.

The News-Gazette reveals that just 16 percent of travelers in CMI’s catchment area use CMI. So there is much potential. In August 2012, CMI won $500,000 in Small Community Air Service Development (SCASD) funds to entice an airline to offer East Coast service. The University of Illinois has been pushing for Washington DC flights. The article notes that these efforts were put on hold by a Department of Justice anti-trust lawsuit against the American Airlines-US Airways merger deal. This makes me believe the U of I was seeking service to Washington’s Reagan National Airport, a longshot prospect. United Express to Washington-Dulles would be much more realistic.

Now that AirTran Airways has withdrawn from Bloomington-Normal, three daily Delta [Connection] nonstops to Atlanta may be CMI’s best bet for increased air service. Those SCASD funds would offset startup costs. If service is successful (fares must be competitive with Bloomington, Chicago, etc.) then those funds may not be needed. I have no doubt this could work with 50-seat jets, but what happens as the airline needs to replace these with larger jets? Can CMI generate sufficient loads?

Here’s a possible scenario:

In the spring of 2014, CMI announced that Delta Connection would begin three daily nonstops to Atlanta with costs offset by SCASD funds. Service began August 1, 2014 with flights on 50-seat CRJ200s. Loads were good from the beginning and those funds were not needed. CMI’s new service cannibalized Delta’s CIRA flights, which forced a capacity reduction there. After 2015 figures were in, Delta decided it could better serve the central Illinois market with duplicate flights out of just Champaign and Peoria. All CIRA service ended by April 2016. This move gave CMI three daily nonstops to Detroit and a single nonstop to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Passenger traffic in 2016 was double that in 2012, and two Delta [Connection] flights had been upgauged to 65- or 76-seat jets. A Remain-Over-Night (RON) flight operated by a Delta Air Lines Boeing 717-200 provided an evening arrival and an early morning departure.

Competition from Delta forced American to reduce fares. Loads increased for that airline as well, and the decision was made to withdraw from CIRA in late 2016. This gave CMI a second daily nonstop to DFW and helped sustain six daily nonstops to O’Hare.

Other airlines took notice. Allegiant Air dropped CIRA and added Sanford, Florida flights from CMI in the summer of 2016. So by the start of 2017, CMI could boast 15-16 weekday departures to Atlanta, Chicago-O’Hare, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Detroit and Orlando-Sanford. Allegiant Air subsequently added Las Vegas, Phoenix and St. Petersburg nonstops.

At the same time as all of these air service changes, an airport authority was set up to run CMI, a taxing district approved by voters in Champaign County, and free parking was adopted. CMI realized an advantage in that its catchment area potentially generates as much traffic as PIA. Total traffic (enplanements + deplanements) reached the 500,000 mark in 2018.

Success continued. United Express decided to offer twice-daily service to Washington-Dulles beginning May 1, 2018. Finally, Frontier Airlines could no longer sustain higher landing fees and gate rental to maintain service to a mostly empty CIRA terminal. Service to Denver and Orlando ended in late May 2018. CMI officials discussed Denver service with the airline, but Frontier was non-committal (they actually considered PIA-Denver/Orlando despite head-to-head competition with United Express).

Is this realistic? Some is, some isn’t. My Bloomington-Normal readers are likely froth with me for emptying CIRA of all commercial airline service. But the airline industry doesn’t care if nice, modern terminals are empty. They don’t own them, the public does. Airlines come and go as they please. CMI’s 1989 terminal is nice, but underused. In all honesty, CIRA’s nice 2001 terminal is underused as well. Good or bad, there could be drastic changes in Central Illinois’ airline service in the next few years. It will be interesting to see who keeps what service.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Area Rail Action MLK Jr. Holiday!

Railroads seem to conduct normal operations on the federal holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s. birthday. So naturally, area railfans must use the opportunity to find out what is going on. And it was a good day.

Scenes from this 12-minute video were taken in Peoria, East Peoria and Pekin between 10:00am and 2:30pm on Monday, January 20, 2014.

Some details about the trains you see:

(1) Union Pacific’s LPD01 job delivering 22 cars to TZPR in East Peoria. Note seven ASHX covered hoppers. Loaded with sodium bicarbonate, they’re enroute to Dominion-Kincaid Generation on the Illinois & Midland RR. This is new business as of late summer 2013. Power was SD70M’s 4492 and 5165.

(2) A BNSF coal train enroute to the Illinois & Midland RR’s Crescent Yard. Shown about to enter Pekin, its final destination is either Havana or Kincaid. Power was SD70MAC 9987 and ES44AC 6317 up front and SD70MAC 8890 bringing up the rear as DPU unit.

(3) TZPR SW-10 1352 shoves three empty coil gondolas toward the outbound NS train on track A41 in the East Peoria Yard.

(4) Union Pacific’s LPD01 job is shown at Krause Ave. after leaving East Peoria with 25 cars. Note nine empty ASHX cars.

(5) Norfolk Southern’s Train D46 arrives East Peoria with ES44DC 7534 and C40-9W 9805 and 40 cars. Note four coil steel loads. These are going to the Iowa Interstate RR.

(6) TZPR SW-1500 1520 has four empty tank cars for ADM’s alcohol tracks. Gondolas on either end are used as “spacer” cars per FRA regulations when handling haz-mat cars.

(7) Norfolk Southern’s Train D46 leaves East Peoria with 37 cars. Note first three cars are those shown earlier being pushed by TZPR 1352. These are empty steel coil cars from the Iowa Interstate RR.

– David P. Jordan

Rail vs. Trail Realities Going Back To…The ’70s?

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A Central Illinois RR Co. train tiptoes through Peoria Heights on April 16, 2009

It is amazing what people will accept when they live in Reality City. I about fell out of my chair when I came across this in a June 24, 1973 Peoria Journal Star article entitled Bikeway Routes Revealed.

The Alta to Grand View Drive Bikeway would follow the Rock Island tracks, beginning at Alta, through Pioneer Park across Rt. 174, parallel to Rt. 88, across Rt. 88 at Northmoor Golf Course, through Peoria Heights along Bishop and Hammond Avenue to Grand View Drive, ending at the foot of Lorentz and connecting to a future riverfront drive. Railroad right-of-way along most of the length is 100 feet wide and little use is made of the present tracks.

You read that right, the proposed trail would follow the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad’s Kellar Branch because the right-of-way was 100 feet wide. Recall trail proponents’ him-and-hawing several years ago that it would be unsafe to run a recreational trail alongside this same rail line. But in 1973, joint-use was acceptable because everyone knew the tracks were going nowhere.

And then there is the assertion that “little use is made of the present tracks.” Sounds like trail proponents’ propaganda from the late 1990s and early 2000s as justification to close the Kellar Branch and BUILD THE TRAIL NOW! Back then, the Pioneer Industrial Railway ran up to three times a week and handled some 200-250 carloads annually to three Pioneer Park industries – Carver Lumber, Gateway Milling and Peoria Plastic.

But “little use” must have meant something else entirely in 1973. I don’t have figures for that year, but I do have them for 1978, thanks to the 1980 ILLINOIS RAIL PLAN. Traffic was summarized by commodity:

Grain & Grain Products – 4,439 carloads
Lumber, Building Materials – 417 carloads
Paper, Paper Products – 200 carloads
Plastics – 130 carloads

TOTAL – 5,186 carloads

So 5,186 carloads a year (probably more in 1973) meant “little use.” Those 4,439 carloads of grain and grain products were attributed solely to Pabst Brewing Co.’s Peoria Heights brewery and 200 carloads of Paper, Paper Products was mostly newsprint for the Peoria Journal Star. The rest was generated mostly by industries located in Pioneer Industrial Park, such as Advance Millwork Co., Peoria Plastic Co., Carver Lumber, Reserve Supply Coop, CILCO (Line Service Center), Dawson’s Home Center and Jordan Manufacturing Co. Smaller firms such as A & M Insulation and D. H. Overmyer had rail access but might not have used it. Also, the Peoria Observer transloaded newsprint from boxcars to trucks near Northmoor Road and Continental Can Co. probably received aluminum rollstock at its Peoria Heights can plant.

Unlike the recent rail vs. trail fight, the Peoria Journal Star was less inclined to espouse trail proponents’ propaganda in the 1970s. In fact, a captioned editorial photograph dated September 16, 1974 showing bumper-to-bumper cars and trucks stretching several blocks read this way:

This traffic back-up at the Rock Island crossing on Prospect Road near Pabst in Peoria Heights has been a rushhour regularity for years, but lately the waiting time has become more exasperating.

Longer trains, caused by increasing traffic to both Pabst and Pioneer Industrial Park, are to blame for the tie-up around 5:30 each afternoon. It would seem that the Rock Island and its customers on the spur line ought to be able to get together and change the transit time for this train to a little later in the evening.

A “little used” line would lack sufficient train activity to cause such traffic backups, right? Obviously not. Even the Peoria Journal Star could contradict itself with the truth now and then.

– David P. Jordan

PIA vs. CIRA, Outlook For 2014

WMBD TV-31 reports that both airports serving Bloomington-Normal and Peoria are looking for ways to increase traffic in 2014. Here’s my take:

BLOOMINGTON-NORMAL (Central Illinois Reg. Airport)
In August 2012, CIRA received Small Community Air Service Development (SCASD) funds to entice an airline to start service to an East Coast point, probably New York or Washington DC (Philadelphia is an option as well). It is my understanding that if not used in 2.5 years, funds must be returned. This would give CIRA officials until the First Quarter of 2015 to get something started.

Slot controls at both New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Washington DC’s Reagan Nat’l Airport, makes unrealistic a bid by CIRA to attract service to those points. More likely are flights to either Newark’s Liberty Int’l Airport or Washington DC’s Dulles Int’l Airport on United Express.

CIRA is competing with Champaign/Urbana, also a recipient of SCASD funds, for East Coast service. And Champaign has named its suitor, United Express, and intended destination (Washington-Dulles), so they might be further along in negotiations.

Unfortunately, the failure of United Express’ SCASD-subsidized Springfield-to-Washington-Dulles may deter the airline from such a venture in central Illinois.

I can’t really see CIRA using SCASD funds to convince Frontier Airlines to offer thrice- or quad-weekly flights to the airline’s new Trenton, New Jersey “focus city.” Although this would serve the Philadelphia and Newark/New York markets, it would likely fail for lack of passenger traffic.

CIRA’s now double-daily nonstops on American Eagle to Dallas/Fort Worth probably reflects State Farm insurance’s expansion in the Dallas and Phoenix areas. Expanded service began October 1, 2013. This should help CIRA grow a bit in 2014.

PEORIA (Peoria Int’l Airport)
Director Gene Olson is trying to stop “leakage” to Chicago and St. Louis. People often drive to those airports to avoid the risk of a cancelled or late flight to or from Peoria. Obviously, lower fares at those cities’ airports are also a factor.

What can he do? Convince the airlines to lower their fares is one. This was done in the year 2000. Increased passenger loads might lead to more flights, but weather and maintenance issues will always plague Peoria. Spokes within a 200-mile radius of Chicago-O’Hare are most likely to be cancelled since they can be substituted by bus or rental car.

De-emphasizing Chicago-O’Hare in favor of Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul is the best path. Not that we want to lose O’Hare flights. We don’t. But dependence on that hub has demonstrable consequences.

PIA’s Atlanta and Dallas/Ft. Worth services are adequate replacements for St. Louis, which was dismantled as a hub by American Airlines. Similarly, convincing Delta [Connection] to lower fares and restore 4th and 2nd nonstops to Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul, respectively, can help stem leakage to Chicago.

United Express added a 2nd daily Denver nonstop on June 2, 2012, but dropped it after the summer season. Getting that flight back year-round should be a priority. Also, it would be nice if airport officials could convince Allegiant Air to open a twice-weekly Peoria-to-Sanford, FL route. Bloomington-Normal and Springfield have it – why not Peoria?

The American Airlines-US Airways merger offers potential for Charlotte flights, perhaps one or two daily. This would force Delta to lower fares to compete for southeast-bound travelers, and might stimulate the PIA market much as the AirTran-Delta fight did for CIRA in 2005-2012.

Finally, the airport’s proposed international terminal won’t be done until the summer of 2015, so seasonal, weekly nonstops to Cancun and/or a Caribbean point won’t be a reality in 2014. But if construction can start in 2014, then PIA will have taken a giant step toward dominating central Illinois’ commercial airline market for years to come.

– David P. Jordan

Short of 600K Mark, PIA Still Posts Pax Record!

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Peoria Int’l Airport is Continues its reign as king of Central Illinois!

The Peoria Journal Star reports that in 2013, 592,101 passengers passed through PIA’s gates. It wasn’t the hoped for (by me) 600,000 mark, but a record nonetheless.

And yet the number was only slightly about 2012’s 580,530 passengers, itself a record.

Last year’s numbers are attributed to several events in 2012: AirTran Airways’ withdrawal from Bloomington-Normal’s Central Illinois Regional Airport, restoration of Delta Connection service to Atlanta and the addition by Allegiant Air of Punta Gorda nonstops.

It should be noted that PIA has handled 500,000+ passengers each year since 2010. Last  year’s figure is nearly 100,000 more than 2009’s 493,856, when a recessionary economy and air service cutbacks reduced traffic 12.6 per cent from 2008.

PIA is flying high. Let’s hope the trend continues.

– David P. Jordan