Another Delay For American Eagle’s DFW Upgauge

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This makes me wonder if American Eagle really plans to upgauge its Peoria-to-Dallas/Ft. Worth flights from 44- and 50-seat to 65-seat jets.

First, it was to begin March 29, then July 2 and most recently, September 5. Schedules now show this is to start October 5. Perhaps more interesting though is that beginning November 5, schedules show three weekday roundtrips! This goes into March, at least.

On another note, American Eagle will be phasing out its 44-seat Embraer 140s in favor of 50-seat Embraer 145s. All four weekday Peoria-to-Chicago O’Hare roundtrips will be operated with the larger aircraft by October 5, however, the seasonal drop to three weekday roundtrips begins December 17.

– David P. Jordan

Taloma Farmers Grain Co. Siding Extension

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I’ve already reported that Tazewell & Peoria Railroad’s less-than-year-old West Yard is being expanded this year, but another track expansion project has already been completed this year.

A siding extension at Taloma Farmers Grain Co’s Allen Station elevator, located on the Union Pacific’s Peoria Subdivision just west of San Jose off Rt. 136, will reportedly enable loading of up to 125 cars at a time. It loaded up to 100-car trains since opening in 1998.

Back in 1997, when Taloma began construction of this unit train-capable facility, an existing siding of 6,914′ length was already in place. Union Pacific didn’t need it for its then-existing train operations (twice-weekly coal trains, occasional detours, etc.) so it either sold or leased it to the elevator company for use in spotting grain trains for loading.

I already knew of track expansion plans for 2015, but hadn’t been able to check it out until Sunday evening. I’d guess the project started in April and was finished just recently. Note the fresh white ballast in the above photo. The track was extended at least 2,000′ south to near County Road 1500 North. Click Thumbnail below for view from County Road 1600 North.

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– David P. Jordan

West Yard Expansion? (Updated)

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Last summer, the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad’s “West Yard’ was relocated so Archer Daniels Midland could expand its grain truck staging area. The new yard appeared to offer similar capacity as the old – one main track, one siding and a short runaround track. Click the dates below for my coverage of the new yard’s progress.

August 15, 2014
August 25, 2014
September 2, 2014
September 15, 2014

Then last Wednesday, I noticed new grading just south of the Cedar Street Bridge. The next day, the contractor was working north of the bridge. Top photo was taken Wednesday, second photo Friday.

It is fairly obvious at least one more track is being added to this yard. There appears to be room for another without moving the utility pole seen in the second photo.

So why is TZPR expanding this newly built yard already? One possibility is that frequent (and often lengthy) Iowa Interstate trains now traverse this area enroute to and from East Peoria. Additional track(s) may have been deemed necessary in order to keep local industrial switching operations fluid.

Another reason may be that TZPR’s rail freight business has increased significantly in recent years, and additional yard capacity is needed. The West Yard is used by the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad to support switching at Archer Daniels Midland’s River Track (by the post office), PMP Fermentation Products, Komatsu and some Iowa Interstate interchange. On occasion, the yard also supports switching at Greenbrier Castings, and Caterpillar’s Rubber Processing Facility (on BNSF trackage).

UPDATE (July 19): Nearly a month has passed without further activity. It is no longer clear if another track will be laid here. Perhaps recent flooding has delayed construction or recent work here is for something else entirely. Hopefully, whatever is happening will be clearer soon.

– David P. Jordan

Pacific Ethanol and Aventine Stockholders Approve Merger

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Remember last New Year’s Eve when Sacramento, California-based Pacific Ethanol Inc. announced a deal to acquire Aventine Renewable Energy Inc. for $190 million? The local media has ignored updates, but I can report that on June 11, stockholders of both companies approved the merger. According to this press release

Completion of the merger is expected to be effective July 1, 2015, subject to the satisfaction of all conditions to closing.

At Pekin, Aventine Renewable Energy operates a 100-million-gallon-a-year (MGY) wet corn mill a 57 MGY dry corn mill, and a bio-products (distillers’ yeast) plant. Products are food grade-, fuel grade and industrial alcohol, corn gluten feed, corn germ, corn meal, dry and wet distillers’ grains, distillers’ yeast and steepwater. Carbon dioxide gas is piped to nearby Linde Gases and Continental Carbonic processing plants. Aventine’s Pekin plant complex is served by both the Illinois & Midland and Tazewell & Peoria Railroads.

The dormant Canton, Illinois plant, which had a 38MGY capacity when operated by Riverland BioFuels LLC off-and-on in 2008-2010. Aventine also operates two dry corn mills in Aurora, Nebraska – Nebraska Energy LLC (45MGY) and Aurora West LLC (108MGY).

Should the merger go through, the sign in the photo above will soon show the blue, green and yellow colors of “Pacific Ethanol Inc.”

– David P. Jordan

Iowa Interstate Has the “Veteran’s Unit”

As expected, the consist of Friday’s Norfolk Southern Train 115 ran through on the Iowa Interstate Railroad. As I mentioned in the previous post, Iowa Interstate train PESI, now with 87 cars and IAIS SD38-2 No. 151 leading, was delayed by washouts on the Peoria-Bureau line. The train finally departed East Peoria late evening Saturday and tied up just south of Chillicothe.

By noon Sunday, track repairs had been made and PESI headed north. I caught it just south of Henry. The video above includes scenes at Putnam, just south if I-180, Bureau Jct. and Tiskilwa.

NS 6920, an SD60E painted in a “Honoring the Veterans” scheme, is expected to return through Peoria tomorrow, probably by midday or early afternoon.

– David P. Jordan

Norfolk Southern’s Salute to Veterans

I’ve seen NS 6920 before, but I took video in late afternoon November 2012. The low light and clouds made it a blur as it raced through Edelstein, Illinois on a westbound BNSF intermodal train.

Decorated in a special paint scheme to honor U. S. Military veterans, the SD60E has visited East Peoria before, but my second chance to see it didn’t come until Friday evening, June 12. The unit was the middle of three leading a 28-car manifest Train 115 from Knoxville, Tennessee to East Peoria, Illinois.

Scenes in the video were taken at Farmdale and in East Peoria.

(NOTE: NS 6920, and the other two units, led by IAIS 151, were to lead a Silvis-bound freight out of East Peoria Saturday evening, but heavy rains and the resulting track washouts on the Iowa Interstate Railroad line along Rt. 29 have delayed its departure.)

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Int’l Airport Flight Schedule & Analysis – July 2015

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Despite a dearth in media reports, one can conclude that Peoria International Airport is having a good year so far in 2015. In March, it handled 60,750 passengers, the largest monthly tally in the airport’s history. So it is that time of year for another analysis of local airline service. Last year’s can be found here.

ALLEGIANT AIR
Allegiant Air retains a strong presence with sixteen weekly departures to five destinations, up from twelve weekly departures and four destinations last year.

Local travelers probably hope third times the charm when Allegiant began twice-weekly Orlando-Sanford nonstops on November 14. The carrier had previously offered flights to central Florida in 2005 and 2007-2008.

Allegiant mainly uses venerable McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series jets equipped for 165 seats for its Peoria flights, however, 156-seat Airbus A-319s are handling all Phoenix-Mesa flights, and a 177-seat Airbus A-320 is operating a St. Petersburg/Clearwater to Peoria turnaround on Tuesdays.

AMERICAN EAGLE (Envoy Airlines)
Envoy Airlines, formerly American Eagle Airlines Inc., became the sole American Airlines regional feeder at Peoria on August 14 after the last Chautauqua Airlines dba American Connection jet departed for Chicago-O’Hare. That changed June 4 when SkyWest Airlines began operating one of three weekday Dallas/Ft. Worth nonstops. Currently, both American Eagle offers four and two weekday roundtrips to Chicago-O’Hare and Dallas/Ft. Worth, respectively.

Back in November, American Eagle announced that it would upgrade service to DFW with 65-seat CRJ700s. Flight frequency would drop from three to two roundtrips, however. Originally scheduled to start on March 29, introduction of larger jets was delayed first to July 2 and now schedules show the upgrade will take place on September 5. A reason for the delays has not been forthcoming from the airline.

AMERICAN EAGLE (SkyWest Airlines)
As mentioned above, SkyWest Airlines began operating a daily flight between Peoria and Dallas/Ft. Worth on June 4. A 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet protects this schedule, which will last three months.

DELTA CONNECTION (Endeavor Air)
This carrier, formerly known as Pinnacle Airlines, links Peoria with Delta Air Lines’ Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul hubs.

DELTA CONNECTION (ExpressJet Airlines)
Formerly known as Atlantic Southeast Airlines, the Skywest Airlines subsidiary is based in College Park, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb. It provides all flights to Delta Air Lines’ Atlanta hub.

UNITED EXPRESS (ExpressJet Airlines)
Although it is a major regional partner of Delta Air Lines, ExpressJet also provides feed for United Airlines hubs. The carrier operates all four weekday Peoria – Chicago-O’Hare with 50-seat Embraer 145s. It dropped Denver service in early January 2015 but added a single daily nonstop route to Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport on March 5-6.

Peoria Int’l Airport is blessed with good airline service to six major airline hubs (Atlanta, Chicago-O’Hare, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Detroit, Houston-Bush and Minneapolis/St. Paul) and five leisure destinations (Las Vegas, Orlando-Sanford, Phoenix-Mesa, Punta Gorda/Fort Myers and St. Petersburg/Clearwater) on four independent carriers with between 19 and 23 weekday departures.

Schedules shown below are effective mid-July 2015. See route map below (click to enlarge).

PIA Schedules July 2015 P. 1PIA Schedules July 2015 P. 2

PIA Routes July 2015

– David P. Jordan

Iowa Interstate Train PESI, June 8, 2015

I combined both stills and video of Interstate Railroad (IAIS) train PESI departing Monday evening.

The train, led by NS 2698, NS 6092 and UP 5911 (“foreign” power), had 65 cars. It appeared to be the combination of a short Norfolk Southern Train 115, which runs from Knoxville, Tennessee to East Peoria then is forwarded by the IAIS to Silvis, Illinois, and some traffic added by the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad.

Note the two “hi-cube” boxcars. Both were loaded, and sources indicate these may be bound for the Merchants Distribution Service warehouse at Altoona, Iowa. Three DLRX-marked covered steel gondolas and NS-marked cushion coil car rounded out the train’s consist.

The middle unit, NS 6092, was set out at the North Limit Yard (McClugage Bridge area) to await delivery of more cars by the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad.

– David P. Jordan

Allegiant Air Plans Up To 25% Growth This Summer

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Allegiant Air is planning considerable growth this summer.

That’s according to Wednesday’s press release on May 2015 traffic. About half way down, we learn the airline is planning to grow available seat miles (ASM’s) and departures by 21 to 25% during the third quarter of 2015.

The carrier is already growing rapidly this quarter by 17 to 19% thanks to expansion to larger cities such as Austin, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Jacksonville (FL), Memphis, Omaha and Pittsburgh. But could some of this planned growth benefit Peoria?

MY TAKE
Allegiant Air isn’t ready to add flights to Mexico or the Caribbean and PIA’s international terminal won’t be ready for use until Spring 2016. So if new routes are announced soon, they will most certainly link domestic points.

I’ve been hoping Peoria will get twice-weekly Los Angeles service. Allegiant tapped LAX as a focus city in 2009 and as of June 2015 offers nonstop flights to 23 points including Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Fargo, Sioux Falls and Springfield (MO) in the Midwest. This assumes that Allegiant has sufficient gate space at LAX for such expansion. If Peoria gets it, then Moline and Rockford will as well. An Airbus A319 or A320 would be used for such flights.

Peoria Int’l Airport’s present terminal has seven active gates, but handles only about 20 to 23 departures a day at most. Conversion to larger regional jets by American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express in coming years will likely reduce this number rather than increase it. Since the under-construction international terminal can also be used for domestic flights, one has to wonder if Allegiant Air has told PIA officials of plans for additional domestic destinations in the near future.

– David P. Jordan