2016 Gives CIRA Slight Increase in Passengers!

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Central Illinois Regional Airport’s passenger traffic increased slightly in 2016.

Radio Station WJBC is first to offer a figure – 381,000 – albeit a rounded one. This was about 2,000 higher than 2015. Given the Bloomington-Normal facility’s month-over-month growth it experienced last year, particularly October’s 18 percent, this is not a surprise.

I’ll update as soon as I have more information.

– David P. Jordan

Four Komatsu Truck Chasses

Normally, today’s weather conditions would be grounds to ignore a Tazewell & Peoria Railroad industry job heading back to East Peoria, but the four Komatsu truck chassis loads proved sufficient bait.

So I bit.

Turns out, TZPR 1351’s crew (and I) had to wait for the bridge to lower. When it did, about 4:30 Wednesday afternoon, I parked off Leland Street and shot video of the sixteen-car train rolling by me.

Besides the ex-Peoria & Pekin Union SW-10M, now resplendent in Genesee & Wyoming orange, the train consisted of four empty corn syrup tank cars pulled from PMP Fermentation Products, the four aforementioned Komatsu truck chassis loads, three empty flat cars (likely used as spacer cars when switching ADM’s alcohol tracks) and five ethyl alcohol loads from ADM.

Despite the clouds, cold and spitting rain, I recorded a neat train with a neat consist. It was a good day.

– David P. Jordan

CIRA Gets Bigger Jets to DFW; 2016 Pax Numbers Still Absent (Updated)

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One of my readers alerted me December 9 to this upgrade. Strange that CIRA took six weeks to make it public.

According to a press release post today, American Eagle’s two daily nonstops between Bloomington/Normal’s Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA) and Dallas/Ft. Worth will be flown with 76-seat CRJ900s starting March 6, replacing 50-seat Embraer 145s. This will give CIRA first-class seating to American Airlines’ big Texas hub.

While this is good news, 2016 passenger figures have not been released. At least I haven’t been able to find them. I was almost expecting to see this information hidden in the bottom paragraph of today’s news about DFW service.

Are passenger numbers that bad that CIRA would avoid releasing these figures in hopes of avoiding the bad news? If so, the problem would had to have occurred in the last two months of 2016. That’s because CIRA appears to have had a slight increase in traffic through October.

Using the Bureau of Transportation Statistics as a source (note that numbers exclude charter passengers), we learned that CIRA handled 316,053 passengers the first ten months of the year. That’s only 0.075 percent higher than 2015’s 313,686 in the same period, but it’s still higher.

Perhaps a fare war between American Airlines (via Charlotte) and Delta Air Lines (via Atlanta) out of Peoria the last two months of 2016 significantly reduced CIRA’s numbers? The thing is, if CIRA traffic for the last two months of 2016 matched the same period in 2015 (54,980) then the final tally would be something like 8000 fewer passengers, or about 371,000. Not exactly good news, but not as bad as it could have been given the shutdown of Mitsubishi Motor Mfg. of America, Frontier Airlines’ decision to drop CIRA in April 2016 and the lingering effects of AirTran Airways’ withdrawal in 2012.

You can bet that if 2016 numbers increased over 2015, CIRA would throw a party and the news would be on the front page of The Pantagraph, an editorial would declare an end to the decline, and everyone in McLean County would be smarting over their airport’s increase over Peoria’s decrease.

But we really don’t know until we see the numbers, do we?

UPDATE (Jan. 24, 2017): CIRA’s board meeting had been scheduled for January 10. Today, the website was updated to show a special meeting on January 26. I suspect we’ll learn 2016 passenger figures shortly. The delay explains why we haven’t seen this info yet. There is a possibility that CIRA’s traffic actually grew last year, particularly since October traffic was 18 percent higher than the same month in 2015. It all depends on November and December traffic.

(NOTE: I shot the American Eagle CRJ900 at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on June 27, 2016.)

– David P. Jordan

Sunday Potash Train

Iowa Interstate 516 & 707 brought a DAVPE-type train into Peoria on Sunday with 105 potash loads for Mosaic Crop Nutrition.

I shot video of the entire train at Mossville, Illinois. Then I shot 516-707 pulling into the North Limit Yard in Peoria. Oddly, the IAIS crew cut off the first 25 cars and dropped them in the West Yard. A Tazewell & Peoria crew (with IMRR 43-IMRR 8802-TZPR 1352) pulled the remaining 80 through Peoria to Mosaic.

This type of action is what makes the Peoria railscene a lot of fun. The Iowa Interstate Railroad (IAIS), in fact, runs the city’s first railroad (which the Peoria & Bureau Valley Railroad opened for business on November 7, 1854). Much of this first railroad, ironically, was dormant for several years until the IAIS began service to Peoria on June 22, 1987.

Traffic has grown considerably the past several years. Besides the regular local based at Bureau Junction that makes a Peoria turn weeknights, coal, grain and seasonal potash trains make regular appearances. The IAIS even interchanged unit ethanol trains with the Norfolk Southern at East Peoria on an almost daily basis from December 2014 until mid-February 2016.

Railroads are experiencing a recession now, with steep declines in coal, crude oil and other commodities. In 2014, railroads handled 12,584,561 carloads. The next year, traffic dropped by a half-million carloads to 12,004,915. The bottom fell out in 2016 when only 10,804,210 carloads were handled. But business will increase again, and railroads will experience the type of congestion in 2013-2014 that prompted alternative interchange points, such as Peoria. When that happens, the Iowa Interstate’s Peoria Subdivision will get even busier.

– David P. Jordan

PIA Passenger Figures Released Jan. 17, Where are CIRA’s?

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A year ago, I suggested the Central Illinois Regional Airport was embarrassed to release its passenger tally for 2015. A local radio station (WJBC AM 1230) had quoted an official saying there were 9.7 percent fewer flights versus 2014. One day after my post, The Pantagraph reported the numbers.

I’m not saying my post had an influence on the pace of news. Rather, CIRA had already provided the numbers to the newspaper. That was January 16, 2016. It is now January 20, 2017 and we still don’t have 2016’s figures.

Is CIRA again embarrassed?

There may be good reasons to be. Traffic at CIRA grew in May and June, but probably dropped off late in the year as American Eagle began Peoria-Charlotte nonstops. This likely prompted fare cuts by Delta [Connection] on seats via Atlanta, thus causing a surge in business at Peoria. GPAA advertised the new service around Bloomington-Normal and no doubt attract more than a few travelers at CIRA’s expense.

Furthermore, American Eagle eliminated its third CIRA-Dallas/Ft.Worth nonstop, begun last March. This might have been just a seasonal reduction, but will it not return since CIRA, like Peoria, is soon getting larger aircraft on this route. Delta’s decision to end Detroit service in late-July (though with a compensatory capacity increase to Atlanta), and a seasonal reduction in frequency to Minneapolis/St. Paul probably reduced traffic in the last half of 2016.

CIRA handled 379,186 passengers in 2015, the lowest volume since 1997. Will 2016 continue that downward path? In the first six months (excluding charter passengers), CIRA traffic was down 3.4 percent. If the trend has continued, 2016’s figure could be between 350,000 and 370,000. At least the decline may have slowed.

– David P. Jordan

Union Pacific Stack Train on BNSF Chillicothe Sub!

My first video of 2017!

Shortly after 10:00 this morning. I shot an eastbound Union Pacific double stack train switching from the eastbound to westbound main just west of Edelstein, Illinois. Either a track inspector had a section of the eastbound main closed, or more likely, the UP stacker had the signals and switches lined to overtake a slower autorack train ahead of him.

Union Pacific motors 7512 & 7924 lead while UP 6287 was set up as Distributed Power Unit (DPU).Train is probably bound for the Joliet Intermodal Terminal/Global 4.

Union Pacific has been running on BNSF’s Chillicothe Subdivision for 20 years. Lately, the carrier has been seeking alternative routings between Chicago area terminals and Kansas City, but continues to use this route.

– David P. Jordan

PIA Nonstops as of May 24, 2017

PIA Routes July 2017

This looks good.

When Allegiant Air begins twice-weekly nonstop service to Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport in Florida May 24, Peoria Int’l Airport will offer nonstops to a dozen cities.

Six of these are hubs. American Eagle flies to Charlotte, Chicago (O’Hare) and Dallas/Ft. Worth. Delta Connection flies to Atlanta, Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul. United Express flies to Chicago (O’Hare). The other six are leisure destinations on Allegiant Air: Destin-Ft. Walton Beach, Las Vegas, Orlando-Sanford, Phoenix-Mesa, Punta Gorda (Ft. Myers) and St. Petersburg/Clearwater.

The map would look even better if United Express also offered service to Denver, and maybe Houston as well…

– David P. Jordan

PJStar Does it Right on Airport’s 2016 Numbers

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Last year, Peoria’s newspaper of record took a month to report the local airport’s 2015 passenger figures. This year, it has redeemed itself by posting an article about 2016 figures on its website the same day the airport released them.

Of course, one couldn’t help but see or hear the news from other sources Tuesday, January 17. Local television news covered the story with each broadcast and posted it on their website while WMBD Radio 1470 repeated the story each half-hour. Still, kudos to the PJStar for doing it right this time.

Even better, their story includes more than a paragraph or two from a press release. We learn that airport director Gene Olson had expected a drop in passengers and predicted a final tally of 615,000.

Ridership was running behind 2015 in the first half of the year, then August was “terrible,” down about 15 percent from the same month in 2015, he said.

But at year’s end, the numbers turned out slightly better at 623,134. Compare that to numbers from 2012 (580,530)  and 2013 (592,101). Only 2014 (639,320) and 2015 (641,671) were higher. Despite Caterpillar’s cutbacks, business was good late in the year.

Ridership started to pick up in the fall, with a record-setting November and a strong December, he said.

No doubt this can be attributed to American Eagle’s new service to Charlotte, North Carolina and the competition with Delta [Connection] through Atlanta. With further air service improvements and additions on tap for 2017, I think Peoria Int’l Airport is on track to resume its run of breaking annual passenger records.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Int’l Airport’s 2016 Traffic Down Less Than 3%!

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Not a record, but not bad either.

Peoria International Airport handled 623,134 passengers in 2016. That, according to an airport press release this morning, was less than 3% of 2015’s record. Given Caterpillar’s well-publicized restructuring amid declining sales of machinery and mining equipment, there was great risk of a much steeper decline. But it appears local air travel is not as dependent on that company as it used to be.

MY TAKE
Low-fare nonstops to leisure destinations on Allegiant Air, as well as new service to American Airlines’ Charlotte hub most certainly kept PIA’s numbers up, particularly late in the year.

If fuel prices do not increase significantly, upgrades and new service for 2017 will likely resume PIA’s record-breaking run. American Eagle is upgauging to larger jets (at the expense of one roundtrip but not seating capacity) to Dallas/Ft. Worth on February 16, providing two-class service on 76-seat CRJ900s. On May 24, Allegiant Air is adding twice-weekly nonstop service to Florida’s Emerald Coast, i. e. Destin/Ft. Walton Beach. Airbus A-320s with 177 seats will do the honors.

Hopefully, funding for the necessary five customs agents will be in place soon and flights to Mexico and/or the Caribbean will be announced before 2017 concludes.

– David P. Jordan

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus To Quit

After 146 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is calling it quits.

In a press release dated January 14, 2017, the Kenneth Feld, CEO of Felt Entertainment, announced the decision. The final show will take place at Providence , Rhode Island May 7 and in Uniondale, New York on May 21. The reason for the move

The decision to end the circus tours was made as a result of high costs coupled with a decline in ticket sales, making the circus an unsustainable business for the company. Following the transition of the elephants off the circus, the company saw a decline in ticket sales greater than could have been anticipated.

You just knew the end of Elephant acts signaled the end of the circus. 🙁

At least we have our memories. For me, it was seeing the circus trains. I’ve been fortunate enough to have caught both the Blue Unit Circus Train and Red Unit Circus Train, all but one time here in Central Illinois. Ringling’s circus trains have visited Peoria off and on from 1982 to 2003 and East Peoria in 2009 and 2011. I thought I’d share each with a little information below each video.

This is my one and only video showing the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway deliver a circus train to the “Uptown Yard” in Peoria. It happened September 2, 2003.

Denying myself sufficient sleep before starting job training, I managed to capture Burlington Northern & Santa Fe hauling the circus train through Edwards, Illinois at sunrise on September 8, 2003.

BNSF Railway, successor to Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway (from January 2005), decided to put its Uptown Yard out of service in 2005. This complicated logistics for the circus trains, which included an elephant walk from the train to the Peoria Civic Center. On May 27, 2009, the circus train returned for the first time in six years. Instead of  unloading in Peoria, the train was staged at TP&W’s East Peoria Yard. The four elephant cars were hauled separately to the W. Washington Street crossing in East Peoria and the animals were walked across the Bob Michel Bridge and into downtown Peoria. I had to work so I  didn’t catch the train’s June 1 departure.

The circus train returned to East Peoria in 2011. I caught it running on Norfolk Southern at W. Market Street in Bloomington just after Midnight September 20.

Here it is about 1:30am as it rollings into East Peoria. Norfolk Southern will hand it off the TP&W, which will stage the train for unloading at its East Peoria Yard.

This time, I chased the departing train from East Peoria to Goodfield on September 26, 2011. Sadly, this would be the final visit by a circus train to the city.

Although it would never again return to Peoria or East Peoria, I did manage to capture this westbound Blue Unit Circus Train on Norfolk Southern’s Decatur Division at Oakley, Illinois on May 30, 2012. Train was enroute to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

On August 28, 2013 this Blue Unit Circus Train can be seen racing through Prairie City, Illinois enroute from Austin, Texas to Rock Island, Illinois.

About twice a year, one (or both) of the circus trains may pass through the northern fringes of Peoria County on BNSF’s Chillicothe Subdivision. Usually, this means an exchange with Norfolk Southern at Streator. On September 3, 2013 I chased the eastbound Blue Unit Circus Train (same one seen August 28) from Edelstein to Dwight. Train was followed by run-through manifest 10R (final scene is on the TP&W in El Paso, Illinois. Knowledge of TP&W history may be required to understand it and 10R’s inclusion in the video).

Just 13 days later, I captured the same train again at Chillicothe, Illinois!

I intentionally chased and filmed the Red Unit Circus Train on the Grand Elk Railroad from Grand Rapids to about White Pigeon, Michigan on September 22, 2014. Train was handed off to Norfolk Southern at Elkhart, Indiana for the journey to Dayton, Ohio.

My last encounter with the Red Unit Circus Train was close to home on June 1, 2016. I will certainly miss seeing these!

– David P. Jordan