Around the globe, the race is on to bring the world’s fastest trains — which top speeds nearing 400 miles per hour — to commuters, travelers and business professionals alike. China is devoting billions with hopes for leading the world in rail innovation. Japan is continually making improvements to its 50-year-old system. Countries throughout Europe are expanding upon thousands of miles of high-speed rail track, which run from the south of Spain to Berlin, Oslo and Edinburgh. Meanwhile, the U.S., once known for its transportation innovations, is struggling to catch up.
Instead of embracing the future of modern transportation, some elected officials in the U.S. fail to see the value of passenger rail as part of an integrated network. Many of those same officials are also more than willing to starve the rest of our badly aging transportation system. Our national passenger rail system is continually threatened with bankruptcy budgets by politicians who ignore their constituents and oppose federal support for Amtrak. Partisan bickering has sabotaged decades-long efforts to replace rail tunnels in the Northeast that were built 100 years ago and are in a shocking state of disrepair. And Acela, this country’s fastest passenger rail service, is only available to riders on the East Coast and the speed it reaches — 150 miles per hour — pales in comparison to train service found abroad.
While the rest of the world moves forward with innovative transportation solutions that have the ability to easily connect people with major economic hubs, the U.S. is still relying on decades-old transportation systems — and it’s middle-class Americans who are paying the price. By not investing in faster trains, we’re missing out on a critical opportunity to transform communities, create high-skill jobs and improve the quality of life for millions. An economic impact study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors shows that in communities large and small, high-speed rail would increase economic development by improving market access, offering greater geographic connectivity, easing congestion and increasing tourism and business development.
Amtrak train ridership in Iowa is down sharply from an all-time high in 2010, and cheap gasoline prices could be a key factor, says a railroad spokesman.
A total of 57,611 people got on and off Amtrak trains at six stations in southern Iowa for the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2015, according to the National Rail Passenger Corp, which does business as Amtrak.
That was up less than 1 percent over a year earlier when 57,238 people rode Iowa’s rail system. But it also represented a decline of 16 percent compared to a peak five years ago, when 68,744 train riders were reported in Iowa.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari in Chicago said there were some periods over the past four years where reliability of passenger rail service was eroding because of issues related to high volumes of freight cars on the tracks used by Amtrak trains. Those issues have been addressed, and the most significant competitive factor now is competition from people driving automobiles, he said.
A firm has been hired to redesign the platform for the Santa Fe Depot that will ideally lead to relocating the Amtrak station to Riverview Park.
The Fort Madison City Council approved paying almost $30,000 to Klingner & Associates P.C. for the design.
The multi-million dollar depot project began in 2007 with renovations, but has slowed in recent years because of negotiations between BNSF Railway and the city. For example, this will be the second design for the platform. In 2011, Amtrak wanted the 500-foot platform expanded to 1,000 feet. Earlier this year, after reviewing the plans, BNSF objected to the original 1,000-foot platform.
“We had the train stopping in a curve, and they said that can’t happen,”City Manager David Varley told the council.
Instead, BNSF informed the Iowa Department of Transportation that the platform must be moved east about 250 feet so that will not be partially located on a curve.
Following months of political back-and-forth, federal and state stakeholders have agreed on an approximately $20 billion funding and management plan to improve and expand on rail projects in New York and New Jersey. Funding sources for Amtrak’s Gateway Program, however, have not yet been obtained.
The Gateway Program is a variety of infrastructure projects developed by Amtrak to make repairs and expansions on sections of the railroad’s Northeast Corridor on both sides of and across the Hudson River.
The U.S. Department of Transportation and Amtrak will cover at least 50 percent of the project’s cost with New Jersey and New York covering the rest. It is not clear how much the two states will individually contribute.
In addition to building a new train tunnel crossing the Hudson between Manhattan and New Jersey, Gateway Program planners have proposed the “Secaucus Loop,” which would allow New Jersey Transit trains to run directly between Rockland and Orange counties and New York City. Currently, west-of-Hudson commuters into Manhattan have to transfer trains in Secaucus or Hoboken.
The main point of contention for federal and state officials has been the project’s cost, which is estimated to reach about $20 billion.
Federal and state officials announced an agreement on Wednesday to create a corporation within the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to oversee long-awaited plans to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River.
The entity, called the Gateway Development Corporation, will coordinate the project and assemble the billions of dollars needed to pay for it. It will be controlled by a four-member board with representatives from New York, New Jersey, Amtrak and the federal Transportation Department.
As part of the agreement, the federal government and Amtrak said they would be responsible for financing half of the project, which could cost as much as $20 billion. Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, andAndrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, had pushed for the cost-splitting and said the two states would line up the money for the other half.
The announcement, from the governors and Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Cory A. Booker of New Jersey, both Democrats, signaled the most significant progress yet on an effort federal officials have called one of the most important infrastructure proposals in the country. The century-old rail tunnel used by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit that runs under the river is deteriorating and needs repairs because of damage by Hurricane Sandy.
The St. Cloud Amtrak station is investing $1.3 million into renovations that will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act that was passed in 1990.
“Amtrak was given a special provision to get 20 years to make changes to all their stations. They were given 20 years because it was understood it would be complicated,” said Kenneth Shiotani, senior staff attorney at the National Disability Rights Network.
A group of Amtrak officials, led by Senior Vice President Joe McHugh, have been traveling to different stations across the country informing local citizens of the renovations to come that will make the station more accessible, primarily to those with disabilities.
The discussion took place inside the St. Cloud Amtrak Station located at 555 E. St. Germain where construction was currently underway to replace the walkway connecting the parking lot and front entrance. Other areas that will be improved include the bathrooms, moving the handicap parking spots closer, having easy access to the front and rear doors, tearing down the razor wire fencing to add closer general parking, as well as covering the ticket window as sales move online and to the in-station kiosk.
“These renovations will really benefit everyone, like the new roof we put in that was necessary but not part of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Marty Soholt, an Amtrak district station manager who oversees a 1,000 mile radius that includes St. Cloud.
The U.S. Transportation Department has awarded nearly $28 million to conduct studies on building a high-speed rail line that would carry passengers between Washington and Baltimore in about 15 minutes, according to Maryland officials.
The money will support private-sector efforts to bring magnetic-levitation trains to the region as part of a larger vision for building a maglev system along the Northeast Corridor.
Maryland’s Department of Transportation and the state’s Economic Development Corporation applied for the federal funds in April, with an understanding that the Japanese government and Baltimore-
Washington Rapid Rail, a private group, would provide significant investments for the project.
“The ability to travel between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in only 15 minutes will be absolutely transformative, not just for these two cities, but for our entire state,” Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said in a statement.
A plan to offer travelers, faster and more convenient transportation, is in the works. All Aboard Erie unveiled a new train station design.
Have you ever wished there was an easier way to get to nearby cities?
Well, soon, your wish may be granted, with the possibility of a new high speed train station right here in Erie.
“The ability to travel better and faster, it also could expand your work options, that if you have an easier commute by rail to Cleveland, Buffalo, Pittsburgh that expands your options for employment,” said Erie city council member Kyle Foust.
The proposed train station would also greatly impact the local economy.
“Wherever high speed rail goes, we know that economic development follows. Which means jobs, new real estate development, it’s an economic dynamo that creates jobs and attracts people to the inner city, its a great way to revive a city- a train station like this,” added executive director of All Aboard Erie, Brian Pitzer.
“Right now were looking at 2 or 3 locations obviously they’d have to be near the tracks, but those are a little down the road so to speak about where the final location will be chosen,” added Pitzer.
A decision and plan like this will require much of two things: time and money. That’s why all aboard Erie set up a kickstarter campaign in order to raise funds.
“We’ve reached way over our goal, and we have I think 9 days left of our kickstarter campaign so I encourage the fans on Facebook to look at the new design revealed and go back our project,” said team leader of Mercyhurst’s Quickstarter program, Tyler Ennis.
Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman understands why his counterpart in Racine wants Metra to extend its passenger rail service there.
“It’s a benefit to us in Kenosha to have Metra here connecting us to Chicago, Great Lakes, Ravinia,” Bosman said. “I imagine it would be a benefit to Racine as well. I’m sure it would make it easier for people to go back and forth.”
It would take careful study and planning.
“What’s the cost-benefit (ratio)?” Bosman asked. “How many people are going to ride it versus the cost of doing it? That’s what you have to analyze.”
That’s what Racine Mayor John Dickert is doing after getting his city’s Redevelopment Authority to approve a $30,000 feasibility study last week.
Amtrak’s 2,256-mile passenger rail service from Chicago to Los Angeles through western Kansas has operated under one name or another since 1936, although the transcontinental line it travels on was actually built in the 1880s.
According to Amtrak’s Southwest Chief Route guide, the Southwest Chief is an indirect successor of the Santa Fe Railroad’s Super Chief, which made its maiden run in 1936.
The Super Chief, which ran between Los Angeles and Chicago, was known as the “Train of the Stars” and was famous for its gourmet meals and Hollywood celebrity clientele, setting the bar for luxury rail travel, the guide states. At the height of its popularity, the Super Chief made daily departures from both ends of the line.
Santa Fe Railroad ended its passenger operations in 1971, at which point Amtrak took over passenger rail. The Super Chief was renamed the Southwest Chief in 1984.
According to the guide, train passengers enjoy views of southern California, unique Arizona rock formations, Native American country in New Mexico, snow-capped mountain peaks in Colorado and orderly farms and fruited plains in Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.