Amtrak riders scored a significant victory last week, and most of them don’t even know it.
The federal Surface Transportation Board decided to drop a controversial proposal to allow freight rail to get priority on train tracks … a proposal that had sparked a heated battle of back-and-forth legal arguments over the last seven months.
So, what’s the big deal?
If the Surface Transportation Board’s plan had been finalized, it would have meant major delays and slower rides for people who ride Amtrak all over the country.
The whole kerfuffle is a little wonky, but here’s the gist: Historically, passenger railroads such as Amtrak have had priority over freight rail — i.e. trains used to ship coal, crude oil, produce, etc. — when it comes to getting access to tracks that are shared by both types of trains. Practically, that means that freight trains are forced to pull aside when a speedier Amtrak train carrying human beings wants to pass and zoom on to the next station.
The Surface Transportation Board (STB)released two decisions on July 28 related to its oversight of Amtrak’s operations under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA).
First, the Board decided that it would consider on-time arrival and departure at all stations along a passenger train’s route for purposes of assessing on-time performance. The Board will deem a train “on time” if it arrives at, or departs from, a station no more than 15 minutes after its scheduled arrival or departure.
The Board also announced that it is withdrawing its proposed policy statement on issues that may arise, and evidence to be presented in proceedings under PRIIA, in favor of a case-by-case approach to these complex matters.
“Reflecting careful consideration of an extensive public and stakeholder response to our most recent passenger rail proposals, these decisions will better position the Board to implement its responsibilities under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008,” stated Board Chairman Daniel R. Elliott III. “Improved passenger train on-time performance is an important goal, and the Board’s decisions will support that goal by clarifying the trigger for starting a proceeding, while allowing more complex and detailed issues to be resolved in the context of individual cases.”
The Groundwork Center, along with transportation professionals and officials are planning to officially announce the next step in its efforts to bring a passenger train to Northern Michigan.
The Groundwork Center and others are planning a press conference Friday morning in Traverse City to announce its plans for “a major Northern Michigan passenger rail study.”
Groundwork says the study will explore regular train service between Ann Arbor, Petoskey and Traverse City.
To learn more about the Ann Arbor to Traverse City passenger rail efforts, click here.
The Mayor of Normal is giving Congressional testimony on the merits of high speed rail.
Chris Koos is appearing before the subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets of the Community on Oversight and Government Reform.
Before boarding a flight, to D.C. Koos told GLT, dollars that have been committed to the Chicago to Saint Louis Corridor are safe, but future investments could be at risk unless Congress acts.
“You know it’s part of a full transportation package: highway investment, airline investment, passenger rail investment. Passenger rail is certainly growing in the United States and it’s certainly an important part of our transportation infrastructure,” said Koos.
Mayor Koos said he will use Uptown Station as an example of what the subcommittee needs to hear.
The railroad crossing work that started recently in Braidwood is a reminder that high-speed rail is on its way.
The Illinois Department of Transportation has said high-speed rail work from Chicago to St. Louis should be finished by the end of 2017, taking one hour off the train ride that now takes about 5 hours and 15 minutes.
Projects along the way range from railroad crossing improvements, such as those in Braidwood, to the $50 million multimodal facility being built in Joliet.
In Wilmington, a new railroad bridge will be built over the Kankakee River, and IDOT plans to make improvements on two other railroad bridges running through the city.
When all is completed, the maximum speed for trains in the corridor will be 110 mph compared with 79 mph today.
Expectations are that ridership will increase.
Virginia has won a $165 million federal grant to unlock what it calls the “Atlantic Gateway” to speed passenger rail, freight trains and highway vehicles through one of the most congested corridors on the East Coast.
The FASTLANE grant will combine with $565 million in private investment by Transurban and CSX Transportation, as well as $710 million in state transportation funds, to carry out some of the biggest projects on the state’s transportation wish list in a package worth $1.4 billion.
SPRINGFIELD — A federal study that details the proposed expansion of passenger rail service in the Northeast, with Springfield serving as a key connection, was praised by local advocates Wednesday as a project with great promise and benefits to the region and state.
The three-prong expansion of passenger rail service in the Northeast would serve an estimated 323,000 riders annually in Massachusetts alone, according to the study known as the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative (NNEIRI), citing 2035 ridership estimates.
The expansion is both east-west and north-south, also involving Connecticut and Vermont, with a total estimated capital cost of approximately $1.2 billion.
The Oregon Department of Transportation spent four years and $10 million mulling where the Willamette Valley passenger rail line of the future should go — and is about to decide that it should stay put, on the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, where the long-standing intermingling of passenger and freight service guarantees sluggish passenger service.
The agency hopes to publish a draft environmental impact statement by December, take public comment on the proposed train route in early 2017 and designate a final plan in 2018. The Federal Railroad Administration has authority over the final decision.
If Oregon passenger train service stays on the Union Pacific line, it will be a bitter disappointment for the proponents of high-speed rail, who dream of a bullet train running parallel to Interstate 5, whisking riders from Eugene to Portland in an hour.
ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) A $1.4 billion dollar plan to improve Virginia’s transportation system will pay for major highway construction in northern Virginia.
But we now have more information on how it will also help passenger rail from Roanoke.
The Atlantic Gateway Project includes money for a major upgrade to 14 miles of track in northern Virginia.
Eliminating a bottleneck in Alexandria, will provide more capacity for trains from Lynchburg and Roanoke.
On Monday, a brand new club for Amtrak passengers ticketed in Sleeping cars and Business class will officially open at Chicago’s Union Station. Dubbed the Metropolitan Lounge, the 13,500-square-foot facility is twice the size of the previous lounge and triples the number passengers it can serve. The two-story space features new street access to the taxi stand on Canal and a glassy staircase that allows natural light to also infiltrate the lower level. The Metropolitan Lounge also includes a new elevator and bathrooms with shower facilities — a feature that has been absent from the station for a number of years.
From a design and use standpoint, the Metropolitan Lounge is divided into four of five distinct “neighborhoods” to suit the various needs of different passengers. “It’s not all one design. In fact, it ranges from traditional, to transitional, to modern,” explains architect Len Koroski of Goettsch Partners. “There’s an area geared more toward business travelers, there’s a family-friendly area with a play space in the rear, and an area with high-back seats for people using their phones or tablets. We also built some communal spots which could see a mixed group of riders watching a Cubs game, for instance.”
The new Metropolitan Lounge is part of a larger $60 million initiative funded by Amtrak and federal capital grants to modernize the historic 1925 Beaux Arts civic structure and respond to a surging number of new riders. “Since 1990, Amtrak ridership at Union Station is 40% up,” says Amtrak’s Marc Magliari. “The increase equates to one million additional riders per year. During that same time expectations have also changed. Back then passengers weren’t looking for wi-fi and charging stations. They weren’t even demanding air conditioning in every corner of the station. We have all of that now.”