News

Allen American: $4.5M approved for Dallas-Fort Worth high-speed rail planning, development

8/26/15

High-speed trains are poised to link Fort Worth to Houston and other metropolitan areas in Texas, and the North Central Texas Council of Governments continues to play a role in planning activities.

Texas Central Partners is working to deliver high-speed rail in the Dallas-Fort Worth-to-Houston corridor by 2021 to give travelers a smooth, congestion-free ride between the state’s two largest metropolitan areas.

Planning efforts continue on a project to develop high-speed rail within the D-FW region that would connect to the Fort Worth-to-Houston line when it opens and could eventually offer access to a third corridor stretching from Oklahoma to South Texas, according to North Central Texas Council of Governments(NCTCOG) officials.

The Regional Transportation Council (RTC) took a step Thursday to assist further with the regional line, approving the expenditure of $4.5 million through fiscal year 2018 for planning, design, project development and preliminary engineering. The plan calls for $1.5 million per year to be spent starting in fiscal year 2016. The money will come from the Regional Toll Revenue funding account.

“High speed rail has the potential to revolutionize the way we travel between the state’s largest metropolitan areas,” said Bill Meadows, chairman of the Commission for High-Speed Rail in the Dallas/Fort Worth Region, in a statement. “With population growth in Dallas-Fort Worth and throughout Texas showing no signs of slowing down, innovation is necessary and will ensure the transportation system continues to provide safe, efficient service to all. With this decision, the RTC has reaffirmed its commitment to high speed rail in the region.”

Keep Reading

The Garden City Telegram: Federal grant acceptance will allow work to begin on Southwest Chief route

8/26/15

The slow process of improving the Southwest Chief rail line through southwest Kansas took a step forward Monday after the Garden City commission officially accepted the federal grant awarded to the project last fall.

On Monday, city commissioners held a special meeting to review and officially accept the $12.5 million TIGER (Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery) grant for the Southwest Chief Route Improvement project.

Last September, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the award of the grant toward the Southwest Chief Improvement project.

The Southwest Chief is a long-distance Amtrak passenger service that operates daily between Chicago and Los Angeles. But deteriorating track conditions along the route led the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad to consider downgrading speeds along the route and Amtrak officials to consider discontinuing passenger service along it.

A coalition of Garden City, Dodge City, Newton and Hutchinson, other Colorado communities along the route, BNSF, Amtrak and KDOT pledged $9.3 million in matching funds toward the $12.5 million grant.

The four Kansas communities each agreed to provide $12,500 toward the local matching amount, while KDOT chipped in $3 million.

The grant and matching funds, $21.8 million, will be used to replace the worst 54.9 miles of 158 miles of track that needs replaced or repaired between Newton and the Colorado state line.

Commissioner Dan Fankhauser asked City engineer Steve Cottrell if any of the project involved replacing rails.

“That’s basically what this whole project is, taking the bolted rail out and replacing it with welded steel rail, continuous rail and re-laying approximately 50 track miles with the new welded steel rails,” Cottrell said.

He told commissioners that the city of La Junta, Colo. has submitted another TIGER grant application that would pay to improve the route from the Colorado state line to La Junta.

“The entire goal on this TIGER agreement, as well as the one that La Junta just put together, is rail replacement,” Cottrell said. “BNSF has undergone a tie replacement program in the last year or so and continues to do those kinds of things.”

The grant is from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and Cottrell said the city will administer the project.

Keep Reading

Red Wing Republican Eagle: Commentary: New Amtrak train would boost local economy

8/26/15

Have you heard about the second Amtrak train for Red Wing?

A daily commuter style train, that would be in addition to the everyday Empire Builder. This second daily would connect Red Wing with St. Paul’s recently restored downtown Union Station and Chicago’s massive Union Station, and many cities along the way through Minnesota and Wisconsin — with a schedule practical for weekday and weekend travel adventurers. I believe this second train needs to be initiated soon. All the factors are in place to make it happen.

The future of rail passenger traffic in our country is all about connectivity. To make it work, more towns need to be added as stops with new high-tech stations. In line the pick-up spots should include: Hastings, Red Wing, Lake City, Wabasha and Winona on the Minnesota side.

Currently, travelers depend on Amtrak’s Empire Builder. Schedules for this train are modified every day as priority is given to critical freight transit on the commercial railroads. The second passenger train would be able to keep schedules so important to planning a long vacation or a single day of urban exploration on the river.

This hopefully new train is going to be an economic engine that will help Red Wing reach all of its wealth potential.

Money coming into Red Wing from this additional train would promote new hotels for travelers, more shops and eateries. For all of Minnesota’s river towns, tourism is very important.

Travelers seeking a different leisure experience — relaxing with a river view and a boat ride — would be attracted to Red Wing. I would estimate even conservatively that during a peak tourist week in the summer, the second Amtrak train could bring in $1 million over 24/7.

Keep Reading

The Capital Times: Plain Talk: Scott Walker’s cluelessness on transit dims state’s future

8/21/15

Scott Walker’s move to throw away more than $800 million in federal funds to expand passenger rail service in Wisconsin will go down as one of the worst penny-wise and pound-foolish decisions in state history.

That was  underscored during a meeting of “All Aboard Wisconsin,” an unabashed rail advocacy group that keeps the flame burning for passenger rail in the state. I was the luncheon speaker at the group’s event in the Wisconsin Dells last month and discovered that folks are still shaking their heads in disbelief that a governor would spurn 100 percent federal funding to upgrade rail service in his state and expand it to the state’s capital city.

The “All Aboard” meeting included a conference call with the mayor of Normal, Illinois, Chris Koos, whose downtown has been transformed by development that has coincided with the opening of a new state-of-the-art intermodal station that includes train service, buses and other public transportation options.

Illinois was actually able to get some of the money earmarked for Wisconsin to help expand its passenger rail service between Chicago and St. Louis. And now, along with the daily two stops of the long-distance Texas Eagle Amtrak train, Normal sees 10 passenger trains a day. Durng the past year, more than 260,000 passengers embarked and disembarked from those trains in Normal, which like Madison is home to a major university campus.

Koos explained how the rail service has helped spur new hotels and restaurants near the station and, in turn, has attracted other businesses to the central city, all contributing to an economic rejuvenation.

Former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz saw that occurring along the corner of the Square where the Judge Doyle development is slated to begin next year. An intermodal station would have been located near Monona Terrace had Walker not squashed the deal. Officials in Watertown, one of the stops that was to be added to Wisconsin passenger service, were planning to build a modern station near its downtown, a station that the city was convinced would spur new development.

Both cities would have been serviced by at least seven daily trains. It was contemplated as an extension of the extremely successful Hiawatha service that runs between Milwaukee and Chicago seven times a day. Plans were to expand the service to Madison on new higher-speed track.

But, if we believe professor William Draves, who teaches at UW-River Falls, rail opponents like Walker may be rapidly becoming relics of the past.

Draves, who keynoted the Dells’ meeting, talked about the “end of the auto age.” He predicted that in the not-too-distant future, today’s “Y” generation will be voting for politicians who pledge to improve public transportation.

Keep Reading

The Times of Northwest Indiana: Rail is good alternative for intercity travel

8/21/15

The recent closure of Interstate 65 northbound until September, due to a bridge problem near Lafayette, underscores the role passenger rail can play in providing travelers to Indianapolis an alternative to car or bus travel.

With air fares to Chicago now running as high as $300 one way from O’Hare airport to Indianapolis, travelers often forget they have a rail option when going down state other than fighting the traffic (and now closures) on I-65.

Service on the rail route has recently been improved.

The four-day-a-week “Hoosier State” train to Indianapolis is now operated by a private company, Iowa Pacific, which has upgraded the service to include a dome car, meal service, wifi and more. The three-day-a-week Amtrak “Cardinal” service also offers meal service plus a sleeper car option.

Both trains leave Chicago’s Union Station (southbound) daily at 5:45 p.m. and Indianapolis Union Station (northbound) at 6 a.m. Locally, trains stop at the Amtrak station on Sheffield, in Dyer.

Keep Reading

WCPO Cincinnati: Feds to study daily passenger rail service in Midwest

8/21/15

CINCINNATI — The Federal Railroad Administration will soon take a good, hard look at how Amtrak could better serve the Midwest with interstate passenger rail transit, and local leaders are saying it will take Cincinnati one step closer toward daily rail service to Chicago.

In an announcement sent to Congressional leaders last week, the FRA announced it will spend nearly $3 million dollars on a planning initiative to bolster passenger rail service in the Midwest and Southeast regions.

Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana will all have a stake in that plan, along with 10 other states.

A quick look at Amtrak’s current daily service connections shows its local limitations:

Leaders with All Aboard Ohio , one of the state’s largest groups of passenger-rail advocates, call the lack of daily service in Ohio “glaring.”

Derek Bauman, All Aboard Ohio’s southwest regional director, says the FRA’s timing couldn’t be better.

Bauman is among a number of Cincinnati residents who have spent the last 15 months or so ramping up the region’s lobbying for daily rail service to Chicago.

“It’s great news that the Midwest is being afforded these planning dollars,” he said. That’s especially true now as Congress zeroes in on renewing a six-year surface transportation law that would include 100 percent federal operations funding for all of Ohio’s existing passenger rail routes.

Locally, the FRA’s announcement comes in the wake of Amtrak’s performance improvement plan for its Cardinal line , which runs from Chicago to New York, through Cincinnati. Currently, the Cardinal line stops at Union Terminal three times each week, between midnight and 3 a.m. The trip to Chicago takes about 7 hours, about 9 to D.C.

Because Cincinnati is not currently included in Amtrak’s Midwest daily service network, Bauman went on to say, the FRA’s plan will heat up the Tri-State’s iron for strike.

“We haven’t seen anything like this come down the pipe in some time — if ever,” he said.

Keep Reading

Rail News Round-Up – Aug. 11th

8/11/15

A holistic look at U.S. infrastructure.  Congress has a troubled relationship with Amtrak: It leans on it to be less costly, yet criticizes it when accidents or breakdowns occur due to funding shortages. Ultimately, we can’t have it both ways; we need to give Amtrak the resources it needs, especially in the Northeast Corridor, to modernize and improve safety.  http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-transportation-safety-20150719-story.html

 

Editorial: Richmond needs to be in Amtrak loop. Transportation infrastructure stakes a legitimate claim to public — i.e., taxpayer — support. The imperative applies not only to the passenger-heavy corridors but also to less-frequented routes. For many communities, Amtrak may be the only window to the outside world. Virginia must strive to ensure that Richmond remains tied to the northeast grid. Extending Acela to Richmond may not be feasible soon, but Richmond and other points belong in a higher speed network. Build a new station! http://www.richmond.com/opinion/our-opinion/article_8acd079e-fca4-5de9-945c-0d7baccf42bc.html

 

‘Let’s get this done,’ U.S. transportation secretary says of D.C.-Richmond high-speed rail.  U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, speaking Wednesday in Richmond, announced a $1 million planning grant for the project and said he’ll be working with the Federal Railroad Administration to get monthly updates in hopes of pushing it closer to reality. The $2 billion leg from Richmond to Washington has been discussed for more than a decade, and officials have said recently that its completion is likely another decade away. http://www.dailyprogress.com/news/local/let-s-get-this-done-u-s-transportation-secretary-says/article_aef00ad2-30da-11e5-b49a-97c87121b73d.html

 

Aging Infrastructure Plagues Nation’s Busiest Rail Corridor.  These troubles have become all too common on the Northeast Corridor, the nation’s busiest rail sector, which stretches from Washington to Boston and carries about 750,000 riders each day on Amtrak and several commuter rail lines. The corridor’s ridership has doubled in the last 30 years even as its old and overloaded infrastructure of tracks, power lines, bridges and tunnels has begun to wear out. And with Amtrak and local transit agencies struggling to secure funding, many fear the disruptions will continue to worsen in the years ahead.

“We’re seeing two trends converging in an extraordinary way,” said Thomas Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association. “Ridership is hitting all time highs on the Northeast Corridor at the same time that the system is just too brittle and does not have the ability to withstand heat waves, storms and other incidents.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/27/nyregion/aging-infrastructure-plagues-nations-busiest-rail-corridor.html?_r=0

 

Christie’s delusional attack on Amtrak | Editorial.  Gov. Chris Christie’s attack on Amtrak last week is the final proof that he has lost his mind. Either that, or he thinks the rest of us have lost ours.  The delays that tortured thousands of Jersey commuters last week were caused by electrical problems in the century-old tunnels beneath the Hudson, and other woes. Amtrak has been begging Congress for money to maintain its ancient infrastructure, and to replace it where necessary. Congress has refused that, thanks to the small-government crowd that Christie is part of. http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/07/christies_delusional_attack_on_amtrak_editorial.html

IndyStar: Deal preserves Indy-to-Chicago passenger rail

8/2/15

Passenger rail service between Chicago and Indianapolis will be available every day under a two-year contract the Indiana Department of Transportation has signed with Amtrak and a private carrier.

The Hoosier State service, operated by Iowa Pacific Holdings four days each week, will complement the thrice-weekly Cardinal line operated by Amtrak between Chicago and Washington, D.C., INDOT announced Saturday night.

Round-trip service began Sunday morning. The train departs Indianapolis at 6 a.m. EDT and arrives in Chicago about 10 a.m. CDT, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said. Trains depart Chicago at 5:45 p.m. and arrive in Indianapolis five hours later.

Under the new deal, Amtrak will provide train and engine crews and manage reservations and ticketing, while Iowa Pacific will provide the train equipment, maintenance, food service and marketing. If ticket revenue does not cover costs, INDOT will pay the difference, while Amtrak will forward any excess revenue to the state, the agency said.

INDOT said it initially expects to pay Iowa Pacific about $255,000 per month, and Crawfordsville, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Rensselaer and Tippecanoe County would pay a combined $21,000 per month. The deal also calls for INDOT to receive 25 percent of Iowa Pacific’s operating profits for the Hoosier State.

The contracts continue through June 30, 2017, with the state having the option to extend the deal up to four additional years. They also allow flexibility for possible future improvements in scheduling, frequency or connecting bus service, INDOT said.

Wingfield told the Lafayette Journal & Courier on Friday that the contract was held up by the completion of a 1,200-foot rail segment between CSX tracks and Iowa Pacific Holdings’ maintenance facility in Beech Grove. He said the track problem surfaced Tuesday when a switch had to be redesigned on a CSX line that provides access to Iowa Pacific’s maintenance facility.

Continue Reading

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Let’s improve the Hiawatha train service

7/30/15

Milwaukee’s economic foe is less Chicago than it is Shanghai. Indiana’s is less Illinois than it is India. I suspect that the governors of the three states in the Chicago megacity — all Republicans — know this. But even in a globalized age, old habits die hard.

So you get Indiana putting up signs that ask Illinois: “Illinoyed by higher taxes?” and you get the Illinois governor promising to “rip the economic guts out of Indiana.”

Colorful language, but useless in a global competition.

But despite such zero-sum, cross-border carping, a new Marquette University Law School poll that plumbed attitudes in the tristate region found an appetite among the people for interstate collaboration in at least one key area: transportation. And that’s where this region should focus its collective energy.

The poll was commissioned as part of a conference this week on the Chicago megacity, the region that stretches from the Milwaukee area to northwest Indiana.

The Marquette poll found strong sentiment in theoryfor cooperation across state lines but far less interest when the idea of ox-goring was raised. Asked if Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin should pool their money to promote tourism or to attract large companies to the region, majorities, sometimes sizable majorities, said no way, they’d just as soon not.

Continue Reading

The Detroit News: Grand Rapids, Detroit train idea taking shape

7/29/15

Passenger train service between Detroit and Grand Rapids could be reinstated in the next decade if state transportation experts determine the public has an appetite for a new line and can figure out how to pay for it.

Supporters say the idea of connecting Michigan’s two largest cities by train is gaining appeal on both sides of the state as each undergo economic and cultural revivals making passenger service more appealing to business travelers and tourists.

The Michigan Environmental Council, the Lansing-based group that supports increasing public transportation options, has undertaken a $100,000 feasibility study and embarked on a series of hearings this summer along the route to get the public’s input.

Keep Reading