CHICAGO – The Environmental Law & Policy Center issued the following statement regarding a new study released today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit, non-partisan group based in Washington D.C. that promotes smart growth for working families.
“This study shows that high-speed rail development creates jobs and spurs economic growth while improving mobility,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Normal, Illinois is a shining example of how Midwest high-speed rail expansion has created manufacturing and construction jobs with better transportation soon available to millions of people.”
According to the study, building Normal’s Uptown Transit Station created 140,000 hours of work for construction workers in at least 13 different crafts. Unlike road-building projects where three crafts tend to receive the bulk of the work-hours, the Uptown Train Station in Normal, Illinois created work for iron workers, electricians, bricklayers, plumbers, sprinkler fitters, and sheet metal workers.
The $49 million project was supported by a $22 million Transportation Infrastructure Generating Employment Recovery (TIGER) grant, part of the federal economic stimulus program. Private spinoff development, totaling $220 million, leveraged and anchored by the Transit Center is already revitalizing the community. It’s also a best-practice model of long-range neighborhood planning focused around transit investments and integrating passenger rail into communities: Normal’s station connects Amtrak, local transit, intercity buses, bicycling, autos and pedestrians.
Amtrak ridership increased on its busiest line during the rail operator’s 2014 fiscal year, but lagging infrastructure upgrades slowed overall passenger growth, Amtrak reported Monday.
During the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, Amtrak ridership increased 0.2 percent year over year to 30.9 million, and ticket revenues increased 4 percent to $2.19 billion. Amtrak noted year-over-year ridership growth was slower than in recent years “due, in part, to a harsh winter season and on-time performance issues associated with freight train delays and infrastructure in need of replacement.”
Ridership on the busy Washington-to-Boston Northeast Corridor line increased 3.3 percent to 11.6 million, an all-time record, and the high-speed Acela Express service also had record ridership, according to Amtrak. Ridership was down, however, on both long-distance routes (down 4.5 percent) and state-supported services (down 0.6 percent). Many of those routes use tracks that are owned and dispatched by freight railroads that are in need of infrastructure upgrades, according to Amtrak.
GARY – Twenty years from now, perhaps, passenger trains will make 10 daily trips from Chicago to Detroit, with stops in Northwest Indiana along the way, and move riders between the two major cities in less than four hours, at speeds of 110 mph.
An environmental impact statement on the plan to increase passenger rail service between those two points is up for comment in the three states along the route in the coming days, with a meeting in Gary on Thursday.
The plan, being spearheaded by the Michigan Department of Transportation with assistance from its counterparts in Illinois and Indiana, calls for using existing Amtrak lines from the Detroit/Pontiac area to Porter.
A nationwide roll-out of high-speed rail may never materialize in the United States, but that hasn’t stopped local plans from moving forward at their own pace. The past few weeks have brought intriguing—and in some cases, very encouraging—updates on bullet train projects in California, Texas, and the Northeast. Let’s check in on the latest.
Siemens Industry Inc. is one of 10 global train manufacturers that have expressed interest in building high-speed rail cars and engines in the state, the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced on Thursday.
If selected, Siemens has said it would build all the trains and related components at its south Sacramento plant. The contract would bring hundreds of jobs to the area. In September, Siemens Rail Systems landed two large passenger and light rail contractsin Florida and San Francisco, both of which are expected to create new manufacturing jobs in Sacramento.
Three weeks ago, the high-speed rail authority asked rail manufacturers across the globe to submit interest letters if they wished to be considered for an initial procurement of up to 95 sets of train engines and cars. The trains must be capable of transporting passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours.
Gov. Scott Walker turned down $810 million in federal stimulus money in 2010, saying state taxpayers would be on the hook for millions more in the years to come. Now, that money has gone to Michigan, where Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is using it to beef up connections between Detroit and Chicago. Learner says it’s not just about Madison and Milwaukee; high-speed rail would pull the entire region together.
“This is a time to put the ideology behind and for Wisconsin to say we want the better transportation, we want the jobs, we want the economic connectivity and growth that comes from modern higher-speed rail development,” says Learner. “The Gov. needs to go to Washington and say. ‘let’s step up and get Wisconsin back on track.’”
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois recently announced the state is allocating an additional $102 million for the high-speed line that connects Chicago to St. Louis. In Minnesota they’re planning for a Zip Rail high-speed train that will connect the Twin Cities to Rochester.
According to Learner, Wisconsin has the opportunity to play catch-up and move forward, because it’s all about regional development.
“Connecting the Twin Cities to Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago, but also the cities in between that are being cut off from air services, where people face congestion delays and high prices of gasoline, and La Crosse, Brookfield, Oconomowoc, connecting those mid-size cities to the larger communities,” says Learner.
The Amtrak passenger train that runs between Chicago and Minneapolis is now regularly delayed because of the huge amount of rail freight carrying Wisconsin frac sand, and the oil from North Dakota that results from fracking.
I sat in The Hiawatha’s “Quiet Car” earlier this week riding the rails to Chicago, plugged my phone into a wall socket and thought what a mistake Wrong-Way Walker made killing Amtrak expansion to Madison.
He did more than eliminate a federally-funded, job-creating new line to Madison.
He also killed a comfortable, low-cost/no-TSA hassle-free Midwestern regional alternative to unpleasant plane or car travel, too.
On the Milwaukee-Chicago route, there are no tolls to pay, no road traffic congestion, no big parking fees when you get there.
And in an era of air rage, no fighting over disappearing leg room, no being scrunched into a middle seat, as the side-by-side wide Amtrak seats recline deeply.
And the trains are Wi-Fi enabled. My ticket cost $21. Downtown-to-downtown.
What Walker did, for political reasons, was target the UW community and Blue-voting Madison, reducing people’s options and denying Bucky simple, greener access to points East and West.
What was there not to like?
When the Haute-Picardie was built between Paris and Lille in France, no one could complain that it didn’t have plentiful enough parking. In the middle of a beetroot field, 40 kilometers from the community it was meant to serve, it was nothing if not accommodating to cars, and planners hoped economic activity would naturally sprout up around the station. It did not. It instead became a reason rail stations with poor linkages to public transit and economic activity are called “beet stations.” Not exactly an honor. (
Access to parking is, of course, one of the many issues Ann Arbor’s current Amtrak station presents. Anyone who has lugged a suitcase from the current longterm parking area across the Broadway St. bridge to the station would likely agree. Linking to public transit from the tight constraints of Depot St. is no easy task either. But of the three locations now under review to become the site of a new Amtrak station, the original is still closest to the economic activity of downtown – and that’s no small consideration. According to Deputy Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, Kevin Brubaker, it’s probably the most important factor in determining where to locate a train station – and far more important than parking.
“All of the activity of these people getting on and off trains, done right, creates a node of economic activity,” says Brubaker, citing restaurants, dry cleaners, florists and other retail as businesses that can serve train travelers. “You want to make sure the train station is in a place where you can capture that benefit.”
How does a train station create and capture economic activity? Take the Amtrak station in Normal, IL, for example. Once a small, overwhelmed station – not unlike Ann Arbor’s – that faced the rear of the city’s downtown, the new station dedicated in 2012 has become a center of economic activity. Not only does the 68,000 station include a restaurant, retail and municipal offices, but the rear facades of the neighboring downtown buildings transformed into front facades, essentially turning downtown around to face the station. In 2013, the station brought in more than $5.6 million in revenue.
Ann Arbor is already the busiest Amtrak station in Michigan. With service improvements aiming to reduce the travel time to Chicago by two hours as well as create commuter opportunities for daily trips in and out of the city, the number of riders coming through the station is only expected to rise – as are the economic potential of all of those new visitors, workers, diners and shoppers coming into town.
What if you could hop on a train in La Salle, Ottawa or Utica and take it to Union Station in Chicago?
Conversely, imagine the economic implications of vacationing Chicagoans hopping on a train to reach La Salle, Ottawa or Utica.
Decades ago, the above scenario happened all the time. A train route called the “Peoria Rocket” ran from Chicago to Peoria and back with a stop in La Salle.
And plans for something similar are underway for the Illinois Valley.
It’s called the Illinois Valley Public Transportation Plan.
It was initiated early this year by Illinois Department of Transportation and is now holding open houses to recruit economic leaders throughout the Illinois Valley to participate.
The plan calls for the creation of two passenger rail routes — Peru to Joliet and Peru to Aurora — via existing freight rail corridors.
A key swath of the high-speed rail line between Chicago and St. Louis is set to get $102 million in upgrades, Gov. Pat Quinn announced on Sunday.
Officials plan to build a second set of tracks between downstate Mazonia and Elwood and a new bridge over the Kankakee River between Joliet and Dwight.
The two-year project will reduce travel times between Chicago and St. Louis from five-and-a-half hours to four-and-a-half hours, Quinn said in a written statement.
Once completed, the improvements put the final upgrades in place between Joliet and Dwight in anticipation of the eventual double-tracking of the remainder of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor. This double-tracking will then allow more daily round-trips at increased 110-mph speeds. Trains now travel at 110 mph between Dwight and Pontiac.
The state has committed $358.8 million to the Chicago-St. Louis route, with the remainder of the $1.7 billion project federally funded.