News

TravelPulse: Why the US Needs to Embrace High Speed Rail

4/23/15

This week Japan set a new land speed record for a mag-lev train at 366 mph. Twice. The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe then said he would like to bring mag-lev technology to the U.S. and even offered Japan’s financial assistance. But why haven’t we embraced high speed rail and mag-lev technology here in the U.S.? 

You can barely call the Acela Express that operates from Washington, D.C. to Boston high speed, because it doesn’t even run on dedicated lines. There have been numerous proposals with the two most likely to actually come to fruition traversing from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

But why not New York to L.A.? Here are the reasons why it is time for the U.S. to get in the mag-lev game.

Re-urbanization

The whole media world talks about millennials because they are supposedly changing the game again and again.  One of the trends that is indeed true is that they are moving back into the cities. The younger generations are sick of sitting in traffic, for the privilege living in the suburbs with their two and half kids and white picket fences.

They want to feel connected to things, be able to walk and bike to work, restaurants, and shopping. They are more than fine with having one car per family and many of them are willing to give up vehicles altogether if the infrastructure in their cities can support it.

Interstate travel by high speed train fits right into their lifestyle as they would rather socialize, play games, or watch movies than have to sit in traffic anywhere.

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Herald-News: Amtrak budget cuts undermine plans for Joliet transportation center

4/21/15

JOLIET — Proposed state budget cuts to Amtrak would “certainly fly in the face” of the city’s efforts in building a new multi-modal transportation center downtown, Joliet Mayor-Elect Bob O’Dekirk said Tuesday.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed state budget would cut 40 percent from Illinois’ funding for Amtrak trains at a time when ridership is climbing. The Republican governor’s proposed cuts are part of a series of effortshe’s undertaken to balance Illinois’ deficit budget.

The cuts reduce Amtrak’s state funding from $40 million to $26 million.

It’s unclear where services will be cut, an Amtrak spokesman said Tuesday, but proposed cuts would definitely lead to job cuts and fewer lines.

The downtown transportation center is one of the biggest — and most expensive — capital projects going on in Joliet, with a price tag of $46 million.

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The Atlantic: Debunking 5 Myths About Texas High-Speed Rail

4/20/15

Opposition to the big Texas high-speed rail plan to link Houston and Dallas hasemerged in full force, but some of the pushback is based on information that’s flat out wrong. To explode these myths, Texas Central Partners, which is in charge of development for the bullet train project, is circulating a “Rumors vs. Realities” document that they’ve provided CityLab.

There are, of course, some people who don’t want to be convinced this project has its benefits. But the hope is that this breakdown will appeal to those who’ve managed to keep an open mind so far. Here’s the gist:

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Post Bulletin: Dayton: Banning public money for Zip Rail ‘foolish’

4/16/15

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday called efforts to ban public funding for a high-speed rail line from Rochester to the Twin Cities “foolish.”

Dayton said the U.S. is far behind other countries when it comes to the development of high-speed rail. He said it doesn’t make sense to block public funding of this project, especially as Rochester works to make itself a global destination for health care.

He asked, “Do we want to restrict what Mayo is going to become as a Destination Medical Center over the next 10, 20 years? I mean, how foolish could anybody be?”

A bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, would prohibit any public dollars being spent on the high-speed rail line known as “Zip Rail.” It also would prevent the use of eminent domain for the rail project. It’s a measure that has continued to advance in the GOP-controlled House and is part of a larger property tax bill, which Drazkowski also is sponsoring.

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Southern Illinoisian: Lawmakers rally around Amtrak service, protest cuts

4/14/15

CARBONDALE – Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed state budget is calling for a 40 percent cut in funding for Amtrak, from $42 million to $26 million, and advocates for rail service aren’t going to let go quietly.

At a news conference Monday, a representative with the Midwest High Speed Rail Association and Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, urged Southern Illinois residents to contact their legislators and the governor and let them know Amtrak is a vital factor in economic development in the southern part of the state.

The Amtrak station in Carbondale has three daily trains taking passengers to Chicago.

The 58 City of New Orleans leaves at 3:16 a.m., the 390 Saluki at 7:30 a.m. and 392 Illini at 4:15 p.m.

An Amtrak fact sheet shared at the press conference showed Carbondale as the fifth busiest station in Illinois with well more than 100,000 riders in fiscal year 2014.

The New Orleans train would not be impacted by the cuts because it is not state supported. The Illini, which has been running since 1986, and the Saluki, which started service in 2006, are the state-sponsored round trip routes that are in jeopardy of being cut.

“This is a not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is a Southern Illinois issue,” Michael Richards, with Midwest High Speed Rail Association, said Monday.

He said one of the top reasons people 30 and younger relocate to a town is transportation and how it connects to the rest of the state.

Southern Illinois University also has concerns about the cuts, because many students use the train service to travel back and forth from the northern part of the state.

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Indiana Department of Transportation: INDOT, FRA Reach Deal To Keep Hoosier State Line Running

4/9/15

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 6, 2015

Indiana, FRA to Address Hoosier State Improvements

Agreements to Establish Clear Ownership for Safety, Access

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration reached an understanding of the clear lines of accountability for passenger rail safety and accessibility between Indianapolis and Chicago, allowing Indiana to implement long-term improvements to the daily service.

INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning met in Indianapolis with FRA staff last week to discuss the roles and responsibilities for providing safe passenger rail service. Indiana’s contracts would require Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings, separately, to comply with all Amtrak and FRA requirements. In addition, INDOT would designate a staff member responsible for overseeing contract compliance.

“INDOT and the FRA share the guiding principles of access to safe mobility,” Browning said. “Based on these guiding principles, we are both committed to a path toward continuing the Hoosier State service.”

INDOT plans to continue existing Amtrak Hoosier State service in the near term until agreements can be finalized with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific. Amtrak, FRA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspections of Iowa Pacific equipment are ongoing.

Purchase tickets

The four-days-weekly Hoosier State (Trains 850 & 851) and the three-days-weekly Amtrak Cardinal (Trains 50 & 51) provide daily service between Indianapolis and Chicago and enable passengers to reach the national Amtrak network.

Tickets are available at Amtrak.com, 800-USA-RAIL and other sales channels, including Amtrak mobile apps. Adult fares range from $24 to $48 each way and are subject to discounts and Amtrak Guest Rewards points.

Long-term service plan

For the past year, INDOT has been working to improve passenger rail between Indianapolis and Chicago on behalf of the state and communities with stops along the Hoosier State line. Recently, INDOT has been making progress in negotiating long-term agreements with two experienced passenger rail providers, Amtrak and Iowa Pacific.

Under the proposed service, Amtrak would serve as the primary operator, working with host railroads, providing train and engine crews, and managing reservation and ticketing. Iowa Pacific would provide the train equipment, train maintenance, on-board services and marketing.

 

For more information, visit IN.gov/indot/3200.htm. Follow Twitter.com/INDOT or Facebook.com/IndianaDepartmentOfTransportation for updates tagged #AmtrakHoosierState.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Will Wingfield, 317-233-4675 or wwingfield@indot.in.gov

The Santa Fe New Mexican: Our view: Amtrak is staying—and that’s good news

4/9/15

What good news — the Southwest Chief Amtrak passenger train is keeping its route through Northern New Mexico. That’s some of the best economic news we’ve had in a while.

Amtrak decided to keep its trains riding through Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy and Albuquerque after two years of speculation that it would abandon the route. That would have meant economic disaster for the small towns that depend on jobs and economic activity from train passengers, not to mention for the many rural residents who depend on train travel for mobility. Raton would have been especially hard hit, considering the thousands of Boy Scouts who visit Philmont Scout Ranch. They take the train, exit at Raton and then travel on to the ranch. There really isn’t a more efficient, safer way to move thousands of Scouts a summer.

Unlike Colorado and Kansas, New Mexico did not move aggressively to try and keep Amtrak after the passenger train service promised to abandon the route unless the tracks on which the train moved were repaired. The track’s owners, BNSF Railway, had already told Amtrak and the three states on the route that it no longer was going to maintain the tracks.

Without maintenance, the trains could not travel fast enough for passenger service. That left Amtrak and the states through which the train moved scrambling to find a way to pay for repairs — New Mexico’s share was estimated to be some $4 million a year over 10 years. (An updated estimate for track repairs should be available next month.)

Now, with Colorado and Kansas identifying funding, New Mexico is catching up. Department of Transportation Cabinet Secretary Tom Church has worked with train supporters — including the Southwest Chief Coalition and representatives from cities and counties — to develop strategies for seeking federal transportation grants. Other money, $37.5 million designated for state economic development programs, could be a place for the Martinez administration to look for maintenance or as seed money for a federal grant. It’s clear now that money is available. We just needed the will to look for it.

With aggressive pursuit of federal dollars — or whatever state money is needed — Amtrak is secure enough to say the train is staying put. Train supporters should remain vigilant to make sure New Mexico follows through, finds the money and ensures that the tracks are able to carry passenger trains.

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Winona Post: Rochester rail goes ahead amid pushback

4/9/15

Despite resistance from some of the communities in its path and fiscal conservatives, a proposed high-speed rail line between Rochester and the Twin Cities called ZIP Rail is moving forward. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) announced two weeks ago that it intends to begin the $2.3 million first phase of an in-depth environmental study required for the project called an environmental impact statement (EIS). The entire study could cost around $7 million, and building the rail line is expected to cost roughly $2 billion to $4 billion. Meanwhile, bills are currently being discussed in state legislature that would ban public spending on ZIP Rail, including spending on the EIS. 

The ZIP Rail project would build a new high speed rail line sending trains between Rochester and the Twin Cities at speeds over 100 miles per hour. The project would require acquiring land for a brand new rail corridor through the plains of Olmsted, Dodge, Goodhue, Rice, and Dakota counties, as well as the metro area. Mn/DOT also has been working on plans for years for a high speed rail line connecting the Twin Cities and Chicago. The current proposed route for that Minneapolis to Chicago high speed line, known as the River Route, traces the Mississippi River and stops in Winona. While official state plans call for the development of both ZIP Rail and the River Route, some Winona leaders have warned that if the ZIP Rail project advances first, it might supplant the River Route as Minnesota’s segment of a Minneapolis to Chicago high speed rail line.

The state plans to spend $2 million in state funds on a feasibility study for the Zip Rail concept and the first phase of an EIS for the project. Part of that money has already been spent on the feasibility study. The second phase of the EIS, which might not be conducted if the first phase leads planners to scrap the project, is expected to cost $5 million.

WGEM: Macomb mayor–Proposed Amtrak budget cuts would hurt city

4/9/15

MACOMB, Ill. (WGEM) –Amtrak could loose more than 50 percent of its state funding and that means fewer trains in the Tri-States. 

Macomb Mayor Mike Inman says under Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s budget plan, Amtrak funding would be cut from $42 million to $16 million.  Inman says it’s still unclear what specific routes would be cut from what cities as a result, but he fears they would lose at least one train. 

Right now, they have two southbound and two northbound trains each day.  Inman says losing Amtrak services could make Western Illinois University less appealing when it comes to recruiting students. 

“So many students from the metropolitan area of Chicago rely, absolutely rely on Amtrak to get to and from Western Illinois University and come to Macomb,” Inman said. “Whether they go home every weekend or every month or every two months or whatever. In many cases, it’s their only reliable form of transportation to get to and from home.”

Inman says a resolution approved by city council last week was sent to Governor Rauner and other state lawmakers telling them about the impact of reduced Amtrak funding. 

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Palladium-Item: Other view–Can Hoosier State line be saved?

4/9/15

If there’s any glimmer of hope of saving the Hoosier State passenger rail service from Indianapolis to Chicago, it’s the growing list of players on board in condemning a Federal Railroad Administration ruling that sent the most recent contract negotiations into a skid.

Service will end April 30 for the four-day-a-week service that makes stops in Lafayette if the Indiana Department of Transportation can’t close a deal that would have Amtrak crews operating Iowa Pacific Holdings rolling stock. That deal hasn’t exactly been a slam dunk, given the contentious way the state and Amtrak — which runs the Hoosier State line now — have come at negotiations over the past few years.

But the Federal Railroad Administration really gummed up the works in a new way, telling INDOT that it had to operate as a railroad if it entered this new public-private partnership. In a letter dated March 6, Karl Browning, INDOT commissioner, said there was no way. He said the state couldn’t afford the liability that came with that — not to mention that INDOT, slow to warm to being forced into dealing with passenger rail in the first place, wasn’t looking to do even more work to keep the Hoosier State alive.

The Hoosier State’s contract was due to end April 1, but Browning allowed one more month in hopes that the Federal Railroad Administration would reconsider.

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