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.
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.
MEDIA CONTACT: Will Wingfield, 317-233-4675 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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.
Illinois congressmen called for full funding for mass transit and passenger rail in a letter to a transportation subcommittee Monday.
A grass roots effort to bring regional passenger rail services through the south metro has successfully jumped one hurdle.
The Minnesota Department of Transportationhas released its draft State Rail Plan, and in the document MnDOT designates a Twin Cities-to-Northfield passenger rail line as a Phase I priority. The designation means the project will be considered in the next 20 years and is eligible for federal funding.
“It’s what we were hoping for. It means now the line can be studied to see if it’s feasible,” said Dwight Johnson, Rosemount City Administrator.
The effort started in Northfield as part of a community movement to address local transit needs, according to the Central MN Passenger Rail Initiative. Johnson said Northfield City Council member Suzie Nakasian and others there led the effort to get the corridor put into the state’s rail plan.
MNDOT updates its rail plan every five years. When the state last looked at projects in 2009, a line running parallel to Interstate 35 seemed unlikely. However, Dan Krom, director of the Passenger Rail Office, said this time around it was clear attitudes have changed.
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Several local organizations have pledged support for a study, which begins today, to examine the possibility of a West Michigan to Detroit-area passenger rail line.
The Holland Visitors Bureau, Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce, Macatawa Area Coordinating Council and Experience Grand Rapids each made a contribution totaling about $10,000 to fund a ridership and cost estimate study that could lead to actual service several years from now, project manager Liz Treutel said.
Treutel, who heads the study for the nonprofit Michigan Environmental Council, explains the seven-month project will examine ridership demand between the Holland, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit corridor to better understand the impacts of establishing coast-to-coast rail service.
The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s governing board, handling the study’s procurement, voted in late February to authorize entering into a $100,000 contract with Transportation Economics and Management System, or TEMS.
$80,000 was sourced from federal grant dollars, while the remaining $20,000 came from local match contributors, like West Michigan and other locations along the corridor, Treutel said.
For those Grand Rapidians looking to hop aboard a train to Detroit in the near future, a car still is the best choice.
“It’s not a full-blown study,” Treutel explained. “The two main components are ridership analysis – are there enough people to take the service, how much are they willing to pay, where will they go?
“The second component is looking at economic feasibility – are there riders, if there is, is this the kind of service that is economically viable and provides benefits for communities?”
WASHINGTON, March 9(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ducked a ruling on whether Amtrak, the government-owned passenger rail company, wields too much clout in setting regulations that private freight carriers also must follow.
The court, on a 9-0 vote, found that Amtrak is a government entity, not a private company. But the court, in an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, also ruled that further litigation is required to determine if there are problems with Amtrak’s involvement in setting the regulations.
The case was brought by the Association of American Railroads, which had challenged a federal law that gives Amtrak a key role in setting standards for railroads, including for on-time performance.
The case is Department of Transportation v. Association of American Railroads, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-1080.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)
The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reported today that U.S. ridership on public transportation systems reached 10.8 billion trips in 2014, the highest annual ridership number in 58 years.
Ridership rose even as gas prices declined by 42.9 cents in the fourth quarter, said APTA President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Melaniphy in a press release.
“People are changing their travel behavior and want more travel options,” said Melaniphy. “In the past people had a binary choice. You either took public transit, most likely a bus, or you drove a car. Now there are multiple options with subways, light rail, streetcars, commuter trains, buses, ferries, cars and shared use vehicles.”
Some U.S. transit agencies experienced all-time record high ridership in 2014, said Phillip Washington, APTA chair and CEO and general manager of the Regional Transportation District in Denver.
“This record ridership didn’t just happen in large cities,” said Washington. “It also happened in small and medium size communities.”
Light-rail ridership climbed 3.6 percent in 2014 compared with 2013, with 16 out of 28 public transit systems reporting increases. Light-rail service in Minneapolis jumped 57.4 percent due to the opening of the Metro Green Line in that city. Light-rail ridership in Oceanside, Calif., soared 36 percent due to the system being shut down for several months in 2013.