Hotline #781 -- October 19, 2012

Federal, state, and local leaders gathered today in Illinois to celebrate the start of 110-mph rail service along the Chicago to St. Louis rail corridor.  An Amtrak train hit 110-mph speeds over a 15 mile stretch between Dwight and Pontiac, a momentous step forward in the development of a modern and efficient Midwestern high speed rail network.

“A 21st century rail system in Illinois will create jobs and drive economic development throughout the Midwest, while making travel across Illinois faster, safer and more reliable,” Governor Quinn said. The Governor added that high-speed rail is “coming to Illinois and these long-term investments in our transportation system will benefit the citizens of our state for generations to come.”

The train ate up the 15 mile stretch of track in a mere 6 minutes, but it represents years of hard work and planning.  Since the project began in 2010, crews have laid more than 2.5 million linear feet of rail, spread nearly 1.3 million tons of ballast to help provide a more stable roadbed, and installed nearly 620,000 concrete ties.  Workers also installed state-of-the-art signaling systems.  The project has created 6,000 jobs so far, a boon to a construction industry still feeling the negative effects of the recession.

Crews will continue to improve the corridor, with work on schedule to introduce 110 mph service on 75 percent of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor by 2015.  When completed, the improvements will shave an hour off the total trip time between the two cities. That’s an important improvement for a state that has seen ridership on Amtrak’s four Illinois routes grow nearly 75 percent over the past six years—soaring to over 2.1 million passengers carried last year.

"Amtrak is a lynchpin in Illinois mass transportation and a vital component in the economic development of communities from Chicago to St. Louis, and with ridership up 6 percent this year, its popularity only continues to grow," U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said. "Recognizing high-speed rail's outstanding potential to create jobs and drive growth, as well as our state's leading role in transportation infrastructure, the federal government invested close to $2 billion out of a total $8 billion made available nationwide through the Recovery Act into Illinois projects. High-speed trains will help move residents quickly and comfortably across the state and ensure Illinois remains a top passenger rail provider."

 

The cost of transportation is weighing ever more heavily on families, according to a study released by the Center for Housing Policy and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which found that the cost of getting around rose faster then income did in the previous decade.

“It’s really important that we stop thinking about our policy in separate silos: housing over here, transportation over there and the environment over there,” Executive Director Jeffrey Lubell of the Center for Housing Policy told Politico. “We have to link them together and think about how do we lower the combined costs? People don’t live in silos.”

The study describes how transportation costs are hitting middle- and working-class families the hardest:

Housing and transportation costs rose faster than income during the 2000s, increasing the burden that these costs placed on already stretched budgets. This held true for each of the 25 largest metropolitan areas, though the disparity was greater in some areas than others. For all households, including homeowners who have paid off their mortgage, housing and transportation together consumed an average of 48 percent of the median household's income by decade's end.

For households earning 50 to 100 percent of the median income of their metropolitan area, nearly three-fifths (59 percent) of income goes to housing and transportation costs. For these households, the growing costs of place are particularly burdensome, leaving relatively little left over for expenses such as food, education, and health care, not to mention savings. 

The two organizations identify a number of ways to reduce the combined costs of housing and transportation for families, including preserving affordable housing near existing and planned transit stations, job centers, and other places where transportation costs are low; and including affordable housing within new development that takes place in intermodal transportation nodes.  A robust train network serving intermodal train stations will certainly be part of that solution.

 

Indiana state officials are warning that the Hoosier State is in danger of discontinuation unless the state finds a stable source of funding by 2013.

The Hoosier State runs daily between Chicago and Indianapolis.  However, provisions included in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 shifts responsibility for funding operations of routes less than 750 miles from the federal government to the states served.  Indiana officials are warning that, unless a source of funding for the route is identified, the train will be eliminated.

Amtrak has remains cautiously optimistic that a funding solution can be found.

“October 2013 is quite a ways from now,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “It’s not a done deal.”

 

Following its record breaking year for ridership, Amtrak has released a list of the top five stations, by ridership, for every state it serves.

“Amtrak provides a vital transportation service to this country, often serving as the only intercity travel mode in many of the communities we serve,” said President and CEO Joe Boardman. “We also benefit hundreds of local economies by supporting jobs, increasing tourism and stimulating economic development.”

Boardman was quick to point out that Amtrak is a lifeline for a number of small communities.  According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the number of Americans for whom Amtrak service is the only intercity transportation option tripled in just five years, due to declining intercity bus and air service coverage.

 

Transportation officials gathered to celebrate the opening of three new Los Angeles Union Station tracks and a new platform on October 17, enhancing capacity for the nations fifth busiest train station.

The project was a join effort between the Caltrans Division of Rail, Amtrak, the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“Train travel in California and nationwide has increased creating the need to restore three Los Angeles Union Station tracks and a platform meeting the demand for business and leisure travel, said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.  “Since Caltrans began financial support of the 351-mile Pacific Surfliner corridor between San Diego and San Luis Obispo in 1979, nearly $1 billion in state capital improvements have been realized.”

Despite its reputation as a region dominated by automobiles, train service has risen from six daily trains to 22 daily trains since Caltrans began managing the Pacific Surfliner corridor, helping the Californian corridor become the second busiest in the U.S., behind only the Northeast Corridor.

The work restored three tracks and a platform that were removed around 35 years ago.

 

The Bakersfield City Council voted on October 17 to move forward with a lawsuit against the California High Speed Rail Authority, charging that the Authority has not been responsive enough in accounting for the impacts the project will have on the community.

"We'd be suing based upon the lack of completeness, or the lack of thoroughness in the draft environmental impact report," assistant to the city manager Steve Teglia told Bakersfield Eyewitness News.  Teglia added that the city has “always been upfront with the Authority what these impacts are, but we've never been able to get information from them in terms of how they plan to mitigate or work around these impacts."

Many supporters of the 220 mph Los AngelesSan Francisco train expressed surprise at the move, which they described as a reversal.

"There's been kind of a reset," said Marvin Dean, a member of Kern Supporters of High Speed Rail. "The Authority has come here in good faith to show that they want to work with the city and the County of Kern."

Supporters of the project argue that population growth means the line will go ahead regardless of their objections.  The sate of California is projected to reach 51 million people by the year 2050, and transportation planners are already scrambling to create additional capacity in a region choked by road congestion.

"What that does is put us in a bad light in terms of being able to get leverage with the High Speed Rail Authority to make sure this project is going to benefit our community," said Dean.

Check out the California High Speed Rail Blog for more.