Category Archives: News

In case you haven’t noticed, Amtrak’s Pere Marquette is on a new schedule

Amtrak press release:

A new schedule for the Amtrak Pere Marquette will make it more convenient for passengers to attend sports, music and theatre events in Chicago and result in eight to 10 jobs being based in Grand Rapids, Mich.,effective May 4, 2015. The new schedule (attached) also improves connections with other Amtrak trains.

The current schedule allows a six-hour day in Chicago and was crafted for Chicago-based crew cycles. Last year’s opening of the Vernon J. Ehlers Station allowed for the creation of a crew base in downtown Grand Rapids and a nine-hour day for passengers to work or play in Chicago.

Amtrak employed 237 Michigan residents last year, with total wages of $19.5 million. Goods and services purchased in Michigan by Amtrak totaled $17.3 million in 2014.

All Amtrak service in Michigan is operated under a contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).


Mayor’s Press Release: $7 Million Funding to Improve Train Service at Chicago’s Union Station

Funding Will Go Towards Planning that is Critical to Addressing Transit Center’s Aging Infrastructure

From Chicago Mayor’s Press Office:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Mark Kirk, Representative Mike Quigley, Amtrak and Metra today announced an additional $7 million funding to develop infrastructure improvements and train operating strategies that will enhance passenger rail service at Chicago’s Union Station. The funds will be used to conduct a Terminal Planning Study and create a Service Development Plan that will increase capacity at the 90-year-old station and on the railroads that lead to it. This builds on the announcement in January 2015 that Amtrak has made a commitment of $12 million to continue renovations of Union Station this year. In the coming weeks and months, Mayor Emanuel will continue to work in coordination with the United States Department of Transportation, the State of Illinois, Metra, and Amtrak to facilitate a complete overhaul of Union Station that will require a multi-year, $500 million investment.

“Union Station provides an essential link to jobs and economic opportunities for residents in neighborhoods throughout the City of Chicago and these resources will help us ensure that it serves our city more effectively for the future,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “With the help of these federal resources, Union Station will be able to keep pace with rising demand on our railways to remain an economic engine for Chicago and keep our city on the move for many more decades to come.”

“Union Station serves as the gateway to Chicago for thousands of commuters and visitors every day,” Senator Durbin said. “Yet most are met with congestion on the rails and within the station. With this infusion of federal, state and local funding we’ll be easing rail congestion outside the station and laying the groundwork for a vast improvement of the passenger experience inside the station. I commend Mayor Emanuel and Amtrak for having the vision to reimagine a Union Station with improved air quality, pedestrian flow and retail space and look forward to working with them to make it a reality.”

Chicago’s Union Station is the third-busiest railroad terminal in the United States, serving over 300 trains per weekday carrying nearly 125,000 arriving and departing passengers – a level of passenger traffic that would rank it among the fifteen busiest airports in the U.S. Due to this, the station currently operates at or near capacity during peak periods. Moreover, demand for both passenger and freight rail service throughout the Chicago region is expected to continue to grow considerably in the years ahead. Chicago’s ability to capture this railroad traffic will generate an estimated 17,200 jobs over a ten-year timeframe and up to $7 billion in annual production.

“As the only Illinois member of the House Appropriations Committee, I’m proud to help bring much needed funding back to the City of Chicago. Today, we take an important step towards a faster, more efficient, and environmentally conscious transportation system,” said Rep. Quigley. “By developing a 21st century infrastructure plan we can ease congestion on the tracks, take more cars off the streets, and improve air quality for our great city and our region.”

“As Illinois’ most senior member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a chief proponent of the CREATE rail modernization program, I fought in 2013 alongside Congressman Quigley to get unspent federal funds reprogrammed for rail safety and improvement projects,” said Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-3). “Today, I’m proud to announce that our region is getting some of those funds to develop a plan to ease congestion on our rail lines, benefitting passengers using Union Station and aiding economic growth by improving freight movement. This will be a great help to so many of my constituents who want safer and more efficient rail traffic through our region.”

The Terminal Planning Study and Service Development Plan will help to coordinate routes and operations and enhance passenger rail service into and out of Union Station for travelers and commuters approaching Chicago from the east, south, and west. More than 700 commuter and passenger rail trains and 500 freight trains operate each day in the Chicagoland area. Union Station is the busiest railroad station in Chicago, serving approximately 115,000 Metra and 10,000 Amtrak passengers every weekday.

In 2014, 32.5 million Metra customers arrived or departed on commuter trains at Union Station. Meanwhile, nearly 2.3 million passenger trips were made between Union Station and destinations throughout the Midwest using Amtrak’s state-supported passenger train services. An additional 1.1 million trips to and from Union Station were made on Amtrak’s long distance trains. Train ridership is forecast to increase significantly in the next few years as major track improvements are completed and new rail cars are introduced.

“Like flying, when delays taxing to and from the runway are frustrating, on some Amtrak routes the delays are often in the miles closet to Chicago Union Station,” said Derrick James, Amtrak Government Affairs. “This grant will go a long way toward fixing those problems, so investments in higher-speed Amtrak routes in Downstate Illinois, Northern Indiana and Michigan are not negated by trains crawling in — or even backing out — at Union Station.”

The Terminal Planning Study and Service Development Plan are critical steps towards increasing Union Station’s capacity while enabling the station to better connect Chicago’s neighborhoods and suburban communities and provide residents with access to jobs; accommodate high-speed and intercity trains and passengers; reduce congestion to improve passenger safety; and improve intermodal connections.

The funding includes $3 million from the Federal Railroad Administration that will be matched by $2 million from the State of Illinois, $1 million from Metra, and $1 million in tax increment financing (TIF) from the City of Chicago.

In addition to this Study, in the coming months, Mayor Emanuel will work with Amtrak, Metra and state and federal partners to initiate improvements recommended in the Union Station Master Plan. Investing in transit infrastructure and transit-oriented development supports Mayor Emanuel’s efforts to enhance quality of life and create jobs for residents in neighborhoods across Chicago.

The rehabilitation of Union Station will be supported by projects already underway to expand its role as a central and growing transit hub, linking neighborhoods to jobs, and neighboring states and counties to Chicago. These projects include building the Union Station Transportation Center, a consolidated Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bus terminal on city-owned land next to Union Station that will anchor the new Loop Link. This new corridor will connect Amtrak, Metra, all of CTA’s downtown rail lines and many downtown destinations, resulting in faster, more reliable transit serving residents and commuters across all of Chicago’s neighborhoods.

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Michigan voters soundly reject Proposal 1 road tax plan

From the Detroit Free Press:

Proposal 1, likely one of the most complicated and confusing questions ever placed on a Michigan ballot, was soundly rejected Tuesday as many voters expressed anger at lawmakers and state government for failing to come up with a better solution to the sorry state of the roads.

With all counties reporting, 1.4 million Michiganders voted no on Proposal 1 while less than 351,000 voted yes, according to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office. The 80-20 rejection was the most one-sided loss ever for a proposed amendment to the state constitution of 1963, records show.

The Free Press called the election for the no side less than one hour after the polls closed, based on analysis of exit poll results and early returns.

Even before the polls closed on a rainy day across much of Michigan — a fact expected to depress voter turnout already projected to be as low as 20% — the talk had turned to what happens next.

“We need to go ahead and get these roads and infrastructure fixed immediately, given the nature and the extent of the damage that has occurred from not maintaining them,” said Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township.

But Tuesday’s vote was not expected to make it easier to find a solution to the infrastructure problem Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP-controlled Legislature have grappled with for several years. Tuesday’s result sets up a fight between tea party conservatives who want to address the roads issue without raising taxes and others in the Legislature who say the public is willing to pay more to fix the roads — just not the way they were asked to do this time.

Proposal 1 would have hiked the state sales tax to 7% from 6%, taken the sales tax off fuel sales, and hiked fuel taxes — raising close to $1.3 billion extra for roads.

When fully implemented, the plan would have also generated about $200 million a year more for schools; $116 million for transit and rail; sent $111 million more to local governments; and given a $260-million tax break to low- and moderate-income families through restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The complex nature of the proposal resulted from the need to replace school and local government revenues lost as a result of removing the sales tax from fuel sales to make room for higher fuel taxes, which unlike sales taxes, support roads and transportation. Features such as the restoration of the EITC were concessions to Democrats, whose votes Republican Snyder needed to get the plan through the Legislature.

The special election cost Michigan taxpayers about $10 million.

Read more:

Tuesday, May 5, 2014 ballot proposal could increase train and transit funding

Passenger train and mass transit programs in the state may see an estimated $112 million increase annually if voters approve an amendment to the state constitution on Tuesday, May 5, 2014, raising the sales tax and restructuring how taxes are collected for transportation.

In a December lame-duck session, Michigan lawmakers approved plans for a statewide ballot proposal, called Proposal 1, and an 11-bill package that could yield $1.2 billion a year in new funding for roads and bridges as well as the estimated $112 million increase to the Comprehensive Transportation Fund (CTF) which funds programs such as passenger trains, transit programs, intercity bus and freight rail.

The $112 million figure forthe CTF was announced by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder at a Dec. 18 press conference.

Actual funding levels for each program in the CTF are subject to future legislative debate and appropriation bills. The revenue generated for the CTF also will depend on fuel prices and other factors.

The proposal has been criticized as complicated and it has left many voters wondering what are the implications of a yes or no vote.

Gary Kuecken researched the issue and has broken it down here in terms of yes and no:

Click to enlarge
Click on chart to enlarge

1The funding formula:

  • 90% road repair and maintenance (for use only on road work)
  • 39.1% Michigan Department of Transportation
  • 39.1% county road commissions
  • 21.8% cities and villages
  • 10% Comprehensive Transportation Fund to benefit public transit programs

2Although it is very likely that this error will be corrected if the proposal is passed, the current wording of the current bill is as follows:

“the first $400,000,000.00 received and collected under this act” in FY2016 and “the first $800,000,000.00 received and collected under this act” in FY2017 would be distributed through the state funding formula

This amount applies to new revenue as well as existing funds such that around $1.7 billion (the $800 million intended earmark plus current baseline fuel tax revenue of around $900 million) would be earmarked for debt reduction in FY2016 resulting in a decrease in funding of $500 million from current levels.

Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst train service continues uninterrupted

From the Sault Star:

The ACR passenger train rolls into Sault Ste. Marie from Hearst March 31, 2015 at the CN Rail yard in the city's west end. Jeffrey Ougler/Sault Star
The ACR passenger train rolls into Sault Ste. Marie from Hearst March 31, 2015 at the CN Rail yard in the city’s west end. Jeffrey Ougler/Sault Star

The new operator of the passenger train service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst hailed the announcement as a new beginning and a new future for Northern rail service.

B. Allen Brown, CEO of Railmark Canada, was even happier April 1, 2015 when the late night federal funding announcement was followed up by Transport Canada that Railmark has received its certificate of approval to operate on new legislation.

“There are some requirements and coordination that we expected but we’re certainly moving forward today,”

Brown told The Sault Star. “We can now start telling our prospective employees about the transition and work on the transition and coordination plan.”

Transport Canada Minister Lisa Raitt announced late Tuesday night that the government will provide $5.3 million of funding over three years for the continued operation of the passenger rail service.

“Our government was pleased to provide funding to maintain passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst. I thank MP Bryan Hayes for all his hard work and dedication on this file,” Raitt said.

The money will be filtered through the City of Sault Ste. Marie and logistical agreements will be made between the city, Railmark and the government over the next few weeks.

There will be no interruption of service. CN will continue operations for the next few weeks as the transition occurs.

Brown cautions that the funding announcement doesn’t mean the long-term “business as usual” for the train.

“At the end of the day we are not going to be business as usual because that’s what we told the government,” Brown said. “I just inherited a business that loses $2.2 million a year and we want to transform that business so it can break even in the sixth year and turn a profit in the seventh year and that’s the plan we’ve created.”

Brown promises better marketing, especially to the forgotten mid-west, better communication with stakeholders and users and an improved customer service and product base that will attract more riders for different reasons.

A relaunch of the snow train, dinner trains and specialty trains will be added in due course, he said.

Meanwhile, Railmark is the first company to receive its certificate to operate a rail under the new legislation created after the Lac-Megantic rail disaster that occurred in July 2013 after rail cars carrying crude oil rolled downhill, derailed and exploded, killing more than 40 people and creating the fourth largest rail disaster in Canadian history.

Sault MP Bryan Hayes said he’s “very pleased this has happened and I look forward to Railmark getting things off the ground.”

He said that the approval was provided in a “very short time frame” and came late Tuesday night during a treasury board meeting.

“I have faith in Railmark and the stakeholder’s group and the plan to increase the passenger side of the business,” he said.

Hayes said he expects the announcement to also be pleasing to tourist operators, property owners and communities along the train line.

“The stakeholder committee has done a marvelous job and will continue to stay in tune with the operations and the plans,” he said.

Mayor Christian Provenzano said he believes it’s the City of Sault Ste. Marie who will be responsible for the funding and there are some legal obligations that the city needs to meet that council will need to approve.

In addition, he believes there needs to be some agreements sent out between the parties.

“I’m pleased there’s an arrangement and council has some work to do here to ensure we’re satisfied and protected through contracts,” he said.

Sault Ste. Marie EDC CEO Tom Dodds said flowing the money through the City, a responsible financial entity, is appropriate and a prudent course of action by Transport Canada.

He doesn’t expect any issues with process.

Brown said the federal government is aware that he’s still looking for two additional years of funding assistance.

“We understand that position too,” said Hayes. “We recognize that there should be a review after three years and assess the need for the last $1.7 million from the federal government. Maybe at that point that money won’t be required, or there will be less of a requirement. The government will do its due diligence once again at that point.”

Dodds said it’s also important to know that as a result of the local stakeholder committee’s work, the rail lines removal from that program has now been reinstated.

“We were removed from the program and now we have been reinstated in that program and I credit the stakeholders with that,” Dodds said. “Now our job is to advocate to successfully keep it and what’s more important, is that (Brown) is prepared to agree to the three-year term.”

Linda Savory-Gordon, co-chair of the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) said she’s also pleased the funding has been approved by Transport Canada but realizes there is still much work to be done.

“We’re excited for this new service to begin but we agree that there needs to be some change that will result in more communication with the stakeholders and a strong attempt to draw more passengers and products to the line,” she said. “We believe this can be made into a real, incredible tourism corridor and we’re excited to work with someone who has that same goal,” Savory-Gordon said.

The feeling was echoed by co-chair and Wilderness Island owner Al Errington.

“This is a solid three years,” he said. “We will be there to do the due diligence to determine how the money is spent and those who need to use the train will help guide it and be accountable.”

He attributes the successful funding to the work that Hayes and Algoma-Manitoulin MP Carol Hughes did.

“These politicians collaborated and acted on behalf of their constituents,” he said. “People don’t realize how much work (Hayes) did to get this done.”

Errington said it’s the passengers who understand the need for the train best.

“We’re the ones who understand the train. The train is actually a small community and we want to make it a bigger community,” he said.

Errington expects Ontario tourism to be very strong this year and he wants that momentum to start on the train.

“I’m very excited to get to work on that,” he said.

A year ago, Transport Canada announced that it was cutting its remote access transportation funding – $2.2 million annually – to CN because stops along the route between the two Northern Ontario communities no longer fit the criteria.

The government granted a temporary, one-year hiatus that allowed local stakeholders a chance to regroup, complete a business study showing the economic benefit of the train on the region’s economy and devise a plan that would see sustainability of the operation.

It’s expected the transition period will take about one month to complete. Passenger train service will continue through that transition.