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With new federal dollars, states upgrading region’s intercity passenger rail lines

by Laura Kliewer ~ May 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Four years ago, federal lawmakers made a historic funding commitment to passenger rail — billions of dollars for new equipment and projects to improve intercity and interstate service. The Midwest has received $2.5 billion of the money obligated so far under the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program (a little more than a quarter of total federal funding) for close to 40 projects.
That money is being used by eight states in the region (Missouri included) to implement the first phase of a long-term plan to bring faster, more frequent passenger-rail service to the region. This plan, known as the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, envisions a 3,000-mile interstate system of high-speed trains traveling to and from the region’s largest cities.
During a recent webinar hosted by the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, officials from five states detailed how the new federal dollars for passenger rail are being used so far. (CSG Midwest provides staffing services to the commission.)
Michigan has been using program funds to improve service on the Chicago-to-Detroit corridor. As a result, trains are now traveling at speeds of 110 mph on a portion of the route, specifically along a 125-mile segment of track between Kalamazoo and the Michigan-Indiana border. Later this year, trains traveling between Kalamazoo and Dearborn will be capable of reaching these high speeds, Tim Hoeffner, director of the Michigan Office of Rail, said during the webinar. Another key improvement will be corridor-wide installation of a wireless train-control and communication system, which will allow for increased speeds, greater line capacity and enhanced safety.
Joe Shacter, director of public and intermodal transportation for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said his state’s signature project is bringing 110-mph service to the Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor. High-speed service began in November on a 20-mile segment of the route, and by late 2015, Illinois expects to have completed the work needed to begin offering 110-mph service on a much larger portion of the corridor.
Other state projects have sought to eliminate problematic bottlenecks along the route and to upgrade rail stations, including in Joliet and Bloomington-Normal.

Missouri officials have been working for several years to improve on-time performance along the St. Louis-to-Kansas City corridor. Eric Curtit, rail administrator for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said his state has secured federal funding for nine projects. One has been completed (a universal crossover at the corridor’s Kirkwood junction) and three others are under construction, including a new bridge over the Osage River and improvements to the Mississippi River bridges.

The Indiana Gateway Project — which includes the construction of new tracks and universal crossovers — will help relieve chronic congestion points in the northwest part of the state. Once completed, it will give “train dispatchers additional alternatives when they are planning their train meets and passings in and out of Chicago,” said Mike Riley, rail section manager for the state’s Department of Transportation.

As part of plans to bring 110-mph service between the Twin Cities and Chicago, Minnesota has identified a preferred route (along Amtrak’s existing Empire Builder line) and is now conducting an environmental study. The goal is to have high-speed service between the two Midwestern metropolitan areas up and running by 2017, said Dan Krom, director of the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s passenger-rail office. Minnesota is also studying the idea of bringing 110 mph service to two intrastate routes: between the Twin Cities and Duluth (service has been dormant on this corridor since 1986) and between the Twin Cities and Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic.


Laura Kliewer is a CSG Midwest senior policy analyst who also serves as director of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission.