Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The New England Knowledge Corridor

Former governor Michael S. Dukakis talks about the planned Knowledge Corridor. The corridor would carry passengers from Springfield north to Montpelier, Burlington, and Montreal, connecting the five-college area in and around Amherst with universities such as Dartmouth and the University of Vermont. This would encourage the kind of academic and technological excellence that is the key to New England’s future.

Earlier this month, I mentioned incorporating the universities of the Big Ten with the Midwest's HSR plans. I could not be more excited for, or envious of, New England's planned Knowledge Corridor and the positive example it could set for future corridor planning.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

HSR stimulus money will start flowing this fall

Thank you to the Wall Street Journal

Federal Railroad Administrator, and fellow Midwesterner, Joseph Szabo said "grants will be awarded beginning in late September or early October".

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Ride public transit and your bike to good health

Congressman Jim Oberstar talks about how he became a leading advocate for cycling, while riding on Minnesota's Paul Bunyan Trail.

Given the current debate on healthcare, it is imperative that we not forget about the health benefits of biking and public transit and the impact it can have on the health of our nation. Taking the extra time and energy to take public transportation not only saves you money and keeps the roads less crowded and safer, but it gives you time to mentally unwind, without having to pay attention to the road or look for a parking space. Walking from the station to your destination gives you the exercise that you would otherwise not have sitting in your car.

Get on your bike. Get on the train. Get out of your car. Either way, just get up and move. A healthier society will cost less to take care of.

On a separate health and trains note, Union Pacific was one of 17 winners, the only transportation company, of the 2009 Best Employers for Healthy Lifestyles award.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

CREATE update

Thank you to Progressive Railroading for the info --

The Association of American Railroads, Federal Highway Administration, Illinois Department of Transportation and Chicago Department of Transportation recently agreed to modify the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program to meet Canadian National’s needs.

The parties eliminated the full Central Corridor between CN’s Waukesha and Chicago subdivisions because CN no longer requires the route after acquiring an alternate corridor through the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway transaction.

Major portions of the Central Corridor’s southern half will be retained to provide a new direct route — over the NS Chicago Line — for Amtrak trains traveling from New Orleans and Carbondale to Chicago Union Station. The route portions will minimize impacts to Amtrak and freight trains already using the line, according to CREATE organizers, who are seeking federal stimulus dollars for the more than $1.5 billion program.
The program calls for developing one passenger-rail and four freight-rail corridors to reduce train delays, relieve rail and highway congestion, shorten commuters' travel times, and improve Chicago’s environment and public safety.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Motown's once proud station stands alone

Once the tallest train station in the world, Michigan Central Station now stands vandalized and isolated in a littered field west of downtown Detroit.

Below is an outstanding segment about Detroit's once grand and thriving train station.

As beautiful as this colossal structure was, it was a victim not only of the automobile's growing popularity in Detroit of all places, but of poor location. The station was built 2 miles west miles of downtown, which turned out to be a death sentence years later, as it's neighborhood grew increasingly desolate and impoverished. The reason for the placement this far from downtown was a hope that the station would be an anchor for prosperity to follow. When the suburbs boomed and downtown's bright spots shrank closer together, Michigan Central Station was left out in the dark.

It is a shame to further neglect a historically significant and once beautiful landmark, although Michigan Central and Buffalo's Central Terminal, the later of which is being included in the HSR discussion, beg the question is it more important that a major city's primary train station is a preserved landmark or a practically located transit hub? Nothing would make me happier than to see the emergence of High Speed Rail catalyze the restoration of these once great stations and spark new development between their front doors and the downtowns they are separated from. However, the Midwest needs high speed trains delivering passengers to the city center where commerce and growth stem from, not on the outskirts where a failed anchor for prosperity quietly lies in ruin. If historic stations cannot be included in practical high speed rail planning, we must regrettably, for the sake of progress, move on without them.

The Infrastructurist did a great piece on demolished stations. Michigan Central is included in it.

High Speed Rail safely and efficiently carrying passengers to and from the larger-than-life stations enjoyed by older generations -- my fingers are crossed!

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Holy Toldeo!

Toldeo's Democratic mayoral candidate, Keith Wilkowski, has the right idea. He knows that Toldeo is ideally positioned to redirect trains coming from Detroit on to Cleveland, Columbus and Fort Wayne and trains from Ohio and Indiana on through Detroit to Ann Arbor or Ontario. The possibilities are beautifully illustrated on this map provided by the Midwest High Speed Rail Assoc.

It is important that planners, legislators and advocates remember to include midsize cities, like Toledo and Fort Wayne, in the discussion. Those cities will serve as vital transfer points throughout the network, thus allowing passengers a more direct trip instead of always having to transfer in Chicago.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Google Transit and Amtrak are finally in love

"We are pleased to welcome Amtrak to Google Transit," said Jessica Wei, Strategic Partner Development Manager at Google. "This partnership shows Amtrak's commitment to innovating, serving their passengers, and attracting new riders. We're looking forward to continuing to work with Amtrak to add more routes to Google Maps." (

Plans call for all Amtrak routes across the country to eventually be available through Google Transit. The first five routes now available include:

  • Empire Service (New York - Albany - Buffalo - Niagara Falls)
  • Ethan Allen Express (New York - Albany - Rutland)
  • Hiawatha Service (Chicago - Milwaukee)
  • Pacific Surfliner (San Diego - Los Angeles - Santa Barbara - San Luis Obispo)
  • San Joaquin (Oakland - Sacramento - Fresno - Bakersfield)

This is a great step for not only Amtrak and rail fans, but for people who appreciate public transit, but typically will not go to great lengths to utilize it. With Google Transit incorporating the most mass transit systems, most commuter rail lines and now Amtrak, it is plausible to use just one website to go from your front door to an address across the country without ever having to spend money on a flight or a taxi.

For anyone unfamiliar with this wonderful and easy to use tool, here is a video of how Google Transit works in New York:

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Grand stations NEED great locations

Second only to the safety and efficiency that rail travel offers passengers is the sense of awe that can humble any one of us when entering the grand station of a major city and looking up at it's vaulted ceiling, while surrounded by massive Corinthian columns. Entering or exiting a city through any portal that astounds you with it's beauty and sheer size is just part of what makes rail travel not only enjoyable, but in many ways magical.

However, as important as large stunning train stations are, the location of them in the middle of our downtowns and connectivity to local mass transit is just as crucial. A beautiful station can be an inspiring beginning or end to any interstate journey or daily commute as long as the traveler takes the train in the first place. Trains are appealing for their ability to deliver you right to the city center of your choice. A city's main train station on the outskirts of town might as well be an airport that leaves you needing yet another form of transportation to get to the heart of the city. Planners and Legislators must keep this in mind when selecting the main station for each city along the Midwest's High Speed route and the people of St. Paul, Minnesota have done just that!

Below is a great video from OnBoard Midwest about utilizing the grandeur and central location of the St. Paul Union Depot and it's connectivity to the Twin Cities' light rail system that will carry travelers right to their metropolitan destination.

Excellent location and an inspiring station. CONGRATS citizens of the Twin Cities!

Other Midwestern cities with beautiful stations in central locations are:
Chicago (Union Station needs connectivity to the CTA and nearby Ogilvie Transportation Center)

Milwaukee and it's beautiful new Milwaukee Intermodal Station (renovated in November 2007) is right along the Menomonee River in downtown and walking distance from Marquette University.

Honorable mention:
Cincinnati (Cincinnati Union Terminal, although now a museum now with active tracks behind it, has one of the most beautiful facades of any station in the country)

Cleveland (the current Amtrak station is not much to look at, but the location is terrific with Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Rock & Roll HOF and the water front all within walking distance)

St. Louis (St. Louis Union Station is a stunning building that is unfortunately now a hotel and shopping mall instead of a train terminal, however I should be grateful that it is still standing and being used)

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Sen. Durbin and refurbished Amtrak car

Thank you --

Stimulus side note: Amtrak's Ray Lang, said that the car was refurbished by an Indiana company that rehired 108 employees to help rehab the steel, water and electrical units on this and other railroad cars previously sidelined in storage. An Illinois company made the new seats for the two-deck car.

The car is one of 81 that are being put back in service with the help of the stimulus money, Lang said. The Superliner brought to Normal on Wednesday now is part of the Texas Eagle train, which runs from Chicago to San Antonio, Texas.

Railcar features

A 1981 Superliner that was damaged in a 2005 accident has been fixed up and was on display Wednesday in Normal. The $709,464 refurbishment included:

- Replacing the lower-level floor and rebuilding wheel and suspension assemblies

- Updating inside color scheme (from orange and brown to blue and white) and amenities

- Replacing seating, carpet, cushions, batteries, lamps, door motors, toilets, water heaters and windows

- Modernizing the second-story lounge with outlets for laptop computers; the addition of a recycling bin

SOURCE: Amtrak

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St. Louis Cardinals utilize passenger rail. Why not other teams?

Thank you to NPR for this story and interview --

On July 24th, the St. Louis Cardinals took three privatized Amtrak cars, from Washington, D.C., where they were playing the Nationals, to Philadelphia for a series against the Phillies.

Professional sports teams taking trains to road games opens up an exciting can of marketing and publicity worms for passenger rail. During the playoffs, or before rivalry games on the road, pro teams could have, for lack of a better word, pep rallies at their city's train station where the media could interview players and coaches, while fans seek autographs and wish their team well on the road. Sure it sounds a little corny, but it has to be better than always leaving to and from some private air strip where only the Travel Secretary knows that you're there, or in the case of the Yankees, Assistant to the Traveling Secretary, George Costanza.

Fans would get to meet the players, passenger trains and stations would receive much need publicity and it would be a new and innovative way for teams to market themselves. With better funding for faster and more reliable trains throughout the Midwest, and the country for that matter, I imagine it would be more enjoyable for professional athletes (on road trips of 500 miles or less), who often times happen to be a little bigger than the rest of us, to travel by rail where they can stretch their legs walking from car to car, recline their chair without hitting the knees behind them and arrive in the middle of the city they're playing in and likely much closer to the hotel and stadium than the airport would be.

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Love or hate the 2016 Olympics, they'll leave Chicago and the Midwest in better shape

Yes, I am not a fan of the slogan "Let Friendship Shine" either, but I am in favor of the lasting impact the 2016 Olympics could have on Chicago and the Midwest as a whole.

In late April of this year, the Chicago Tribune reported on a massive $15.5 billion plan to rejuvenate and expand transportation, parks and commercial space downtown. Besides fixing the glaring problem of no CTA trains directly connecting to the Ogilvie Transportation Center or Union Station, the plan would also provide a train from the United Center to Millennium Park via Monroe St. The real key would be connecting Ogilvie and Union Station, which are only 2 blocks apart, so that passengers could easily transfer between the stations without having to face the fantastic weather that Chicago is notorious for most of the year.

The Olympics and Chicago will make big money, not on parking garages, but on accommodating as many visitors as possible from the surrounding Midwestern states, the rest of the country and the world (Thank you O'Hare) in a clean and walkable city that is not choked with traffic jams, but bustling in, out and all over with fast, expansive and seamlessly integrated public transportation, including one of my favorite proposed projects, the CTA Circle line.

When the Olympics pack up their big top and head back to Copenhagen, Chicago will be left with just that. A fast, expansive and seamlessly integrated public transportation network that serves not only the City of Big Shoulders, but all travelers and freight coming to or passing through Chicago.

I am not ecstatic about the crowds or craziness that the 2016 Olympics could reign down upon Chicago and it's fair citizens, but for tolerating one wild summer, Chicago and the entire region could be rewarded with billions of dollars of lasting infrastructure improvements that must hit an immovable deadline, rather than so many worthy public works projects that keep getting pushed further and further down the line -- I'm am looking at you 2nd Ave Subway.

Support Chicago's bid for the 2016 Games... even if you don't plan on being here for them.

As they say, BACK THE BID (If you live in Chicago, please email your Alderman if nothing else)

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The Big Ten and Midwestern Rail

While a student at Fordham University, which is along the Metro North, New York and Connecticut’s regional commuter line, I was jealous of my classmates who could walk off campus and catch the train home for a long weekend or holiday break as they read, chatted on their cell phone or just caught some shut eye, while whoever would be picking them up from the station was likely still at home, instead of caught in highway traffic. I on the other hand would be sitting at LaGuardia wondering which jumbo pretzel I wanted to try next since my $300+ flight home was just delayed for the 4th time.

The Midwest is home to the 11 universities of the Big Ten conference and the roughly 330,000 undergraduates that matriculate at those schools, not to mention the graduate students, faculty, staff and those people who live near campus. If you happen to be a student, parent or alumni of a Big Ten school, especially someone who is from a Midwestern state other than your respective school, just imagine the possibilities! The comfort and convenience of not driving 5 hours to go pick up your son or daughter for Thanksgiving, when they will need a ride back just a few days later. Going to visit your friend from high school for the weekend who is currently studying at a conference rival without having to drive or get a ride to the airport. Snow, rain or lava (you never know in the Midwest) your train is speeding towards your destination while you are taking a nap, using the restroom or checking your email through Amtrak's wifi, which is coming soon. No need to worry about whether that car on the side of the road is a cop with a radar gun or if your flight is going to be delayed yet AGAIN (See what Secretary LaHood has to say on that topic).

Map of the Big Ten schools across the Midwest: image courtesy of Wikipedia

Map of President Obama’s Vision for HSR in America --

When looking at the two images, it is easy to see how close the Big Ten schools will be to the lines on the planned Chicago Hub Network.

You might be thinking that your school is not close to a train station, well that is all the more reason to make sure that large colleges and universities, which attract HUGE numbers of people for education, employment and sporting events are considered when planning the Midwest Rail Network. Princeton University in New Jersey is approximately 3 miles from the busiest passenger line in the country, the Northeast Corridor Line. However students, employees and visitors can easily make the trip from the Princeton Junction Station on the mainline, to the steps of campus via a single coach car, known as “The Dinky”, which shuttles between the university and the prime artery for rail travel in the Northeastern United States. Small shuttle trains like The Dinky could easily link the nearest Amtrak Station to every campus in the Big Ten and numerous other institutions in the Midwest.

If you are a parent who is sick of traffic and long drives to campus, a student who would rather stretch out and relax while affordably traveling home for Winter Break, or a fan who would rather be goofing around with your buddies on your way to game instead of paying $50 to park on some guy's lawn nowhere where near the stadium, then keep this, among many other valid reasons, in mind when talking about the necessity of supporting comprehensive rail improvements throughout the Midwest.

To be totally blunt, fewer intoxicated fans driving home, fewer people stuck in interstate holiday traffic, fewer dollars spent on gas or airfare and fewer hours lost stuck in the car or on the runway during bad weather will benefit not only those traveling to and from a school, but all who fly, drive or ride a train in and out of and around the Midwest.

I apologize for not including many of the other excellent schools in the Midwest, namely Bradley University (Secretary LaHood’s Alma mater), so to illustrate the point of just how many colleges and universities would benefit from safe and dependable trains, please add in any schools that are less than 10 miles from the nearest Amtrak station in the comment section.

Please follow this link to make an impact by simply sending an email:

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