Sunday, January 28, 2007

Rick Harnish's archive of Amtrak posts and articles from 1999 (over 1200 messages)

Rick Harnish has been maintaining an archive on YahooGroups since 1999 of action alerts, news articles and opinion pieces on Amtrak and high speed rail. There are over 1200 posts.

The archive is here.

If you'd like to get these posts emailed to you, you can sign up at the website, or if you want an RSS feed, the feed is here.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Senate bill for Amtrak investment needs more co-sponsors

S. 294 has 19 co-sponsors. They are:

Sen Biden, Joseph R., Jr. [DE] - 1/16/2007
Sen Boxer, Barbara [CA] - 1/16/2007
Sen Burr, Richard [NC] - 1/16/2007
Sen Cardin, Benjamin L. [MD] - 1/16/2007
Sen Carper, Thomas R. [DE] - 1/16/2007
Sen Clinton, Hillary Rodham [NY] - 1/16/2007
Sen Dorgan, Byron L. [ND] - 1/16/2007
Sen Durbin, Richard [IL] - 1/16/2007
Sen Hutchison, Kay Bailey [TX] - 1/16/2007
Sen Inouye, Daniel K. [HI] - 1/16/2007
Sen Kennedy, Edward M. [MA] - 1/16/2007
Sen Kerry, John F. [MA] - 1/16/2007
Sen Lott, Trent [MS] - 1/16/2007
Sen Menendez, Robert [NJ] - 1/16/2007
Sen Pryor, Mark L. [AR] - 1/16/2007
Sen Schumer, Charles E. [NY] - 1/16/2007
Sen Snowe, Olympia J. [ME] - 1/16/2007
Sen Specter, Arlen [PA] - 1/16/2007
Sen Stevens, Ted [AK] - 1/16/2007

And you can look it up here.

There are 12 states in the Midwest: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.

There are 24 U.S. Senators from the 12 states of the Midwest.

And only one of them: Dick Durbin from Illinois, is a co-sponsor.

Let's change that.

Contact both of your U.S. Senators and ask each of them to co-sponsor S. 294.

You can call their Washington office. Ask to speak to the staffer in charge of Amtrak issues. Tell that person your name and address and ask that person if the Senator will co-sponsor S. 294. Give them your email address. Wait to hear back. If you don't hear back in a week, call again. Be polite but persistent until you get an answer.

Here is their contact information (you can see if they have a website by clicking on the state):

Sherrod Brown
George Voinovich

Evan Bayh
Richard Lugar


Carl Levin
Debbie Stabenow

Dick Durbin
Barack Obama

Russell Feingold
Herb Kohl

Chuck Grassley
Tom Harkin

Sam Brownback
Pat Roberts

Christopher Bond
Claire McCaskill

Norm Coleman
Amy Klobuchar

Chuck Hagel
Ben Nelson

South Dakota
Tim Johnson
John Thune

North Dakota
Kent Conrad
Byron Dorgan

Happy lobbying!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Senators Lautenberg and Lott file a great bill -- get your Senator to co-sponsor now

The National Association of Rail Passengers ( has the scoop: the best federal bill for passenger rail in a decade has been filed in the new Congress. It's S. 294, sponsored by Frank Lautenberg (New Jersey) and Trent Lott (Mississippi), and it would end the practice of treating rail like a fourth-class transportation investment by creating a federal match for state capital investments. Detailed provisions of the bill are here.

Here are the comments by the Senators at their press conference today at Washington's Union Station, including these choice remarks:

Senator Lautenberg: This is neither a partisan issue nor a regional one. We have a chance to get Amtrak back on track...The future of Amtrak is looking bright...Congress is ready to pass a bill to revitalize Amtrak...This year it's not going to be that difficult to get the bill passed. I am the chairman of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine. This bill is my top priority.

Our aviation system is getting more and more congested. When I fly to my state, I spend more time on the tarmac than in the air...Even Estonia spends more than twice per capita what we spend on passenger rail.

Senator Lott: There are some things in Washington that are truly bipartisan. I believe that’s true for rail--both passenger and freight. This used to be the Lott-Lautenberg bill. Now it’s Lautenberg-Lott. We never miss a step. We’re going forward...There are limits to how many lanes we can build, how many planes we can fly.


Call your Senator and ask him or her to co-sponsor S. 294.

And perhaps more importantly, call your Representative and ask him or her to support the provisions of S. 294 in the House. The bill has passed the Senate before, but never been called for a vote in the House.

We'll list the Senate co-sponsors on this blog as they come in, as well as the House sponsors of their bill.

This is the best way to move forward on making real investments in passenger rail -- laying more track, building new bridges and relieving the freight congestion that slows down Amtrak service. It's time to modernize our rail network. Thanks to Senators Lott and Lautenberg for taking the lead on making our rail network more of a priority.

Monday, January 15, 2007

AP story on how states are improving Amtrak

Great AP story on how states (with Illinois as a leader) are improving Amtrak by buying additional frequencies and calling on the feds to come with a capital match so we can improve on-time performance and get faster average speeds. Our very own Jason Tai is quoted in the article.

This is from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer here

States step up to fund Amtrak service, but want federal match


WASHINGTON -- The Pacific Surfliner, running from San Luis Obispo, Calif., down the coast to San Diego, is Amtrak's second-most popular route, with nearly 2.7 million passengers last year.

But one thing sets it apart from most other trains run by the federally funded passenger railroad: It's paid for by the state of California.

California is among 14 states that fund corridor service that Amtrak wouldn't otherwise provide. On Tuesday, Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., are expected to announce the introduction of legislation that would, among other things, encourage more state investment in Amtrak by making federal matching funds available.

The sweeping bill - similar to one that passed in the Senate 93 to 6 last year but was never voted on in the House - calls for $12 billion in federal funding for the next six years. Many Amtrak supporters believe it has a better chance this year with Democrats in control of Congress.

But one aspect of the bill is relatively uncontroversial. The idea of matching funds for state investment in Amtrak is one that both supporters and critics of the railroad have embraced - and something states like California believe is long overdue.

As for Amtrak itself, "states are our future," President Alex Kummant told The Associated Press last week. He said a matching program for capital investments, along with making Amtrak "more user-friendly" for states, is essential if Amtrak is to capitalize on growing demand for intercity rail.

Even without such matching funds, states have been stepping up. The biggest player, California, currently contributes $73 million for the Pacific Surfliner and two other trains it runs jointly with Amtrak.

Illinois last year doubled its annual subsidy to Amtrak to $24 million. The increase followed several years of double-digit growth in the number of riders on routes connecting Chicago with St. Louis, Carbondale, Ill., and Quincy, Ill., and allowed Amtrak to offer much more frequent service.

Other states that subsidize Amtrak service are Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

Outside of Amtrak's busiest route - the northeast corridor from Boston to Washington - the state corridors are the biggest success stories. They provide a stark-contrast to the railroad's long-distance trains, which many critics believe should be eliminated because they are costly and attract comparatively few riders.

State involvement is healthy, "as opposed to having our trains totally planned by a centralized, monopolistic, Washington, D.C., organization," said Joseph Vranich, a former Amtrak spokesman who is now one of its most vocal critics.

But states can only do so much without the availability of matching funds for capital improvements, said Jason Tai, director of public and intermodal transportation for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

"Unlike other modes of transportation, be it highways, transit or even waterways, there is no dedicated substantial funding for rail. There is an unlevel playing field," Tai said.

The Lautenberg-Lott legislation would allow states to fund capital rail projects with up to 80 percent federal funds. States would continue to pay operating costs, but their arrangements with Amtrak would become more standardized. Currently, each state operates under separately negotiated agreements.

"If the federal government wants to get out of the operating business, this seems to me a reasonable way to do it," said Will Kempton, director of the California Department of Transportation.

Kempton and Tai said any legislation that is passed should take into account past investments by states, so that those that did step up to fund Amtrak in the past are not penalized. They said one way to do that would be to provide them with a more generous match in the beginning.

Kempton said California would be eager to take advantage of any available capital funds.

"We're not just sitting on our laurels," he said. "We're looking at expanding service."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Illinois joins Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact

Good news -- on the last day of the 94th General Assembly, Governor Blagojevich signed into law a measure to join the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact. The Compact has created a Commission, with staffers in Illinois (the Commission's website is here) that will help us with our federal lobbying.

Basically, one reason why the East Coast enjoys such great passenger rail service is that the region got together under the leadership of Senator Pell in the 50s and 60s to effectively advocate in Congress for money. That's why Amtrak owns most of the Boston-NYC-D.C. corridor, and why they don't have freight interference problems. The government bought and built the tracks so the service is better and now the region is more economically prosperous.

We need to do the same thing in the Midwest -- we need to spend money on tracks and trains so that the service gets better and that attracts jobs and residents to make all of us better off.

Thanks to the members of the Passenger Rail Caucus, as well as the lobbying team at the United Transportation Union for working so hard on passing this bill. And thanks to the Governor for signing it.

Here's the press release from the

January 9, 2007 Abby Ottenhoff 312/814.3158
Rebecca Rausch 217/782.7355
Gerardo Cardenas 312/814.3158
Matt Vanover 217/558.0517 (IDOT)
Mike Claffey 312/814.3957 (IDOT)
Marisa Kollias 312/814.4693 (IDOT)

Gov. Blagojevich signs legislation to help promote intercity train travel
throughout the Midwest

Illinois joins association to promote
regional intercity passenger rail service

SPRINGFIELD - Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation to add
Illinois to the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact (MIPRC), a regional
association that promotes the development of intercity rail. House Bill 4344
adds Illinois to the number of Midwestern states working to promote and
advocate for passenger rail service on a federal, regional and local level. Last
year, Gov. Blagojevich doubled funding for state sponsored passenger rail in
Illinois' partnership with Amtrak, more than doubling the number of daily
round-trips on downstate routes.

"Taking the train is safe, convenient, affordable, and helps reduce congestion.
Here in Illinois we've seen double digit increases in our annual passenger rail
ridership numbers, and just this past fall we added even more state-supported
train routes to give people more options," Gov. Blagojevich said.

For Fiscal Year 2006, which ended last June, a total of 955,529 passengers
took state-sponsored trains, an increase of more than 11 percent from the
previous year, also marking the second year in a row in which all state-
sponsored routes set ridership records.

HB 4344, sponsored by State Rep. Kathleen Ryg (D-Vernon Hills) and State
Sen. Antonio Munoz (D-Chicago), allows Illinois to join the Midwest Interstate
Passenger Rail Compact, an association of member states that works to
promote improvements and long-range planning for interstate passenger rail,
as well as to coordinate interaction between Midwestern state officials and the
public and private sectors. Currently, seven other states are members of the
Compact including: Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio.

"Illinois is stepping up to the plate and recognizing the importance of making
sure we have a strong network for passenger rail. It's efficient, reduces
congestion and is good for the environment, " said Rep. Ryg. "It is essential
that Midwestern states work together on a coordinated strategy as we seek to
improve interstate rail passenger service and build upon our regional
network, and I thank the Governor for his leadership in signing this bill."

"Transportation issues are a priority and will become an even greater priority
in the future for the Midwest, and especially Illinois, which is considered the
crossroads of the nation," said Sen. Munoz. "It's important that we join the
MIPRC to coordinate our efforts with our neighbors in seeking improvements
to rail passenger service that will benefit us all."

In 2006, Gov. Blagojevich and members of the Illinois General Assembly
doubled the state funding to Amtrak for passenger rail service in Illinois to $24
million, second only to California. The increase more than doubled the state-
sponsored rail service on downstate routes. The expanded service, starting
October 30, comes after news that all four of the state sponsored Amtrak
routes posted record ridership levels for state fiscal year 2006.

"Governor Blagojevich and lawmakers are providing people here in Illinois
with more opportunities to take the train, and in many communities passenger
rail is the only form of public transportation, " said IDOT Secretary Timothy W.
Martin. "Passenger rail is a vital part of our transportation system, and
working together with other Midwestern states will help it to improve in the

- 30 -

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

HSR service to O'Hare

Why is it that whenever there is a Chicago weather delay if it's rain or snow, the media is quick to show delayed airline passengers camping out at O'Hare for places such as Milwaukee, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Detroit to name a few.

Just imagine an intercity rail station at O'Hare where passengers can transfer to regularly scheduled HSR service serving destinations throughout the midwest. Why should valuable landing slots be used for a flight to Milwaukee when there are other options.

Another example is from the other side of the pond in London. During a fog disruption which reducted the number of take off and landing slots, British Airways cancelled their short distance flights in favor of long distance flights. Their rational? Passengers could still reach their destinations via the rail system including the EuroStar to Paris and Brussels. Ridership was up over 30% on the chunnel crossing trains and other railroads added trains to increase capacity.

Now imagine the potential to have an enhanced rail passenger network in the United States including a rail passenger station at O'Hare.

Why can't we have this in the United States?