Thursday, January 29, 2009

Advocates for Intercity Passenger Rail Call on Congress and President Obama to Increase Funding for Rail in Stimulus Plan

Chicago Union Station, Great Hall

Thursday, January 29th, 12:30 pm


Representative Elaine Nekritz, Chair of the Illinois House Rail Committee

Paris Ervin, Illinois Department of Transportation

Rick Harnish, Midwest High Speed Rail Association

Laura Kliewer, Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission


Chicago press conference one of several held around the Midwest this week

Participants: Illinois Secretary of Transportation Milt Sees, Representative Elaine Nekritz (D-Des Plaines), Representative Dave Winters (R-Rockford), Representative Al Riley (D-Hazel Crest), Representative Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana), Representative Paul Froehlich (D-Schaumburg), County Board Member Michael Richards (D-Champaign), Rick Harnish of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, Laura Kliewer of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, John O'Brien, United Transportation Union

The economic stimulus plan currently being considered by Congress provides an incredible opportunity to build a modern regional passenger rail network that makes America more energy-efficient, sustainable and prosperous, and while there are encouraging developments in the Senate led by Dick Durbin, the first drafts of the federal stimulus plan miss the mark.

Last night the U.S. House passed its stimulus plan: the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. The bill allocates only $1.1 billion to rail – $800 million to Amtrak and $300 million to state projects to improve intercity rail outside of Amtrak's capital needs. Investing in state projects is the best way to build up the Midwest's intercity passenger rail network.

Unfortunately, $300 million is not nearly enough to build up intercity rail. A much better proposal came from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which recommended a $5 billion total investment in rail: $3.4 billion for state passenger rail projects, $1.5 billion for Amtrak and $100 million for short line railroads.

The Senate Appropriations Committee plan comes closer to the $5 billion mark with $2 billion allocated to high-speed rail corridors, $850 million for Amtrak and $250 million for state investments in intercity rail. The Senate committee-passed plan also creates a discretionary program for larger projects, for which passenger rail projects are eligible.

There is pent-up demand for new and expanded service for intercity passenger rail throughout the Midwest. Passenger rail ridership – especially on shorter, corridor service that would be implemented by the build-out of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative and Ohio Hub plans – has increased dramatically, but federal funding to help build these systems has not followed. Passenger rail is the most energy-efficient means to move people over medium distances (100–600 miles). Increased funding for our states to plan, design and construct these interconnected passenger rail systems would bring tangible benefits to the Midwest, not only creating short- and long-term jobs, but building a new, efficient passenger rail system across the region.

The way to build a regional network is by improving routes and lines in each state. State projects that can be quickly obligated total far more than $5 billion throughout the nation, not to mention the medium-term planning that is necessary to develop new routes.

Midwestern states have been working together for more than 10 years on two plans to bring faster, more-frequent passenger rail service to the region. On behalf of the Midwestern states, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) has submitted to congressional leaders a list of more than $815 million in projects that could move forward within 120 days. The preliminary environmental work on the entire Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI) and Ohio Hub systems could be completed for about $150 million.

The best way to make sure our transportation investments meet our energy policy goals is to invest in intercity rail: we cannot afford to miss this opportunity to create jobs that lead to long-term prosperity through better intercity rail that connects the Midwest.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is a membership-based non-profit advocacy organization with more than 2000 members.

The MIPRC is a 10-state interstate compact commission that promotes, coordinates and supports regional improvements to passenger rail service. Member states are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

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