Most Midwest states already possess the basic railroad infrastructure needed to make high-quality train service a reality.
In some cases modest track maintenance can dramatically reduce travel times.
In other cases, new passing sidings, reconstructed track or new overpasses will be required to both add frequencies and cut travel times.
Viewing these individual projects as a series of building blocks allows the states to build the network in phases. The low-cost improvements can be implemented quickly, building ridership and revenues as the big steps are being planned and constructed.
Here are some of the building blocks:
Bottleneck removal: Partnering with freight railroads to remove bottlenecks will improve traffic flow for both freight and passengers. Iowa, which recently received $18 million in stimulus funds to add crossovers along BNSF tracks, serves as an excellent example.
More frequent service: Adding a second daily roundtrip eight hours away from the first will create economies of scale and make the train a more attractive option for many trips. No route should be less than daily.
Double-tracking: Many delays today are caused because freight and passenger trains are in the way of each other. Given the length of most freights trains, an Amtrak train having to "wait its turn" can throw the schedule way off. Double-tracking addresses this vexing problem.
Signal and crossing improvements: Outmoded signal systems are an impediment to train engineers and the easy flow and coordination of trains. Modernized crossings can facilitate traffic for both vehicles and trains. But the best crossing is the crossing that doesn't exist. That means more overpasses and underpasses.
Modern rolling stock: A predictable and long-term effort to re-equip Amtrak’s fleet with trainsets offering higher average speeds and lower fuel consumption is urgently needed.