Illinois Dept. of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn spoke at City Club of Chicago last week. Before he was appointed to lead IDOT, Blankenhorn was the executive director of CMAP, the Chicago region’s comprehensive planning agency. At IDOT, he’s begun a culture shift, reorganizing the department and changing priorities to spend limited funds more wisely, and think more about non-auto modes of transportation.
Last week, the board of Metra, Chicago’s commuter rail service, voted to raise fares and cut service. Fare hikes are nothing new to Metra riders, but coupling them with service cuts is an eye-opener.
Great news: Caltrans announced that the order for new passenger coaches for California and Midwest corridor trains will now be filled by Siemens. The joint order by Caltrans and Illinois Department of Transportation is for 137 cars, 88 of which are for the Midwest. The coaches are expected to be similar to the cars Siemens is delivering to Brightline.
Earlier this year the provincial government of Ontario announced a renewed focus on building high-speed rail from Toronto west to London and Windsor. The plan proposed a blended approach, combining service at up to 200 km/h (125 mph) on upgraded existing tracks with new high-speed segments designed for up to 300 km/h (185 mph). The first phase of construction could bring faster trains to London as early as 2025. The second phase to Windsor, across the river from Detroit, would not be ready until 2031 at the earliest.
Earlier this month California released a draft of its 2018 State Rail Plan. It’s one piece of a broader vision that sets out what the state’s transportation system will look like in 2040.
This year marks 25 years of high-speed rail in Spain.
The country’s first high-speed line, a link from the central capital of Madrid to the southern region of Andalucía, opened for service in April 1992. The 300-mile line passes through rugged, mountainous terrain, requiring 31 bridges (totaling more than six miles) and 17 tunnels (nearly 10 miles worth).
Last week, Chicago officials gave a sneak peek at the City’s 10-year plan for its international airport, “O’Hare 21.” The plan, currently awaiting federal approval, would replace the old, domestic-only Terminal 2 with an international terminal. It would also expand Terminal 1, and convert the current international terminal, number 5, to a domestic terminal. Unfortunately, the plan appears to fall short on improving access to the airport.
Earlier this month, India broke ground on its first high-speed line. The 316-mile route will connect the country's largest city and economic hub, Mumbai, with Ahmedabad, an important industrial center in the heart of the country. (For reference, that's about the same distance at Chicago to Cincinnati.) Trains are expected to travel at speeds of up to 220 mph, reducing today's 7-hour trip to just over 2 hours.
We recently attended the latest gathering of the Midwest Regional Rail Plan. We’re optimistic about this FRA-led process because it’s evaluating opportunities for high-speed and conventional rail across the Midwest in a comprehensive network. Too often, planning studies focus narrowly on a single corridor or geography, missing the cumulative effects that an integrated, connected network offers.
Last week Amtrak announced it would be overhauling the seating and other interior details of its original Amfleet coaches. While it’s good to see Amtrak investing in keeping this aging equipment functional and comfortable, this is a reminder of how badly we need new, modern passenger coaches in the Midwest and around the country.