There’s been a flurry of news in the past week, both good and bad, that could have long-term impacts on passenger rail in North America.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is leading a Midwest Regional Rail Planning Study (MWRRPS), with the goal of creating a 40-year vision for passenger rail in the Midwest. This will build off the network envisioned in the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI). We’ve learned a lot since then and this is a great opportunity to strengthen our region’s vision.
China expands their high-speed rail so often that it's hardly news. Testing began on their first high-speed line to Inner Mongolia. This is the first of three high-speed lines that will serve cities in Inner Mongolia.
The trains are being tested at 170 mph on the initial section from Hohhot- Ulanquab, which is due to open in July. The remainder of the line from Ulanquab - Zhangjiakou will be commissioned next year.
A budget proposal for the rest of FY17 has passed Congress and is awaiting the signature of President Trump. Once signed it will provide increased funding for transportation compared to FY16. This is a far cry from the ‘skinny budget’ the Trump Administration released in March, which threatened to eliminate funding for passenger trains throughout the country.
Thank you to everyone who attended our Annual Meeting on April 1, and to our speakers for sharing their time and knowledge with us. We learned a lot about the importance of frequency, modern high-performance train-sets and much more. These work together to provide a high-level of service that will make passenger rail competitive. You can find an overview of all the presentations here.
The Midwest is home to some of the nation’s most vibrant cities, millions of hard-working families, rich agriculture and incredible tourist attractions. Today these assets are dispersed and our outdated transportation infrastructure makes them difficult to reach. Fast, frequent and dependable train service will make travel more productive, more convenient and more affordable, allowing people to enjoy all that the Midwest has to offer.
The Trump Administration released its FY2018 budget outline last week. It closely mirrors the positions of the Heritage Foundation, which isn’t surprising. Transportation Secretary Chao (pictured right) was a Distinguished Fellow at the foundation prior to accepting her role at the DOT.
Most agree that the budget proposal won’t be adopted, but it is a disturbing policy statement. In brief, the Trump Administration places little value on non-automotive transportation. If you want to walk, ride a bus or take the train you are out of luck.
Brightline's second trainset, BrightPink, arrived in Florida earlier this month. Revenue service is set to begin between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in July before service is expanded to Miami in late August, when Miami Central is complete.
Even before Florida service starts, All Aboard Florida (AAF), which will operate Brightline, is setting their sights on other markets. AAF’s former CEO Michael Reininger recently spoke about their interest in expansion.
With a large federal infrastructure bill in the works it is important that attention is brought to the core needs of our national passenger rail network.
Wick Moorman, president of Amtrak, recently spoke about these needs on capitol hill. He remarked that a new era of infrastructure investment is critical for the future of long-distance passenger rail in the U.S.
Last week we told you how Caltrain modernization is the most important rail project in the U.S, not just for California, but for us in the Midwest, too. The Federal Transit Administration is deferring a decision on the pending $647 million grant until the Administration develops the President’s FY 2018 Budget. This delay will prevent Caltrain from meeting a March 1 deadline to proceed with previously awarded contracts for electrification and new high-performance trainsets.