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Internet links to source Web pages may no longer complete due to obsolesenceNew schedules affect three Metra corridors; new fares along all routes (Jan. 15) - Northeast Illinois commuters aboard Metra trains will gain by the new schedules in effect starting in January for Union Pacific West Line, North Central Service and Southwest Service routes. UP West Line will offer regular service further west on January 23, extended beyond West Chicago and Geneva through La Fox to Elburn, Illinois.
Get your facts straight (Feb 9) - Amtrak has available a fact sheet for each state detailing its economic impact and comparing 2005 to 2004. With so many allegations about the supposed savings not yet realized in the post-David Gunn era at Amtrak, these data should be at hand for every Amtrak passenger, every Amtrak supporter, and every other person aware that only in the U.S.A. are trains carrying people considered orphans from all funding except farebox revenues.
Click here for the Amtrak page listing all states' data sheets, in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format.
KRM sessions reinforce past public enthusiasm (Mar 4) - Popular enthusiasm remains unabated thirty months after a regional planning technical advisory committee formally endorsed the commuter train option among several proposals for linking lakeshore cities in southeast Wisconsin, first at a trio of public meetings to explain current progress and options at several cost levels. Then on Feb. 28, at a regular Sustainable Racine session, visiting commuter rail managing director Eugene Skoropowski hiked ambitions to move forward with implementation of the KRM project with his favorable recounting of Haverhill, MA experience once it gained commuter train service a quarter-century ago. A Racine Journal Times column the following Sunday recited some key highlights of Mr. Skoropowski's Massachussetts expereince and its close relevance to the weakened local economies of lakeshore cities in southeast Wisconsin, struggling with similar loss of family-supporting wages resulting as manufacturing jobs vanish. Although low-skill jobs offering solid income aren't expected to return here as they did not in Haverhill, the gradual transition of a community and its economy to 21srt century realities can reverse the decline summarized in a single statistical comparison from Mr. Skoropowski's research:
Growth potential on that scale is not guaranteed nor linked solely to commuter train service, he made clear during his presentaiton. However, constructing a viable commuting alternative of such permanence, Mr. Skoropowski pointed out, conveys implicit aspects of community resolve and readiness to invest in its future by funding such an infrastructure alternative. He also remarked on the good fortune of this particular 33-mile corridor still connected by an intact rail right of way, in contrast to many metro areas which adopted too hastily the conventional wisdom of forty years ago and allowed railroad track and rights of way to cease such usage. Carving a new right of way through this well-developed corridor would be quite costly, he noted. Perhaps prohibitively expensive.
Economic opportunity on a grand scale also propelled Robert Mariano, CEO of Roundy's Foods and chairman of the Regional Transportation Committee of Greater Milwaukee, to contribute an op-ed for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel concurrent with the SEWRPC public session Feb. 23 in Wisconsin's largest city. Mr. Mariano cited well-proven leveraged investment for commuter trains, based on experience elsewhere: "KRM supporters understand that a new commuter rail system in southeastern Wisconsin not only will pay off in economic revitalization and new development for the corridor but will help increase local and state tax revenue." (Milw. Journal Sentinel, Feb. 23, 2006).
Bus "rapid transit" and lesser scale options, including a do nothing "no build" option, also remain as basis for comparison at this stage of SEWRPC planning. Details about the sessions, alternatives presented to the public in late February, and further KRM progress reports appear at this web page.
Lakeshore communities envision train stations (Mar 30) - KRM commuter trains stopping at stations along the 33-mile route will find each town, village and city prepared for the new commuting mode, and the vitality typically associated with commuter rail convenience. A series of workshops in each KRM community has thus far drawn warm public response, though doubts about the potential delay to road traffic (negligible) and need for more parking (always a factor) mingled with curiosity and enthusiasm for the planned service.
In a related step forward, the Kenosha county member of the SE Wisconsin RTA board, appointed by Kenosha County Executive Allan Kehl, has been unanimously elected as its chairman, Kenosha News reports. The Regional Transit Authority was formed by an Act of the Legislature and works closely with the regional plan commission at this preliiminary stage.
Regional transportation plan for 2035 presented to public (Apr 21) - Regional planners at SE Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) discussed with interested citizens the outline for public transit, bike path, and road/highway development during the next 30 years at public hearings, completing the process April 19. Further use of commuter rail is among tentative possibilities listed by the long-range plan, although bus services described as "rapid transit" and "express" persist prominently in SEWRPC goals.
KRM commuter trains are among the listed goals, accompanied by other capital-intensive projects such as a $300 million busway for Milwaukee.
The proposed plan for 2035 asserts changed emphasis for projects, designating alternates to road construction as key elements in a multi-mode transportation system for the seven counties in the planning region. Alternates should be funded, the plan pledges, wherever their use can accommodate expanded travel as readily as streets and highways.
Amtrak Hiawathas keep setting records (May 31) - For the 18th straight month, Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha Service trains operated by Amtrak with assistance by Illinois and Wisconsiin DOTs have increased total monthly ridership compared to the same month in the previous year. April, 2006 is the most recent month counted in that series of 18 monthly successes, and May data likely will continue the string.
Sturtevant station stop will move to new location (July 26) -The long-awaited amenities for Sturtevant riders of Amtrak will begin use on Monday, August 14, Wisc. DOT announced. The new station, constructed with village of Sturtevant picking up much of the tab, will be formally inaugurated two days earlier with an official ceremony on Saturday.
Construction at the new location one mile north of the present station began last year, and with completion of two pedestrian towers has drawn much local interest because they so dominate the surrounding views.
Occasional users of the Sturtevant station are encouraged to allow a few extra minutes to visit the new building, explore its amenties and the adjoining facilities. In particular, the stairways and elevators to traverse the two CP Rail/Amtrak tracks prevent last-minute dashes to the other side -- which at the present location have unhappily tested the steely nerves of freight and passenger train engineers.
News of the change and related Milwaukee station news appeared in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. View a 1999 glimpse of the former station and more about the new station by clicking here.
Click here to download a .pdf page (Adobe Acrobat) of the station area map.
KRM station sites earn favor, opposition (Aug. 26) - "Workshop" public meetings convened to engage retailers, residents and companies near each proposed station along the 33-mile Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee corridor have shown most clearly the importance for informing the general public.
Ten years after informal public meetings progressed to study feasibility in 1998 and in 2003 to formally adopt a detailed plan for proposed KRM commuter trains, locations where well-publicized decision-making kept neighbirhoods abreast of progress have enjoyed widespread enthusiasm. At a few locations, the planning progress has been less publicized and late-reaction has been less one-sided in favor of the project.
A single exception is the recently proposed KRM station location on Milwaukee's southside, approximately west of the Hoan Bridge south approach and adjoining the Bayview neighborhoods. Attending the last of the second series of station workshops on Aug. 22, an enthused crowd numbering about 40 heard redevelopment ideas and perused artist concept sketches of potential changes designed for transit-oriented development. Despite the steep learning curve for neighbors of this proposed location, acceptance of KRM commuter trains seems as near-completely favorable as locations like Racine, an originator of the idea in the mid-1990s.
This second series of workshops eliciting neighborhood comment and plan participation began on June 20 at Kenosha, where Metra Northline service presently ends. KRM trains will extend that service past eight more stations to downtown Milwaukee. Workshop attendance has varied, in both numbers and support for the project; Racine, Caledonia and Bayview workshops reportedly attracted the largest audiences and expressed the most support.
CP Rail Holiday Train en route to Sturtevant and stops west of Milwaukee (Nov 27) - CP Rail continues its annual pre-Christmas circuit through USA cities and towns, brightening spirits and enlisting charitable energies in many locales. Full details about performers and schedule elsewhere on CP Rail are available via this link.
CP Rail plans a Sturtevant stop for Saturday evening, Dec. 9, 6:45 to 7:45 p.m. at the new Amtrak station, near State Hwy 20. Racine county Food Bank benefits from donations, either money or nonperishable food.
Racine station for KRM use, its re-dedication (Oct 13) - A grand red brick edifice built to the architectural excellence of Frost & Granger, Chicago, in 1902 will earn honors long denied it when Racine re-dedicates the former Chicago & Northwestern Rwy. station at State Street on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 10:15 a.m. Placed on the National Historic Registry despite some controversy about 15 years ago, the adjacent land has since been redeveloped by City of Racine as its citywide transit center, a project tracked in 2003-05 by this Web site.
Its location about one mile west of downtown and nearby Lake Michigan bode well for it again becoming a busy hub of travel and commuting activity.
Though almost nine miles from I-94, easy directions to it are: exit at County Hwy K and drive east; at the junction with State Hwy 38, continue east into the city, angling left at the stop-go light for Memorial Drive and across the Union Pacific track at the station, on the right (south) side of State Street.
Present predictions foresee using the station for KRM commuter trains as early as 2009.
Chief corporate officers boost KRM, mince no words (Dec 19) - Their first twelve words in a concise commentary signed jointly by corporate heads of three major corporations in Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee vaporize any doubt about whether KRM commuter trains are a solid long-term infrastructure investment: They wrote: "Wisconsin is positioned to take advantage of a critical economic development tool... ."
Following by just weeks a new proposal for greatly expanded service plans, doubling weekday train frequency, the corporate sector joins the elected officials -- from mayors to the governor of Wisconsin -- in supporting KRM commuter trains for six lakeshore cities, one village and a township.
Touching succinctly on multiple points, for and against KRM, they note Amtrak Hiawatha Service is not impacted, highlight lack of any of $6 billion in federal funds already distributed coming to the Badger State, and concur that it will open a commerce and commuting thoroughfare vital for communities and companies competing in sales and production worldwide.
Concluding quickly and as concisely as they began, chief officers of Jockey International, Modine Manufacturing, and Roundy's Foods wrote in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that KRM commmuter trains will be "a critical tool that Wisconsin needs to take advantage of in order to jump start its economy, connect employees with much-needed jobs, attract new residents to the region and improve the overall quality of life for residents of southeastern Wisconsin."
SouthEast Wisconsin bands together for prosperity, KRM commuter trains (Dec 10) - Speaking in late November, Gov. Jim Doyle heralded a new regional pact among seven southeast Wisconsin counties, called the Milwaukee 7. Kenosha News quoted him: "It's about whether southeastern Wisconsin is competing in a growing, worldwide economy." The seven county region, keyed around the largest city in Wisconsin, has formed a co-operation network which promotes regional assets such as a skilled workforce, rare disaster threat from weather (i.e. no hurricanes), fully capable airport (Gen. Mitchell Int'l Airport) and plentiful natural resources. The region already hosts more corporate headquarters for its population size than much of America, and several of its largest general offices guide with award-winning, family-friendly employment priorities thoroughly rooted in their corporate cultures.
The formal agreement follows by one year a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opinion article by Kenosha county executive Allan Kehl which sought to ease dissension among neighbor counties and begin joint efforts. "Fighting to limit the benefits of a certain type of economic development to just one city is a shortsighted approach. A big-picture look shows that with a strong regional economy, each community can prosper and contribute to a stronger Wisconsin," he wrote then.
Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter trains, abbreviated as KRM, are a key component in a regional growth plan, Mr. Kehl observed. "The power of working together with an eye toward regional economic development is evident in efforts to develop a commuter rail line ... from Kenosha north through Racine to downtown Milwaukee - the KRM."
Now in 2006, his county executive colleagues and mayors of the three principal cities concur without detailing the many commuter rail examples as near as northeast Illinois and as distant as southern California. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker spoke typically of the significance of KRM to Milwaukee 7 and the regional economic growth all seek: "I think that's significant because it's viewed as a regional asset," Walker told Kenosha News, despite linking only the most populous parts of three counties among the seven.
Roundy's Foods CEO Robert Mariano, chairman of the Regional Transportation Committee of Greater Milwaukee, also contributed an op-ed for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel concurrent with SEWRPC public comment sessions in February, 2006 which heartily endorsed the fiscal soundness of KRM commuter trains.
KRM plan expands service, regional usefulness (Nov 27) - Acting to stay ahead of regional commuting gridlock in the aftermath of gasoline prices spiking above $3 per gallon, SEWRPC (SouthEast Wisc. Regional Planning Commission) and a nascent RTA for three counties proposed in late November to expand design goals for much-studied KRM commuter trains.
While retaining the KRM name applied to a 2003 plan adopted by SEWRPC, the new plan increases train frequency to 14 round-trips, Monday through Friday, and seven each Saturday, Sunday and legal holiday -- approximately doubling prior plan services. As noted here nine months ago when Eugene Skoropowski spoke to several audiences, widespread economic gains accrue to entire communities when investment in commuter rail is undertaken. By definition, commuter rail is not a piecemeal project, instead embracing a region and requiring support by all benefitting from it -- not simply those onboard the trains.
Scope of likely gains for the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee lakeshore route and communities along it will be discussed in December and January, according to a Nov. 25 Journal Sentinel article, after mayors and county executives of the key cities and counties confer.
Regional transit takes difficult turn, for the better (Dec. 21) - Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority (SEWRTA) Chairman Karl Ostby understands "everybody loves things until they have to pay for them", he said according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story by Larry Sandler. So announcing its intention to find funding via a new tax just as everyone is ready for presents and gifts -- worrying later about paying for them -- runs contrary to the spirit of the season.
But fiscal realities march on, and in the coming months of 2007 some difficult choices about sustaining existing bus transit will emerge, especially for the largest local service in Milwaukee county, and about building and launching KRM commuter train service. Thus SEWRTA has bundled financial solemnity into a half-penny per hundred dollar tax proposal (0.05 %) for KRM trains and four-and-a-half penny per hundred dollar (0.45 %) sales tax proposal for local bus services in the three most populous SE Wisconsin counties.
Most important for residents of the three counties, adoption of alternate funding for transit -- rail and bus -- would somewhat ease the property tax burden, which has been a hotly argued sore point for some years as local schools, tech colleges, counties, cities, towns and villages grapple with rising demands on their capabilities concurrent with household incomes stressed by other needs, including commuting expenses. As noted by the commentary published earlier in the Journal Sentinel, co-signed jointly by three corporate chiefs, KRM will greatly enhance regional employment opportunities and otherwise spur economic activity benefitting far more broadly than merely riders onboard a KRM train. Expenses formerly shouldered by prospering cities and shifted by suburban and exurban growth during past decades will shift back to those cities as the predicted economic gains arise and expand.
More information will appear for public debate on the merits and costs in the weeks ahead, early in 2007.
Right after we open presents and gifts that someone else will pay for. Someday.
Amtrak growth foreseen by incoming CEO (Dec. 26) - Much apprehension among Amtrak riders and boosters accompanied the almost clandestine termination of David L. Gunn earlier in 2006, and recent December terminations of several top Amtrak executives by incoming CEO Alexander Kummant did nothing to damper latent worries.
But rising revenues, steadily growing overall passenger usage and larger ridership increases among its so-called "corridor" trains (e.g Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawathas increased 14 percent in FY2005) provide a basis for Mr. Kummant in a New York Times interview to anticipate as much as a 50 percent spurt in Amtrak use in the next 5 to ten years. New York is a principal station for Amtrak, and its Senator Charles Schumer has been a prominent advocate for sufficient funding of Amtrak, in combination with incoming Senate railroad sub-committee chairman Sen. Frank Lautenberg, of New Jersey, and Senate minority whip Sen. Trent Lott, of Mississippi.
Mr. Kuumant brings to his interview a fresh, less ominous outlook of so-called "long distance" Amtrak trains, which suffered another criticism in November when a General Accountability Office report blamed them for 80 percent of Amtrak's operating shortfall nationwide. (Accounting Office was the former title for this agency, but 'Accountability' can encompass blame-laying as well as traditional ledger-balancing tasks of the accounting profession.) Despite that gibe by GAO, Mr. Kummant regards trains crossing vast distances, often through hundred of miles of sparse population, akin to national parks, like Glacier National Park. He told NY Times, "I havent had the opportunity to go to Glacier National Park since 1976, but I pay taxes every year in the hope that I have the option to go back."
His readiness to accommodate such a growth in passengers riding Amtrak includes preliminary mention of up to $1 billion per year in capital spending to increase tracks, to improve existing tracks and operational appliances of freight railroads hosting Amtrak trains. Congress would appropriate those funds in addition to present Amtrak funding, which amounts to about $1.2 billion. Of that annual amount, Amtrak spends more than one-third for existing debt service and the balance to fulfill its fare revenue shortfall; fare revenues grew more than the rate of inflation for FY 2006. It is the only passenger railroad in the world with an official mandate to somehow achieve complete cost recovery from fares, and has not reached that objective despite numerous innovative attempts under a succession of CEOs and board chairmen.
Other highlights of the interview include mention of alternate funding instruments for new rail cars and locomotives, a less confrontational tone toward employee unions, and hosting freight carriers stressed by track capacity demands which were echoed in part by the chairman of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. No further details emerged during the interview about why several Amtrak executives were terminated earlier in December.
2003 | 2004 | 2005 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | January, 2010