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Welcome to ProRail Nebraska

Dedicated to advocating for improved passenger rail and all forms of surface public transportation serving Nebraska.

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ProRail Nebraska Meeting  in Lincoln

Saturday, May 14 - 9:00 am to 11 am  

Sorry, the meeting has been postponed. 

at St. Mark's on the Campus, 1309 R Street, Lincoln

If you can't attend in person, a Zoom tele-video option will be available.

If interested, please contact Bob Kuzelka 402-417-9424 rkuzelka1@unl.edu

 

The general public is welcome to attend.

We will discuss railroad and transit related legislation introduced during this session of the Nebraska Legislature and other ProRail business. See article below for details.

For dial-in and Zoom tele-video instructions, please contact Bob Kuzelka 402-417-9424 rkuzelka1@unl.edu

Legislative Happenings
By Richard Schmeling - March 23, 2022


LB 991 introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld, which would appropriate $150,000 to have the Nebraska Department of Transportation study commuter rail between Lincoln and Omaha and report feasibility and estimated cost back to the Legislature, was advanced to the floor by the Appropriations Committee.

We were not able to find a senator who would prioritize this bill. The best hope for it to become law is if it can be folded into the larger general appropriations bill. As the legislative session winds down, we will have to wait and see.

LB 12 is a similar bill introduced in the 2021 session by Sen. Carol Blood which carried over. Also, LB 575 introduced by Sen. Elliot Bostar in 2021 has carried over. Both of those bills are stuck in the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee as is a bill introduced by Sen. Jen Day which would require two-man crews and a bill about curbing excessive train lengths. The Transportation & Telecommunications Committee chaired by Sen. Curt Friesen and composed of mostly rural senators appears to be subsumed with highway matters and broadband and does not pay attention to rail matters. The makeup of that committee will change next session as a number of members are term-limited out and rail issues may fare better.

StarTran TDP Update Moves Forward
By Richard Schmeling - March 23, 2022


The update of the StarTran Development Plan continues to move forward. The consultant, Nelson Nygaard, will soon present three alternative service change suggestions to be followed by public hearings for reaction. Then there will be a finalization of a single plan which may incorporate elements from all three alternatives.

The update will then be presented to Lincoln's Mayor and City Council for adoption. Compared to sweeping changes made in 2016, the changes this year will be relatively minor. One of the positive steps will be to run crosstown routes that will make it easier to travel between north Lincoln and south Lincoln without having to go Downtown to change routes. This will speed travel times considerably.

The current terminal/transfer area around the Golds Building in Downtown Lincoln is inadequate, and for several years StarTran has applied to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for funding for a new Terminal Transfer Facility without success. The latest request was rejected by the FTA because the proposed site near Golds has buried underground gasoline tanks and a building, which could be a national historic place, would have to be demolished. It will be difficult to find another site in the immediate Downtown area.

Commuter rail study proposed - LB991

By Senator Adam Morfeld - January 28, 2022

UPDATE 2/11/2022 - LB991  (Conduct a feasibility study for Omaha-Lincoln commuter rail) was voted out of committee today on a 5-4 vote. So far it's not anyone's priority bill.

The state would study the feasibility of a high-speed rail system between Nebraska's two largest cities under a bill considered January 27 by the Appropriations Committee.

The state would study the feasibility of a high-speed rail system between Nebraska's two largest cities under a bill LB991, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld. It would appropriate $500,000 in general funds in fiscal year 2022-23 to the state Department of Transportation to conduct a feasibility study of high-speed commuter rail service between Omaha and Lincoln. The study would include cost estimates, timelines and economic impacts for the creation of such a service.

Morfeld said a similar 2003 study estimated the cost to update existing rail lines owned by BNSF Railway for high-speed rail at $80 million. Those lines have since been updated, he said, so a new study to reevaluate the project is warranted. In addition, Morfeld said, driving habits have changed since 2003 and more people are interested in public transportation options, including some of the thousands of Nebraskans who commute daily between Lincoln and Omaha.

"The reason why I'm so passionate about this is because I've received an overwhelming amount of support for this concept and proposal, and I think it's important to pursue," Morfeld said. Richard Schmeling, president of Citizens for Improved Transit and a member of ProRail Nebraska, testified in support of the bill. Calling the commute between Lincoln and Omaha "crowded and unpleasant," Schmeling said lanes recently added to Interstate 80 have not solved the problem.

In addition, he said, public transportation improvements in both cities have helped to address the question of how riders would get to the high-speed rail stations and to their final destinations upon arrival, addressing the "first mile/last mile" problem. "We don't want to put ourselves in a position where we're going to have to play catch-up ball," Schmeling said. "If we build it now, it'll be cheaper than if we build it 10 or 20 years in the future." Representing the city of Lincoln, Eric Gerrard also testified in support. Economic expansion will require partnerships between Lincoln and Omaha to entice people to the region, he said, and more public transportation options may be part of that equation. No one testified in opposition to LB991 and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Mutual, Stothert reveal plans for downtown skyscraper, streetcar system

By Henry J. Cordes, Omaha World Herald, Jan 26, 2022

Downtown Omaha would see a stunning new high rise corporate headquarters and the long-discussed midtown streetcar line would become a reality - with no projected tax increase - under a blockbuster development plan announced by Mutual of Omaha and Mayor Jean Stothert.

Mutual of Omaha will reshape the downtown skyline with its planned skyscraper headquarters that could become the city's tallest. An architect's concept rendering depicts a glassy 40-plus story building rising above the block currently occupied by the downtown library at 14th and Douglas Streets.

The tower would sit along the route of a three-mile city streetcar line that would run from the University of Nebraska Medical Center to Omaha's riverfront. 

Stothert said vetted projections show the $225 million cost of building the streetcar system would be completely paid for by using tax-increment financing, harnessing the new property tax dollars generated by new developments along the line.

Click here to read the rest of the article and view photos.

Click here for Jan. 27 article about the Omaha Streetcar.

Click here for Jan. 30 article "As cities find streetcars put them on track for growth, Omaha aims to get on board". Article features a nice collection of historic streetcar photos.

Nebraska Legislative Update

By Bob Kuzelka, ProRail Lobbyist - January 21, 2022

LB 991 titled "Appropriate funds to the Department of Transportation to conduct a feasibility study for high-speed commuter rail" was introduced and assigned to the Appropriations Committee. A public hearing by that Committee is scheduled for 1:30 pm on Thursday, Jan. 27 in room 1003 of the Capitol. The text of LB991 follows:

A BILL FOR AN ACT relating to appropriations; to appropriate funds to the 2 Department of Transportation; and to declare an emergency.

Section 1. (1) There is hereby appropriated $500,000 from the 2 General Fund for FY2022-23 to the Department of Transportation, for 3 Program 305, for the purposes described in subsection (2) of this section. (2) The Department of Transportation shall use the funds appropriated in this section to conduct a feasibility study for a high speed commuter rail service between Omaha and Lincoln. Such study shall include cost estimates, timelines, and economic impacts for the creation of such service.
Section 2. Since an emergency exists, this act takes effect when passed and approved according to law. 

The major changes between this LB and his previous similar submission in the last session is the addition of "commuter" and removal of a due date for the completion of the study. ProRail leaders Bob Kuzelka, Richard Schmeling, and Jim Hanna will testify in favor of LB991.

ProRail Nebraska Membership Meeting

In Omaha  

Saturday, November 13th - 9:00 am to Noon  

We had a great meeting with 18 attending in person and several more online via Zoom. Thanks to our wonderful and very informative presenters! After the meeting several attendees took advantage of a ride on Omaha Metro's new ORBT bus service to Westroads and back using tokens provided free by O-Metro's Jason Rose.

Click here to read Jim Hanna's Rail Passenger Association Report from Saturday's meeting.

Photos from the meeting will be posted here soon.

Agenda:

  • 8:30 - Registration (no fee) and refreshments
  • 9:00 - Welcome (Matt Roque - PRN President)
  • 9:10 am - Nebraska Dept. of Transportation - John Selmer , Director
  • 9:50 am - Omaha's MetroNEXT Study and ORBT Update - Jason Rose, Customer Relations Mgr.
  • 10:20 am - Greater Omaha Chamber's ConnectGO - Stephen Osberg Director, Transp. & Urban Development
  • 10:50 am - Break 
  • 11:00 am - Mode Shift Omaha - Liz Veazey
  • 11:10 am - Presentation of Lutz Advocacy Award to Sen. Dan Quick Dist. 35 (2017-2020) - Matt Roque
  • 11:20 am - Plans for Nebraska Legislation 2022 Session - Matt Roque, Bob Kuzelka, Richard Schmeling  
  • 11:30 am - Midwest Regional Rail Plan - Final Report - Dave Purdy, Richard Schmeling
  • 11:40 am - Reports on Amtrak and Rail Passengers Association - Jim Hanna
  • 11:25 am - Mode Shift Omaha - Sarah Johnson
  • 11:50 am - ProRail Business - Reports and Elections
  • Noon      - Adjourn and Optional Free Pass to ride ORBT to Westroads Shopping Center for lunch

Bob Kuzelka (left) and Matt Roque (right) presenting the Lutz Advocacy Award to Sen. Dan Quick (center). Photo by Cindy Tefft

After the meeting several participants walked across Dodge St. to the 62nd St. westbound ORBT station and rode ORBT to Westroads Shopping Center for lunch. This view shows several waiting for the bus which operates every 15" on Saturdays. Omaha Metro's Jason Rose provided riders with free bus tickets.  Photo by Cindy Tefft

Ready to board the ORBT bus. Photo by Cindy Tefft

Click here to view a PDF copy of the minutes for our November 13th meeting.

October 2021 ProRail Postcard Newsletter Posted Online

Click here to view a PDF copy of the postcard.

October 2020 ProRail Newsletter Posted Online

Click here to view a PDF copy of the newsletter.

ProRail Presents Award to Morrie Tuttle 

Richard Schmeling - November 4, 2021

Presentation of the Dan Lutz Award to Mark Tuttle, son of Morrie Tuttle. From the left: Ralph Hayden, Bob Kuzelka, Mark Tuttle, Jim Hanna and Richard Schmeling.

On October 22 we presented a plaque for the Dan Lutz Rail Advocacy Award to Mark Tuttle, son of Morrie Tuttle, recognizing Morrie's longstanding contribution to ProRail Nebraska. This was done at a luncheon at Stauffers Restaurant in Lincoln.

Morrie passed away on April 22, 2021. Click here to read Morrie's obituary. ProRail is deeply gratefull for the many years of service Morrie provided to our organization and his dedication to the survival of railroad passenger service in America.

ProRail Signs onto Solutionary Rail's letter 

of support for STB Chairman Martin Oberman

Clyde Anderson - September 30, 2021

"Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chairman Martin Oberman recently spoke out about a variety of public goods that intersect with the proper stewardship of US Class 1 railroads. As quoted in this article, Chairman Oberman is bravely standing up to Wall Street's short-sighted business model that extracts profits without regard for the public's multiple interests in an accessible, robust, reliable and electrified interstate rail system."

"After nearly five decades of deregulation to the point of underregulation, we finally have a champion who is willing to use his position to stand up to these private corporations entrusted with stewarding this critical national infrastructure. It is time to clarify, update, and enforce Common Carrier Obligations that align with 21st Century public interests."

Please read Solutionary Rail's letter. ProRail's Board voted to sign on to this letter. Chairman Oberman deserves our encouragement and support. This is a moment of opportunity to sound the alarm, raise awareness, and increase pubic aspirations for a US rail system that has the potential to draw people and freight off the roads and onto the tracks. Click here to read the letter.

ProRail's Bob Kuzelka and Richard Schmeling

Featured on Climate Change Nebraska Podcast

September 29, 2021

Want to know more about the upside of a commuter railroad connecting Omaha and Lincoln? In this podcast recorded August 29th, two longtime proponents of this proposed linkup make the case for why it makes sense. 

Among the many reasons: the railroad line already exists, 41,000 daily commuters endanger lives and traffic that generate both a potential health risk and substantial pollution, according to Bob Kuzelka and Richard Schmeling. Both Kuzelka, a former UNL environmental studies professor, and Schmeling, a retired Lincoln attorney, are members of ProRail Nebraska, an organization that advocates for commuter trains. 


Click here to listen to the 30-minute podcast.

Many Railway-Related Webinars Recorded for On-Demand Viewing

By Clyde Anderson - July 22, 2021

Rail Passengers Association Webinars - Click Here for a list of recorded RPA webinars.

High Speed Rail Alliance Webinars - Clich Here for a list of recorded HSRA webinars.

Virginians for High Speed Rail Webinars - Click Here for a list of recorded VHSR webinars.

ORBT fares to begin Oct. 1 

with the introduction of contactless fare payment system, Umo

From https://www.ometro.com/metro-news/umo-launch/ - Sept. 3, 2021

Metro is preparing to introduce a new, contactless option to its fare payment system called Umo. With Umo, riders will board and manage accounts with a mobile app, or board with Umo smart cards and manage accounts online. The Umo system will be made available for public use on all bus and MOBY paratransit trips on Monday, September 20th. ORBT fare collection with the Umo system will begin on Friday, October 1st.

Metro will continue to sell paper fare tickets and passes, which can be purchased at Metro's office, online, and through a variety of retail outlets. Fareboxes, which will remain on Metro buses and MOBY vehicles, will continue to take paper tickets, passes, and cash, and will continue to honor and dispense value cards for cash overpayment.

ORBT prices will reflect Metro bus fares at $1.25 with 25-cent transfers. Metro fare prices will not change at this time.

Instead of paying for individual ride tickets, riders will be able to manage and load money into wallets online or with the Umo app. They will board by holding the Umo app or smart card to the recently installed Umo readers, which will deduct fares from a rider's wallet. When enabled, an auto-load feature will re-load funds when an account reaches a low balance.

Umo cards will be available at Metro's office and ticket vending machines, which are being installed at all ORBT Stations and the Westroads and North Omaha Transit Centers. Metro is in the process of adding retail outlets, corporate partners, community organizations, and other groups that are interested in expanding access to the transit system to the Umo network.

Umo will utilize "fare capping," which means the system will recognize the amount a rider with a Umo account pays in a calendar month and "cap" payments when Metro's monthly ride cost is reached - currently $55 for full-fare riders and $27.50 for half-fare riders.

With the Umo app, riders will be able to plan bus trips and explore bus routes and stops. Additional mobility features, such as real-time bus tracking and rider alert notifications, will be made available soon.

While paper passes and tickets will continue to be accepted at fareboxes on Metro buses and MOBY vans, ORBT will remain without fareboxes and rely on Umo for fare payment. Riders will use Umo readers at any of the ORBT doors, and periodic fare inspectors will check for proof of payment.

School pass programs - including UNO's MavRide, UNMC's TravelSmart, MCC's Pass to Class, College of Saint Mary's CSM 2 Go, and Metro's K-12 Rides Free pilot program - will continue to use fareboxes on buses and MOBY vans. On ORBT, they will board without swiping their cards and must have IDs available for periodic fare inspection.

When transferring between ORBT and bus while using Umo, the system will recognize boarding activity and automatically grant a rider a transfer. If transferring to ORBT from a Metro bus and not using the Umo system, riders should bring paper transfers for potential fare inspection.

Update on the Lincoln-Omaha Intercity Bus Project

By Richard Schmeling - August 2, 2021

I recently talked to Kari Ruse at NDOT to get an update on the proposed commuter bus service. She reported that things have been delayed because the time on the consultant's contract ran out and NDOT has had to find funds to rehire the consulting firm which has been done.

Kari indicated the next step is to negotiate a series of local match funding for the new service which is in progress. Depending on federal, state, and local funding available, NDOT may have to scale back the proposed service (i.e. the number of proposed trips per day and intermediate stops served).

Service implementation is likely several months off, probably during the first half of 2022.

Omaha officials sought $8 million for streetcar

but didn't get federal earmark

By Nancy Gaarder and Reece Ristau - Omaha World Herald - June 30, 2021

Omaha business leaders unsuccessfully tried to secure federal funding for the long-discussed streetcar project earlier this year.

The move is the latest sign that Omaha's business community is continuing to push for creation of a streetcar.

"We are extremely serious about this," said Jay Noddle, the developer who heads the public-private group focused on Omaha's urban core. "We've never been more serious. It's one of the more important and therefore more impactful things that can happen in the core of the city."

This spring, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, along with City of Omaha and local transportation officials, attempted to get an $8 million federal earmark to fund the design of the long-discussed streetcar project that would connect downtown and midtown Omaha.

However, the earmark, requested by U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., was not included in a federal transportation bill currently making its way through Congress, his office said last week.

Click Here to read the rest of the article and view more photos and a video.

Lincoln to receive $2.7 million grant, StarTran plans to buy new electric buses

By Kamri Sylve - TV Station KOLN - June 23, 2021

The U.S. Department of Transportation is awarding Lincoln with an almost $2.7 million federal transit grant, and all of that money is heading to the city's bussing system.

With this grant, Lincoln's StarTran will get 3 brand new electric buses and two new charging stations. These new electric buses will replace three 2006 diesal buses. The company says this grant will ultimately help the environment and the thousands of people who use Lincoln's bus system everyday.

These buses give off little to no emissions, which StarTran says makes them healthier for the city and provides a more quiet and smoother ride for passengers.

According to StarTran, these new electric buses go hand-in-hand with Lincoln's climate action plan. The city was able to purchase its first electric buses a couple years ago, upgrading the bus system to be more sustainable. Now, StarTran tells us using this grant to take three diesel ones off the road will help even more.

"Electric buses do cost more initially, so having this grant offset the initial cost will bring a lower cost overall when looking at the total bus life cycle," said Mike Davis, StarTran Transit Manager. "Having new buses does reduce breakdowns, and that improves reliability overall. That's an improvement for passengers and the system as a whole," he added.

The company said these electric buses require lower maintenance and should last between 12 and 16 years. In the next five years, StarTran will continue to work toward having all electric buses or using alternative fuel options.

The new electric buses should make their way to Lincoln roads within the next nine months to a year. To spot them, you can look for the new green scheme with a yellow cord painted on the side. The company is also hiring.

To view the video, Click Here.

Amtrak resumes daily service through Lincoln

By Nick McConnell, Lincoln Journal-Star, June 13, 2021

As daily life returns to normal during the nation's COVID-19 recovery, Amtrak trains are once again rumbling through Lincoln on a daily basis. 

The California Zephyr, the Amtrak train that runs from Chicago to San Francisco, has resumed its pre-pandemic schedule of one eastbound and one westbound train stopping in Lincoln in the early hours of each day.

ProRail Nebraska, a group of citizens that supports the continuation of passenger train service in the state, met the westbound train at the Lincoln Amtrak station on the first day of resumed daily service, May 24. According to ProRail's District 1 director, Richard Schmeling, ProRail opposed the pause in daily service, lobbying Nebraska's federal representatives to support Amtrak through the pandemic. 

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said daily service was halted on many routes after the Senate declined to pass funding for the service during the pandemic. Now that legislation providing the funding has been passed and signed by the president, he said, Amtrak has resumed service at full capacity. 

"It enables us to be a better service in the 500 places we serve," he said. 

It also enabled Amtrak to recall over 2,000 workers nationally that it put on furlough while service was decreased, Magliari said, including conductors, engineers and service people. 

Click here to read the full article and view photos.

ProRail Welcomes Back Daily Service on Amtrak's Calif. Zephyr

By Bob Kuzelka, ProRail Vice President

Effective the week of May 23, operation of Amtrak's California Zephyr will return to daily operation after operating tri-weekly for almost a year. To celebrate, Richard Schmeling and I had a large banner made with the image above that will be displayed at the Amtrak station in Lincoln. We also had ProRail flyers printed to hand out to Amtrak customers and supporters. The CZ not only serves Omaha and Lincoln, but also the Nebraska communities of Hastings, Holdrege, and McCook.

May 25, 2021 - ProRail Leaders Bob Kuzelka and Richard Schmeling with outbound CZ conductor Paul pose by PRN's Welcome Back banner at the Lincoln Amtrak Station.

Dollar General Building Huge Distribution Center in Blair, NE

May 25, 2021 - Clyde Anderson

Big economic news for the Omaha metro area -- Dollar General is building a distribution center in Blair. The warehouse will serve more than 1,500 Dollar General stores across the midwest. Construction is underway on an 800,000 square foot warehouse and distribution center on the southside of Blair. Dollar General is building the $85 million complex on 85 acres just off Highway 75. In the rendering of the new facility above, which is looking east, that's the Union Pacific support yard for the Cargil's huge Blair Plant. It presumably will also serve the new warehouse. Click here for details.

Transportation for America is a coalition seeking to align our national, state, and local transportation policies with an array of issues like economic opportunity, climate change, energy security, health, housing and community development. N.A.R.P. is a member of this coalition.


ProRail Nebraska advocates safe, environmentally-friendly, fuel efficient, affordable, comfortable, and all-weather mobility that rail transportation can provide.

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We think trains need more prominence in the U.S. because:

  • Trains provide more mobility and travel choices, especially in the post-2001 travel environment.
  • A wisely developed train network has great potential to accommodate future travel demand.
  • Trains are energy-efficient -- Intercity (Amtrak) trains are far more efficient than airlines (2441 Btu's per passenger-mile vs. 3999 for airlines in 1998, according to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory).
  • Increased use of trains reduces America's dependence on foreign oil.
  • Trains are safe, especially in bad weather.
  • Trains contribute to development which is more compact and less wasteful than auto-oriented development.
  • Trains pollute less than other modes of transportation.

(above courtesy National Association of Railroad Passengers)

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  Updated 05/02/2022