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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 Board Meeting  

Saturday, December 12 - 9:00 am to Noon  

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

If you can't attend in person, a conference phone line will be available.

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

 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic

the number of in-person attendees is limited for this meeting 

and wearing of face coverings (masks) is mandatory

All ProRail Nebraska members are invited to attend.

We will discuss the fate of long-distance passenger trains including the California Zephyr and public transit issues in our state and other ProRail business.

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

October 2020 ProRail Newsletter Posted Online

Click here to view a PDF copy of the newsletter.

May 2020 ProRail Newsletter Posted Online

Click here to view a PDF copy of the newsletter.

Omaha Metro Launches ORBT Bus Rapid Transit Nov. 18

November 22, 2020 - Clyde Anderson

After six years of planning and construction, procurement and training, Omaha Metro finally launched its new Dodge Street ORBT Bus Rapid Transit service on Wednesday, November 18.

"ORBT is an investment in our neighborhoods, our city, and our region. It's an enormous accomplishment on its own but - beyond that - an important signal about Metro's vision and commitment to the future," said Lauren Cencic, Metro Transit's new CEO.

I, like many other Omaha transit advocates, served as ORBT Ambassadors handing out ORBT literature and assisting riders with the new service at the 27 stations and stops. The 23 ORBT Stations have raised platforms, canopies and benches, and information computer screens providing transit information such as when the next ORBT bus will arrive. The four Stops just have shelters and benches. Eventually there will be ticket vending machines, but ORBT will be fare-free until mid-March 2021.

ORBT service is provided by new 60-ft articulated buses powered by clean CNG engines. Passengers can enter and exit through any of the three doors. Passengers with wheelchairs use the front door, and bikers use the rear door where there is a bike rack for 5 bicycles hung vertically.

The one complaint I heard from existing transit customers was the loss of the Local #2 bus service on Dodge St. with stops about every 1/8-mile. ORBT stops are much farther apart averaging about 1/2-mile meaning some customers must walk farther to their nearest stop.

"Metro is working closely with the Greater Omaha Chamber and other local agencies through ConnectGO to define next steps for our region's transportation system. Make your voice heard at survey.ConnectGO.org."

Omaha Amtrak Station Umbrella Shed - New Lights Are On!

October 28, 2020 - Article & Photo by David Seidel

The new Amtrak platform lighting goes well with the lighting on the old Burlington Station which is now the home of TV Station KETV Channel 7

View looking southwest at the new platform canopy with station on the left.

Amtrak #5 w.b. Calif. Zephyr waits at the well-lit platform for its departure time.

These bright new LED platform lights at Amtrak's Omaha Station are really bright! This just about wraps up the platform improvement project. Too bad the California Zephyr service was cut to tri-weekly in early October. Scroll down for Aug. 27 article with a daytime photo.

Amtrak Service Cuts Will Cost Nebraska $9 Million Per Year

Rail Passengers Association - October 5, 2020

Washington, DC--The Rail Passengers Association released new research showing that Amtrak's plan to reduce service on its long-distance routes--a vital transportation link to the 40 percent of the nation's small and rural communities that it serve--will cost Nebraskans $9 million annually, driven by a loss of roughly 33 thousand passengers.

 

Last month, Rail Passenger testified before congress that Amtrak's impending cuts in service to America's Heartland will be devastating across at least 30 states, dropping "a $2 billion bomb on "Flyover Country."

 

Rail Passengers has done additional work to model the economic damage that could result in Nebraska. Further analysis is needed, but our first pass suggests that Amtrak's 3x service plan would cost Nebraska's economy $8.8 million annually, driven by a loss of roughly 32,646 passengers. That includes $3.5 million in direct losses (visitor spending, highway maintenance issues, car crashes and so forth) plus another $5.2 million in indirect losses, which accounts for job losses and economic disruption in those sectors supported by this travel (lodging, travel, shopping, the effect of job losses on the tax base, etc.).

 

Rail Passengers is asking Americans to contact their elected officials and demand that Congress provide financial relief for passenger rail and transit in the next round of coronavirus stimulus.

"We've already seen airports and air service receive $14 billion in this week's one-year extension of transportation law and airline CEOs are asking for another $28 billion in stimulus, but nothing for rail," said Jim Mathews, Rail Passengers President & CEO. "Congress must provide Amtrak relief funds and include protections for passengers, Amtrak-served communities and Amtrak workers." 

For more details, see the full list of states Rail Passengers has analyzed and Mathews' full testimony.

ProRail Surveys Nebraska Candidates

Do they support passenger rail in Nebraska?

By Bob Kuzelka, ProRail Vice President, Sept. 22, 2020

Fourteen federal and state legislative candidates expressed strong support for passenger rail service in a recent survey conducted by ProRail Nebraska. 

Five congressional candidates and eleven legislative candidates responded. The survey was distributed in August to all 12 candidates for Nebraska's four U S Congressional seats and all 44 candidates for 25 seats in the Nebraska Legislature. All seats will be decided in the November 3rd general election. No congressional incumbent candidates responded to the survey. Three legislative incumbent candidates responded to the survey. 

Fourteen of the sixteen responding candidates were in agreement with all survey issues. One congressional candidates and one legislative candidate expressed only limited agreement with the issues. The issues were supporting passenger rail service with state funds, establishing commuter rail service between Lincoln and Omaha, increasing from once daily the rail service through Nebraska between Chicago and Denver and participating in Midwest regional passenger rail planning and advocacy. 

Thirteen responding candidates had traveled by passenger rail train. Satisfied comments on their experiences included "We have enjoyed the relaxing travel to Chicago, Memphis and D. C. by sleeping car." and "Traveling with my son to Washington, D. C. and Florida was made a pleasure with the use of Amtrak sleeping and eating arrangements." and "Spent the trip with friends in conversation and relaxation without having to worry about driving."

Click here to read the Summary and Analysis of the survey responses.

Lincoln-Omaha Intercity Bus Feasibility Study Issues Final Report

By Clyde Anderson - September 10, 2020

The Nebraska Dept. of Transportation has been studying the feasibility of intercity commuter bus service between Omaha and Lincoln. Click here to read a description of the study.

The study was completed in June 2020. Click here to read the 29-page Executive Summary Report (2 MB PDF). The full 108-page report is also available. Click here to view the full Final Report. Warning: This is a 42 MB PDF.

The study examined current demand and work patterns and determined if a service plan could be developed that would result in a well-used service. The idea of an intercity bus service between the two communities is not a new concept. Early study efforts began in 2003 with the Nebraska Transit Corridors Study, also known as NTRAC. ProRail was a supporter of NTRAC. From there, four other studies were completed including: Nebraska Intercity Bus Concept Plan, Close the Gap Heartland 2050, Blueprint Nebraska and the 2016 Statewide Mobility Intercity Bus Concept Plan.

The Study developed three preferred route alternatives which are described in detail in the reports:

  • Red Route - I-80 Express Lincoln to Omaha Eastbound

  • Black Route - I-80 Express Omaha to Lincoln Westbound, and

  • Gold Route - U.S. Highway 6

The Study developed operating cost estimates for an operating plan incorporating the three route alternatives. An implementation plan was developed to continue the momentum from the study process into the next phases of the project. That plan anticipates a startup of operations between August and December 2021.

Omaha Amtrak Station Umbrella Shed Refurbished

August 27, 2020 - Article & Photo by David Seidel

The Omaha Amtrak platform shed project is moving right along. Can't believe how much work was done on the shed the last week of August - and in this 100 degree weather!!!! Those steel workers had to be HOT but their work is unbelievable. The shed will be most welcomed to the train passengers in bad weather; but I have to say how much it adds to the Burlington Station looks - the people of KETV Channel 7 who now occupy the old station should be pleased with the good look it gives their building now. [Scroll up to the top, and that Amtrak photo in the upper right shows the old platform shed at Omaha.]

Amtrak Finally Responds to My June 24th Letter

August 29, 2020 - By Richard Schmelling

Back on June 24th I wrote to Amtrak's President, William Flynn, opposing Amtrak's proposal to cut service on all its long-distance trains except the Auto Train from daily to tri-weekly.

In mid-August I finally received a 3-page reply from Amtrak's Roger Harris, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing & Revenue Officer. Click here to read his reply.

Kansas City Streetcar Gets $50.8 Million Grant for Extension Project

August 27, 2020


The Kansas City Streetcar Main Street Extension is a New Starts project that is in the Engineering phase of the Federal Transit Administration's Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program. The project is a 3.5-mile extension of the Kansas City Downtown Streetcar from the existing terminus at Union Station south on Main Street to the University of Missouri - Kansas City Campus. FTA has allocated $50.8 million to the project. The extension will serve Kansas City's popular Country Club Plaza.

Click here to read more about the Main Street Extension Project.

ProRail Nebraska Approves Resolution

Opposing Tri-Weekly Operation of Amtrak Long-Distance Trains 

Adopted by ProRail Nebraska on this 11th day of July, 2020

WHEREAS Amtrak has informed the United States Congress that effective October 1, 2020, it will reduce passenger train service on its network from daily trains to trains only three days per week, including all but one route for long distance trains.

AND WHEREAS Amtrak has attempted this strategy in the past, resulting in loss of ridership and failure to realize projected cost savings until daily service was restored.

AND WHEREAS the United States Congress has recently appropriated funds which would support the maintenance of a national rail passenger network with daily service by long-distance passenger trains and has repeatedly communicated to Amtrak the need for a national rail passenger network with daily service.

NOW THEREFORE it is unanimously resolved by the Board of Directors of ProRail Nebraska, Inc. as follows: 

  1. ProRail opposes the proposal to cut service as outlined by Amtrak as being counterproductive to the mission of Amtrak which is to provide essential rail service.

  2. ProRail believes that such proposed service cuts will complicate the understanding of scheduling by the patrons of Amtrak and result in loss of ridership, which will be difficult to recover once daily service is resumed. It will also cause lengthy layovers between trains resulting in additional costs to riders.

  3. Due to the recent pandemic, air service has been substantially cut back throughout the United States and citizens may be more likely to travel on the trains where social distancing is possible rather than on crowded airplanes.

  4. Severe widespread economic dislocation has occurred and will continue as a result of the pandemic which may require increased mobility of those who have lost jobs requiring them to be able to travel in search of new employment.

  5. The proposed 20% reduction in Amtrak employees may cause experienced and valuable employees to not return to Amtrak when daily service is resumed.

IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this Resolution be sent to the Nebraska Congressional Delegation, the Amtrak Board of Directors, and Nebraska Governor and State Senators and the Mayors and Chambers of Commerce of Omaha, Lincoln, Hastings, Holdrege, and McCook, the Nebraska cities currently served by Amtrak's "California Zephyr."

Click here for a printer friendly PDF of the resolution. For more information, contact Richard Schmeling, 4610 Van Dorn St, Lincoln NE 68506-2560, 402-853-9537.

Virtal Railfan now has camera at Ft. Madison, IA

By Clyde Anderson - July 5, 2020

With many of us unable to travel safely with the coronavirus pandemic, the expanding network of railroad video cameras makes it really easy to be a "virtual" railfan. On June 26th, Virtual Railfan added a new camera in scenic Ft. Madison, Iowa. Not only can you view many BNSF and UP (using trackage rights on BNSF), but the camera operator often follows barge tows passing by on the nearby Mississippi River. You can also view the BNSF's huge swing-span bridge across the river opening and closing for barge traffic. 

Special thanks to the Kingsley Inn for sponsoring and hosting this camera! They love the train buffs who stay with them on their railfanning trips, and it shows in their hospitality! Find out more about the beautiful Kingsley Inn: https://www.kingsley-inn.com

Click here to enjoy the video action at Ft. Madison on this YouTube channel.

Don't forget the railcam site in Kearney, NE allowing railfans to view trains on Union Pacific's busy triple-track main line between Omaha and North Platte. There are two cameras: one facing east and another facing west. Kearney is in a "quiet zone" where trains don't blow their horns for grade crossings. However, the cameras are located just east of a grade crossing, and the warning sounds from the crossing alert viewers a train is coming. Although not as scenic as Ft. Madison and there are no scheduled passenger trains through Kearney, the UP site has more trains and they usually go by much faster. Click here to enjoy the video action at Kearney.

Amtrak Proposes to Cut California Zephyr to Tri-Weekly

By Richard Schmeling, June 18, 2020

One of Amtrak's 75 new Siemens Charger diesel-electric locomotives

Amtrak announced June 17 that it is cutting the California Zephyr that runs through Omaha and Lincoln from daily to three times per week effective October 1st. The justification for the service reduction is the pandemic-plagued economy. However, I believe the financial solution is not eliminating daily service but tailoring the number of train cars to passenger reservations. The Zephyr also serves three other stations in Nebraska: Hastings, Holdridge, and McCook.

Amtrak tried this a number of years back, and it confused travelers. It was difficult for travelers to match up train schedules with the days they wanted to travel. The long-distance passenger train network in this country is a disgrace. Like Japan, Italy and India, we should be adding more trains rather than taking them away.

Of Amtrak's 15 long-distance routes 13, including the Zephyr, presently operate daily. All but the east coast Auto Train would be cut to tri-weekly service October 1. Amtrak's Cardinal and Sunset trains already operate tri-weekly. 

ProRail Nebraska is opposed to this service reduction. Daily train service MUST be the very minimum service level. We MUST make sure that Amtrak has enough funds to maintain the workforce it needs to fully restore service once the demand for travel recovers and to run all National Network long-distance trains at least daily. Once the long recovery from COVID-19 is behind us.

ProRail President, Matthew Roque was interviewed June 18th on NET Radio, and stated "These changes will hurt people who rely on the service to get to Omaha or Lincoln for healthcare appointments and other essential trips. I think what's most important about Amtrak service to remember is that it's not a luxury, It's something that some people use every day or something that some people use because they have no other option. It's public transportation." 

We can't fight alone! ProRail Nebraska and the Rail Passengers Association need your partnership. Please contact your elected representatives in Congress and ask them to provide Amtrak with sufficient emergency funding to maintain daily service on its long-distance trains during the COVID-19 pandemic.

StarTran's Battery Electric Buses Have Arrived!

By Richard Schmeling, President, Citizens for Improved Transit, April 28, 2020

Battery-electric bus in service on Route 49 in Lincoln on 4/7/2020 - Photo by Richard Schmeling

Lincoln's StarTran Bus Service received its first four zero-emission battery-electric buses this Spring and placed in service the first week of April. The buses were manufactured by New Flyer, and they resemble StarTrans CNG (compressed natural gas) buses both exterior and interior. They are numbered in the 400-series, and a total of ten were ordered. Because of the high demand for electric buses and limited manufacturing capacity, it took over two years for delivery of the first four buses.

I have ridden the new electric buses, and they are SWEET! They are so quiet when stopped that, compared to the diesels, it sounds like they are shut off. Acceleration is quiet, and going down the street all you hear is tire noise on the pavement.

One design defect is that they don't have an "idiot light" to indicate low electric power in the batteries. The operator has to watch a dial like a gas gauge. One driver got caught halfway through the shift with batteries drained, and a rescue bus had to se sent.

Drivers like the new buses for the most part. They are a little doggy on acceleration, but don't transition through gears like a diesel bus. Some of the Gillig diesel buses, especially the short 200-series, tend to be rough shifters as they transition through the gears.

The new buses are equipped with regenerative braking. When the driver applies the brakes, the traction motor switches to generator mode braking the bus, and the electricity generated during braking is used to help recharge the batteries. However, drivers report that the brake pedal is slow in coming back up when the bus comes to a stop.

The remaining six electric buses in the New Flyer order are scheduled to be delivered this Summer.

Like Omaha's Metro Transit, StarTran saw a huge drop in ridership due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. On weekdays buses generally operate on Saturday schedules, and passengers are required to board and exit through the rear door to maintain a safe distance from the drivers. No fares are being collected. Operation of the Downtown trolley shuttle bus was suspended for the duration of the pandemic.

Rear view of StarTran Bus 403 working StarTran Route 53 on 4/9/2020 - Photo by Richard Schmeling

Survey of Omaha Metro ORBT Station Construction

By Clyde Anderson - April 24, 2020

Despite the Covid-19 Pandemic, construction on Omaha Metro's stations for its new ORBT Bus Rapid Transit on Dodge Street between Downtown and Westroads Shopping Center is progressing this Spring. As indicated in the diagram above, 7 of the station platforms are completed, 14 are under construction, and 4 will be started soon.

Mode Shift Omaha's Walkability Team was concerned that pedestrian access past some of the construction sites was blocked with no marked detours. I volunteered to survey the station sites to document existing and future pedestrian access issues. Click here to view my report with many photos taken during mid-April. It's really exciting to see Omaha's first major transit project in years finally getting built! The first shelters are scheduled to arrive soon from Kansas City to be installed on the station platforms.

Service is still anticipated to start this Fall, but with the Covid-19 Pandemic, we could see more delays.

Midwest Rail Rangers Offers Train Route Guide Books

By Clyde Anderson - April 12, 2020

 

Midwest Rail Rangers is a non-profit organization presenting onboard educational programs across the Upper Midwest. 

Like many businesses and other non-profit around the country, the Midwest Rail Rangers are also struggling to a degree during this uncertain pandemic. While their Interpretive Guides are not on the trains giving programs... and they are not able to do outreach events (which serve as their major fundraisers)... their bills continue to roll in. They must still continue to pay things like liability insurance, maintenance for speakers systems and other equipment, website hosting, and much more. To help Midwest Rail Rangers during this time, there are several options. Their website (http://www.railrangers.org) allows you to make a direct donation of any amount --- simply click on the button on the lower left-hand side of the screen. 

You can also show your support for the Midwest Rail Rangers by purchasing their railroad route guide books, PDF e-books, MP3 podcasts, wood depot signs, and much more. The Midwest Rail Rangers Store's online page can be reached by just heading over to http://www.MidwestRails.com. Check out their selection of train route guides. Some of the routes covered are shown on the map above.

Virtal Railfan now has cameras at Kearney, NE

By Clyde Anderson - March 25, 2020

Are you suffering from cabin fever cooped up inside during this coronavirus pandemic? If you have a good internet connection, you can do a lot of "virtual" train watching using your computer.

Last May, Virtual Railfan added a new railcam site in Kearney, NE allowing railfans to view trains on Union Pacific's busy triple-track main line between Omaha and North Platte. There are two cameras: one facing east and other facing west. Kearney is in a "quiet zone" where trains don't blow their horns for grade crossings. However, the cameras are located just east of a grade crossing. So the sound of the crossing bells and electronic horns to warn motorists and pedestrians warn railcam viewers when a train is approaching.

Right now you can view the cameras for free on YouTube using this LINK. Click here for a list of railcams available for free viewing. This list changes almost daily with some reverting to viewing only by paid Virtual Railfan subscribers. Better yet, Click Here and subscribe to Virtual Railfan for access to 79 railcans at 48 locations in 23 states plus railcams in 4 other countries.

Omaha Metro makes bus rides free

asks riders to enter and exit at the rear of buses

By Jeffrey Robb World-Herald staff writer - March 24, 2020

Metro will move to free bus fares as the transit agency keeps some needed service going while trying to stave off the coronavirus.

The change will take effect Wednesday and continue until further notice. It's among the agency's responses to the pandemic.

Also Wednesday, Metro will ask riders to enter and exit at the rear of the bus to create distance between bus drivers and passengers. With rides being free, it serves little purpose to maintain the close interaction at the fare box, said Curt Simon, Metro's executive director.

Riders with mobility needs can still use the front door, Metro said. The change will help keep essential workers safe and ease a financial burden for riders, Simon said.

Already, Metro has reduced service on its seven express routes and discouraged all nonessential bus travel and rides on its MOBY service. Yet, thousands of people continue to ride Metro buses daily - a sign that, to those riders, the service is essential. Simon said Metro would typically see 13,500 passenger boardings a day. 

Ridership now is down by half, or about what's typical for a Saturday, he said. "We are all facing an unprecedented challenge," Simon said in a statement. "Our goal is to protect front-line staff and support our riders." He added: "We still need to be the essential service to take care of those people."

Lincoln-Omaha Intercity Bus Feasibility Study - An Update

By Clyde Anderson - March 10, 2020

The Nebraska Dept. of Transportation has been studying the feasibility of intercity commuter bus service between Omaha and Lincoln. Click here to read a description of the study.

I attended NDOT's Feb. 26 public meeting at South Omaha’s Kroc Center. Click here to view a PDF of the slide presentation from the meeting. It shows proposed routes, stops, economics, and more. 

Then on March 1 an article appeared in the Omaha World Herald saying NDOT was seeking bids for the service! Click here to view the article. 

I have long supported a bus commuter service between Omaha and Lincoln because it can be implemented quickly, its much less expensive than rail which allows much more frequent service. Buses will serve O-Metro's Westroads and Aksarben Transit Centers as well as Epply Airport and the Amtrak/Intercity Bus Terminal. In Lincoln stops will include the StarTran Downtown Transit Center and several UNL locations.

Sen. Morfeld Introduces Omaha-Lincoln Commuter Rail Bill

Testimony by Matthew Roque, PRN President - Feb. 6, 2020

First, thank you to Senator Morfeld for introducing LB979. My appreciation is also extended to Senator Stinner and to the rest of this committee for their work on behalf of the citizens of Nebraska.

I am here today representing ProRail Nebraska, a non-profit advocacy group focused on increased passenger rail service as well as other public transportation needs within the state. Our members hail from across Nebraska, with still more, from 15 states other than Nebraska. These are usually people who have lived in Nebraska at one time or another and are still supportive of passenger rail in the state.

As an advocate for passenger rail, I am often asked when Nebraska will be starting an Omaha to Lincoln commuter service. The need for this service is quite evident based on analysis conducted of commuter traffic patterns. With increased population growth in both the Lincoln and Omaha metropolitan areas, this service will continue these trends while providing safe and reliable transportation between Nebraska's two largest cities. 

In 2003, the Nebraska Transit and Rail Advisory Council (NTRAC) created a study which, among other things, reported on the feasibility of passenger rail service between Omaha and Lincoln. Although flawed in some respects, the study did show the need for increased travel options on this corridor. Updating this study is long past due. 

As some of you are aware, Amtrak (the National Passenger Railroad Corporation) daily serves the state with a pair of passenger trains (The California Zephyr) operating between Chicago and Emeryville, CA. These trains stop at five stations (Omaha, Lincoln, Hastings, Holdrege and McCook) and in 2018 had 53,527 passenger arrivals and departures. 

Grand ideas require research and contemplation. They require thoughtful discussion by those most able to minimize their cost and maximize their benefit. The time for evaluating passenger rail service from Lincoln to Omaha is overdue. 

Please vote to advance LB 979 from your committee.

Editor's Note: In addition to Matt Roque speaking in favor of LB979 before the NE Legislature's Appropriations Committee, others speaking in favor included Richard Schmeling, President of Citizens for Improved Transit, and the Lobbyist for the City of Omaha. Letters of support were submitted by the Omaha and Lincoln Chambers of Commerce. Only one organization spoke in opposition - the Lincoln Independent Business Assn.

ProRail Board Revises Mission and Objectives

At its October 12, 2019 Board meeting, ProRail Nebraska directors approved the final draft of its updated Mission and Objectives. Click here to view the updated web page. Click here to read the full ProRail Mission and Objectives (a one-page PDF).

Click here to read the full article.

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 11/29/2020