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Welcome to ProRail Nebraska

Dedicated to supporting and advocating for railroad service 
in the State of Nebraska.

Supporting

Commuter Rail - Light Rail - Intercity Rail

We're Helping Get Nebraska On Track!

ProRail Nebraska Meetings  

Next Meeting: Saturday, December 10, 9:00 am 

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

Tentative Agenda Topics

  • Report on the MIPRC Annual Meeting in St. Louis by Bob Kuzelka
  • Review, Discuss & Update PRN Objectives last revised in January 2015
  • Legislative plans and priorities for the 2017 Session of the Nebraska Legislature
  • Update on improvements to Lincoln's StarTran Transit System and other state transit issues
  • ProRail Business - Secretary and Treasurer reports
  • Adjourn 

For more information call Bob Kuzelka (402) 417-9424 (Lincoln) email rkuzelka1@unl.edu or Clyde Anderson (402) 740-5556 (Omaha) email ClydeLAnderson@cox.net.

All ProRail Nebraska meetings are open to the general public!

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

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

November 2016 ProRail Newsletter Posted Online

Click here to view a PDF copy of the newsletter.

Growing amenities draw more dwellers downtown

Kansas City Star, Sunday, November 20, 2016

When Alex Walter and his girlfriend Carolina Holden decided to get an apartment together, they knew they wanted to be downtown. Walter was living in an old building a few blocks west of their current home in the brand-new 1914 Main building, but it wasn't close enough to the action.

"I felt like I wanted to be closer to First Fridays, and closer to the streetcar line," Walter said.

Walter and Holden are part of a growing number of people choosing life downtown to be near its growing arts community, creative venues and great restaurants. It is a style of living attracting native Kansas Citians, like Walter, who grew up in Lenexa but likes urban living. It is also providing a spot for transplants, like Holden, who has lived in many cities around the world, to feel at home.

The inaugural Urban Homes Tour, on Dec. 10, will offer a glimpse of downtown living. The free self-guided tour, part of the larger Downtown Dazzle event, will feature 20 properties with holiday cookies, seasonal cocktails, raffles and contests. Guests are encouraged to ride the KC Streetcar between properties.

Downtown Dazzle takes place the first three weekends in December and includes family-friendly and adults-only festivities in Crown Center, Power & Light, City Market and Union Station.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Attending the NARP Advocacy Symposium and Meeting in Denver

By Jim Hanna, ProRail Nebraska Director, District 4 & Liaison to NARP

I was approached in early August by Jim Souby, the president of ColoRail and the Mountain and Plains Division Leader of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), about the possibility that I might become the Nebraska representative on the NARP Council, replacing Roger Clark, who moved to Arizona and has become their state rep.  This posed a small problem, as I was not a NARP member at that time.  He suggested that I attend the fall NARP Advocacy Symposium and Meeting in Denver, scheduled for October 14 through 16, 2016.  After careful consideration I decided to attend, so I joined NARP, which can be done rather conveniently online, and began planning the trip.  

Aerial view of Denver Union Station - 2016 (RTD Photo)

NARP always schedules their meetings in cities with Amtrak service, so I decided that the event would be a good excuse for a train trip and that my wife and I would get there a few days early and do some sightseeing.  It turned out that this meeting attracted a larger turnout than expected, and by the time I got registered the discounted rooms at the downtown Embassy Suites, the conference hotel, were all booked.  Initially we were afraid that this would pose some problems without a car at our disposal, but through some web searching and verification by Google Earth and phone calls, we found a Marriott hotel that was only two blocks from the Southmoor light rail station.  One of the three lines that serve that station terminates at Denver Union Station where Amtrak also stops, which was convenient.  Two of the other lines make a loop through the downtown area with a stop at the Convention Center, which is just across the corner from the Embassy Suites.  Our transportation quandary was solved.

View of Denver Union Station's modern train shed - 2016 (RTD photo)

We boarded the California Zephyr in Omaha on the evening of October 10.  The train was actually a few minutes early arriving, so we pulled out at precisely 11:05 p.m., the scheduled departure time.  The journey was comfortable and uneventful, with large reclining seats that make it possible to sleep relatively well.  I do recall waking briefly at each of the other four Nebraska stops.

Click here to read Jim's full report (10-page PDF including more photos)

Nebraska Railroad News

Dick Schmeling & Clyde Anderson - Nov. 7, 2016

BNSF's track laying machine began laying concrete ties and ribbon rail near Pleasant Dale Sept 1st building 5.7 miles of second  main track to Milford. Work was completed as of Sept 23rd but more time was needed for ballasting, surfacing and signal upgrades. It could be in service by Nov 3rd.

Effective November 1st, BNSF has eliminated Ravenna as an intermediate crew-change point for trains operating between Lincoln and Alliance, a distance of 367 miles. This is probably the longest crew district in the state! It will be interesting to see haw many trains complete this long run without having to be recrewed.

A westbound U.P. passenger train was seen in Omaha on the Lane Cutoff with two large G.E. units and 16 cars about 8:30 am on Monday, Nov. 7th.

Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) Annual Meeting

St. Louis, MO (originating in Chicago)

September 27 through 29, 2016

Submitted by Bob Kuzelka (rkuzelka1@unl.edu) on October 15, 2015

The meeting began in Chicago with a brief tour of renovations underway at Union Station, and a ride on Amtrak's Texas Eagle (Chicago-San Antonio, Texas) to St. Louis. Aboard the train, commissioners, partners and allies heard about - and saw - ongoing work to upgrade the Chicago-St. Louis corridor to 110-mph service between Joliet and Alton by the end of 2017 or early 2018. They also received an update from Amtrak, with a special emphasis on state-supported routes.

 

Participants in the MIPRC Annual Meeting at Kirkwood, MO Depot

The St. Louis portion of the meeting included a half-day trip on the state-supported Missouri River Runner to Kirkwood for a tour of that city's historic station (see photo, below) and presentations on how the city has embraced the station as both a gateway and popular civic space/downtown anchor; and on the success of the Missouri River Runner service and the Missouri Passenger Rail Advisory Committee (MORPAC).

 Commissioners spent Wednesday afternoon and all of Thursday at the St. Louis City Center hotel hearing and discussing presentations from the MIPRC states on the status of their passenger rail programs/activities, along with reviews of MIPRC's past-year activities and the pending Midwest regional rail planning project with the Federal Railroad Administration. They also reviewed the Universities and Colleges Passenger Rail Survey and discussed steps to follow up on its findings and recommendations. Other topics included updates on federal passenger rail-related legislation and rulings, the Next Generation Equipment Committee and the status of new equipment coming to the Midwest.

Commission business included election of commission officers for FY 2017: Tim Hoeffner, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation's Office of Rail (and Governor Snyder's designee to the commission) as MIPRC's chair; Joan Bray, Missouri Gov. Nixon's designee to the commission, as vice chair; and Kansas Sen. Carolyn McGinn as financial officer.

Click here to read the rest of Bob's report.

Reconnecting the Midwest Region

Midwest High Speed Rail Association - Nov. 7, 2016

High-speed rail will transform the Midwest by transforming the way we travel. Dramatic reductions in travel time, combined with increased flexibility and lower user cost, will mean that people travel more often. This increase in productivity and innovation, together with stronger family connections, will create a more vibrant and attractive region.

Join our community today and become a part of a movement to transform our region.

Recent studies have found that a four-spoke, 220-mph Midwest high-speed rail network would have a staggering economic impact on the region. By 2030 the benefits of such a network would include an annual reduction in 4.3 billion highway miles, 3 billion air travel miles, 26 million hours of time spent in roadway congestion, 127 million gallons of gasoline and 1.4 million tons of pollutant emissions.

Please join or donate today to support this vision for the Midwest.

NARP report on autonomous cars

NARP News Hotline, Friday, October 14, 2016

Webmaster's Note: The ProRail Nebraska Board at its meeting Saturday, October 15, passed a resolution to monitor the development and implementation of autonomous vehicle technology in Nebraska and oppose any proposals to reduce public transit services in anticipation of this new technology.

A report that NARP discussed last week on autonomous vehicles and their potential to change the future of rail transit, has garnered significant attention from media and readers. We noted that the report, "Will Autonomous Vehicles Derail Trains?" ignores new trends in resettlement patterns that have seen young and educated professionals moving to cities and walkable communities that has led to steady growth in passenger rail service, with cities and states looking to develop new rail lines and multi-modal stations. In addition, rail transit is technology that that readily available for the development of passenger rail networks, and it is a mode of transportation that people are familiar with, and can rely on.

This familiarity with rail its technology is something that autonomous vehicles don't have with the majority of the American public yet. The technology is not fully developed, and this poses a challenge for many developers as studies have indicated mixed feelings from consumers about self-driving cars. A report from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) found that 70 percent of respondents were ready to test a self-driving car, but a survey released by the Altman Vilandrie and Company last month shows that 64 percent of people indicated they would not buy an automated vehicle because they believe the technology is dangerous. In addition, a University of Michigan survey earlier this year found less than 16 percent of consumers were totally OK with having fully autonomous cars.

The mixed-bag of results could stem from inexperience with autonomous cars, but the technology could also face a series of regulatory hurdles before they are available for purchase by the masses. Currently, a patchwork of state regulations exist throughout the country. Guidelines for driverless cars unveiled by the White House last month sought to establish a uniform framework and clarify the state versus federal role, although it's a legally non-binding document. The guidance suggests that states be responsible for licensing human drivers, enforcing traffic laws and establishing testing requirement, while the policy plan envisions the federal government as having primary control over the actual automation software and recalls.

OIG: Amtrak hasn't estimated full cost of PTC

Progressive Railroading, Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Although Amtrak has made significant progress in installing positive train control (PTC), the railroad hasn't fully tallied up the total cost of implementing the technology, according to Amtrak's Office of Inspector General (OIG).

 The total cost could be "hundreds of millions more than is currently budgeted," according to the OIG's report. If the railroad fails to properly account for the cost of implementing PTC, it may miss the federal government's end-of-2018 deadline to install the technology.

 In addition, Amtrak needs to complete several remaining tasks, including finishing trackside installations. The national passenger railroad has operational PTC systems on track it owns or operates along the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and in Pennsylvania and Michigan. However, that is about 67 percent or 608 route miles of Amtrak's total planned trackside installation.

 And while the railroad has fully installed PTC on nearly all of its locomotives on the NEC, it still must install on-board systems on the 303 locomotives that travel on its long-distance and state-supported routes, according to the OIG.

 "Completing these tasks by December 2018 could be challenging given their complexity and the company's current program management approach, which diffuses accountability and leaves the company vulnerable to cost and schedule risks," the report stated.

 Other remaining PTC-related tasks include:

  • submitting a safety plan to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for the approval of the Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES) PTC system on the NEC and connecting rail corridors;  

  • installing the Interoperable-Electronic Train Management System (I-ETMS) PTC system on segments of the NEC and on segments between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa.;

  • upgrading ACSES technical standards to meet FRA interoperability requirements; and

  • resolving issues of potential radio frequency spectrum interference with ACSES on the northern end of the NEC.  

 The OIG recommended that Amtrak re-evaluate current program cost estimates "consistent with leading practices" and ensure that the cost are disclosed in the railroad's financial plans, including the likely cost of reimbursing host railroads.

 Those steps will help ensure sufficient funds are available to complete PTC installation by the 2018 deadline, the report said.

 The OIG also suggested that Amtrak clarify the roles and responsibilities of current PTC managers to ensure clear authority and accountability for managing all remaining implementation tasks. The railroad should appoint a senior official with sufficient authority to ensure program success, the OIG said.

 Finally, the report suggested that Amtrak identify all remaining implementation tasks and milestones for completion and establish a process to periodically review the status of these remaining actions to measure progress.

 Amtrak agreed to all of the OIG's recommendations.

 Railroads can request an additional two-year extension to implement PTC if they meet several prerequisites, including the installation of all PTC hardware and acquisition of all spectrum necessary by December 2018.

 CN, CSX and Norfolk Southen Railway are targeting 2020 for full implementation of the technology, according to the FRA's August status report on the railroads' PTC plans.

UP: PTC Making Steady Progress

Railway Age, October 6, 2016

Union Pacific on Oct. 6, 2016 updated its Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation program. Through Sept. 1, 2016, UP has invested $2.1 billion in PTC. The railroad's current estimate for PTC's total cost is about $2.9 billion.

UP's reported progress so far:

  • 88%, or 15,271 miles, of total route-miles are now installed with PTC signal hardware.

  • PTC hardware has been partially installed on about 83% of UP's 5,656 locomotives earmarked for the technology.

  • UP has equipped 2,016 locomotives with PTC hardware and software for revenue service demonstration (a test of the PTC system in a defined rail corridor).

  • 84% of the wayside antennas needed to support PTC along the company's right-of-way have been installed, also through Sept. 1, 2016.

UP reported that around 40 PTC trains per day are operating in the L.A. basin and central California, across 800 track-miles. Union Pacific freight trains with PTC-equipped locomotives and PTC-trained crews began operating in California in late 2015. Classified as "revenue service demonstration" or RSD, the locomotives, equipment and crews are in operational testing for safety compliance, "a monumental undertaking across all PTC components and service groups," UP said. "RSD service allows Union Pacific to continuously refine its implementation of this built-from-scratch technology and gather feedback."

Webmaster's note: UP has the benefit of having retained many of its legacy safety systems that provide Automatic Train Stop and Automatic Train Control (ATS and ATC on former C&NW) and Automatic Cab Signal (ACS on former UP). Most of the other railroads removed these systems years ago.

 Douglas County Board OKs 2-year lease with bus company for downtown depot

By Christopher Burbach, Omaha World-Herald, September 21, 2016

The Douglas County Board approved a two-year lease Tuesday with Burlington Trailways for a county-owned building used as a bus station in downtown Omaha.

That may be seen as good news among business owners and residents around Omaha’s Amtrak station, who worried that the bus depot would relocate there.

The bus company will pay the same monthly rent, $4,666.60, that it has been paying the county since the county bought the building from Greyhound in 2013.

The station is at 1601 Jackson St., near the Douglas County Jail. The county acquired the building and land with an eye to future jail expansion. Burlington Trailways had been on a month-to-month lease for the station. Either party could have ended the arrangement with 30 days notice. Burlington had confirmed in March that it was in early talks with Amtrak about moving the bus depot to the Amtrak train station, 1003 S. Ninth St. Some businesses and the Old Market South Neighborhood Association are opposed to that idea.

Jeff McGill of the county's public properties division said Burlington management wanted a longer-term arrangement for its current location. "There's been some discussion about relocation, but that didn't really enter into our conversations," he said.

The county doesn't have another use for the property right now, McGill said. So it agreed to extend the lease, with a 90-day notice required to end the arrangement. Arnie Breslow, Old Market South president, welcomed the news of the lease extension for the 16th and Jackson building. He said members of his association worry that moving the bus station near Amtrak would have a negative effect on the surrounding residential neighborhood.

ProRail to Represent Nebraska at MIPRC Annual Meeting

ProRail's Vice President, Bob Kuzelka, will represent our organization at the MIPRC (Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission) Annual Meeting in St. Louis September 28 & 29. Click here to view the  Agenda for MIPRC's 2016 Annual Meeting.

Nebraska should have four official MIPRC Commissioners -- two appointed by the Legislature and two appointed by the Governor. Neither Senators Harr or Lindstrom can attend. The Governor hasn't made his two appointments. So Bob will be our only representative from Nebraska!

The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission is a ten-state interstate compact commission that promotes, coordinates and supports regional improvements to passenger rail service. Member states include Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. In the past few years Iowa and Ohio withdrew membership. Thanks in part to the lobbying by ProRail Nebraska, Nebraska in 2014 resumed paying its MIPRC dues.

NE DOR Prepares New State Rail Plan

By Clyde Anderson

The Rail Section of the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) is in the process of preparing a 2016 Nebraska Rail Plan. Since Nebraska is the only state in the Union that doesn't have a Department of Transportation, we are doubtful that NDOR will prepare a plan as well done as some other states.

This May, the 2016 Texas Rail Plan Update was released. The Executive Summary and Chapter 2 - Texas' Existing Rail System are particularly informative. Click on the links and check them out!

Passengers Win Critical STB Decisions

Midwest High Speed Rail Association Newsletter - Aug. 3, 2016

Railroad passengers came out ahead in two important regulatory decisions made by the Surface Transportation Board last Thursday, which will affect the reliability of Amtrak service. The proposals introduced a revised definition to passenger train on-time performance and preference over freight trains.

A federal law created in 1973 has granted Amtrak preference over freight trains when running on freight owned tracks. In Amtrak's view this means that freight railroads must always prioritize passenger rail by pulling over freight trains to grant Amtrak preference.  The proposed policy statement by the STB would have effectively removed passenger train's preference by siding with the freight trains view of the law, which is that preference means balancing passenger train needs with that of the freight railroads while prioritizing OTP.

During the public comment period there was an overwhelming response from passenger rail advocates, which included many MHSRA members. Advocates were well equipped due to the hard work the Environmental Law & Policy Center put into drafting a detailed response. These efforts led to the STB decision to withdraw their proposal. The board claimed they were unable to resolve the disagreement and will refine its approach towards preference as specific cases arrive.

The other important decision made last Thursday regarded the measurement of on-time performance. Amtrak has a right to file a complaint if OTP falls below 80% on a given route. The proposal released for public comment only included final destinations when tracking OTP. The final decision released includes intermediate stations as well, and will deem a train on-time if it arrives or departs from a station no more than 15 minutes after its scheduled arrival or departure.

We are thrilled and motivated by these decisions in favor of passenger rail. It goes to show that passenger rail advocates are having their voices heard at the highest levels and that we must continue to be vocal to make significant progress.

Progress on Minnesota High Speed Rail Slows

BY HEATHER J. CARLSON, POST-BULLETIN / JULY 28, 2016  

A company seeking to build a high-speed rail line from Rochester to the Twin Cities with private dollars needs more time before deciding whether to push ahead with the project.

"We simply need more time to collect information," said North American High Speed Rail Group's Chief Manager Wendy Meadley.

Earlier this month, the rail group requested the Minnesota Department of Transportation extend the deadline for two work permits set to expire at the end of the month. MnDOT granted the request, setting a new deadline of Dec. 1 for the permits.

The miscellaneous work permits allow the company to do non-invasive activities in the right-of-way along U.S. 52 and U.S. 63. Those permits enable the company to complete a preliminary study of the potential high-speed rail route. The rail group did not request an extension for a third work permit in the metro area.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order, establishing the Governor's Council on Freight Rail, which will bring together state officials and railroads in a public-private working group to improve communication and enhance safety and economic development in communities.

"Minnesota's railways make important contributions to our state’'s economy and their operations in our state have a major impact on both the vitality and safety of our communities," said Gov. Dayton. "From the thousands of jobs they support in our state, to shipping agricultural and other goods to market, the capacity and safety issues on our railways affect all Minnesotans. The new Council on Freight Rail will enhance coordination and partnership between Minnesota and the railroads, for the benefit of communities across our state."

Minnesota has more than 4,500 miles of freight railroad connecting communities across the state, making it one of the largest rail networks in the country and employing more than 4,500 Minnesotans.

Minnesota’s rail network currently carries 25% of all freight movement in the state, with that share expected to grow by 25-40% by 2040. The Governor’s Council on Freight Rail will work proactively to foster safe and efficient freight rail operations, to support the economy and benefit local communities across the state.

The council will be chaired by the governor, with State Rail Director Alene Tchourumoff serving as chair.

APTA opposed to GOP's call to end federal funding of public transportation

Progressive Railroading, Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is strongly opposed to the Republican Party platform that calls for phasing out federal funding of public transportation, the association announced yesterday.

Adopted by Republicans on Monday, the GOP platform proposes to eliminate mass transit dollars from the federal Highway Trust Fund. One-fifth of the fund's money is spent on mass transit, "an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities," the platform states.

That proposal would "undo more than 30 years of overwhelming support for dedicated federal investment in public transit," APTA Acting President and Chief Executive Officer Richard White said yesterday in a prepared statement.

Since 1983, under President Ronald Reagan, a portion of the federal gas tax revenue has been dedicated to public transit through the Mass Transit Account of the surface transportation legislation, White noted.

"The public transportation industry is currently underfunded," he said. "Having no federal funds would be devastating, not only to the millions of Americans who use public transportation and to the employers who depend on it for their employees, but also for communities of all sizes that need it for a thriving economy and quality of life."

In addition, APTA is opposed to the platform's position against any increase in the federal gas tax. Congress hasn't increased the tax since 1993, "and consequently, its purchasing power has gone down by more than 37 percent," White noted.

In 2013, the annual capital spending on public transit from all levels of government was $17.7 billion, according to White. Of that figure, $7.4 billion came from the federal government. APTA and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials have determined that an investment of $43 billion for public transportation is necessary to improve system performance and condition, he said.

Also, the Federal Transit Administration has estimated the public transportation system faces a one-time $86 billion backlog in deferred maintenance and replacement needs, White added.

"We need a well-funded transportation system that includes public transportation," he said.

In other public transportation matters, the platform called for Amtrak service in the Northeast Corridor to be turned over to private operators.

"The same holds true with regard to high-speed and intercity rail across the country," the platform states. "We reaffirm our intention to end federal support for boondoggles like California's high-speed train to nowhere."

 

Minnesota establishes council on freight rail

Monday, July 18, 2016 Railway Age.com

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order, establishing the Governor’s Council on Freight Rail, which will bring together state officials and railroads in a public-private working group to improve communication and enhance safety and economic development in communities.

"Minnesota's railways make important contributions to our state’s economy and their operations in our state have a major impact on both the vitality and safety of our communities," said Gov. Dayton. "From the thousands of jobs they support in our state, to shipping agricultural and other goods to market, the capacity and safety issues on our railways affect all Minnesotans. The new Council on Freight Rail will enhance coordination and partnership between Minnesota and the railroads, for the benefit of communities across our state."

Minnesota has more than 4,500 miles of freight railroad connecting communities across the state, making it one of the largest rail networks in the country and employing more than 4,500 Minnesotans.

Minnesota’s rail network currently carries 25% of all freight movement in the state, with that share expected to grow by 25-40% by 2040. The Governor’s Council on Freight Rail will work proactively to foster safe and efficient freight rail operations, to support the economy and benefit local communities across the state.

The council will be chaired by the governor, with State Rail Director Alene Tchourumoff serving as chair.

ProRail Board OK's Funds for Nebraska Railroad Survey  

ProRail Board members Dick Schmeling and Bob Kuzelka suggested that UNL’s Bureau of Business Research add four passenger rail-related questions to its Nebraska Annual Social Indicator Survey (NASIS). The Board allocated $500 to cover the expense of adding the four questions below to this Fall’s NASIS. Results will be available for use in our legislative work in the 2017 Unicameral Session.

Strongly agree

Agree

Neither agree nor disagree

Disagree

 Strongly  disagree

a.   U S Congress should provide a dedicated source of funding for Amtrak, the national intercity passenger rail service, as already exists for highways and airlines.

b.   Nebraska should start planning commuter rail service between Lincoln and Omaha now before urban and rural growth make commuter rail much more expensive and difficult to put in place.

c.    Nebraska should support a plan to establish increased passenger rail service between Chicago, Omaha, Lincoln and Denver.

d.   Nebraska should continue its charter membership with nine states in the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact that assists members in improving regional passenger rail service.

Midwestern College Students & Staff Show Support

for Intercity Rail Passenger Service

The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) recently conducted a survey of students, staff, and faculty at 30 Midwestern colleges and universities. The institutions reside in nine states, and are all along current Amtrak routes.

The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission in an interstate compact organization consisting of the states of Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. The compact for the Commission is to advocate for and create a modern and expanded interstate passenger rail system, as a clean and efficient alternative form of transportation for Midwestern residents. The Commission’s membership consists of two appointees from each state’s legislature, each state’s governor or the governor’s appointed designee, and one private sector appointee per state.

Some of the results highlighted by the MIPRC:

·         68% of all respondents consider passenger rail service ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to the United States’ transportation future

·         56% of all respondents said they would be more likely to utilize passenger rail service if it were made more frequently available

·         The top incentives that would increase train usage are:

1.     A station close to my permanent residence (44%)

2.    More/better discounts (pricing) (35%)

3.    Better information from college/university about how to take the train (29%)

4.    Transportation to nearest station provided by college/university (28%)

  • 51% of students, faculty, and staff said they were ‘not at all aware’ of the role that state and Federal governments play in funding passenger rail.

That more than half of respondents said they would be more likely to use rail transportation if more frequently available is significant. Only 8.5% of respondents said they have used rail service to or from school more than once in the past 12 months. If even one quarter of university students and staff used rail multiple times in a year, that would mark a huge increase in utilization.

Besides the fairly evident reason of not owning a car (32%), the top reasons for taking the train were that it is convenient and comfortable compared to driving or flying (57%) and cheaper than alternative modes of transportation (49%). Only 11% of respondents cited the environmental benefits of rail. It is unclear whether this is due to apathy or ignorance towards the environmental benefits. If the latter, better marketing of these benefits could have a strong impact on ridership.

It seems that transportation to and from nearby stations and improved information can be quick wins in improving passenger rail usage. The survey was conducted during the most recent, 2015-2016 academic year, and received nearly twenty thousand respondents. More results and recommendations from the study can be found at the MIPRC website. More information about rail and other transportation infrastructure can be found on MuniNet’s Transportation page.  (Posted 5/11/2016)

ProRail - Your Voice Before the Nebraska Legislature

Our ProRail Lobbyists, Matt Roque and Bob Kuzelka, have been busy this winter presenting ProRail's position on several transportation bills and issues before the Nebraska Legislature. At its January 16 meeting, the ProRail Board decided to take positions on the following bills:

  • LB 735 - Provide a length limit exception for an articulated bus vehicle operated by a transit authority -- ProRail supports this bill because it would authorize transit agencies to use articulated buses up to 65-ft. in length like those planned for Omaha's new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). This bill was signed by the Governor and became law on March 9, 2016.

  • LB 799 - Include capital acquisition costs in the Nebraska Public Transportation Act's assistance program -- PRN decided to support this bill because we believe that improved public transportation is vital to the economic viability, health, and environment of both urban and rural Nebraska. Many Nebraskans don't have access to motor vehicles for their transportation needs, especially the elderly and young, and must rely on public transportation, family and friends, or charities to meet their transport needs. LB 799 would extend State assistance to public transportation to capital investments like new vehicles and maintenance facilities. The bill remains in committee and was "indefinitely postponed" for this session. 

  • LB 977 - Original LB related to operation of implements of husbandry on highways was amended to become an omnibus transportation LB which included the provisions of LB 799 in Sections 1, 2 and 3. PRN did not have a position on the original LB but supported it in its amended form. The bill became a priority bill for the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, was advance by that committee to the General File on March 2, was passed in its amended form to include PRN supported provisions of LB 799 by the Legislature on April 12 and signed by the Governor on April 18.

  • LB 960 - Adopt the Transportation Innovation Act -- This bill would divert $150 million from the Cash Reserve Fund to the new Transportation Infrastructure Bank Fund and divert over $28 million from the Cash Reserve Fund to the new Nebraska Capital Construction Fund. Since funding would primarily go to build and maintain roads, PRN was opposed to this bill unless more money was guaranteed for other modes of transportation. The bill was Sen. Brasch's priority bill, advanced by Appropriations Committee to General File on March 9, was passed by the Legislature and was signed by the Governor on April 18.

  • LB192 - Require a train crew of at least two individuals -- This is a carryover bill from the 2015 Session, and ProRail decided to support the bill if a hearing is scheduled. No action was taken on this bill, and it will likely be reintroduced in the 2017 Session.

Although there is no legislation this session dealing with Nebraska's membership in the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact (MIPRC), ProRail sponsored an informational luncheon for senators at the State Capitol on February 23rd. The event was hosted by Nebraska's two Legislative Appointed Compact Commissioners, Senators Burke Harr (District 8) and Brent Lindstrom (District 18). SMART/UTU (United Transportation Union) was a co=sponsor for the event with PRN.

Senators and staff attending were provided the current status of the State of Nebraska in the MPIRC, and Laura Kliewer, MIPRC Director, gave a brief history of the Compact. Kansas State Senator Carolyn McGinn told how Kansas and other member states benefit from the MIPRC. Senator Harr also related his experience at the MIPRC spring 2015 federal delegation meeting in Washington, D.C. ProRail President Matt Roque then presented our Position Paper on the State of Nebraska and MIPRC. Click here to view this document (PDF).

The luncheon was attended by 6 senators and staff members from 17 State Senators' offices, and their responses were generally favorable towards the MIPRC.

Kansas City streetcar to open in May 

Progressive Railroading, February 26, 2016

The Kansas City Streetcar Authority yesterday announced that the KC Streetcar system will open May 6. The two-mile route will primarily run along Main Street in downtown Kansas City and connect the River Market area to Crown Center and Union Station. The KC Streetcar has 16 stops spaced every two blocks for both northbound and southbound travel, according to the project's website. "This is the first step of what I believe will be a truly historic transformation of the entire city," said Kansas City Mayor Sly James in a press release. "Building owners and developers have completed, started or announced more than $1.6 billion in construction in the KC Streetcar district since the route was announced three years ago."

Amtrak: STB's proposed policy change would prioritize freight trains 

Progressive Railroading, February 26, 2016 

Amtrak is objecting to the Surface Transportation Board's (STB) proposed "policy statement" that the railroad says would reverse a current federal requirement that gives preference to passenger trains on tracks that are shared with freight trains.

In a Feb. 22 statement filed with the STB, Amtrak said that current preference law gives Amtrak trains the priority to travel first on shared track. But the STB's proposed policy change would allow freight trains to have priority over passenger trains, Amtrak officials said in a statement.

Amtrak officials believe that if the policy change is adopted, passenger trains running on tracks owned by freight railroads will experience a substantial increase in delays. Nearly 97 percent of the passenger railroad's route miles operate on host railroad tracks not owned by Amtrak.

In its Feb. 22 letter, Amtrak argues that the STB should withdraw its proposed policy statement in part because it "ignores the plain and unequivocal language of Amtrak's statutory right to preference, creates a new definition that eviscerates the right to preference, and draws broad, erroneous conclusions about relevant evidence based on that fundamental misinterpretation."

Also pending before the STB is a proposed rule on the definition of on-time performance of freight railroads with which Amtrak shares tracks. The proposed rule would measure OTP with freight trains only at the end points of train routes, which Amtrak has stated would result in delays at train stations along its routes operated on tracks hosted by freight railroads.

The STB announced its "Policy Statement on Implementing Intercity Passenger Train On-Time Performance and Preference Provisions" on Dec. 28, 2015. The board is currently soliciting public comments on the proposals.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) also advocated for the STB to withdraw its new policy statement on the preference change, saying the statement "overreaches federal law" and would cause passenger rail-line delays, hinder on-time performance and lead to a costly toll on the rail-riding public.

"The STB issued this 'policy statement' behind closed doors and without any input from any outside parties and outside the formal rule-making process that is required," said NARP President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Mathews in a press release. "As a result, regulators will change how intercity passenger services like Amtrak will be treated by host railroads which have legal obligations to give passenger trains right of way."

NARP filed its objections with the STB on Feb. 22.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) filed its response to the STB rule and policy statement in favor of the freight railroads. The AAR's statement can be found here.

Omaha Bus Rapid Transit to Start October 20, 2018

On Friday, February 19, Mode Shift Omaha's monthly Coffee Chat forum in Downtown Omaha featured Lauren Cencic, Omaha Metro Transit's Project Manager of Bus Rapid Transit. Lauren provided the following updates on Omaha's BRT Project:

  • The BRT will use 60-ft CNG (compressed natural gas) articulated buses, but the buses haven't been ordered yet. The infrastructure to support CNG (i.e., fueling stations) is being subsidized with grants from the Metropolitan Utilities District and the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

  • The BRT route on Dodge Street east of 30th St. will included dedicated transit lanes on both sides of the street. Only buses, not cars, will operate eastbound on Dodge on this segment.

  • In designing station stops (see the map above), O-Metro will favor far-side stops -- locating the stops on the far side of the intersection. This not only speeds up traffic, but eliminates the hazard of passengers walking in front of the bus to cross the street.

  • The BRT will have traffic light pre-emptive control to speed the movement of buses in the corridor.

  • The BRT will use a pre-pay fare system so passengers don't pay their fares on the bus. This allows fast "flood" loading and unloading at stations where passengers can board at any door on the bus. There will be fare card machines at the stations and fare inspectors making random fare payment enforcement.

  • Stations will be approximately 80 ft. long by 12 ft. wide, but this will vary with location. Stations will all feature shelters, and many will have facilities for bicycle parking/storage.

  • There will be bicycle racks inside the buses, and several designs are being studied.

  • Local non-BRT buses will probably not use the BRT stops but rather nearby local bus stops for easy transfers.

  • The Westroads Shopping Center has been favorable to expanded commuter parking near the Westroads Transit Center.

  • Mode Shift Omaha has representation on the Omaha BRT Stakeholders Committee.

  • Operations are scheduled to begin on October 20, 2018.

Clyde Anderson - posted 2/27/2016

ProRail Supports Transit Improvements

In Omaha and Lincoln

By Clyde Anderson - August 31, 2015

 

One of ProRail Nebraska's objectives is advocating for the expansion of the use and accessibility of the AMTRAK stations in the state as hubs for all surface public and private passenger transportation systems. 

 

Lincoln's StarTrans bus transit system has scheduled two public meetings in September to get public input possible transit service improvements for Lincoln. Click here for details.

 

Former ProRail President Dick Schmeling, with the blessing of the ProRail Board, sent StarTrans a letter suggesting that it relocate its Downtown Transit Center to the Haymarket District with easy access to the new Amtrak station. The City should also encourage Burlington Trailways and Arrow Stage Lines to relocate their joint inter-city bus terminal from the industrial area northeast of Lincoln to the new Downtown Transit Center. This would facilitate easy connections between StarTrans, Amtrak, and intercity bus services.

 

Dick has recently organized Citizens For Improved Transit (CFIT) to advocate for improved transit services in Lincoln.

Artwork by Paul Fell

Omaha's Metro Bus System did a similar study a few years ago, and it is presently in the design stage for its new Dodge Street Bus Rapid Transit. Clyde has attended most of OMetro's public planning meetings. Mode Shift Omaha serves as Omaha's advocacy group for non-car transportation (transit, pedestrian, biking), and it's web site has some excellent postings about Bus Rapid Transit.  executive told a Senate committee earlier this week.

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 11/26/2016