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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 Members Meeting: Late Fall 2016

Next Board Meeting: Saturday, October 8, 9:00 am to Noon 

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

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

May 2016 ProRail Newsletter Posted Online

Click here to view a PDF copy of the newsletter.

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 08/24/2016