ProRail Nebraska -- Nebraska's Association of Railroad Passengers and Supporters
Welcome to ProRail Nebraska
Dedicated to advocating for improved passenger rail and all forms of surface public transportation serving Nebraska.
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Nebraska Board Meeting
11 - 9:00
am to Noon
Because of the coronavirus pandemic
we will utilize a conference phone line for this meeting
All ProRail Nebraska members are invited to attend.
We will discuss bills before this session of the Nebraska Legislature affecting railroads and public transit in our state and other ProRail business.
For dial-in instructions, please contact Bob Kuzelka 402-417-9424 email@example.com
May 2020 ProRail Newsletter Posted Online
Click here to view a PDF copy of the newsletter.
November 2019 ProRail Newsletter Posted Online
Click here to view a PDF copy of the newsletter.
us Wednesday, June 24th at 2pm Central, when Rail Passengers senior staff will host
the second event in our webinar series. ProRail
Nebraska is an affiliate of the Passenger Rail Association.
also field your questions, so we hope you join us! Please
RSVP if you plan on attending. Registration
will close on Monday, June 22nd
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."
Union Pacific pledges science-based targets
to reduce emissions for a more sustainable future
Railway Track & Structures - March 13, 2020
Union Pacific recently announced its intention to set science-based targets to determine how much and how quickly the company will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to support global climate change goals. A commitment letter was submitted to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), which independently assesses corporate emissions reduction targets in line with what climate scientists say is needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals - limiting global warming to well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels.
"As one of the nation's largest freight railroads, it is our responsibility to act as environmental stewards, reducing emissions and enabling sustainable economic growth across our supply chain," said Chairman, President and CEO Lance Fritz. "This is a challenging task as it means examining every aspect of our operation and looking for innovative solutions while continuing to create long-term value for our shareholders, customers, employees and the communities where we operate."
The company's target will use the SBTi's Sectoral Decarbonization Approach Transport tool, which models targets for direct and indirect transportation emissions. Union Pacific anticipates finalizing its target and submitting it for approval to the SBTi within a year.
While Union Pacific works to further reduce its environmental footprint, it is important to note railroads already are one of the most fuel efficient means of transportation. Moving freight by rail instead of truck reduces GHG emissions by up to 75%. On average, Union Pacific moves a ton of freight 444 miles on a single gallon of diesel fuel.
U.S. DOT announces $248.5 million in grants to support railroad infrastructure
Railway Track & Structures - March 12, 2020
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao today announced the recipients of $248.5 million in grant funds under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program, for a wide variety of state and local railroad infrastructure projects. The grants will fund 32 projects in 27 states, and will be administered by the Federal Railroad Administration
Although none of the projects are in
Nebraska, two are in Iowa and two in Colorado. One Colorado project is of
special interest since it relates to passenger rail: Colorado - Southwest Chief Through-Car Service to Colorado Springs
- Up to $225,000 - Colorado Department of Transportation in partnership with the Southwest Chief and Front
Range Passenger Rail Commission
Omaha Metro Hosts Public ORBT Open House
By Clyde Anderson - March 11, 2020
I attended the ORBT Public Meeting Wednesday, March 11th at the UNO Thompson Alumni Center. It was an open house format with several information stations with posters and/or information tables with O-Metro employees to answer questions. B-Cycle also had a information station since they will have bike rental stations near most of the ORBT stops.
Jason Rose, Outreach Coordinator for the ORBT Project, provided some new details about the fare system ORBT will be using. There will be three fare payment options: smart fare cards that you can load value to using an internet ap, a smart phone ap, and ticket vending machines at the ORBT stations. The tickets will have bar codes. When boarding an ORBT bus, near every door will be a scanner that boarding passengers will swipe their fare card, smart phone, or ticket to verify fare payment. O-Metro regular buses will also have a scanner by the front door for fare payment by smart fare card, smart phone ap, or bar-code ticket. These buses will retain their fare boxes to accept cash fares and the old fare cards.
O-Metro's Linda Barrett said that there will likely be another series of public meetings late this summer to explain the new fare collection system and provide more details of the ORBT implementation this Fall.
O-Metro finally announced its decision on what will happen to the Route 2 local service on Dodge St. when ORBT service starts next Fall. Route 2 service will be discontinued. This will result in some existing Route 2 passengers having to walk much farther to their nearest ORBT stop. Route 2 stops are about 1/8-mile apart whereas ORBT stations will be approximately 1/2-mile apart.
O-Metro used this graphic to explain that only 6% of existing Route 2 riders will have to walk 3 or more blocks to their nearest ORBT station.
Here is the proposed schedules O-Metro has planned for ORBT when it begins service next Fall:
Click here for more information.
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.
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.
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.
Precision Scheduled Railroading Threatens to Gut America's
Freight Rail System
Policy Statement by TTD - Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
October 29, 2019
Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) is a concept in freight railroad operations pioneered by E. Hunter Harrison first at Illinois Central and then at Canadian National after CN bought the IC. PSR shifts the focus from older practices, such as unit trains, hub and spoke operations and individual car switching at hump yards, to emphasize point-to-point freight car movements on simplified routing networks.
Under PSR, freight trains operate on fixed schedules, much like passenger trains, instead of being dispatched whenever a sufficient number of loaded cars are available. In the past, container trains and general merchandise trains operated separately; under PSR they are combined as needed. Inventories of freight cars and locomotives are reduced and fewer workers are employed for a given level of traffic. The result is often substantial improvement in railroad operating ratios, and other financial and operating metrics. Variations on the method have been adopted by six of the seven North American Class I railroads -- with the notable exception of BNSF.
Although Wall Street loves PSR because of the big boost its given to railroad profits and railroad stock values, most railroad employees and many shippers dislike the changes resulting from PSR.
AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department issued an excellent 3-page policy statement on PSR. You can read it here.
Here is a more railroad industry-friendly article about PSR published in RailwayAge.com on Jan. 21, 2020, A New Decade of Post-PSR Service Planning Starts Now.
Solutionary Rail Releases New Publication
January 13, 2020 by Bill Moyer of Solutionary Rail
Though much of Solutionary Rail is focused on rail electrification and transmission aspects, our 2030 Moonshot Modeshift is an essential ingredient for making the broader Solutionary Rail approach feasible and effective.
The 2030 Moonshot Modeshift takes on the most difficult aspects of decarbonizing land transportation by removing a large portion of combination trucks from the roads and putting that freight onto the rails. Investing in, encouraging and eliminating obstacles to rapid, cost-effective and reliable freight transport by rail will draw freight back to the tracks and create conditions to draw people to the tracks as well. Assisting railroads to pivot toward new market share reduces far more GHG emissions than simply electrifying railroads. Besides GHG emissions reductions, our bold modeshift delivers other societal wins as well: reducing congestion, diesel emissions, costly infrastructure wear and tear, and deaths from collisions. This modeshift does not have to wait for rail electrification, is not dependent on electrification, and therefore ought to begin immediately.
This paper provides additional background on our 2030 Moonshot Modeshift proposal including: 1. an overview of the purpose and problems to be solved, the objectives we need to achieve to solve those problems, the estimated benefits of doing so, the means for accomplishing those objectives, synergistic opportunities, and some known obstacles 2. an improved and updated list of policy recommendations We invite your questions, critique and support.
Click the title hyperlink to view the 20-page publication as a PDF.
Union Pacific completes PTC implementation on its system
Railway Track & Structures - December 17, 2019
Union Pacific recently completed Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation, activating its final track segment. The technology is now implemented on all the company's federally mandated rail lines, including required passenger train routes. Union Pacific will continue working with partner railroads on their interoperability efforts, ensuring seamless operation onto the company's tracks.
But PTC will not prevent incidents involving pedestrians or vehicles.
"PTC is one of the biggest rail industry breakthroughs, designed to keep our crews and communities safer through technology," said Greg Richardson, Union Pacific general director Operating Systems and Practices.
"While Union Pacific began its first PTC operations nearly four years ago, we have now completed our initial implementation and continue supporting other railroads in our mutual efforts to achieve interoperability and safely operate on our rail
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).
Rail Passengers Association
Report on RailNation
California Conference 2019
By Jim Hanna, PRN Dist. 4 Director & Liaison to RPA
Capital Corridor train at Sacramento Station (Jim Hanna)
The annual fall meeting of the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) took place at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Sacramento, California on October 18-20, 2019. I must confess to having used air transportation as my schedule did not allow time to go via the California Zephyr. I am pleased to report that both the Denver and Sacramento airports use rail guided rubber tired people movers to convey passengers from the concourses to the terminal buildings.
Saturday morning the
General Session opened with the theme "Creating Amtrak 2.0".
RPA President Jim Matthews noted that because of the good grass roots
work by RPA members in the field, especially during the battle to save the
Southwest Chief, and staff efforts to gather and disseminate information to
members of congress and the Federal Railroad Administration, congress is now
coming to RPA for information and advice about Amtrak!
Representative Doug Kerr followed with "California Passenger Rail - 50
Years of Improvement". Fifty
years ago California was the land of automobiles and Los Angeles was the car
capitol of the U.S. Today LA
Union Station hosts 90 trains and over 100,000 passengers a day.
Plans are in place for the station to support the new high speed rail
system being built, the size of the underground passageways to the platforms
is being doubled, and to make it a through track operation instead of a stub
end terminal. California has
three of the top five Amtrak corridor services, BART, five light rail
systems, and SMART.
Amtrak Reports Record Ridership & Revenue in FY2019
RailwayAge.com - November 9, 2019
One of Amtrak's 75 new Siemens Charger diesel-electric locomotives
According to Amtrak's preliminary Fiscal Year 2019 (Oct. 1, 2018-Sept. 30, 2019) report, the railroad set ridership, revenue and financial performance records toward its FY 2020 goal of
"achieving operational break-even."
Click here to read the full article.
Amtrak's "Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate"
RailwayAge.com - November 10, 2019
A change to the so-called
"Arbitration Clause" buried deep within Amtrak's "Terms and
Conditions" for ticket sales that stipulates mandatory
arbitration--effectively, preventing passengers from filing lawsuits against Amtrak
'including, but not limited to, claims for negligence, gross negligence, physical impairment, disfigurement, pain and suffering, mental anguish, wrongful death, survival actions, loss of consortium
and/or services, medical and hospital expenses, expenses of transportation for medical treatment, expenses of drugs and medical appliances, emotional distress, exemplary or punitive damages arising out of or related to any personal
injury," has captured the attention of legislators and passenger rail advocates.
Construction of Omaha's ORBT is in Full Swing!
Omaha Metro's ORBT Website - November 3, 2019
The first ORBT 60-foot articulated bus powered by CNG manufactured in Alabama. (Photo: O-Metro)
Construction on the new stations for
Omaha's first bus rapid transit system is in full swing.
At Westroads, construction is ongoing at the existing Metro transit station to make adjustments for the ORBT line. That will be
ORBT's westernmost station and a turnaround point for buses looping between Westroads Mall and downtown.
Jason Rose will be one of our guest speakers at the December 7th Transportation Symposium. (See top of this web page for details.)
StarTran Ridership Increase Highest in State
Richard Schmeling - October 28, 2019
StarTran Transit Manager Mike Davis said the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has finalized its data that show Lincoln transit ridership increased about 3.6 percent from 2017 to 2018. The increase of about 85,000 riders earned StarTran the award for largest increase in ridership of urban systems in Nebraska.
The FTA had previously presented StarTran with an award for the largest ridership increase in the four-state region. The FTA now says that award was based on "draft" figures showing a 27 percent increase in Lincoln's ridership.
Davis said the increase in ridership coincided with the implementation of the Transit Development Plan in 2016. Ridership was down 3.2 percent from 2014 to 2015 and 5.8 percent from 2015 to 2016 before increasing 4.5 percent from 2016 to 2017.
Mike David will be one of our speakers at our Transportation Symposium December 7th followed by a ride in Downtown Lincoln on one of StarTran's rubber-tired trolley buses.
Results for Nebraska Railroad Survey
ProRail requested UNL's Bureau of Business Research to add four passenger rail-related questions to its Nebraska Annual Social Indicator Survey (NASIS) which was conducted last Fall. Responses to the four questions were favorable indicating a strong support for rail passenger service by Nebraska residents. Click here to view the summary.
Results will be available for use in our legislative work in the 2017 Unicameral Session.
We think trains need more prominence in the U.S. because:
(above courtesy National Association of Railroad Passengers)
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