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

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ProRail Nebraska Board Meeting  

Saturday, October 12 in Lincoln, NE

9:00 AM to Noon

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

All ProRail Nebraska members are invited to attend.

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 2019 ProRail Newsletter Posted Online

Click here to view a PDF copy of the newsletter.

Omaha To Lincoln Bus Service Under Study

Posted By Clyde Anderson - August 29, 2019

Establishment of improved public transportation service between Omaha and Lincoln has been a long-time goal of ProRail Nebraska. Although Burlington Trailways and ExpressArrow each offer one pair of Omaha - Denver daily bus schedules via Lincoln, there is no existing commuter bus service in this corridor.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation is conducting a feasibility study on a Lincoln to Omaha intercity bus route. The study will include needs, gaps and strategies for proposed transit routes between the two cities.

"We continue to work with our transportation partners to deliver statewide mobility by providing enhanced transportation choices to Nebraskans," said NDOT Director Kyle Schneweis. "Gauging the interest of Nebraska motorists in a Lincoln to Omaha intercity bus route is an important step in meeting our goal of maximizing existing transportation resources." But what about non-motorists?

Nebraska residents are encouraged to attend any of the open house meetings, scheduled as follows:

Wednesday, September 4, 2019, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. at the Greenwood Fire Hall (251 Broad Street, Greenwood, NE 68366)

Thursday, September 5, 2019, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. at the Lancaster County Extension Office (444 Cherrycreek Rd., Lincoln, NE 68528)

Friday, September 6, 2019, from 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. at the Salvation Army Omaha Kroc Center (2825 Y Street, Omaha, NE 68107)

The project is part of Nebraska's Mobility Management program, which is expected to coordinate and improve transportation options for Nebraskans. Anticipated completion of the study is spring of 2020.

"We look forward to working with our consultant and University partners to facilitate coordination among transportation providers and improving mobility options across the state," said Kari Ruse, NDOT Transit Manager.

ProRail Joins the Western Interstate Trains Coalition

By Clyde Anderson, August 11, 2019

ProRail Nebraska's Board recently voted to join the Western Interstate Trains Coalition.

Alarmed by the recent threats to Amtrak's long-distance passenger train network, especially the Southwest Chief, a new coalition has emerged to protect the network. This May All Aboard Arizona, RailPAC (California), ColoRail (Colorado) and Rail Passengers Association (RPA) of Washington, DC, formed the Western National Network Trains Coalition. It developed a battle plan to mobilize a grassroots effort to convince Congress that it's time for an Amtrak business plan that not only preserves the National Network but expands it. Population growth in the West has far outstripped growth in the Northeast Corridor, yet they have a 150-mph rail speedway with frequent service while most of Amtrak's Western Network copes with a single daily train or one that only runs three days a week.

The Coalition has a full-time paid Executive Director, Tony Trifiletti, who has been assigned by RailPAC and All Aboard Arizona, to coordinate the efforts of the Western National Network Trains Coalition. In this new role, he will be working with the Rail Passenger Association (RPA) and other state rail advocacy organizations, to communicate with all local political governments, civic organizations, and economic development and tourist agencies, served by western Amtrak National Network Trains.

ProRail Nebraska accepted the invitation to join the Coalition and will contribute $400 to help support its efforts.

PRN Board Member Richard Scheling:
Autonomous vehicles best outside downtown Lincoln
August 23, 2019
Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird recently urged the City Council to ask our congressional delegation to support grant requests for autonomous vehicles in the city.

The planned use for these AVs would have them circulating in the downtown area from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to the Haymarket and to the State Capitol and Innovation Campus. This represents a high-profile, glitzy idea, but it's not the only way the vehicles can be employed.

Instead, there are as host of reasons to focus use of the AVs in outlying parts of Lincoln rather than in the downtown core.

These vehicles should perform a helpful role in a total transportation system for Lincoln. A problem facing transportation systems in all cities is something called the "last mile" and its counterpart, the "first mile." This refers to a way to get people from their front doorstep to the nearest bus stop and getting them back home.

On Nov. 1, 2016, StarTran revamped its system to move bus routes from residential streets to arterials as recommended in the updated transportation development plan. This move, coupled with having buses stop at designated locations instead of every corner outside the downtown area as it previously had, has expedited bus times.

This change has benefited some and inconvenienced others. Bus riders used to catching a bus near home may have to walk a greater distance. For some riders with disabilities, these few blocks are an insurmountable barrier. Almost three years after the big change, I still hear people talking about the difficulty of riding StarTran buses.

Using large, conventional, 40-seat buses to circulate through residential neighborhoods is not cost effective. However, an AV system using small shuttles as circulators and collectors, bringing people from home to bus stops and back, would solve the first mile and last mile problems. Rather than using them downtown, employing them in outlying areas makes a great deal of sense for many reasons.

The mayor stated that AVs are capable of speeds between 15 mph and 25 mph. With plans to serve the capitol and Innovation Campus, the vehicles would have to traverse some streets with 35 mph speed limits. AVs would impede traffic flow of driver-operated vehicles on these streets.

The megabucks spent for AVs could be better invested in proven technology or simply in hastening the conversion of the StarTran fleet to battery-electric buses or accelerating the implementation of the phase changes recommended by the consultants who updated the transportation development plan.

I'm concerned that the mayor's push may make Lincoln residents human guinea pigs at risk with AVs that aren't yet perfected. Let's take a lesson from NASA: We did a lot of orbital shots before the moon launch to make sure we got it right!

If we must have AVs, let's be smart about it and use them outside the downtown area. I recognize that a feeder system outside the city's core may not have the same glitz and glamour as using them downtown, but it makes better sense.

PRN Board Member Ralph Hayden

Voices Suggestions for Lincoln's StarTran

July 28, 2019

On July 24th the Lincoln Journal Star published a guest editorial by ProRail Nebraska Board Member & Treasurer, Ralph Haden entitled "New terminal isn't StarTran's only need." In addition to a new Downtown transit terminal, Ralph suggests that StarTran needs to develop more of a grid route system to provide better service between more origin-destination pairs in Lincoln. Today most of StarTran routes are based on a hub and spoke system based on Downtown.

Click here to read Ralph's editorial.

Western Interstate Trains Coalition

Rolls Out New Pro-Passenger Train Video

"Make America's Trains Great Again"

Click here to view the 5-minute video.

FRA doles out more than $326 million in grants

Nebraska Central Gets Up to $8,181,640

RailwayAge.com - June 13, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) recently announced that 45 projects in 29 states will benefit from $326-plus million in grant money under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program and the Special Transportation Circumstances (STC) Program.

The funds, FRA noted, will go toward "a wide variety of state and local railroad infrastructure projects," and over one-third of the funds-more than $118 million-were awarded to rural projects.

Nebraska Central Railroad, one of the rural projects, was awarded up to $8,181,640 for infrastructure improvements. The funds will be used to improves about 30 timber bridges, replace approximately five other timber bridges with a steel beam span or rail girder bridges, replaces degraded rail along 7 miles of mainline track and replace defective ties along the entire 320-mile Nebraska Central Railroad's tracks in northeastern and central Nebraska.

PRN - Mode Shift Omaha Meeting on Public Transportation  

Saturday, June 8th in Omaha

ProRail President Matt Roque welcoming attendees to the Annual Meeting (Richard Schmeling photo)

Nebraska Senator Justin Wayne started off with an excellent presentation at our Meeting on Public Transportation about passage of his LB 492 Regional Metropolitan Transit Authority Act in this session of the Legislature. (See article below). He explained how he had to accept amendments that restricted the Act to just the Omaha Metropolitan Area. However, changes to the bill also expanded the coverage area from the 8-county Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) to the 9-county Combined MSA which includes Dodge County where Fremont is located. Sen. Wayne now challenges us to lobby the Omaha Metro Transit Board of Directors to start the process of becoming a Regional MTA.

Sen. Justin Wayne (Richard Schmeling photo)

Sen. Dan Quick told us about his efforts to get LB401 out of the Transportation & Telecommunications Committee. (Scroll down to read Richard Schmeling's article about LB401.) Sen. Quick introduced LR 190, a Legislative Resolution for a study to examine Nebraska's history of involvement in the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact. One or more hearings for LR190 will likely be scheduled in late Summer or early Fall. Now we need to lobby the senators on the T&T Committee to schedule hearing(s) for LR190.

Amanda Martin, Iowa DOT Freight & Passenger Rail Coordinator, participated by phone and provided a brief update on Iowa DOT's work. We were excited to hear that Illinois DOT has dusted off plans for its Chicago - Moline rail passenger service, and Iowa DOT is working on a study to extend that service from the Quad Cities to Iowa City. This may initially take the form of an Amtrak Thruway Bus Service, and eventually extend further west to Des Moines. Nebraska DOT should consider Thruway Bus connections from some California Zephyr stations.

Greg Youell, Executive Director for the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA), welcomed us to their shared MAPA-Omaha Metro facilities. He told us about the multi-modal transportation planning work MAPA is sponsoring, especially Heartland 2050.

In addition to handling arrangements for the meeting at O-Metro Headquarters, Jason Rose, Outreach Coordinator for O-Metro, made an excellent presentation with an update on the Dodge Street BRT (ORBT) Project and other projects being implemented or planned like MyRide OMA.

ModeShift Omaha, which co-sponsored the meeting, advocates for transportation options that enhance quality of life and opportunities for everyone to live, work, and play. Kevin Flatowicz, Chair of MSO, introduced the audience to MSO and its Transit Team which sponsors monthly Ride the Bus With Us events. Click here to view a list of MSO Action Teams.

Crystal Edwards, Chair of MSO's Walkability Team, showed a short video she produced "When the Sidewalk Ends in Omaha" which does an excellent job communicating the problems pedestrians experience in Omaha, especially when confronted with closed or damaged sidewalks from construction projects. Click here to view the video, and then sign the petition to demand a better sidewalk policy for Omaha. Remember, good transit service requires good pedestrian access!

Photo of Crystal Edwards by Richard Schmeling

Our last presenter was Richard Schmeling with Lincoln's Citizens For Improved Transit (CFIT). Scroll down to read Richard's May 16th article "Progress at Lincoln's StarTran Transit System."

After the meeting Jason led the group on a tour of the O-Metro bus garage, shops and dispatch center.

A big THANK YOU to Omaha Metro and all our presenters! And thanks to PRN President Matt Roque for chairing the event, a difficult task keeping us on schedule given all the questions from the audience!

Update on LB 492 - Regional Transit Bill

Governor Vetoes LB492 on Thursday, May 30

Legislature Overrides Veto on Friday!

By Clyde Anderson - May 31, 2019

On May 30th Governor Ricketts vetoed LB492 - the Regional Metropolitan Transit Authority Act introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha. The Governor justified his veto based on his belief that "LB492 would amount to an incredible $17 million property tax increase for Omaha and Douglas County residents, and could lead to higher property taxes in Sarpy County communities as well."

ProRail Nebraska supported passage of LB492.

On Friday, May 31st, the Legislature voted 33 to 16 to override the Governor's veto, so LB492 becomes law.

However, if Omaha Metro Transit chooses to become a regional transit agency, it can only expand its territory with a two-thirds vote of the governing body for the area to be annexed. For example, if O-Metro were to expand to the unincorporated areas of Douglas County, the Douglas County Board of Supervisors would have to approve by a two-thirds vote. So LB492 does not automatically impose a property tax increase on residents not already in the current taxing jurisdiction of Omaha Metro.

Click here to read the transcript of the LB492 debate and vote on the LB492 Veto Override on May 31, 2019.

Come to the ProRail-ModeShift Meeting on Public Transit on Saturday, June 8, 9:00 AM. Scroll up for details on this webpage.

Update on LB 401
To Reestablish Nebraska Membership in the MIPRC

By Richard Schmeling - May 16, 2019 (additional update 6/4/2019)

[Note: Scroll down for more articles about LB401 dated January 20th & January 31st.]

LB401 remains stalled in the Transportation & Telecommunications Committee and will not move forward unless we can come up with outside money to pay the annual MIPRC dues (about $15,000/yr). Sen. Quick is working with the cities of Hastings, Holdrege and McCook to see if they will contribute toward the dues. I have contacted the mayors in Lincoln and Omaha about contributing, and Bob Kuzelka is working with the Railroad Transportation District in Lincoln to help on the dues. I have also sounded out the Omaha and Lincoln Chambers of Commerce offices about helping on the funding.

I have written the Nebraska Congressional delegation urging them to include funding for continuation of the long distance trains in the new Federal budget and will contact them soon. Other ProRail members should write letters, also.

Handouts for Nebraska Amtrak stations are being prepared and will be placed in Omaha, Lincoln, Hastings, Holdrege and McCook to urge Amtrak riders to write letters to Congress. 

Additional Update: Sen. Quick introduced LR190 with co-sponsors Senators Walz and McDonnell. Title: Interim study to examine Nebraska's history of involvement in the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact. One or more hearings for LR190 will likely be scheduled in late Summer or early Fall.

Progress at Lincoln's StarTran Transit System

By Richard Schmeling - May 16, 2019

StarTran ridership continues to increase at about 5% compared to ridership during the previous year. New smart phone applications have gone online to help riders track buses and to do trip planning using a smart phone.

With recent new bus deliveries, the StarTran bus fleet is about 50% CNG (compressed natural gas) buses. A new CNG fueling facility will be installed this summer at the StarTran garage. Currently CNG buses have to deadhead to Sapp Brothers truck stop on Cornhusker Highway to refuel.

StarTran recently implemented an "Assigned Bus" system that assigns each bus driver to a specific numbered bus for their route. Previously buses were taken at random from the bus garage as drivers came on duty with each driver taking the next bus in line. This often resulted in the short (200 series) buses going out on busy routes or being used as a booster bus for school hauls. Overcrowding resulted, and with the new assigned bus system the properly-sized bus will be assigned to each route.

Work is underway to improve bus stops on the StarTran system. A partnership between StarTran and Lincoln Public Schools is resulting in the improvement of several bus stops serving schools with LPS paying for the pouring of concrete pads with StarTran installing a bench or shelter.

In addition, StarTran will place a bench or bench/shelter at about 34 bus stops on the system this summer.

The recent election in Lincoln has put in place a new Mayor and City Council which will be "transit friendly" at budget time. Thus implementation of Phases 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the update of the Transit Development Plan will likely move forward.

Solutionary Rail's Weekend in Omaha

To Promote Electrified Railroads as a Win for America

May 3 & 4, 2019

When so many issues divide, Solutionary Rail unites Americans

 in common cause for a clean energy future.

For the past several years Solutionary Rail (SR) has organized a people-powered campaign for getting America's railroads transitioning to a decarbonized mode of freight and passenger transportation. SR's primary goal is to electrify America's railroads. Much of what SR has done has been inspired by the Steel Interstate Coalition (https://steelinterstate.org/) and RAIL Solution (http://railsolution.org/) movements.

To help communicate it goal, SR has published a book Solutionary Rail - a people-powered campaign to electrify America's railroads and open doors to a clean energy future. A PDF copy of the 108-page book can be downloaded for free by going to this website https://www.solutionaryrail.org/ebook and entering the coupon code "4WRD2GTHR".

SR also has a 3.5 minute introductory video http://SolutionaryRail.org/video that explains its goals and the advantages of railroad electrification.

BNSF Railway is the largest freight railroad network in North America. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway (BH). Since all BNSF trains are powered by diesel-fueled locomotives, the railroad is one of the nation's largest consumers of diesel fuel.

SR decided to target BNSF in its effort to promote electrification. The BH Annual Meeting in Omaha May 4th was a perfect opportunity. SR and Nebraska Sierra Club decided to schedule a program to educate the public about Solutionary Rail and its railroad electrification goals. The Electrified Railroad as a Win for America  program was held at UNO's Community Engagement Center at 5:30 PM on Friday, May 3rd. There were a lot of questions asked during Bill's presentation and afterwards at a pizza reception.

Saturday morning volunteers held the Solutionary Rail banner outside the CHI Health Convention Center/Arena while the hordes of people lined up to enter the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting. (Photo by Bill Moyer)

Thanks to Mark Hefflinger with Bold Nebraska, Bill was able to get BH credentials to attend the meeting. Once inside Mark Welsch of Nebraskans for Peace, who has done this many times before, guided Bill to enter the drawing for those wishing to ask questions of Warren Buffet at the Q &A Session. And Bill's number was drawn first and got to ask the first question!

Go to https://www.shorturl.at/wzCQS to view Bill Moyer asking his question and the responses from Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger. Warren said SR could talk to Carl Ice, who is BNSF's new CEO. Then Charlie Munger added that SR is not only "on the side of the angels" but that electrification will come and that "Greg Abel will decide that." Greg is the vice chairman of BH for non-insurance business and the CEO of BH Energy. MidAmerican Energy Company, Iowa's largest electric utility is a wholly owned subsidiary of BH and noted for its extensive development of renewable wind energy.

Click here to view PDF summary of Solutionary Rail's weekend in Omaha.

ProRail Nebraska Supports LB492

The Regional Metropolitan Transit Authority Act

ProRail Nebraska supports LB492 and thanks Senator Wayne for introducing this bill as a follow-up to the hearings on LR399 held last year. On April 18 the Urban Affairs Committee voted this bill out of committee to General File. It is one of the Committee's priority bills.

ProRail believes that improved transit services in Nebraska metropolitan areas will make them less car-centric, encourage higher-density energy-efficient development, make our cities more attractive to young skilled workers who want to avoid car-dependent lifestyles, and improve the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

LB492 would allow municipalities to create regional metropolitan transit authorities (RMTAs) within the boundaries of a MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area). Existing transit agencies like Omaha Metro could choose to become RMTAs.

The service areas Omaha Metro and Lincoln's StarTran are limited to the boundaries of their respective cities. Several surrounding communities like La Vista and Papillion contract with Omaha Metro for limited weekday rush-hour services. But these municipalities cannot join Omaha Metro under the existing Metropolitan Transit Authority Law.

Omaha Metro operations are primarily funded by property tax revenue from taxable property in the City of Omaha. Farebox revenue covers only about 15% of operating expenses.

If LB492 is enacted and Omaha Metro chooses to become a Regional Metropolitan Transit Authority, any Nebraska municipality within the Omaha MSA could, upon a two-thirds favorable vote of the municipality's governing body, join the RMTA of Omaha. The RMTA would benefit from the increased property tax revenue from the new member's taxable property. Thus this Act provides a mechanism to expand both the transit authority's territory and property tax revenue.

Another nice feature of LB492 is that it requires that RMTAs be governed by an elected, not appointed, seven-member Board. This has the potential of making Board members more responsive to the needs and concerns of the public.

A limitation of LB492 is it doesn't provide any new sources of income. RMTAs would still be primarily dependent on property tax income. Some transit agencies, like Kansas City, are also funded by sales tax revenue and business district assessments.

Remember, good transit benefits everyone, even those who never ride it!

Amtrak 2018 California Zephyr service Fact Sheet

The Rail Passengers Association has released 2018 Amtrak fact sheets by states, stations, business lines, routes, and congressional districts. Click here to view the 2018 Fact Sheet for the California Zephyr route. Click here to select other fact sheets.

RPA 2018 Fall Advocacy Summit Report
By Jim Hanna - PRN Director District 4 - February 11, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association held their 2018 Fall Advocacy Summit in Miami, Florida from October 19-21. The location was selected to provide the attendees the opportunity to experience the new Brightline passenger service firsthand. I would like to have traveled by Amtrak, but that would have entailed a combination of the California Zephyr from Omaha to Chicago, the Capitol Limited from Chicago to Washington, D.C., and either the Silver Meteor or Silver Star from Washington to Miami, a trip consuming 60+ hours each way, and I had commitments at home that would not allow me to be gone that long. The chance of all three trains making connections on time was also an issue, as was the substitution of boxed meals for dining car service on the Capitol Limited. One of the true pleasures of train travel is the opportunity to socialize with other travelers, and the dining car is the best place to enjoy that.

Click here to read Jim's full report (PDF).

Nebraska Should Rejoin Rail Compact
Richard Schmeling - January 31, 2019

The failure of the Legislature to pass to restore Nebraska's membership in the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact (MIPRC) results in the state losing its voice on passenger rail matters.

Nebraska was a charter member of the compact until former state Sen. Bill Kintner's bill succeeded in terminating Nebraska's participation because he couldn't see how the state benefited from its membership. But Nebraska now has a chance to regain its say.

Grand Island Sen. Dan Quick has introduced LB401, which would return Nebraska to the MIPRC -- and 10 senators have cosigned onto his legislation.

MIPRC was formed to provide central planning for passenger rail service in 10 Midwestern states. It also serves as a collective for rail passenger trains and lobbies on behalf of adequate funding for Amtrak.

This proposed rail service would be in addition to the long-distance California Zephyr trains currently running through Nebraska at night. The plan is to run passenger trains out of a Chicago hub in multiple directions to major cities.

Several of these lines are already in operation. A line from Chicago to Omaha was planned, and it would be easy to extend this service to Lincoln. With Nebraska falling out, it's possible that the trains through Illinois and Iowa will terminate in Council Bluffs, which would be inconvenient for Nebraska residents.

Nebraskans want passenger trains. A statewide poll conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Bureau of Sociological Research showed that a majority of citizens support funding for Amtrak, want rail commuter service between Lincoln and Omaha and desire to see more and better rail passenger service in Nebraska.

However, getting Nebraskans to put passenger rail on their radar scope is difficult. Unless they have gone out of state and experienced good, frequent rail service or ridden Amtrak, they are unaware of its potential.

Now that Nebraska has a Department of Transportation rather than a Department of Roads -- under which rail planning suffered -- it would be refreshing to see the department look at rail passenger possibilities rather than expend all its energies in designing four-lane expressways. I see a change at Nebraska DOT and a start at meaningful rail planning.

Quick's LB401 will restore Nebraska's membership in MIPRC, and it is hoped that the Legislature will see the wisdom of rejoining and continuing in the compact.

We don't have a currently rail passenger plan in Nebraska, and, as a result, federal taxes in Nebraska are sent to other states -- and Nebraska receives no federal rail passenger funding.

Therefore, we hope Gov. Pete Ricketts will get on board this train and direct the DOT to bring the state's rail passenger planning up to date.

While most other states have moved forward in the area of passenger and commuter rail, Nebraska has done little to nothing. The state needs to wake up and catch up. If we don't continue in the MIPRC, our chances for federal rail passenger funding are slim to none.

Senator Quick Introduces LB 401
To Reestablish Nebraska Membership in the MIPRC

By Clyde Anderson - January 20, 2019

On January 17th ProRail Nebraska ally Senator Dan Quick (35-Grand Island) introduced legislation that would enable Nebraska to rejoin the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact. LB 401 had 10 co-sponsors: Kate Bolz (29-Lincoln), Machaela Cavanaugh (6-Omaha), Ben Hansen (26-Lincoln), Sara Howard (9-Omaha), Megan Hunt (8-Omaha), Mike McDonnell (5-Omaha), Adam Morfeld (46-Lincoln), Patty Pansing Brooks (28-Lincoln), Lynne Walz (15-Fremont), and Anna Wishart (27-Lincoln).

In addition to having Nebraska rejoin the MIPRC, the bill establishes the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact Cash Fund. In addition to money appropriated by the Legislature, the fund could accept gifts, grants, or bequests from any source, including federal, state, public, and private sources. State funding Nebraska's participation in the MIPRC has been an issue, and this would allow funds from other sources to be used. Annual dues for MIPRC membership is less than $25,000. There is also the travel expenses for the four Nebraska members of the Commission to attend MIPRC meetings.

If you live in one of the districts listed above, please thank your senator for their support of LB401. Otherwise, encourage your senator to sign on as a cosponsor of LB401 and/or support Nebraska rejoining the MIPRC.

Click here to view a PDF document list reasons why Nebraska should rejoin the MIPRC.

Will Your Next Amtrak Meal

<== Look Like This?

 

 

Or This?  ==>

Photos by Amtrak

                                                                                                

January 18, 2019 - After months of having to endure mostly cold boxed food - what some critics dubbed "Unhappy Meals" - on two Amtrak long-distance routes, the New York-Chicago Lake Shore Limited and the Washington D.C.-Chicago Capitol Limited, sleeping car passengers on those trains now can choose from several hot food choices on the menu.

When Amtrak, under President and CEO Richard Anderson (a former airline executive whose reputation with employees and customers was, according to some accounts, less than favorable), instituted cold food in a box soon after he took office and called it "Contemporary Dining," there was a huge outcry. Apparently, the often-vocal complaining, which involved Amtrak unionized employees, worked. What Amtrak is now calling "Contemporary Dining Improvements" includes three hot entrées and "deluxe breakfast choices," up from one hot-meal choice brought back in July 2018.

Sleeping car customers can now choose the following, with meals delivered to their Bedrooms or Roomettes, "or eaten in their private dining car," Amtrak said. Lunch and Dinner hot items are Chicken Penne Alfredo, Beef Provencal and Asian Noodle Bowl (there is a chilled item, an Antipasto Plate). Deluxe Continental Breakfast hot items are Oatmeal and a Breakfast Sandwich. (Chilled items are Muffins, Yogurt, Fresh Fruit, Hard-boiled Eggs and Cereals.) Customers are also offered unlimited soft beverages, a complimentary serving of beer, wine or a mixed-drink during their trip and an amenity kit, all included in their fares. A Kosher meal is provided with advance notice and children's meals are also available. Menus for both trains are on Amtrak.com.

TV Coverage of Amtrak Executive Presentation December 10th

Click Here to view KLKN-TV New Coverage of ProRail Meeting

Amtrak Executive Visits Lincoln Nebraska December 10th

By Richard Schmeling - ProRail District 1 Director - December 31, 2018  

Derrick James of Amtrak's Chicago office who is the Senior Director of Government Relations spoke at a ProRail Nebraska-sponsored event in Lincoln December 10th. The meeting was well attended and James answered a number of questions following his presentation.

Amtrak is ordering 70 new locomotives to replace older diesels that are nearing the end of their service lives and probably some electrics for the Northeast Corridor. Also being ordered are Viewliner II passenger cars which are primarily used on eastern passenger trains. There are no plans currently to order Superliner double-deck equipment.

James stated that the long-distance passenger trains, including the Southwest Chief, are safe for the time being. Congress sent a strong message to Amtrak that they don't want the long-distance trains discontinued.

Nonetheless, James says that Amtrak thinking is that they should concentrate on trains that run between major population centers about 400 to 500 miles apart because long-distance trains are not competitive with airlines. In this respect it should be noted that 83% of the current California Zephyr riders do not go all the way from Chicago to Emeryville, CA. The long-distance trains thus fulfill a role of providing regional transportation on long-distance corridors -- a strong argument for keeping the long-distance trains.

James noted that ridership on the California Zephyr trains continues to increase. Not mentioned was the fact that after Amtrak de-staffed a number of stations in Iowa, boardings have fallen 16% according to an article in the Des Moines Register.

Overall Amtrak ridership was down a bit during 2018 which James attributes to problems with the Lakeshore Limited where trains could not be operated due to track construction along that line.

James noted that Congressional support for Amtrak, including money for track upgrades, is trending upward significantly. At the same time Amtrak has been able to cut costs and the latest annual loss was $168 million, a fraction of the spending for airports and highways by the Federal government.

Regarding on-time performance, James said it varied depending upon which freight railroads the Amtrak trains were operated on. Canadian Pacific has one of the best on-time records for the freight railroads and Union Pacific and BNSF also do well. Amtrak trains are at the mercy of freight railroads. Track maintenance projects delay Amtrak trains and admittedly sometimes an Amtrak train gets lower priority in movement compared to hot freight trains.

James indicated that court litigation to enforce penalties for delayed Amtrak trains and having the freight railroads give priority to Amtrak is still in progress. An adverse ruling in lower court is being appealed. 

Regarding a question about Amtrak fares compared to flying, James stated that a comparison on any given train at any given time is difficult. Amtrak structures fares much like the airlines in that if a train is filled, the fare will be higher; but if a train is not fully booked days before departure, a lower fare will be quoted to try to fill the train. The California Zephyr trains fill early and sometimes passengers will have to pick a different departure date to secure a reservation.

Mention was made of the ease of carrying bicycles on trains compared to past years. Also, dogs and cats can accompany passengers if in kennels and then only in coaches, not sleeping cars.

In response to a question about WiFi being available on eastern trains but not on the California Zephyr and other trains further west, James said Amtrak is working to add WiFi capability to these trains.

While on his trip James has met with local officials in Omaha and Lincoln and the mayors of Hastings, Holdrege and McCook to build support for Amtrak. Lincoln City Councilman Bennie Shobe attended the December 10th meeting at Gere Library.

James stated that the plan to extend the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Kansas City is very much a possibility. In response to a question from me about the possibility of a second pair of Chicago to Denver trains through Nebraska during daylight hours, James stated that any expansion of Amtrak service would depend upon the support of a state or states. He cited Missouri and Illinois as states where trains partially supported by state funds are being operated.

Lincoln's StarTran Moving Ahead with Technology

By Clyde Anderson, December 1, 2018

One of our guest speakers at the ProRail Nebraska meeting this morning in Lincoln was Michael Davis, Transit Manager for the City of Lincoln's StarTran. Although StarTran doesn't have wifi installed on its buses yet, it already has several innovations we can only dream of in Omaha. Click here for details.

The new StarTran Get On Board System allows you to track the location of your bus on a map, get an estimated arrival time, and set up alerts using StarTran's AVL website. Also, you can download bus passes on your smart phone and pay your fare onboard using the Token Transit ap.

StarTran has increased its order for electric buses from 2 to 4 thanks to a grant from the VW Mitigation Settlement Fund. The buses, which were ordered from New Flyer, are scheduled to be delivered next Fall. Click here to view an informative StarTran Fact Sheet.

StarTran's criteria for placing a bench at a bus stop is a minimum of 15 passengers per day. A bus shelter must have at least 25 passengers/day, and several additional shelters will be installed next Spring. Many bus stops have trash cans, and StarTrans has a contractor that empties them and cleans up litter around the stops. Omaha has to rely on volunteers to clean up litter around bus stops.

Richard Schmeling with CFIT (Citizens for Improved Transit) also made a brief presentation. They are about to launch a program of giving free bus passes to needy Lincoln Public Schools students. 

Click here to view Citizens for Improved Transit (CFIT) handout "Are You Safer Riding StarTran Than Driving Your Car?"

Brightline succeeds by being bold
Midwest High Speed Rail Assn. Newsletter - Oct. 30, 2018
By Richard Harnish, Executive Director, MHSRA
Click here to read full article and view photos

Brightline has turned passenger rail in the United States upside down by doing one seemingly obvious thing: defining what it wanted to do - its ideal scenario - then finding a way to make that happen. 
Too often, efforts to begin or expand passenger rail in the U.S. get off on the wrong foot by first outlining what isn't possible. Once all the constraints and barriers are in place, you're not left many options, and certainly not great ones. 

Brightline, instead, started with its advantages, like an existing rail corridor, and real estate development possibilities. It then set out goals, like frequent service on modern trains, and did what was necessary to make it happen. In some cases, they weren't sure how they were going to achieve their goals, but they proceeded with confidence nonetheless. 

The end result is outstanding. The trains themselves are comfortable, quiet, and smooth. The hyper-modern stations and trains are part of the "wow" factor, luring people out of their cars. (The new coaches we're getting in the Midwest will be the same basic design, so we've got good things to look forward to.) 

Brightline began service with many trains every day, which is crucial. Often, new services plan to start with only one or two trips a day, hoping to scale up in the future. Instead, they see underwhelming ridership as a result of the limited schedule. Brightline understands that the convenience of a frequent schedule is a major part of the "will I take the train?" equation. Proving that point, I noticed that even mid-day, off-peak trains were busy. 

Click here to read full article and view photos.

Join or donate to the Midwest High Speed Rail Association today!


ProRail Receives 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.

Posted 2/2/2017.

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 08/29/2019