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Welcome to ProRail Nebraska

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

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Commuter Rail - Light Rail - Intercity Rail

We're Helping Get Nebraska On Track!

ProRail Nebraska Meetings  

Next Board Meeting: Date to be announced.  

April 2015 ProRail Newsletter Posted Online

Click here to view a PDF copy of the newsletter.

ProRail Nebraska Changes Its Objectives for 2015

Click here to view our updated objectives

Nebraska Legislative Wrap-up for 2015

ProRail was opposed to LB 317 which was introduced by State Sen. Bill Kitner (Dist. 2 - Cass and southern Sarpy Counties). LB 317 would remove Nebraska from the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact (MIPRC). Although LB 317 was passed and signed by the Governor, ProRail and others supporting Nebraska's continued membership in MIPRC were able to get the bill amended extending the termination date from July 2015 to July 1, 2018. This will give us three years to convince the Legislature that belonging to the Compact is worthwhile. Thanks to Sen. Ken Haar with assistance from Senators Harr and Lindstrom for getting the bill amended.

ProRail supported LB 644 that would revive and restudy public transit to include Omaha/Lincoln rail.  The bill, which was introduced by Sen. Nordquist, was indefinitely postponed by unanimous vote of the Transportation & Telecommunications Committee.  That in effect killed it for this session. Although the bill could be acted on in next year's legislative session, that's complicated by Sen. Nordquist's recent announcement that he is resigning his seat in the Legislature on June 30th. On July 1 he will begin serving as the Chief of Staff for Congressman Brad Ashford (NE-Dist. 2) in Washington, DC. 

ProRail Opposes LB 317

Repeal the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact

By Matthew Roque, ProRail Director & Lobbyist

 

ProRail is opposed to LB 317 which was introduced by State Sen. Bill Kitner (Dist. 2 - Cass and southern Sarpy Counties). LB 317 would remove Nebraska from the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact (MIPRC).

  The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) brings together state leaders from 12 states in the Midwest and the Plains regions to advocate for passenger rail improvements. This organization has been instrumental in moving states forward for new or expanded passenger rail options.

 The planning and development of passenger rail infrastructure in the Plains will occur with or without Nebraska’s participation. ProRail Nebraska suggests that it would be foolish for our state to deny itself the opportunity to participate in this planning.  

The FRA’s planning process would build on the work that Midwestern and Plains states have accomplished through coordination over the past 20 years. It is expected that corridor projects be identified and prioritized and a process for their on-going advancement will be developed. This process will include preliminary planning to environmental review to construction. Results from the multistate planning effort will give guidance to the National Rail Plan.  It is critically important that Nebraska be a part of this planning process.  Otherwise our state will not be at the table to provide input that represents the best interests of the state.  

Click here to read Matt's testimony before Nebraska Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee hearing on LB 317 on February 24, 2015.

UPDATE 3/17/2015: I have some rather bad news. LB317 was made a priority bill by the Speaker of the Legislature. Although we had hoped that this year would run out before this saw the whole legislature, this basically guarantees that it will be heard by the legislature. I will continue to follow it, and will make calls to both Senator Smiths office and the Speakers office. Of all the bills out there, I would like to know why he thought this was worthy of being a priority....Matt

ProRail Supports LB 644

Adopt the Nebraska Transit and Rail Advisory Council Act

By Matthew Roque, ProRail Director & Lobbyist

ProRail Nebraska is a non-profit advocacy group that focuses on increased passenger rail services as well as other public transportation options within our state.  

 

  As a group focused on rail issues, ProRail participated in and has studied the Nebraska Transit Corridors Study completed for the Nebraska Transit and Rail Advisory Council in 2003. Although a good document, it did contain several flaws that have continued to impact transportation planning to this day.  

 

One of the major flaws is its lack of any medium and long-range analysis or recommendations. The study simply analyzed the feasibility of developing commuter rail or bus systems by the year 2010. In addition to the limitations of the 2003 study imposed by the short term planning framework, the study did not undertake any in-depth origin and destination analysis.  Commuting by University of Nebraska undergraduate and graduate students, for example was not considered, nor was an analysis of non-work related demand considered. Based on the limited research undertaken for the study, the report concluded that it was probably not feasible to initiate rail or bus commuter service by 2010.

 

Both the Lincoln and Omaha metropolitan areas have experienced significant growth since 2003 and this same rate of growth is expected for the next 20 to 30 years. Studies conducted by the Joslyn Castle Institute, The Nebraska Innovation Zone Commission, The Lower Platte  River Corridor Alliance, The Lincoln-Lancaster Planning Commission and the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency among others, have projected  considerable population growth and development activity within the Lincoln Omaha corridor. The construction of additional traffic lanes on I-80 in the corridor between Lincoln and Omaha demonstrate the importance the state places on serving the transportation needs of this growing population.  

 

 ProRail Nebraska implores our state to adequately prepare for the future transportation needs of its citizens in Lincoln, Omaha, and the areas in between. We believe the provisions of LB 644 offer the state a timely opportunity to examine alternatives for developing successful and cost effective transportation solutions for the future. ProRail Nebraska recommends LB 644 be used by the state to begin an incremental transportation planning and development strategy to take advantage of opportunities that can be implemented in the short term which will result in significant cost savings in the future. In order to accomplish these objectives, we suggest detailed analyses and projections be conducted for a planning period extending 20 years or more into the future through a revitalized Nebraska Transit and Rail Advisory Council.

 

 Click here to read Matt's testimony before Nebraska Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee hearing on LB 644 on February 24, 2015.

 

UPDATE 3/14/2015: The news is not good.  LB 644 to revive and restudy public transit to include Omaha/Lincoln rail was indefinitely postponed by unanimous vote of the transportation committee.  That in effect kills it.....Bob Kuzelka

UP charts $102 million in Nebraska rail infrastructure improvements

Progressive Railroading - May 7, 2015

In another in a series of infrastructure investment announcements this week, Union Pacific Railroad officials said yesterday the Class I will spend nearly $102 million this year to improve rail infrastructure in Nebraska.

The capital expenditures will include $90 million to maintain railroad track, nearly $8 million to enhance signal systems and $4 million to maintain or replace bridges, according to a UP press release.

Planned projects include $8.5 million to replace 53,500 concrete ties along the line between the Nebraska/Kansas border and Gibbon, Neb.; and $7.2 million to replace the track bed with 144,000 tons of ballast.

UP also plans to spend more than $12 million to upgrade a line between Marshall and near Jefferson City, Mo. The work — which began April 6 and is slated for completion by May's end — calls for replacing 82,600 ties and about one-quarter of a mile of rail in various curves, installing 45,700 tons of ballast and repairing surfaces at 84 crossings.

This year's planned capital expenditures in Nebraska and Missouri are part of an ongoing investment strategy. From 2010 to 2014, UP spent $1.3 billion to strengthen Nebraska’s transportation infrastructure, company officials said.

Earlier this week, UP announced plans to improve rail infrastructure this year in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri.

Minnesota DOT begins Zip Rail environmental study

Railway Track & Structures, Tuesday, March 17, 2015

 

Several options for high-speed passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Rochester, Minn., known as Zip Rail, will undergo the first phase of a two-step environmental impact statement review process.

 

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), the Federal Railroad Administration and the Olmsted County Regional Railroad Authority filed a Notice of Intent to prepare a Tiered Environmental Impact Statement for the Zip Rail project.

 

Based on public and agency input gathered during the scoping process and the technical analyses conducted to date, MnDOT determined that the no-build alternative and eight end-point to end-point corridors will be evaluated in the first phase (Tier 1) of the EIS. The Tier 1 EIS will examine the social, economic and environmental impacts of each option.

 

The Zip Rail study area covers approximately a 100-mile corridor between Rochester and the Twin Cities, which includes Dakota, Dodge, Goodhue, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey and Rice counties and various end points in the Twin Cities and Rochester. There is no continuous existing railroad connection between the Twin Cities and Rochester, so many of the potential corridors would create new transportation routes.

BNSF plans $226 million capital program in Nebraska

From Friends of BNSF – February 11, 2015  

BNSF 's 2015 capital program for its operations in Nebraska will be an estimated $226 million for rail capacity improvement projects and maintenance. Unlike other modes of freight transportation, U.S. railroads own and maintain their own networks. To ensure BNSF's network operates at optimal efficiency, each year the company allocates capital for infrastructure and expansion projects that will enable it to serve the growing needs of customers from a broad cross section of the economy.

"This year's substantial investments in Nebraska are a clear reflection of how important our operations in the state are to our overall network and our unwavering commitment to always operating safely - for our people and the communities in which we operate," said Janssen Thompson, BNSF general manager operations Nebraska Division. "We know our customers are competing in a fast-paced, global economy where a smooth, efficient supply chain can be the difference between winning and losing in the marketplace. This year's planned expansion and maintenance projects will help give BNSF the capacity flexibility it needs to support our customers' growing demands and connect Nebraska products to key markets."

BNSF's 2015 capital projects in Nebraska include constructing two double track segments on the Ravenna subdivision between Bradshaw and Aurora and Pleasant Dale and Milford totaling 18 miles. These projects will greatly improve capacity on this heavily-trafficked coal route.

Continuous maintenance of BNSF's infrastructure ensures an optimized, safe and reliable network. Maintaining the railroad is important for keeping it in optimal condition and helps limit the need for unscheduled service outages that can slow down the rail network and reduce capacity. BNSF's maintenance program in Nebraska will include 2,014 miles of track surfacing and undercutting work, and the replacement of close to 55 miles of rail and about 214,000 ties as well as signal upgrades for federally-mandated positive train control (PTC).

The planned capital investments in Nebraska are part of BNSF's record 2015 capital commitment of $6 billion, which was announced last November and is the company's largest planned capital expenditure in its history. These investments include $2.9 billion to replace and maintain core network and related assets, nearly $1.5 billion on expansion and efficiency projects, $200 million for continued implementation of PTC and $1.4 billion for locomotives, freight cars and other equipment acquisitions.

View a map showing details of BNSF's $6 billion capital spending plan across its rail network

Executive order hits Chicago-Rockford rail plan

Written by  Douglas John Bowen

Railway Age - Monday, February 09, 2015

 Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an executive order Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015, putting major state construction projects on hold, apparently including improved passenger rail service between Chicago and St. Louis.

The move bars agencies from awarding contracts without the administration's approval, freezing plans by the Illinois Department of Transportation to implement Amtrak service between Chicago and Rockford over Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way.

Rauner's executive order also prohibits state agencies from entering into and awarding state contracts and grants until July 1.

Illinois already has spent $3 million on engineering items related to the rail line prior to the freeze, an IDOT spokesman said. Local media reported that Huntley, Ill., local officals had committed $50,000 to engineering study as well to establish a rail station for the municipality.

Rauner's decision also counter efforts by his predecessor, Gov. Pat Quinn, to expedite service to Huntley and other northwest Illinois communities. Last April Quinn identified $60 million for re-establishing Amtrak service linking Chicago and Rockford, Ill., with service targeted to begin late this year.

Minnesota Gov. Dayton proposes $11 billion to fix aging transportation system

Progressive Railroading, January 27, 2015

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton yesterday unveiled an $11 billion transportation proposal to improve the state's aging transit systems, roads, highways and bridges.

To help fund the proposals, the plan includes a 6.5 percent gross receipts tax on gas at the wholesale level.

Dayton called for $2.92 billion for transit systems, $2.35 billion for local government transportation projects and $6 billion over the next 10 years to address the state's highway transportation funding deficit, according to a press release issued by Dayton's office.

"Inadequate transportation clogs our lives with worse traffic congestion, longer commutes, more dangerous travel conditions. Those deficiencies restrict our future economic growth and detract from our quality of life," the governor said.

On the transit side, the plan would fund 20 new transitways, increase bus service by 27 percent and fund various transit projects, including the proposed Southwest light-rail line that would link Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. The plan also would modernize Metro Transit's technology, such as real-time transit service updates throughout the system.

Transit funding over 10 years would add up to $2.8 billion for the Twin Cities metro area, which would be supported by a half-cent sales tax increase in the seven-county region, and $120 million for greater Minnesota transit that would be paid for out of the state's general fund.

Dayton urged the Minnesota Legislature to work with him to pass a transportation plan this session.

"If we continue to avoid these problems, they will only get worse," he said. "It's time to begin to solve them."

Proposed Minnesota budget would greatly increase taxes on railroads, state railroad association says

January 29, 2015 Progressive Railroading

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed $42 billion state budget for 2016-17 would triple the taxes and assessment that railroads now pay to the state and use about half of that for homeowner property tax relief, according to the Minnesota Regional Railroads Association (MRRA).

The governor is seeking a $32.5 million-per-year assessment for the next 10 years from the four Class Is that operate in Minnesota to pay for upgrades to grade crossings at more than 100 locations along crude-by-rail routes throughout the state, and is proposing to increase property taxes on all railroads by an estimated $31.4 million per year through a change in the way rail property would be assessed, MRRA officials said in a notice sent to board members. Railroads currently pay about $38.6 million per year in property taxes.

"If enacted, the governor’s proposals would mean a nearly tripling of the taxes and assessments that Minnesota railroad operators would be required to pay to do business in this state," MRRA officials said.

The $32.5 million annual assessment would fund the development, administration and construction of crossing improvements on rail corridors used to transport crude and other selected routes, including those used to haul hazardous materials. Improvements would include upgrades to existing protection systems, crossing closures and the reconstruction of crossings to grade separations. The program would be funded through an annual assessment on the four Class Is operating in Minnesota.

"The governor believes that blocked crossings is a problem created by railroad operators and that they should be obligated to pay the costs of making improvements, regardless of whether his proposal flies in the face of precedent or federal regulations," MRRA officials said. "And, as with some other business sectors, the governor believes that railroads do not pay their fair share of taxes and should be required to pay more, again regardless of federal law to the contrary."

Dayton also recommends expanding the taxable property of railroads to include such property as rolling stock and simplifying outdated rules for taxing railroads.

"This is the opening salvo in what will be an extended 'discussion' before the Minnesota State Legislature," MRRA officials said. "The association and Class I railroad government relations officials have already begun to develop a response plan and draw in the resources we will need to challenge these initiatives."

Gov. Rauner spending freeze results in 'review' of Quad City Amtrak project

January 28, 2015

 

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s spending freeze resulted in the Illinois Department of Transportation reviewing plans to bring passenger trains to the Quad Cities.

 

In May of 2015, Paul Rumler, executive director of the QC Passenger Rail Coalition, said he expected passenger train service to be available in the Quad Cities in 2016, and the hotel and train station in Moline would be finished by November 2015.

 

Those plans are currently under review after Gov. Rauner signed an executive order for state agencies to halt nonessential spending, putting state contract activity on pause until July 1. “We believe the project will be released and things will move ahead and be right on track,” said Scott Vandewoestyne, director of government affairs for the Quad Cities Chamber.

 

Vandewoestyne said the governor is reviewing the benefits of various statewide projects, and he believes the rail-passenger service will gain the governor’s approval.

 

Charles Lahl and his father own Dead Poet’s Espresso in downtown Moline and said they were counting on gaining more customers from the Amtrak’s Quad-City stop. “It would really be a good overall improvement to help attract extra customers who don’t usually get here.”

 

In addition to the passenger-rail project, the governor is reviewing the proposed direct flight from the Quad City International Airport to Washington D.C.

 Passenger Rail System Option

for Nebraska’s Highly Dense Metro Region

October 2014 Prairie Fire

By Victoria Nelson – A member of ProRail Nebraska, a  recent graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a bachelor of science in environmental studies and is currently a master’s student in the Community and Regional Planning Department.

The concluding paragraphs:

It is time to seriously begin planning for better public transportation because we have a growing population base and we are able to financially sustain it. The state is planning on expanding the entire Interstate 80 to six lanes, but why not direct these resources to building a passenger rail service similar to initiatives in Iowa and other surrounding states? What we lack is political support. A regional system is being planned with Chicago as the hub. If we delay serious thinking about future plans for a high-speed rail system, it may go through Kansas instead of Nebraska, which could hurt our economy.

How we can start getting the people of eastern Nebraska at state and local levels to think about a passenger rail system? Clyde Anderson, a retired Union Pacific employee and a Pro Rail Nebraska board member, believes the first step would be to start off small, using a well-planned commuter bus system. This bus system would use park and ride areas for stations to pick up passengers then have assigned stops for each bus. W. Cecil Steward, president and founder of the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities, believes a well-planned bus route could be designed to lead the way for a light rail system to follow, with the aim of getting people thinking about using public transportation. A rail system that eventually replaced the bus route would be familiar. Any successful bus system would have to run all the time, not just selected times and days like the current system. We need commuter buses between Omaha and Lincoln at least four times per day to help carry a portion of the thirty thousand people in commuter autos daily. Buses would have to be well maintained, safe, and comfortable for passengers. This would be a slow but productive way of introducing people to the benefits of riding a public transportation system. As population grows and more people see the advantages, support and demand for a passenger rail system would grow. It would be crucial that any bus system follows closely the eventual route of the rail system, so that when a rail system is implemented, there would be no passenger hesitations changing over.

Until Nebraska residents and politician realize we need to start investing in passenger rail, we can start the momentum by encouraging the use of current buses so more people will enjoy the benefits, such as less expense than owning a car, safety, and reduced environmental impacts.

Click here to read the full news article.

Transportation for America is a coalition seeking to align our national, state, and local transportation policies with an array of issues like economic opportunity, climate change, energy security, health, housing and community development. N.A.R.P. is a member of this coalition.


ProRail Nebraska advocates safe, environmentally-friendly, fuel efficient, affordable, comfortable, and all-weather mobility that rail transportation can provide.

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We think trains need more prominence in the U.S. because:

  • Trains provide more mobility and travel choices, especially in the post-2001 travel environment.
  • A wisely developed train network has great potential to accommodate future travel demand.
  • Trains are energy-efficient -- Intercity (Amtrak) trains are far more efficient than airlines (2441 Btu's per passenger-mile vs. 3999 for airlines in 1998, according to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory).
  • Increased use of trains reduces America's dependence on foreign oil.
  • Trains are safe, especially in bad weather.
  • Trains contribute to development which is more compact and less wasteful than auto-oriented development.
  • Trains pollute less than other modes of transportation.

(above courtesy National Association of Railroad Passengers)

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