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News notable for KenRail in 2003

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March 2003

APTA survey echoes local support for trains and transit - “Four in five (81 percent) Americans believe that increased investment in public transportation strengthens the economy, creates jobs, reduces traffic congestion and air pollution, and saves energy, according to a new national poll,” says the website of American Public Transportation Association about results disclosed March 12 during its three-day meeting for transit officials in Washington D.C. The phone survey of about one thousand Americans during mid-February was commissioned by APTA. It found most responses favorable to public transit were by majorities near or exceeding two-thirds. Though rail transit was not singled out for scrutiny in the APTA-commissioned survey, commuter rail is a key component of the metropolitan mix of services and is elsewhere supported by wide margins in polls and public meetings. For example, a Racine event supporting Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter trains in mid-February drew an audience of 120-150 participants, most of them favoring a SEWRPC proposal to invest $152 million in the 33-mile extension, compatible with Metra Northline service between Chicago and Kenosha.
Visit the APTA website for more information about their survey.

Excite'd about trains - A daily poll at found in March that a significant fraction of respondents favor train travel in the U.S., by as much as 3-to-1 versus naysayers. In a multiple-answer poll, offered five possible completions to the statement:"I would be more likely to use the U.S. passenger rail system if ...".
Of more than 9,200 replies, fewer than one-sixth chose to reply in opposition to trains or refused to endorse their use. Negative or ambiguous options were "None of the above," "[u]nder no scenario would I be more likely to take a train," and "I don't travel/I don't care."
Among favorable responses, "better on-time arrivals" was least mentioned, signifying that delays to present Amtrak and commuter train services in America are less discouraging to riders than the lack of train availability. More high speed trains (those peaking above 100 mph) drew 38 percent of favorable replies, twice as many as the "on-time arrivals" percentage. Forty percent felt lower fares would induce them to travel by train, while improved convenience appealed to 45 percent. Most decisive of all, 51 percent completed the sentence with "if ... there were more destinations/locations" to travel by train -- more than three times the fraction which wasn't enthused.
The results for March 9 continue in the pattern of past opinion polls, such as the 2001 poll sponsored by Wisconsin Assoc'n of Railroad Passengers. Americans consistently endorse trains as an alternate to car travel, and hundreds of thousands each work day already use commuter trains instead of cars, SUVs, and light trucks for traveling to and from jobs.

May 2003

Metra gets money from FTA - Dept. of Transportation announced May 8 that $24.26 million for Metra North Central Service track improvements is foremost among three Metra projects funded in the latest allotment by Federal Transit Administration. Currently, ten NCS trains serve communities like Libertyville, Round Lake Beach and Antioch. After track upgrades, NCS will offer 22 trains Monday through Friday for commuters on the tracks now owned by Candian National Railroad, on its Wisconsin Central division.
Metra NCS trains began operation in 1996, the first new commuter train route for Chicago in 70 years, and just four years after Wisconsin voters authorized WisDOT to include trains among its planning and funding alternatives. Neither official agency was prepared then to integrate Metra planning into SE Wisconsin plans, integration which has since become a key aspect of the K-R-M proposal recently endorsed so enthusiastically at four public hearings in Kenosha, Racine, Cudahy and Milwaukee. K-R-M trains will operate as extensions of Metra Northline service between Kenosha and Chicago.

WISERIDE study of K-R-M corridor complete - SE Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission concluded its acceptance of written public comment on May 16, fifteen days after its last of four public hearings heard overwhelmingly favorable public response, at Cudahy. SEWRPC will now digest the wealth of comments, both verbal and written, prepare them for distribution to Advisory Committee members, and schedule a Committee session, perhaps near mid-July.

Milwaukeeans doubt or oppose airport stop - According to the sample of local opinion cited in a May 18 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article about WisDOT's proposal for adding a third Amtrak Hiawatha stop, on the west border of Mitchell International Airport, doubters and opponents are in the majority. One view regards an 8-minute train ride from downtown Milwaukee to the southside train stop, where a shuttle bus will convey travelers to and from the airport terminal, on a cost-competition basis versus buses and local taxi services. Another perspective regards the WisDOT proposal as conducive to more travelers using General Mitchell International Airport (GMIA), which portends more flights and consequent aircraft noise affecting neighborhoods surrounding GMIA.
Richard Schreiner, a reliable WisARP spokesman, offers the only positive view in that article, suggesting riders from south of Milwaukee rather than from downtown Milwaukee will comprise the majority of Hiawatha riders using the proposed GMIA stop. Earlier in the week, WisDOT hosted an informational session about the proposed GMIA train stop and collected public comments. Those officially recorded comments have not yet been summarized or published by WisDOT, but may well cast a more favorable light on the proposal, which Midwest Airlines supports. In a 1994 study of the 86-mile Hiawatha corridor, Amtrak deemed a GMIA stop preferable to either existing stop, at Sturtevant and at Glenview, Ill.
K-R-M trains proposed through Cudahy, east of GMIA on the commuter rail route proposed between Kenosha and downtown Milwaukee, also earned Journal Sentinel mention in terms of downtown-to-airport ridership, though K-R-M motivation focuses primarily on riders reaching downtown Milwaukee Monday through Friday instead of the less plausible commuter train-shuttle bus journey to GMIA by air travelers.

K-R-M trains lauded - In an opinion published May 28, occasional contributor to Kenosha News op-ed page Arthur Cyr opines on the key role K-R-M commuter trains could play in the "economic survival and relatively recent resurgence of Southeastern Wisconsin." Observing that post-World War II construction of the Interstate highway system at the direction of President Eisenhower met a demand for greater use of cars, Mr. Cyr notes the trend has passed its peak and that commuting patterns from central cities to suburban work sites -- developed due to reliance on cars and metro Interstate highways -- now is being accommodated by Metra in NE Illinois. He regards K-R-M trains as one facet of the growth trend in Metra commuter train use.
K-R-M commuter trains are also expected to significantly improve access to downtown Milwaukee, in the more traditional manner of commuting to a metro region's central business district.
Arthur Cyr is Director of the Clausen Center for World Business at Carthage College, Kenosha.

Metra STAR line will circle, then approach O'Hare - NE Illinois Metra continues leading the regional transit agenda with unanimous approval June 5 by the RTA board for proposed commuter trains north from Joliet along the EJ&E right of way to a new corridor through Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg, thence to O'Hare International Airport, Chicago Tribune reports. Metra plans the 55-mile, $1.1 billion Suburban Transit Access Route project to move forward during the next ten years, beginning with detailed feasibility and environmental impact analyses now that RTA endorses the plan. Local officials in Schaumburg and Hoffman Estates already have formally endorsed the plan.

June 2003

Senate support for Amtrak grows - A June 5 Senate sub-committee hearing, chaired by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas, heard that Wall Street favors proposed $50 billion in bonding authority, $10 billion for NorthEast Corridor and $40 billion for freight routes used by intercity passenger trains. Freight carriers prefer ending a 4.3 cent fuel tax, which will instead continue under the sub-committee's plan to repay 30-year bonds from a Railway Account in a federal trust fund. The hearing witness from Lehman Brothers brokerage, NARP reports, recommends tax-exempt bond funding for intercity passenger train infrastructure, putting it on the same long-term fiscal footing as airports and ports.
That amount compares favorably with $31 billion in operating and capital project subsidy Amtrak has received since its inception in 1971, the total cited in "Amtrak Privatization: The Route to Failure," a June 4 report prepared for the Economic Policy Institute by Elliott D. Sclar, Professor of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at Columbia University. Executive summary available in .pdf format, as noted by Nat'l Assoc'n of Railroad Passengers in "Hotline #298," on June 6.

Kenosha kicks off Saturday Market - Harborpark, the emerging neighborhood and museum district, gained another popular attraction on June 14 as crowds converged on an open-air Saturday Market. Three historic PCC streetcars circulated along the 2-mile track past the Market, across the 56th Street boulevard-track from Kenosha Public Museum, carrying more than 1,500 children and parents in a family atmosphere brightened by sunny skies and mild temperatures nearby chilly Lake Michigan. Saturday Market will continue each week through October 4, and has already lured visitors on Metra, arriving at 8:15 a.m.and 12:15 p.m. Later Metra arrivals at 2:15 and 4:15 p.m. are after the market's close at 2:00 p.m.
The kick-off combined with a centennial event marking the 100th year of streetcars in Kenosha, which returned to the city after a long hiatus in 2000 thanks to the pioneering efforts of Joe McCarthy, late director of Kenosha Transit.
Follow this link to more photos and information about the centennial event and the Harborpark Market, which will continue each week until October. Check the Metra Saturday schedules at this link, being sure you note that departures to Chicago are infrequent, at 6:49 and 10:20 p.m.

K-R-M advisory committee looks for August finale - The study began in 1999 and acquired the marketing monicker "WISERIDE" along the way; it built upon unmistakable data from a feasibility study indicating a 33-mile commuter rail service in three SE Wisconsin counties was viable, feasible, doable. In April and May of this year, overwhelmingly favorable public comment butressed the committee's recommendation to proceed with a Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter train sevice, compatible with NE Illinois Metra. And now, the technical advisory committee comprised of affected communities and transit operations looks forward to its culminating session in August, according to a Kenosha News report of committee chairman Fred Patrie's expectations.
When Mr. Patrie's committee meets for it final session, each member will have previously received the voluminous public record accumulated at those four hearings, and will act upon the committee's final recommendation: renovation of right of way, a medium level of weekday service, and acquisition of new trainsets. SE Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission staff will also sketch for the committee members what steps and decisions must be taken next for the K-R-M project to advance.

July 2003

Key transport industry group touts commuter rail - Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin declares commuter rail for southeast Wisconsin and for the Madison area a viable enhancement to metropolitan transit in "Moving Forward: The Benefits of Commuter Rail", its Issue Paper #6. TDA-Wisconsin's analysis begins, "In an era of growing highway traffic and associated congestion, citizens, businesses, and their government representatives are looking for reliable alternatives to auto travel and increased numbers of mobility options for the public," then introduces commuter rail to its cautious and cost-conscious members. Though not explicit in the TDA-Wisconsin paper, K-R-M as proposed will cost about one-fifth (20 percent) of the predicted outlay for another state's 33-mile commuter rail project on existing right of way which is sure to seek Federal Transit Administration funding once its preliminary studies are complete. Click here for the TDA-Wisconsin issue paper about commuter rail.

K-R-M advisory committee looks for August finale - The study began in 1999 and acquired the marketing monicker "WISERIDE" along the way; it built upon unmistakable data from a feasibility study indicating a 33-mile commuter rail service in three SE Wisconsin counties was viable, feasible, doable. In April and May of this year, overwhelmingly favorable public comment butressed the committee's recommendation to proceed with a Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter train sevice, compatible with NE Illinois Metra. And now, the technical advisory committee comprised of affected communities and transit operations looks forward to its culminating session in August, according to a Kenosha News report of committee chairman Fred Patrie's expectations.
When Mr. Patrie's committee meets for it final session, each member will have previously received the voluminous public record accumulated at those four hearings, and will act upon the committee's final recommendation: renovation of right of way, a medium level of weekday service, and acquisition of new trainsets. SE Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission staff will also sketch for the committee members what steps and decisions must be taken next for the K-R-M project to advance.

Amtrak "out of ways to paper over the problems," says NARP executive director - National Association of Railroad Passengers executive director Ross Capon answered questions online July 31 at a Washington Post-hosted session, and delivered that candid account of Amtrak's fiscal condition. He also said:

NARP has in the past criticized Amtrak management on occasion, such as when its attempt at profitable express shipments proved unrewarding, but now sees Amtrak as best able to set its own course to cost-effective operation of a nationwide network.
Click here for the full Washington Post transcript of Mr. Capon's remarks.
Two Senate bills have differing policy solutions for Amtrak, according to NARP Hotline of Aug. 1:

A NARP press release declares S-1505 clearly preferable, and June testimony supported its higher funding levels.
Another web site monitoring Amtrak in crisis lists several editorials, including by Madison station WISC-TV, denouncing any cutback or burden-shifting to the states. Click here to visit it.
A comparable fragmentation of Great Britain's tracks, trains and operations in the 1990s is now nearly reversed, as details for repurchasing the assets for US$800 million neared agreement in June, according to BBC News. By late July, government-backed Rail Network predicted economies totaling US$3.2 billion in the next five years, Reuters reported, confirming Mr.Capon's assessment for fragmenting Amtrak too.

August 2003

Historic PCC streetcars added for Kenosha Days of Discovery - Tall ships under sail touring the Great Lakes will call at Kenosha, August 6 through August 10 (Wednesday-Sunday), as the city's Harborpark hosts another appealing event, friendly to family outings for a day or the weekend. Activities on Simmons Island will complement the visiting tall ships and Kenosha Public Museum displays, with Kenosha Transit providing added streetcar service and rubber-tire shuttles to the History Museum on Simmons Island, across the channel from Harborpark. PCC streetcar schedules will be extended and added streetcars operated to convey event visitors promptly to downtown, to Harborpark locations and to transfer for the Simmons Island shuttles.
Saturday Market will open as usual, from 9:30 2:00 p.m.
Visit Days of Discovery for more details about the tall ships and other lakefront activities.

K-R-M preliminary engineering gets SEWRPC nod - Meeting for its final session, the SEWRPC technical advisory committee voted without opposition to proceed to the preliminary engineering phase. Wisconsin DOT abstained. Union Pacific allayed fears about coal train interference, rumored among opponents of a coal-fired generating station near the K-R-M commuter train route. A follow up session among principal local funders of the two studies which led to this vote will be scheduled soon, intending to resolve the unfulfilled 10 percent funding for preliminary engineering of the 33-mile right of way.

WisDOT chief says local funds must contribute to K-R-M - Wisc. DOT Sec. Frank Busalacchi told Kenosha News, reported in its July 31 edition, "There are a lot of hard questions that have to be answered" about the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail project. His June 17 letter to SEWRPC committee Chairman Fred Patrie citing a need for local funding in combination with federal and state funds called attention to that shared responsibility. (Some local reaction to disclosure of the letter imagined that WisDOT might not participate fully.) Sec. Busalacchi went on to indicate his full support for K-R-M, while also expanding on his concern for making difficult budget choices in the present fiscal crunch. Unresolved decisions about funding, construction oversight and operations management are among Sec. Busalacchi's foremost issues, and he sees the preliminary engineering phase as an appropriate period for addressing them, the News reports. Who will pay and the share of each funder remain the thorniest of issues not yet resolved.

Amtrak Hiawathas gain riders - Matching favorable ridership trends for Amtrak on its principal corridors, the Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha Service trains making seven southward and seven northward trips each day (six each way on Sundays and holidays) gained 26.3 percent more passengers, January to June this year. Hiawathas gained similarly in 2000 at 27 percent, from the annual post-Christmas lull to early summer surge of travelers.
Nationwide, Amtrak reports a record-setting 2,223,358 passengers iin July, most ever for the 32-year old passenger railroad company and continuing a four-month series of monthly ridership records, begun in April. Empire Builder, linking Chicago and the Pacific Northwest via Wisconsin was among five long distance routes gaining 10 percent or more; ten shorter distance 'corridors' also gained 10 percent or better, including Hiawathas carrying 13 percent more in July, 2003, than in 2002. Pacific Surfliners, San Diego-Los Angeles in southern California, led the nationwide trend among corridors with an increase of 32.4 percent.
“With public support to bring our infrastructure, trains and stations to a state of good repair, Amtrak will continue to build on this success,” Amtrak president David L. Gunn pledged.

September 2003

Wisconsin DOT unveils station plans for Milwaukee - "I personally believe Amtrak will survive," WisDOT's Railroad Bureau chief assured a questioner during a question period at the unveiling of renovation plans for the Milwaukee train station, built in 1965 and seldom improved since.
Plans for the station were developed in 2002 in conjunction with reconstruction 2004-2007 of the nearby Marquette Interchange, a project expected to cost well above $500 million as its elevated web of ramps and multi-lane Interstate highway is transformed to modern standards and new concrete.
Another questioner wondered whether WisDOT's railroad project head could offer an update on the K-R-M commuter train plan. "No," he replied, "I don't work on that." WisDOT has invited comment on the station proposal to e-mail address .
Visit this WisDOT web page for more particulars about that September open house and presentation at Milwaukee.

Midwest Regional Rail System (MWRRS) gains Indiana boost - With Illinois and Michigan already well-invested in track and train improvements necessary for High Speed Rail operations, Indiana held a one-day session at Indianapolis to highlight HSR and MWRRS, drawing speakers from throughout the nation, disclosing key expertise from California, Washington DC (a railroad supply industry spokesman) and from former Wisconsin DOT secretary Terry Mulcahy.
Mister Mulcahy is the second WisDOT secretary to join the ranks of HSR advocates, as did Ron Fielder before him, adding energy and insight to the Sept. 19 gathering hosted by Indiana DOT. One observer reported Mr. Mulcahy supporting the present network of Amtrak routes, including the so-called "long distance" trains, like Lake Shore Limited, Empire Builder and Southwest Chief. His primary emphasis, however, is advancing the implementation of MWRRS, an array of 110-mph rail corridor "spokes" radiating from Chicago through eight states to Midwest metropolises. Detroit, St. Louis and Springfield, Ill. are early benficiaries of the new medium-distance mode of travel. Wisconsin has plans for Madison and Milwaukee to link initially to the Chicago hub of MWRRS. Eventual plans anticipate 110-mph trains through La Crosse to Minnesota and its Twin Cities, with prospects for 79-mph trains extending northward from Milwaukee through the Fox River Valley to Green Bay.
MWRRS also anticipates 200 cities connected to train stations by regional bus service, such as Greyhound.

Kenosha county executive hosts successful K-R-M summit - As he pledged soon after SE Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission formally endorsed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter trains, Kenosha County Executive Allan Kehl hosted a meeting of principals to decide the fate of K-R-M engineering planning. Mr. Kehl met Monday, Sept. 29, with his Milwaukee county counterpart, Scott Walker, and two mayors, Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian. Mr. Kehl earlier consulted with his Racine counterpart, William McReynolds and Racine Mayor Gary Becker, whose comments about K-R-M appear in news items below.
Both Kenosha News and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report on Sept. 30 that Mr. Kehl has succeeded in consolidating support for the $4 million K-R-M preliminary engineering study, which previously had been in doubt due to tightened budgeting at municipal, county and state levels. Though each county executive and mayor will generate the needed $33,333 per year for two years from different sources, they are now in agreement about budgeting for the full $400,000. Kenosha News quoted Mr. Kehl, "Each entity will look at what options they can to best move forward."
Milwaukee may also redirect some of a long-idle $91 million federal transit allotment which most recently has been reserved for a "Milwaukee Connector" central city bus project. County Exec Walker and Mayor Norquist reportedly now concur on it, but that funding -- long entangled in controversy about which project to fund and in court battles -- must be spent only on projects approved by the governor, the county executive, and the mayor of Milwaukee. Dissension among numerous Milwaukee and transit factions has stymied its expenditure for years, despite the three-way approval arrangement negotiated by former Gov. Tommy G. Thompson and his secretary of Wisc. DOT in the late 1990s. Federal approval for any project expenditure of that $91 million is also required.
Putting uncertainties aside, Mr. Kehl's comment to Kenosha News restores confidence that K-R-M trains will become a vital adjunct to NE Illinois Metra routes: "We reached consensus to move the process forward."

October 2003

Three agree - Following a previously agreed procedure for allocating $91 million in public transit funds, Kenosha News reports Oct. 3 that Gov. Jim Doyle has joined with Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and Mayor John Norquist in supporting SEWRPC-recommended Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter trains as the project to fund.
More than $270 million in federal funds spurred Milwaukee factions to battle for its designation to a succession of unbuilt projects, including light rail, busway lanes on I-94 and most recently a "Milwaukee Connector" bus corridor. Some of it was spent for other projects, like demolition of the Park East Freeway, and in the course of approving that expenditure Mayor Norquist, then-Governor Tommy Thomspon and then-County Executive Tom Ament defined a three-way approval arrangement for the remaining federal funds. Gov. Doyle's approval is the final Wisconsin assent needed under that arrangement. Federal Transit Administration approval is also required.
Congressman Paul Ryan, a supporter of K-R-M trains, told Kenosha News. "This project seemed to be on life support a month ago. Now it's on the fast track."
(No link is available to the Kenosha News story.)

Milwaukee station contract signing - Wisconsin DOT announces a Monday morning event, Oct. 13 (Columbus Day), to formally enter into a contract for renovation of the Milwaukee train station. WisDOT Sec. Frank Busalacchi will sign the contract for $3.9 million in public-private partnership funding of the work, which will remodel the waiting room and office space on the floors above it. No changes to the adjacent train shed are presently planned, in part because CP Rail holds title. WisDOT bought the station from CP Rail in 2000, and will oversee the nearby Marquette Interchange reconstruction from offices above the passenger waiting area.
Accompanying Sec. Busalacchi will be Amtrak Intercity executive Ray Lang and Scott Mayer, of Milwaukee Intermodal Partners, at the 10:15 a.m. event.
Amtrak Hiawatha #331 arrives minutes before the signing, leaving Sturtevant at 9:24. A prompt return to Sturtevant following the event aboard Hiawatha #334 will leave Milwaukee at 10:50; dallying about the station and downtown Milwaukee for lunch is an option, for departures from Milwaukee at 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. One-way fare is $8 (eight dollars), Sturtevant-Milwaukee, so the train ride should provide more than mere avoidance of parking problems, which may not arise. Parking congestion nearby will eventually ease as more buses stop at the station for connection to arriving and departing trains. K-R-M commuter trains will also someday diminish the need for parking for Amtrak passengers, in addition to improving access to downtown Milwaukee for commuters and for attendees of the many downtown events. (Milwaukee conventions are reportedly hampered by overnight lodging facilities, which in other lakeshore cities often are under-utilized.)

Amtrak funding kicked out of bounds, retrieved for now - As the Senate grappled with billions of dollars for transportation on the heels of $87 billion for Iraq peace-time work, an attempt to trim $156 million from the $1.3 billion compromise allocation for Amtrak arose on October 23, kicking the slow budgetary progress out of bounds despite Congress passing its regulation period for completing a budget before October 1. More disconcerting, the $156 millon was claimed necessary to offset alleged diversion from the Highway Trust Fund, an account which conveys tens of billions in designated "use" taxes to road construction and mass transit projects each year. But Amtrak doesn't benefit from any allocation from that jealously guarded federal fund.
The brief distraction from the $1.3 billion Senate compromise served to highlight difficulties which have pushed the entire budget process into fiscal overtime. Minor disputes and baseless concerns, like the $156 million which was never diverted to Amtrak from the Highway Trust Fund, are tying up senators and congressmen while carefully-negotiated compromises await final approval.
Senators late on October 23 overcame that hurdle and approved $1.34 billion for Amtrak, which must now be negotiated with House conferees favoring $0.9 billion for Amtrak in the current fiscal year.
Meanwhile, Amtrak and its employees carry on, diligently carrying thousands of travelers every day in safe comfort to destinations all over America. Two days before the Senate distraction DOT Sec. Mineta honored two police officers, one of them employed by Amtrak, for corralling a man in Washington's Union station who threatened Amtrak customers maliciously.

K-R-M trains get WisDOT for "big brother" - Kenosha News reporter Erik Brooks again has the latest, most comprehensive account of Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter train developments with an October 29 headline account of Wisconsin DOT Sec. Frank Busalacchi's favorable comments about K-R-M planning, engineering and most preparations."We would like to be involved as it pertains to leadership," the News quotes the DOT secretary. "[T]he communities are looking for ... DOT to be a kind of big brother ... and we don't have a problem in doing that." Sec. Busalacchi defined a boundary to DOT support, telling Kenosha News, "[W]e're going to stop short of saying we're going to run it."
Though no operator for the 33-mile segment between Kenosha and Milwaukee has been suggested, or even sought, the K-R-M trainset configuration will be fully compatible with NE Illinois Metra for seamless, run-through connections at its Northline terminus of Kenosha. Metra already has operating responsibility for northern Indiana commuter trains, which operate in Illinois on Metra Electric tracks, so the Illinois commuter railroad, among the best-run in North America, will be a leading prospect for the role WisDOT prefers not to accept.
In the same News story, with state government just learning about a commuter rail alternative for metropolitan commuting, Gov. Doyle told Kenosha News in an Oct. 28 interview, "[W]e want to be helpful in any way we can." State Assembly Rep. Jim Kreuser, Kenosha, explained at the economic summit in Milwaukee, also attended by Sec., Busalacchi, that state leaders "needed to be brought up to speed (and) ... they heard from enough people to see that's where we need to be."
Unresolved issues remain, most notably apportionment of funding sources for construction, material acquisition and for operations after construction is complete.
(All quotes are from Kenosha News lead story on Oct. 29. No link is available to it.)

November 2003

Another K-R-M commuter train preparation announced - While cities and towns north of Racine continue designing their K-R-M facilities and seeking funding and while Racine BUS transit hub construction proceeds next to the historic train station, Kenosha Transit director Len Brandrup unveiled plans for modernizing facilities presently in use for Metra trains to and from Chicago. Kenosha Transit and Wisconsin Coach buses already serve the Kenosha station, and Kenosha Transit center completed in 2000 gathers local buses and Harborpark streetcars four blocks east of the Metra station. Historic PCC streetcars pass the Metra station every fifteen minutes during hours of operation.
Improvements planned for the Kenosha station in 2004 include complete reconstruction of the elevated platform for passengers and installation of a modern elevator to fulfill the needs of mobility-impaired individuals. Previous plans for ramped access to the platform have been superseded.
Added parking also is a priority because present capacity, increased four-fold about ten years ago, is more than half-filled on weekends and quickly overflows on weekdays. Daily permits ensure that no cars are left overnight unless authorized.
Thoroughly modern heat, ventilation and air conditioning and upgraded energy utilities in support of them will be installed in 2006, Mr. Brandrup predicts. An architect will design the renovation features during 2005 prior to beginning the $600,000 station remodelling, which Director Brandrup pledges will make the Kenosha station "[o]ne of the best Metra stations in the system by end of 2006."
Transit is also gaining favor in Waukesha, west of Milwaukee, where a Metro bus center is under construction.
In Milwaukee, the train station presently used only by Amtrak since trains ended service on lakeshore track in 1971 is about to receive a multi-million dollar renovation with funding channeled by Wisconsin DOT. Regional planners designated that station for resumed use by K-R-M commuter trains on lakeshore track in the formal plan adopted in August, 2003 and submitted to WisDOT. Expanded bus service to that station has been pledged by Greyhound, Lamers and Milwaukee County Transit System.
While preliminary engineering for K-R-M trains begins in 2004, the seven county SE Wisconsin Planning Region will spend $197 million for public transit infrastructure and vehicles, somewhat more than the estimated K-R-M startup cost, pending more exact design specifications.

Amtrak handed two-thirds of a loaf - Two years ago Amtrak teetered on financial collapse after Amtrak Reform Council, a 1997 creation of the House of Representatives, voted 5-6* to cut off further funding and require transfer of Amtrak's assets and train routes to states or corporations in hopes of keeping only profitable trains. Six months later, Amtrak had a new CEO striving to keep the nation's only intercity passenger train operation from disintegrating -- and America had fresh recognition that no nation operates its passenger trains for profit. (With Great Britain's 1990s experiment in privatizing proving vividly how risky that policy course could become.)
In the months that followed, Amtrak CEO David Gunn's previous turnaround achievements in Washington and Toronto were proven predictive of his unique qualifications to keep Amtrak intact and to lead its trains and employees toward a stable, durable system nationwide. By summer of 2003, senators from Texas, Washington state, South Carolina and NorthEast Corridor states were prominent in support for Amtrak's request for $1.8. billion in FY 2004.
But Reuters reports (Nov. 12) that Senate and House conferees can agree on only $1.2 billion for Amtrak in the present fiscal year, now six weeks old. Only two-thirds of the bare minimum Amtrak needs to maintain its real estate and its trains, to pay its user fees to freight railroads and to contract all the services it cannot deliver for itself. So again, the expertise dedicated to running America's passenger trains more efficiently than anywhere else in the world is being rewarded by Congress with a back-hand swipe. With two-thirds of a loaf -- without butter or margarine or even home-made jam to sweeten it.
(*Amtrak Reform Council's November, 2001 vote was not binding on Congress, but triggered a sequence of events which included demands that Amtrak be sliced and diced into brand name, real estate and operating segments. After February, 2002 the supporters of Amtrak sought a successor for its CEO, George Warrington who resigned and took charge of a major commuter rail operation, and blocked attempts in Congress to de-fund Amtrak.)

Holiday break opens with new plan for Amtrak - As members of Congress headed out to the fifty states and home for Thanksgiving, a new proposal by six senators from New England and Atlantic Coast states was reported by Reuters on Wednesday. Identified in a NARP summary of the proposal as S-1961, the senators offer $1.5 billion annually for Amtrak infrastructure, establishment of long-term planning and funding of a national passenger train system, and other features which in some ways resemble the Bush administration's priorities for DOT and Amtrak. Administration priorities also include virtually dismantling Amtrak, a favorite 'kick me' target for the past ten years or more among majority Representatives, while S-1961 and its authors clearly intend to preserve passenger train travel and embed it among other travel modes (e.g. airlines, automobiles) over the next fifty years.
Congress will reconvene in December, and senators favorable to Amtrak and passenger trains who aren't yet listed among S-1961 co-sponsors may join in its support. For example, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas, held hearings last June which publicized Wall Street willingness to support passenger rail tax breaks and bond underwriting, but her support for this latest proposal is not yet on record. Sen. Dick Durbin, of Illinois, regularly supports passenger train travel, and earlier in 2003 asserted, "We should reform Amtrak, not wreck it." Sen. Trent Lott, of Mississippi, has generally given train travel a nod and Sen. Patty Murray, from Washington state, also speaks consistently in support of train travel and of Amtrak. Montana overwhelmingly favors continuation of Amtrak Empire Builder daily service, as editorials and its governor demonstrated in recent months. Amtrak critics often cite the small number of passengers boarding trains in sparsely populated Great Plains states as a prime example of misspent funds, so support by senators west of the Atlantic seaboard must emerge for S-1961 to become a fully nationwide proposal.
National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) provides weekly updates about federal government activities on its Hotline page.

December 2003

Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter trains will have renovated Racine station - Overcoming budget-cutting damage inflicted earlier in 2003 when the State of Wisconsin budget was pared in many areas to achieve fiscal balance, an Associated Press story reports Wisconsin DOT announced restored funding for ten bike trail projects in the state and for renovation of the grand old Racine train station, registered as a historic building eligible for preservation. The once-elegant brick passenger palace adjoins the BUS transit hub now in construction for local Belle Urban System and regional Wisconsin Coach buses, and has awaited funding to begin its renovation. Station renovation amounts to about 30 percent of the WisDOT funding, at $1.2 million.

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