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14 January 2005
Intermodal travel takes a big Wisconsin step - Wisconsin's largest city, Milwaukee, already enjoys pre-eminent Amtrak service with Hiawatha trains making seven round-trips linking Chicago to it (six trips on Sundays and legal holidays). Now, one-half year after Governor Jim Doyle led a ground-breaking ceremony beside the CP Rail/Hiawatha tracks adjoining the state's busiest airport, the new stop for Hiawathas is due to open with a second event led by Governor Doyle, on January 18.
Amtrak first highlighted its interest in serving Gen. Mitchell International Airport (GMIA; airline symbol MKE) when a 1994 corridor study for Milwaukee-Chicago was published, citing a GMIA stop as preferable to either existing intermediate station (Glenview, IL and Sturtevant, WI) during the first nationwide wave of intermodal development, fostered by the ISTEA law of 1991.
Governor Doyle and WisDOT Sec. Frank Busalacchi have spurred construction of this long-sought addition to intermodal travel in the state's most populous region, with service for more than 400,000 annual riders by Amtrak's best schedule-adherring trains newly linking with MKE air carriers, notably Midwest Airlines and Northwest Airlines. Visit this WisDOT page for the latest progress report on its official opening for use by travelers.
K-R-M commuter train funding discussed - Meeting amid the Wingspread Conference Center surroundings where key elected officials met in August, 2000 to contemplate funding for Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee extension of commuter train operations, new faces and familiar faces alike responded to Mayor Gary Becker's invitation. According to a Racine Journal Times account, they reached no formal decisions while agreeing informally that by next August funding and "technical" issues should find resolution so the long-sought service to strengthen lakeshore neighborhoods can proceed.
Chief executives for all three affected counties and mayors for their primary cities, hosted by Racine Mayor Becker, reiterated pledges to move forward on the 33-mile project, and Kenosha News quoted Allan Kehl, a pivotal advocate for the project in recent years, stating, "The elected officials are committed to making this work." County Executive Kehl went on to stipulate that local property tax, a flashpoint issue in itself, will not become burdened with any K-R-M train expenses.
Fred Patrie, chairman of two study committees advising SEWRPC on K-R-M which adopted formal approval for the project in August, 2003, told Kenosha News that goals remain focused on getting "Metra involved and complet[ing] an environmental impact statement to move this process forward." (No Internet link is available to Kenosha News articles.)
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel footnoted a story about the new Amtrak stop at its southside airport with mention of County E xecutive Scott Walker and Mayor Tom Barrett attending the K-R-M meeting at Wingspread, located in north suburban Racine.
10 February 2005
Amtrak funding erasure triggers penned and spoken outpouring - The pen for signing a federal budget hasn't been poised over the document yet, but Pres. Bush set off an outpouring of protest among a multi-faceted chorus when his budget for FY2006, taking effect next Oct. 1, cut off funding for Amtrak while reviving the preachy excuse that its reform would make it function profitably wherever its services are really, really really in demand. And besides, nya, nya, nya if it doesn't.
A New Zealand author's book has spurred his countrymen to yearn for Amtrak land cruises of the great American continent at a time when Wisconsin's governor and his secretary of Transportation have harmonized with senators and Congresspersons in disapproval of the budget slashing, alleged to save scarce dollars despite shutting down so many avenues of non-highway travel and of appealing vistas for visitors to America from overseas.
Everywhere across America, lifelong Republicans and Democrats sing a single song: cutting Amtrak is wrong.
15 February 2005
Hiawathas gain riders as promotional airing expands traveler interest - Close on the heels of opening the new stop for Amtrak Hiawathas at Gen. Mitchell International Airport (GMIA), added publicity via broadcasters and a dedicated Internet site are raising expectatons for the heavily traveled Milwaukee-Chicago route.
Even as expectatons increase, though, actual use of the third-most heavily traveled Amtrak corridor on trains operatng on-time consistently continues outpacing the ambitions. Wisconsin DOT advises its count of Hiawatha riders using the "MKA" (Milwaukee Airport) station near Mitchell airport averaged more than 50 per day in the weeks immediately after Hiawathas began serving the new station. Some riders now using MKA are probably shifting their use of Hiawathas away from downtown Milwaukee, where chronic parking limitations plus still-worsening expressway traffic due to Marquette interchange reconstruction discourage even devout Hiawatha regulars.
But another healthy gain in overall Hiawatha rider count reported by WisDOT for January, 2005 puts better perspective on the impression of who uses these trains. About 37,400 Hiawatha riders during all of January, 2005 surpasses use in January, 2004 by almost ten percent, setting yet another usage record for the mild-mannered trains with the Internet-ready seating.. Clearly, those rates of increased use signal for Hiawathas and for Amtrak an imperative to maintain on-time operations and to not disrupt service of such renowned reliability.
26 February 2005
Commuter trains for Racine, Milwaukee get formal OK (Feb. 26) - Advancing from plan to approved process, three mayors, three county executives and the state's Dept. of Transportation inked an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) committing Kenosha, Racine, and Milwaukee counties and their namesake cities to co-operating on behalf of the K-R-M commuter train project. This step marks the formal implementation of a South East Wisconsin Regionl Planning Commission (SEWRPC) recommendation in August, 2003 to invest more than $150 million in route improvements and trainsets so trains fully compatible with Illinois Metra commuter trains can operate beyond Kenosha through Somers, Racine, Caledonia, Oak Creek, South Milwaukee, Cudahy/St. Francis to downtown Milwaukee. They assembled at Gen. Mitchell Int'l Airport (GMIA) for the occasion, and Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee, was quoted by Kenosha News enthusing "that further rail service in southeastern Wisconsin will do even more to unite the three communities."
Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian has supported improved train service for his city throughout his four terms in office. Kenosha County Executive Allan Kehl took up K-R-M advocacy after succeeding John Collins, and lobbied his colleagues during the months after SEWRPC approved the proposal in August, 2003, convening the six elected leaders and urging them to join him in support for K-R-M trains.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted the extent of multi-county participation and noteworthy comity among various leaders, corporate and elected. One comment by a community leader in the nation's 19th largest city is typical. "Greater Milwaukee Committee President Julia Taylor said she thought it was the first time so many Milwaukee-area leaders had agreed on a public transit initiative," Journal Sentinel reported.
Racine Mayor Gary Becker sparked further discussion setting the framework for this February accord when in December he suggested a penny-per-gallon tax on gasoline might fund the project. Mayor Becker has also convened sessions of the six officials for continuing the evolutionary process of selecting a funding component to the commuter train plan. He told his hometown Journal Times at IGA signing, "It's the first concrete step in 23 years to move the Metra [extension] forward, other than conversation."
Mayor Becker told Kenosha News at the signing session, "Today truly is a great day for the region."
24 April 2005
Amtrak funding bills brighten outlook - Putting aside the outdated claim that only drastic "reform" can save Amtrak as a for-profit company, House Transportation and Infrastucture Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and Railroad Subcommittee Chairman Steve Latourette (R-Ohio) on April 14 introduced H.R. 1630 with support by Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, senior Democrat on the full committee and Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida, senior subcommittee Democrat.
The proposed bill establishes a three-year map for Amtrak funding, and obligates Congress to fund the nation's passenger railroad at $2.0 billion for FY 2006, which begins next October 1, and two years beyond. The committee declares in its announcement that for Amtrak "this level of funding would be sufficient to begin to address critical needs outlined in its five year capital plan, which is geared to restoring the Amtrak system, including the Northeast Corridor, to a good state of repair."
Amtrak marks on May 15 three years since a management upheaval induced by demands for reform sidetracked the Amtrak Reform Council and brought from retirement David L. Gunn to take the helm as Amtrak CEO. During the past three years he has repeated past successes at other transit/train operations, turning around Amtrak into a tightly focused organization which has learned from its past revenue experiments and built upon proven paths to cost-effectiveness. In the most recent instance, current repairs to restore Acela operations are demonstrating in a very visible manner how much the company's focus is prepared to cope with surprises, even when its premier trains unexpectedly must be withdrawn from daily operaton and inspected for deficiencies.
"[T]here is a common understanding of the need for near-term funding," Chairman Don Young declares in the press release at that T&I Committee web page, while also acknowledging enduring differences about whether Amtrak should survive as is.
Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, senior minorty Member of the Committee, matches the favorable comments, citing four distinct motives for suppoirting the proposed legislation:
In addition, H.R. 1631 also is now offered by the same bipartisan supporters, chairman and senior minority member of both Committee and sub-committee. Titled the "Railroad Infrastructure Development and Expansion Act for the 21st Century", H.R. 1631 (a.k.a. RIDE 21) will fund high speed rail projects and much-needed renewal of railroad infrastructure.
30 April 2005
Train travel begins turnaround in Congress - Less than two weeks after bi-partisan support for nationwide train travel surfaced publicly in the form of two House bills, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted approval of H.R. 1630 and H.R. 1631, sending them with a favorable recommendation to the main body of 435 representatives for an up or down vote.
Clearly, the tide has begun to turn in favor of American train service matching service levels enjoyed by every other advanced nations of the G-7, the most prosperous and most advanced nations. A "Rail Passenger Caucus" will assemble for reporters and photographers on May 5 at 10:00 a.m. nearby Cannon H.O.Bldg., according to a Nat'l Assoc'n of Railroad Passengers (NARP) report issued April 29.
7 May 2005
Federal funding for train travel gains supporters - Fifty-nine House of Representatives co-sponsors for H.R.. 1630 are onboard to fund Amtrak and its nationwide system, according to Congressional tracking of the bill. National Assoc'n of Railroad Passengers (NARP) advises Amtrak funding advocates that a letter currently circulating among House members seeks minority party supporters; a separate letter among the majority party circulated previously, and boosted the drive for co-sponsors.
NARP has posted at a Web page a link for downloading its flyer which sketches the deep concern brought about by intentions to zero-fund Amtrak beginning October 1, which starts Fiscal Year 2006 for the federal budget. (Choose the 'Click here' link for the Amtrak funding flyer.) The one-page leaflet is meant for hand out to Amtrak passengers and others attuned to the integral role train travel holds in the array of American travel 'modes,' encouraging wider action to contact House members of Congress and senators for their support of H.R. 1630 and H.R. 1631. Co-sponsors are a higher degree of support for legislation.
Among states bordering Wisconsin, Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota is a standout, joined by Rep. Betty McCollum. One co-sponsor hails from Iowa, and four from Illinois, on behalf of both Republican and Democratic parties. Only Rep. Tammy Baldwin among Wisconsin's eight House members of Congress has thrown her full support to funding Amtrak adequately in FY 2006 and beyond.
New York state boasts eight co-sponsors and California six, one more than New Jersey's five.co-sponsoring House members, as of May 6. Montana's only House representative also is onboard.
11 May 2005
Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee trains endorsed again - Another ripple of doubt arose recently in a letter to the edior of Racine Journal Times. The editorial board of Racine's daily paper responded on Wednesday, May 11, with a surging wave of support for the long-sought regional project, with an editorial endorsement leaving no doubt.
3 June 2005
Wisconsin DOT channels preliminiary K-R-M funds - During a brief public event on June 2 attended by leading lights among Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter train advocates, Sec. Frank Busalacchi of Wisconsin Dept. of Transportaton presented to Kenosha County Executive Allan Kehl the first installment of funding for K-R-M preliminary engineering.
"We need to get out of the gate on this," Sec. Busalacchi told the audience, as quoted by Kenosha News. "But a projecct like this takes time."
Commuter trains for the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee lakeshore corridor were first accorded consideration as a feasible new commuting infrastructure investment by a 1998 study, completed by SouthEast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. Subsequent study and official discussions have dealt with multiple facets of the proposed project, and continue specifying key particulars of it, which the engineering work now funded by this $400,000 will bring into better focus. Because of the significant initial investment for Wisconsin's first commuter rail service, a deliberate and cautious review of the proposal has been necessary at each step in the planning process.
S.C. Johnson Company's spokesman presented the private sector position of companies in the region, quoted by Racine Journal Times, "If you look at studies of where people want to live, transportation options are the key." He then noted the K-R-M corridor in combination with the adjoining northeast Illinois portion linked to Chicago is among the foremost metropolitan areas in America, and competes with other metro regions at providing amenities rated most crucial by young adults entering the job market. S.C. Johnson Co., which describes itself as "A Family Company", and other successful corporations based here participate extensively, though with low profile, in many community support activities. They also encourage convenient commuting, conversion of former "Rust Belt" factory locations to new uses (which City of Kenosha has led for more than ten years) and a host of other improvements affecting everyday life. Many of those support initiatives are in partnership with county and municipal levels of government.
Reinforcing the lakeshore area's enduring record of public/private sector partnership, Secretary Busalacchi declared to all present at the Kenosha station, "The Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee corridor is a gateway for Wisconsin's economy. We need to ensure that it has a multimodal transportation system to support a growing economy and help existing businesses stay competitive."
20 June 2005
Amtrak Hiawathas go sixth record month (June 20) - Continuing to relieve Marquette Interchange congestion and Edens and Kennedy Expressway gridlock, Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawathas chalked up another month of record use by travelers in the vital corridor near I-94. WisDOT announced in a June 16 press release that 43,598 people rode during May, an 18 percent gain over May, 2004. In all of 2004, Hiawathas carried 470,186 passengers, so a half million riders in 2005 is expected. Rider count for the January-May of the this year and last year are:
39 June 2005
Amtrak funds surge to survival minimum in House vote - Capping months of anxiety about the fate of travel by train in America, House of Representatives voted June 29 to increase funding for the nation's only intercity passenger railroad company. When presented to Congress initially by President Bush and his Dept. of Transportation, the budget for Amtrak was zero. Zero!
For several months prospects for keeping the national network intact appeared dubious, at best. However, with perils and suspense worthy of a Great Depresson-era matinee movie, the good guys from both parties came galloping to rescue Amtrak and train travel for another year. (And one cannot resist wondering whether the Saturday matinee style of saga now pulsing through so much budget-writing has entertainment value in certain parts of America, even as those depending on Amtrak's reliablility and on so much else funded by the federal government quiver at recent uncertainty in so many agencies and programs.)
Details of bipartisan support for Amtrak funding starting October 1, presently near the current level of $1.2 billion of the full fiscal year, are posted by National Association of Railroad Passengers at the NARP web site. Action by the Senate must concur and President Bush must agree on the eventual budget overall, sometime later this year.
4 July 2005
Sturtevant construction contract awarded - Sturtevant will have a new station at a more capacious location by the end of 2006, complying with imperatives accumulating for years to offer Amtrak Hiawatha riders more parking and modern shelter amenities. A Kenosha construction company will fulfill the contract to build a station, a pedestrian overpass and related passenger boarding platforms near State Hwy 20, one mile north of the existing station which lacks land for expanded parking and suffers from decades of minimal maintenance.
Milwaukee Road built the present station at the intersection of its Chicago-Milwaukee mainline and its Racine-Burlington-Beloit "Southwestern subdivision," opposite the brick hotel built precisely because passengers changing trains were numerous enough to warrant it. Positioned exactly at trackside for the perpendicular tracks, the station became one of several Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) locations along the 86-mile primary traffic artery of that pioneering railroad company, controlling connections between the two routes, to the coaling tower north of the junction, and to passing sidings for both north-south main tracks.
As years passed into decades, the intersecting tracks beside the 1907-constructed station became just north-south parallel ribbons of steel, while the east-west track turned trains north or south without crossing the two-track mainline. More decades piled up, and the coal tower became unneeeded as steam power succumbed to the cost-effectiveness of diesels and diesel oil. As traffic patterns changed and fewer carloads of tractors and other freight arrived from Racine, the number of passengers also dwindled, then the daily passenger train connecting Milwaukee with Beloit, Savannah, IL and Iowa and Missouri ended operation. After Milwaukee Road entered its final bankruptcy, the station building was in need of more than paint, and technology advances made the CTC control point as obsolete as a coal tower. New owner Soo Line contemplated its demolition.
In 1993, local volunteer work began on reinforcing the sagging station's underpinnings, and the former ticket office and CTC room, positioned crucially to observe approaching trains, became the domain of waiting Hiawatha passengers. But ordinary amenities for the traveling public were an afterthought, and need for a much better facility already clear, either a costly renovation or replacement station. In 1998, Governor Tommy Thompson pledged support for whichever option was chosen locally, and a succession of alternatives were considered. Once deciding to build above the tracks rather than tunnel beneath them for pedestrains, village of Sturtevant has moved gradually forward, cautiously seeking advice and assistance from other agencies to assure the new station and accompanying facilities will serve well for many more decades.
20 July 2005
Amtrak funds pledged by U.S. Senate - Three weeks after House members voted for continued Amtrak funding by the federal government despite adamant opposition by their leadership and the White House, senators voting in the transportation appropriations subcommittee on July 19 hiked their support to $1.4 billion, topping the House budget appropriation. In a press release, Nat'l Assoc'n of RR Passengers declared support for the Senate funding level, noting publicly given testimony to Congress that a lesser amount will at least impact necessary capital improvement projects.
If passed by a Senate majority as part of the overall FY 2006 budget bill, the House and Senate must confer to reconcile all budget item differences, including Amtrak funding. Once a budget is agreed by both House and Senate, it must gain the president's signature. DOT Sec. Norman Mineta has alreaady pledged to recommend vetoing the entire budget bill due to its Amtrak funding item.
The FY 2006 budget takes effect on October 1, less than one month after Congress returns from summer recess and Labor Day weekend.
23 July 2005
Gov. Jim Doyle pledges state funds for Hiawathas, K-R-M - Budget worries haven't cancelled funding for Amtrak by Congress, and Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle announced Friday the Badger State will not jeopardize either existing Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha Service or nascent phases of the K-R-M commuter train project, which is enterring environmental and other preliminary engineering design. Gov. Doyle disclosed the funding pledges for southeast Wisconsin train services in conjunction with a two-day meeting of Alliance for Cities convened at Racine. The Alliance of Cities counts 37 mayors among its member cities and, according to a letter it directed to the governor and reported by Kenosha News, is "the only municipal organization that said we could live with reasonable levy limits" set by the Legislature. The group appealed for less harsh caps, however, which impact most on cities like Racine, unhappy holder of the state's highest rate of unemployment.
Amtrak Hiawathas are now assured continuation at the present service level, even in the event Amtrak is unable to shoulder the inflation-increment amount which Illinois legislators did not fund. (When Illinois completed its budget earlier, Amtrak funds from Congress had not yet been raised to the present level, confronting Springfield lawmakers with a looming scenario in which no incremental funds for Amtrak would suffice and a more extensive review of statewide train funding might become necessary.) A press release from Gov. Doyle's office pledges Wisconsin DOT will provide up to $1.5 million for sustaining present Hiawatha Service at 14 trains, Monday-Saturday, and 12 on Sundays and holidays.
K-R-M funds also will appear in the final Wisconsin budget when Gov. Doyle completes exercise of the nation's most comprehensive line-item veto powers, he assured Alliance of Cities members. An $800,000 item for final engineering also is in place, the phase which will follow the preliminary phase formally initiated by WisDOT at a June 2 presentation to Kenosha county executive Allan Kehl. Legislators of both parties concurred on its further funding, and Gov. Doyle reinforced the breadth of support for it with assertion that "[t]he K-R-M project is one of the signifcant economic development issues for the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee corridor."
29 July 2005
Senators push six-year Amtrak plan - Acting with a speed unaccustomed for Amtrak legislation, Senate Commerce Committee amended S-1516 to address concerns raised by Montana, by North Dakota and by other senators, then voted it favorably 17-4 to offer the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2005 for consideration by all 100 senators. One news account reported Amtrak CEO David Gunn commenting that the bill's provisions are a useful first step toward easing Amtrak's heavy debt burden, which currently weighs significantly against the overall spending Amtrak could use for operating expenses. A separate news report by Reuters says "Federal tax law would have to be changed to accommodate the bond financing plan" and tax credits benefiting passenger train operators likely will accompany the changes.
S-1516 was introduced by Senators Lott, Lautenberg, Stevens, Inouye and Hutchinson earlier in the week, and does not affect FY 2006 funding voted as part of a transportation bill which substantially exceeds overall White House spending requests. (See earlier items here, dated July 20 and June 20, for that funding proposal, which is in conference between House and Senate.) The Commerce Committee press release about the amended bill voted out yesterday says S-1516 "centers around three themes: reform and accountability, adequate funding for intercity passenger rail, and passenger rail service improvement."
When unveiled at a Wednesday press conference, Sen. Lautenberg's prepared remarks declared: "National passenger rail service isn't a luxury - it's a necessity for giving Americans another transportation choice, while reducing traffic, air pollution and our dependence on foreign oil. We have that choice in the Northeast - Amtrak carries four million passengers a year in New Jersey, and just as many passengers ride trains between New York and Washington as fly. But all Americans deserve the choice to ride passenger rail."
Among major features in S-1516, according to the initial Commrece Commitee press release, are funding and debt changes, and "allowing freight railroads to bid to operate select long-distance and state-supported routes."
30 July 2005
Transporation bill OKed by Congress, president pledges to sign it - After years of wrangling about a successor to TEA21, the House and Senate voted for SAFE-TEA and sent it to President Bush for enactment into law. President Bush's office said he intends to sign the bill.
The 'Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005' includes a panoply of project funds, includiing almost all of NE Illinois Metra projects and an earmark for future federal matching funds to establish K-R-M trains as a seamless extension to Metra Northline service.
Kenosha News also reports the bill, H.R. 3, pledges funding for State Hwy 11 bypass around Burlington and expansion of Kenosha Transit streetcar service to the former location near Uptown of the former American Brass metals processing plant. "The bill, in terms of our [streetcar] project, has no funds attached to it," Kenosha Transit director Len Brandrup explained to the News in the July 30 edition. "It's just an earmark." That is, an authorization to seek in a later budget year the federal funds needed for actual design and construction. Improved transit for the city has been integral to gaining new uses for the 'brownfield' reclamation of abandoned factory sites begun by Mayor John Antaramian several years after the city's largest employer ceased car manufacturing, late in 1988.
Most Wisconsin members of the House of Representatives and both senators supported the final bill, according to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, including Rep. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville..Journal Sentinel estimates $4 billion in project funding for Wisconsin was approved with passage of SAFE-TEA, including.several million for modernization of the Milwaukee train station, built as a joint-use station for Milwaukee Road and Chicago & Northwestern 40 years ago in conjunction with carving a freeway right of way through that city. Since 1971, it has been used only by Amtrak passengers, and subsequently both railroad companies dissolved.
9 August 2005
Milwaukee station funds, intermodal aspects noted as K-R-M gains momentum - Focusing on the portions of the $286 billion transportation bill directly affecting Milwaukee train and station projects, a weekly Journal Sentinel survey of transportation news described greatly improved prospects for renovation of the 40-year old station, which Wisconsin DOT now owns and intends to redevelop as a local and intercity bus connection with trains. A $3.76 million budget item "nearly double[s] the $4 million in state, federal and private money pledged to turn the station into a transportation hub that would serve intercity buses and commuter trains, as well as Amtrak," Journal Sentinel reports.
Today, Racine Journal Times also took passage of the transportation bill and its K-R-M funding as motive for an editorial headlined "Metra rail chugs up the mountain." Journal Tinmes notes significant new federal funding is not the whole package, but concludes that all signs bode well for "Metra extension and that's good news for southeastern Wisconsin. The next two years could well prove crucial ones in diversifying the region's transportation abilities."
Integrating Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter trains into the Milwaukee transit network at the downtown station and competing spending needs also earned several paragraphs in the Journal Sentinel report.
Rocketing price of gasoline spurs commuting changes - For the first half of 2005, Hiawatha riders topped one-quarter million, Journal Sentinel reported in mid-August, one of the public transit operations gaining use as travelers and commuters shy from single-occupant vehicle trips that are becoming prohibitvely costly. Some urban bus operations also have counted increased numbers of southeast Wisconsin riders, but trends remain mixed between gains and declines.
Supposition suggests that less integrated networks regionally will experience slower growth, will not appeal as readily to new commuters. But solid data are not yet available to verify it.
24 September 2005
Sturtevant station construction in progress - Racine Journal Times notes with interest that the suburb of Sturtevant has honored the start of construction for a replacement Amtrak station, located one mile north of the present 1907 building. Official ground-breaking at the site on Sept. 24 follows many years of deliberation, design changes, and funding quests. Journal Times reports first use of the modern station is anticipated for August, 2006.
23 October 2005
Milwaukee station sets major remodeling fund goal - Sharply raising its ambitions for improvements to the 1960s station which has served Milwaukee train travelers for almost 40 years, Mayor Tom Barrett and Ald. Bob Bauman.led public officials urging station owner Wisconsin DOT to greatly expand its ambitions for modernizing the building, which was built as replacement for two more memorable stations serving Northwestern Railway passengers on the lakefront and Milwaukee Road passengers near the present location..
Amtrak continues as the only railroad using the facility since 1971, while intentions for Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter trains and other train service expansions warrant crafting a station for future decades of use which is not as limited as the first renewal proposal. Greyhound Bus also has expressed expectations for a full-featured modernization, following up on its paricipation in the WisDOT event held in 2000 when station ownership transferred to WisDOT.
A mid-September article in Journal Sentinel includes one architect describing the 1960s exterior as fortress-like "very useful for sustaining heavy shelling."
CP Rail schedules Holiday Train - Continuing its successful holiday season food drive of recent years, CP Rail announced its planned tour of U.S. and Canadian stations by its Holiday train, which in December, 2005 will feature a Wisconsin folk-rock singer as co-headliner on the traveling program until reaching Red Wing, MN on Dec. 11.
Holiday Train will begin touring in northeastern states, traverse Ontario on its way to the Midwest, and resume American stops on December 9, north of Chicago. Its Sturtevant stop on that Tuesday evening likely will culminate holding the annual event at the present station in the heart of the village. Click here for the CP Rail page about the special train's schedule and performers
Hiawathas set another Amtrak record, join in others - Despite persistent attempts at derailing its operations and splitting off segments to then also shift costs to states from the federal budget, Amtrak posted record ridership, according to its press release, and Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawathas supplied more than 64,000 of its 320,000 annual gain. Fourteen percent more riders aboard Hiawathas pushed their annual total above one-half million for the federal fiscal year ended on Sept. 30. Soaring gasoline prices earned blame for drivers accustomed to I-94 who quit their cars in favor of this Amtrak alternative according to a WisDOT official, quoted in a Journal Sentinel article. Other Midwest trains in Amtrak schedules also enjoyed substantial gains, as detailed by Amtrak.
Amtrak Empire Builders crossing Wisconsin between La Crosse and Milwaukee enroute Pacific Northwest and Chicago added almost 40,000 travelers to the nationwide total, a nine percent boost over 2004 ridership for the 76-year old train marque.
Most heavily travelled of Amtrak corridors, the NorthEast Corridor linking Washngton DC-Philadelphia-New York City-Boston remained above 9,000,000 riders annually for its regional commuter train, Metroliner, and Acela Express services. The NEC gained one percent in its total, hampered at times by mechanical difficulties of certain trains. Only the NEC would remain federally funded if slice-and-dice attempts succeed. (NEC self-sufficiency and other myths were Mr. Gunn's topics as he neared his first year heading the pasenger railroad, preserved at this KenRail page from 2003.)
6 November 2005
Amtrak multi-year funding wins broad Senate endorsement- Senators resoundingly passed on Nov. 3 an amendment incorporating many features of a separate bill, S-1516, which attaches to the FY 2006 budget reconciliation bill a pledge to spend $1.9 billion annually for Amtrak over the next six years. Fiscal Year 2006 began October 1, and passage of the reconciliaiton bill is essential to reshape spending priorities which presently perpetuate the FY 2005 allocations.
Among the six nay votes, only a Nevada senator differed from his colleagues representing states west of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. Long distance Amtrak routes spanning the Great Plains have been repeatedly denounced by Amtrak critics, so broad support by senators from that vast area clearly signals popular support for Amtrak, in sparsely populated regions and in more dense populations nearer the Great Lakes and the Chicago operations hub.
K-R-M an integral part of regional co-operation Kenosha county exec - Regional growth for southeast Wisconsin must take prioritiy over each city and county battling for advantage separately -- and sometimes in conflict -- Kenosha county executive Allan Kehl wrote in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opinion article.
"Fighting to limit the benefits of a certain type of economic development to just one city is a shortsighted approach. A big-picture look shows that with a strong regional economy, each community can prosper and contribute to a stronger Wisconsin," he wrote, striving to fend off yet another round of battling about who and where similar facilities should develop. The instant case involves a proposed Kenosha casino and a well-established casino between downtown Milwaukee and Miller Park, home to baseball's Brewers.
Commuter trains, abbreviated as KRM for the cities involved here, are a key component in a regional growth plan, Mr. Kehl observes without detailing the many examples as near as northeast Illinois and as distant as southern California. "The power of working together with an eye toward regional economic development is evident in efforts to develop a commuter rail line that would expand the Chicago Metra from Kenosha north through Racine to downtown Milwaukee - the KRM."
9 November 2005
Amtrak board declares competence unwanted - With scarcely more public notice than its covert meeting and NorthEast Corridor segregation decision in late Septmber, the partial board for Amtrak discharged CEO and President David L. Gunn, laying blame at Mr. Gunn's poor capacity to adopt needed changes. Chief apologist for the board was Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who told Associated Press that Mr. Gunn's managerial talents are distinguished, while remaining silent on his executive skills. Rep. Mica criticized the career transportation expert headng Amtrak from 2002 until today, who successfully turned around New York City, Washington DC and Toronto transit systems, because (quoting AP) "[H]e wasn't willing to go along with the dramatic changes that need to be made.''
Rep. Mica's official biography lists his career background in real estate development, but fails to describe any railroad or public travel expertise other than spearheading "legislative efforts to improve our nation's infrastructure and to expedite Florida's highway and interstate expansion. [Rep.] Mica has also led efforts to develop local and state transportation alternatives."
Board intentions to fire Mr. Gunn were made public only hours before the action, when Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) aired his concerns that losing Mr. Gunn at the helm could adversely impact the present owner-operator of the NorthEast Corridor (Boston-New York City-Washington DC).
3 December 2005
NorthEast Corridor cities want Amtrak, but does anyone else? (Dec. 3) - Rising to the occasion as Amtrak struggles on under temporary leadership, the leading newspaper in the nation's capital sounded an editorial call today for continued Amtrak operation of the North East Corridor.
The NEC connects Washington DC to other major cities along the populous East Coast. In a pivotal concluding paragraph, Washington Post concurred with Sec. Mineta's declaration, "We are willing to put taxpayer money to fund passenger rail where it makes sense, but we aren't where it doesn't." But no definition of "where it makes sense" accompanies Post support for Sec. Mineta, leaving in doubt whether any service other than Washington-Philadelphia-New York City-Boston would "make sense" to the District of Columbia underwriters and its most widely read newspaper.
Other newspapers along Amtrak routes in less congested cities have weighed in during past debates about Amtrak funding, and most want service continued to their cities and metro regions also; notably along Empire Builder's route across North Dakota and Montana. Other mayors, other members of Congress, others elected to other offices have supported Amtrak and continued service. They have long contended that "makes sense" for them and their cities. Senators last month adopted a six-year funding outline for Amtrak by a 93-6 vote.
Third-busiest Amtrak corridor in the nation would seem to "make sense," yet continued federal funding for Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha Service is not at all certain.
Lasting decisions affecting which cities keep Amtrak service and which might lose out will be in the hands of the Amtrak board as it chooses a successor to David Gunn. A bill introduced in mid-November (HR 4394) addresses the present incompleteness of the board (three vacancies, another three interim appointees) and would institute other improvements to it.
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