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Oct 042010

From Green Right Now Reports

Chicago’s Union Station will be getting what many see as a long needed renovation to accommodate heavy traffic.

Union Station will get an expanded lobby and other improvements with an ARRA-funded renovation. (Art source: Midwest High Speed Rail Association.)

Amtrak Board Chairman Tom Carper and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced a $40 million capital construction project for the iconic downtown train hub, which will double the size of the passenger waiting area, add new restrooms and air conditioning to the “Great Hall”.

The two-year project is expected to create 100 construction jobs and will ready the station for high-speed train service.

“New high-speed and passenger rail service will bring thousands of visitors to downtown Chicago, boosting our tourism industry and supporting Illinois’ continued economic recovery,” said Governor Quinn. “This major construction project will put Illinoisians back to work and help Union Station give visitors to the city of Chicago a welcome befitting the Land of Lincoln.”

The expansion is being made possible by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money. Illinois received $1.2 billion in ARRA funding for rail, most of which is expected to support a high-speed passenger line between Chicago and St. Louis. That service should cut the travel time between the two cities to a few hours hours.

Union Station will serve as hub for the new Midwest high-speed rail network, which is envisioned to connect Chicago to St. Louis, Detroit, Minneapolis and other cities.

Amtrak has experienced record ridership in recent years, even in advance of high-speed rail service. The numbers are up for all major Midwest routes to and from Union Station, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

The Chicago-St. Louis route grew by 11 percent since 2009.

Renowned architect Daniel Burnham designed Union Station, which opened in May 1925, and was memorably featured in the film The Untouchables. In addition to serving 55 Amtrak trains arriving or departing daily, the station serves six of 11 Metra lines.

(For more information see Transforming the Midwest by the MHSRA.)

May 072010

From Green Right Now Reports

The Illinois Senate voted unanimously Thursday to create the Illinois and Midwest High Speed Rail Commission to help guide the development of high speed trains in Illinois and neighboring states. The vote by this one body is sufficient to create the commission, which will recommend the best government-private structure for designing, building, financing, operating and maintaining a high speed rail system.

High speed rail, part of the landscape in other countries (Photo: MHSRA)

High speed rail, part of the landscape in other countries (Photo: MHSRA)

The new passenger rail, which is being seeded by stimulus money, is expected to first connect Chicago with St. Louis, with trains that could go up to 220 miles per hour. At that speed, the travel time between the two cities would be just under two hours, making train travel a much more competitive option.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association, which has been advocating for fast routes between Chicago and several Midwest cities, reported that the new Chicago-St. Louis train link (via Kankakee, Champaign, Decatur and Springfield, Ill.) would create 40,000 jobs and grow Illinois’ “downstate economies” by 1 to 3 percent.

The mass transit project would provide a travel option that would produce fewer carbon emissions per passenger than jet plane travel, and would also help take solo drivers off the road. Once operational, it could take take 200 million pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere each year, according to the MHSRA.

The Commission will be composed of 19 members:
10 public members appointed by the Governor;
3 members of the Illinois House of Representatives, 2 appointed by the Speaker of the House and one appointed by the House Minority Leader;
3 members of the Illinois Senate, 2 appointed by the Senate President and one appointed by the Senate Minority Leader
3 ex-officio members as follows:
the Illinois Secretary of Transportation;
the Executive Director of the Illinois Commerce Commission;
the Executive Director of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority

Earlier this week, several mayors and county officials issued an open letter to their fellow elected representatives endorsing  development of a Chicago-St. Louis 220-mph high speed rail line.

“This line would bring our business, research and government capitals within less than 1.5 hours of each other, and open vital new connections to O’Hare Airport,” they wrote.

Those signing the letter include:

  • Jay Dunn, Chairman, Macon County Board
  • Nina Epstein, Mayor of Kankakee
  • Al Larson, Mayor of Schaumburg
  • Robert McCleary, Village President, Savoy
  • Michael McElroy, Mayor of Decatur
  • Martin Moylan, Mayor of Des Plaines
  • Barrett Pedersen, Mayor of Franklin Park
  • Toni Preckwinkle, Alderman, Chicago’s 4th Ward, Democratic Presidential Nominee, Cook County Board
  • Hon. Laurel Prussing, Mayor of Urbana
  • Gerald Schweighart, Mayor of Champaign

Jul 282009

From Green Right Now Reports:

Eight Midwestern states have agreed to work toward the common goal of developing high speed rail in the Midwest, and hope to access $8 billion in earmarked federal dollars to fund the new services.

Governors from those states — Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin — signed an agreement on Monday, saying they support each other in seeking federal dollars to build a high speed rail network. The hub of the network would be in the Windy City, and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley along with five of the governors attended the Midwest High Speed Rail Summit to solidify the agreement.

Chicago already serves as a hub for Amtrak and many freight lines. The new plan would bring high speed rail into the mix, which advocates say could transform and green transportation in the the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions.

(Photo: Midwest High Speed Rail Association)

Continue reading »

Feb 132009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

When the giant stimulus bill, expected to be approved by Congress, finally lumbers forth it will pour billions into projects that have been neglected, like highway renovations, and items that have recently bleeped onto the public radar screen, like clean energy incentives.

In some cases, money has been included (so far) for programs that have been debated and tabled for years. High speed rail, which is slated to get $8 billion, falls into that category.

You might ask yourself, what is high speed rail? And you’d be right to ask that question, because right now, in America, there is no high-speed rail. There’s a grand plan for a high-speed train that would run the length of California, where voters last fall approved the first bond money for the Sacramento to San Diego line. Once, years ago, people proposed high-speed rail as a way to better connect Dallas, Austin and Houston, a plan that met an early death in a state well-served by airlines and enamored of highways.

Today, in Chicago, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association (MHSRA) survives, clinging tenaciously to the concept that super-fast trains can be an environmental and social game-changer in the United States and that Chicago, a giant intersection of freight and passenger rail lines, would be an excellent nexus for a high speed rail system.

America is “beyond ready for this,” says Rick Harnish, executive director of the MHSRA. “Everywhere that decent train service has been built in the last 15 years has been tremendously successful.”

Even where rail has been badly designed – Harnish named a certain line in a large metropolitan area that placed stations at noisy freeway interchanges and chose a route that didn’t make complete sense – the trains are packed, he says.

Same for Amtrak, he added, which since gasoline prices began their jittery ways, has seen its ridership climb.

Considered to be underfunded by advocates, Amtrak has won passengers despite operating on a patchwork of rail that includes sharing lines with freight routes, which contributes to delays and constrains scheduling. It achieved record ridership in 2008, carrying 28.7 million passengers.

A good high-speed rail system, says Harnish, would lift rail out of its second-class existence as an alternative to planes and automobiles and make it competitive. Suddenly it would be affordable and convenient to take the train.

At speeds of 150 to 200 miles per hour, high-speed rail could deliver passengers from Chicago to Minneapolis, or from Chicago to St. Louis, or from Pittsburgh to New York City in under three hours, or even less than two hours.

Business and social trips that were onerous by car or required expensive airfare would be suddenly doable.

Dec 012008

By Catherine Girardeau
Green Right Now

Despite the derailing economy, California voters got on board for reviving train service in their state November 4th by passing state proposition 1A — a $10 million bond to begin construction of a fully electric rail system running 220-mph trains between San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal and Union Station in Los Angeles.

The bond is a vote of confidence from the public and a down payment on the $40 billion-plus project that plans to run high-speed trains from Sacramento to San Diego. The plan’s boosters say it will create jobs, relieve air and highway congestion, and help the state meet its legislative mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Slideshow: California’s High-Speed Railway Plan

While detractors like the San Diego Union-Tribune’s editorial board said California’s budget woes make spending billions of dollars on a massive transportation project not only ill-advised, but “potentially the biggest boondoggle in California history”, proponents called the victory a landmark for high-speed rail nationwide. Continue reading »