Posts Tagged ‘Midwest high speed rail service’

Could Brightline be Duplicated in Ohio?

April 23, 2018

The launch of the privately-funded Brightline intercity rail passenger service in Florida has some thinking about visualizing a similar service in Ohio.

Brightline, which currently operates between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach but expects to begin service soon to Miami and, longer term, to Orlando, was the subject of the lead article in Ohio Passenger Rail News, the publication of All Aboard Ohio.

AAO said it would study the concept and its applicability to Ohio, but acknowledged that a private operator would need to step forward. It is not clear if that is likely to happen.

Although much has been made about how Brightline is a private company that does not receive public funding to cover its operating expenses as does Amtrak, AAO noted that Brightline is a public-private venture.

What makes Brightline different, though, is that as a private company it laid out its vision and business plan and then public entities helped it.

Brightline benefited from millions in state and local funds plus a $1 billion federal loan.

But what makes Brightline move is that it is as much a real estate venture as it is a transportation mode.

The genesis of Brightline began with the Florida East Coast Railway establishing a subsidiary, All Aboard Florida, which operates under the Brightline trade name.

FEC owns a freight line between Miami and Orlando that hosts Brightline trains. However, Brightline plans to build a new 40-mile stretch of high-speed track west of Cocoa, Florida, on a state-granted right of way to serve the Orlando airport.

Based on cell-phone data, Brightline projects that 500 million trips are made each year between South Florida and Orlando.

The company said if it can divert 2, 3, 4 or 5 percent of that traffic off the highways it will make a meaningful difference.

Brightline didn’t always have a clear block to implement its service, which began in January.

It was bombarded by attempts by public officials, NIMBYs and Astroturf groups seeking to derail it before it got started.

It is still fighting lawsuits from opponents of the Orlando extension.

Although the FEC has since been sold to Mexican industrial conglomerate Grupo Mexico, All Aboard Florida still has access to FEC tracks and has real estate to market.

The concept of pairing real estate development with public transportation is not limited to Florida. Numerous studies  and articles have described how public transportation arteries have stimulated commercial and residential development.

Brightline Chief Operating Officer Patrick Goddard told The Blade of Toledo that decades of studies showed the potential for rail service in a region that is experiencing population growth and is hemmed in by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Everglades on the other.

“There’s nowhere to go and no room for more roads,” Goddard said.

That is not, though, the situation in Ohio. Nonetheless, Goodard said the potential for a Brightline-type service exists in “any city pairs that are too far to drive and too short to fly.”

Goodard sees a high level of interest in trying the Brightline concept elsewhere where “there’s the possibility for government to intercede for mobility in the region.”

Efforts to institute corridor rail service in Ohio have fallen short.

In 1982 Ohio voters rejected a penny increase in the state sales tax to pay for development of a high-speed rail program in the state.

In 2010, Ohio won $400 million in federal funding for capital outlays associated with developing rail service in the Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Corridor.

The funding would have paid for track, signals, station construction and the purchase of train sets.

After defeating Gov. Ted Strickland in the November 2010 gubernatorial election, John Kasich killed the project and returned the money to the federal government.

Kasich had actively campaigned against the 3-C corridor trains, saying he didn’t want to see the state underwriting the operating costs of the service.

The same criticism was leveled in earlier years against other proposals that never came to fruition that were promoted by the Ohio Rail Development Commission and Ohio Department of Transportation to launch 3-C service, including a proposal in April 1998 to mitigate traffic congestion on Interstate 71 between Cleveland and Columbus during a 10-year rebuilding of the highway.

At the same time that Ohio was moving forward with the 3-C Quick Start project under Gov. Strickland, Florida was also planning an intrastate rail network linking Miami with Tampa vial Orlando and received federal funds to help develop it.

But newly-elected Gov. Rick Scott killed the project and returned the federal money just as Kasich had done in Ohio.

Like Kasich, Scott didn’t want the state paying for the operating costs of the service.

All of this has left Ohio with just three intercity trains, all of which operate through the state primarily between midnight and 7 a.m.

Until Brightline came along, Florida was served by two New York-Miami Amtrak trains, and the Auto Train operating between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida.

But the Sunshine State also had commuter rail service in Miami and a new service in Orlando.

AAO sees Brightline as a potential template to kick start the long-stalled efforts to revive 3-C and promote development of other routes.

“Brightline takes us back to the past in some ways  . . . [to] the notion that transportation and real estate go hand-in-hand,” said AAO CEO Ken Prendergast in an interview with The Blade. “It has changed the dialogue about how passenger rail in this country should be going forward.”

Prendergast said transit-oriented development in several cities should encourage the belief that trains and real estate can grow symbiotically in Ohio.

He said that some “pretty remarkable development” is occurring near a bus rapid-transit corridor in Columbus, along the HealthLine busway in Cleveland, and next to the Cleveland RTA Blue Line rail station in Shaker Heights at the site of the former Van Aken shopping center.

Of course, Brightline benefited from being birthed by a railroad. There is little likelihood that either Norfolk Southern or CSX, which make up large segments of the 3-C corridor, would be as receptive to intercity rail passenger service as is the FEC.

Closer to Ohio, the Michigan Department of Transportation acquired from NS the route used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit Wolverine Service trains.

MDOT owns the tracks between Dearborn and Kalamazoo while Amtrak owns the rails between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

The two agencies have been cooperating in the past few years to upgrade the line for higher speed service with a top speed of 110 mph.

Michigan’s efforts could benefit Ohio, Prendergast said, by creating a dedicated passenger corridor between Detroit and Toledo

CSX, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National have parallel routes between the two cities and consolidation of those routes would leave a line available for passenger use.

Prendergast said it is unlikely that NS would agree to allow additional passenger trains between Cleveland and Toledo so a new line for passenger trains would be needed for high-speed rail service.

He speculated that this would be an opportunity for the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission to get involved, “now that it has the legal authority to do things other than highways along the highway corridor.”

AAO also sees potential for combining various existing underused rail lines that railroads might be willing to sell that could lead to a Columbus-Fort Wayne-Chicago corridor.

Prendergast said ORDC is soliciting public comments for a 2020 update to an Ohio rail plan, but has no funds have been set aside for passenger train startup projects.

ORDC created a plan in 2002 that it updated in 2007 for a statewide passenger rail network known as the Ohio Hub. It has never gotten beyond paper and public hearings.

As AAO looks for a private sector initiative to materialize in Ohio, Prendergast warned not to expect any help from Amtrak, which he said “only reacts in response” the efforts of others.

Aside from questions of whether a private developer is interested in a Brightline style project in Ohio – and that is a big IF – there is also the question of whether Ohio units of government would respond as they did in Florida.

“If they, or someone like Brightline, came in with a similar message, I think it would resonate,” Prendergast said.

Some Want to See Pere Marquette Rerouted

May 10, 2016

The Michigan Department of Transportation is looking into the prospect of routing Amtrak’s Pere Marquette via Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, train, currently operates via Holland along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Michigan DOT3The study is being made at the request of Grand Rapids leaders who hope that going via Kalamazoo might reduce the travel time to Chicago.

MDOT and Amtrak are working to rebuild the track between Chicago and Detroit to allow speeds of up to 110 mph.

The track being upgraded is owned by Amtrak between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana, and by MDOT between Kalamazoo and Detroit.

MDOT Communications Manager Michael Frezell said his agency has discussed the idea of rerouting the Pere Marequette via Kalamazoo, but not in any sort of definitive way because “it isn’t a priority.”

The route via Kalamazoo is used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverines and the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water. Those trains, along with the Pere Marquette are funded by MDOT.

The Pere Marquette joins the Chicago-Detroit route at Porter with all of the Michigan trains using Norfolk Southern tracks between Porter and Chicago.

The current track work in Michigan is seeking to cut an hour off the travel time between Chicago and Detroit and to reduce the travel time between Chicago and Kalamazoo to less than two hours.

“As Chicago gets more expensive to park and more congested to get into, (rail service) provides a great option,” said Jill Bland, executive vice president with Southwest Michigan First, a Kalamazoo-based regional economic development firm. “And with wi-fi and cars being upgraded, it’s definitely something we use in our toolbox when talking with companies.”

Grand Rapids interests believe that connecting their city with the Chicago-Detroit corridor at Kalamazoo could stimulate greater greater mobility in the Grand Rapids area

However, MDOT’s Frezell said residents of such Southwest Michigan cities as Bangor, St. Joseph and Holland — all of which are served by the Pere Marquette  — need rail service, too, and that is why the discussion about rerouting the Pere Marquette via Kalamazoo has not gone very far.

Rick Chapla, vice president of strategic initiatives at The Right Place Inc., a Grand Rapids-based regional economic development firm, said that cutting the travel time and increasing service by rail between Grand Rapids and Chicago needs to be made a priority.

“Anything we can do to enhance connectivity between West Michigan, Chicago and the east side of the state is a positive,” Chapla said. “(A route from) Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo allows us the mobility to go east and west. It’s a critical link.”

That increased mobility also includes rail service linking Grand Rapids and Detroit.

This past February, a study of a cross-state rail passenger route estimated that it could serve 1.71 million travelers annually.

Although the upgrading of the Chicago-Detroit corridor has been linked with increased train frequencies, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier has no plans to consider that until after the track rebuilding project is finished and work to alleviate rail congestion in Chicago is completed.

Increased rail service is also necessary because Southwestern Michigan has become an exurb for Chicago.

Bland of Southwest Michigan First said her organization has been hearing that an increasing number of people working in Chicago are living in areas such as Niles and Benton Harbor and ride Amtrak or the South Shore Line to and from work.

She said that enhancing rail passenger service will help solidify Southwest Michigan’s connection to Chicago.

“As the northern Indiana [rail] passage becomes more reliable and the Chicago project gets completed, it’s fair to say we can market that we are a suburb of Chicago,” Bland said.

Indiana Group Seeking Rail Study Funding

September 26, 2014

As public officials in Cincinnati are seeking funding to study Chicago-Cincinnati high-speed rail service, a similar effort is underway in Indiana.

The Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance wants to hire Transportation Economics and Management Systems, Inc, of Frederick, Md., to prepare a business plan and economic impact study of a rail corridor that runs from Chicago to Cincinnati and to Louisville, by way of the Indiana cities of Dyer, Rensselaer, Lafayette, Crawfordsville, Indianapolis and Connersville.

All of those cities except Connersville are currently served by Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal and the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State. Connersville is served only by the Cardinal.

The Indiana group’s study will cost between $150,000 and $200,000 and examine capital costs, projected revenue and the operating expense of a modern passenger train network.

The study, which is expected to take four months to complete, will also include projections of the economic impact on the state and communities served by the trains.

The Indiana group still needs to line up funding for the study, which is a prerequisite for an environmental impact study of the corridor and for securing the federal funding for capital improvements. The proposed network will consist of several daily trains operating at up to 130 mph.

IPRA believes that improved rail passenger service must be a part of Indiana’s transportation vision because airlines are moving away from short-haul flights and highways are becoming congested.

The Maryland consulting firm conducted a feasibility study and business plan for the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association of Fort Wayne, Ind.

That study looked at a high-speed corridor from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio, via Fort Wayne. That study led to an application to the Federal Rail Administration sponsored by the Indiana Department of Transportation for matching funds for that corridor’s EIS.

Campaigning to Expand Cincinnati Rail Service

September 25, 2014

Cincinnati area passenger rail advocates have begun a push to increase passenger rail service between Chicago and the Queen City.

A first step in that direction is to conduct a study to determine how much it would cost to improve the current route used by Amtrak’s Cardinal between the two cities.

Derek Bauman, a regional director for All Aboard Ohio and Cincinnati resident, on Monday appeared before the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District Board to pitch the idea of daily high-speed train service to Chicago.

“What we’re looking at doing is making passenger rail an actual transportation option, a realistic option to be able to connect to Chicago,” Bauman said. “The first step is to see if we all agree whether this is a good idea.”

Bauman is trying to generate bi-partisan support from federal, state and local leaders in Ohio and Indiana.

“This is without knowing the cost, but just the concept is a great idea,” said Cincinnati City Councilwoman Amy Murray. “With the way airfares are going up and the support we’ve seen for Megabus, high-speed rail on a consistent basis to Chicago could be a game-changer.”

Murray, who once served as a business development manager for Procter & Gamble, said the business leaders she has met with favor the idea of high-speed rail.

The Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation supports those efforts and has awarded All Aboard Ohio a grant to help promote the idea.

“If we improve the frequency and speed of our passenger rail service connections with Chicago, our community – and every community between here and Chicago – will benefit,” said Haile Foundation Vice President Eric Avner.

Federal transportation travel data shows that Chicago was the No. 2 destination from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport between July 2013 and June 2014.

Amtrak’s Cardinal operates tri-weekly between Chicago and New York and calls upon Cincinnati in the middle of the night.

The current schedule has the Cardinal arriving at Cincinnati Union Terminal at 1:13 a.m. westbound on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. The eastbound Cardinal is scheduled to arrive at 3:17 a.m. on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. The travel time between Cincinnati and Chicago is seven hours.

Murray and her husband, Wally, decided to take Amtrak to Sacramento, Calif., for a wedding this past summer.

They rode Megabus from Cincinnati to Chicago before boarding Amtrak because of the limited and inconvenient Amtrak schedules at Cincinnati.

Columbus, Fort Wayne and seven other Ohio and Indiana cities recently agreed to work on launching rail passenger service between Columbus and Chicago.

“We’re being left behind,” Bauman said. “This would be good for job growth in the region.”

Bauman cited the example of the work underway to upgrade Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louis route to allow for 110 mph speeds and a four-hour travel time by 2017.

Amtrak currently offers five roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis, including four Lincoln Service rondtrips funded in part by the State of Illinois and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

“That would be our goal, and so what we want to do is make sure that we are on par with our peer competitor cities that we are staying connected in a way that will drive jobs, drive economic development and attract and retain talent,” he said.

Bauman said improved rail service to Chicago is not a new idea, having been proposed in the 1990s in the form of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Initiative.

Another rail supporter told the board that if the Tri-State doesn’t invest in transportation, it will be left behind, economically.  Pete Witte noted that Columbus and Cleveland are already working on improving rail connections with Chicago.

Witte added that airlines are cutting the number of regional flights, thus increasing the importance of improving intercity rail service.

Fort Wayne Wants High Speed Rail Study

February 14, 2014

Indiana officials are moving ahead with an environmental study of a proposed high-speed rail passenger route linking Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, via Fort Wayne, Ind.

The Fort Wayne city council voted unanimously to contribute $200,000 to the study, about 10 percent of its cost.

The proposed $1.2 billion project envisions trains operating at 110 mph. The Chicago–Fort Wayne travel time would be less than than two hours and business class ticket would cost $39-49. The study is expected to take 18 months to complete.

“I believe this is critically important. If we do not move forward diligently, this project could be in jeopardy,” said city council member Geoff Paddock. He is also a board member of the Indiana Passenger Rail Association.

The passenger advocacy group says the line would be self-supporting and could turn a profit.

Allen County, in which Fort Wayne is located, may contribute $50,000 to the study, but needs to identify a source of funding.

At one time, Fort Wayne was served by Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Broadway Limited and the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited. Both trains were rerouted away from Fort Wayne in November 1990 after Conrail downgraded the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline in Indiana and western Ohio. Amtrak established a stop at Waterloo, Ind., to serve Fort Wayne.

Study Finds High Speed Rail Costly, but Feasible

November 5, 2013

True high speed rail operations in the Midwest would be costly to implement but are feasible and might even cover operating costs once implemented.

That was the conclusion of a study conducted by the University of Illinois’ Rail Transportation and Engineering Center and sponsored by the State of Illinois.

The study said 220 mph service linking Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and downtown St. Louis could carry as many as 15 million travelers a year. The study found that it would cost $20 billion to construct HSR right-of-way in Illinois alone.

The study, released late last month, can be accessed via this link.

“Rapid, comfortable, low-cost transportation between these urban areas would boost the Illinois economy, create jobs, unite people in the region, enhance personal mobility, increase international competitiveness and provide safe, modern, sustainable transportation for future generations,” the study said.

“This is not a lot in terms of what we’re going to get out of it,” said Richard Harnish, executive director of Chicago-base Midwest High Speed Rail Association, an ardent supporter of high-speed rail.  “It’s absolutely essential if we’re going to remain a strong economic region.”

Illinois is spending $1.5 billion in federal and state money to upgrade service between Joliet and Alton, which will allow top speeds of 110 mph. Higher-speed rail upgrades are currently under way in Michigan.

The study concluded that California’s “blended” approach to high speed rail is an option in the Midwest.

“An incremental or blended approach completed over a longer time period could also reduce initial capital costs and provide other nearer-term transportation benefits, while simultaneously improving intercity transportation quality and travel times,” the study said.