Passenger Rail News Briefs

Study: High speed rail could benefit Midwest

A high-speed rail network radiating from Chicago's Union Station through nine Midwestern states could carry 13.6 million passengers annually by 2025, according to a new report.

The Midwest Regional Rail System report released December 14 confirms the viability of a 3,000-mile rail network stretching through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin, said Mark Wandro, Iowa's transportation director.

Trains would travel at speeds of up to 110 m.p.h., cutting hours off trips between major cities.

The study, led by Transportation Economics & Management Systems Inc., a Frederick, Md.-based consulting firm, said significantly reduced travel times, increased frequency of service, improved reliability and connections to other forms of transportation would be a big draw to passengers.

(From the Associated Press.)

Amtrak directed to repay $100 million loan

Amtrak, the nation's financially troubled passenger railroad, must pay back a $100 million loan it received from the government to avert a shutdown in 2002.

After deferring repayment for two years, lawmakers included language in the omnibus appropriations bill signed by President George W. Bush to make Amtrak clear the loan from its books over the next five years.

An Amtrak spokesman said the railroad was ready to repay the debt, Which was a key component of the financial rescue package spearheaded by the Transportation Department in the summer of 2002.

At the time, Amtrak had virtually run out of cash and had no leverage to borrow more from its banks because of its weak financial condition and heavy debt. Amtrak had threatened to start shutting down service unless it received help from the government.

The bailout triggered a process of tighter Transportation Department oversight of financial matters at Amtrak, which depends on annual federal subsidies to survive.

(From Reuters.)

Amtrak insists it owes nothing for emergency help during bomb scare

When a bomb threat forced almost 290 Amtrak passengers to disboard in Portage, Wisc., this summer, the community provided medical service, transportation to John Muir Elementary School, law enforcement services and more. Some county officials say Amtrak promised to give reimbursement but never came through.

"It's a lot like a contract," said Emergency Management Director Pat Beghin. "Amtrak didn't honor that contract."

County Board Chair Sue Martin sent a letter to Amtrak's chairman, David Laney, in October, requesting almost $13,000 in compensation for various agencies and organizations.

(The Portage Daily Register.)

Random ID checks begin on Amtrak trains

Amtrak conductors have begun random checks of passengers' IDs as a precaution against terrorist attacks.

The onboard checks, which started at the beginning of November, are part of a broader program to improve security, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said.

"It is a ticket verification program, which is not intended to determine a person's identity but to make sure the person who's traveling with the ticket is the person whose name is on the ticket," Black said.

The checks have not resulted in any arrests, he said.

Amtrak also is requiring passengers to show identification when buying a ticket at ticket counters and to tag all luggage with the owner's address.

(From the Associated Press.)

NJ Transit guarantees seats, quiet for $1,400

A door marked "reserved" divides train No. 3269 on the North Jersey Coast Line into two commuting worlds.

Outside the door, on most of the train, haggard passengers stand in vestibules or cram against each other on uncomfortable seats, next to coffee-spillers and cell-phone gabbers.

But on the other side of the door, in the tranquillity of the private car, riders often have two seats to themselves, even during rush hour. And these are like no other seats on NJ Transit trains. They are cushioned and contoured. Press a button and they recline. They have flip-down trays, just like on airplanes.

Commuters looking in from the outside often wondered about the people in the private car.

But the only thing that's exclusive about the reserved car of the Jersey Shore Commuters Club is that its members - about 30 these days - are willing to pay extra for a more relaxing trip.

The dues are $1,400 a year per member, in addition to passengers' regular fares. Those dues cover the cost of the club's $56,000 annual lease with NJ Transit for the car.

A couple of years ago, when the car was being rebuilt, the club members kicked in $27,000 to cover the cost of the customization.

(The Newark Star-Ledger.)




© 2004 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen