High-Speed Rail

PRESS RELEASE: Senate Democrats’ Infrastructure Plan Promotes Real Investments, Not Smoke & Mirrors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Senate Democrats’ Infrastructure Plan Promotes Real Investments, Not Smoke & Mirrors

 Proposal respects need for maintaining environmental laws in planning process

 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

In response to the Senate Democrats’ Infrastructure Plan proposal released today:

“America’s infrastructure needs modernizing and the Senate Democrats’ plan recognizes the only way to get there is with real investments – not smoke and mirrors,” Learner said. “The Senate Democrats’ infrastructure plan offers a roadmap without eviscerating environmental laws.”

“Smart infrastructure investments including modern higher-speed passenger rail and transit for better mobility and water system improvements are both needed to advance healthier clean air and safe clean drinking water for all,” Learner said. “This is a real opportunity for achieving job creation and environmental progress together.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Federal Infrastructure Plan Promotes Pollution and Privatization

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Federal Infrastructure Plan Promotes Pollution and Privatization

 Proposal to gut environmental reviews from planning process is shortsighted, won’t save money

 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

 

In response to the Trump Administration’s Infrastructure Plan proposal released today:

“America’s infrastructure needs investment and modernizing, but gutting our environmental laws is the wrong way to get there,” Learner said. “President Trump’s plan promotes pollution and privatization.”

“Smart infrastructure investments including modern higher-speed passenger rail for better mobility and water system improvements that advance healthier clean air and safe clean drinking water for all,” Learner said. “The Trump Administration’s proposal goes in the wrong direction and misses the best opportunities for achieving job creation and environmental progress together.”

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ELPC’s Dexter in Duluth News Tribune: NLX Rail Line Good for Economy, Environment

As published in the Duluth News Tribune on Wednesday, April 27, 2016.

This is a great time for Minnesotans to contact state legislators in support of the Northern Lights Express (NLX) rail project that’s expected to result in about $1.4 billion in benefits to the state over 40 years. That’s a handsome return on an estimated total construction cost of about$500 million. The Legislature has the opportunity this session to make a down payment on that investment, yielding important dividends in years to come.

My Environmental Law & Policy Center advocates for projects that are good for the economy and environment. The NLX rail line is a great example.

An estimated 3,100 jobs would be created during construction, plus permanent jobs later. About $355 million in state and local tax revenue would be generated over 40 years of increased economic activity. Tourism revenue would grow by $378 million, and wages related to new tourism would jump by $233 million over 40 years. Trains are safer than cars, and using the NLX would be a relief to travelers during harsh Minnesota winters. Finally, an estimated 750,000 people would ride the train each year, and that’s projected to increase to 1 million by 2040. That’s a lot of cars off the road, resulting in a dramatic decrease in carbon dioxide emissions that are harmful to the planet.

This is an important project for Duluth and is among those that could receive funding before May 23 when the legislative session ends. The project already is on the long-term work plan for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. In addition to Duluth, NLX stops are planned in Superior, Hinckley, Cambridge, Coon Rapids and Minneapolis.

Let’s tell elected officials we want this high-speed rail line so we can grow Minnesota’s economy, improve travel safety, and reduce harmful emissions.

If we build it, they will come.

Huffington Post: ELPC’s Learner Discusses Making A Greener Chicago

By Howard Learner

Chicago is becoming a “greener city,” but let’s recognize some key challenges and the need for solutions moving forward. Environmental progress is being achieved together with job creation and economic development. The old myth about jobs versus the environment is simply that: old and false. This Earth Day, we should be proud of what Chicago has accomplished and candid about some important environmental challenges still requiring solutions.

Wind Power: Illinois has leaped from no wind power in 2003 to more than 3,842 megawatts today. A decade ago, who thought that Illinois would become No. 5 in the nation for wind power capacity and that Chicago would now have 11 major wind power corporate headquarters?

Next Steps: Illinois policymakers should say “no” to Exelon’s opposition and finally modernize the Illinois Renewable Energy Standard, which helps drive wind power development. Let’s make it work well and advance Illinois’ national leadership in the restructured electricity market.

Solar Energy can be our next boom. The city and county are advancing policies to streamline solar energy installations by speeding up permitting and standardizing grid connections. Solar panel efficiencies are steadily improving — think about other rapid technological advances in smart phones, digital cameras and computer speeds — and becoming economically competitive. Solar energy is truly a disruptive technology, especially combined with battery technology improvements. It can succeed by installations on residential rooftops and commercial buildings’ spacious flat roofs, and can transform underutilized industrial brownfields into “solar brightfields” in Chicago.

Next Steps: Let’s seize the opportunities to accelerate solar energy by better using Chicago’s many flat rooftops on commercial, industrial and multifamily residential buildings for solar photovoltaic panel installations producing clean electricity? First, the Illinois Commerce Commission should remove regulatory barriers that protect monopoly utilities from competition. Second, the Commission and state legislators should adopt policies that better enable community solar projects for local businesses and neighborhood residents to join together in sharing clean energy resources. Third, if Argonne National Labs’ engineers and scientists achieve their goal of batteries that are five times more efficient at one-fifth the cost, that’s a game changer.

Energy Efficiency saves businesses and residential consumers money on their utility bills, avoids pollution, creates jobs and keeps money in Chicago’s economy. There’s a quiet revolution occurring with more energy efficient lighting, appliances, cooling and heating equipment, pumps and motors, and other technologies. Commonwealth Edison reports that electricity sales declined (-1.5 percent) in 2015 in Northern Illinois while the Chicago regional economy grew 2.5 – 3.0 percent. Chicago’s economy is growing, more efficiently.

Next Steps: Let’s make sure that homes in all Chicago neighborhoods gain energy efficiency benefits through job-creating retrofits that can reduce electricity and natural gas bills. Electricity waste costs businesses and people money and drains dollars out of the Chicago economy for the part of the utility bills spent on out-of-town uranium, coal and gas fuels. Let’s save money, boost our economy, create more installation jobs and reduce pollution. That’s a winner.

Public Transit: Chicagoans are driving less with fewer cars, but Chicago can’t be a greener “city that works” unless CTA is modernized. Chicago is looking to both innovative financing and new transportation approaches, including Bus Rapid Transit and Divvy bikes, in addition to upgrading the aging Red Line and other transit lines.

Next Steps: Let’s face it — no good public transit, no green city. Chicago’s public transit system must become faster and provide improved, more efficient passenger services. CTA is working on it. Mayor Emanuel, Senators Durbin and Kirk, and Congressmen Lipinski and Quigley are working hard to gain more federal funds for CTA modernization. That’s a priority and necessity.

Higher-Speed Rail: Chicago is the natural hub of the growing Midwest higher-speed rail network connecting Chicago and Milwaukee, Detroit and St. Louis, and the mid-sized cities in-between. Modern higher-speed passenger rail development will improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and spur regional economic growth.

Next Steps: Modernize Union Station so it works well for intercity passenger rail, is attractive to new visitors and can be a multimodal hub connecting with CTA while anchoring West Loop commercial development. Let’s accelerate high-speed rail development here.

Great Lakes: The Great Lakes ecosystem is the Chicago region’s global gem, vital source of drinking water supply and place of recreational joy. The Obama Administration’s investment of about $2 billion in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is paying off. Water quality should improve as investments are made in upgrading treatment facilities, building green infrastructure, and restoring wetlands and habitat.

Next Steps: Water efficiency is more than 20 years behind energy efficiency. We can’t afford to waste fresh water that the rest of the world craves and values highly. Let’s make Chicago a water efficiency leader among the Great Lakes cities. Let’s also figure out savvy ways of using lower-cost greywater for industrial processes and save fresh water for drinking supply.

Chicago River: It’s our namesake river and should be a gem increasing recreational enjoyment and property values for all. There’s progress as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) finally begins to disinfect its wastewater. The Chicago River, however, is still not “fishable and swimmable,” and there’s more cleanup to be done.

Next Steps: The new Chicago Riverwalk and river-focused development on both the north and south sides highlights and builds support for the importance of cleaning up the river as a safe place for recreational use and community enjoyment. MWRD should continue to step up its pollution reduction actions and equipment investments that pay off in clean water benefits for all.

Clean air, clean water, cleaner energy and fewer toxics are important values shared by all Chicagoans. This Earth Day, let’s be proud of our progress, and let’s seize opportunities to advance a cleaner, greener and safer community that works for all.

Keep Reading

 

Learner Op-Ed in Crain’s Chicago Business: Nine Smart Ideas for Making Chicago Greener

As published in the Crain’s Chicago Business on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

Chicago is becoming a “greener city,” but let’s be candid about some key challenges and the need for solutions moving forward. Environmental progress is being achieved together with job creation and economic development. The old myth about jobs versus the environment is simply that: old and false.

Wind Power: Illinois has leaped from no wind power in 2003 to more than 3,842 megawatts today. A decade ago, who thought that Illinois would become #5 in the nation for wind power capacity and that Chicago would be now be home to 11 major wind power corporate headquarters?

Next: Illinois policymakers should say “no” to Exelon’s opposition and finally modernize the Illinois Renewable Energy Standard, which helps drive wind power development. Let’s make it work well and advance Illinois’ national leadership in the restructured electricity market.

Solar Energy: Our next boom. The City and County are advancing policies to streamline solar energy installations by speeding up permitting and standardizing grid connections. Solar energy is truly an improving disruptive technology, especially combined with battery technology improvements.

Next: How we can accelerate solar energy by better using Chicago’s many flat rooftops?  First, remove regulatory barriers that protect monopoly utilities from competition. Second, the Illinois Commerce Commission and Springfield legislators should adopt policies that better enable community solar projects for local businesses and neighborhood residents. Third, support Argonne National Labs’ goal of making batteries that are five times more efficient at one-fifth the cost. That’s a game changer.

Energy Efficiency:  There’s a quiet revolution occurring with more energy efficient lighting, appliances, cooling and heating equipment, pumps and motors, and other technologies.  Commonwealth Edison reports that electricity sales declined (-1.5%) in 2015 in Northern Illinois while the Chicago regional economy grew about 3.0%. Our economy is growing—efficiently.

Next:  Let’s make sure that homes in all Chicago neighborhoods gain energy efficiency benefits through job-creating retrofits that can reduce electricity and natural gas bills.

Public Transit: Chicago can’t be a greener “city that works” unless the CTA is modernized.

Next: Let’s face it—no good public transit, no green city. Chicago’s public transit system must become faster and provide improved, more efficient passenger services. CTA is working on it. Mayor Emanuel, Senators Durbin and Kirk, and Congressmen Lipinski and Quigley are trying to gain more federal funds for CTA modernization. That’s a priority and necessity.

Higher-Speed Rail: Chicago is the natural hub of the growing Midwest higher-speed rail network connecting Chicago and Milwaukee, Detroit and St. Louis, and the mid-sized cities in-between.

Next: Modernize Union Station so it works well for intercity passenger rail, is attractive to new visitors and can be a multimodal hub connecting with CTA while anchoring West Loop commercial development.

Great Lakes: The Great Lakes ecosystem is the Chicago region’s global gem, vital source of drinking water supply and place of recreational joy.  The Obama Administration’s investment of about $2 billion in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is paying off.  Water quality should improve as investments are made in upgrading treatment facilities, building green infrastructure, and restoring wetlands and habitat.

Next: Water efficiency is more than 20 years behind energy efficiency. We can’t afford to waste fresh water that the rest of the world craves and values highly.  Let’s figure out savvy ways of using lower-cost greywater for industrial processes and save fresh water for drinking. Let’s make Chicago a water efficiency leader among the Great Lakes cities.

Chicago River: Our namesake river should be a gem that increases recreational enjoyment and property values for all. There’s progress as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District finally begins to disinfect wastewater.  The Chicago River, however, is still not “fishable and swimmable.”

Next: The new Riverwalk and river-focused development is helping build support for the importance of cleaning up the river. MWRD should continue to step up its pollution reduction actions and equipment investments that pay off in clean water benefits.

Clean air, clean water, cleaner energy and fewer toxics are important values shared by all Chicagoans. This Earth Day, let’s be proud of our progress, and let’s seize opportunities to advance a cleaner, greener and safer community that works for all.

Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Midwest’s leading environmental and economic development advocacy organization.

 

Milwaukee Business Journal: Study to consider adding more round-trips on Amtrak Hiawatha line

The state this summer could hold hearings on the proposal to add three more round-trips a day to the Hiawatha passenger rail line between Milwaukee and Chicago.

The rail service run by Amtrak currently has seven round trips each weekday, and has seen strong ridership. It logged 804,861 rides in 2014, an 8.5 percent increase over 2009. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is preparing a study of increasing the number of daily trips to 10, said Arun Rao, Wisconsin DOT passenger rail manager.

A draft of the study could be made public this summer, prompting public hearings in late summer and potential federal sign-off later this year, Rao said. If federal officials approve that plan, the state will become eligible to apply for federal money for the additional routes, which likely would be operated by Amtrak.

ELPC’s Howard Learner Discusses Amtrak Blue Ribbon Panel, Solving Rail Gridlock in Chicago with Railway Technology

Blighted with severe bottlenecks across its freight and passenger railway lines, Chicago has been dubbed “America’s rail traffic speed bump”. After an Amtrak investigation revealed that the city’s congestion problem could cause up to $799bn yearly losses to the US economy, what are the new solutions that could solve Chicago’s problem once and for all?

Located at the crossroads of four major Eastern and Western railroads, Chicago is the hub of the United States’ passenger and freight rail networks. Carrying a third of all rail freight traffic in the US valued at over $1tn, the city is the most important freight rail hub in North America. Chicago also holds the second largest commuter rail ridership of any US city, representing 11% of total ridership. As such, almost every major North American industry is dependent on the smooth running of Chicago’s rail operations.

But despite its national importance, Chicago has earned its nickname of “America’s rail traffic speed bump” after its services were blighted by severe, debilitating gridlocks and delays.

Although delays reached a critical point in winter 2014, the gridlock began much earlier and is still present today. Between 2013 and 2014, six of the eight worst performing long-distance passenger routes originated and terminated in Chicago. The situation only worsened during the current fiscal year, when Chicago was the source and end point of seven of the country’s worst performing trains.

As a result, on 24 October 2014 president of US passenger service operator Amtrak, Joseph Boardman, set up the Chicago Gateway Blue Ribbon Panel, a board of rail experts, attorneys, professors and former mayors tasked with identifying the critical infrastructure and operational improvements Chicago needs to relieve its rail congestion.

The panel’s findings, published on 1 October 2015, revealed that if left unchecked, Chicago’s rail gridlock will end up costing the US economy almost $800bn each year, due to its effects on six key industries constituting 85% of US domestic product: agriculture, natural resources, automotive, manufacturing, retail and services.

“The congestion challenge in Chicago poses the largest potential economic vulnerability to the US economy of all the major rail hubs in the United States”, the panel concluded, urging immediate action in order to avoid “the next Chicago rail crisis”.

Chicago’s rail traffic problem has not been an ignored topic. Over the past 15 years, authorities have made efforts to address the issue, the most important of which is a yet unfinished $4bn investment programme called Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE).

Established in 2003, CREATE encompasses 70 different freight and passenger projects looking at improving rail line capacity. So far, only 29 of these projects have been completed or are currently under construction, at a cost of $1.2bn, while the rest have been stalled due to lack of funding.

With Chicago’s volume of rail freight projected to increase by 62% before 2040, Amtrak’s report lists seven key recommendations, from top-priority infrastructure investments to improved operating practices, which aim to tackle Chicago’s congestion once and for all.

Infrastructural developments: tackling Chicago’s biggest chokepoint

“Because of the centrality of Chicago to the national railroad system in the US, the importance of alleviating congestion and increase fluidity has national economic implications,” says Howard Learner, Chicago attorney and member of the Blue Ribbon Panel.

“The CREATE programme received input and support by a wide range of democratic and republic politicians, policy makers across the board, transportation companies, labour unions, planners, environmental groups and others. One of the things the panel did here was prioritise two of the infrastructure improvements that have been highlighted in the CREATE programme.”
The first top priority project highlighted in the report is the 75th Street Corridor, located south of the city, identified as “Chicago’s biggest chokepoint”.

On a daily basis, 90 freight trains and 30 commuter trains have to squeeze through the same crisscross of tracks on a two-mile radius, forming long waiting queues around three major chokepoints. The Panel thus identified four separate CREATE projects which should be prioritised in order to alleviate this severe congestion.

Keep Reading

Progressive Railroading: Amtrak CEO Enlists ELPC to Discuss Rail Infrastructure Investments in DC

Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman and a panel of transportation experts met yesterday at the National Press Club to highlight the need for the United States to invest in major rail infrastructure projects that serve national interests, such as the Northeast Corridor (NEC) Gateway, Chicago Gateway and Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) programs.

Boardman and the panelists met to discuss the nation’s aging infrastructure, railway congestion and the lack of adequate investment to address solutions.

“Persistent underinvestment leads to [rail traffic] congestion — and the lack of investment threatens our national economy,” Boardman said.

Joining Boardman at the event were Tom Carper, a member of Amtrak’s board; Howard Learner, founder of the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago; and Jack Quinn, former chairman of the Railroads Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and current president of Erie Community College. The three also served on the Chicago Gateway Initiative Blue Ribbon Panel, which Boardman appointed last year to examine recurring rail gridlock in Chicago. The task force issued its recommendations earlier this month.

Keep Reading

Urgent Action Needed. Please call Senator Kirk’s Office on His Opposition to Climate Solutions

Today, Politico reported that Illinois Senator Mark Kirk says he will sponsor the extreme Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution being promoted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sets standards for Illinois and other states to flexibly reduce carbon pollution.

Politico quotes Senator Kirk as saying:  “With this rule applied, I don’t think we can keep a lot of people in Illinois happily employed.”

Illinois is an economic winner under the Clean Power Plan because of our state’s clean wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency resources, and nuclear plants.

Please call Senator Kirk’s office at (202) 224-2854 or (312) 886-3506 and ask him to oppose the CRA resolution that would stop the Clean Power Plan.

The CRA resolution is a highly controversial mechanism that has been only applied once in history and should not be used to attempt blocking the Clean Power Plan.

Senator Kirk previously expressed concerns about climate change problems and voted in favor of federal legislation to reduce carbon pollution. If the Politico story and quote are true, ELPC is very disappointed with Sen. Kirk’s flip-flop and his decision to sponsor the CRA resolution. We called his office today to express our concern and disappointment.

Please call Senator Kirk’s office at 202-224-2854 and (312) 886-3506 and ask him to oppose the CRA resolution that would stop the Clean Power Plan.

Tell Senator Kirk that you care about the environment and want Illinois to benefit from the jobs, economic development and cleaner air that the Clean Power Plan can deliver.

Thank you for helping.

Amtrak Press Release: Solutions Suggested to Solve Chicago Rail Back-Ups

Read the release on Amtrak’s website here.

CHICAGO – Bringing together rail traffic control dispatchers now separated by thousands of miles, improved operating practices by Amtrak and other railroads and funding for priority projects already identified in Northern Illinois and Indiana are top recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel appointed by Amtrak in response to massive “Chicago Gateway” delays to passenger and freight traffic.

The panel, chosen last year by Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman, reported its findings with two university and policy groups today in Chicago. The panel released a study it commissioned that shows the Chicago congestion problem creates an economic vulnerability of up to $799 billion every year, impacting six key industries constituting 85 percent of U.S domestic product.

The named industries are agriculture and natural resources, automotive, manufacturing, retail and services. The congestion challenge in Chicago poses the largest potential economic vulnerability to the U.S. economy of all the major rail hubs in the United States and industry observers have referred to Chicago as America’s “rail traffic speed bump.”

“The panel interviewed experts with the freight rail industry, Metra commuter rail, the states of Illinois, Indiana and Michigan and others and the verdict was unanimous: the implications of failing to act are dire for the economy of the nation in general and the Chicago area in particular,” Boardman said.

The panel’s report, the study it commissioned from Frost & Sullivan and MSY Analytics, animations showing the benefits of various projects and a video overview are now posted at Amtrak.com/ChicagoGateway.

National Magnitude: “It’s the busiest rail hub because all the major railroads run through that hub and all the commodities that we think of: grain, crude oil, coal, manufacturing goods, intermodal (that’s product that’s on rail and at some point on truck for a period of time), all of that’s moving through Chicago,” said Linda Morgan of Washington, D.C., a Panelist who was the first chair U.S. Surface Transportation Board, the railroad financial regulatory agency.

Local economic impact: “If something doesn’t happen, transportation experts are going to figure this out. Now it may be leaving the Midwest, it may be opening ports on the east coast and transferring it other ways. It’s a huge risk to the Midwest, but it’s affecting the country,” said Tom Carper of Macomb, Ill., a Panel Member and an Amtrak Board Member.

“Our customers deserve to have on time performance on their trains, so that’s number one,” Boardman continued. “We’re also looking for a consistent solution; we don’t want to run into this every year, two years or five years.”

Boardman accepted the panel’s recommendations and said Amtrak will continue to make certain it operates effectively in hopes other carriers will take similar steps. He offered space in Chicago Union Station for a dispatching facility to bring together the rail dispatchers now scattered from Chicago and the suburbs to Texas, Nebraska and Minnesota.

Co-located dispatching: “Get Amtrak, Metra and the freight rail operators together in one room so that they’re operating and coordinating and making all those trains run on time,” said Howard Learner of Chicago, a Panel Member who is President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “If you had every airline at O’Hare Airport with their own air traffic controller doing everything on their own it’d be a mess.”

The panel endorsed prioritization of projects designed to improve the flow of passenger and freight trains – but unfunded – in Illinois and Indiana. These include the locations identified as P2 and P3 (75th Street Corridor Improvement Program) and P4 by the CREATE Program, a concerted effort by freight railroads, Amtrak and other stakeholders to address rail congestion issues in Chicago. The panel cited the completion of CREATE’s P1 project at Englewood as an example and made recommendations for next-steps in the Indiana Gateway Project across the northwest corner of the state and a future dedicated passenger rail route connecting to Michigan and the East.

Funding: “We have a really good news story to tell about the railroad industry in this country,” said Jack Quinn of Buffalo, N.Y., a Panel Member who is a college president since his retirement from the U.S. House after serving as chairman of Railroads Subcommittee. “We have to make sure that everybody gets the message so that they can walk hand in hand when it comes time to try to get that money, which is really tough.”

“Certainly for Amtrak and some of the freight railroads there are real opportunities there and I think we always have to be looking for creative options moving forward,” added Morgan.

Boardman agreed the cases need to be made in Congress, Statehouses and elsewhere for a Chicago Gateway Initiative to address passenger and freight railroad issues rooted in the Midwest. This is similar to the New York Gateway Initiative to address similar issues in the Northeast, where Amtrak has been participating in detailed talks regarding funding and has made investments.

 

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