Kevin Brubaker

Good News Abounds for Passenger Rail in the Midwest

From faster trains to more frequent service, the Midwest is seeing improvements in passenger rail left and right, with more to come soon!

Passenger rail is a key sustainability solution for the Midwest. A modern, efficient, and interconnected rail network can reduce carbon emissions, benefit the economy, and give people more options to reach their destinations safely. While the new infrastructure bill gives us a lot to look forward to, there are good things happening for trains in the Midwest right now too. Here are some of the latest highlights:

On December 24, 2021, Amtrak trains between Chicago and St. Louis began traveling at 90 mph, saving 30 minutes over the trip time. Within the next 18 months, speeds should increase to 110mph, cutting an additional 45 minutes off the trip. Work to make this possible began back in 2009 with passage of the American Rescue and Recovery Act under President Obama. Illinois won grants of almost $2 billion dollars to install faster rail, improve grade crossing safety, build passing sidings, and deploy a state-of-the-art signaling system. Most of the work was completed by 2017, and after years of testing it was deemed ready for service.

On Feb 1, Amtrak debuted its new passenger cars for Midwest service. Funded under the same program described above, the new passenger cars were plagued with contracting difficulties.  Nippon Sharyo won the bid to construct these railcars in Rochelle, Illinois. But when their prototypes failed crashworthiness tests, the contract was eventually shifted to Siemens. For now, only the lucky few passengers will get to ride in these new cars – but the odds will improve over time, as 8 new cars roll off the assembly lines each month.

(A sad footnote to the new passenger cars is the demise of Talgo trains purchased by Wisconsin back in 2009. When Governor Scott Walker took over in 2010, he cancelled the contract. Talgo sued and won both $50 million from Wisconsin and ownership of the two trains. In January, Talgo finally sold the unused trains to Nigeria.)

Less concrete, but equally significant, is the deal cut in January between Amtrak and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP). In exchange for Amtrak’s blessing of its purchase of the Kansas City Southern railroad, CP has agreed to allow a second daily Chicago-Minneapolis train on its network, more frequent service between Chicago and Milwaukee, and new rail service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. CP also expressed support for rail service through its tunnel between Detroit and Ontario.

This won’t be the last of the good news. The federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Act provides $80 billion for freight and passenger rail service. If Midwest states act quickly and cooperatively, we’ll see new funds flowing to the region for rail improvements soon. ELPC will be working to keep things on track!

Kevin Brubaker,

Deputy Director

Kevin Brubaker is the deputy director of ELPC, with chief financial management and organizational administrative responsibilities, and leads the organization's transportation work.

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