Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak corridor routes’

Amtrak Trying to Drum Up Support for Corridor Service Plan

February 14, 2021

Although it has yet to release its proposal, Amtrak has been talking with state and local officials about its ideas for creating a network of corridor services.

The passenger carrier has in those meetings described it as a long-range plan that it has billed as The Amtrak System 2035.

Among the Amtrak officials who have been touring the country is Ray Lang, the carrier’s senior director for national state relations.

Lang has described the plan as a five-year $25 billion proposal in which Amtrak would pay capital and operating costs upfront but with funding of operations shifting to state and local governments over a five-year period.

He has said during his presentation that the “price of admission for new corridor service has gotten to be really, really expensive.”

Therefore Amtrak wants to use federal money to cover those costs.

Amtrak’s vision is connecting urban centers that are hundreds of miles apart with frequent train service. 

Most of the routes Amtrak is looking to create are in the South and West, although recent news reports have indicated that Amtrak has talked with Ohio officials about creating new corridor service in the Buckeye State.

Ohio is currently served by three Amtrak routes and has no corridor service.

Some of the service to Ohio would involve extending existing corridor-oriented routes into the state, including the Empire Corridor that now operates between New York and Niagara Falls, New York, via Buffalo.

The idea is to extend some Empire Service trains to Cleveland and Detroit.

In their talks with Ohio officials, Amtrak has floated the idea of developing a corridor between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

Other possible corridors include New York City to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and possibly north to Binghamton, New York.

The Vermonter, which now terminates at St. Albans, Vermont, would be extended to Montreal and the Ethan Allen Express, which now terminates at Rutland, Vermont, would be extended north to Burlington, Vermont.

In the South, Amtrak has proposed corridors connecting Atlanta with Chattanooga and Nashville in Tennessee, with Charlotte, North Carolina; and with the Florida cities of Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa and Miami

In the West, corridors would link Los Angeles with Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson; and Denver with communities along the front range of the Rocky Mountains.

Additional service would be added along the route of the Coast Starlight, which links Seattle and Los Angeles, although Amtrak is not necessarily talking about one more trains being added to serve the length of that route.

In his presentations, Lang has said individual states “would have the ability to do what they want.”

He also indicated that some proposed routes are likely to have higher priority to get done sooner than others. That includes the Atlanta-Nashville route and service along the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Amtrak’s plan faces numerous challenges and any of them could thwart corridor development.

First and probably foremost is that Congress must approve the funding for the plan.

Other challenges include resistance from the freight railroads that would host these trains and the reluctance of state transportation officials to agree to continue paying the operating costs of corridor services once they are established.

When Ohio was awarded a grant in 2009 to fund establishment of Cleveland-Cincinnati service, some Ohio legislators objected to the state having to commit to funding the operating costs of the route.

It is far from certain that all of the states that would benefit from Amtrak’s new services are on board with taking over funding of them.

There is a risk that state legislatures would decline to provide funding for a corridor service after Amtrak paid to establish.

More Hope Than Plan at This Point

February 3, 2021

News outlets in Ohio over the past few of days have reported stories about Amtrak service expansion plans in the state.

The intercity passenger carrier has been reported to be planning five new corridor services including Cleveland-Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton; Chicago-Cincinnati via Indianapolis; Cleveland-Detroit (Pontiac) via Toledo; Cleveland-New York via Buffalo, New York; and Cleveland-New York via Pittsburgh.

Most of these routes would have multiple daily frequencies including four daily roundtrips on the Chicago-Cincinnati route.

The 3C corridor service would be three daily roundtrips while the Cleveland-New York service would be two daily roundtrips via Buffalo and one roundtrip via Pittsburgh.

Amtrak would fund these services through a program for which it is seeking $300 million from Congress.

For its part, Amtrak has been issuing a written statement to reporters seeking information that is far less detailed.

After stating that corridor services of 500 miles are the fastest growing segment of its network, the passenger carrier has said, “We have developed a visionary plan to expand rail service across the nation, providing service to large metropolitan areas that have little or no Amtrak service.

“We are working with our state partners, local officials and other stakeholders to understand their interests in new and improved Amtrak service and will be releasing that plan soon. We will call on Congress to authorize and fund Amtrak’s expansion in such corridors by allowing us to cover most of the initial capital and operating costs of new or expanded routes”

And that’s it. The statement did not provide any details about specific routes and service levels.

The specific information came from All Aboard Ohio, an advocacy group that has long sought without success to push for creation of a network of passenger trains in the Buckeye state.

But is this proposal the “game changer” that some on social media are calling it?

It could be but keep in mind it is simply a proposal. There is no guarantee Congress will approve funding for the corridor development program and no guarantee that any of the proposed Ohio trains will ever turn a wheel.

AAO public affairs director Kenneth Prendergast acknowledged in an interview with Trains magazine that the five corridors that his group has identified are “more of an outline or goal than a plan.”

Amtrak officials have been meeting with local officials throughout Ohio to discuss the corridor program proposal. Similar meetings have been held in other states, including Tennessee and Kansas.

Based on what Amtrak government affairs officials said during state legislative hearings in those states, Amtrak would front the costs of route development and pay operating expenses on a sliding scale for up to five years.

State and local governments would have to begin underwriting the service starting in the second year and assume all funding after the fifth year.

If you read the Amtrak statement carefully, it says the passenger carrier would pay for most of the initial capital and operating costs.

That is not necessarily the 100 percent federal funding factoid that AAO described in a post on its website and it officers have been talking up in news media interviews.

In fairness, though, the AAO post later said that Amtrak might pay up to 100 percent of the initial capital costs and up to 100 percent of the operating costs for the first two years.

Given that Amtrak has yet to release details about the corridor development program and has yet to formally ask Congress to fund it, there is much that remains unknown.

And given that the Amtrak statement falls short of saying it will pay all costs of getting a route up and running it is reasonable to conclude that state and local governments would need to pay something, although we don’t know yet what that would be.

One guess is local and state money would need to help fund station development.

Not even AAO expects the proposed services to come to fruition anytime soon.

Writing on Twitter, AAO said it can take three to six years to get a route started depending on its complexity.

In the meantime, AAO has said it will seek a “small appropriation” in the next biennial budget to pay for state-level planning of the five proposed corridors.

It is not clear whether Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio legislative leaders would be receptive to that.

AAO argues that DeWine is more inclined to be supportive of passenger rail than was his predecessor, John Kasich.

As a gubernatorial candidate in 2010, Kasich adamantly opposed using a $400 million federal stimulus grant the state had received to start 3C service.

Upon being elected, Kasich returned that money to the U.S. Department of Transportation although not before making an unsuccessful pitch that the state be allowed to redirect the grant toward highway development.

AAO contends that DeWine has asked the Ohio Department of Transportation to put passenger rail “back on the radar.” But the scope of DeWine’s support for passenger rail has yet to be publicly articulated.

It is all but certain that once concrete proposals are introduced in the legislature authorizing spending state money on rail passenger service development that opposition will arise from opponents decrying wasting public money.

Another unknown is what demands the host railroads would make to agree to allow these trains to use their tracks.

We know that in the past host railroads have submitted lists of millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements as the price of acceptance.

How necessary those improvements were is debatable, but the demands seemed exorbitant enough to discourage the proposed service.

Such pricey demands have thwarted efforts to operate the Chicago-New York Cardinal and the Los Angeles-New Orleans Sunset Limited daily rather than tri-weekly.

Some of the articles and social media posts about the proposed Ohio corridors have noted that President Joseph Biden is an avid supporter of passenger rail and is expected to release an infrastructure proposal later this year.

Passenger rail advocates are hoping to use that as the springboard to shake loose billions of federal dollars for passenger rail development.

It may be a time to be optimistic yet nothing is certain. At best Amtrak’s proposal represents hope. But as we’ve seen in the past, those hopes can be a very fragile thing.

Amtrak to Release Corridor Proposal Soon

February 2, 2021

Amtrak said on Monday in a public statement that it plans to release soon its proposal for the development of corridor services.

The statement noted that it has been discussing with state and local officials new opportunities for intercity passenger rail service.

“Frequent and reliable corridor routes of typically less than 500 miles represent the fastest growing segment of Amtrak service,” the statement said. “Population growth, changing demographics, travel preferences and environmental concerns all point to new opportunities for intercity passenger rail.”

Amtrak said its plan seeks to expand rail service across the nation with a focus on providing service to large metropolitan areas that have little or no Amtrak service. 

Its contacts with state and local officials has sought to learn of interests in new and improved Amtrak service.

Although the Amtrak statement had few details on what it will propose, it indicated that its plan will ask Congress to authorize and fund Amtrak’s expansion by allowing the intercity passenger carrier to cover most of the initial capital and operating costs of new or expanded routes.

Amtrak Seeking Support for Corridor Service Plan

February 1, 2021

Amtrak officials recently contacted city officials in Ashtabula, Ohio, to discuss making the county seat community a stop for a proposed new Cleveland-New York corridor.

It is not the first time Ashtabula has been talked about as an Amtrak stop.

 A few years ago city officials asked Amtrak to consider stopping the Lake Shore Limited at the former New York City depot.

However, that request yielded nothing and CSX razed the station in 2018.

Judging from the content of a story published by the Ashtabula newspaper, the Star Beacon, Amtrak’s outreach efforts to Ashtabula are part of a larger effort to win political support for a proposal to establish a series of corridor services.

The intercity passenger corridor plan Amtrak is hoping to get Congress to approve would provide seed money for would establish the corridors between major urban areas.

In the case of Ohio, that would be a corridor between Cleveland and New York via Buffalo, and the long-discussed but never developed 3C corridor between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

Amtrak officials also are talking up the prospect of reviving service between Toledo and Michigan points, a series that existed until April 1995 when it was discontinued as a cost-cutting move.

They also are discussing development of a Chicago-Cincinnati corridor.

Ashtabula City Manager Jim Timonere told the Star Beacon that the corridor development proposal is expected to be contained in legislation creating a new surface transportation law.

Apparently Amtrak is dangling the prospect of being added to its network in front of local government officials in an effort to win their support for the legislation.

 “This stop would be an amazing opportunity not only for tourism here in our area, but to provide another option to our residents who may work in Cleveland or along the route at one of the stops,” he said. “Access to transportation of this magnitude opens up a whole set of opportunities for our area and we will advocate strongly for the passage of this bill.”

Ashtabula would be a stop on the Cleveland-New York corridor. It is unclear if Ashtabula would also be a stop for the Lake Shore Limited.

No. 48 passes through Ashtabula around 7 a.m. while No. 49 comes through around 2:30 a.m.

Currently, Erie, Pennsylvania, is the only stop for Nos. 48 and 49 between Cleveland and Buffalo.

Amtrak was poised to begin stopping the Lake Shore Limited in Dunkirk, New York, in the late 1990s.

Local officials there pushed hard for the stop, putting up fliers in support of it and handing out leaflets seeking to build public support. The community held an Amtrak rally day.

Some Amtrak timetables showed service to Dunkirk to begin on a date to be announced.

However, the proposal fell victim to the breakup of Conrail by CSX and Norfolk Southern and Nos. 48 and 49 never did serve Dunkirk.

All of the corridor proposals that Amtrak officials mentioned in their call to Ashtabula have been proposed in the past but never materialize due to lack of funding.

Amtrak has been telling state and local officials that stand to gain service from these corridors that the passenger carrier will put up the money for some initial capital costs and pay the operating expenses for the corridors for a few years.

But state and local governments would have to absorb those operating costs eventually.

Tennessee Committee OKs Amtrak feasibility Study

February 22, 2020

A Tennessee legislative committee has approved a bill authorizing a study of the launching Amtrak service between Atlanta and Nashville, Tennessee.

The bill will fund a feasibility study to determine how much the service would cost and who would pay for it.

During a hearing earlier, an Amtrak government affairs executive told Tennessee lawmakers that state and local governments would be expected to underwrite any operating losses of the service.

Amtrak has been touting in the past year corridor services between unserved or underserved urban centers.

The website Curbed Atlanta reported that Tennessee Rep. Jason Powell said the Amtrak service would provide a crucial connection between the fast-growing cities, with possible stops in Chattanooga, Tullahoma, and Murfreessboro.

“This corridor is one of those where it’s just glaring that there’s not a connection on the map,” Powell said.

However, he acknowledged that if the study determines the service would be costly “that might lessen the enthusiasm, but I think the appetite is there.”

It is not clear if Amtrak has approached Georgia lawmakers about supporting the proposed service.

A Georgia Department of Transportation spokesperson told Curbed Atlanta it has “not been approached by Amtrak at this time.”

However, the agency has been working on a proposal for high-speed rail service between Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, and, eventually, Washington.

Atlanta is served by Amtrak’s New York-New Orleans Crescent but Nashville has not had Amtrak service since the October 1970 discontinuance of Chicago-Miami/St. Petersburg Floridian.

The proposed Atlanta-Nashville corridor would have multiple trains a day operating with a six-and-a-half hour running time.

Anderson Talks Amtrak on NPR

September 7, 2017

Amtrak co-CEO Richard Anderson has been making the rounds of national broadcast outlets this week to talk about the rail passenger carrier that he joined earlier this year.

Richard Anderson

He appeared on a CBS news program and also on National Public Radio where he was interviewed by Robert Siegel, a co-host of the afternoon program All Things Considered.

As he did at CBS, Anderson told Siegel that updating aging infrastructure is a top priority at Amtrak.

At the same time, he contended that Amtrak is not broken. “It provides very reliable service to over 30 million people a year,”

Anderson said the United States has made a choice not to pursue high-speed rail except in a few areas. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t take the infrastructure that we have and improve our track speeds, where we offer a product that’s competitive with cars and buses because that’s really, in some sense, what we compete against.”

In response to a question by Siegel as to whether the “real, long-range intercity train travel is finished,” Anderson said that to Amtrak long-distance means more than 750 miles.

“And where we see the most growth over the last couple of decades has been in routes under 750 miles, like Milwaukee to Chicago, Detroit to Chicago, San Francisco to Los Angeles down the coast,” he said. “When you think about infrastructure in the U.S., we have become a very urbanized society – less reliance on automobiles, more reliance on public transportation. There’s an important role for Amtrak to play. And that’s actually been one of the fastest-growing parts of this business and represents over half of Amtrak’s passenger traffic annually.”