Friday, April 1, 2011

Back to some rail news

I got an e-mail from Alex saying that the commenting system wasn't working recently.  I was able to post some comments this morning, so hopefully it's working again.  I used Firefox, so if anyone continues to have issues, try using that.

It seems that Blogger is rolling out some changes, so there may have simply been a bug.  I'm glad that they're actually doing something—Blogger seems to be fairly behind in the technological curve, which seems strange for a Google-owned property.

Anyway, while I'd like to keep talking about the Metro Transit funding situation a bit more, there have been some rail developments that I should probably make note of:

Locally, the Red Rock Corridor is reaching another milestone as station-area planning wraps up for the stops in Hastings, Cottage Grove, Newport, and at Lower Afton Road in St. Paul. They're going to have a final meeting about those stops next week:
Wednesday, April 6th, 5–7 pm
Washington County South Service Center
Room 147/148
13000 Ravine Parkway
Cottage Grove, MN, 55016

Wisconsinites are dealing with a bit of cognitive dissonance because Governor Scott Walker, he of, does actually kinda sorta support trains. His administration is submitting a $150 million request for funds which could go into upgrading Amtrak's Hiawatha Service between Milwaukee and Chicago. This is confusing in the context of Governor Scott Walker's resistance to the extension of service to Madison, though it is fairly consistent with what he had said during his campaign. He wanted to see upgrades to existing Hiawatha and Empire Builder service rather than expansion to new areas.

It did immediately strike me as strange when I learned that the original planned $810 million extension from Milwaukee to Madison was planned to go up to 110 mph, yet that project was supposed to keep the speed between Milwaukee and Chicago at 79 mph (at least initially). Why not upgrade the existing route too?

Of course, most of the $810 million got pulled back by the federal government back in late 2010 when Gov. Walker was just Governor-elect.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says that the new $150 million would be "a step toward increasing the speed of the trains to nearly 110 mph", so it isn't clear to me whether there would be any significant track upgrades or grade separations. It looks like the money is primarily meant to pay for trains and a maintenance facility that would have been built for Madison extension if that project had gone forward.

The Spanish company Talgo put together a factory in Milwaukee to build two trains for the Hiawatha, plus options for more. Two additional trainsets would have been built for the Madison service, and that's how many trains would be funded with this request. Walker's predecessor Jim Doyle had also committed Wisconsin to spending $30 million on a Talgo maintenance facility. For the $150 million grant, the state might only need to match 10%, so it's clearly in the state's best interest to try and get $150 million, since it could effectively save them $15 million.

I support upgrades to the existing service, though these details do make me uneasy. There should be some modest speed improvements just by using the new Talgo trains since they use a passive tilting technology, though the track is fairly straight in the first place and supported trains running well over 100 mph in the past. The biggest obstacles to increasing speed on the line are the numerous grade-level crossings, plus the existing Canadian Pacific freight traffic and Metra commuter traffic closer to Chicago.

Well, there would be two big tests for Walker in regard to trains: First, if the state receives the money, we'll have to see if it actually gets spent on trains and doesn't get redirected to highway projects. Second, Walker said he supported improved Empire Builder service. I know that Mn/DOT and the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority are pushing for a second daily train along that route, so we'll have to see if that project makes progress in the coming months.

Another thing I should note—Here's a new animation of the Central Corridor LRT in the University of Minnesota area:

Central Corridor - Washington Avenue


  1. Walker is applying for the same stimulus grant he rejected before, so he can't legally use it on highways.

  2. Yay! The open id worked! Mysteriously the comment as Wordpress option didn't work, though.