MIPRC commissioners and allies across the region held press conferences and issued press releases on Thursday, January 29 and Friday, January 30, calling on Congress and the Obama administration to include substantive funding for passenger rail in the federal stimulus package currently being debated in Congress.
The U.S. House passed its stimulus plan, the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, last week. The bill allocates only $1.1 billion to rail – $800 million to Amtrak and $300 million to state projects to improve intercity rail outside of Amtrak's capital needs. Investing in state projects is the best way to build up the Midwest’s intercity passenger rail network.
Unfortunately, $300 million is not nearly enough to build up intercity rail. A much better proposal came from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which recommended a $5 billion total investment in rail: $3.4 billion for state passenger rail projects, $1.5 billion for Amtrak and $100 million for short line railroads.
“The best way to make sure our transportation investments meet our energy policy goals is to invest in intercity rail. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to create jobs that lead to long-term prosperity through better intercity rail that connects the Midwest,” said Missouri Rep. Schlottach, MIPRC’s chair, during Missouri’s press conference held Jefferson City.
There is pent-up demand for new and expanded service for intercity passenger rail throughout the Midwest. Passenger rail ridership – especially on shorter, corridor service that would be implemented by the build-out of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative and Ohio Hub plans – has increased dramatically, but federal funding to help build these systems has not followed.
“Last year, Congress overwhelmingly passed an Amtrak reauthorization bill that, at long last, recognizes the importance of state-supported corridor trains and establishes a federal matching fund program for the state. This stimulus package is the first opportunity for Congress to put some money behind that legislation,” said Illinois MIPRC commissioner Rep. Elaine Nekritz during the Illinois press conference held in Union Station in Chicago.
Passenger rail is the most energy-efficient means to move people over medium distances (100–600 miles). Increased funding for our states to plan, design and construct these interconnected passenger rail systems would bring tangible benefits to the Midwest, not only creating short- and long-term jobs, but building a new, efficient passenger rail system across the region.
“The build-out of the Midwest Regional Rail and Ohio Hub systems would bring more than $30 billion in economic benefits to the region and create almost 75,000 long-term jobs,” said Laura Kliewer, MIPRC’s director. “It would also bring a modern, efficient intercity passenger rail system – with frequent service – to the entire region, as well as connect the Midwest to the East.”
Midwestern states have been working together for more than 10 years on two plans to bring faster, more-frequent passenger rail service to the region. On behalf of the Midwestern states, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) has submitted to congressional leaders a list of more than $815 million in projects that could move forward within 120 days. The preliminary environmental work on the entire Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI) and Ohio Hub systems could be completed for about $150 million. A two-page listing of those projects can be found here.