MIPRC 2023 Annual Meeting covers plenty of ground between Chicago, Normal
As the 21st century began, so did Normal, Illinois’ successful plan to make its downtown a vibrant, walkable city center. Key to that vision was the town’s Amtrak station, now served daily by five state-supported Lincoln Service trains connecting to Chicago and St. Louis, and the long-distance Texas Eagle, connecting to Dallas and San Antonio.
The opportunity to see how regular, reliable train service can boost economic growth made Normal – which boasts the second-highest ridership of any station in Illinois after Chicago and is home to both Illinois State University and Rivian’s manufacturing plant – a natural host city for MIPRC’s 2023 Annual Meeting.
The meeting began Sept. 18 at Chicago Union Station where MIPRC commissioners, partners and allies were briefed by Amtrak officials on plans for the station’s renovation and track/platform capacity expansion and were given an update from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) on new Siemens-built equipment for Midwest regional service.
They also toured the station, which included the opportunity to tour a new “Venture” club car set out for the occasion (the club cars are now being delivered and prepared for entering Midwestern regional service in 2024). Before boarding a late-afternoon state-supported Lincoln Service train to Normal, equipped with “Venture” coaches (and an Amfleet club car), attendees got a preview from IDOT officials on the improvements that enabled 110-miles per hour service in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.
Upon an on-time arrival in Normal, MIPRC meeting attendees were briefed on the city’s station and its role as a catalyst in its downtown redevelopment, as well as plans for future additions and downtown development.
On the morning of Sept. 19, attendees were welcomed by Normal Mayor (and Amtrak Board nominee) Chris Koos before getting updates on MIPRC’s applications for CRISI and Interstate Rail Compact grants from MIPRC Director Laura Kliewer, and the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Long-Distance Service Study from Francis Loetterle, deputy director of the agency’s Office of Railroad Planning & Engineering, and former supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Freight & Rail Planning Section.
Attendees also saw and discussed presentations on:
• MIPRC’s 2023 Year in Review (MIPRC Director Laura Kliewer)
• Member state DOT updates (various state DOT representatives)
• FRA’s plans and programs (FRA Midwestern Division Chief Robert Buckley and FRA Project Manager Praveena Pidaparthi)
• Amtrak’s long-distance service plans and priorities (Amtrak Director of Network Development Arun Rao and Director of Government Affairs, State & Local Relations Derrick James)
• The role of consultants in passenger rail planning and development (Quandel Consultants’ Chief Engineer Bob Moore and Quandel’s Principal Engineer for Rail Planning & Modeling Charles Hoppesch)
• Amtrak’s outlook for federal funding of passenger rail in FY 2024 (Amtrak Director of Government Affairs Mariah Morales)
During and after the federal funding outlook, Commissioners discussed contacting Midwestern members of Congress about supporting Amtrak funding for fiscal year 2024, for either the full $3.65 billion authorized by the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, or at least the Senate’s transportation bill (S.2437) proposed level of $2.45 billion, while urging rejection of the House of Representatives’ bill (H.R. 4820) proposal of just $800 million.
On the morning of Sept. 20, MIPRC commissioners and partners discussed MIPRC’s priorities for the rest of 2023 and 2024, including resumption of the annual trip to Washington, D.C., which had been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and holding a follow-up meeting before the end of 2023 via Zoom to discuss next steps after the CRISI and Interstate Rail Compacts grant announcements are made.
Commissioners also preliminarily decided to hold MIPRC’s 2024 Annual Meeting in Minnesota (dates to be determined), gave final approval to the FY 24 budget and elected a new slate of officers for one-year terms.
Beth McCluskey, associate vice president & director of intermodal growth at TYLin International (Illinois’ gubernatorial designee) replaces Kansas Sen. Carolyn McGinn as chair.
Re-elected were Peter Anastor, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Office of Rail (Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s designee) as vice chair, and Scott Rogers (Wisconsin’s private sector appointee) as financial officer.