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MIPRC's 2022 Annual Meeting takes deep dive into new federal passenger rail programs
Jon Davis
/ Categories: News

MIPRC's 2022 Annual Meeting takes deep dive into new federal passenger rail programs

The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission’s 2022 Annual Meeting capped a busy 13-month period that began with the release of the Federal Railroad Administration’s long-term Midwest Regional Rail Plan and the passage and enactment of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The meeting, from Nov. 16-18 in Indianapolis, began informally with a tour of Amtrak’s Beech Grove Maintenance Facility, where MIPRC commissioners, partners and allies learned about the site’s history and details of its work and workforce.

FRA Administrator Amit Bose formally launched the meeting the next morning with an address noting the newly available federal funding for passenger rail projects under the IIJA, the flow of funding to Midwestern rail projects, and what he said is the growing importance of MIPRC’s role as the region’s coordinating entity for future planning and development.

(Bose had also kicked off MIPRC’s 2021 Annual Meeting at Chicago Union Station with a press conference at which he other FRA officials and MIPRC released the Midwest Regional Rail Plan before commissioners boarded a state-supported Wolverine train to Detroit for the rest of the meeting. (See more about the 2021 meeting here.)

MIPRC took a major step into that regional coordinating role during 2022 by developing a joint application with Amtrak and MIPRC member state DOTs for a $5 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements planning grant to further develop the Midwest Regional Rail Plan.

During the annual meeting, MIPRC Director Laura Kliewer and Tim Hoeffner, senior consultant with Quandel Consultants - the company commissioners approved in January to assist in developing the application – provided an overview of what the application will entail, including how the grant’s $1 million non-federal match will be covered. Amtrak agreed to cover $500,000 with the balance to be covered by MIPRC and its member states (mostly via increased state membership dues), they reported. The application was due by Dec. 1.

Attendees were briefed by representatives of the MIPRC member state DOTs on their passenger rail developments since MIPRC's 2021 annual meeting, and given an update on the Midwestern equipment fleet jointly owned by the states under MIPRC's authority. 

Much of the rest of the meeting focused on the many new programs that are being unveiled by the FRA as a result of the IIJA, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Those discussions included a presentation by FRA’s Deputy Director for Regional Outreach, Wynne Davis, on the overall changes and new programs within the IIJA. Davis emphasized details of the new Corridor Identification and Development program, which the FRA will use to identify and prioritize development of both new and existing passenger rail corridors. Davis said FRA aims for this program to become the primary means of federal partnerships with states and other entities for passenger rail development outside the Northeast Corridor.

She also talked about changes to the Federal-State Partnership of Good Repair Program and the new grant program for interstate passenger rail compacts, funding for which will be made available in early 2023.

The IIJA also requires the FRA to study whether passenger rail services could be restored on long-distance routes that Amtrak either did not continue when it took over passenger rail service on May 1, 1971, or discontinued after that date. The study must also include any long-distance service that currently is less than daily, for possible restoration to daily service. During MIPRC’s meeting, FRA and its project consultant staff facilitated a “listening session” on the long-distance study as part of a series of such sessions it is holding regionally across the country. They showed a map of discontinued long-distance services identified to date and asked for input on any additional routes and priorities.

FRA Transportation Planner Katie List, one of the facilitators, said the agency has launched a website to keep people up-to-date on that study’s progress. The completed study is due to Congress by the Fall of 2023, she said.

Additional presentations included:
•    MIPRC’s 2022 Year in Review (MIPRC Director Laura Kliewer).
•    A discussion of the 750-mile threshold for state-supported vs. long-distance services under current federal law (MIPRC staff).
•    An overview of Amtrak’s operations and integration plan for Chicago Union Station (Erik Cempel, Amtrak project manager, and Suzanne Mosher, Amtrak director of portfolio management; and Chris Kopp, HNTB associate vice president).
•   An overview of the Rail Passengers Association's economic model for passenger rail (RPA President & CEO Jim Matthews).
•   A three-part spotlight on our host state, Indiana, which included updates on state programs (Kristin Brier, multimodal director, and Venetta Keefe, rail programs manager, Indiana Department of Transportation), and work on passenger rail routes done by advocates from Indiana (Jack Daniel, vice president, Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association), and Ohio (Grace Galluci, executive director & CEO, Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency & Ohio Association of Regional Councils).

During the meeting’s business session, commissioners agreed on MIPRC’s 2023 priorities (below); approved a 2023 Congressional visit to Washington, D.C. (the first since 2019); set the 2023 Annual Meeting for Sept. 18-20 in Normal, Illinois; gave final approval for the fiscal year 2023 budget; and elected a new slate of officers:

•    Kansas Sen. Carolyn McGinn replaces Bob Guy, Illinois state director for SMART-Transportation Division (Illinois’ private sector appointee), as chair.
•    Peter Anastor, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Office of Rail (Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s designee) remains as vice chair. Anastor was appointed by MIPRC’s officers in August 2022 as interim vice chair to replace Arun Rao (formerly Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ designee, who left the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation for Amtrak). 
•    Scott Rogers (Wisconsin’s private sector appointee) replaces Indiana Rep. Sharon Negele as financial officer.

MIPRC’s priorities for 2023 will include:

•    Continuing the subcommittee that oversaw development of the commission’s CRISI grant application.
•    Listing, tracking and supporting member states’ applications for the new Corridor Identification and Development program.
•    Creating a new committee to develop and propose priorities to be included in MIPRC’s forthcoming funding request once the new Interstate Passenger Rail Compact program is formally unveiled, and a notification of funding opportunity (NOFO) is announced.
•    Continue contributing constructive input into the FRA’s long-distance service study, including giving formal comments to the study’s lead staff on routes that would strengthen the Midwest’s overall network.
•    Renewing focus on the need to reform PRIIA Section 209.

MIPRC thanks the sponsors who helped make this meeting possible: Indy Chamber (the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce), Norfolk Southern Corporation and Secor Consulting, Inc.

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